Advice & Tips: Grooming with benefits

Cow brushes have the potential to add value in several ways, writes Eric Metzger, DeLaval Solution Manager, Service and Original Parts.

Cows spend most of their day on several core activities – eating, resting/sleeping and grooming. Installing cow brushes may not occur as a means to enhance these activities, but brushes target a core activity addressing a strong biological need. Additionally, cow brushes can potentially improve several key metrics while increasing cow comfort.

Brushes have the potential to add value in several ways:

Increase milk production

A recent 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. One hypothesis is cows walking to use the brush are more active, and therefore more inclined to visit the feed bunk. Another hypothesis is cow brushes increase blood circulation overall, which positively affects circulation to the udder.

Reduce disease

Mastitis is one of the leading reasons to cull cows. 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. Another health benefit is the reduction of the number of parasites and organisms on the cow's coat.

Alleviate stress

Cows rely on grooming to help overcome stressful situations, and brushes are a natural stress reliever. Cows are creatures of habit, and anything disrupting their routines has the potential to induce stress. Disruptions could occur due to introducing cows to a new pen, or by equipment or employees. In a fast-paced dairy, cows rushed between pens or to the parlour could also suffer stress.

When a cow is stressed, she is more likely to fall back on her natural instincts as a coping mechanism. If she does not alleviate that stress, she may behave erratically, presenting a danger to workers. If she senses stress in or around the parlour, she may avoid entering, kick off the cluster, or refuse to let down her milk.

Keep cows cool

During summer, many free stalls and holding areas have a sprinkler system designed to cool cows. However, cows collect foreign material – dust, dead hair, feed and manure – on their backs. As the sprinklers are activated, this material creates a crust, holding in heat and preventing it from dissipating. A cow brush removes this material and enables the sprinkler system to do its job.

Worth a second look

As we gain a better understanding of cow behaviour, producers are generally looking to enhance the cow's environment. Brushes typically are seen as a luxury item. However, increasing cow comfort is not just a luxury – it makes good business sense. 


*Schukken, Ynte H. and Young, G. Douglas, Field Study on milk production and mastitis effect of DeLaval swinging cow brush SCB, Cornell University, 2009.

This article first appeared in the August 2015 issue of Dairy Herd Management.