How far can I push my facilities and not negatively affect my cows?  This is a question I encounter frequently and there is not one good answer for all facilities.  I start out by saying it depends…and that is about as open ended as you can get, but it really does depend on many factors that affect each producer’s facilities.  What type of bedding/surface, 2 vs 3 row, integrity of the floor surface, number of cross overs in the pen, is there adequate water space available, are there adequate heat abatement systems in place for summer time heat stress, how are the ration characteristics…is the diet sortable, how often will feed be pushed up?  This list can go on and on but what is important is keeping the animals that will be living in these spaces as our top priority… Is she comfortable?

As a review of what a cow’s average time budget should be, see Table 1 below from Dr. Rick Grant of the Miner Institute.

Table 1: Typical Dairy Time Budget for a Lactating Dairy Cow

Activity Time Devoted to Activity per Day
Eating 3 to 5 hrs (9 to 14 meals per day)
Lying/Resting 12 to 14 hrs
Social Interactions 2 to 3 hrs
Ruminating 7 to 10 hrs
Drinking 30 min
Outside of Pen (milking & travel time) 2.5 to 3.5 hrs


There have been numerous research studies that show negative affects on animal performance when this time budget gets pushed to far out of its guidelines. Whether it is overall milk production, quality of the milk and components, hoof health, feed efficiency, metabolic disorders, animal longevity or just the general wellbeing of the animal we must be very conscious about how far we want to push a facility before we do more harm than good. At the end of the day it all boils down to cause and effect and profitability…how will doing X improve the productivity of the facility…or will it create a negative effect and impact the bottom line poorly?

As we are all aware at the current time in the industry there are a lot of cows out there and it is very hard to let them leave the herd when she appears healthy and productive and market values are very poor. So, the thought process has been to just keep her around a little longer and what has resulted in many areas is we are getting very full barns. With this circumstance at hand let’s all take some time to work with our customers and help them review their own situations to make sure things are working as smooth and efficiently as they can.

Matt Lamberson

by: Matt Lamberson