Milk yield is a key factor for the economic efficiency of dairy farming. Nonetheless, it should not be augmented at any cost, as this can impact both animal health and the profitability of a farm. Instead, the emphasis should always be on sustainable factors, such as the longevity and productivity of each individual cow. This approach paves the way for the long‐term stability of dairy cattle husbandry. Studies show a direct correlation between animal health, well‐being and the individual milk yield of a cow. But what can be done to gradually increase milk yield? Let us take a closer look at five of the most important parameters.

Lots of exercise improves the metabolism

Feeding, drinking, walking, lying down and ruminating constitute the fundamental requirements that shape the daily routine of cows1). Any restriction of these natural activities has an adverse effect on their metabolism and performance.

An effective free stall barn necessitates that cows autonomously access vital functional zones, including the feeding table, drinking trough and lying area. It is therefore all the more important that the animals can move around freely without any unnecessary obstacles. This can only be achieved if the dairy cows are active and full or energy.

Cows on rubber surfaces achieve a positive energy balance sooner. This indicates that cows tend to feed more often on rubber. Source: Werny, 2014

Activity and feed intake are related

The key to increased movement is a species‐appropriate and soft floor: In a barn with pasture‐like barn flooring, dairy cows exhibit notably increased mobility compared to those on hard concrete floors. Active cows are more productive and healthier, readily engaging in their natural behaviors. This also includes species‐friendly feed intake.

Cattle instinctively meet their dietary needs through frequent, brief feeding sessions, consuming modest quantities at regular intervals throughout the day. This is gentle on the digestive system and promotes a harmonious pH balance in the rumen.

When cows are housed on soft rubber mats, they exhibit notably increased levels of activity and engage in more frequent feeding4). This supports the natural behavior of cattle and promotes a healthy metabolism. Ultimately, species‐appropriate feed intake is a key pillar for maintaining a stable milk yield.

To minimize pH fluctuations in the rumen, cows should ideally consume their feed in smaller, more frequent rations. Cows move more safely and without pain on comfortable walking areas. As a result, they feed more often. Source: Partes, 2004
It is well proven that cows walk more each day on rubber flooring. Increased activity in animals leads to enhanced productivity and better health, as they are less prone to inactivity and hesitation in engaging in essential behavior. Source: Platz et al., 2007

Hygienic lying areas ensure a healthy udder

Of course, not only exercise is important for a fully functioning metabolism. Cows should spend roughly 12 hours a day relaxing in the free stall, where the udder receives the most amount of blood flow, the rumen is most active and ruminating is stimulated. As such, cows produce most of their milk lying down. Achieving the desired duration of lying time necessitates not only comfortable ground but also the right amount of space.

If cows have an adequate amount of space to lie straight and get up according to their natural tendencies, not only will they spend more time lying down, but they will also have cleaner stalls. Feces on the lying area is detrimental to udder health. Ensuring optimal cleanliness of the lying area is a fundamental criterion for achieving good udder health and steady milk yield. Hygienic, sterilized bedding with good absorbency promotes a clean, dry surface and reduces bacteria in general.

Soft conditions underfoot help to prevent lameness

If cows suffer from hoof diseases and lameness, there is a high risk of milk loss 6). This is not surprising as a higher severity of lameness results in significantly reduced feed intake 7). Rubber mats in the walking alleys can greatly diminish the risk of mechanical‐traumatic hoof damage 3) – thereby promoting overall hoof health. The simple reason: The soft, elastic mats replicate conditions akin to soft pasture soil, facilitating anatomically correct and species‐appropriate movement of cows.

Simple signals indicate whether cows can exhibit their natural movements. If the barn flooring is too hard or too slippery, you can often observe a sort of "creeping" gait. In such cases, cows tend to take short, slow steps, maintain a lowered head position and avoid lifting their hind legs significantly above their center of gravity. Conversely, when on pasture‐like soils, cows take long steps (approx. 80 cm), carry their heads upright, maintain straight backs and exhibit a graceful, swaying gait.

Proper feeding boosts milk yield

In addition to the correct barn conditions, the right feed also has a major influence on milk yield. A steadfast commitment to high‐quality forage offers dual benefits: The more milk that can be produced from the forage, the healthier it is for the cow and the better it is economically for the farmer. If a consistent composition of the forage ration is maintained and complemented by cow‐specific concentrated feed, a gradual and sustainable increase in milk yield is promoted.

In addition to regular adaptation of the fed ration, it is crucial to monitor the actual consumption of the ration – at the latest when altering feed components. The ingredients of the bulk milk offer a reliable and consistent indicator of the herd’s nutritional status. During the onset of lactation, it is imperative to closely monitor individual animals and to assess their milk constituents at more frequent intervals. This enables the swift detection and management of metabolic imbalances and ensures the optimal utilization of concentrated feed.

Summary: Species-appropriate feed and husbandry ensure a healthy long-term increase in the milk yield

A glance at the numerous, often minor, adjustment options shows: There is no preferred method of choice to enhance milk yield. If you look at the entire ’dairy cow system’,  several factors must seamlessly align to maintain the well‐being and productivity of the animals. In addition to optimal feeding and good free stall management, there is one key element that is often overlooked: Species‐appropriate barn flooring. As cows can unlock their maximum performance potential in a free stall barn only when they take joy in moving around.

Beside boosting hoof health, soft and species‐appropriate walking areas ensure that cows can move easily, quickly and without pain. This allows them to go about their essential daily behaviour without any hesitation. Optimal all‐round care is crucial, particularly during the critical initial phase of lactation. This contributes substantially to maintaining a healthy metabolism and, consequently, to the long‐term health and performance of dairy cows.

1) Brandes, C. (1999): Das ABC des Kuhkomfort. Brochure of the Innovations Team Christine Brandes; available at (Master thesis R. H., brochure no longer available)

2) Platz et al. (2007): What Happens with Cow Behavior When Replacing Concrete Slatted Floor by Rubber Coating: A Case Study, J. Dairy Sci. 91:999–1004

3) Benz, B. (2002): Elastische Beläge für Betonspaltenböden in Liegeboxenlaufställen, Dissertation University Hohenheim

4) Partes, N. (2004): Einfluss von elastischen Laufflächen auf das Verhalten und die hygienischen Bedingungen bei Milchkühen, Diploma thesis Fachhochschule Weihenstephan‐Triesdorf

5) Dolecheck K. & Bewley J. (2018): Animal board invited review: Dairy cow lameness expenditures, losses and total cost, Animal (2018), 12:7, pp 1462–1474

6) Juarez et al. (2003): Impact of lameness on behavior and productivity, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 83 (2003) 1–14

7) P. H. Robinson (2019): Information from personal correspondence

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