New barn and proactive health approach lead to increased cow comfort
Dominiek Martens moved his dairy cattle from a tying barn to a free-range barn two years ago. This and proactive healthcare with products from AHV led to a jump in milk yield and improved health. “The cows clearly feel better,” he says.”
Text and image: Jerom Rozendaal (Dairy Farm Journal)
Free-range barn on dairy farm
Great is the contrast between the small, white historic farmstead and the high greenhouse barn behind it. “Only two years ago, we were milking with a Canadian binding system. We have taken quite a leap in time,” says dairy farmer Dominiek Martens on his dairy farm in Oostkamp, Belgium. After lunch, dozens of cows step out of the new greenhouse barn at leisure. Unlike most farmers, the farmer chose a free-range barn for his new building. “This allows the cows to follow their natural behaviour, whereas with a cubicle barn you just have to wait and see how they react,” says Martens, who drove to the Netherlands several times for inspiration for the pen barn. He also consulted colleagues for the construction of the greenhouse barn.
The West-Fleming chose wood shavings as a substrate for the free-range barn. Every day, he loosens this subsoil with the tractor. “By alternating milling and deep soils with the cultivator, we keep the top layer airy and allow scalding to take place. This causes the urine to evaporate and the solid manure to be broken down by bacteria,” says the dairy farmer who, as a result, has to add little extra fertiliser to maintain a dry surface.
Production of one million litres of milk
Not only does the system ensure healthy cows, he also sees an opportunity in the long run to market the stable manure as compost. “Not all farmers in Flanders can milk 200 cows,” says the farmer to emphasise the importance of farm expansion. He also sees an additional revenue model in education and recreation. For instance, when building the greenhouse barn, he provided a construction for a recreational area overlooking the barn.
“This is where we want to organise tours in the future to bring citizens closer to the farmer again,” he says. Martens plans to expand the herd from 90 to 100 animals in the near future, while the young stock branch should shrink to a maximum of 60 head. “We aim to produce one million litres of milk and to have a replacement rate of less than 30 percent,” clarifies the entrepreneur who currently has an average milk yield of 32 litres per cow. In the binding barn, cows still gave an average of 28 litres. With a concentrate feeder and a feed mixer, and further investments on the farm, he expects to boost volume further.
Animal health greatly improved
Besides milk yield, animal comfort has also improved greatly and challenges have decreased. Previously, the farm had about 15 udder health challenges a year, now there are only five. The somatic cell count was 350-400,000 in the overcrowded binding barn and now sits at 195,000. “A lot better, but still on the high side,” says the farmer self-critically. He stresses that besides the new barn, a new approach to animal health, with more emphasis on proactive care, has done the herd a lot of good. In this new strategy, Animal Health Vision (AHV), has an important role to play.
“AHV is making a strong advance in Flanders,” says AHV farm advisor Geert Tant, who is also visiting the company during our visit. “The number of livestock farmers working with AHV has grown strongly.” Tant explains how quorum sensing works: “bacteria hide in a so-called biofilm. This is a layer of mucus produced by the bacteria themselves and serves as a kind of defensive wall. This way, the cow’s body does not realise there are bacteria inside. However, the moment the cow’s resistance drops, they do emerge and strike.”
AHV products, which are mostly administered by mouth, manage to get through the biofilm and disrupt communication between the bacteria. “In this way, bacteria feel they are no longer present in large quantities and break free from the biofilm. The cow can then tackle them itself and excrete them through the body. This way, they can no longer cause any harm. Not only does this save a lot of energy, the cow becomes and stays clean longer, allowing more energy to go to milk production in the future,” explains Tant.
“I didn’t believe my eyes”
Martens initially had little faith in the resources and sent Geert home empty-handed. “The first time Geert came by, we had problems with a start-up cow. I didn’t believe his story. Two days later, without using AHV, no improvement was visible and after consulting my friend, I decided to call Geert again to show the effect of his solutions. This turned out well. The cow strengthened in no time. I didn’t believe my eyes.” Since then, Martens has been regularly reaching for AHV’s products. A cow with severe health challenges used to be dealt with regular remedies. Now she is administered Aspi, for example. AHV Aspi supports the immune system during recovery periods and promotes the well-being of your cattle.
“Within hours, I saw the cow’s health improve. Resistance and appetite increased and the animal was able to fight the bad bacteria on its own,” says the dairy farmer who has greatly reduced the use of traditional methods on his farm and also sees the vet much less often. “The vet now comes more for routine follow-up on the farm, such as gestation checks and not for treatment.”
Emphasis on proactive approach
AHV’s products are administered proactively at a number of times. For example, two weeks before calving, the cow is given a Booster Tablet to help prevent reduced appetite and lower resistance. Immediately after calving, the cow receives this Booster again, together with a Metri Tablet and Milk Start Paste, which contains calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. “This counteracts an energy deficit and the afterbirth comes off quickly,” Tant says of the latter product.
The Metri Tablet causes uterine contraction, thus promoting fertility and also milk yield. “Since I have been using these solutions, I see a faster start-up of my cows and that soon results in several tens of litres in the first phase of lactation,” says Martens, who is now a firm believer in the usefulness of proactive health care and is therefore paying more attention to it. Thus, a drop in fat and protein content, milk yield, fluctuations in urea and somatic cell count are signals for him to intervene more quickly.
Less milk wastage
The increased milk yield at start-up is one of the economic benefits associated with using AHV’s solutions, according to Martens. Unlike regular remedies, the milk is also saleable after the cow has taken it. “When using regular remedies, the milk is easily thrown away for ten days,” says Tant who reinforces the financial benefit with the following arithmetic. “Ten days times thirty litres, times sixty cents is 180 euros. This is immediate profit, not to mention the long-term benefits.”
“Also, you don’t run the risk of any replacement milking the wrong cow in your absence,” Martens adds. “Previously, you always had to be careful that the milk didn’t end up in the tank, because then you could throw the whole tank away. In the case of AHV, it does not affect the tank milk.”
While reducing the use of traditional methods is nice, in the future it is going to be a bitter necessity. “Due to pressure from human medicine and the risk of resistance, use will be increasingly restricted in the future. As a farmer, why wait for that?” the farmer wonders in conclusion. With proactive health care and his new barn, he has made an advance on the future. –
About the dairy farm
Dominiek Martens has 90 dairy cows walking around on his dairy farm in a free range barn. The average milk yield is 32 liters.
These products are mentioned
AHV Booster Tablet
AHV Startlac Paste
AHV Aspi Liquid
AHV Milk Start Paste
AHV Milk Start Tablet
AHV Metri Tablet
Get in touch!
Would you like to be visited by an advisor to discuss the health challenges on your farm together? Our AHV Specialist will be happy to visit you to jointly assess the health of your cows and come up with appropriate cow-specific advice.
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