Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Minimise cow flow issues by building effective roadways


Mary Kinston

The milk quota situation has forced some dairy farmers to try things they have never done before -- but, happily, in many cases, they have succeeded.

This autumn zero-concentrate feeding regime has become a common practice on several farms in an attempt to reduce supply or to retain a small margin on the marginal milk litres supplied in an over-quota position.

Where zero-concentrate feeding is being practised, be sure to consider magnesium supplementation, as grass tetany can become an issue. Drying off cows relative to body condition must also be implemented to ensure that cows have adequate time and feed to gain weight and calve down at a 3.25 score.

Getting the cows in for milking has become a slow and long-winded job for many farmers. Cows have become rather lethargic and lack the urge to come into the parlour for milking. This lack of eagerness is a common phenomenon at this time of year, and it has often encouraged increased concentrate feeding in the parlour in recent years.


Pressure to avoid using concentrates has seen farmers start questioning their farm infrastructure to aid cow flow, especially into the parlour. Backing gates on the collecting yard is a prime example.

When the milk price is good and tax bills are considered, farmers rightly increase their spend on infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, or on soil health with soil testing, lime and fertiliser dressings. Taking these actions now allows such costs to be deferred in years when the milk price is low.

Regarding roadways, repair, maintenance or even entirely new sections of roadway all merit consideration. Improvement in either roadway surface, width, direction or even layout can have marked impacts on both the cost of lameness but also time spent bringing cows in for milking due to cow flow.

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If you are considering spending money on your cow roadways, there are a few things to consider:

•Surface: A poor roadway will cause injury to cow hooves and slow down the herd, so proper construction and regular maintenance, especially in the first 300-500m from the milking parlour, are important. A nib wall (lip) can also be useful at the start of the concrete going into the collecting yard to minimise stones being transported onto the concrete yard and stop wash water flowing onto the track.

The surface of the track should be able to be compacted into a hard, smooth, wear-resistant top, and should prevent seepage of water through to the base. A roadway should be crowned to help shed rain water and help maintain a smooth wearing surface. Potholes are a problem so rectify these quickly.

Drains either side of the roadway are good to prevent water seeping into the base from the surrounding ground, but these drains should be graded so the water has somewhere to flow if they are to function correctly.

Avoid using roadways to stand-off cows in wet weather as this will cause deterioration.

•Width: On Irish farms, an adequate width for a cow roadway is often given a lack of consideration, especially where the herd size is growing. The table (left) outlines the recommended width for roadways, as concluded by DJ Bridges (1985), relative to herd size.

These recommendations often come as a shock to most farmers but, where implemented, will permit free movement of cows. Be sure to make gateways the same width as the track, and it is also important that the roadway widens as it reaches the collecting yard.

•Layout: Cow flow is slowed by sharp angles, turns and sudden changes in direction. Roadways need to be as straight or fluid as possible. Therefore eliminating those 'S' bends can provide a substantial reduction in the time it takes to get the cows in for milking. Wet, mucky/boggy areas often cause a bunching of the herd and disrupt cow flow. Often, you will find cows dunging here and this will degrade the roadway's surface.

Where possible, minimise the shading of the roadway by trimming or removing trees and hedges. If you have a bridge, aim to have this the same width as the track leading to and from it.

Finally, Ballyhaise's open day is on Thursday this week at 10.30am for those wishing to learn more about autumn grazing management.

Dr Mary Kinston is a farm consultant based in Kerry. Email

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