Increasing Dairy Cow Production: Cow Comfort

Cow comfort has a number of definitions that range from the zone of thermo neutrality or cows comfort zone to the physical comfort. A cow is considered to be comfortable when she has the ability to do what she wants when she wants without straining.

As such the overall definition of cow comfort would be the overall well being of the dairy cow that takes into account it’s physiological as well as its psychological needs.

So, What Is Cow Comfort?

Defining Cow Comfort

Cow comfort to many people simply means the cows comfort zone (climatic environment). This is a state in which the cow is in a zone of thermo neutrality. It may also be defined as the ambient temperature range in which there exist no measurable fluctuations in the physiological processes. At this stage, all the biological functions are at optimum level. For lactating dairy cows, this stage occurs in the range of 6-180C.

Cow comfort may also be related to the physical environment. This is considered to be the ability for the cow to do what she wants when she wants. This practically means that the cow should have 12-14 hours of undisturbed rest every day.

Cow comfort should take into account the cow’s appetite for food and water. In regards to feeds, the appetite should be sufficient to provide the required nutrients at different production levels. In regard to water, the appetite should ideally enable the cow to drink enough water regardless of the weather and other environmental factors. Ideally, cows should be provided with clean fresh water every day.

Cow comfort ought to be extended to the cow’s overall wellbeing. This basically means covering her physiological as well as psychological needs. According to Klindworth et al. (2003 chapter 4), cows shouldn’t be continually fearful. Fear is the natural response to perceived or real threat. Their comfort seeks to protect them for such threats or danger.

Taking into account all the factors mentioned above, a good definition of cow comfort ought to take into account climatic conditions, dairy cow housing (cow parlors), stock facilities and behavioral stress from other cows and human beings. This could be summed up as a cow being at peace with its perception of the world.

A comfortable cow should thus be at peace with its environment. This being the case, more intensive feeding and herd management should result in increased production. This is to mean that any resultant higher feed/ nutrient intake should be directly proportional to milk production.

The best assessment of a cow’s comfort would be its potential appetite. This is to mean that if she is offered more, she will eat it. Too often, a cow’s efficiency to utilize additional feeds declines with increased food intake (Moran 2005). Therefore, cow comfort can’t be defined in terms of production response to additional feeds.

Physical Cow Comfort

It is vital to take into account whether your dairy cow feels comfortable while standing, walking, lying down or exercising. Studies have been conducted on physical cow comfort and the results have shown that comfort demands account for more than 20% of the cow’s potential.

Cows suffer less injuries and lameness with well-designed pens, laneways, lying surfaces, resting stalls and walking surfaces. This is because they can act naturally without the fear of falling or getting injured. Cows act naturally and experience less stress.


The cow’s hoof is structured in a special way in that blood is able to flow in the claw. This enables the claws to work like a sponge. As the load presses, blood flows out of the tissues. When the foot is lifted, pressure eases on the hoof and blood flows into the claw thus supplying nutrients.

The anatomy of cow feet is designed for soft surfaces. This means that the cow will feel comfortable while walking on soft surfaces. You will notice that a cow’s activities will double when on soft surface compared to hard surfaces like concrete.

Less cow movements, resulting from hard surfaces, can lead to reduced blood flow to the hooves. This consequently leads to inferior hoof horn.

Surprisingly, dairy cows are more likely to let bulls mount them while on soft surfaces than hard surfaces! This implies that they will have few open days and shorter time to first breeding.


As a cow walks, the weight is evenly distributed on each of the feet. This is a little different when the cow stands. Cows will spend some hours standing which makes it necessary to ensure that they are comfortable while standing.

In most instances, the cow will stand while feeding, stretching after lying down and while ruminating. At such a time, the cow needs to stand undisturbed whether it is in the laneways or the stalls. Ensure that the surface is comfortable to enable the cow stand as long as she wants.


Exercising is very vital in cow health and profitability. Cow exercises go a long way in reducing incidences of leg and hoof problems, mastitis, calf related disorders and bloat. A cow should exercise whether she is outdoor or indoors.

Outdoor exercises improve bovine health and the overall cow wellbeing. Free-stall housed cows that get access to outdoor exercises are known to have better hoof and claw health. They are less likely to suffer from tarsal joint lesions, lameness or teat injuries.

Providing part of the day’s portion outdoor gives the cow ample time to exercise. It not only doubles the time a cow spends outdoors but also its fitness. Such exercises reduce plasma lactate levels and heart rate. Studies have shown that the duration of oestrus and rate of detection are high in cows on dirty pasture or yard.


Lying down allows the cow to rest and ruminate. On average, a cow should lie down for 12 to 14 hours per day. The lying down period allows the hooves to dry out. It also eases pressure on the hooves allowing blood to flow naturally.

Cow comfort plays a major part in determining the amount of time a cow will lie down. Overall cow comfort can be assessed based on the time a cow lies down. Soft lying surfaces such as cow mats increase the cow’s lying time and milk production.


Tethering is a way of restricting cow’s movement and manipulates lying down sessions. With time, tethering tends to increase the lying time due to forced inactivity. Tethering has however been found to result in increased stress. The increased lying time results in swollen joints.

Tethering ought to be conducted in such a way that the cow will be comfortable. The cows should have clean and dry lying down areas. This encourages the cow to lie down without necessarily hurting her joints.

A cow’s production will increase with increased comfort and resting hours. It is expected that with every additional sleeping hour above 7 hours, the cow will produce an extra kilogram of milk. This is because blood flow to the udder is 20-30% higher than while standing up.

Summary Of Cow’s Time Budget

  • Eating: 5.5 hours/day with 9-14 meals/day
  • Resting: 12-14 hours/day including 6 hour rumination
  • Walking or standing in alleys: 2-3 hours/day including grooming, socializing, rumination and other activities.
  • Drinking: ½ hour per day

Total time: 21-22 hours/day

This implies that a cow has little time to waste. This being the case, time away from the pen should be minimized. Let the cow visit the milking parlor twice a day to ensure that time is properly managed.

Proper Milking Techniques

Milk is the ultimate goal of keeping dairy cows. Milking thus needs to be the most comfortable stage to ensure maximum productivity. Dairy cows require proper milking management to maximize their production and prevent advent of diseases such as mastitis.

Comfortable Milking Environment

The milking system adopted in a dairy farm should guarantee maximum comfort not only for the cows but also the milker/operator. Poorly designed milk houses, milk parlors and milk machines result in cow discomfort. They may also result in teat damage, mastitis and lameness.

Dairy cows tend to be comfortable while entering a well-lit and designed milking parlor. Generally, animals are afraid of dark areas. It is thus important to ensure that the milking section is not only spacious but well lit and ventilated.

Well-lit milking parlors play a major role in controlling bullying, crowding and competition. Herringbone and turnstile rotary milking parlor designs are known to be very efficient in such control.

 Friendly Milking Machines

A cow’s production will greatly be determined by the milking mode. Normally, a cow should be milked at least twice a day. If the farmer happens to skip one of the milkings, the cow is likely to develop sores or swell. This depicts what a rigorous job awaits every farmer.

Dairy farming needs not be stressful. Well, milking hundreds of cows by hand can be very stressful. It’s actually impractical and results in huge losses. The easiest and most efficient way of milking not only numerous but even a single dairy cow is the use of a milking machine.

Milking machines are cleaner and faster. This means that they will not only increase milk quantity but also improve milk quality. Lucky enough, there are all sorts of milking machines in the market. You just need to select the milk machine that suits your needs and fits your budget.

Vacuum Pumps

Vacuum pumps are designed to remove air from the milking system. This creates a vacuum that in-turn draws milk from cow teats. Vacuum pumps can be classified into;

· Lobe or Blower pumps

These are pumps that rely on an extremely small clearance to create a vacuum seal. This clearance is found between the pump lobes. These pump are known to be very efficient as no oil or contaminants are added to the air stream. Their energy efficiency is estimated to be 420 lmp air movements per kW.

· Rotating Vane Pump

These are the oldest types of pumps. Most of them use oil for cooling and lubrication. These pumps are not very popular as they tend to contaminate the milk. The pump discharge contains oil vapor and droplets that can easily mist with milk.

Manufacturers have made an effort to improve the rotating vane pump efficiency by installing oil recovery systems. This seems to bear results but great care is needed when selecting the pump location.

Some milking machines, especially the large one, are fitted with more than one vacuum pump. This allows such milking machines to keep working even with the failure of one vacuum pump.

Vacuum Regulation

The vacuum regulation system is meant to control vacuum levels in a milking machine. Vacuum control is very essential in ensuring cow comfort. On average, the vacuum receiver shouldn’t fall more than 0.6 In. of mercury or 2 KPa below the desired point.

Conventional vacuum regulators maintain steady vacuum levels by admitting air to balance incoming air.

Vacuum Gauge

Every milking machine should have a vacuum gauge. This gauge should be strategically placed to ensure that it can be seen by all operators during milking sessions. Such a gauge should be checked regularly for accuracy.

Mercury manometers may be used in calibration of technician’s gauges. They however shouldn’t be mounted on milking machines as there’s the risk of mercury loss.

Producing high quality milk requires comfortable and healthy cows. Milk machines thus need to be efficient and comfortable.


Cow comfort is quite wide and requires to be addressed in more than one dimension. Cow comfort will affect the cow’s general and overall health as well as determine its milk production levels and profitability.

Work with professionals to help you boost cow comfort by installing sprinklers, sunshades, fans, sleeping mats, lights as well as dietary modification. This way, you will be sure of having dairy cows that can produce up to 36Ltrs. of milk per day.