Archive for Management

Study reveals 74 percent of dairy farmers store expired medicines on-farm

Research has revealed 74 percent of dairy farmers have expired medicines on-farm, in one instance being as much as 16 years out of date.

Eager to understand more about dairy farmer attitudes to medicine use, University of Bristol vet, Dr Gwen Rees, undertook PhD research to determine on-farm storage of prescription veterinary medicine.

“The research highlighted a big knowledge gap on what to do with expired medicines, with very few farmers saying they frequently discussed with their vet what was in the medicine cupboard.”

In light of the study results, Dr Rees advises farmers to conduct a “medicine cupboard health check” as part of their regular herd health planning. Farmers can then work with their vet to ensure they are using appropriate medicines.

In addition, only 63 percent of the study farms were storing medicines correctly which could also impact treatment effectiveness. Dr Rees recommends checking storage instructions on the bottles of medicines.

“For vaccines, it’s recommended storage temperatures are between 20C and 80C, particularly for live vaccines which are more sensitive to damage at raised temperatures. However, a study in 2010 found that on-farm this wasn’t the norm, and vaccines were often not stored at the correct temperature,” adds Dr Rees.

The study also found on-farm medicine records varied wildly, from very accurate to non-existent. Recording and managing medicine use and stock is particularly important when meeting assurance scheme requirements and creating health plans.

“Using a simple medicine book to record when medicine is used, why it was given, and how much was administered, will help farmers to keep track of herd health. It is also valuable to include withdrawal periods and any subsequent doses needed to fulfil treatment,” concludes Dr Rees.

Source: The Dairy Site

Management for Dairy Calves in Automatic Feeding Group Housing Systems

Individually housing and feeding pre-weaned calves is the most common calf management system on US dairy farms. This system decreases calf-to-calf contact, reducing the risk of disease transmission between animals, a practice that has been shown to decrease incidences of calf mortality and morbidity.

In recent years there has been growing interest in group calf housing facilities, often in combination with automatic feeding systems. Interest in these group housing – automatic feeding systems is being driven by a combination of labor cost and availability and animal welfare concerns (greater freedom of movement and social interaction for calves in group housing). An additional benefit of some of the automatic feeding systems is that they can provide the dairy producer with information on individual calf milk intake, drinking speed, number of feeding bouts, and weight gain, to help better monitor and manage calf health.

As with individual calf housing systems, group calf housing systems do not come without challenges and proper management is key to their success. Best management practices that apply to individually housed calves (4 to 6 quarts of good quality colostrum in the first 24 hours of life, clean dry bedding, monitoring calves for scours and other health problems, etc.) still apply to calves managed in group housing systems. This article will discuss management practices unique to group housing systems that are key to successful calf rearing.

When should calves be placed in a group pen?
Some dairy producers may be interested in automatic feeding systems with the idea that they will never need to individually feed calves again. In a study of 38 dairy farms in the Upper Midwest US using automatic calf feeding systems only a quarter of farms introduced calves to the automatic feeder on day one. On average for these farms, calves were 5 days old when introduced to the group housing – automatic feeding system, with some farms not placing calves into group pens until 14 days of age. A Canadian study also found 5 days as the average age for calves to enter the group housing system. Five days of age may or may not be the correct age to place calves into a group housing system on every farm. Farm staff should observe calves to ensure that they are actively sucking and healthy prior to entering the group calf pen. Therefore, even if a farm is considering implementing groups pens, farms should be sure to include space for individually housing calves for the first several days of life.

How should calves be added to a group pen?
Once you have an idea of when you want calves to enter the group calf pen, the next step is to decide how calves will be placed into the pen. Options include all-in, all-out systems and continuous entry systems. All-in, all-out provide an opportunity for pens to be cleaned prior to new calves entering the pen. This system works well for larger dairy farms with enough calves being born over a relatively short time period to fill a pen with a uniform group of animals. Continuous entry systems may work better for smaller herds that do not have enough calves to form a group being born in a short time period. With continuous entry systems there is not a clear time to clean and disinfect calf pens, creating a possible calf health risk factor. In a Danish study, calves raised in all-in all-out pens had higher average daily gain and lower incidence of diarrhea and respiratory disease than calves in continuous entry systems.

What is the appropriate number of calves to house in a pen?
Calf feeders can easily feed 25 to 30 calves per nipple with the option of multiple nipples per feeder. The previously mentioned Midwest study found average calves per pen to be 18 calves with a range of 6 to 60 calves per pen. A Swedish study found that calves housed in pens of 12 to 18 calves had greater incidence of respiratory disease and slower average daily gain than did calves housed in groups of 6 to 9 calves.

How much space does each calf need?
In the previously mentioned Midwest study, average space per calf in group pens was 50 square feet with a range of 17 to 128 square foot per calf. Recommendations range from 40 to 50 square foot of space per calf. Pens with less area per calf will require more frequent cleaning and addition of bedding to keep pens comfortable and clean and reduce risk of disease.

What else needs to be considered?
Automatic feeding systems does not mean no management is required. In some cases, the time saved on feeding calves may be taken up on other management (pen cleaning, adding bedding, reviewing calf data, cleaning feeders, etc.) that is required to make these systems work effectively.

For more information on managing group calf housing facilities the reader is directed to the recorded Group Calf Update webinar recording on the Penn State Extension web site.

STOP WASTING TIME! Choose Sires that Save on Labor

Recently I overheard two milk producers discussing a proven sire’s daughters in their herds. One producer praised the sire for his ability to raise fat yield while the other producer put down the sire because of the extra time it took his staff to treat sick calves, the need to pull the calves from the sire’s first calf heifers and that it took 3-4 services to get the sire’s daughter pregnant.

That conversation got me thinking – “Do we put enough emphasis in sire selection on the amount of staff time that a sire’s daughters may require?”

Attitude to Labor Required

In the past breeders were pleased to obtain superior production and/or conformation from a sire’s daughters and were prepared to overlook the extra labor required for a sire’s daughters.

With the increased cost for labor and the often lack of availability of skilled herdspersons to treat sick, underperforming, infertile or special needs animals, labor utilization is often front and center on a herd manager’s work agenda.

Genetics and Labor Meet

The Bullvine asks – “Is it time to address how the genetic merit of our dairy animals affects the cost of labor on the farms of tomorrow?

Farm financial analysis shows that labor is between 14-20% of total farm costs. Reducing labor costs by 15-20% by having animals of all ages and stages that require less staff and management time could significantly impact net income, while freeing up staff time to implement enhanced procedures.

Traits the Affect Labor Required

The thirty-five traits with genetic indexes that can affect labor costs is significant and apply from birth to herd removal follow:

Direct Affect:

  1. Animal Health: All animal health issues on dairy farms require the attention and time of staff.

Genetic indexes include: C Scours; C Resp; C Liv; CW$; Immunity+; SCS/MAS/MR; LIV; WT$; …

  1. Reproduction: For some time now, dairy breeders have selected for improved reproductive performance, but it remains a high priority as it requires considerable staff time.

Genetic indexes include: DPR/FI/DF; HCC; CCR; MET; …

  1. Calving Time: Calving time issues can be stressful and can require an excessive amount of staff time. It continues to be a priority item for improvement on dairy farms.

Genetic indexes include: CE/CA; MCE/DCA; SSB; DSB; RP/RPL; GL; …

  1. Milking Time: Regardless of the degree of on-farm automations the milking process requires staff time at every milking. Factors that slow down milking time of individual or groups of cows is a staff cost.

Genetic indexes include: MSP(Milking Speed); MT(Milking Temperament); RTP(Holsteins); UD(Udder Depth); …

  1. Animal Locomotion: An animal’s ability to move without problems is an absolute necessity. Dealing with locomotion problems requires extra labor. Any genetic indexes currently available are at best an indirect measure of animal locomotion.

Genetic indexes include: HH(Hoof Health); FA(Foot Angle); HD(Heel Depth); LAME; …

  1. Metabolic Disease: When a metabolic disease occurs, extra staff is required to detect and treat.

Genetic indexes include: DA(Displace Abomasum); KET(Ketosis); MVF; MD(Metabolic Disease Composite – 3x); …

Indirect Affect

Some genetic related traits may have an indirect affect on the cost for labor. These include: PL/HL (reduced labor for replacements); PP (no dehorning); AFC (Age at First Calving – reduce labor for replacements); Sexed Semen (easier calving); Cross Breeding (correction of breed limiting traits).

Necessary to Apply Selection Pressure

Dairy cattle breeders know that to improve the genetic level of their herds, they must use superior sires. To improve quickly the sires must be significantly superior.  Significantly superior sires are the ones that are in the top 5% of the breed. In statistical terms those sires are two standard deviations above average.

The traits mentioned above, the contributors to saving on labor costs are lowly heritable, not easily measured and often only identified later in an animal’s life. All of which contribute to the need for stringent sire selection in order to make herd improvement.

In Canada, CDN/Lactanet expresses traits on a scale of 100 being average, one standard deviation is 5 so two standard deviations (top 5%) is 110.

In the USA, at CDCB and with many company’s proprietary labor-saving traits, there is not a standardized method of trait expression, average is not always zero (0.0) and the standard deviation value is not published. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a milk producer to quickly know the superiority or inferiority of a sire’s rating for those traits.

No matter the source of the information, milk producers planning to improve a labor-saving trait must make sure that only truly superior sires are used.

Some Top Sires for Saving on Labor

To assist Bullvine readers to start the process of finding labor saving sires the following sires are offered:

  • AltaTopShot (11HO11779) – SCS 2.67/MR 107; PL 7.4/HL 108; DPR 1.6 / DF 106; SCE 5.9% / DCA 109; DSB 3.7%; HH 108; MD 107; LIV 2.7; UD 0.0; MSP 97; #10 CW$, #50 WT$(#1 DWP$; #1NM$; #2 TPI; A2A2)
  • Exactly (7HO12721) – MR 111/ SCS 2.50; DF 111/ DPR 2.9; HL 109 / PL 4.5; DCA 107 / DCE 5.2%; MD 105; HH 105; DSB 4.5%; LIV -0.9; MT 103; MSP 101; UD 3.41 (GLPI 3399; Pro$ 2097; TPI 2438; NM$ 563, A2A2)
  • VJ Tir (JEDNK303616) – SCS 2.68/MR 109; DPR 4.6/DF 111; PL 6.1/HL 115; MSP 104; UD 1S (#3CM$; A2A2)
  • Vivaldi (200JE07756) – DF 106 / DPR -1.9; MD 104; MR 103 / SCS 3.00; MSP 103; HL 101 / PL 2.0; CA 108; DCA 100; MT 117; UD 2D/+1.30                                                   (#1 Pro$; #1 LPI; JPI 143; CM$ 547; A2A2)

Very noteworthy is the fact that, with 70% of A.I. services to genomic sires, milk producers can choose from many many genomic sires that have high indexes for labor-saving traits. 

Facts that the Bullvine Observed

In developing this article on genetics and labor-saving traits the author observed:

  • North American total merit indexes (NM$, Pro$, CM$, TPU, LPI, …) are frequently not labor-saving trait friendly. This could be because these indexes are developed from historic breeding objectives rather than for the future reality.
  • Locomotion and functional feet are not well defined in genetic terms. More research is needed.
  • The methods of expressing traits with respect to breed averages and levels of superiority are not easily understood or known to milk producers.
  • Work needs to continue on trait definitions as more and more labor-saving traits will be captured by electronic on-farm systems. Common trait interpretation is need when data is combined when conducting genetic evaluations or when benchmarking herd performance.

Bonuses from Improving Labor Saving Traits

The bonus for dairy farmers for improving labor-saving traits will be in time saved primarily by eliminating doing the unnecessary. More time will be available to attend to other important on-farm herd functions – fresh cow temperature checking; extra health checks of calves; increased heat checking; more time for report analysis; more time for staff training; …

The Bullvine Bottom Line

With more animals per employee and the focus moving to on-farm efficiency, it is imperative that milk producers choose and use sires that are significant breed improvers for labor-saving traits.



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Genetic selection of females: 5 benefits to choosing milk recording for your herd.

It has long been recognized that milk recording provides essential data to improve the genetics of a herd. However, major changes in milk production over the past decade, such as the introduction of genomics and automated milking systems, are challenging this fundamental element. Comments published in social media such as “No more monitoring, I have all the data” or “A.I. centres only use genomics as selection criteria” testify to this.

In the current context and following the launch of Compass, a new genetic management tool, here are the five key advantages to enroll your herd on milk recording to optimize your female genetic selection strategy:

  1. To monitor the genetic progression of the herd;
  2. To identify the next generation of dams in the herd;
  3. To identify genetic strengths and weaknesses and link unsatisfactory performance to genetic selection;
  4. To provide a complete inventory of females in the herd for sire selection programs of A.I. organisations;
  5. To facilitate the promotion and marketing of the herd (official indexes).

1.  To monitor the genetic progression of the herd

Tracking the herd’s progress is essential to improve its performance. It is a basic management principle: to improve, you must measure.

With Compass, herds enrolled on milk recording have access to data that is much more complete for their herd because the milk recording data is integrated into the herd’s genetic data. The genetic values provided are therefore more accurate and the genetic inventory better reflects reality.

Compass provides a wealth of graphs showing progression by genetic criteria. This allows a producer to compare his herd to other Canadian herds to define his selection objectives based on clear indicators.

Example of a graph from Compass which shows a herd’s evolution based on LPI (blue line) compared to all Canadian herds (red line).

2. To identify the next generation of dams in the herd

With the introduction of sexed semen, producers can determine which females will be bred for the next generation and which females they will use beef semen on. The use of more accurate genetic indexes through milk recording, classification and genomics is important.  One of Compass’s main objectives is to help producers select not only the dams but also the females that need to be genotyped in order to make this choice more precise.

The Herd Genetics module of the Compass offers choices for each female in the herd. For females up to one year of age, it suggests that the animal be genotyped, kept in inventory or sold. As for females over a year old, it suggests the use of sexed semen, conventional semen or beef semen.  

The Herd Genetics module of the Compass offers choices for each female in the herd.

 3. To identify genetic strengths and weaknesses and link unsatisfactory performance to genetic selection

Milk recording data is used for herd management, but also to provide input to the calculations of genetic values for many traits such as health and reproductive traits. For herds with unsatisfactory performance (or to explain good performance), comparing the data with the genetic averages of the herd can be part of the solution. For example, a herd whose average SCC of first lactation females is 100 or less will mean that selection requires improvement for this parameter, especially if the herd’s SCC is unsatisfactory.

Below is the graph of a herd, selected to reduce SCCs, which has recently risen near the top 10%. For females born in 2017 (first lactation in 2019), herds in the bottom 10% had an average of 100 and less.
Graph of a herd

4. To provide a complete inventory of females in the herd for sire selection programs of A.I. organisations

A.I. facilities receive herd files – according to their specific clientele – that allow them to make the best choice of bulls for each female in the herd. These files provide a verified inventory of females in the herd with up-to-date genetic values and include the incidence of undesirable genes and haplotypes.

Some A.I. facilities build an inventory of the herd based on milking software data. With the exception of genotyped animals, the genetic values given are usually based on the average of the parents and in many cases, only the sire’s test contributes to this. The inventory is not verified (identification errors are not corrected) and there is no information on recessive genes and undesirable haplotypes to avoid inappropriate sire selection.

5. To facilitate the promotion and marketing of the herd (official indexes)

The official publication of genetic indexes allows the calculated indexes of females rather than the average of the parents to be posted on the Lactanet ( and breed association websites. The publication provides marketing and recognition opportunities for exceptional animals or herds. Improving genetics to have a herd or individuals that rank among the elite is often an important source of motivation for producers.

In order for the indexes to be official, certain requirements must be met

Milk recording data, both publishable and non-publishable, is used to develop genetic strategies in the Compass tool.

All producers whose herd is enrolled on milk recording, whether or not it meets the requirements to be publishable, have genetic “management” indexes for females that are used to specify genetic strategies in Compass. 

A new exclusive Compass  web page displays the most recent genetic indexes calculated monthly for all females in inventory, whether or not they come from a herd with publishable indexes.

To create your own Compass account, go to and enjoy the benefits of this new management tool for your herd today.

Farm gate: on farming, mental health, and mental illness

Farm Gate host ffinlo Costain speaks with Graham Morgan MBE about farming, mental health, and mental illness.

Graham works for the Mental Health Commission for Scotland and volunteers with HUG Action for Mental Health. He was awarded an MBE for services to mental health and has spoken about mental illness to the United Nations. He’s also written a book- Start – which reviewers describe in glowing terms. He recently talked to a conference organised by the National Farmers Union of Scotland.

At the conference, Graham spoke about mental health and that farmers, like everyone else, have a right to get help if they need it. Speaking from his own experience, he knows many farmers feel ashamed if they have mental health challenges, but help can be easy, such as talking to friends.

ffinlo appreciates Graham’s honesty about his own mental health, and says that this type of honesty can really help people to open up in the same way, overcoming labels and stereotypes. These, he explains, can often be barriers to better understanding about people and their experiences, although they can also help us to understand one another.

“But I think the most important thing is to recognise we’re all individuals and that although a stereotype can help us understand each other, it can also obscure who we are and obscure individuality in our own personal needs,” says Graham.

ffinlo also mentions “masks”, which we often wear to people so that we can appear acceptable to them. These aren’t easy to take off, but around people we trust it’s easy and important to try.

The conference Graham spoke at provided such an atmosphere for farmers, allowing them to share their experiences of living in rural areas, feeling isolated and the stress of the lifestyle.

“They could provide direct support to each other,” says Graham.

One stereotype we often associate with farmers is that of being “stoical,” says Graham. “How do we persuade people to take their mental health more seriously and to identify when they need to ask for help more?”

Graham explains that recognising treating mental health or mental illness is as important as treating “a hand [pulled] off in the combine and that you have a right to help and that, without getting help, life will be difficult and help can transform lives.”

In the podcast, Graham and ffinlo go on to talk about issues which are causing farmers the most stress. Among those they discussed, these were some of the most prevalent:

  • Finances
  • Bureaucracy
  • Brexit and Common Agricultural Policy reform

Graham says that if he were a farmer, he’d feel worried about his future too, but there are a number of farming organisations that provide support to farmers and a variety of help lines.

He encourages farmers to get treatment for their mental health in the same way they might get treated for a cold or flu, or even something more serious, since there’s a spectrum of severity for mental illnesses just as there is for physical illnesses.

A farming life is generally a good life, but it’s demanding and it can be stressful. It’s hardly a surprise that farmers and farm workers can feel isolated, depressed and sometimes just unable to cope. Mental illness is an illness, not a weakness, and it’s a sign of strength to seek out the help you need. Importantly, mental illness can be treated sometimes with support, sometimes with medication. If you’re feeling isolated or depressed or you think you know someone who is, help is at hand. These are just a couple of the organisations that provide direct support by phone and by e-mail in the United Kingdom:

Farmgate is a partnership project for Farm Well and FAI Farms and you can join the conversation on Twitter by searching for Farm Gate podcast. 

–Originally published on The Poultry Site 

Magnesium boost could reduce slow calving risk

Farmers are being advised to increase the level of magnesium in minerals given to suckler cows before calving after new research found they absorb less than previously thought.

SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), has issued the advice after new information from the USA found magnesium from rock sources has around half the absorption levels of past estimates.

Magnesium is critical for both the prevention of staggers and to help cows mobilise calcium reserves and minimise the risk of slow calvings.

The National Research Council (NRC) in the United States brought out the 8th edition of Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle in 2017 and Professor Bill Weiss, who is now working on new dairy cow recommendations, has given some indications of changes they are making to availability for magnesium.

They suggest that magnesium from rock sources has around half the absorption levels than was previously thought.

Magnesium oxide is the most common form used in mineral supplements in the UK and Karen Stewart, a livestock nutritionist at SAC Consulting, said given the recent information, depending on the diet, it would be advisable to increase magnesium in suckler cow pre-calving minerals.

“The current guidelines is 10 per cent magnesium in a pre-calving mineral for normal silage rations and I think the revised absorption coefficients would justify an increase to 15 per cent magnesium to take account of the reduced absorption,” she said.

“Magnesium plays a vital role in helping cows mobilise their own reserves of calcium to help with muscle contractions. Low magnesium is associated with slow calvings.”

She added: “If staggers is considered a particular risk or the silage has particularly high potassium levels as a result of slurry applications, further supplementation may be considered.

“This spring the risk of slow calvings will be higher as a result of cows being high body condition score.

“Getting a full silage analysis including minerals, and planning pre-calving rations with nutritional advice, will be particularly important ahead of spring calving 2020.”


Dairy Farmers – Break Down The Stigma Around Suicide

Suicide in the agriculture community is an unfortunate reality and is an issue farm families have to be concerned about. It’s time to end the stigma.  Let’s start by ending the silence.

“What are We Talking About?”

As dairy farmers, we spend the majority of our time working and when we do get to socialize in person, in our communities or online, it sometimes is easier to talk about the current price of milk than it is to bring up mental health issues.  I don’t personally know Jessica Peters but I want to give her heartfelt thanks for sending out her thoughts about mental health in agriculture. She was interviewed by Hoard’s Dairymen and can be found on facebook/com/sprucerow.  Thank you Jessica for calling us to action, “It is time to speak up.”

“There is A Global Gathering Place Online”

Online, the Twitter hashtag #DoMoreAg serves as a global gathering place for struggling farmers to reach out for support.  Politicians, industry leaders and mental-health advocates credit farmers opening up on the platform for pushing this crisis and its severity into the spotlight. Farmers talking, asking and listening is bringing attention to the problem of suicide.

“Depression is Not a Choice or a Shortcoming”

We find that our dairy family and friends are impacted by this difficult issue. The first place to start is by correcting misinformation.

  • Nobody is immune to mental health issues, either young or old.
  • Mental health issues are not just a phase. They are not a choice.
  • Mental health issues do not define a person.

Intervention is definitely needed if someone becomes suicidal. Before that crisis time,

training in social problem solving skills, creating a sense of belonging, and providing social support could reduce the likelihood that someone will attempt suicide.

“Take This One Action”

Rural communities and individual farmers find it hard to reach out when faced with this topic. One suggestion is to set up a local farm meeting simply to acknowledge how everyone is doing.  There is no need for speakers and formal presenters.  Simply provide some time for people to talk to each other. Sharing in a safe place we can admit that we all face challenges.  We all need support and encouragement.

“We Have to Rethink Support Programs”

There are many negative triggers in life and whether you carry the burden of one or of many, you can be assured that there is assistance. In the farm community, the expressed reasons are – debt, alcohol addiction, environment, low produce prices, stress and family responsibilities, apathy, poor irrigation, increased cost of cultivation, private money lenders, use of chemical fertilizers and crop failure. Supporting someone means having an understanding of the causes. It means understanding the possible impacts and the kinds of information that is needed. 

“Information.  Too Much.  Wrong Kind.  Too Little”

It is often the stated goal of any industry forum, magazine or editorial to inspire discussion and to be an impetus for action. This works well when discussing measureable outcomes with visible parameters.  Breeding charts, feeding strategies or effective storage solutions respond to this type of open analysis. However, when it comes to health issues and, specifically mental health issues, the topic can have repercussions. It is natural to feel uncomfortable with difficult conversations about mental illness and suicide.  However, completely avoiding acknowledgement of the topic might lead to community pushback and suspicion, while too much of the wrong kind of information could be as counterproductive.

“If you think you may attempt suicide, get help now.”

“We Have to Learn how to Ask for and How to Give Support.”

That was the opening to a recent conversation with a farming friend. As more and more negativity piles on our already overloaded senses, we feel less able to cope. In an effort not to hurt or burden others, we retreat into ourselves becoming more and more isolated.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can be very isolating.

“You Don’t Have to Suffer Silently. It’s Okay to Ask for Help”

Getting people to talk about a subject that tends to be taboo and about which many hold mistaken and prejudiced ideas will help the dairy ag community to learn about the risk factors so that they can identify and learn to address them. Here are some signals to be aware of:

  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Increasing use of alcohol or illicit drugs
  • Changing normal routines, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly 

“Don’t Ignore the Warning Signs.” 

Warning signs aren’t always obvious, and they may vary from person to person. If you begin to see negative changes in your behavior or in someone else, they are signs stating to the world that something is wrong:

  • Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”.
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Preoccupation with death, dying or violence
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next.

“Find Out Who to Get in Touch with RIGHT NOW.”

Suicidal thinking doesn’t get better on its own.  If you’re feeling on the edge, but are not immediately thinking of hurting yourself:

  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
  • Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone in your faith community
  • Call a suicide hotline
  • Make an appointment with your doctor, other health care provider or a mental health
  • If you find it too hard to list these numbers for yourself, ask a friend or family member to help you with this task. 

“When to See a Doctor for Depression”

Sharing your feelings with trusted family or friends may help in the short term. When more help is needed, don’t give up. Doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists can provide treatments and self management strategies beyond what those close to you can do. This is a proactive step but there could be issues! It takes courage to reach out but in today’s health community the current waiting list might be quite lengthy.  Here is an added burden for people who are already finding it hard to cope. The ag industry and healthcare at large needs to be more adequately prepared to meet the mental health needs of the community. Depression can make a person feel completely helpless.  Their energy becomes so drained that they haven’t enough left to ask for help.  When you are worried about a friend or loved one, offer support by encouraging them to speak to a health professional. If they’re not able to do it on their own, ask for their permission to ask on their behalf. 

“Take Care of Your Body and Mind.”

One of the ways we identify with those who are struggling is for the reason that we recognize the ways everybody tries to manage our mental health.  Here are four ways to offer help.

  • Encourage the person that you are worried about to get enough sleep. Although they may feel that working 24/7 is a way to avoid facing root causes, in actual fact, it may worsen the problem.
  • Be aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)which most often occurs in response to the onset of the shorter days and colder weather of winter, known as winter-onset SAD.
  • We all need to exercise regularly, although it may seem redundant to hard working farmers.Exercise that loosens and relaxes muscles counteracts the buildup of tension and helps both mind and body.
  • Time and worry steal attention from self care. Be sure to regularly eat healthy foods. 

“Do You Need More Help?”

Plan Postvention to Provide Support, Intervention and Assistance”

Postvention refers to a series of activities undertaken within the community to respond to a death, suicide or other public crisis with the intention of

  • facilitating the grieving;
  • helping with the adjustment process;
  • stabilizing the environment;
  • reducing the risk of negative behaviors;
  • limiting the the risk of further suicides through contagion.

All efforts need to work simultaneously to get the community back to the pre-crisis level of functioning, while developing new skills for dealing with new or repeated challenges in the future. 


Assuming a connection between weakness and depression makes it difficult for people with this form of illness to ask for the help they need.  The agricultural and dairy community must break down the stigma around mental illness. Far from being a sign of weakness, living with and recovering from depression takes a lot of personal strength. You are not alone.  The goal is to help yourself and others to come out on the other side with a more constructive, productive and effective way to face mental pain.



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The New Cash Cow: How Solar Can Save Dairy Farms

Borden Dairy Co., one of America’s oldest and largest dairy companies, on January 6, became the second major milk producer to file for bankruptcy in the last three months after Dean Foods, America’s largest milk producer, filed for bankruptcy in November. Borden Dairy says that tumbling milk consumption combined with the rising price of milk crippled them with debt. In addition to these two large bankruptcies in the dairy industry, more than 2,700 small-and-mid-size family dairy farms went out of business last year and 94,000 have stopped producing milk since 1992. Consumption has been dropping steadily, with overall sales falling by 13% in the last decade. It seems that many Americans are moving on from cow milk.

Carilynn and Curtis Coombs, who own a family dairy farm in Smithfield, Kentucky, just received unwelcome news. It came in the form of a letter from Dean Foods, which used to buy their milk but just went belly-up: “While we greatly appreciate all your hard work and the milk you have provided to Dean Foods throughout the years, I regret to notify you we must cease purchasing milk from your dairy farm. Our agreement will end in 90 days.” The Coombs family, as well as tens of thousands of other dairy families, are now looking for something else to help keep bread on the table.

While the dairy industry is tumbling, the solar energy industry is skyrocketing. Global demand for solar energy has tripled over the past six years, according to Goldman Sachs. This is partly because institutions, including Cornell University, and companies such as Lyft and PepsiCo are making pledges to be net-carbon neutral. The Financial Times writes that “companies are racing to burnish their green credentials,” citing Amazon’s recent pledge of net zero emissions by 2040 and 100 percent renewable energy from 2030. The fight against climate change has reached a watershed moment: consumers are demanding clean energy and companies are responding. This represents an extraordinary opportunity for landowners, especially these dairy families, to consider farming sunshine.

Last semester, I took a class titled “Farm Business Management.” We took a field trip to E-Z Acres, a 2,500 acre, 680 cow third-generation dairy farm situated in the Finger Lakes region of New York. One of my classmates asked Mike McMahon, the owner, to tell us the single greatest challenge to his farm. Mr. McMahon responded: “climate change.” He then spoke at lengths about the extreme weather that has been ravaging his farm, which Alan Sano, a farmer on the West Coast, details in a New York Times article titled “Farmers Don’t Need to Read the Science. We Are Living It.” In addition to showing me first-hand the struggles of a dairy family in today’s economy, the conversation with Mr. McMahon made it clear that some farmers are acutely aware of climate change.

My time at the farm gave me the idea for a term paper, in which I proposed installing solar panels on 125 acres of this 2,500 acre dairy farm. I analyzed the profitability of two different options: cash rent, in which the landowner leases the land to a solar developer for a flat rate, and fixed product rent, in which the landowner and the solar developer share in the revenue generated by the electricity sales.

According to the World Bank’s Global Solar Atlas, a 125 acre, 18 megawatt solar farm in Upstate New York has a total photovoltaic power output of 22.519 gigawatt-hours, or 22,519,000 kilowatt-hours, per year. This power output serves around 3,000 average American residential homes. In terms of electricity sales, which run at $0.05/kWh in the Northeast, E-Z Acres would yield $1.1 million a year in revenue. Farming solar on the entire 2,500 acre property would power around 60,000 average American residential homes and generate $22 million a year. Under fixed product rent, the landowner and the solar developer share these sales.

The graph below shows solar power potential across America. According to the World Bank software, solar farms in the Southwest and across the Atlantic Coast generate 30 percent to 50 percent more electricity than solar farms in Upstate New York, per acre. Because of this, I don’t think that the E-Z Acres analysis captures the full potential of solar power as an energy source for America and as a source of revenue for families and companies.

Nearly a century ago, Thomas Edison imagined tapping the inexhaustible power of the sun: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” Today, harnessing that energy — along with the power of wind, water, and the earth’s heat — has become a reality as consumers are demanding clean energy and companies are responding with carbon-free pledges. Technological and financial innovations have brought renewables into the mainstream, and I think that the resulting transformation will lead to energy savings, reduced carbon emissions, greater energy diversification and job creation for folks like Carilynn and Curtis Coombs.


In first pilot of its kind, Israeli dairy won’t separate calves from mothers

The Yotvata dairy farm in southern Israel is launching the first pilot project of its kind in an industrial cowshed in Israel — and will not separate female calves from their mothers right after birth.

The project will be run at a relatively new cowshed at Moshav Idan in the southern Israeli Arava desert, Zman Israel, the Times of Israel’s Hebrew language sister site, reported.

The widely practiced separation of calves from their mothers within an hour of birth has attracted increasing criticism both from within the dairy industry and among animal rights activists. It creates severe distress for mother and calf and is seen as aggressive and cruel.

When the male calves are several days old they are sent off for fattening prior to slaughter — and that will not change. The project, planned to launch next year, will apply to newborn females, who are currently also separated from their mothers and taken after a few days of isolation to join other calves in a kind of crèche.

Veterinarian Sivan Lacker traveled to Europe to see how leaving calves with their mothers can be done. There, dairies tend to be smaller than they are in Israel, which is why Moshav Idan’s cowshed, with just 360 cows and an average of 150 births per year, was chosen.

Ashkar Genosar, Milk Receiving and Manufacturer Relations Manager, Yotvata Dairy. (Lior Nordman)

“We’re starting it gradually and very much want it to succeed,” said Ashkar Genosar, milk receiving and manufacturer relations manager at Yotvata Dairy. “We think it’s very important and hope that it will work from a health and technical standpoint. There are 23 cowsheds that work with us and when we suggested it to the manager of the Idan cowshed, she was very enthusiastic.”

Health risks facing calves include exposure to disease and entry into the cowshed of predatory animals, Genosar explained.

The idea is that the female calves will stay with their mothers for three to six months until weaning, after which they separate naturally. The youngsters will then join a group of their own age.

Genosar said that while the farm would lose the milk fed by the cow to its calf, studies showed that calves fed by their mothers went on to be healthier and stronger and to give more milk in the long run than those that had been separated from their mothers at birth.

Furthermore, the current practice of keeping and feeding calves in a separate “kindergarten” had substantial costs, which would be saved by allowing mother and calf to stay together.

“To the best of our knowledge, there is no such thing [as keeping cows and calves together] in the world of industrial cowsheds,” Genosar said.

Yotvata Dairy is one of the largest producers of dairy products in Israel and jointly owned by Kibbutz Yotvata and local food giant Strauss.

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Can Dairy Corn Silages be Compared?

In an ideal dairy corn silage world, we would be able to see and measure the corn silage varieties, compare their forage digestibility related to how they might work in our dairy rations, and then purchase those varieties for next year’s planting. Just like on a team event, where we all work together on the same issue, if the dairy farm corn silage testing was using the same analysis testing as the corn silage trials, this would be great.

The Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania (PDMP)/Penn State corn silage trials have partnered with other Northeast corn silage trials and they have agreed to test corn silage digestibility the same across the Northeast. The parameter uNDF240om was added to all sample tests by the following partners in 2017: PDMP/ Penn State, Cornell, University of Vermont, and Western NY Crop Management Association (WNYCMA). The trial data was tested at Cumberland Valley Forage Labs for uNDF240om as a group.

See the PDMP/Penn State corn silage results at ” 2019 Results: PA Commercial Grain and Silage Hybrid Corn Tests Report .”

Dairy producers could also have their own corn silage tested for uNDF240om and then compare silage results against other varieties.

Let’s take a look at how many samples had been tested for uNDF240 from the 2019 harvest season across NY and PA. Looking at the Dairy One forage testing lab for NY and PA corn silage samples, in NY from September 2019 to December 2019, 526 corn silage samples with 194 being tested on the basic program of NDFD 30 and 151 being tested on the Forage PRO program of uNDF240om. Only 1/3 of corn silage tests run at Dairy One tested for uNDF240.

In PA, 84 corn silage samples with 30 being tested on the basic program of NDFD 30 and 47 being tested on the Forage PRO program of uNDF240om.

Dairy farms that submit samples to Cumberland Valley Forage labs, could also add uNDF240 to their list and then have the opportunity to compare their home corn silage results with the University trials data.

By spending an extra few dollars to test for uNDF240, on-farm data can be compared with other samples taken in the Northeast that best matches your farm. By having many sample locations available to compare on farm samples with, the strength in the results will greatly increase. This might be the most important change this winter to do more testing with all the planting, growing and harvest challenges that we have had across our corn silage season.



On Nov. 12 Penn State Extension hosted a Webinar on the PDMP/Penn State corn silage variety trials. The goal was to highlight the variety plots, across Pennsylvania for yield and quality. Dairy producers, employees and agribusiness professionals are invited to join Penn State Extension for the Technology Tuesday webinar. This recorded webinar features Jessica Williamson, Penn State Extension forage specialist, and Chris Canale, technology manager with Cargill Animal Nutrition, who discuss the results of the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania’s 2019 Corn Silage Trials.

To learn more on this great opportunity, I encourage you to log into the recorded Corn Silage webinar from November 12, 2019.

All webinars in this series are free and are recorded for viewing later. To learn more or to view webinars, go to the Technology Tuesdays link.

New for 2019

Penn State Corn Silage Trial Digestibility Box

In 2018 we added ash, fat (Total Fatty Acids), NDFD30, NDFD120, NDFD240, and in vitro starch digestibility (IVSD) at four locations to data spreadsheets.

For 2019 we will add an index called organic matter digestibility (OMD). The OMD calculation will use wet chemistry to determine NDFD12, NDFD30, and 4h starch digestibility.

The OMD Index: We know that digestibility of nutrients in corn silage is paramount when determining value. NDF and starch are responsible for much of the energy in corn silage. In order to advance and update MILK 2006, we developed a new quality index based on organic matter digestibility of protein, fat, NDF, and starch called the OMD Index.

For over 15 years the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania (PDMP) and Penn State have partnered in a corn silage hybrid testing program. Results around NDF and starch digestibility yielded much needed discussion about the impact of corn silage in rations for dairy cattle.

We will continue to look at the relationship between NIR and wet chemistry for the prediction of NDFD12 and NDFD30 in fresh corn silage. We already know that wet chemistry is the methodology to use for starch digestibility. For the OMD Index, we will use wet chemistry data for NDFD12 and NDFD30. These two time points are used when calculating the OMD Index.

The OMD Index — using data derived from wet chemistry analyses — will provide a useful metric to rank hybrids; furthermore, the OMD Index provides nutritionists with an estimate of rumen fermentability — or fuel — overall.

uNDF240 still relevant …

Our corn hybrid evaluation reports a quality parameter called uNDF240. We developed a few questions below to share some of the potential of this new measurement.

What is uNDF240?

uNDF stands for undigested neutral detergent fiber (uNDF). NDF, commonly referred to as “cell wall,” is comprised of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. The number “240” refers to the amount of NDF remaining undigested after 10 days (240 hours) in the rumen. The most common technique to determine uNDF is by in situ or in vitro incubation; once enough data is obtained, either technique can be used to create a calibration, or prediction, using NIR. Excessive uNDF is a problem because it’s NDF that can’t be fermented to end products — VFA — that are used to make milk and milk components. And, once ingested by the cow, uNDF may take up space, creating too much rumen fill.

What impacts uNDF?

uNDF is determined by environment and genetics. In other words, growing conditions play a large role in the formation of the undigested fraction (uNDF). For example, 2018 corn silage had roughly 10%-units more uNDF than 2017 silage. The cool, wet conditions during early growth stages likely contributed to higher uNDF in 2018 corn silage plants. Genetics is a factor as well. BMR hybrids tend to have significantly lower uNDF than conventional hybrids. Forage uNDF240 values are determined by genetics and environment. Tile drainage should improve (lower) uNDF240 content of forages. Flood irrigation may increase uNDF240 content.

Why is uNDF relevant?

A growing body of literature and field experience tells us that uNDF can affect cow performance. Either intake, milk yield, and/or milk components might be affected.

One key element to uNDF is the digestibility of the NDF that is available for digestion. In other words, what is the digestibility of the NDF at time points leading up to uNDF? This year we will report digestibility of NDF at 12, 30, 120, and 240h. These time points can be used to determine the kinetics, or rate, of NDF digestion. Rate of digestion is used to predict OMD.

Bottom Line

OMD and uNDF are not new measures. For years, researchers and nutritionists have used digestibility estimates to design experiments and formulate rations for dairy cattle. Today, though, integrating these data is a useful practice to gauge silage value and match hybrid to farm. In the end, we hope OMD and uNDF serve to fine-tune rations for dairy cows and optimize silage hybrids for producers.


Dairy Heifer Cost Variation

Dairy heifer replacement costs represent a large investment for all dairy operations. The heifer and crop enterprises are two major components of the dairy business. Comparable to the variation in costs to produce home-raised feeds, heifer costs can vary significantly across farms.

During 2016 and 2017, the Extension Dairy Business Management Team worked with a group of 23 dairy producers in a project called “Crops to Cow”. Goals for the project were to examine the impact of corn silage quality parameters on the profitability of dairy operations. To conduct the profitability assessment for the farms, the team used the Year-End Analysis (FINAN®) software developed by the University of Minnesota. This software allows the user to conduct detailed enterprise analysis on the livestock and crop enterprises on the farm.

Table 1 presents data from 1,208 farms with dairy replacement heifer budgets in the database for 2016 through 2018. These are primarily farms in the upper Midwest with a majority from Minnesota. Table 2 shows the same measures for the 64 Pennsylvania dairy farms included in the Extension Dairy Team’s study. This information represents three years of repeated measures for the same farms from 2016 through 2018.

In the larger data set, the average total cost per head to raise heifers was $1,662 for the Midwest Group (MG), versus the Pennsylvania (PA) farms of $2,026. An important item to note between the two data sets is the difference in the herd dynamics. The MG on average transferred 53% of their heifers into the milking herd during these years compared to 48% for the PA farms. This 5% difference in transfer rate means more days spent in the heifer enterprise accumulating additional costs before they freshen. The age at first calving is not available in this data but warrants further investigation. Another possible explanation for the lower turnover rate for the PA herds is that the heifer herd size may have been rapidly growing. With the use of sexed semen and more females being born, many of the younger animals being added to the enterprise haven’t yet been balanced by heifers leaving the system. As more animals mature and freshen, a larger percentage may enter the milking herd in future years. This would reduce the cost to raise heifers because the costs would be divided over more animals.

Feed expenditures represent a large portion of the costs required to raise a heifer. Annual feed costs were similar between the MG and PA datasets: $405/head/year versus $409/head/year. The slower turnover rate for the PA farms equated to the Total Feed Cost per head being higher at $857 compared to $767 for the MG farms. The most profitable farms (Top 20%) were very similar with the MG at $574/head and the PA farms at $580/head. This observation can be broadened to many of the measures included in each table. The most profitable PA farms were very similar to the MG in Total Costs at $1,333/head versus $1,344/head. While the heifer turnover rate impacted the Total Feed costs adversely for the PA farms, the Feed Cost was remarkably similar on a per head basis: PA farms at $1.12/head/day versus the MG at $1.11/head/day. While the similarity per day exists, more days on feed for the PA animals explains the higher Total Feed Cost per heifer raised.

The Low Profit (40% and lower) farms in the PA data had considerably higher feed costs than the MG ($1,544 versus $984). Another factor to consider is the farms’ available feed sources. In the PA data set, farms with the highest amount of home-raised feeds including all grass hay and corn grain are consistently among the highest profit farms. The amount of purchased heifer supplements for each group suggests this is true for the heifer enterprises. The Low Profit MG farms spent $205/head on purchased heifer feeds, while the Low Profit PA farms spent $378/head for the same feeds. This suggests the MG farms may have a closer match of forages and grains for their dairy compared to PA operations. This is further supported by the PA High Profit group (Top 20%) having nearly identical purchased heifer feeds to the MG farms ($117/head versus $112/head). This supports a conclusion the Extension Dairy Team has drawn from many years of financial planning with dairy producers: farms that have a good match of crop acres to the total animal units on the farm are positioned for higher profitability. They buy smaller amounts of purchased feed and raise forages and grains at competitive costs well below the market value of the feedstuff.

While feed cost explains some of the difference between profitability of these operations, there are other costs that can’t be ignored. The average “Costs other than feed” of $895/head for the MG compared to the $1,168/head for the PA farms is a concern. This difference represents other dairy expenses (breeding, vet, bedding, supplies, contract heifer raising) attributed to the heifer enterprise. It also includes overhead expenses (fuel, repairs, labor, insurance, utilities and depreciation). Across all costs required to raise a heifer, the MG farms had lower costs per head. The lower turnover rate for the PA farms means more days on feed and more time to incur a larger share of all other costs as well. All costs including a labor and management charge for the MG farms was $2.40/head/day while the PA farms spent $2.65/head/day to raise a heifer. The range was large for each group: $3.11 to $2.00/head/day (MG) and $3.31 to $1.90/head/day for the PA farms.

Based on data compiled by the business management team for many years, the results on the heifer enterprise are not unexpected. Comparable to the cropping enterprise, it appears the cost of heifer raising is frequently overlooked as a significant profitability gap in the dairy business. Further study of this data seems to be warranted. The next step is drilling down to the differences of the profitability groups identifying “management practices” that are either helping or hindering the heifer raising cost for the dairy operation. This information would help guide producers to the most important management items to address for improved profitability.

Table 1. Dairy Replacement Heifers—Average per Head (2016-18, 1208 farms)

  Avg. Of All Farms Low 20% 20-40% 40-60% 60-80% High 20%
Number of farms 1208 241 242 241 242 242
Net return over labor & mgt $(278) $(697) $(414) $(270) $(151) $36
Feed cost per average head $405 $544 $429 $402 $371 $313
Feed cost/head sold/trans $767 $984 $833 $776 $723 $574
Total cost/head sold/trans $1,662 $2,056 $1,867 $1,673 $1,464 $1,344
Feed cost per head per day $1.11 $1.49 $1.18 $1.10 $1.02 $ 0.86
% sold or transferred out 53% 55% 52% 52% 51% 54%
Purchased heifer feeds $147 $205 $165 $133 $136 $112
Costs other than feed $895 $1,072 $1,034 $897 $741 $770
Cost of Production Per Head Per Day            
With labor and management $2.40 $3.11 $2.64 $2.37 $2.06 $2.00

FINBIN (2019). Center for Farm Financial Management: University of Minnesota. Retrieved from FINBIN (originally created December 3, 2019).

Table 2. Dairy Replacement Heifers—Average per Head (2016-18, 64 PA farms)

  Avg. Of All Farms Low 20% 20-40% 40-60% 60-80% High 20%
Number of farms 64 12 13 13 13 13
Net return over labor & mgt $(274) $(606) $(400) $(290) $(162) $30
Feed cost per average head $409 $641 $450 $352 $371 $302
Feed cost/head sold/trans $857 $1,544 $942 $734 $782 $580
Total cost/head sold/trans $2,026 $2,908 $2,321 $2,036 $1,822 $1,333
Feed cost per head per day $1.12 $1.76 $1.23 $.96 $1.02 $0.83
% sold or transferred out 48% 42% 48% 48% 47% 52%
Purchased heifer feeds $213 $378 $240 $166 $210 $117
Costs other than feed $1,168 $1,364 $1,380 $1,302 $1,039 $753
Cost of Production Per Head Per Day            
With labor and management $2.65 $3.31 $3.04 $2.67 $2.37 $1.90

FINBIN (2019). Center for Farm Financial Management: University of Minnesota. Retrieved from FINBIN (originally created December 3, 2019).


How Cows Express Emotions

According to new research, cows talk to one another, expressing their emotions, both positive and negative, through individualized voices. The researchers say the findings have implications for farmers and animal welfare.

Domesticated cattle are gregarious animals, living in herds in both natural and commercial farming environments. Within these herds, they use vocalizations to communicate over short and long distances.

Alexandra Green, a Ph.D. student at The University of Sydney in Australia, is studying dairy cattle vocal communication, including its emotional content.

In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, Green and her colleagues analyzed 333 recordings of cow vocalizations from a herd of 18 Holstein-Friesian heifers (these are black and white dairy cows that are yet to be bred and/or have not yet calved). They recorded the moos over six months in a variety of emotional contexts, both positive (during estrus and in anticipation of food) and negative (when cattle were denied access to food or during visual or physical isolation from the herd).

“The novel finding was that cattle voice individuality is stable across positive and negative contexts,” says Green.

“Cattle have vocal idiosyncrasies that are stable across contexts, similar to how individual humans can be identified by their voices irrespective of what is said.”

Uberprutser, via Wikimedia Commons. Distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Friesian calf and mother. Source: Uberprutser, via Wikimedia Commons. Distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Green and her colleagues measured over 20 vocal features of moos, including the pitch, call duration, and amplitude, as well as nonlinear features like “roughness” of the vocalization. They found that a combination of vocal parameters was responsible for encoding individuality in cow calls.

While it was known that mother cows and their calves could communicate via individually distinct voices, this study shows that cows maintain their individual voices throughout their lives and across a herd.

Green says the purpose of these calls is to help the animals maintain contact with the herd and express excitement, arousal, engagement, or distress.

She and her colleagues hope that their research will help agricultural workers care for their animals and boost animal welfare. Knowledge of cattle individuality cues could assist farmers in tuning in to the emotional state of their animals or detect individuals in a herd that require attention.

“Farmers have been very receptive to this research,” Green says. “Recording vocalizations is non-invasive, so this is a potential way to assess animal welfare on a farm without disturbing expression of the cows’ natural behaviors.”

In the future, Green would love to see acoustic devices applied in the farming industry, perhaps taking a cue from the many studies that use passive acoustic monitors to study wildlife. She’d also like to scientifically investigate human-cow interactions on farms.

“Anecdotally, farmers claim to know a lot of information about their cattle based on their voice,” she says. “I’d love to scientifically prove this through psychoacoustic experiments, such as playing cow sounds to farmers and seeing what they can identify, such as individual animals or stressed animals.

“Novel ways of assessing welfare are particularly important for the dairy industry, where herd sizes are increasing and individual animal attention is lessening.”


How Cold Weather Affects Cow Claws

As winter weather sweeps across the nation, dairy farmers face tough conditions when it comes to maintaining healthy cow claws. Heavy rains and frequent climate changes from wet to dry create sloppy conditions and raise the potential for bacterial infections and other negative effects on cows’ feet.

When seasonal changes take their toll, farmers can do two things to manage claw hygiene: keep walkways clear and utilize foot baths or use foot spray regularly.

Wet Weather Attracts Bacteria

In cold, wet weather, cows’ feet tend to retain more moisture than in dry conditions. Wet hooves have a higher chance of developing foot rot, which causes the hoof to deteriorate, due to excessive bacteria that get caught in the moisture. This can be very difficult to combat and usually requires antibiotics to get the feet back to normal.

The best way to avoid a bacterial infection from wet weather is to stay mindful of the bacteria that collects in the manure, and keep walkways as clean as possible.

Clearing Common Animal Pathways

As a wet climate sets the stage for bacteria to run rampant, scraping alleys of manure more often in the wintertime will reduce the chances of it sticking to animals’ feet. It’s also important to note that the wetter the manure, the easier it sticks.

To keep cow claws clean in wet weather, a daily scraping routine is key, especially on pathways that the animals travel across multiple times throughout the day. Bacterial infections can lead to serious hygienic issues that are costly to fix.

Utilize Footbaths or Foot Spray

Footbaths and foot spray are another crucial part of a winter hoof care regimen. These techniques involve chemicals that helps fight infection when the potential for diseases is at its peak. If outside temperatures permit footbaths, farmers can move their cows through them twice a day to ensure hoof cleanliness. With two steps per foot in the footbath, the cow will exit the bath with a residue that provides a hostile environment for bacteria to grow. Ideally, footbaths should be near a water source to keep the process efficient.

In subzero temperatures where a footbath would cause a slippery ice problem, dairy farmers can use foot spray on the hooves to keep them treated. A concentrated foot spray can help prevent infections like digital dermatitis, which can cause intense pain and even lameness. Farmers can spray the back of the feet about three to five times a week while the cows stand in feeding stalls. Employing these techniques will help maintain healthy claws through the cold season.

With the right tools, dairy farmers can help ensure the comfort of their animals and maintain the productivity of the herd. Stay ahead of lameness this winter by keeping your cows environment as clean and dry as possible.

Source: Vettec Animal Health

Top milk quality awards go to dairies in Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin

National Mastitis Council (NMC) recognized the U.S. dairy industry’s “cream of the crop” when it comes to producing quality milk at its Jan. 31 Awards Luncheon, held in conjunction with the NMC 59th Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla. Recognized for outstanding quality milk production through NMC’s National Dairy Quality Awards (NDQA) program, the Platinum winners are: Wilson Centennial Farm LLC (Brent, Nancy, Tyler and Ben Wilson), Carson City, Mich.; Fischer-Clark Dairy Farm, Inc. (David, Susan, Jon and Heidi Fischer), Hatley, Wis.; RKB Dairy (Randy, Kathleen and Glen Bauer), Faribault, Minn.; Windmill Dairy (Jon Doornenbal), Middleton, Idaho; Evergreen Dairy Farm LLC (Kris Wardin), Saint Johns, Mich.; and Maple Ridge Dairy (Brian Forrest and Ken and Phil Hein), Stratford, Wis.

In addition to the six Platinum winners, there were 18 Gold and 14 Silver NDQA winners (listed below). These farms were selected from 82 applications submitted for the 2019 awards. Farms were nominated by professionals, such as dairy plant field staff, veterinarians, extension specialists and Dairy Herd Improvement supervisors, who serve the dairy industry.


  • Crandall Dairy Farms LLC (Brad and Mark Crandall), Battle Creek, Mich.
  • Creator’s Acres (Marvin Metzger), Eaton, Ohio
  • De Grins Oer Dairy (Tjerk and Ramona Okkema), Blanchard, Mich.
  • Dorner Farms (Cory and Maria Dorner), Luxemburg, Wis.
  • Gettyvue Farm LLC (Brian, Kevin and Terry Getty, and Diane Smith), Granville, N.Y.
  • Gold Star Dairy Farm (Deb Reinhart, Dave Geiser and Manuel Valenzuela), New Holstein, Wis.
  • Gross Farm Inc. (Steve and Phil Gross), Weidman, Mich.
  • Kaufman Farms, LLC (Harold, Patricia and Benjamin Kaufman), Porterfield, Wis.
  • Kleinhans Dairy Farm (Michael Kleinhans), Kiel, Wis.
  • Mil-View Jerseys (David, Mark and Sara Ann Miller), Millersburg, Ohio
  • The Ohio State University, Wooster, Ohio
  • Raterink Dairy LLC (Dennis and Mike Raterink), Zeeland, Mich.
  • Red Mountain Jerseys LLC (Marco Verhaar), Bad Axe, Mich.
  • Rubingh’s Dairyland LLC (Marvin Rubingh), Ellsworth, Mich.
  • Stuart Farms (Dan Stuart), Lowell, Mich.
  • Van Polen Farms (Ken, Duane, Laurie, Mike and Beth Van Polen), Marion, Mich.
  • Warm Spring Dairy (Karen Hawbaker), Chambersburg, Pa.
  • Wirth Farms LLC (Doug, Jake and Andy Wirth), Evart, Mich.


  • Abel Acres Inc. (Perry and Kyle Abel), Loyal, Wis.
  • Benthem Brothers Inc. (Doug, Bruce, Jason, Ryan and Kyle Benthem), McBain, Mich.
  • Karl & MaryAnne Bontrager, Wolcottville, Ind.
  • Bosscher Dairy (Michael Bosscher), McBain, Mich.
  • Dick Haven Farms LLC (Gordon Dick), McBain, Mich.
  • Ron Hurliman Family (Ron Hurliman), Cloverdale, Ore.
  • Kurtz Dairy (David Kurtz), Millersburg, Ohio
  • Nienhuis Dairy Farm (Andy and Michele Nienhuis), Zeeland, Mich.
  • Nor Family Farms (Steven and Jill Nor), Peshtigo, Wis.
  • Schultz Dairy LLC (Dave Schultz), Sandusky, Mich.
  • Spring Lake Farms LLC (Bill and Jason Hardy), Stanton, Mich.
  • Stahlbusch Farms (David, Phyllis and Jeffrey Stahlbusch), Eau Claire, Wis.
  • Eric and Amy Steenstra, Cooperville, Mich.
  • Leroy Zimmerman, Carson City, Mich.

NDQA judges considered many criteria when reviewing finalists’ applications. In addition to milk quality indicators, such as somatic cell count (SCC) and standard plate count (SPC), judges looked at specific details about each operation, including milking routine, cow comfort, udder health monitoring programs, treatment and prevention programs, strategies for overall herd health and welfare, and adherence to drug use and record keeping regulations.

This year’s NDQA sponsors included Boehringer Ingelheim, GEA, Ecolab, IBA Inc., Conewango, milc group, Hoard’s Dairyman and NMC. This summer, nominee information for the 2020 NDQA program will be available on the NMC website ( and in Hoard’s Dairyman magazine.

NMC is an international professional organization, based in Minnesota, devoted to reducing mastitis and enhancing milk quality. NMC promotes research and provides information to the dairy industry on udder health, milking management, milk quality and milk safety. Founded in 1961, NMC has about 1,000 members in more than 40 countries throughout the world.

In fight to survive, US dairy farmers look for any tech edge

In this Dec. 4, 2019, photo cows stand in a barn at Rosendale Dairy in Pickett, Wis. At Rosendale Dairy, each of the 9,000 cows has a microchip implanted in an ear that workers can scan with smartphones for up-to-the-minute information on how the animal is doing, everything from their nutrition to their health history to their productivity. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

At Rosendale Dairy, each of the 9,000 cows has a microchip implanted in an ear that workers can scan with smartphones for up-to-the-minute information on how the animal is doing — everything from their nutrition to their health history to their productivity. Feed is calibrated to deliver a precise diet and machines handle the milking. In the fields, drones gather data that helps bump up yields for the row crops grown to feed the animals.

Technology has played an important role in agriculture for years but it’s become a life and death matter at dairy farms these days, as low milk prices have ratcheted up pressure on farmers to seek every possible efficiency to avoid joining the thousands of operations that have failed.

“If I use 100 bags of seed on a field and I change the way I distribute the seed, I can yield more without a single extra dollar of input,” said Matt Wichman, Rosendale’s director of agronomy. Such tools “are becoming so economically viable that anybody that’s of a decent scale is adopting these,” Wichman said.

Technology can mean survival, but it involves a perilous gamble: Will the machines produce savings fast enough to cover the debt they incur?

“The last five years have really been treacherous,” said Randy Hallett, who has 85 cows in Casco, Wisconsin, and has spent $33,000 on new milking equipment. He would invest more if his operation could afford it. “I broke even, mostly.”

The dairy industry is caught in a vise between consumer trends and competition. Americans are buying less milk as changing tastes steer them to milk substitutes from soy and almonds, or to entirely different drinks like flavored water. Two big milk processors, Dean Foods and Borden Dairy Co., filed for bankruptcy protection in the past three months, undone by declining demand and also pressured by big competitors like Walmart, which opened its own milk processing plant in 2018.

And then there are milk prices.

After hitting a historic high in 2014 of more than $26 per 100 pounds on the strength of massive buying from China, the bottom fell out. When China stopped its milk-buying spree, there was already oversupply from both American and European Union producers, said Mark Stephenson, director of dairy policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin.

Prices fell to $17.30 by the following year, and for producers, it’s been mostly misery ever since. Nationwide, the number of dairy farms dropped from 40,199 in 2017 to 37,468 in 2018. In Wisconsin, a state that takes pride in its image as “America’s Dairyland,” the toll has been particular severe. Though California produces more milk, Wisconsin has more dairy farms than any other state. And more than 1,600 of those have gone under in the past three years.

But there are reasons to believe the worst might be over, said Jim Ostrom, a partner at Milk Source, the company that owns Rosendale. In November, milk prices in Wisconsin rose to $22.40. Nationwide, they reached $21, finally above the $18 price point that Stephenson cited as a general benchmark for producers turning a profit.

With dairy prices outside farmers’ control, they have to focus on controlling costs. That’s where technology comes in. A rotary milking parlor can handle 10 cows a minute and can sense when an udder is empty so cows aren’t overmilked, which can harm their health. But a robotic milking system can run more than $200,000.

“It can be very difficult for a smaller farm to afford this technology because you need, you know, a larger operation to spread those expenses across,” said Liz Binversie, an agriculture educator in Brown County for the University of Wisconsin extension office. She said she knows of one farm that went out of business because it couldn’t find enough workers and could not afford a robotic milking system.

Wisconsin leads the nation in farm bankruptcies with 45 Chapter 12 filings from July 2018 through June 2019, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. Minnesota was not far behind with 31 during that time.

Because of debt, the cost of producing milk varies among farms. While some farmers can break even at a price of $18 per hundred pounds, others need $21 because of their debt load.

Sometimes the way to survive is to join forces with neighbors.

Hallett shares some advanced machinery with a neighboring farmer, like a combine and planting equipment. And, fortunately, some technology isn’t expensive. Hallett’s cows carry the same microchips as Rosendale uses, so he can know from the comfort of his office the milk weight for each cow and whether a particular cow had less milk that day. The chips cost about 12 cents per month per cow.

Hallett said he wishes he could afford to update his cow stalls, but that getting credit from banks is difficult because they consider bigger operations less risky.

“Who do you think they’re going to work with to keep them afloat?” Hallett said.

The University of Wisconsin hopes to help with a project that would integrate all the data farms collect each day on cows’ production, feed and health, among other things.

Integrating the data and using artificial intelligence and machine learning “would be very helpful to farmers making the best decisions every single time” in real time, said Victor Cabrera, the professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is leading the project. He’s collecting data from five farms now and expects to have the project completed in three years.

Farmers could tell whether to keep breeding an animal or let it go.

“I’d use it yesterday if I had it,” said Mitch Breunig, who is contributing data from his farm, Mystic Valley Dairy, where he has 460 cows.

He said sometimes it’s weeks before he can pinpoint how much milk a cow produced on a particular day and how much it ate.

“I think it doesn’t matter what size your farm is, it’s information you need to know,” he said.


Ventilation Systems, Efficiency, and Maintenance for Dairy Housing

The ventilation system on your dairy housing consumes 20% to 25% of the total energy used on the dairy. However, since air is one of the basic needs to support life it’s not recommended you turn off the fans to save money. What it does mean is you need to be looking at the efficiency of those fans.

Fan efficiency is commonly measured as cubic feet per minute (cfm) of air per watt (W) of electricity consumed to give a cfm/W number. Fan efficiency is affected by several factors including blade design, fan enclosure design, and motor efficiency. Therefore, it can be said that “not all fans are created equal” and you often “get what you pay for”. One example is efficient motors have more copper windings and are therefore more expensive. However, the payback on the extra capital expense may be as short as one to three years with reduce electrical consumption. There has been too much emphasis on “cheap” fans in the ag industry and this is costing more in operating expense and maintenance. If you are looking to buy new fans, make sure you take a look at the efficiency rating of the fans as you compare. Typically, larger fan will have better efficiency than smaller fans.

Different fans are designed and manufactured for different applications. Tunnel ventilation or cross ventilation systems require a static pressure difference to be created between the inside and outside the shelter. Therefore, to design these systems you need information about fan performance tested under static pressure. When comparing fans for these type applications look for fans with a minimum efficiency rating of 20 cfm/W at 0.05-inches static pressure.

Efficiency ratings for circulation fans are also available. However, it is given as a Thrust Efficiency Ratio in terms of pounds of force per kilowatt of power (lbf/kW). Once again larger fans tend to have a better efficiency. When shopping for circulation fans you should be looking for fans with a minimum rating of 21 lbf/kW. Remember that bigger may not always be better when it comes to sizing electric motors. While a 1.5 HP motor may give a fan more thrust and or airflow in will come at a cost of electric consumption. You need to compare the cost of the additional power requirement to the possible benefit of that extra thrust.

Possibly the best thing you can do to improve the efficiency of your ventilation system is to simply maintain your fans. Poor maintenance, mostly lack of cleaning, can reduce efficiency by as much as 40%. What this means is the electric bill stays the same, but less air is moving in the barn. Those squeaking bearings, flopping belts, and dirty blades and shutters are really just robbing your power. Accumulation of as little as 1/8” of dirt on the fan blades can significantly reduce fan performance. Monthly fan maintenance and cleaning would be best, but at a minimum it should be done three to four times per year.

To keep cows, heifers and calves happy, healthy, and productive requires ventilation throughout the year and often requires fan(s). Depending of the housing type and design this may be as simple as a positive pressure tube in a calf barn for better fresh air distribution during winter ventilation or many large circulation fans in a freestall during summer to help in cow cooling. Making sure you choose well-built and efficient fans and then regularly maintaining those fans goes a long way in helping to achieve the ventilation needs of the shelter while keeping energy costs in check on the dairy.


Use 20/20 Hindsight to Build 2020 Vision

We are almost one month into 2020 and here at The Bullvine we are eager to be a relevant resource and sounding board for the new dairy year. For some of us, the indulgences of the holiday season are affecting both our waistlines and our health goals.  It would be wonderful if we could grow our businesses as easily. In fact, we can, if we take what we know and turn it into actions.

“Taking a Risk Can Work but The Entire Dairy Team Must Work Too!”

Dairying in 2020 will have struggles as dairy farmers face multiple risk ranging from volatile milk prices, trade wars and declining milk demand. Throw in more recent risk of being slammed in the press or facing health and production risks from changing climate and environmental factors.  The good news is that these symptoms of distress are fixable. None of them are easy, but the pathway is possible. Dairy operations must start by pulling the team together and taking the necessary action steps. Is the goal more milk with less work?  Increased fed efficiency per pound of milk produced.  Lower bulk tank SCC.  Raise first service pregnancy rate.  Dramatic improvements can occur in as few as 12 to 18 months. We must stop searching for headlines that deny the challenges and then buckle down as dairy managers always do. Get to work.

“Effective 2020 Change Starts at the Top”

Whether you are the actual top, meaning ownership of the dairy or whether you are the manager, change starts at the top.  More clearly.  Change starts in the heads of those at the top.  Whatever is wrong with your dairy in 2020, it is functioning exactly as you have designed it. The first step to better dairy profitability is to accept that you are responsible for where you are today.  You are also responsible for creating a 2020 plan of action that works. Then make sure that it is communicated to every person who is part of the process. Know it. Do it.

“Who Should Go? Who Should Stay?”

Even if your dairy team has recognized dairy stars, a bloated dairy team pulls the rest of your operation down. Dairy superstars have to work twice as hard when teamed up with a poor performer.  The hardest working dairy staff probably won’t say anything.  They will just suck it up and work twice as hard and burn out that much faster.  Do you have some staff that are just poor performers? You must have at least one or two…Come on, be honest.  If you do, then you need to let them go. 

Letting people go is not an easy task for most dairy managers. We extend endless second chances. Let go and improve your bottom line.  It will also improve team morale.  The cattle herd and the dairy humans will both benefit. ‘Happy employee make happy cows” and we all know “Happy cows make milk.” Move forward with well-considered cow culling and staff cuts.

“Learn to Dairy by the 2020 Numbers”

If we expect to realize our 2020 resolutions, we must be prepared to gather and use all the data.  One business source categorically states that 4 in 10 businesses don’t have a budget.  Success or failure follows the numbers. First get the data measurements for your dairy operation and then respond to what the numbers say. You don’t want to measure yourself against oft quoted “averages”.  What you want are the actual numbers of your own dairy farm.  Know where you are at this exact time. It is important to target each step from where you are now to where you need to be.  For example, targeting 110 pounds per day milk production may be a long way off.  Don’t mimic the actions of the herd that is almost there already. You can’t get there by feeding a 110-pound ration to a cow that is currently producing 80 pounds of milk. To do so risks failure and also risks health issues. Target each small step. Start today.

“Not All Dairy Consultants Are Long Term List Ready”

Make list of the suppliers to whom you pay money.  Make a corresponding list of the exact service or services they provide that make your dairy profitable.  Make a simple note of the last time each one met or exceeded your expectations.  Do they provide actionable advice?  Do you count on them for reliable delivery and excellent follow-up on the paperwork?  Don’t value suppliers on the basis of perks like a trip to an exotic meeting location, sports tickets or a new jacket or cap.  These giveaways are pleasant but they don’t put money into your dairy bank account.  Is your value as a customer being recognized by those who count on your checks? A 2020 dairy vision requires us to challenge the entire dairy team, including the ones who are off the farm.  Keep the ones that meet changing needs and eliminate those who have become more social than business driven.

 “Cut The 2020 Fat”

We need to continue this conversation because dairy operations that will remain financially viable in 2020 are already experts in cutting expenses. At boardroom tables around the dairy industry, CEOs and Financial Planning Departments have distributed lists, enumerating projected expenses and projected profit targets based on the needs and expectations of their head office gurus.  The trickle down effect has every area manager and salesperson looking for ways to reach those targets.  Dairy customers – such as your dairy farm — represent a number that they must check off on their road to success.  For years, we assumed this was a win-win situation.  The veterinarians, feed company, processor and many others, provided something we needed.  We used it.  We produced a healthy product. It was a win-win.  In 2020, we need to check each of these inputs more carefully and make sure that we are actual receiving a value-added input. If not, we must cut the fat.

“From Reflex Resolutions to Real Dairy Reality”

Many of us indulge in making New Year’s Resolution.  Before we even see February 2020 we know whether our plans are achievable or if we are already crying over spilled milk.  Remarkable success needs to build from a foundation that focuses on actual dairy logistics that we can do better, faster, cheaper.  This is what our individual dairy value proposition is built on. We say we are intelligent dairy managers but dairy success doesn’t arrive just because we were good at breeding show winners, or because we have a PhD in AgBusiness or because we are descended from generations of dairy farmers. What do we do that is EXCEPTIONAL and IMPORTANT to our dairy’s success?  If you can’t answer these questions, the question of our ability to produce relevant success is also unknown.

“Technical Transformation Will Continue to Shape 2020”

We now browse the internet for information, take pictures with our smartphones and send emails from our laptops.  This is digitization.  If we truly expect to transform our dairies we have to go beyond a few technical process upgrades and embrace digital transformation. Farmers are increasingly using drones, daily satellite based images and near autonomous robots. Digital transformation is a process. It will make huge strides in satisfying the end customer of our dairy products.  And – when all is said and done -satisfying the end customer is the very reason why we are in the dairy business.

“The Difference Is in The Details”

Although you may think the preceding proposals are difficult, there still remains the important task of summarizing your 2020 vision into a clear and concise action document.  This gives you clear talking points to present to every financial advisor, farm consultant, vet, nutritionist, and geneticist that you work with. Details must be written down. Shared. Remembered and Repeated.

“Is this 2020 dairy decision making so difficult that it’s impossible?”

No! What makes this visionary foresight possible is simply getting started?  Start sharing it with people who know what dairy success looks like. Start with yourself and your staff. Revise and refine.  Once you have adjusted your draft, get back to your team and put it into action.

“You’ve Got to Give, In Order to Earn What You Take”

When we break it down this way, the changing dairy industry economics become easier to manage. We can’t just explain a desire for change. Instead, we need to actively define people’s expectations. We need dairy customers to feel like we’re giving, not taking. We need to feel that our dairy suppliers are adding value, not trying to extract it. We have to show customers that, our goal of a healthy food product is in complete alignment with their expectations. Yes, we must show the foresight that shows them the that we’re always looking out for them and their needs.  They can expect to be taken care of. The same must be true of the other members of the supply team.


Leading a 2020 dairy operation into the future is all about what you are looking for.  Eyes wide open doesn’t mean being blind to serious issues and risks.  It does mean working every single day to make the conditions, cows and dairy teams the best they can be. Attainable and sustainable.  Here’s to seeing our dairy business with ever greater clarity this year.




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Top Canadian Managed Herds of 2019 Announced

Lactanet Canada is proud to recognize excellence in dairy herd management by releasing the Canadian Top 25 Herds, based on the 2019 Herd Management Score results. The evaluation was completed at a national level amongst a total of more than 6,500 herds.

The Herd Performance Index allocates points for performance in different management areas, including milk production, udder health, reproduction, heifer rearing and longevity. It is an excellent indicator of overall herd performance, a great tool to monitor herd progress from year-to-year, and is valuable for benchmarking within various production systems (free stall, tie stall, robotic, organic).

Congratulations to the following producers for outstanding herd performance:


Ferme Drahoka Enr, Francis & Sylvain Drapeau, Kamouraska QC
Ferme Riter 2010 Inc., Richard Therrien, Saint-Sylvestre QC
Ferme Collette & Fils Inc., Nicole Boulet & Daniel Collette, Saint-Antoine-sur-le-Richelieu QC

Ferme Estermann Inc., Martin Estermann, Sainte-Agnès-de-Dundee QC
Heidi Farms Inc., Paul Oeggerli & Family, Bainsville ON
Hendriks Dairies Ltd., Tyler Hendriks, Brucefield ON

Smilebrook Farms Inc., Thomas & Ingrid Tschudi, Mitchell ON
Rosenhill Farm Inc., Andre Hildbrand, St-Albert ON
Ferme Beljacar Inc., Carmen & Jacques Vincent, Acton-Vale QC

Ferme Des Prés Verts Senc, Luc & Philippe Piché, Ferme-Neuve QC
Ferme Lériger Enr, Lucien Bouchard, Hemmingford QC
Ferme Denijos Inc., Bryan Denis, Saint-Cyprien-de-Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Sunny Point Farms Ltd., Phillip Vroegh, East Noel
Macgregor Dairy Farm Ltd., John Macgregor, Churchville
Black Avon Farms Ltd., Tony & Erica Versteeg, Heatherton

Jewell Dale Farm Inc., Logan Jewell, Meadowbank
Tiny Acres Holsteins, Logan Bryanton, Miscouche
Carruthers Farms Ltd., Mike Carruthers, Kensington

Clarke Farms, Matthew Clarke, New Canaan
Willie A. Leblanc & Sons Ltd., Guy & Richard Leblanc, Memramcook
Lawrence’s Dairy Farm Ltd., Philemon Lawrence, Burtt’s Corner

Sunrise Dairy Ltd., Jeff & Olive Greening, Musgravetown
Larch Grove Farms, Ian Richardson, Cormack
N & N Farm Ltd., Lee Noel, Cormack

Ferme Estermann Inc., Martin Estermann, Sainte-Agnès-de-Dundee
Ferme Drahoka Enr, Francis & Sylvain Drapeau, Kamouraska
Ferme Riter 2010 Inc., Richard Therrien, Saint-Sylvestre

Heidi Farms Inc., Paul Oeggerli & Family, Bainsville
Smilebrook Farms Inc., Thomas & Ingrid Tschudi, Mitchell
Hendriks Dairies Ltd., Tyler Hendriks, Brucefield

Readore Farms, Rheal Simon, Notre Dame
Isaac Dairy Ltd., Brent & Victoria Isaac, Kleefeld
Rocky Ridge Dairy, Hotze & Pietje Woudstra, Grunthal

Rayner Dairy – U of Sask, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon
Sierra Colony Farms Ltd., Sierra Colony, Shaunavon
Bench Farming Co Ltd., Bench Colony, Shaunavon

Milford Colony Farming Co Ltd., Mike Wipf, Raymond
GDL Farms Ltd., Gerrit, Konrad & William Deleeuw, Picture Butte
Mars Dairy, Gert & Sonja Schrijver, Stettler

Milky Way Dairy, Frank & Debbie Les, Chilliwack
PJV Farms Ltd., Peter Vink, Chilliwack
West River Farm Ltd., Grant & Gene Sache, Rosedale

About Lactanet Canada
Lactanet is the Canadian Network for Dairy Excellence. Our mission is to be the leading provider of
herd management solutions and knowledge to support the development of a prosperous and
sustainable Canadian dairy industry.


Provided by Lactanet Canada

Dairy Sense: The Margin Still Rules

Production perspective:

There is a sense of optimism as 2019 ends and 2020 begins with milk prices trending in excess of $20/cwt. Unfortunately, milk price is only one chapter of the story and when combined with the rest of the book, the ending may not be too promising. Milk income and feed costs are major players in the story line and can drastically impact the finale. Margin, either on a per hundred weight basis or per cow basis is the gold standard for measuring an operation’s financial status and milk price alone is a minor character in the narrative.

The Dairy Cents mobile app that reports the monthly margin and income over feed cost (IOFC) uses USDA data from nineteen states that report both milk price per cwt and hay price per ton. Compared to these states, Pennsylvania typically is $0.50 to $0.60 higher in the All Milk Price reported. Pennsylvania also has one of the highest hay prices compared to the other states. In 2018 Pennsylvania’s alfalfa hay averaged $13/ton higher compared to the other states and in 2019 it was $36/ton higher. This same trend holds for corn and soybean meal. Using feed costs for an average milk production of 85 pounds, the margin and IOFC are always lower for Pennsylvania compared to the other states. In 2018 there was a $0.10 difference in margin/cwt between Pennsylvania and the other states ($10.67/cwt versus $10.77/cwt). The difference was greater in 2019 mainly because of the larger difference in hay price. Pennsylvania’s margin was $11.94/cwt compared to the average of the other states at $12.62/cwt

From the outside looking in, Pennsylvania appears to have an advantage when discussing milk price. The reality though is far different. The gross milk price producers receive can be divergent from what is reported by USDA. Components and quality premiums can dramatically lower the milk price. However, it is the milk income that is the key metric. Over the past decade working with producers the same story surfaces. The farms generating the positive cash flows are not the ones receiving the highest milk price/cwt; they are the ones generating the highest milk income per cow. In today’s economy, cows should be averaging at a minimum of 75 pounds of milk on twice a day milking and greater than 85 pounds on three times a day milking. Pounds of components at a minimum should exceed 5.5 pounds. These are the metrics that will have a greater impact on the margin versus milk price per se.

The Northeast tends to have higher market feed costs when compared to other parts of the country. Therefore, keeping costs in line for home raised feeds has a significant influence on the margin. The operations with competitive costs of production raise their feeds well below the market price and they produce enough inventory to minimize purchased forages. They also minimize their reliance on purchased feeds by raising corn grain and sometimes soybeans to offset that expense.

The goal moving into 2020 should be to optimize milk income while keeping feed costs in line. If animal performance is not close to the benchmarks for 2x or 3x milking, then prioritize that bottleneck. Work with the appropriate consultant to determine how the cropping enterprise is performing and how that is affecting feed costs. Ultimately determining the operation’s breakeven margin and monitoring the margin or IOFC monthly will help make sure everyone is reading from the same book and coming to the same conclusion.

Action plan for determining the herd’s margin/cwt or income over feed cost/cow.

Goal – Complete a cash flow plan including the whole farm, dairy and cropping enterprises.

  • Step 1: Using Penn State Extension’s Excel spreadsheet, complete a year-end analysis for 2019 on both a cash and accrual basis.
  • Step 2: Record the amounts fed of all home-raised and purchased feeds for all animal groups.
  • Step 3: Develop the cropping enterprise including all home-raised feeds, yields, direct expenses, and overheads.
  • Step 4: Determine the breakeven margin and IOFC for the whole farm and dairy enterprise.
  • Step 5: Work with the appropriate consultants to discuss bottlenecks to improve the herd’s margin.

Economic perspective:

Monitoring must include an economic component to determine if a management strategy is working or not. For the lactating cows, income over feed cost 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 cost 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: December’s Penn State milk price: $19.91/cwt; feed cost/cow: $6.58; average milk production: 84 lbs.

Feed cost/non-lactating animal/day.


Transitioning to a New Robotic Milker

In the fall of 2019, another robotic milking system was started up, this one on a small farm in western Pennsylvania. Here are some notes on the initial transition from a conventional herringbone milking parlor to a single robot retrofitted into a freestall barn originally built in 1996.

Construction to accommodate the new milking system began in the spring. Around the same time, an automated alley scraper was installed to clean alongside sand-bedded freestalls and to help minimize cow disturbance, since the cows are no longer making group trips to the milking parlor. Delivery of the new Lely Astronaut A5 unit was in late July, allowing two and a half months for installation.

Over the month before startup, the milking herd size was intentionally dropped. Some cows were culled; others were dried off the day before startup to bring the number of milking cows to exactly 60.

Transition day began with a final milking in the now-retired milking parlor, finishing at 7:00 in the morning. The enthusiastic first cow entered the robot just a few hours later, at 10:30.

For the next couple of days, there was a crew working with the robot and cows around the clock. On the cow side of things, there were two to three people moving cows into the robot for the first 12 hours, which is how long it took to complete the first milking of all 60 cows. In hindsight, a two-man crew was adequate for working with the cows. The owner, who spent most of the time on the equipment side of things, was available to lend an additional set of hands when difficult cow issues arose. A crew of robot-familiar professionals was also on hand for the first few days to work with the owner on the equipment side.

Throughout the first milking, some cows spent quite a bit of time in the box. The robot frequently struggled to find teats and attach, especially with rear teats close together. With smaller cows, there was often a lot of forward and backwards movement, making the attachment and milking process even more difficult. Several cows were not comfortable with the robotic arm moving underneath of them and fought it. The arm took a beating but was impressively resilient. There were several times when a cow would manage to step over the arm with a hind leg, inhibiting progress until she stepped back over.

Amidst the frequent kicking, there were times when the clear shield in front of the teat detection laser became dirty, causing further delays in getting the unit attached. Reverse tilt was the other difficult issue for the robot to figure out, because the laser can’t detect the high-hanging rear teats when shone across the floor of the foreudder.

That first day, about one third of the cows did not let their milk down well. Of course, some of them were coming in with just a few hours of milk to begin with, but stress definitely had an impact, which was quite apparent in the robot records and the bulk tank.

Unexpectedly, during the first milking, milk from 2 of the 60 milking cows was not sent to the bulk tank by the robot. For one cow it was because she had been recorded as a fresh cow, and it was treating her according to the default setting, which is to separate milk for four days. It was never clear why it happened with the other cow, but it has not been a recurring issue.

The second time through the herd only took 9.5 hours. There was still a need for constant attention getting the cows to the commitment pen and into the box for milking, but a lot less hard pushing.

On Day 2, it was possible for just one person to manage cow flow most of the time, and the robot was much more efficient finding teats. One of the issues that came up was a bottleneck in the area where cows exit from the robot. Cows were congregating in the limited space, pretending to drink from the water trough, but really just curious to monitor activity in the robot area. This made it difficult for cows to exit at times.

On Day 3, an alarm went off for water flow and pressure at the robot. It was determined that the water pressure was less than adequate when water was also being used elsewhere in the barn, such as at the waterers. This led to plans for adjusting how water is stored and used around the dairy so the robot has a reliable supply at all times.

By Day 4, things were running well. Cows didn’t need excessive handling, they were getting used to the finger gates around the milking area, and the owner was starting to get more sleep. Some cows were so thrilled with their new setup that they would return to the robot more often than they should, checking to see if it would give them more grain. That night, the cows were left on their own for 4 hours, and 6 of them voluntarily went to be milked. The next night, the cows were left for 5 hours, and 16 voluntarily milked. The next night, the cows were left for 6 hours, and the robot reported that 22 had been milked during that time.

Two weeks after startup, the owner had settled into a routine of fetching about eight cows in the morning and eight in the evening, with some regular offenders. Getting fresh cows started was deemed a two-person job. Issues with bottlenecking or circling around the milking area were now only minor. Dirt problems on the robot’s laser seemed to be a thing of the past. And daily milk production was remarkably consistent from day to day.

Checking in again two months after startup, there were still a few fetch cows every day, but the process of checking reports and going after the important cows was easy to manage. The cows with the fewest average milkings per day (~1.4) tended to be the ones on that fetch list. Other cows were getting to the robot as much as 3.7 times per day.

According to DHIA data for the herd, somatic cell counts for several cows increased slightly on the first test after transitioning but dropped back down by the next test a few weeks later. As for milk production, the older cows tended to have a tougher transition, visiting the robot less frequently and having a more noticeable drop in production as compared to the younger cows. However, across the herd, milk production stayed fairly consistent.

There will surely be more observations and adjustments, but the new way of managing milk collection is off to a good start in this herd.


Tomorrow’s Dairy Cattle Genetic Evaluations Must Consider Environments

Have you ever wondered why some sires’ daughters perform better in some herds or environments than they do in others?  I have.  The current sire indexing system may rank two sires as being of equal genetic merit, yet their daughters may perform differently in the individual tie stall barns of cold Minnesota compared to the 400+ cow groupings in the heat and humidity of a Florida cow shed.  The system assumes that there are not performance expression differences due to environment.

Geneticists do not know enough about what happens on farm

It is a known fact that our geneticists do not have enough details about the animals’ health events, ability to perform in large groups, differing nutritional programs within a herd, calf-heifer disease and many other matters when processing the genetic evaluations to produce genetic indexes. Without the details, geneticists can only assume all animals in a herd are treated equally. We all know that this not the case.

Other Livestock have similar Challenges

Recently I read an interesting presentation (EPDs only one part of the genetic selection formula, 2018 Canadian Beef Breeds Council’s Technical Forum) by P J Budler of Modern Ova Trends on beef cattle genetic indexing. He cautioned about using EPDs (Estimated Predicted Differences aka genetic indexes) without also considering nutrition, herd management, animal health, forage program, animal marketing program, record keeping, human capital and farm finances.  His article also made mention about breed performance differences that depend on environment. His example was fertile Black Angus cows that are great at raising calves in the sometimes harsh cold of the Upper Plains of the United States and Western Canadian Provinces but put them in a hot semi-tropical environment and they do not graze, stand in ponds and they do not breed back.  My summation of Budler’s presentation is – a) environment, management and nutrition play a role in an animal’s expression of its genetic make-up and b) sires need to be proven in the environment in which their future daughters will perform.

Plant scientists in genetically evaluating varieties of corn, need to know the length of the growing season, heat units, soil type, tillage program, nutrient program, plant population, spray program and more in order to make accurate predictions on a variety’s ability to perform. The extent of the data captured from corn test plots is huge.

Likewise, it is a fact that livestock genetics do not work independent of nutrition, animal health, animal care, animal management and the environment.

Assuming can lead to Errors

Budler’s presentation got me thinking. Does the dairy cattle breeding industry make too many assumptions about animal treatment equality, when we do our genetic evaluations?

We have super super computers and very advanced methods to statistically analyze data, but we have not expanded the data forwarded to genetic evaluation labs.

Every Bullvine reader can think of a long list of factors beyond genetics that can affect an animal’s performance and for which geneticists do not have data available for inclusion when they do their analysis.  This list includes all the things that happen from birth to removal from the herd. Some things like calf morbidity, calf growth, hoof trimming, disease occurrence and animal grouping are not known. And yes, each one on its own may be minor in its affect but in total they lead to errors being made, when it comes to genetically ranking animals in the population. 

More Data Can Help

I often hear dairy people say – but that trait has a low heritability so we should not pay much attention to an index until the reliability of prediction is over 90%.

We need to ask – if we could have more data for the animals could the prediction accuracies be increased?

Feet, as currently scored by classifiers, has a low heritability.  Could the heritability for feet be increased if the geneticists knew details about calf hoof growth, housing environment of calves, heifers and cows, how recent was the last hoof trimming, have the feet ever been trimmed and has the animal ever been lame?

For more and more milking cows we electronically have observations from every milking (90 data points per month), the nearest weather station can provide the weather for the each day, in-barn monitors capture extensive information, … yet, the dairy cattle improvement industry (breeders and organizations) persist in using one milking or one day’s observations per month to calculate milk yields and ignore data from in-barn monitoring systems. In addition, animal performance beyond milk cows is non-existent in our central data bases.

There are never too many known facts when it comes to making accurate genetic index predictions and information available for managing a dairy herd.

The Goal in Genetic Evaluations

The goal in genetic evaluations is to accurately predict an animal’s ability to transmit a trait relative to other animals in the population.  Of course, ability can be both positive and negative.

Every breeder’s goal is to have the perfect animal for a trait and for that animal to transmit that perfection to the next generation. Perfection is not achieved by making decisions based on averages.

More Data Points affect all Aspects of a Dairy Herd

  1. As mentioned above having more animal, herd and farm data will enhance herd nutrition and management. In fact, those two disciplines will determine 75% of herd profit.
  2. Bullvine readers continuously learn about new on-farm monitoring devices. The data they supply should be included in the national data base if it can assist in improving herd profit.
  3. Dairy farmers will experience even tighter financial margins in the future. Data points that contribute to increased profit are a “must have” in the national data base.
  4. With more and more cloud or on-farm animal / herd management softwares in use, some farmers are talking about discontinuing to use DHI and breed services. If that is done it stops data from being available for benchmarking and for enhancing improvement services.
  5. It is highly unlikely that sires will ever be sampled and proven randomly across all herd environments scenarios. So, having more data points will assist in genetic index accuracy, especially for low heritability traits.
  6. More data especially feed efficiency, animal health, animal fertility, calves and heifers will assist in increasing the reliabilities of genomic indexes. Even to 90+% REL within the next decade.

Something to think about

Determining an animal’s lifetime profit is a marathon that starts at birth and ends when the animal leaves the herd. The performance and events focus in the past has been the lactations of the milking cows, thereby the industry has been missing the data from significant parts of each animal’s life.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It is time for breeders and their representatives on committees and boards to think to the future and the need to use more on-farm data.

The accuracy and number of traits included in genetic evaluations and on-farm performance reporting can be significantly increased by having more on-farm data reach the central national data bases. Use it, not waste it!




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Barn fires: how to address a deadly threat to cattle

It is estimated that between 2013 and 2019, over 4,900 cattle died in barn fires in the US. We speak to the Animal Welfare Institute about what’s needed to protect cattle in the future.

In 2018, the Animal Welfare Institute (US) released its official barn fire report which presented a detailed analysis of data compiled from barn fires that occurred between 2013 and 2017 in the US. In those five years, there were 326 deadly barn fires where at least 2,763,924 farm animals died and these numbers are not on the decline.

Catastrophic fires can occur in farms of any size, housing any species of animal, yet in the US there are no federal or state laws designed to protect those animals from barn fires. There is no obligation to install fire prevention, detection or suppression systems in animal housing which Dena Jones, AWI farm animal programme director, believes is the main reason these fires get out of hand and, in the process, kill millions of animals each year.

“We have to put this into perspective here,” says Dena Jones, AWI farm animal programme director.

“Usually these fires start out very small and if a small fire was to start in any other type of building – whether that be an office, a hospital or school – then it wouldn’t usually spread so quickly and would be controlled before it could spread further. It wouldn’t kill all of the occupants.

“So why are ban fires so catastrophic?

“When these fires start, they’re either not detected or detected too late, so they spread very quickly. Add to this the lack of suppression and by the time the fire department get there – usually in the middle of the night – the barn is engulfed and the animals inside will have been lost.

“It can start as just a small event but because of the lack of detection and suppression, the fires are catastrophic.”

Causes of barn fires

In AWI’s 2018 report, research showed that out of 326 fatal barn fires, the cause or likely cause was only reported in 106 cases. The damage generated by fires makes determining the exact cause very difficult. This said, in cases where the cause was known, the majority were electrical faults: heaters, automatic ventilation systems and machinery.

“Heating devices in particular have a higher fire risk and have been responsible for a large proportion of the electrical fires we’ve had reported,” says Dena.

Dena explains that a pattern can be observed in the frequency of fires and their location, and that farms in Northern Europe and Canada are experiencing similar issues.

“Our research indicates that cold weather and confinement are the main links between the frequency and severity of fires in the US.

“Whether these farms are housing cattle, poultry, pigs or other species, most reported barn fires occur in colder states (and during the winter months) and the greatest number of animal deaths occur in the larger, intensive farms, primarily in the Upper Midwest, West and Northeast.”

Health and safety for farm staff

Raising awareness of this issue is a primary focus for the Animal Welfare Institute but farm workers should also be proactive in ensuring on-farm safety measures are established

“These fires are a risk for workers as well so if they have any concerns about the practices used on farm, they should feel confident to speak up,” says Dena.

“If they suspect any on-farm practice might be contributing to the risk of fires starting, or that there isn’t enough detection and suppression on farm – even just from a workers rights perspective – they should speak up.

“It’s in everyone’s best interest to deal with this problem. Even neighbouring houses and communities.”

Regulation and protection for farm animals

Barn fires are a primary focus for the Animal Welfare Institute in 2020 as it is predicted that the frequency and severity of these fires will not drop unless action is taken by authorities to establish on-farm standards that protect the animals inside the barns.

Dena says that the lack of regulation at a local and state level is a contributor to the high death toll when these barn fires occur.

“There are no laws that cover farm animals in barn fires whereas there are protective codes for people and property,” she explains.

“In addition to that, none of our agricultural trade associations have standards (or have very little in terms of standards) that address prevention, detection and suppression.”

To minimise the risk of fatal fires AWI recommend the following fire protection methods:

  • Install sprinkler systems.
  • Install smoke or heat detection systems.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Request annual inspections from the fire department.
  • Place fire extinguishers in barns.
  • Institute frequent fire prevention training for employees and routine fire drills.
  • Frequently check, repair, and replace heating and other electrical equipment.

They are also urging the trade associations to, as a minimum, adopt the standards of the National Fire Protection Association. The AWI says that it would be a positive step to establish a special code that solely addresses animal welfare.

“If we then go on to draft legislation, we would ask for provisions that cover the three areas previously mentioned.

“Prevention: which should include regular annual inspection from a local fire authority, training of workers and an emergency plan that includes evacuation of animals

“Detection: accurate smoke detection technology connected to an alarm system that notifies the local fire authority and the farm manager immediately.

“And suppression: sprinklers are costly but are the most effective method of controlling death rates.

“In some rural areas with limited water supply, we’re also advocating the option of on-site water storage. Inadequate water costs lives as barns burn faster. This water storage could supply both sprinkler systems and the attending fire authorities.”

Barn fires represent a significant animal welfare issue, says Dena, and we believe it currently gets inadequate attention both from state officials and the public, and with the industry itself. We’re trying to draw attention to the issue. Our priorities are poultry, pig and cattle due to the scale of deaths and the number of fires.

Source: The Dairy Site

Arkansas dairy farmer adapting to financial struggles of milk industry

The Simon family milks cows twice a day 365 days a year in Conway.

But in recent years, the profit margins have been slim, prompting Matt Simon and crew to adjust and adapt to the changing market.

Throughout the recent several years, it’s just been a real struggle to come up with enough money at the end of the year to keep going,” Simon said.

One of the U.S.’s top milk processors, Borden Dairy Company, announced its filing for bankruptcy due because of the significant financial struggles and changing consumer habits.

The price of raw milk has increased over 25 percent, according to Borden officials.

Americans are opting in for other drinks besides fluid milk. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a 6 percent drop in Americans who drink milk.

From the processor to the farmer, it’s an industry amass with uncertainty.

“The answer’s simple, there’s not been enough money generated through the business to keep everybody happy to stay in business,” Simon said.

Bruce Tencleve, with the Arkansas Farm Bureau, noted over a 20-year-period, the number of dairy farms plummeted from 650 to 33.

Simon Bros. Dairy remains one of those 33 predominantly family-owned operations, which are smaller and more labor-intensive.

“The problem is they don’t ever come back so when you lose that, they’re gone. That’s sad but unfortunately true,” Tencleve said.

Tencleve noted there’s an ever-growing push for the smaller family-operated dairy farms to become mass producers by utilizing thousands of cows for milking versus a couple hundred.

He equates the foreseeable trend to that of soybeans, corn and other crops that are produced in greater quantities.

Tencleve also places partial blame for the milk industry’s poor financial climate on trade.

But there are efforts underway by the Farm Bureau to attract more dairy producers to the Natural State.

“Cost of production be a little bit less, electricity cost, land cost. Those factors, we’re trying to entice people to come here but we just haven’t had that first one to take that jump yet,” Tencleve said.

The Simon family may not have the power to control the markets but they do have the passion to continue serving Arkansans one cow at a time.

“It’s a good lifestyle. I enjoy what we do but at the same time, we have to be able to make some money yo keep going in the future,” Simon said.

The Arkansas farming industry as a whole generates nearly $18 million annually.


Holstein Association USA Hosts Free Robotic Milking Seminar

Join Holstein Association USA on January 14, 2020 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Hartford, Conn. in the Charter Oak room for a Robotic Milking seminar.

This seminar brings together experts in the field to discuss optimizing robotic milking on a dairy and explore the opportunities and challenges in this growing technology.

The Robotic Milking Seminar will be from 12:00 p.m. until 2:30 p.m., lunch is included. The program includes a dairy producer panel and an industry expert panel. There is no charge for attendance.

Dairy Producer Panel

  • Angie Facey, Bree-Z-Knoll Farm
  • Mary Margaret Cole, University of Connecticut
  • Brad Osborne, Osborne Dairy

Industry Expert Panel

  • Adam Griffin, Sr. Farm Management Support Advisor at Lely
  • Bill VerBoort, General Manager of AgriTech Analytics

At 10:30 a.m., Holstein Association USA will hold their 2020 Member Update Meeting, followed by lunch. All are welcome to attend starting at 10:30 a.m.

Holstein Association USA, Inc., 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.

Hired hands: Minnesota’s struggling dairy farmers turn to Latino immigrants for help

Craig Gjerde, left, and Paul Gjerde run a dairy operation near Sunburg in west-central Minnesota.

Seventeen years ago, Paul and Craig Gjerde went all in on the dairy operation they run with their father in west-central Minnesota, expanding their herd from 125 cows to 300 and building a barn and milking parlor.

The Gjerdes have milked their share of cows and can do so if they need to, but with so many other duties – growing crops, feeding the animals, managing the farm’s finances – the men wouldn’t be able to run their operation efficiently without a few hired hands.

Yet, in recent years, finding people willing to work on the dairy farm, with its twice-a-day-milkings, physical demands and odd hours, has been difficult. Fortunately for the Gjerdes, they have found what they need in the Latino immigrant population that lives in the Willmar area. These days, four Latino employees milk the cows in the afternoon, clean the stalls and milking machines and then milk the cows again in the early morning, around 2:30 a.m.

“We need them,” Paul Gjerde said of his crew. “I don’t know how we would do it without them.”

It wasn’t always this way. The brothers remember when high school or college students would stop by, looking for work baling hay or doing the other tough jobs on farms. That hasn’t happened for 20 years; the only people willing to work on their farm these days, the brothers say, are Latinos, new to the country and looking to make a living.

Willing to do the work

The hub of the Gjerde enterprise is Paul Gjerde’s farm site five miles south of Sunburg, an old Norwegian settlement that still celebrates Syttende Mai (Norway’s independence day) and whose sole café still serves Klub (a Norwegian potato dumpling) every day.

From a distance, the farm is but a cluster of buildings that fades into an endless horizon of snow-covered fields dotted by groves of trees. Years ago, it was one of many dairy farms around here; now, it’s the only one in Kandiyohi County’s Arctander Township.

On a recent cold December day, Michelle Rodriquez hooked cows up to machines in a 16-stall milking parlor, eight cows on either side of her. Originally from El Salvador, Rodriquez has been working on the farm for about five years. She grew up on a small farm with chickens and pigs, so the surroundings here are comforting, the work familiar.

“I like the cows. And the work – it’s not too hard for me,” she said in halting English. She added, with a laugh, “the weather is bad, though. Driving (in the snow) is bad! But otherwise it’s fine.”

With her mother and two sisters living in Willmar, and two brothers in New York, Rodriguez said she had no plans to return to Central America, where her father remains. Minnesota was safe, with more opportunities to earn a paycheck, she said.

The Gjerde dairy operation near Sunburg.
MinnPost photo by Gregg Aamot

The Gjerde dairy operation near Sunburg.

Nathan Hulinsky, a University of Minnesota Extension educator, said many dairy farmers, navigating a tight labor market, have found a source of workers in the Latino community.

“A lot of Hispanics don’t seem to mind the physical labor,” he said. “They are willing to take that job at a price that works for both sides, whereas I think some in the non-immigrant workforce maybe say, ‘I can go uptown and get the same money and an easier job.’”

The construction industry is one of the main competitors for dairy farmers who are looking for workers, Hulinsky said. Another one, at least in this region of the state, is turkey processing – namely the Jennie-O Turkey Store plant in Willmar. The Gjerdes were paying their workers $12.50 an hour last month, roughly comparable to what they believed was Jennie-O’s $13.50 wage for unskilled labor. (Recent job postings showed Jennie-O offering a starting wage of $14 for general production workers.)

To work for the Gjerdes, workers must provide a Social Security Number or a Green Card, a federal document that allows immigrants to live and work in the United States. A survey for the National Milk Producers Federation showed that Latinos make up about half the workforce at dairy farms around the country. Statistics for Minnesota were not available.

An uncertain future

In addition to finding workers, many challenges perplex the small dairy farmer: this year’s unusually wet growing season, competition from large-scale dairy operations, changing consumer habits and, perhaps most significantly, volatile milk prices. (In 2018, the price per-hundredweight of milk – how dairy farmers are paid – hovered around $14 or $15, down about $10 from record highs reached four years earlier. (It inched back up in 2019 and reached about $19 in December).

The stress is showing. According to the state Department of Agriculture, Minnesota had 2,763 dairy farms at the start of 2019 and had 2,536 in November – a drop of about 8 percent. (The agency bases its numbers on dairy farm licenses).

Obert Gjerde, Paul and Craig’s 80-year-old father, still helps on the farm. It’s been a good life – challenging but rewarding. But he’s not sure he’d recommend it to his grandchildren – not now, anyway, with commodity prices the way they are. “You worked hard and you did well,” he said in summing up his life’s credo. “It’s not necessarily that way anymore.”

The future of dairy farming, perhaps, can be found a few miles south of the Gjerde farm, where acquaintances run an 1,800-head operation. Or a bit to the west, where a massive dairy operation milks about 8,100 cows a day.

The brothers don’t want to sell their herd or do anything else. They do wonder, however, about trying something different – perhaps selling bottled milk to the wealthy cabin owners who live on lakes throughout the region. It will take some creativity to survive. They have also talked about joining a recent trend in dairy farming: robotic milking.

For now, they hang on, thankful for the Latino workers who have helped to keep their operation afloat, who have proven to be reliable, who have made friends with Paul Gjerde’s children. “They’re good workers. They show up on time and they’re big on cleanliness,” he said. “These guys are really good.”


NSW Focus Farmer drives down costs

NSW dairy farmers Justin and Libby Walsh achieved significant gains in pasture growth and slashed their production costs in a tough season by taking part in Dairy Australia’s Focus Farms program.

The South Coast farmers recently took over the family farm from Mr Walsh’s parents after a period of succession planning and saw the transition as an opportunity to set up their operation for success.

Now 15 months into the two-year program, Mr and Mrs Walsh have made significant inroads to drive down their cost of production and increase their profit margins.

“Focus Farms is one of the best and most valuable programs that Dairy Australia runs,” Mr Walsh said.

“Through the program, we now have a solid base to easily assess improvements in our business for the long-term, as well as access to an enhanced level of analysis of our unique situation to inform decision-making.”

Achieving tangible outcomes

When he entered the program in August 2018, Mr Walsh identified his pasture and fertiliser management approach as a key area for improvement to drive profitability.

Despite securing a high milk price in recent years, Mr Walsh said it was challenging to realise the benefits due to his high cost of production.

“Our main objective was lowering our cost of production and a key goal was growing more grass,” he said.

Mr Walsh set a goal of doubling his tonnage per hectare by the end of the program and he is already well on his way to success.

Adapting his pasture and fertiliser programs after receiving advice from his support group, Mr Walsh has moved toward planting the entire milking platform with a combination of ryegrass and oats.

The Walshes also used widespread suppression of kikuyu to plant ryegrass earlier in the year to get more grazing out of each season. The result, that while the South Coast experienced one of its driest seasons on record, the Walshes achieved a 50 per cent increase in dry matter tonnage a substantial boost of two tonnes per hectare.

Connecting with farmers and advisers

The Walshes have found the best part of the Focus Farm program has been connecting with other farmers and service providers who offer more micro-level advice on their operations.

Their support group is comprised of nine local farmers and six service providers, including a nutritionist, an agronomist, a feed specialist, a Dairy Australia representative, a processor field officer, and a farm business consultant. Together, this network provides advice on a range of opportunities for improvement in the Walshes’ farm business operation a unique opportunity to draw from a variety of skills and perspectives to make informed decisions.

For Mr Walsh, the key benefit of this network has been receiving tailored advice that looks at every aspect of his farming operation with a better understanding of his unique situation.

Having already used DairyBase to compile and compare his farm data using “the same language as other farmers”, Mr Walsh saw Focus Farms as an opportunity to generate real-life comparisons using knowledge provided by farmers and service providers in his region.

“Participating in the Focus Farm program was a real opportunity to bring these people together I wouldn’t have had access to the depth of knowledge that was provided to us without this program,” he said.

“Your support group gets to know the intricacies of your farm business, rather than the high level or general advice you would usually receive.”

As well as immediate access to an experienced support group, Mr Walsh has broadened his network through referrals and signposting.

“You can do a lot of networking through people in your support group and I now have contacts for specialists for hay or for repro that I wouldn’t have had before,” he said.

“The networking is unbelievable through this program you don’t really understand how wide-reaching this program can be until you’re in.”

Reward for openness and transparency

While he was initially uncertain about the benefits of sharing detailed information about his farm with others in the industry, Mr Walsh said he had been rewarded with stronger relationships and better advice.

“The process can be a little confronting at first, but my wife and I decided that unless people understood the financial position we’re in negative or positive it was very difficult to provide sound advice,” he said.

“While it was confronting, we knew our support group would use their professional discretion, and it puts them in a much better position to provide advice about our farm.”

Since openly sharing information about his farming system, Mr Walsh believes other farmers have repaid his openness with more informed discussions and insights. “I find that people reciprocate your openness you can have much better discussions because people can see you know what you’re talking about and that you’re being up front,” he said.

“The vast majority of dairy farmers are facing similar situations or decisions, and people are definitely more open toward us now that we’re more open to them.”


Dairy Sense: Small Grain Silage for the Lactating Herd

Double cropping corn silage acres with a small grain is a strategy that provides additional forage inventory and maintains cover on fields, reducing sediment and nutrient loss. There are pros and cons with any cropping and feeding strategy. Recently there has been a focused approach by some consultants to produce small grain silage that mimics alfalfa, especially for protein. Optimizing fertilization should increase both forage quality and quantity. The problem is if the small grain silage does not meet that “alfalfa” quality standard it is considered a failure and not milk cow worthy. Successfully incorporating small grain silage into milk cow rations is not dependent only on fiber and protein content.

Two farms who have worked closely with Penn State Extension provided details on their financials, feeding programs and cropping strategies (Table 1). Both herds are well managed. Their annual ration consists of corn silage and small grain silage as their only forage source for the lactating herd. The high profit herd has had a positive profit for the past three years versus the medium profit herd with only one year. Approximately fifty percent of their acreage is double cropped. Both operations have opportunities for improvement, but the recommendations will be very different.

The high profit herd’s opportunity lies in their cropping program. An action plan could be developed to improve both forage quality and quantity (Table 1). The three-year average yield represents two wet and one drought year. The high profit farm has red shale and clay loam soils which are highly susceptible to compromised yields during drought. Forage quality is average, and many nutritionists would consider the ryelage low quality and unacceptable milk cow feed. This farm does rely on purchased feed to compensate for limitations related to forage quality and quantity. Their strength is excellent cow management and achieving performance from their animals to generate income that balances with their expenses.

The medium profit herd’s opportunity involves feeding and cow management. Forage quality and quantity is very good and not a limiting factor. An action plan to address bottlenecks to TMR consistency, first calf heifer performance, and metabolic problems is needed. Facilities and labor are an added problem affecting feeding management and impacting animal performance. This operation has a strong foundation with the forages. Slight adjustments in feeding management practices would enable this farm to achieve higher milk income and potentially improved cash flow.

Every dairy operation is unique and “standard recommendations” related to cropping, feeding and financial strategies usually do not work. Double cropping is not for everyone, however, there are many operations successfully utilizing this strategy and making it work. Small grain silage does not have to mimic alfalfa to generate milk production and profitability. There is always room for improvement, whether it is addressing forage quality and quantity or feeding and cow management.

The SWOT approach, determining strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats is a valid approach to find the low hanging fruit first and then move forward on the more challenging bottlenecks. There are many viable dairies despite the market conditions from the last five years. In many instances a slight “nudge” in a management practice could make all the difference to achieve a positive cash flow. Analyzing the whole farm system is a valid approach to decide if double cropping is the correct strategy for the operation.

Table 1. Small grain silage usage on a high and medium profit herd1

  High profit farm Medium profit farm
Production: Energy corrected milk, lbs.2 82.0 78.9
Acreage double cropped, % 47 55
  High profit farm
Forage: CS
High profit farm
Forage: Ryelage
Medium profit farm
Forage: CS
Medium profit farm
Forage: Triticale
Ration: High group, DM lbs. 30.0 1.1 25.0 6.6
Ration: 1st lactation group, DM lbs. 14.3 2.7 20.4 5.4
Yield, as fed tons3: (3 yr. average) 16.8 4.7 22.7 6.0
Quality4: Protein, %DM 7.4 11.4 6.9 18.0
Quality4: Neutral detergent fiber, %DM 46.7 58.4 34.3 49.9

1Using FINPACK® to evaluate profitability, the high profit herd had a positive profit each year from 2016 through 2018. The medium profit herd had only one year of positive profit during the same time frame.

2Energy corrected milk reflects the average production for 2018.

3The three-year average reflects the harvest years of 2016 through 2018.

4Quality metrics are from the 2018 cropping year.

Action plan for examining small grain silage as a viable approach to cropping and feeding strategies.

Goal – Complete a cash flow plan including the whole farm, dairy and cropping enterprises.

Step 1: Using Penn State Extension’s Excel spreadsheet, complete a year end analysis for 2018 on both a cash and accrual basis.

Step 2: Record the amounts fed of all home-raised and purchased feeds for all animal groups. Incorporate rations that include small grain silage as a comparison.

Step 3: Develop the cropping enterprise including all home-raised feeds, yields, direct expenses and overheads. Decide on the number of acres to be double cropped and the expected tonnage needed to feed the various animal groups (use this to compare against the current program)

Step 4: Evaluate the impact of incorporating double cropping into the whole farm system compared to the current cropping and feeding program.

Step 5: Work with the appropriate consultants to discuss bottlenecks to implementation.

Economic perspective:

Monitoring must include an economic component to determine if a management strategy is working or not. For the lactating cows, income over feed cost 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 cost 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: November’s Penn State milk price: $20.32/cwt; feed cost/cow: $6.67; average milk production: 83 lbs.
Feed cost/non-lactating animal/day.


Is Your Farm Ready for the New Ag Labor Laws?

Beginning January 1, 2020, New York farm employers face several major changes to the laws that govern farm employment. Labor is one of the largest inputs for most New York farm businesses and one of the most socially and ethically complex issues for managers. As a farm manager, you should consider your overall human resource management strategies and actively choose how your business will adapt to the new requirements while staying in legal compliance. The major changes to the law include:

  1. Overtime
  2. Weekly day of rest
  3. Collective bargaining
  4. Workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance
  5. Disability insurance and Paid Family Leave

It is your responsibility as an employer to inform yourself and your employees about these changes, and ensure that your business is in compliance. We have complied the following list of resources to assist you in this effort.

Updates to Farmworker Rights and Employer Responsibilities

This NYSDOL fact sheet summarizes the major features of the new legislation and provides contact information for various agencies that can provide resources and support to help farmers achieve compliance.

Overview of New York Labor Regulations

This recorded webinar, presented by Richard Stup from Cornell Ag Workforce Development, describes the new ag labor regulations going into effect January 1, 2020. You can download a PDF version of the presentation, and use it as a checklist to ensure that your farm has made the necessary changes.

Adapting Your Labor Strategies to New York’s Revised Farm Employment Laws

This extension bulletin describes a process farms can use to analyze and select a labor strategy in response to the new overtime regulations. It describes various strategies that farms can use to adapt to the new laws, and discusses pros and cons of each strategy. The document also includes a link to Cornell’s Overtime Cost Calculator, which farms can use to evaluate their labor costs under the new overtime rules.

NYSDOL Pay Notice and Work Agreement for Farm Workers (LS 309)



Farms are legally required to have a written Work Agreement on file for all employees, and you must update the agreement any time wages or other terms of employment change. Most agricultural employers should be updating their employee Work Agreements to reflect the various changes coming in 2020. The easiest way to meet this requirement is to use form LS 309 provided by Department of Labor. DOL recently updated form LS 309 to reflect the new overtime and day-of rest rules.

What Employers Can and Cannot Say About Unions

New York farm employees will have the right to organize in unions and collectively bargain under the state’s new farm labor law. Farm employers need to understand that in an environment where employees may try to organize there are some special rules about what employers can and cannot say or do about unions.


Momentum growing to add value to dairy calves with beef sires

Interest in the use of beef sires on dairy cows to increase calf value is rapidly gaining momentum across the dairy industry, according to two Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialists.

A beef influence in the breeding program of dairy operations for some of their cows can increase the marketability, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Jason Smith, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, Amarillo, covered the topic at Southwest Dairy Day in Snyder.

It’s estimated traditional dairy cattle make up approximately 20% of the beef market through finished cattle and cull cows. Traditionally, the best heifers are kept as replacement females, while the remaining dairy heifers and bull calves enter the beef supply chain. 

Changes in packer demand for finished straight-bred dairy calves have driven a decline in their value, Smith said. A beef-on-dairy breeding program can add value to these calves by improving traits that directly impact the cost of gain and carcass value.

“It’s a hot topic right now in both the dairy and beef industry,” he said. “With tight milk margins, dairy producers are looking for a way to add value and generate additional income in their system. With tight feeding margins, the beef industry is looking to determine exactly how and where these cattle fit into the production chain, and what their value is.

“As adoption of the practice grows, we expect a greater number of these cattle to enter the supply chain in the very near future.”

Juan Piñeiro, DVM, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension dairy specialist in Amarillo, said most progressive dairy farmers have already adopted the practice. 

“They are using sexed dairy semen to build their heifer supply and beef semen to add value to the rest of the calf crop,” Piñeiro said. “The use of sexed semen and improvements in reproductive efficiency have led to a surplus of replacement heifers. Since dairymen have more dairy heifers than needed, they started utilizing the beef semen with a proportion of the herd to capture the added value.”

As the interest grows, basically two things are happening. 

Limflex beef bulls are crossed with Jersey cows to increase the marketability of the traditional dairy calf. (Courtesy photo)

“The dairy industry is trying to figure out how to strategically use the practice, and the beef industry is in the process of determining the value of these cattle,” Smith said.

Dairymen have said there is currently a substantial price differential between straight-bred and beef-on-dairy calves – where beef-on-dairy calves have an advantage of up to seven to 10 times that of straight-bred Holstein calves, Piñeiro said. The crossbred calves require less time on feed than straight-bred dairy cattle to reach a target endpoint, thus reducing the use of natural resources and improving the sustainability of the production system. 

Feeders are looking at experiences with these cattle in terms of health, growth and efficiency, while packers are looking at carcass quality, yield and cut-out. 

“These experiences will dictate the calves’ value, which is being determined as we speak,” Smith said. “There are already beef-on-dairy cattle in the supply chain, and there have been for a long time. But we certainly expect that number to grow substantially in the future, especially in this region where large dairies, calf ranches, backgrounders and feed yards coexist.

“This presents a great opportunity to build relationships across the production sectors.” 

There is currently a lot of focus on identifying certain beef breeds that work better than others on certain dairy breeds in a dairy-beef cross-breeding system, he said.

While this may work for the average animal within a breed, emphasis should be placed on trait complementarity – utilizing beef genetics that complement the weaknesses or limitations of straight dairy-bred cattle.

The introduction of beef traits is expected to address issues with mature size, growth performance, average daily gain, and feed efficiency, as well as carcass muscularity and yield.

“The focus shouldn’t just be on the fact that they now have beef genetics, but rather that they have the right beef genetics,” Smith said. “That’s because there is as much variation within a breed as there is across breeds for a number of traits that are economically relevant.”

On the flip side, one of the positive attributes of the dairy genetics is that retail products from dairy carcasses tend to be very uniform, whereas traditional beef cattle tend to be more variable, he said. 

“The uniformity and predictability of retail product characteristics and cutout add value,” Smith said. “The dairy production system also provides a good opportunity for age and source verification.”   

He also said genetics is only one part of the equation. 

“From a management standpoint, health needs to be a priority,” Smith said. “We can have a huge impact on growth performance and feeding outcomes through preventative health management. Colostrum timing, quality and quantity, as well as other management factors during that calf’s first few days of life are key.”

Typically, the dairy sells male calves to a calf ranch, which later sells them to a backgrounding yard and finally to a feed yard before the calves are sold to a packer.

“Dairies could consider retaining ownership of the calves throughout the live production chain,” he said. “There is certainly some economic risk involved, but if handled properly, that would allow a dairy to realize the added value of their beef-on-dairy calves and diversify the operation.”

Smith said while it seems the market has not yet settled on a value, that value will be driven by experiences with those calves. Some beef-on-dairy calves have sold near the top of recent feeder calf markets, while some have sold toward the bottom of the market. 

“Genetics and calf care, as well as other value-added attributes, such as age and source verification, seem to be driving that difference,” he said.


Five Feeding Strategies to Follow During Tough Economic Times

Difficult economics in the industry now and likely into the future have herd owners and their advisers working to find opportunities to increase margins and/or cut costs. Knowing the large contribution of feed and crop expenses to total operating costs, it is important to carefully evaluate these aspects of management. Tom Overton and Larry Chase, Department of Animal Science and PRO-DAIRY Cornell University, outline five key focus areas to ensure that your feeding program is all that it can be. 

1.    Know and track Income Over Feed Cost (IOFC) and Income Over Purchased Feed Cost (IOPurFC) 

Income over feed cost (milk revenue minus feed cost) is more correlated with overall farm profitability than any other single metric and can be refined further to look specifically at Income Over Purchased Feed Cost. In analyses of feeding programs conducted as part of PRO-DAIRY discussion groups, income over total feed cost varied as much as $3 per cow per day, even across well-managed herds. 

In our last analysis, herds with higher IOFC had: 
• Higher fat and protein yield per cow (generally over 6.0 lb. per day of fat and protein shipped) 
• Higher feed efficiency (over 1.65 lb. of ECM2 per lb. of DMI) across the lactating cows 
• Higher feed cost per cow per day (cows were making more milk and so had higher DMI) 
• Slightly higher cost per lb. of TMR dry matter –  $0.137 vs. $0.132 per lb. 
• Optimized use of forages (0.9% to 1.0% of cow body weight as forage NDF intake) 

Income over total and purchased feed cost as well as feed efficiency can be calculated and tracked using spreadsheets or calculated using the Dairy Profit Monitor online program developed by PRO-DAIRY. The Dairy Profit Monitor online program allows for a farm to track these and other metrics related to production and efficiency and compare itself with other farms in the program. 

2.    Make sure you are optimizing use of homegrown forages and feeds 

Herds that focus on and achieve high forage quality can be rewarded by increasing use of high-quality forage in the ration. One time-tested metric is to calculate forage NDF intake as a percentage of body weight for lactating cows. Herds optimizing forage use often can feed 0.9% to 1.0% of body weight as NDF from forage sources. Newer forage analytical techniques have enabled us to have estimates of undigested NDF at 240 hours of in vitro digestion (uNDF240), which represents maximum digestibility and correlates with intake potential. 

Research conducted at Miner Institute suggests that cows will consume 0.30% to 0.35% of their body weight as uNDF240. Data from the 2017 Cornell and Vermont Corn Silage Hybrid Trials suggest that 2017 corn silage fiber digestibilities are generally lower than 2016 corn silage – many herds that have transitioned onto 2017 corn silage lost anywhere from 3 to 7 lb. of milk per cow per day. In this case, watch the marketplace for non-forage fiber sources (e.g., soyhulls, corn gluten feed, citrus pulp) that generally have high fiber digestibility and can help compensate for the lower NDF digestibility in 2017 corn silage. In addition to optimizing use of forages based upon their analyzed nutrient composition, farms that have the ability to feed more than one silo of the same type of forage (i.e., multiple haylages or multiple corn silages) should make sure that they are feeding the right forage to the right animals. The highest-quality, highest-digestibility forages should go to the transition and early-lactation cows. Typically, nutrient requirements of heifers and far-off dry cows are relatively low, so lower-energy, lower-digestibility forages can be targeted to those groups. 

3.    Fine-tune your feeding management 

Losses due to poor bunk and feeding management can be subtle but meaningful. Are you taking at least 6 inches (preferably 12 inches) of silage off the face of bunk silos every day and ensuring that bunk faces are tight and leftover feed is kept to a minimum? Have mixer wagons and other equipment used in feeding (e.g., tub grinders) been maintained so they deliver consistent performance? Is feeding accuracy being monitored and shrink of ingredients being tracked? Is fresh feed available for cows upon return from the parlor and is it being pushed up regularly (i.e., every 2 to 3 hours). We recommend targeting 5% refusal rates for close-up cows (close-up refusal can be refed to far-off cows) and fresh cows and targeting 2% to 3% refusal rates for high cow groups (refusal from fresh and high groups can be refed to late lactation cows). 

4.    Strategically review rations with your nutritionist 

Now is a good time to review rations and ration strategy with your nutritionist and make strategic decisions about where to try to save cost without compromising herd performance. In addition to making sure that you are optimizing use of homegrown forages and feeds (see above), there may be opportunities to decrease amounts of rumen-degradable protein sources (e.g., canola meal, soybean meal) in the diet. Furthermore, laboratory assays are now commercially available that allow feed suppliers to evaluate protein digestibility and undigestibility of protein ingredients. Overall, proteins based upon soy or canola look to have good overall digestibility and little variation among sources; however, distillers grains and animal proteins (e.g., blood meal) can vary greatly in their digestibility – some are excellent and some are poor. 

We are hearing that some financial consultants are advising farms to remove all additives and higher-value/higher-cost nutrients from rations in order to save cost. Although we recognize the need to make sure that there is return on the feed investment, we think that these across-the-board types of sweeping recommendations are poor and likely stand more chance of hurting cash flow rather than helping cash flow. Our recommended approach is to review rations and prioritize maintaining ration ingredients and feed additives that directly affect daily cash flow/income over feed cost by contributing to component yield/feed efficiency or are fed during very focused periods of the lactation cycle (i.e., close-up and fresh cows) with research-based evidence that they contribute to improved productivity and health. The long-term implications on production, health and reproduction for not meeting the needs of the transition cow are large. 

Finally, we suggest that calf nutrition should not be a place where farms seek to cut feeding rates or quality of milk replacer. Such apparent savings can be easily erased (and then some) by increased drug costs for treatment and calf morbidity/mortality with long-term impacts. 

5.    Carefully review cow and heifer inventories and needs 

Are the right cows being milked? How many heifers do you need? This topic is covered in part in another recent PRO-DAIRY paper, Ten Key Herd Management Opportunities on Dairy Farms During Low Margin Times. Overstocking of cows generally contributes to lower feed efficiency through negative effects on milk components and poorer rumen efficiency as a result of more aggressive feeding behavior and altered time budgets. 

Are you compromising performance of the whole by continuing to milk cows that are not covering their feed and variable costs? Many farms have improved their reproductive performance significantly over the past few years, such that we have seen overall heifer numbers grow as a proportion of the lactating herd. Feed costs are a major portion of the cost of rearing heifers. Are the goals of the farm such that every heifer needs to be raised? Should you give up more quickly on heifers (or cows) that are not getting pregnant and save that feed cost? 

You can find the full article here.
Originally published in March 2018 by Tom Overton and Larry Chase with PRO-DAIRY Cornell University.

Dairy calves slip through Canadian transport code cracks

Many practices for handling male dairy calves do not conform to new transport of animals regulations that will be phased in this February, a new study indicates.

Calves are often shipped before they are eight days old, contrary to new Canadian Food Inspection Agency requirements, and time in transit sometimes exceeds the new rules mandating that young calves go no longer than 12 hours without feed, water and rest.

Without changes in infrastructure and handling, there might be more on-farm killing of healthy calves if producers don’t have the facilities to house and feed them or if available markets are more than a 12-hour drive distant, it warned.

The study, led by University of British Columbia animal welfare professor David Fraser, was prepared for the National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Council and presented to that group Nov. 27.

“We went from west to east, looking at how marketing happens for male dairy calves in Canada, and found a huge variation in how things are done,” said Fraser.

Most male dairy calves are shipped before they are a week old, sometimes to other farms or through auction marts or assembly yards. Many are destined for veal production operations, particularly in Ontario and Quebec, which have about 97 percent of Canada’s veal production.

Under the new livestock transportation rules, “all calves too young to be fed exclusively on hay or grain would be limited to 12 hours total journey from the dairy to their destination and this is very different from current practice,” said Fraser.

He noted a working group involving the CFIA and dairy personnel was already in place to address some of the issues itemized.

The group that undertook the study comprised dairy and veal producers, veterinarians, auction market personnel and provincial and federal regulatory staff.

“The feeling was that positive changes could be made to implement the new regulations but without changes in infrastructure and skills, we might see some negative outcomes,” said Fraser.

“First of all, more on-farm killing of healthy calves from farms that are simply more than 12 hours away from a facility that can raise them. This would require at the very least good training and equipment to perform on-farm euthanasia, although we felt it would be resisted by both dairy farmers and the public.”

Fraser said research showed calves of no commercial value, those born sick, weak or otherwise compromised, are often shipped to auction markets.

“In British Columbia, our sample indicates about 10 percent sell for $10 or less. Around two percent don’t sell at all. The problem is likely that some farmers are not willing or trained or equipped for euthanasia and we noted positive steps that are being made for appropriate use of euthanasia in the dairy sector.”

Also noted was “huge variability” in dairy farm practices before male calves are shipped, including whether adequate colostrum and other nutrition is provided. That leads to a wide variation in the condition of calves sold.

Available pen space, facility design and staffing may not be adequate to care for young male calves beyond a few days, so in many cases they are shipped as soon as possible, the study said.

It also indicated producers who pre-condition male dairy calves, which includes vaccination and weaning, can sell the animals for premium prices.

“One estimate was that possibly 15 percent of male dairy calves in Ontario might be in this pre-conditioned calf category,” Fraser reported.

Another way to increase male calves’ value and thus their welfare is to introduce beef semen in breeding. That might improve prices, providing an incentive for producers to invest in better facilities and management.

The report noted age of the calves is often used as a proxy for transport fitness. In New Zealand, for example, they can be shipped after four days of age, while Europe prohibits shipping until 14 days of age.

“We noted that calf health can decline on dairy farms if the housing and management are poor, if they haven’t been fed colostrum well, if they’re not receiving adequate nutrition, if the air quality is such that it’s causing respiratory disease, if herd health is poor and they’re being continually exposed to pathogens. Hence age is no guarantee of fitness for travel,” said Fraser.

Also noted was huge variation in the use of antimicrobials to protect calf health before marketing. That includes the use of Class 1 antimicrobials, those important to human health, and the industry is trying to curtail use.

However, eliminating the use of these entirely could adversely affect calf welfare, the report said, so reduction and judicious use are recommended.

The national code of practice for the care and handling of dairy cattle, now being updated, requires that calves receive adequate colostrum before being transported and recommends that unweaned calves be given at least half of that day’s ration of milk before transport.

The veal code of practice also provides transport cautions.

“Neonatal calves are not able to cope well with transport, especially long journeys or journeys involving intermediate stops. They can be weak, have difficulty walking, are susceptible to extremes of cold and heat, and are vulnerable to disease. Young calves also have modest energy reserves, and the time of their last feeding must be considered when arranging transport,” it reads.

The report to the NFAHWC recommended careful consideration of calves’ fitness for transport and said a system of benchmarking, so producers could compare themselves to best practices and improve if necessary, could be effective.

However, the implementation of new regulations raised concerns for male dairy calf welfare overall.

“This is not one of those cases where … a large fraction, large percentage of current transport already fits the new regulations,” said Fraser. “In this case a large percentage of current practices do not fit the new regulations.”


Three must-haves to minimize fresh cow stress, help build immunity

It’s no secret that keeping fresh cows healthy can help improve production, but managing cow comfort can prove challenging in stressful environments.

During the fresh period, cows’ energy requirements often exceed their dry matter intake, creating a negative energy balance that can impact their immune system. Pen moves, especially to the hospital pen, also can affect fresh cows’ health by exposing them to disease-causing pathogens and prompting stress-related decreases in appetite.

While these stressors are hard to avoid, they can put fresh cows at a greater risk for developing metritis1, infectious mastitis2 and Salmonella.3 A higher rate of disease in fresh cows can affect your bottom line by negatively impacting milk production and increasing treatment expenses.

Use these tips to help support fresh cows’ immune systems and minimize stress during the fresh period:

  • Maintain a healthy environment: Keep pens clean and dry to minimize vulnerable cows’ exposure to disease-causing pathogens. Also consider decreasing stocking density in the fresh pen and allow greater access to the feed bunk to help cows get the nutrition and energy they need to support immune function.
  • Reduce social stress: When cows change pens, it can take up to three days for them to re-establish social structure.4 In the meantime, sick cows impacted by social stress spend less time laying down, which can reduce their overall comfort. One way to avoid pen moves when fresh cows become sick is to choose an antibiotic with zero milk discard. This will help keep milk in the bulk tank while helping to minimize social stress.
  • Train employees to spot disease sooner: Treatment success improves when sick cows are identified earlier in the disease process. Help improve health outcomes by training your staff to watch for early signs of illness:
    • Decreased dry matter intake — check the temperature of cows that might be hanging back from the bunk to detect a possible fever
    • Dehydration — “depressed cows” with sunken, dull eyes or poor rumen fill
    • Drop in production or reduced udder fill — fresh cow udders should be full and tight

Tune in to the latest Dairy Wellness Podcast to learn more about how you can support fresh cow immune systems and reduce stress.

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

“Rules of Thumb” for Feeding Haylage Versus Hay

Silage makes an excellent feed for ruminant animals. However, feeding silage is much haylagedifferent than feeding hay. Silage, because it is much wetter than hay, is much more susceptible to deterioration. Sealed from oxygen during storage, the forage undergoes fermentation. However, when it is once again exposed to air when it is fed, it can still deteriorate quickly. Because of this, baled silage must be managed slightly different than hay.

Whether it is in an upright, bunker, pit, or bag silo or as a wrapped bale, the process of fermentation is very similar. Essentially, bacteria that occur naturally on the surface of dying plant leaves undergo massive population buildups once oxygen is excluded from their environment. They derive energy from the sugars that are inherent in plant cell sap and tissue via a fermentative process. They undergo many, many cycles of feeding and reproduction until their populations become so high that the waste of their fermentation processes leads to a buildup of acid. This is why silage has a low pH. The smell of silage is also the by-products of the fermentation process. Though this silage is produced in bulk in a silo or wrapped bale, the fermentation is essentially the same process that happens on a smaller scale when a ruminant animal such as a cow, sheep, or goat ingests the forage. This is why this feed is such a natural fit for dairy, beef, sheep, and goat production. Essentially silage is “pre-ruminated” forage.

But, therein lies the major issue with feeding silage: instability. An analogy to our eating habits would be potato salad. Pre-cooked and prepared, it doesn’t need to set out very long before we eat it. This is especially true at a summer picnic where temperatures can speed the deterioration. But, this can also occur in the winter time, even though it may take longer for it to spoil. In either case, it is not worth the chance of eating it if it has set out very long.

Thus as a “rule of thumb,” never leave silage exposed to the air more than two days during feeding. If the daytime temperature exceeds 60○F, don’t leave it exposed more than one day. This rule of thumb is especially important for producers who feed baled silage (haylage). It is extremely critical to those who use an in-line bale wrapper, since this determines the feed-out rate. If you have made baled silage using an in-line bale wrapper, you must be feeding enough animals that you can feed at least one bale per day in the winter. This is because as a bale is fed, the next bale is being exposed to air. Individually wrapped bales are usually not subject to exposure before they are fed, and thus the feeding schedule is somewhat more flexible.

Here are some additional “rules of thumb” on how to feed silage bales or, in some cases, what not to do:

• Ensure that the storage site doesn’t increase the chances of exposure to air. Some storage sites increase the likelihood of punctures to the plastic wrap. Examples would be areas near trees that have dropped limbs, rodent and other varmint dens, or that are freshly mowed and have coarse weed stubble. Many of these may create punctures that go unnoticed until it is too late.

• Ensure that the forage is between 45-65% moisture before it is wrapped and ensiled. Baling when the crop is too dry is the most common problem because a field may start out at the right moisture and end up being too dry. Dry forage doesn’t provide the bacteria enough moisture to allow sufficient fermentation. But, it does allow fungi to grow during storage and feeding that can lead to deterioration. Baling too wet is less common. However, high moisture silage spoils more quickly when exposed to air.

• Don’t spear into bales after they have been wrapped. Squeeze carriers or handlers are better, but may still stretch, tear, or puncture bales. Any hole in the plastic barrier can lead to small areas or even entire bales that deteriorate.

• To feed a bale that has been wrapped using an in-line wrapper, simply spear into the bale, lift, and pull away. The plastic between it and the next bale will tear away. Then cut over the top and peel the plastic off in one large section. To feed an individually wrapped bale, cut a large X in the end to be speared and pull back the flaps. Spear the bale, lift, and cut across the top and down the other flat side to peel the plastic off in one piece. In both cases, twine should then be removed before placing in the paddock and placing a feeding ring around the bale.

• The ensiling process usually completes within 2-6 weeks, depending on a large number factors. Yet, at essentially any point, the forage can be fed. The feeding rate should still be relatively quick, however, as excessive heating, as well as spoilage, could be significant if exposed for days or even hours.

Wastage and refusal is rarely an issue with feeding baled silage, unless a bale is being fed to too few animals. If silage remains when the time frame for feeding has been exceeded, put out a fresh bale. Forcing animals to eat waste or refused silage may force them to eat deteriorated material and can lead to animal health issues. Bale size, which can usually be adjusted on the baler, should be determined during the growing season by considering the number of animals and the feed out rate that will be needed during the feeding period.


6 things I learned from visiting US ‘mega-dairies’

Dairy farming in the US has become synonymous with the words “mega-dairy”.

While the scale of US dairy farms bears little resemblance to UK operations, there are some striking similarities and many of the challenges facing the UK dairy sector are also issues for US producers.

Our livestock editor, Rhian Price, was invited by World Wide Sires to attend its Global Training Centre in Washington state, where she toured dairy farms milking in excess of 5,000 cows.

Below, she reports on her findings and busts some myths about large-scale dairying.

1. Large-scale dairying categorically does not equate to poor animal welfare

We visited five farms during the 10-day trip, each milking between 2,500 and 35,000 cows.

Cow welfare on each unit was exemplary, with the largest even employing an animal welfare officer to be on call 24/7. It was his job to visit the dairy at regular intervals, look at ways it could make improvements and train staff.

Each dairy had strict protocols clearly displayed on walls detailing how staff should handle animals. Staff were encouraged to report bad behaviour by calling the welfare officer (his number was clearly displayed on posters).

Calf hutches on US dairy farm

They also had zero tolerance to animal cruelty, and anyone seen tail jerking or hitting any animal would be fired on the spot.

Alkathene pipes were banned. Instead, workers were supplied with paddles and bottles filled with stones, which rattle when shaken, to move cows. Cameras were everywhere to capture workers.

2. Animal activists are making farming difficult

Many dairy farmers have been forced to move further away from large cities and towns as pressure from animal activists intensifies.

On our journey through Yakima County – an area densely populated by dairies and fruit-growing farms – we passed farms that stood eerily empty.

The farmers had been forced off the land, unable to afford to challenge expensive lawsuits filed against them by anti-farming groups.

Most of the time the activists cite pollution or noise, and even though the farms haven’t broken any rules they simply can’t afford to contest the lawsuits, so the cheaper solution is to up sticks.

At one dairy they told us how they have a $10,000 (£7,500) bounty put up by one prominent lobby group which is determined to put them out of business.

3. Labour is a huge challenge

The dairy industry in the US is largely reliant on migrant labour from Mexico. 

Under the H-2A visa programme farmers can employ non-immigrant foreign workers temporarily. The problem is, these workers can’t stay for more than 12 months.

While this restriction suits fruit farms that require seasonal labour, it makes dairies – which require year-round employment – ineligible for the programme.

The visa process is bureaucratic and many farmers choose to pay firms specialising in visas to handle the immense amount of paperwork. They also guarantee the workers are legal.

Most of the diaries we visited use citizen verification systems such as E-verify to ensure their employees have the right to stay and work.

Others opt to use only American citizens or employees who have been granted legal residence by the government. 

Worker with cattle on US dairy

However, some estimates suggest half of workers on US farms are undocumented and working illegally.

To make things even more difficult, farms are being forced to increase wages to compete with better paid industries such as construction, where manual labourers receive $25/hour (£19).

The legal minimum wage in Washington is $12/hour (£9.26, compared with £8.21 in the UK for people aged 25+) but most dairies will pay upwards of $15/hour (£11.58) to attract staff, with more senior positions such as herd managers earning the equivalent of £60,000.

4. Open lots

The majority of cows are housed in open lots and bedded with compost manure.

Following heavy rainfall on the night we arrived, at first glance some of the pens looked quite dirty but the cows had plenty of space.

Another benefit is that cow slippages are infrequent, with minimal concrete at the feed bunk and parlour, and, without free stalls, cows can’t become trapped in cubicles.

Dairy cows in open lot on US dairy farm

Most of the dairies were running somatic cell counts below 150,000 cells/ml. Key to making the compost bedding work is drying it well enough.

Peak temperatures of 40C in the summer help this, but it can become more difficult to manage in the winter months.

The pens are scraped out three times a week and chain harrows behind the scraper keep the bedding friable.

The added bonus of using compost bedding is the farm doesn’t have to worry about exporting or spreading manure, with compost sold for fertiliser.

The only thing stored in pits is dirty water, although these can costs hundreds of thousands to build as they must be double lined with special liners and have a mandatory leak-detection system.

5. Hormones are banned

While there isn’t a universal US ban on using recombinant bovine somatotropin (RBST), a hormone that can increase milk production,  many milk processors have banned it.

Darigold, the main milk processor in the region we visited, banned it in 2006.

Medicine use on farm is regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration under the Pasteurised Milk Ordinance (PMO), which grants or removes approval of drugs. The anti-inflammatory Melixicam, for example, isn’t approved under the PMO.

As in the UK, farm assurance schemes are not required by the government but membership can be made mandatory by food processors.

Many dairy processors, including Darigold, now require farm suppliers to sign up to Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (Farm), which sets standards for animal care, environmental and antibiotics stewardship.

6. Protocols are key

With some of the farms employing up to 180 people, protocols are essential to ensure consistency.

Each area on the dairy has a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and members of staff have specific jobs they don’t deviate from.

This ensures tasks are done consistently well every day of the year, with key data regularly reviewed to see where improvements can be made.

About the Global Training Centre

The Global Training Centre is owned by breeding company World Wide Sires and offers management and reproductive training to people working within the dairy industry.

Training is delivered by the WWS team of vets and advisers and is a balance of classroom presentations and practical training on working dairy farms in Washington state.

For additional information on the availability and cost of courses, contact Michael Halliwell at or 07710 474145.


Dairy facial eczema (FE) costs New Zealand Dairy Farmers $100k annually

FE can cost dairy farmers at least $100,000 each year in lost milk production.

Dairy facial eczema (FE) can cost farmers at least $100,000 each year in lost milk production, a recent study has found.

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) Sustainable Farming Fund is supporting the Facial Eczema Action Group – made up of veterinarians, dairy farmers and rural professionals – to explore ways of raising awareness of FE so that more farmers take preventative action.

Many cows don’t show clinical signs of FE. As a result, farmers often don’t know why milk loss is happening and end up drying off their cows early.

“It’s hitting farmers hard in the pocket. They’re losing 0.14-0.35kg milk solids per cow per day,” said Emma Cuttance, a dairy veterinarian and head of Veterinary Enterprises Group (VetEnt) Research – which is leading the project. 

“We worked out that one of the herds in our study had lost $125,000 just in milk production.”i

She says zinc is currently the main way of treating FE. “But many farmers don’t administer enough to control the toxin that causes FE.”

Trial work in 2014, examining zinc concentrations in the blood of 1200 cattle from over 100 farms in the North Island, showed that about 70% of cattle did not have enough zinc to protect against FE.

“Blood testing is the best way to determine how badly affected the cows are if they have FE. However, getting farmers to do blood tests can be tricky because of the cost and time involved,” Cuttance said.

The project team brought in AgResearch to examine the wellbeing of cows affected by FE to see if there are other ways of identifying symptoms.

Steve Penno, director of investment programmes at MPI, said its support of the project recognised that FE was an issue that needed to be addressed.

“Whichever way you look at it, it’s in farmers’ best interests to proactively manage this disease, by improving cattle health and wellbeing and the bottom line.”

He says to help prevent the disease, farmers need to monitor the spore count on their own farm.

They are advised to start a management programme when spore counts trend upwards to 30,000 spores/g and continue until spore counts are 10,000 spores/g or below for at least three weeks. 

Blood testing is advised to check the effectiveness of zinc administration.


Little Things Can Make Big Difference in Dairy Farming

On dairies like many other businesses there are an abundance of day-to-day activities. Unlike other businesses, dairy farms are a 7 day a week, 24 hour a day, 365 day a year operation. The major tasks like feeding, milking, scraping, and youngstock care take priority daily. Major project changes like building a new barn or upgrading the parlor take time for planning and execution in addition to the day-to-day. So, it is not surprising that the “little things” can get short changed from a time to time. Becoming more aware of and focusing some time on the “little things” can have a big impact on productivity and profitability.

One “little thing” to consider is feed push-ups. Cows eat more when fresh feed is available, after they return from milking and when feed is pushed up within reach. If feedbunks are overcrowded, the more timid animals may wait to eat, often when the feed has already formed that ridge from the more dominant cows eating, resulting in lower dry matter intake and lower production. The timing of feed push-ups may be just as important, if not more important than how many get done in a day. Scheduling work around the cows’ needs may be more effective. Increasing dry matter intake by one pound per cow per day can increase milk yield by about two pounds. So if one pound of dry matter costs $0.12 and a pound of milk is $0.18 then there is a three-found return on getting that one extra pound of intake. Of course this varies by stage of lactation, current ration, etc — but on average this is a pretty good return on investment.

One of those other “little things” to consider is timing. Whether it is consistent feed drop times or timing of synchronization programs and breeding, when things happen matters to the final results. How compliant are workers to the timing of tasks in the operation and is this “little thing” costing big dollars? Research presented by Dr. Katy Proudfoot at the 2019 Penn State Nutrition Conference showed that feed delays on alternate days caused increase stress in animals. Inaccurate timing of synchronization programs with breeding times can decrease conception rates and therefore pregnancy rates. Depending on the herd, this can be a big dollar impact. Spending time, rather than any more money and paying attention to the timing of tasks and adjusting when necessary can also result in a positive return on investment.

One last “little thing” is simply courtesy. Taking time to thank an employee for a job well done or to recognize effort for improvement when someone is continuing to struggle with a task can go a long way in impacting morale and productivity. When stressed – whether from a simple bad day or pressures from outside the farm, we often react more abruptly and omit those two important words that we teach our children – “please” and “thank you.” Again those little things can make that big difference.

While the day to day of operating a dairy can be intense at times, don’t overlook the impact that those many, many “little things” that may be neglected can have. Take time to make a list of “little things” for your dairy. Or better yet, enlist your trusted advisors to help with creating that list. Then develop a plan for monitoring how well those little things are getting done. If there is a gap between what is happening and what you would like to happen, then schedule time each week or each month to start narrowing those gaps by not losing sight of the “little things.” Take them one at a time and remember to continue to monitor to maintain your progress. After all, we have heard so many times that it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.


On-Farm Culture: The Smart Approach to Clinical Mastitis Treatment

Does every cow with mastitis need treated? Have you ever wondered if the treatment you are giving is effectively curing the case of clinical mastitis? What if her immune system has already cleared the infection? On-farm culturing allows for more informed decisions to be made regarding treatment and can help answer questions about whether to treat a quarter or not.

Mastitis is associated with the most frequent antibiotic use in dairy cows. One study found that the cost of treatment and discarded milk associated with clinical mastitis could exceed $350 per cow per year. Antibiotics are frequently used to treat clinical mastitis, however often antibiotics are either ineffective or not needed to treat the disease. Producers that use unnecessary antibiotics will lose profit and run the risk of developing antibiotic resistance on their farm.

Identifying the species of bacteria responsible for causing a mastitis infection can be beneficial in determining treatment options and reducing unnecessary antibiotic use. Management strategies can be changed to help prevent specific pathogen types in a herd. Staphylococcus aureus is an example of a pathogen that is transmitted through the parlor during milking. Wearing gloves, teat dipping, and milking infected cows last are some of the ways this pathogen can be prevented and controlled. Identifying the pathogen on a farm can help producers change management strategies to prevent additional cows from being infected. On-farm culture may also help a producer decide not to treat a cow. Results in one study found 10 to 40% of cultures from clinical mastitis showed no growth following culturing. Cultures that show no bacterial growth usually require no treatment because the immune system has already cleared the bacterial infection.

Traditionally, producers send milk samples into local laboratories for culture results. One downfall of laboratory testing is the time from milk submission until results are in a producers’ hands can take several days. This time lag associated with laboratory results contributes to producers making uneducated treatment decisions. Implementation of an on-farm culture program can help producers make proactive treatment decisions in a timelier manner. Submitting a sample for bacteriological culture can also be costly for a producer. On-farm culturing is often more cost-effective than obtaining laboratory results.

So how do you get started with an on-farm culture program? Penn State University has created a quad plate culturing system for dairy producers. Each quadrant of the plate can selectively grow different species of bacteria. Quadrant I MacConkey’s Agar (MAC) detects Gram-negative bacteria such as coliforms and non-coliforms. Quadrant II is Edwards Modified Agar (EMCO) and detects Streptococci bacteria. Quadrant III is Baird Parker Agar (BPA) which detects Staphylococci bacteria. Finally, quadrant IIII is Blood Agar (BA) capable of growing most types of bacteria and is used to confirm the results of other quadrants.

In order for a producer to get started culturing they will need the following supplies: sterile test tubes to collect aseptic milk samples, sterile swabs to plate milk onto agar plates, agar plates to grow bacteria, and an incubator that remains at a constant temperature to grow bacteria. Once a milk sample is aseptically taken it should be plated onto a quad plate. Plates should be incubated for 24 hours and then observed for preliminary bacterial growth, an additional 24 hours of incubation may be needed to collect final results. Penn State has also created a free user guide which can help producers identify bacterial growth on their plates. Farm personnel handling on-farm culture responsibilities should consult with their herd veterinarian in order to make appropriate treatment decisions for their herd based on culture results.

On-farm culture cannot identify every mastitis-causing bacterium on your farm. For example, Mycoplasma bovis is a microorganism that requires special media and conditions to grow, which can only be done in laboratories. On-farm culture is designed to help producers make more proactive treatment decisions regarding mastitis. Producers will be able to identify cows with no bacterial growth; these cows have self-cured the bacterial infection. Producers will also be able to identify Gram-negative pathogens which are often self-limiting or unresponsive to treatment, or Gram-positive pathogens which generally respond more effectively to antibiotic treatment, although some are not susceptible to antibiotics. To make a treatment decision udder health history of the cow should be examined and a consultation with a veterinarian should be set up to implement a treatment protocol.


Four Good Reasons for Using Beef Sire Semen in a Dairy Herd

There was a time when the « purebred registered » females in a herd were all inseminated with proven sires or sires from progeny testing programs. Practically all of the heifers were destined to be replacement animals. Only when heifers reached first calving were the best selected during their first lactation.

We now select at breeding

For a growing number of producers, the way of doing things described above is now a thing of the past. We are increasingly seeing replacement animals being selected at breeding, and those that will not be kept as replacement animals are being inseminated with beef sire semen. According to our statistics from early 2019, this is the case for more than 10 % of inseminated dairy cows. (This rate was less than 3 % before 2012) We estimate that by the end of 2019, 10 % will probably even be a conservative estimate. In the month of October, the market for crossbred male calves reached a differential of $1.70/pound, ($2.71/lb crossbred males vs. $1/lb Holstein males). The use of beef sire semen has actually reached close to 40% in some dairy herds! 

Why use beef sire semen in a dairy herd? 

The increasingly interesting offer of sexed semen by A.I. centres, (volume, genetic quality and fertilizing capacity), the advantageous prices for crossbred calves and the coming of genomics are all factors that influence the usage rates by dairy producers. 

  1. A higher level of sexed semen use increases the proportion of heifers from the best females of the herd. For example, if 50 % of the females in the herd are inseminated with sexed semen, beef sire semen can be used on around 25 % of females while still ensuring that there will be sufficient replacement animals for the herd (the other 25 % are bred with conventional semen).
  2. The use of genomic testing is progressively being adopted by dairy producers. Thus, so is the certainty of the genetic potential of female calves at birth. Tracking the best subjects in the herd from a very young age allows us to choose the next generation of females at breeding. The cost of genotyping is going down and the results are available for a growing number of traits, several of which are genetic faults.
  3. Females that are not kept as dams  can be inseminated to produce calves that have a plus-value at a young age, crossbred dairy/beef calves. The advantages of a good gestation rate with beef sires, the reduced cost of semen as compared to elite sires from the same breed (proven or genomic) and the price of calf sales at auction are all good reasons to use more beef sire semen. 
  4. The market for freshly calved heifers remains limited by the availability of quota and national production needs, which have been fairly stable over the past two years. The cost of raising a heifer to calving is around $3,000 and if the market for a young fresh cow is only $2.000, producers are not inclined to raise more heifers than are needed to meet the needs of their farm.

Compass integrates the use of beef sire semen into herd management strategies 

Lactanet and Holstein Canada’s Compass software is a tool that was designed to help producers make better herd management decisions related to genetics. Decisions such as genotyping, sire semen choices, and whether or not to raise the heifers born on the farm that can help to maximize returns on investments made on replacement animals. This new software allows the producer to specify their usage rate of beef sire semen and to target the females that are worthy of being inseminated with sexed semen.

Keep an eye out for my upcoming articles on the various herd management possibilities made possible by Compass. 

Another article on this subject: Use of Beef Sire Semen in the Dairy Industry

Compass :

US dairy margins widen for September

The September margin in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Margin Coverage Program increased by $0.56 per hundredweight from the August margin. The September margin reached $10.41 per hundredweight, the second-consecutive month margins have fallen outside the threshold necessary to trigger a federal payment.

The increase is the greatest seen since the beginning of 2017, allowing for the change in the alfalfa-hay price in the margin formula’s feed-cost calculation. The September all-milk price was $0.40 per hundredweight greater than August. The Dairy Margin Coverage calculated feed-cost for September was $0.16 per hundredweight. That was less than August, mainly due to a reduction in corn price.

The Dairy Margin Coverage margin is currently projected to remain greater than $9.50 per hundredweight for the remainder of 2019 and during all of 2020. Milk prices are expected to generate most of the monthly changes in the margin forecast. Feed costs are expected to remain relatively stable during that time.

Visit and search for XA9ktjDaF1o to watch a National Milk Producers Federation video addressing the use of the Dairy Margin Coverage Program. Visit for more information.


Effects of feeding frequency on dairy cattle

When cows are fed twice per day, less feed sorting will occur. Photo: Ronald Hissink

Feed delivery frequency is an important strategy in modern dairy management, as it affects feed intake, digestive physiology, animal health, hormonal profile, milk production, resistance to thermal stress and economic returns. This article provides a review of these aspects and their responses to different feeding frequency levels.

It was found that increasing the frequency of feed provision (2x) increases the amount of time cows spent feeding each day and also changes the distribution of daily feeding time, resulting in cows having more equal access to feed throughout the day compared to the situation when feed is provided only once per day. Another result of feeding twice per day was that less feed sorting occurred. When dairy cows sort feed, they usually select the finer and/or smaller particles. In one study, there was 8% more forage remaining in the bunk when the cows were fed once compared to when they were fed twice. Since longer particles are a significant source of fibre, sorting increases the risk that cows will not consume adequate fibre to maintain healthy rumen function.

When cows are fed twice per day, less feed sorting will occur. Photo: Ronald Hissink

When cows are fed twice per day, less feed sorting will occur. Photo: Ronald Hissink

Rumen functions

When animals are fed 5-6 times per day, there will be a stable pH in the rumen at levels ranging from about 5.5 to 5.8, but when they are fed only 1-2 times per day, the pH will vary from about 5.1 to 7.1 within the same day. With a stable pH value in the rumen, the digestibility of dietary fibre will be increased due to the increased microbial activity in the rumen, which results from the increased energy level needed for such activity. High-frequency feeding also reduces the amount of ammonia produced in the rumen following digestion of protein, indicating low rates of degradable protein formation and high rates of non-degradable protein, which is used for productive purposes. The increased ratio of non-degradable protein relative to the degradable protein in the rumen can probably be attributed to the increased rate of passage of digesta from the rumen with high-frequency feeding allowing insufficient time for degradation.

Metabolic disorders

There has been some concern that providing feed once a day may result in slug feeding, which could predispose a cow to sub-acute rumen acidosis. Alternatively, more frequent offerings of feed may result in cows spreading out their feeding times more evenly throughout the day. Further, a steady input of nutrients into the rumen over the course of the day should benefit rumen function, which in turn may reduce the risk of sub-acute rumen acidosis.

Hormonal changes

There are a number of hormonal changes associated with feeding frequency (Table 1). The increased production of growth hormones in the 4x group resulted in a daily gain of 1.40kg while those in the 1x group gained 1.27kg per day with similar feed intake levels. The reduced insulin secretion with frequent feeding helps produce carcasses with more muscle and less fat since insulin is positively related to carcass fat formation. Also, lower production of thyroid hormones with frequent feeding helps reduce the metabolic rate and heat increment and hence improves energy utilisation for growth and other productive purposes.

Milk production

In one study, milk production was increased by 3% when feeding frequency was increased, probably because of the increased feed intake. Milk fat concentration also increases by 8% with frequent feeding, mainly due to the consumption of larger amounts of fibre, as explained above. With increased fibre consumption, there is increased production of acetic acid in the rumen, which acts as a precursor of milk fat synthesis. There was no evidence, however, that concentrations of milk protein and lactose can be affected by changes in feeding frequency.

Mitigation of thermal stress

Increasing feeding frequency should reduce heat production because it promotes a uniform rate of absorption of nutrients and spreads the total heat increment due to feeding over a longer time period. Frequent feeding of heat-stressed cows also helps prevent the problem with milk fat by maintaining uniform rumen fermentation and permitting a higher intake of concentrates without a decrease in the rumen pH or the acetate-to-propionate ratio. During winter, animals are exposed to low-temperature extremes and windy and wet weather. These variables can double their daily calorie needs and, if these are not met, this could result in sickness and a greater risk of death, especially in young calves. By consuming smaller volumes more frequently, calves can better fend off diarrhoea or digestive disturbances at any time of year.

Profit potential

It was reported that 97.1% (34 of 35) of the calves in the 3x feeding group entered the milking string. In comparison, 80% (28 of 35) of calves fed twice per day entered the milking herd. This means that for every six calves fed three times a day one additional heifer entered lactation. Calves fed three times per day also averaged 516kg more milk and calved 16 days earlier. This can translate to improved herd longevity, while increasing the number of replacement heifers that ­successfully make it to the milking line.


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