Two years of experience in cooling cows in Italy

Published on: 10/11/2018
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Summer heat stress negatively affects the dairy sector in Italy by harming animal welfare, increase environment pollution and reduce farms profitability.

The decrease in farm profitability is caused by the decrease in cows annual milk production (feed and other expenses per liter of milk are increased when daily production is lower), reduction in milk quality (lower fat and protein content and increase in SCC), direct decrease in feed efficiency (when part of the feed energy consumed is canalized to heat dissipation), and a decrease in cows fertility (increase number of “open days” above optimum). 

When coming to the topic of cow cooling, it is clear that cooling equipment quality is important, but the form of their installation and operated are important too. That is the reason why, my consultancy services are based on long term follow up of farm activities along the entire summer, which includes monthly information supply by the farmer regarding farm performance, as well as frequent monitoring of cow's body temperature, making use of intra vaginal data loggers. The use of these means allow farm to optimize his cooling system operation and help farm improve cow's performance. Based on farm data and the use of a special computerized program I developed recently, I usually realize an economical evaluation of the cost- effectiveness of farm investment in cooling the cows, and the net profit per cow and farm.

The first farm I started working with in Italy, was Maccarese dairy farm. The farm is located close to Rome and consist of 1200 milking cows housed mostly in free stall barns. Maccarese farm manager invited me for consultation in spring 2016, where we made the first modifications and changes in cooling management for this same summer. Annual milk yield per cow, before we started working together was of 9,000 liters. The cows milked in two parallel milking parlors, twice a day until March 2017, when farm switched to 3X.  The cooling procedure consisted of a combination of wetting and forced ventilation, improved in summer 2017 by doubling number of fans in feed lines and waiting yards. Cooling time was prolonged in summer 2016 and was even longer in summer 2017. Cooling was provided also to dry cows in summer 2017.

As can be seen in the figures 1 - 3, milk production in summers 2016 and 2017 was significantly higher than in the year before intensive cooling was implemented. Average daily milk production and peak lactation of adult cow in summer 2017 were more than 8 liters per day higher, as compared to those reached in summer 2015, before the implementation of intensive cooling.

Conception rate to inseminations given to adult cows in summers 2016 and 2017 was also higher, as compared to those of summer 2015. Summer fertility in 2017 was a bit lower than that of 2016, even though cooling management practices in this year were more intensive, as can be seen in the higher milk production. We believe that the extremely warm summer of 2017 was the main reason for that.

Pictures of waiting yard and feed line cooling in Maccarese farm in summer 2017.

Cirio dairy farm was the second farm in Italy I worked with. The farm is located close to the town of Caserta, south of Italy, and consist of 1600 milking cows housed in free stall barns. I started consulting Cirio farm in early summer 2016, and due to the shortage of time, we mostly changed operation mode of cooling, while, the modification and improvement of cooling equipment installed was done only in summer 2017. Initial annual yield, before we started working together was of 10,000 liters per cow. Cows in Cirio farm were milked in two milking parlors and cooled by a combination of wetting and forced ventilation in the waiting yards and feed lines, while forced ventilated was provided above free stalls. Farm walkways were shaded by plastic nets, and additional cooling sites were created in feed lines by doubling number of fans in part of the line, to provide cooling also to extra cows in the herd (there were more than cows than lockers). Dry cows were cooled too, according to recommendations.

Curtains and plastic shades in walkways in Cirio farm 2017.  

Average daily milk production, peak lactation and conception rate per month in adult cows in Ciro farm in 2015 – 2017, are presented in figures 1 - 3.

Figure 1 – Average daily milk production in Maccarese farm adult cows in the summers of 2015 – 2017.

Figure 2 - Monthly averages of peak lactations in Maccarese farm adult cows in the summers of 2015 – 2017.

Figure 3 - Monthly averages of conception rate in Maccarese farm adult cows in the summers of 2015 – 2017.

From the information presented in figures 1 – 3 we can see that the same as with Maccarese farm results, also per cow average milk and peak production in Cirio farm in summers 2016 and 2017 were significantly higher than in 2015, the year before intensive cooling management was implemented. Average daily milk production and peak lactations were 5-8 liters per day higher in 2017, as compared to 2015, and also conception rates of inseminations given in summer months in 2016 and 2017, were 10 – 15 percentage units higher than those obtained in 2015, again, with slight decrease in 2017, most probably due to extremely warm summer conditions in 2017. 

In parallel to my consultancy to Maccarese and Cirio farms, and to the request and coordination of "Elanco Co." in Italy, I started to consult in summer 2016 Bandioli dairy farm, 500 cows dairy farm milked d by 8 Robot units, and located in the north of Italy. In summer 2016, cows in Bandioli farm were cooled only in the waiting yards, in front the robot machines, and force ventilated above free stalls. In summer 2017, cows were cooled also in feed line, and the system in both, the waiting yard and feed line were operating continually al 24 hours, and cows visiting the cooling sites voluntarily.

The daily average milk production, peak lactation and conception rate for adult cows in 2015 – 2017 is presented in figures 4-6.

Figure 4 – Averages daily milk production per month in adult cows in 2015 – 2017.

Figure 5 - Monthly averages of peak lactations in adult cows in 2015 – 2017.

Figure 6 - Monthly averages of conception rate in adult cows in 2015 – 2017.

The results obtained in summers 2016 and 2017 in Bandioli farm are very close to those obtained in same time in Maccarese and Cirio farms. The good experience reached in this farm teach us that, also in robot farm, even with no defined schedule of milking existing, it is possible to effectively cool the cows, and prevent great part of summer drop in milk production and fertility.

In 2016, and after first meeting with Paolo Arienti in Maccarese dairy farm, I started cooperating with Arienti Co. in establishing a special type of service to the Italian dairy farms called “Element” program. This program offers, for the first time in Italy, a comprehensive service, which combines know how in the field of cow cooling, with the supply and installation of good quality cow cooling equipment. Based on my 40-year experience in this field, I am confident that this is the best and only way to work, in order to achieve the goal of really struggling with heat stress in the dairy farms.

The first farm to cooperate with us in the "Element program" was the Bennati farm, with 800 cows, located in the north east of Italy. Initial annual production was 9,000 liters per cow and intensive cooling, based on our recommendations started in summer 2017. Cows were cooled in waiting yard, in shaded walkways and feed lines (when back from being milked) and in feed lines, where 40” diameter “tube fans” were installed, as can be seen in the following pictures.

The daily averages of milk production and pregnancy rate (PR), in adult cows from Bennati farm in 2015 – 2017 are presented in figures 7-8.

Figure 7 – Average daily milk production per month in adult cow in 2015 – 2017.

Figure 8 - Monthly averages of pregnancy rate (PR) in adult cows in 2015 – 2017.

As obtained in previous cases, also in Bennati farm there was a significant improvement in milk production and cow's fertility, when cow cooling management was implemented in summer 2017, according to our recommendations and instructions. Milk production and cow's fertility, which used to drop in early summers, starting in May- June, showed stability and were maintained in "winter level", when intensive cooling was provided in summer 2017.

The economic benefit of cow cooling in Italian farms.

Making use of a special self-develop computerized program, and based on the results from Cirio farm in, summer 2017, I realized an economical study which evaluated the economic benefit to the farm when intensively cooling to the cows in the summer. According to the information supplied by the farm, the cost of installing a complete cooling system to the farm was of approximately 300 EUR per cow and the cost of its operation in 4 summer months (mainly, the additional electricity needed to cool the cows), was of 265 KW and 30 EUR per cow. The additional feeding cost in cooled cows was based on a milking cows mix price of 0.23 EUR per Kg Dry Matter (DM) and an additional 0.5 kg DM for each additional liter of milk produced.

Annual milk production per cow in Cirio farm was increased by 7% due to the implementation of the intensive cooling (from 10,370 liters in 2015 to 11,160 liters in 2017). In addition, we assumed an improvement of 5% in feed efficiency in summer months and a reduction of 5 "open days" per cow, due to the improvement in cow's fertility, with a value of 5 EUR for each additional "open day". Farm gate milk price was of 0.43 EUR per liter and electrical cost was of 0.12 EUR per KW.

Intensive cooling the cows under Cirio farm conditions increased net income (after covering all expenses), in 250 EUR per cow and 400,000 EUR per 1,600 cows farm.

Running the same calculation mode for a typical Italian dairy farm with 200 milking cows, and same improvement in cow's summer performance due to intensively cooling in the summer, showed the increase in annual net income of 170 EUR per cow and 35,000 EUR per farm.

Along the summer of 2017, some more dairy farms in north Italy joined the "Element program" by Arienti Co. Among these farms were, "Romani – Levante farm", a 800 dairy cows farm, with "unconventional" housing system which obliged us to be very "creative" when implementing the cooling system, "Fava farm", a 4 robot, 250 cows dairy farm,  "Molino Terenzano", a 800 cows farm neat Lodi, where new version of waiting yard fans is used, and also "Locatelli farm". In all these farms we are still in the process of completing the implementation of the cooling system and operation protocols. In coming summer we plan to implement our cooling protocols in these farms, as well as many more Italian dairy farms through the "Element program", and I expect presenting their results in future Cirio meetings.  

In conclusion, cooling the cows can increase per cow annual production, improve feed efficiency and cow’s fertility, which lead to the improvement in cow's welfare and farm profitability. In order to achieve these results, it is required to properly adapt cow cooling solution to farm conditions, and properly install and operate the system along the entire summer.

Dr. Flamenbaum started working with dairy cows in the late sixties, as an herd man and then, in charge of the 150 dairy cows herd in Kibbutz Misgav Am, in the north of Israel. Then he joined the State of Israel, Ministry of agriculture, Extension services in 1977.Since 1977 until 2008 - Serving in different positions, starting as a dairy cattle regional extension officer, head of cattle department and lately, as the director of the division of Animal Husbandry.In April 2008, he retired and dedicated professional activity time as private consultant in Israel and worldwide.
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