As the number of dairy farmers declines in Japan, so-called gigafarms that churn out more than 10,000 tons of milk a year are stepping up production to meet consumers’ growing appetite for dairy products.
A giant dairy farm about 90 minutes from Obihiro on the northern island of Hokkaido is a case in point. It has 1,600 head of adult cows and calves in 14 barns, far above the 85 head kept at a conventional dairy farm.
The Nishikamikano farm employs automation for milking and health monitoring. Milking is done in a long shed where cows wait for staffers to disinfect their teats and attach suction equipment. Once the milking is done, the suction terminals detach, allowing the cows to return to their barns.
Japan had 16 such giant farms in fiscal 2017, industry data shows — barely a blip against the 15,700 dairy-farming households. But they are crucial in propping up the country’s milk production.
Japan’s dairy farms, just like the rest of Japan, are facing labor shortages, even with workers recruited from overseas. As the farms’ scale increases, automation has become crucial, creating business chances for equipment makers.
In July, a Hokkaido dairy farm installed four milking robots made by Netherlands-based Lely as part of a capacity expansion. The new machines, which are electric rather than pneumatic, cut the time needed to latch on to cows’ teats by about 30%, to roughly 25 seconds.
Dairy farms “have relied on foreign workers, but hiring competition is fierce,” said Hideto Nanbuya, president of equipment distributor Cornes AG, which supplies robots for such tasks as milking and feeding.
The ranks of Japan’s dairy farms have decreased roughly 60% over the past two decades, shrinking milk output by around 10% in a decade. But milk consumption rose for a fourth consecutive year in fiscal 2018.
This fiscal year, the volume of milk produced is projected to rise for the first time in four years, according to the Japan Dairy Association, and the government has set a production target of 7.5 million tons in fiscal 2025, up 3% from fiscal 2018.
A recent business magazine article (The Best Ways to Reward Employees) listed “a strategic reward system for employees” under the heading Growth Strategies. At first glance it may seem strange that a strategy for growth is rewarding employees, but consider how key the workforce on your dairy is to the day-to-day completion of tasks that have huge impacts on your bottom line. Cutting corners in the milking parlor? A new case of mastitis costs hundreds of dollars per cow. Missing a few feed push-ups? A two-pound drop in dry matter intake means four pounds less milk per cow in the tank. So if you want to grow your dairy income, think about starting with improvements in the management of your workforce.
An online article from Monster for Employers (What are the big motivation factors for employees?) reported employees often say they are leaving a job for “financial reasons” in order to preserve good references or because they don’t see anything changing if they tell the truth. So what are some of the real reasons that workers leave? There will always be a variety of issues surrounding worker turnover, and sometimes money may be an influencer, but often times it is those “other things” that keep an employee loyal to the dairy or cause them to look for work elsewhere. Gathering data on a farm last fall, I was talking with a long-time herd manager about his tenure at the dairy, and two things stuck in my mind from that conversation. He stayed at the dairy because “it was a pretty good place to work and they care about what I think” and because “I was almost always able to see my kids play ball.” Flexibility in scheduling allowed him to make up time so that he could leave early to be with his children, and his opinions and ideas mattered to the owners. In this case, these factors were more powerful motivators than a higher paycheck from the neighboring dairy. Reducing working turnover and keeping long-term employees with key knowledge of your dairy saves money.
Profit margins in the dairy industry have been tight in recent times, and many businesses are looking for ways to earn more, spend less, and improve their bottom line. When considering ways to boost profits, do not overlook the assets you have in people. Both of the earlier articles referred to aspects of performance management—reward and recognize people for positive behaviors that impact things like cow comfort, feed efficiency, or milk quality. Research detailed in Managing Employee Performance (login required) shows that creating a business culture focused on performance—setting goals and holding workers accountable—helps to improve worker performance. Recognition of outstanding performance is a strong motivator for employees. Likewise, ignoring the poor performance of marginal workers is a strong demotivator for those same top-level employees. Think about working side-by-side with someone who does sloppy work, takes longer breaks, comes in late for work (you get the picture!) but gets paid the same at the end of the week as you do. How do you feel about your work, your job, your boss, yourself? Now think about working side-by-side with that same worker, where your manager praises your good work and your co-worker comes back from a break grumbling because the boss says he has to go back and fix his mistake from earlier in the day. How do these two very different situations influence your attitude and mindset?
Communication and providing informal feedback from managers to workers needs to happen daily. While as a manager it is important to correct worker errors privately, it is critical to correct mistakes in a timely manner. Negative worker attitudes and sloppy work can fly through the air and take hold on your dairy like the flu virus in a crowded airport! Likewise, those “cutting corners” behaviors can erode away day-to-day efficiency of operation and care of animals. So before the week is up, take some time to notice what is happening in various aspects of your dairy and with your workers. Make time to offer positive feedback to those workers doing above average work. Make time to notice areas where retraining may be necessary because procedural drift away from the correct way of completing a task has happened. Make time to invest in your workers, and your return on that investment may just surprise you in your next milk check.
INNOVATORS: South Gippsland Dairy’s Campbell Evans, managing director, Neil Walker, farm services and Shelley Walker, marketing manager.
“We wanted to do something different, not what everyone else is doing,” Shelley Walker said.
Three years ago, Ms Walker and husband Neil, who milk 180-200 cows near Korumburra in the heart of Victoria’s South Gippsland, were looking for a way out of the dairy crisis.
Value-adding made sense but, with the market awash with boutique milk brands, the couple decided to take another course.
“We ruled out fresh white milk right from the start,” she said.
“You need to be processing millions of litres to make money and be running seven days a week.
“That’s a lot of work.”
The answer presented itself when a mutual friend introduced them to dairy process engineer Campbell Evans, who raised the idea of marketing colostrum.
Colostrum is a big business, estimated at more than $US1.40 billion globally in 2018.
The big Australian processors, including Murray Goulburn, once supplied the market but Mr Evans said he knew of only one other small Australian business selling colostrum these days.
With its small volumes, high-value niche, absence of Australian competitors and longer shelf life, colostrum made sense.
“You have to recognise at the very start that we’re a small family-owned business,” Mr Evans said.
“How do you start in the dairy industry today without being a worldwide company and actually do something?
“The product has to fit the capabilities and the resources you have.”
Their business, South Gippsland Dairy (SGD), is now on the verge of launching its product and has just recruited its first suppliers.
While the idea was to select a business that was bite-sized enough for the trio to handle, the road has been far from easy.
“It was more challenging than I’d imagined, primarily because there is no other producer for these authorities to refer to,” Mr Evans said.
“They were all starting from scratch.
“We were having to go to Canberra to get classification for what colostrum actually is, it doesn’t exist in some of the codes.
“We’ve come to some big hurdles, from the whole of veterinary medicines, through Dairy Foods Safety Victoria to the Therapeutic Goods Administration; we’ve had to have all of those authorities involved.
“We could have been far more successful in financial terms just importing the stuff and repacking.
“That was an option for us some two years ago but we said that’s not true to our cause and what’s the point of doing that?”
Mr Evans said he hoped the business will be able to repay their investment within two to three years, depending on its level of market success.
In fact, SGD will trade heavily on its status as a high-end colostrum supplier and a 30-day supply of tablets will retail for the premium price of $55.
Mr Evans said while many brands of powder contain as little as 5 per cent colostrum, SGD’s was pure and proven to be more potent than others.
“We will never be the biggest producer but we would like to be the best producer in the world,” he said.
“We’ve had CSIRO test the product and our results are good.
“They take antigens that those antibodies will attack, or attach to, put them in a dish and measure how effective the colostrum is at attacking them.
“We’ve been testing our product for two years.
“Now, we’re confident we have consistently superior product.”
Aside from purity, the key to producing high quality colostrum is fastidious handling from farm all the way through the factory.
SGD farm services manager Neil Walker said the colostrum had to be from the first milking.
Each batch is strained, decanted into 10-litre bags and frozen on farm before being processed at SGD’s small facility in Leongatha, Vic.
Farmer-suppliers are paid $3 to $7 a kilogram, depending on the quality of the colostrum and must sign on to a colostrum management program to ensure adequate colostrum is retained for calves.
SGD believes its small-scale collection and processing system, which processes about 12kg of powder per hour, gives it a big advantage over large dairy processors.
“If you’re a large cooperative that has a big processing facility then, by the time you get this small amount of stuff and fill your pipeline, nothing’s coming out the other end because it’s been flushed out by the time you get through the process,” Mr Evans said.
“Large companies that take it by the tanker-load have diluted it all down with milk.
“They had to get such volumes of colostrum, they would collect it from all over the state for one processing plant.
“By the time is gets collected, consolidated, all sudden by the time it gets processed, it’s days and days of deterioration.”
Mr Evans said large processors also tended to put the colostrum through spray dryers operating at 160 degrees, while SGD’s colostrum is freeze dried at -50 degrees.
The trio plan to expand SGD’s product offering, with capsules and even skin creams on the agenda.
Convinced of its immune-boosting, gut-healing properties, they hope its results will build a loyal customer base.
“We want 75pc of customers to keep coming back and buying not one but 12 lots a year,” Ms Walker said.
“If people are getting results for their own health, they’ll come back to it.”
Images of cows calving in knee-deep mud while being wintered on crops are unacceptable, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says.
Also known as ‘winter cropping’ or ‘winter grazing’, wintering on crops is when livestock like cattle, sheep and deer are strip fed a crop.
If not well managed, it can leave animals stranded in muddy paddocks, unable to lie down or move freely, as shown in images released last week.
O’Connor announced on Wednesday he had established a taskforce to respond to the issues associated with the practice.
“Images of cows up to their knees in mud, unable to lie down and rest and calving in these conditions is unacceptable to me and I’ve heard loud and clear from the public that it’s unacceptable to them too,” he said.
“Winter crop grazing is necessary in some parts of the country to provide enough feed for stock at a time when there’s not a lot of pasture.
“Done well, it provides animals with quality feed to keep them warm over winter. Done badly it means cattle can be knee-deep in mud which gives rise to completely justifiable concerns for their welfare.”
Winter grazing could also have environmental impacts, including the spread of sediment and nitrates into waterways, and the Government was working on ways to address those, O’Connor said.
“The Government has bottom lines on animal welfare and there are some people falling well below acceptable practice.
“Unfortunately, it’s another situation of a small number of farmers letting the side down and bringing everyone into disrepute.”
O’Connor said it was time for greater co-ordination, faster action and consequences.
The Ministry for Primary Industries’ animal welfare unit had stepped up its compliance activity and was keeping a “very close” eye on the situation.
“Our international reputation depends on getting this sort of thing right, as does our social licence to operate within New Zealand,” he said.
“I know industry groups have been working to improve wintering practices and protect animal welfare. I want to add extra impetus to that work.”
The taskforce would include vets, industry leaders and officials who could identify the issues and offer solutions.
The group was expected to meet in the next few weeks and present its first steps for dealing with the situation by the end of the month.
Environmentalist Angus Robson, who used the images to launch a campaign against intensive winter grazing, said he was happy to hear the Government was taking action.
“I’ll be even happier if they follow through,” he said.
Robson said several things could be done to improve the situation, including introducing clear standards for what was acceptable, and an infringement system similar to that used for traffic offences.
“Only the worst cases go to prosecution and it takes a lot of time and money to go through that process,” he said.
“A $200 fine for a cow not having somewhere dry to lie down is much easier to enforce than a prosecution that has to meet really tough standards.”
He also wanted to see complainants given anonymity and a 48-hour timeframe for inspectors to respond to complaints.
“They’re not big things but they would start making a difference,” he said.
“Ultimately we need to have fewer cows but we need to work towards that slowly.”
Online tool allows dairy farmers to calculate milk component efficiency — how well dairy cows convert pounds of feed into pounds of milk components.
Cargill has launched a new online calculator that allows dairy farmers to quickly and conveniently analyze their milk component efficiency. The tool can be accessed at www.cargilldairydreams.com/calculator.
“At its core, component efficiency is a real measure of dairy herd efficiency. Dairy farmers can monitor it to see how well their cows are converting pounds of feed into pounds of milk components,” said Dr. Mike Messman, dairy technical services manager at Cargill. “To do the calculation by hand requires a few mathematical steps so we wanted to simplify the process and ensure all dairy farmers could calculate this for themselves at any time.”
Most of the U.S. dairy industry is paid each month based on the pounds of milkfat and protein components shipped from the dairy. At the same time, feed costs are often one of the highest variable expenses for a dairy herd, so calculating component efficiency gives a good snapshot of how efficiently the cows are converting valuable feed into valuable milk components, Cargill said.
To calculate component efficiency online, a dairy farmer simply inputs the pounds of milk production, fat and protein percent and dry matter intake — the site does not collect any personal information — and the calculator does the work of quickly computing their efficiency, Cargill said.
In addition to the efficiency rate, the tool also provides an analysis to help producers understand where they stand and how much room they have to improve.
“When dairy farmers are able to improve their component efficiency, they can have a profitable impact on their bottom line,” Messman added. “That’s why we want to help dairies easily measure where they are today and plan how they can improve their component efficiency moving forward.”
Cargill said the new component efficiency calculator, as well as more information about managing component efficiency, can be accessed at www.cargilldairydreams.com/calculator on a desktop or mobile device.
In April 2019, Canada’s profit-based selection index, Pro$, was updated to reflect current economic values and consider additional expenses and traits. Pro$ is a tool to maximize genetic response for daughter lifetime profitability and is based on actual cow cumulative profit to six years of age or disposal. By adopting lifetime profitability as its definition, value is placed on longevity and a cow’s ability to successfully survive multiple cycles of reproduction and production. However, there are additional metrics that can be explored when examining cow or herd economics, including the age at which a cow has generated sufficient revenue to pay back the debt accumulated due to the costs associated with her rearing. This point in a cow’s lifetime can be referred to as her “breakeven age”.
Rearing a heifer to the time she calves for the first time and starts producing milk, and therefore revenue, is a significant investment. For Holsteins, the cost of raising a heifer from birth to 24 months of age is approximately $2,650. Each extra day spent before the first calving adds incremental costs, increasing her debt to be recovered, and further delays the age where revenue can first be earned.
To determine the amount of variation in breakeven age in the Canadian dairy population, daily cumulative profit was calculated for Holstein cows born in 2012 through their life span, under current costs and prices. The breakeven age was determined as the age when their cumulative profit first exceeded zero. Figure 1 shows the distribution of breakeven ages in months for this group of cows. On average, the Holsteins studied had a breakeven age of 42 months, which typically occurred while in their second lactation. This average breakeven age is presumably lower for more recently born cows given the continuous improvements achieved for both production and reproduction.
Every cow has a unique profit curve based on age at first calving, lactation curve, length of dry periods, and productive life. All of these factors can contribute to her breakeven age, especially age at first calving and first lactation production. Cows earn profit based on milk production above the cost of production, maintenance, and overhead. Every day dry also incurs costs, highlighting fertility and reproductive management in profitability. Figure 2 depicts typical profit curves, from first calving to the end of a fourth lactation, based on the average cow with a breakeven age within three categories, namely (a) less than 33 months, (b) equal to 42 months, and (c) greater than 59 months. Those cows with the earliest breakeven age combine an early first calving and high production while those at the far right of the Figure 1 distribution had typically a late first calving and low milk production.
Age at First Calving and Breakeven Age
Much debate has surrounded an optimal age at first calving and often these recommendations differ or can depend on herd management or circumstances. An early age at first calving decreases initial investments in rearing and animals begin to earn income at a younger age, but this must be balanced with future production and reproductive performance to maximize economic return.
Figure 3 shows the average breakeven age and payback period length (i.e.: the amount of time after first calving for a cow to pay back her rearing investment) by age at first calving. This data suggests that achieving an age at first calving of approximately 21 months results in the earliest breakeven age. Calving earlier than 21 months of age lowers rearing costs but requires, on average, a longer period to pay back this investment and therefore results in a higher breakeven age. This is attributable to reduced first lactation milk yields frequently observed for animals calving too early.
When just looking at the post-calving payback period length, an age at first calving of 22 months required the shortest amount of time post-calving to produce enough revenue to reach breakeven, despite greater rearing costs than those calving earlier. However, these cows were still older at their breakeven age compared to the group calving at 21 months as their quick payback period, on average, was not enough to overcome their longer rearing time. A previous analysis at CDN showed that an age at first calving of 22 months was the optimal target in order to maximize profitability to six years of age for Holstein. These estimated ideal targets of age at first calving for breakeven age and profit are lower than the current national average age at first calving for Holsteins, which is approximately 25 to 26 months.
A first calving age beyond 22 months of age continued to have increasing payback period lengths. Accordingly, the breakeven age tends to increase at a rate greater than the extended time spent in the rearing phase. The longer the time before first calving, the greater the original investment or deficit the cow must repay before reaching the breakeven point without apparent benefits in production yields.
A dairy cow incurs costs every day she is alive but it is not until she calves that revenue from milk sales are realised. A large amount of variation exists in the Canadian Holstein population for the age at which they return their original investment. The breakeven age is an element of the early stage of a cow’s profit curve, which is driven by age at first calving and milk production. Delaying age at first calving beyond 21 months increases rearing costs and ultimately cows spend more days with overall negative profit. An older breakeven age represents a greater time period of risk where a monetary loss would occur if a cow stops producing. The breakeven age, however, does not express the ultimate profitability of the cows.
Author: Allison Fleming, Geneticist, Lactanet
Brian Van Doormaal, Chief Services Officer, Lactanet
As summer temperatures rise, beef and dairy animals benefit from heat abatement, says Joe Zulovich, a University of Missouri Extension specialist in livestock housing systems.
Lactating cows face the most risk from heat, says Zulovich. Dry cows and pre-weaned calves also fare better with heat abatement systems in place.
Heat abatement systems can be economically beneficial for some operations in hot, humid climates like Missouri, he says.
Zulovich suggests five ways to make cows cooler and more productive:
The best heat abatement available is an ample supply of fresh, clean drinking water, Zulovich says. The hotter it is, the more water cows need. Lactating cows consume 3-8 pounds of water per pound of dry matter intake. Larger dairy animals need about 2 feet of drinking space per animal. When temperatures soar, there should be enough space for 25% of the herd to drink at the same time. Water should be no more than 800 feet from the animals’ resting area.
Protect animals from direct sunlight by providing buildings or roof systems. If these are not available, suspend shade cloth over holding pens, especially ones holding lactating cows. Also put shade cloth over feeding areas to keep feed fresh and prevent it from drying. Cows eat more and perform better if their feeding area is shaded. Pre-weaned calves rest better when their hutches have shade.
Ventilation exchanges air inside a building with outside air. The temperature inside shouldn’t be more than 2-3 degrees higher than the outside temperature, Zulovich says. Air movement and direct evaporative cooling depend on good ventilation.
4. Air movement.
Get that air “moo-ving” for cool cows. Moving air helps move heat from the animal to the environment. Air should be moving at least 100 feet per minute over the animal’s body for the best effect. Stirring fans—propeller fans or low-speed horizontal ceiling fans—move the air inside buildings. In pasture-based systems, wind and shade can keep the herd cool.
5. Direct evaporative cooling.
Every pound of water evaporated from a cow’s skin surface dissipates about 1,000 BTUs of heat. Sprinklers create large droplets needed to reach the cow’s hair coat and wet the skin surface. Air movement and good ventilation help to evaporate the water from the skin. Sprinklers with a 360-degree circular pattern work well in holding pens. Sprinklers with a 180-degree semicircular pattern work well next to and along feed bunks. Run sprinklers about one minute—just enough to wet the cows. Shut off for five to 20 minutes to allow cows to dry and cool.
Lactating cows need direct evaporative cooling when the other four strategies above do not reduce heat stress. Direct evaporative cooling is desirable for dry cows and replacement heifers within two months of calving. Some pasture systems with irrigation systems let cows get wet under running irrigation sprinklers for direct evaporative cooling.
“Typically, indirect evaporative cooling is not effective for dairy operations in Missouri and other humid climates,” Zulovich said.
That’s counter to what many say is right for our diet. But for cows and other livestock, that’s the direction in which their diets are likely to shift. Farmers are trying to keep their animals well fed amid a Midwest shortage in hay and other grasses grown for livestock to eat.
“They have to start cutting back right now,” said Bill Weiss, dairy nutritionist with The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
Cutting back doesn’t mean the animals will have to eat less. It means they might need to eat more alternatives to the higher amounts of fiber they typically get.
So, for example, if hay, which is high in fiber, normally makes up about half the diet for a dairy cow or other animal, some of that hay could be substituted with, say, cottonseed — what’s left of a cotton plant once the cotton fibers are removed, Weiss said.
Farmers might also feed their livestock additional grain (protein and carbohydrates) and less of the fibrous (saladlike) portions of various plants, Weiss said.
“It’s what we have to do,” he said.
Before making any changes in what their animals are fed, livestock owners should consult with a nutritionist, Weiss said.
While humans can live reasonably OK without much fiber, which just passes through our bodies, cattle cannot. They need it. About one-third of their diet should be fiber, which provides them energy and keeps their digestive systems healthy.
Many farmers across Ohio are considering different diet options for their livestock because the state’s hay supply is the lowest since the 2012 drought, and the fourth lowest in 70 years. And the persistent spring rain during Ohio’s wettest yearlong period on record did not allow much hay to be cut in time for it to be the highest quality.
Dairy cows are particularly affected. Most dairy farmers feed their cows large amounts of corn silage, which is made by chopping the entire corn plant and letting it ferment in a silo. But the wet spring has delayed or prevented the planting of corn, a key ingredient in a lot of livestock feed. So, with fewer corn acres expected to be planted and an already low supply of hay, farmers are scrambling to plant other crops to feed their animals, such as cool-season grasses including oats and cereal rye.
“Timing is critical here,” Weiss said.
Some of the options being considered for animal feed are grasses such as sorghum and sorghum-sudangrass, and other warm-season summer annuals. If planted soon, they can be harvested September through early October and then fed to animals.
“These feed options are not as nutritious as conventional ones,” Weiss said. “But we can make them work.”
Farmers wanting to plant summer annuals to feed their livestock need to do so before July 15 in order to have enough of a warm growing season to grow and to be able to harvest before frost arrives, said Mark Sulc, a CFAES forage specialist.
Other cool-season crops can be planted a little later, starting the last week of July and into August, Sulc said. These include oats and spring triticale, which will be ready for harvest starting in early October and into November. Oats and spring triticale can also be planted in mixtures with cereal rye, which has the advantage of being able to survive the winter and will produce animal feed early next spring.
Since many farmers will be planting these annual crops for the first time this year, it’s critical for growers to know the requirements for each type to produce sizeable yields, Sulc said.
The flurry of planting annual crops for livestock feed “will help the shortage, but it’s not going to solve it completely,” he said. “We can’t grow enough this year to supply the entire demand. That’s why we need to consider alternative fiber sources.”
A case study involving Otago-based DRL Ltd has demonstrated that effective reduction in the prevalence of Johne’s disease is possible for New Zealand dairy farmers.
The study has been completed, in collaboration with Temuka veterinarian Andrew Bates, and a paper accepted for publication in the journal BMC Veterinary Research.
It described the control of Johne’s disease – a chronic wasting disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis – on a large South Canterbury dairy farm with an ongoing Johne’s problem. The farmer was culling between 80 and 100 cows a year on the 1200-cow farm.
DRL was established in 1985 within the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Otago.
It has worked closely with veterinarians and farmers for more than 30 years to develop and make available custom-diagnostic services.
Latterly, it moved from a university-administered laboratory service into an independent commercial entity under the management of Otago Innovation Ltd and was now based at Invermay.
In recent times, DRL’s stock in trade had been a test tailored for the diagnosis of Johne’s disease in farmed deer. Recently, it had a focus on the dairy industry.
While there had not been a formal survey done, there was a lot of anecdotal evidence about the extent of the problem in the dairy industry, DRL Ltd research manager Dr Rory O’Brien said.
There were suggestions that 60% of dairy farms had some of the bacterium causing Johne’s disease on their properties, and possibly 5% would be seeing clinical signs of the disease.
A big focus had been trying to get the attention of dairy farmers, particularly those with a Johne’s problem.
Often it was a case of “they don’t know what they don’t know” and they did not necessarily perceive that they had a problem, nor did they know what their production could be if they reduced the disease, Dr O’Brien said.
Recommendations for Johne’s control often came from an international perspective and often did not apply in the New Zealand dairy farming scenario.
On the South Canterbury farm, the reduction in the prevalence of infection was achieved by reducing the infectious pressure through targeted culling of heavily shedding animals, together with limited measures to protect calves at pasture from exposure to the bacterium.
The study demonstrates that with a combination of pre-calving diagnostic testing to identify and remove animals that were the major source of infectious spread, and simple management changes to physically separate replacement calves from infected adult cattle, effective reduction in the prevalence of the disease is possible.
On the case study farm, the prevalence of Johne’s dropped year-on-year, and over the study period the proportion of calved cows culled annually with suspected clinical Johne’s disease fell from 5% (55/1201) in the year preceding the control programme to 0.4 % (5/1283) in the final year of the study.
Alongside that, mastitis decreased, as did the somatic cell count, while production went up and the farm was producing 27,000kg ms more from 50 less cows.
When a farmer was provided with a list of shedding animals, in order of severity, the cull could be managed; the worst could be removed as quickly as possible, but they did not necessarily all have to be culled right then.
And those that were identified as shedding, but without clinical signs, could still be slaughtered for full carcass value.
Mr Bates presented the study to the Dairy Cattle Veterinarians conference in Queenstown in June, and that was a good opportunity to get it out to veterinarians that the testing was available, Dr O’Brien said.
With the cost of straw rising and availability on the decline, the conditions are right to rethink the impact and reconsider the value of straw in dairy cattle nutrition and rations.
Producers work hard to grow and harvest the best quality forages. Many are then told by their nutritionists that the feed is too good, that there is a need to slow things down. They are then told to add in subpar additives, like a pound or two of straw or poor dry hay. These things take up space from something that can be used; thus, decreasing energy as they cannot be fermented.
There are misconceptions about the need for straw, poor dry hay, and particle length in rations. Research may have shown a production increase with this method only because the cow feels better with less to digest, less energy, thus a more stable pH as the straw took up space in the rumen. Understanding how microbiology and nutrition work together in the rumen, the pH can be stabilized in a more efficient way.
The cost of straw is rising. Once the grain is harvested, the straw tends to lay in the field where it is exposed to the elements picking up mold and contaminates from dew, rain, and the soil.
Straw is simply ADF and lignin, wood fiber taking up space in the rumen. It is indigestible, thus it lowers energy. It is an expensive pass-through ending up right back in the manure – Anything that is not digested is simply a pass-through.
The key is microbiology nutrition. Recognizing fermentable fiber is a carbohydrate, so is corn. Making forages early maturity and wetter simply increases the percent to be fermented, along with the rate of fermentation – This is energy density. If ruminal pH is maintained, this is a good way of maintaining or increasing milk production on the same or less intake. The idea of pushing intake is old thinking, and it isn’t efficient. The new is the use of microbiology. Getting rid of the wood fiber for fermentable fiber, increasing the energy density so the cow doesn’t have to eat as much to make more on less with optimum health simultaneously.
Priority IAC, Inc. was founded in 1998 and is the Smartbacteria & Nutrition Company bringing the fields of microbiology and nutrition together for animal health by rethinking fermentable fiber, particle length, and energy density in rations.
Metabolic demands of the immune response to mastitis reduce glucose and amino acids available to support milk production, according to a review in Applied Animal Science
Monetary losses from mastitis result from several factors: reduced milk production and quality; increased labor, veterinary costs, and drug use; discard of abnormal and antibiotic-laden milk; and premature culling of affected animals. Among these, the greatest contributing factor is the reduced milk production of affected animals. The answers to the question of why milk yield reduction occurs during mastitis are many and interrelated.
Milk production is solely a function of the number of cells in the udder that synthesize and secrete milk and the average rate at which these cells synthesize and secrete milk components. Cellular and tissue damage that occurs during a mastitis event is associated with milk yield reductions. Although these consequences are undeniably significant contributing factors, milk yield losses during mastitis are also suspected to be a consequence of reductions in substrate availability and, therefore, reductions in cell synthesis and secretory activity.
“It can be recognized that there are certain energy requirements for an activated immune response. In the instance of mastitis, the activated immune cells that are recruited to the mammary gland are in the same locale as the cells that produce milk,” said author Benjamin D. Enger of The Ohio State University. “Such localization is expected to redirect some of the glucose and amino acids that would otherwise be used to support milk synthesis to the activated local immune cells requiring substrates for cellular functions.”
Applied Animal Science Editor-in-Chief David K. Beede said, “Mastitis with loss of milk yield and quality remains the most common and expensive disease in modern dairy production. This invited review addresses the prospect that substrate demands of activated localized immune cells might be a contributing factor by reducing glucose and amino acids available for milk synthesis. Future research should address this possibility.”
“The competition for glucose and amino acids would indicate that some nutrients being fed to the cow to support milk production may be used instead to address a preventable disease,” Enger added. “The importance of limiting the incidence and prevalence of mastitis on the farm is stressed given that such competitive nutrient utilization is expected to negate any intended improvements in milk yield that are nutritionally driven.”
The review appears in the August issue of Applied Animal Science.
ABOUT APPLIED ANIMAL SCIENCE
Applied Animal Science (AAS) is a peer-reviewed scientific journal and the official publication of the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists (ARPAS). In continuous publication since 1985, AAS is a leading outlet for animal science research. The journal welcomes novel manuscripts on applied technology, reviews on the use or application of research-based information on animal agriculture, commentaries on contemporary issues, short communications, and technical notes. Topics that will be considered for publication include (but are not limited to) feed science, farm animal management and production, dairy science, meat science, animal nutrition, reproduction, animal physiology and behavior, disease control and prevention, microbiology, agricultural economics, and environmental issues related to agriculture. Themed special issues may also be considered for publication. www.appliedanimalscience.org
ABOUT THE AMERICAN REGISTRY OF PROFESSIONAL ANIMAL SCIENTISTS
The American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists (ARPAS) is the organization that provides certification of animal scientists through examination, continuing education, and commitment to a code of ethics. Continual improvement of individual members is catalyzed through publications (including the AAS journal) and by providing information on educational opportunities. ARPAS is affiliated with five professional societies: American Dairy Science Association, American Meat Science Association, American Society of Animal Science, Equine Science Society, and Poultry Science Association. www.arpas.org
Elsevier (www.elsevier.com) is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions—among them ScienceDirect (www.sciencedirect.com), Scopus (www.scopus.com), Elsevier Research Intelligence (www.elsevier.com/research-intelligence), and ClinicalKey (www.clinicalkey.com)—and publishes over 2,500 journals, including The Lancet (www.thelancet.com) and Cell(www.cell.com), and more than 35,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works. Elsevier is part of RELX Group (www.relx.com), a world-leading provider of information and analytics for professional and business customers across industries. www.elsevier.com
Frequent forage testing and regular updates to diets help achieve precision feeding. Ration formulation has come a long way with advanced computer models and balancing requirements based on many details related to the animal and the feeds. To reap the benefits of the nutritional research conducted over the past decades good feeding management practices are needed. It still boils down to how well the ration is being implemented on farm, which in some cases may vary greatly from the formulated diet.
Starting in 2016 twenty-four herds began an on-farm project to evaluate practices related to cropping, feeding and financial management. During the sampling period, which included the analysis of the lactating cow total mixed ration (TMR), information was collected on the feeding weights and refusals, pounds of milk shipped, and the nutritionist’s ration. One of the major goals of the project is to evaluate precision feeding – how closely does the TMR analyses match the formulated ration for nutrient specifications, dry matter intakes and milk production. Protein and carbohydrates are critical nutrients in precision feeding however, some interesting observations on calcium and phosphorus agreement have materialized.
Nineteen of the twenty-four farms have complete data for 2016 and their average production was 78 pounds. There was very good agreement on the dry matter percent with the actual TMRs trending wetter (45.5% dry matter) than the formulated (46.2% dry matter) and the difference was less than one percent on average. Basing dry matter intakes on the batch weights fed (including refusals) and the dry matter percent from the TMR, there was generally good agreement with the trend being on average 0.70 pounds lower actual intakes compared to the formulated ration. Two herds were big outliers, one came back consuming 10 pounds less dry matter than expected and the other herd 10 pounds more than formulated.
The discrepancy and range in calcium levels tested and formulated were huge. The range in calcium percent was 0.63% – 1.63% for actual and 0.59% – 1.00% for formulated however, the lows and highs did not match on the respective farms. When herds were divided based on milk production (<69 lbs., 70-79 lbs., 80-89 lbs., and >90 lbs.) the low production group had the greatest mismatch on calcium percent in the diet. For the herds averaging over 70 pounds, the agreement between actual and formulated was very similar. When calcium intake was evaluated, there was no pattern based on milk production but it was fairly consistent that cows were consuming more calcium (0.48 pounds) compared to the formulated ration (0.44 pounds). The range for calcium intake was very broad (0.33 lbs. – 0.65 lbs.).
Phosphorus is generally the mineral of most interest due to its environmental concerns. Overall, there was good agreement with the actual trending higher on average compared to the formulated (0.42% versus 0.38% on a dry matter basis, respectively). The lower producing herds tended to have the lower percent phosphorus and the higher producing herds the higher percent. The positive aspect on the phosphorus is the excellent agreement on the pounds fed (actual and formulated). Only four herds had phosphorus exceeding the cow’s nutrient requirement (average 0.28 lbs.) with one farm deliberately formulating for the higher level.
The herds participating in the Extension Dairy Team’s project would be considered very progressive and well managed. There is a tendency to focus on the key nutrients that influence milk production and performance. Minerals should not be overlooked in their agreement between the actual ration fed and the paper diet. A mismatch on calcium and phosphorus can give insights on where bottlenecks may be in nutrition or management. The other major and trace minerals can give clues to problems in mixing or ingredient nutrient content.
Action plan for implementing precision feeding
Validate mixing procedures and ingredient specifications by analyzing the total mixed ration at least two times per year.
Step 1: Determine key times during the year when TMR sampling would be appropriate.
Step 2: Record batch weights, refusals and the number of cows fed when the TMR is sampled.
Step 3: Calculate the actual dry matter intake based on the batch weights and the dry matter percent of the TMR.
Step 4: Compare the TMR analysis with the formulated ration. Discuss any discrepancies with the nutritionist and feeder.
Step 5: Record milk production and intakes. Make notes of any events that may have affected results.
Monitoring must include an economic component to determine if a management strategy is working or not. For the lactating cows income over feed costs is a good way to check that feed costs are in line for the level of milk production. Starting with July’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 (Alltech product) 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: June’s Penn State milk price: $18.13/cwt; feed cost/cow: $5.29; average milk production: 83 lbs.
With the dairy economy still struggling, farmers and producers have been looking for ways to cut costs and lower overall expenses in their operations. Any cost saving decisions should be done with future implications in mind. Will cutting back on a certain fertilizer or pesticide create problems for future production? Will a management change affect the health of my animals down the road? Because as stressful as times are, looking into the future and planning on the longevity of your operations should still be an everyday occurrence to maintain a positive attitude. Looking at ways to cut costs, lower costs of production, and positively impact your bottom line are all beneficial practices to start today. One area that you can start with are your calves. Numerous producers have questioned a switch from milk replacer to whole milk to save money. Many are concerned with the logistics and if they can successfully make the switch on their farms. The following do’s and don’ts are to be used as general rules of thumb when taking this switch into consideration.
Do alleviate financial burdens of feeding milk replacer if you have the available non-salable milk from your herd. Most milk cooperatives will put a base on producers and charge a fee when too much milk is shipped. Therefore, using the milk produced on the farm and saving the milk replacer bill is a financial win-win situation.
Do be aware that whole milk is nearly 100% digestible in the dairy calf. Some milk replacers on the market today have replaced milk proteins in milk replacers with plant-based proteins in order to decrease costs. However, these plant-based proteins are not as digestible in the dairy calf for the first 3 weeks of life. This will create a calf that is deficient in protein which consequently stresses the immune system and can lead to unhealthy calves.
Do feed adequate amounts to meet or exceed the nutritional requirements of the calf. Nutritional amounts are determined on a dry matter basis. Whole milk is 87% water therefore it is 13% dry matter. Feeding 10 pounds of milk would equal 1.3 pounds of dry matter. One gallon of milk weighs 8.6 pounds and would convert to 1.11 pounds of dry matter. In order to provide adequate nutrition, whole milk should be fed at a rate of 5 to 6 quarts per day for large breed calves. Feeding amounts for Jerseys and other small calves would need decreased by approximately 25%. These feeding rates equal 1.3 to 1.6 lb. of dry matter if using 12.5% as the solids content of whole milk. Milk replacer would need to be fed at a higher amount on a dry matter basis to provide the same nutritional content.
Do make sure that calves are drinking their milk within a reasonable time frame. Healthy calves should consume their milk immediately after being fed. The bacteria count in milk can double every 20 minutes as milk reaches room temperature. Therefore, if milk is not being consumed within 2 to 3 hours, dependent on the outside temperature, the milk needs to be discarded. If milk is not being consumed, this is an automatic alert that the calf’s health status should be evaluated.
Do provide a period of transition where feeding amounts of milk are decreased to encourage an increase in starter intake prior to weaning. Calves need to be provided a good quality starter from day 3 of life. Rumen development in the calf does not begin until the calves consume at least a half pound of grain for 21 to 28 days. Three weeks of adequate rumen development will help to prevent calves from experiencing a growth slump at weaning time.
Do keep whole milk temps between 90 and 100 °F when feeding it to calves. This temperature will need to be increased in the winter months to conserve heat and energy in the calf. Milk shuttles and smaller storage tanks can be used to keep milk at desired temps. Feeding whole milk straight from the bulk tank can work as long as the calves are not exposed to the outside elements of mother nature.
Don’t forgo a pasteurizer if you and your veterinarian are not confident with the disease status of your herd. Pasteurizers can help to decrease the chance of disease transfer, however, will not completely eliminate all disease pathogens. Mycoplasma and Johne’s can be eliminated with the use of a pasteurizer; however, they need to be operating according to the individual pasteurizer’s specifications.
Don’t forget to provide fresh, clean water daily. Rumen development is dependent on starter and water intake. Water from milk and milk replacers does not meet this requirement.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to know what the bacteria counts in your milk are. Milk testers can take samples and test the bacteria levels in the milk that you are feeding calves. This can alert you to potential problems in your feeding program, especially if you are seeing scours in your calves.
Don’t leave your daily gains to a guessing game. Designate times in your management program to take weight and height measurements of your growing calves. If you do not have scales available, inexpensive weigh tapes can be just as effective to give you a consistent idea of how your calves are growing. Average daily gains can be determined if weights at birth and at weaning are taken.
Don’t be fooled by the possible fluctuations in components when feeding whole milk. Standard milk replacers consist of 20% fat and 20% protein. When feeding whole milk, the fat and protein percentages will not fluctuate any more the fat and protein components in your bulk tank. Seasonal changes may create a small fluctuations, but not enough to create drastic changes in the calf feeding program. An average Holstein herd will have a 3.7% fat and 3.3% protein, which would equate to 28% fat and 25% protein and is comparable to most higher quality milk replacers on the market There are multiple, successful ways to feed calves. Some producers raise excellent calves on milk replacers and their neighbors will swear by feeding while milk. Each individual farm has different management styles that fit their unique operation. Perhaps facility design and location of the bulk tank create challenges for implementing new changes. Whatever factors may be holding up the decision-making process, knowing these facts about whole milk should help you move forward. Whatever change you may decide to implement, make sure it is an economical decision that has the future of your farm in mind.
It is common knowledge for some but less well-known by others that seasonality has a significant impact on the performance of pre- and immediately post-weaned dairy heifer calves. Because of the important effect of seasonality, calf raisers should alter their management and feeding strategies through the seasons to ensure that calves are growing to their fullest potential, whether temperatures are 100 degrees F or 30-below.
Under heat stress conditions, it is important to offer a high-quality, fresh and palatable calf starter such as Elite 18 to encourage intake and promote rumen development. The importance of consistently providing calves with fresh, clean water year round is especially vital during the hot season when calves are heat stressed. Adding a Rite-Lyte electrolyte feeding on hot days can help calves stay hydrated and maintain healthy metabolic homeostasis. Flies can have a significant impact on calf performance, so consider implementing a fly control strategy in your calf feeding program to limit fly stress on your calves.
Cold weather feeding strategies to keep calves healthy and growing include: 1) Delivering more energy in the milk or milk replacer with a fat supplement; 2) Feeding a higher-fat milk replacer formula; and/or 3) Feeding more milk volume of milk or milk replacer solution. More information on cold weather strategies can be found here.
To understand seasonal growth differences of young calves, 8 years’ worth of individual calf data from the University of Minnesota Southern Outreach and Research Center (SROC) was compiled and analyzed under the following parameters and conditions:
All calves were fed Hubbard Feeds’ Elite 18 Texturized Calf Starter.
All calves were fed Hubbard Feeds’ Calf Beginner 20-20 milk replacer at 10 oz. twice daily from days 1–35 and once daily from days 36–42 and were fully weaned by the end of day 42.
All calves were housed individually, with intake and performance measurements taken through 56 days.
Summer parameters = calves born in May, June or July.
Winter parameters = calves born in November, December or January.
Starter intake: As seen in Table 1, winter-born calves consumed 16 lb. more per week than summer-born calves in the pre-weaning period (days 1–42). This trend continued through the post-weaning period (days 43–56) and overall (days 1–56). To break this down to a daily starter intake basis, winter-born calves consumed just over half a pound more per day than summer-born calves in the first 56 days of life.
Milk replacer intake: Unsurprisingly, milk replacer intakes (Table 2) were relatively similar for both summer-born and winter-born calves, with winter-born calves consuming only 0.94 lb more milk replacer (dry matter basis) through 42 days. It is important to note that winter-fed calves were fed 20% more milk per feeding when temperatures dropped below 0 degrees F, and 40% more milk at temperatures of -10 degrees F and below.
Average daily gain (ADG): Table 3 depicts bi-weekly ADG of the calves. Interestingly, winter-born calves outperformed summer-born calves from days 15–56, although they lagged behind in the first 2 weeks of life. This is likely due to cold outdoor temperatures and the increase in the maintenance requirements of these young calves. With the limited starter intake in the first 2 weeks of life, winter-born calves do not perform as well as summer-born calves early on.
Hip height gain: Although drastic variations were seen in ADG, hip height gain differences (shown in Table 4) were minimal, suggesting that the performance differences could be attributed more to body weight and less to frame growth. Winter-born calves gained a total of 4.18 inches through 56 days of age, whereas summer-born calves were slightly lower, at 4.13 inches of hip height gain.
In short, calves born in the winter season gained, on average, 0.25 lb more per day than summer-born calves in the first 56 days of life, which equates to an additional 14 lb of total body weight gain. Winter-born calves also consumed more calf starter than summer-born calves in this period in order to meet the increased maintenance requirements brought on by cold stress.
It is important to not only recognize the impact that seasonality can have on calf performance, but also to understand how we can manage growing calves during these seasonal variations. Weighing calves, monitoring intakes and keeping organized calf health records are vital to benchmarking your calf program, which will allow you to make educated management decisions when the seasons begin to change. Work with your Hubbard Feeds representative to explore the products and services that could bring your calf program to the next level.
This week, farmers in a lot of the eastern Corn Belt will likely be eligible to plant cover crops because the late-plant interval on prevent plant acres ends. Following last week’s announcement concerning the potential to reap cover crops on September 1 as an alternative of November 1 many farmers, notably within the higher Midwest, began to surprise if silage corn can be eligible. In response to Richard Flournoy, deputy administrator of product administration for the USDA-Risk Management Agency (RMA), silage corn may be suitable for planting on stop plant acres.
“A canopy crop for crop insurance purposes, now we have a broad definition, and it is typically many issues that any crop that may be planted for erosion control, soil enhancement, or every other sort of conservation practice,” he told AgriTalk host Chip Flory.
If producers have questions on what could be considered a canopy crop of their state, Flournoy suggests a go to the native National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) workplace. Particular person states can have an inventory of what crops may be considered cowl crops.
Moreover, he says an “ag expert” can deem a crop eligible by figuring out the prospective yield meets all the cover crop definitions.
“We’ve on our website a link to all the oldsters who will be thought of an expert,” he stated. “A certified crop advisor is [someone] that would say in your space, corn for silage may very well be a canopy crop. One key distinction there’s it can’t be corn for grain or seed, so long as it is for silage, it meets that cover crop definition.”
There is a great misconception that once hay is “dry” and baled it is plain and devoid of life. The truth is that hay is never completely dry, and it is full of microscopic life. If the hay is not dry enough, those microscopic life forms can cause major problems. It’s Alive! Many microorganisms (mainly fungi species like Aspergillus and Fusarium, bacteria, and others) are ever present in hay (Figure 1). They feed on available carbohydrates on the surface of the forage plants and inside the stems and leaves. This feeding results in the loss of some dry matter (DM), reduces the quality of the hay, and also generates heat. The temperature of these hay bales, stacks, and barns can get very hot. In extreme cases, it can get so hot that the bales can catch on fire, even without a spark (i.e., spontaneous combustion). Even if the temperature does not reach these extremes, these microorganisms can also form spores. It is these spores that give the hay a moldy smell.
Figure 1. Summary of heating during hay storage, including recommended actions at various hay temperatures, what is causing the temperature increase, and what is happening as a result of the heat.
Nearly all hay goes through “a sweat” during the first few days after baling when the temperature rises. Figure 2 shows two cuttings of hay in a study I conducted while at the University of Kentucky wherein the bales’ temperature was tracked over time. Notice that the
summer cutting, which was put up at 16% moisture, stayed relatively cool even during higher average ambient air temperatures. However, the fall cutting was baled a little wet (20% moisture) for round bales and it spiked over 140° F within just 3 days.
Figure 2. Temperature of round bale alfalfa hay from summer (16% moisture) and fall (20% moisture) cuttings relative to the ambient air temperature during the first few days after baling.
The heat that is generated when hay goes through “a sweat” is a side effect of the microorganisms consuming the most digestible portions of the forage, such as carbohydrates like sugar and starch. Consequently, a substantial portion of the hay could be used up during this process.
Dr. Wayne Coblentz, Research Agronomist at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service’s U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, has conducted several experiments on the impact that hay moisture and the resulting heating of the hay have on dry matter (DM) loss, hay quality, and heat risk. He recently found that for every 10° F increase in maximum temperature, the hay would lose up to 2% of the DM during storage.
Since these losses are coming from the most digestible forms of energy in the forage, hay heating comes at the expense of digestibility and the concentration of energy in the forage. Dr. Coblentz showed that the TDN of bermudagrass hay is decreased by more than 1 percentage point for every 10° F increase in maximum temperature over 100° F. In other words, a good bermudagrass hay crop that was just a little too wet when it was baled might have gone into the barn at 58% TDN, but it likely will come out of the barn with less than 54% TDN if it heated up to 140 °F or more.
What is “Dry Enough?”
Much of the original research suggests hay moisture content should be kept less than 20% for small rectangular bales, less than 18% for round bales, and less than 16% for large rectangular bales. These are still good “rules of thumb,” but there are exceptions. Consider, for example, the advances in bale package sizes and high-density baling systems that have occurred in the modern era. These denser bale packages enable the heat to build up to a higher degree. Other factors can also contribute to the extent of hay heating, including the amount of available carbohydrates in the forage crop, air circulation in the hay stack, relative humidity in the storage area, and the ambient temperature and humidity outside. Each producer’s situation will be somewhat different because of equipment, storage technique, and climatic differences. So, within the ranges provided in Figure 3, hay growers should allow for the effect that these factors might influence which target bale moisture is right for their farm.
Figure 3. The effect of bale moisture on the amount of damage that can be expected with different sizes and densities of hay bales, as well as other factors that affect hay heating.
Every year, I get 3-4 calls from folks who have had hay barns burn down. The calls almost always include the question, “Do you think I might not have gotten that hay dry enough?” It is truly tragic when it happens. The key is to control what you can control. For more information on hay molding and heating, visit our website at www.georgiaforages.com.
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced the signup period for the new Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program will open June 17, 2019. Dairy producers who elect a DMC coverage level between $9 and $9.50 would be eligible for a payment for January, February, March and April 2019.
With the FSA signup there is renewed interest by farmers in learning more about the program. Mark Stephenson, Director of the Center for Dairy Profitability at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension, created resources to help farmers consider signup strategies for their farm. County Extension Agents can help farmers access information and tools for the DMC program. Farmers can utilize an informative video, chart the current forecasted margin, and access the DMC decision making tool from the website: https://dairymarkets.org/DMC/. For access to Dairy Margin Coverage informational meetings offered in your area visit https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/farmteam/events/ or contact your local county Extension office https://counties.extension.wisc.edu/.
DMC, which replaces the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy), offers protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all milk price and the average feed cost (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer.
For example, a dairy operation that chooses to enroll an established production history of 3 million pounds (30,000 cwt.) and elects the $9.50 coverage level on 95 percent of production would receive $1,543.75 for March.
$9.50 – $8.85 margin = $0.65 difference
$0.65 x 95 percent of production x 2,500 cwt. (30,000 cwt./12) = $1,543.75
DMC premiums are paid annually. The calculated annual premium for coverage at $9.50 on 95 percent of a 3-million-pound production history for this example would be $4,275.
3,000,000 x 95 percent = 2,850,000/100 = 28,500 cwt. x 0.150 premium fee = $4,275
The dairy operation in the example calculation will pay $4,275 in total premium payments for all of 2019 and receive $9,950 in DMC payments for January, February, March and April combined. Additional payments will be made if calculated margins remain below the $9.50/cwt level.
All participants are also required to pay an annual $100 administrative fee in addition to any premium, and payments will be subject to a 6.2 percent reduction to account for federal sequestration.
For DMC signup, eligibility and related dairy program information, contact your local USDA service center. To locate your local FSA office, visit farmers.gov/service-locator.
Would anyone doubt that a successful dairy farm requires a team effort? Silly question? Not at all. Most dairy farms have groups of people or collections of individuals rather than teams. Success does not demand a team approach. A farm manager who prefers a team approach faces a tough test of patience, people skills, and communication.
A dairy farm can have a team of people, a group, or just a collection of individuals. The differences among the three are important:
Team→ Several people who work together as a cohesive unit to achieve specific, shared goals.
Group→ Several people who have common goals but work independently without depending on each other for their success.
Individuals→ Several individuals who work independently to accomplish their individual goals without depending on each other for their success.
There are good reasons for dairy farm managers to form teams. Successful teams are likely to help managers accomplish the following:
Efficiency in use of farm resources
Complementarity of skills brought to the team by its members
Reinforcement of goals, standards, procedures, and rules
Mentoring of newer and less skilled team members by other team members
Esprit de corps from team members personally enjoying each others’ company and the team’s accomplishments
Peer pressure to help meet team goals and to correct performance deficiencies
Monitoring of performance at both the individual and team level.
However, people sometimes have understandable reasons for resisting teamwork:
Previous negative experiences with attempts at teamwork
Fear of the risk that goes with commitment to a team effort
Management’s failure to develop an atmosphere of trust in a team’s ability to be good for both the farm and individuals
Some people not fitting well into a team environment, e.g., perfectionists, scorekeepers, grudge carriers, loners, and procrastinators.
Stages of Team Development
A dairy farm group goes through several stages before becoming a highly efficient and effective team. The stages are:
Initial Integration (norming)
Teams go through these stages at different rates and in different ways. Most will go through all five stages provided they don’t stall at an early stage and cease to function.
Note carefully! We are describing a process uncommon in group work. Teamwork is easy rhetoric. The practice of teamwork challenges even the most experienced dairy farm managers. Some farm managers look for “top down” shortcuts. Some scoff at the time necessary to turn a group of people into a team. However, for those who understand the principles and then work hard at implementation, the payoffs can justify the effort.
We turn now to the characteristics typically associated with each of the five stages in the team development process.
Members become acquainted
Members learn about goals and tasks of the team
Members evaluate work associated with and benefits of the team relative to career and personal needs
Almost everyone exhibits good behavior and courtesy
Leader is identified
Preliminary plans are made for the next steps
Members enjoy a good and seemingly easy start
Conflict may occur during long and seemingly inefficient meetings
There is a lot of “behind the bosses’ back” and “behind the leaders’ back” kind of grumbling
High emotion characterizes some of the interaction among team members
Doubts based on previous negative experiences cause people to be cautious
Doubts emerge about ability to deliver all that is expected
Writing a mission statement and/or goals is stressful and leads to additional statements about differences of opinion
Outcome finally is to push ahead with a sense that some important progress has been made but that there is much still to be accomplished
Initial Integration (norming)
Team begins to function cooperatively
Rules of acceptable conduct, or norms, are established
Team needs begin to take precedence over individual needs
Mission statement and detailed goals are completed
Individuals begin to experience benefits of close cooperation with others on the team
Sense of closeness and group purpose emerges
Team has some major successes
Major successes continue
Conflict is rational
Creative tension regularly reappears
“What next?” is a compulsive question
Team struggles with how to handle changing membership
Successes are widely recognized
Members are concerned more about the team than their own successes
Team is well organized; meetings are short and efficient
No team goes on indefinitely
Teams that have functioned well sense when change, new members, and “mission accomplished” have taken members back to the forming stage.
Cultivating Team Performance
Neither the farm manager nor outside cooperators, e.g., veterinarians, can accept responsibility for team performance. Each team is responsible for its own performance. However, the following guidelines for team members, managers, and cooperators can help cultivate team performance:
Establish urgency. Have a driving cause, issue, or need.
Pay particular attention to early planning meetings and actions. Remember that most groups never reach the norming stage of team development.
Set some clear rules of behavior. Those rules will vary from team to team. Examples include holding all scheduled team meetings, starting meetings on time, volunteering to help each other with disagreeable jobs, saying thank you, and not talking about problems with neighbors and friends.
Set and seize upon a few performance-oriented tasks and goals. Make them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarding, and Timed.
Challenge each other with fresh facts and information.
Spend lots of time together. There is no substitute for a team caring about its members and each team member caring about the welfare of the team. Celebrate birthdays, go to a baseball game together, have frequent team meetings, and have a daily “coffee break” together.
Exploit the power of positive feedback, recognition, and reward. Celebrating successes is time well spent.
Farm families are the backbone of America. But farm families are feeling the pressure of an inconsistent and unreliable economy. These stressors can lead to mental and emotional distress, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and even suicide.
Farming and ranching rank in the top ten of most stressful occupations. They also rank first and third respectfully in suicides. Understanding what those stress signs are is imperative. We may want to ignore them but at some point, there is a price to pay-physical health like a heart attack, emotional health like a broken relationship, mental health like depression or worse. Taking care of yourself and those around you is so important.
So what can you do, be aware, add coping strategies, find someone to talk to. Be intentional! Exercise, get enough sleep, eat healthy, take time every day to reflect on the good things in your life.
Awareness is the first step to understanding Stress and its effect on us. Making small intentional steps daily can be a life saver!
Penn State Extension has prepared this selection of assets to help farm families navigate the numerous resources available online and provide timely, science-based education and information to support prosperous farms and healthy farm families.
Dairy producers have been investigating the strategy of using beef semen on their dairy cows to generate crossbred dairy steers as an alternative enterprise. The low prices paid for cull cows and calves has forced producers to examine other ways to improve their cash flow. The level of management related to home raised feeds, especially quantity and basic animal husbandry will determine if a profit is possible. There are a lot of aspects to consider about this kind of venture before moving forward.
Examining alternative enterprises relies heavily on knowing the current financial status of the business. It is not a far stretch to engage in the beef side since this aspect has always been a minor component of the dairy operation with income from cull cows and calves. Evaluating the dairy enterprise for the past six years in Pennsylvania, animal sales account for between 5.5 and 8.0 percent of the total inflow on a per cow basis. For the average producer thinking about implementing crossbred dairy steers (assume 40 animals annually), this may increase that number by two to four percent. When the expenses are factored in, it most likely will be a breakeven endeavor. There is a lot of homework that needs done before making any changes.
As with any commodity, there are market specifics including a consistent buyer and a good price. Producing an acceptable-quality carcass from dairy beef crosses requires feeding a high-energy ration and marketing them at an early age (12 to 14 months) and acceptable weight (1,150 to 1,450 pounds). The first questions to answer are: “can the dairy operation provide the number of beef animals to improve the cash flow?” and “will the price paid for Holstein beef crosses make a profit?”. For the week ending May 31 the average crossbred dairy steer price was $0.77/lb. The potential income on 40 animals could be around $35,000. The other side of the equation is the expenses, and growing good animals for beef production does not come cheap.
Adequate facilities, labor, and feed will be the three target areas that will determine if raising crossbred dairy steers is profitable. Good management practices must be followed to get animals to the desired weight within the proper time frame. The producer’s mind set must change from a forage-based approach to a high concentrate diet if the desired gains are to be achieved.
Dr. Tara Felix at Penn State developed an easy budget calculator to examine costs involved in raising dairy beef steers . Using the standard prices from the budget, the only changes made were for home raised corn grain, corn silage and hay based on high and low profit herds from the Extension dairy team’s crops to cow project. The comparison includes only the variable costs (feed, health, bedding, miscellaneous etc.) for 40 animals. The prices used for the high and low profit herds respectively were corn grain: $2.37/bu. and $4.62/bu.; corn silage: $22.58/ton and $40.51/ton; and hay: $231/ton and $64/ton. Expenses for the high profit herd came to $31,000 and the low profit herd $51,000. Herds doing an excellent job on their cropping enterprise have potential to make a cash surplus assuming fixed costs are reasonable. Herds that consistently struggle with high costs for their home-raised feeds would need to market their animals from this alternative enterprise at $1.10 per pound to breakeven just looking at the variable costs, which may not be realistic even for well finished dairy steers.
The same approach for determining what makes a positive cash flow for the dairy operation applies to the beef enterprise. The number of animals and the market price will determine the inflow needed to cover the outflow, and feed cost will be a substantial component. A positive return is possible, but good management practices must be in place to make it work.
Action plan for pursuing crossbred dairy steers as an alternative enterprise
Goal – Determine if raising dairy beef steers is a profitable endeavor
Step 1: Utilize Penn State Extension’s Excel Cash Flow Spreadsheet to determine the farm’s breakeven cost of production coupled with the costs to raise home raised feeds.
Step 2: Working with the appropriate consultants, evaluate what the beef market is looking for and what average price has been paid for crossbred dairy steers raised for beef markets.
Step 3: Determine the number of crossbred dairy steers needed to cash flow the operation and determine if current facilities and labor are adequate.
Step 4: Work with a nutritionist to develop the appropriate rations to achieve the necessary gains ensuring current feed inventories are adequate. If home raised feeds cannot cover the diet requirements, evaluate using purchased feed prices.
Step 5: Using a sample crossbred dairy steer budget, enter in numbers and prices appropriate for the operation. Determine the number of animals and price per pound needed to show a profit.
Monitoring must include an economic component to determine if a management strategy is working or not. For the lactating cows, income over feed costs is a good way to check that feed costs are in line for the level of milk production. Starting with July 2014’s milk price, income over feed costs was calculated using average intake and production for the last six years from the Penn State dairy herd. The ration contained 63% forage consisting of corn silage, haylage and hay. The concentrate portion included corn grain, candy meal, sugar, canola meal, roasted soybeans, Optigen® and a mineral vitamin mix. All market prices were used.
Also included are the feed costs for dry cows, springing heifers, pregnant heifers and growing heifers. The rations reflect what has been fed to these animal groups at the Penn State dairy herd. All market prices were used.
Income over feed cost using standardized rations and production data from the Penn State dairy herd.
Note: Penn State’s May milk price: $18.49/cwt; feed cost/cow: $6.20; average milk production: 84 lbs.
Meat and dairy are New Zealand’s biggest earners when it comes to exports, however, they are also our largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. As we try to balance our economy with our commitment to the Paris climate agreement new research out this week thinks the secret to reducing climate change could be through breeding less burpy cows.
Methane emissions from ruminants including sheep and cows account for about a third of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions and are by far the largest single contributor. Although methane stays in the atmosphere for less time than carbon, as a gas it is much more effective at trapping heat – acting as a blanket over our planet and playing a significant role when it comes to climate change.
Methane isn’t physically produced by the ruminants themselves, instead, the animals act as a host to a group of microbes called methanogens that live in their digestive system. It is these methanogens that produce the methane by combining hydrogen and carbon dioxide during food digestion. To look at the relationship between methane emissions and livestock, a large European Union commissioned research project called RuminOmics took a team of more than 30 scientists and several breeds of common cow to see if there was a simple way to reduce the amount of methane produced.
The scientists inserted a brass cylinder into the mouth of the cows they were studying and pulled up fluid from the rumen, the first of four compartments found in the stomach of a cow. This is the area where grass that has been chewed and swallowed by the cow gets partially digested through a fermentation reaction. The researchers found that this fluid contained different types of protozoa, bacteria, fungi, DNA and single-celled organisms known as archaea. The bacteria produce hydrogen as they ferment the carbohydrates from the chewed up grass which is then combined with carbon dioxide by the archaea in the rumen producing a methane-rich gassy combination, 95 per cent of which is burped out by the cow.
Previous research has tried to solve this methane emissions issue by changing the diet that the cows ate, with the addition of seaweed instead of grass as one way of reducing the amount of methane produced. Although the extra seaweed was successful in methane reduction, the additional food cost plus the extra carbon footprint needed to transport seaweed to farms did not make it a viable option for many farmers. Rather than change the diet of the cow, the RuminOmics research, which was summarised in the journal Science Advances, found that it was more effective to change the methane-producing bacteria that lived in the cow. Their results found a strong link between the genetic make-up of the cow and they type of microbe that lived in its digestive system with high methane-producing microbes being inherited from one generation to the next. The simple solution they found was to selectively breed cows that didn’t have these inherited genetic traits which seemed to relate to the hosting of high methane-producing microbes. The study agreed with local work carried out at AgResearch, which has also been successful in selectively breeding sheep that have specific genetics to produce less methane from their grassy diets.
Altering the genetic make-up of cows by breeding for good heritable traits is standard in the livestock industry although it has typically been tailored to produce improved milk or meat yields. Now the challenge is to see if both an increased milk or meat yield and lower emissions can be bred together into one single productive yet environmentally friendly and less burpy cow.
Minimizing death rates is one of the top ways to maximize dairy profits, according to a recent financial analysis.1 Lower death rates are generally an indicator of good animal husbandry skills. And overall animal husbandry skills are in the hands of your employees.
All data in this study point to death rates and net farm income being positively influenced by a well-trained, qualified and invested workforce. It’s true that your people are your greatest asset. They also can be your greatest liability if not properly led, trained or, rather, inspired.
Because managing employees can be one of the most complicated challenges on a dairy, here are a few places to start when looking to improve animal husbandry and minimize death rates:
Hire the right people. The people you hire, no matter how qualified, can take your dairy — and death rates —in the wrong direction if their goals and values differ from those of the operation. Prevent that by taking time to evaluate the goals of your operation and your employees. Interview your employees to help you make better hiring decisions. Ask them these questions.
Train your workforce on milk quality. The study shows elevated death rates in herds that have elevated somatic cell counts (SCC) — demonstrating both are linked to overall animal husbandry practices. Training on other milk quality practices before, during and after milking can help improve milk quality and animal well-being. For example, employees are trained to look for physical mastitis symptoms, but they should also look for evidence of subclinical mastitis infections.
Foster teamwork. A manager who is undertrained and disengaged can contribute to disengaged employees and turnover. A highly engaged team is a more capable team. This team is more capable of getting cows pregnant quickly and efficiently. They are invested in getting high volumes of milk harvested from cows on a regular basis. And they care more about limiting involuntary culling and death losses. Simple changes in people management can create higher employee engagement, improve team performance and increase dairy profitability.
Learn more here about death rates and other Dairy Financial Drivers impacting net herd income.
It’s common to cull older cows while making room for younger ones. You orchestrate this herd turnover to ensure the longevity and productivity of your herd, but could it be hurting your farm’s profitability?
The cost of herd turnover extends beyond the difference between the monetary value of a cull cow and its replacement. You also must factor in the animals’ production potential. First-lactation animals produce 15% less milk than second-lactation cows and 25% less than third-lactation cows.1 When you replace mature cows with younger ones, you can experience production losses.
Zoetis and Compeer Financial identified net herd turnover cost as a major driver of dairy profitability in an analysis of 11 years of herd data, including 489 year-end financial and production-record summaries. Their study found that the difference in profit between the herds with the highest and lowest rates of turnover was 7 pounds of milk per cow per day, and $376 per cow per year.1*
The key to maximizing your herd’s production potential and your profit margins is minimizing your net herd turnover cost. In the financial driver study, the bottom third of dairies analyzed had an average net herd turnover cost of $1.99/cwt, more than double that of the top third of dairies at just $0.91/cwt. If you reduce herd turnover rates and maintain a herd with a higher proportion of aged cows, your milk production levels will increase, resulting in a positive impact on net farm income.
While you work toward reducing herd turnover, how do you still ensure the quality of your herd and the milk they produce?
Monitor and manage SCC — Mastitis infections are difficult to diagnose, resulting in problems for cows and their milk production when the infection progresses and symptoms manifest. Individual somatic cell counts (SCC) of 200,000 cells/mL or higher may indicate a subclinical mastitis infection. By routinely monitoring your cows’ SCC data, you can spot mastitis infections before they have the opportunity to affect production. If your cows’ SCC are abnormally elevated, contact your veterinarian to talk about treatment options such as SPECTRAMAST® LC (ceftiofur hydrochloride) Sterile Suspension.**
Focus on fresh cow health — Post-calving infections, such as metritis, pose a serious threat to cows’ milk production and future reproductive potential. Keep cows in your herd longer by treating infection as soon as it occurs. EXCEDE® (ceftiofur crystallinefree acid) Sterile Suspension*** is a convenient, two-dose metritis treatment with zero milk discard, allowing a cow to avoid a trip to the hospital pen, which is beneficial for minimizing social stress and exposure to more disease.2
Raise the right cows for your herd — If you want a herd that is going to meet your production and profit goals, you need to stock it with the right animals. Consider genomic testing with CLARIFIDE® Plus to help identify animals with increased risk for costly dairy diseases. This tool can allow you to select for traits that will bring your farm the most profit. Additionally, you can assess calves for production potential and health risks soon after birth, allowing you to make more educated breeding and replacement decisions.
Learn more about how net herd turnover cost or another one of the six dairy financial drivers can impact your farm.
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION FOR EXCEDE: People with known hypersensitivity to penicillin or cephalosporins should avoid exposure to EXCEDE. EXCEDE is contraindicated in animals with known allergy to ceftiofur or to the β-lactam group (penicillins and cephalosporins) of antimicrobials. Inadvertent intra-arterial injection is possible and fatal. Do not use in calves to be processed for veal. Pre-slaughter withdrawal time is 13 days following the last dose. See full Prescribing Information.
IMPORTANT DIAGNOSTIC INFORMATION FOR SPECTRAMAST LC: SPECTRAMAST LC is intended for use in lactating dairy cattle only with the specified, labeled pathogens. To assure responsible antimicrobial drug use, it is expected that subclinical mastitis will be diagnosed using a positive culture, or other pathogen-specific test, in addition to any other, appropriate veterinary medical evaluation prior to treatment.
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION FOR SPECTRAMAST LC: People with known hypersensitivity to penicillin or cephalosporins should avoid exposure to SPECTRAMAST LC. Product requires a 72-hour milk discard period and a 2-day pre-slaughter withdrawal period following the last treatment. Use of this product in a manner other than indicated on the label, or failure to adhere to proper milk discard period, will result in violative residues. See full Prescribing Information.
“We farmed before the invention of electricity, tractors and silos and never dreamed that a time would come where we could be watching live weather forecasting, while we worked the farm fields in air-conditioned comfort.” My father, George Heatherington, 1999.
This opening quote may not include the modern technology that you now take for granted, but the point is that not so long ago, automation had not yet made it to the farm. However, as each new invention came along, it prompted new ways of working. Then, as a result, specialization of animal genetics and crop production started to evolve. The chain from farm gate to consumer also expanded. It quickly grew to include refrigerated transportation, advanced processing plants, focused milk marketing and giant retail grocery chains. Even as this was happening, those moving off the farm began to romanticize, “the way it was.”.
“Big or Small … Food Production is the Goal”
Everyone chimes in on what size farms should be. Sometimes it is a contentious issue. Having even a distant connection to the farm tends to make us want the small, gentle and familiar ways to remain. But that is unrealistic. The only real goal is that there must be enough healthy food for the consumer. The UN estimates that the world population will rise to 9.7 billion in the next thirty years. Old ways aren’t fast enough, big enough or safe enough to meet those needs. One of the noticeable differences is that we are going to lose the heritage farm scenes that fed small numbers. But that doesn’t mean that modern farmers are going to stop putting generations of homespun passion into dairy production. The systems must change. Evolving with the times has always been part of dairy farming history, but human farmers and dairy cattle are still the driving forces behind milk production even as it responds to the necessity of going high tech.
“Here Come the Robots!”
Technology is in our cars, our schools and our churches. In our lifetimes, everyone reading this article has witnessed science fiction technology move from books and movies and into our everyday life. Robots in the house clean carpets and floors and manage heat, lights and appliances. We have smartphones in our hands wherever we go. Robots are on the farm, increasing production yields. Drones are overhead. Tractors are managed by remote control. Robotic arms are in the milking parlor. Innovative applications are being created and are quickly evolving as new ideas propel new inventions, and the old ones become obsolete.
“It’s Your Turn. Turn to Robots. Turn A Profit”.
Using economies of scale, large dairy farms are turning to robots. In 2017 Whitney Davis writing for Dairy Business News wrote, “At present, there are approximately 40 herds of over 500 cows or more in North America now using robots.” Just one year later Doug Reinemann reported in Wisconsin Farmer that “the latest statistics indicate that a total of more than 200 dairy farms in Wisconsin and Minnesota and more than 300 in the United States, and upwards of 500 in Canada are equipped with robot milking units.” This is exciting news, and from my des, I found myself asking the question, “Faced with closing their doors, what is stopping the smaller dairy herd from using robots?” The answer is a game changer. First, answer money. And if you don’t have it in your current milk situation, how could you even think of going to robots? Many desk-dream ideas come to mind. Milk fewer cows. Get higher production. Convince financial and herd consultants to find the most profitable way to introduce robots to your herd. Robots are leading the way to the future. Financial support, rules and regulations and all the details that make this change feel like running-in-cement, make it not feasible for the dairy farm that is already bogged down.
Volumes of herd management and analysis information (100 measurements/milking).
Cows eat more meals.
Higher production per cow (from 10% to 30%).
Pregnancy Rates go up.
Milk quality payments go up because of reduced Somatic Cell Count.
Cow longevity increases.
Return on Investment.
Cows thrive on consistency and predictability.
What’s Down with Robots?
Total Milking Labour – 75% decrease.
Hours spent on Heat Detection – 70% decrease.
Hiring, training, and overseeing employees – decreased 37 minutes per day.
Labour savings valued at $44,030 per year.
Lameness is decreased.
Cows are down …. They are resting more.
Adding up all these positives that are potentially available, it is more than worth the effort to find the way to make robotic milking possible. No robot can find the most workable solution for your situation. But you can. Everyone on the dairy team has to be open to all “what if” scenarios. Of course, turning to robots involves risk. And yes, doing nothing is definite. Definite failure.
“Change the Dairy Tale”
Everyone loves a good story. Dairy farmers often regale friends and family with their passion for the dairy lifestyle. Lifestyle is great, but it costs money. And then there’s the other side of the story. Too often, dairy consumers are telling the tale about factory farms taking over America’s pastured past. In 2019 we need to move beyond Old McDonald’s farm. Today’s fairy tale is more relatable to those ones where the wolf is at the door. We need to think of the clever turnabout where Red Riding Robot saves the day! Wouldn’t it be ironic if all the technology that got us to this dangerous precipice turns from villain to hero by saving the dairy industry? It isn’t technology that is to blame for where we are. It is whether we use it effectively or not. A story won’t make or break your dairy operation. The story of what you do will. Kids in our public schools are making APPS. Some are constructing 3D printers. If children can rewrite the story. So can dairy farmers. Not too big. Not too small. Just right.
“Don’t Fight Change. Fight for the Future”
So you’re not a factory farm. You don’t milk 500 cows. What is your niche? You need one. Whatever you do best, you need to make that your place in the dairy industry. Can you and a neighbour join forces the way corporations do to make your dairy production viable? By harnessing the strengths of two smaller but convenient (to each other) operations, perhaps you can produce more efficiently to a specific demand of your local processor or local consumers, as Bullvine author Murray Hunt wrote in, “Specialty Milk EQUALS Money Everyday”.
“Robots Beyond the Farm Gate”
While we are growing accustomed to robots working beside us on the farm, we need to encourage the same creativity and invention beyond the farm gate. For instance, warehousing and shipping are two places that also need to evolve. Most often, these areas trend toward larger is better. We need to creatively seek ways to ship our dairy products in more specialized and smaller, faster more accessible ways. Small shipments could mean more specialization and also that dairy aisles don’t have those empty shelves that are part of the empty pockets of milk producers at the front lines of milk production. We are not being loud enough in demanding research that improves the ways we get our product to our customers. Huge savings in manpower are needed in the processing and delivery of milk products. If dairy farms are robot ready and the linking dairy service industries are not, it is literally counterproductive for everybody.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
There is always the option of doing things the way they have always been done. Unfortunately, profits aren’t showing up with that same repetitive frequency. It’s time for dairy producers to open their gates, minds and dairies to change. Whether it’s mechanization or clever partnerships with neighbours, or creative financing or robotics, those who understand and want to remain in the modern dairy economy must eagerly find workable solutions to labour and production issues. Regardless of size, those dairies who are ready to change and evolve are the dairies that will remain and prosper.
Aaron and Rikki-Lee Tyrrell with their son Emmett, 4, and their dog at Tyrrells Family Dairy, Invergordon Vic.
Dairy farmers are hesitant to race and adopt disruptive technologies, believing it may not be the answer to their industry’s issues.
The Little Big Dairy Co’s Erika Chesworth said technology was already playing a part in the dairy industry, and it would continue.
“These (disruptive technologies and micro-processing facilities) are exciting opportunities for some, but this certainly will not be an option for all,” she said.
Rikki-Lee Tyrrell who runs the Tyrrells Family Dairy, alongside her husband Aaron, at Invergordon, Vic, said they were always looking for new ways to monitor and improve production as effectively as possible, but within reason of affordability and knowing how well it works.
“Being the guinea pig (of new artificial intelligence) and having it fail, especially in the current climate, makes you hang back a bit,” Ms Tyrrell said.
She said the future of robotics on farm was already happening and was something they would consider.
“Technology has helped farmers in the sense that when they can’t afford something, technology takes up the slack. It has allowed for farmers to manage their farm more efficiently … helping them to step up a notch by applying their skills and time more effectively within other areas,” Ms Tyrrell said.
“However it is hard to make changes, with the climate and current hardships in farming and agricultural from policies and governments frequently changing.”
With new disruptive technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) entering the industry, she said it could change employment opportunities.
“With new technologies, there would still be people behind the scenes making it work, so it would maybe more-so be changing the roles rather than removing them,” Ms Tyrrell said.
new NSW Farmers Dairy Committee chair Colin Thompson said traceability was something producers believed consumers had the right to know, but it was already happening.
“Traceability through AI would be an advantage for both processors and consumers, but it is pretty much already happening through barcodes, processors can track the product closely,” he said.
An international team of scientists has shown it is possible to breed cattle to reduce their methane emissions.
Published in the journal Science Advances, the researchers showed that the genetics of an individual cow strongly influenced the make-up of the microorganisms in its rumen (the first stomach in the digestive system of ruminant animals which include cattle and sheep).
“What we showed is that the level and type of methane-producing microbes in the cow is to a large extent controlled by the cow’s genetic makeup,” says one of the project’s leaders and co-author Professor John Williams, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences. “That means we could select for cattle which are less likely to have high levels of methane-producing bacteria in their rumen.”
Cattle and other ruminants are significant producers of the greenhouse gas methane — contributing 37 per cent of the methane emissions resulting from human activity. A single cow on average produces between 70 and 120 kg of methane per year and, worldwide, there are about 1.5 billion cattle.
The study comes out of a project called RuminOmics, led by the Rowett Institute at the University of Aberdeen and involving the Parco Tecnologico Padano in Italy (where Professor Williams used to work), the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, and a number of other institutions in Europe and the US.
The researchers analysed the microbiomes from ruminal fluid samples of 1000 cows, along with measuring the cows’ feed intake, milk production, methane production and other biochemical characteristics. Although this study was carried out on dairy cows, the heritability of the types of microbes in the rumen should also apply to beef cattle.
“Previously we knew it was possible to reduce methane emissions by changing the diet,” says Professor Williams. “But changing the genetics is much more significant — in this way we can select for cows that permanently produce less methane.”
Professor Williams says breeding for low-methane cattle will, however, depend on selection priorities and how much it compromises selection for other desired characteristics such as meat quality, milk production or disease resistance.
“We now know it’s possible to select for low methane production,” he says. “But it depends on what else we are selecting for, and the weighting that is placed on methane — that’s something that will be determined by industry or society pressures.”
The researchers also found a correlation, although not as high, between the cows’ microbiomes and the efficiency of milk production.
“We don’t yet know, but if it turned out that low-methane production equated to greater efficiencies of production — which could turn out to be true given that energy is required to produce the methane — then that would be a win, win situation,” Professor Williams says.
This research, from the Davies Research Centre at the University of Adelaide’s Roseworthy campus, aligns with the University’s industry engagement priority in agrifood and wine, and in tackling the grand challenge of environmental sustainability.
We understand animal activist claims are upsetting and frustrating for all involved in the dairy industry. The best way to help drown out the negativity is by not contributing to it, such as referencing the claims, sharing videos or news stories, or tagging the activist group in social media posts. Actions like those only draw more attention and eyes to the group and its videos.
Dairy farmers should continue to positively tell the story of the care and concern you show for your farm – animals and employees – every single day. If you see others in the industry sharing info about the videos (for example, on social media), please message them privately and ask them not to do so.
Post pictures, videos, stories about the care and concern you show for your animals on your farm.
Consider posting about the training your staff receives – protocols that you have in place to ensure staff are properly coached, and the culture you have in place so that everyone knows animal abuse is not tolerated.
Remind your employees about the importance of “See Something? Say Something.”
Publicly disparage other farms’ practices online. Now more than ever, we need to stand together as an industry. It plays right into activists’ hands when dairy farmers criticize other farmers online. Remember – activist groups aren’t advocating for a “different” type of dairy farming – they’re advocating for the end of animal agriculture.
Get frustrated when people ask legitimate questions. Respect goes a long way towards building trust. You may be asked questions that you’ve answered a million times, but for the person asking, it’s the first time. Treat others how you’d like to be treated.
Feel as if you’ve got to answer every question or attend every argument. Set up a “banned words” list on your Facebook page and change the setting to block profanity. Contact American Dairy Association North East to learn how you can adjust settings on your social media channels.
Forget that you’ve got support. Reach out if you need help or advice in responding to this or any other issue. Beth Meyer is the Crisis and Issues lead at American Dairy Association North East. Email her or call 315-491-3892.
Somatic cell counts are a long-standing marker of milk quality, impacting shelf life and flavor. A lower SCC is better for cheese production and gives a longer shelf life for bottled milk.
The national maximum SCC level is 750,000 cells per milliliter per farm for domestic sales and 400,000 cells per milliliter for exports.
Although somatic cells occur naturally and are not a food safety concern, dairy farmers monitor them because they can be used as a measure of the health of their cows. Processors also pay a premium for milk with low counts. A farmer whose herd has a very low count can receive a significantly higher price per hundredweight compared to a farmer whose herd average is high.
In Minnesota, dairies can receive penalties up to $2.00 per hundredweight for high cell counts. In a time when farmers can’t afford to take any reduction in their milk price, it is important to take steps to avoid any penalties from your milk plant.
There are some simple and practical steps you can take that can help lower somatic cell counts on your farm.
Understand the problem
It is important to understand what the situation is on your farm to best manage the issue.
Bulk tank somatic cell count (BTSCC) is the measure used to test milk quality for a herd. Just a few cows with really high individual SCC can skew the entire bulk tank high.
Many cows in the herd with cell counts that stay high on a long term basis can also raise the bulk count.
On your DHIA report,
look at linear SCC scores,
percent of cows infected by days in milk,
and the “Changes in SCC Status” box.
Be sure to look at individual cow reports. This can help you pinpoint problem cows and potentially make culling decisions.
Culture your milk
Get a sample milk culture to determine what you’re really fighting.
Start with a bulk tank culture to find out if the problem is environmental, contagious or something else. The results will narrow down the strategy you should use to combat the issue.
Take bulk tank samples on multiple test days to get the clearest picture of what you’re dealing with. Sometimes one organism can overwhelm the plate so much that other present organisms won’t even show up.
Look for consistent culture results to narrow down the problem.
Consider culturing some cows individually, especially those that consistently have high SCC or have new infections.
Controlling contagious infections
Culture results may reveal the presence of contagious organisms like Staph aureus, Strep ag, or mycoplasma. If this is the case, there are a few key steps you can take to help reduce the spread of these organisms when culling is not an option.
Contagious cows should always be milked last to avoid spreading the organisms to non-infected cows.
Move infected cows to a different area of the barn or into a different pen. Keeping these cows separate is crucial to reducing the spread of contagious organisms.
Make sure the teat dip you are using is effective against the problem organisms.
More importantly, determine if you are getting proper teat dip coverage.
Pre-dip should have a contact time of at least 30 seconds with the teat skin surface.
Post-dip should fully cover the teat.
Look at equipment function and cleaning as well as the entire cow prep procedure.
Consider universal dry cow therapy for your herd if you are not already doing so.
Controlling environmental infections
If culture results reveal high counts of environmental organisms, the goal is to create an environment in which is hard for these organisms to survive. It’s important to keep cows and their bedding clean and dry.
Add more bedding to stalls or packs and change bedding more often.
It could be worth it to bed twice a day if you notice cows are really getting wet and dirty.
Make sure milking equipment is kept clean and spray off any equipment that may get dirty during milking.
Cleaning teats well during milking prep is critical.
There should not be any dirt or manure present on teats.
Taking the time to make sure teats are fully clean will make a huge difference in the presence of environmental organisms.
Proper pre- and post teat dip also helps fight environmental infections.
Excellent animal husbandry skills have a tremendous impact on animal health and well-being, but a recent study discovered just how significant that impact can be. Overall animal husbandry is a critical component of generating higher net farm income — $138 more per cow per year, or 7 more pounds of milk per cow per day, the study found.1
This recent study Zoetis conducted with Compeer Financial quantified the value of good animal husbandry practices on lifetime net farm income. Good overall animal husbandry generally means lower death rates, which can be used as a metric to measure profitability. The analysis of 11 years of herd data from 489 year-end financial and production-record summaries found that lowering death rates is one of the top six factors driving profitability on dairies. The difference in profit of $138 per cow per year, or 7 pounds of milk per cow per day, was found when the top one-third of herds in this study were compared with the bottom one-third of herds.1,* More details about this comparison can be found in the accompanying graphic.
To improve animal husbandry and increase net farm income, work on building a well-trained, qualified and invested workforce. And because most agree that employees can be more complicated to manage than cows, here’s what we recommend:
Hire the right people. The people you hire, no matter how qualified, can take your dairy — and death rates — in the wrong direction if their goals and values differ from the operation’s. Prevent that from happening by taking time to evaluate the goals of your operation and your employees. Interview your current employees to help you make better hiring decisions. Ask your current employees these questions.
Train your workforce on milk quality. We see higher death rates in herds that have elevated somatic cell counts (SCC) — demonstrating both are linked to overall animal husbandry practices. Training on other milk quality practices before, during and after milking can help improve milk quality and animal well-being. For example, employees are trained to be on the lookout for physical mastitis symptoms, but they should also be looking for evidence of subclinical mastitis infections.
Foster teamwork. A manager who is undertrained and disengaged can contribute to disengaged employees and increased employee turnover. A highly engaged team is a more capable team. This team is more proficient at getting cows pregnant quickly and efficiently. They are invested in getting high volumes of milk harvested from cows. And they are more capable of limiting involuntary culling and death losses. Simple changes in people management can create a higher level of engagement from employees, improve team performance and increase dairy profitability.
Minimizing death rates through employees with good animal husbandry skills is a necessary component to generating net farm income. Check out this video for more information on how minimizing death loss can help you maximize profits like the top dairies in this study.
About Zoetis Zoetis is the leading animal health company, dedicated to supporting its customers and their businesses. Building on more than 65 years of experience in animal health, Zoetis discovers, develops, manufactures and commercializes medicines, vaccines and diagnostic products, which are complemented by biodevices, genetic tests and a range of services. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals with sales of its products in more than 100 countries. In 2018, the company generated annual revenue of $5.8 billion with approximately 10,000 employees. For more information, visit https://www.zoetisus.com/.
Whether a dairy operates a grass-based, organic, or high technology system, margin has the same significance. Calculating breakeven cost of production is critical to determine financial health.
Calculating an operation’s breakeven cost of production is the critical first step to determine the financial health of a dairy business. Over the years the dairy industry has divided itself into three main production systems: grass-based, organic, and high technology. These systems can be low or high input regarding the cropping and feeding program and the expenses related to overhead and direct costs. Regardless of the type of production system, the margin still has the same significance. The scale may be different, but the breakeven cost of production can show a similar deficit or surplus cash flow.
The Extension dairy business management team has been summarizing results from 2018. It is no surprise last year is being compared to 2009 in its degree of devastation. All sectors of the industry have felt the effect of low margins. For organic producers the milk price hovered around $29 to $32/cwt with a breakeven range between $34 and $35/cwt. For the high technology operations, the average milk price ranged between $16 and $17/cwt. with break evens between $18 and $19/cwt. The challenge with grass-based systems is the low milk pounds. In this production system where no corn grain or additional energy sources are provided, it is not unusual to observe average milk production at 20 to 25 pounds of milk/cow/day. This typically does not provide the needed income to cover expenses even though costs are considered extremely low by conventional standards. The solution for success in the three production systems is knowing the breakeven cost of production.
It is no longer a good idea to wait for the market to provide the windfall of a high milk price. For the conventional producer, it would take at least a couple of years at a milk price of $22/cwt to combat the debt currently accumulating. Organic producers require a milk price in the high thirties or even forty dollars per hundred weight to make a dent on debt. It does not appear that scenario is in the industry’s near future. The main culprits affecting an operation’s margin are milk income, feed costs (both home-raised and purchased), labor, and debt service. Finding the bottlenecks to maintain a sustainable margin requires knowing the financial and production numbers and how to adjust management practices to improve the margin.
Grazing and pasture management are important in all three production systems just at different intensities. Energy is going to be the nutrient of greatest concern for pastured cows and heifers. As a general rule-of-thumb, a cool-season perennial pasture (most common in Pennsylvania) should be grazed no lower than three inches before removing animals and transferring them to a new pasture with at least six inches of forage growth. Pasture quantity and quality, like harvested forages, impacts both production and financials. Fertilization beyond what the animals contribute may be warranted when extending the grazing season into the fall and winter.
Stockpiling is a deferred grazing management strategy where animals are removed from pastures so forages can accumulate, usually beginning late July into early-August. Some cool-season grasses that have shown to be successfully stockpiled include: tall fescue, downy bromegrass, timothy, and birdsfoot trefoil. Inter-seeded annual forage crops, such as triticale and forage brassicas, into existing pastures can also be stockpiled. They will provide more forage mass and increase overall forage quality.
When grazing, either to provide the main forage source for lactating cattle or supplemental forage for cows and heifers, manage for BOTH quality and quantity. The benefit should be improved milk production that will equate to a greater milk income per cow. Properly managed pastures can reduce feed costs, so in theory these improvements should help maintain a stronger margin to cover other expenses. In today’s market, tweaking management practices to get the most bang for the buck is essential. Sustainable margins do not discriminate based on the production system.
Action plan for optimizing pasture management
Goal – Determine the business’s breakeven margin and evaluate pasture quality and quantity for improvements.
Step 1: Utilize Penn State Extension’s Excel Cash Flow Spreadsheet to determine the farm’s breakeven cost of production.
Step 2: Working with the appropriate consultants, evaluate grazing strategies for the herd to ensure adequate regrowth on pastures and monitor quality during the spring, summer, and fall.
Step 3: Set contingency strategies for supplementing forage and concentrates as pasture quality and quantity diminish.
Step 4: Monitor income over feed cost monthly if pasture is utilized for the milk herd. Monitor heifer height and weight monthly when on pasture.
Monitoring must include an economic component to determine if a management strategy is working or not. For the lactating cows, income over feed costs is a good way to check that feed costs are in line for the level of milk production. Starting with July 2014’s milk price, income over feed costs was calculated using average intake and production for the last six years from the Penn State dairy herd. The ration contained 63% forage consisting of corn silage, haylage and hay. The concentrate portion included corn grain, candy meal, sugar, canola meal, roasted soybeans, Optigen® and a mineral vitamin mix. All market prices were used.
Also included are the feed costs for dry cows, springing heifers, pregnant heifers and growing heifers. The rations reflect what has been fed to these animal groups at the Penn State dairy herd. All market prices were used.
Income over feed cost using standardized rations and production data from the Penn State dairy herd.
Note: Penn State’s April milk price: $16.92/cwt; feed cost/cow: $6.14; average milk production: 84 lbs.
The majority of the health problems and associated veterinary costs for dairy cattle occur within the first 30 days of lactation. Management and feeding of the dry cow can have major implications on disease risk for dairy cows at calving. Adequate intakes of energy, fiber, protein, and certain minerals, especially calcium and those that affect calcium absorption and metabolism, are important in reducing the risk for metabolic diseases. Tips on feeding fresh cows for improved performance and reducing the risks for hypocalcemia, ruminal acidosis, and ketosis have been provided in other articles in the nutrition series.
Another disorder that primarily occurs within the first two weeks after calving is a displaced abomasum (DA). The abomasum is one of the four compartments of the ruminant stomach. It is referred to as the “true stomach” and lies just inside the abdominal cavity on the underside of the animal. Three scenarios possibly contribute to the abomasum becoming displaced:
The cow loses about 10% to 12% of her body weight at calving due to the weight of the calf, placenta, and fluids. These losses in the abdominal cavity in conjunction with low dry matter intake (thus low rumen fill) allow for organs to shift.
The increase in concentrate in the diet to meet the increased energy demands of lactation, in conjunction with rumen papillae associated with the cow’s recent mostly forage diet in the dry period, results in increased flow of volatile fatty acids to the abomasum, which can reduce its motility.
Hypocalcemia, whether clinical (often 5% of cows) or subclinical (possibility as high as 50% on average), reduces the tone of smooth muscle which helps to hold the abomasum in place. All of these scenarios that typically occur, likely not independent of one another, with fresh cows can contribute to the risk for a DA.
Cows at greater risk for a DA after calving have low dry matter intake, high body condition scores, and high concentrations of blood non-esterified fatty acids prepartum. Rather low intake experienced by all cows at calving increases the risk for a DA. However, when cows calve during the heat and humidity of the summer, intake after calving is even lower than that of cows calving in the fall and winter.
A DA in cows beyond 60 days in milk typically occurs due to these factors:
low rumen pH caused by change in forage quality or particle size,
changes in diet formulation with inadequate fiber,
change in personnel responsible for the feed mixing, or
malfunction of the feed mixer or feed scales.
Diagnosis of a DA
About 80% to 90% of the cases of a DA result when the abomasum moves upward on the left side of the animal. However, right displaced abomasum occurs and even a rare right-torsed abomasum can occur (the abomasum floats up on the right side and then twists). This latter case is very serious in that blood supply becomes severely restricted to the abomasum.
Common symptoms of a DA include reduced feed intake, reduced milk yield, reduced fecal excretion, and ketosis from lack of feed intake, However, the definitive indication is the ping heard with a stethoscope when the side of the animal is thumped. When the abomasum displaces, it fills with gas, and the ping is from the thumping sounds bouncing back from the air-filled organ. Once the condition is diagnosed, a veterinarian can perform surgery or roll the animal to get the abomasum back in place.
Impact of a DA
The primary costs associated with a DA are from the loss of milk production. In a University of Guelph study, cows with a DA produced about 700 lb less milk during the lactation in which the DA occurred than cows not having experienced a DA. A Cornell University study revealed an even greater milk loss – about 1,200 lb less milk by cows with a DA from calving to 60 days after diagnosis of a DA.
Additional costs include the veterinary fees and other associated diseases (e.g., ketosis). In one study, 30% of the milk loss occurred prior to diagnosis of the disease; thus, early detection in very important. Both milk loss due to a DA and the risk of a cow being culled from the herd after experiencing a DA increase with lactation number. The goal is for less than a 4% incidence of a DA in a dairy herd.
Displaced abomasum is a common disease in dairy cattle, but with careful feeding and management, the incidence in a dairy herd can be kept below 5%. Feeding before calving to maintain a steady intake of a balanced diet to avoid a major decrease in intake and avoiding overconditioning greatly reduce the risk of a DA after calving. Providing a balanced diet (especially for fiber and energy) after calving and ample bunk and resting space will reduce the risk for a DA. When a DA occurs after 60 days in milk, it is best to review dietary fiber and particle size, proper operation of the feed mixer and scales, and feeding procedures by employees. Reducing the risk for a DA improves cow health and well-being, increases milk sold, and reduces veterinary costs.
Three PhD students have invented an edible bale wrap to reduce farm waste.
The patent-pending BioNet biopolymer was developed specifically for farms to wrap hay and silage.
It is the brainchild of three Imperial College London PhD students: Nick Aristidou, Will Joyce and Stelios Chatzimichail.
The trio came up with the idea after Mr Joyce, who grew up on a farm in Rutland, noticed his parent’s beef herd was creating a lot of wrapping waste.
One cow even died after eating the wrapping.
“We’ve eaten it and my colleague has fed it to his cattle,” says Mr Aristidou. “But we will need to do some official testing.”
With their invention, they have reached the finals of the Imperial College London Venture Catalyst Challenge (VCC), and could win £10,000 of funding.
Next, they’re looking into lacing the plastic with nutrients or probiotics. Researchers will then test the plastic for its nutritional quality and whether it is safe to eat.
They believe the material could be available to farmers in three to five years, with on-farm tests being carried out in the next 24 months.
“That [commercialisation] is the dream,” says Mr Aristidou. “The end goal is to get every livestock farmer using it.
“The product is there, it is just a case of scale and funding.
“The next stage is to really refine the product to market requirements by speaking to farmers and finding out what they want dosed into it. Then we’ll look at large-scale production.
“We can tailor what goes into the plastic for different animals – we could make one for equine animals, one for sheep, one for cattle,” he says.
If large-scale production is secured, they are confident they will be able to produce an affordable product for farmers.
“It’s just being able to secure the raw material at a low price,” says Mr Aristidou.
“Initially, we should be able to sell it a similar price to current plastic wrap, but at a low margin. But as more people want it we can produce it at a larger scale and it could easily become more affordable.”
A shedded dairy system has unlocked significant productivity gains – and subsequently industry leading profits – for an Argentinian farming family.
Located at Pellegrini, in the heart of the high rainfall Pampas Humedas (humid Pampas) region about 400km south west of Buenos Aries, the Chiavassa Group milks 1300 Holstein cows supplying milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream manufacturers.
On average the herd produces 45,000 litres a day containing 3.4 per cent fat and 3.3pc protein. However, milk solid levels are adjusted according to market demand, particularly in summer when ice cream makers offer up to a 20pc premium.
The key to the operation is its loafing shed system, which maximises cow comfort while minimising health challenges.
Each 160x28m shed houses about 200 cows, which are milked three times a day through a DeLaval rotary system.
Third generation farmer Cristobal Chiavassa said the 1750 hectare farm was generating US13c/litre profit (about A19c), compared to an industry average of about US3c/litre profit.
Mr Chiavassa said the farm was producing milk for US24c/litre with an average sale price of 37c. Most farms were producing milk for about 30c for a 33c sale price, he said.
“Our attitude is about producing better,” Mr Chiavassa said. “We have the benefit of generations of experience and now the technology to improve efficiency and increase productivity.”
Part of the loafing shed system is the under-hoof compost bedding (peanut shells), which manages the breakdown of manure and promotes herd health.
The compost requires constant maintenance, turned twice a day using either a rotary hoe or scarifier.
Generating heat of up 60 degrees Celcius, the compost also helps to minimise the bacteria that causes mastitis. The compost is removed every six months and replaced with a new peanut shell bedding.
The herd’s somatic cell count is in the 250,000 to 300,000 range, compared to Argentina’s usual 400,000 to 500,000 SCC levels.
Each of the cows is fitted with a collar to monitor rumen activity as part of a forewarning system. Cows that record decreased feed intakes are often in the early stages of mastisis, enabling those cows to be treated at an earlier stage.
Feed management is also a top priority. The Chiavassa Group grows all of its own roughages, in part thanks to a reliable 1200mm annual rainfall.
The silage component of the total mixed ration routinely includes the Alltech toxin binder Mycosorb to maximise feed conversion.
Alltech Lienert Australia nutrition advisor Toby Doak said shedded dairy systems were particularly suited to Australia’s sub-tropics, where higher temperatures and humidity were a major issue.
“We’ve already seen a number of these systems introduced into Australia because it is well understood that increased cow comfort directly increases productivity,” Mr Doak said.
“There is certainly a high capital outlay involved but bringing the feed to the cows as part of total mixed ration system is certainly a better way to go because of the increased feed efficiencies.
“There’s virtually no feed wastage or spoilage. It’s one way producers can take much greater control of the environment.”
Alltech Argentina manager Jeronimo Larumbe said the Chiavassa Group was one of Argentina’s leading dairy operations.
“The family has combined technology and generations of experience to maximise the productivity of its dairy operation,” Mr Larumbe said.
Argentina’s highly productive Panpas region covers an amazing 750,000 square kilometres (To put that in perspective, that’s only a fraction under the size of NSW’s 809,000 sq km).
But despite the seemingly massive competitive advantage the agriculture region promises, Argentina is facing massive structural challenges.
Inflation is running at shocking 34 per cent and unemployment has topped 9pc mark.
– Mark Phelps traveled to Argentina as a guest of Alltech Lienert Australia.
As vegan activism boosts awareness of animal welfare issues, more dairy farms let calves stay with their mothers. But is this really any better for the cows?
A field of cows with suckling calves may sound like a normal rural scene. In fact, the view at David Finlay’s farm on the Dumfries and Galloway coast is a sight you’d be unlikely to see on any other dairy farm in the UK.
Almost all calves are separated from cows within hours or days of birth on dairy farms. This allows farmers to sell the milk that the calves would otherwise drink.
“It’s the one thing we’ve always been asked about by mums on our farm tours,” says Finlay. “They just don’t like seeing calves separated from their mothers so soon.”
The public reaction has led to a slow growth of a new sector, calling itself “ethical dairy farming”, where the calves are not removed immediately from their mothers. One expert estimates that around 400 dairy farms in Europeand Australia are trialling methods – varying widely from one farm to the next – for what is known as “calf at foot” systems.
With a herd of 125 cows, Finlay’s farm near Castle Douglas in south-west Scotland is the largest known producer in Europe to introduce the calf at foot system. But the switch, now in its third year, has been far from easy.
Finlay began the project in 2017 with the hope of proving such a method could work at a bigger scale. “The first year was disastrous,” he says, admitting that he wanted to call it quits. “We just couldn’t get the cows away from the calves and into the milking parlour. For weeks we’d be dragging the cows in there.
“It took a long time for them to trust that the calves were still going to be there when they came back. It was so much stress as the cows just weren’t used to it and didn’t know what the rules were.”
Finlay had to be talked into keeping the system going for another year by his family and other staff after his herdsman grew sceptical about the project and left, but by the second year the cows had begun to grow used to having their offspring around.
The calves still need to be separated after weaning at around five months, a process Finlay and his new herdsman Charles Ellett have learned to manage by starting off with overnight periods of separation first.
“That first day we don’t open the gates in the morning though there is a huge outcry from the calves and cows,” says Finlay, who has got round it by introducing a surrogate mother – usually an older cow not producing much milk. They then use this cow to lead all the calves into a field on the other side of the farm to settle them.
The initial period of overnight separation helps create social bonds between the calves, says Finlay, making the final separation easier. The female calves will then stay on the farm to become milking cows, while the male calves are sold after five to seven months to produce veal.
Leaving calves with their mothers has been found to reduce mortality rates and help them grow quicker by having all-day access to their mother’s milk, rather than a milk powder substitute. The suckling can also help protect cows against mastitis, one of the biggest disease risks facing dairy farming today.
However, the suckling adds up to “crazy amounts of milk” lost to the farmer to sell, says Finlay. He estimates his losses at more than 2,000 litres per cow being taken by the calf, which equates to upwards of £500 in lost revenue based on the current UK average milk price. The cows also hold back fat for their calves when taken into the milking parlour, “giving us semi-skimmed milk”, jokes Finlay.
But Finlay believes the model can work and that the improvement in the health and immune systems of the young calves will yield long-term dividends that will compensate, to some extent, for loss of milk. And he has already seen a surge in interest in what he is doing from across the UK and overseas.
Last year he raised more than £50,000 through a crowdfunding campaign to support the farm and its cheese production facilities. Conversely, vegan activism has also helped, he says.
“There was no demand for it before, but vegan campaigners have raised awareness [among consumers of higher animal welfare] and created a market for us to supply dairy to. Plant-based milks have also got people used to paying more for dairy,” he says.
It is the loss in milk more than anything else that Finlay thinks will put off all but a niche group of dairy farmers from ever considering it unless they can secure a premium for the leftover milk. However, he is hopeful that consumer support for more ethical farming approaches will be boosted by activism.
But other dairy farmers remain sceptical of the health and welfare benefits for the cows and calves – as well as the economics of making it viable. “It’s only ethical if you don’t know what the downsides are,” says National Farmers’ Union dairy board member Phil Latham, who runs a dairy farm in Cheshire and separates his calves at one week.
“Yes, the calves get to spend more time with their mother, but there are a whole host of compromises with an increase in disease risk from the mixing of different age groups and a lack of control over the calf’s food intake. The longer you leave the calf on the cow, the bigger the stress when you do separate them.
“It’s pandering to urban ignorance. If he can get a market premium from doing it and survive the milk losses then good luck to him, but it’s not about maximising welfare in my mind,” he says.
A recently published review of scientific evidence found that while longer cow-calf contact had positive behavioural impacts for calves, early separation within 24 hours reduced distress for cows and calves.
“The faster you break the bond [between cow and calf] the fewer vocalisations you are going to get from calves,” says Marina Von Keyserlingk, a professor in animal welfare at the University of British Columbia and co-author of the review.
Helen Browning, dairy farmer and CEO of the organic trade body the Soil Association, separates her calves and cows within 24 hours, but then keeps them with a surrogate mother cow who has been retired or rested from the dairy herd. Under organic standards, calves are separated from their mothers after birth, but are always kept in groups and must be given cow’s milk for their first 12 weeks.
“Calves hate being weaned and cows hate their calves being taken away, whether after one day or five months. But it is better to do it before a bond has developed. In nature cows would live together as a family with cows and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so we are already interfering a lot with that family process,” she says.
In terms of cow and calf health and welfare, farm vets say separation is not a priority. “If you really want to improve animal welfare then we should try to tackle lameness, calf mortality and ensuring the calf gets sufficient quantities of colostrum,” says Dr Kathryn Ellis, a farm animal vet at the University of Glasgow.
Browning says dairy farmers are looking to learn from what Finlay is doing, but that the industry still needs to think through what is best for the welfare of both calves and cows being kept to produce milk. “We should think about what issue we’re trying to resolve. Is it an emotive issue or a welfare issue? I think it is the former.”
Despite the scepticism, Von Keyserlingk estimates that more than 400 dairy farms are trialling calf at foot systems in Europe and Australia. Not far from Finlay’s farm in south-west Scotland, another dairy farmer keeping calves with their mothers has recently started selling his milk to consumers at £1.59 a pint.
“This could be the norm in 20-30 years, just as tie-stalls were in the past. But it’s a fundamental change for how farms operate so we need to help farmers figure out how to make it better for the health and welfare of cows and calves and at the same time practical for farmers,” says von Keyserlingk.
“To better support farmers in this transition, new research is needed on how these systems may be managed to function best for the cows and calves, including reducing the risk of currently common production diseases such as mastitis and lameness,” she adds.
Peter van Wingerden poses Monday with his herd aboard a futuristic three-story floating dairy farm moored in Rotterdam Harbor, Netherlands. T (Mike Corder / AP)
Peter van Wingerden’s dairy farm smells just like any other farm — the rich aroma of cow manure and grass hangs in the air around the unusual stable housing the cattle. The farm itself is far from traditional.
Moored in a small harbor in Rotterdam’s busy port, the farm is a futuristic three-story floating structure where one robot milks the cows and another automatically scoops up the manure that gives the enterprise its familiar smell.
Its roof collects rainwater and a raft of solar panels floating alongside produces 40% of the energy the farm needs.
The cows, gazing out over ships transporting gas and yellow cranes unloading ships, eat a mixture of grass cut from a local golf course and the field used by Rotterdam’s top soccer team, grain used by a local brewer to make beer, and potato peelings — all automatically cut, mixed and transported to food troughs by conveyor belts.
As countries around the world seek to meet the challenge of feeding growing populations in a sustainable way, Van Wingerden believes the farm, which opened in May and cost about $3.4 million, demonstrates a new sustainable way of producing food close to where most of it is consumed — in the world’s cities.
“Transporting all this food all over the world is really polluting the world. It’s doing damage to food quality, it creates food losses,” he said in a recent interview. “So we have to find a different model. We have to bring it much closer to the citizens. And that’s what we’re showing over here.”
The fully functioning showcase of circular-economy farming combines Dutch expertise in recycling, building on water and automated agriculture is drawing interest from around the world. Van Wingerden said he is already discussing floating farms in Singapore and China. A group is looking into locating one in Red Hook, Brooklyn. N.Y.
“We should stop exporting food, but we should start exporting knowledge and technology,” Van Wingerden said.
When the herd reaches its target capacity of 40 cows — there are currently 35 — it will produce 211 gallons of milk each day. The brown and white cows are a breed called Maas-Rijn-Ijssel — named for three rivers that flow through the Dutch region they originate from.
The farm pasteurizes the milk and turns some of it into yogurt on the middle floor of the pontoon. Manure is processed for use as fertilizer.
Jan Willem van der Schans, a senior researcher at Wageningen Economic Research who specializes in urban farming and circular economy issues, said floating farms could be the future for some sectors of agriculture such as fruit and some vegetables in some parts of the world. But he thinks that the level of automation and the unnatural surroundings of the cows may create opposition to the project.
“These are animals that we all like, and then, we like to see them in a meadow,” he said. “And then, we bring them into a very industrial environment, and I think that’s something that many people think is not the right direction for livestock farming to go into.”
Van Wingerden said that animal welfare is his top priority, pointing to many design elements in the construction that are intended to make life as easy as possible for the cows such as rubber floors and poles in the stable. A small meadow of grass speckled with wildflowers grows on land next to the pontoon. Once fencing is completed, cows will be free to walk down to graze in more natural surroundings.
“Animal welfare is for us design criteria No. 1,” he said. “We wanted to create the best stable — comfortable stable, solid stable — for the cows, and that’s what we did.”
The cows appear comfortable on the water. On a recent hot, sunny, day some lay in the shade, others stood, eating from the food troughs that overlook the busy Merwe Harbor, while others milled around the milking robot.
The pontoon rose and fell gently on undercurrents caused by the movement of nearby ships.
The movement didn’t appear to affect the cows.
“The cows are on four feet, so that helps a lot,” Van Wingerden said. “So they have not got any problem at all. They don’t get seasick. They don’t get seasick at all.”
Brazil’s largest dairy farm, Fazenda Colorado, has been steadily growing since it was first purchased in 1964.But sometimes growth comes with growing pains. For farm technical manager and veterinarian Dr. Sergio Soriano, the farm’s growing pains came in the form of udder health issues. In a candid interview, Dr. Soriano talks challenge, change and progress.
With a total herd of 4,500 cows, 2,050 of which are in production, Fazenda Colorado is Brazil’s largest dairy farm. But it wasn’t always the largest. In fact, its beginnings are quite humble. There were only a few cows and some sugarcane on the property when Lair Antônio de Souza bought the farm in 1964.
Today, the farm spans 1,700 hectares, 700 of which are dedicated milk production to crops (600 to corn and 80 to grass – Tifton and CostCross) and 20 to facilities. The 2,050 cows in production are milked three times each day in a rotary milking system with 72 units. On average, each cow produces 40L of milk each day, totaling 82,000 liters per day. Cows are in milk, on average of 178 days.
Since his passing, the farm is now owned and operated by De Souza’s four children, Carlos Alberto Pasetti de Souza and his siblings Luiz Antônio, Celia Maria and Regina Elena. The farm is located in the city of Araras in the state of São Paulo. In 1982, the De Souza family created XANDÔ Dairy (http://www.xando.com.br) where they now process the milk they produce.
In July of 2016, farm technical manager and veterinarian Sergio Soriano brought together a team of consultants that included Rafael Ortega from Hipra, a Spanish veterinarian with more than 25 years experience in milk quality, and Portuguese veterinarian Luis Pinho, who acted as an external consultant. While the farm already had good indexes, they were looking to make improvements. Somatic cell counts at that time were quite high, and mastitis was becoming a big problem.
“Before we counted, on average, 400,000 somatic cells,” said Soriano. “Since the work started in 2016, this number is decreasing. Today, it is at 250,000 – 160,000 thousand is the average in the bulk tank.”
A holistic approach reaps the greatest rewards
The first step to improving udder health meant completing a farm-wide analysis. Only then would they know where to make changes. The analysis showed that the causes were multifactorial, and related to milking routine, the milking machine, environment and on-farm training.
“We had some problems with environmental bacteria, but what bothered us most were the contagious bacteria – Staphylococcus Coagulase Negative,” said
In the time period shortly before calving, large amounts of calcium are removed from the blood and are utilized in the mammary gland to be part of the colostrum. Calcium in colostrum may be eight to ten times greater than in the blood supply. The rapid drop and the decreased mass of the calcium pool prior to parturition, and the failure of calcium absorption to increase fast enough after the onset of lactation, can predispose animals to milk fever or hypocalcemia.
There are other probable causes that have been associated with inducing milk fever. They include excessive bone formation due to elevated levels of gonadal hormones and rations containing excessive dietary levels of cations, especially potassium. In addition, other metabolic disorders can lead to clinical and subclinical hypocalcemia (i.e. ruminal stasis, displaced abomasum, retained placenta, prolapsed uterus, metritis, and ketosis). Table 1 lists additional factors and situations.
Table 1. Conditions associated with milk fever.
Low calcium intake, especially for dry cows (< 0.40% in total ration dry matter (TRDM))
Heavy corn silage feeding; high moisture corn feeding; inadequate supplementation; low grain intake (dry cows); low forage – high grain feeding.
Injury at calving; damage from going down or lying on limbs for a prolonged time period.
Symptoms and Problem Situations
Stages of milk fever
Milk fever is divided into three stages based on clinical signs. Stage I milk fever often goes unobserved because of its short duration (< 1 hour). Signs observed during this stage include loss of appetite, excitability, nervousness, hypersensitivity, weakness, weight shifting, and shuffling of the hind feet.
The clinical signs of stage II milk fever can last from 1 to 12 hours. The affected animal may turn its head into its flank or may extend its head. The animal appears dull and listless; she has cold ears and a dry nose; she exhibits incoordination when walking; and muscles trembling and quivering are evident. Other signs observed during stage II are an inactive digestive tract and constipation. A decrease in body temperature is common, usually ranging from 96°F to 100°F. The heart rate will be rapid exceeding 100 beats per minute.
Stage III milk fever is characterized by the animal’s inability to stand and a progressive loss of consciousness leading to a coma. Heart sounds become nearly inaudible and the heart rate increases to 120 beats per minute or more. Cows in stage III will not survive for more than a few hours without treatment.
Milk fever is considered a herd problem when over 10% to 15% of the cows are afflicted on an annual basis. The higher value may apply to herds where many cows are freshening that have a history of getting milk fever, i.e. older cows being more susceptible.
A problem situation can be when a high proportion of cows in a sizable group of freshenings is affected. An example of this would be when five out of the last eight freshening cows are diagnosed with milk fever.
Forms of Milk Fever
Typical milk fever
An acute form affecting cows usually within a few days after parturition, but it sometimes occurs in late lactation or the dry period. Typical milk fevers respond well to treatment.
Refractory or atypical milk fever
An acute form with little or no response to treatment. The cow may remain alert, eat, and milk but cannot regain her feet. She may become a creeping downer cow with flexed pasterns and posterior paralysis. Rupture of the large muscle or group of muscles in one or both hind legs may complicate the problem. Similar fracture or dislocation of a hind joint may have occurred when the cow went down initially or in struggling to rise.
Tremors or sub-acute
Cows are easily excited with muscle twitching and tremors occurring. Usually, several cows are involved. Many of these animals may be in late lactation, dry, or recently fresh. Often, there is a magnesium deficiency involved as well.
The most notable changes occurring in the blood are a decrease in blood calcium and blood phosphorus levels and an increase in blood magnesium levels. In cases of milk fever complicated by a lack of magnesium, the blood magnesium level may remain normal or even be depressed. Table 2 illustrates the blood mineral levels for animals in various stages of milk fever.
Table 2. Blood serum concentration of dairy cows in various metabolic states.
Blood serum (mg/dl)
Blood serum (mg/dl)
Blood serum (mg/dl)
Sources: Compiled from The Ruminant Animal: Digestive Physiology and Nutrition. Prentice Hall, Englewood, NJ. 1988. Chapter 24, Metabolic problems related to nutrition. pg. 494; The Dairy Reference Manual, Northeast Agricultural Engineering Service, Ithaca, NY. 1995. Chapter 6, pg. 167; and J. Dairy Sci. 71:3302-3309, 1988. aMilk fever complicated by low magnesium may result in serum magnesium ranging from 1.4 to 2.0 mg/dl.
Normal lactating cow
8.4 to 10.2
4.6 to 7.4
1.9 to 2.6
Normal a parturition
6.8 to 8.6
3.2 to 5.5
2.5 to 3.5
Milk fever, Stage I
4.9 to 7.5
1.0 to 3.8
2.5 to 3.9a
Milk fever, Stage II
4.2 to 6.8
0.6 to 3.0
2.3 to 3.9a
Milk fever, Stage III
3.5 to 5.7
0.6 to 2.6
2.5 to 4.1a
Some cases of milk fever are complicated by a toxemia from infection in the udder, reproductive tract, or digestive system. This type of toxemia from infection may be reflected in the blood with a high packed cell volume (PCV), depressed white blood cell (WBC), and/or elevated blood urea nitrogen (BUN). It is recommended to include the WBC differential as this can indicate stress or infection.
Other blood parameters that can denote toxemia are sodium, potassium, chloride, and fibrinogen. Fibrinogen levels can signal that inflammation and infection is present. If toxemia is a factor and is not overcome, treatment for milk fever may not be successful.
For downer cow problems, consider creatine phosphokinase (CPK) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) in the blood test. CPK normally ranges between 105 to 409 IU/L. A value greater than 1000 IU/L indicates severe muscle damage from being down. AST levels over 200 IU/L flag a guarded prognosis and levels over 500 IU/L can indicate severe muscle damage.
Make certain that mineral tests on forages are available. Minerals to test should include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulfur, and chloride.
Consult with a nutritionist to evaluate the present ration program and the feeding management practices. Include all pertinent information including incidence and severity of milk fever cases.
Collect a blood sample from the animal before administering treatment for hypocalcemia. If the animal does not respond to treatment, submit blood sample for blood counts and clinical chemistry. Include in the profile serum minerals, PCV, WBC with differential, and BUN. Some situations may warrant checking CPK and AST.
Pending results of feed and blood testing and ration evaluations:
Check feeding management practices. For example: Are dry cows consuming free-choice forages or mineral premixes? Is there selective consumption by cows for forages?
Discontinue any free-choice mineral feeding. Force feed all minerals.
Check that dry cows are receiving supplemental vitamin D at 15,000 to 25,000 units per head daily and that on average, milk cows are getting about 30,000 units per head daily. A maximum intake of 50,000 units per head daily should be used for all cows.
Check dry cow rations, especially during the last two to four weeks prior to calving.
Limit grain intake to a maximum of about 0.5% to 0.8% of body weight.
Limit legume or mixed mainly legume forage to 30% to 50% of forage dry matter intake.
Limit corn silage to 50% of the forage dry matter intake.
Remove moldy or spoiled forage or feed from the ration, especially those testing positive for mycotoxins.
Use plain calcium borogluconate for the first treatment to minimize refractory cases.
As a last resort, use one of the following:
Feed–mixed with the grain or other quickly eaten feed–100 grams (3.5 oz) of ammonium chloride per head daily beginning not less than two days before and continuing at least two days after freshening. This is particularly appropriate if high rumen pH is suspected. Check urine pH promptly. Most cows should have a urine pH of 7.0-8.6.
Inject intramuscularly 10 million units of vitamin D3 in a water-soluble, highly crystalline form within 24 to 48 hours of expected freshening. Do not repeat dose for at least 10 days if cow doesn’t freshen. Use three million units in a repeat dose.
Before giving up on downer cows, give a drench of two pounds of Epsom salts in one gallon of water. This will sometimes remove toxins in the lower gastrointestinal tract and enable cows to stand within two to four hours.
Administer high calcium boluses (about 75 grams of calcium carbonate) as soon as possible after calving and within eight hours of freshening; or administer calcium paste paying close attention to the manufacturers recommendations and directions.
Dietary Cation — Anion Balance
Another method of preventing and controlling milk fever is balancing dry cow rations for anions (negatively charged molecules) and cations (positively charged molecules). Sodium and potassium are the cations and chloride and sulfur are the anions of interest in formulating anionic diets. The dietary cation-anion balance (DCAB) equation most often used to determine milliequivalents per 100 grams of dry matter is: mEq/100g = mEq (Na + K) – mEq (Cl + S). Based on current research, the range that achieves the lowest incidence of milk fever is a DCAB of -10 to -15 mEq/100g dry matter (DM) or -100 to -150 mEq/kilogram.
Achieving a DCAB of -10 to -15 mEq/100g requires adjustments in the major mineral levels that are quite different than what is normally programmed for regular close-up dry cow rations (no anionic salts). Table 3 lists recommended mineral levels for both regular and anionic rations.
Table 3. Guide to mineral composition (dry matter basis) for close-up dry cows.
aDCAB may be calculated from the percent element in diet dry matter. The equation is as follows: mEq/100g DM = [ (%Na ÷ 0.0230) + (%K ÷ 0.0390) ] – [ (%Cl ÷ 0.0355) + (%S ÷ 0.0160) ]; Example: DCAB mEq/100g DM = [ (0.10 ÷ 0.0230) + (0.80 ÷ 0.0390) ] – [ (0.70 ÷ 0.0355) + (0.35 ÷ 0.0160) ] = 4.35 + 20.5 – 19.7 + 21.9 = 24.9 – 41.6 = -16.7.
bBased on continuing research and field experience, calcium levels from 1.5% to 2.00% and magnesium levels of. 40% to. 45% may be warranted. cA sulfur level of 0.45% may be tolerated for short periods of time (three to four weeks).
0.45 to 0.55
1.40 to 1.60b
0.30 to 0.35
0.35 to 0.40
0.22 to 0.24
0.28 to 0.32b
0.80 to 1.00
0.80 to 1.00
0.17 to 0.19
0.35 to 0.40c
0.20 to 0.24
0.70 to 0.80
0.10 to 0.12
0.10 to 0.12
Balancing rations for anions affects the cow’s acid-base status, raising the amount of calcium available in the blood. Urine acidity is affected by these changes in the cow’s acid-base status, Table 4. Checking urine pH can help producers and veterinarians monitor the effectiveness of an anionic ration.
Table 4. Urine pH predicts calcium status of cows at calving.
Source: Davidson J. et al. Hoard’s Dairyman, pp. 634. 1995.
Positive (> 0 mEq/100g)
8.0 to 7.0
Low blood calcium
Negative (< 0 mEq/100g)
6.5 to 5.5
Mild metabolic acidosis
Normal blood calcium
Negative (< 0 mEq/100g)
Kidney overload, crisis
Normal blood calcium
Feeding a combination of different anionic salts is necessary for achieving the desired DCAB, Table 5. The most commonly fed salts are ammonium sulfate, calcium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, ammonium chloride, calcium chloride, and magnesium chloride. Pay special attention to the degree of hydration of specific salts in formulating rations as well as their costs and availability.
Table 5. Chemical composition of commonly available anionic macromineral salts.
Before incorporating DCAB into a dry cow program, there are several factors to consider. Some of the anionic salts are very unpalatable which can depress intakes significantly in conventional feeding programs. In particular, ammonium salts may result in more intake and palatability problems, especially when a silage based ration is not being fed. Reduced dry matter intakes as a result of feeding anionic salts can lead to the development of other metabolic disorders.
Much of the success with anionic salts has been in herds feeding a total mixed ration. The use of an anionic diet is appropriate when high calcium forages are fed at relatively high levels during the close- up dry period. Animals should receive the anionic diet at least three to four weeks prior to expected calving.
Forages presumed to be good dry cow forages might actually contain high potassium levels that interfere with DCAB. When the potassium level in the total ration dry matter exceeds 150 grams (or > 1.2%), it is difficult to add the proper amounts of anionic salts to meet the ideal DCAB range. Re-evaluating the ration and forages may be necessary if more than 0.65 to 0.75 pounds of anionic salts are needed.
If DCAB is to be implemented in a herd, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur must be included in the forage analyses. Buffers must not be used in anionic salt rations because they will counter the effect of DCAB.
Many dairy producers are starting the silage season with empty silos this summer, says Reagan Bluel, dairy specialist for University of Missouri Extension. That presents a good opportunity to inspect those silos for problems.
Producers turned to silage stockpiles this winter to feed cattle after the drought of 2018.
Tower silos, designed to store chopped fermented silage, are at risk due to age and use. Concrete and steel corrosion compromises the structural integrity of the silo. “As a result, tower silos in disrepair may collapse because they can no longer carry the design loads caused by the stored forage,” says MU Extension agricultural engineer Joe Zulovich.
Empty silos are easier to inspect for structural damage than those being topped off, says Bluel.
“Now is the time to make a visual check the entire exterior for cracks and settlement,” she says. “Additionally, check interior sidewalls for cracks and degradation. If you can see daylight through a tower silo wall, you have a tower silo that is likely structurally compromised.”
Check the silo discharge door, roof and wall openings for sagging, she adds. Roofs can receive damage from overfilling, vibrations and the environment. Check regularly.
Climb into the silo and inspect sidewalls for cracks and bulges. Wear a mask to prevent breathing issues in the confined space.
Immediately make a plan if you find faults. Consider treating surface problems to prevent collapse, or using alternative storage for the 2019 silage crop. Perform regular preventive maintenance.
During her work with dairy farmers in southwestern Missouri, Bluel finds that leaning silos usually collapse within 24 hours. This puts lives and crops at risk. Proactive inspections reduce the likelihood of injury and costly cleanup. Zulovich notes that many silo failures are not included on insurance policies.
Be sure to harvest corn silage at the correct moisture, Bluel says. “If harvesting forage when it is juicier than ideal, as the feed ferments, the excess leachate containing acid from the silage will eat away at the concrete walls and foundation and weaken silo structure.”
Bluel says it is important to train new workers on the correct way to blow silage or green fodder into the silo.
Teach workers to blow silage using a silo forage distributer to evenly spread forage or blow forage exactly into the center of the silo to evenly load silo walls. Uneven loads on a tower silo wall will likely cause the silo to collapse. Teach workers how to properly unload the forage wagon and monitor the silo blower. Use fall protection and work with a partner, particularly during harvest season, Bluel says.
Bluel recommends “Deterioration of Concrete Tower Silos,” a fact sheet from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, available for download here.
According to the International Silo Association, stone structures for grain storage date back more than 3,000 years. Until the 1800s, silage was typically stored in pits. An Illinois farmer named Fred Hatch is often credited with building the first modern silo in the U.S. in 1873. He dug an 8-foot pit in his barn and built a 16-foot aboveground extension made of wood. In an 1891 bulletin from the University of Wisconsin (updated in 1919 by the University of Missouri), agricultural scientist F.H. King promoted an improved type of silo that drew on the lessons of his detailed study of silo designs in the Midwest. The King Silo, as it came to be known, featured a now-familiar cylindrical design that reduced spoilage by eliminating corner air pockets and allowing tighter packing of silage. The following years saw extensive silage education through farm magazines, agricultural college bulletins and field demonstrations. Dairy and beef regions adopted the technology. Beef operations needed more storage capacity, and concrete block/stave and poured concrete silos appeared. While silos are not the only method for storing silage, this old science is still highly effective in storing high-quality feed for your dairy, says Bluel.