Archive for Management

Dairy Margin Reaches Highest Point of Year, but Still Below 2017

The following is from Lee Mielke, author of a dairy market column known as “Mielke Market Weekly.”

A higher U.S. All-Milk price average and some lower feed prices pushed the October milk-feed-price ratio higher for the third month in a row and the highest level since January 2018, but farm margins have since fallen. The Agriculture Department’s latest Ag Prices report shows the October ratio at 2.20, up from 2.10 in September but down from 2.47 in October 2017.

The U.S. All-Milk price averaged $17.40 per hundredweight, up 70 cents from September but 70 cents below October 2017. New Mexico again had the low at $15.80, followed by Michigan at $16.50. California, at $16.46, was up 49 cents from September; and Wisconsin was at $17.60, up 20 cents.

The national average corn price averaged $3.41 per bushel, up 2 cents from September and 15 cents per bushel above October 2017. Soybeans averaged $8.58 per bushel, down 19 cents from September and 60 cents per bushel below a year ago. Alfalfa hay averaged $178 per ton, down $2 from September but $25 per ton above a year ago.

The milk-over-feed margin was up 70 cents from September, at $8.96 per hundredweight, based on the Margin Protection Program calculation, highest margin of the year but still $1.17 below a year ago.

Looking at the cow side of the ledger, the October cull price for beef and dairy combined averaged $57.80 per hundredweight, down $3 from September, $7.60 below October 2017 and $13.80 below the 2011 base average of $71.60 per hundredweight.

Cash cheese prices ended November strengthened but still in the cellar. Block Cheddar, after dropping 10¾ cents Thanksgiving week, finished the week after and the month at $1.36 per pound, up 1½ cents on the week but 9½ cents below its Nov. 1 level and 20¼ cents below a year ago. The barrels closed at $1.3150, up 7½ cents on the week, after plunging 12 cents the previous week, but 6 cents lower on the month, 22 cents below a year ago, and 4½ cents below the blocks. There were seven cars of block sold on the week, 71 on the month, plus eight cars of barrel sold on the week; 44 on the month.

Midwest cheese production has slowed, reports Dairy Market News, and some plants are shifting away from barrel production to other varieties, such as curds, or selling milk into bottling. Shredded cheese demand is reportedly strong. Other orders are average to slow, according to a growing number of contacts.

Western cheese prices are low and overall U.S. cheese prices are lower than that of the European Union. Western processors are seeing more demand from the export market, particularly from Mexico. However, the general market undertone seems mixed, as some market players say they have been seeing more pushback on cheese demand. Cheese output remains active as milk is plentiful. Cheese is abundant in the West.

October Cold Storage data was a bit bullish for butter but that didn’t do much for the CME price. It closed the week and the month at $2.2425 per pound, down 3¾ cents on the week and 5¾ cents lower on the month, but is 2¾ cents above a year ago when it fell 14 cents. Seven cars sold on the week; 59 on the month.

Butter markets typically see a significant decline this time of year, warned DMN. The difference of the weekly average CME butter market price, between weeks 48 and 52, from 2013 to 2017, was a decrease of 24.15 cents. Contacts are concerned about the potentiality of a large drop-off this year. Cream is becoming more available for butter in the region, although some suggest the momentum is slow to build. Butter inventories are balanced to declining says DMN.

Western contacts say retail sales have been strong and print orders are coming in for the final holiday push. Butter inventories are seasonally lower but butter makers know they will have the opportunity to rebuild stocks after the holidays.

Dairy margins weakened further through the first half of November as lower milk prices more than offset a slight decline in projected feed costs, according to the latest Margin Watch (MW) from Chicago-based Commodity and Ingredient Hedging LLC. The MW stated, “Nearby dairy margins in both spot fourth quarter and first quarter 2019 are now negative with deferred margins in second and third quarters only slightly positive and above average from a historical perspective.”

“Milk prices continue to suffer from insufficient demand being able to absorb increased production,” the MW warned. “USDA reported October Milk Production of 17.9 billion pounds, up .8 percent from last year despite increased cow slaughter as the remaining cow herd becomes more efficient. USDA reported the October dairy herd at 9.365 million head, down 2,000 from September and 30,000 below last year. The Midwest continues to struggle with milking economics where production shrank last month, while production increases in Western states more than offset those losses.”

Penn State’s November Dairy Outlook examined the state’s dairy industry and reported: “Based on our sample of nearly 100 annual actual cash flow plan analyses, more than 50 percent of dairy farmers reported cash surpluses in 2013 (i.e., gross milk prices above their break even cost). In 2014, while the production costs were reported to be higher than 2013, the increase in gross milk prices compensated for the increase in the production costs and more than 75 percent of dairy farmers in our sample reported gross benefits.”

“However, the picture reversed in 2016, where the gross milk prices were below their average levels in 2014 and 2015 in such a way that producers could not benefit from lower costs of production. More than 75 percent of dairy farmers in our sample reported cash losses. In 2016, the increase in the costs of production, accompanied with flat gross milk prices made a dire situation even worse. Almost all of the dairy producers in our sample reported losses in 2016. While the situation got slightly better in 2017 due to a small increases in the gross milk price and lower production costs, more than 50 percent of dairy farmers in our sample reported cash losses,” according to the outlook.

University of Wisconsin emeritus professor Robert Cropp and Mark Stevenson state in their latest podcast that “we’re range-bound. Dairy markets are prepared to move up a bit and then retreat from those gains in the absence of any strong evidence that milk supplies are tightening or demand is picking up.”

The fundamentals wouldn’t seem to dictate where cheese prices are today, Stevenson said. They cited abundant cheese output, mixed reports on demand, and tariff-affected export losses as the factors impacting prices.

They also pointed to disappointing global prices as evidenced in the past seven Global Dairy Trade auctions, and stated that weather will be a big factor ahead. New Zealand milk output looks to be very strong, they said, Australia is in drought, and the EU milk output is questionable because of drought.

Cropp believes Class III futures prices are “too soft.” He’s a little more optimistic but doesn’t see “a great rebound in milk prices where farmers like to see them,” but should mirror those in 2017, “even though the futures aren’t there yet.”

HighGround Dairy’s director of market intelligence, Lucas Fuess, stated in the Dec. 3 Dairy Radio Now broadcast that the fundamentals look pretty bearish after the holiday season and into 2019. A look at Class III futures underscores that. Prices are below $16 per hundredweight through the first half of 2019, but Fuess says a continued drop in cow numbers could change that.

The last Milk Production report showed numbers continue to tick lower and are well below a year ago. If that continues and milk output slows to levels lower than where they were in 2018, that could indicate a rebound in the making, but “there’s plenty of product to work through before that happens,” he said.

When asked if the tariff and trade wars are responsible for the depressed prices, Fuess said they certainly contribute to it as it remains difficult to get product into China and, even with the new USMCA agreement, Mexico still has tariffs on some U.S. dairy products, he concluded.

Dairy producers must call on their elected representatives to respond to the financial crisis on U.S. dairy farms, according to Arden Tewksbury, manager of the Progressive Agriculture Organization. Tewksbury charged, “For the last four years, United States dairy farmers have been underpaid nearly $11 billion per year,” and he called for three specific actions.

First, lawmakers need to immediately implement a $20 per hundredweight floor price under milk used to manufacture dairy products. Second, agriculture committees need to hold hearings for dairy farmers to testify “how bad things are, and develop a new milk pricing formula which includes the dairy farmer’s cost of production.” Thirdly, he called for an investigation “to determine if whey and milk protein concentrate products are causing an unnecessary surplus of milk.”

“We’re losing thousands of dairy farmers each year, and this cannot continue,” he writes. “Many other dairy farmers are on the verge of going out of business. Demand congressmen and senators take immediate action,” he concludes.

The loss of dairy operations will impact several state economies, according to 10 new videos created by a coalition of dairy organizations and posted on the U.S. Dairy Export Council website. The posting talks of dairy’s “ripple effect” to related industries like retailing and manufacturing and “the numbers are eye-opening.”

The dairy industry supports more than 390,000 jobs and pumps $98 billion into the California economy alone, the video states. Dairy in Wisconsin creates 215,128 jobs and $62 billion, plus 203,254 jobs and $39.5 billion in Texas. Nationally, dairy supports 2.9 million American jobs, according to the videos.

The data come from “Dairy Delivers”, the International Dairy Foods Assn’s. economic impact tool, as well as quantitative analysis by the U.S. Dairy Export Council and National Milk. Bottom line, “Dairy creates jobs and exports create more.” Other states especially benefiting from the dairy industry include New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan.


Dairy calves’ personalities predict their ability to cope with stress

Researchers measure calves’ sociability trait by the proximity they choose between themselves and other calves in a group pen. Credit: University of British Columbia Read more at:

A UBC study published earlier this year found that dairy calves have distinct personality traits from a very young age. Researchers from the faculty of land and food systems tested calves for pessimism, fearfulness and sociability at both 25 and 50 days old, and learned that each calf has an inherent outlook that changes little with the passing of time.

Now the researchers have followed up that study by examining those same at four months of age, to find out how their govern their reactions to real-world situations.

Benjamin Lecorps, a Ph.D. student in UBC’s animal welfare program, was lead author of the latest study published Nov. 5 in Scientific Reports. We asked him about the findings.

You already knew which calves were optimistic, pessimistic, fearful and sociable. Why the second experiment?

This paper really focuses on the validity of the different traits we identified in our earlier paper. We set out to confirm, for example, that a calf with a fearful would be more stressed in certain situations than a calf that isn’t fearful.

How did you go about that?

One routine procedure that can potentially stress calves is transportation. It’s novel for them, there’s a lot of handling involved, and the calves usually don’t enter the trailer by themselves but have to be pushed in. Since we had to transport those calves from one barn to another as part of our routine management, it was a good opportunity to measure their reactions to a potential stressor.

Dairy calves’ personalities predict their ability to cope with stress
An infrared image shows increased temperature in the area of a calf’s eyes—a sign that the animal feels threatened. Credit: University of British Columbia

How do you tell if a calf is stressed while being transported?

Farm often vocalize when they’re in distress. It’s a good marker of the intensity of the emotional response; the more they vocalize, the more stressed they are. Typically, the temperature in their eyes also increases when they feel threatened, because the sympathetic nervous system is activated and that increases the blood flow to the eyes. In this study we used a combination of both measures.

So you had already identified some calves as pessimistic or fearful when they were newborns. How did those calves react to being transported three months later?

As expected, having information about the fearfulness trait allowed us to predict how calves reacted to transportation. What surprised us was that the pessimism was an even better predictor. The more pessimistic calves vocalized more often and had higher eye temperatures after transportation. We speculate that the more pessimistic calves have more negative expectations about any new experience.

How can this knowledge ultimately be used for the animals’ benefit?

The whole idea of studying personality traits for animal welfare is to detect which animals might be more vulnerable to stress. Knowledge about their individual personalities may enable us to understand better why some animals fail to cope under standard management practices, and are more likely to become ill. The time around calving is a good example. At that time, many things are changing for the cows, including the food that they get, unfamiliar pen-mates, learning how to be milked in the milking parlour, and of course all the physiological changes that come with having offspring. Dairy cows often get sick after calving, and the animals that are more vulnerable to stress may be more vulnerable to infectious disease.

More information: Benjamin Lecorps et al. Dairy calves’ personality traits predict social proximity and response to an emotional challenge, Scientific Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-34281-2


Cleaning Out and Restarting Your Compost Bedding Pack Barn

Compost bedded pack (CBP) barns have become an increasingly popular alternative housing system for the lactating herds of many dairy farmers in Kentucky and around the world. Past research has driven the rise in popularity largely due to the evidence that cows housed in CBP barns have improved cow comfort, heat detection, decreased lameness problems and in many studies decreased somatic cell count. However, effective management of the compost-bedding must be maintained by producers in order to successfully reap the benefits of a CBP barn. The most critical factor for managing a successful CBP barn is providing a comfortable, dry resting surface for the cows at all times.

Compost Bedding Cleanout
Compost bedding should be cleaned out once a year, with many producers doing so in the fall. Some producers will clean out the packs in the spring; it really depends on what the end product will be used for. There should be 6 to 12 inches of old bedding material remaining in the barn to help start microbial activity in the new pack. Once the bedding is removed from the barn, it can be used as a fertilizer for crops or it can be managed to produce a finished compost product and then sold.Restarting Compost Bedding

Figure 1Figure 1. Restarting compost bedding at UK Coldstream Dairy: May, 2018

Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin. The time of the year to start up a compost bed is extremely important and often forgotten. Producers should restart a fresh compost bed when at least the next four to six weeks of weather is expected to have highs above 50°F. This allows enough time for the bedding to begin actively composting, thus generating heat. The rate of heat production should ideally be at its peak prior to freezing temperatures. Not achieving adequate heat production through the composting process when going into winter may result in a decrease in overall heat production; in return producers have experienced increased difficulties in managing and maintaining proper bedding characteristics throughout those winter months. Many producers choose to restart their compost beds in the fall.

The key requirement for compost bed start-up is to apply 1 foot of bedding, either sawdust or dry, fine wood shavings, to the barn floor. Add enough bedding so that the mixing equipment is not able to touch the barn floor, as shown in Figure 1. Several semi-loads of bedding material (Figure 2) may be necessary and is dependent on barn size, number of cows, and the size of the pack.

Addition of Bedding Throughout the Year

Figure 2Figure 2. New sawdust used for the CBP barn at UK Coldstream Dairy: May 2018

Take Home Message New bedding should be added to the pack to help maintain a dry surface for the cows to lay on which occurs when the bedding moisture is at 40-60%. Any amount higher than 60% requires additional bedding. A simple way to check moisture is to grab a handful of bedding and squeeze it. If water comes out or droplets drip from it, the pack is too wet. Frequency of adding bedding can vary, but the recommendation is to add 4 to 8 inches every one to six weeks depending on ambient humidity. Some producers add smaller amounts of bedding more frequently. Keep in mind that the frequency of adding bedding can increase during humid or wet weather, if the barn is overcrowded, and if moisture evaporation from the pack is low.Why is this necessary?
The general concept of composting is mixing a carbon source with organic material high in nitrogen in the correct environmental conditions, in this case incorporating a sufficient amount of oxygen throughout the pack. This mixture initiates microorganisms to begin breaking down all of those compounds, producing carbon dioxide, water, and heat. The main carbon source is the bedding material: sawdust or wood shavings. The amount of carbon required for composting is directly dependent on the amount of nitrogen that is present. The recommended carbon to nitrogen ratio is 25:1 to 30:1. This means that much more carbon needs to be present in the pack compared to nitrogen. If you can smell ammonia in the barn, the carbon to nitrogen ratio is likely below 25:1. The main nitrogen sources are manure and urine. Since nitrogen is continuously being added to the pack via the cow, the addition of new bedding or a carbon source is necessary. The addition of new bedding also helps with absorbing any excess moisture. If any one of these conditions or sources are absent, the process will not work.

Compost Bed Stirring/Tilling
Uniform stirring of the pack twice a day is an absolute requirement in producing a soft, dry surface for the cows to lie on. Aeration, which is exposing and circulating air (specifically oxygen) through a substance, in this case compost bedding, is precisely what stirring the pack does. Ideal depth of stirring should be around 12 inches using a cultivator or a roto-tiller attached to a skid steer or small tractor. Stirring at depths more than 12 inches, usually with a chisel plow, will reduce the amount of additional bedding needed and will increase the overall bedding temperature. Pack temperature should be measured at about 6 to 12 inches below the bedding surface using a long thermometer. The pack should have an internal temperature of 110-150°F to allow for effective composting. An easy and effective management strategy is to stir the pack at every milking, when the cows are out of the barn. Not only does this reduce the stress on the cows, but it also minimizes the chance of dust from tilling causing respiratory issues for the cows. Once tilling is finished, the top layer of bedding will need time to dry. Running fans located above the pack and if possible, keeping the cows off of the pack for at least one hour are ways to quicken the drying process.

Take Home Message

Figure 3Figure 3. UK Coldstream Dairy herd enjoying the freshly cleaned CBP barn; May 2018

Successful compost bedded pack barns rely on key management practices. Understanding the process of cleaning out and restarting compost bedding is necessary for the success of this type of housing system. Key concepts include keeping 6 to 12 inches of old bedding material in the barn when restarting the pack, restart a fresh compost bed when the next 4-6 weeks of weather is expected to be above 50°F, maintain an internal pack temperature of 110-150°F, and add new bedding when the bedding moisture exceeds 60%. The end goal of any dairy producer is high milk production which occurs when cows are happy and healthy (Figure 3). Providing proper housing facilities will help achieve that goal.


Heifer Hoarding: Raising Too Many Heifers Is Not a Good Thing

Gone are the days when a surplus heifer inventory defined a dairy’s profitability.

As a progressive dairy producer, you are acutely aware of our industry’s sensitive climate. You know that every decision you make — even those that seem simple — can weigh heavily on your dairy’s success. Grab a pen, paper and get ready to take notes. Let’s talk about the three most common misconceptions when raising heifers.

Misconception 1: Raising every heifer increases profits.

    • In our industry’s current state, raising heifers is a costly expense that must be carefully evaluated. In fact, heifer replacement costs can be the second- to third-highest expense on dairies, sometimes up to 20% of total production cost.1,2 Take the general cost for raising a heifer from birth to springing — between $1,700 and $2,200 — and multiply that across the number of heifers you’re raising.3 Consider that it typically takes until midway through the second lactation for cows to produce enough milk to start paying their bills. Also, keep in mind that not all heifers will pan out. Some might be genetically prone to disease risks, such as mastitis, lameness or metritis, and may not survive long in the milking herd. Is raising every heifer really the most profitable plan? Additionally, consider how a surplus of heifers potentially pushes out older, higher-producing cows, ultimately decreasing milk production, lowering income, raising expenses and overall plummeting profits.

Misconception 2: Every heifer is needed to manage turnover.

      •  Keeping every heifer as a replacement is not necessary to successfully manage herd turnover. In fact, a recent study by Zoetis and Compeer Financial showed how managing herd turnover cost to be as low as possible can drive profitability.4Additionally, while you need to have replacement heifers, it should not be at the expense of older milking cows. A turnover rate of lower than 35% is ideal. This will allow you to maintain a fresh source of animals with high-genetic potential while still allowing cows to reach lifetime production peaks.

Misconception 3: Culling is too random, so why even try?

      • Thanks to new genetic technologies in our industry, you can stop guessing and more accurately identify animals most likely to survive and thrive. Using genomics, producers can avoid random culling and make more-informed decisions. Through genomic testing results, you can identify top-performing and risk-adverse heifers within your herd. Calf wellness traits from Clarifide® Plus can help you create calves with less risk of disease. Additionally, wellness traits from Clarifide Plus  determine risk for diseases such as mastitis, metritis, lameness, ketosis, displaced abomasum and retained placenta. Having this data on hand allows you to make more accurate, strategic breeding decisions for your herd, such as sexed semen for top-genetic heifers and beef semen for bottom-genetic heifers.

By evaluating your heifer-raising strategy, you can help move the needle on your profitability.

Remember, the future of your dairy begins with the genetic potential of your herd. I encourage you to hear insights and success stories from your peers who have implemented genomics into their management programs. For additional resources, please visit or speak with your Zoetis representative.

About Zoetis

Canola meal boosts milk performance in dairy cattle trials

The trial ration is competitive or even cheaper than the current diet

Feeding trials from Wisconsin dairies showed that cows produced more litres of milk per day with canola meal in their feed rations.

On-farm trials carried out at two dairies by the Canola Council of Canada and GPS Dairy Consulting, a group of independent dairy nutritionists, replaced animal protein and high-bypass soybean meal with canola meal and rumen-protected lysine.

The cows were monitored for four months — two months on a control diet and two months on the trial diet.

One dairy involved in the study milked 2,100 cows with an average of 45 kilograms of milk per cow per day. The other dairy milked 700 cows and also averaged 45 kg of milk per cow per day.

Following the trial, both dairies reported their yield weight of milk, fat and protein increased, including an increase of almost two litres per cow per day on the larger farm and an increase of 3.5 litres on the smaller farm.

The study also noted the trial ration was about the same in price or less expensive than the control diet.

“Canola contributes to cost-efficient production. We no longer have to source and store expeller soybean meal,” Gordon Speirs, manager of Shiloh Dairy, the larger dairy involved in the trial, said in a news release.


Source: Manitoba Co-Operator


Dairy federation sues over Washington manure rules

The Washington State Dairy Federation is challenging rules meant to protect groundwater, saying it will delay fertilizing crops with manure.

Capital Press reports the state Department of Ecology rules impose statewide a formula that prohibits spreading manure until temperatures are above freezing for a prolonged period.

The dairy federation says the formula will work in western Washington’s milder climate but prevent fertilizing in eastern Washington’s colder climate until mid-March in some cases.

The federation says that delay will deprive crops of nutrients without any benefit to water quality.

Dairies already must follow a separate manure-management law enforced by another state agency.

An Ecology spokeswoman says her agency used the best available science and broad input to develop clear, understandable rules.

Environmental groups separately have sued over the rules, alleging deficiencies.

Source: KOMOnews

Feed Bunk Management

The largest two factors driving cows to the bunk are delivery of fresh feed and milking. Pushing feed up to the bunk does help, but the increase in cows at the bunk is less and for a shorter period than providing fresh feed or milking (DeVries et al., 2003, 2005). With this in mind, design a feed management schedule that corresponds to the milking schedule. Feed must be available and within reach as cows return from the parlor to the bunk. To keep feed within reach it would be best to have a bunk push-up within 90 minutes of the cows returning. This is particularly true in facilities where feed space is limited due to stocking density.

As I have spent the summer reviewing several time-lapse videos from various farms, the one thing that has come up over and over is the question of feed availability as cows return to the barn. The video would seem to show that as cows return they head to the bunk to look for feed. However, if feed is not within reach they go in search of a stall.

While it may be easier to schedule feed push-ups as a whole farm event, the truth is we manage and move animals by groups. Therefore, the push-up may or may not be timed correctly for when an individual group returns to the shelter. Adding the push-up responsibility to the person that is moving cows to the parlor and grooming stalls may be one way to ensure that feed will be within reach as the cows return.

So ask yourself, “Do my cows return to a bunk that not only has feed in it, but feed that is within reach?” and “How long does it stay within reach?” While this may seem like a small detail to feeding management, it remains true that attention to detail is what separates the high-performance herd from the average herd.


Into the future: Dairy takes robotic leap

Todd Webb is a fifth-generation dairy producer, having learned the business from his father, who milked cows by hand like his father before him.

There have been many changes to the operation over the decades, and Heglar Creek Dairy is on the precipice of another — a move to robotic milking.

A couple of years ago, Webb and his partners — brothers Scott Webb and Mark Webb and longtime neighbor Mike Garner — were at a crossroads with the 2,000-cow dairy. The milking barn was showing its age, pens needed maintenance and a tight labor market was a growing issue.

“We were trying to decide where we were going with the dairy,” Todd Webb said.

It was a question of whether to expand or let the dairy run its course and eventually sell, he said.

Weighing the options led them to contact Lely, a Dutch company that manufactures automated systems for dairies worldwide. Lely is one of several companies that manufacture robotic systems for dairies.

Soon after, he and his partners jumped on a plane to look at robotic dairies in the Midwest. That experience, as well as visits to many more robotic dairies and a lot of research, convinced them.

“We decided we wanted to go into robotics,” he said.

As is the case at most U.S. dairies, labor had become a huge issue. Competition from other industries in a tight labor market made it harder to keep workers and caused wages to skyrocket. While going robotic would also raise wages, it would require fewer workers and reduce overall labor costs by 60 to 70 percent.

The savings don’t fully cover the investment in robotic milkers — but if wages go up another couple of dollars, the savings would cover it, Webb said.

“But it’s not just about reducing labor costs,” he said.

There are other reasons the partners decided to go robotic. Improved milk production, better efficiency and cow health are a few. In addition, the technology has evolved beyond its original application for smaller dairies and costs have come down, he said.

“In the last couple of years, the technology has turned the corner and we’re seeing extreme benefits in large operations,” he said.

The technology has evolved to a point that robotic milkers are fast and efficient — and they can collect much more information on individual cows than a conventional dairy, he said.

Making the switch

The partners have built a new 160,000-square-foot, climate-controlled, energy- and water-efficient facility overlooking the conventional dairy. Half of their herd will be housed and milked in the new facility, which will be equipped with 18 robots that can each milk an average of 60 cows each three times a day.

The facility is divided into six living areas with 180 cows and three robots in each. There the cows can freely eat, relax on water beds and head to the robotic milker when they’re ready. The cows are fitted with electronic collars that collect data around the clock and feed information to the milking robots.

When the cow comes to be milked, the robot identifies her and her production when last milked. If she’s due for another milking — with the robot calculating the time it would take her to produce her potential — she is let into the milker. Tasty grain pellets are released according to her production.

How often she is milked depends on her lactation. It can range from twice a day to five times a day, Webb said.

“The robot is doing the math all the time,” he said.

It will only let her in if she needs to be milked. If she doesn’t and has only come back for feed pellets, it will turn her away, he said.

“It’s making those determinations,” he said.

It’s also collecting and storing information and notifies the appropriate person if there’s a problem, such as not being able to hook up the milking apparatus.

“It has to notify us when it’s not working right, and we can dictate what we want to be notified about and who it goes to,” he said.

Detailed dataWhen cows are accepted into the milker, the robot cleans and stimulates the teats and attaches the milking apparatus with the aid of a laser eye.

The robot can measure the quantity and characteristics of the milk collected in each quarter and can detect temperature in any quarter. It also can detect blood in the milk, dumping that milk, and it measures the somatic cell level and diverts the milk to a calf-milk tank if the level is too high.

In addition, the robot will sort the cows with elevated temperatures, blood in the milk or elevated levels of somatic cells out of the herd after milking and into a pen for hospital staff to address.

Because it also monitors the chemical properties of the milk, it can detect subclinical mastitis and sorts out those cows as well.

“Those are things that a robot can do that you can’t do on a conventional dairy. It’s just turning out to be an incredible management tool,” he said.

In a conventional barn, those things wouldn’t be detected for days. But with the robots, issues are detected immediately. Treatments can be less invasive, and it can reduce the use of antibiotics and reduce medical costs, he said.

The collars also detect when the cow is eating, lying down or moving around. Increased activity typically denotes a cow is in heat and when that information goes through the robot, the robot sorts it to the waiting pen to be bred.

“The robot monitors cows and milk. Whatever we put in the computer, the robot will manage for that. And quite honestly the robot does a better job at doing that,” he said.

Looking ahead

In addition to moving to robotics, the partners saw an opportunity to be a Lely dealer and launched Snake River Robotics.

“It fit into our diversification model,” Webb said.

They had toyed with the idea of diversification 10 to 15 years ago and decided to get serious about it five or six years ago, he said.

In addition to the dairy, the partners own and operate Heglar Creek Electric, Heglar Creek Cattle and Raft River Sod. Snake River Robotics includes one more partner, Jared Simkins.

The cows at Heglar Creek will start moving into their new digs any day, and the longer term plan is to build another robotic facility for the other half of the herd.

The partners are banking on research that shows lowering cows’ stress results in higher productivity, better health, a longer life span, lower cull rates and more pregnancies on average, Webb said.

The operation is geared for calm, comfortable and healthy cows, and keeping people and equipment out of the facility as much as possible is an important factor, he said.

“We don’t want to stress the cows any more than we have to,” he said.

When asked what he thought his father, now deceased, would think of cow waterbeds and robotic milkers, Webb laughed.

“He’d probably shake his head a little bit then think it’s great. He loved to see new ideas and new things,” he said.


Source: Capital Press

Oocyte Development during Negative Energy Balance

The high producing dairy cow is a marvelous high-octane beast who can turn feed into large amounts of nutritious milk. One downside is it often harder to get her pregnant compared to her lower producing herdmates and heifers. In this article, we will chat about how the development of the oocyte can be a factor in why high producing cows who experience negative energy balance can be harder to get pregnant.

The oocyte, also known as the ovum or egg, is the female gamete or reproductive cell found in each ovarian follicle. The life of an oocyte begins in the fetal ovary. Only a few are ovulated and most degenerate as the follicle they reside in regresses. Many that are ovulated and fertilized do not survive the early stages of development.

Most early lactation high producing cows are in negative energy balance because the demand for energy exceeds the energy the cow is able to consume. The result is body fat is mobilized to provide the extra energy. Blood concentrations of free fatty acids are elevated when cows are mobilizing body fat to support milk production. Follicular fluid is also higher in free fatty acids in this situation.

One interesting question is what happens to oocytes when the level of free fatty acids in the blood and follicular fluid are elevated. Results of recent research have shown oocytes which mature in a high free fatty acid environment are compromised and result in less robust embryos after fertilization. Less robust embryos could result in lower embryo survival and lower conception rates. One researcher has even suggested this oocyte environment may have persisting negative effects on fetal development and the newborn calf. An interesting side note is Kentucky native, Dr. Jack Britt, hypothesized way back in 1992 that follicles growing in early lactation may contain a compromised oocyte. Well done Dr. Britt!

In conclusion, we need to minimize the magnitude and duration of negative energy balance in the high producing early lactation cow. There are thousands of articles written on how to manage transition and early lactation cows to accomplish this goal, so I will not enter that discussion here.


STOP Limiting Dairy Progress – START Looking After Heifer Data

How often have you heard that the post-weaning heifers are the most ignored, yes even neglected, animals on a dairy farm? From birth and until weaning, calves are fed and observed two or more times per day by humans and now increasingly by specialized machines …  so, there can be on-farm records maintained either in hard copy or electronically. However, no matter how extensive the on-farm heifer records, much of the health, growth, sexual maturity, mobility and vaccination records never make it to the central national database. 

We have Created the Impasse

Somewhere back in time, the dairy farming industry decided that cows and their information was important but that heifers were not important. Of course, that is not the case on all farms, but as an industry, we have not monitored and analyzed the performance of pre-producing animals in the way it occurs in the swine and poultry industries and partially in the beef, sheep and fish industries.

Why? Perhaps there is not a right answer to that question. Likely it has something to do with milk production being over 90% of the revenue from dairy herds. However, the more important question is how much is the dairy cattle industry missing out on increased on-farm profits by not performance recording and genetic indexing for heifer traits?

Times are Changing. Why Aren’t We?

It used to be that 52% of births were females and on average 90+% of heifers survived to first calving. In the past, it took $500 to feed and $800 total to raise a heifer to calving and fresh heifers sold for $1,500 to $2,500. So, raising all heifers meant that concern about heifer rearing costs and age at first calving did not significantly affect a farm’s bottom line.

Those days are history.

Today, with sexed (female) semen, 90+% of births are heifers and, as well, 95+% of heifers get to their first calving. It now costs $2,000+ to rear a heifer to calve at 24 months of age, and fresh heifers sell from $800 to $2000 depending on demand, pedigree and genetic merit. Where it was once a profit centre, rearing all heifers is now a losing proposition.

However, the important consideration is what will the best future program be for producing and rearing heifers as herd replacements? Dairy producers can avail themselves to heifer software management programs but, without a central producer owned database system, there will not be publicly available research, development, benchmarking and genetic analysis for heifer traits.

Think of the Possibilities

What would you like to know about your calves and heifers in the future for management, nutrition and genetic purposes? Some, but by no means all, items could be:

  • Temperature, rumination, respiration, …
  • Growth, …
  • Immunity (including colostrum transfer and vaccination effectiveness), …
  • Feed intake, feed efficiency, visits for feeding, magnet effectiveness, …
  • Mobility, gate, stance, hoof care, …
  • First heat, stage of estrus cycle, pregnancy, …
  • Data to support guaranteed food safety, …

Some of these may be possible now; others will require new technology or devices. Most likely we will only get the heifer details if the data is captured electronically. Of course, the additional data points will be added to what is already known for animals on pedigree, DNA profile, …etc.

What is Currently Available? Is it enough?

Calf and heifer software management systems and devices are currently available, but some are stand-alone or not linked to an on-farm system.

A.I. and private companies have seen the need for more facts on calves and heifers and are producing private proprietary indexes for sires on immunity, disease resistance, feed conversion efficiency, wellness and other non-traditional traits. However, those indexes are just scratching the surface on what needs to be known.

Do We Have the Will to Change?

Ideally, all facts and figures must be in one data system on a farm that can be transferred to the national dairy data system that already stores the milk cow data. Until we have this calf and heifer data stored in the national dairy databases, it will not be possible to know their effect on and relationship with performance, economics and genetics.

A supplementary thought could be that if we knew more facts about young bulls destined for A.I. would we be able to more accurately know if they should enter A.I. or not?

The need is there. Yet … 1) will dairymen see that need and capture and transmit the data? and 2) will data centres do the analysis and provide the services in the areas of farm management and genetic evaluation?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The dairy improvement industry must move beyond thinking that dairy cattle monitoring and improvement is only about milk cows. Extensive data for all heifer traits and characteristics are needed from conception all the way to herd removal. The average female spends sixty months in a herd. Twenty months or 33% of an animal’s lifetime, is being ignored.

 The extent of this untapped opportunity to take the dairy cattle industry forward in viability and sustainability is significant. Is extensive calf and heifer data needed in the central data system? The answer to that question is – YES!




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Is my dairy farm a good place for employees to work?

One of the key themes at this year’s National Dairy Conference was the topic of making Irish dairy farms better workplaces for employees, as labour becomes an increasingly important issue.

The conference, organised by Teagasc, covered the topic in one of six workshops which took place earlier today (Tuesday, November 27) in Cork.

With an additional 300,000 dairy cows in the country since 2010, more and more dairy farmers are now employing either full or part-time workers to manage the increased herd sizes.


At the same time, with labour availability reducing to 5.4% in 2018 with the upturn in the economy, from 15% in 2010, there is now increased competition for workers.

This has meant that attracting and retaining employees is crucial for the success of Irish dairy farmers and so it is essential Irish farms are attractive places to work, according to Teagasc.

At today’s workshop, Teagasc advisors Mark O’Sullivan and Paidi Kelly mediated a discussion on what makes dairy farms more attractive work places for employees, featuring presentations from dairy farmer and employer Diarmuid Hegarty and farm worker Cormac Desmond.

It was noted that two key questions which dairy farmers must ask themselves are: “What is it like for someone else to work on my farm?” and “What am I like to work for?”

Kelly noted that employees for dairy farms want a variety of things from their work: fair reward for their efforts; a nice place to work; work they enjoy doing; a nice person to work for; and a job that fits in with their personal lives.

Hegarty explained his own situation as a dairy farmer, noting that he had one farm assistant and took on a student, either second or third level, in the spring and for relief milking later in the year. He noted that effective communication is very important for good relationships with workers.

Meanwhile, Desmond outlined his experience working for local dairy farmers both as an agricultural college student on placement and as a full-time worker.

He explained that, as a dairy employee, he appreciated good structure and organisation, as well as good routines and knowing what his schedule was – while good facilities made working that bit easier.

Regarding what he looks for in an employer, Desmond explained that he seeks:

  • A good introduction, not expecting too much too soon;
  • An employer willing to teach things such as grass measuring;
  • An employer who is well organised with rosters and the flexibility to take hours or days off when needed;
  • A good relationship, understanding that people have lives outside of work;
  • Having one employer, not two; and
  • Acknowledgement and appreciation – even just saying “well done” on occasion.

In a farm as a workplace, aspects earmarked as benefits included: an organised working day with set finishing times; a well-planned working day with a clear outline of jobs to be done; good facilities working well; and some responsibility, such as a specific job like looking after calves.

Farming workplace

Having a farm that is a good workplace is crucial not just for employees, but also the farm family and the farmer himself or herself, according to Teagasc guidelines.

A good farm workplace is a safe place to work, well organised, and people have the resources they need to efficiently complete all tasks.

There are many aspects of providing a good farm workplace including:

  • Being a good employer – ensuring that the farm follows best practice in recruiting and managing employees including meeting all legal requirements;
  • Promoting good communication;
  • Providing adequate farm facilities in good working order – e.g. milking parlour, cow and calf accommodation; and
  • Setting the farm up for success – farm maps, whiteboards, standard operating procedures.

Summing things up in the workshop, Kelly said that making farms better workplaces has a number of benefits.

As well as attracting and retaining employees, such a move will help attract the next generation and make farming more enjoyable for farmers themselves.


Butyrate Addition in Calf Milk Replacer

Ruminant gastric anatomy and physiology undergo significant changes during early development. Calves are born with their abomasum as the only functional part of the four-stomach system, with the reticulorumen very undeveloped. The rumen needs to change both structurally and functionally as the calf grows. In addition, early weaning is desired in dairy calves because pre-weaning calf growth is expensive in both feed and management. For successful economic weaning, early rumen development is necessary and has been studied extensively.

Mechanism of rumen development

Scientists have explored various dietary and management regimens to accelerate early calf rumen development. Rumen structural development depends on muscular growth, resulting in an overall increase in size. It can be achieved by physical stimulation from feeds in the rumen adding weight and volume. Even inert materials, like sawdust and plastic, have been inserted in the rumen and found to improve muscular development, showing that it is the weight of material in the rumen that enhances muscle development (Flatt et al., 1958). However, functional development is characterized by papillary growth and microbial colonization. This depends on early consumption of nutrient-containing concentrates (calf starter) by neonatal ruminants. Rumen microbial fermentation of starch produces volatile fatty acids (VFA), primarily butyrate and propionate (Stobo et al., 1966), that stimulate rumen papillae development (Sander et al., 1959).

In the first 2 to 3 weeks of a calf’s life, milk remains the primary source of nutrients and solid feed intake lags. Milk bypasses the rumen via the esophageal groove and has little to no effect on rumen development other than increasing the overall size of the calf and therefore its rumen size, in general, can be impacted. Ultimately, it is the quantity of liquid (milk/milk replacer) feeding that dictates the calf’s solid feed intake (Terré et al., 2007). When feeding high levels of liquid feeds, solid feed intake is suppressed (Huuskonen and Khalili, 2008). This reduction in solid feed intake delays functional rumen development and weaning. For that reason, liquid feeding must be limited in early weaning programs. However, this is a compromised solution; reduced liquid feeding means a reduction in maximum possible growth and body weight gain in the pre-weaning phase. On the other hand, if ad libitum liquid feeding is practiced with early weaning, calves will undergo severe weaning stress (Jasper and Weary, 2002) and reduced growth rates as their rumens are not sufficiently developed to adapt to solid feed at weaning. This often leads to the loss of the benefits of increased liquid feeding in the pre-weaning phase.

To achieve optimum body growth and weight gain in the pre-weaning phase with increased liquid feeding and at the same time achieve significant rumen development, there needs to be a mechanism to provide sufficient stimulation for rumen development.

Butyrate can be a possible solution

Rumen VFA provide 70% of the total energy needs of a ruminant. The three most abundant VFA produced in the rumen are acetate, propionate, and butyrate. Acetate is primarily needed for peripheral energy, and in the adult cow part of it is incorporated into milk fat. Propionate is used to produce glucose for energy in the liver. However, the role of butyrate for the ruminant is quite different. More than 80% of butyrate produced in the rumen is metabolized to ketone bodies (BHB and acetoacetate) before being transported to the rest of the body for energy needs. It also has an alternative pathway to convert it directly to available energy for the rumen, and therefore it is of primary importance for the development of the rumen.

Since the 1950s, butyrate has been shown to be a key component in rumen papillae development (Sander et al., 1959). In the last fifteen years, different researchers have investigated the effects of butyrate on calf rumen and intestinal development and performance by adding it to milk or milk replacer. It has also been studied in calf starter.

The type of liquid feeding, calf age, and inclusion rate have been the key factors determining the effectiveness of adding butyrate to calf diets. The type of liquid feed being fed is an important determinant for the inclusion rate of dietary butyrate. This is because feeds may naturally contain some butyrate. Colostrum has the greatest butyrate concentration (approximately 2.1% of DM), followed by milk (approximately 1.2% of DM), whereas milk replacer has the least butyrate quantity depending upon the source and amount of fat in it (Górka et al., 2018). The addition of butyrate to milk replacer has compensated for its butyrate deficiency and has shown positive effects on rumen and intestinal development (Niwińska et al., 2017; Górka et al., 2018). A 0.3% inclusion rate of butyrate (DM basis) has been studied extensively in milk replacers. However, the fat sources and their quality in different milk replacers are highly variable, making it difficult to estimate the exact amount of naturally occurring butyrate in milk replacers.

Calf age is another important factor determining the inclusion of butyrate. Feeding butyrate to young calves has a beneficial effect on gastrointestinal development and performance (Niwińska et al., 2017). When fed within the first week of life, butyrate increased rumen papillae length, intestinal development, pancreatic secretions, and nutrient digestibility, thereby improving average daily gain. Addition of butyrate to the calf diet has minimal impact once starter intake is sufficient to produce butyrate via rumen fermentation (Górka et al., 2018; Niwińska et al., 2017).

In the pre-weaning phase, diet has the greatest influence on the amount of butyrate available to the gastrointestinal tract of calves. Its production within the calf rumen relies on the intake of calf starter, which is negatively affected by the quantity of liquid feed (Gelsinger et al., 2016). Apart from quantity, the source of liquid feed is another critical factor determining butyrate availability in young calves. It is a natural constituent of milk, while highly variable in milk replacers.

In pre-weaning calves where the rumen is still developing, butyrate can also accelerate small intestinal development, which is critical for nutrient absorption and overall development of calves. Guilloteau et al. (2010) evaluated the effect of butyrate on pancreatic secretions and digestibility of soybean protein in milk replacers. Butyrate increased pancreatic secretions, particularly of enzymes chymotrypsin and lipase, thereby improving dry matter and nitrogen digestibility of the milk replacer. Increased lipase secretion following butyrate supplementation can help calves digest high-fat milk replacers and protect them from scours. Further, Guilloteau et al. (2009) compared supplementation of butyrate against the antibiotic and growth promoter flavomycin in calf milk replacer. In this study, butyrate improved feed efficiency and body weight gains in calves by stimulating small intestine development, indicated by an improvement in villi length. Further, Górka et al. (2011a,b; 2014), evaluated the effect of butyrate addition in milk replacer and calf starter on rumen-reticular and small intestinal development for 3 weeks in the pre-weaning phase. Butyrate addition to both milk replacer and calf starter improved reticulorumen weights and stimulated rumen papillae development. Butyrate addition to milk replacer had more pronounced effects on small intestine development, improving cell growth, decreasing cell turnover, and stimulating enzyme secretions in the small intestine. In pre-weaning calves, butyrate addition to the starter improved intake and reduced scouring and treatment with electrolytes. Moreover, butyrate addition to milk replacer improved average daily gains in pre-weaning calves.

Therefore, we can add butyrate to the liquid feed in early weaning programs, especially when calves are on a high milk replacer feeding regimen and are consuming very little calf starter. This will accelerate rumen and intestinal development, thereby improving feed efficiency and protecting calves against stresses from weaning and diarrhea.


Dry Period- An Important Phase for a Dairy Cow

The dry period of a dairy cow should be considered an important phase of her lactation cycle. In the first three weeks following drying off, cows are at a high risk of developing mastitis; they are undergoing physiological changes and are more exposed to bacteria from the environment because the keratin plug is not fully developed for all quarters during this time. Adequate nutrition and appropriate disease prevention of the cow at this time will ensure optimal health, milk production, and reproductive performance during the lactation following calving. Therefore, the feeding and management of dry cows is very important from an economic aspect.

  • Drying off: When drying off a cow, the goal is to abruptly end milk secretion and to seal the teat canal as quickly as possible. Cows should not be milked intermittently towards the end of lactation because this prevents the teat canal from sealing and creates continued stimulus for milk production, increasing a cow’s risk for developing mastitis. After the cow’s final milking, the veterinarian-recommended dry cow therapy should be administered. Teat sealant may also be administered to prevent bacteria from entering the teat cistern and causing new infections. Finally, the entire surface of the teats should be covered using an effective teat dip. 
  • Dry cow therapy: The cow is very vulnerable to new infections during the first three weeks after drying off, so all quarters should be treated with a dry cow mastitis treatment. During this time, risk of infection is higher because physiological changes occur in the mammary gland, bacteria do not get flushed out of the streak canal during the milking process, there is no protection from teat-dip, and milk leakage occurs. Dry cow therapy can clear up an estimated 70 to 98% of already existing infections and helps prevent new infections, making it one of the most economically beneficial methods for mastitis prevention. The prevention of subclinical mastitis is especially important at this time because it can precede clinical cases and, depending on its causative pathogens, can infect other animals. A long-acting intra-mammary antibiotic should be administered to every quarter after the cow’s final milking.
  • Nutrition of dry cows: Nutrition during the dry period is important for maintaining proper body condition score of 3.0 to 3.25. Separate diets should be made for far-off and close-up dry cows. Diets of far-off cows should contain less energy and adequate amounts of fiber. Diets of close-up cows should contain more metabolizable protein and energy than diets of far-off dry cows, but should still contain controlled amounts of both energy and fiber to ensure adequate feed intake after calving. Depletion of protein reserves during the dry period can negatively affect the cow’s health, milk production, and reproductive performance during the following lactation. Diets of close-up cows can also contain forages that are lower in potassium, such as corn silage, and grain products to help prevent milk fever after calving. If a herd is not big enough or it is not possible to manage close-up and far-off dry cows separately, dry cows can be managed as one group with a shorter dry period and a negative DCAD diet.
  • Length of dry period: Dry periods typically last 60 days and involve both a far-off and a close-up period. The close-up period begins three weeks before expected calving. Research has found that if no dry period is provided for a cow, she will produce 25 to 30% less milk the next lactation. However, some producers have recently begun shifting to using shorter dry periods of 40 to 42 days. These shorter dry periods involve only one group and are paired with a negative dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) nutrition program. Some argued benefits of using this program include having cows producing milk for 18 to 20 more days and less labor and stress involved since cows only have to be kept in one group rather than two. Research has found that there is no difference in milk yield following a 30-day dry period versus a 60-day dry period for multiparous cows. However, 30-day dry periods in primiparous (first-calf) cows have been found to result in reduced milk yield.
  • Minimizing heat stress: Heat stress should also be prevented by providing proper cooling through the use of shade, fans, and sprinklers. Heat stress reduces the amount of mammary tissue that can be developed, so a cow that is heat-stressed during her dry period will have a reduced capacity for producing milk in her following lactation.  Studies have shown dry cows that are cooled during summer months can produce 10 to 12 lb. more milk per day during lactation than cows that do not receive additional heat abatement.
  • Minimizing social, environmental, and metabolic stress for close-up cows: Stress can affect feed intake, immune function, and overall health and productivity of cows around the time of calving. Social stress can be minimized by having as few pen moves or regroupings of cows as possible so that the social hierarchy of the cows is not disturbed. Adding multiple cows to a group at once is preferable to adding cows individually. Social and metabolic stress can be reduced by providing 36 inches of feed bunk space per cow to ensure adequate dry matter intake and reduce competition for feed. A minimum of 1 freestall or100 to 125square feetper cow should be provided to ensure adequate lying time.

Drying off cows abruptly, administering veterinarian-recommended dry cow therapy, and using a teat sealant will help protect cows from pathogens during the dry period and prevent mastitis in the following lactation. Meeting nutrition requirements of cows, depending on what phase of the dry period they are in and the length of the dry period, will help prevent transition cow disorders and ensure maximum milk production in the following lactation. Providing adequate heat abatement will prevent the negative effects of heat stress and minimizing regrouping and pen moves will minimize social stress of dry cows. Following these steps will help dry cows have better health, milk production, and reproductive performance in their next lactation.



Good Dairy Stockmanship: Moving Dairy Cows the Correct Way

Proper dairy stockmanship is crucial when moving dairy cows and proper training of farm personnel to build these skills is essential. Personnel training in dairy stockmanship skills should result in low stress handling of animals, allowing for a safe and efficient work environment for both cattle and humans. While good dairy stockmanship practices are hardly ever broadcast on the evening news, poor stockmanship is one undercover video away of making national news. This article covers some key components to remember when moving cattle.

Stockmanship Principles: The Flight and Pressure Zones

Figure 1

Pressure is exerted on the flight zone when a person slowly steps into the pressure zone of the cow (Figure 1), signaling the cow to move away from the person causing the pressure. Proper manipulation of a cow’s pressure zone allows a person to safely and calmly move the cow in the desired direction. Remember a cow will move in the direction her nose is pointed.Cows have a flight zone, and the size of these are different for each cow. The flight zone is the area surrounding an animal that if invaded by a predator or person, will cause alarm and escape behavior in the affected animal. Whereas, the pressure zone is the area where the cow will be attentive towards and uncomfortable with the approach of the person or predator, but the animal is not quite ready to run away. The pressure zone encompasses the flight zone of the animal (Figure 1).

Not only does the cow respond as a prey animal to stimulus on her pressure and flight zones, but also responds to other experiences in her environment. Her current environment as well as her past experiences (memories) can have an effect on a cow’s response to pressure. If a cow remembers a bad experience be it with her environment or with certain personnel, she will have a heightened stress response when faced with the same situation again. Preventing bad cow experiences is key to good stockmanship. Also, cattle will increase or decrease the radius of its pressure and flight zones in relation to the experiences with the person, situation or environment in question.

Cows Do Not Speak English or Spanish

Dairy Stockmanship figure 2

Cows do not talk or use sign language when communicating with humans or other cows. They use their 5 senses: taste, smell, hearing, sight, and touch. As an example, cows use senses, such as taste, smell and touch, when looking for feed, showing signs of heat, or when socializing with other cows. Cows have better hearing than humans which makes them more sensitive to sounds in their environment. Cows can see 340° around them, however, just like a car they have a blind spot. They only have one blind spot which is directly behind them (Figure 1). When a person invades the pressure zone of a cow, the animal will always look at what is pressuring them. If a person was to stand directly behind a cow and apply pressure to the pressure zone, the cow will turn around to look at the person, hindering the process of moving the animals. Thus, the best position to stand when wanting to move cows forward is from the side as displayed in Figure 1. From this sideway position, make sure that you can see the eye of the cow that you want to move. Remember this basic principle: A cow cannot see you if you cannot see at least one of her eyes. When you move towards the animal and advance inside of her flight zone, if the cow can see you, she will respond calmly and move forward.

 The cow’s shoulder is her point of balance (Figure 2). If a handler stands behind the point of balance, the cow will move forward. If the handler stands in front of the point of balance the cow will backup. If you want to move the cow forward, stand behind her shoulder (striped arrow, Figure 2). If you want her to backup, stand in front of her shoulder (checkered arrow, Figure 2). Remember a cow will move in the direction her nose is pointed.Cows do not talk or use sign language when communicating with humans or other cows. They use their 5 senses: taste, smell, hearing, sight, and touch. As an example, cows use senses, such as taste, smell and touch, when looking for feed, showing signs of heat, or when socializing with other cows. Cows have better hearing than humans which makes them more sensitive to sounds in their environment. Cows can see 340° around them, however, just like a car they have a blind spot. They only have one blind spot which is directly behind them (Figure 1). When a person invades the pressure zone of a cow, the animal will always look at what is pressuring them. If a person was to stand directly behind a cow and apply pressure to the pressure zone, the cow will turn around to look at the person, hindering the process of moving the animals. Thus, the best position to stand when wanting to move cows forward is from the side as displayed in Figure 1. From this sideway position, make sure that you can see the eye of the cow that you want to move. Remember this basic principle: A cow cannot see you if you cannot see at least one of her eyes. When you move towards the animal and advance inside of her flight zone, if the cow can see you, she will respond calmly and move forward.

Slow Down! Cows Walk Slower than People

Dairy Stockmanship figure 3

Cows, when not startled or pressured, tend to walk at 2 miles per hour. The average human when working cattle walks 3 to 4 miles per hour, twice as fast as cattle. When a person walks with a group of cows at normal walking speed, the person will start to pass the animal’s shoulder point of balance and it will result in cows slowing down. Once past a cow’s point of balance, the cow or cows will turn around and move in the opposite, intended direction. However, if a person walks towards a group of cows moving in the opposite direction they will speed up in order to pass the person that is pressuring them.

When observing cows walking unassisted, their head is normally down so they can see where they are going to step next. A rushed cow will have her head up and not watch where she is walking because she is watching whatever is pressuring her. This could lead to slipping and tripping of the cow, possibly resulting in injury or lameness. How can this be prevented? Slow down when moving cattle and manipulate their pressure zone so the cow can see where she is going and watch the person pressuring them at the same time. When moving a group of cows, a slow zig zag pattern with a stationary rocking motion from the back of the group is most effective when trying to move cows calmly and efficiently.Cows, when not startled or pressured, tend to walk at 2 miles per hour. The average human when working cattle walks 3 to 4 miles per hour, twice as fast as cattle. When a person walks with a group of cows at normal walking speed, the person will start to pass the animal’s shoulder point of balance and it will result in cows slowing down. Once past a cow’s point of balance, the cow or cows will turn around and move in the opposite, intended direction. However, if a person walks towards a group of cows moving in the opposite direction they will speed up in order to pass the person that is pressuring them.

Stressed Cows Take Longer to Milk

Inappropriate movement of cows from their pen to the milking parlor greatly affects milk let down in the parlor. Crowd gates should only be used to apply pressure to the pressure zone, not physically push the cow toward the parlor. Sticks or hot shots should not be used to move cows toward the parlor. A cow that is stressed on the way to and in the holding pen will produce adrenaline which blocks the receptors for oxytocin, which inhibits milk let down. Cows that are stressed take longer to milk and can develop hyperkeratosis on the teat end. This roughening of the teat end provides a place for bacteria to colonize and it’s a major risk factor for mastitis. Uninhibited milk let down in the parlor can decrease the time it takes to fully milk a cow and, in turn, can increase parlor throughput. Increased parlor throughput benefits the cow and dairy personnel. The less time a cow is away from her pen, the more time she has to eat, drink, and lay down. The better the parlor throughput, the less time is spent milking with less chance of hyperkeratosis.

Take Home Messages

Key point to remember when moving cows

  • Keep calm
  • Always let the cow see where you are
  • Cattle will look and listen towards whom is pressuring them
  • Cattle walk slower than humans.
  • Walking with or parallel to a group of animals will slow them down or turn them and cattle will speed up when you walk towards them.
  • The cow’s shoulder is her point of balance, stand in front of it to move her back and behind it to move her forward.  When moving a group of cows, slow down to their speed and use a zig zag pattern with a stationary rocking motion from the back side of the group. 
  • Keep calm, assess what is pressuring the cow, and remember a cow will move in the direction her nose is pointed.


Are Your Cows Lefties or Righties?

Sidedness in behavior – known scientifically as laterality – is commonly observed with dairy cows. Cattle express laterality naturally when choosing which side to lie down or which side of the milking parlor to enter. Over the years we’ve realized that this preference for one side over the other actually reflects cerebral specialization of the left and right hemispheres. For instance, the right hemisphere of the brain handles fear and anxiety (i.e., negative emotions); the left hemisphere processes positive emotions and longer-term memories.

Because of this relationship between laterality and the very different functions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain, behaviorists believe that expression of a side preference is related to the cow’s emotional state and what they perceive as stressful or even threatening in a given situation.

A study on laterality led by Australian researchers caught my attention in the latest issue of Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2018. 207:8-19). They assessed the emotional state and level of stress in dairy cows using a “forced lateralization test.” This sounds complicated, but essentially the cows were asked to decide which side of a person to pass on when walking down a barn lane. The person was someone they had never seen before. They stood in the middle of a return lane where cows exited the parlor following the afternoon milking. The lane was 14.1 ft wide and about 77 ft long.

Here’s how they interpreted the choice made by the cows: If a cow passed the novel person on the right side, viewing them with their left eye, which is connected to the right brain, that indicated that the cow was more susceptible to stress and anxiety based on the known biology. Of course, the opposite would be true of cows passing the person on the left side. Previous research shows that most cows, and especially subordinate ones, preferentially use their left eye to view a situation or person that they see as a threat.

So what did they observe during the forced laterality test? Cows that passed on the right side, using their left eye to view the novel person, were more likely than those that used the left side to be anxious and raise or tuck their tail, sniff the ground, and walk more slowly. In addition, the cows that passed on the right side were more likely to pass by without turning to look at the person, they typically passed in single file, and were more likely to defecate. In contrast, cows that passed on the left looked at the person as they passed and were more likely to pass in pairs rather than one at a time. They appeared less anxious and stressed.

Interestingly, higher-producing cows were more likely to pass on the right side. It’s not known exactly why this happens, but it may be that cows stressed with higher milk production levels are more anxious and prefer to view the unknown person with their left eye (which is connected to the right hemisphere of the brain that processes fear and anxiety).

The decision to choose one side over the other to pass the novel person in the barn alley appears to be repeatable and consistent, and is in fact a coping strategy that allows cows to most effectively deal with an environmental stressor or source of anxiety. The researchers also assessed ear positioning as an indicator of anxiety or stress, but they concluded it was too variable to be useful on farm.

The results of this study showed that cows passing an unknown person on the right side are more likely to be anxious and are more likely to be higher-producing cows. More work is needed on the role of laterality in dairy cow behavior and how it signals her degree of comfort with her surroundings. But it seems safe to conclude that monitoring on which side a cow routinely passes an unknown person or some other source of stress or anxiety could be useful on-farm to detect anxious or stressed cows. In the future, we may want to know if our cows are lefties.

Source: Miner Institute’s Farm Report.

Efficient Data Use Key to Maximizing Advisory Team Efforts

Closely monitoring herd performance is vital to a successful dairy operation but is critical during economic downturns. Operations can achieve greater success by establishing advisory teams with their consultants. Milk production, somatic cell counts, pregnancy rate, culling rate, and income over feed cost are just a few of the metrics available for monitoring among dairy advisory teams. It does not take long to see the list of metrics to monitor and discuss grow and grow, especially for teams that have functioned for a few years or shifted gears. As the list of metrics to monitor grows, less time is spent with the team addressing current issues. Prioritizing the list of metrics to monitor can allow for appropriate time spent with both current issues as well as long term trends. Here are a few questions to consider when maximizing the time available to the advisory team while keeping key data and information involved with the process.

What are the goals and objectives of the team?

This is a good place to start. What are the current goals and objectives the team has identified? With this list, teams can then identify what metrics would be best to monitor to track goal and objective performance. Successful teams will have a continual cycle of defining needs, setting goals, tracking progress, achieving/maintaining goals, and evaluating success and evaluation. As such, the metrics monitored should change to address the changes in goals for the team. Check out these resources for more on team goals and objectives:

Why are we looking at this metric?

If there is not a quick answer to that question, then it may be a metric to be retired from future team discussions. This question relates back to the previous topic of goals and objectives. There needs to be a relevance to monitoring a metric, typically in relation to tracking progress or monitoring a previous goal’s achievement. If the metric is only useful to one member of the team and doesn’t relate to past or current goals and objectives, it may need to be sidelined from routine discussion within the team.

How are various metrics being tracked?

Consolidation can be a key component to limiting discussion time on metrics. Think about all the various sources of data available to the average dairy: milk production, components, and quality from the cooperative, test day records, financials, etc. All of these potential sources can provide insight into a goal but may require several reports and sources to capture all the metrics of interest to the team. Try using a spreadsheet (such as the Penn State Extension Dairy Team’s Monthly Monitor ) to summarize several metrics in one report. By consolidating them down into one report, it will simplify not only going over the metrics, but teams will also be able to see some of the historical trends of the numbers as well.

Being creative in data tracking can also save time. With a little computer skills, providing graphical representation of the metrics can improve and enhance interpretation of the metrics, thus reducing the time spent reviewing and discussing them. Just be sure whatever graph you apply actually fits the data being tracked; keep it simple.

What are the economic considerations to these metrics?

Farm financials can be challenging to understand, let alone discuss in a team setting. There are a few ways to minimize the stress of these metrics while benefiting from reviewing them regularly. First, pick a metric like income over feed cost (check out Income over Feed Cost for more information) that can be monitored more easily and routinely than some financial ratios. Second, decide which financial metrics relate back to the goals and objectives of the team, and choose how often to review them. Depending on the metric, quarterly or annual review may be sufficient to help make progress. Finally, benchmark the operation against itself. Knowing where an operation is and the progress made are just as vital as trying to compare to an industry benchmark.

When are metrics being shared with the team?

Having some prep time individually can definitely increase the efficiency of data use by any team. I’ve found that if the metrics (such as test day records and production information) are summarized and provided to team members ahead of time for review, then the discussion during the actual team meeting can be spent on other areas. Another benefit to providing the summary prior to the actual meeting is the ability for members to digest the data and formulate questions, so they are prepared for quality discussion at the time of the meeting. With the data out ahead of time, a good team routine can be established. The discussion on monitored metrics may be first on the agenda with a time limit (typically 5 to 10 minutes), thus freeing up team time for other agenda items. Don’t forget, just because they are reviewed in the beginning, doesn’t mean you can’t revisit specific metrics if they apply to discussions later in the meeting.

The metrics used by an advisory team play a vital role in tracking and monitoring the progress related to identified goals and performance of the individual operation. With all the data currently available to a dairy operation, it is easy to reach data overload, and potentially hinder constructive discussions during the limited time of team meetings. By asking yourself the above questions, and making some minor revisions to your metrics, that valuable discussion time can continue to thrive in your team meetings.


Dairy records key to making right choices

AIMING to drive production and breed the best cows they can, South Australian dairy farmers Graeme and Michele Hamilton and their son Craig, are focused on keeping good records to help them make informed decisions.

At OB Flat, SA, they run up to 500 dairy cows, mainly red breeds with some Holsteins, calving in September and February.

“Our cow pedigrees go back many generations and we have records for just about everything, including calf size and vigour, pregnancy, health treatments and calving ease, as well as all the usual production and herd tests records,” Graeme said.

“We use Mistro through the phone app and the PC version in the office, but we also enter everything on paper, which might sound unnecessary but if we find an error we can then trace things back with a paper trail.”

Graeme’s parents Don and Pat began herd testing six times a year in 1970, a practice he and Michele have carried on since taking on the operation in 1990.

Don and Pat also initiated the Hamiltons’ involvement with red cattle breeds, establishing an Illawarra stud under the Cluain prefix in 1964.

“Our breeding aim is to have a consistent herd – we want to breed consistency in every drop of heifers – there’s no room for duds,” Graeme said.

“Red breeds are a later-maturing type of cow, so we want longevity combined with fertility and a production target of 9000 litres a cow each year.”

The Hamiltons have 68 hectares under pivot irrigation near the milking area, with another 47ha of irrigation at a block further away, mainly used for growing out young stock and fodder production.

The cows are fed grain at the dairy at an annual rate of 2.2 tonnes per cow, which supplements the pasture base on the milking area – worth 3t/cow. The herd is also fed up to 1.5t silage.

The cows are joined using AI, with home-bred, genomically tested mop-up bulls for the heifers.

“We might keep up to five bull calves from the best performing cows a year, but we put them under intense selection pressure to identify which are the best two to keep as mop-up bulls over the heifers,” Graeme said.

Only the top 80 per cent of the herd is joined to red breed sires. The bottom 20pc – based on Balanced Performance Index, cow family, udders, feet and temperament – is joined to Angus sires through AI.

“Joining to Angus makes (culling) pretty simple – if the calf is black then it goes,” Graeme said.

About 180 heifer calves are reared each year and are grown out to a target weight of 330 kilograms to 350kg for joining at 15 months of age.

Of the 180 calves reared, about 150 will join the herd, while any heifer that fails to meet the target joining weight, has conformation issues or fails to get in calf is sold.

“We are very harsh on our heifers because it’s pretty hard to cull them once they get in calf and go into the herd,” Graeme said.

“The longevity of red breed dairy cattle means our average age in the herd is about 50 months, although we do have some 10-year-old cows.”

In the past, they have relied on genetic information from overseas bulls in Denmark and Germany but have been working with DataGene to build the information available within Australia.

“We’ve also been supplying tail hairs for genomic testing from all our heifer calves for the past five years to help build the database for red breed genomics,” Graeme said.

High performing genetics have also been proven to make a difference for the Hamiltons.

Their herd was one of 27 across Australia that underwent detailed analysis by the ImProving Herds project to investigate the contribution of genetics to production.

It identified the top and bottom 25 per cent of each herd, ranked using the Balanced Performance Index, then used 10 years of records to compare these.

The study found the top 25pc of the Hamilton Run herd produced 60 kilograms of fat and 61kg of protein more per cow each year than the bottom 25pc and were worth an extra $531 annually.

On average, the top 25pc of cows also stayed in the herd 11 months longer than the bottom 25pc.


Source: The Australian Dairyfarmer

Train Farm Personnel for Better Animal Health and Fertility

The performance of dairy cows is mainly determined by genetic merit, but without proper management by knowledgeable and capable farm personnel, dairy cows will not be able to fully express their genetic potential. In order to properly manage dairy cows to allow them to excel, it is critical to establish a reliable team of farm personnel who are routinely trained using up-to- date and easy-to-understand training materials. Despite the unquestionable importance of personnel training in dairy farms, only 60% of the dairy operations in the U.S. provide such training (USDA, 2014). Of this 60%, 41% provide oral presentation trainings, while only 12% provide training using interactive teaching methods, such as educational videos (USDA, 2014).

Although any type of personnel training (e.g., on-job, lecture, combination) would be beneficial, a combination of oral presentations and hands-on demonstrations has been shown to significantly increase the knowledge and skills of farm employees. In a study by Schuenemann et al. (2013), the authors reported that a combination of oral presentation and hands-on demonstration training increased the level of knowledge of the participants by 21%. Supporting the latter, we reported similar results (23.7% gain of knowledge) in a study (Barragan et al., 2016) where oral presentation and hands-on demonstration training, regarding physiology of parturition, calving assistance practices, and utilization of a new record collection/keeping tool (eCalving app), was delivered to maternity personnel. In this study, personnel not only increased their level of knowledge, but also reported that the training materials were relevant and of immediate use for their daily work (Barragan et al., 2016). The benefits of this training approach not only include improving personnel knowledge, skill, and confidence at work, but also enhancing calf and cow health and performance. It has been reported that this training approach was essential for decreasing the incidence of stillborn calves, metritis, and damage of the birth canal (Lombard et al., 2007; Schuenemann et al., 2011), all of which are important risk factors for poor reproductive performance.

In 2018, the Penn State Veterinary Extension Team has provided personnel training for 22 PA dairy farms, educating 88 employees. The main topics covered during these trainings were milking routine practices (n = 13), calving management practices (n = 7), and hoof health and care practices (n = 2). During these trainings, participants had an average gain of knowledge of 29.42% (range = 21.42% to 42.5%). Furthermore, farm employees reported that the program provided relevant information for their daily work (agree = 24.4%; strongly agree = 75.6%) and that they will feel more comfortable doing their job as a result of the training program (agree = 26.8%; strongly agree = 73.2 %). In addition, 100% of the participants reported that they would like to have another training in the near future. These educational programs are provided by the Penn State Veterinary Extension team at a very affordable cost, intended to cover only the travel expenses of educators.

The cost of providing proper training to farm personnel may be insignificant compared to the benefits to animal health and performance observed in operations where personnel were properly trained. Some of the most significant improvements in farm profitability resulting from these programs were increase in milk yield (4 lb/cow/day), decrease in the number of stillborn calves (2.29%), and decrease in retained placenta (2.6%) and metritis (1.59%) incidences. It has been reported that cows that had a stillborn calf had a 24% decrease in pregnancy rate (Bicalho et al., 2007), and cows that had retained placenta or metritis had a 14% and 15% decrease in conception rate, respectively (Gröhn and Rajala-Schultz, 2000). Therefore, personnel training, especially in transition cow management, may have substantial benefits on the reproductive performance of dairy cows.

Personnel training is not only important to monitor and control critical risk factors of poor reproductive performance during the transition period, but also to obtain excellent compliance with fertility protocols. Timed artificial insemination is one of the most common breeding practices performed in dairy operations in the U.S. (USDA, 2009). During these fertility programs, specific synchronization hormones must be provided to dairy cows on specific days, and lack of compliance with the synchronization injections can significantly decrease the efficacy of the program. For instance, in a fertility program where three injections must be administered, if there is a 100% compliance (e.g., proper drug, proper dose, correct day/time) with each injection the overall program compliance would be 100% (overall program compliance = 100% × 100% × 100% = 100%). Now, if the compliance with each individual injection decreases to 95%, instead of 100%, the overall program compliance decreases to 86% (overall program compliance = 95% × 95% × 95% = 86%). This situation becomes even more detrimental in fertility programs that require several injections, such as Double-Ovsynch, where six single injections must be administered to synchronize cows. In this scenario, a compliance of 95% for each individual injection would decrease the overall program compliance to 73.5%, resulting in a significant negative impact on the reproductive performance of the animals being synchronized.

The training of farm personnel has positive impacts on animal well-being and performance, thus increasing the overall farm profitability. Training programs that deliver up-to- date information in an easy-to-understand manner increase knowledge, skills, and confidence of farm employees, all of which may improve employee performance and subsequently enhance cow health and production. The implementation of these training programs in main areas, such as transition cow management and fertility programs, is an inexpensive practice that would greatly contribute to ensuring excellent reproduction in dairy operations.


Should Farms Be Shipping 4.5% Fat Milk?

Dairy farmers, like all business owners, must continually be addressing financial viability and sustainability in both the immediate and longer term.  Revenue generation is an extremely important aspect of finances.   On dairy enterprises over 90+% of revenue comes down to the milk shipped. Today The Bullvine would like readers to think about the proportions of components in the milk they will ship off-farm in five years’ time.

Setting the Scene

A considerable number of factors come into play when planning the composition of milk and milk revenue. Some factors relate to genetics, some to feeding and some to management. Here are some with a bearing on both future genetics and revenue.

  • Fat is Becoming King – Reports from almost all dairy countries are showing high demand by consumers for butterfat. This demand is now reflected in the increased value of fat on farmer’s milk checks in some countries. This increasing trend for full-fat milk products for healthy living is predicted to continue and even to increase.
  • Excess Powder Yes protein level is important in cheese production but the move of the last almost half-century of increasing protein per cent and narrowing the percentage gap between fat and protein in cow’s milk has no doubt contributed to it taking more volume of milk to get the needed fat and thereby leaving more remaining solids to produce powder products.
  • Eating vs Drinking Milk The proportional use of milk in the US is now 75% solid and 25% fluid. In developing countries, especially in Asia and Africa where the future population growth will occur, the per cent of milk that is consumed in the solid form will be even higher. High per cent butterfat milk will be in demand everywhere.
  • Feeding the Rumen Ruminant diets are being fine-tuned for ingredients and feed preparation so that forages will form a very high per cent of the total. Feeding strategies to achieve high butterfat per cent will be common.
  • Cost of Moving, Storing and Removing Water High-fat content milk will save considerable energy and cost per unit of solids as it relates to cooling on-farm, transportation to processing, storing at processing and removal of water and disposal of whey liquids by processors. Costs saved can positively impact farm gate price.
  • Savings on Farm – High-fat cows provide the opportunity to save some on the stress of high-volume yields in the areas of cow health and reproduction. Although the genetic relationship of functional traits with % fat may not be high, every little bit will help to increase cow profit per lifetime.

These and other factors will contribute to what the composition of milk needs to be in the future.

The Ideal Milk of the Future

Currently, in North America, the average component per cent for milk leaving farms is 3.9% fat and 3.3% total protein. It should be noted that the current move to measure true protein will reduce the total protein per cent by 0.19% to 3.1% true protein. There has been a slow but gradual annual genetic increase of 0.02% fat and 0.01% total protein in the past decade. So, in five years if selection pressure on % fat and % protein remain unchanged, we can expect milk coming off the farm to be 4% fat and 3.15% true protein.

Based on the demand for butterfat and future milk uses and products, experts have estimated that in the future milk shipped from farm needs to 4.5% fat and 3.2% true protein by 2025. So, a revised strategy on sire selection will be needed higher % fat, hold % protein and continued improvement in production, functionality, feed conversion and animal health.

What About Switching Up Breeds?

In recent years the Jersey breed has seen a resurgence doubling to about 10% in the US and 5% in Canada. So, is it simply increasing Jerseys to 40% of the national herds to achieve a higher % fat? A complicating factor would be that Jerseys have in recent years been selecting for increased volume of milk at the expense of % fat. The fact is that there would need to be a movement to selecting for higher % fat in all breeds.

A scenario to reach 4.5 % fat for all milk shipped could be: 73% Holsteins at 4.25% fat; 23% Jerseys at 5.3% fat; 3.5% crossbreds at 4.5% fat; and 0.5% other breeds at 4.5% fat.  If breed percentages were to be 78% Holstein, 20% Jersey and 2% others, then Holsteins would need to average 4.30% fat.

Some will question Holsteins at 4.25% fat. It is a fact that the famous Montvic Holstein herd, dispersed over 76 years ago, had a herd over 4.1% fat and today there are many Holstein herds averaging at or over 4.0 % fat. The genes for higher % fat are there! The detour in the 1970s – 1980s to selecting against % fat and for % protein in Holsteins, in hindsight, was an error.

Not Simply Higher % Fat

There needs to be a higher % fat but not higher % protein. Since the correlation between selecting for % fat and % protein is 60-70%, using higher % fat sires will also get high % protein. Carrying on selecting for increases in both % fat and % protein would leave added surplus powder. No producer wants a future of what currently exists: low global farm gate prices – prices below the cost of production.

Which Sire Ranking Index Would Be Best?           

The following tables compare the results of analyzing the top US and Canadian proven sires for four selection programs with the overall objective to increase % fat, hold % protein and increase total genetic merit. The proven sires studied were the top twenty marketed Holsteins and top ten marketed Jerseys for the sire ranking indexes of % fat, fat yield, breed selection index and net merit ($).

Table 1 – Average Sire Proof* for US Proven Sires for Four Selection Programs

  Holstein (20x) Jersey (10x)
  (Selection For) (Selection For)
Trait     % Fat  Fat Yield      TPI        NM$      % Fat  Fat Yield      JPI      NM$
Milk 830 1761 1634 1775 -307 1462 1598 1282
Fat Yield 91 101 81 91 43 90 75 85
% Fat 0.22 0.13 0.07 0.09 0.29 0.11 -0.01 0.12
Protein Yield 46 61 62 60 10 62 61 57
% Protein 0.08 0.03 0.04 0.02 0.09 0.05 0.02 0.05
Productive Life 4.5 4.4 5.3 5.4 1.2 1.7 3.3 3.1
SCS 2.85 2.83 2.81 2.85 3.02 2.95 2.83 2.93
DPR  1.2 0.2 2.1 1.4 -1 -2.3 -1.1 -1.5
Udder Depth 1.04 0.76 1.2 0.78 0.9 0.2 1.1 1.1
RL Rear View 1.18 0.75 1.08 0.69                 na                 na              na                 na
NM$ 777 834 826 859 243 574 580 598
TPI(H) / JPI(J) 2576 2624 2696 2658 69 168 183 179

* US Sire Proofs are expressed in Estimated Transmitting Ability. Proofs from August 2018.

Table 2 – Average Sire Proof* For Canadian Proven Sires for Four Selection Programs

  Holstein (20x) Jersey (10x)
  (Selection For) (Selection For)
Trait     % Fat  Fat Yield        LPI          Pro$      % Fat  Fat Yield         LPI         Pro$
Milk 782 1401 1496 1807 395 738 1095 1081
Fat Yield 88 107 85 82 84 98 82 71
% Fat 0.52 0.48 0.26 0.13 0.87 0.81 0.36 0.22
Protein Yield 54 63 64 71 39 47 53 49
% Protein 0.24 0.14 0.11 0.09 0.34 0.26 0.16 0.11
HerdLife 105 103 104 106 100 98 101 102
SCS 2.75 2.89 2.76 2.69 2.96 3.03 2.9 2.83
Daus Fertility 102 103 104 103 101 100 103 104
Udder Depth             5s 0             4s             4s              1d             3d             1s 0
RL Rear View 7 4 6 3 -4 -5 0 -2
Pro$ 2148 2120 2356 2473 1157 1205 1633 1712
LPI 3082 2956 3190 3141 1803 1824 1969 1954

* Canadian Sire Proofs are expressed in Estimated Breeding Values (= 2 x ETA’s). Proofs from August 2018.

The fact is that selecting sires based on the four programs summarized in Tables 1 and 2 will not get the needed result of high %F, increased fat yield and a hold on %P. In all cases, the %P is too high or too high compared to the %F and would result in expanding the volume of protein/powder not holding it. Therefore, if following a program does not do it, then breeders will need to do it by their individual sire selections. Of course, there is the possibility that the formulae for national selection indexes could be revised to select for a widening gap between %F and %P, but that would take research and resources and, in the meantime, breeders are not preparing for what will be needed in 2025.

Bulls That Would ‘Ring the Bell’

Forward-looking breeders will need to use sires that give high % fat improvement, minimal % protein improvement and continued improvement in other important traits. There will be a very limited number of such sires available. Most sires will not widen the gap between % fat and % protein.

From a search of current top proven sires, here are five sires that give the high % fat, high-fat yield, hold % protein and that are breed average or above for other major traits.

                Brewmaster (CA EBV’s)      +0.78 %F,            +132 kgs Fat                       +0.11 %P

                Megatron (CA EBV’s)           +0.75 %F              +122 kgs Fat                       +0.17 %P

                Mookie (US ETA’s)                +0.39 %F              +106 lbs Fat                        +0.09 %P

                Mackenzie (US ETA’s)          +0.32 %F              + 96 lbs Fat                         +0.13 %P

                Rubicon (US ETA’s)               +0.26 %F              +120 lbs Fat                        +0.06 %P


The Bullvine Bottom Line

The decision on the need to widen the gap from 0.8% to 1.3% between % fat and % protein needs discussion in all markets – local and global. The sooner there an industry-wide position on what is needed in the future for milk component percentages, the sooner breeders will be able to get on with making the necessary changes in their genetic selections.




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Two Years After Birth, Cows From Heat-Stressed Cattle Produce Less Milk

If lactating dairy cattle get too hot, they don’t produce as much milk, and that can add up to economic losses of more than $1 billion a year in the U.S. alone, University of Florida researchers say.

This loss can easily double if dry cows — those in late pregnancy that are not lactating — suffer from heat stress. That stress causes cows to produce less milk during their next lactation, and also affects the growing fetus, said Jimena Laporta, an assistant professor of animal sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

So, it’s just as important to keep the pregnant dry cows cool during hot months, Laporta said.

A new UF/IFAS study found that, two years after birth, cows born from heat-stressed mothers produced less milk. The research delves into why dairy calves that experience heat stress in the womb, particularly during the last trimester, produce less milk later.

UF/IFAS researchers looked at the mammary glands from cows that were born from heat-stressed mothers and found that excessive heat in the womb limited the optimal growth and development of those glands. This exposure to heat stress in the uterus likely leads to less dairy production in adulthood, Laporta said.

But if pregnant dry cows go through systems that relieve the heat — such as shade, fans and water soakers — the mammary glands of their offspring are normal.

Thus, by cooling pregnant dry cows, dairy farmers can kill two birds with one stone: avoid lower milk production of the cow in her next lactation and their daughters two years later, Laporta said.

For the past eight years, UF/IFAS researchers have shown that when pregnant cows are exposed to too much heat before they calve, they produce less milk in their next lactation. “Now we know that heat exposure in the womb compromises normal mammary gland development and reduces the milk production of their offspring two years later,” Laporta said.

“This research can have a significant impact for the dairy industry, particularly in Florida and the Southeast, which experience more than 200 days of hot weather annually,” she said.


Do You Need Genetic Evaluations for Health Traits for Your Herd?

When dairy producers have valuable genetic and management information but fail to take advantage of it, it might be termed unfortunate. However, think of all the potential information that could be provided but isn’t (yet); these absences are preventing real progress and can be called “missed opportunities.” Obviously, similar situations are pervasive everywhere in life, but fortunately U.S. dairy producers can avoid a few of these missed opportunities, which we’ll detail in this article.
Although we seem to be drowning in information already, more and more is generated and stored each year. As a result, abundant health data is sitting in on-farm computers while producers fail to benefit fully from it. More of this data can be moved into a central database where accurate genetic and management results would be produced. This would provide advantages to the entire industry, but the lofty benefits would go to the herds supplying data as they would receive accurate genetic indexes on their heifers and cows. The more traits that have value that are incorporated into the composite index, the more economic improvement that will be delivered. No surprise, real benefits to additional breeds will not arrive until data is collected through the DRPC system and transferred to the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB).
Jersey, Brown Swiss, Ayrshire and Guernsey producers are not receiving genetic evaluations for all of the traits available to Holstein owners. In April 2018, Holstein animals received genetic evaluations for six health traits; milk fever, displaced abomasum, ketosis, mastitis, metritis, and retained placenta from CDCB. Sire evaluations for calving ease have been provided for U.S. Holsteins for 40 years, and evaluations for stillbirth delivered for 12 years. Generally other breeds have not pushed their producers hard to collect these data. The only exception is that Brown Swiss receive evaluations for calving ease. Yet striving to reduce stillbirth should be a worthy goal for everyone. We need to acknowledge that selection for calving ease would benefit breeds differently as the frequency of calving difficulty in first lactation is near 6, 8, and 1% in Brown Swiss, Holsteins and Jerseys, respectively. Records for stillbirth and calving ease were available on 1,140,000 and 1,340,000 cows (respectively) in the latest year, which is only 50 to 60% of those having lactation records in the Cooperator’s national database. Health records were supplied on even less (513,000), and primarily for Holsteins. The number of health incidents transferred to the CDCB in Jerseys has doubled recently. Even the reasons that cow exit the milking herds ( termination codes) are not provided for 30% of the DHIA cows even though they have been part of the program for over a half century. After receiving more health data, a research effort will be initiated and that could move more quickly than usual as extensive editing has been completed already on the same traits in the Holstein breed. Increasing the number of health records will improve genetic evaluations for several traits currently provided.
Geneticists are greedy and would love to have recordings on 100% of the health events that occur, but that isn’t a realistic goal. Still, available data is being helpful in increasing cow livability
and reducing somatic cell score . The opportunity to benefit improved substantially with the start of genomic testing and continues to improve as genotyping gains in popularity. One example, cow livability in Holsteins has a genetic component (heritability) of only 1% but the accuracy of prediction (reliability) at birth is 50% for those genotyped. The accuracy of most traits having phenotypic data recorded could benefit in the same way as a single genomic test improves the predictions for all. Additional evaluations for health traits will be coming in the future, e.g., heifer livability, lameness or locomotion, and probably also for some management traits such as milking speed or temperament. The producers who will benefit the most are those willing to record the traits and see that they are passed on to a central database. To help with this, CDCB has hired Dr. Javier Burchard whose primary focus will be the acquisition of data on new traits and how best to facilitate receiving these data from industry. This kind of initiative is long overdue.
There are other issues that need to be resolved in order to deliver data from on-farm computers to the national database. In some cases computer software may need to be developed. Perhaps an even larger issue is that agreements need to be negotiated to permit the data to flow between organizations. These concerns need to be addressed, otherwise benefits are likely to be absent for a long time. Resolving these issues can increase the available data substantially in the Holstein breed as well. Resolution is not likely to come unless there is a considerable interest (pressure) from producers who will benefit the most. Dairy producers are the core of all these organizations, so cooperation means helping yourself.
Source: CDCB

Assessing Silage Inventories

Silos full? With the recently-ensiled corn crop they should be as full as they are all year. Do you know what’s in each silo, and if so, is it written down? This is especially important if you grew both BMR and conventional corn for silage, or if some fields were affected by disease, drought or some other problem. It’s not good enough that you know where everything is, since unforeseen events (accident, sickness, etc.) could result in someone else needing to know what’s stored where. “If you don’t know where it is you don’t own it.” That’s not quite true with silage, but you get the idea.

If you ensiled your corn crop in two or more silos, note which fields (and therefore which hybrids) went into each silo. That way if your herd production takes a bounce or a dip you might be able to relate it to a change in forage quality — and perhaps to the hybrid(s) represented in the silage you’re currently feeding. Obviously, this is trickier in bunker silos or driveover piles than in tower silos or silage bags. One of the advantages of silage bags is that as you fill the bag you can mark the location of each field’s crop on the plastic. As you feed out you can match the forage analysis to the specific hybrid. If you plant all conventional corn hybrids you might find more quality differences associated with % dry matter than with the genetics of the hybrid.

Source: Miner Institute’s Farm Report.

Ag Bankers Sound Alarm on Rising Interest Rates for Farmers

Financial data from Midwest crop farms still looks better than you’d expect after more than five years of low grain prices, but lenders gathered at the National Agricultural Bankers Conference in Omaha, Nebraska, Sunday got seasoned advice on working with problem loans.

“I really feel we’re in a renewal season on the brink,” said one speaker who is a veteran of the farm debt crisis on the 1980s, Virginia Tech emeritus ag economist David Kohl.

Kohl compares the current ag lending environment to the smoke that preceded the Mt. St. Helens eruption in Washington state. Some of the threats rumbling under the ag economy include continued uncertainty in international trade, the size of farm loans, rising interest rates, and the possibility of declining farmland values.

In the coming year, Kohl’s own dairy operation is looking at the effects from three possible interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve next year, he told The likely increases would be .25%, or 25 basis points.

In a low-margin environment, that can make repaying loans more difficult, he said. And higher interest rates will likely strengthen the dollar. That will make a tough export environment worse for U.S. crops.

Kohl encouraged farm lenders to evaluate the business management ability of their farm borrowers by looking at how well they understand financial ratios, whether they have a marketing plan, and if they know their cost of production, for example.

He also recommends getting farms to write a “one-page recovery plan” for repaying debts and anticipating the effects of changes in commodity prices.

“Everything looks good on delinquency rates, but that could change very quickly,” Kohl said.

Kohl said that at a typical agricultural bank, about 40% are going to grow, the other 40% are in refinance mode, and the remaining 20% are in “demarket mode.”

“The more you do refinancing, you take them further out on the pier, and the water’s getting deeper,” he said.

Kohl’s view that some farms continue to do well while others are slowly going out of business was reinforced by data from FINBIN, a farm financial record keeping system used in 11 agricultural states.

The median net farm income for all of the farms in the system was $32,705 in 2017, said Dale Nordquist, assistant director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Farm Financial Management.

That’s money available for family living expenses, paying taxes, and growing the business.

“There’s got to be some eating of working capital to make that work,” at that level, Nordquist said.

Farms also show big differences in income. The top 20% of FINBIN farms averaged net income above $200,000 in 2017 while the bottom 20% lost nearly $60,000.

Nordquist said that change in net worth has been stable for the past two years, mainly due to nonfarm income.

But the return on equity remains low, between 0% and 3%, he said.

“No industry can stay at those levels of profitability or rates of return forever,” he said.


Profitability Driver ― Tip 3: Pumping Up Production Pays Off

This is the third in a series of Dairy Financial Driver Profitability Quick Tips.

Your dairy is your life. And even in this unpredictable time of fluctuation for our industry, mindful decision-making can help maximize your dairy’s productivity and overall profitability.

You are in the business of making and selling milk. So, understandably, the more milk produced on a pounds-per-cow per-day basis, the more profitable your operation can be. In fact, a study by Zoetis and Compeer Financial found that herds with high milk production increased their profitability by $192 per cow per year.1

The study analyzed 11 years of herd data from 489 year-end financial and production-record summaries to identify key areas driving profitability on dairies. When adjusted and sorted, the difference in individual cow production between the top third and bottom third of herds in this study was 20 pounds of milk per cow per day — adding up to a difference of $209,000 per year in net farm income.1

The results of the study aren’t surprising because producing more milk will outpace production costs. Here’s how: You have low variable costs, such as the small incremental cost of additional feed needed to make more milk. As milk production goes up, maintenance costs, on a per hundredweight (cwt) basis, go down as a proportion of total costs. The revenue increases from producing and selling more milk will outpace any additional costs associated with making that milk. Subsequently, dairies that generate an additional 20 pounds of milk per cow per day are generating more net farm income.

The bottom line: Making more milk makes you more profitable.

Consider these three opportunities to make more milk and, in turn, increase your dairy’s profit potential:

  1. Optimize reproduction — Recent reports show that energy-corrected milk production is positively correlated with 21-day pregnancy rates, as well as profitability.1 Use a high-conception fertility synchronization program to help increase the number of cows that become pregnant at first service with fixed-timed artificial insemination.
  2. Reduce somatic cell counts — Cows with a high SCC (greater than 200,000 cells/mL) can experience a loss of 576 pounds of milk.2 To reduce somatic cell counts, start by monitoring first-test SCC data from your most recent Dairy Herd Improvement test records. Then work closely with your veterinarian to establish best practices for culturing, record-keeping, hygiene, parlor management and employee training. Your prevention efforts can help achieve more milk for your dairy.
  3. Keep the right cows in your herd longer — It is well established that third-lactation cows produce about 25% more milk per day than first-lactation cows.3 Could adverse health events be threatening your herd’s longevity and milk production? By conducting genomic testing with CLARIFIDE Plus, you can identify and invest in the right heifers — those with the lowest risk for disease and greatest livability.

Reference “Driving Profitability ― Tip 1: Shoot for an SCC of 100,000 or Lower” and “Driving Profitability ― Tip #2: Improve Pregnancy Rates, Boost Profitability.”

About Zoetis

Zoetis (NYSE: ZTS) is the leading animal health company, dedicated to supporting its customers and their businesses. Building on more than 60 years of experience in animal health, Zoetis discovers, develops, manufactures and markets medicines, vaccines, and diagnostic products, which are complemented by biodevices, genetic tests and a range of services. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals with sales of its products in more than 100 countries. In 2017, the company generated annual revenue of $5.3 billion with approximately 9,000 employees. For more information, visit

1 Lormore M. What Drives Financial Success on a Dairy? Parsippany, NJ: Zoetis; 2018.

2 Kirkpatrick MA, Olson JD. Somatic Cell Counts at First Test: More than a Number, in Proceedings. NMC Annu Meet 2015;53-56.

3 McNeel AK, Reiter B, Weigel D, Osterstock J, DiCroce FA. Validation of genomic predictions for wellness traits in US Holstein cows. J Dairy Sci. 2017;100(11):9115-9124. doi:org/10.3168/jds.2016-12323.

Consider a second feeding of colostrum to dairy calves

Is your farm struggling to meet the industry goal of 90 percent of calves with successful passive transfer? If you have enough first milking colostrum to allocate six quarts (1.5 gallons) to heifer calves, then you should consider a second colostrum feeding to your calves.

Newborn calves should be fed a minimum of 10 percent of their body weight of high-quality colostrum in the first 24 hours following birth. High quality colostrum means free from bacterial contamination and contains at least 50g/L immunoglobulins (IgG). For Holstein heifer calves (average 85-90 lbs. at birth), 10 percent of body weight equates to approximately four quarts (one gallon or 3.8 liters) of colostrum. The quicker calves are fed colostrum, and the more IgG they are fed, the better the transfer of immunity to the calf. Michigan State University Extension recommends feeding four quarts of high quality, clean colostrum within six hours of birth to achieve successful passive transfer. However, there are still a subset of calves that will not have successful passive transfer even if all these goals are met. For example, if the calf is stressed before birth, colostrum feeding is delayed or if quality or cleanliness are compromised, then that calf is at risk for failure of passive transfer even with four quarts of colostrum.

Because gut closure (the process of the gut wall closing down the ability to directly absorb IgG) begins almost immediately at birth and is complete by 24 hours, we typically focus on getting the first feeding into the calf as quick as possible. However, colostrum contains much more than just IgG. Colostrum is very high in fat and protein, and contains hormones that researchers now believe are very important to the calf. A second feeding of colostrum will provide the calf additional antibodies, but also the nutrition it needs. Michigan State University Extension recommends feeding a second meal of colostrum six to 12 hours after the first feeding, at a volume of two to three quarts. While the second feeding must be free of bacterial contamination, it is worth feeding even if there are less than 50 g/L IgG’s (under 22 on the BRIX scale). It is noteworthy that most calves will not be hungry six to 12 hours after a four-quart first colostrum feeding, so using an esophageal tube feeder will probably be warranted.

According to UDSA’s survey “Dairy Cattle Management Practices in the United States, 2014,” 74 percent of small (30-99 cows) and 58 percent of medium operations (100-499 cows) and 52 percent of large (500 + cows) operations fed two quarts or less of colostrum at first feeding. However, the majority of operations across herd sizes fed an additional two quarts or more resulting in almost 90 percent of operations (88 percent) feeding four quarts or more of colostrum during the first 24 hours of life. Our research at MSU, and research done at other universities, indicates that two quarts at first feeding is not enough. The farms with the best passive transfer results from 50 Michigan dairy farms in 2016 all fed a second feeding and a total colostrum of 5.5 – 6 quarts the first 24 hours. Indicating that most farm operations see the benefit of feeding a second feeding of colostrum.

While research has been limited in the area of second colostrum feeding, if there is enough colostrum on your farm to provide heifers an additional two to three quarts of first milking colostrum, calves could benefit from improved health and growth.


Transitioning of Herds to Automatic Milking Systems

Interest in the use of automatic milking systems (AMS) continues to be high, even in a stressed dairy economy. Some of the primary reasons reported for this change in milking technology include: 1) reduction in labor, especially hired labor, 2) more flexible life-style, and 3) potential improvement in cow heath and milk yield. At present (September 2018), we have about 2140 dairy farms in Ohio and 52 farms with AMS, with about 143 AMS on Ohio farms. Thus, about 2.4% of the dairy farms in Ohio have the AMS. The vendors are primarily Lely and DeLaval, with one farm now having installed the GEA system.  Although the adoption rate in Ohio is growing, it is certainly less than in Europe, Canada (6.8% in 2015), and several other states in the US. One of the aspects of adopting the AMS system that can be challenging, at least for a few weeks, is the transition period from the conventional milking system to the AMS.

A study conducted by four major universities in Canada titled “Producer experience with transitioning to automatic milking: cow training, challenges, and effect on quality of life” was reported in the 2018 October issue of the Journal of Dairy Science. Producers (n = 217 responses) from 8 Canadian providences using the Lely and DeLaval AMS were surveyed during 2014 and 2015. Overall, 42% of the producers trained animals to the AMS before the first milking. Feeding in the AMS was often practiced during training, but spraying of teats was less frequent. During training, small groups of cows (< 20) were commonly used. For producers who used a training program, it typically took 7 days to train a cow or heifer. It was estimated in the study that it would take 30 days to adapt a herd to an AMS, and the length of this duration was not different for those herds that did or did not train animals prior to the first milking in the AMS. About 2% of the cows within the herds were culled for not adapting to the AMS, with the range being 0 to 40%.

Some of the challenges experienced by dairy producers in the transition to the use of AMS included:

Challenge                                Some common solutions expressed

Learn to use AMS                    Time and patience, help from dealer

Cow training                            Time and patience, creating small groups for training,
                                                recruiting extra help during training period

Feeding                                   Working with nutritionist

Trusting the AMS                     Time and patience

Other challenges stated included: demanding during the first few days/weeks, changing health management, non-AMS transition issues caused by converting from tiestall to freestall, building modifications, technical issues, feet and leg issues, being on call, lack of support, decreased milk quality, finances, and employee management and training. Overall, producers positively scored all improvement and expectation statements, indicating a high level of satisfaction with the AMS.

Obviously, changing to an AMS system requires a lot of planning. Initially, the mission and succession plans for the dairy operation need to be clarified and the financial plan fully developed. During even the initial phases, it is important to visit with equipment dealerships to discuss cost, service, and start up help provided and to visit operations whereby the use of the AMS has been in effect for different periods of time, e.g. 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, etc., to learn how transitioning occurred, any development of problems over time, and dependability of service from the dealer. Once the decision is made to install an AMS but prior to the transition, plans need to be made for the practices used during transition (e.g. training), personnel needed during the transition, and time of year relative to when other major events will be taking place on the farm or for the family. With all of the challenges in the transition, time and patience were the major points identified. A well-organized plan can provide for a more smooth transition and working closely with the dealer, nutritionist, and other professionals before and during the transition can reduce the risk and duration for challenges during the transition.


Udderly unhappy: Why dairy cows don’t like time changes

As many Canadians look forward to an extra hour of sleep because of Sunday’s early-morning time change, dairy cows may be mooing with displeasure about it.

A worker attaches a milking machine to a cow. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)As many Canadians look forward to an extra hour of sleep because of Sunday’s time change, dairy cows may be mooing with displeasure about it.

That’s because adjustments to the day-to-day lives of cows can come with some negative side effects.

“They’re creatures of habit, they like routine and they like predictability,” said Miriam Gordon, a professor in Dalhousie University’s agriculture faculty in Truro, N.S.

On Sunday at 2 a.m. local time, the clocks will be turned back an hour for many Canadians, meaning some cows will have to wait an extra hour to be milked, assuming no adjustments are made to their milking schedule.

Gordon said dairy cows learn to associate the time of day with milking and they anticipate this both behaviourally and physiologically.

“Their mammary glands, their udder, is ready to be milked,” she said. “It’s full, it’s going to start dripping milk and so they’re ready to be milked. So with the time change, you’re potentially putting it back a whole hour’s time. You’re going to have some pretty vocal cows.”

Gordon said the cows will moo to indicate they’re waiting to be milked and that they’re uncomfortable.

Miriam Gordon is a professor in Dalhousie University’s agriculture faculty. (Submitted by Miriam Gordon)Gordon, who teaches animal behaviour, welfare and physiology, said milk production will sometimes dip temporarily because of a time change.

Dairy farmers typically milk their cows two or three times a day and space it out every 12 or eight hours, respectively.

In Nova Scotia, there are around 200 dairy farms, which collectively produce about 200 million litres of milk each year.

Brian Cameron, the general manager of the Dairy Farmers of Nova Scotia, said most farms start milking early in the day between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. so they can finish the workday at a reasonable hour.

Dairy cows are typically milked two to three times a day. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)Some farmers will make small adjustments to milking times over a few days to ease the transition or go “cold turkey” and make no change, said Cameron.

He said that experienced farmers have systems in place to adjust to the time changes, so it’s not a major concern for them.

Farmers are “locked and loaded into a very regimented routine with their herds, the chores, milking the cows,” said Cameron.


Paying for the privilege of milking cows

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Sadly, dairy farmers feel like they are living a flashback to 2016.

Through September this year, the average Class III price plus the Federal Order 33 Producer Price Differential (the Statistical Uniform Price or SUP) is $15.03 per hundredweight (cwt.), which is exactly the average for all of 2016.

Last year, 2017, provided a small measure of relief, with the SUP averaging $16.57.

How much are you paying for the privilege of milking cows?

Sadly, more cows and more milk in domestic and foreign markets, as well as a relatively strong dollar and uncertain policy, have wreaked havoc on milk markets. Controlling expenses continues to be an important factor in the search for short- and long-term profitability of dairy farms. The challenge continues to be controlling costs without negatively affecting production, reproduction, growth, animal and personnel welfare. With that in mind, regular review of overall costs is in order.

The more things change. The more they stay the same. Feed, labor, depreciation, and supplies were the top four expenses for all farms and the top 20 percent of farms in 2017. These were consistently the top four expenses for the last four years.

What is the take-home message?

For most herds, the four highest costs will be feed, labor, depreciation, and supplies. How much potential — and realistic — savings are there for your farm? We cannot cut costs only to negatively impact current and future health and production.

Depreciation of machinery, equipment, and buildings is a hard number to change. This number (7 percent of the cost-basis balance sheet inventory value for machinery and equipment, 15 percent for titled vehicles, and 5 percent for buildings and improvements) represents normal wear, tear, and use of these items in the course of business for the year.

The biggest opportunity to impact that number is before machinery, equipment, and buildings are purchased. Is a purchase a want or a need? Is it realistic to expect cows to pay for this item or improvement? How much will it cost per cwt .or per cow? What benefits and economic returns will it provide?

The best tools for comparing your farm to other Ohio farms are the benchmark reports included in the Ohio Dairy Enterprise Analysis Summaries, which can be found at

Directions on the charts explain their use.

Bottom line, you can see the range of income and expense items for other Ohio farms. Specifically, these allow farms to set realistic goals for trimming expenses.

Combine this review with an evaluation of net return per cow. Is it positive? This has been a challenge for farms in this extended down price cycle. If it is positive, is it high enough to cover all the demands for principal, family living, income taxes, etc.?

Finding the balance will be the ongoing challenge for today’s dairy farm businesses.


Calf Success: Cold weather strategies for raising healthy calves

Do you feel prepared to raise calves during the winter season? The lower critical temperature of a young dairy calf is 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that the calf’s energy requirement begins to increase in order to maintain core body temperature in conditions below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. As winter temperatures decrease, a calf uses more energy for maintenance, resulting in less energy available for growth and immune function. Preparing and planning for the cold is essential for calves to remain healthy and grow to their full genetic potential.
Cold weather calf nutrition
Deliver more energy with a fat supplement: Adding a fat supplement to the milk solution can provide an economical and convenient way to increase the energy content of the milk without needing to switch to a different milk replacer. Calf-Cal High Energy Supplement from Hubbard Feeds contains 7 percent protein and 60 percent fat, designed to provide young calves with additional calories during periods of cold stress (Table 1). 
Feed a higher-fat milk replacer formula: Feeding a higher-fat milk replacer increases the energy allowable gain for calves, as seen in Table 2. Using a high-fat milk replacer during the winter months (and even year-round!) gives calves extra calories, but this alone does not significantly change energy allowable gain. 
Feed more volume of milk replacer solution: Increasing total volume of milk solution fed, as well as increasing the fat percentage of the milk will maximize calf growth potential during cold weather. Providing calves with more solution throughout the day during the cold winter season allows for increased caloric intake, which provides more energy for growth and immune function. Table 3 shows how increasing the total volume of solution offered per day significantly increases the energy allowable gain of an 80-pound calf in 10-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. 
What about calf starter? 
Offering a high-quality calf starter is vital for calves to perform well and stay healthy no matter the season. Calf starter consumption in the winter not only promotes early rumen development, but also helps calves generate more body heat via increased energy intake and increased metabolic activity.
I thought increasing the fat content and volume of milk replacer would reduce solid feed intake?
Traditional milk replacers use animal fat as the foremost source of energy. Collaborative research conducted by Hubbard Feeds and the University of Minnesota has demonstrated that starter intake decreases as the amount of animal fat in the milk replacer increases, or as milk replacer volume fed increases. In cold weather, using the right blend of fats may improve calf health, starter intake, and performance, versus animal fat only.
There’s more to the story than just temperature.
  • Body size/breed: Small calves and small breeds (e.g., Jersey calves) have higher maintenance requirements than large calves or large breeds. These smaller animals need to be carefully managed and monitored during the cold winter months. Contact your Hubbard Feeds representative to find out more about cold weather feeding for small breed calves.
  • Hair coat: Calves can adapt to cold weather with a thick hair coat, but they need additional support to maintain core temperature. The hair coat should be dried, fluffed and free of snow, mud, and/or manure as soon as possible after birth. Consider using calf jackets to help insulate young calves once their hair coat is clean and dry.
  • Housing: Calves should be housed in draft-free pens or stalls with proper ventilation. Bedding in the winter should be deep, allowing for calves to nest. Clean and dry long-stemmed straw bedding is ideal in the winter to help insulate calves.
  • Water: Delivering warm water to calves during the winter months helps them digest nutrients and promotes solid feed intake. Develop a plan to deliver warm water to calves immediately after milk feedings, while they’re still standing.



Weaning time: A ‘House of Horrors’ for Young Calves

Come weaning time, there’s a seemingly never-ending house of horrors awaiting young calves.

But rather than ghosts and goblins, weaned calves face frightening new surroundings. This can include unfamiliar feed, new water sources, exposure to different cattle and harmful pathogens, plus increased stress. Without proper care, sending a recently weaned calf into the next segment of the cattle industry is like sending a toddler into a haunted house alone.

Calves Embark on a Substantial Endeavor at Weaning

When stockers or feedlots buy weaned calves, they may or may not be purchasing cattle that are well prepared for the next segment of the industry. When I give presentations about nutrition for weaned calves to others in our industry, I always focus on the many risks calves face at weaning. While a weaned calf may weigh three times more than I do, it is a fragile creature. When considering the wellness of weaned calves, I recommend prioritizing three key areas — nutrition, health and stress.

1. Nutrition
At the very basic level, all cattle require water, minerals, vitamins, energy and protein. Weaned calves will benefit from a nutrient-dense starter ration. While calves may only initially eat 1 to 2 pounds of feed a day, it’s crucial they begin receiving nutrients into their bodies. I like to remind cattle producers that flexibility and understanding are key during the earliest weeks of arrival for weaned calves. Likely, there will be groups that are unfamiliar with feed or water troughs. They may have little interest in either.

WARNING: Danger lurks when calves are switched too quickly from a starter to a grower ration. Throughout my time in the industry, I have seen producers immediately increase energy by 30% when making the transition from starter to grower ration. This abrupt switch causes acidosis, which can then cause a domino effect of digestive nightmares. It is crucial to make a gradual transition from starter to grower rations. For instance, if I jump energy by 15%, I’ll cut back feed by 10%. Although the grower ration is higher in energy, dropping the feed intake allows the transition to be made with little change in the rumen.  

TIP: Make the starter-to-grower ration transition on a Monday. Cut the delivery back by 10%. If calves were receiving 10 pounds of starter, you’ll now feed 9 pounds of grower ration. If calves clean up the feed in three days, I’ll add another half-pound. Now, they are receiving 9.5 pounds. If they clean that up in three days, I’ll go on up to 10 pounds. A gradual transition is crucial.

In addition to grain, recently weaned calves often have not seen a water trough. Their go-to water sources have been ponds, rivers or creeks. To help familiarize them with a water trough, I have used a few rubber ducks to float in the trough. Calves are curious creatures. Once nosing the ducks, they’ll soon become acquainted with their new water source. You also can add a water pump. Once they hear bubbling water, calves will soon catch on.

Nutrition directly impacts vaccination programs. If weaned calves do not receive adequate minerals and other nutrients, they could be faced with depressed immune response, which affects weight gain long term.

2. Health
By prioritizing nutrition, you can help your calves achieve a full immune response to vaccinations. Among respiratory pathogens that put young calves at risk, Mannheimia haemolytica, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) virus Types 1 and 2, and bovine syncytial respiratory virus (BRSV) are primary concerns. Providing vaccines early in life can allow calves to use nutrients for growth and production rather than fighting disease.

3. Stress
Stress is high whether weaned calves enter the grow yard or a feedlot setting. To help calves progress in this new segment, ensure they are receiving proper nutrition for excellent health. Additionally, look for areas to reduce stress to boost immunity and productivity. 

A few simple ways you can do this include:      

  • Break cattle into smaller pens of no more than 50 head to help eliminate the stress from social hierarchy.
  • Create a comfortable environment for the calves and implement best cattle handling techniques to keep calves calm, cool and stress-free.
  • Prioritize nutrition and health so calves are physically prepared to take on their new environment.

As noted earlier, a calf’s endeavor come weaning time is similar to sending a toddler into a haunted house without anyone there to hold his hand. At this moment, can you picture his stress level? Producers can help reduce the stress weaned calves face and increase productivity by focusing on excellent nutrition and health. Visit to learn more about preconditioning to help improve overall cattle health and profits.

About Zoetis
Zoetis (NYSE: ZTS) is the leading animal health company, dedicated to supporting its customers and their businesses. Building on more than 60 years of experience in animal health, Zoetis discovers, develops, manufactures and markets veterinary vaccines and medicines, complemented by diagnostic products, genetic tests, biodevices and a range of services. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals with sales of its products in more than 100 countries. In 2017, the company generated annual revenue of $5.3 billion with approximately 9,000 employees. For more information, visit

Genetic gain lifts Australian dairy farms profitability

Gippsland dairyfarmers Trevor Saunders and Anthea Day are committed to making rapid genetic gain in their 750-cow dairy herd, Araluen Park, and have the figures to prove their efforts are paying substantial dividends.

They were one of 27 Australian dairy farms that underwent detailed analysis by the ImProving Herds project to investigate the contribution of genetics to dairy businesses. All participants had herds with good data and were prepared to share their records.

The study identified the top and bottom 25 per cent of each herd, ranked on Balanced Performance Index (BPI), the main genetic index used by the Australian dairy industry.

The herd’s records were analysed to look at the difference in the contribution to the farm business between the top and bottom 25 per cent of the herd. The analysis was based on 10 years of historical performance data, plus recent farm financial data.

In the Araluen Park herd, cows in the top 25 per cent have a marginal income over feed costs of $370/cow/year more than the bottom 25 per cent.

The top cows each produced per year an extra 690 litres of milk, 40kg of protein and 56kg of fat than their herd mates in the bottom 25 per cent.

The extra milk produced by the top 25 per cent of cows was worth an extra $498/cow/year in income. This was offset by higher feed costs of $128/cow/year, leaving an increase in marginal milk income over feed costs of $370/cow/year.

The top cows also lasted in the herd for an extra 16 months.

“When you look at the figures you can see the clear benefits of genetics,” Ms Day said.

“The results clearly demonstrate the value of investing in genetics to improve farm profitability.

“We always believed using genetic indexes and general herd improvement tools were profitable and the ImProving Herds project has validated our belief in the value of making genetic progress in our Jersey herd.”

Committed to Genetics

Mr Saunders and Ms Day are both fourth-generation dairyfarmers and are committed to using the best Jersey sires available from Australia and overseas, as well as genomically testing their females.

“Stock are our second biggest asset after the farm, so we want to use every tool available to add to their value,” Ms Day said.

She and Mr Saunders are focused on making genetic gain and this has been possible by selecting the best sires and using them extensively through artificial insemination.

“We’ve been using 100 per cent AI on the herd since 1985 and have been progeny testing young sires for more than 30 years,” she said.

“Our herd has grown in from 350 cows to 750 cows in 2.5 years through natural increase and we have been able to do this relatively easy without comprising the genetic gain in the herd because we have had 100 per cent of our calves bred through AI.”

The couple have a long-standing passion for Jersey genetics and have imported embryos in partnership with a friend from the United States, to ensure they have access to leading genetics and families. US Jersey families now make up abut 30 per cent of the Araluen Park herd.

They use BPI when selecting sires for use in their herd and aim to be ranked in the top 2 per cent for genetic merit for Jersey herds in Australia.

Mr Saunders said: “We always look for bulls at the top of the list for BPI but this can sometimes be a problem with US sires as not all of them have a BPI, so then our key criteria are protein, type, udder, strength and more recently fertility. All bulls also have to be genomically tested.”

Breeding better cows

Most of the Araluen Park herd has been genomically tested, with each drop of heifers tested as calves for the past four years.

Tail hairs are taken from all heifer calves when they are between a month to six weeks old and sampling is carried out to coincide with disbudding. Results take about a month to come back.

“Now that our herd numbers have stabilised, we can start using these genomic results to rank our heifer calves on BPI and sell the bottom 25 per cent as weaned calves and make genetic gain earlier,” Ms Day said.

The ImProving Herds analysis showed if the couple had sold the bottom 25 per cent of their calves, they would not have sold a single high performer from their herd; their calf genomic results matched their first lactation performance.

“Identifying the lower ranked heifer calves earlier means more money in the bank because we are not using as much feed to grow out young heifers we may not want,” Ms Day said.

“The potential to increase the number of heifer calves by using sexed semen means we can still put more heifers into the herd and then reassess how our three and four-year-old cows are performing after their second or third lactation then decide who to keep and who to cull.”

The Araluen Park herd has recently joined Ginfo — DataGene’s national genetic information reference pool — which is motivating the couple to continue improving the rate of genetic gain in their herd.

Contact: DataGene, phone (03) 9032 7191 or email

ImProving Herds is a Gardiner Dairy Foundation project in collaboration with Dairy Australia, DataGene, the Victorian Government, Holstein Australia and the National Herd Improvement Association of Australia (NHIA).


SourceThe Australian Dairyfarmer

Jersey-Specific Nutrition Programs Available On-Demand

National All-Jersey Inc. (NAJ) has joined industry experts to produce five webinars focused on Jersey-specific nutrition throughout four different stages of a dairy animal’s life cycle.

The programs, covering the transition period, lactation, heifers and calves, are offered as a free educational resource for dairy producers, nutritionists and herd management consultants about the distinct differences of feeding Jersey cattle versus a larger breed.

The impetus for the series came from David Endres of Lodi, Wis., immediate past President of NAJ. Across his 32-year career in the dairy business, he has milked both Jerseys and Holsteins in single- and mixed-breed set-ups.

“There’s a big difference between Holstein and Jersey nutrition,” Endres observed, “and unfortunately too many of the nutritionists out there do not have enough experience because they do not have enough Jersey herds to work with. I have a great nutritionist, but he only has my Jersey herd to work with and it makes it tough for him to have Jersey-specific information.”

Dairy consultant and nutritionist Laura Daniels, Cobb, Wis., moderated each webinar and led the interactive question and answer session. Complete recorded programs and presenter slides are available from the USJersey web site

“The Transition Cow” featured Dr. Jim Tully, Dr. Cameron Nightingale and Todd Stroup of Pine Creek Nutrition, Turlock, Calif. Their presentation was made into two separate videos which were aired on August 30 and September 12. They discussed feeding dry and close-up animals and monitoring fresh cows for the optimal transition. Six guidelines for a successful transition were discussed with an emphasis put on DCAD diets.

  Dr. Bill Weiss and Dr. Maurice Eastridge from The Ohio State University hosted “The Milking Herd” on September 27. They explained the nutritional differences and similarities in lactating Jerseys when compared to Holsteins. Weiss and Eastridge highlighted the differences in body condition and dry matter intake pre- and postpartum, while also discussing breed effects for certain minerals and vitamins.

In “The Jersey Heifer” presentation on October 11, Dr. Bob James of Down Home Heifer Solutions, Blacksburg, Va., addressed the question, “What’s special about feeding Jersey heifers?” James detailed nutrition requirements for maintenance and growth in Jersey heifers. He covered the BAMN targeted growth model based on mature body size, an approach that avoids issues that come from using Holstein-based growth charts. Practical suggestions were also shared for feeding Jersey heifers in mixed breed operations.

“The Jersey Calf” webinar on October 25 featured Gary Moore, Greenwich, N.Y., a calf nutrition specialist with Cargill who is also an experienced Jersey dairyman. Achieving the optimal start for a Jersey calf, Moore noted, requires building the immune system, feeding calves to meet their genetic potential, and managing transition. Colostrum quality and quantity were discussed, along with some common pitfalls mixed breed herds may encounter if they don’t manage breed differences. Moore also highlighted many misconceptions when feeding Jersey calves and offered solutions.

National All-Jersey was formed in 1957 by the American Jersey Cattle Association, the oldest dairy breed registry organization in the United States. Its mission is to increase the value of and demand for Jersey milk and to promote equity in milk pricing. National All-Jersey Inc. is the only organization that represents milk marketing concerns for owners of a single dairy breed. For more information on the association’s complete line of services for dairy business owners, visit the website at

Manure Spill Prevention

Typically, dairy farms have an opportunity after corn silage harvest to pump down lagoons and get manure hauled and applied. Hopefully, all goes well, without any accidents or manure spills, but hope is not a spill or accident prevention plan. Livestock operations that store, haul, and apply manure need to have an emergency response plan to handle manure spills and escapes. Preventing manure spills is one important component of that plan. A good start to preventing manure spills is to understand some common reasons manure spills occur, as well as where in the process from storage to application spills commonly occur.

            At the 2018 Manure Science Review in late July in Hardin County, Glen Arnold, OSU Extension Manure Management Specialist, gave a presentation on manure spills and escapes. During his presentation, Arnold said that manure spills/escapes occur at three different locations and/or phases of manure management. One area is on the farmstead itself, close to farm buildings and facilities. Most of these manure incidents are actually escapes and are the result of manure pit overflows, manure pond overflows, and/or lot runoffs. Manure spills can happen during the transport of manure. As farms and applicators strive to do a better job of matching up manure nutrients with fields needing those nutrients, manure is getting transported longer distances. During transport, manure spills are the result of flipped manure tankers or semi-truck tankers, manure hose leaks, or improperly secured manure loads. The third area where manure spills/escapes happen is on the field, during or shortly after the manure application. These spills are the result of surface runoff or rapid movement through the soil profile and into field tile.

Kevin Erb, from the University of Wisconsin Extension in a webinar on the topic of manure spills, said that generally manure spills happen for one or more reasons. One is mechanical failure of equipment used in the handling and application of manure. Often these cases are truly accidental due to unforeseen situations and circumstances.  Another reason is the improper application of manure or improper storage management. Improper application is over application of manure based on field conditions or field fertility level. Improper storage management includes not monitoring storage closely enough, resulting in an overflow situation. Finally, manure spills can occur due to negligence. Negligence can be defined as failure to exercise reasonable care or maybe even knowingly increasing the risk of a manure spill. This could be something like failure to maintain equipment in good working order, performing tasks when under serious sleep deprivation, or ignoring a manure plan or weather forecast.

            Identifying the where/when manure spills/escapes occur is useful, especially when combined with an analysis of why manure spill/escapes happen. Taken together, they identify areas of risk that include both manageable factors as well as those factors outside of the farm’s or applicator’s control. With each of these causes, the farm manager needs to identify what can be done to minimize risk, including such things as periodic and regular equipment checks/maintenance, emergency shut-offs, employee/applicator training, work schedules that provide adequate rest, up-to-date manure management plans that guide application rates, weather monitoring, and record keeping.

Manure spills/escapes happen despite planning, preparation, and best intentions. Therefore, the farm needs an emergency plan. The plan should spell out what to do, who will do it, and who to contact in case of a manure spill/escape. Quick response can minimize detrimental effects; delays make a bad situation worse. In his presentation, Arnold said that your spill plan should contain cell phone numbers of key people who can help and you need to know who responds to text messages. You should know: Who has equipment to block a ditch or stream? Who has equipment to pump manure out of a stream or ditch? Who has tile plugs? Who can transport the spilled product you are cleaning up? When manure gets into a stream, be prepared to pump 20 to 25 times the volume of the manure that entered the stream according to Arnold. Where will this pumped product go? How will you get oxygen back into the stream and who has that equipment? As part of their preparedness, some farms keep a manure spill kit available. A list of some materials and resources to include in a manure spill kit is available at:

Source: Ohio State University Extension

4dBarn Noticed Time in Money in a Robot Barn

Thank You for visiting 4dBarn in the World Dairy Expo 2018. It was our pleasure to participate show for the third time! We had a lot of good discussions about work efficiency and cow comfort in a robot barn.

Finnish 4dBarn is a leading independent consulting company, offering unique robot barn functional design and troubleshooting for dairy farms. Our mission is to coach the farmer and help him to design the barn which suites his goals and management. Each of the layouts is designed around the unique management style of the producer.

We emphasize animal health and welfare, good management and labour efficiency. Our consultation services focus on optimizing labour efficiency through barn design, cow traffic systems, and gate placement.

4dBarn has made a field survey timing and following morning tasks in the robot barn. Our international data has over 50 barns and it shows a huge variation in labour efficiency between farms, from 140 to 940 litres of milk/labour hour. There´s a lot of potentials to improve when we compare the amount of milk/labour hour or time consumption minutes per cow. It is clear that just having an automatic milking system in a barn, doesn’t make it labour efficient or guarantee good milk production.

We in 4dBarn think of barn as a tool for milk production. Most important points in designing a functional tool are to ensure cow comfort and fluent cow flow together with good and efficient working routines. As with any tool, usage is in the hub. We know how an efficient robotic barn works and help our customers to get a perfect tool for their needs.

4dBarn design concept can be adapted to any size of farms and we do functional design for new barns as well as existing barns converted to robotic milking. Most of our projects are in Scandinavia, but we work globally.

For more information please visit


Applying Manure in Unfavorable Conditions

If manure application is needed, consider these suggestions during unfavorable conditions.

Frequent rainfall has delayed harvest across the state, leading to concerns about whether manure application will be completed. The projected favorable forecast the next nine days should provide an opportunity for manure application.

At this point, focus needs to shift from waiting for ideal manure application conditions, to making sure there is sufficient storage capacity to make it through the winter. However, as these weather conditions can increase nutrient transport and loss, it is important to make sure best manure application strategies are followed to minimize negative environmental impacts and ensure producers benefit from the manure’s fertilizer value.

field manure application.Increased soil moisture increases both the risk of runoff and manure movement to tile lines. Higher soil moistures lead to both slower infiltrations of applied manures and greater potential for leaching. Liquid manure applications will increase soil moisture further; for example, a manure application of 13,500 gallons per acre is equivalent to a half-inch rainstorm.

There are some things producers can do to minimize risk of nutrient loss.

  • Consider reducing manure application rates. This may mean supplementing fertilizers or providing a second manure application in the spring to meet nutrient application goals, but the soil has a better chance of holding all the nutrients applied.
  • Pick and choose your fields. All fields aren’t created equal. Some have more slope, some are closer to streams and rivers, and some are naturally wetter and more poorly drained. Take advantage of knowing the farm and apply in the drier locations.
  • Follow the contour. Wetter soils mean the manure soaks in slower; the manure and those nutrients need to stay where they are put. Following the contour provides less opportunity for flow and decreases mini-micro topography that runoff from the field from rainfall events shortly after manure application.
  • Surface residue. Fields with more residue cover will tend to have less runoff and less erosion than fields where residue has been removed. Take advantage of this by putting manure where residue cover remains.
  • Increase setback distances from rivers, streams, lakes, and sinkholes.
  • Review your manure management plan. Identify fields that have a low phosphorus index and apply to those first. This normally means the field is at a lower risk of nutrient loss.
  • Watch the forecast. The highest risk time for nutrient transport is within the first 48-hours of manure application. Try to avoid applying if larger storms (greater than 0.5 inches) are forecast.

These practices don’t eliminate risk of nutrient loss, but taking these actions can help keep the nutrients in the fields and out of Iowa’s waters.

Finally, wet conditions always lead to concerns and questions about compaction. Check tire inflation pressures, only partially fill tanks, or consider drag line application to reduce compaction risk. Good manure storage management means making sure to have sufficient capacity to make it spring. Keep soil and weather conditions in mind, and focus on actions to protect Iowa’s waters. Safe hauling.


Calf Care Essentials: Four Pillars for Newborn Success

No matter how long you’ve been raising calves, it’s important to help build a solid foundation for each new arrival.

“There are four essential elements of newborn calf care that have equal bearing on health and productivity,” says Olson, technical services veterinarian for Milk Products. “Managing these four pillars with careful consistency will help set calves up for future productivity – whether that future is in the milking parlor or the feedlot.”

The four pillars of calf care include:

1. A healthy birth

“A calf’s entry into the world can have a tremendous influence on the rest of its life,” says Olson.

Ensure a healthy delivery:

  • Allow the calving process to proceed as naturally as possible. Avoid the temptation to grab a calf and pull if the cow is progressing normally. Many important biological events occur during birth, such as the calf taking control of its circulatory system from its mother. If calving requires intervention, keep the health of the calf and cow in mind.
  • Assist calves at birth to ensure they start breathing immediately after the umbilical cord breaks. Clearing the nostrils with a clean towel, a poke of clean straw in the nostril, and/or pouring ice water over the head are all ways to make sure newborn calves take that critical first gasp of air immediately after birth.

“Research has shown the importance of calves being able to sit upright and rest on their sternum within 15 minutes of birth,” says Olson. “If calves are not able to sit up, they will likely need additional care. Discuss with your veterinarian how you can prepare to assist these types of high-risk calves.

2. High-quality colostrum

The importance of delivering critical antibodies to newborn calves – which only can be achieved by feeding colostrum or a high-quality colostrum replacer – cannot be overlooked.

“Unlike some species, including humans, cattle do not pass on maternal immunity in-utero,” says Olson. “Newborn calves need to achieve early immunity through successful passive transfer. The only way they can acquire it is via colostrum.”

There is extensive literature discussing the many aspects of colostrum, but Olson’s “high points” are:

  • Harvest clean, biosecure colostrum as quickly as possible after birth. Colostrum quality steadily decreases after birth.
  • Aim to administer colostrum to calves at 10 percent of bodyweight within 2 hours of birth.[ A 90-pound calf would equal 9 pounds of colostrum, or about 1 gallon.
  • If quality maternal colostrum is not available, feed high-quality colostrum replacer to deliver at least 150 grams of immunoglobulin (IgG).

3. Optimal nutrition

A fundamentally sound diet can be achieved through several strategies, which Olson advises setting with a nutrition professional.

“Nutrition program goals should focus on the needs of the calf, combined with the needs of your farm,” says Olson. “For example, heifer calves should be fed to reach breeding maturity at a target age. Bull calves, on the other hand, may be fed with a goal of transitioning to dry feed as quickly as possible.”

Other keys to excellent nutrition include:

  • Develop a liquid ration with adequate volume, total protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Think of it as a “liquid TMR.”
  • Choose a highly palatable starter grain with a protein level of at least 18 percent. Begin offering small amounts during the first days of life.
  • Always provide clean, free-choice water from the first day of life. Water is a critical element for hydration, digestion and rumen development.

4. Ideal environment

Whether you house your calves in hutches, group housing or individual pens, well-managed calves are clean, dry, comfortable and have clean air to breathe.

“It’s important to remember the physical housing structure is just a part of a calf’s total environment,” says Olson.

Don’t forget:

  • Bedding choice and management. Clean and fluffy bedding allows the calf to nest. Try to use bedding without a lot of dust and keep calves away from wet bedding.
  • Ventilation and air quality. As seasons change, it’s important to remember calf ventilation needs also change. In winter, air should exchange four times an hour and in summer 40 times an hour.
  • Sanitation. Everything from pen dividers to feeding equipment should be cleaned. Talk to your advisors about developing a sanitation program.
  • Cold weather adjustments. Calf jackets can be very beneficial in cold climates.

“Careful attention to each of these pillars will help you build a solid foundation for newborn calves,” says Olson. “If one of the pillars are broken, the entire foundation can collapse.”

For example, calves without adequate colostrum will likely face health challenges that no amount of nutrition can fix. Likewise, a perfect ration can be compromised if it is fed using dirty equipment.

“The farms that I see doing all four of these things successfully, are those that write and regularly review protocols,” said Olson. “That way everyone knows what to do and how to do it, every day. The result is a very solid foundation for every one of their calves.”

Consult your veterinarian, nutritionist or colostrum replacer supplier to learn more about timely and effective colostrum delivery. Learn more about colostrum replacer and whole milk products at


Source: Milk Products

German cows die after being freed from organic farm

Cows released from a Brandenburg farm have died after eating too much concentrate feed, according to local media. Dozens more remain in critical condition, spelling economic misfortune for a budding organic farm.

At least four cows have died and many more are injured after unknown assailants trespassed on an organic farm and released the cattle from their pens in the German state of Brandenburg, the Berliner Zeitung reported on Tuesday.

The culprits released scores of dairy cows and young cattle between Saturday night and Sunday morning. The cows proceeded to the concentrate feed area, where they ate up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of the substance. Normally, cows only receive a maximum of two kilograms of concentrate per day, the report said.

Four cows died from overdose while 40 others are in critical condition and require veterinarian treatment, according to the report.

“The damage to the liver is just too much,” Anja Schiemann, managing director at the Liebenwalder Agrar, told the Berliner Zeitung. “Too much concentrate feed causes the digestive system in the rumen to be severely disturbed.”

Search for perpetrators

Activists may have been behind the act, the report said, citing social media content. Schiemann’s company has offered a €1,000 ($1,160) reward for information that may lead to the capture of the perpetrators. Police are also searching for the perpetrators.

The deteriorating health of the cows is expected to have significant financial losses due to less milk and strict diets of hay, which have gone up in price due to a heatwave over the summer, according to Schiemann.


Source: DW

Cargill Develops Industry-First Robotic Cattle Driver

Cargill has developed an industry-first robotic cattle driver aimed at improving animal welfare and employee safety. The robots are designed to move cattle from pens to the harvest area, reducing stress to the animals by minimizing their proximity to human activity. Employees operate the robots from a catwalk located above the pens, reducing safety risks by keeping those who work in the cattle yard portion of processing plants at a greater distance from the 1300-pound animals.

“The robotic cattle driver developed by Cargill is a major innovation in the handling and welfare of farm animals,” said Temple Grandin, professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University. “This device will lead to huge strides in employee safety while moving large animals and reduce the stress on cattle across the country.”

Cargill Protein spent two years developing the prototype, with significant input from animal welfare experts including Grandin, beef plant employees and engineers from equipment supplier Flock Free. Using waving automated arms, blowers and audio recordings to move cattle in a desired direction, the robots can operate in rain, snow or mud, with no delay in daily operations. Testing was conducted at Cargill’s Wyalusing, Penn., and Schuyler, Neb., beef processing facilities to determine a design and operational attributes of the robot that would effectively improve animal welfare and employee safety before being implemented at the company’s U.S. and Canadian beef plants.

“The average bovine weighs almost three quarters of a ton, and our plant processes several thousand head of cattle daily,” said Sammy Renteria, general manager of the Cargill beef plant in Schuyler, Neb. “This innovation provides a much safer workplace for our employees and allows them to develop new technology expertise as they manage and operate the robot.”

The robotic cattle drivers are currently being implemented at Cargill Protein beef plants in the U.S. and Canada. They are manufactured by the New Jersey-based company Flock Free. Cargill believes the robotic cattle driver has multiple applications for improving animal handling and worker safety across livestock and poultry supply chains and is working toward making them available for use throughout the industry.


Cow Traffic Systems for Retrofit Robot Barns

Deciding how your cows will move and flow may be one of the bigger choices you make when planning your robotic milking facility.

Yes, there are staunch defenders of both guided and free flow – and DeLaval supports the installation of both – but it’s not as simple as choosing a “side.” Depending on the situation – and more often in retrofits – there are modifications to the systems. We call this cow traffic type modified guided.

Guided to the left, free flow to the right 

There are many possible modifications, but we will focus on one in this article. My goal is to help you understand how free flow and guided systems work and then to understand how one modified system may work better than the others.

Understanding cow movement

Before choosing a cow traffic system, it is critical to understand why a cow eats, why a cow gets up from her stall, and why she moves or flows around the barn. This movement usually leads to her eating at the bunk, the VMS™ or even a feed station. 

The desire to eat and take in feed is heavily influenced by the feed leaving the rumen. Feed leaves two ways: 1) through digestion – nutrients going into the blood to help keep the animal alive, move, stay warm, grow, and make milk, and 2) through passage, otherwise known as manure. When the digestion and rate of passage increases, then the cow will eat more. She will get up more often to eat and she may have bigger meal sizes. When the digestibility of the feed is greater she can eat more, make more milk and be milked more often. 

It doesn’t matter if it is free flow, guided or modified guided, the forages will influence her flow. The gates in a guided system should never influence her flow unless there is a conscious effort from the farmer to do so. DeLaval recommends that cows always be able to visit the bunk unless, of course, she is diverted to be milked. Gates should never stop a cow from walking through them.

What influences a cow in a free flow system to get up and flow or move to the VMS or the feed bunk:

Free flow system with VMS

  1. Cows are lying in their stalls, “on their own” they will get up
  2. They make a choice of going to the bunk or the VMS
  3. Cow traffic to the VMS is driven by higher levels of pellets and lower energy at the bunk:
    • Higher levels of pellets are often consumed (12 lbs or 5 kg/cow/day)
    • As forage digestibility increases these, levels can be reduced
  4. Visiting the bunk six to 10 times per day is driven by:
    • Forage digestibility
    • Cow health (no fever, no metabolic issues, and no lameness)
    • Barn design
    • Cow behaviour (delivery of fresh feed, time of day, buddy system, training)

What influences a cow in a guided flow system to get up and flow or move to the VMS or feed bunk:

Guided system with VMS

  1. Cows are lying in their stalls, “on their own” they will get up
  2. They walk to the bunk via a preselection gate
  3. Cow traffic to the gate is driven by a desire to eat at the bunk; higher energy nutrition at the bunk to meet needs more like a total mixed ration (TMR)
  4. Visiting the bunk six to 10 times per day is driven by:
    • Forage digestibility
    • Cow health (no fever, no metabolic issue, no lameness)
    • Barn design

What influences a cow in a modified guided system:

Modified guided system with VMS

The same as the above two patterns, except you have one row of cows facing the feed bunk and two rows. The partial mixed ration (PMR) is mixed normally with a lower energy or starch than guided but can be higher than with free flow. The nutritionists have to watch what the cows are doing and will adjust accordingly.

System New Build/ Retrofit kg or lbs pellets/cow/day
Free Flow Both 5 kg or 12 lbs/cow/day
Guided More often new builds 3.25 kg or 7 lbs/cow/day
Modified Guided Both 4.25 kg or 9 lbs/cow/day

Why Free Flow:

  • Simple
  • Lower initial investment
  • Feeding more pellets is economically acceptable
  • Feed Advisor has experience

Why Guided:

  • Your focus on highly digestible forages fits so you can reduce pellet consumption in the VMS
  • Labour efficiency is a priority
  • Feed Advisor has experience with this system

Why Modified Guided:

  • You have a three- or six-row barn for a retrofit
  • You like three- or six-row barns
  • This will give you some labour efficiency
  • This may allow you to reduce pellet intake in the VMS depending on the forage digestibility

All systems can work, the question is: what is the right system for you? When you pick the right system, then you will have success. 


Robotic Milking: It Doesn’t Need to Be New, It Needs to Be Good

The smell, the feeling, the NEW is always something we love to have or do, however it is not always possible or convenient.

While there are opportunities in life to go with a brand new car, new house, new farm or new equipment, there are also times where the most cost-efficient alternative or the best financial opportunity overwrites the NEW wishes.

Remember dairying is not about speed, it is about endurance, and making solid, mindful, business-driven decisions is the key to that. While in some cases, NEW might be the only right answer, in other cases existing facilities may accommodate robots in a great way. More often than not, it can be an attractive option. 

When adding robots to any kind of facility, the key is always to think of the cow first. It is normal to find some limitations between the “ideal” and the “real,” and this is where we need to find balance and put focus. Always remember that if we need to sacrifice something it cannot be cow comfort and health. Also, keep in mind that management can compensate for some of the limitations, but be realistic about what you sacrifice – plan your work and work your plan.

The most common cow traffic for retrofitted facilities is free flow as it allows a lot of flexibility and simplicity. However, hybrid barns – free flow with pre-selection and one-way gates or modified guided (very common on four-row head-to-head barns) – have gained a lot of popularity in the last five years. They combine the best of both worlds, the flexibility of the free flow with the efficiency of the pre-selection-guided. The good news is that both work. It’s up to you to choose what’s right for you and what can best accommodate your current set up.

Today in North America, several robotic projects are built on existing facilities. At least 50 percent of the robotic projects installed this year in the U.S. have been retrofits, and 41 percent for Canada. I bet you wouldn’t guess there is such a high percentage, but there is, because good dairy farmers always realize that it doesn’t need to be always new, it just needs to be good.


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