While a heatwave continues to blaze across New York conjuring up thoughts of fans, sprinklers, shades and sand, most people may not realize these are the same tools employed by dairy farmers to keep their cows cool and comfortable during the warmer months.
Many farmers use large propeller ceiling fans in barns to help move warm air away from the cows while circulating in fresh air. On Reyncrest Farm in Corfu, N.Y., they have over 250 fans to help keep their cows chill. “The fans automatically turn on when the thermometer hits 65 degrees,” says owner Kelly Reynolds. “Our fans are spread throughout our barns and milking parlor. We have about one fan for every six cows.”
Some farms have sprinkler systems that are automatically activated when the barn gets warm. Like lawn sprinklers only elevated, a series of pipes run the length of the barn above the cows. Sprinkler heads disperse water in a 360-degree radius to provide an even spread of water across the pen. Once the cow’s skin is soaked, sprinklers are turned off to allow for evaporation, which is actually the process that removes heat from the cow.
Other farms use misters to cool cows. While sprinklers and misters both use water, misters actually cool the air surrounding the cows. The cows never get wet, instead, the fog that is produced by the misters evaporates before it reaches the cows and cools the air. The misters produce about a 10-degree drop in temperature in the barn.
Another simple, yet automated feature of many barns that not only keeps cows cool in the summer, but also warm in the winter, are the shades that make up the exterior walls. Shades are controlled by a thermostat to open and shut depending on the temperature. In the past, barns were designed so that exterior walls could be removed during the summer months. Shades are like curtains — they can be opened and shut easily as the climate changes.
This year, Reyncrest Farm installed shades in some areas of the barn. “The activity monitors worn by each cow track panting, which is one way cows abate heat, so the more panting, the hotter the cow is. This really helped us pinpoint a few areas in the pen that were getting hotter at certain times of the day. I think it’s pretty cool that we can respond to what the cow’s activity is telling us. We installed shades in those areas and have seen a big improvement based on the amount of time they spend resting comfortably,” says Reynolds.
While you might dream of laying on a beach for relaxation this summer, some cows get to do that every day. On average, a cow spends about 14 hours a day just resting, so a comfortable bed is important. Cows are very large and sand beds provide traction and support, allowing them to get up and down with ease. Because sand is so forgiving, it disperses the cow’s weight over a wide area, providing comfort and promoting longer resting times. Sand is also an ideal bedding for cows because it stays cool inside the barn.
Cow care is a priority for dairy farmers all year round as it directly affects milk quality and cow health. According to Reynolds, many of the decisions made on the farm are a direct result of how the cows are acting. “Monitoring the activity trackers worn by our cows and watching how much they are laying down, eating or their general demeanor helps us to decide where we might need to make an improvement in the barn or change a routine,” says Reynolds. “It’s all about keeping our cows cool and comfortable.”
JDS Communications, a new gold open access journal from the American Dairy Science Association® (ADSA®), invites you to submit your research. An official publication of ADSA, JDS Communications is being launched in response to the rapid growth of Journal of Dairy Science® (JDS) over the past decade.
JDS Communications is an open access, peer-reviewed journal that publishes short, concise original research that relates to the production and processing of milk or milk products intended for human consumption.
“As incoming editor in chief, I’d like to welcome you to submit papers to our new journal. JDS Communications will offer a fresh and different publication option for dairy scientists. We are interested in high-quality research studies that are focused, hypothesis-driven, and designed to answer a specific question on the production or processing of milk or milk products intended for human consumption. We aim for rapid turnaround and a short time to publication,” Matthew Lucy, PhD, said.
As of August 18, 2020, the Journal of Dairy Science® (JDS) will no longer receive new submissions for short communications, hot topics, or technical notes. Instead, these article types will go to JDS Communications. Authors who have an article submitted to JDS and in review will be offered the opportunity to publish their article in JDS or move it to JDS Communications. We are waiving the open access charges for the first 25 articles published in JDS Communicationsas an incentive to our inaugural authors.
“The launch of JDS Communications is further proof that ADSA is strengthening its position and expanding its brand nationally and internationally, attracting dairy scientists who want to publish in our journals and attend our meetings. JDS Communications helps fulfill our goal of promoting science, education, and service for the global dairy sector,” Rafael Jimenez-Flores, PhD, ADSA president, said.
The initial editorial team will consist of Matthew Lucy (University of Missouri), editor in chief and Physiology section editor; MaryAnne Drake (North Carolina State), Dairy Foods section editor; Pam Ruegg (Michigan State), Health, Behavior, and Well-Being section editor; Jennie Pryce (Agriculture Victoria & La Trobe University), Genetics section editor; and John Roche (NZ Ministry for Primary Industries), Animal Nutrition and Farm Systems section editor. These individuals were selected based on their past service as JDS section editors, their extensive expertise within their respective fields, and their broad understanding of dairy science.
“I hope that you as authors, readers, and reviewers will support this exciting new journal for research in the dairy sciences. I appreciate the efforts of the many people who have come together to create this new journal that will serve the global dairy science community,” said Lucy.
About JDS Communications
JDS Communications is an official journal of the American Dairy Science Association and publishes high-impact and concise research that relates to the production and processing of milk or milk products intended for human consumption. Manuscripts for review can be submitted to https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/jdsc. www.jdscommun.org
About the American Dairy Science Association
The American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) is an international organization of educators, scientists, and industry representatives who are committed to advancing the dairy industry and keenly aware of the vital role the dairy sciences play in fulfilling the economic, nutritive, and health requirements of the world’s population. It provides leadership in scientific and technical support to sustain and grow the global dairy industry through generation, dissemination, and exchange of information and services. Together, ADSA members have discovered new methods and technologies that have revolutionized the dairy industry. www.adsa.org
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray’s Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers. www.elsevier.com
Have you heard a dairy farmer say … “It is my data! … Why should I share my data? … Just so that someone else can make money from my data! … It costs me to generate my data! … What are you going to pay me for my data?” In dairy cattle genetic improvement, these comments are often aimed at A.I. organizations or breeding companies who have access to but do not pay, as they once did, for the use of breeders’ individual animal and herd performance data.
Where is this ‘Pay Me’ Approach Coming From?
Breeders today see that their futures are threatened when it comes to revenue from their breeding stock sales. They have much less (if any) income, as a percent of total revenue, from animal and embryos sales than they had thirty years ago. No one is beating down their doors for open heifers, springing bred heifers or quality second calvers. They still participate in type classification and DHI programs, but their officially documented animal data is not being asked for. Grade females with documentation fetch as many dollars from sales agents as do purebreds. High herd performance averages (BAA, milk/fat/protein yield averages, …) do not bring buyers to farms seeking surplus animals.
Why Participate in Animal Improvement Programs?
So, breeders are saying why spend the money to participate in industry offered breed improvement programs? These breeders know full well that they need the data for their on-farm use but question if organizations beyond their farm gate have the right to use their data without paying for it.
Nothing remains the same forever. At the farm level, animal and herd data once used to generate revenue now has the primary use of helping to keep costs under control.
But … what is the big picture of this matter?
The Data Focus is Now Value Added
The profitable cow for most dairy farmers has evolved or is evolving to a healthy, long-lived, efficient converter, high fat and protein producing cow. As well, dairy farmers are making extensive use of sexed semen, breeding the low-end females to beef semen and buying systems and technology that enhance herd management and help cut costs.
Every piece of data, old and new, must provide a return on the investment … It must have a value added at the farm of origin level. It is no longer just how much milk, fat or protein or if she classified above breed average. It is – does she do that and more – calved without difficulty at 22 months of age, conceives on 1st or 2nd service, does not get sick, does not have feet/hoof problems and remains in the herd to at least 72 months of age (completes 4 lactations). The ideal cow needs to be much more genetically and performance wise than she was even ten years ago.
Value Added Answers New Questions
Even though the focus in the press and social media is on the genomics for young animals, breeders want and need to have the profitable lifetime cow. That requires that on-farm finances need to be given a much higher priority for inclusion in data captured and reported than they have been up until now. Without including the dollars and cents relative to a trait – do the trait genetic indexes have worthwhile value?
It goes even further. Some old beliefs may not hold their perceived value. Do wide bodied cows consume more feed? Will a2a2 animals generate more revenue in the future? Are there bloodlines or breeds that are more profitable at converting feed than other bloodlines or breeds?
Viability and Sustainability are High Priority
We need to dig much deeper using more data points so cows, dairy farms and the industry can be viable and sustainable. More production is not always better. The fact is we talk value added but we are not using the data to actually determine if it is adding value. The dairy cattle improvement industry needs expanded thinking when it comes to using all data.
How Did the Dairy Cattle Improvement Industry Get to this Point with Data?
Many often blame the introduction of genomics as the reason that breeders are unable to get back some return for sharing their data.
With the introduction of genomic sire indexes, A.I. stopped paying incentive dollars to breeders that sampled young sires. Payment in return for breeders’ data that was used to daughter prove the young sires. It so happened that, at the same time, semen prices for proven sires dropped and semen sales volume for proven sires went from 80% to 30% of the market. And so, the money was not there for A.I. to continue their young sire incentive programs.
Dramatic Expansion in Data
In this past decade progressive dairy farmers have been purchasing more tools to evaluate their herds in order to improve their herd management practices. Breeds did not change the services they provided while milk recording expanded their scope of services. New entrepreneurial service providers entered the dairy cattle improvement industry and many more services and technologies were offered to dairy farms. The result is that there has been a dramatic expansion in data and data points for cows and herds.
Who Analyzes the data?
Yet in many cases the increased data points are not linked. Dairy farmers must sort through all the data and draw their own conclusions and make decisions based solely on their herd’s data. Of course, all data capture costs money so dairy farms have incurred more expense and yet are having to link the data on their own. No wonder dairy farmers are saying, “It is my data I paid for it all. How do I get a return on my data investment? My data has a value beyond my farm. Am I seeing benefit from my data used by organizations?”
Has the dairy improvement industry not kept up with farmers’ needs when it comes to linking, analyzing and providing information for animal and herd advancement? Likely, that is partially true. But all is not lost. Organizations are now seeing the need to link all data points to provide more complete answers for dairy farmers.
Everyone Benefits from Sharing Data
When a farm’s data is not available for others everyone looses … original farm … other farms … service providers … the industry.
Here is a partial list of the benefits of shared data for farms and for the industry:
Benchmarking Broadly based guideposts for animals and herds have been and will continue to be integral for farms to be able to improve. Industry databases containing large volumes of animal and herd data are needed to develop the guideposts.
Accuracy of Prediction and Forecasting Broad based animal and herd data is needed to know performance and trends. As well as for all stakeholders to predict and plan.
Research and Development Innovation is critical for any industry to progress. Extensive data along with both public and private funding are needed for research and development.
Genetic Advancement Large comprehensive databases are needed to expand the economically important traits for which dairy cattle are genetically evaluated. CDN/Lactanet research has shown that half of the progress in on-farm profitability comes about because of the genetic improvement of animals.
Product Guarantees Databases that include monitoring of location of production, of production methodology, of product identification and of product movement are important for consumers to know that the food they buy meets standards, is safe and wholesome. In the future producers, processors and marketers will be required to guarantee their products
Results of Industry Collaboration and Initiatives Dairy farmers have been asking for their service organizations to expand and link the services offered. Elimination of duplication, sharing of services and efficiencies within services are important to dairy farmers. To achieve all these animal, herd and farm data is necessary.
New Technology and Systems The rate of implementation of technology and new systems is occurring at a break-neck speed. The result is more and new information to manage by and for more effective use of labor and feeds. Past animal and herd data are paramount to create the new equipment and management softwares for not only milk cows but also for calves, heifers, dry cows and farm and industry systems.
It is Check-In Time for How the Dairy Industry Deals with Data
Shared data will be the foundation on which the dairy industry will build its future viability and sustainability.
All industries (auto, medical, energy, …etc.) are changing their approach to who has access to individual organizations’ data. It is not who owns or controls the data, – it is who uses the data to implement new.
No person, service provider or industry can exist as an island onto themselves.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
All farm data needs to be used on the farm of origin and in the industry. Sharing data is not a “no way” – it is a definitely “yes do for success”. Opportunity is out there for farms that share their data but, in return, there must be ways to improve income, efficiencies, cost cutting, management improvements, and more. Sharing dairy data is sound business.
In this article we will attempt to address five significant challenges with dairy cows as we attempt to move towards a more ecological/circular agricultural system.
1. Weight based production systems
While this is arguably a bigger problem for crops, the livestock industry is certainly not helped by much of its value being determined by how many litres of milk and kg of meat are produced. Humans run on nutrients, not weight or calorific value of foods. If our food trade was based on valuing the nutritional value/density of food rather than the weight of it, then this would have powerful downstream effects. In the dairy industry, some countries have quality bonuses for Somatic Cell Count, fat, and protein content. This is the direction to travel in, and countries with quality bonuses are correlated with higher animal and farmer welfare standards. Technology could improve this system further by giving us individual animal feed intake nutrition data that can be correlated to the nutritional quality of their milk.
Manure management remains one of the biggest costs and problems in livestock agriculture and is responsible for 23% of the emissions associated with cows (9.5% directly from manure, 13.5% from applying manure to crops as fertilizer). Additionally, there are social sustainability issues associated with slurry spreading and the manure lagoons common among larger operations draw community complaints related to the odour emitted.
For large scale dairies, anaerobic digesters (“AD”) and solid liquid separators(“SLS”) offer a genuine solution to this problem. Anaerobic digesters and SLS’ eliminate much of the emissions associated with raw manure storage (25% and 46%, respectively), while also providing fertilizer. AD also provides energy, which further reduces net emissions. AD in particular is starting to see heavy adoption in places like California. Indeed, California believes that 30 anaerobic digesters have reduced state Ag emissions by 25% or 2.2m tonnes, the equivalent of taking 460,000 cars off the road.
Neither of these technologies have demonstrated lower emissions than mineral fertilizer for field application, but we are seeing some new technologies that may resolve this. Neither AD nor SLS are applicable to pasture systems.
Manure could potentially be used as a feedstock for insects like black soldier fly, with the insect larvae then fed to fish/poultry/pigs/pets, but this remains early stage with little demonstrations of scalability.
Modern agriculture is a highly specialised system that has extensively leveraged genetic selection to enable us to create more food with less inputs. This has created extreme genetic uniformity that renders the entire industry highly susceptible to pandemics due to the low level of genetic diversity – a commercial plant or animal is terribly similar no matter where on the planet it may be.
With cows, 14% of our species are “international breeds”. Examples of these in dairy are the Holsteins, Friesians, Jerseys that have become ubiquitous in global dairy. In US dairy, Holstein bull genetics can be traced back to just two bulls, and overall the ~9m US dairy cows have a level of genetic diversity that one would expect from a group of 50 cows. The US also has an 8% inbreeding co-efficient, where 8% of an animal’s genetics are direct copies of its parent’s genes. This is increasing at a rate of .3 to .4% per year. This is an unsustainable situation that needs urgent resolution. Cross breeds are becoming more common in response to this and there are companies attempting to create GMO and CRISPR based applications for cows, but these technologies bring their own issues.
There remains a lot of potential upside in traditional breeding. Currently most genetics are selected based on milk production. What if you started selecting cows on different factors, such as those that demonstrate stronger immune systems? Animals that need less medical attention can create higher margins for farmers. In 2022, EU countries will no longer be permitted to use human reserve antibiotics in veterinary medicine, nor any unprescribed animal antimicrobials. This follows a general trend of reducing antibiotic use in EU farming. These trends create further opportunity to improve cow genetics to reduce susceptibility to disease. The Roslin institute recently released an atlas of cattle genes to help show what key traits we may leverage.
4. Value/Price of Milk
There is overwhelming evidence of improved human health in response to moderate dairy intake. In many parts of the world, one can walk into a shop and buy milk at a cheaper price than water, which has no nutritional value beyond hydration. And it transpires that milk hydrates humans better than water! This situation exists for a broad variety of reasons, including government policies to increase intake for health reasons, processors and retailers getting a higher share of the revenue, to supermarkets selling it as a loss leader in order to sell other higher margin products. Whatever the causative reasons, low milk prices have certainly done the farmer no favours.
One of the best ways a consumer can help create a more sustainable dairy industry is to recognise milk for the quality product that is, and consequently pay more for milk that is produced in accordance with consumer values. A more profitable dairy industry is more economically sustainable, enabling it to spend more capital on improving environmental and social sustainability.
Increasingly the consumer is sceptical of BigAg companies (rightly or wrongly) and likes the idea of buying from farmers. There are some wonderful case studies of farmers doing their own branding and bottling (in particular, this Arethusa Farms milk brand from the people behind Manolo Blahnik USA is a great example of what is possible). The dairy machinery company Lely recently released a farm level processing unit, that enables a dairy with as few as 55 cows to process, bottle and brand their own milk. During Covid-19, we have also seen an increase in farms delivering milk direct to the consumer, just like in the old days. Less centralised processing with more automation can also help to improve dairy resilience should another pandemic like Covid-19 occur in the future.
5. Pastoral systems/system variations.
Dairy efficiency/environmental statistics generally get presented by global averages. This paints a hugely different image of the modern commercial dairy industry versus the reality. Most global dairy cows exist in pastoral environments in lower income countries. This system of production is not in any way comparable to modern dairy practices and makes dairy look like part of our environmental problem rather than a source of environmental solutions. For example, the average dairy cow in India produces 1,200 kg of milk per year, with emissions of 52.4kg of CO2e/kg of protein. The average US dairy cow in a facility with an anaerobic digester produces 10,500kg of milk per year with emissions of 21.4kg of CO2e/kg of protein. If all cows in the world produced with the efficiency of the US, we could reduce the global dairy herd from 268m cows to 69m cows while still producing the same volume of milk.
The Oxford Martin school believe that we can get to net zero emissions for agriculture and can even start using livestock as a source of global cooling. The logic is based on the fact that methane has a half-life of 10 years vs 1,000 years for carbon (even though it is common to incorrectly treat methane as a carbon coefficient with a 1,000 year half-life). As cows operate on a biogenic cycle, their net emissions remain stable while the herd numbers remain stable. If you reduce the global herd numbers, then this has a massive positive impact on total emissions, resulting a net cooling effect:
If you take dairy farming today as a baseline, cows look like part of the problem. If you take dairy farming in 1950 as the baseline, it is apparent that dairy farmers are part of the solution and require our support.
Dairy farmers have demonstrated a remarkable effort in reducing environmental impact and improving standards through what has been a highly volatile operating environment. These farmers deserve our celebration and support. As we enter into a more a digital world, utmost effort must be made to ensure that farmers are given access to the new tools that will enable them to continue to be part of our global efforts to create sustainable abundance for all.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor today visited LIC to view its herd testing facilities and new multi-million genomic analysis technology which will ultimately put the dairy industry in a stronger position as it prepares for its role in New Zealand’s economic recovery after COVID-19.
The Minister toured LIC’s Riverlea Road herd testing and GeneMark facility in Hamilton with LIC’s Chief Executive Wayne McNee, Chief Scientist Richard Spelman and General Manager Operations and Service David Chin. He was impressed with the delivery capabilities of the new equipment installed just last week which will test around 300,000 calves this spring, delivering significant benefits to farmers and ultimately New Zealand.
LIC’s Wayne McNee says the newly-installed Illumina technology from the USA will enable dairy farmers to better identify their most productive animals and reduce the risk of culling offspring of top-performing cows.
“Each year around 25% of calves born are either mis-mothered, mis-tagged or mis-recorded. This can lead to farmers accidentally culling the offspring of highly productive cows, or those sired through our artificial breeding programme. It can also lead to the retention of calves of lower genetic value. To stop this happening, and enhance productivity, we carry out whole herd DNA parentage testing providing more accurate ancestry information for each season’s calves, reducing inbreeding and ensuring a true breeding worth (BW) for animals,” McNee says.
“Our new technology allows us to obtain more information from an animals DNA. This will give LIC the scope to tailor our existing parentage offering, using DNA assays, and target discoveries as they arise. It’s a significant investment by LIC but one we expect our farmer shareholders will increasingly benefit from over future seasons.”
Once calving starts in August, LIC will use the new automated technology to better scan and analyse the DNA profiles of calves from across the country captured through a tiny tissue sample (TSU) taken from their ear. The equipment will scan for, and target very specific pieces of genetic information. It will enable more animals to be assessed once the busy spring season commences where typically 20,000 samples a week are analysed.
LIC’s Chief Scientist, Richard Spelman says there has been significant advancements in DNA sequencing and parentage technology in the past decade with higher throughput and data analysis capabilities.
“We’re excited to be the first in New Zealand to use this new technology including the NovaSeq which can sequence entire genomes from DNA smaller than the head of a pin. It’s an incredible leap forward in capability and a huge advancement for supporting better breeding decisions at a critical juncture in New Zealand’s farming history.”
Spelman says the benefits of LIC’s DNA parentage testing will only continue to increase over time with LIC having processed more than three million cow samples since it began DNA profiling in 2009.
“Most of our farmers test their herds annually as the more years they test for, the more animals they have full parentage information on. It means farmers have up-to-date records and more accurate breeding worth information which only serves to add value to their herd. The parentage testing can also be combined with other tests, such as a gene test which identifies what cows produce A2/A2 milk and a test that detects the BVD virus in individual animals.”
McNee says the New Zealand cow population is decreasing and farmers are aware that it needs to be milking better not more cows. “Our technology investment is designed to support this sentiment and allow us to provide greater future insights into positive traits of the New Zealand dairy cow. We’re excited about what it can offer farmers and were delighted to show the Minster the new equipment during his visit.”
Prebiotics. Probiotics. Essential oils. Organic acids. You’ve probably seen one or all of these ingredients on packaging at the grocery store or in a food advertisement. All four ingredients fall into a category called eubiotics and can be found in livestock feed, too.
“Eubiotics in human nutrition isn’t new – in fact, essential oils and herbs have been used in many cultures to support health and wellness for thousands of years,” says Dan Baum, president of DBC Ag Products. “We didn’t know the science behind eubiotics for best use in livestock until much later compared to human nutrition. But, now, we know there’s much to be gained.”
For more than 35 years, Baum helped bring eubiotics to the forefront of digestive health in livestock, particularly for young calves. His family’s century-old sweet bologna business used eubiotics to help create a shelf-stable fermented sausage, and learnings helped bridge the gap from human to livestock.
Learn the in’s and out’s of eubiotics:
What are eubiotics?
Eubiotics are a class of feed additives including prebiotics, probiotics, essential oils and organic acids. They help provide a healthy balance of microbiota in the animal’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract, supporting normal digestive health and a healthy immune system.
Eubiotics derives from the Greek term eubiosis, which translates to “healthy life” and is associated with bacterial homeostasis. Eubiotics can be helpful for animals of all life stages.
How do eubiotics work?
Traditional livestock eubiotics work as follows:
Probiotics deliver viable microorganisms that help maintain a natural population balance of probiotic microorganisms in the GI tract to support normal digestive health.
Prebiotics provide a food source for naturally occurring microorganisms in the gut to help maintain proper flora and support digestion.
Organic acids help provide nutritional support for the mucosal lining of the digestive tract, which is key to a healthy, active microbiome in the GI tract.
Essential oils offer flavoring for appetite, while supporting normal gut health and digestive function.
Combined, these eubiotics work synergistically to help maintain proper digestion, normal digestive health and support a functioning immune system. And, when paired with less traditional eubiotics, there’s even more to gain.
“Other less traditional feed ingredients, like egg proteins, specialized whey proteins, dried kelp, yucca schidigera and psyllium seed husk, have shown the ability to support a healthy gut through eubiosis,” says David Mathes, director of sales and marketing at DBC Ag Products. “When combined with traditional eubiotics, these ingredients help form a total package to help calves perform to their full potential.”
Individual calves may respond differently to specific ingredients. Applying a total package approach (using multiple types of eubiotics) can help ensure each calf gets what it needs.
When is the right time to use eubiotics?
The window to instill good health starts when a calf is born. Introducing eubiotics to calves early-on to help maintain normal GI health, is important to provide support for the developing immune system during the critical first few weeks of life. Approximately 70% of the immune system resides in or around the digestive tract. Maintaining normal digestive health at the beginning of a calf’s life is paramount to raising a fast-growing animal with a healthy, functioning immune system. “In the first few weeks of a calf’s life, the digestive system is still developing and transitioning from milk to grain,” says Mathes. “At the same time, the developing immune system is running off mom’s passive immunity as it transitions over to active immunity.”
How can I deliver eubiotics?
Eubiotics can be delivered via feed, liquid, drenches, boluses, gel or paste. For young, growing calves, a powder containing eubiotics can be mixed into milk, offering an easy delivery mechanism that requires no additional labor. A tube-based gel or paste is an additional option for a convenient, anytime, anywhere quick intake of eubiotics by calves.
“The delivery method is important, but even more important is maintaining a feeding regimen,” says Mathes. “A consistent, daily feed regimen during the first few weeks of life gives a calf’s developing digestive tract the support it needs, when it needs it most.”
Can eubiotics work alongside antibiotics?
Eubiotics have been used more widely in livestock rations, especially as the use of feed-grade antibiotics has dropped following the Veterinary Feed Directive.
“Antibiotics have their place when calves get sick,” says Mathes. “We’re seeing more prudent use of antibiotics today. Maintaining normal, healthy calves plays a role in that equation, and eubiotics can be an integral part of a successful calf health protocol.”
“Selecting a broad-based package of eubiotics, put together in the right combination, can support dairy farmers in raising healthy, fast-growing calves,” says Mathes.
DBC Ag Products (dbcagproducts.com) specializes in innovative biotechnology solutions that utilize practical research and proven technology to meet agribusiness needs using applied microbiology, enzymology and immunology. DBC offers a broad range of biotechnology-based animal health products for many different species. Products are designed to help maintain a normal digestive system and support a functioning immune system in young animals, including calves, lambs, goat kids, horses, dogs and poultry.
Jeremy Beebe, owner of Double B Dairy in Whittemore, Michigan, has built a lasting relationship with MSU Extension dairy educator Phil Durst (right) as the two have worked together to grow Beebe’s dairy farm over the past two decades.
Already struggling dairy industry hit hard by coronavirus
Jeremy Beebe is facing his toughest challenge in 20 years as a dairy farmer. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has sent dairy markets on a roller coaster of uncertainty. Without government assistance, he said he could not have paid his eight employees at Double B Dairy in Whittemore, Michigan during the crisis.
“We were fortunate enough to receive money through the (Payroll Protection Program), so that’s been nice that we can take care of our employees,” said Beebe, whose farm includes 230 cows and is a five-time winner of the National Milk Quality Awards.
“Through the 25 years Phil has been at MSU, he and I have become very good friends,” said Beebe, who graduated from MSU’s Institute of Agricultural Technology. “Phil is a terrifically well-rounded individual, and if he doesn’t know something, he knows where to go to find it. He covers so much ground across the state, and he still somehow makes himself available.”
COVID-19 presents a variety of issues to an already challenged industry. MSU C.E. Meadows Endowed Chair in Dairy Management and Nutrition, Barry Bradford said the largest hits are likely from the lack of food service demand, especially with the closing of schools and universities, and a decline in exports.
“Food service for cheese and other dairy products generally account for half of domestic production, and plants that were producing for a food-service scale had to find ways to start making products for single-family purchase. That’s been a big headache,” said Bradford, who came to MSU from Kansas State University in January. “We don’t know for sure to what extent exports have dropped, but there has been a big drop, which accounts for about 15 percent of production in the U.S.”
“All in all, total demand had dropped at least 20 percent, (by mid-May) and no matter what dairy products you make, they all have shelf lives, so you can’t just stockpile it indefinitely,” he said.
Most of the milk Beebe produces goes into making mozzarella cheese. By the beginning of June, prices continued to fluctuate.
“At this point, cheddar cheese prices are approaching a historic high, largely due to a huge purchase by the federal government,” he said. “For various reasons (including responses by producers and summer heat stress) almost all milk dumping that was occurring a month ago is now done. Prices, at least for June, are reasonable again.”
In addition to handling the constantly changing, tangible impacts of COVID-19, MSU Extension educators are also focused on assisting farmers on a personal level. Durst has reached out to more than 70 dairy farmers from some farms which have been around for as long as 100 years and might have to cease operation.
“People are afraid of what the future holds,” he said. “It’s been hard because we all want to go and speak face-to-face with people, and to be able to further assess how they’re doing. Mental health is a big issue. It’s important to be able to have the science to share, but maybe the most important thing right now is just talking about how farmers are handling all this stress. I think it’s important that we balance providing the resources and also connect people to people, and try to empathize with them, to listen to them, and to challenge them.”
Bradford said his main goal during the crisis is opening as many lines of communication as possible. He created a webinar series titled “Sharpen Your Dairy Skills while We Flatten the Curve,” in which a variety of experts present information on specific dairy topics, while also providing an outlet for producers to reach out with questions and concerns. Topics have included dealing with PPP and dairy revenue protection strategies.
“We just wanted to let them know we are available, and we are trying to anticipate the sort of unprecedented questions they are dealing with,” Bradford said.
MSU has been partnering with the Michigan Milk Producers Association(MMPA) since the commodity organization was formed in 1916 on the grounds of what was then Michigan Agricultural College. Sheila Burkhardt, MMPA senior director of member and government relations, said her organization is sharing more MSU resources than its ever had since the COVID-19 outbreak.
“MSU’s transition to virtual training and programming has enabled producers to readily connect to information that they have relied on from MSU,” she said. “We have shared with members the opportunity to connect with the MSU Dairy team members in their virtual Dairy Team Coffee Breaks held on a regular basis.”
Paola Bacigalupo-Sanguesa, who was born and raised in Chile, is as an MSU Extension dairy educator for southern Michigan. Specializing in dairy animal health and employee education, she has developed a series of COVID-19 videos in Spanish that dairy producers and managers can share with their employees, many of whom speak Spanish as their first language. These videos are available on the MSU Extension Dairy Team YouTube channel.
“As English speakers, we are bombarded with information about what COVID-19 is and what we can do to prevent it,” Bacigalupo-Sanguesa said. “But for Spanish speaking employees, we can’t assume they’re getting that information. My last day on a farm, I had one man come up to me and ask, ‘I have this and this symptom, do you think I have it?’ Some of them are worried that if they get sick and miss work they might lose their jobs.”
Durst and Bacigalupo-Sanguesa both said they empathize with the farmers whom they have not been able to work with face-to-face due to the pandemic.
“I struggle seeing farmers struggle, because they’re my friends,” said Durst. “When they hurt, I hurt. The thing that I’m concerned about the most with this pandemic is the loss of community. But maybe what it does is actually brings us together.”
Fortunately, financial assistance is on its way. According to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), small- to medium-size dairy farms will receive $6.20 per 100-pounds of milk produced in the first quarter of 2020. Bradford said that should be enough to backfill lost revenue from low prices in the midst of the pandemic. He added the industry must remain focused on the future and attempt to anticipate issues Michigan milk producers will face once aid ends.
“We are examining how we can continue to help dairy farms after the CARES Act and government assistance is gone,” Bradford said. “I think those assistance programs will keep some dairy businesses afloat in the short term, but what gets scary is in six months, things are going to get pretty ugly pretty fast. As a society, we need to think through what we can we do to try to scale up exports or retool our food distribution channels as fast as possible. It’s a big, complex system we need to try to get a handle on it.”
History of helping
MSU has supported the state’s dairy industry for more than 100 years, providing research, outreach and teaching. Bradford said he plans to unite all of the university’s resources in one central repository to help advance the industry in both good and bad times.
“Our primary mission is to help support the dairy industry to be sustainable,” Bradford said. “For that to happen, we have to provide the tools to help people make it through these tough situations and come out the other end, and continue producing a valuable product for society. That doesn’t mean that within our small dairy team that we have all those resources. But we should work with this huge network within the university and collaborators across the state, where we have really broad expertise, and we should really be bringing all those tools to bear.”
MSU Extension provides dairy producers with a number of resources, including market research, marketing plans, labor management, animal care and efficiency with employees and resources. Some farmers, such as Beebe, also host MSU research plots on their farms.
“They will always give you an unbiased opinion. They are going to tell you what’s best because they think it’s the best, not because of what brand it is,” Beebe said. “I don’t think enough people use Extension services. I mean it’s there to use and it’s paid for by your tax dollars, it’s there for free and they’re smart people.”
Bacigalupo-Sanguesa said MSU’s versatility and flexibility makes it easier for her to respond to farmer needs.
“We get that we cannot support (farmers) in every way, but our strength is that we have so many people with so many different skills that we can bring a multi-level approach to problems,” she said. “I enjoy when I can see change on a farm with employee education or production numbers. To believe that I had something to do with helping make progress on a farm, that is the fulfillment I get from this job.”
Durst credits MSU AgBioResearch and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources for providing educators with the research and information to help farmers, including more programming on mental health.
“Our objective is improving the business or improving how farmers care for the environment, or how they care for animals or how they care for people, based on integrated resources, because we’re not just looking at one aspect of dairy farming,” he said. “We really have tried to make the issue of mental health something that farmers are willing to talk about and not shy away from just because it’s not comfortable.”
Bradford hopes MSU can serve as a clearinghouse for a variety of current and future issues Michigan’s dairy industry may face. He said he will encourage dialogue and debate about contentious issues.
“In Extension we want to help connect people that maybe don’t have a dairy or agriculture background to the opportunities in the industry,” he said. “On the academic side, we should be finding the time to engage with big picture, long-term forecasts, like the global demand for dairy and the how the planet can actually sustain the demand.”
Since starting at his position in January, Bradford has worked to meet as many people involved with the dairy community as possible and let them know MSU is committed to supporting the industry.
“I would like producers in this state to know where they can turn when they run into a challenging problem,” he said. “We want to play a role in developing more strategic planning. I think anything in agriculture, and especially dairy, where you’ve got so many daily tasks to take care of, can become all-consuming and you never have time to stop and think about where this business is going in 10 or 20 years. Trying to get producers access to the people they need to enable that strategic planning, and to flat out encourage people to think in that way, I think would be one of my big goals.”
Bradford is also focused on recruiting undergraduate students to become more involved with the dairy industry, which is experiencing a lack of labor. The MSU Dairy Teaching and Research Center (DTRC) is instrumental in helping in this regard.
“For a lot of a lot of students, (DTRC) is their first opportunity to ever be on a dairy (farm) and to ever touch a cow,” said Faith Cullens, who served as interim manager of DTRC before recently being named the director of the South Campus Animal Farms.
“We train a lot of veterinarians that have zero dairy experience. Just getting them comfortable being around the animals is huge. A lot of our students want to be veterinarians or work in the dairy industry. I’m an example. I had never been on a dairy farm until I was here as a student.”
DTRC research was forced to shut down temporarily in response to COVID-19. The farm serves as a teaching, research and outreach tool to support the state’s dairy industry. Cullens said there is usually two or three research projects going on at the farm at any given time, and those projects should ramp back up soon as restrictions lift. The farm also hosts tours to see an operating dairy farm and hosts producers who might have specific questions related to their farms.
“The way we fit in to the state’s dairy community is by doing the independent research that can’t be done on commercial farms,” Cullens said. “We have the facilities and the expertise to do that work.”
Michigan’s Stay at Home order required Cullens to limit public and employee access to the farm, but the animals were cared for by essential employees.
Through shutdowns and crises, Burkhardt said MSU remains engaged with its partners.
“When the Flint Water Crisis ripped through the community of Flint, MSU Extension prompted MMPA to donate nearly 37,000 gallons of milk to that community,” she said. “The donation of milk during the water crisis was key to help in mitigating the health risks imposed from high levels of lead consumed by the Flint community. Foods rich in calcium, iron and Vitamin C—such as dairy—can help protect those facing the effects of lead poisoning.”
The Art of Feeding is techniques that require a person to observe or to act. This is what moves an average feeding department to excellence.
In the last couple of weeks my brother in law was helping me put up a fence. He is a retired manager for a major dairy processor. In our discussion he talked a lot about a 1996 research study that was commission by Coca-Cola to look for incremental sale gains in grocery stores. The conclusion: Bare shelves represent a pervasive and expensive problem for retailers; and the principle source of the problem lurks within the four walls of the grocery store. Furthermore, consumers have little tolerance for out-of-stocks; they postpone purchases and even switch stores. The overall percentage is 8.2% but the problem is worse on Sundays and late during the afternoon and evening hours.
I immediately thought of how this is similar to feeding cows. Cows also show little tolerance for not having feed at the bunk. They do not switch stores they simply do not eat. How does a dairy get an empty bunk syndrome? Let me list the ways.
Incorrect bunk calls.
Not feeding the entire length of the bunk.
Not enough head locks for all of the animals or poorly designed and broken headlocks,
Too small of a size of a headlock also will prevent animals from eating.
Not feeding evenly the entire length of the bunk. In other words uneven or even empty spots.
The feed is out of reach. It is common for periods of time during the day or night, that feed is present, but not available to eat.
Relief feeder’s mistakes.
Management decision to feed to an empty bunk. My challenge here is always how long is it empty before feeding?
Feeding times. This is basically like restocking the shelves.
Think about this, we monitor intake by the amount we feedand the push out amount. It is quite common to have a 2 to a 3 percent weigh-back. The interesting thing is to me, is that without visual observations to see how the feed is present over time we miss the empty bunk. To me this is the Art of feeding.
Creating a total mixed ration (TMR) is like a work of art – you work hard to perfectly balance ingredients to provide your cows the nutrition they need for optimal production. But, there’s an unseen pathogen that can throw your ration off course: mycotoxins.
“Mycotoxins are an issue every year and can have a costly impact on your herd if not properly monitored and managed,” says John Doerr, Ph.D., vice president of science and technology, Agrarian Solutions. “Feed testing can help you gain a better picture of the specific mycotoxin challenges in your ration and assist in developing solutions.”
Here are the answers to three frequently asked questions about feed testing:
What can feed testing tell you?
Testing feed is critical to identify and address mycotoxin issues proactively so they don’t lead to milk production drops and reproductive challenges. Often, farms may be dealing with more than one type of mycotoxin and their presence in feed is ever-changing.
Feed testing can tell you:
What mycotoxins may be causing harm to your herd
What adjustments to make before damage caused by mycotoxins is hard or impossible to repair
What vendors, if any, may be selling you contaminated feedstuffs
“It’s also important to watch your herd closely for issues like loose manure, cows going off feed, abortions, unusually low milk production or missed heats,” says Dr. Doerr. “While these can be symptoms of a variety of health issues, sometimes the cause is an underlying mycotoxin which feed testing can identify.”
How often should you test feed?
Seasonal changes in fall and spring can create a spike in mycotoxins. Testing at these times helps you manage mycotoxin risk and make necessary changes to the ration to prevent costly health problems.
“Testing should be managed year-round,” says Dr. Doerr. “Testing frequency can vary from farm to farm based on potential risk and health of cows.”
A key time to test is when a new load of ingredients, like shell corn or cottonseed, is delivered to your farm, or when you’re starting a new batch of silage in your TMR. These ingredients could have varying mycotoxins you haven’t found in your feed. Continue testing these ingredients every two months until they are fed out or replaced.
It is also recommended to take two to three samples throughout mid- to late-fall to understand the mycotoxin risk in newly cropped feed.
How can you make the most of your report?
You work with your nutritionist or feed representative to take feed samples, send it to the lab and get a report back. From there, it’s time to dig into the report data.
“Mycotoxin analysis reports are a great tool to identify the type of mycotoxins you have in your feed and get recommendations to form a solution,” says Dr. Doerr.
At a quick glance, the report determines whether you have a high, medium or low risk of a particular mycotoxin or more than one mycotoxin (see example report).
Depending on the company you’re testing through, a typical report also provides specific product recommendations to counter the effects of a mycotoxin issue, but you need to work with your nutritionist and veterinarian to make ration adjustments.
“It’s important to talk with your nutritionist and veterinarian to determine the best steps to take after receiving your report results and adjust,” says Dr. Doerr. “A mycotoxin challenge can quickly cause a big problem, so addressing it promptly is critical.”
Every farm can be impacted by mycotoxins – even at a low level. Contact your local Agrarian Solutions or Select Sires representative to discuss how to get a free feed sample analysis and a quarterly report of common mycotoxin issues in your area. Learn more at agrariansolutions.com/issues/mycotoxins-in-your-feed.
Since 1996, Agrarian Solutions has been a global leader in providing L-Form bacteria-based technologies for dairy cattle, swine and poultry. Agrarian’s cutting-edge L-Form bacteria technology functions inside of animal cells, populating the cells lining the intestinal tract. There, the L-Form bacteria perform specific functions like balancing intestinal immune function, reducing the burden of pathogenic bacteria or combating feed-borne toxins – challenges animals and their owners face every day. Learn more about Agrarian products and technology at agrariansolutions.com.
Summer months are a challenging time of year in the northeast when heat and humidity take their toll on animal performance. The short-term duration of hot weather can have long term ramifications to total milk pounds for the year, components, reproduction, and milk income. Even though the pandemic has created turmoil with supply and demand of dairy products, the producer still needs to focus on animal performance and prepare for when markets correct themselves.
Many farms have two key data sources to draw from when evaluating herd performance. These include the monthly milk check and the dairy herd improvement association (DHIA) tests. It should not be a surprise that cows experience some heat stress during the summer months. Managers need to minimize the effects, so milk income is not seriously compromised.
The milk check is the gold standard for capturing production and component results. DHIA provides a snapshot in time per month and does not always accurately reflect what is happening in the herd. Check the test day bulk tank comparison against the test day information on the DHIA 202 summary report before examining production and component data. If there is greater than a five percent deviation, then production data may require careful interpretation.
Ideally taking the bulk tank milk weights at each pick-up along with the number of cows going into the tank is a more accurate approach to monitoring production. This can detect problems earlier and allow for faster solutions to correct heat stress. A 200-dairy cow operation with minimal heat abatement strategies was evaluated using their 2019 information. They averaged 77 pounds of milk from January through May. From June through September the herd dropped in milk for an average production of 70 pounds with similar days in milk. The milk price/cwt averaged $18.83 for those 4 summer months. The potential lost revenue due to heat stress equated to approximately $34,000. This number does not consider the long-term physical stress to the animal at various stages of lactation and the impact on reproduction. Investments in fans, a sprinkling system, or other cow comfort strategies would pay for themselves in a short period.
Using the same 200-cow dairy, the monthly milk checks from June through September were compared to the DHIA summary report (Table 1) for components. Milk fat more than milk protein had an opportunity for improvement. Using the price of milk fat and protein pounds from the Federal Milk Order #1 report for June through September, the difference in lost revenue was calculated. If the farm had produced the amount of fat and protein reported on test day, the herd would have averaged $0.33/cwt more on their milk price compared to what they received. For those 4 months, an additional $6400 was not realized. Using the milk check information to document heat stress provided a better assessment of what was happening in this herd.
Table 1. The component differences between the milk check and DHIA test day average for a 200-cow dairy.
Milk fat, % DHIA
Milk fat, % Milk check
Milk protein, % DHIA
Milk protein, % Milk check
Heat abatement strategies that help cool cows during difficult times of the summer can be instrumental in minimizing production losses. Herds that do not have well-ventilated facilities can experience both production and component reductions during the summer and well into the fall. The monetary impact that heat stress has on an operation can be significant. If DHIA test day data matches with the milk check, then drilling down further into various performance areas can be beneficial. If there is too much discrepancy between the milk check and DHIA, then it may be more difficult to determine the specific production group(s) causing the problem.
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 with 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: May’s Penn State milk price: $14.22/cwt; feed cost/cow: $6.98; average milk production: 84 lbs.
My mailbox and inbox have recently been overflowing with downloads and brochures about HEAT STRESS. These written pieces are emphasized by capital letters and exclamation marks as many on-line suppliers and consultants provide information, strategies and, of course, their particular product that will combat this costly annual challenge. But great information is no good if it winds up in the garbage. At the Bullvine we like to remind each other to ask the second question. “What can I do with this?” If you have the herd contact person, ask the simple question, “What do you think we could do better to handle heat stress in our herd?”
HEAT STRESS: Early Warning Signs and Symptoms
Open mouth breathing (panting)
Trembling and loss of coordination
If they go down, recovery is unlikely
Take action when the first signs of heat stress are observed. Survival depends upon effective intervention. Be particularly observant during the evening when cattle are trying to dissipate the heat built up during the day. Record observations and measurements.
HEAT STRESS AWARENESS TOOL: The Temperature Humidity Index
Cows are large and their daily living processes means that they themselves are producing heat, in addition to the heat of the environment that they are living in. The effects of heat stress on dairy cattle are caused by a combination of high environmental temperature and relative humidity. These combined effects are measured by the THI Temperature Humidity Index. And used to assess the risk of heat stress and prevent harmful effects. Studies of THI have concluded that heat stress in cattle is avoided as long as temperatures are below 64 degrees Fahrenheit and when humidity is under 15%. The optimal temperature for dairy cattle lies between 23 degrees F and 64 degrees F. At a temperature of 68 degrees F and humidity of 80%, a cow is already suffering from heat stress. It is clear that these conditions are repeatedly exceeded for extended periods of time during warmest months of dairy operation. We can be sure that even though we humans may be comfortable; our cows are already experiencing heat stress. THI adds important analysis information. (for more information Excellent examples of how THI is formulated can be found online)
NEXT: Get Ready to Refine Results Beyond the THI Index
THI started being studied in the 1950s and has been available since the 1980s. There are apps available for doing the calculations. One application doesn’t fit all situations. It is necessary to know the predominant conditions in the area you are in as well as the relative humidity. Results are different in areas of dry heat (semiarid climates) or moist heat. Present-day dairy operations need to plan ahead for the microclimatic changes caused by global warming and pollution. The actual Index also needs continual modification to more precisely interpret 24-hour results over extended time periods. Moving ahead, combining THI, body temperature and other indices (i.e. activity) will make it possible to individualize and effectively forecast heat stress.
YOUR DAIRY HERD: Who Else is Hot?
Calves: Two recent studies conducted at the University of Florida reported a lower pre-weaning average daily gain of calves from heat-stressed cows than those from cooled cows. As well, calves that experience in utero heat stress during the dry period maintain a lower body weight at least until 1-year-old compared to in utero-cooled calves. Multiple studies report that calves born to dry period heat-stressed cows had reduced efficiency to absorb immunoglobulin G (IgG) from colostrum, resulting in lower serum IgG concentrations during the first month of life.
Dry Cows: An article by Mark Pearce (Dairy Australia May 2016) stated that heat stress on dry cows has a dramatic effect on the development of mammary tissue in the udder and leads to decreased milk production in the following lactation.
KEEP COOL CHECKLIST: Take Immediate Action
Check ventilation capacity and reduce any barriers to airflow
Increase ventilation rate when necessary (mechanical ventilation)
Make adjustments to achieve effective natural ventilation
Make sure all water troughs are clean at all times
Increase access to clean fresh water.
Keep all feed rations fresh and palatable
During hot periods, only have the cows on pasture during the night or during the cool moments (evening, early morning) of the day
COOLING OFF: Dairy Stress Nutrition Strategies
There are many sources who can provide advice and support when your herd is facing heat stress. Don’t overlook the effect that targeted nutrition strategies can provide. Don’t consider the cost input without also calculating the dollars lost to dropping production or rising health problems. Feed special rations (supplemented with additional minerals and vitamins) at least two times a day. In an experiment conducted at the University of Illinois (Pate et al, 2020 Journal of Dairy Science) the following was reported: “Protein in milk declines seasonally, just like butterfat, and the lowest point is reached in summer. “Heat-stress also reduces milk protein and milk fat depression during summer.” Protect against milk protein depression in summer with amino acid balancing and rumen-protected methionine supplement with a high bioavailability.
COOLING OFF IN THE DAIRY GENE POOL
Addressing heat stress from a genetic perspective presents a longer term solution. Relatively new on the breeding scene is breeding for the Slick gene in Holsteins. It produces a shorter and smoother coat. This is a gene with dominant heritability (like the polled gene) so that it makes it easier to introduce it into a population. Sires are now available for carriers of the Slick gene. Slick animals in the tropics have been found to have 30% more sweat gland areas and 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit lower surface temperature. University of Florida research shows Slick gene cows, 60 to 90 days in milk, produce 10 lbs. more milk per day in hot environments. As well, calving interval for Slick gene cows was 30 days shorter than for normal Holsteins.
HOT STUFF: The Multiplying Costs of Heat Stress.
In May of 2013 Hoards Dairyman published an article “How Much will heat stress cost you this summer?” It provided very interesting numbers to support the expensive side of dairy cattle heat stress. “It is estimated that heat stress costs the dairy industry anywhere from $900 million dollars to $5 billion each year depending on the calculation used. The level of stress experience by an animal and resulting financial losses fluctuate as temperature and humidity go up and down.” “Knowing that heat stress does not typically happen for one day only, consider if a cow suffered heat stress for a period of 45 days; the losses for a 500 cow herd grows to $36,000 to $126,000. If the herd is milking 1,000 cows the losses become even more significant ranging from $72,000 to $252,000. These numbers don’t take into account reproduction losses and extended days open.” These may not be your numbers but they may inspire you to take a realistic look at the financial impact of dairy heat stress on your operation.
FIGHT DAIRY HEAT STRESS: Get a Move On!
As we move through human learning regarding responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are learning about the effects of crowding and physical distancing. While heat stress isn’t contagious, crowded conditions are certainly another way that temperature impacts our herds. Cows that have spacious pens or pastures may still come into heated conditions while moving through holding areas. Barn fans are a mechanical solution to the moving air that is needed for groups of animals. Assessments should be made to determine whether the moving air is actually on the animals or if it is largely blowing down alleys over people movement areas. Sometimes the fans are in the right place but the machinery we use for feeding and cleaning may block effective air flow onto the cows.
HEAT STRESS: Exercise Can Help Cows Adapt to Heat
Studies have reported that cattle that exercise regularly spend less time in an elevated temperature, so they are less susceptible to hot days. This can provide the added benefit of more milk components. Tim Rozell, an animal scientist with Kansas State University says, “We see increased protein in milk from exercised cattle. Last year, for example, we exercised pregnant heifers up to three weeks before they underwent parturition, and even 15 weeks or so into milk production, we saw increased protein in their milk, elevated lactose and other improvements in milk production.” Abi Wilson, A K-State master’s student in biology reports, “At the beginning and end of each trial, we take muscle biopsies. We are looking at specific enzymes, hormones and any changes in the skeletal muscle that may enhance their tolerance to heat, pregnancy rates and milk production.”
CLIMATE CHANGE: Will it Make a Dairy Difference?
According to a recent study, the average number of days that feel hotter than 100 degrees in the U.S. will more than double by 2050. Scorching weather and lack of rain damages the quality of crops and the grass used to feed farm animals. This is even more concerning if weather conditions include the other extreme of too much rain and subsequent flooding. Some scenarios predict that climate change could lead to a 5 to 11% reduction in dairy production per year between 2020 and 2029 after controlling for other factors (see Journal of Dairy Science, Issue 12, December 2015, Pages 8664-8677). Research and extension efforts are needed to promote suitable dairy adaptation strategies. You might ask, “Do animals beat the heat better by being inside or by being out outside?” There are arguments to be made that pastured animals may be more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than cows that are housed. This is because housing provides shelter and technological options to mitigate the extremes of weather. There are no absolute answers.
HEAT STRESS: Simply Surviving a Few Hot Periods is NOT a Success Strategy
Making it through to cooler temperatures may seem like a heat stress win which we might attribute to survival of the fittest. Unfortunately, that attitude means accepting the long-term damage to current and successive generation of the dairy herd. It isn’t something that may happen. It will damage your herd.
If the gene pool is too slow or too expensive, you might consider a more economical solution such as misting or water evaporation. For many, the solution of water misting seems obvious but, here again, it will depend on how well you manage the resulting humidity. The plan is that the solution won’t make the problem worse instead of better.
THE BULLVINE BOTTOM LINE
Multiple forces act on dairy cattle to send their body temperatures beyond normal levels. The goal of dairy management is to make it possible for each cow to meet her full potential for milk yield and fertility, without damaging heat stress. More research is needed to identify improved comprehensive cow-side measurements that can indicate real-time responses to elevated ambient temperatures. With this knowledge, effective heat abatement management decisions can be acted upon in the right way, right now! It’s your call.
Lyn Baggot wants cows to produce their liveweight in milk solids.
The job description for cows in Lyn and Deborah Baggott’s herd is simple – the cows need to produce their liveweight in milk solids.
The Baggotts are 50/50 sharemilking 880 mixed breed cows on the family owned 235ha dairy farm at Cust, North Canterbury.
“I have no breed preference,” Lyn Baggott says. “As long as they are performing, pulling their weight.
“I like cows to produce their liveweight in milk solids, so it’s not a breed thing, it’s the performance of each individual animal.”
Lyn’s parents moved to Cust from Ruawai 20 years ago. The herd, made up of Jersey, Ayrshire, crossbreds and Friesian, was originally all Ayrshire. The move south meant his parents had to build up cow numbers so they purchased Friesians and crossbreds – all New Zealand genetics.
“I hadn’t been happy with the BW system as we’d been getting cows with poor udders and feet and lots of lameness. When I first bought the herd off my parents I did a simple on-farm exercise where I tagged each cow in order of BW. [For example] the cow with the highest BW received the lowest available herd tag. Within a few years I knew that BW wasn’t reflecting the best performing cows in the herd.
“After three or four lactations low ear tag number cows (high BW) were not necessarily the best performing cows in the herd. I felt I was chasing rainbows when selecting on BW – it was always moving and changing. I wanted something better,” Lyn said.
He decided to focus on important traits like udders, legs, feet, temperament, fertility and, of course, production.
Lameness is an issue on the farm due to walking distance and track surface.
Lyn says he needed robust cows with good conformation which would last multiple lactations.
“Changing the source of genetics to overseas enabled me to select from the largest sire line-up in the world and since 2016 I’ve predominantly used World Wide Sires.
“One of the drivers for going to World Wide Sires was to improve the strength of the Jerseys. I like the mix of breeds in the herd but the Jerseys were, in comparison to the crossbreds and Friesians, weak and frail. They needed to be able to hold their own in the herd and I wanted genetics which would add stature and strength to the Jerseys.
“As soon as the first World Wide Sires’ Jersey calves hit the ground I could see they were more robust and strong than what I’d had before. They grow on well and now more than hold their own with the other breeds.
“Across the herd my heifers come in with good udders which only improve as they move on in the herd.
“We’re consistently getting nice udders which sit well between their back legs and don’t impede walking.
“I’m getting the animal I want in the herd and am not worried about their BW. I keep good herd records which show the production I achieve and that speaks louder than anything.”
Do you find that your dairy cows have a higher incidence of lameness on your farm than you would like?
By taking a strategic look at your individual farm situation you can identify areas for improvement and help to reduce the incidence of lameness in your dairy herd.
You should aim to have no more than 5 per cent of the herd lame per month.
Farmers are using prevention, early detection and treatment of lameness to achieve better outcomes in cow comfort, improved milk production, and better reproductive performance of their dairy herd.
Lameness in dairy cows in Australia can be caused by a range of environmental, nutritional and infectious factors.
Farm conditions can result in damage to cow’s hooves, including stone bruises and thin soles.
Important things to consider to minimise the incidence of lameness in dairy cows are good laneways, reducing time spent on concrete and reducing pressure on cows during movement.
Managing wet conditions
Most farmers find that extremely wet conditions result in a lot more cows becoming lame.
Prolonged exposure to moisture causes the hoof to soften, making bruising, penetration injuries and white-line disease more common.
The skin between the claws and around the foot also softens and macerates, leaving the skin more prone to infections such as footrot.
The higher bacterial loads present in wet muddy environments add to the problem.
Larger stones and sharp gravel are also exposed after the fine topping materials are washed from track surfaces.
The cost of an individual case of lameness is estimated to be between $200 and $500.
If a herd outbreak occurs, the costs can increase across the herd.
A good laneway can be built by selecting a suitable foundation and with suitable surface materials, so it stands up to the constant cow traffic and damage by rain and excess water.
Select a material for the surface layer that won’t damage the cow’s hooves, but which will also repel and run water off the laneway, helping to keep it dryer and last longer.
The surface layer needs to be crowned to assist with water runoff.
Good drainage for your laneway is also very important. It needs to collect water runoff and divert it correctly to increase the life of your laneway.
The drain should be fenced off so cattle can’t walk in it and pug it up, which will reduce its effectiveness.
Farmers find that regular maintenance to the laneway surface is best as it helps increase its life and avoid costly repairs to the foundation layer.
Reducing time on concrete
Most dairy farmers already follow the practice of minimising the time cows are spending on concrete, which helps to reduce stone bruises and the wearing away of the sole on the cow’s hooves.
Any further reductions in time spent on concrete for cows will assist in reducing the lameness of dairy cattle.
Reducing pressure on cows during movement
When cows are allowed enough time to move slowly at their own pace, the cows can look and place their feet and avoid uneven surfaces or stones and thus avoid stone damage to their feet.
This will in turn help reduce the incidence of lameness in the dairy herd.
Acidosis can result in lameness in dairy cattle.
Acidosis can cause laminitis, paint brush haemorrhages and white line disease, reducing the cow’s ability to walk freely.
To help reduce the incidence of acidosis ensure cows are receiving adequate effective fibre, and a precise allocation of grain.
A well-balanced diet for the dairy cow will include adequate fibre, which helps to buffer the rumen pH.
Rumen buffers and/or modifiers may also be required depending on the level of grain feeding to reduce the rumen pH and reduce the incidence of acidosis in the dairy herd.
Infection factors Your cows can have infections on their hooves, including footrot and hairy heel warts.
The use of footbaths and reducing mud in high traffic areas can help reduce the incidence of lameness in some cases.
It’s also important to consult with your veterinarian to develop a strategy for your farm.
Benefits of reduced lameness Reducing lameness on your farm will assist to improve profitability.
Lame cows will usually produce less milk and be culled sooner from the herd.
Lameness will also result in additional costs of veterinary treatment.
Most cases of lameness are foot associated and the rear feet are more commonly affected than the front.
Lameness in individual cows can have an impact on their reproductive performance, depending on the timing of the lameness episode relative to the mating period.
The higher the incidence of lameness in the herd, the greater the potential impact this condition will have on the herd’s overall reproductive performance.
In calf research identified the following reproductive impacts through lameness:
So, if the answer is yes to whether ‘your cows have a higher incidence of lameness on your farm than you’d like’, and you would like assistance to reduce lameness, visit the Dairy Australia website at www.dairyaustralia.com.au and enter one of the topics mentioned above in the search bar.
Summer is here and with it comes high temperatures, high humidity, and increased chances of heat stress. According to a 2019 Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research study, the US dairy industry experiences $1.5 billion in losses to heat stress annually. With afternoon humidities of 60-70%, and temperatures at 75-77°F, cows may already begin to experience the effects of heat stress – that’s a temperature humidity index (THI) of 74. Higher temperatures can impact herds, potentially decreasing performance, production, and profit.
Incorporating proper fans and soakers, adequate water and feed, and providing a proper nutrition are beneficial steps to combat the hot summer months. Here are three tips to manage heat stress in dairy herds.
1.FANS AND SOAKERS
Fans need to be clean and should generate at least 5mph wind over the back of the cow. Use a wind speed meter to detect good air movement and dead areas, especially where cows congregate. Add in soakers on the feed bunk and in the holding pen to apply water to the back of the animal. In humid climates, which include much of the US, water should be applied as a “soak” and not a mist. Maximize equipment performance by regularly monitoring and maintaining fans and soakers.
2.ADEQUATE WATER AND FEED FREQUENTLY
Adequate access to clean water is a must. Cows will not be as willing to walk longer distances in warmer weather. They must have constant access to cool, clean water in a location that is shaded or close to shade. A good rule of thumb is that cattle will need three-to-four inches of linear water space per head during the summer. Water should be positioned away from the milking parlor and available near the lounging area. By keeping water troughs cool and clean, cows will have a better chance of beating the heat. It is also quite common for feed intake to decrease during hotter months. To keep intakes up, make sure they have constant access to fresh feed. Consider feeding more frequently during cooler parts of the day and pushing feed up often to keep feed accessible to cows. Reducing sorting is also recommended.
Higher temperatures can negatively affect milk production and milk fat yield, due in large part to heat stress-induced pH decrease in the rumen and leaky gut. Although it is vital to provide proper heat abatement strategies, there are also feeding strategies that may assist in reducing lost performance. Incorporating effective feed additives could help promote gut health, immune strength, and overall wellness. Healthy cows perform better, and a healthy gut can help cows manage the heat. Ultimately, this can result in greater profitability on the farm. Consult with your nutritionist about what ration changes might be appropriate for warmer temperatures, including the addition of products to optimize rumen health.
With summer temperatures reaching 80°F-90°F, dairy cows will be feeling the heat. When you incorporate these three management tips, your herds have a better chance of staying healthy and productive.
USDA’s Farm Service Agency will now accept applications for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) through an online portal, expanding the options available to producers to apply for this program, which helps offset price declines and additional marketing costs because of the coronavirus pandemic. FSA is also leveraging commercial document storage and e-signature solutions to enable producers to work with local service center staff to complete their applications from home.
“We are doing everything we can to serve our customers and make sure agricultural producers impacted by the pandemic can quickly and securely apply for this relief program,” said FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce. “In addition to working with FSA staff through the phone, email and scheduled in-person appointments, we can now also take applications through the farmers.gov portal, which saves producers and our staff time.”
Through the portal, producers with secure USDA login credentials—known as eAuthentication—can certify eligible commodities online, digitally sign applications and submit directly to the local USDA Service Center. Producers who do not have an eAuthentication account can learn more and begin the enrollment process at farmers.gov/sign-in. Currently, the digital application is only available to sole proprietors or single-member business entities.
USDA Service Centers can also work with producers to complete and securely transmit digitally signed applications through two commercially available tools: Box and OneSpan. Producers who are interested in digitally signing their applications should notify their local service centers when calling to discuss the CFAP application process. You can learn more about these solutions at farmers.gov/mydocs.
USDA has several other options for producers to complete and submit their CFAP applications. These include:
Downloading the AD-3114 application form from farmers.gov/cfap and manually completing the form to submit to the local USDA Service Center by mail, electronically or by hand delivery to an office drop box. In some limited cases, the office may be open for in-person business by appointment. Visit farmers.gov/coronavirus/service-center-status to check the status of your local office.
Completing the application form using our CFAP Application Generator and Payment Calculator found at farmers.gov/cfap. This Excel workbook allows customers to input information specific to their operation to determine estimated payments and populate the application form, which can be printed, and then signed and submitted to their local USDA Service Center.
Getting Help from FSA
New customers seeking one-on-one support with the CFAP application process can call 877-508-8364 to speak directly with a USDA employee ready to offer general assistance. This is a recommended first step before a producer engages the team at the FSA county office at their local USDA Service Center.
All other eligibility forms, such as those related to adjusted gross income and payment information, can be downloaded from farmers.gov/cfap. For existing FSA customers, these documents are likely already on file.
Producers self-certify their records when applying for CFAP, and that documentation is not submitted with the application. However, producers may be asked for their documentation to support the certification of eligible commodities, so they should retain the information used to complete their application.
To find the latest information on CFAP, visit farmers.gov/cfap or call 877-508-8364.
All USDA Service Centers are open for business, including some that are open to visitors to conduct business in person by appointment only. All Service Center visitors wishing to conduct business with FSA, Natural Resources Conservation Service or any other Service Center agency should call ahead and schedule an appointment. Service Centers that are open for appointments will pre-screen visitors based on health concerns or recent travel and visitors must adhere to social distancing guidelines. Visitors may also be required to wear a face covering during their appointment. Field work will continue with appropriate social distancing. Our program delivery staff will be in the office, and they will be working with our producers in office, by phone and using online tools. More information can be found at farmers.gov/coronavirus.
Whole milk can be an excellent source of nutrition for calves if managed correctly. Some of the most common questions we receive from producers using a whole milk program are: How much whole milk can I feed my calves? When and how should I be weaning my calves? And what can I expect in terms of calf performance? Outlined below are some tips and tricks for implementing a successful whole milk program, along with guidelines on feeding programs and expected calf performance.
Whole milk ≠ Milk replacer: First of all, it is important to remember that whole milk and milk replacers are different, both in their nutrient composition and expected performance. Whole milk typically runs higher in both protein (≈ 25.4%) and fat (≈ 30.8%) and can vary load-to-load, whereas milk replacer is usually purchased with lower protein and fat percentages and with its components staying consistent across bags and pallets. Performance and growth differences between whole milk and milk replacers are expected due to these differing protein-fat ratios. Early structural growth is typically seen when feeding a milk replacer, whereas early body mass growth — in the form of extra body fat deposition — is usually seen when feeding whole milk.
Milk quality: Pasteurize if you can! When fed unpasteurized, whole milk can transfer disease and inoculate calves with high levels of pathogenic bacteria, Mycoplasma, Johne’s disease and/or bovine leukosis, among others. Pasteurizing whole milk minimizes bacterial count, making it much a safer and effective liquid feed source for calves when managed correctly. Visit this link for more on the pros and cons of feeding pasteurized milk to calves.
Make gradual feeding changes: Calves can consume up to 3 gallons (or 12 quarts) of milk per day; however, milk intakes must be gradually increased over a period of 1 to 2 weeks or more before reaching this maximum volume. A greater milk intake will reduce starter intake; therefore, a minimum of a 2-week step-down weaning period is required to 1) minimize stress when weaning calves off of high-volume feeding programs and 2) allow calves enough time to ramp up their starter intake in order to boost their rumen development during the weaning process.
Delayed weaning: Typically, the weaning times of conventionally fed calves falls between 6 to 8 weeks of age, but weaning can be delayed to 12 or more weeks of age to allow for maximum volume of whole milk feeding, a longer adjustment to starter feed and more time to promote healthy rumen development. As always, a high-quality and highly palatable calf starter like Elite 18 is crucial to stimulate starter intakes and early rumen development.
Acidification/preserving whole milk: Acidifying whole milk with citric acid, propionic acid or Acid-Pak 4-Way 2X or preserving it with potassium sorbate or sodium benzoate can be effective management strategies to reduce bacterial growth in whole milk if pasteurization and/or refrigeration are not possible. By lowering the pH of the milk, we allow for an increase in its shelf life and component stability. Regardless, if whole milk cannot be pasteurized before feeding, it should be pasteurized immediately after harvest and refrigerated for no longer than 1 to 3 days before feeding in order to keep the bacterial load down. A reference on acidified whole milk is available from Penn State.
Optimizing growth: As mentioned, feeding 3 or more gallons of whole milk per day to calves requires at least a 2-week step-down weaning period, starting at roughly 9 to 10 weeks of age, to promote starter intake, increase rumen development and minimize weaning stress. Another important point to note when feeding high volumes of whole milk is that the Energy Allowable Gain is heightened due to the high fat content of whole milk. In this case, a shortage in the Protein Allowable Gain can reduce a calf’s growth potential. Therefore, producers should consider mixing in a protein balancer (such as Milk Primer™) to restore the protein-to-fat ratio in whole milk and to ensure a consistent, dependable nutrient supply to calves. Whole milk is variable load-to-load in its vitamin and trace mineral content; as a result, supplementing whole milk with an essential vitamin and trace mineral pack (such as Milk Enhance™) helps guarantee that calves will be provided with the nutrients needed to support both growth and immunity. Another important point to note is that these low-inclusion whole milk additive products can be medicated to provide both coccidiosis control and fly control to cover your calves through weaning.
Assumed whole milk at 12.5% solids, 25.4% protein, 30.8% fat
Assumed 1 gallon of whole milk weighs 8.6 lbs.
Protein and Energy Allowable Gain estimates do not factor in the calf starter intake
*Adding a protein balancer will optimize growth by closing the gap between protein and energy allowable gains
Expected calf starter intake = 120–140 lbs. through 78 days
**The above is an example of an accelerated, high-end feeding program. Decreasing feeding rates will allow for earlier weaning.**
Please do not hesitate to reach out to your Hubbard Feeds representative, Bruce Ziegler (507-225-2512) or Ellan Dufour (507-229-0518) if you have questions or would like additional support with setting up your whole milk feeding program.
Research in the Journal of Dairy Science® studies gradual weaning of dairy calves.
Dairy producers are feeding dairy calves more milk before weaning, as research has demonstrated that greater milk consumption provides short- and long-term benefits for calves. Encouraging solid feed consumption by calves on high-milk diets, however, can be challenging. Researchers have concluded that gradual weaning solves this problem more effectively than abrupt weaning, but more research is needed to optimize the process. In a recent article appearing in the Journal of Dairy Science, scientists from the University of Guelph studied gradual weaning of 60 calves divided into four groups using two weaning programs and two feed placement locations.
It is unknown whether a step-wise reduction in milk consumption during gradual weaning is better than a more continuous reduction. “It was predicted that small, frequent reductions in milk would be a more natural weaning process and cause less stress,” said lead investigator, Trevor DeVries, PhD, Department of Animal Biosciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada. “Therefore, reducing milk by larger quantities in a step-wise weaning program may be more noticeable to the calf and result in more behavioral indicators of stress, such as increased activity and vocalizations.” Improving weaning transition, optimizing solid feed intake to prepare for a solid diet, increasing weight gain, and reducing stress are all important considerations.
The University of Guelph study compared continuous reduction of milk during weaning with step-wise reduction, as well as varying the location of the solid feed. Solid feed was placed next to the calves’ milk source or on the opposite side of the pen, next to their water source. Because cows associate locations with the quality of food located there, the researchers hypothesized that placing the solid feed near the highly desirable milk would encourage solid feed intake.
Contrary to expectations, both weaning programs resulted in similar solid feed consumption, weight gain, and behavioral indicators of stress. As hypothesized, however, calves fed solid feed near their milk supply consumed more solid feed, milk, and water prior to weaning, resulting in 10 percent higher average daily weight gain during that time period. These calves also had greater feed efficiency in the second week of weaning and showed fewer stress-related behaviors once weaning concluded. This work highlighted that further research is needed on weaning strategies, water placement, and how these apply in group housing situations.
Many dairy producers experience an increase in their somatic cell count (SCC) in their milking herd during the summer and fall months. Why does this happen? How can you prevent it? These questions are commonly asked when troubleshooting high somatic cell count issues on farms.
When producers think of hot weather, they worry about heat stress on their cows. The main concern is often loss of milk production, but heat stress can also cause cows to experience a seasonal high SCC as well. Environmental mastitis and summer heat can cause an economic loss to your herd, but the effect of both can be reduced with some simple management practices.
Somatic cell counts tend to rise with temperature and humidity levels during the summer months. Environmental stress caused by the high summer temperatures are responsible for the elevated counts. These higher somatic cell counts can stick around on your farm for weeks or even months. It is a known fact that cows are physically more stressed when it is hot. We often see a decrease in production due to cows standing or lying more where it is cooler and spending less time eating at the bunk. Environmental mastitis increases during this time because of the increased exposure of the teat end to bacteria. Research has shown high circulating levels of stress hormones interfere with the ability of the immune system to destroy bacteria. When bacteria enter the udder, an immune response sends somatic cells to fight the invader. Stress hormones cause a depressing effect on the somatic cells, this in turn limits their function to fully protect against mastitis causing organisms.
The following are some steps that can be taken to reduce heat stressors and lower somatic cell counts:
Bacterial contamination of bedding material increases during the summer. Increased humidity levels help provide an environment that bacteria thrive in. It is important to keep bedded areas CLEAN and DRY. This will help to reduce bacteria growth and encourage cows to lay in stalls instead of the alley when trying to stay cool.
Fans and sprinklers are commonly used to keep cows cool. It is important to properly manage these tools to reduce the wet stall beds, overly wet cows, or places in the barn that cows congregate. It is important to reduce areas that can become overloaded with manure where cows can easily become dirty and increase the incidence of mastitis.
Flies are also important vectors of disease. Biting flies greatly increase stress in your herd and carry disease organisms. This may result in a decrease in production as well as spreading mastitis. Flies often spread mastitis causing organisms among heifers resulting in increased somatic cell counts at freshening.
Provide employee training focusing on milking procedures in the parlor. It is important to make sure all employees are following milking procedures correctly. This will help to reduce new infections as well as identify clinical cases of mastitis quickly.
It is important to provide fresh clean water in abundance. Cows drink about 50 percent more water when the temperature is 80 degrees versus 40 degrees. They need water to cool themselves through increased respiration and perspiration.
By implementing these steps to reduce heat stress, provide clean, dry housing and ensuring your milking management routine is up to date, you can easily combat the seasonal swing of your farms somatic cell count. Not only does implementing better management practices around heat stress help to lower your farms incidence of mastitis, it will also increase production and overall farm profitability.
When trying to address heat abatement in a dairy there is always a budget. Sometimes that budget is financial, meaning only X amount of dollars can be spent to buy Y amount of resources. Other times it is an electric budget, meaning there is only so many Amps available to power fans. Still other times the water available for sprinklers, soakers, or misters is limited. With all these budgets in mind we need to prioritize where and what kind of heat abatement will do the most good with the resources available.
Start with the basics. Shade, Air Exchange, Air Velocity, and Water. Providing shade to lower the radiant heat load the animals receive is the first step in heat abatement. In confined housing this is the role of the shelter roof, if animals are on pasture consider simple shade structures to allow the animals relief from the sun during the heat of the day. Air exchange is fresh air in and stale air out. In most of the Northeast and Midwest this is done with natural ventilation. The two largest factors driving natural ventilation are natural airspeed and the size of the wall openings. As designers and managers, we can influence the size of the opening. The side and end walls should be as open as possible to utilize as much of the natural airspeed as possible. Welded wire panels and bird screen with large openings will leave more effective opening then shade cloth or dimensional lumber. Open walls at cow level to allow air in at the lowest level. If natural ventilation cannot be achieved than look toward mechanical ventilation. Either with a negative pressure system where air in drawn out of the shelter, producing a negative pressure within the shelter that draws in the fresher outside air. Or a positive pressure system where fans push fresher outside air into the shelter, producing a positive pressure within the shelter. The goal here is to exchange the air within the shelter about once per minute.
Once air exchange has been achieved than look to increase air speed at animal level. Increasing the air speed at the animal will increase the convective cooling of the animals. The goal here is to be in the 5 mph or 450 feet per minute range. However, remember that large circulation fans only create air speed within the shelter and do not add air exchange. Hot stale air moving at high speed is not heat abatement. You need to exchange the air within the barn to get heat abatement.
Lastly after achieving air exchange and air speed, water can be added to the mix with either soakers or misters to aid in evaporative cooling. In the more humid Northeast, feed line soakers that add water directly to the cow have shown to be more effective but do use more water than misting systems. So, if water availability is an issue adding misting nozzles directly in front of circulation fans where it can be evaporated into the air, and therefore lower the ambient temperature may be an option. However, both systems depend on evaporating the water into the surrounding air and therefore raise the humidity level within the shelter. Again, having good air exchange to remove this extra moisture from the shelter in a must.
When due either to finical budget or amperage budget the question often is where to locate circulation fans within a shelter. In my opinion I tend to focus over the stall area and particularly head to head stalls. The goal is having cows rest for 12 to 14 hours per day, and the head to head stalls concentrate the cows in that area. Providing high air speed in this concentrated area I feel gives you good use of limited resources.
Another area to concentrate heat abatement resources is the parlor holding area. Once again animals are concentrated in one area two, three, or more times per day and this space can heat up very quickly. Maximizing air exchange to remove this extra heat and adding additional air speed, and evaporative cooling can help limit the increase in body temperature while in the holding area.
All projects have a budget of one form or another. Good planning and understanding the basics of heat abatement will help get the best return for limited resources.
There is no question that farmers, and dairy farmers especially, are passionate about the animals in their care and making a living from the land. That passion extends to making sure that land is sustainable for future generations.
So, when Manitoba Hydro’s Power Smart Solar Energy Program provided an opportunity to pilot a large solar energy project, Optimist Holsteins leapt at the chance.
Albert Gorter and Chelsea Enns
“The decision to move to solar technology was an easy one for us,” remarks Hans Gorter, who farms with his wife Nelleke, son Albert, and daughter-in-law Chelsea. “As farmers we are in tune with the land so it’s natural to implement sustainable operating systems when and where we can.”
Solar energy is a sustainable resource that is easy to access and creates very little carbon footprint to produce. It’s a clean form of energy that is renewable at no extra cost for the life of the solar panels, which can be up to 25 years.
Optimist Holsteins’ solar energy system sits on land that was only good for growing grass. Two and a half years later that space is now among the most productive pieces of land they own.
“The farm on average will use about 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) or more every day. The average solar production is around 750 kWh daily, year-round, which is equal to about 75 or 80 percent of our electricity needs,” explains Gorter. To put that in perspective, the average home in Manitoba uses less than 2,500 kWh of energy every month.
Optimist Holsteins’ environmental leanings are also influenced by Gorter’s European roots. Gorter and his wife moved to Canada from the Netherlands in 1987. He has many friends in Europe who use solar technology.
Optimist Holsteins’ system uses the same type of panels as many of Gorter’s European farming friends – but here in Manitoba, he is getting 20 percent more solar production.
“On average, we in Manitoba have more bright sunny days, making Manitoba an ideal place for solar energy systems,” Gorter adds.
While they aren’t the largest solar energy system in the province anymore, Optimist Holsteins is looking forward to the next big movement in solar technology – the day when solar-powered cars will be the norm and it’s their plan to be the first farm in their area to own one.
If you are like most producers, at one point or another you toy with the idea of re-designing your feed center. Today there are lots of good examples of indoor feed centers and it yields the question, do I need a fancy feed center? If I take the plunge what will it do for me? Before jumping to a re-design, perhaps an efficiency audit is in order…
What is a feed center for?
The main purpose of a feed center is to protect the integrity of your commodities. Chances are, the single biggest expense on you dairy is feed, the cost of which is usually estimated to be 4 to 5 dollars a day for a lactating cow.
In recent years there has been much light shed on the true cost of feed. I think it is a common understanding that unless you are able to track inventory you can’t measure feed loss and therefore, you can’t understand the true cost of what you feed your cows.
Most would say it is impossible to eliminate feed loss, but by understanding areas within your control, creating a well-planned feed management program, and having well-trained feeders to execute the program, you can properly manage feed loss and truly understand the cost of feed.
With that understanding, the feed center is a big help in managing feed inventory. Some of the main needs to manage inventory are:
A bay with access to both sides can be used to access the oldest feed in a bay first, and allow new feed to be added from the other side without disturbing loading.
Bays that are large enough help keep inventory straight by not mixing up ingredients.
Large enough area to accommodate delivery trucks and the way they will be dumping the load.
Pre-determined bays for specific ingredients that are clearly labeled.
Beyond the integrity and inventory of your commodities
From my experience, the feed center is important for many reasons beyond protecting the integrity of your commodities and inventory. It is also used for:
Having the ingredients close to the loading area.
Being able to load feed efficiently by placing the higher volume ingredients closer to the mixer.
Fuel Savings – reducing the amount of driving by having the feed center close to the pens.
Farm traffic control
Access for truck deliveries during office hours and for after hours.
Accuracy – providing ways to handle smaller and more expensive ingredients.
Minimizing shrink is also a reason for good feed center design, but may also be more of a training issue. Having ingredients close to the mixer in a good order will reduce the need for the feeder to feel rushed. Slowing down and focusing on accuracy will definitely help minimize shrink.
Starting Out – Running an efficiency audit
Everybody who builds a feed center, no matter how big and how efficient, will almost immediately find ways they want to change it. No matter what situation you are in, you may have the means to change your feed center or maybe not, but the first thing to do is to understand where your financial deficiencies truly lie.
Efficiency is probably the easiest way to evaluate your feed center (and the people who run it). Take time to answer the questions that relate directly to financial loss either in feed or in labor:
How long does it take to load each ingredient?
How long does unloading take?
Are your mixer scales calibrated?
What does it cost to run your loader per hour?
What does it cost to run your mixer per hour?
How much fuel could be saved by reducing hours on equipment or loading and unloading time?
After understanding these things, you may find what looks like inefficiency. Now it’s time to ask how… how can equipment hours be reduced? How can I reduce the time it takes to load a particular ingredient?
Really the first step is having the data to evaluate what you are doing. Usually it doesn’t take very many weeks to build that data… it’s just a matter of doing the same things you have always been doing, but incorporating automatic ways to track that information. The following video will shows how you can evaluate this data using EZfeed.
Stuff The daily feed intake and methane output of 12 young bulls is being closely monitored at Livestock Improvement Corporation’s Chudleigh Farm.
Farmers have been given the option to pick more climate and river-friendly cattle when they select Dads for next season’s calves.
Every year, farmers choose the genetic make-up of the next generation of cattle by selecting semen from a catalogue showcasing the nation’s finest breeding bulls.
Typically, they’re looking for high milk production in the bull’s daughters, and cows of the right size and attributes for their farm – at a price they can afford.
But this year, farmers can also select lower-methane cattle from the menu, as well as ones that produce less river-polluting nitrogen for each litre of milk.
A note of caution: scientists haven’t yet found genetic markers identifying the climate-friendlier cows from the rest, so herd improvement company Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) has used an animal’s efficiency at turning its food into milk as a proxy for its environmental hoofprint. But the offer is part of a gradual shift towards trying to breed a national herd with less impact.
LIC supplies the semen used to breed most of New Zealand’s dairy herd, a process that happens via artificial insemination. The new index assigns bulls a score from 1 to 10, based on their progeny’s estimated methane output and nitrogen excretion.
In the absence of direct genetic markers, an animal’s efficiency at converting its own food into food for people is a fairly good proxy for the animal’s climate impact per litre of milk or kilogram of butter, says Tony Fransen, LIC’s environment and welfare manager.
“Potentially, we could have a pack of butter sitting on the shelf in Tokyo that has a lower footprint than another pack from Australia or the U.S., so having the labelling to calculate the impact at a product level could be quite useful for us,” he says.
Government estimates suggest every kilo of dry food a cow eats produces 21 grams of methane – so the more a cow must chow to make the same amount of milk, the higher its likely climate impact.
As well as methane from the snout, there’s an environmental double-whammy from nitrogen wasted from a cow’s rear end. When nitrogen-laced cattle urine lands on paddocks, particularly in the wet season, it can end up in waterways, and it also makes a powerful greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide.
By breeding more efficient herds, farmers might find they can shrink the number of cows on their farm and still get the same amount of milk, says Fransen – which could help meet water quality standards in polluted catchments.
Meanwhile, researchers are working on finding genetic markers for identifying lower-methane cows directly, to predict their output more accurately.
A small pilot trial looking for a link between the methane cows produce and their genetics is underway in the Waikato, run by LIC and another breeding and genetics company, CRV.
The taxpayer-funded New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGGRC) has funded the trial, which will test bulls by luring them with snacks so they place their heads in a bucket-like contraption called a Greenfeed. The machine sucks away their breath to see if some animals are producing less methane than others. If it works, a bigger trial of 300 bulls should start in February.
The story of New Zealand’s methane emissions is one of rising efficiency, but rising impact.
Since 1990, Fransen estimates LIC’s breeding bulls have lowered their output of methane per kilo of milk solids by 13 per cent, purely through breeding to increase efficiency. He hopes finding genetic markers for methane will accelerate the process.
However over the same period, government statistics show New Zealand’s overall methane output has risen, because the national herd has increased with dairy conversions. (Sheep, which were displaced by cows, have a lower methane output per animal than cattle).
The Ministry for Primary Industries’ Jennie Marks told an NZAGGRC seminar agriculture emissions had increased 17 per cent since 1990, making up 48 per cent of emissions today.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor was asked whether the government would delay bringing farming into the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), while research continued in areas like methane-lowering feed supplements. So far, more than $100 million has been spent researching how to shrink farming emissions, including trialling low-methane feeds and a hoped-for methane vaccine.
Agriculture will enter the ETS in 2025, but only a small fraction of its emissions will need to be offset or paid for.
“We’ve got five years,” O’Connor said. “The fact we bring it in at only 5 per cent obligation is a huge concession.”
He said incorporating agriculture into the ETS was hugely important to trade negotiations with the likes of the United Kingdom and the European Union. “Don’t underestimate the positives of this.”
The hunt for lower-methane genes is already well underway for sheep. State-owned farming company Pamu has been breeding sheep specially selected to be lower-methane, in Rotorua.
After a few generations of selective breeding, sheep can produce ten per cent lower emissions than their high-emitting relatives, previous studies by AgResearch have found.
The challenge now is to transfer those gains to cattle. Cows have a higher methane output than sheep but also cost more to study. Not only do the animals themselves cost more, they typically need to go in bigger full-body respiration chambers to measure their gases.
Fransen says, if cows gain their own genetic markers for methane, it would be quick to translate the results into dairy herds. “While sheep have the advantage of initial measurements, once we get those for cattle, we’ll have the advantage of being able to roll out through our AI programmes (quickly),” he says.
“The (LIC) tool is already set up so if there was genetic value for methane emissions, I reckon within 24 hours I could have it in the tool,” says Fransen.
Meanwhile, lower-nitrogen cows could also become a reality.
Lincoln University researchers have confirmed farmers could breed cows that pee less nitrogen, a benefit CRV Ambreed claimed could add up to improvements of 10-12 per cent by 2025.
In a potential bonus for farmers, the cows seemed to convert the otherwise wasted nitrogen into milk protein.
While new opposition leader Todd Muller has bristled at suggestions of shrinking the national herd, previous Lincoln research found having fewer cows and feeding them better lowered nitrogen run-off hugely, for similar profit, a finding backed up by other studies trialling less intensive farming methods.
As for the new options in the catalogue, Fransen says he isn’t expecting an instant change in the dairy herd, but seeing the options will get farmers thinking.
“I’m expecting farmers to see it, become aware of it, be ready to ask questions and then next year they might make decisions around it.”
While many assume 2020 to be the biggest hurdle yet, a portion of current on-farm challenges are due in part to 2019 effects – including the poor forage harvests. Current feed inventories are suffering, even with the help of first crop hay, and many are searching for alternative forage options to offset a year they’d all like to forget.
“Winterkill exhausted perennial plants and that coupled with difficult growing and harvest seasons was a major contributing factor to nearly depleted feed reserves,” says John Goeser, Rock River Laboratory animal nutrition, research and innovation director. “Because of prevent plant in 2019, we saw significantly fewer forage acres and are now suffering from shortages of wheat straw and other pillar forages.”
Make a sustainable nutrition plan
Goeser recommends a sustainable nutrition plan for those who are facing scarce feed inventories. “Increasing corn silage to keep forage at the same levels isn’t sustainable. This is only a temporary fix and will eventually lead to feeding less and less corn silage and more haylage.” Not only will this bring highly digestible starch into the diet, but lends to a yo-yo effect that is too drastic for continued herd success.
Instead, Goeser says inventories should be reviewed and, depending on the harvest timeline for the next crop, farms should allocate and ration feedstuffs on a per cow per day diet to maintain stability. “Coming in with high fiber commodity feeds can also offset the gap,” suggests Goeser. “Analyze them like a forage then formulate with them.” Such feeds include almond and soy hulls, wheat mids, and corn gluten. Accessibility and cost will ultimately determine exactly which commodity feeds are most efficient for the ration.
Plan for near future and long-term crops
As 2020 rolls on, there are still opportunities to contribute to low feed inventories. “In cases of winterkill like we saw, seed down forage oats to build up yield right away,” suggests Goeser. “This crop is fairly hardy early in the year.” In cases of alfalfa stands that are pulled out after first cut, he recommends warm season grasses such as sorghum and sudan to help bulk up inventories and improve yield. If there is enough inventory left to sustain through mid-year, more cool season grasses, such as triticale, can produce higher quality dairy feed, which can be harvested in late June and July.
“If we have three months of time with a hay or haylage crop, then we should look at triticale, Italian ryegrass or a varietal blend,” explains Goeser. “These all produce more than oats but take longer to establish and yield.”
Recognizing the environmental conditions for the past two to three years can be helpful in long-term crop planning. Goeser explains that, “alfalfa is great when we can get three to five years of stand production”, but suggests also weighing the pros and cons of annual forages that may overwinter better – such as winter wheat and winter rye. “This has potential to reduce risk and offer a consistent crop,” says Goeser. He also suggests opening up to cover crop opportunities to double crop in the future.
Whether inventories remain low or have been replenished thanks to first crop harvest, planning and maintaining a steady ration is key for herd success. The best means of doing this is with the help and expertise of the farm’s team of managers and consultants.
“Work with a trusted seed consultant and nutritionist, and ask the important questions of when is the forage needed, what is being forecasted for the growing season conditions, and when is ideal for the forage to be put into silos,” suggests Goeser. “This planting season has been sound and we all hope that leads to a good growing season for a better 2021 forage inventory.”
Founded in 1976, Rock River Laboratory is a family-owned laboratory network that provides production assistance to the agricultural industry through the use of advanced diagnostic systems, progressive techniques, and research-supported analyses. Employing a team of top specialists in their respective fields, Rock River Laboratory provides accurate, cost-effective, and timely analytical results to customers worldwide, while featuring unsurpassed customer service.
Wondering how fatty acids can be related to navigating through these unprecedented times of COVID-19? This video series inludes three short sessions on current matters that the dairy industry is working through to continue to provide their essential products and how feeding fatty acids can allow for maintaining production and future profitability.
Session #1: Don’t Flatten the Wrong Curve
Listen in as Dr. Tom Jenkins with Clemson University, Dr. Kevin Murphy, and Renee Smith with Virtus Nutrition present the first session of Big Fat Ideas During COVID-19: Don’t Flatten the Wrong Curve. This short 8 minute video covers important factors to maintain performance of your early and later lactating cows using grouping strategies, adjusting DMI, and ration balancing, while not losing sight of the need and demand for fatty acids for critical reproduction and immune support.
Session #2: Distillers’ Scarcity & Impact on Fatty Acids
In this second session on Big Fat Ideas During COVID-19, the scarce supply of distillers is discussed and the impact this has on feeding fatty acids. Listen in to find out what individual fatty acids to focus on to ensure your herds performance maintains productivity.
Session #3: What Fatty Acids and COVID-19 Have in Common
Listen in to this third session on Big Fat Ideas During COVID: What COVID-19 and Fatty Acids Have in Common, as the preventative action of hand washing to kill the virus is compared to how fatty acids can interact with rumen microbes and impact milk fat production.
A recent report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations shows that the global dairy industry is already part of the solution to address climate change. However, dairy farmers need to accelerate their current efforts by continuing to improve production efficiency.
The growth of the world population, which is expected to increase from the current total of about 7,6 billion people to 8,6 billion in 2030, 9,8 billion in 2050 and more than 11,2 billion in 2100, has left farmers with the responsibility to increase the supply of food in order to meet demand, which is set to double by 2050.
As is the case for every agricultural industry, this growth will provide opportunities and challenges for the dairy sector.
According to a report published earlier this year by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Global Dairy Platform, more than 80% of the world’s population, or about six billion people, regularly consume dairy products.
The report, ‘Climate change and the global dairy cattle sector: The role of the dairy sector in a low-carbon future’, states that the challenges for the dairy sector include bringing milk to the consumer at competitive prices, while also contending with changing weather patterns, changing market dynamics and dairy prices.
At the same time, dairy farmers also have to adapt their operations in line with the growing emphasis on sustainability, as well as on consumers’ growing concerns about the environment, animal welfare and the quality of their food.
According to the report, livestock products are responsible for more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than most other food sources.
“In dairy production, emissions are the result of various complex biological processes, [such as] methane from enteric fermentation, [during which] methane is produced as a by-product of the digestion process,” the FAO report states.
Additional methane and nitrous oxide emissions occur throughout the process of managing livestock manure, and other emissions include carbon dioxide largely associated with energy use throughout the production process, such as milking for example, as well as the production and transport of inputs such as feed.
The study also shows the global dairy industry’s GHG emissions increased 18% between 2005 and 2015. However, over this period, overall milk production has grown 30%.
“The trends in absolute emissions reflect changes in animal numbers as well as changes in the production efficiency within the sector,” the report states.
Between 2005 and 2015, the global dairy herd increased 11% and average global milk yield increased 15%. According to the report, without efficiency improvements, total GHG emissions from the dairy sector would have increased 38%.
Emission intensities, measured as GHG produced per kilogram of milk, have declined almost 11% over the period, due largely to improved animal productivity and better management.
However, the report says there is a distinct difference in emission intensities between regions. In developed dairy regions, emission intensity is generally lowest, with ranges between 1,3kg and 1,4kg CO₂-equivalent per kilogram milk, while developing dairy regions such as South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, West Asia and North Africa have recorded higher emission intensities, with ranges between 4,1kg and 6,7kg CO₂-equivalent per kilogram milk.
The large variations that occur in emission intensity between, and also within, regions can, according to the report, be explained by differences in management practices, and implies that the potential exists to reduce GHG emissions in all regions.
While the emission intensity of milk has declined, this reduction has been offset by the increased overall growth in milk output.
The FAO report states that increased livestock productivity (milk yield/head of cattle), with considerable variability between regions, has resulted in increased individual cow feed intake to meet higher energy demands, which, in turn, has resulted in higher emission rates per cow and increased methane (see Table 1) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions per animal.
Table 1: Methane (CH4) released by dairy cattle versus milk produced
CH4 (kg) released/ animal/year
Average milk yield (kilograms/animal/year)
Central and South America
West Asia and North Africa
“Since enteric fermentation contributes more than half to total emissions, this area represents a potential opportunity for mitigation. Emissions associated with feed production point to a potentially applicable strategy for reducing the GHG emission intensity of milk, [namely] improving feed conversion efficiency, defined as the amount of feed input for producing a given quantity of milk,” the report states.
For example, an analysis by the FAO and the Global Dairy Platform shows that more of the feed consumed by animals is used for production than for maintenance, and as such, higher milk production, which has largely been driven by increasing milk yields per cow, has contributed towards lowering emission intensities.
“Higher milk yields imply a shift of the cow’s metabolism in favour of milk production and reproduction rather than maintenance, contributing to lower emission intensities,” the report states.
Moreover, the industry has also seen a continued increase in productivity and reductions in emission intensities driven by efficiency gains in areas such as nutrition, genetics, reproductive performance, disease control, and improved fertiliser practices and enhanced management at herd and animal level.
However, studies have shown that there is a definite tipping point after which increased efficiency is no longer associated with a reduction in emissions.
“Gains in saved GHG emissions through increased milk yield is marginal for milk production systems with milk yields above 5 000kg of milk/cow per year. The inflection point for this relationship is approximately 1 200kg of milk/cow per year.
“This is the milk yield that should be the minimum performance targeted for sector-wide maximum reduction of intensity globally,” the report states. It further suggests that the largest reduction potential for increased milk yield is in systems that yield below 2 000kg/cow per year.
The report offers mitigation options that, according to the FAO and the Global Dairy Platform, are consistent with improving on-farm efficiency and profitability.
It states that enhancing animal productivity has several dimensions, including “feeding, reproduction, health, genetics and overall management of the animal operation”.
In many parts of the world, according to the report, the single most effective GHG mitigation strategy is increasing animal productivity. Some of the practices and technologies the report promotes include:
Feed and feeding management: Increasing feed efficiency by optimising the energy and protein content in feed, and by using precision feeding techniques to match animal requirements with dietary nutrient supply. Farmers should use more locally produced feed, and source low-emission feeds, as well as store more carbon in the soil through better grassland management.
Manure management: Improving manure collection, storage and utilisation. By using cow manure in biogas systems, it is possible to reduce emissions of GHGs associated with the storage of manure. Farmers should also improve the quality of fertiliser and replace fossil fuel energy sources with alternative energy sources.
Switching from raw to composted manures can also greatly reduce emissions.
Fertiliser management: Optimising consumption relative to need. Lowering manure application rates and incorporating manure into the soil can reduce emissions while maintaining farm productivity. Farmers should apply fertiliser at the optimum time, using the best technology.
On-farm energy usage: Reducing fossil fuel energy use, while increasing the use of sustainable energy.
Animal health and husbandry: Improving the management of herd structures to reduce the number of non-productive animals. Improved animal and herd fertility and reproduction is an effective approach to reduce emissions per unit of milk and increase dairy profitability. Farmers should also reduce the prevalence of diseases and parasites; healthy animals are more productive, and thus produce lower emissions per unit of output. The genetic potential of animals should also be improved through planned crossbreeding or selection within breeds, and proper nutrition.
Use an activity monitoring system to get ahead of cow sickness and maintain performance.
Imagine starting each day with a list of cows that need attention. You wake up and open an app on your phone, tablet or computer, and the list is waiting for you. Activity and feed intake for cows #555, 579 and 790 suddenly dropped, which could be an early sign of mastitis. Chewing activity for cows #345 and 567 has suddenly dropped, which could be early warning signs for ketosis or hypocalcemia. You can start your day with forward-looking insights like these before you step one foot out of your bed in the morning.
“Automated activity monitoring systems (AMS) collect data on every cow 24/7,” says Arnold Harbers, data analyst at Nedap Livestock Management. “The system compares live data to past data on the animal and the rest of the herd. When incoming data is different than what would be expected based on previous data, the system can send an alert to your phone or laptop for intervention.”
Besides heat signs and the cow’s location, Nedap’s CowControl system monitors eating, rumination and inactive behavior. Here are a few ways AMS data gives you useful information on individual cows and herd trends to help you control costs and maintain animal health:
Reduce treatment time of mastitis
What if you could detect acute mastitis and other common diseases earlier? Mastitis is among the most contagious and costly diseases affecting U.S. dairy farms. In fresh cows, a mastitis case results in an average loss of $444. And in total, mastitis costs U.S. dairy producers about $2 billion per year. AMS data can help you detect early signs of disease and intervene faster, improving outcomes and preventing diseases from spreading throughout your herd.
One of the first signs of acute mastitis, for example, is a lack of appetite. And, when AMS data indicates a sudden drop in chewing time compared to cow or herd historical data, the system alerts you that the affected cow needs attention. If a cow does have acute mastitis, the health alert can help you identify and diagnose it before more obvious symptoms appear like swelling, hardness, redness and heat.
“There are two categories of health attentions,” says Harbers. “One category is ‘urgent attention’ and means this cow requires immediate attention. The second category includes cows with more subtle, less sudden changes in behavior. These are the animals that you can focus on during your regular pen walks.”
Cows on health attention lists should be evaluated and sent into treatment protocols or isolation for monitoring.
Stay ahead of feed quality issues
Feed costs account for the greatest portion of variable costs of producing milk. Detecting a feed issue before visual signs appear can help mitigate the financial impact. AMS data showing a decrease in feed intake for specific pens or across the herd can indicate a possible feed quality issue, such as mycotoxins.
Mycotoxins infect up to 25% of feed crops in the world, resulting in billions of dollars in lost revenue and the loss of up to 1.1 billion tons of feed annually. And, mold and mycotoxin issues in the feed are often challenging to diagnose because visual symptoms can be vague and varied.
AMS data can help identify symptoms of mycotoxins, including lethargy, reduced feed intake and reduced rumination. Data collected on individual cows and overall herd averages enable you to determine when an issue – like mycotoxins in feed – is affecting a group of cows or the entire herd. Reports on the groups eating pattern as well as eating, rumination and inactivity day totals provide insight into feeding and nutrition issues and management.
“The goal of AMS data is to alert you when there’s an issue before visual signs appear,” says Harbers. “We want to be able to pinpoint cows and groups in need of attention faster and more accurately, so that intervention can happen sooner.”
Drive transition period success
AMS data can also provide useful insights into the transition period from 60 days pre-calving to 30 days post-calving. Cow chewing activity, including eating and rumination, can be used to detect early symptoms of ketosis and hypocalcemia. It can also help determine future reproductive success.
“Cows that eat less during the dry period and the fresh period are at higher risk of ketosis and hypocalcemia,” says Harbers. “When chewing activity suddenly drops, the system will generate an alert and add her to a list of cows in need of attention. And, by identifying cows with a higher probability of ketosis, you can intervene and prevent lower milk production and lost body condition throughout lactation.”
A multi-year study on transition cow activity data by Utrecht University, Wageningen University and Research Centre, and Vetvice Consultancy in the Netherlands has also uncovered benchmarks for future reproductive success. Cows with higher eating times three to four weeks after calving are ready to be bred back sooner.
If a cow isn’t eating as often as she should, you can check on her and treat her accordingly. If multiple cows in one pen are experiencing similar issues, you can evaluate your nutrition program and environment. Making the necessary adjustments can help cows get bred back sooner.
Nedap Livestock Management is the global leader in farming automation using individual animal identification. For more than 40 years, Nedap strengthens dairy farmers through the most reliable and innovative cow identification, monitoring and automation solutions. They empower managers and personnel with dependable information to make operational and strategic decisions and help dairies become more efficient, productive and successful.
For Nedap, trust and reliability in both partnership and technology are key. Leading international dairy farming companies, including genetics and milking equipment suppliers, partner with Nedap to include its technology in their systems. A publicly listed company, Nedap employs more than 700 people globally, across 11 locations and seven business units.
Half of a calf’s lifetime height and growth is achieved in its first six months, according to a visiting US specialist.
David Kuehnel was raised on a family farm in Wisconsin, which reared 1200 special fed veal calves every year. He went on to major in Meat and Animal Science at the University of Wisconsin, and he is the former president of Milk Products for Land O’Lakes – the biggest producer of milk replacer in North America. Today, he runs consultancy firm, Rule of Three.
Talking to dairy farmers throughout Victoria as a guest of Daviesway, David explained that 25% of a calf’s lifetime weight gain also happened within the precious six-month window of birth.
And, for every additional 100gms of Average Daily Weight Gain (ADG) achieved in that time, producers could expect an additional 821 litres of production on the first three lactations – or a 7:1 Return On Investment (ROI).
“We can argue whether or not it was an increase of 600 litres or 1000 litres,” David told one group in northern Victoria. “But the key point, and the takeaway message, is that the better the weight gain we achieve pre-puberty and pre-breeding age, the bigger the impact on the future milking ability of those individuals.
“And, you can’t recover it, if you don’t have it to begin with.
“There is no such thing as compensatory frame growth – a short calf will be a short cow. I’m talking not just scale and size. I’m also talking body, lung, liver and digestive capacity. They are all set in early life.”
He acknowledged that every operation was different, but stressed that the reality of the maths, and the ROI didn’t change. The subjective part of the story lay only in the way that producers chose to prioritise their next generation.
“You have one chance to feed her right, and as I see it, one chance to screw it up,” he said.
US studies reveal that calves fed a higher solids diet the first eight weeks gained 11kg (16.1%) more weight, were 3.3cm (3.8%) taller, were 5.6cm (7.3%) longer and had 33 litres (17.2%) more body volume.
David was sensitive to the cost of rearing replacement animals in a tight economy. But he offered some options to address the issue. Using a baseline of a 100-cow herd, he explained that producers needed 63 herd replacements if they had an average first-calving age of 23 months (and a cull rate of 30%). At an average first-calving age of 24 months (with a cull rate of 40%), the number of replacement heifers jumped to 88.
“I’d advise to invest only in the calves with the greatest potential and sell your surplus animals as early as possible,” he said. “Re-invest that money into rearing the calves you choose to keep better.
“I think that’s a more positive result than saying, ‘I didn’t have enough money to raise them well, but I raised them all’.
Daviesway’s calf rearing specialist Brendan Johnson said the visit was part of Davieway’s commitment to knowledge sharing at a time when it has never been more valuable.
Estimates are that COVID-19 has caused the supply of milk to exceed the demand for milk by up to ten percent. The hope is that this reduced domestic demand and lower exports will be temporary. As a result, in some areas of the country, processors are dumping milk. Other farmers are under milk quotas or are being asked to reduce supply.
Strategies for early dry off
Strategies that purposely decrease milk production in early lactation cows will decrease milk production the entire lactation. However, it is important to develop a strategy for dry off and treatment of cows with long dry days to minimize the risk of transition problems when these cows calve again.
One of the main goals should be to maintain cow health and ensure that cows have the capacity to resume normal milk production in the subsequent lactation. Here are some ideas to consider that will increase the likelihood that this strategy is successful.
Adhere to dry off protocols
Management practices to reduce milk production of high producing cows at dry off will reduce the risk of dry period mastitis.
Research studies have shown that there is an increased mastitis risk when drying off high producing cows versus lower producing cows. Rapid teat end closure after dry off reduces the likelihood of new mastitis infections.
Reducing the nutrient density of rations rapidly reduces milk production in cows. Feed a high forage diet and reduce corn silage and grain intake.
Reducing the milking frequency can also be an option. Do this in conjunction with, not instead of a reduced nutrient density diet. Reducing the number of milkings can be done without increasing mastitis risk, provided teat ends are kept clean and dry. It is also beneficial to use teat sealants to reduce the risk of mastitis.
Feed appropriate diets
Gaining weight during the dry period increases the risk of metabolic disorders at calving.
The energy requirement for dry cows is very low. House these cows in an area where they get adequate exercise and can be fed a very low energy diet.
The goal is to maintain a body condition score of 2.75 to 3.25 out of 5. Housing these long term dry cows with growing heifers or feeding a diet to gain weight will set them up for an unsuccessful next lactation.
Work with your nutritionist to formulate diets based on dry matter intake that meets the cow’s nutritional needs while monitoring body condition score.
Provide adequate housing
Do you have enough space to house the extra dry cows? Many dry cow pens are already at maximum capacity. One option is to create a pasture or dry lot for these cows.
It is important that this area is large enough, contains shade, and is well-drained.
You can use portable feeders or a feed line with cement so these cows stay clean and dry.
If the lactating barn has space, consider creating a dry cow pen in that barn.
Control temperature to improve future milk production
Nine research trials done on cooling dry cows all have shown an improvement in milk production the subsequent lactation. Another reason to cool dry cows is that heifer calves born from cooled cows produce more milk
Drying cows off early can be part of a comprehensive plan to temporarily reduce milk production while maintaining cow numbers. Work with your nutritionist and veterinarian to develop dry-off and feeding strategies that do not affect the long-term health of the cows or productivity of the herd.
With decreased crop profits and dairy profits, both dairy and grain farmers are looking for ways to increase income by sending feed stuffs off the farm on the hoof instead of in a hopper or tanker, writes Jason Hartschuh with The Ohio State University Extension.
Many are questioning if one way to do this may be through raising their own dairy beef or purchasing dairy calves to feed out.
Considerations for getting started in dairy beef are:
What age of calves will you be starting with – 24 hr, 8 weeks, or 700 lb?
Do you have barns adequately designed for the age of calves you will be raising?
Are you ready for a 12 to16 month commitment?
What feeding program will you use?
There are three primary age groups for which you may choose to purchase dairy beef calves:
Milk-fed calves less than 8 weeks of age calf weights should double between birth and weaning with an average daily gain (ADG) of 1.55 lb.
Weaned calves, 350 to 700 lb, 4 to 6 months old; ADG goal: forage diet – 2 lb, high grain – 3 lb
Feedlot ready calves, 700+ lb; ADG goal of 2.75 to 3 lb
The health of calves starts in the first hours of a calf’s life. For this reason, it is recommended that you form a relationship with the farm that your calves will be coming from instead of buying calves that have been stressed and exposed through a stock yard. If you need help locating potential dairy farms from which to purchase calves, check with your local veterinarian and Extension Agricultural Educator. Calves need to have received 3 to 4 quarts of high quality colostrum within the first 6 hours of life to keep it healthy during the first 8 weeks of life. Calves also need to have their navels dipped and receive any supplemental vitamins and vaccines they may need as advised by the veterinarian. This group of calves will be the most labor intensive of any group and will require special equipment. Calves will need the most individual attention at this time. Dairy calves are typically on milk for the first 6 to 8 weeks of life, and many farms have now gone to an accelerated feeding program whereby increased milk is fed and calves are not weaned until 8 weeks of age. These calves tend to grow faster and stay healthier. These farms have gone to feeding calves 3 quarts of milk two or three times a day using a high protein/fat (28/20) milk replacer and a 22% protein starter grain. While some farms are feeding calves in group housing, this is reserved for the best managers of calf health. The best management practice for most farms is individual pens for each calf. Many farms choose to use plastic calf hutches because they can easily be washed and disinfected between each calf and ventilation is not a problem. When purchasing calves at this age, you will usually need to plan on dehorning and castrating them, which is not difficult but it takes some special facilities, training, and time to complete.
This group of calves is the second most labor intensive. Calves purchased in this age bracket should have already been dehorned and castrated, but male calves should be inspected for retained testicles. You should work with your veterinarian on a vaccination protocol, if you cannot find out a vaccination history, calves should generally be vaccinated for Bovine Respiratory Syncitial Virus (BRSV), Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR), and Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD). There are two primary feeding systems for consideration at this stage of growth. High energy feeding will lead to calves finishing between 12 to to 14 months. Low energy backgrounded calves are usually 15 to 17 months of age when finished. The difference between these two tracks is the amount of forages that are fed. The high energy fed calves will be on a high corn, low forage diet the entire time. The advantage to this system is that calves finish faster and on a smaller frame. This can allow you to move more animals to market with limited barn space. Feed costs are higher with this system, and the risk for acidosis is higher. A low energy system can be a good way to cheaply feed the calves for increased frame growth without putting on a lot of finish. If you are a middle operator and will not be finishing the calves, this may be the best system for you.
Feedlot Ready Calves
Calves at 600 to 800 lb are considered to be feedlot-ready calves. There are a lot of feeding options for these calves as well, but careful consideration is needed to choose the option best suited to your operation. Free choice feeding of shelled corn and a protein/mineral supplement through a self feeding system has been common for decades because this system requires less daily attention; however, they tend to have lower feed efficiency, decreasing profitability. A total mixed ration (TMR) tends to have better feed efficiency, especially when it is delivered to the bunk twice per day, although once daily can work. With this system, a slick bunk where the steers nearly run out of feed just before more arrives will be the ideal management goal. Precise quantities of feed delivered on time at every feeding are critical. The exact ration that will be most economical will vary based on byproducts and grains available in your area and yearly variations in prices. Sometimes a whole shelled corn diet blended with a protein pellet may be the most economical. For others, some form of multiple ground ingredients may be the best economical choice.
In order to keep calves healthy, they need to have adequate ventilation and space. The recommended space allowances pre calf for bedded packs including the feeding area are: calves 4 to 8 months — 40 ft2, 8 to 12 months — 50 ft2, and 12 months to finish — 60 ft2 (Penn State University, Plans for Claves and Heifers). When animals have a separate feeding and resting area, these requirements decrease to 28 ft2 from 3 to 12 months and 32 ft2 from 12 months and beyond. This spacing assumes a 10 ft scrape alley for feeding with 12 inches of eating space per animal from 3 to 8 months, 15 inches from 9 to 12 months, and 18 inches for 12 months to finishing (Midwest Plan Services, Ames, IA). These bedded pack areas are for well ventilated barns; if your barns are not well ventilated, these areas will need to be increased so that pens stay dry. Beyond dry pens, air quality is a major concern to decrease the number of animals with clinical or sub-clinical pneumonia. Ideally, barns will have curtains that allow you to open the barn up for natural ventilation and close to prevent drafts in the winter. In order to monitor air quality, place your own nose about one foot above the bedded pack. If you smell ammonia, there are too many animals in the barn for the air movement. You will also need to be able to easily load fat cattle onto a trailer without stressing them. If your barn is not currently set up with a load-out chute and cattle-handling system, you may need to plan to build one.
12 to 16 Month Commitment
The average age of Holstein steers at marketing is 12 to 14 months of age. Many producers aim to market at 12 months of age, while a few others aim for a little higher age, up to 16 months, utilizing a higher forage diet. Feeding cattle will tie up income from your commodities for at least a year, thus you will need to consider your cash flow to determine if you can manage to incur expenses for a year. If not, you will need to have a discussion with your banker about the cash flow while you are starting up and options for operating loans.
Feeding Program Selection
There are two primary types of feeding programs that are utilized and selected based on the producer’s preferences and availability of feed processing equipment. Moderate energy, middle diets followed by high-energy finishing diets are utilized by producers who can store and utilize forage effectively and have a slightly longer feed out time. This set of diets may be more economical but not always. Building costs tend to be higher, since fewer animal units go through a barn in a year’s time. This system also grows larger animals that may have a marketing discount for too large of loins and a lower number of high choice cattle.
The other diet system is a single stage, high energy diet with mostly concentrates and low amounts of forage (10 to 15%) from about 350 lb to finishing weight. This system works very well for many producers who want to feed the same diet and don’t have a way to mix forage and concentrate to make a TMR. This diet system tends to have lower building costs, but it requires more cattle management to avoid acidosis problems.
Working with a nutritionist and veterinarian as you get started will be important for developing a feeding system to optimize animal growth and enterprise profitability and developing animal health protocols for optimal animal health.
With the unprecendent times around the world leading to significant projections of decreased earnings on dairy farms in 2020, understanding different financial aspects of your business is critical. A key starting point is to understand different measures of cost of production and what a break-even milk price may be for your farm. While earnings are key for long term success and paying back investments, short term cash costs are important during times of negative margins and erosion of equity due to cash operating losses. Knowing these costs and how much below, or above, the milk price they might be determines how much equity might be lost during low periods, and how fast equity can be rebuilt when positive margins return.
The costs that have to be covered by the milk price determine the break-even point, or price. The challenge becomes what to include, or not include, to determine what those costs may be. Several different measures of cost of production can be calculated for your farm, each with different implications. The following discussion highlights different costs of production, utilizing data from the Dairy Farm Business Summary and Analysis Program to show averages and ranges for both 2018 and 2019.
When looking at any cost of production numbers, it is important that accrual or accrual adjusted income and expenses are utilized, rather than cash-based numbers. Having accurate information for revenue and expenses after adjustments for accounts receivable, grown feed and cattle inventories, purchased inventory, pre-paid expenses, and accounts payable is critical to calculate meaningful measures for the business.
Total Farm Operating Costs
This is a starting point for many farms, as this addresses the checks that are written every day before any family expenses or payment of principal to the bank. This is the total cost to operate the farm, so not only does it include costs to produce milk, but also costs to grow any crops that might be sold, along with costs associated to raise animals that are eventually sold for beef. The challenge with looking at just the Total Farm Operating Costs and comparing them to milk price is that other sources of revenue are not accounted for. In addition, there is no charges of any type for family resources, ownership costs for capital investments, or principal paid back to the lender. While Total Farm Operating Costs is a natural starting point to look at costs of production, it isn’t an accurate number to compare to milk price, considering these other sources of revenue, and cash and non-cash expenses.
Operating Cost to Produce Milk
Operating Cost to Produce Milk is a measure that is calculated to represent those costs associated with producing milk, or those costs that have to be covered by the sale of milk only. To calculate this measure, a key assumption is made associated with revenue from non-milk sales. This assumption is that for every dollar of non-milk revenue, such as animal and crop sales, it costs one dollar of expenses to generate. With this assumption, the non-milk revenue can be subtracted from the total farm operating costs to get to the Operating Costs to Produce Milk. If there were any cattle purchased that led to a herd size increase that were not included in the farm operating costs, these are also added in as a cost to properly calculate this measure.
Operating Cost to Produce Milk is the first measure that can be compared to gross milk price. This number represents those operating costs that are paid during the year and generally must be covered over time to stay in business. This is also generally the lowest cost of production number that is calculated. It is the lowest cost of production because there are no expenses associated with owners, nor are expenses associated with capital investments included. This number is before depreciation expenses, value of owner operators, value of unpaid family labor, and return to equity invested in the business. For 2018, for the average farm participating in the DFBS, a gross milk price of $15.17 was needed to cover Operating Cost to Produce Milk. This rose to $15.39 in 2019 (Table 2).
Purchased Input Cost to Produce Milk
With Operating Costs to Produce Milk calculated after other sources of revenue have been accounted for, this number can be used as a starting point to add in other expenses associated with the farm to determine additional cost of production measures. The next cost of production measure that can be calculated is Purchased Input Cost to Produce Milk. This measure starts with the Operating Costs to Produce Milk and adds in the additional expenses associated with the farm, primarily associated with capital investments that have been made over time, which is considered a purchased cost.
To expense capital investments made over the years against earnings, depreciation expenses are calculated. Depreciation is an annual expense associated with the capital investment and is generally based on some length of time that the investment will be used in the business, or the useful life. This expense isn’t associated with any principal paid back during the year for any money that may have been borrowed to pay for the asset, rather it is based on the initial capital investment and potentially a salvage value. By adding this expense to the Operating Costs to Produce Milk, the total cost of all inputs and assets that were purchased can be determined. Table 3 highlights these calculations for 2018 and 2019.
The Purchased Input Cost to Produce Milk will be higher than the Operating Cost to Produce Milk, and increased by $1.63 from $14.75 to $16.38 in 2018 and increased by $1.68 from $14.96 to $16.64 in 2019. This cost measure is still calculated before any costs associated with owner labor and management, unpaid family labor, and equity capital is considered.
Total Cost of Producing Milk
The Total Cost of Producing Milk adds in costs associated with family contributions to the business. These are charges, or expenses, for owner labor and management, unpaid family labor, and equity capital. These expenses are then added to the Purchased Input Cost to Produce Milk to determine the Total Cost of Producing Milk.
A key question for this measure is what to use for expenses, or charges, for the family contributions to the farm. With a focus on economic sustainability over time, opportunity charges are used for the family costs in this calculation, and not cash expenses. While the cash expense associated with family is captured under non-farm cash expenses within the DFBS, there are no cash expenses for unpaid family labor or use of equity within the business.
Opportunity charges is a concept that focuses on what the value or cost would be if the resources were invested elsewhere, or are paid for. For the equity the family has in the businesses, while there is no check written for interest on this investment, over time the goal is to make a positive return on the investment into the business, similar to what could be earned if the dollar amount of equity was invested in some other investments, such as mutual funds. For the unpaid family labor, what would the cost be if the business actually had to pay for it? For the owner’s labor and management, we can think about this in a few different ways. If the owner was doing the same job somewhere else, what would the compensation be? If the business was going to hire someone to do this job, how much would it cost to do so? For the opportunity costs used to determine Total Cost of Producing Milk, participants assign a value to their labor and management contribution to the farm. For unpaid family labor, a standard charge per hour is used to determine the opportunity cost. For a return on equity, a standard charge of five percent is used.
Table 4 highlights the changes for 2018 and 2019 to move from Purchased Input Cost to Produce Milk to Total Cost of Producing Milk.
The opportunity charge for return on equity is the largest of the additional expenses added in to get to Total Cost of Producing Milk, averaging $1.49 in 2018 and $1.43 in 2019. The value of labor and management was an additional $0.74 per cwt. in 2018 and $0.68 per cwt. in 2019. With these additions, the Total Cost of Producing Milk averaged $19.04 in 2018 and $19.10 in 2019.
The Total Cost of Producing Milk is the break-even price milk price needed to cover all costs associated with operating and owning the dairy farm over time. For the long-term success of the business, this is the number that needs to be covered by the sale of milk to allow the family to generate a rate of return on their investment, cover the value of their time, and provide the ability to reinvest in the business as machinery, buildings, and other capital improvements need to be made.
There is a large range in the Total Cost of Producing Milk every year for farms that participate in the Dairy Farm Business Summary and Analysis Program. Table 5 highlights selected cost of production numbers and adjustments sorted by the Total Cost of Producing Milk for 2019 by decile (10 percent increments).
Operating Cost Plus Cash Commitments to Produce Milk
The Total Cost of Producing Milk is the long-term cost of production amount that needs to be covered by the gross milk price. However, during periods of lower earnings, such as what 2020 is projected to be, this number most likely will be above the milk price. This number also doesn’t reflect what the actual cash expenses associated with capital investments and non-farm expenses, which might be of higher interest to managers during periods of lower or negative earnings and erosing of equity.
Starting with the Operating Cost to Produce Milk, the manager can focus on non-operating cash commitments, or those things the farm needs to pay every month that isn’t considered an operating expense, instead of non-cash expenses and opportunity costs that were utilized to determine Total Cost of Producing Milk. Instead of depreciation expenses, the current portion due for intermediate and long-term debt are utilized, along with any short-term structured debt. The three opportunity charges for value of labor and management, return to equity capital, and unpaid family labor are replaced by actual non-farm net cash withdrawals.
Table 6 highlights these changes and calculates the Operating Cost Plus Cash Commitments to Produce Milk.
The Operating Cost Plus Cash Commitments to Produce Milk is a number that is highly dependent on the individual farm circumstances and can be quite variable across farms. This number should only be utilized in the short term. It can also potentially be misleading. This measure is based on historical performance. If your purpose in calculating this number is to project what the next year might bring, then some additional budgeting efforts need to be made to update the operating costs of producing milk for the upcoming year, along with the planned principal payments to the lender and non-farm cash expenses. It is important to note that this number is only valid for short periods of time, and if this is the only number that is covered over time by the gross milk price, there may be challenges for the family to meet their goals and maintain an economically sustainable business.
As with Total Cost of Producing Milk, there is a large range in the Operating Cost Plus Cash Commitments to Produce Milk, as shown in Table 7.
Understanding what different cost of production measures represent is important to understand when thinking about milk prices and how the milk price may relate to different costs. It is critically important that accurate and complete records are available for the business to correctly calculate cost of production measures, and for these measures to have value in determining a break-even milk price. For long-term financial sustainability of the business, the Total Cost of Producing Milk represents all the costs that need to be covered by milk prices. In the short-term, when thinking about the ability to pay the bills and service debt, other measures can be utilized, as represented by the Operating Cost + Principal + Non-Farm Cash Expenses to Produce Milk measure. When utilizing some of these other measures, it is crucial to understand what is and isn’t included and what the implications may be over time if the milk price only covers these expenses within the business.
It’s moving day on dairy farms and Covid-19 has seen the bar raised in cleanliness and hygiene standards for the occasion, a Southland federated farmers leader says.
June 1 moving day, formerly known as Gypsy day, is the time when contract milkers and share milkers move their cows, families and equipment to new farms for new beginnings.
It’s also the time when the majority of sale and purchase agreements for dairy farms go through.
The day coincides with the end of the dairy season, when cows have been dried off.
Southland Federated Farmers dairy chairman Hadleigh Germann said dairy farmers also moved their cows to their winter grazing locations at this time of year.
There had been concern that moving day would coincide with lockdown but those fears were allayed when the country went to alert level 2.
However, Germann said Covid-19 had made dairy farmers more aware that cleanliness and hygiene needed to be at the front of their minds.
He did not have the number of sales and movements in Southland but said it was always a busy and exciting time for those involved.
“It’s new challenges in front of them, a new farm to learn, new team members to work with … a nervous excitedness, a bit like running onto the rugby park for the first game of the season.”
Neighbours or mates often helped out those people making the big move to new farms, Germann said.
”If you are having to pack up and shift it’s bloody busy, you have to dry the cows off and get them on trucks, you might be sending them to different farms, you try to leave the farm spick and span for the new people arriving.”
Technology advancements and economic necessity have changed breeding practices on dairies, creating more calves that are fully functional in the beef industry and higher quality beef with Choice and Prime grades.
This development can be a win-win situation once beef and dairy producers bridge the economic, business, and cultural gaps between the two industries, according to the RaboResearch report, “Dairy Calves Get a Beef Makeover.”
The practice of breeding a share of a farm’s dairy cows with a beef-breed bull provides dairies with an additional income stream, and using genetic selection enables dairies to be much more efficient in developing desired herd replacements. Moreover, beef-on-dairy crossbred cattle are creating high-quality carcasses with the improved muscle conformation desired by meat processors.
“Careful management and experience are driving success, and performance is starting to explode, as the industry improves its understanding of the best genetic matches and how to manage and feed beef-on-dairy calves,” says report author, Don Close, senior animal protein analyst with Rabo AgriFinance. “But, the relationships between buyers and sellers will be crucial.”
According to the report, there are still some gaps between dairy producers and cattle feeders in their opinions on what are the most important aspects to be breeding and managing for, as well as on pricing. “Success will require cattle feeders and dairy producers to form relationships and communicate expectations,” Close says. “I expect the supply of beef-on-dairy calves to increase significantly in 2020 and continue to climb over the next three to five years to a level where more than 10 percent of cattle in U.S. feed yards will be beef-on-dairy crosses.”
The report also notes the sustainability benefits of the changes. Close explains, “Compared to conventional dairy calves, beef-on-dairy animals are more efficient feed converters, reach full weight three to four months earlier, and have a higher percentage of red meat yield. This system reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the cattle industry.”
Farmers regularly face isolation; it’s important to stay connected
The inherent nature of the agricultural occupation is independent. Isolation is often linked to impacts on mental health and loss of life by suicide, writes Eric Karbowski, Michigan State University Extension.
Farmers have a deep rooted and often generational connection to their land yet suffer from high levels of stress and burnout. The use of technology, social distancing and a change in cultural norms are modifying the landscape of social outlets for farmers and farming communities. Farmers are using new and improved equipment with state-of-the-art technology in their day-to-day farm operations. As a result of this cultural shift, the decreased need to employ farm help is further limiting the social networks of farmers. Additionally, the increasing demand to cut costs and improve efficiency are forcing farmers to complete more tasks independently. Ultimately, these adaptations increase independence, reduce socialization and increase isolation.
According to Yazd et.al (2019), geographical and social isolation are frequently connected with psychosocial risk factors that impacts farmers health. Farmers can experience symptoms such as increased depression, high levels of stress and burnout, which are magnified by isolation. The changing culture of the farming industry, sense of pride, resistance to seek help, availability of behavioral health resources and competitive nature of the farming industry are contributing factors to the mental health and wellbeing of farmers.
Stay connected, it’s good for you
With the multitude of compounding factors the farming community is facing, how do farmers develop sustainable social outlets? Limited platforms for farmers to connect with farmers on a peer-to-peer level currently exist. Social outlets and local relationships instinctively foster the development of natural support systems.
Natural support systems can come in many different forms and settings. The opportunity to connect with a fellow farmer can be over coffee at a local elevator, weekly breakfast, regular “shop talk” meetings, or simply stopping in to check on a neighbor. Recognizing the importance and making efforts to stay connected with peers will develop local relationships and organically promote the development of natural support systems that build resiliency during difficult times.
The next time you can “chew the fat” with a fellow farmer, take advantage of it. The benefits of connecting with someone that shares a similar interest, venting and strategizing can have a positive impact on your productivity and overall mental health. Investing time to connect with others could be a sound investment in yourself.
Opportunities to connect
Michigan State University Extension’s many resources and information on farm stress can be found at the Managing Farm Stress website. There you will find descriptions of programs such as Communicating with Farmers Under Stress and Weathering the Storm, as well as other articles, projects and resources. Learning self-awareness, signs and symptoms of stress, mental illness and suicide can better enable the farming community to support each other during trialing times.
The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) has submitted evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) highlighting the problem of skills shortages in the UK.
The MAC will use the responses to support the evidence-based recommendations delivered to the Home Secretary in September 2020, which did not include dairy workers on the MAC shortage occupation list.
There are fears a failure to include foreign dairy workers on the list following this latest consultation will leave the sector with a labour shortage from next year when a new points-based immigration system is implemented.
The points-based immigration system will give priority to those with the ‘highest skills and greatest talents’, with dairy workers not falling into these categories.
RABDF managing director Matt Knight said: “Dairy workers are not classed as highly skilled and they are currently not listed on the MAC shortage occupation list.
“This failure to recognise dairy workers will leave the UK dairy industry with a severe labour shortage with some of the largest dairy producers in the UK relying on skilled foreign labour.”
He added: “There are real concerns that post-2021 some of our largest, most technically advanced dairy farms could be lost due to their reliance on foreign labour.
“Should this happen the repercussions would be felt right across the industry, with associated businesses such as feed companies and veterinary practices also affected, let alone the impact on milk supply, he added.”
A survey by RABDF in 2016 found over half of the respondents employed staff from outside of the UK in the last five years – a 24 per cent increase on 2014. Almost two-thirds said this was due to insufficient UK staff being available.
In the same survey more than 50 per cent of migrant workers on dairy farms were classed as highly skilled or mainly highly skilled- something the UK government fails to recognise.
Resting is a strong behavioral need. Mid-lactation dairy cows should spend roughly half of the day lying down (Cook et al., 2007).
However, lying time varies depending on factors inherent to age, health status and physiological stage (i.e., intrinsic factors). For instance, pregnant dry cows may lay down for 13 hours/day, whereas fresh lactating cows may rest 11 hours/day (Figure 1). During recumbency cows sleep roughly 4 hours/day (Ruckebusch, 1972).
Insufficient lying time leads to increased stress, alterations in feeding behavior (decreased feeding time) and lameness in dairy cows (Galindo and Broom, 2000; Huzzey et al., 2006). In turn, lameness decreases milk production and reproductive performance and increases the risk of cows exiting the herd. Management practices and environment (i.e., extrinsic factors) will determine the lying time of cows. These are factors we can control and optimize to meet the behavioral needs and time budgets of dairy cows. Working with best management practices and providing an appropriate environment will prevent lameness and stress in dairy cows and, consequently, increase milk production and health and reproductive performance.
Best management practices include best grouping and regrouping strategies such as having appropriate stocking densities in pens (especially pre-fresh and fresh pens), avoiding excessively frequent regrouping and avoiding commingling of cows in different lactations to decrease competition between cows. In addition, cows should not experience excessive time away from the pen for milking or restraint for long periods of time. Time milking varies depending on milking frequency, pen/parlor size, pen stocking density, distance from the pen to the milking parlor. In practice, to achieve the goal of <3 hours away from the pen, one could assess the time when the first cow leaves the pen to be milked until the last cow returns from the parlor and it should not take more than one hour if milking three times daily.
Stall base type and design and maintenance of the lying surface affect lying time. Dairy cows from herds with sand-bedded stalls showed significantly higher lying time compared to herds with mattress stalls (12.7 vs 11.5 h/d, respectively; Gomez and Cook, 2010). Furthermore, herds with deep-bedded stalls have a significantly lower prevalence of lameness compared to herds with mattress stalls (Espejo et al., 2006). Lying time of Holstein cows housed in free-stall barns increased by roughly one hour when increasing the width of stalls from 42 to 47 inches or when removing the brisket board from the stall (Tucker et al., 2004). However, brisket boards help to allocate cows with their back close to the rear curb to avoid cows defecating or urinating on the stalls and should be located 95 inches from the rear curb and not more than 4 inches high to allow cows to launch their front leg forward when rising (Cook., 2007). Several studies showed that appropriate management and maintenance of deep bedding stalls will increase lying time. Drissler and collaborators (2005) showed that for every inch of sand lost below the rear curb lying time decreases 28 min/d. In
this study, one week after adding sand the mean and maximum sand lost in stalls were 2.4 and 6 inches resulting in 1 and 2.5 h/d loss of lying time. Furthermore, cows spent 4 h/d more lying down in dry (86% DM) compared to wet (26% DM) sawdust bedding material. (Figure 2, Fregonesi et al., 2007).
Heat stress decreases lying time. Results from Allen et al., 2015 suggest that during periods of heat load and after reaching a threshold body temperature cows stand up to better dissipate their body heat. The period from when a cow stands up until transitioning to lying down again is defined as a standing bout. In this study, standing bout duration increased by roughly one hour when initial body heat increased from 100 to 105°F. In turn, increased standing time increases the risk of lameness. This partially explains why there is a significant association between heat stress and lameness in dairy cows. Providing appropriate heat abatement when the Temperature Humidity Index, THI, is ≥68 (THI corresponding to 78°F and 10% RH or 72°F and 50% RH), especially in the lying area of cows, will increase lying time, decrease lameness and increase health and reproductive performance and milk production of dairy cows.
For many in the farming world, June 1 marks one of the biggest days on the calendar, with the advent of Moving Day.
But what exactly is Moving Day and who’s involved?
In a nutshell, Moving Day, or Gyspy Day as it’s sometimes known, is the start of the dairy season and sees a large number of dairy farming families, shareholders, contract milkers and employees move to new farms.
The day will see an estimated 5000 farmers pack up and move, according to Jane Muir from DairyNZ.
And it’s not just people who will be travelling to new farms, in many cases cattle will also come along for the ride. There will also be a fair share of farm equipment to be moved, meaning logistics for those involved can be complicated.
Is it just one day?
Despite its name, Moving Day often takes longer than just 24 hours.
“The move is these days also referred to as Moving Week because this is how long it can take to move,” says Muir.
“Farmers can start the move before, during or after June 1.”
Will Queen’s Birthday have an effect?
Muir says the fact Moving Day falls on a public holiday this year “won’t have any impact”, with farmers unlikely to enjoy a sleep in and a day off for Queen’s Birthday.
One way the holiday could have an effect on the day, though, is that motorists and farmers might need to share the road in some parts of the country.
According to Stephen Cantwell from FMG Insurance, there are often more crash claims around the Queen’s Birthday holiday with more people hitting the road for the long weekend.
“This is why we’re urging extra caution this year as Moving Day, which coincides with the long weekend returning traffic,” says Cantwell. “There will be a lot of traffic on our roads.”
His advice was echoed by the police.
“We all need to look out for each other. Drivers need to look out for people crossing the roads and moving stock, as well as motorcyclists – who can be harder to see on the road,” says Senior Sergeant Alasdair Macmillan.
Apart from the physical move, what’s involved?
Aside from the actual moving from one property to another, Moving Day also involves plenty of admin.
There are plenty of regulatory requirements needing to be met, including preparing risk assessment plans or policies for the new property, completing animal health records and updating contractor coordination forms.
Muir says another big aspect of the event is the planning involved.
“It is very important that everyone involved in the move knows what is happening, when and how,” she says.
“Key priorities for Moving Day are therefore forward planning, communication and coordination. This has become even more important with the complexities of COVID-19.
Will COVID-19 regulations change anything?
Although the rules under level 2 have been relaxed a bit, everyone involved in Moving Day still needs to make sure they are doing everything needed to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus.
Although farmers don’t need to submit a formal plan around how they will manage COVID-19 risks on Moving Day, they are urged to keep the number of those involved to a minimum and maintain physical distances to 1 metre, as well as adhere to all the other Government regulations.
There is a lot of frustration out there right now – not just in the dairy industry, but throughout our society. People feel helpless and like they have lost control. It is easy to understand why. In the past two months, the unemployment rate went from 3 percent to 15 percent. Those who are working are concerned about their safety, and business owners trying to manage through the pandemic are fearing time is running out for them to successfully rebound from this.
On the dairy front, we as farmers have watched what was expected to be a relatively good year for milk prices quickly evaporate as milk futures prices fell to near 20-year lows. We hear reports of milk limitations and shortages at the stores and in the food banks, while our milk cooperatives and processors are still struggling to find places to go with our milk. Some of us have had new restrictions on how much milk we can produce placed on our farms, with very little notice, and all of us have watched April and early May disappear with very few windows to get any spring field work done.
Each month, Purdue University and the CME Group release an Ag Economy Barometer, in which they measure farm sentiment by surveying more than 400 agriculture producers. In April, to nobody’s surprise, they found producer sentiment had fallen to below 100 for the first time in three years.
The April survey indicated two-thirds of respondents were “very worried” (39 percent) or “fairly worried” (28 percent) about the impact of coronavirus on their farm’s profitability. When asked about their number one concern regarding their farm and COVID-19, 42 percent of respondents said they were worried about their farm’s access to markets, 37 percent said financial, and 13 percent said health and safety.
In other words, anxiety levels are mounting on the farm.
It is important that all of us in the dairy community support each other during this time when anxiety levels are so high. Our communications manager, Emily Barge, recently shared these strategies from articles published about mental health. I would encourage all of us to commit to practicing them daily. Hang them up on your refrigerator or in the barn office and share them with a loved one. They can make a huge difference in managing stress.
Find small ways to stay positive. Take a few minutes to play with your kids or focus conversations on pleasant topics. Doing something you enjoy can also be a positive distraction. Sometimes when I want to escape the stress, I find a good fictional book and read.
Connect with loved ones. It is normal to feel stressed, confused and scared during a crisis. Reaching out to people you know and trust can help. As humans, we find comfort in others.
Be compassionate. Someone once shared with me how one day she was waiting in line to get her driver’s license, and she was observing how angry the person waiting on customers was. As in most situations, the more irritated the clerk was, the ruder the customers got. When it was this person’s time to go to the counter, she simply started with “How are you doing? Really, how ARE you?” And in that moment, she learned the clerk had just found out her son had a terminal illness. The message was, “Always be kind because you never know what the other person is going through.”
Exercise and stay active. I recognize that most farmers aren’t going to train for marathons, but you can take a few minutes in the evening after supper to go for a walk or hike. It provides a nice break for both your mind and your body.
Try to focus on the present. Most fears are about the future and what may, or may not, happen. Stop yourself and say, “I am healthy and content in this moment.” That little act can pull your mind away from the anxiety and help you relax.
Unplug from technology. In our house, it feels like watching the news creates a lot of anxiety. Remember to separate yourself from it – whether it is the news on TV, what’s in the social media feed on your phone, or even what you’re reading in the weekly newspaper. Sometimes turning it off is the only way to calm your mind.
Set small goals. When I am feeling overwhelmed, I often start my day with a “to-do” list and outline the five or six things I want to accomplish that day. That helps focus my mind and gives me pleasure at the end of the day when I can cross off what I accomplished.
Stick to a routine, as much as possible. Just like our cows, we too are creatures of habit. Trying to keep a similar routine through each day can increase your ability to deal with stress. I recognize this is hard for farmers to do, especially during this time of year, but just remember that if you stay up all night working or worrying, you often pay for it later.
Find balance in your thoughts. Harvard Business Review recently shared this quote, “The goal is to find balance in the things you’re thinking. If you feel the worst image taking shape, make yourself think of the best image. We all get a little sick and the world continues. Not everyone we love dies. Maybe no one does because we are all taking the right steps. Neither scenario should be ignored but neither should dominate either.”
Help someone. One thing we are seeing across the state is dairy farm families getting involved in community milk drives. Get involved in one of these drives, write a note to a homebound member of your church, or offer to pick up an elderly neighbor’s groceries. These simple acts of giving back can help you feel positive and more in control.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an ideal time to remind ourselves that our mental health is as important as our physical health. No matter how challenging things get, it is important to make sure we monitor our own anxiety levels and the stress levels of those we love.
When you see signs that someone is starting to become overwhelmed, you need to get them help. Whether it is reaching out to a family friend, your pastor or a mental health professional, sometimes the most important first step is to make sure that person is talking to someone.
At the end of the day, we need to remember we are humans, not robots, and it is okay to not be okay. As an industry, we shouldn’t be ashamed to have these conversations. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, Dr. Charles Gardner is a great resource. He can provide a listening ear, a genuine understanding of what you are facing on the farm, and resources to help you move forward.
The Center also has other resources to help you manage stress and recognize the signs in others. Call us at 717-346-0849 to connect with Charlie or find help in other ways.
Editor’s Note: This column is written by Jayne Sebright, executive director for the Center for Dairy Excellence
As a farmer, knowledge is power. You understand your business better than anyone, but to be truly successful and profitable over the long term, it is essential to understand your cost of production. Watch this video tutorial to learn more about calculating your cost of production using worksheets provided by the Penn State Extension Dairy Team.
Dairy farmers use a total merit index (including – TPI, NM$, JPI, CM$, LPI, Pro$, DWP$, …) as their primary tool when selecting sires that they will purchase semen from. Using such indexes equates to what is commonly referred to as following a “balanced” breeding program. Balanced because the emphasis placed on the traits included in the index are proportional to the historic economic importance of the trait or balanced because the relative equal emphasis is placed on conformation and production traits with a lesser emphasis on auxiliary traits.
It is time to go beyond total merit indexes when selecting sires.
Total Merit Indexes – Too Many Masters?
Expecting total merit indexes to serve the past, present and future is an impossible situation. The past positions the ancestors in the pedigree. The present positions an animal relative to its current market worth. That leaves the future taking third place, when it comes to having progressive total merit indexes.
Animal improvement is about creating future generations. Having traits and appropriate future weightings in total merit indexes need to have higher priority for the future of dairying to be relevant.
A new concept for total merit indexes, when used to predict the future, is the need for them to be outcome-based considering both direct and correlated responses for the traits included. (For more information about outcome-based total merit indexing, read about Pro$ at www.cdn.ca/articles.)
Another weakness usually overlooked in total merit indexes is that recently developed genetic traits indexes (i.e. A2A2) are not included.
The primary reason total merit indexes are developed and published is not for breed societies animal ranking lists, bull breeders, breeding company marketers, or embryo and animal marketers … total merit indexes are for dairy farmers, who generate over 90% of their income from milk sales and who use genetics to minimize on-farm costs!
Animals for 2025+
In the past couple of years, there has been a dramatic shift in the genetic attributes that sires’ daughters must possess. The emphasis in the past was on milk volume, average milk component percentages, breed ideal conformation and a limited number of auxiliary traits. Dairy farmers are now seeing genetic indexes, produced by genetic evaluation centers and breeding companies, for additional traits. Traits that will either generate more income, reduce costs (i.e. feed, labor, herd replacements, etc.) or do both simultaneously.
One example of a trait that has had a dramatic shift in emphasis is stature. Many dairy people are saying that they want mature cows that are 5+ inches ( 12.5+ cms) shorter in order to have animals that are longer lived, require less labor, are healthier, are more fertile, are more resistant to disease, are able to consume more dry matter, … yet are able to produce more fat and protein volumes each day.
This author’s current read is that dairy farmers have increased their demands for expanded genetic sire information before they purchase semen. For almost 75% of the doses purchased the decision is based on genomic indexes. The shift has been made and not all total merit indexes are now futuristic enough. Breeders now want to know the outcomes they can expect for the sires they use not just the weights applied to the traits in the total merit indexes.
Just last week the author had a conversation with an eager young dairyperson asking why breeding companies do not produce and publish more genetic information on what their sires’ daughters are capable of from birth to first calving,
It is a new era for what must be known about a sire’s genetic abilities for an expanded array of traits.
What’s Not in Current Total Merit Indexes
All total merit indexes are different in the traits included. However, here are eleven of the areas where additional trait information may be of benefit by increasing revenue or reducing expenses.
As you read these, consider which ones would make a dramatic difference to your specific situation.
These traits are not presently included in most of the current total merit indexes.
Significantly Positive Deviation for % Fat (Reasons: lower cost associated with storing, transporting and processing less water; consumers now buying based on full fat; and less milk volume demands on milking cows to produce high fat yield.)
Casein Composition (Reasons: consumers want A2A2 milk; and processors get higher cheese yields from BB milk.)
Optimal Animal Health (Reasons: every farmer wants cow wellness [WT$]; heifer wellness [CW$]; disease resistance [MDR & MR]; and immunity[I+].)
Genetic Ability for Nutrition Matters (Reasons: feed conversion efficiency [FE & EcoFeed]; optimal dry matter intake; maximization of income over feed costs [IOFC].)
Functional Feet & Legs (Reasons: hoof health [HH]; hoof growth; and locomotion)
Heifer Performance (Reasons: calf vigor; weight gain; growth pattern; age to first calving [AFC].)
Reproduction (Reasons: age at first heat; embryo viability; metritis; retained placenta; hormone levels post calving.)
Transition Time (Reasons: ability to perform without problems in transition and fresh pens.)
Environments (Reasons: ability to perform at an optimal level in cold, temperate and hot climates; performance in confined or pasture situations; robot/parlor ready.)
Labor Costs (Read Bullvine article – “Don’t Waste Time!Choose Sires that Save on Labor”)
Decide on the Additional Trait Information that You Need
The Bullvine recommends the dairy farmers identify three to five traits that are important to their farming operations but that are not currently included in the total merit index that they use when selecting sires.
How to Consider Additional Traits when Selecting Sires
First off, shortlist the sires that meet and exceed your minimum requirements for traits that are included in the total merit index (i.e. 70 lbs. fat yield, PL 4.5, DPR 2.5, above average mastitis resistance, ..etc.). For dairy farmers not sure which is their preferred total merit index, The Bullvine recommends using NM$, CM$, JPI or Pro$.
Secondly, using your shortlist of sires, check each sire to make sure they are significantly above breed average for the three to five additional traits that you identified above and that are not included in your preferred total merit index. Do not purchase semen from the sires on your shortlist that are below average for your additional important traits. (i.e. If a sire’s daughters are below average for resistance to metabolic diseases do not purchase his semen.)
The Bullvine surveyed the top twenty Holstein and Jersey sires in all the major total merit indexes and found very few sires that were significantly above average for all current and new novel traits. So, dairy cattle breeders will need to do extra homework when selecting sires. More than simply ranking, buying and using sires based on total merit index.
Sire Selection Assistance
Breeding companies have staff members that can assist dairy farmers in identifying if a sire is superior or inferior for all traits. Breeding companies want dairy farmers to be successful. They can also offer programs in which farm breeding goals are established and mating recommendations are provided.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Future dairy cattle genetic improvement is more than production and conformation. Breeders need to determine the additional areas in need of improvement in their herd.
The best scenario is to use only sires that are significant improvers (i.e. 70+%RK) for the health, milk composition, feed conversion, fertility and body functioning traits that need improvement in a herd.
The tried and true method applies – identify the traits in need of improvement in your herd. Only buy and use sires that are superior for those traits.
What are the first few days of transitioning from a conventional milking parlor to a robotic system really like? Andrew Sandeen, a Pennsylvania State University Extension dairy educator, monitored a small dairy farm in Pennsylvania.
A single robot was retrofitted into a freestall barn originally built in 1996.
Construction to accommodate the new milking system began in spring 2019, Sandeen said in a university news release. About the same time an automated alley- scraper was installed to clean alongside sand-bedded freestalls. The new Lely Astronaut A5 unit was delivered in late July, allowing 2.5 months for installation.
The herd size was intentionally reduced a month before installation. Some cows were culled while others were dried off the day before startup. That brought the herd to 60 milking cows.
Transition day began with a final milking in the now-retired milking parlor. An enthusiastic first cow entered the robot at 10:30 a.m.
A crew worked with the robot and the cows around the clock for the next few days. Two to three people moved cows into the robot for the first 12 hours. That was the time required to complete the first milking of all 60 cows.
In hindsight a two-man crew was adequate for working with the cows. The owner spent most of the time working with the equipment. Robot-familiar professionals also were available the first few days to work with the owner on the equipment.
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 when rear teats were close together. There was often a lot of forward and backward movement with smaller cows. That made the attachment and milking process more difficult.
Several cows weren’t comfortable with the robotic arm moving underneath them and fought it. The arm took a beating but was impressively resilient.
About one-third of the cows didn’t let their milk down well the first day. Of course some were arriving with just a few hours of milk to start, but stress had an impact. That was apparent in the robot records and the bulk tank.
The second time the herd was milked in just 9.5 hours. There was still a need for constant attention moving cows to the commitment pen and into the box for milking, but there was a lot less hard pushing.
On the second day it was possible for just one person to manage cow flow most of the time. The robot was much more efficient finding teats. One issue that arose was a bottleneck where cows exited the robot. They were congregating in the limited space, pretending to drink from the water trough, curious about activity in the robot area.
On the third day an alarm indicated an issue with water flow and pressure at the robot. It was determined water pressure was less than adequate when water also was being used elsewhere in the barn, such as at the waterers. This led to plans for adjusting how water is stored and used on the dairy so the robot has a reliable supply at all times.
By the fourth day the system was running well. Cows were becoming accustomed to the finger gates around the milking area. Some cows appeared to like the new setup so well they’d return to the robot more often than they should, checking to see if it would provide more grain.
Two months after startup there were still a few fetch-cows every day. But the process of checking reports and pursuing important cows was easy to manage. The cows with the fewest average milkings per day — about 1.4 times — tended to be the ones on the fetch list. Other cows were visiting the robot as much as 3.7 times per day.