Three innovations that are tackling transition challenges

Joep Driessen, dairy farm innovation expert and HealthyLife Grant judge talks to us about current trends in transition.   

Technology development is giving way to new devices, data collection and analysis and plenty of new products to enhance production. The choices are endless.

“But innovation doesn’t have to be complicated,” says Joep Driessen, owner of Cow Signals, which helps farmers to read cow behaviour and prevent disease.

Mr Driessen believes meeting the herd’s needs, can produce healthy cows that produce for five lactations instead of 2.5 lactations, cutting emissions[1] and increasing farm profitability[2] [3].

Judging the HealthyLife Grant

Mr Driessen is helping to choose a winner for the €10,000 prize awarded by the HealthyLife Grant. It’s open to dairy farmers and veterinarians or nutritionists who have introduced an on-farm initiative that enhances the herd’s lifetime performance.

“Innovative, good farmers - they drive farming forwards. And it’s not often about more work or spending more money, it’s about working smarter, using simple ideas that make life easier for the cow,” says Mr Driessen.

Here, Mr Driessen shares some of the effective ways farmers across the world are enhancing herd health and longevity.

  1. 1.      Introducing a stress-free calving line

Mr Driessen says: “Some 80 per cent of all problems arise in the transition period, such as milk fever, ketosis and metritis[4]. There are two things causing these problems: not enough eating and not enough resting.”

A stress free calving line is designed to combat this issue. It’s a straw yard or compost bed where heiffers spend 10 days before calving and one week after calving as a minimum.

“It’s a very simple concept. We’re providing a place where cows feel safe and they can rest and eat,” says Mr Driessen.

Results have shown the amount of rest increases from nine hour to 14 hours rest per day – highly significant when one extra hour of rest can equate to one litre of milk.

  1. 2.      Reducing lameness with deep soft beds

Rubbing from hard resting surfaces can cause open wounds, sickness and in some cases it leads to abortion[5] [6]. Mr Driessen says providing deep soft beds for cows to lay on can cut lameness.

“We are proving that if you go for a deep bedding system, you have less work because you have less sick cows to treat. And one sick cow takes you as much time as 40 healthy cows!” he explains.

He advises providing least 20cm of deep bedding, “which is mainly straw or a mix of straw, limestone and water or dried green bedding but from my experience the best is sand bedding,” he adds.

  1. 3.      Light, air, and water

It may sound simple, but finding ways to provide enough light air and water for the herd can mean big gains for farmers.

“Light, air and water are the cheapest resources for a healthy cow,” says Mr Driessen.

Cows need 16 hours of light per day, air should flow through at a rate of one metre per second, and cows need easy access to water so they can drink the 10 litres they need daily.

“If you can create extra openings and free-flowing cow traffic, it will make the space more comfortable for the herd.

“For many farmers, enhancing performance is just about going back to the basics,” he says. 

Find out more about the HealthyLife Grant and how you can enter



[1] Duifhuizen, (2015), 30% reduction of methane exhaust in the dairy industry is possible

[2] Sasaki O, Takeda H, Nishiura A. (2019). Estimation of the economic value of herd-life length based on simulated changes in survival rate. Anim Sci J. 90:323–332.

[3] De Vries, A., & Marcondes, M. (2020). Review: Overview of factors affecting productive lifespan of dairy cows. Animal, 14(S1), S155-S164.

[4] M. Probo, O. Bogado Pascottini, S. LeBlanc, G. Opsomer and M. Hostens. (2018). Association between metabolic diseases and the culling risk of high-yielding dairy cows in a transition management facility using survival and decision tree analysis. J. Dairy Sci. 101:9419–9429.

[5] N.B. Cook. (2020). Symposium review: The impact of management and facilities on cow culling rates. J Dairy Sci. 103(4):3846-3855.

[6] D. F. Calderonand N. B. Cook. (2011). The effect of lameness on the resting behavior and metabolic status of dairy cattle during the transition period in a freestall-housed dairy herd. J. Dairy Sci. 94 :2883–2894