03/02/2020

Cow Brushes: A Smart Investment that does more than Scratch an Itch

If you’ve spent any time around cows, you know they will rub up against anything to scratch their itch. Fence posts, tree trunks, headlocks, you name it, and they will rub against it. It is such a problem that electrical and cell towers must be fenced in, or cows will rub against them and break them. It’s safe to say cows are motivated by anything that will give them a good scratch. What gives cows the best scratch? Cow brushes.

Cow brushes are mechanical brushes that in many cases spins, swings, or a combination of the two to give a cow the best angle for some relief. These brushes do more than scratch an itch. They remove harmful parasites, dead skin, and dirt. It lets a cow groom where she can’t reach herself. Her circulation is increased with each use, and boredom, stress, and abnormal behaviors all decrease. The cows are happier when they have access to a brush. This isn’t just a tactic to sell brushes, it’s a scientific fact. In certain countries, such as Denmark, providing access to coat care is mandatory. Unfortunately, it is not mandatory in the United States or Canada, but could be some day.

To say cows are motivated by relieving an itch is an understatement. A study conducted by the University of British Columbia found that cows are just as motivated by mechanical brushes as they are by fresh feed. The study trained cows to push open a weighted gate to get to their motivator. They increased the weight of the gate until not a single cow could open it. The study found that a cow was willing to do just as much work to get to the mechanical brush as it was to get to the fresh feed. A cow was not willing to do the same amount of work to get to an open area for more space. They concluded grooming with the mechanical brush is very important to cows, just like access to fresh feed. Take a look at the study yourself, a link is provided at the end of this article.

Another study out of Cornell University demonstrated that cow brushes yield an increase in milk production. There are a few hypothesizes on why cow brushes yield more milk.

  • To get to the cow brush, a cow will be more active, and more likely to increase feed visits
  • Cow brushes increase circulation and increased circulation in the udders increases milk
  • Active cows utilize ketones more efficiently and have a higher ketone concentration in their serum

Brushes have more benefits than just to the cow. A dairy farmer can experience a healthier herd. With stress levels and boredom both decreasing, as well as abnormal behaviors when giving cows access to a mechanical brush, the cows are much happier. A happier cow is a better producing cow. A cow brush can pay for itself with the increase in milk production a farmer can enjoy. Consider this hypothetical example in Graphic 1.

 

Graphic 1

No Brush

Brush

# of Cows

100

100

Avg Daily Production

81

83.2

Total Daily Production

8100

8320

Price given per cwt

$ 16

$ 16

Daily Sales

$ 1,296

$ 1331.2

Yearly Sales

$ 473,040

$ 485,888

Yearly Increase

$   12,848

Please note this is a hypothetical example and actual milk production is based off of multiple factors and varies by cow.

 

Brush Recommendations


There are many features to consider when comparing brushes. The most important is safety. A safe brush will sense resistance and shut off automatically. The motor will have thermal overload protection, and there should be an easy emergency stop switch/button. Cow brushes are great for cows when they are operated safely. J&D recommends no more than 60 cows share one brush. Cow aggression can be experienced when more than 60 cows must share one brush. Keep cows safe from the brush, and from themselves by providing enough brushes for your entire herd. The brush should have sturdy bristles, and should aid in reaching places a cow can’t reach herself.

Although giving cows access to coat care isn’t mandatory in the United States and Canada, there are plenty of reasons why a farmer would want to provide their herd with a mechanical brush. Just like humans, cows want to feel groomed too. When basic needs are met, the increased production just might make the investment worthwhile.

 

The Studies

Metzger, Eric. “Making the Case for Cow Brushes.” Progressive Dairyman, 11 June 2015, www.progressivedairy.com/topics/herd-health/making-the-case-for-cow-brushes.

McConnachie, Emilie, et al. “Cows Are Highly Motivated to Access a Grooming Substrate.” Biology Letters, The Royal Society, 1 Aug. 2018, rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/14/8/20180303.