Archive for Management

Dealing with Recent Heavy Snow and Building Roofs

Keith Brunner of Cedar Red Dairy near Denmark, Wis. was milking cows when he heard cracking noises, followed by the roof collapsing. All workers made it out safely, but as of the news report some cows still remained trapped. WFRV in Green Bay, Wis. reported on the collapse.

Due to the recent heavy snowfall there is reason to have concern over heavy snow loads on farm buildings. There have been  reports of farm buildings going down in Wisconsin. In addition, many have concerns for buildings that still have significant amounts of snow on them especially if more snow falls before the current snow melts or slides off.

“Snow and ice accumulations on roofs cause a loading which can cause roof collapse when the roof is not strong enough to resist the load,” said Brian Holmes, University of Wisconsin-Extension emeritus agricultural engineer.

He added, “The more dense the snow and ice, the greater the load for a given depth. Wind blown-off and snow slide-off can reduce snow load on a roof. However snow drifting into leeward or lower roofs and valleys and snow slide onto lower roofs can add significant loads from accumulated snow.”

In addition to estimating the roof loading, it’s important to know the loading the roof can resist.

Wisconsin’s Uniform Dwelling Code requires most homes to have a minimum snow load rating of 30-40 pounds per square foot (lbs/ft), with the greater requirement for Northern Wisconsin. Agricultural structures are exempt from this requirement. Furthermore, structural failures can occur at snow loads less than the building was designed for if:

  • Structure was not designed, just built.
  • Trusses/rafters/purlins/ with reduced quality materials or smaller dimensions than specified in design were used.
  • Trusses/rafters/purlins installed at a wider spacing than specified.
  • Critical bracing not installed or improperly installed
  • Moisture condensed on or leaked onto structural members can cause decay/corrosion weakening the structure. Top chords of trusses, rafters, purlins and truss plates are particularly susceptible.
  • Loads added to the roof which were not considered in the original design. Examples include: ceiling, roof surface overlay, equipment installed on roof or hung from trusses.

At snow loads greater than recommended or if the structure is showing stress from the snow (sagging, trusses out of alignment or bowed, creaking sounds etc.), you may need to remove some snow.

If you are unsure of the snow load on your roof, a ballpark estimate can be made using the formula:

Calculated Roof Loading (lb/ft2) = Depth (ft) x Density (lb/ft2 /ft depth).

The approximate density (lb/ft2 /ft depth) for light snow is 5-20, packed snow 20-40, packed snow with ice 40-58, and ice 58. So for example, a roof with three feet of light snow has a estimated roof loading of 60 lb/ft2 (3 ft depth X 20 lb/ft2/ft depth density = 60 lb/ft2).

Removing Snow – Use Caution

If you need to remove snow from a roof, use caution. Falls from roofs or from ladders going to the roof can easily occur. Removing snow can allow the snow up slope to suddenly slide down, burying people or animals below. Using a roof rake from a safe distance away can reduce some of this risk to the person removing the snow.

Some precautions to take when removing snow from a roof:

  • In uninsulated sheds, use a portable heater to warm the interior enough to encourage snow to slide off the roof so you don’t have to manually remove it. Unvented heaters can cause oxygen depletion and carbon monoxide accumulation in an unventilated space. Plan to ventilate the warmed shed before reentering.
  • Use a snow roof rake if at all possible. This allows you to stand on the ground in a safe place. Check the local hardware store or building supply store. Removing snow from the edge of the roof could allow snow above the edge to avalanche. Make sure you are out of the fall zone when scraping snow from a smooth roof surface.
  • Use fall protection equipment when workers are on the roof. Tie workers off so they don’t fall from the roof.
  • If ladders are used, locate and secure them so they do not fall while workers are standing on them. Also, locate ladders so they do not fall if snow slides off the roof knocking workers off the ladder or leaving them stranded on the roof.
  • Generally remove snow from the most heavily loaded areas first.
  • Remove snow in narrow strips instead of large areas to help keep loading somewhat uniform.
  • Don’t pile removed snow onto snow-covered roof areas increasing the load in those areas.
  • Use plastic shovels or wooden roof rakes to avoid damaging roofing material.
  • Don’t feel as if all snow must be removed. A layer of snow next to the roof surface can protect the surface from damage during the snow removal process.
  • Do not pick or chip at ice near the roof surface to avoid damaging roofing material.
  • Do not use snow blowers as they can damage the roof.


Organic dairies going robotic

Demand for organic food is on the increase and some farmers in Eastern Ontario have jumped on the dairy train, getting into the market of producing hormone, antibiotic and pesticide free milk. Some farmers have turned their traditional operations to organic and some are even going so far as adding robots to take over milking duties, including Josef Heinzle of St-Eugene and Albert Bot of Glen Robertson.

“It used to be unheard of that organic farmers had robots,” says Donald McCrimmon of Boreraig Farms south of Vankleek Hill. McCrimmon milks about 50 cows and has supplied the non-organic sector for over 50 years.

“Organic farmers have to let their cows out to pasture so many hours a day and that usually doesn’t happen when you have a barn with robots. That’s why it’s so unusual that these guys are going robotic.”

Heinzle explains that he’ll be installing two new Lely milking robots this summer to improve production, to decrease time in the barn and increase cow comfort. He’ll continue to ship organic milk from their 80 mixed herd of dairy cows as well as selling 300,000 liters of their Pinehedge yogurt made on the premises and sold at the farm gate. “I’m building a barn with many doors so cows have access to pasture most of the day,” the Austrian-born Heinzle explains. “ Though there’s less work milking, we’ll now have more to do maintaining pastures and trying to keep production stable. It’s more manageable when cows are in the barn all the time and their production is easier to monitor.”

Heinzle and wife Laila are convinced that organic is the way to go and that the addition of robots will be beneficial for both them and their customers. Though organic dairy farmers don’t receive much more money for their produce that is regulated under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), they receive many more incentive days than traditional dairy farmers.

Incentive credits are available to all dairy producers when they ship outside their quota. The allowances vary per month, but according to McCrimmon many more are given to organic farmers, making the industry more enticing. “There’s less investment needed because we need less quota. It’s easier to start in organic,” explains Heinzle. “But again, there’s more work. We cultivate seven to eight times more often than the average farmer because we can’t use pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.”


Source: The Review

A former Microsoft employee is using AI to track herds of connected cows

  • Dutch company Connecterra has brought its IDA system, or “Intelligent Dairy Farmer’s Assistant,” to the U.S. after having piloted it in Europe for several years.
  • The IDA uses a motion-sensing device attached to a cow’s neck to transmit its movements to a program driven by AI and the sensor data eventually allows IDA to tell a cow’s behavior from data alone.
  • The system could help farmers greatly increase their productivity.

Is the world ready for cows armed with artificial intelligence?

No time to ruminate on that because the moment has arrived, thanks to a Dutch company that has married two technologies — motion sensors and AI — with the aim of bringing the barnyard into the 21st century.

The company, Connecterra, has brought its IDA system, or “The Intelligent Dairy Farmer’s Assistant,” to the United States after having piloted it in Europe for several years.

IDA uses a motion-sensing device attached to a cow’s neck to transmit its movements to a program driven by AI. The sensor data, when aligned repeatedly with real-world behavior, eventually allows IDA to tell from data alone when a cow is chewing cud, lying down, walking, drinking or eating.

Those indicators can predict whether a particular cow is ill, has become less productive, or is ready to breed — alerting the farmer to changes in behavior that might otherwise be easily missed.

“It would just be impossible for us to keep up with every animal on an individual basis,” says Richard Watson, one of the first four U.S. farmers to use IDA since it launched commercially in December.

Watson, who owns the Seven Oaks Dairy in Waynesboro, Georgia, says having a computer identify which cows in his 2,000-head herd need attention could help improve farm productivity as much as 10 percent, which would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars to his family.

“If we can prove out that these advantages exist from using this technology … I think adoption of IDA across a broad range of farming systems, particularly large farming systems, would be a no-brainer,” Watson says.

Dairy farming is just one industry benefiting from AI, which is being applied in fields as diverse as journalism, manufacturing and self-driving cars. In agriculture, AI is being developed to estimate crop health using drone footage and parse out weed killer between rows of cotton.

Yasir Khokhar, the former Microsoft employee who is the founder and CEO of Connecterra, said the inspiration for the idea came after living on a dairy farm south of Amsterdam.

“It turns out the technology farmers use is really outdated in many respects,” he says. “What does exist is very cumbersome to use, yet agriculture is one of those areas that desperately needs technology.”

Underlying IDA is Google’s open-source TensorFlow programming framework, which has helped spread AI to many disciplines. It’s a language built on top of the commonly used Python code that helps connect data from text, images, audio or sensors to neural networks — the algorithms that help computers learn. The language has been downloaded millions of times and has about 1,400 people contributing code, only 400 of whom work at Google, according to product manager Sandeep Gupta.

He says TensorFlow can be used by people with only high-school level math and some programming skills.

“We’re continuing this journey making it easier and easier to use,” Gupta says.

TensorFlow has been used to do everything from helping NASA scientists find planets using the Kepler telescope, to assisting a tribe in the Amazon detect the sounds of illegal deforestation, according to Google spokesman Justin Burr.

Google hopes users adapt the open-source code to discover new applications that the company could someday use in its own business.

Even without AI, sensors are helping farmers keep tabs on their herds.

Mary Mackinson Faber, a fifth-generation farmer at the Mackinson Dairy Farm near Pontiac, Illinois, says a device attached to a cow’s tail developed by Irish company Moocall sends her a text when a cow is ready to give birth, so she can be there to make sure nothing goes wrong. Moocall doesn’t use AI — it simply sends a text when a certain threshold of spinal contractions in the tail are exceeded.

While she calls it a “great tool,” she says it takes human intuition to do what’s right for their animals.

“There are certain tasks that it can help with, and it can assist us, but I don’t think it will ever replace the human.”


Source: CNBC

The Fertility Challenge

The reproductive performance of your farm has a major impact on its profitability. Each cow’s lifetime profitability is dependent upon repeated cycles of pregnancy, calving, production and dry period. Optimizing fertility levels of a dairy herd requires outstanding management practices in combination with good genetic selection. Due to its complexity, achieving and maintaining high conception rates year over year remains a significant challenge for many dairy producers.

Measuring Fertility

While most conversations about fertility focus on the final outcome of pregnancy, it is much more complicated in reality.  Fertility starts with a successful calving free of any subsequent disorders such as retained placenta, metritis or cystic ovaries. Then there is the onset of cycling and expression of heat, which requires extensive effort for dairy producers to monitor and record. After insemination, we have generally measured the fertility success by examining subsequent insemination records. Traits frequently used are 56-day non-return rate, total number of inseminations, interval between first and last insemination, also known as days open, with the assumption that the last insemination date is also the conception date. In recent years, Canadian Dairy Network (CDN) also incorporated veterinary pregnancy confirmation data collected from herds enrolled on DHI to better identify true conception dates. Even once pregnant, herd fertility levels are also affected by early embryonic loss, which ultimately delays the timing of the next calving and therefore calving interval. Simply stated, fertility cannot be defined by any single trait or measurement and is, in fact, a combination of several different factors.

One effective option for Canadian dairy producers to confirm pregnancy is the Milk Pregnancy Test offered through CanWest DHI and Valacta (i.e.: GestaLab). This low-cost option uses the DHI milk sample to confirm pregnancy at 28 days after insemination with a very high degree of accuracy. For the future, one significant opportunity that exists for the dairy cattle industry is the use of sensor data to collect improved measures of fertility across the various stages from heat detection, pregnancy and embryonic loss. As such data becomes available from herds with the technology on the farm, research will need to be done to identify measures of fertility that have sufficient accuracy for the provision of improved herd management information for producers as well as for use in future genetic and genomic evaluations calculated by CDN.

Managing Fertility

There is no doubt that dairy farmers agree on the fact that maintaining high levels of reproductive performance in the herd is not an easy task.  There are so many variables to manage, not the least of which is a top-notch nutritional program for both transition cows and those near peak lactation.  In an attempt to eliminate one of the important factors affecting the reproductive performance of their herd, some producers have decided to introduce heat synchronization protocols, also known as timed A.I., to facilitate or even eliminate heat detection activities for the farm. Accurate data is not readily available to quantify the degree of uptake of this herd management practise since it is not routinely collected from Canadian dairy farms. As an indication of the usage of heat synchronization protocols on dairy farms, CDN conducted an analysis examining the percentage of cow inseminations that are done on each of the seven days of the week.  Without synchronization, it is expected that breedings are approximately spread across all days.  Figure 1 shows the trend in the percentage of herds for which at least 50% of all inseminations were carried out on two specific days of the week for the time period from 2000 to 2017.  While this may not be an exact measure of the usage of heat synchronization protocols, it can serve as an indicator.

Fifteen years ago, less than ten percent of dairy herds in Canada had at least half of their cows inseminated on only two days of the week.  This statistic has now reached 30% for inseminations done in 2017 (Figure 1). Controlling the expression of heat used synchronization protocols therefore appears to be a growing trend, even though it is unlikely to be well accepted by the general public and consumers.

Genetic Considerations

In addition to the complexities of herd management practises for optimal reproductive performance in dairy herds, there are also genetic considerations to take into account. Figure 2 shows the proof correlations that various traits have with Daughter Fertility and includes only traits with a correlation of at least 10%, either positive or negative. On the positive side, it is logical to see that traits such as Herd Life (48%) and Daughter Calving Ability (38%) are the most highly correlated with female fertility and these translate to indirect positive correlations with other traits such as Body Condition Score (25%), Metabolic Disease Resistance (22%) and Mastitis Resistance (21%). In terms of indexes, the Health & Fertility component of LPI is closely related to Daughter Fertility (92%) due to the significant weighting of this trait in the index, but LPI and Pro$ are also positively correlated at 25% and 20%, respectively. When traits of interest have positive correlations, it is easier to make progress for them all. A challenge with Daughter Fertility is that it also is negatively correlated with other traits such as Body Depth (-37%), Angularity (-33%), Dairy Strength (-26%) and Milk Yield (-14%).  Breeders interested in selecting for these traits will also have to directly select for Daughter Fertility or otherwise risk lowering the reproductive performance of their herd.


There is no doubt that maintaining high levels of reproductive performance in a dairy herd is a difficult challenge, yet an important one to address given its significant impact on herd profitability. The dairy cattle industry lacks accurate measures of the various components of female fertility. A growing trend towards the use of heat synchronization protocols is unlikely to be the answer in the eyes of the general public and consumer. In addition, genetic selection for improved reproductive performance requires special consideration due to relationships with other traits. Without any quick fixes, female fertility will continue to be a significant challenge requiring a concerted industry effort towards longer term improvements.

Brian Van Doormaal, General Manager, CDN

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Lameness in dairy cattle requires proper care

Lame dairy cows need immediate attention to prevent chronic problems.

“Lameness is not a disease. Lameness is a sign of pain and discomfort in the cow and it results in production losses,” said Karin Orsel, an epidemiologist and specialist in infectious diseases of cattle at the University of Calgary faculty of veterinary medicine.

Lameness is among the top three issues for cow health, so producers need strategies to prevent it from becoming a chronic condition. Cows that have previously gone lame are more at risk.

“Prevention of chronic lameness starts with early detection,” she said at the Western Canadian dairy seminar held in Red Deer March 6-9.

“If you only identify the cows that can hardly make it to the milk parlour, that is late,” she said.

“Lameness detection not only needs to be done regularly but more importantly, timely corrective actions must be taken,” she said.

Lame cows may have developed foot problems because of stall design, flooring, walking surface, stall management or bacteria. Breed, age, days in milk and body condition score also contribute.

Skinny cows with a body condition score of two or less are more susceptible. Mature cows, or those that have just freshened, may also develop problems.

“Know which cows are most likely to become lame so you can focus on that group because it is not always easy to detect,” she said.

A lame cow produces less milk. It may struggle to get pregnant and is more likely to be culled, which is a production loss.

Lame cows require special treatment and could receive medication like NSAIDs, proper hoof trimming or therapeutic hoof blocks, said Gerard Cramer of the University of Minnesota.

Hoof blocks are attached to the uninjured claw. This elevates the affected part and gives it a chance to heal.

One problem leading to lameness may not be obvious. The PIII bone in the foot may have been injured and could prolapse through the sole of the foot.

“It likely hurts because they are pushing down on these bones and this is sensitive tissue,” he said.

There is a pad of fat on the inside bottom of the foot and if it gets thin, lameness could result.

Inflammation mobilizes fat and can create minor bony changes in the claw capsule and the cow goes lame with sole ulcers. The thinner the fat pad inside the foot, the worse the problem seems to be.

Ultrasound can measure the thickness of the fat pad inside the foot.

“The thinner that is, the more likely the cow will get lesions,” he said.

“When that happens, the cow is walking and this bone is putting pressure on that tissue,” he said.

Since this is an inflammatory condition, producers should consider using NSAIDs to treat lame cows. The foot can be trimmed, a therapeutic foot block applied and a dose of an anti-inflammatory medication could help.

The foot also needs to be rechecked and it is wise to look at all four legs to make sure they are healthy.

The overall goal is to reduce the number of lame cows. Some studies are comparing techniques to help the cow most effectively as well as researching hoof trimming techniques to bring lameness under control or prevent it from happening.

“If I know this cow has a history of lameness, she needs a different trimming program and may need to be tended to more often,” he said.

The farm needs records to know what the specific problem is, lameness detection and how was it treated. The farm also needs someone at the dairy, whether it is the vet, owner, herdsman or nutritionist, who focuses on lameness among the cows.

Cattle lameness signs

Lameness shows up with a change in gait and involves a complex list of symptoms:

  • slow walking
  • increased stride duration
  • shorter strides
  • uneven weight distribution
  • smaller step angle
  • increased abduction
  • changed tracking distance
  • altered stride height
  • changes in joint flexion
  • inconsistent gait
  • posture head movement
  • arched back
  • changes in behaviour when resting, eating, ruminating or socializing


‘Cow Fitbits’ and artificial intelligence are coming to the dairy farm. But some farmers aren’t so impressed.

In the two months since Richard Watson strapped 200 remote-control-sized transmitters around his cows’ necks, an artificial-intelligence system named Ida has pinged his phone with helpful alerts: when his cows are chewing the cud, when they’re feeling sick, when they’re ready for insemination.

“There may be 10 animals out there that have a real problem, but could you pick them?” he said one morning, standing among a grazing herd of dairy cattle wearing what he calls “cow Fitbits.”

But on neighboring pastures here in rural Georgia, other farmers say they aren’t that impressed. When a cow’s in heat, they know she’ll start getting mounted by her bovine sisters, so they apply a streak of paint on the cows’ backsides and then just look for the incriminating smudge. No fancy AI required.

“I can spot a cow across a room that don’t feel great just by looking in her eyes,” said Mark Rodgers, a fourth-generation dairy farmer in Dearing, Ga., whose dad still drives a tractor at 82. “The good Lord said, ‘This is what you can do.’ I can’t draw, paint or anything else, but I can watch cows.

Sophisticated AI technologies are helping reinvent how Americans work, offering powerful software that can read and react to mountains of data and save time and stress along the way.

But the rollout is also sparking tensions in workplaces as humble and old-fashioned as the dairy farm. That down-home resistance raises a question farmers might be tackling before much of the rest of the workforce: Can new technology ever beat old intuition — even when it comes to a bunch of cows?

The AI that Watson’s farm uses — called Ida, for “The Intelligent Dairy Farmer’s Assistant” — tracks his cows’ tiniest movements through their collars and then graphs and dissects them en masse. Those “real-time cattle analytics” are then used by the AI to assess diet and movement and predict health issues of concern, such as lameness or udder infections.

As silly as this intricate level of maximum optimization might sound, particularly in relation to a herd of cows that spend much of the day staring blankly or relieving themselves,Watson said, it could mean the difference between a cow’s healthy milking or premature death — and the difference between making or losing hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

The Ida AI has sparked some early interest among farmers eager to compete in an industry in which low milk prices and farm layoffs have everyone on edge. And while truck drivers and ­cashiers see AI as an omen of job elimination, the farmers say they’re in a labor crunch from years of too few young people getting into farming and need all the help they can get.

Connecterra, a development team based in the Netherlands, built Ida with help from TensorFlow, the giant AI toolbox that Google created for its own apps and opened to the public in 2015. That release sparked a major wave of AI development, giving start-ups a shortcut to calculating advanced mathematics and creating learning machines.

Google has joined other tech giants in pushing forcefully into AI, with chief executive Sundar Pichai telling a town-hall crowd in January that AI “is one of the most important things humanity is working on” and “more profound than electricity or fire.” (He did not explicitly mention cows.)

Standing one March morning among his cows at Seven Oaks Dairy, one of three farms he runs as part of his Hart Agriculture brand, Watson pulls out his iPhone to show off his Ida app. The AI says he has three “potential health problems to be checked” among his herd: Cow #14433 is eating less, while cows #10172 and #3522 are “ruminating,” or chewing, less, a sign they might feel ill. His herd’s cows “to be inseminated” count is at zero, as signified by a reassuring green check mark.

At 6-foot-4, with combine-wide shoulders and a Kiwi accent, the New Zealand-born Watson, 46, looks like a rugby player — which he was, playing a linebacker-like position in the late 1990s for a semiprofessional team called the Hurricanes. Shortly afterward, he moved to lead a cattle-grazing research program at the University of Georgia, where he taught and advocated for the increasingly rare practice of letting cows amble about aimlessly on a pasture, eating as they go.

His farm’s cattle — crossbreeds of America’s classic black and white moo cow, the Holstein, and New Zealand’s relatively slimmer brown Jersey bulls — spend almost all day grazing on the thousands of acres of ryegrass and Bermuda grass on his farms. That makes tracking their free-range eating and movement harder than at the average American “confinement” dairy, where cows are kept in stalls and fattened on corn and grains.

Spotting problems the old way required closely watching the herd day and night, “unless it’s really obvious — you know, she’s walking or limping or there are buzzards flying overhead,” Watson said. “Buzzards aren’t a particularly good health program.”

The cows’ orange transmitters beam data over the hills of Watson’s pastures to a set of antennae near the milking parlor. A “base station” computer then gulps up and processes all that sensor data, doing much of the AI work locally to avoid the problem of spotty rural Internet service. The sensors the animals wear pay the price for much of this data exchange, Connecterra co-founder Yasir Khokhar said: “You don’t want to know what cows do with them.”

The Ida AI was first trained to comprehend cow behavior via thousands of hours of video and sensor inputs, as well as simpler approaches, including Khokhar’s mimicking bovine techniques with a sensor in his pocket. (“I was the first cow,” he said.) Every day brings more cow data and farmer feedback that help the AI learn and improve.The AI, Khokhar estimates, has processed about “600 cow years of data” and gains about eight years of new cow data every day.

The AI now logs seven distinct cow behaviors: walking, standing, lying down, eating, chewing, drinking and idling. Other behaviors are on the way, Khokhar said, though he could not disclose them, calling them part of the “secret sauce.”

Dairy farmers have used sensors for years. But Ida’s developers say its AI can do things old programs can’t, by learning from cow behavior patterns that can pinpoint injuries, predict the onset of certain diseases and “predict peak ovulation time with over 90 percent accuracy.” The AI can also track how changes to cows’ bedding, feed and environment can affect, for instance, how much milk they’re making or how much they’re lying around.

Khokhar, who said he conceived the AI idea while living on a Dutch dairy farm, launched his start-up in late 2016 and counts a few thousand cow “subscriptions” on farms in seven countries, including the United States, Spain and Pakistan. The company covers all the equipment and service work and sells monthly subscriptions. Farmers’ prices start at about $3 a month per cow, plus a $79.99-per-cow start-up fee, and Watson estimates he has invested about $17,000 in the system so far.

Agriculture has long been one of Big Technology’s juiciest target industries. Revamping the way farmers feed the planet, in the face of existential crises such as food shortages and climate change, would be audacious, revolutionary — and highly profitable. Start-ups and farmers are using camera-equipped robots to pick apples and sort cucumbers, running driverless tractors to harvest grain, and flying scanner drones to spot poachers and survey livestock.

Beyond the Ida collars, other tech start-ups make cow pedometers, robot milkers, tail sensors and electroshock collars that can stop or shift a herd.

But even some farmers who have invested heavily in new technology balk at the idea of paying for more. Everett Williams, the 64-year-old head of the WDairy farm near Madison, Ga., said his farm has all kinds of sensors that print out who-knows-how-many reports on matters such as cow activity and whether wild hogs have gotten into his pens. They give him less data than the Ida AI would, he says, but he feels that he doesn’t have the space in his brain for another data stream. “You can only handle so many text alerts,” he said.

Systems such as Connecterra also are enduring early criticism beyond the farm. Because AI can help detect early disorders and walking disabilities, conservationists have criticized the systems as encouraging the breeding of a super-cow by speeding underperformers to the slaughterhouse.

Rodgers, who runs his “daddy-daughter” family dairy farm in Dearing, Ga., said he’s no Luddite when it comes to farm technology. His “super-system” features cow-tracking transponders and, soon, a DeLaval VMS, which milks cows with laser-guided robot arms and is advertised as the “ultimate automatic milking machine.”

His system, unlike Ida, doesn’t track cud-chewing or use AI to tell him which cows to watch or what to do. But he’s okay with that. That’s the way things have always been done here, and he hopes they’ll be that way for a long time.

“There’s no substitute for watching your animals. It’s an art and a science, and I hope my daughter and nephew get better at it than I am,” he said. The cattle, he added, don’t care much about evolving with the times. “You cannot bore a cow to death.”


Source: The Washington Post

Spring Seeding of Forages

Late this month (depending on the weather) and on into April provides one of the two preferred times to seed perennial cool-season forages. The other preferred timing for cool-season grasses and legumes is in late summer, primarily the month of August here in Ohio. The relative success of spring vs. summer seeding of forages is greatly affected by the prevailing weather conditions, and so growers have success and failures with each option.

Probably the two primary difficulties with spring plantings are finding a good window of opportunity when soils are dry enough before it gets too late, and managing weed infestations that are usually more difficult with spring plantings. The following steps will help improve your chances for successful forage establishment in the spring.

  1. Make sure soil pH and fertility are in the recommended ranges. Follow the Tri-state Soil Fertility Recommendations ( . Forages are more productive where soil pH is above 6.0, but for alfalfa it should be 6.5 – 6.8. Soil phosphorus should be at least 15 ppm for grasses and 25 ppm for legumes, while minimum soil potassium in ppm should be 75 plus 2.5 x soil CEC. If seedings are to include alfalfa, and soil pH is not at least 6.5, it would be best to apply lime now and delay establishing alfalfa until late summer (plant an annual grass forage in the interim).
  2. Plant high quality seed of known varietal source adapted to our region. Planting “common” seed (variety not stated) usually proves to be a very poor investment, yielding less even in the first or second year and having shorter stand life.
  3. Plant as soon as it is possible to prepare a good seedbed in April. Try to finish seeding by late April in southern Ohio and by the first of May in northern Ohio. Timely April planting gives forage seedlings the best opportunity to get a jump on weeds and to be established before summer stress sets in. Weed pressure will be greater with later plantings, and they will not have as strong a root system developed by early summer when conditions often turn dry and hot.
  4. Plant into a good seedbed. The ideal seedbed for conventional seedings is smooth, firm, and weed-free. Don’t overwork the soil. Too much tillage depletes moisture and increases the risk of surface crusting. Firm the seedbed before seeding to ensure good seed-soil contact and reduce the rate of drying in the seed zone. Cultipackers and cultimulchers are excellent implements for firming the soil. If residue cover is more than 35% use a no-till drill. No-till seeding is an excellent choice where soil erosion is a hazard. No-till forage seedings are most successful on silt loam soils with good drainage and are more difficult on clay soils or poorly drained soils.
  5. Plant seed shallow (¼ to ½ inch deep) in good contact with the soil. Stop and check the actual depth of the seed in the field when you first start planting. This is especially important with no-till drills. In my experience, seeding some seed on the surface indicates most of the seed is about at the right depth.
  6. When seeding into a tilled seedbed, drills with press wheels are the best choice. When seeding without press wheels or when broadcasting seed, cultipack before and after dropping the seed, preferably in the same direction the seeder was driven.
  7. In fields with little erosion hazard, direct seedings without a companion crop in the spring allows harvesting two or three crops of high-quality forage in the seeding year, particularly when seeding alfalfa and red clover.
  8. For conventional seedings on erosion prone fields, a small grain companion crop can reduce the erosion hazard and will also help compete with weeds. Companion crops usually increase total forage tonnage in the seeding year, but forage quality will be lower than direct seeded legumes. Take the following precautions to avoid excessive competition of the companion crop with forage seedlings: (i) use early-maturing, short, and stiff-strawed small grain varieties, (ii) plant companion small grains at 1.5-2.0 bu/A, (iii) remove companion crop as early pasture or silage, and (iv) do not apply additional nitrogen to the companion crop.
  9. During the first 6 to 8 weeks after seeding, scout new seedings weekly for any developing weed or insect problems. Weed competition during the first six weeks is most damaging to stand establishment. Potato leafhopper damage on legumes in particular can be a concern beginning in late May to early June.
  10. The first harvest of the new seeding should generally be delayed until early flowering of legumes, unless weeds were not controlled adequately and are threatening to smother the stand. For pure grass seedings, generally harvest after 70 days from planting, unless weeds are encroaching in which case the stand should be clipped earlier to avoid weed seed production.


Over 60 percent of UK dairy producers using water ‘inefficiently’

The UK’s dairy producers may be unaware that they are using higher volumes of water than necessary and should be encouraged to benchmark water use.

Five years of water consumption data from 53 dairy companies across the UK revealed significant differences in the volume of water used to produce milk, butter and cheese.

The data showed that over 60% of the sites were using water inefficiently.

While dairy producers have been encouraged to reduce their water use by 20% by 2020, there is currently no way for them to benchmark their performance against others, or themselves, to judge the effectiveness of water conserving practices.

The UK’s food and drink sector is the greatest industrial consumer of water in the UK, and the dairy sector uses 21% of the UK’s fresh water resource.

Dr David Campbell, associate professor of water conservation at Heriot-Watt University, said the UK uses around 40.9 billion litres of water each year to produce 14 billion litres of milk.

“The huge volumes of water being used, whether from mains or abstraction, means it is critical for the UK dairy sector to start benchmarking its water use, and aiming for more comprehensive water management schemes,” Dr Campbell explained.

“Water is used for drinking, cleaning and cooling in the dairy sector. The ever-increasing cost of water, more stringent regulatory regimes and the high cost of energy for pumping and processing milk means dairy producers will benefit from optimal use of water.”

‘Saving money’

Dr Campbell said that by improving water use efficiency, water and wastewater bills could be reduced by 30%, which is a further incentive to dairy producers, alongside improving the sector’s overall sustainability credentials.

He added: “This isn’t about introducing new regulation or burdensome tasks – it’s about saving money for these producers and increasing sustainability.

“We can tell from the data that some producers already use water conservation measures, and those who use the highest amounts of water might simply be unaware that they are at the upper end of the chart. At the moment, there’s no way for them to know.”

Dr Campbell’s study, published in the journal Water Conservation Science and Engineering, established upper and lower water limits for liquid milk, butter and cheese producers using the five years of data.

Companies with water use below lower limits were considered to perform ‘excellently’, those using water within lower and upper limits were considered to perform ‘averagely’, while water use above the upper limits was considered ‘poor’.

Water inefficiency

When comparing and benchmarking 27 liquid milk producers, the study found that only three sites used water ‘excellently’, and seven ‘poorly’.

The UK’s cheese makers were the least ‘average’ of the dairy sector; only three sites used an ‘average’ volume of water.

Only one site used water above the lower benchmark, described as an ‘impressive performance’ by Dr Campbell, and a sign that water conservation schemes were already in place.

Dr Campbell said: “The aim of every benchmarking process is to improve performance through comparison of one company’s performance against those of high-performing, comparable organisations.

“Over 60% of producers we studied use water inefficiently, which could be traced to outdated or inappropriate systems and processes, and the absence of any periodic benchmarking of performance.

“There is great potential for water use improvements on these sites, and it is our hope that the dairy sector will adopt more water efficient systems and conduct annual benchmarking exercises. Both dairy farmers and the UK’s natural resource pool stand to benefit.”


SourceFarming UK

Dairy sector leads the world in animal welfare

When it comes to animal health and welfare, the dairy sector is leading the field, according to the director-general of the International Dairy Federation, Caroline Emond.

Speaking at the OIE Global animal welfare forum in Paris, Ms Emond said the sector’s ongoing commitment was driven by a ‘steadfast dedication’ to the continuous improvement of best practice across all levels of the dairy supply chain: “With consumer interest in animal welfare growing across the globe, the spotlight has been focused on animals involved in the production of food, with the dairy sector no exception.

“Farmers know that healthy cows produce quality milk. To build on their success in this area, the global dairy sector needs to develop communication of the numerous actions undertaken for years to improve animal health and welfare.

“Dairy is a vital part of the global food system and provides economic, nutritional and social benefits to a large proportion of the world’s population. The growing world population needs nutritional security, and we must provide this both safely and sustainably.”

IDF represents the dairy sector in the global agenda for sustainable livestock and is a founding member of the dairy sustainability framework. Later this year will also see the publication of the updated IDF guide to good animal welfare in dairy production.

Ms Emond added: “At the IDF, the leading source of scientific and technical global dairy expertise, we are proud to contribute to the development of animal welfare expertise that benefits animals, farmers and society.”


Source: The Scottish Farmer

Panel Highlights Importance of Dairy Workforce Training, Documentation

After a number of U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, audits of dairies in New Mexico and Texas last year, Dr. Ellen Jordan, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service dairy specialist in Dallas, said the industry is working to help dairies get laborers properly documented.

U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, audits of laborer paperwork on dairies has increased in New Mexico and Texas in the past few years. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Tiffany Dowell Lashmet, AgriLife Extension agricultural law specialist in Amarillo, led an employee immigration panel discussion on “Navigating the Dairy Workforce Crisis” recently at the High Plains Dairy Conference in Amarillo.

“Immigration is an important issue for all of agriculture, but particularly for the dairy industry,” explained Lashmet. “The vast majority of dairy owners want to comply with the law when hiring employees, so ensuring they know exactly how the law works and are educated on what their rights and responsibilities are is critical.”

Jordan and Lashmet recently wrote a publication, “The Difference between an ICE Raid and an ICE Audit: Are You Prepared?” which can be downloaded from the AgriLife Bookstore at:

“What we are trying to do is identify laborers and get them employed according to U.S. regulations, with an emphasis on what should be done to make sure they have proper documentation,” Jordan said.

“Traditionally a large portion of our workforce has been immigrants,” she said. “So producers need to know the changes in immigration policy and procedures.”

Jordan said the human resources panel was designed to address not only how to deal with ICE, but how to bring new employees on board with proper training so they are effective at doing their job and integrated into the farm team.

Sarah Thomas, a lawyer with Noble and Vrapi Immigration Attorneys in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said during the panel discussion that I-9 forms are required for every employee, regardless of race or status.

She said when the subpoena for an audit or notice of inspection is served at the dairy, there are several things all employees should know and the dairy should have trained them on.

“Designate who will talk to the agents and who will sign for the subpoena,” Thomas said. “You don’t want someone who doesn’t know what is going on or the time frame they have to comply.”

She said the employer has 72 hours from the time they receive the subpoena to gather data, during which time an employer should consider consulting an attorney and thoroughly reviewing all of their I-9 documents. Once the documents are turned over, the dairy will generally receive a letter of technical violations and have 10 days to show good faith and try to comply.

“We recommend you have a uniform policy with regard to copying documents presented by an employee completing an I-9 form by either taking or not taking copies of supporting documents,” Thomas said. “What you do for one employee, do for all employees.”

If an employer has taken all documents in good faith and complied with the record-keeping rules, she said, they are not liable. But in the end, if a worker is not able to be accurately documented, their employment must be terminated as it is illegal to knowingly employ someone who is not authorized to work in the U.S.

Thomas offered some suggestions on how to prepare and respond to an ICE visit:

  • Have a procedure in place and employees trained on what to do if ICE shows up at the dairy.
  • Obtain a copy of any subpoena or search warrant and send it to an attorney for review.
  • Do not voluntarily waive the 72-hour time period for producing I-9 documents.
  • Don’t allow officers into non-public areas without a search warrant granting them such access.
  • Don’t overtly share information that is not required.
  • Mark areas “Employees Only.”
  • Do your own audits internally to ensure I-9 documentation is in order.

Jordan said the number of on-farm employees in the dairy industry are generally figured at one for every 100 cows. So, in Texas, there’s an estimated workforce of 4,000, she said, and that doesn’t include the allied industries, such as veterinarians, technicians, nutritionists, milk truck haulers and others.

She said the labor force on dairies is continually changing, which equates to constant processing of paperwork.

While Jordan said the pay is good and that is what attracts the workers, it is physical labor and that can sometimes be the reason for the revolving door.

“The work is outdoors, and workers have to adjust and decide if they want to do that,” she said. “Many new employees start in the milking parlor and that is repetitive work. Also many workers have not done farm work at all, so they have to decide if that is a culture they want to be involved in.”

Also, if the owners and managers are able to engage the workers and help them learn their position to become a team member, it is more effective, Jordan said.

“Communication and building trust are key points of workforce management,” she said. “Most of our workers are coming without skills and those skills need to be developed on the farm. We need effective training so the workers are comfortable at their job and want to stay.”


Total solids in milk replacer – it matters!

Knowing the total solids content of milk replacer fed to calves is critically important, yet few producers or calf managers know their total solids content or how to calculate it.

Total solids content of a milk replacer mix is how “strong” you mix it up. Every farm does it a little different and it is rare to find someone following the directions on the milk replacer bag. Total solids greater than ~17-18 percent presents a risk of disrupting normal cell balance inducing scours in calves. When total solids are too low, calves will be hungry and not consuming enough calories to grow, maintain body temperature, and support the immune system.

Saleable whole milk is about 12.5 percent total solids. Waste milk can vary greatly but is often 11-15 percent solids. My preference is to use a milk replacer concentration of 12-15 percent total solids, and achieve this with specific volume, feeding frequency and average daily gain (ADG) goals for the farm. As total solids increase, the risk of scours increases. Therefore it is imperative that calves have access to clean, fresh water to self-regulate cell osmotic balance and that milk replacer mixing is very consistent.

The formula to calculate total solids is:

 Percent Total Solids = pounds of powder/ pounds of total solution

In order to calculate total solids, we must know the weight of the powder, not volume, so use a scale. To get to the pounds of total solution, we know that milk is 8.6 lbs. / gallon so we can multiply the volume by 8.6 lb. / gallon to get a final weight.

It is all in the details

It is important to use the final volume to calculate total solids, not the amount of water added. This detail often gets missed and leads to mixing and calculation errors. The correct way to mix milk replacer is to start with water, add the powder and then add enough water to bring up to total volume.

Example 1: The directions say: Feed each calf 12 oz. (0.75lb) of milk replacer in a volume of three quarts (0.75 gallons) total solution twice daily. The calculation is:

0.75 lb. powder/ (0.75 gallon * 8.6 lb. / gallon) = 11.63 percent total solids

Example 2:

If the directions are not correctly followed and three quarts (0.75 gallons) of water are added to 12 oz. (0.75 lb.) of powder, the powder displaces the water for a total volume of 0.86 gallons. When feeding three quarts of this mix, the calf will receive less than the desired 0.75 lb. powder. The calculation is:

0.75 lb. powder / (0.86 gal * 8.6 lb. / gallon) = 10.1 percent total solids

How many pounds is she consuming?

For our previous two examples, let’s figure out how many pounds of milk replacer powder each calf is consuming, assuming that milk replacer powder is mixed into a batch and three quarts twice a day is measured out to each calf.

Example 1:  11.63 percent total solids * (0.75 gallon* 8.6 lb. / gallon) * 2x/day = 1.5 lb. powder per day

Example 2:  10.1 percent total solids * (0.75 gallon* 8.6 lb. / gallon) * 2x/day = 1.3 lb. powder per day

The difference between these two ways of mixing could be the difference of a calf gaining weight or not, or fighting off disease versus succumbing to it. Before calves are consuming a measurable amount of starter, all of their calories are coming from milk, so it is imperative that we get it right.

Check consistency

Calves grow better when their diet is consistent. A big advantage to feeding milk replacer over waste milk is the consistency of the diet. Refractometers can be used with whole milk to determine total solids, however it is not accurate for milk replacer. A refractometer is very useful for checking consistency in milk replacer mixing. Michigan State University Extension recommends no more than one percent variation day to day in mixing and during feed-out (from the beginning of feeding to the end). If variation is greater than one percent within a feeding, that indicates that the solids are settling. Ensure that proper water temperature is being used, mixing time is long enough to get all product in suspension and the mixed product is not sitting too long before feeding.


Just knowing that calves are being fed three quarts of milk replacer twice a day is not enough information. In order to understand a calf feeding program, we need to know the pounds of milk replacer powder fed, which is based on volume, frequency and total solids of the liquid fed.

If your calves are not meeting the goals you have set, do the calculations and talk to your vet, nutritionist, or Extension Educators about how to meet your goals.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit To contact an expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

As milk prices continue on downward trend, some farms opt to implement new technology

Legend has it there’s a barn full of cows in Pennsylvania which refuse to eat anything but bubblegum-flavored nutritional pellets.

“Cows are weird,” said Russ Klein, a fourth-generation dairy farmer at Silver Meadows, a 750-acre operation located on the western shores of Silver Lake. “They get onto something they like and that’s what they demand.”

Since the installation of his farm’s robotic system at the tail-end of 2014, he’s discovered that his own cows — approximately 200 of them — seem to prefer orange citrus to that quintessential strawberry-banana punch combo (according to experts, that’s a precise breakdown of what you’re tasting when you bite into a wad of gooey, sticky, pink bubblegum). With the cows now on their own milking schedules thanks to implementation of advanced DeLaval milking technology, Klein said they begin to develop individual routines and a heightened curiosity. In other words, their personalities, including their flavor preferences, really start to shine through.

“I think you see the character start to come out in these cows a little bit more,” Klein said of how the barn environment has changed since his two robots entered into service just over two years ago. “Now when you’re in the pen, you’re not there to move the cows to the milking parlor, so they get used to you and their personalities start to come out.”

And so while some public entities have suggested that robotic milking systems are impersonal and make for unpleasant milking situations for cows, in Klein’s experience, he said, “it’s just the opposite.”

“You really are letting the cows dictate what they want during the day and you’re not dictating a schedule for them,” Klein said. “I don’t think either way is wrong, but this barn is extremely calm, quiet and cow-friendly. You really can adapt the robots to any situation.”

It’s also safe to say that the cows prefer robotic milking to hand milking “hands down,” Klein said, especially when they get to chow down on the orange-flavored pellets during a session.

The process, it seems, is simultaneously simple and complex.

“The cows in the pen are free to choose when they want to come in and milk,” Klein said. “They’ll come in if it’s time to be milked, and each cow has an individual setting as to how often she can be milked. If it’s time to milk her, the machine will read her electronic ear tag and proceed with the milking process.”

If it’s not, the machine lets her go and sends her back to the group until she visits again — no harm done.

Most cows in the barn are allowed to be milked every 5.5 hours on average, Klein said, depending on the cow’s milk production, her age and her stage of lactation, among other things. Collectively, they produce about 27,000 pounds of milk every other day.

Sometimes the computer sends out a kind of warning — every day, about two or three cows don’t come up to the milking station within a 12-hour window, and then Klein, his parents or one of the other longtime farm workers have to herd them into the fetch bin.

“They’ll show up on a list and we’ll bring them in here, where the only way out of here is to go through the robot,” Klein said. And that’s just for the cow’s health and safety, really — cows should be milked at least twice a day.

“Other than that, cows are on their own milking schedules,” Klein said. “They’re fed a grain supplement in here (that’s the flavored pellet) and it’s kind of like a candy bar for the cows.”

While it may be a treat to eat, it serves a dual purpose — balancing each cow’s diet with the necessary amount of grain and mixture of nutrients needed to keep her healthy.

Don’t let the process, fool you, though, Klein warned — there’s still plenty of work to do on the farm.

Though the robotics system provides better comfort for the cows and frees up some time that the farmers can devote to other chores, only 100 cows, selected based on their health and a variety of other factors that suggest they don’t need as much hands-on attention, live in the free-flow pens of the robotics barn. The other hundred are still milked by hand back at the old milking parlor, where legacy practices take precedence.

And, of course, there’s plenty of other manual labor to go around no matter what barn you’re in. Twice a day, workers hand-scrape the stalls and alleys in the new barn — it’s more often than that in the milking parlor — feed the cows out of the bunk and do whatever else needs doing, like equipment repairs and crop management.

And things at Silver Meadows weren’t always so advanced, either. Klein’s grandfather and great-grandfather purchased the property in 1954, when cows were milked in a tie-stall barn. That was, and still is, the primary type of dairy cattle housing, but some fault it for its contributions to lameness, swollen hocks and neck lesions in cows.

Growing up, Klein said he never imagined milking technology would be where it is today.

“No, I was just having fun running around,” Klein said. “The first robot I saw, I think, was in 2003. They put a unit in down in Belfast, and I saw that and I was just amazed at what you could do.”

Soon after, he went off to college, where his interests heightened.

“Robotics started to get a little bit more popular in the United States,” Klein explained. “More people put them in and they started working better and better. It took me just shy of 10 years to convince mom and dad we ought to bite the bullet and put a system in.”

The farm decided to install the system after participating in the Cornell PRO-DAIRY Dairy Acceleration Program. The PRO-DAIRY team and cooperative extension experts work with farmers to analyze their businesses and help them develop specific business plans, and the Dairy Acceleration Program has assisted hundreds of farms statewide on a range of issues. In this instance, their focus was on determining from the financial analysis whether it was feasible for Silver Meadows.

“Using PRO-DAIRY and the Dairy Acceleration Program allowed us, before we got started, to get comfortable with our financial numbers,” Klein said. “It was a huge leap for us and I think with doing budget analysis and looking at the numbers and being sure that we were going to be OK, we weren’t going to go bankrupt, it allowed us to see, ‘All right, this is going to be a positive investment for us.”

The PRO-DAIRY program paid for some of the logistics of the new barn design, some engineering costs and some financial analysis, as well as environmental impact studies, Klein said.

“It just brought everything up to date and you kind of dotted your ‘i’s and crossed your ‘t’s with the whole project,” he said. “We did some of the things you maybe would have cut corners with when the program wasn’t available.”

The project was 100 percent financed by Farm Credit East, something Klein said has “been quite a challenge” given the current state of milk prices.

“Since we’ve built the barn and put the robots in, we have not seen a favorable milk price,” Klein said. “I remember doing all of our cost analysis with PRO-DAIRY, where we worked with a five-year average milk price. Since we built the barn, we haven’t seen that milk price, so a little bit of a challenge there.”

But according to Ben Rand, manager of PR and media relations at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, it’s a move that will likely help Klein to stay afloat.

“Such an investment is kind of unique given the size of Silver Meadows,” Rand said. “The robotic system … is a more efficient way of milking. I think this is an interesting story due to the challenges facing dairy farmers from lower prices — an example of a farm looking ahead and changing with the times to stay ahead of changing market dynamics.”

Silver Meadows is among just a small number of dairies nationwide to hop on the new tech train — according to Bloomberg, less than 5 percent of dairy farms nationwide have robotics systems — and so even though the economic market has proved challenging, Klein said he’s glad to have made the move.

“We’ve been able to make payments, we haven’t slipped behind,” he said. “I guess even though we’re in a pretty low turn, we’ve been able to cash-flow things. It’s not fun, but at least we’re getting by.”

And, if anything, at least he knows now that his cows like the taste of oranges.


Source: The Daily News

EcoFeed™ by STgenetics®

The genetic fingerprint of feed conversion and global sustainability

Livestock genetics leader and innovator STgenetics® has launched a new index that will ultimately predict a cow’s productive life and profitability from the time she is born until she leaves a herd.

EcoFeed™ is built around feed efficiency, which is a moderately inheritable trait. Feed costs can represent up to 60 percent of a dairy farm’s operational costs. Breeding for animals that produce the same amount or more milk than their peers on less feed can lower feed costs by an average 24 cents per day per animal, which translates to saving about $87,600 per year for a 1,000 head herd.

The EcoFeed™ index is an integrated approach to genetic selection developed by STgenetics® to help producers create their next generation breeding females. The program encompasses environmental, metabolic and genomic factors affecting dairy cattle profitability from birth until the cow leaves the farm.

EcoFeed™ comprises more than simple feed efficiency. It is a continuously growing database that monitors the animal’s growth, milk production, fertility and it’s impact on the environment through the amounts of manure, methane and carbon dioxide it produces. Feed efficient animals use fewer feed resources and convert feed more efficiently, creating less waste, manure, methane and CO2 per unit of production, which in turn helps make dairying a sustainable and environmentally friendly industry.

To qualify as an EcoFeed™ sire, a bull’s progeny must be genetically tested and complete feed efficiency testing. EcoFeed™ rankings are based on a 100 base system where every five points equals one pound less feed the bull’s progeny can be expected to consume each day while producing as much or more milk than its peers. For example, the progeny of a bull with a 110 EcoFeed™ score can be expected to eat two pounds less feed per day than the progeny of a bull with a 100 EcoFeed™ score.

click here for listing of  EcoFeed™ designated sires

For more information about EcoFeed™ and qualifying bulls, talk with your local STgenetics® representative or contact the company’s Dairy Call Center at (844) 828-7849 or International customers can call (920) 921-5850 or email


Dairy farmers need to look over milk contracts carefully

Many dairy farmers have followed a tradition of making contracts informally – perhaps orally and with a handshake, or in the case of a milk contract it may have been a one-pager signed on the hood of the field man’s pickup truck. But one experienced attorney is advising farmers to take a close look and see how that contract may affect them. And they should get it in writing.

“In many cases the contracts have been vague and both parties have liked the flexibility they had to get out of the arrangement,” says Troy Schneider, an attorney with Twohig, Rietbrock, Schneider and Halbach, S.C. in Chilton. With low prices and the marketplace awash in milk, he is advising dairy producers to be aware of how contracts may affect their businesses.

Last year’s move by Grassland, which caused 50 producers to lose their milk markets and similar action taken recently by Dean Foods, highlights the importance to farmers of having a contract in place so they know they have a market for their milk. Wisconsin has always been a marketplace where there were ample buyers for all of state farmers’ milk, but that has changed with current supply and demand conditions.

Schneider was a featured speaker at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) annual business conference in Madison, March 14 – 15. His personal observation is that all processors are currently trying to limit the amount of milk they purchase. Even farmers who are patron/members of a cooperative, and as such are “owners,” do not have any greater protection in this area of contract law, he said.

Most milk plants today use written contracts with the farmers who supply their milk, he said, and contracts that span two or three paragraphs are generally okay. If those contracts run for several pages, he adds, they are “probably skewing toward the processor, because quite frankly they wrote it. This really has been the Wild West of contract law.”

When he looks at various milk procurement contracts there’s “very little in them, it’s shocking,” he said. Because of what has happened to dairy farmers who lost their milk market, most farmers are looking at their milk contracts differently. Farmers and their lenders are demanding more detailed contracts.

Contracts have been skewed toward the milk buyer rather than the farmer and include vague language like “standards we adopt from time to time.” Schneider said more attention has to be paid to what contracts say.

No ‘Silver Bullet’

While there is no “silver bullet” he urged farmers to be careful that the contract isn’t “watered down” with “escape clauses” for the processor.

In many cases a lender may want a dairy farmer to have a contract in place, especially if money is being loaned for a farm expansion; in those cases the contract should include a reasonable term during which the processor will take the farm’s milk — from six months to a year.

A milk supply contract, he explained, is an “open quantity” contract because a specific quantity of milk to be sold and purchased is not specified. These contracts are governed by case law and precedents that have been previously set by courts and also by statutes and regulations.

Milk contracts are also affected by the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), a set of binding guidelines that has been in place for decades. Schneider said Article 2 of the UCC was adopted as Wisconsin law and governs these contracts between milk buyers and milk producers.

In an “open quantity” contract, in line with Wisconsin law, a change in either output or requirement may be made if it is in “good faith” however, in such “open quantity” contracts, no changes in either output or requirement can be made if it is “substantially disproportionate” from a stated estimate.

“You can see how important it may be to include an estimate,” he said.

He also urged farmers to beware of contract clauses that limit damages (payments to the injured party) in case the contract is broken. A clause stating “liquidated damages” usually works to the advantage of the milk plant and farmers should try to get them eliminated from the contract, he said.

A typical milk supply contract is most likely to be an output contract in which the dairy farmer agrees to sell the entire farm’s production to the milk plant, who in turn agrees to purchase the entire output. However the milk plant may try to include provisions that allow it to become the “quantity determining” party” and may seek contract language that allow it to adjust its intake of milk according to fluctuations in the markets.

Constant demand for milk

Farmers need to make sure the contracts they enter into will assure a constant demand for their milk. In negotiating these contracts, Schneider urged farmers to assure that their contracts do the following:

  • Include an estimate of milk to be purchased so that the milk plant does not have the ability to drastically vary or eliminate the amount of milk purchased;
  • Address issues of non-performance by the parties;
  • Delineate standards, requirements and specifications and avoid vague clauses like “from time to time adopted by the purchaser”;
  • Provide adequate notice periods and rights and address remedies for breaching the contract;
  • Address what will happen if milk output is increased due to expansion or purchase of another dairy operation.

Having said of all that, Schneider admitted that now is a “very difficult time to add details” to a contract and noted that the farmer is negotiating the contract from a position of weakness since there is so much milk in the market. “Now the scale is tipped toward the milk processor.”

At some point that power may return to farmers, but it if doesn’t he suggested that maybe lawmakers will have to fix the situation with new statutes. “That may be something that gets looked at.”

For now, he advised farmers to “be diplomatic if there are things in the contract you don’t like unless you have a Plan B in place.” That is, unless you have another place to market the milk. “This is a unique circumstance,” he said. “The buyers for your product are just not there.”

And since milk is a perishable product, unlike corn, it must be marketed on a regular basis.

This will leave a mark

Schneider commented that the 1980s put a lot of bad memories in farmers’ and lenders’ minds and these times in the dairy industry will put the issue of contract law firmly in dairy farmers’ heads and hearts.

“Farmers are looking at contracts a lot more carefully. When times get better farmers will continue to pay more attention to these contracts and so will their lenders and business partners,” he said. “They will demand more detailed contracts.”


Source: Wisconsin State Farmer

Enhancing dairy farm productivity and profitability with double-cropping

Double-cropping winter annuals after corn silage harvest is increasing in popularity among dairy farmers who have found that it provides numerous benefits, including increased per-acre forage production, reduced feeding costs, better cycling of manure nutrients and improvements in the farm’s overall bottom line.

Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences’ research and extension personnel, along with farmers and farm advisors, will share some of what they have learned from incorporating winter annual forages into a dairy production system during a full-day conference on Wednesday, March 28, from 9:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church, 867 Grays Woods Boulevard, Port Matilda.

The conference will highlight the experiences of many dairy farmers who are learning and continuing to learn about making use of winter annual forages, which are planted after corn silage harvest, and harvested in the spring prior to rotating fields back to corn production.

Jonathan Binder, Eric Ranck, and Heather Karsten of Penn State will summarize some recently collected agronomic and dairy-feeding data for winter annuals from on-farm research trials. Dairy farmer Gordon England, of Blair County, and dairy farmer/nutrient management consultant Dean Patches, of Lebanon County, will share their on-farm experiences when winter annuals are double-cropped with corn silage.

Noah Hughes, a dairy nutritionist with Cargill, will relate his experiences from working with dairymen who feed winter annuals. Finally, Lancaster dairyman Lamar Stoner and Penn State Extension educator Timothy Beck will conclude the event by sharing some of the financial outcomes possible when dairies include these double-crops in their systems.

More program and conference registration details can be found online at or by calling 1-877-489-1398 or emailing Ron Hoover at


Using ‘cow power’ to make your dairy farm self-sufficient

Manure can be used to produce biogas, electricity and fertiliser. In the process, you will recycle nutrients and increase profits while reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions

Approximately 10% of cow dung and urine is deposited in the dairy yard and lanes daily.

This figure is lower in an extensive operation, because more is deposited on the pasture.

In an intensive system, the percentage will tend to be higher than 10%. Here, manure and slurry are usually flushed into a pond, where a natural crust forms, partially sealing the pond and further encouraging anaerobic fermentation. After the slurry has matured, it can be used to fertilise pasture camps via a spreader. This is an effective re-use of nutrients, especially phosphorus.

Biogas: clean power on tap when you need it
A portion of the nutrients (mostly nitrogen, carbon and sulphur) escapes as ‘biogas’, which contributes to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The good news, though, is that a dairy can use biogas directly as fuel or to generate power for lights, machinery or ovens.

Biogas, which is free of pathogens and odour, is produced by the natural fermentation of organic material in the absence of oxygen. The process, called anaerobic bacterial fermentation, breaks down 40% to 65% of the organic raw material.

Hay and grain silage, and vegetable, agricultural and kitchen waste are also suitable for biogas production.

After the biogas has been extracted, the remaining fermented raw materials (digestate) can be used as fertiliser or sold.

Heat produced during the fermentation process can also be captured in coolant fluid, and used for heating greenhouses and domestic buildings via a piped, circulating system.

Do your homework
If you are considering installing an anaerobic digester system on your dairy farm, you will need to calculate the trade-off between the savings on input costs and the expense of infrastructure such as a manure spreader or a biogas plant.

It is also important to decide whether you would prefer a ‘hot’ or ‘cool’ system, as this will affect the bacterial population, biogas yield and efficiency. A hot system is higher-yielding, but more expensive to maintain, and there is a greater risk of ammonia release at higher temperature.

Ammonia inhibits the growth of biogas-producing bacteria. In a dairy farm that uses slurry, the ammonia concentration must be kept below 80mg/ℓ to reduce ammonia inhibition of bacteria.

Source: Hawkins HJ, Stanway R:The Sustainable Dairy Handbook, Nestlé Printers, Bryanston, SA.

Calf health starts with prevention

Four keys to calf health success

Raising new calves is an exciting, fun adventure. By ensuring a great start in the first weeks, you’ll help set the stage for growth and performance.


“Healthy calves in the first part of life may become less exposed to setbacks and health challenges later in life, which can result in optimal growth and lower management expenses,” says Julian (Skip) Olson, DVM, technical services manager for Milk Products.

Here are four keys to help your calves thrive:

1. Support early health

Nutrition plays a significant role in early calf health. Supplements are available to help you keep your calves feeling and performing their best.

“Whether you feed your calves whole milk or milk replacer, consider an additive that optimizes early calf health,” says Olson. “Look for one that delivers a source of live naturally occurring microorganisms. Beneficial bacteria have been shown to help maintain normal intestinal microflora and optimize digestion.”

Dried maternal colostrum can also help support calf intestinal health in the early stages of life. Some supplements will contain dried colostrum in addition to other beneficial ingredients.

“Including maternal colostrum beyond day one has been shown to help support digestive system health and immunity, resulting in optimal calf growth and overall health,” says Olson. “In addition to immunoglobulin G (IgG), colostrum supplementation provides many more substances that are of value to the calf – immunoglobulins and immunity-enhancing molecules, as well as vitamins, minerals, growth factors and hormones.”

2. Keep feeding equipment clean

Sanitation and maintenance of feeding equipment are also important for your calf’s health. If not regularly washed and sanitized, equipment can quickly become a harbor for bacteria.

Cleaning tips:

  • Always use a separate bottle or pail for each calf
  • Wash pails, bottles and nipples in hot, soapy water and rinse well after each feeding
  • Allow equipment to dry thoroughly between feedings. Moisture can create an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. If drying conditions are poor, consider drying the equipment with a clean towel.
  • Sanitize before use with an approved disinfectant. For example, chlorine dioxide is an effective sanitizer at a low concentration.

3. Provide proper housing

When it comes to housing, with some advanced preparation and supplies, you’ll be set to give new calves a strong start.

Keep these guidelines in mind:

  • House calves in individual housing until weaning for the best chance of controlling disease spread from calf to calf
  • Ensure adequate ventilation without direct drafts
  • Provide and maintain a thick layer (6 to 10 inches) of clean, dry bedding of straw or shavings so the calf can easily nest into the bedding
  • Prevent nose-to-nose contact
  • Disinfect hutches or stalls thoroughly between calves

4. Stay ahead of health challenges

Part of raising calves is always looking ahead and trying to prevent stressful situations.

“As a calf raiser, part of your role is to pay close attention to temperatures shifts, extreme heat or cold, vaccination, transportation or weaning – all factors that can cause calves to experience stressful situations resulting in health challenges such as scours,” says Olson. “Feeding an electrolyte supplement ahead of these situations to avoid dehydration can help keep calves thriving.”

Electrolyte supplements can help support a calf’s immune system and keep them feeling their best. Be sure to offer electrolytes in addition to the calf’s normal diet, as electrolyte supplements do not contain all the nutrients of whole milk or milk replacer.

“A calf’s first few months lay the foundation for their future,” says Olson. “By providing proper nutrition and supplements, adequate housing and clean feeding equipment you can give calves a healthy, productive life.”


For more information about calf care, visit savacaf.comor like My Farm Journey on Facebook.

Milk Products, based in Chilton, Wis., manufacturers high-quality animal milk replacers and young animal health products. Using its innovative manufacturing technology, Milk Products produces over 700 unique animal nutrition products for numerous independent feed manufacturers, wholesale distributors, and large retail chains. Our customers choose whether these products are sold under their private label brand, or under the Sav-A-Caf® brand which is manufactured and marketed by Milk Products.

Buying and selling hay at the right price

The current price of hay is a frequent question asked by callers to the area county extension offices. It is an important question to cattle producers wanting to turn a profit because hay costs represent a significant overall expense in raising cattle.

“The calls come from sellers as well as people looking to purchase hay. On the surface, this seems like a simple question. In reality, there are factors to consider when buying or selling hay,” said Ted Probert, dairy specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

Hay Considerations

First, hay quality is an important factor. All hay is not equal from the standpoint of nutrient content. That means all hay is not equal regarding monetary value.

“Hay buyers should be aware of the nutritional needs of the animals they are feeding and look for hay that will meet those needs. Some classes of livestock have higher nutrient requirements than others,” said Probert.

For example, lactating and growing animals have higher nutrient needs than dry cows.

“Purchasing hay of sufficient quality will be more practical and more economical than buying less expensive, poorer quality hay that requires supplementation to achieve animal performance goals,” said Probert.

Ideally, from a buyer’s standpoint, a nutritional analysis of the hay under consideration would be available. A hay test is a gold standard for determining feed value. In reality, hay tests are more often than not unavailable on hay offered for sale.

“In the absence of a hay test, buyers need to remember that maturity of forages, when harvested, is the primary factor influencing feed quality. The earlier harvest dates within a given season will almost always produce higher quality hay,” said Probert.

Additionally, an inspection of the hay under consideration can be helpful according to Probert.

“From a seller’s perspective, availability of a nutritional analysis on the hay offered for sale will be a plus – if the analysis confirms that the hay is of high quality,” said Probert.

Pricing of Hay

Another consideration for hay transactions is how the hay is priced.

The fairest and most accurate means of pricing is by the ton. Pricing by the ton leaves little doubt as to what a buyer is getting for his or her money.

“A lot of sellers, though, prefer to sell by the bale. The problem with per bale pricing is that not all hay packages are of the same dimensions,” said Probert.

A note to sellers: most informed buyers prefer to make their purchases by the ton. Doing business in this manner will be looked upon by many buyers as a plus, and a factor that may make the difference in whether or not a sale is made.

Missouri Hay Directory 

Individuals that would like to get an idea about current hay prices in Missouri can look at listings on the Missouri Hay Directory online at

These listings are a joint venture of the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the University of Missouri.

The hay listings include sellers names, cities, counties and phone numbers. Bale type is included along with the number of bales and approximate weight and if the hay has been analyzed.

Individuals can list their hay using the menu options or by calling the Missouri Department of Agriculture at 573-751-5633.

Another good source of pricing information is the Weekly Missouri Hay Summary which can be at

Don’t Waste Manure

Livestock manure contains beneficial soil-building ingredients and plant nutrients, but they could be wasted if the manure spreader isn’t calibrated correctly.

“Whether you are spreading the manure yourself or having a North Dakota custom manure hauler do the job for you, calibrating the spreader should be a top priority,” says Mary Berg, the North Dakota State University Extension Service’s area livestock environmental management specialist at the Carrington Research Extension Center.

“These valuable nutrients may be wasted by overapplication or crop yield goals may not be met due to underapplication because of a lack of spreader calibration,” she adds. “Manure is money, so let’s not waste it.”

One calibration option is called the sheet method. This method works well for solid manure applications, Berg says.

Here are materials you’ll need:

  • Tarps/sheets (at least three) of a known area (3 feet by 7 feet 4 inches, for example). Landscaping fabric works well because applied manure will not slide off as easily as it will on a plastic sheet.
  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Scale


  • Weigh the bucket and a sheet.
  • Lay the sheets in a row and anchor them with a few rocks or stakes.
  • Start the tractor and turn on the spreader. Allow time for the spreader to start spreading.
  • Record your tractor gear, engine’s revolutions per minute and spreader settings.
  • Drive over the sheets, applying manure on them.
  • Retrieve the manure-covered sheets and weigh them in the bucket. Subtract the weight of the bucket and sheets.
  • If you’re using a sheet measuring 21.8 square feet (3 feet by 7 feet 4 inches or 4 feet by 5 feet 6 inches, for example), then the weight in pounds of manure on the sheet is equal to tons per acre.

The application rate is: Rate (tons/acre) = (pounds of manure on sheet x 21.8) ÷ sheet area (square feet).

Visit for more information on calibration methods.

To find a North Dakota custom manure hauler, visit, NDSU’s livestock environmental management website.

Ten Key Herd Management Opportunities on Dairy Farms During Low Margin Times

Tighter and likely negative margins on many dairy farms now and for much of 2018 make it even more critical for dairy producers to focus their management skills on making sure that their herd management is “being all that it can be.” In a previous paper we outlined “Ten Low Investment, High Return Management Opportunities on Dairy Farms.” This paper gives added focus to this material and adds other key points for discussion and evaluation within individual dairy farms.

1) Maximize milk component production
Top-tier herds in the monthly Dairy Profit Monitor benchmarking program are producing a combined total of 6.5 lbs/day per cow or more of fat and true protein, with a solid goal across herds of greater than 6.0 lbs/day per cow. Although the major driver of fat and protein yield is overall milk yield, component percentages are also important. In general, herd-level milk fat percentage below 3.7% and true protein percentage under 3.0% in Holstein herds suggest opportunities for improvement. Motivation to seek this improvement needs to be based on the current value of milk fat and protein – the value of milk fat has been and likely will continue to be an important driver of the milk check. Low milk fat suggests passage from the rumen of unique unsaturated fatty acids that directly inhibit milk fat synthesis and that there is opportunity either in ration formulation (unsaturated fats, carbohydrate balance, forage quality issues) or in ration implementation (dry matters, amounts fed, sorting, etc.). In the case of milk protein, levels below 3.0% suggest that rumen fermentation and microbial protein synthesis is not being maximized, or there are opportunities to improve amino acid balance by use of blended proteins or protected amino acids. The general timeline for the impact of ration changes on milk components is 10 to 14 days after implementation of the change.

2) Relentlessly seek marginal milk opportunities

Generally, the highest profit margin production is that from marginal (incremental) increases in milk production. This can be accomplished by herd-level management strategies such as changing milking frequency (e.g., 2X to 3X or 4X/2X milking), shortening dry period length on higher producing cows down to 40 days dry, capturing feed efficiency through use of compounds such as Rumensin, or improving cow comfort. Several years ago, we completed a field study to evaluate production responses to 4X milking during the first three to four weeks post-calving followed by 2X milking thereafter. Although responses varied among farms and by lactation group within a farm, all farms had positive production responses for cows milked 4X/2X and the average response was approximately 3.5 lbs of component-corrected milk yield across the first 7 monthly test days. The overall increase in labor/milking capacity for a 2X herd to actualize 4X/2X is only about 7% compared to 30% for whole-herd 3X. With any of these changes, it is important to look at not only the expected increases in production, but also the changes in input costs to determine what the actual profit may be.

3) Don’t lose fresh cows
The best dairies that we encounter maintain fresh cow loss in the first 60 days in milk at or below 5% of calvings, without keeping low producing fresh cows simply to keep this number lower. In a recent data set of 72 herds in New York and Vermont, about 25% of the herds had 9 to 13% of fresh cows leaving in the first 60 DIM. Furthermore, within first calf heifers this rate averaged about 6%; alarmingly, the highest 25% of herds had between 7 and 11% of first calf heifers leaving in the first 60 DIM. This represents a large economic loss to these dairies. Frequently, these losses are contributed to by overcrowding either before or after calving, frequent group changes before or after calving, or competition issues between springing heifers and older cows. In another recent data set from our group, cows in herds with less than 28 inches of bunk space pre-fresh had 40% greater risk of leaving the herd in the first 30 DIM. Ration formulation issues are relatively rare, but ration implementation issues (long chop length of dry forages in dry/pre-fresh TMR leading to sorting, inaccurate weighing of ingredients, not accounting for dry matter changes) are common. Farms with high quality forages typically will need to obtain low energy forages for far-off dry cow rations because high energy intake far-off can lead to more fresh cow health disorders and increased fresh cow loss. If overall management practices and grouping are in line, there is little added value from routine drenching/pumping practices.

4) Identify and potentially cull low value and low profit cows
Identify those low producing cows who are not generating enough revenue to cover variable feed and labor expenses and use routines such as COWVAL in DairyComp 305 (either on-farm or run by a DairyOne technician at a monthly herd visit) to identify those lower value cows in the herd for either removal, dry off, or replacement. In overstocked pens, removal of low profit cows may result in little to no change in overall milk yield because of better overall performance of the remaining cows. If barns are understocked, how can culling be controlled or heifer rearing be improved to ensure that facilities are being used at optimal capacity. It is important to analyze each individual herd situation, perhaps in conjunction with your agriservice professionals (consultants, extension, veterinarian, nutritionist) because the opportunity can vary widely from herd to herd.

5) Ensure that all management protocols are still appropriate, are working and are being followed

Protocol drift in many areas of dairy herd management (an incomplete list includes milking routines, calving and colostrum management, reproductive program implementation, and feeding management) is more common then desired. This can easily lead to drag in milk yield, higher SCC, poorer conception rate, increased morbidity and mortality in calves, lower feed efficiency and poorer rumen health among other issues. Are you losing out on milk quality premiums because of milking routine/facility issues or a few high SCC cows that are elevating the entire tank? Spending time and money on protocols that are no longer appropriate or needed on the farm adds unnecessary expenses to the farm. Take the opportunity to review protocols with employees and provide feedback to ensure that these protocols are getting the response and return that you expect. Also take time to review protocols with key agriservice personnel and farm employees to determine if they are still needed and providing positive returns, or if there are changes that can be made.

6) Don’t incur excess heifer rearing costs: raising animals longer than necessary or raising too many
Despite years of research and herd experience that suggests that herds can grow heifers well and calve them at 21 to 22 months of age, many herds still average 24 to 26 months age or higher at first calving. This can incur substantial additional cost both in terms of feed requirements and facility/labor to support additional heifer inventory. If raising more heifers than necessary, what is the ability for the farm to recoup the investment in the animal? An Excel spreadsheet calculator for evaluation of the heifer enterprise is available at the PRO-DAIRY website. Of course, quality of heifers also counts. In our recent study, lactational milk yield of first lactation animals averaged between 75 and 80% of mature cows in 25% of the herds studied – the goal is 82 to 85% of mature cows. Furthermore, cull and death rates of first lactation animals varied widely. Herds averaged about 19% cull and death rate in first lactation animals – the highest 25% of herds ranged from 25 to 37% and the lowest 25% of herds ranged from 5 to 15%. If poor heifer quality is driving high turnover of first lactation animals, this can be a large economic loss that can go unrealized on many farms.

7) Get the most out of your reproduction program
Many dairies are consistently achieving pregnancy rates of 26% or higher. Comparing this to what used to be considered a good goal of 20% a few years ago, there is significant revenue to be gained. Even at current milk prices, a 500 cow dairy stands to gain $42,000/yr if they can improve from 20% to 26%. Of course any additional expenses needed to make improvements in the breeding program must be deducted from this dollar figure. Evaluate all aspects of your reproduction program and take advantage of the advancements our industry has made in this area to improve.

8) Optimize neonatal management
Opportunities exist on many dairies to decrease stillborn (DOA) rates and decrease morbidity and mortality in calves through the milk-fed phase and weaning. Our best dairies consistently maintain dead-on-arrival (DOA) rates in female calves at around 4 to 5% of calvings. However, a number of dairies have DOA rates of 8 to 10% or more, especially in first calf heifers. Intensively managing the calving process for a “just-in-time” move from a close-up group to a calving area usually decreases DOA rates (and also decreases overall fresh cow problems). More calves born alive provides more calves that either eventually enter the herd or can be sold to improve cash flow.

Once born alive, studies suggest that calf mortality rates average 8% and morbidity averages about 30%. In our recent study, the best 25% of dairies averaged less than 2% death and cull rate in the first 3 months of life. Excellent colostrum management, 4 quarts of quality colostrum (> 45 to 50 mg/ml of IgG; < 100,000 CFU/ml of bacteria), within 4 hours of birth for Holsteins, is critical to ensure that calves have sufficient passive transfer of immunity and nutrition immediately after birth. Calves should be fed to double their birth weight by 56 days of life, which is higher than traditional feeding recommendations – this plane of nutrition both enhances the efficiency of lean gain and provides nutrients to allow the immune system to function, thereby decreasing veterinary and medicine costs for the calf program.

9) Strategically identify ration opportunities
Opportunities exist both in terms of using accurate forage analyses to enable tighter ration formulation and more sophisticated forage analyses (e.g., fiber digestibilities) integrated with nutritional models to optimize use of homegrown forage within dairy rations. If forage is of high quality and inventory is adequate, is it being utilized to its potential? Likewise, if high quality forage is not available, are there other ration adjustments that can be made to optimize milk yield? Recent work has suggested that there are opportunities to strategically decrease protein feeding levels and maintain high milk and milk component yield. This strategy has focused primarily on decreasing rumen degradable protein supply to about 8 to 9% of diet dry matter and using high quality undegradable protein sources and amino acids to ensure adequate metabolizable protein supply. Economics likely will make this approach more attractive in high corn silage based diets when haylage inventory is limited. Research consistently indicates that there is no productive or reproductive reason to exceed approximately 0.40% phosphorus for fresh cows, and 0.35% phosphorus for cows at other stages of lactation. Ration levels of 0.35% phosphorus are typically achieved using only basal feed ingredients, and no added phosphorus from mineral sources. Although it is tempting to remove nutrients or feed additives from the ration to lower cost, be careful that you are not hurting subsequent returns by doing so. It is reasonable to carefully review with your nutritionist what is going into rations and ensure that you are making solid decisions. When making changes to the overall ration program, it is important to measure and track net milk income over feed costs to ensure that the changes you are making are providing the results that you are looking for. More information on this topic can be found in the companion paper Feeding Strategies During Challenging Times authored by Tom Overton and Larry Chase.

10)Maximize your feeding management program
The feeding management program can result in hidden losses in feeding programs. Opportunities range from decreasing shrink at the silo by better face management in bunks and bags to accurate and frequent (at least weekly) assessment of silage dry matters to ensure more consistent delivery of diets to cows. This is another area in which protocol drift both within a feeder and across multiple feeders has occurred, which can change particle size and consistency of diets, and contributes to inconsistent intakes and lower efficiency of use of rations. This protocol drift may also impact other costs on the farm, such as labor, fuel, maintenance and repairs.


Small dairy, big tech: Melrose farm has barn of the future

Isaak Hinnenkamp wasn’t going to become a farmer.

That’s what he said growing up in Melrose on a legacy dairy farm. Hinnenkamp, 34, left for college and stayed away for several years.

But he came back to his family’s farm and to an industry plagued by uncertainty. Milk prices are low; changing trade and immigration policies affect farmers. 

“A lot of people say, ‘You ain’t going to make it,'” Hinnenkamp said. “That makes me want to prove them wrong.”

To make it work, Hinnenkamp has some high-tech help. Two robotic milkers and three other robots that push food or manure do much of the grunt work in his 140-cow barn. He runs the farm with his mother Donna Jansen and his wife Kathryn Hinnenkamp. Two-thousand pigs on a nearby farm and 30 rental units help diversify their income. 

His robots cost about $250,000 each and will take eight years to pay for themselves, Hinnenkamp said. 

Every investment requires calculation and review of costs and benefits.

“No matter what I’m doing, I’m going to pencil it out,” Hinnenkamp said. “In farming, if you’re not going to run a pencil, you’re not going to make it.”

Math was his favorite subject growing up. The farm is a mile north of the Melrose schools where Hinnenkamp played basketball and football in high school. He spent a year at St. Cloud State University and played football there.

He transferred to Alexandria Technical and Community College where he studied manufacturing engineering technology and fluid power technology. That knowledge comes in handy as he works with robots daily. 

Robot barns

The barn is a quiet place. The cows have water beds — water-filled mats in open stalls — they can use when they want to lay down. They have food available along one side of the pen. They get something like a candy (a corn pellet) when they’re milked, Hinnenkamp said. And they line up to be milked by the robots when they want to.

“If we can make a cow’s life boring and comfortable, we generally end up with a more productive cow,” said David Tomsche, a veternarian and owner of Leedstone, the Melrose-based supplier of Hinnenkamp’s robots. 

About 2 percent of cows in the country are milked by robots and that number is rising, he said. 

“One by one, people are giving serious thought to box robot barns,” Tomsche said. The other robotic system available is a carousel parlor, where the cows are gathered up and put in stalls arranged in a circle that rotates. 

Some farmers are sticking with their tie-stall barns, in which they hook up their cows by hand to an automatic milker in the stall. 

About half of Minnesota’s roughly 3,200 dairy farms keep tie-stall barns, said Jim Salfer, regional educator for the University of Minnesota Extension Dairy Program. That places Hinnenkamp on the front lines of change in Stearns County and the state. 

“The more expensive labor is, the more appealing robots look,” Salfer said. “Labor is really hard to find and about half the labor on a larger dairy is milking the cows.”

Hinnenkamp used to spend nine hours a day milking 120 cows. 

His father lobbied for the robotic system, because they needed to replace the barn anyway. Hinnenkamp’s father died unexpectedly doing fieldwork in 2016, a couple years after the family launched the system with box robots.

That first three weeks in the barn with the robots were tough, Hinnenkamp said, because the cows weren’t used to the system and the reward they got for milking.

“The first time you have to push them in,” he said. “The first week you have to live out here.”

Labor and trade policy

Early in his presidency President Donald Trump put a target on North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. Now there’s talk of renegotiating NAFTA. 

Those in the dairy industry do not want to lose Mexico and Canada as markets for their milk. 

“We need to be able to get rid of our commodities beyond the United States,” Hinnenkamp said. “We produce too much.”

His cows produce about 3,000 gallons every two days. He sells it to Land O’Lakes.

Hinnenkamp has given up hope that the U.S. Farm Bill will help him. Some of the farmers who paid into to a public insurance program didn’t reap any protection from it, he said. 

Congress recently put some fixes in place for that Margin Protection Program for Dairy Farmers earlier this year, dropping premiums, waiving a fee and tweaking other details. 

Dairy farmers also keep an eye on federal immigration policy. Immigrants provide labor on bigger midwestern dairy farms, but strong talk and new policies have curtailed illegal immigration from Mexico. 

There are other challenges with farm labor — a shortage of workers across industries. And milking must be done in the morning and evening, requiring split shifts or part-time workers. 

“It’s a revolving door, trying to keep farm help,” Hinnenkamp said. “It’s dirty work and a lot of times you don’t get paid very well.”  

He came back to the farm, in part because he wanted to be his own boss. It’s a good place to raise a family too, he said. He has a daughter who’s just over one, and his wife is due with another child in several weeks. 

“I had to get up and work before school, so will they,” Hinnenkamp said.

Future of farming

Automation means an end to long daily hours in the barn, but running a herd is still a 24-7 job. Hinnenkamp gets an alert on his phone if the milk isn’t cooling, or if there’s a series of failed milkings. 

When cow No. 524 stepped up to the box for one of about three daily milkings last week, she weighed 1250 pounds. The robot scanned her udderand sprayed disinfectant before hooking her up for milking. When she finished, the machine disconnected, applied something to block bacteria and released her to the barn. 

The data that robots collect can be used to tell if a cow is sick before it even shows symptoms, Salfer said. The future for dairy farmers likely holds more of that computing and data collection. 

Hinnenkamp gets a reading on the cow’s temperature, her weight and milk volume for each milking and the computer analyzes the data for him. He knows by temperature when a cow is ready to be bred. 

“I know more about them than I know about myself,” Hinnenkamp said. 


Source: SC Times

What is metritis costing you

Metritis is a common fresh cow disease that strikes early lactation females, usually within the first 10 days after calving. Incidence rates of metritis and subclinical endometritis range from 10% to 30% in herds.1 Even more worrisome, this reproductive challenge can be hard to prevent and difficult to properly treat. And when left untreated, it can be extremely costly to your dairy and overall cow health.

Metritis has real economic consequences. Each case can cost between $304 and $354, represented by the following costs:2

  • Culling within the first 60 days in milk: $71
  • Milk production reduction: $77
  • Fertility and reproductive performance problems: $98
  • Treatment and associated milk withdrawal: $58 to $108

Along with reducing profitability, metritis decreases performance in many ways.  

  • Risk of culling increases by 5.3% during the first 60 days of lactation2
  • Depression in fertility, an increase of 18 days open2
  • Reduced milk production, an average of 4.9 pounds per day less milk production in the first 120 days post-calving3

With proper management, these costly consequences can be minimized. An effective management plan includes:

  • Good nutrition
  • Careful monitoring
  • Proper diagnosis
  • Early intervention
  • Effective treatment

To develop a plan to minimize the effects of Metritis on your dairy and for an effective treatment,, work with your veterinarian to establish an on-label treatment regimen as early as possible. EXCEDE® (cefiofur crystalline free acid) Sterile Suspension or EXCENEL® RTU EZ (ceftiofur hydrochloride) Sterile Suspension are the only on-label treatments for metritis backed by the Residue Free Guarantee.* Closely monitoring cows for early symptoms and diagnosis of metritis are keys to any fresh cow program. Finally, completing a full antibiotic treatment as recommended by your veterinarian, even if the cow looks healthier, is important to ensure full recovery and minimize risk of relapse.


The importance of protein in dry cow diets

Significant advances in dry cow nutrition have been made in the last 20 years. Most recently, interest has shifted to the protein needs of transition cows. Advancements in the models for ration balancing have made it possible to estimate the metabolizable protein (MP) supply and needs of dry cows, while the use of crude protein still remains important. This gives nutritionists the opportunity to formulate diets for dry cows based on metabolizable protein and amino acids.
The majority of fetal growth (70 percent) occurs during the last 60 to 70 days of pregnancy. Dry matter intake during this time can vary significantly, typically dropping, especially in the last 21 days prior to calving. The cow starts mobilizing protein two weeks before calving, and this continues until about six weeks post-calving. This not only affects the energy status of the cow, but also the protein balance. By supplying the close-up dry cow with adequate metabolizable protein, without greatly exceeding the energy requirement, the cow can increase the nitrogen retention in her tissues, thereby decreasing the amount of protein mobilization before calving. This puts the cow at a better protein status at calving and helps to maintain that protein status just after calving when dry matter intake is low and the cow is susceptible to transition challenges.
The cow uses that mobilized protein for milk protein synthesis and, to a lesser extent, the production of glucose or energy. Protein and amino acids play a central role in many physiological functions, including immune system function and cell renewal. The transition cow is at greatest risk for infectious diseases during this time. Insufficient dietary protein supply can put stress on the system and result in the following issues post-calving:
  • Retained placenta
  • Metritis
  • Poor colostrum quality
  • Poor production and reproductive performance

To maximize colostrum quality, the dry cow diet should supply adequate metabolizable protein while also controlling energy.

What is the recommendation for adequate protein supply?
  • One group dry cows, 110 to 120 percent of ME requirements
  • 1,200 grams per day of MP
Far-off cows (dry off until three weeks pre-calving):
  • 110 to 120 percent of ME requirements
  • 1,000 grams per day of MP
Close-up cows (last three weeks before calving):
  • 110 to 120 percent of ME requirements
  • 1,200 to 1,400 grams per day of MP
There is no benefit to feeding more than the recommended amount of protein. In a lactating cow, the rumen microbes will typically supply some metabolizable protein if there are adequate fermentable carbohydrates and nitrogen supplied in the diet. Since dry cow diets are low in energy and fermentable carbohydrates, especially starch, rumen undegradable protein (RUP) product typically needs to be included in the diet in order to achieve the appropriate amount of metabolizable protein and amino acid profile.
Source: Hubbard

UBC students’ research connects cattle’s physical activity with fertility

Research could eliminate need for hormone protocols

They might not move very fast, but PhD students at the UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre say dairy cows reap huge fertility benefits from physical activity, and tracking their movements could change the way farmers approach breeding their herds.

Tracey Burnett is in the fourth year of her PhD studies, but came to the centre in 2009 as a herd hand during her undergraduate degree. The UBC student has been focusing on using automated activity monitors to measure dairy cows’ estrus-expression, or displays of fertility behaviour.

When the cows are about to ovulate, or “come into heat,” they have huge behavioural changes, Burnett said.

“They start walking a lot, mounting other cows… These monitors – similar to a FitBit – measure how much they usually move and compare it to previous days,” she said.

“When [the cow is] in heat, it will increase a lot. There will be an alert for the farmers and then they know when to inseminate the cows.”

Not only can a cow’s activity level indicate ovulation, but student research has shown that the more the cows move, the more fertile they become.

Now, using movement-tracking monitors, farmers can be more selective about which cows they breed, decreasing the risk of an embryo loss.

“Right now we’re super focused on asking ‘Why?’ ” Burnett said. “Why is there even this connection? But in the future, we’ve been talking about ways that we can get them to move around more – maybe having more solid surfaces for the floors [or] allowing them to go outside.”

PhD student Augusto Madureira’s research has many of the same goals as Burnett’s.

The Brazilian student has been studying factors affecting increased activity in the cows and looks at a specific protein associated with gestation to figure out just how that physical activity impacts embryo quality.

“A few studies we did in Brazil showed that you can predict pregnancy loss,” he said. “We [are] trying to see how, when the [cows’] physical activity changes, how it impacts those proteins. Animals that have high increases of activity – they are most likely to be pregnant. They also are more likely to not lose the embryo.”

Before their research, Burnett and Madureira say they didn’t know the full impact physical activity had on cow fertility.

“We thought that only the machines can detect [it], but when we see the big differences we [started] to ask, why?” Madureira said.

While the students are still focusing their research to look at the “why questions” rather than the “how,” Burnett said the findings could have huge implications for the way dairy farmers go about breeding their stock.

“Traditionally, farmers had to go into the barn and watch the cows for heat,” she said.

The time-consuming and, frankly, boring process of looking for signs of ovulation in cattle led farmers to use fertility treatments to instigate ovulation. But the treatments are an ongoing expense and still time-consuming on a large dairy farm, the students explained.

“Now that we have these monitors, we can come back to how we originally did it because it doesn’t take all this effort and work…like sitting in the barn,” Burnett said. “It’s still work but you’re able to get the same outcome by just looking at the behaviour of the animal, as others are [getting] by using fertility treatments.

“It’s very hard to get away from the fertility treatments but at least you don’t need to do it to 100 per cent of your cows.

“You can be very successful just looking at the natural behaviour of the cows.”

The Dairy Centre’s manager, Nelson Dinn, said the research is just some of the many studies contributing to progress in the dairy industry.

“Basically, it’s using technology to monitor natural behaviour for the benefit of the farm,” he said.

“And hopefully they get that published in a scientific journal somewhere, but the other important thing is that all of this research is for the benefit of the dairy industry across Canada, North America and around the world.”

“We are doing work in a very applied sense, so it can be adopted on dairy farms quite easily.

“Learning how animals learn, and what motivates cattle, we can take the information we learn here and apply it to how facilities are designed for the best interest of the animal.

“That’s how the dairy industry can move forward.”

The UBC Dairy Centre has been operating off Highway 7 in Agassiz since 1996 and is a western Canada leader in the study of animal welfare and reproduction.

Dinn said there are from 20 to 30 UBC students conducting research at the centre at any given time.


SourceAgassiz Harrison Observer

BEYOND COLOSTRUM! “Winning the Race to the Milking Line”

It might seem obvious to veteran dairy owners to say that the first feeding of colostrum has an enormous impact on calf health.  However, modern calf managers need to go beyond simple transfer of antibodies and learn ways to manage all aspects of calf immunity, health, and nutrition.  If colostrum is seen as the starting line … then the milking line is the finish line.

Expand Your Viewpoint: “There’s More to Colostrum Than Antibodies”

If workers asked you, curious neighbors or investigating journalists what answer would you give to the question, “Why is the transfer of colostrum from cow to calf important?”  We can quickly give the rote answer, “Colostrum supports immune function and disease resistance by providing antibodies.” What we may not be unintentionally overlooking are the studies out of places like Texas Tech University, where associate professor nutritional immunology, Michael Ballou, feels that we need to be looking beyond antibodies. Farmers have been largely focused on calf health. Research is reporting that there is an expanded role for colostrum that relates to nutrition.

Feed Calves for Success: “Nutrition Impacts GI Maturation”

In presenting research updates at a Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products Calf Summit in 2016 Ballou elaborated, “GI maturation stars in first trimester in utero, but some components of the GI immune system only develop after birth.” Researchers are reporting that actions taken to improve calf health are much more available to the calf if it is assisted in rapid GI system maturation.  Ballou explains: “Rapid GI system maturation helps break down feed ingredients into nutrients available to the calf and closes the open doors to the harmful micro-organisms that carry the potential for calfhood disease.”

Ballou feels the GI maturation is important to calf health and is affected by colostrum management.  He says, “Many compounds in colostrum and transition milk are involved in post-natal development of the GI system.  Improved calf health through colostrum management should also focus on improving GI maturation.”

Learn from New Research: “Expand Your Protocols for Early Calf Management”

Sometimes it seems that there are too many issues fighting for the attention of the dairy farm owner-manager.  We think it should be as simple as raising, feeding and milking animals.  Collect the milk.  Accept the paycheck.  That line from dairy calf to dairy check is no longer as straightforward or as profitable as it has been in the past.  Growing evidence says that it is costly to ignore all the issues that impact starting dairy calves off on in a way that will allow them to be productive cows in the future. It’s time to manage beyond simple colostrum antibody transfer.

Four areas with potential for positive impact include, but are not limited to:

  1. Raise the level of early nutrition
  2. Prebiotics
  3. Probiotics
  4. Hyperimmunized egg proteins to improve intestinal health

Granted a list of four items is not threatening because of length, however, like any other opportunity, understanding all four and putting them into action could be.  The challenge for dairy owners and calf managers is to get the advice, training, and support that enables them to put improved protocols into place. Let’s look at each one of these individually.

  1. Better fluid Better disease resistance and growth.
    Sometimes what is in front of us every day is the hardest area to single out for change.  Feeding calves seems simple enough.  Unfortunately, the negative results are hard to spot until diseases challenges arrive later in life.  Daryl Nydam, an associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, performed an intensive calf study designed to evaluate the impact of nutrition on disease resistance.  Nydam and his calf team researched groups of calves fed commercially available milk replacers and challenged with Cryptosporidium and other pathogens. Results from the trial showed that “calves fed a Conventional milk replacer diet outlined under the National Research Council (NRC) 2001 recommendations (20 percent fat a 1 pound of dry matter per day) was not enough to meet the calves’ maintenance requirements, provide disease resistance and supply adequate mega calories for growth.
    Dairy managers are being urged to reduce the risk of disease through nutrition management because of the effectiveness of “supplying things directly where they are needed.” explains Ballou. Nydham makes other clarifying points. “With Cryptosporidium being prevalent on every dairy of any size, every pre-weaned calf faces disease challenges.” And furthermore, he adds, “The likelihood is that disease-causing pathogens will never be completely eradicated from a calf’s environment.” With this in mind, Nydham researched how nutrition can impact the health and performance of pre-weaned calves. He is excited about extending that research through the life of the heifer, through her first lactation and beyond. The takeaway for those working on the front lines is that nutritional inputs need to be elevated in two steps: the first two weeks of life and then management of the next period that calves are fed fluid.
  2. Use Prebiotics as a Feed Additive
    Prebiotics are dietary components that are not digested by the calf but are used by bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract to improve their growth. Prebiotics mainly used in calves feeding have carbohydrate as the main nutrient which produces volatile fatty acids, which further may increase nutrient digestibility and subsequently increase feed efficiency. As better data on structure to function information accrues as well as individual metabolic profiles of target bacteria are compiled, it may be easier to select prebiotics for specific purposes. Good management practices to optimize nutrition, immune status, and decrease the risk of disease are vital. The use of prebiotics may be a viable option to increase the proliferation of commensal bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, modulate feeding behavior, and increase immune function to optimize calf health. It falls to calf managers to responsibly solicit the help of your nutritionist or veterinarian in choosing a science-based research proven product.
  3. Feed probiotics to manage a healthy population of gut microbes.
    One non-antibiotic approach to improving preweaned calf health is to add probiotics – or “good” gut bacteria – to milk or milk replacer to protect the intestinal tract from disease-causing bacteria and keep calves healthy. In an issue of Calf Notes, Dr. Jim Quigley, with Provimi North America, reviewed the results of an evaluation of dozens of studies that looked at the effects of probiotics on calf growth and reached these observations:

    1. Using probiotics during the first 60 days of life can improve growth and feed efficiency in calves fed milk replacer.
    2. Those same benefits were not realized in calves fed whole milk.
    3. The response to probiotics was more apparent earlier in life.
    4. Probiotics had less impact as calves began to consume more dry feed.
    5. A simple, one-strain probiotic was just as effective as products containing multiple bacterial strains.
      (See the full text of Jim Quigley’s “Calf Note 178” at Calf
  4. Add Hyperimmunized egg proteins to improve calf intestinal health
    Another area of study that is producing encouraging results relates to hyperimmunized egg proteins. They report. “At birth, calves can be fed low levels (1 to 3 grams) of these egg products to introduce these antibodies to the calf in combination with the colostrum to begin building a defense system against many common pathogens. The antibodies from the eggs work at the epithelial level of the calf’s intestine in several ways. They identify and bind specific pathogenic bacteria, rendering them inactive. They also “bundle” these bound, inactivated bacteria together (agglutination) for secretion via feces. They recognize the processes of specific viruses so these viruses are neutralized and cannot enter the cells. A critical factor in the effectiveness in the egg antibodies is the affinity the antibody has for the specific antigen.”

Give Your Calves the Best Start!  Give Your Dairy Herd a Better Future!

There are approximately 670 to 770 days between birth of a dairy calf and the first day in the milking line. Each dairy calf must make progress from the starting line of its birth to the milking line.  How that progress is managed will determine the success of the dairy’s bottom line. An added bonus is that maternal nutrition affects the next generation. Races can be won or lost at the starting line.  Proper investments of time and effort pay off in the long run. Attention to detail in raising healthy calves will ensure quality replacement heifers for the next generation.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

First colostrum feeding protocols have enjoyed the attention they deserve but it is now time to dig deeper and recognize the opportunities that are available for taking the next step in early calf health and immunity management. Until calves grow and enter the milking line with the ability to perform the full expression of their genetic potential, there is still more to be done.




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Protect The Cow Herd And Get Calves Off To The Right Start

Flexibility in protocols gives producers best opportunity to protect the unborn calf

While spring calving season is just around the corner and fall calving herds are about to wean, it’s never too early to think about protecting the next calf crop by implementing a strong fetal protection vaccine program.

“It’s important to get that calf going good, and the right health all starts from the beginning,” said Cody Jorgensen, a partner in Jorgensen Land and Cattle near Ideal, South Dakota. “If you aren’t off to a good start, it’s a battle the rest of the way through that calf’s life.”

“What we’re doing by using fetal protection vaccines is that we are effectively protecting the calf prior to birth. If you couple that with a proper nutritional program, we’re setting that calf up for success in being able to reach its full genetic potential, from the time it’s conceived all the way through the production cycle,” says Mark Alley, DVM, Technical Services veterinarian with Zoetis.

While research has shown that a modified-live vaccination program can be highly effective in helping prevent abortions caused by infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) and persistent infection caused by bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) viruses Types 1 and 2, maintaining a strictly modified-live vaccination program that fits the cattle working schedule can be challenging for veterinarians and producers alike.

A nearly three-year study at Auburn University evaluated the efficacy of a vaccination program where heifers were all vaccinated with two doses of a modified-live reproductive vaccine (BOVI-SHIELD GOLD FP® 5) prior to breeding.1 At pregnancy check, the vaccinated heifers were split into two groups — one continued to get BOVI-SHIELD GOLD FP 5 and a second group was given CATTLEMASTER GOLD FP®5. The study also maintained a control group, which received no vaccinations. 

Study results in the control group revealed the severity of the challenge model with 14 of 15 cows either aborting BVD-positive calves or delivering a BVD persistently infected calf. Researchers observed significant (p < 0.0001) protection against both virulent BVD and IBR exposure in the vaccinated groups with both vaccine groups providing similarly high levels of protection.1

Dr. Alley says it is important for producers and veterinarians to look at the labels to make sure they are selecting vaccines that are effective in protecting against the reproductive forms of these important diseases. This means looking for the following information on the vaccine label:
• “FP” in the name of the product, which is a designation that the vaccine provides fetal protection
• Indication to prevent or control IBR-related abortions
• Indication to prevent or control BVD persistently infected calves



KNG is Dedicated to Dairy

Kent Nutrition Group (KNG) hosted nearly 100 dairy producers, nutritionists, and industry specialists at their inaugural KNG Dairy School held at Kent Corporation headquarters this week. The school entitled, Dedicated to Dairy, focused on transition cow nutrition and their crucial role in a dairy’s long-term success. Industry speakers shared their latest research findings and management protocols for moving these cows into milk production.

The conference program was intentionally balanced with science and practical on-farm management experience to ensure participants received a well-rounded update. Key dairy industry sponsors and the KNG Dairy Team are dedicated to dairy and ensuring continued success for our dairy customers.

“Success for dairies in the current market environment requires dairymen to have access to a team of experts and the understanding that herd performance depends on quality nutrition and cow care,” according to, Heather Hunt, KNG Dairy Technical Specialist and school organizer. “At Kent Nutrition Group, we realized an opportunity to become a true partner with our dairy customers by sharing our nutritional expertise and offering this unique training opportunity.”

Kent Nutrition Group understands a dairy’s financial success must be supported by a team effort. Increasing herd efficiency, health, and comfort can help lead to overall profitability. The KNG Dairy School was designed to help increase the knowledge level and skill sets of the KNG sales team, industry partners and dairy participants and achieved that goal in that it was awarded 12 continuing education units (CEUs) by the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists (ARPAS).

“Being awarded the ARPAS CEUs for the KNG Dairy School validated the level of content that our meeting provided,” Hunt concluded. “KNG is proud to bring this level of training to our team and dairy partners.”


Dairy cows adjusting to Daylight Saving Time, too

With Daylight Saving Time here again, a lot of us may have found ourselves dragging on Sunday, adjusting to an hour less of sleep after the clocks sprang ahead an hour overnight.

It’s not just people, though, who have to adjust.

Dairy cows are also creatures of habit, and the time change can take some getting used to for them.

“I wouldn’t say they’re grumpy, but usually when we get here in the morning, they’re ready to go, and today they lag a little bit behind more,” said Magdalene Richmond, whose family owns Richmond Farms Dairy in North Collins.

Every day, 200 cows are milked at the farm starting at 5:30 a.m. and keeping those cows feeling good is very serious business.

“We have a nutritionist that comes, like a dietician for humans, and they balance the diet,” Richmond explained. “With the feed that we have on hand, we take samples and get it analyzed, and then they come back and they adjust everything. They have sand beds in the cow barn, that’s very comfortable for them, and we make sure that they’re full, and keep them happy, clean water, fans in the summer.”

Bottom line: Happy cows make more milk, and that’s critical for a family farm’s bottom line. “This is our livelihood,” Richmond said. “They mean everything to us.”

And, with Daylight Saving Time heralding the arrival of spring, Richmond is looking forward to conditions that make her cows happier.

“Now that the days are getting longer and it’s going to start getting warmer, it will be better,” she said. “They can start going outside and opening all the windows and the curtains and getting fresh air.”

Even so, Richmond says this week, the cows probably won’t give as much milk as usual as they adjust to the new schedule.

Some dairy farmers try to make the time change less jarring for their animals by moving the milking times a little each day before the clocks change.

For the Richmond Farms Dairy cows, the change is done all at once, though.

They’re each milked three times a day, so there’s less pressure on their udders between milkings, and there’s less pressure on the farmhands to get them in at exactly the same time for the first milking on the first day of Daylight Saving Time.

“They don’t see a big difference,” Richmond said, when asked about how her cows adjust to the time change.

“For us it’s a big difference. We’re really tired,” she added.

On the other hand, Daylight Saving Time does bring the arrival of longer daylight hours, and that’s good news for the cows. More light keeps cows happier, and again, happy cows make more milk.

“They actually need about 16 to 18 hours a day of light,” Richmond said explained.

For farms with lights on timers in the barns, those timers should be adjusted with the beginning of Daylight Saving Time. Richmond says their barns still have the lights on manual switches, so they don’t have to make any changes.

Of course, with the hour lost for the beginning of Daylight Saving Time, everyone gets an hour back when the clocks fall back later in the year. Richmond says, that takes another round of adjustments for the people and the cows, alike.


The first 15 minutes: Why they matter to newborn calves

6 calving tips that can make a lifetime of difference

The things human caretakers do — and don’t do — can have a lasting impact on the survival and health of newborn calves.

“Events in the first 15 minutes after birth can make a lifetime of difference for newborns,” says Amanda Fordyce, Ph.D., technical calf consultant for Milk Products.

Here are six calving do’s to help calves get their best possible start:

  1. Hands off at delivery

 When we see two hooves emerging, our natural inclination is to grab ahold and help mama out. But Fordyce says some important physical and biological events are happening during birth, and normally they take time.

As an example, you may notice when cows deliver naturally, they pause for a few moments after the calf’s ribcage passes and the calf takes its first breaths of air. At this time, the placenta transfers its blood supply to the calf. This blood transfer contains about 1 pint of blood and is crucial for timely placenta expulsion and a thrifty calf.

“As long as the cow is progressing normally and the calf is in the correct positon, with no signs of stress from the cow or calf, the best strategy is to monitor the process, but let her and Mother Nature do the work,” advises Fordyce.

  1. Ensure those first breaths

  If you are concerned the calf is not breathing or thriving like it should, you can intervene when the calf is out to help it take those critical first gasps of air,” says Fordyce.

Suggested methods are poking a clean piece of straw in the nostrils or pouring cold water on the calf’s forehead. Also, help the calf sit up on its sternum by tucking the front legs under the body.

“This sternal recumbency position helps ensure airways are open and makes it easier for calves to breathe,” says Fordyce.

Monitor the calf’s breathing and overall thriftiness during this time. Irregular breathing patterns and a slight gurgling sound from the calf is normal and can be expected.

  1. No dangling calves

 There is a school of thought that every newborn calf should be lifted upside down to help clear fluid from its lungs.

“Research has shown this practice does indeed expel fluids, but they are contents of the stomach — not the lungs,” says Fordyce.

The result of turning the calf upside down is harmful because the unnatural body position stresses the calf and causes the internal organs to press against and crush the diaphragm, making it more difficult for the calf to breathe.

  1. Don’t give up on stillbirths

 “Some calves may be born not breathing but may still have a heartbeat,” says Fordyce.

Go the extra mile by feeling for a heartbeat under the left leg on the rib cage. If you feel even a slight heartbeat, vigorously rub the calf’s chest and use the straw-poke and ice water techniques to stimulate them. You may be surprised by how many of them “wake up” and perform just fine.

  1. Limit the warming box

 “Warming boxes are used with the best of intentions. In instances of very cold weather they are necessary, but can actually harm calves in the long run if used for too long or not cleaned regularly. If not cleaned regularly, warming boxes can serve as reservoirs of harmful bacteria, which can be easily absorbed by newborns,” shares Fordyce.

Plus, spending too long (48 or more hours) in an ultra-warm environment can deplete calves’ internal stores of brown fat, leaving them less capable of making thermal adjustments when they are transitioned to a normal environment.

Fordyce suggests a better approach is to use the clean warming box sparingly until the calf’s hair coat is dry (up to 24 hours) before placing it in a dry, well-ventilated and well-bedded environment. Consider using calf jackets and extra straw bedding in frigid conditions (less than 30 degrees Fahrenheit).

  1. A rush order of colostrum, please

Calves can absorb critical antibodies and other immune factors from their dams only through colostrum and their ability to do so drops rapidly after 24 hours,” says Fordyce.

As soon as the calf is breathing and sitting upright, your next most important task is delivering 3-4 quarts (10 percent of the calf’s bodyweight ofhigh-quality, biosecure colostrum within the first 2 hours of life. Use a Brix refractometer reading of 22 or higher to determine high-quality maternal colostrum.

“This process can be expedited by using previously harvested pasteurized colostrum from other dams in the herd or feeding a high-quality colostrum replacer with 150 grams IgG (globulin protein) per dose,” says Fordyce.

To prevent delivering a large load of harmful bacteria with beneficial colostrum, consider keeping a separate stash of sanitized bottles, nipples and esophageal feeders for colostrum feeding only.

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

Milk Products, based in Chilton, Wis., manufacturers high-quality animal milk replacers and young animal health products. Using its innovative manufacturing technology, Milk Products produces over 700 unique animal nutrition products for numerous independent feed manufacturers, wholesale distributors, and large retail chains. Our customers choose whether these products are sold under their private label brand, or under the Sav-A-Caf® brand which is manufactured and marketed by Milk Products.

Compost Bedded Pack Barns Offer Cow Comfort, Higher Production

Southwest Missouri dairy producer David Gray is one of the first in his area to use compost bedded pack barns. Cows raised using this system enjoy greater comfort, produce more milk and have fewer health problems. ( Linda Geist, University of Missouri Extension )

Happy, healthy cows give more milk.

Southwestern Missouri dairy farmers find that cows housed in compost bedded pack barns are healthy, happy and produce more milk, says University of Missouri Extension dairy specialist Ted Probert.

Bedded pack barns are structures used to house livestock by continually adding new bedding to the living area. Large, open-air bedded barns provide comfortable resting and walking areas instead of individual stalls and concrete alleyways typically used in freestall operations.

Probert says southwestern Missouri’s many sawmills give livestock owners an ample supply of finely ground sawdust for packing. The sawdust provides livestock with soft, safe resting and walking areas. Livestock operators till the sawdust, which contains animal waste, and it builds into compost over time.

Sawdust prevents foot and leg injuries commonly associated with concrete and hard dirt surfaces, Probert says. Compost bedded pack barns tend to create less odor than other manure storage systems. Farmers clean barns once or twice yearly and apply the nutrient-rich material to cropland.

Cow comfort is king, Probert says. Most farmers equip their barns with curtains that lower during rain, snow and windstorms. Ceiling or side fans circulate air and cool cows. Some barns have sprinkler systems to cool cows during periods of excessive heat.

The barns allow animals to walk freely to feeding, watering and grazing areas.

These barns offer great value at a low cost, Probert says. He says cost sharing for pack barns is now available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s EQIP program. For more information, go to

One southwestern Missouri dairy producer received advice on compost bedded pack barns from numerous MU Extension specialists, including Probert, Joe Zulovich, Bob Schultheis and retired dairy specialist Barry Steevens.

They guided Mountain Grove dairy producer David Gray through the decision-making for his pack barn. Gray Family Dairy includes David, wife Rhonda and three children.

Gray says he has seen improved milk production of 15-18 pounds daily per cow since building his 60-by-140-foot pack barn in 2014. His entire 78-cow Holstein herd has access to the barn.

Gray uses sawdust from area sawmills for bedding. He tills the compost daily and spreads it on 55 acres of cornfields used for silage twice a year. “We’ve seen a big benefit in organic matter and fertility,” he says.

Gray’s barn features large overhead ceiling fans that cool cows and ventilate the barn. He raises or lowers side curtains as temperatures change. Lights are on a timer. They provide extended “daytime” for cows. Research shows that this increases milk production.

He also has seen lower somatic cell counts, a main indicator of milk quality. Milk buyers pay higher prices for low herd SCC. Buyers also refuse to buy milk with levels above targeted amounts.

Cows also eat more when comfortable, Gray says, and his herd has increased feed intake significantly. Increased comfort reduces feed intake lags during heat stress. Cows also have ready access to feed in nearby feed barns.

Gray notices other signs of improved cow comfort. He sees fewer foot injuries, and improved udder and teat health. Their relaxation level is so strong that he is sometimes unsure if cows are relaxing or dead when he walks into the pack barn. Another benefit is improved heat detection. Comfortable cows and better footing improve mounting. Producers can better monitor breeding because animals are located in a central area.

Cows are free to roam to other areas but they return to the pack. “What do they choose? They choose to go to an open gate but they choose to come back to where the comfort is,” Gray says.

The barn provides comfort for dairy herd owners too, he says. He sleeps better on cold winter nights knowing that his cows are not lying on snow-covered pastures.

Source: University of Missouri

Dairy Sense: Qualifying for the Six Pound Club

Increasing milk components can boost milk price even if milk volume stays the same.

Production perspective:

The New Year does not appear too promising in regard to a milk price that can maintain adequate milk income for a positive cash flow. More farms are being restricted on the volume of milk they can sell. A new strategy is striving for a higher milk price by improving milk components while maintaining flat production. There has been discussion about using a benchmark on the pounds of components produced. Some have talked about seven pounds and others have used six pounds of components (both fat and protein) as a goal. The problem that is surfacing—is this an achievable benchmark?

Table 1 illustrates a few examples of what the milk fat and protein would have to be in order to achieve a minimum six pounds of components. Assuming a Holstein herd, it is nearly impossible for cows averaging less than 80 pounds of milk to achieve six pounds of components. The real opportunity is for operations currently averaging over 80 to 85 pounds of milk.

Table 1. Example milk pounds and percent components to achieve six pounds.

Milk production, lbs Milk fat, % Milk protein, % Pounds of components
70 5.0 3.6 6.02
75 4.5 3.5 6.00
80 4.3 3.2 6.00
85 4.0 3.1 6.04
90 3.7 3.0 6.03
95 3.5 3.0 6.18

The dairy industry is struggling with product surplus and low milk prices that are not sustainable for financial health. This does not leave a lot of options to minimize accounts payable. The Extension Dairy Team met recently to re-evaluate some standard benchmarks. Currently the production goal lists 70 pounds for 2X milking and 80 pounds for 3X milking. Considering the improvements in genetics and feed quality over the past decades are these appropriate? There are herds milking 2X that exceed 80 pounds and there are 3X herds exceeding 90 pounds. If the dairy industry is going to succeed in Pennsylvania maybe the bar should be set higher? The downside to this approach is more dairy farms going out of business if they can’t meet these ever more competitive standards. This is not a very optimistic view, but the industry is changing. The U.S. is being impacted significantly by how dairy policy is being implemented across the world.

It is not too late to assess management practices on the farm and examine opportunities for improvement. Even farms exceeding these benchmarks are always looking at options to do things better and more efficiently. In today’s markets it is no longer viable to farm without knowing the operation’s cost of production. Decisions need to be made based on how they impact the breakeven cost of the operation. The goal should be setting the bar higher and higher to achieve better herd financial performance.

Action plan for improving milk components

Goal – Calculate the herd’s current pounds of components per cow and set goals accordingly.

  • Step 1: Using DairyComp 305 or PCDART, examine the changes in components during the various seasons. Discuss opportunities for making improvements in both milk fat and milk protein.
  • Step 2: Working with the nutritionist, examine forage quality, quantity, and other feeds that can help improve components and increase or maintain production.
  • Step 3: Track pounds of components per cow monthly and share this information during profit team meetings with the appropriate advisors.

Economic perspective:

Monitoring must include an economic component to determine if a management strategy is working or not. For the lactating cows income over feed costs is a good way to check that feed costs are in line with the level of milk production. Starting with July 2014’s milk price, income over feed costs was calculated using average intake and production for the last six years from the Penn State dairy herd. The ration contained 63% forage consisting of corn silage, haylage, and hay. The concentrate portion included corn grain, candy meal, sugar, canola meal, roasted soybeans, Optigen, and a mineral vitamin mix. All market prices were used. Also included are the feed costs for dry cows, springing heifers, pregnant heifers and growing heifers. The rations reflect what has been fed to these animal groups at the Penn State dairy herd. All market prices were used.

Income over feed cost using standardized rations and production data from the Penn State dairy herd.

Note: Penn State’s December milk price: $18.17/cwt; feed cost/cow: $5.51; average milk production: 84.0 lbs.

Feed cost/non-lactating animal/day.



Source: PennState Extension

Robotics companies look to fill gaps for struggling dairy farmers

An area dairy farmer says recent years have been some of the toughest he’s seen in almost four decades of farming.

“Right now, some of the toughest we’ve had in my 35 years,” says Daniel Pearson, an organic dairy farmer in River Falls. “It’s definitely a time to more than tighten your belt, but really look at expenses and really look at doing as much as you can to market everything that you have.”

Now, robotics companies are hoping to fill gaps in the industry.

The 55th annual Eau Claire Farm Show features education, entertainment, supplies and the latest technology gracing the agricultural industry.

Pearson says the labor shortage and low milk prices are factors in the tough market. So how is the problem being addressed? Enter: farm robots.

“Here is our automatic feed pusher,” says Greg Lueth, the Sales Manager at Valmetal USA, INC., pointing to a large, orange machine. “Which will automatically feed the cows and help push the feed up, keeping the material fresh.”

“Different workers in the workforce have gone to automatic, more robot feeding or robot pushing,” explains Lueth. “There’s more technology coming to help the farmer make life a little bit easier for them.”

Over at Dairyland Equipment, sales representative Greg Luebke is seeing a similar shift.

“There’s a lot of good help out there, but we’re seeing more and more of a trend going to the robotic milking, looking into it as an alternative,” Luebke explains.

“With the robot, we’re seeing cows getting milked multiple times a day and on time, we’re seeing health benefits.”

Pearson has not made the switch to robotics, but says he’s looked into it.

“As we’ve expanded, I’ve noticed that there are some efficiencies where it would be nice, I’m just not sure my age, I’d want to invest in it,” says Pearson. “So it’s definitely a movement. It’s like a lot of things in farming, we’re so independent, each one of us dairying, that we have to figure out what works for us in each situation.”

For now, Pearson looks to the future in a positive direction.

“There’s still opportunity, there’s always hope, we’re just in some of the toughest times right now,” he says.


You get what you select for – Know The Facts For Breeding Healthier Cattle

In cattle breeding, the saying goes “You get what you select for”. Another saying is “The birds eventually come home to roost”. Both these saying have come true for the dairy cattle breeding industry over the past seventy years. Breeders selected for ever-increasing milk yield, increased stature and frame and udders held high off the ground. As a result, today, cows produce almost three times more milk, they are about 5-6” taller and weigh 30% more and udder depth, under good management, is not the problem it once was for machine milking.

However, with that focused attention on those attributes came: 1) lower and lower conception in milking cows; 2) less healthy animals of all ages; 3) more difficult calvings followed by less vigor in new borns; 4) an increase in heritable defects; 5) feet and mobility problems in housed animals; and 6) … the list goes on. Unknowingly, at least in Holsteins, the bloodlines used as parents for the next generation, up to now, have carried health and functional problems that breeders have only gradually become aware of.

Change In Breeding Approach

The turning point in the downward slide for an improved functional cow came when breeders said, “That’s Enough”. They were seeing too many on-farm issues that were robbing them of some hard-earned increased profit. In the past couple of decades, breeds, genetic evaluation centers and A.I. organizations have commenced to produce information on calving ease, SCC, fertility, likeability, temperament, milking speed and some more traits. But the breeders’ needs for health information on a genetic basis has been largely ignored. It was said … it could not be addressed.

Breeding the ‘disposable cow’ (aka calve her in once and don’t be concerned if she ever calves again), has become unacceptable because of the current low farm gate milk price, the high cost of rearing replacement cows and the decreased revenue from the sale of breeding stock. Increased labor costs and many other factors also demand that attention be paid to traits long ignored.

Having said that there is good news. Breeds, A.I. organizations, genetic evaluation centers and private breeding companies have gathered on-farm data for health issues and are generating genetic values for health traits.  Some of this information has been available and some is coming available now.

Information to Assist with Breeding for Health Traits

In North America, CDCB, Zoetis, CDN and A.I companies have been putting considerable resources into researching and analyzing animal health data. The outcome is genetic indexes for health traits. Some of the ones recently announced are as follows:

CDCB – New Health Traits

Over the past two years CDCB have added genetic indexes for cow livability (LIV) and gestation length (GL) and in April ’18 will be adding the following sire health indexes (Source -New Genetic Evaluations for Health Traits –

  • Hypocalcemia
  • Displaced Abomasum
  • Ketosis
  • Mastitis Resistance
  • Metritis
  • Retained Placenta

CDCB/AIPL-USDA is currently doing further research and plans to appropriately incorporate these health indexes into the NM$ formula in the future.

Zoetis – Focuses on Health/Wellness

Zoetis has been publishing sire indexes for WT$ and DWP$ for a while now. Interestingly, it has just announced the addition of genomic-based measurements for three calf-wellness traits – livability, respiratory disease and scours to its Clarifide® Plus service. (Source – Wellness Is Now A Profitable Choice – Clarifide® Plus/Ultra Plus –

The end result will be an expanded DWP$ index for ranking sires that places the following weights on cow and calf traits:

  • Calf Wellness                 8%
  • Cow Wellness 25%
  • Cow Production 32%
  • Cow function/Type 10%
  • Cow Longevity 19%
  • Reproduction                 6%

CDN – Health Indexes

In 2016, CDN added a combined health index to its already extensive list of genetic indexes. This combined index is for the following three metabolic diseases (MDR) – clinical ketosis, sub-clinical ketosis and displaced abomasum. Then in Dec ’17 CDN released an additional wellness genetic index for digital dermatitis (DD). All CDN indexes, including the presence of any haplotypes, can be found for individual animal at

Other Organizations Also Publish Health Indexes

A.I. organizations often publish health/wellness indexes including Semex’s Immunity+® (reference TBV’s article on Immunity+®).  All breeders need to do is ask their semen sales rep or go to the A.I. website for health indexes on sires.

For some time now, New Zealand, the Nordic countries and the EU have been publishing genetic indexes for the cows best suited to their environments and for health traits. Breeders interested in knowing more about the genetics for health traits in those regions can search out details by going to their national data sites or Interbull.

What Have Breeders Been Doing – Health Indexes for Most Used Sires

Sire ratings for health/wellness traits are not universally available so, until now, breeders have not been able to eliminate from consideration sires that rank below average for those traits. However, The Bullvine was able to obtain from Holstein US and Holstein Canada the list of sires with the most registered daughters and we thought breeders would be interested in knowing sire averages for the health/wellness traits.  We have chosen to study the fifteen proven sires with the most registered daughters as proven sire lists remain relatively constant month to month and they are the ones which breeders have the most information on. The fact is that breeders are now using daughter proven sires only about 35-40% of the time, but the list of sires with only genomic indexes changes monthly and a base group is not as easily identified.

Table 1 – Health Indexes – 15 Most Used Proven US Holstein Sires*

Trait ** Average Index Index Range
Mastitis Resistance 97 86 – 108
Lameness 97 89 – 110
Displaced Abomasum 101 88 – 108
Retained Placenta 102 92 – 111
Ketosis 102 87 – 109
Metritis 102 93 – 109

Data Sources
* Holstein US April ’82 “Registry Activity Bulls”
** Wellness Traits – Zoetis (12/2017) – Average 100 & Std Dev’n 5

A synopsis of Table 1 is that: 1) the most used US proven Holstein sires were below average for both mastitis resistance and lameness; 2) 38% of the time for the six metabolic diseases, the sire rating was below average; and 3) only 17% of the time was the sire ratings in the top 33% (above 105) of the breed. 38% of sire ratings below average and only 17% of sire ratings above +1 standard deviation means that genetic progress is not occurring. US purebred Holstein breeders will need to change their sire selection choices if they plan to genetically improve their herds for metabolic diseases.

Table 2 – Health Indexes – 15 Most Used Proven Canadian Sires*

Trait** Average Index Index Range
Mastitis Resistance 105 102 – 111
Metabolic Diseases 99 94 – 104
Digital Dermatitis 103 97 – 111

Data Sources
* Based of Holstein Canada 2017 Registrations
** CDN (12/2017) Average 100 & Std Dev’n 5

A synopsis of Table 2 is that: 1) Canada’s most used proven sires were, on average, just below average (99) for metabolic diseases; 2) 18% of the time for the three diseases the sire rating was below average; 3) 31% of the time sire ratings were in the top 33% (above 105) of the breed; and 4) Canadian Holstein breeders have paid attention to mastitis resistance in their sire selections. The picture may not appear to be as negative for purebred Canadian Holstein breeders, but remember that the Canadian stats do not include lameness, metritis and hypocalcemia.

The take home message is that breeders need these new genetic health/wellness indexes to breed an even more profitable cow.

Sires Rank Differently Depending On Total Merit Index

As sire ratings for health/wellness are not universally published and used, The Bullvine thought it would of interest to its readers to compare the top WT$ sires to their indexes for other total merit indexes. Listed below (Table 3) is that comparison.

Table 3 – Sire Index Comparisons – Top 10 WT$ Proven Holstein Sires (12/2017)

Rank WT$ Sire (NAAB Code) DWP$ Rank TPI Rank NM$ Rank
#1 269 Penley (7HO12357) 1039 #2 2495 #81 694 #100
#2 248 Zyke (14HO07387) 1014 #4 2506 #68 707 #99
#3 235 Lights Out (7HO12183) 914 #19 2389 <#100 608 <#100
#4 227 AltaLeaf (11HO11478) 1159 #1 2689 #8 816 #20
#5 216 Coman (14HO07288) 739 #71 2267 <#100 489 <#100
#6 206 Jabir (200HO3877) 713 #85 2279 <#100 459 <#100
#7 201 Rennie (7HO11833) 1001 #8 2468 <#100 746 #57
#8 197 AltaEntry (11HO11448) 1005 #7 2461 <#100 752 #52
#9 196 Mirror (200HO6461) 598 <#100 2101 <#100 355 <#100
#10 194 Lets Go (566HO1162) 311 <#100 1920 <#100 100 <#100

A few points stand out from Table 3: 1) Only AltaLeaf is in the top twenty sires for all of WT$, DWP#, TPI and NM$; 2) Penley and Zyke do very well for health/wellness but only make #68 – #100 for TPI and NM$; 3) only three of the top 10 WT$ sires crack the top 100 for TPI; and 4) only half of the top 10 WT$ sires are in the top 100 NM$ sires.

If breeders choose to put more emphasis on health/wellness traits they will need to forego some of the emphasis they have placed on production and type in the past.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Selection using genetic indexes for health/wellness traits is only in its infancy in North American Holsteins. Of course, the reliabilities for the health/wellness traits will not match (only 2/3 as accurate) the reliabilities for the genetic indexes for production and type. However, breeders will now have information to use in selecting sires for many health/wellness traits.

The Bullvine strongly advises breeders to study the health/wellness traits that their herd needs genetic improvement in and to use only sires that are in the top 25% of the breed for the health/wellness traits they have identified (i.e. above 106 for displaced abomasum).




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Automatic Milking Systems: The Good, The Bad, and The Unknown

Robotic or automatic milking systems (AMS) have steadily increased in popularity in the dairy industry since the installation of the first commercial unit in 1992 in the Netherlands. In 2015, the number of AMS units installed was over 25,000 worldwide. Here in Nebraska, there are two commercial dairy farms that having installed multiple AMS units, Demerath Farms (Plainview, NE) and Beaver’s Dairy (Carleton, NE). Demerath Farms installed four AMS units in February 2017 and are set up to milk 240 cows. Beaver’s Dairy began milking with five AMS units in May 2017 and is set up to milk 300 cows. Additionally, there are several other dairies that are looking into milking robots for their farm.  Typically, 60 cows are milked on one robot. One robot will likely cost the producer anywhere from $150,000- $200,000.

Robots have been seen as the “new and improved” way to milk cows because they may provide opportunities to decreased the labor pool and allow producers to spend more time on animal care. In a survey of 10 United States dairies and 15 Canadian dairies who had installed an AMS, 70% of the farms reported a decrease in hired labor costs. Some other opportunities that may come with installing an AMS include the system providing information to the producer including individual cow milk production, milking frequency, rumination and movement activity, concentrate intake, health alerts, and much more. This information could in turn, help the producer make more informed herd management decisions. Because cows can be fed a concentrate supplement when visiting the AMS there is also opportunity to feed individual cows closer to their nutrient requirements within their stage of lactation. This could decrease overfeeding nutrients to cows, therefore increasing feed efficiency, milk production, and economic returns.

Feeding in the AMS 

The frequency, timing and amount of feed supplementation is also controlled by the AMS. The primary reason for feeding concentrate in the AMS is to entice cattle to enter the AMS. In simple terms, the cow’s biological need to eat is stronger than her biological need to be milked. This feature has stimulated the industry to re-examine overall nutrition strategies. In general, the nutritional goal of any dairy farm is to develop a low cost diet that meets the nutritional requirements of the cow while optimizing milk production and cow health. In a conventional system that is not utilizing an AMS, this goal is typically achieved by offering a consistent total mixed ration that is mixed and delivered at the same time every day. With an AMS system, this system is modified by offering a fraction of the concentrate during milking in the AMS, and the resulting portion of the concentrate along with the forage, and vitamins and minerals are fed in a partial mixed ration at the feedbunk.

The need to “fetch” cows 

Cows not frequently visiting in the AMS must be brought to the units and are commonly referred to as “fetch cows” and represent a big challenge. This is a complex issue which spans animal and environmental factors such as social structure in the herd, farm layout, type of traffic, and health (especially lameness). Uneven milking intervals result when time between milkings is not equal. For example, milking at 6AM and 6PM results in an even milking interval of 12h. Uneven milking intervals can also lead to mastitis, decreased daily milk yield, and lameness. Uneven milking intervals can also lead to decreased economic returns due to the physical labor that is required to go out into the barn and push cows to the milking unit. Solutions for uneven milking frequency included 1) implementing a guided or forced traffic system that will utilize a pre-selection gate to guide the cow to milking and 2) to entice the cow in the AMS with the concentrate that is offered during milking. 

Managing cow traffic 

Farms using an AMS are constructed into one of two types of guided traffic systems: the milk first system and the feed first system. In the milk first system, the cow leaves the lying area and passes through a pre-selection gate where she is determined to be eligible for milking or not, eligibility is defined by the producer but is typically set to have cows milked every 6 hours. If the cow is eligible for milking, she will be guided into a commitment pen that contains the AMS where she will stay until she passes through the AMS for milking. If she is not eligible she will pass through the pre-selection gate into the feed bunk area. In comparison, in the feed first system cows start at the feed bunk, passing through the pre-selection gate and ending in the lying area.

AMS… what we don’t know 

There is limited research available on the best methods to entice cattle to the AMS with the concentrate fed at milking; however producer experience has shown cows are enticed with concentrate at the AMS. Some research has been conducted on changing starch content, grain type, and flavoring. Manipulating starch level to entice cattle does not seem to influence milking frequency. However, a concentrate with low starch content (25%) has been shown to increase milk yield in the AMS. In terms of grain type of the pellet, a barley-oat pellet has been reported to decrease the number of cows needed to be fetched to the AMS and increase the number of visits to the AMS when compared to other grains. Interestingly enough, New Zealand researchers have found that for a grazing dairy, the absence of concentrate in the AMS had no negative effects on milking frequency. Finally, flavoring of the concentrate in the AMS has been shown to significantly increase the visits to the pre-selection gate, and increase milking frequency.  

Dairies have been using robots for more than 25 years, and as the research and technology improve, the number of AMS units will continue to increase.

Source: University of Nebraska

Two Tools to Reduce Calving Difficulties in Your Herd

Difficult calvings are costly to dairy producers. Not only do they often impact the dam’s subsequent production ability and health but they can also negatively affect the growth, health and survival of the newborn calf. First time calvers and smaller cows are at highest risk of having a difficult calving so producers tend to pay special attention when selecting a sire to mate them. Today, with the widespread use of genomics and the availability of sexed semen, Canadian producers have two tools to help reduce the incidence of calving difficulties in their herd.

Genomic Evaluations for Calving Ability

As part of the genetic evaluation services offered by Canadian Dairy Network (CDN), each sire receives an evaluation for both Calving Ease and Calf Survival. These are combined together into an index named Calving Ability, which is often a key trait of interest when selecting mating sires for heifers. Daughter Calving Ability is a similar trait but reflects the ability of each sire’s daughters to calve easily and produce calves born alive. Prior to genomics, the only reliable way to identify “Calving Ease” sires was to wait for them to have a progeny-based proof following the birth of several progeny, both male and female. With the adoption of genomics, all young bulls in A.I. now have a genomic evaluation for Calving Ability so this trait can be used to select mating sires to avoid calving problems nine months later.

In a recent analysis, CDN examined how well these genomic assessments predict the eventual progeny-based proof. A group of 461 A.I. genomic young bulls born in 2013 or 2014 were included and their evaluation for Calving Ability as a young bull was compared to the official progeny proof of December 2017. Table 1 shows that the average evaluation for these bulls was consistent at 104 regardless of whether they were simple Parent Averages, Genomic Parent Averages or official progeny proofs after accounting for the annual genetic base updates. The fact that this average is 104 means that A.I. organizations are selecting more “calving ease” sires to purchase rather than simply looking for breed average bulls at 100.  Genomics, however, resulted in an increase of 39% in the average Reliability, moving from 31% for Parent Average to 70% for Genomic Parent Average. Once progeny proven, these bulls increased another 19% to an average Reliability of 89%.  Without genomics, Parent Average values had a correlation of 52% with the eventual progeny proof but genomics increased this relationship significantly to 74% (Table 1).

Looking closer at how well genomics identified superior bulls for Calving Ability, the Genomic Parent Averages correctly predicted 88% of the bulls that ended up with an official progeny proof with a rating of 100 (breed average) or higher and also correctly identified 85% of the bulls expected to be below breed average (Table 2). In terms of predicting the highest ranking sires for Calving Ability, with a rating of 105 or higher, the genomic evaluations correctly identified 61% of them (i.e.: 111/182) as shown by the shaded corner in Table 2.

Using Sexed Semen to Reduce Calving Problems

As sexed semen technology continues to develop and improve, especially in terms of the negative impact of conception rates, the use of sexed semen steadily increases.  In addition, the combined use of sexed semen and genomic testing of females is a herd management strategy being adopted by more dairy producers.  The primary goal of using sexed semen is to increase the percentage of heifer calves born on the farm, from the usual 50% to over 90%. A secondary benefit of the fact that more heifer calves are born is the associated reduction in calving difficulties. Figure 1 shows the percentage of calvings from heifers that are expected to be “Unassisted” or “Easy Pull” depending on the Calving Ability evaluation of the calf’s sire.

In general, a sire with a Calving Ability rating of 100 is expected to have 85% of their progeny born from first calf heifers without any problem at calving. The percentage of “Unassisted” or “Easy Pull” calvings increases to over 93% for sire’s rated 110 or higher.  These expectations are associated with the use of conventional semen, whereby 50% of the progeny born are expected to be males. As shown by the dashed line in Figure 1, calving problems can be reduced further by the use of sexed semen. For an average bull with a Calving Ability of 100, the use of sexed semen reduces the expected degree of calving problems from 15% to 12%. The benefit of sexed semen is amplified for sires that are below average for Calving Ability while this advantage is lessened for sires that are already highly rated for this trait (Figure 1).


Producing healthy herd replacements is an important component of profitable dairy farms. The calving process plays an important role in terms of the number of calves born alive and the ability of the dam to have the best possible start to her subsequent lactation and reproductive cycling.  For this reason, dairy producers have always paid special attention when mating heifers and smaller cows in an effort to reduce the likelihood of calving difficulties nine months later. With semen from genomic young bulls now representing 70% of the market share, genomic evaluations for Calving Ability can be used as an improved tool for identifying “Calving Ease” sires compared to what was previously possible based only on Parent Average values.  In addition, the growing popularity of sexed semen in the market place also provides a second tool to reduce the incidence of calving problems in your herd.

Brian Van Doormaal, General Manager, CDN

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Zoetis Expands Genetics Portfolio With Calf Wellness Traits in Clarifide® Plus

Zoetis announced the addition of three calf wellness traits to Clarifide® Plus for Holsteins. The new calf wellness traits include calf livability, respiratory disease and scours. This dependable genetic information enables dairy producers to genetically improve calf health and survival within their herds, as the calf wellness trait information helps identify and select for calves more likely to survive as well as animals that are less likely to become ill due to respiratory disease and scours. Minimizing disease risk improves calf health, results in fewer treatments and lowers calf mortality — all important animal well-being considerations for producers.

As part of the offering with Clarifide Plus, the Calf Wellness Index (CW$) is a multitrait selection index that exclusively focuses on calf wellness traits to directly estimate the potential profit contribution of the calf wellness traits for an individual animal.

In addition, CW$ has been added to the Dairy Wellness Profit Index® (DWP$®) to supplement the most comprehensive animal ranking selection available commercially in Holsteins. DWP$ includes all Zoetis wellness traits for cows and calves. Plus, DWP$ includes other economically important production, performance and longevity-related traits. The inclusion of calf wellness traits creates an opportunity for producers to realize part of the lifetime economic gains earlier in life — as early as near birth — occurring approximately nine months after implementing breeding selecting strategies. DWP$ helps improve the outcome of the calf wellness traits with their inclusion, thus improving their progress toward enhancing overall herd health.1

Importance of Calf Wellness

Heifer replacement costs are often the second-highest expense on dairy farms, averaging from 8.6% up to 20% of total production cost in Holstein herds.2,3 This cost is heavily influenced by many factors, including disease incidence and calf mortality.

“Calf health and mortality can mean the difference between profits or shortfalls in tight margin years,” said Kent Weigel,* PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Dairy Science at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “We completed research that published 10 years ago, showing genetic differences between sire families and their chances of developing health challenges like milk fever** or mastitis. It was encouraging to see Zoetis use this research to develop Clarifide Plus, a tool producers can use for making genetic selection decisions to raise animals with reduced risk for health problems. Now Zoetis has taken a step farther to introduce calf wellness traits that help minimize disease risk for respiratory disease and scours, which will be game-changing for producers.”

Reports demonstrate the impact on U.S. dairies from scours and respiratory disease — the leading causes of calf death loss and disease in the first year of life:

  • 23.9% of pre-weaned dairy heifers are affected by scours.
  • 12.4% of pre-weaned dairy heifers are affected by respiratory disease.
  • 56% of all pre-weaned calf deaths are due to scours.
  • 47% of all weaned calf deaths are due to respiratory disease.4

The cost of calf health presents significant and long-lasting challenges. For example, records show that calves with respiratory disease that required treatment produced about 1,087 pounds less milk in the first lactation than calves with no record of being treated.5

The impact from disease can present lifelong setbacks, such as with calves impacted by pneumonia during the first 90 days of life, which are more likely to experience increased age at first calving, higher incidence of dystocia, lower milk production and greater mortality before first calving.6 Other studies have indicated 2 to 2.5 times greater risk of death before calving for animals that had either pneumonia or scours, respectively.7,8

Clarifide Plus was the first commercially available genetic evaluation for wellness traits for U.S. Holsteins, launched in March 2016. In addition to the new calf wellness traits — calf livability, respiratory disease and scours — Clarifide Plus provides reliable genomic predictions to help producers manage and reduce risk for mastitis, lameness, metritis, retained placenta, displaced abomasum and ketosis. Clarifide Plus provides accurate genetic predictions using cutting-edge genetic evaluation methodology applied to data collected from U.S. commercial production settings. This results in an average reliability of 50% or more for the six cow wellness traits9 and 39% reliability for the average of the three calf wellness traits on young genomic-tested calves.1

“Genomic predictions for wellness traits were developed because of the commitment Zoetis has to the overall health of dairy cattle,” said Cheryl Marti, associate director, U.S. Marketing, Dairy Genetics and Reproduction, Zoetis. “We strive to improve dairy wellness and understand genetic factors impacting resistance to common diseases. The recently announced development of the first Holstein reference genome at Zoetis allowed us to map regions of the genome influencing disease outcomes in calves. These discoveries will lead to improvements in the reliability of future predictions for Dairy Wellness.”

The calf wellness trait information helps dairies obtain the full lifetime value of healthier calves by selecting and breeding for animals that have a better chance of becoming healthy, productive cows, thus better positioned to attain their genetic potential — and increase a dairy operation’s profitability.

Zoetis recognizes that every dairy has different strategies as well as information, management and support needs. For this reason, Zoetis has a broad portfolio of genomic testing solutions including Clarifide Plus, Clarifide, Clarifide® Ultra and Clarifide® Core.

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

Forage-based diets on dairy farms produce nutritionally enhanced milk

Markedly higher levels of health-promoting fatty acids reported

Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential human nutrients, yet consuming too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes. Today, Americans consume 10 to 15 grams of omega-6 for every gram of omega-3.

Previous studies have shown that consuming organic beef or organic dairy products lowers dietary intakes of omega-6, while increasing intakes of omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), another valuable, heart-healthy fatty acid.

In a collaborative research project including the University of Minnesota, Johns Hopkins University, Newcastle University in England, Southern Cross University in Linsmore, NSW Australia, and the Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, researchers have found that cows fed a 100% organic grass and legume-based diet produce milk with elevated levels of omega-3 and CLA, and thus provides a markedly healthier balance of fatty acids. The improved fatty acid profile in grass-fed organic milk and dairy products (hereafter, “grassmilk”) brings the omega-6/omega-3 ratio to a near 1 to 1, compared to 5.7 to 1 in conventional whole milk.

Co-author Dr. Bradley Heins, Associate Professor of Dairy Science at the University of Minnesota’s West Central Research and Outreach Center points out that “With growing consumer demand for organic dairy products, producers may be able to expand their profitability and market share by converting to grass-based pasture and forage-feeding systems.”

Findings from the study “Enhancing the Fatty Acid Profile of Milk through Forage-Based Rations, with Nutrition Modeling of Dietary Outcomes,” published in Food Science and Nutrition, compared the fatty acid profile of milk from cows managed under three systems in the United States:

1. “Grassmilk” cows receive an essentially 100% organic grass and legume forage-based diet, via pasture and stored feeds like hay and silage.

2. “Organic” cows receive, on average, about 80% of their daily Dry Matter Intake (DMI) from forage-based feeds and 20% from grain and concentrates.

3. “Conventional” cows are fed rations in which forage-based feeds account for an estimated 53% of daily DMI, with the other 47% coming from grains and concentrates. Conventional management accounts for over 90% of the milk cows on U.S. farms.

Grassmilk provides by far the highest level of omega-3s — 0.05 grams per 100 grams of milk (g/100 g), compared to 0.02 g/100 g in conventional milk — a 147% increase in omega-3s. Grassmilk also contains 52% less omega-6 than conventional milk, and 36% less omega-6 than organic milk. In addition, the research team found that grassmilk has the highest average level of CLA — 0.043 g/100 g of milk, compared to 0.019 g/ 100 g in conventional milk and 0.023 g/100 g in organic.

Implications for Public Health

Daily consumption of grassmilk dairy products could potentially improve U.S. health trends. In addition to the well-established metabolic and cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and CLA, there are additional benefits for pregnant and lactating women, infants, and children. Various forms of omega-3 fatty acids play critical roles in the development of eyes, the brain, and the nervous system. Adequate omega-3 intakes can also slow the loss of cognitive function among the elderly.

In describing the public health implications of the study’s main findings, co-author Charles Benbrook, a Visiting Scholar at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, points out that “The near-perfect balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in grassmilk dairy products will help consumers looking for simple, lifestyle options to reduce the risk of cardiovascular and other metabolic diseases.”

Source of Samples and Funding

The team analyzed over 1,160 samples of whole grassmilk taken over three years from on-farm bulk tanks prior to any processing. All samples came from farmer members of CROPP Cooperative and were tested by an independent laboratory.


Source: Science Daily

Water troughs are key to toxic E. coli spread in cattle

A major study led by Cornell researchers reveals for the first time that water troughs on farms are a conduit for the spread of toxic E. coli in cattle, which can then spread the pathogen to people through bacteria in feces. The study was published Feb. 7 in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Water troughs appeared in our mathematical model as a place where water can get contaminated and a potential place where we could break the cycle,” said Renata Ivanek, associate professor of epidemiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine and the paper’s senior author. The hypothesis was then tested in the field – with surprising results.

People commonly acquire infections from shiga toxin-producing E. coli through cow feces-contaminated beef and salad greens. The main shiga toxin-producing strain, E. coli 0157:H7, causes more than 63,000 illnesses per year and about 20 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Though cows carry and spread E. coli 0157:H7 when they defecate, the bacteria do not make them sick.

“Farmers do not see a problem because there are no clinical signs in cows; it is totally invisible,” Ivanek said.

A vaccine to reduce bacterial shedding in cows exists, but the beef industry has little incentive to use it, partly due to cost, and the industry does not benefit from labeling beef as “E. coli safe,” Ivanek said. So Ivanek and a research team of 20 co-authors conducted a study to identify other ways to reduce the bacteria’s prevalence in cattle, which can vary over the year from zero to 100 percent of cows in a feedlot carrying the bacteria, with rates generally rising in the summer.

The researchers ran mathematical modeling studies to see if they could pinpoint areas in the farm where infections might spread between cattle. They found that water in a trough, especially in summer months, could heat and promote pathogen replication, causing more cows to acquire the bacteria when they drink. The researchers hypothesized that frequently changing the water in the summer could keep the water colder, limiting bacterial growth.

On most farms, water troughs automatically refill when they get low enough, and farmers can adjust the water levels so they refill more often. This tact saves water and keeps it fresher while ensuring cows still have enough to drink.

The group ran control trials in a feedlot over two summers. This involved reducing the water volume in troughs in randomly selected treatment pens and leaving the volume unchanged in control pens. They expected that reducing the water levels in troughs would prevent the spread of E. coli. Instead they found that it increased spread; in the treatment pens, the odds of finding shiga toxin-producing E. coli in cows was about 30 percent higher than in the control pens.

“Our modeling studies did pick up the right parts of the system,” Ivanek said, “but the mechanism that we postulated is the opposite from what we thought.”

More study is needed to determine why more water in troughs reduced E. coli in cows, but Ivanek questions whether the lower volume made it easier for cows to swallow debris at the bottom of tanks, or whether a fuller tank reduced E. coli concentrations.

The study will trigger more research on environmental sources of E. coli spread in cattle, Ivanek said.

Next steps include repeating the results in other feedlots, evaluating the effectiveness and cost benefit of using more water to reduce E. coli, investigating how seasons and temperatures play a role in prevalence of E. coli, and understanding the actual mechanisms that led to the results.

Wendy Beauvais, a postdoctoral researcher in Ivanek’s lab, is the paper’s first author. Co-authors included researchers from Texas A&M University, West Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health and the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation.


SourceCornell Chronicle

Bottom Line: Who Is Responsible For This Mess?

How often do dairy managers stand in their offices and, with some kind of report in hand, deliver this frustrating news to their staff? Once is too often, if it’s your bottom line that is headed south. No one needs a winter vacation from financial success.

“Successful Dairies Don’t Make Excuses! They Make Changes!”

“It’s not my fault.” “It’s the economy.” “It’s the weather.” “It’s the government.”

Any or all of these might used to shift blame.  What does this mean?  No one really cares.  No one accepts responsibility.  The owner is the only one asking, “Who is responsible for this mess? When push comes to shove, messes are only eliminated when changes are initiated.

“What Does Accountability Look Like?”

It isn’t simply a case of taking the blame when the you-know-what hits the fan.  It’s not about who is guilty.  Being accountable means delivering on a commitment.  Milk production.   It is about being responsible to the targeted outcome, not just the daily routine of completing a set of tasks.  You can’t sit in an office and know what is working in the barn. You can’t hide in the barn and have any idea what is happening in the office. It is about initiative, action, and follow-through.

“Motivation Starts at the Top …. And After That… We all Know What Runs Downhill!”

When life throws a curveball, we are tempted to assign blame. We all know the routine.  Bad news is received at the top.  And bad news like it’s pungent neighbor in the manure pit runs downhill.  Soon there is a sh*t storm brewing that is delivered to the all within earshot.  Some listen stoically.  Others run for cover.  Then what?  Life goes on the same as before until the next bad news day.

WAIT!! Turnarounds mean you don’t talk AT staff.   You talk WITH staff.

Getting angry when people fall short is not productive. It simply reduces motivation and performance.  Success is about finding alternatives that change a negative into a positive.

  • Good managers know how to get a two-way conversation going. Employees need to feel
  • comfortable speaking up about their side of the situation. They shouldn’t be afraid to claim a
  • role in the problem for fear of even more criticism raining down on them.

Talk Up the Positive Too!  Who Is Responsible When Everything Goes Right?

Face to face conversation may not be the only way of communicating, but it is the best way. Both sides must participate and be understood. And then move on.  But don’t forget to share the good news too.  Does your team know enough about your dairy’s successes?  Big or small, knowing what’s going well on the dairy can make a big difference in preventing problems and learning how to deal with issues.  If the boss claims all the successes and staff bears the burden of problems, it kills motivation. Honest recognition motivates.  

Too Often It Becomes One Side VERSUS the Other Side. 

Here are five ways dairy operations dissolve into a tug and pull and what to do about it. 

  1. “It is Obvious What is Required” versus “It’s not obvious from where I see it.”
    Because you, as owner or manager, have benchmarks to reach, bills to pay and animals to raise, you may be very clear, in your own mind, about what needs to be done. To the person further away from the center of things it’s likely that it isn’t clear why things need to be done or even how they need to be done. Dairy staff may perform completing repetitive tasks without knowing how it affects the outcome.  If the job is not only repetitive but boring shortcuts or changes may creep in that negatively affect the outcome. How do you measure success? How do the workers measure success?  There needs to be alignment between the two. Some of the best modifications and improvements can come from skilled people who feel the work they do is worthwhile, the opinions and suggestions they have are heard and appreciated. If you don’t want lowest common denominator results don’t treat the working staff like they don’t count.
  2. “It’s Not Rocket Science” versus “I’m Not Paid to be A Brain Surgeon”
    New science, new economics, and a continually shrinking work face have resulted in the loss of people with skills. Has brought in new unskilled labor.  Has necessitated upgrading of skills. New equipment.    Digital inputs and monitoring. All of these could mean that the person doing the jobs needs training to be able to meet the rising expectations.  Are you ready and able to provide the skilled training?  Do you know where to get skilled instructions?  You must realize that if your staff doesn’t know how to do what they are being asked, then you are setting them – and yourself — up for failure.
  3. “Your Success is Tied to Results” versus “Results Don’t Mean Anything to Me!”
    When the milk check arrives or payment checks are sent, owner-managers have readable feedback and exact numbers on how successful the dairy operation is. When there is a sudden fall in production and or payments, it should not come as a surprise to anyone who is paying attention to the day to day operation. Sometimes problems seem sudden when, in reality, it is the result of lack of communication. Someone is afraid to ask for help. There isn’t any buy in to the necessity of reaching measurable Any movement in a negative direction needs instant attention.  In modern dairying, it is counterproductive to wait until the month end, year end annual review. What can be done now? How can it be fixed today?  What new and improved schedule do we need to put in place? A slip off track can become a major detour if it isn’t dealt with promptly.
  4. “You Didn’t Do What Was Asked” versus “So What? Not my stink. Not my ”
    This is the second time in the management staff dialogue where there is a disconnect between the reasons for the rules or operational procedures and the lack of incentive felt by staff to carry them out. Even when expectations are clear and proper training has been provided, it’s possible that the level of buy-in remains low or is even declining. A turnaround could be as simple as a regular positive acknowledgment.  An open dialogue about how routines are either well done or not working also raises the level of buy-in. Provided success is recognized.
  5. “There Isn’t Any Room for Your Mistakes” versus “Accidents happen. Live with it!” Even when you have a good idea, a well-formulated plan, and a willing team, there are enough variables on a dairy farm that things can go wrong. Somehow, a feed formula is incorrectly mixed. Medication is forgotten. Scheduling of follow-up is overlooked. A staff member misses the training session and, unwittingly changes things back. Anyone of these and many more can be the reason for problems. Once again it isn’t who is blame but who can fix it that is important. The only wrong answer is the one that says maintaining the status quo is okay.

The Bullvine Bottom Line – From Mess to Success in Two Steps!

Whether you are management or staff, it is essential to recognize that there is no gain in falling into a pattern of blame and shame. When everyone learns how to accept responsibility and is willing to be held accountable, the operation has found the two building blocks that are the foundation of a successful dairy.



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Investing strategically to boost the dairy bottom line

A dairy farm should manage its herd like a well-managed professional sports team. Strategically invest money to generate the largest return. Darren Remsburg, a Zoetis technical service veterinarian, liked to compare a well-managed dairy to the 2002 Oakland A’s the year they had the best record in baseball. He spoke at the R&J Dairy Seminar on Jan. 30.

The 2002 A’s pulled together the right blend of players with the desired talents to create their winning team. “What numbers should we be paying attention to on our dairy farms,” he asked.

Remsburg said Zoetis and AgStar have wrapped up a study where they evaluated dairy profitability on Midwestern dairy farms, comparing financial and management records. They looked to see what management activities reaped the greatest benefits.

“Milk production per cow is the single most important variable in determining farm profitability,” he said. Think about things that would improve milk production per cow and commit to improving management strategies.

Replacement hefiers are like a long-term investment. “Or we can think about I take out a loan from the bank to raise this heifer and how long do I want to pay it off? The cheapest might not be the best,” he said. If a heifer dies before calving, Remsburg said the farmer is stuck with a loan without a cow to pay the bill.

“We still got to be good cow people,” he said. “As much as we think about the business side, we can’t forget the animal husbandry side.”

A farm’s net herd replacement cost evaluates raising heifers and having them calve to make as much milk as possible to pay back the loan it cost to raise them. “When we get her to the lactating herd, we want to keep her there as long as possible,” he said. “And when we sell her, we want to sell her as a big, fat old cow not as a lame, skinny fresh cow. The difference in those things is what impacts a herd’s net replacement cost.”

Farmers need to get calves started off correctly with colostrum within the first four hours of life. Provide adequate feed to promote growth and get them bred to enter the dairy herd earlier. Dropping the age at first calving from 25 to 23 months reduces heifer costs and has them paying back their “loan” faster.

“Lowering your days at first calving will save you about $100 an animal a year,” he said.

Energy corrected milk determines the amount of milk produced and adjusted to 3.5 percent fat and 3.2 percent protein. More milk per cow means more profit. Achieving that higher production, however, is correlated with healthy cows. Lower cell counts, death losses, feed costs and days open are all hidden but important drivers of milk per cow. In other words, healthy cows produce more milk.

“These small things add up over time and largely work together to make our dairies more profitable,” he said.

Breeding costs are positively correlated with making more milk. “If you get cows bred sooner, faster and more timely, it make more milk,” he said. There are a range of strategies regarding a breeding program. Any program is better than no program, he said. Waiting for a cow to come into heat is not a program, “it’s a lottery ticket.”

Marginal milk “is a magical thing,” he said. Cows have to eat a certain amount of feed for body maintenance. For each additional pound of milk produced, the marginal milk level shrinks. “It’s creating something out of nothing, almost,” he said. Getting a cow bred back faster shortened the length of the low production portion of the lactation curve.

The other step a farmer needs to remember is filling empty stalls in a tie stall barn. “When milk price is very low, like it is now, the thought is ‘I can’t afford another heifer, cow in this empty stall.’ What I am going to tell you — you can’t afford not to,” he said. It helps to spread the overhead costs of the barn.

Cows do die, but what can a farmer do to minimize that risk of death loss. Genetic testing can help predict what heifer has a larger viability risk. If a farm has too many heifers, it might be worth it to genetically test to help cull potential problem heifers out of the herd. He used the example of evaluating for somatic cell count. The top three-quarters will not have much difference, but the bottom quarter will be noticeable.

“If we can identify any of those in our herd, and find them a new herd that wasn’t our herd, that would be the way to go,” he said.

There are a range of genetic tests,. He recommends one that evaluates milk production and wellness traits.

Somatic cell count can cut into farm profitability and cow health. Mastitis impacts cow health, reproduction and culling.

Every 100,000 increase in somatic cell count is costing a farmer 5 pounds of milk per cow, he said. “It’s not just that premium that you get, it’s that governor on the production you get from those cows,” he said. High somatic cell cows are also at greater risk to die, need treatment or take longer to breed back. 


Source: Lancaster Farming

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