Cow brushes can potentially improve several key metrics while increasing cow comfort. Brushes have the potential to add value in several ways:
A boost in milk production
A 2009 study* demonstrated adding cow brushes improved milk production, especially in second-lactation cows. The average increase in this group was 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs.) per cow per day. Depending on the size of the herd, the ROI from one or more brushes could be almost immediate. One hypothesis is cows become more active by walking to use the brush, and therefore more inclined to visit the feedbunk. Another hypothesis is cow brushes increase blood circulation overall, which positively affects circulation to the udder. But no reason was found as to why it didn’t affect cows in different lactation groups equally.
In the study referenced above, the installation of a brush led to more than a 30% drop in mastitis cases for second- and higher-lactation cows. The hypothesis here goes back to the improved activity. By walking more and lying in their stalls for a shorter period of time, they may be lowering their exposure to bacteria present on the stall’s surface. Also by grooming their skin is cleaner and there is a reduction of the number of parasites and organisms on the cow’s coat. The brush does reach the hind areas so the speculation is that this could lower exposure of the mammary gland due to a general reduction of dirt on the animal. The takeaway here is simply that reduced cases of mastitis lower the farm’s operating costs. It is fairly easy to calculate the cost of mastitis between $200 to $250 per cow, taking into account lost or discard milk and veterinarian bills. However, mastitis can also lead to reduced reproductive performance and that can be more problematic to quantify.
Cows are creatures of habit but sometimes in the normal operation of the farm unknown stress is added. There could be the need to change equipment or employees, add new cows to a pen, or rush her between pens. These seemingly normal factors can add stress to the cow. A brush becomes a stress reliever tool because grooming will help her overcome her stress. A stressed cow can behave out of her normal character. She may even present a danger to workers if she becomes to erratic. If she senses stress in or around the parlor, she may avoid entering, kick off the cluster, or refuse to let down her milk. In this situation, a brush could be a valuable tool.
Decrease property damage
A cow has a natural instinct to groom herself. It is also a social behavior. Grooming allows them to bond with others in the herd. She will automatically rub whatever object is available. Cows can easily damage a corral, fence, stanchion, feed bunk, water trough, etc. Offering a brush into the environment will enable the cow to focus her energy on something intended for rubbing. Also keep in mind that without a brush, she could inadvertently injure herself by rubbing on something sharp. The value here again is a cost savings on both vet bills and equipment repair.
Producers are generally looking to enhance the cow’s environment. And by gaining insight into their behaviors it seems like a brush is more than just a luxury item. By adding to her comfort the result is an overall happier and healthier cow - and happy cows lead to happy and successful producers.
*Cornell University Study performed at Sprucehaven Farm and Research Center, 2009