Ireland’s multi-generations of dairy farmers know a thing or two about raising dairy cows. Its more than 18,000 dairy farmers tend 1.4 million animals and are recognized globally for productivity and quality. So, it’s no surprise that an Irish agtech company called Cainthus would invent a way to use artificial intelligence—the same technology developed for terrorist detection of humans—to manage dairy cows.
At its simplest, Cainthus’ technology has been described as facial recognition for cows, but Cainthus CEO Aidan Connolly explains that it is actually much more.
To be precise, Cainthus has developed a smart camera system that collects video data inside the dairy barn and uses artificial intelligence to uniquely identify and track behavior of all the cows in the barn. That information is used to develop key animal and farm performance indicators, which are delivered in the form of daily notifications and real-time detailed analytics to a dairy farmer’s phone. Such analytics help identify and analyze inefficiencies and animal health issues that need to be addressed to improve productivity and animal welfare.
The core dairy husbandry issues are the same, even “if you go back for the last 8,000 years of dairy farming,” notes Connolly. “Digital agriculture, for the first time, allows us to really precisely manage our cows, 24 hours a day, give them better welfare and make them more productive.”
The goal of facial recognition technology for humans has been much broader than simply identification and recognition. “It was designed to look at the overall way a person stands, the shadows they make, some of the other physical characteristics of that person. We’re using that same technology for cows,” said Connolly.
While milk production per cow is a metric that is fairly well tracked and measured on the farm, there are bigger questions of how to maintain those production levels. That is where farm management tools get less specific and are typically monitored by herd averages, rather than real-time data.
Two months isn’t a lot of time, but it can make a big difference for profitability. In fact, getting heifers pregnant two months earlier resulted in an additional $200 to $250 in lifetime net farm income per cow.1
Age at first calving is an important metric in terms of managing heifer inventories and is, therefore, important to help minimize net herd turnover cost. Young stock health is paramount in allowing animals to grow properly so that they reach appropriate breeding age in a timely fashion. As such, it is no surprise that a recent study Zoetis conducted with Compeer Financial found that heifer survival rate is one of the top six factors affecting dairy net farm income.2
The analysis of 11 years of herd data from 489 year-end financial and production-record summaries quantified the value of decreased heifer survival rates on lifetime net farm income. The top one-third of herds in this study achieved an earlier age at first calving, by approximately two months, compared with the bottom one-third of herds. This had a significant compounding effect on the number of animals in a herd over time, which contributed to an average of $200 to $250 in additional lifetime net farm income per cow.1,2
Let’s look at three ways you can help heifers survive and thrive to improve your net farm income:
Raise only the right heifers. — Between feed, labor, production, capital and overhead costs, herd owners have reported spending approximately $1,860 to $2,263 for each heifer raised.3 This could easily be one of the top expenses, which means raising the right heifers is crucial. Genomic testing that can determine susceptibility to calfhood and mature cow diseases can help you invest in heifers that have a better chance of adding short-term and long-term value to your herd.
Guard against scours and bovine respiratory disease (BRD). — Scours and BRD are responsible for decreasing calf and heifer survival rates and increasing age at first calving. Scours is responsible for up to 56.5% of mortality among pre-weaned dairy calves. Calves that survive scours can face lifelong setbacks, including delayed growth, and are slower to reach the milking string as heifers.4,5If a calf has pneumonia during the first 90 days of life, it is more likely to have increased mortality before first calving as well as a higher age at first calving, among other challenges.6 Proactive management and vaccination of healthy pregnant cows and heifers with an injectable vaccine, such as SCOURGUARD®, or an oral vaccine given to calves before colostrum uptake can help prevent scours. And early detection of respiratory disease symptoms and treatment with an antibiotic approved for use in calves, if needed, can help prevent chronic infections for better lifetime productivity.
Optimize your reproduction program. — Getting heifers inseminated as early as possible can have an enormous impact on age at first calving. And, it will get them to the milking herd sooner. Simple steps can be taken to help improve management of your heifer reproduction program: Move heifers to the artificial insemination (AI) pen based on age. Then, on the date of the move and again 10 to 12 days later for heifers not yet inseminated, use LUTALYSE®HighConInjection (dinoprost tromethamine injection) with your veterinarian’s recommendation. Finally, as heifers are moved to the breeding pen, conduct routine pregnancy checks so you can identify pregnant females to move out and any open heifers to re-enroll into your breeding program immediately.
Successful heifer management that lowers age at first calving and improves heifer survival is a demonstrated way to ensure your dairy continues to gain net farm income. For more about heifer survival rate as one of the top drivers of profitability for your dairy, watch this video about solutions for helping heifers to not only survive but thrive on your dairy.
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION: Women of childbearing age and persons with respiratory problems should exercise extreme caution when handling LUTALYSE/LUTALYSE HighCon. LUTALYSE/LUTALYSE HighCon is readily absorbed through the skin and may cause abortion and/or bronchiospasms, therefore spillage on the skin should be washed off immediately with soap and water. Aseptic technique should be used to reduce the possibility of post-injection clostridial infections. Do not administer LUTALYSE/LUTALYSE HighCon in pregnant cattle unless cessation of pregnancy is desired. See full Prescribing Information here.
About Zoetis Zoetis is the leading animal health company, dedicated to supporting its customers and their businesses. Building on more than 65 years of experience in animal health, Zoetis discovers, develops, manufactures and commercializes medicines, vaccines and diagnostic products, which are complemented by biodevices, genetic tests and a range of services. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals with sales of its products in more than 100 countries. In 2018, the company generated annual revenue of $5.8 billion with approximately 10,000 employees. For more information, visit https://www.zoetisus.com/.
Assess and monitor outdoor liquid manure storage during the rainy season.
Last December’s early onset of winter weather combined with heavy snow cover may mean some manure storages are nearing capacity and soon, the spring rain will begin to fall.
Rain has a way of making spring field work difficult, slowing the progress of all fieldwork including emptying in-ground manure storages. The more rain, the more freeboard disappears in the storage and the less opportunity to spread manure without getting stuck. What to do?
There are no simple solutions, but thinking through your specific situation, and monitoring it daily can help prevent, or at least minimize, environmental risks and potential regulatory issues.
Outside manure storages should be designed with freeboard to deal with extreme spring weather. The Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices (GAAMPs) for manure state that all manure storage structures shall maintain a minimum freeboard of twelve inches (six inches for fabricated structures) plus the additional storage volume necessary to contain the precipitation and runoff from a 25-year, 24-hour storm event. Freeboard means the distance from the level of manure to the top of the storage structure. This “storm event” amount is an average of an additional 4 inches in Michigan. You can check your county’s precipitation. That means concrete structures need to have at least 10 inches of freeboard and earthen storages need 16 inches of freeboard at all times to be in compliance with GAAMPs and Right-To-Farm.
For all storage structures, especially earthen, cautiously walk the perimeter of the storage daily (if necessary) based on your rainfall amounts, weather forecasts and storage situation. Recognize that berms for earthen storages, just like fields, may be water saturated and weakened. Assess how solid the sides are, looking for low points or areas with lower structural integrity.
Keep Clean Water Clean
The late spring and excessive rains in some parts of Michigan may cause the freeboard to be consumed by rain and runoff. As rain fills up this freeboard, it may put stress on the integrity of the structure. If the stress results in a break or overflow of the storage, thousands of gallons could quickly exit the manure storage. A manure storage that captures excess clean water runoff from around the farmstead, in addition to direct rainfall, obviously fills up even faster. Diverting clean water from reaching the manure storage would help now and in future rainy weather. Roof runoff is a cost sharable practice through EQIP. Contact your local NRCS office for more information.
Plan for Emergencies
Each farm location has unique risks of manure reaching surface waters. Asses your risk, consider what the worst case scenario might be and think through a plan to address that situation. Knowing the down slope direction from the storage will help you think through what sensitive areas are along that path and help you know how critical the risks could be. Know how to get earth moving equipment on site immediately and plan where potential berms would need to be built to divert the flow from reaching surface water, neighboring property or road ways. Even when there are not imminent risks to surface waters, have plans in place to contain, control and stop manure from moving overland. If your farm doesn’t have a written plan, you can learn how to do one with MSU Extension bulletin E-2575s, Emergency Planning for the Farm: Livestock Operations.
Already at Freeboard?
Do everything you can to reduce liquid manure storage before they are dangerously close to overflowing.Even relieving a few inches off the top will buy some time and reduce stress on the storage system. Options may include transferring manure to another system, hauling to the driest field you have or assessing if you can get on any alfalfa field without getting stuck.
Don’t make a bad situation worse. When land applied, be sure that the manure is not at risk of running off to surface waters. Tile drained fields provide another risk during wet times. Be cautious by taking appropriate steps to insure applied manure does not reach surface inlets or tile drains.
For permitted farms, allowing manure to exceed the freeboard limit is a permit violation, even if a release does not occur. Contact your regional Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Staff and file a report. They will work with you to seek an emergency solution.
In the event that a manure storage breaches and manure reaches surface waters, contact the Pollution Emergency Alerting System hotline immediately at the Department of Environmental Quality: (800) 292.4706 or Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development: (800) 405.0101
Recent regulations may change how some U.S. producers weigh down their silage covers. Yet, the benefits to properly covering silage bunkers or piles continue to provide returns.“The additional time and expense to comply with new waste tire regulations may cause producers to question the need for covering piles at all,” notes Renato Schmidt, Ph.D., Technical Services – Silage, Lallemand Animal Nutrition. “There is absolutely no question that effectively covering piles saves money by preserving important nutrients in the silage, reducing dry matter (DM) losses and maintaining the hygienic quality of the feed. The effort to cover and seal silage piles is a vital part of the silage management program.”
Covering piles helps create the anaerobic environment required for the ensiling fermentation on the most critical portion in terms of porosity — the surface. As a result, the quality of the fermentation process is improved compared to uncovered piles. During storage, well-maintained plastic covers help prevent oxygen ingress, which can cause spoilage.
For example, sealing and covering a 40-foot by 100-foot bunker returns approximately $2,000 in improved silage DM recovery when filled with corn silage. Plus, feeding spoiled silage from an uncovered silo can reduce feed intake and digestibility and potentially lead to metabolic and reproductive issues in the herd.
A combination of high-quality plastic and adequate weighting helps prevent losses. Use plastic that is at least five millimeters thick and dual layer — black inner and white outer — to resist deterioration. Also consider using plastic film with an increased oxygen barrier, Dr. Schmidt advises.
Weighting the plastic down prevents air from seeping underneath the covering. Full-casing waste tires have been the standard for anchoring bunk silo covers for years, but they are heavy to move and bulky to store. Standing water in a full-casing tire can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. With the increasing concern around West Nile virus (WNV) — and the new state regulations prohibiting full tires — producers may be searching for new options, such as:
Modifying tires by leaving tires on the rims, removing tire sidewalls, drilling holes in the tire sidewalls or cutting tires in half
Covering tires with plastic to reduce standing water
Treating tires with a mosquito larvicide, which requires a certified pesticide applicator
Replacing tires with sidewall disks
Using heavy equipment tire beads
Finding alternatives to tires, such as gravel or sand bags
Dr. Schmidt advises producers to choose an option that maintain the integrity of the plastic. Tears or holes reduce the effectiveness of the covering and allow oxygen into the pile.
“Covering and sealing silage bunkers makes economic sense,” Dr. Schmidt says. “There are options for producers looking for alternative ways to weigh down covers. Don’t drop a best practice that pencils out in the long run.”
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DeLaval publishes its 2018 Sustainability Report, following the company’s annual progress in the areas of animal welfare, environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and social sustainability.
“This Report summarises how we all at DeLaval have a role to play and how every one of us contributes to DeLaval sustainability efforts”, says Lars Johansson, Senior Vice President Corporate Communications & Sustainability.
The 2018 Sustainability Report provides an updated overview of how the company is driving its sustainability agenda across all areas of business, and follows on the progress towards its continuous improvements in the way the company operates.
“This aligns with DeLaval business objectives to provide products and solutions that let farmers do more with less which is as important for us in our own operations. This demonstrates our commitment to our Vision in making sustainable food production possible”, Lars concludes.
To read the full Sustainability Report 2018, please click here.
For a more comprehensive information on our take on Sustainability and our achievements, please visit www.delavalcorporate.com/sustainability.
DeLaval is a worldwide leader in milking equipment and solutions for dairy farmers, which make sustainable food production possible, warranting milk quality and animal health. Our solutions are used by millions of dairy farmers around the globe every day.
DeLaval was founded more than 135 years ago in Sweden, when the visionary Gustaf de Laval patented the cream separator. Today, DeLaval has 4,500 employees and operates in more than 100 markets. DeLaval, alongside Tetra Pak and Sidel, is part of the Tetra Laval Group. See more at www.delavalcorporate.com.
Cattle are a mainstay for many smallholders but their farms are often on degraded lands, which increases cattle’s impact on the environment and lowers their production of milk and meat. Researchers at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) have shown that Brachiaria grass species can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cattle and increase productivity — and breeding improved varieties can potentially augment the environmental and economic benefits.
But the breeding process is difficult, time-consuming and expensive. A breakthrough on Brachiaria‘s complex genome may make breeding much more efficient, and potentially increase the speed with which new grasses begin benefiting cattle farmers and the environment.
Margaret Worthington, a geneticist at CIAT and the University of Arkansas, and colleagues created the first dense molecular map of B. humidicola, a robust and environmentally friendly forage grass. They also pinpointed the candidate genes for the plant’s asexual reproductive mechanism, which is a huge asset for plant breeders. The findings were published in January in BMC Genomics.
“The idea is to create a better crop with less time and less money and to get it out faster to farmers,” said Worthington. “By using this molecular marker, you increase the odds of finding that rare winner.”
Traditional plant-breeding methods for Brachiaria grasses involve one of two complex techniques. One is to grow the plant to seed, and to study the seeds under a microscope to determine if the plant reproduced asexually. The other involves excising the plant’s embryos and conducting a similar analysis. Both techniques require many weeks, significant funds and highly trained specialists.
Asexual reproduction through seed, called apomixis, is key for developing new crop varieties for widespread use. Crops that reproduce through apomixis conserve the same traits from one generation to the next, essentially locking in sought-after characteristics such as drought tolerance or high nutritional value. Plants that reproduce sexually do not reliably pass on desired traits to subsequent generations.
With this molecular marker, plant breeders can run a quick and inexpensive test when Brachiaria grasses are seedlings to identify whether they reproduce through apomixis. The results are available in a couple of weeks. This allows plant breeders to select only asexually reproductive plants for trials, allowing them to allocate more time and resources to plants that have the potential to produce new cultivars.
Brachiaria grasses have often been considered an “orphan crop,” due to a lack of investment in research, but their potential for making tropical farms more productive and better for the environment is well known among tropical forage specialists. One recent study found that B. humidicola was especially adept at reducing the nitrous oxide, a strong greenhouse gas, emitted from soil as result of cattle urine deposition. In addition, CIAT researchers have identified mechanisms that this tropical grass uses to efficiently acquire nutrients from soil.
Brachiaria breeders also value apomixis for smallholders in developing nations who have limited resources for investing in improving their farms. Improved grass varieties that produce sufficient quantities of trait-retaining seeds can eliminate the need to purchase new seeds for every planting, which is a potentially expensive barrier to adoption.
“This breakthrough allows for the acceleration of our breeding program for multiple traits, including the development of tropical forages that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make farming more eco-efficient,” said Joe Tohme, a senior scientist at CIAT and study co-author.
“This discovery represents a milestone in the path toward developing mitigation technologies in the livestock production sector,” said Jacobo Arango, a study co-author who is an environmental biologist from CIAT and a Lead Author for the next Assessment Report on Climate Change Mitigation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Updates to a dairy nutrition model developed at Cornell University may help farmers improve their economic margin and reduce the amount of nitrogen pollution in the environment.
The Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System (CNCPS) is a model that helps farmers determine what to feed dairy cows to make milk production more efficient and environmentally friendly.
On-farm research in Broome, Tioga and Delaware counties in New York revealed that farmers can feed cows less protein, maintain a cow’s milk-production output and reduce nitrogen in the manure. This means the nutrient does not run off into waterways and lakes, which can promote unwanted algae.
The researchers used the CNCPS to formulate diets in eight herds of cows in New York, and found that it could reduce nitrogen in manure by about 14%.
On one 50-cow farm, the researchers found the amount of protein in the feed dropped from 16.3% to 14.9%. In the farm’s manure output, there were 1607 fewer pounds of nitrogen put into the environment annually with no change in milk production. On a 565-cow farm, the protein feed input dropped 1%, which resulted in nearly 80 g less nitrogen in cow’s manure daily and reduced nitrogen excretion by 18.6%. That translates into 35,916 fewer pounds of nitrogen in the environment annually.
The researchers noted that reducing the protein portion of the feed to enhance efficiency also saves farmers money. Using 2017 feed prices as a base, they stated a farmer can save between $147 and $157 per cow annually.
“I call it a win-win. The dairy farmers win because the cow is more efficient and more profitable. Society wins because we’re now putting fewer nutrients back into the environment or into the water than we would have had we not made the adjustments,” said Larry Chase, Professor Emeritus of Animal Science.
The researchers concluded: “The CNCPS can be used to assess the environmental impact of dairy cattle and by nutritionists to improve the utilization efficiency of diets and cattle in the environmental context.”
In this rural town, a short drive from Canton, Ohio, Mark Thomas had been running a 400-cow dairy farm for years.
That, plus row-cropping 2,000 acres, kept him outside, where he wanted to be most days. But the number-crunching side of his job—tabulating production costs, losses, and inventory—never thrilled him. He and his wife, Chris, made money, sure. They paid their taxes on time, always. But for a while, they weren’t able to keep as close a watch on their production costs as they could have. And though profits for milk have dipped in recent years, they kept on milking.
Last year, they stopped. Selling off their herd of Holsteins, they switched to raising heifers while continuing with cultivating corn, soybeans, and wheat. While it was tough to watch the milking cows leave their barn for good, the Thomases had the financial projections and analysis to show that it was likely the right move.
They used information from several years of analysis done through the Ohio Farm Business Analysis and Benchmarking Program in The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES). Partly funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program assesses the financial health of a farm operation and generates reports that compare the operation to other comparable Ohio farms.
A decade ago when the Thomases first participated in the program, they had to dredge up a lot of receipts, bank statements, and loan information from a couple of years earlier.
“I’ve said before that I’d rather go through a colonoscopy or a tonsillectomy without anesthesia than go through that again, but we were a whole lot better as a result,” Mark Thomas quipped.
Since he first participated in the program in 2009, Thomas has been able to make informed decisions that put his business on a better track, the shift to raising heifers being the most recent decision.
At a time when national farm income is down, on average, and uncertainty abounds about how tariffs might affect foreign demand for corn and especially soybeans, it is invaluable for Ohio farmers to know their production costs in every part of their business. The business analysis program is designed to help Ohio farmers achieve financial success. Helping farmers in this way is one of the main reasons land-grant institutions such as Ohio State were created.
This week, Ohio Agriculture Week, March 10–16, which corresponds with National Agriculture Week, is a time to acknowledge farmers’ contributions. The state is home to 75,462 farms, and 83,491 people work in Ohio’s production agriculture sector, according to the most recent data from USDA and CFAES reports. The Ohio Farm Business Analysis and Benchmarking Program is just one of many programs to assist the state’s farmers so that they can continue pursuing, and making a sufficient profit in, what they’re most passionate about.
“We don’t always have good news for the farmer,” said Dianne Shoemaker, a dairy specialist with Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of CFAES, and manager of the business analysis program. “But the benefits a farm receives from doing an analysis each year include seeing what is going well and identifying issues that need to be addressed in a timely manner.”
Most farmers do cash-based recordkeeping, tracking money coming in and going out, so they might not separate out the contributions and expenses of each individual venture—such as livestock, dairy, or crop enterprises, Shoemaker said. The accrual adjustments used in the business analysis program take into account inventory changes and income and expenses when they occur, regardless of when the cash is exchanged.
More often than not, farmers juggle multiple ventures: raising crops and (possibly) livestock, selling seed, and/or running a pick-your-own produce business. Keeping track of exactly what each of those enterprises is adding to—or taking away from—the business is critical, Shoemaker said.
“It helps farms identify where they’re making money and where they have opportunities to improve,” Shoemaker said.
Any business that participates works directly with a technician who helps the business collect the necessary information and generates the farm analysis. In addition to providing the relevant reports, Shoemaker and the technicians work with the farm’s business owners to interpret and apply the results they see.
Getting a report that compares a farm or enterprise to comparable farm businesses can enable a farmer to know whether he or she could or should take a different approach to become more profitable.
“Sometimes farmers have to decide to discontinue an enterprise or sell a farm business, which is always sad, but they are able to make the decision with full information,” Shoemaker said.
The Thomases knew their milk production business wasn’t doing well. At first, they changed what they fed the cows to produce milk that was higher in fat and protein, milk that earned them more. Later, even that wasn’t enough. So, the Thomases decided to sell off their herd in June 2018 when they suspected it would be a good time.
“Then,” Mark Thomas said, “there was a solid market for the cows.”
For more information about the Farm Business Analysis and Benchmarking Program, visit farmprofitability.osu.edu or email Shoemaker at email@example.com.
Recently dairy farmers have faced several challenges, and one of the largest of those challenges has been low milk prices, resulting in decreased profits. In these tough economic times, dairymen have had to re-evaluate many aspects of their operation. When evaluating the operation, heifers should not be forgotten. Raising heifers is one of the biggest investments on the farm, but there is no return on that investment until the heifer reaches the milking herd. Heifers play a vital role in the future success of an operation, and tremendous amounts of money can be saved by improving efficiencies in your heifer program without sacrificing performance.
Below are five focus areas for improving the profitability of your heifer program.
1. Determine the appropriate number of heifers for your operation.
Many farms simply have too many heifers. This increase in heifers has resulted from sexed semen and advances in reproductive efficiency, as well as better colostrum and improved calf management. Each farm should determine the necessary number of heifers that are needed for their operation based on their future herd size goals and then add a cushion of three to five percent above that to avoid needing to purchase heifers in the future. The number of heifers necessary depends upon the size of the herd, the cow culling rate, the age at first calving, and the heifer culling rate. In the worst-case scenario, if the farm runs short, they would have to purchase additional heifers in the future — but based on projected heifer prices, this is still more financially sound than raising too many heifers.
Don’t be afraid to cull heifers. Culling can be a difficult decision, but it can also be economically beneficial for your bottom line. Put a plan in place. There are several tools available to help with this decision including genomics, pedigrees, and predicted transmitting ability. Consider culling any heifers with injuries or disease, as they are likely to lag behind and struggle to become profitable. Cull early! Money can be saved by removing the heifer from the herd earlier rather than later when input costs have started to add up. If the farm wants to avoid buying heifers later due to disease risk, heifers can be sold later, but the return may not be as great. You will need to weigh this information against the value of raising a few additional head that may not actually be needed.
2. Strategically use beef semen to improve dairy profitability.
Is there an opportunity to utilize beef semen in your dairy herd? The optimal crossbred beef/dairy calf typically has a higher market value than a purebred dairy calf. There are several different strategies for incorporating beef semen into your operation dependent upon the current farm dynamics and the reproductive status of the farm. Reproductive status tends to be the primary limitation for the incorporation of beef semen use to capitalize on gains from crossbred calves. Generally, farms with high reproductive performance tend to be sensitive to calf prices, and low-reproductive performance farms are more sensitive to semen prices. The “Premium Beef on Dairy” tool from the University of Wisconsin–Madison dairy management website uses market price, along with several other variables, to help determine the optimal strategy based on the farm’s inventory and goals. One strategy uses sexed semen on genetically superior cows, while beef semen is used on lower-producing cows. Heifer availability should not be forgotten when considering or using beef semen, as more utilization may also necessitate the purchase of more replacements.
Crossbreeding strategies present an opportunity to add value to extra calves since, as previously mentioned, crossbreds are typically valued more highly than purebred dairy calves. Several different beef breeds cross well with dairy breeds, but it is important to note that, like dairy bulls, not all beef bulls are created equal. This strategy warrants careful consideration when determining which beef bull to use on your operation to maximize potential.
3. Set heifers up for success.
Once the ideal number of heifers has been determined, set them up for success by getting them off to a running start during the pre-weaning period. To maximize efficiency, provide optimal nutrition that will help minimize any disease that may set the heifers back. Do not forget about colostrum. Ensure that calves receive adequate amounts of high-quality colostrum quickly after birth, as this will maximize their immunity and decrease their susceptibility to disease. Work with your nutritionist to develop a nutrition program that meets your growth and weaning goals by balancing a quality milk replacer/whole milk and starter. Do your best to keep disease to a minimum in order to maximize growth and intake, helping heifers smoothly and successfully transition to the next grower phase without setbacks.
After weaning, minimize stressors so the heifer can maintain efficient growth. Heifers must first meet their maintenance requirements to sustain body status. Keeping heifers in a low-stress environment (which includes factors like weather/temperature and stocking density) can reduce maintenance costs and allow more energy to be more efficiently partitioned toward growth. Utilize organic trace mineral nutrition to optimize the true potential of your replacement heifers throughout all stages of your heifer-rearing program.
4. Minimize shrink.
Feed shrink doesn’t only apply to the lactating herd! Shrink should be managed not only in storage and handling, but also at the bunk. Often, large amounts of feed are wasted because of poor handling techniques, so spend extra time considering bunker management. Remain aware of feed delivery and how much heifers are being fed. This includes keeping track of any weigh-backs, getting heifer dry matter intakes dialed in, and pushing up feed to minimize waste.
5. Re-evaluate heifer rations.
Build heifer diets around forages and evaluate other ration ingredients to ensure the ration is cost-effective. As long as they are providing adequate nutrients to meet growth goals, heifer rations do not need to be complicated. To meet growth goals, average daily gain should typically fall between 1.8–2.0 pounds per day. Heifer growth should include both weight gain as well as lean tissue growth. Heifers that gain weight too quickly will accumulate fat tissue that will interfere with future production potential, so there must be a balance between energy and protein supplied. Another opportunity for savings is to avoid overfeeding vitamins and minerals. Vitamins should be fed according to NRC guidelines. Producers should consider utilizing high-quality mineral sources, such as organic trace minerals, which are more bioavailable to animals and can be fed at lower levels while still offering growth, immunity and health benefits for overall long-term performance.
Raising your own replacement heifers gives your dairy operation the opportunity to increase efficiencies and improve savings and profitability. It is important to understand that inputs in your heifer program today will determine the quality and production capabilities of those same animals once they become part of the milking string. Work with trusted professionals to define farm goals and identify opportunities to maximize profitability on your operation. Contact your local Hubbard Feeds representative for further guidance and assistance in monitoring herd progress.
Professionalism and attention to detail across the entire business is vital to ensure good technical performance and profitability on a year-round calving dairy unit.
This is according to Lloyd Holterman, one of the four partners managing Rosy Lane Dairy, Watertown, Wisconsin, where 1,075 Holsteins are milked.
The team at Rosy Lane opts for three-times-a-day milking as well as a double OV-synch programme, and do not feed a transition diet.
Speaking at the Bridge Hotel, Wetherby, last week (20 March) as part of AHDB Dairy’s spring meetings, Mr Holterman stressed that while these options were negotiable, there were several areas of management that were not.
These are the five things he believes are crucial to running a profitable dairy.
1. Employ great people
Find the worker, then find work for them
Don’t just hire farmers. You can teach townies your way of doing it and they don’t arrive with bad habits
Recruit for the cow, calf or crop and feeding teams. This simplifies recruitment and focuses on certain attributes
Promote from within. This gives people the aspiration to improve and keeps staff motivated
Tips/how it works at Rosy Lane
Assign an experienced mentor to teach a new staff member
Twice in the first week hold a meeting on key health and safety issues and to teach the new recruit about the business
Allow time for them to do the job correctly and explain why you do it that way
At Rosy Lane, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and tick lists for farm tasks – such as tractor driving and milking – are written in Spanish and English. SOPs are reviewed annually and updated as necessary
Talented workers are trained to do other jobs in case of emergencies.
Rosy Lane Dairy farm facts
1,075 Holstein milking herd
950 cows milked three times a day in a double 12 parlour
20 full-time staff and four partners
13,757 litres a cow at 4% fat, 3.2% protein
Growing maize and alfalfa on 720ha
1.7 services to conception
37% pregnancy rate
49% of diet is dry matter forage
2. Measure, measure and measure more
Invest in technology to make efficiencies
Know where you are to determine where you are going (see “Cost and performance”)
Lloyd and Daphne Holterman
Tips/how it works at Rosy Lane
Rosy Lane uses one programme in the milking parlour (AFI milk) and a herd management system based on rumination collars (Dairy Comp 305).
The parlour system monitors cow production, milking speed, conductivity (mastitis) and activity (pedometer). A 25% saving on milking time was made by grouping cows according to milking speed.
A self-loading, self-propelled mixer wagon was bought to cut, mix and feed the total mixed ration. It measures the weight of each ingredient, projects future feed use, and costs less than the four pieces of machinery it replaced, saving a total of £16,500/year.
3. Finance and record-keeping
Grow the business incrementally
Balance business growth, taxes and leverage
Tips/how it work at Rosy Lane
Aim for >60% equity at all times
Long-term interest rates are locked in – most at 4.4%
Investments go ahead if land and buildings can be paid off in 10 years, cows and machinery in five years and operating loans in one year
Sharpen your business acumen with classes in accountancy, seminars on business management (non-agricultural ones)
Read financial publications every day (Financial Times, Forbes, Wall Street Journal)
Benchmark against similar farms (at Rosy Lane they benchmark against Cornell University dairy peer group twice a year)
Use financial consultants who use industry insights and real-world numbers
Cost and performance
Labour cost 6.5p/litre
Feed cost/litre 13p/litre
Net herd replacement cost 0.015p/litre
Cost per kg of dry matter 3.5p/kg
Lactating feed cost £4.87 a cow a day
Milk sold per employee 530,000 litres
Feed conversion 1.67kg DM fed for every 1kg of milk produced
Cut 2.1p/litre off vet cost (now at 1.1p/litre) over past 10 years, a saving of £147,900/year
4. Genetic excellence
Focus on traits that will cut costs – for example, lameness and calving ease
Breed for longevity as this allows you to move your cows up a group. There are four groups and four ways of leaving the farm, such as dead, forced cull, voluntary cull or sold as a milker.
Breed on profitable traits, index and fertility, don’t worry about type
Increase lifetime daily yield – the milk output divided by days from birth to culling
Tips/how it work at Rosy Lane
Genomic test all heifers, sort by index and profitability
At Rosy Lane, they test all 400-ish heifers annually and cull below $650 net merit
Breed for a moderate foot angle and a slightly spread toe to prevent dirt becoming trapped in the hoof
Use fertility scores and breed for fertile cows. Failure to get in-calf is the main reason for culling in the US.
5. Biosecurity and disease control
Reduce vet costs by minimising problems and doing things in-house
Have a close relationship with your vet
Don’t underestimate the importance of keeping your farm clean
Clean staff on entry to calf barn and do not let visitors in
Disinfect all trucks and trailers
Monitor bulk tank for Staph aureus and mycoplasma
Deliveries to farmhouse office only
Test animals coming in from high-health status herds for infectious disease
Calculating net herd replacement cost: the “silent thief”
Net herd replacement cost is based on the cost or value of raising a replacement heifer versus the value of a cull cow.
At Rosy Lane, it costs $1,800 (£1,364), so they can work out their net replacement cost with the following equation:
Number of animals leaving the herd (466) multiplied by the cost of raising a bulling heifer ($1,800), minus cow sales $838,800, divided by milk sold that year 323,661cwt = 0.88 cents/cwt or 0.015p/litre
Because rearing heifers is expensive and cows are most productive in their fourth lactations, it is a financial drain on the business to be running a high forced cull rate and needing heifers.
Rosy Lane manages 4.3 lactations on average, with a 20% cull rate, plus a 3% death rate.
At 20% replacement, the farm would average five lactations a cow.
A first-lactation animal that is culled only yields 10.3 litres/day, while a fourth calver culled produces 23.8 litres/day and a fifth calver yields 25.7 litres/day.
While there are no industry targets for net replacement cost, it is advisable that farms start to work it out and try to increase cow longevity and reduce their net herd replacement cost, explains Mrs Holterman.
She adds: “There is no target for net herd replacement cost. This is a just a relatively new number in benchmarking that US producers have started paying attention to in the past couple of years.
“Knowing your cost and lowering it is what you should aim to do.”
Steve West, knowledge exchange manager for AHDB Dairy, says that reducing the number of forced culls should improve net herd replacement cost.
He adds: “The idea is that higher yielding, year-round calving herds need healthy cows at the fifth lactation.
“If you don’t have them, you have to cull and maintain a younger herd and younger animals have a lower lifetime daily yield.”
Flood waters are receding, but the challenges in recovery for farmers and livestock producers are just beginning. Beth Doran, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach beef specialist, recommends producers get out in their fields as soon as possible.
“Beef producers should assess the damage to pastures and hay ground, then check out possible disaster assistance,” she said.
Doran advised cattlemen to look for three things in their assessment – debris, silt on the forage, and thinned or dead forage plants.
“Debris includes wire, metal and trash that may be injurious to animal health and is usually found along fence lines and in the corners of fields,” Doran said.
According to Brian Lang, extension field agronomist, silt on forage is a big issue because it is unpalatable and could carry microbes affecting animal health.
“Ironically, we need rain to wash off the silt. This early in the season, it is likely more rain will come,” he said. “Otherwise, if the forage was tall enough, chop silted forage back onto the field to encourage clean regrowth. By the time farmers are able to run equipment on a pasture or hay field, visual assessment of forage species survival can be conducted and should be rather obvious.”
Whether the forage plants survived depends on three factors – plant species, time under water and how much of the plant was submerged. Some species, such as Smooth bromegrass, orchardgrass, fescue and ryegrass, should grow through a moderate silt deposit (less than 2 inches) and can withstand several days of flooding without injury. Reed canarygrass can stand longer submersion than other perennial grasses; whereas, Meadow bromegrass cannot tolerate any flooding.
Time under water affects the amount of oxygen available to the plant and is related to temperature, Lang said. Fortunately, during spring flooding, cooler temperatures allow plants to survive longer under water. Flash flooding – as opposed to standing water – increases survivability because the plants experience less oxygen depletion in moving water than still water conditions. Also, plants with more leaves above water are more likely to survive.
The USDA Farm Service Agency administers the Emergency Conservation Program, which provides funding and technical assistance for farmers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters. Pastureland and hay ground are considered eligible land under ECP. Eligible practices pertaining to pastures and hay fields include debris removal (cleanup of woody material, sand, rock and trash on pastureland and hay fields) and restoring fences (livestock cross fences, boundary fences, and livestock gates.)
Producers with pasture damage or hay field damage are encouraged to contact their local Farm Service Agency Office to report the damage and determine if they are eligible for assistance. If the requirements are met, a formal application will need to be completed.
Holstein Association USA is excited to honor herds with the 2018 Progressive Genetics HerdSM award. Given annually, the award is presented to Registered Holstein® herds with high genetic values, measured by average CTPI.
The Progressive Genetics Herd (PGH) recognition was first given in 1991. The PGH award honors herds with high genetic value, based on average TPI® levels, which lead toward continued breed progress.
To qualify for the PGH award, herds must participate in the TriStarSM production records program at the Premier or Deluxe levels, and participate in the Holstein type classification program. Herds must have at least 20 cows of 87% RHA or higher.
All eligible herds are automatically evaluated annually and the PGH recognition is awarded to the 500 herds with the highest average TPI for females in the herd, both young and mature.
The TPI average range for the top 500 herds in 2018 was 2035 to 2537. The highest average TPI herd in this year’s PGH honoree group was David, Frank Paul & Patrick Bauer of Sandy-Valley Holsteins in Wisconsin, with an average TPI of 2537.
Forty-two herds received the award for the first time this year: Arizona Dairy Co., Ariz.; Donald G. Averill, Jr., Ore.; Boadwine Farms, Inc., S.D.; BWC Weststeyn Dairy LP, Calif.; James Carvalho, Calif.; Ted J. Domeyer, Iowa; Donley Farms, Inc., Idaho; Dutch Dairy LLC, Wis.; Faria Dairy, Inc., Calif.; Fern-Oak Farms, Calif.; Finger Family Farm LLC, Wis.; John W., Jr. & Angie George, Pa.; Grafton County Farm, N.H.; Hemsteads Holsteins, Ohio; Leslie Shirk High, Iowa; Shawn Hollermann, Minn.; Hulstein Brothers, Inc., Iowa; Matthew Ryan Johnson, N.C.; William D III & Benjamin Casey Jones, Pa.; George Kasbergen, Ill.; Ketchum Farms, Minn.; Kaleb, Cole & Carter Kruse, Iowa; Jeremiah Lungwitz, Colo.; Maple Grove Dairy Inc., Wis.; Mapltwin Farms LLC, Wis.; Glendon Martin, Pa.; Sheldon Martin, Wis.; Kenneth M. & Christine A. McBroom, Mich.; Jeremy Wilson McCain, N.C.; McCollum Farm Partnership, N.Y.; Richard & Elaine Pausma, Iowa; Quantum Dairy, LLC, Wis.; Rocking S Dairy, Calif.; So-Fine Bovines LLC, Wis.; South Dakota State University, S.D.; Southeast Research Station, La.; Sweet-Haven Holsteins, Calif.; Codey Waller, Iowa; Jeff & Melinda Walz, Iowa; Christopher C. Weber, Wis.; Justin R. Wiebe, Iowa; and Lamar H. Zimmerman, Pa.
Twenty-two herds have received PGH honors all 28 years the award has been given:Bomaz, Inc., Wis.; R. Paul Buhr, Jr., Wis.; De Su Holsteins LLC, Iowa; End Road Farm, Mich.; Brian & Wendy Fust, Wis.; Jaloda Farms, Ohio; Randy W. Kortus, Wash.; Roger & David Latuch, Pa.; Lirr Farm, Wis.; Nordic-Haven Holsteins, Iowa; Gaylon, Gary & Steve Obert, Ill.; Mark P. Paul, Wis.; Regancrest Holsteins, LLC, Iowa; Darrell Richard, Ind.; Alfred & Mark Schmitt, Minn.; Scott Seward, Wis.; Stelling Farms, Inc., Minn.; Twin-B-Dairy LLC, Wis.; Veazland Farms, Maine; Walhowdon Farm, Inc., N.H.; Wardin Bros., Mich.; and Welcome Stock Farm, LLC, N.Y.
View the complete list of 2018 Progressive Genetics Herd Award honorees at http://www.holsteinusa.com/awards/herds.html.
Holstein Association USA, Inc., www.holsteinusa.com, provides products and services to dairy producers to enhance genetics and improve profitability–ranging from registry processing to identification programs to consulting services.
The Association, headquartered in Brattleboro, Vt., maintains the records for Registered Holsteins® and represents approximately 30,000 members throughout the United States.
Farmers are paying up to €1,800/hd for freshly-calved dairy replacements as milk suppliers look to continue to grow cow numbers.
Brisk demand for good quality dairy stock has seen exceptional prices paid over the last month for calved heifers and young cows, as well as for bulling heifers.
Prices for calved heifers range from €1,300 to €1,800/hd, with EBI and genetics dictating the sale values.
Barney O’Connell of Listowel Mart described the current market for dairy stock as “crazy”.
He said the bulk of the calved heifers at last week’s sale sold from €1,400 to €1,700/hd, but a top price of €1,790 was paid.
“The prices depended on the heifers, and their figures for EBI and fat and protein, and milk yield. Different people have different tastes,” Mr O’Connell explained.
It was a similar story in Corrin Mart where mart manager Sean Leahy said quality replacement stock were “very dear” and prices ranged from €1,400-1,800/hd for first-calvers, second calvers and third-calvers.
Mature cows ranged in price from €800 to €1,300 depending on their age, Mr Leahy added.
The second Preliminary Progress of the Farm DFBS Report has been released. As dairy businesses across the state continue to analyze their financial and business performance utilizing the Dairy Farm Business Summary and Analysis Program, updated progress of the farm reports are provided to review the changes that have occurred from 2017 to 2018.
Along with how things changed from 2017, the range across selected factors for 2018 is reported in a business chart format, which reports the averages by 20 percent increments for each category summarized. With 73 farms included in this report, along with the average of all farms, the report includes preliminary data for farms less than and greater than 700 cows.
Highlighted ranges of performance from the 2nd preliminary report, for the average of all farms:
Milk per Cow
Milk Sold Per Worker Equivalent
Feed & Crop Input Expenses per Cwt.
Operating Costs to Produce Milk
Total Costs to Produce Milk
% Return on All Capital, w/o Appreciation
If you are interested in analyzing your business performance, please contact your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office to inquire about what resources are available to assist in this effort.
In order to reduce mastitis and maintain milk quality, producers need to maintain milking equipment in good working condition. Adequate effective reserve, consistent pulsation, replacement of liners, and proper system vacuum levels are important factors that lead to effective milking of cows. However, milking efficiency should be considered from two other perspectives, the amount of time the milking cluster is attached to the udder (unit on time) and the percent of unit on time that milk is flowing at or near maximum. When milk isn’t flowing while the unit is attached, it is not only inefficient, but more importantly, damages the teat tissue, which may increase the risk of mastitis and decrease milk yield.
A large majority of dairy farms have their milking equipment evaluated and maintained on a routine basis. Although proper equipment function is necessary for milking efficiency, it does not necessarily guarantee it. Two management areas that could lead to poor milking efficiency are milking routines that don’t achieve consistent milk letdown and overmilking. Either one of these problems can leave cows ‘high and dry’ for a period of time, and expose teats to high vacuum levels. In this article, we’ll discuss the first of these issues, poor milk let down or what is commonly called bi-modal milking.
During stimulation of teats before milking, nerves carry an “electric signal” to the brain. On receiving the signal, the brain then releases oxytocin into the blood and then to the udder. It takes about 1 to 2 minutes for oxytocin levels to increase in blood to optimally contract muscle cells that surround the milk ducts, which then squeeze the milk down towards the teats. The two important points about this oxytocin release are enough stimulation (at least 10 seconds of actual physical touching) of the teats and the duration of the ‘lag time’, that is, the time interval between when teats are first stimulated until the cluster is attached. Unfortunately, with increasing herd size, the number of cows that can be milked through the parlor per hour, or parlor turnover rate, is often identified as one of the choke points of herd capacity. Thus, parlor efficiency is emphasized at the expense of milking efficiency.
How would you know if this is happening in your herd? One method is to measure milk flow with digital vacuum recorders (VaDia®, Biocontrol NA). VaDia units record vacuum in the mouthpiece chamber (at the opening of the liner) and in the cluster. VaDia units don’t measure milk flow directly, but give us a qualitative snapshot on milk flow. A simple way to interpret VaDia results relative to milk flow is:
High Milk Flow = Low vacuum in the liner or cluster
Low Milk Flow = High vacuum in the liner or cluster.
VaDia units can measure vacuum levels at four different places on the cluster simultaneously. We often measure vacuum in the mouthpiece of a front and rear liner, near the cluster and in a short pulsation tube.
In the example below, Cow 1 was ready to milk; the vacuum in the liner mouthpiece near the teat (red and blue lines) dropped quickly (less than 10 seconds after the unit was attached) and remained low until each teat was finished milking (the front quarter [blue line], finished before the rear quarter [red line]).
What about Cow 2? Vacuum in the liner mouthpiece and cluster (green line) decreased, but then increased to near maximum levels, and finally decreased again. This cow was not ready to milk, milk flow was low for more than a minute after the milking unit was attached, signifying bimodal milk letdown.
So how does bimodal milking relate to milking efficiency? For cow 1, milk was flowing for about 4 minutes and 30 seconds of the total unit on time of 4 minutes and 45 seconds. Thus, the efficiency of this milking was 95%. For cow 2, milk was flowing for about 2 minutes of the total 3 minutes and 15 seconds the unit was attached, or a milking efficiency of about 60%. Why does this matter?
Recent research from Wisconsin found that when teats are subjected to high vacuum (as in the case for cow 2) blood is congested within the teat, the diameter of the teat canal decreases, which then decreases milk flow (Penry et al., 2018). This can be detrimental to the heath of the teat tissue and possibly impair both immune defenses of the teat as well as milk yield. In the case of cow 2, in order for all of her milk to be harvested during the milking, she would have had to compensate with a higher milk flow rate in a shorter duration of time, despite the anatomical changes to her teat during high vacuum, which is unlikely.
A proper premilking routine should result in at least 90% of cows with immediate milk let down after cluster attachment, and milk should be flowing 95% of the time while the cluster is attached. In a subsequent article, we will discuss the other problem that leads to poor milking efficiency, overmilking. For more information on the use of VaDia recorders to describe milk flow visit the Quality Milk Alliance article site: Let the Cows Score the Milking Protocols
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed milking efficiency, defined as the percent of unit on-time (cluster attached) that milk is flowing near maximum. For example, if a milking unit is attached for 5 minutes to a cow during milking, and strong milk flow occurs for 4 minutes and 45 seconds, her milking efficiency is 95% (285/300 seconds). When milk isn’t flowing while the unit is attached, it is not only inefficient, but more importantly, can damage teat tissue, and thus may increase the risk of mastitis and decrease milk yield.
As stated in the Part 1, most dairy farms evaluate and maintain their milking equipment on a routine basis. Although proper equipment function is necessary for milking efficiency, it does not necessarily guarantee it. Two management areas that lead to poor milking efficiency are milking routines that don’t achieve consistent milk letdown and overmilking. Either one of these problems can leave cows ‘high and dry’ for a period of time, and expose teats to high vacuum levels. In this article, we’ll discuss overmilking, which is an problem that occurs at the end of milking.
After a milking is completed, the vacuum should be turned off and cluster removed from the cow as soon as possible. Removal of the units is usually done by automatic detachers (take-offs) that rely on sensors that record milk flow between the cluster and milk pipeline. When milk flow remains at a low level (about 0.5 lbs/minute) for a few seconds, the vacuum shuts off and the cluster is detached from the cow. However, if herds lack detachers, or if operators intervene in deciding when a cow is done milking, units may be removed manually. Generally, it is undesirable to have units attached for more than 15 seconds after milking completion and units that are attached for more than 30 seconds after milking are considered to be overmilking.
How do you recognize overmilking? A simple way is to hand strip the udder after the unit is detached. A cup of milk should be easily attained without overworking the teats. As mentioned in Part 1, milk flow can also be estimated with digital vacuum recorders (VaDia®, Biocontrol NA). A simple rule for interpreting VaDia results relative to milk flow is:
High Milk Flow = Low vacuum in the liner or cluster
Low Milk Flow = High vacuum in the liner or cluster.
VaDia units can measure vacuum levels at four different places on the cluster simultaneously. We often measure vacuum in the mouthpiece of a front and rear liner, near the cluster and in a short pulsation tube.
In the example below, Cow 1 was ready to milk; the vacuum in the liner mouthpiece near the teat (red and blue lines) dropped quickly (less than 10 seconds after the unit was attached) and remained low until each teat was finished milking (the front quarter [blue line], finished before the rear quarter [red line]). At the end of milking, although the front quarter was done milking for nearly two minutes before unit take-off, the rear quarter continued to milk until about 15 seconds before unit take-off and thus was not overmilked. Cluster vacuum (green line) continued to fluctuate in a range of about 2 inches of mercury (inHg) during this time, suggesting milk flow for the cow was continuous.
What about Cow 2? Milk flow started soon after cluster attachment, but vacuum in both the front and rear quarters increased to near maximum and plateaued 2 minutes before unit take-off. Also, the cluster vacuum (green line) increased to maximum vacuum during this time with little variation, which suggests little or no milk flow. This cow was overmilked.
So how does overmilking milking effect milking efficiency? For cow 1, milk was flowing for about 4 minutes and 30 seconds of the total unit on time of 4 minutes and 45 seconds, or a milking efficiency of about 95%. For cow 2, milk was flowing for about 4 minutes and 30 seconds of the total milking time of 7 minutes and 30 seconds, or a milking efficiency of about 60%. Why does this matter?
Unnecessary high vacuum is never good for teat health. Additionally, it is very common for overmilked cows to have extended unit on-times. This reduces cow throughput in the parlor and also extends the length of time that is needed to milk a herd. Also, slower parlor efficiency requires cows to stand in the holding pen and parlor for longer periods of time, reducing the time they spend resting and eating. Anecdotally, by reducing overmilking and decreasing unit on time by just a couple of minutes per cow, some herds have reported decreasing the duration of a milking shift by at least 45 minutes, or decreasing the total milking time by about two hours per day for a three time a day milking herd.
The most common causes of overmilking are lack of automatic detachers, automatic detachers that are not operating properly, or the tendency to have milking operators place the detach mode to manual. This often occurs when operators are frustrated with detachers that aren’t functioning well, or the mistaken belief that cows need to be milked out dry. Cow 3 (below) is a VaDia plot of overmilking that occurred from re-attaching the cluster after the cow was done milking, note the drop in all vacuum lines while the unit was off the cow.
Herds that have shorter duration of milking shifts are more likely to have increased overmilking as opposed to herds that are using their facilities for the maximum hours each day. For more information on VaDia analysis, or to read the previous articles in this series, please go to the following links: Let The Cows Score The Milking Protocols
n Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we defined milking efficiency as the percent of unit on-time (cluster attached) that milk is flowing near maximum. For example, if a milking unit is attached to a cow for 5 minutes during milking, and strong milk flow occurs for 4 minutes and 45 seconds, her milking efficiency is 95% (285/300 seconds). When milk isn’t flowing while the unit is attached, it is not only inefficient, but more importantly, it can lead to high vacuum on the teat, which damages teat tissue, and thus increases the risk of mastitis and decreases milk yield.
Also in the previous articles, we described the two major management problems that lead to poor milking efficiency ̶ milking routines that resulted in delayed milk letdown (bimodal milk letdown) and overmilking. Either one of these problems can leave cows ‘high and dry’ for a period of time, and expose teats to high vacuum levels. In this article, we’ll discuss herd goals for milking efficiency to help increase awareness of this concept for dairy producers and managers.
It is nearly impossible for a cow to be in full milk flow for 100 % of the time that the cluster is attached. Often, there is a slight delay in milk flow after unit attachment. Depending on the settings for terminal flow and delay of the automatic cluster removers (automatic take-offs), the units will remain attached for brief periods of low milk flow at the end of milking. Also, milk let down will vary between cows in a herd, despite consistent milking protocols. Thus, fresh cows, nervous heifers, or cows in estrus, may deviate from the herd average. Nonetheless, if sound milking preparation is combined with timely cluster removal, the vast majority of cows will be exposed to only brief periods of high mouth piece chamber vacuum (the vacuum that “surrounds” the teat) during milking.
The figure below displays the milking efficiency for 57 herds milking from 65 to over 3,000 cows in a variety of milking systems, although no robotic milking systems were evaluated. The average milking efficiency across all herds was about 78%, that is, cows in a typical herd are in high milk flow for only 78% of the time that the cluster is attached. The bottom 25% of herds had a milking efficiency of 72% or less, the top 25% of herds 86% or better. Top herds (top 10%) had a milking efficiency of nearly 90% or better. Thus, these top herds serve as indicators of what to expect when timely and consistent milk letdown and cluster removal at the end of milking are practiced.
Milking efficiency is more than a score for your herd. More importantly, it can help draw attention to possible opportunities to improve teat health, mastitis control and milk production. As pointed out in earlier articles, the exposure of cows to bimodal milk let down and overmilking varies between herds. If milking efficiency is low (<80%), this suggests that milking practices, both before and at the end of milking, as well as equipment function, should be reviewed and evaluated. You don’t need VaDia recorders or other milking analysis equipment to get a ‘thumbnail sketch’ of possible problems in milking dynamics. For example, you can simply watch milk flow into the cluster after attachment, or look at teats for rings or congestion (discoloration) after the units come off. This is not unlike checking for the completeness of covering teats with a germicide after milking.
Top herds achieve the ideal goal of machine milking ̶ the cluster is attached only while while milk is flowing, which optimizes teat and udder health and milk harvest. What are your milking goals?
It’s Not Worth Crying Over Spilled Milk – Determine Which Hoof Block Aids Your Dairy Farm
Just as your doctor recommends elevating your foot after injury, dairy farmers use hoof blocks to fight lameness. Rubber and wood hoof blocks help lift a cow claw off the ground after a foot-related injury.
Blocking is a helpful treatment option that utilizes hoof blocks when claws are over-trimmed and for any injured claw. Generally, hoof care professionals place wood or rubber blocks on a healthy claw to elevate and restrict the affected claw so that it heals. Blocking helps make cows more comfortable and allows them to recover quickly, impacting milk production.
Before hitting the woodwork, it’s important for dairy farmers to work with their hoof trimmers to consider the benefits of both blocking options for the cows they treat.
The Hard Facts About Wood Blocks
When treating lame cattle, wood blocks provide protection and comfort at a lower cost. Wood reacts well to bonding adhesives due to its rough surface and can last anywhere from three-to-five weeks.
Typically, wood blocks are less expensive than rubber blocks, allowing dairy farmers to save resources for other parts of their dairy operation. Wood blocks, made from either pine or hardwood, eventually fall off claws naturally, eliminating the need for hoof trimmers to go back to each cow to remove them.
Ideal for minor injuries, a wood block will wear itself down during the healing process and require little to no extra maintenance. However, wood blocks lack traction and durability putting cows at a higher risk of further injury and distress. Wood also tends to wear unevenly, which could disrupt an animal’s walk or weight distribution, resulting in continued lameness.
The Soft-Spoken Truth About Rubber Blocks
When utilizing blocking techniques, rubber blocks provide traction and comfort for wet and slippery surfaces. Rubber blocks, made out of a durable compound with a unique surface pattern, deliver the extra cushion needed for a cow to feel at ease during the healing process.
Typically rubber blocks are more durable than wood blocks, and on average, rubber blocks stay adhered on claws for more than six weeks after application. However, rubber blocks usually require a hoof care professional to remove them once an injury heals.
This type of block comes in a variety of heights and sizes to support specific claw injuries. Like a flat shoe, a thin rubber block allows a minor-injured cow to move in a mundane manner as the claw is lower to the ground. Whereas, like a high-heel, a thicker rubber block limits feet flow for more severe injuries. Rubber blocks can be easily trimmed and manipulated to adjust the course of a cow’s healing process.
Consider these factors when deciding what type of block to use in the fight against lameness. Talk to your hoof care professional about the importance of blocking, and the best options for your dairy environment. For more information about blocking solutions for your dairy farm, visit https://www.vettec.com/en-us/bovine.
Everyone wants to increase yield. Usually it means providing more of some type of input. Maybe more fertilizer, or irrigation, or some other thing that will make plants grow at a faster rate. But there is a simple way to make our pastures grow faster and produce greater yield. It involves simply understanding and manipulating a simple principle of plant physiology. That principle is that plants grow at the fastest rate when they have plenty of leaves to capture sunlight, and the leaves are relatively young so they are very efficient at the photosynthetic process.
Figure 1 illustrates the three phases of plant growth. In phase 1, the plant doesn’t have much leaf area to capture sunlight. In order to grow leaves, it has to take stored energy from the roots and crown of the plant for the growth. It then moves into phase 2, when the plant has plenty of young, efficient leaves. During this phase, the plant produces plenty of energy for growth, as well as replace the stored energy used during phase 1. As the plant continues to grow, the leaves get older and less efficient at photosynthesis. The plant also produces a seedhead, which means it is trying to produce seed instead of leaves. This results in a decrease in the growth rate of the plant.
Figure 1. Three phases of plant growth
A simple way to increase the yield of a pasture is to concentrate on keeping your grasses in the phase 2 of plant growth. That means to make sure you leave enough leaf area so the plants can capture plenty of sunlight. But don’t let the plants go to a reproductive state, meaning they are producing seedheads. Staying in phase 2 will improve yield, because that is the phase where the growth rate is the highest.
How do you accomplish that? You have to have some type of rotational grazing program, where you control where the animals graze and how long they stay in the paddock. If you find that the forage growth is getting ahead of you in the spring, then cut hay from some of the fields. If you find forage growth is getting slow during the summer, you can do a better job preventing overgrazing.
There is no need to make rotational grazing extremely complicated. The principle is controlling plant growth through where the animals graze. This will ultimately improve yield, plant persistence, and the production of forage and beef on your farm.
Many of the great leaders have been quoted saying something along the lines of “children are our future” and that what they are shown and taught now will change the way our world is in years to come. Similarly, your calves are the future of your herd. Much like parents take care of their children, dairy farmers must take care of their calves, starting the first day of life. What we do for our calves now will impact their future performance in the herd.
Care of the newborn calf is crucial to a healthy, well-performing calf. From the moment the calf is born, the calf is exposed to an environment that is full of harmful bacteria that can negatively impact the newborn. A neonatal calf’s stomach is a completely sterile environment and susceptible to all types of bacteria, good and bad. Let’s ask ourselves, what can we do to help these fresh, little calves thrive? You’re in luck because we’ve got 4 simple steps to follow in newborn calf care that will help lessen the incidence of disease.
Step 1: Remove calf from cow immediately after calving (30-60 minutes). Keeping the calf with the cow and allowing the calf to nurse leads to the incidence of disease increasing and higher mortality. The chart below shows that higher mortality was observed when calves were allowed to remain with cow after birth.
Time Calves Remain with Cows After Birth and Heifer Calf Mortality1
Number of Herds
Avg Mortality (1 wk – 6 mo.)
Step 2: Disinfect navel with 7% solution of iodine or a product designed for navel dipping as soon as possible after birth. Studies show that the incidence of umbilical infections range anywhere from 1-4%. To help prevent umbilical infections clean the maternity and calf pens and dip navel shortly after birth.
Step 3: Keep calves dry and warm. As we know, wet, cold calves use more energy to try and stay warm. Burning this energy reduces their immune response making them more prone to sickness. In the winter especially, dry newborn calves in warming box for one hour if needed. Be sure to sanitize the warming box frequently. An additional option that is very typical is to use calf jackets in winter months.
Step 4: Collect colostrum in a sanitary manner and test for quality. A few tips for colostrum management are:
Feed first feeding of colostrum as soon as possible ideally within one hour after birth
Feed AT LEAST 3 quarts of colostrum in the first feeding and repeat 12 hours later
Use a clean and sanitized esophageal feeder if calf will not consume a sufficient amount of colostrum
Use fresh colostrum from the dam if good quality
Do not pool colostrum. Traditionally, colostrum is typically higher in IgGs for 2nd lactation and higher cows. Older cows will often produce better quality colostrum than younger cows
That’s it, 4 simple steps. Remove calf from cow quickly, disinfect the navel, keep calves warm and dry, clean and stimulate cow udder, collect colostrum in a sanitary manner. By following the outlined steps, your calf will be well taken care of and have an advantage in life. They will be a key player in your future herd.
Healthy heifer calf is born. You milked the dam, tested her colostrum and fed the calf a high-quality meal all within an hour of birth. But, let’s get real. Delivering colostrum to newborn calves doesn’t always go that smoothly.
As an industry, we’ve done a great job focusing on calving ease and getting calves on the ground in good shape,” says Dave Cook, Ph.D., technical calf consultant for Milk Products. “However, a management area we should focus our efforts to improve is day one calf care to help ensure calves achieve passive transfer.”
What are some common day one missteps? Where is there room for improvement? To find out the answers, let’s look at some real-life colostrum feeding scenarios:
Scenario 1 – Quality: You milked a fresh cow within an hour of calving. Her colostrum visually looks good, so you go ahead and feed it to the calf.
Too often we’re focused on getting colostrum in the calf as quickly as possible and we overlook testing colostrum quality. The true measure of colostrum quality is the concentration of immunoglobulins (IgG), which can only be determined by testing.
“Colostrum quality varies significantly from cow to cow and farm to farm,” says Cook. “Studies have shown IgGs can vary from 14.5 to 132.7 grams of IgG per liter of colostrum. Without testing, some calves will receive colostrum outside of the acceptable range.”
To measure colostrum quality and ensure calves are getting colostrum with acceptable levels of IgG, use a Brix refractometer or colostrum tester. Target a Brix reading of at least 22 and a colostrum tester reading of at least 50. These readings indicate the colostrum contains 50 grams of IgG per liter.
If you don’t have enough quality colostrum for newborn calves, feed a colostrum replacer with guaranteed levels of IgG. Look for a bovine-derived colostrum replacer with 150 grams of IgG per feeding.
Resolution: In this scenario, the colostrum should have been tested before feeding it to the calf. If it tested outside of the acceptable range, a colostrum replacer should have been fed to guarantee adequate levels of IgG are delivered to the calf.
Scenario 2 – Quickness: A cow calved just after midnight. It’s 5 a.m. now but you won’t be able to milk her and feed colostrum until 6 a.m., at the earliest.
There’s a lot to accomplish on a dairy farm every day. Getting fresh cows milked shortly after calving isn’t always easy. However, maternal colostrum IgG concentration is highest at calving and decreases with every passing hour due to resorption of proteins and dilution from milk letdown.
“Cows milked six hours or more after calving have significantly lower IgG concentration,” says Cook. “A fresh cow’s IgG concentration can easily decrease by 20 to 40 percent, leaving the calf shortchanged.”
The gold standard is to collect colostrum within four hours of calving and feed it to the calf within 30 minutes of collection. With every passing hour, a calf’s ability to absorb IgGs decreases. This standard puts a timer on colostrum protocols.
If you can’t harvest colostrum within four hours of calving (or harvested colostrum isn’t high enough quality), a colostrum replacer can be fed quickly – open the bag, mix and feed.
Resolution: In this scenario, at least six hours will have passed by the time the cow is milked and her colostrum’s IgGs will have decreased. A colostrum replacer should have been fed to guarantee adequate levels of IgG are delivered and absorbed by the calf sooner.
Scenario 3 – Cleanliness: You milked a fresh cow within an hour of calving. But before you have a chance to feed the colostrum to the calf, you get tied up with something else and the colostrum has sat out for two hours.
If colostrum sits at room temperature for any length of time, bacteria in the colostrum will grow quickly. If colostrum with a high bacterial load is fed to the newborn calf, you risk introducing the calf to disease and interfering with IgG absorption.
Consider feeding a colostrum replacer when the risk of bacterial contamination in maternal colostrum is high. High bacteria are likely when colostrum is dirty, bloody or the fresh cow is sick.
“The feeding process for a colostrum replacer includes fewer steps where contamination can occur,” says Cook. “It also provides biosecurity benefits by reducing the risk of colostrum-transmitted diseases such as Johne’s, bovine leukosis virus (BLV), mycoplasma and salmonella.”
Resolution: In this scenario, feeding the colostrum that sat out for two hours poses a disease risk to the calf and interferes with IgG absorption. A colostrum replacer should have been fed to eliminate the disease risk and ensure optimal IgG absorption.
Real-life scenarios like these don’t have to stand in the way of your calves achieving passive transfer. Keep a quality, bovine-derived colostrum replacer on hand to help get calves off to a healthy start.
Find a colostrum replacer that meets your calf program needs at CalfSolutions.com.
Milk Products, based in Chilton, Wis., manufacturers high-quality animal milk replacers and young animal health products. Using its innovative manufacturing technology, Milk Products produces over 700 unique animal nutrition products for numerous independent feed manufacturers, wholesale distributors, and large retail chains. Our customers choose whether these products are sold under their private label brand, or under the Sav-A-Caf® brand which is manufactured and marketed by Milk Products.
The dairy industry is in crisis and there is no simple fix to the problem. The new reality is consecutive years of mediocre margins and over the long-term, possible erosion of farm equity. Is it realistic to assume that consecutive years like 2014 are possible? If that is not the case, then there are some tough questions that probably need to be answered.
Table 1 lists the average income over feed cost for the past five years. If the dairy industry was able to repeat 2014’s number for consecutive years that would help many farms improve their financial health. However, it is highly unlikely that scenario will occur. The 3-year average breakeven income over feed cost per cow has been around $9.00 (Penn State’s Dairy Outlook, November 2018). The only year since 2014 that comes close to showing a surplus is 2017. The extremely high number in 2014 was after six years of mediocre margins. This is not a sustainable cycle in today’s economy, even for operations that have consistently maintained competitive costs of production.
Table 1. Average prices from Dairy Sense for the past 5 years.
On most farms feed costs represent the largest or second largest expense. Over the past five years feed costs have remained relatively high. There has been a slight downward trend; however, feed costs are still highly significant to the operation’s cash flow. The culprit is not necessarily the purchased feed cost. Due to unusual weather patterns, producers have struggled with extreme drought or excessive moisture at the wrong times. Yields have a direct influence on profit; the cost to produce forage is the same whether yield ends up high or low. When forage and feed quantity suffer, the home-raised cost for forage can be as high as the market price and more purchased feed will be needed to offset the shortfall. The other scenario is the affect weather has on quality. Both outcomes can have a negative impact on animal performance, which then affects milk income and ultimately has a negative impact on the operation’s breakeven cost of production.
The first step to overcoming this impasse is to “Know Your Numbers”. This is more than just calculating an operation’s breakeven margin or cost of production. It is knowing where cash is going out and if enough cash is coming in. Based on work with hundreds of dairy producers of all sizes, the Penn State Extension Business Management Team has summarized data to help illustrate what is normal or excessive. There are many facets to the cow, a biological unit, and milk income is impacted by deficiencies in nutrition, reproduction, and health to name a few. If any of these are ignored, a short-term problem can easily turn into a long-term one. Monitoring the herd’s financial and performance metrics, even on a quarterly basis, can help keep the operation on target. Considering the new normal for the dairy industry, business as usual is no longer sustainable.
Action plan for monitoring a dairy’s financial and production health.
Goal – Determine the business’s breakeven margin and monitor the appropriate production metrics on a quarterly basis.
Step 1: Utilize Penn State Extension’s Excel Cash Flow Spreadsheet to determine the farm’s breakeven cost of production.
Step 2: Evaluate expenses and income to check they are in line. For any outliers in direct, overhead, or family living expenses, examine opportunities for making reductions. If income in inadequate, examine production related bottlenecks.
Step 3: Set goals and timeline for making any adjustments. Measure and monitor the appropriate metrics.
Step 4: Work with an advisory team and discuss strategies for improving the financial health and/or production related limitations.
Monitoring must include an economic component to determine if a management strategy is working or not. For the lactating cows income over feed costs is a good way to check that feed costs are in line for the level of milk production. Starting with July 2014’s milk price, income over feed costs was calculated using average intake and production for the last six years from the Penn State dairy herd. The ration contained 63% forage consisting of corn silage, haylage and hay. The concentrate portion included corn grain, candy meal, sugar, canola meal, roasted soybeans, Optigen® and a mineral vitamin mix. All market prices were used.
Also included are the feed costs for dry cows, springing heifers, pregnant heifers and growing heifers. The rations reflect what has been fed to these animal groups at the Penn State dairy herd. All market prices were used.
Income over feed cost using standardized rations and production data from the Penn State dairy herd.
Note: Penn State’s January milk price: $17.94/cwt; feed cost/cow: $6.20; average milk production: 85 lbs.
In the environment of today’s dairy industry, producers need to evaluate all areas of the farm to control costs and achieve optimum profitability. One way to control costs is by minimizing the rate of disease in your herd. The costliest disease found on dairy farms is mastitis. Mastitis can cause both clinical and subclinical disease. On many farms, subclinical mastitis is the most economically important type of mastitis. This is due to the long-term effect of chronic infections on total milk yield throughout the entire lactation. Persistent long-term infections with contagious pathogens can damage milk secretory cells and result in reduced milk production. It is estimated that the cost of subclinical mastitis to the US dairy industry exceeds $1 billion annually (Ott, 1999). The effects of subclinical mastitis are found in somatic cell counts of the bulk tank and individual cow tests. The SCC of cows infected with subclinical mastitis rises as the cow’s immune system sends white blood cells to the udder to fight off mastitis causing pathogens. The overall production loss for the average US dairy farm is estimated at $110/cow annually and increasing each year. Improving milk quality is important for every farm looking to boost profitability.
High SCC milk is not desirable for milk processors because it reduces the shelf life of dairy products and diminishes the quality and quantity of milk protein, in return reducing cheese yields. It has been shown that cheese yields from an individual cow are affected when SCC exceeds 100,000 cells/mL. Cheese yields of milk comingled from a group of cows are impacted more by the proportion of cows with SCC >100,000 cells/mL than by the bulk tank SCC average. Most milk cooperatives pay premiums for higher quality milk. In the past year producers have seen these premiums slowly erode, but achieving the highest premium available can make or break some dairies. Quality premiums are a great opportunity for producers to increase profitability and are one of the few ways to impact the price paid for milk. Farms that are not maximizing this opportunity are missing out on an important source of income. Controlling subclinical mastitis and producing lower SCC milk represents a potential profit opportunity associated with both increased production and increased milk price through premiums. Most farms can justify an investment in improving their milk quality program, simply by the return of real dollars in quality premiums.
Somatic cells in milk consist of white blood cells and epithelial cells that are shed from the udder. When the cow’s udder becomes inflamed, her immune system sends large numbers of white blood cells to fight off the infection. A SCC >200,000 indicates that the cow has a subclinical mastitis infection. Linear score (LS) is another way to measure SCC. Research has shown that LS is highly related to loss of milk production in infected cows. Loss of milk production is the result of damage and chronic scarring of milk secretory tissue in the udder. Linear score data can be used to estimate milk production losses due to subclinical mastitis. Each increased unit of LS greater than the farm goal equates to an annual loss of 200 pounds of milk for first lactation animals or 400 pounds for older animals. Improvements in subclinical mastitis are not always as easy to see as increased milk quality premiums, but considerable improvement in production is possible by limiting the number of subclinical mastitis infections on your farm.
Clinical mastitis can also cause financial loss for a dairy farm. The cost of clinical mastitis is often difficult to determine because the definition of a clinical case varies among employees and between farms. Treatment protocols vary, and many farms do not routinely record the number of clinical cases that occur. The largest cost of clinical cases is typically discarded milk. On many dairies the cost of discarded milk can be a considerable, hidden cost of clinical mastitis. Cows that are chronically infected and treated repeatedly contribute less milk to the bulk tank. Keeping records of the number of clinical cases of mastitis and the number of days milk was discarded can be important in achieving optimum profitability. A cow is not profitable to your farm unless she produces milk that can be sold.
Lost premium opportunities, decreased milk production, and discarded milk are only some of the total costs associated with mastitis on most dairy farms. Mastitis causes additional losses due to death, culling, decreased genetic gain, and reductions in reproductive efficiency. These additional costs are often difficult to track on an individual farm. Keeping accurate on-farm records of clinical mastitis cases and treatment methods and testing SCC monthly will help you develop a more accurate picture of what mastitis truly costs. Don’t wait; tackle milk quality issues now! Contact your local Penn State Extension Dairy Educator to help you trouble shoot and make your farm more profitable.
Seasonal changes in milk components are inevitable. While environment and heat stress play a role, lower milk fat during the spring and summer months is part of the cow’s internal biological rhythm, meaning the cow is programmed to lower components during this time period. This seasonal variation is driven by changes in de novo fatty acids, those made by the cow influenced by ruminal fermentation. Therefore, it is vital to improve de novo fatty acid synthesis in order to offset that spring slump in milk fat.
“Today we have a much deeper understanding of the cow’s biological systems, and how she makes milk components,” says Dr. Mac Campbell, Cargill Technical Dairy Specialist. “We can use this knowledge to help combat some of the naturally occurring challenges that each season brings, and provide the nutrients she needs to synthesize milk fat.”
In his role, Dr. Campbell works closely with dairy farmers and Cargill Dairy Focus™ Consultants to fine-tune diets and management practices to achieve high component efficiency. Dr. Campbell advises farms to assess the following four categories to boost de novo fatty acids in the spring:
Amount of unsaturated fat in the ration – Unsaturated fat is toxic to rumen microbes, therefore they try to de-toxify their environment by saturating the fatty acids. During this process of biohydrogenation, the microbes create a compound known as trans-10, cis-12 CLA which has a devasting impacts on fatty acid synthesis. This often reduces milk fat significantly, ranging from 0.4-1%. Once unsaturated fat is minimized in the diet, milk fat responds rapidly, though it can still take up to three weeks to fully return.
Balancing starch digestibility with other dietary energy sources and effective fiber– Starch digestibility in fermented feeds increases with time ensiled, and therefore forages need to be monitored closely heading into the spring. Excess starch digestibility can have a negative impact on rumen pH and milk fat. Focus on other sources of fermentable carbohydrates like digestible NDF or sugar to prevent sub-acute ruminal acidosis. Provide enough physically effective fiber to stimulate rumination and maintain rumen mat integrity, Also be sure to monitor forage particle length to prevent sorting.
Feed additives that boost de novo production – There is a range of products that can help stabilize rumen pH, minimize fermentation disruption and support milk fat synthesis such as yeast products, HMTBa sources, mycotoxin products, osmolytes and buffers. Each dairy should work with their nutritionist to determine what’s best for their herd.
Environmental stress and combinations of stressors that will lower de novo fatty acids – Inconsistent environment leads to inconsistency in the bulk tank. Heat stress, overcrowding and feed restriction are all known to depress milk fat independently. However, when these conditions are combined, the problem can be exacerbated. Work to minimize the number of stressors the cow experiences throughout the day by optimizing the feeding, resting, and ambient environments.
“While component loss in the spring is inevitable, we can take steps to minimize loss by influencing de novo fatty acid production. It’s the best way to minimize seasonal component loss,” reminds Dr. Campbell.
Some Wisconsin dairy farmers are crediting creativity and investments in innovation for their success after seeing hundreds of peers leave the industry last year.
Laura Daniels, who farms near Dodgeville, told WUWM-FM that her farm has been working to determine better breeding choices. Daniels’ farm evaluates butter-fat and protein in the milk to select “the mothers of the next generation of cows” that make the best quality cheese.
Luke Lisowe and his parents own about 800 cows at their farm near Malone in Fond du Lac County. Lisowe said the farm is looking to cut costs. Many dairy farmers in the state have suffered years of low milk prices and rising trucking costs.
Lisowe said the farm uses a less expensive cow sanitizer before and after milking to keep each cow’s stall clean. But he said the cost-saving practice takes up time.
“If you have a cleaner stall, there should be less of a bacteria or less chance of infection. But it takes more time to bed,” he said. “You have a lot of stalls to bed and everything takes time, and that’s not the only thing you’re doing throughout the day.”
Fennimore dairy farmer Peter Winch bought four robotic milker units last year for his 240 cows. Each machine can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but Winch said the milkers give his family a break and reduce his reliance on workers.
“The cows just do it,” Winch said. “They’re on their own schedule.”
Some dairy scientists are working to make more data available to farmers on their cows, feed and other factors.
University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Victor Cabrera wants to help farmers make better decisions through his project called Dairy Brain , which would collect and integrate data from all parts of the farm operation, then use artificial intelligence to analyze the findings and help farmers make smarter management decisions.
His team hopes the online system will be available later this year.
OPINION: My wife and I adopted our first child. During this time we got involved in a number of online adoption groups and did a lot of research on the subject.
It turns out there are adoptive mothers who breastfeed their newly adopted babies.
These women were not pregnant and many had never been pregnant, yet they are able to start lactating when they receive their adopted baby.
Lactation is all based on hormones naturally released from the paturity gland. During pregnancy, multiple hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, insulin, growth hormone, cortisol, thyroxine, and human placental lactogen all work together to develop breast tissue and prepare the body for lactation.
Post birth, the release of hormones prolactin and oxytocin control milk production and milk let down.
Armed with a bit of knowledge, maternal emotions, fenugreek and various pharmacy medicines, non-pregnant woman are lactating.
Dairy cows are good at lactating, so it’s not surprising much of the research on inducing lactation in non-pregnant mammals has been conducted on dairy cows.
Farmers require a cow to give birth in order for her to start producing milk. The pregnancy causes the cow’s body to produce the hormones required to prepare the cows body and udder to produce milk for the calf.
Once the cow calves, she is ready to supply milk to her calf.
When a farmer milks a cow, it’s sending the message to the cow’s body that it needs to keep producing milk and the various hormones levels within the cow stay at the required levels.
The amount of milk the cow produces decreases as the months go by and farmers eventually “dry off” the cow 230 days after she calved.
The cow has three to four months off before she calves again and the whole process continues.
Many critics of the dairy industry point to the fact that the farmers are reliant on perpetually pregnant cows, which they perceive to mean that these cows are cogs in a big factory.
The manner in which cows get pregnant is also controversial. With artificial insemination of cows getting some negative attention.
Then we have the actual calves. These calves are often a low-value by-product that is not particularly wanted by anyone.
The treatment of these calves is another controversial aspect. The practice of removing newborn calves from their mothers doesn’t sit well with many modern consumers and it’s impossible to spin a good story around the bobby calf industry, which slaughters these young unwanted calves.
If thats not enough, another thing to consider is most cows don’t make it to their 6th birthday. One of the biggest reasons a cow is culled is because she doesn’t get pregnant. This means she won’t produce milk for the next season.
But what if we can get milk from a cow without the cow needing to be pregnant?
It’s a controversial proposal though.
How does it work?
Essentially, a non-pregnant cow is given hormone injections in order to replicate what would happen in a natural pregnancy. The cow will then receive fortnightly treatments to maintain hormone levels during lactation.
The research shows that cows given this treatment produce the same amount of milk, with the same composition and have the same lactation length as cows with a normal calving.
What might a system based on induced lactation look like?
There would be no unwanted calves, so no bobby calves.
For farmers, there would be no busy calving period. No calves to feed, no calving difficulties.
Farmers could theoretically time the treatment so they start milking the whole herd on one particular day.
The lifespan of cows could be much greater too.
But is it ethical to give a cow artificial hormone treatment?
A farmer can hardly fly the “natural” flag when they are artificially promoting the cow’s lactation.
But then, many people think that the current industry practices are hardly natural anyway. For some, the reduction of calves suffering and the extension of cows lives will outweigh any objections.
Today, highly processed plant-based meat using GMO (genetically modified organism) technology and meat grown in tanks is considered by some to be a more ethical option than conventional meat.
It’s potentially a divisive subject and different people will have different opinions all based on their different priorities.
But I think it is always a good exercise to think about different ideas.
I feel I need to confirm that the artificial induction of lactation of cows is not Happy Cow Milk policy.
Glen Herud is the founder of the Happy Cow Milk Company.
Activity monitoring technology is beneficial to both you and your cows.
With today’s milk prices, investing in activity monitoring technology might seem like an unnecessary expense. But, the reality is, activity monitoring technology can help dairy herds of all sizes maximize their labor and resources, a smart investment at any milk price.
“Maximizing resources is critical when margins are tight and activity monitors can do just that,” says Stephanie Aves, business development manager for Nedap North America. “Activity monitors can observe and identify heats, unusual behavior and signs of disease, allowing you to reallocate labor resources elsewhere. An added bonus is that activity monitors show more than the human eye can see and they never call in sick for work.”
Today’s activity monitoring technology offers you more control than ever before. At their fingertips, farmers can quickly identify sick cows, cows in heat or discover someone left the gate open. They can also check cows and make decisions, even when they’re away from the farm.
Here are nine ways activity monitoring can pay-off in a herd.
Easy, accurate record keeping. Activity monitoring tracks how each cow is doing, what her heat status is and where her location is 24/7. It also identifies bottlenecks and delivers herd performance trends. It records cow activities that humans aren’t able to record and offers insight at any time.
Real-time decision making. If something is wrong with individual cows or groups of cows, an alert is triggered. Immediate steps can be taken to correct the situation. No more waiting until morning or afternoon chores to notice a sick cow or other situation that requires attention.
Improved labor efficiency. Instead of spending time checking for heats and herd health or searching for cows, employees can spend time tackling management areas begging for more focus on the farm.
Decreased medication and labor costs for sick cows. Activity monitoring systems detect sick cows before humans. They allow you to save time and money by catching and treating a sick cow before she starts showing symptoms.
Reduced health issues. State-of-the art activity monitoring systems continuously monitor eating activity, rumination patterns and inactive behavior. You can quickly detect diseases like ketosis, subclinical mastitis and pneumonia a few days before the cows show symptoms.
Improved cow longevity. Reduced health issues due to use of an activity monitoring system translate to improved herd productivity and longevity.
Improved cow comfort. Activity monitoring systems provide data that could positively influence adjustments in housing, handling, nutrition or activity.
Improved conception rate. Dairy farms with well-managed activity monitoring systems have seen improved conception rates. Sensors identify the optimal breeding time more accurately for improved breeding results.
More time to enjoy life. Activity monitoring is constantly watching over the herd, giving you the confidence to leave the farm and participate in things that are important to you and your family.
Using actionable data helps you better your best. Making the most of the activity monitoring technology available to you will bring the nine benefits to life.
Even in down economies, farms using the technology report it only takes 1-3 years for the technology to pay for itself. And that doesn’t account for the peace of mind you get with the system.
Where do I start?
“If considering the purchase of an activity monitoring system, start your search with your milking equipment or A.I. supplier,” says Aves. “Many milking equipment and A.I. companies carry activity monitoring systems that connect seamlessly with individual parlor and herd monitoring systems.”
To learn more about activity monitoring systems and how they can help your farm reach its productivity goals, visit nedap.com/dairyfarming.
Nedap Livestock Management (www.nedap-livestockmanagement.com) is the global leader in farming automation using individual animal identification. Nedap’s easy-to-use technology helps farmers manage millions of dairy and beef cattle, and pigs 24 hours a day, in more than 100 countries. Nedap empowers managers and personnel with dependable information to make operational and strategic decisions and has for more than 40 years. Nedap focuses on helping livestock farmers become the best farmers in the world. A publicly listed company, Nedap employs more than 700 people globally, across 11 locations and eight business units.
Rena Johnson, who operates the Glade Spring family business Highland Dairy, is seeing a lot of happy cows these days.
It’s thanks to a new milking parlor that’s not only making the cows more comfortable, it’s improving dairy profits for the three-generation farm family.
Highland Dairy is the pilot farm for a new revolutionary design by DeLaval, a worldwide leader in milking equipment and solutions for dairy farmers with headquarters in Sweden.
“We’re the first farm in the world to use this design commercially,” said the young dairy farmer. “It’s a pretty big deal for our farm in this little corner of Southwest Virginia.”
Last week, a video crew representing DeLaval traveled from New Zealand to the Washington County farm to make a promotional video of the cutting-edge equipment in use.
The video, which includes interviews with Johnson, eventually may be used as a DeLaval Virtual Farm Tour on the company’s website to advertise the P-500 model of the milking parlor.
DeLaval dealers from across the country are expected to bring prospective buyers to the Glade Spring farm throughout the year to see the revolutionary milking parlor.
“A month ago, we had 60 DeLaval dealers visit the farm, representing 20 different countries,” Johnson said. “People who work for the company visit us to learn about the parlor and return to their respective countries to promote the new equipment.”
Johnson, who grew up learning about the dairy business and graduated from Virginia Tech in 2006, described the purchase as a “leap of faith.”
“We definitely needed to do this if we were going to stay in business, and I wanted to make this change while I had the help of my dad,” she said.
Her father, Dave Johnson, was instrumental in designing the barn for the new parlor. The construction, which began a year ago, suffered several delays before it was completed and ready to use in January.
“We had a sinkhole appear, two hurricane events and I don’t know how many inches of rain to endure before it was done,” Johnson said.
The milking parlor they had been using, a 1970s model, was outdated, and repair costs were increasing each year, she said.
“We knew if I wanted to milk cows for my lifetime, we had to have a new parlor. It was scary to borrow the money, but we did it. Now, I’ve sealed my future. I’ll be milking cows for the rest of my life,” Johnson, 35, said with a laugh.
The new parlor has replaced a herringbone design. With the herringbone parlor, cows were stacked in a 45-degree angle, milking from the sides of the udders.
The new parlor is a double 16, milking 32 cows at a time. Milking equipment is attached to the udders at the rear of the cow between the legs.
Marcos Rodriguez, a three-year employee at the farm, said he likes milking the cows in the new parlor.
“Especially since I get kicked less with this system,” he said.
“The challenge with the new equipment was getting the cows to enter the parlor and make a 90-degree turn when they were used to making a 45-degree turn. Cows are creatures of habit,” Johnson said.
“Extra helpers — friends and neighboring farmers — were called on to help physically push the cows into the parlor spaces because they had no idea what was going on. Now, they’re used to it, and I think they really like it better. They have more room to stand and move around. That makes me happy, too.”
The new parlor is amazingly quiet. The milking equipment is under the parlor, leaving the milking area free from noise and distractions.
The new parlor is also making the milking process more efficient and quicker.
“In the old parlor, we milked at best 80 cows in an hour. In the new one, we have the capability of milking as many as 140 cows an hour,” said Johnson.
Because the equipment is faster, she is able to eliminate three hours off each milking time during the day.
“With the old system, we were just milking half of the herd three times a day because we didn’t have enough time to milk all of them three times. Now, we can milk all of them three times a day — at 4 a.m., noon and 8 p.m. — which is better for the health of the cows,” she said.
Johnson explained milking the cows more often helps increase production.
“We’ve gained five pounds of milk per cow. When you milk them an extra time during the day, you get more milk.”
Johnson is impressed with the efficiency of the new equipment.
“Cows spend less time in the new milking parlor than before, even though we’re milking an extra time during the day. The equipment is so much quicker. The cows can get in and out, allowing them to go back to the barn to eat or lie down,” she said.
Safety is another important benefit to operating with the DeLaval system.
“Before, the milk went into two big bulk tanks, which stored and cooled it before it was loaded onto milk trailers. Now, we do direct load, which means the milk goes straight from the cow through a chiller, bringing the milk from 101.5 degrees to around 33 or 34 degrees, then on to the milk trailer.
“A flow meter lets me know when the trailer is full and ready to be switched to another trailer.”
Johnson said an in-line sampler takes a representative milk sample of each trailerload of milk, which is sent off to check for bacteria count, milk quality and fat and protein content.
“Before, we had to take the samples from the tank and send them off to be checked.”
The cows even wear their own form of technology — blue collars with built-in pedometers that monitor their activity and relay the information to a computer. Increased activity signals a cow is in heat and ready to be bred. Low activity may signal that she is not feeling well.
Radio Frequency Identification Technology ear tags track and relay information about each cow to a computer at the barn.
“For example, the computer alerts me if a cow’s milk production is not what it’s supposed to be. I can enter her tag number in a keypad here in the parlor, and she is automatically sorted before leaving the parlor. That way, we can address her needs while she’s here inside the barn.
“Technology in the dairy business is the wave of the future,” said Johnson. “After all, we milk 550 cows, so I have to keep track of each one of them. Who knows what technology will come to the milking parlor by the next generation?”
The April 26 Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council (DCRC) webinar features Feeding Strategies to Support Health and Fertility During the Transition Period. Scheduled for 2 p.m. Central time, José Eduardo P. Santos, University of Florida, will summarize research that manipulated transition period diets.
In addition, Santos will discuss formulating prepartum diets that consider DCAD (dietary cation-anion difference), supplementing with rumen-protected choline, developing separate prepartum diets for first-calf heifers and cows, and adding moderate fatty acid to improve fertility. Furthermore, webinar participants will learn about proper cow comfort and heat abatement to support healthy transitions cows.
To register for this webinar, go to: www.dcrcouncil.org/webinars and follow the prompts. As the webinar approaches, you will receive an e-mail with information on how to log in to participate. If you are a DCRC member and cannot attend the live program, you may access the webinar at dcrcouncil.org.
For more information about DCRC’s webinars, e-mail Natalia Martinez-Patino, DCRC Education Committee chair, at: firstname.lastname@example.org or e-mail DCRC at: email@example.com.
With snow melting and rain falling on frozen soil, Wisconsin’s Runoff Risk Advisory Forecast is completely pink today, meaning the risk of manure runoff is severe statewide.
DATCP encourages farmers to keep this in mind as they consider emptying manure storage that may be full. Spreading manure while the risk of runoff is severe could cause manure runoff into streams, threatening water quality.
At the click of a mouse, farmers can check the Runoff Risk Advisory Forecast, available online at manureadvisorysystem.wi.gov, for the latest information on spreading risks. The runoff forecast provides maps showing short-term runoff risk for daily application planning, taking into account soil saturation and temperature, weather forecast, snow and crop cover, and slope. It is updated three times daily by the National Weather Service.
“It’s always a bad idea to spread manure during high-risk runoff times, and we strongly advise against it,” says Richard Castelnuovo, chief of resource management with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Farmers should contact their crop consultants, county land conservation offices, or the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for help identifying alternatives to high-risk spreading, such as stacking manure away from lakes or rivers, drinking water wells, or areas with sinkholes or exposed bedrock. If farmers must spread manure, crop consultants and county conservationists can help identify fields where the risk is lower. You can find contact information for county conservation offices in the WI Land + Water Directory at http://wisconsinlandwater.org.
Farmers should always have an emergency plan in place in case of manure spills or runoff. The plan should include who to call and what steps to take if runoff or a spill occurs, how to clean it up, and perhaps most important, how to prevent it from happening. Information about preventing and planning for manure spills is available at http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/agbusiness/manurespills.html.
Water beds for cows improve comfort and milk production at the University of Missouri’s Foremost Dairy Research Center near Columbia.
MU Extension veterinarian Scott Poock and dairy specialist Stacey Hamilton are part of the Foremost team that researches how the beds improve herds. They monitor cows on cameras and record data about resting times and milk production.
Foremost began using the new beds in fall 2018. Cows adapted quickly, Hamilton says, with an estimated 75 percent of the herd using the beds by the second day.
The amount of rest a cow receives affects the quantity of milk she produces. In freestyle barn operations, dairy operators want cows to lie down 12-14 hours per day to prevent lameness and increase milk production. With the water beds, cows stay longer in stalls and lie down sooner, Poock says. Before the water beds, cows lay down an average of 8.5 minutes after entering a stall. They now lie down within five minutes.
The dual-chamber beds offer extra support for the cow’s knees. Once the cow kneels, the pillows offer a cushion for pressure points with gentle support. Strong joints provide better stability and prevent leg and foot injuries, sores and infections that can reduce mobility.
It is “all about cow comfort” and profit for the herd owner, says Hamilton. “Comfortable cows are happier and make more milk.”
Foremost staff put wood chips in the stalls to cover the water beds and catch waste. If Foremost used sand, it would take 50 pounds of sand per day per 160 stalls. The water beds are an easier option, Hamilton says.
The bovine beds cost about a third more than beds previously used at Foremost. Those beds, made of interlocking chopped rubber pieces, deteriorated with time and use.
Many dairy farms still use sand, straw, wood shavings or grass to keep stalls dry and comfortable for cows. Foremost Dairy is among a growing number of dairy farms using the new technology.
Last year, the BBC reported that cows at Queen Elizabeth II’s farm at Windsor Castle enjoy the luxury of water beds. Queen Elizabeth also pampers her cattle with green pastures and automatic brushes that remove dirt and relieve stress. The queen’s dairy uses robotics to milk cows and clean barn floors.
Meanwhile, across the pond, Foremost cows receive the royal treatment too.
Knowing mycotoxin symptoms and having a plan to correct them leads to a healthy herd.
Healthy cows, smooth transition periods, high milk production and reproductive success. It’s the ideal situation on any dairy farm, but it’s not always reality. “Why not?” is the next logical question, and there might be many reasons – but one reason could be a result of overlooking the effects of mycotoxins.
“When herd performance isn’t where it should be, mycotoxins could be at work,” says Dr. John Doerr, Ph.D., Vice President, Science and Technology, Agrarian Solutions. “It might be one symptom, like cows off feed, or it might be a whole host of symptoms – either way your cows could be telling you that you have a mycotoxin challenge to solve.”
Know the mycotoxin symptoms
Knowing the signs of a mycotoxin issue is the first step towards a diagnosis. Here are symptoms commonly associated with mycotoxins:
Decreased heat detection rates
Silent/weak hearts of calves in utero
Mammary development in virgin heifers
Cystic ovaries/follicular cysts
Decreased pregnancy rates
Elevated somatic cell count
Increased death loss
Reduced milk production
Reduced milk fat
Erratic feed intakes
Whether your herd has one symptom or many, it’s essential to test your feed and determine if mycotoxins are at fault and, if so, which mycotoxins are present. Feed test results will give you the information you need to choose the appropriate direct-fed microbial (DFM) solution to add to diets.
The right direct-fed microbial (DFM) solution, in the right amount
When a mycotoxin issue is to blame, Doerr says it’s important to use the right DFM solution, in the right amount.
“The right DFM solution will enhance a cow’s immune system when a mycotoxin issue arises,” says Doerr. “Farmers should consider a DFM solution that contains L-form bacteria because it is the most effective against multiple mycotoxin issues. Unlike other feed additives, L-form bacteria influence the overall health of animals and metabolism of the intestinal cells.”
Equally important is using the DFM solution in the right amount.
“The degree of mycotoxin levels in your feed will determine the amount of DFM you need. And mycotoxin levels can fluctuate over time, especially from harvest to harvest,” says Doerr. “Feeds with mycotoxins in the medium-level range will require a standard DFM dose, whereas a high-level range could indicate you need a double dose of the DFM solution.”
Don’t let economy dictate performance
Incorporating a DFM solution to tackle mycotoxin issues is just as important as having a milking procedure to help prevent mastitis. It can save performance and profit in the end.
“In an economy like we’re in and with the wet harvest conditions we had this past fall, sampling for and preventing mycotoxin issues are steps you don’t want to skip,” concludes Doerr.
Since 1996, Agrarian Solutions has been a global leader in providing L-Form bacteria-based technologies for dairy cattle, swine and poultry. Agrarian’s cutting-edge L-Form bacteria technology functions inside of animal cells, populating the cells lining the intestinal tract. There, the L-Form bacteria perform specific functions like balancing intestinal immune function, reducing the burden of pathogenic bacteria or combating feed-borne toxins – challenges animals and their owners face every day. Learn more about Agrarian products and technology at agrariansolutions.com.
It’s time to address the “cow” in the room. By that, we mean any potentially cow-centric misconceptions or ideas about fighting climate change. California has made great progress as a long-time leader in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and its dairy farms are doing their part, producing highly nutritious and affordable foods while continually reducing their carbon “hoofprint.” Our dairy farmers know that further improving environmental performance is not just about what’s “technically feasible,” but also what’s economically sustainable. In a tremendous undertaking, California dairy farmers are currently partnering with the state to further shrink dairy’s carbon footprint to unprecedented levels and support the transition to clean energy and transportation. We hope these efforts can serve as a model of what’s possible—to help distinguish the highly-ambitious-but-achievable climate goals from any pie-in-the-sky ones.
In discussing cows and realistic climate strategies, let’s start with reviewing dairy’s contribution. In California—the nation’s leading dairy state—the entire livestock sector (including cattle, swine, poultry, and sheep) produces about 5 percent the total GHG emissions. The California dairy sector’s relatively low carbon footprint, compared to other regions around the world, has been achieved through decades of improved efficiencies—producing more milk with fewer cows. California dairies continue to reduce GHGs by reducing reliance on fossil fuels through solar energy generation, conversion of farm equipment to electricity and adoption of energy-efficient measures and equipment. And now, the state’s dairy farmers are actively pursuing the reduction of methane—a short-lived climate pollutant.
In California, approximately half of dairy methane emissions are enteric (coming directly from cows), while the other half come from how manure is handled and stored. Several emerging feed additives show potential to reduce enteric emissions; however, none are yet commercially available. California is the only region in the world with a goal to reduce dairy manure methane emissions by 40 percent by 2030. Three main strategies are being used: 1) capturing methane via digesters and turning it into renewable energy, 2) avoiding methane via alternative manure management technologies and strategies, and 3) supporting ongoing research into new and better ways to reduce manure methane. The state and its farmers are making great progress, but achieving the 40 percent goal will require continued incentive funding and ongoing coordination in all three areas—not to mention the cutting-edge research needed to accurately measure emissions (and verify reductions) at an unprecedented level. Through the use of digesters, California dairies are not only shrinking their carbon footprint, they are also helping the state transition to clean energy.
Of the state’s 48 climate programs, the Dairy Digester Research and Development Program is the most effective investment to date in terms of total GHG reduction. It’s also the third most cost-effective, providing one ton of GHG reduction for every $8 invested by the state. By comparison, heavy-duty transportation sector investments are providing just one ton of GHG reduction for every $600 invested by the state.
The state is investing in projects that will create carbon-negative renewable natural gas (RNG). According to the California Air Resources Control Board (CARB), dairy biomethane is by far the least carbon-intensive transportation fuel currently available in California with a negative carbon intensity score of -255, making it nearly ten times more effective at reducing carbon than even electric vehicles. Aside from GHG reduction, when used in heavy-duty trucks, the renewable fuel will play a significant role in helping improve air quality.
With continued funding, the state is on pace to have as many as 120 dairy digesters operating by 2022. This effort will require significant investments in infrastructure needed to collect biomethane from the dairy digesters and to clean, condition, and inject it into natural gas pipelines. Meanwhile, CARB is working to create stable market incentives for the sale of the RNG. Additionally, with the implementation of Senate Bill 1440 (Hueso, 2018), utilities may soon be procuring biomethane under long-term contracts from dairies and other projects. These developments will be essential in ensuring the long-term economic sustainability of the state’s barn-to-biogas projects.
While there is still much work ahead, California has achieved significant milestones. Dairy farmers have a long history of working with state officials and researchers. A key factor in success so far is that incentive programs offer practical approaches for farmers to improve manure management in ways that work best for their operation. Continued incentives will be critical for family farmers who are dedicated to the environment, but are also struggling with rising labor, energy, and regulatory costs. In the past ten years alone, more than 500 California dairy farm families (28 percent) have either closed their operations or left the state. That’s why voluntarily achieving the 40 percent goal—and avoiding the need for future costly regulation—is critical to sustaining the state’s remaining family farms, which are among the most environmentally friendly in the world.
It’s a challenging task, but California is developing a world-leading model for climate-smart dairy farming. The state is demonstrating how well dairy can fit into a low-carbon future as an affordable and nutritious food for a growing population and as a valuable source of renewable energy. However, accomplishing the 40 percent goal by 2030 will require ongoing incentive funding and continued cooperation. So, when we hear of cow flatulence and pie-in-the-sky climate goals, we hope the joint effort of California and its dairy farmers will serve as a helpful example.
Recent figures show the top 15% of Kite Consulting’s clients are producing between 840-1,000kg of milk solids (MS) a cow a year.
Genetic data and management strategies were assessed from about 100 dairy farms involved with the Asda Pathfinder Group.
Within this group are 17 farmers taking part on the 1.5 Group, which looks at how cows can achieve production of 1.5kg of MS/kg liveweight – a level of production some the very best-performing dairy herds in the world are delivering.
David Levick from Kite Consulting explains what these farmers are doing differently to achieve such good yields and constituents which help increase their return.
He says it’s not just about driving milk constituents but instead improving a range of things from feeding and management, to lighting, ventilation and feed space.
Below are some common factors Kite has identified within this group as well as other high-production herds, as important to improving milk solids output.
1. Make the right sire selection for production
Don’t select bulls just on milk constituents.
“Given the emphasis put on this by some milk buyers, we’ve seen many farmers focusing totally on fat and protein percentages as their primary breeding goal and compromising on yield.
“In some cases, milk yield per cow has actually dropped, making overall milk solids per cow do the same or, at best, flat line,” says Mr Levick.
Production traits are highly heritable and a slight change in focus will make a huge difference very quickly.
High-producing herds are selecting sires that are both high production and transmit good constituents.
2. Breed from your best animals and not just heifers
Select the best possible genetics to make each cow place as efficient and profitable as possible.
In many cases we wrongly presume heifers have the best genetics and are therefore the best breeding stock, but this is nearly always not the case, says Mr Levick.
Usually, about 60% of heifers can be classed as genetically superior to the rest of the herd.
This means that if you leave the future development of your herd just in the hands of your heifers, about 40% will be well under par, he adds.
Herds using genomics across all youngstock to identify breeding animals achieve higher milk solids.
3. Practise multi-cut to produce high-quality forage
Herds that are producing high levels of milk solids are benefiting hugely from very high-quality forage, in the form of multi-cut silage.
This approach sees grass cut more regularly – possibly up to six times – but can help deliver better-quality silage which in turn improves intakes, drives constituents and can help lower concentrates.
Mr Levick says the target is to feed 60% high-quality silage in the diet.
4. Adopt compact feeding and get it right
Many of the high milk solids herds have fully adopted compact feeding and are reaping the rewards as a result.
Studies have shown that compact feeding, which involves soaking concentrates in water and pre-mixing, can increase yields but 1.6 litres a cow and lift butterfat.
But the key is doing it properly, Mr Levick stresses:
High-quality silage is crucial
It must be chopped at around 10mm length
And, crucially, with a dry matter should not be less than 35%
The educational VMS™ PRO (Professional Robotic Operators) event series – hosted annually by DeLaval throughout the U.S. and Canada – will receive a boost with the addition of a tour program.
For the first time in 2019, attendees of regional VMS PRO events will have the opportunity to tour dairies robotically milking with DeLaval VMS milking system V300 units. Unveiled in 2018, the new milking robot is the result of a complete redesign of the “classic” VMS, featuring a faster, more intuitive attachment system, better teat cleaning and prep, and a new app for managing the robot on the go.
“The VMS PRO seminars are unique opportunities for VMS customers and prospects to learn more about DeLaval’s milking robot, including how to optimize herd productivity and benchmark their performance,” said Muhieddine Labban, Solution Manager, Robotics. “By adding a tour to this already successful program, producers will have the opportunity to see the future of robotic milking in action.
“Through our North American dealer network, we’re offering a fantastic trade-in program for existing VMS ‘classic’ customers. Our goal is to make it easy for them to enjoy the added benefits of VMS V300 milking technology.”
Talk to your DeLaval dealer about our VMS trade-in program and 2019 VMS PRO events in your area.
More Learning Opportunities
DeLaval offers Robotic Operators Training for VMS owners and operators at its Waunakee, WI. training center. These informative events happen throughout the year, so be sure to discuss them with your DeLaval dealer. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on training opportunities.
Growing up on a small dairy farm in Waikato exposed Craig Piggott to the problems farmers face.
Armed with an engineering degree and a year’s experience building satellites for Rocket Lab, Piggott, 24, is now solving them with his own agri-tech invention.
His brainchild is a GPS-enabled collar powered by solar energy, named Halter, which was unveiled to farmers at the Central District Field Days at Manfeild, Feilding, on Thursday.
It self-herds cows and sends data about cows’ behaviour, emotions and health to a farmer’s mobile phone, saving time and money.
The collar makes warning sounds when a cow approaches a boundary, teaching it how far it can move into an area.
Farmers can set up schedules and have cows meet them at the milking shed, receive alerts when cows are on heat, calving or lame, and set up virtual fences to keep cows out of rivers and drains.
Until now the collar has only been used on Halter’s trial farm in Morrinsville, but it will soon be rolled out to other trial farms before hitting the open market.
Piggott never had a “lightbulb moment” or quit his job, but throughout his childhood he noticed farming was full of inefficiencies.
“Growing up I always thought: ‘Man, there must be a better way to do this’.”
When he started Halter in 2016, his vision was to reduce the intensive hours required to run a farm and the lack of technology supporting dairy farmers.
“A farmer trying to watch 1000 cows, it’s impossible. Stick a device on them and you can see exactly what’s going on.
“The device trains the animal [where it can and cannot go], based on audio cues… It’s similar to a dog barking.”
The collars are paid under a subscription model, where the collar is free and farmers contribute a monthly fee, per cow, based on the features they want enabled. Halter retains ownership of the collars and takes responsibility for their maintenance.
Patchy internet reception is no barrier, with connectivity only needed at the actual time instructions are sent to the collars.
The company uses communication technology suited to rural areas, where signals can be sent to collars up to 8 kilometres away.
DairyNZ and Waikato Dairy Leaders’ Group chairman Jim van der Poel had no sympathy for the Waikato dairy farmer who was last week fined $131,840 for over-irrigating effluent.
Mr van der Poel said local authorities had his organisation’s full support in encouraging all farmers to meet their effluent obligations.
“We are disappointed, as I’m sure most dairy farmers are, that a few individuals continue to let the sector down through failing to comply with effluent management rules. There is certainly no excuse for repeated offences that could have been prevented,” he said.
“The total fine in this prosecution is significant, and sends a strong message to farmers who need to do better. We support the Waikato Regional Council, and other regional councils, in monitoring and prosecuting farmers for serious infringements of the rules.
“From our point of view, any breach is one too many. Managing effluent is a necessary part of running an efficient dairy system. The sector needs those farmers who aren’t doing the right thing with their effluent management to step up, take responsibility, and make the necessary changes.”
DairyNZ supported farmers with making those changes, and a number of resources were available, including a dairy effluent storage calculator, a farmer’s guide to building a new effluent storage pond and access to accredited effluent system designers.
“The majority of dairy farmers are doing their utmost to make sure they’re doing all they can to protect the environment and the waterways that run on and near their farms every day,” Mr van der Poel added.
“Significant non-compliance for dairy effluent discharges nationally in 2016/17 was 5.2 per cent, the lowest on record, but we realise there’s still a way to go.”
The dairy sector was committed to helping farmers continue to operate more sustainably, and significant changes had been made over the last decade, including fencing off 99.4 per cent of significant waterways.
“The first commitment in the sector strategy Dairy Tomorrow is, ‘We will protect and nurture the environment for future generations,’ and we intend to get all our farmers on track to achieving that goal,” he said.
“Our vision is clear — we want healthy waterways — and we are committed to helping farmers achieve it.”
Liquid manure storage pit at a dairy operation. Photo by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Given the snowfall and temperatures we have had across Michigan this winter, it is crucial that livestock producers keep a close eye on their manure storage structures and pumping equipment. Farmers need to monitor the condition of manure storage structures as well as all manure transfer pipes pumps and valves to ensure they are performing as expected under unexpected and severe weather conditions. Michigan State University Extension recommends that all farms develop a regular schedule to inspect each component of manure storage and pumping equipment.
Farm size and complexity of the manure storage system, mechanical devices (pumps and valves), relative distance to water, type of storage structure and occurrence of rainfall or snowmelt – should all be considered when determining inspection frequency. Regular checks and maintenance of all pumps, agitators, piping, valves and other mechanical and electrical equipment will ensure everything is in good operating condition and minimize the risk of any spills or leaks. Permitted farms are required to check all manure transfer equipment and manure storage structures weekly. The extreme cold may necessitate checking more often. Small and medium livestock farms should initiate a monitoring process if they haven’t already. Developing a checklist of items to be inspected, including dates and times of inspection, may be a useful tool to ensure a thorough, timely and regular process.
Given the recent rain and snowmelt, farms should confirm there is adequate freeboard in their liquid or slurry storage structures. Resources intended to assist farmers with near full or full manure storage during weather extremes are posted on MSU Extension News:
The heavy snowfall this winter may make it difficult for livestock producers to check the integrity of earthen or concrete storage structures but all that more crucial they be monitored. It has been an unusually long, cold winter and the weather will be taking its toll on the equipment depended upon to move manure from collection points to long term storage structures. Spills may be caused by burst or ruptured piping, or by leaking joints.
Farms should also have an emergency plan in place in the event of an overflow, breach, leak or need for emergency land application. Emergency plans should contain phone numbers for appropriate first responders: fire departments, police, hospitals and other emergency contacts. Emergency plan templates can be found on the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program website. It is important to discuss the emergency plan, location of the emergency phone list and the expected responses with the entire farm crew.
In a four-year study, shallow-disk injection of manure was found to result in less phosphorus loss in runoff from farm fields compared to broadcasting or spreading manure. The research findings have implications for Chesapeake Bay water quality. Image: Melissa Miller / Penn State
Widespread adoption by dairy farmers of injecting manure into the soil instead of spreading it on the surface could be crucial to restoring Chesapeake Bay water quality, according to researchers who compared phosphorus runoff from fields treated by both methods. However, they predict it will be difficult to persuade farmers to change practices.
In a four-year study, overland and subsurface flows from 12 hydrologically isolated research plots at Penn State’s Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center were measured and sampled for all phosphorus constituents and total solids during and after precipitation events. During that period, from January 2013 to May 2017, the plots were planted with summer crops of corn and winter cover crops of cereal rye. Half the plots received broadcast manure applications, while the others had manure injected into the soil.
The research was conducted at Penn State’s Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center on 12 hydrologically isolated research plots. Half the plots received manure injection; half had manure applied by broadcasting it on the surface. IMAGE: Jack Watson Research Group / Penn State
Researchers evaluated loads of total phosphorus, dissolved phosphorus, particulate phosphorus and total solids against flow volumes to learn how phosphorus and sediment losses differed between plots. Shallow-disk injection of manure was found to be more effective than broadcasting manure in promoting dilution of dissolved phosphorus and to a lesser extent, total phosphorus. The broadcast manure plots experienced more runoff of particulate phosphorus than did the injection plots.
Importantly for no-till advocates, no difference was detected between application methods for total solids in the runoff — meaning manure injection, with its slight disturbance of the soil surface, did not cause sedimentation. No-till practitioners, who constitute slightly more than half of the dairy farmers in Pennsylvania, have been slow to adopt manure injection due to concerns about the practice causing sedimentation and muddying streams.
However, the precision and accuracy of the study, recently published in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, was constrained by hydrologic variability, conceded Jack Watson, professor of soil science and soil physics, Penn State. His research group in the College of Agricultural Sciences conducted the study. Watson pointed out that the findings demonstrate that, even at a small scale, the effectiveness of a practice in accomplishing water quality benefits varies.
“This has been the case with previous phosphorus-mitigation field studies, as well,” he said. “Even studies done with carefully constructed research plots like ours, which allow us to collect, measure, test and contrast runoff, are confounded by hydrologic variability.”
But despite the variability, the findings showed that manure injection decreased the overall phosphorus losses, according to lead researcher Melissa Miller, a master’s degree student in soil science when she conducted the study.
“When we looked at the total phosphorus losses from the plots, we were able to see a strong trend,” she said. “It was revealed in both overland and subsurface flows following rain events.”
bar graphs phosphorus collection Thanks to the design of research facilities at Penn State, researchers were able to collect, measure and analyze both overland and subsurface flows from plots. As the bar graphs show, manure injection resulted in reduction of total phosphorus and dissolved phosphorus in runoff. IMAGE: Jack Watson Research Group / Penn State
That variability, however, complicates efforts to convince dairy farmers they should convert to manure injection, noted research team member Heather Gall, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering. She suggested that the practice, widely adopted, could help states comply with total maximum daily load stream regulations set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect the Chesapeake Bay from nutrient pollution and associated algal blooms and dead zones.
“When we make recommendations to farmers about what they can do to improve runoff quality, we want to be able to tell them how well it will work,” she said. “But how much manure injection will reduce the amount of phosphorus loss on a particular farm can depend on site characteristics, such as what kind of soil it has, what kind of crops are growing and the slope of the landscape. And so, we might not be able to tell a farmer definitively what to expect in terms of load-reduction benefits, making it difficult to make a compelling case that an investment in shallow-disc manure injection equipment will be worthwhile.”
Watson explained that manure injection equipment is expensive and that it takes longer and requires more fuel for farmers to apply manure to their fields using injection than broadcasting or spreading it. For shallow-disc manure injection to be broadly implemented in the Chesapeake Bay drainage, he said, it will require substantial financial support from government or other off-farm sources. But it needs to be done, Watson believes.
“In the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, we have a lot of dairy animals concentrated in a small area. We have all this manure that has to be gotten rid of and all the nutrients that go with it have to be disposed of on a small amount of land. It must be done in a way that will protect the Chesapeake Bay,” he said.
By far, most dairy farmers in the Chesapeake drainage broadcast or spread manure but research findings suggest that if they could afford injection equipment and would embrace the technology, bay water quality would improve. IMAGE: Michael Houtz / Penn State
And even if the phosphorus reductions are uncertain due to site variability, Watson added, there are the additional benefits from manure injection, such as reducing ammonia volatilization and reducing odor emissions, which have significant value as well.
Also involved in the research were Charlie White, assistant professor of soil fertility and nutrient management and Kathryn Brasier, professor of rural sociology, Penn State; Peter Kleinman, Anthony Buda, Lou Saporito and Tamie Veith, Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Unit, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, University Park; and Clinton Williams, Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Maricopa, Arizona.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture supported this work.
Corn dried distillers grains with solubles (DG) is a common feed ingredient for lactating cows due to its high protein and fiber contents. Because of its lower price compared with soybean meal (SBM), inclusion of DG in a diet can lower feed costs. However, production responses to a DG diet can vary dependent upon its inclusion rate. Typical DG contains high fat (10 to 13% on a dry matter (DM) basis) and polyunsaturated fatty acids. So, if a diet includes high DG (20 – 30% of dietary DM), feed intake and fiber digestibility can be negatively affected and milk fat depression of cows often occurs.
Reduced-fat corn dried distillers grains with solubles (RFDG; 5 to 8% fat on a DM basis) are another type of DG and produced by partial fat removal from DG. Because of low fat content of RFDG, negative effects that were observed with DG (e.g., milk fat depression) are assumed to be alleviated when RFDG are fed compared with DG. However, little information is available about RFDG, such as its safe inclusion rate without affecting production of lactating dairy cows. According to a few previous studies, RFDG was included in dairy rations up to 30% (DM basis) by replacing SBM, corn, and/or some forages and did not have negative effects on production of dairy cows (e.g., feed intake, milk yield, and milk fat yield). However, most experiments were conducted in a short-term Latin square design (2 weeks of diet adaptation followed by 1 week of production observation). Therefore, we conducted an experiment to examine effects of RFDG at about 30% in dietary DM on production of dairy cows. In this experiment, 12 cows per treatment were used and production was monitored for 11 weeks.
In this experiment, the diet containing SBM and soyhulls was used as Control and RFDG replaced the soybean products for the 30% RFDG diet. Although the 30% RFDG diet did not affect milk yield (Table 1), it significantly decreased milk fat and protein yields. Importantly, the decrease in DM intake and milk fat yield became severe as the experiment progressed (11 weeks). In this experiment, although the inclusion of RFDG in a diet replacing SBM lowered feed cost, the income from milk and component yields also decreased due to milk fat and protein depression (Ohio prices of feeds and milk components when the experiment was conducted in 2017 were used). As a result, the income-over-feed-cost was lower for cows fed the 30% RFDG diet compared with the SBM diet. This experiment indicates that inclusion of RFDG in a ration at 30% (DM basis) can negatively affect production of cows, especially milk fat, and may decrease producers’ profits. The full version of the experiment can be found in the Journal of Dairy Science (2018; 101:5971-5983).
If RFDG is available as a feed ingredient in your farm, the following are the tips that you may need to keep in mind and check before and during feeding RFDG to your cows. First, producers need to know what type of corn distillers grain with solubles they have (DG or RFDG). Potential risk of negative production effects (e.g., milk fat depression) is lower for RFDG compared to DG because of lower fat concentration when included at the same level in a ration. However, when purchased, corn distillers grain with solubles may not be labeled as DG or RFDG. Then, check the fat level on the tag and if the fat level is below 8%, then it is RFDG. Second, if what you have is RFDG, we suggest it to be included at a maximum of 15 to 20% in a ration (DM basis). A diet with 25% of RFDG may be okay, but this needs scientific confirmation. Third, when you include RFDG in a diet, monitor production of your cows closely (feed intake, milk yield, and milk fat yield) for at least 5 to 6 weeks. In our study, the decreases in DM intake and milk fat yield of cows fed the 30% RFDG diet become more severe as the experiment progressed, indicating that negative production effects may not be realized in the first 2 to 4 weeks. Fourth, if your ration contains monensin, be careful when RFDG is included in the ration. Inclusion of monensin in the 30% RFDG diet further decreased feed intake, milk yield, and milk fat yield compared to the control diet in our study (Table 1).
Table 1. Dry matter intake and production of lactating Holstein cows fed a diet containing about 30% reduced fat distillers grain (RFDG) with or without monensin.
AVAIL T5 allows more P to get taken up by the plant, instead of lost to the environment.
Growers across the United States know the importance of phosphorus (P) in their farming operations. After all, P is essential for plants to increase root growth and enjoy a healthier start. For decades, farmers have applied more P onto their soil in hopes of helping those crops get the jumpstart they need. At times, soil samples suggest there is enough P in the soil to meet yield plans – and in close proximity to the plant as well. The problem is that P is often fixed and not available to the plant. AVAIL® T5 Phosphorus Fertilizer Enhancerfrom Verdesian Life Sciences helps unlock that P that is fixed in the soil, making it available for the plant.
Growers across North America are continuing to face pressures due to declining commodity prices and rising input prices,” said Nick Favret, Senior Product Director, Verdesian Life Sciences. “In addition, regulatory pressures all across America are spotlighting the increased need to be cognizant of the amount of P in the soil and water. That is where AVAIL T5 helps the most – by keeping more of the applied phosphorus fertilizer available for crop uptake. That means less lost to the environment where it can find its way into our lakes and streams. Our mission is to help farmers achieve strong positive ROI and continue to serve as stewards of the land as they have for generations.”
AVAIL T5 interacts with positively charged ions (calcium, magnesium, aluminum and iron) in the soil. Those soil ions typically react with the phosphate ions from applied phosphorus, causing the applied phosphorus to become “fixed” in the soil. AVAIL T5 slows fixation by temporarily binding the positively charged calcium, magnesium, aluminum, and iron. The result is more P in solution and the formation of more soluble forms P minerals in soil. Keeping P fertilizer more soluble allows the phosphorus to spread into a larger volume of soil, increasing the opportunity for root interception. This improved P solubility and root interception results in greater P uptake by the crop. This new video illustrates how AVAIL T5 works.
“AVAIL technologies result in 30-45 percent more phosphorus being made available to the crop, according to our field trials,” said Todd Carpenter, Technical Development Manager, Verdesian Life Sciences. “These trials show that the increase in available P that AVAIL T5 provides results in improved early growth, better roots, stronger shoots and improved yields. In fact, results from 30 on-farm replicated strip trials in 2018 showed the use of AVAIL T5 on granular P resulted in a 3.8 percent average yield increase, while AVAIL T5 on liquid starters and pop-ups yielded 2.4 percent more – results which are tied to more of the P fertilizer being applied getting into the crop, which is less lost to the environment. That is important to everyone.”
Recent analyses indicate that two-thirds of the AVAIL T5 benefit is the increase in plant available P, and one-third of the benefit is from the improved early start of the crop with better early root development that allows the plant to better tolerate stresses throughout the season.
Verdesian Life Sciences enables a sustainable future for farmers through nutrient use efficiency (NUE™). Grown from the ground up in 2012, Verdesian Life Sciences offers farmers and growers biological, nutritional, seed treatment, and inoculant technologies that maximize performance on high-value row crops and specialty crops as well as turf and ornamental plants. As a 4R Nutrient Stewardship Partner, Verdesian is committed to researching and developing environmentally- and financially-sustainable products. Further information about Verdesian is available at www.vlsci.com .