MADISON, Wis. – Many dairy farmers opt to house their cows “on the loose” in freestall barns.
While this makes some aspects of herd management easier, it can make finding and handling individual cows more difficult – and more dangerous.
Reduces risks. By installing headlocks in four-row freestall barns, farmers can reduce the risk to workers and increase their profits by as much as $43 per cow each year, said University of Wisconsin-Madison farm safety experts.
“Headlocks make it easy to identify animals and make it possible to carry out check-ups and treatment more safely and efficiently,” said Gunnar Josefsson, a dairy specialist at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
Josefsson works for the Healthy Farmers, Healthy Profits project, which is housed in the biological systems engineering department.
Reduces waste. Cows accustomed to headlocks may also waste less feed, Josefsson said. Recent research shows that headlocks don’t reduce milk production or feed intake. They may also reduce feed losses caused by cows dropping and tossing feed, saving as much as 2.5 percent of the amount fed.
Farmers who don’t have headlocks may pay up to 50 percent more for artificial insemination or veterinary services, Josefsson said. Headlocks make a safer, calmer environment for cows, technicians and farm workers, and allow treatment to be completed quickly.
Net gain. When it’s all added up, installing headlocks will bring an annual net profit of about $43 per cow each year from labor savings and reduced feed costs. They cost between $55 and $85 per cow to install, but will pay for themselves in about a year and a half, said Josefsson. Even if only reduced feed costs are considered, headlocks still bring a profit of about $22 per cow each year, and will pay for themselves in just over two years.
Josefsson notes that headlocks aren’t a good idea in three-row or six-row barns; there isn’t enough space for all the cows to eat at once, he said.
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!