Components of a zero-grazing unit
A zero-grazing unit has various components: cubicles, walking area, feed and water troughs, milking place, calf pens, fodder chopping area, store, manure pit, roof water catchment, water tank and a holding crush.
Cubicles in a zero- grazing unit form the resting area for the cow, thus it should not restrain the animal from moving around. The recommended measurements are: 6 ft by 3ft to 7ft by 4 ft depending on the animal size. Cubicles are normally covered with soft materials like such as sawdust and sand to avoid wounds from bruises as the animal sleeps. Rubber mats, also known as cattle mats, are commonly used in cubicles. Mats need litter to absorb moisture and reduce abrasions. Rubber mats have several advantages:
- Increase milk yield by encouraging cows to lie and ruminate for longer period.
- Reduce veterinary bills by reducing leg injuries and abrasions as cows get up and down.
- Reduce incidence of mastitis by keeping cows clean and dry for longer, hence improving udder and milk hygiene.
It is recommended that the floor should be made of concrete for ease of cleaning and should have a gradual slope towards the dung pit and be about 3ft wide. Feed and water troughs should be raised above the ground to avoid contamination from the walking area and to ensure easy feeding by the cow. The resting area should be roofed to provide shelter against rain and sunshine. A neck-pole is fixed across the cubicle. This prevents the cow from entering too far into the cubicle and ensures that the urine and dung will drop on the walking area. This will ensure that the cubicle and the cow remain clean.
A mineral box can be fixed at the head of each cubicle for individual mineral supply to each cow. This can limit fighting among cows and between cows and young stock for access to mineral blocks.
The milking parlour
Particular consideration must be given to the milking area to ensure clean milk production. The milking parlour should be constructed next to the cubicles. The floor should be flat and made of firm concrete and slope towards the walking area. The direction of slope of the floor should ensure that dirt collected from the floor can flow through the walking area into the manure pit. There should be a feed trough in the milking place for feeding concentrates to the cows during milking. The milking place should be kept clean. Noise during milking may disturb the cow making it to hold back some of her milk. However, a report from a study by the University of Leicester found that slow music can mitigate stress in cows and increase the amount of milk they produce by 3 percent. Music can have a positive effect on milk let down, but it must be consistent and calming. Stress can inhibit the release of oxytocin, a hormone key to the milk-releasing process.
The fodder chopping area
Chopping fodder (forage grass and legumes and crop ressidues) reduces the sizes of forage parts which enables farmers to uniformly mix forage resources of varying nutritive quality and palatability, which improves forage acceptability by animals, feed intake and lowers feed wastage. Chopping forages using pangas is very common but it has resulted into injuries and many farmers have lost their fingers during the chopping operations. In addition, use of rudimentary chopping equipment such as pangas is associated with drudgery and is not appropriate for a herd size of more than three dairy cows. Forage chopping may be achieved by use of a hand held panga, manual and motorized forage choppers
A store where inputs are kept should be attached to the zero-grazing unit next to the milking place and opposite the fodder chopping area. In this way, concentrates, minerals, milk utensils and other small equipment can be stored near to the. A store is optional where finances are inadequate. It can however be built later. The grazing unit should have facilities for harvesting water.
Manure disposal storage
Manure can be stored in a pit dug out of soil. The pit may or may not be cemented but it must be covered. Manure can also be stored as compost made from urine, cow dung and plants. In this case, the compost must be heaped next to the grazing unit. Compost may be covered with plastic or soil.
A crush is a more convenient and practical place to carry out activities such as: Artificial Insemination (AI), pregnancy diagnosis and several treatment activities e.g. drenching. Purpose-built crushes are commercially available. A typical specification is: Length: 1830 mm (6ft), Width: 790 mm (2 ft 7 inches), and Height: 1625 mm (5 ft 4 inches)
The calf pen
Successful dairy production is based on proper rearing and management of dairy calves for herd expansion and as replacement stock. In Uganda, inadequate and/or inappropriate calf housing facilities remain a major problem undermining calf performance and survival. Calves are often housed in makeshift structures close to the main cattle shade, which predisposed them to a lot of bacterial infections and diseases like pneumonia. Such infections result into reduced growth rates and calf mortalities. Majority of the calves on dairy farms are housed in groups making it difficult to meet individual feed requirements. To address the challenges identified with calf housing, the kimd construction designed and fabricated a calf pen to optimize calf performance.
- A slated floor to provide for good drainage of urine and to maintain warm beddings for the calf.
- The pen has an exercise area to enable the calf to bask in the sun.
- The pen is fitted with a 10 gauge welded wire mesh on the upper sides and at the back to improve ventilation. The pen is fitted with a plastic nipple bucket which mimics the cow’s udder and facilitates milk acceptance by calves.
- A back door to enable easy removal and replacement of the calf beddings with minimal disturbance to the calf.
- The pen provides for individual feeding of calves based on their specific nutritional requirements.
- Pen can easily be dismantled, reassembled and even moved from one place to another.
Roof rain water catchment
Water is vital to the animal’s health, growth and milk production and to all key body functions such as digestion, transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Lack of sufficient quality water reduces the quantity of feed consumed and digested by the animals which in turn reduce the amount of milk produced and overall animal performance. A dairy cow requires about 5 litres of water for every litre of milk it produces. Therefore, a cow producing 10 litres of milk a day must drink about 50 litres/day. The amount required also depends of breed, body size, and season. Water harvesting is the collection and concentration of rainwater for the production of crops, pasture or trees, for livestock or domestic water supply or for other productive purposes. Roof top rainwater harvesting involves collecting rainwater from roofs to storage tanks using gutters located at the edges of the roofs.
Feed and water troughs
The feed troughs should run along the length of the walking area with a water trough in the middle. The total length of the feed trough should be such that each cow or heifer has 75-90 cm to itself. The water trough should be placed such that both the young stock and the mature cows have access to it instead of constructing separate trough for each side (the unit divided to separate young and mature stock). Below are different types of feed troughs made from locally available local materials Water should always be available and must have an outlet to drain before refilling.
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