Archive for Management

Cow Traffic Systems for Retrofit Robot Barns

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

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

Guided to the left, free flow to the right 

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

Understanding cow movement

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

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

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

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

Free flow system with VMS

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

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

Guided system with VMS

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

What influences a cow in a modified guided system:

Modified guided system with VMS

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

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

Why Free Flow:

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

Why Guided:

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

Why Modified Guided:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Five secrets to winter teat health

Update your milk quality program now to be ready when winter hits.

Frozen teats? Ouch. Elevated somatic cell counts and clinical mastitis? No, thank you. It’s time to prepare your milk quality program for winter.

“Healthy teat skin is crucial to help cows fend off intramammary infections,” says Keith Engel, GEA dairy farm hygiene and supplies specialist. “By addressing winter weather and teat skin condition before the temperatures drop, you can minimize damage and loss of profitability from elevations in somatic cell count levels.”

Some secrets don’t have to be kept quiet. Here are five ways to help keep teats healthy in winter:

1. Precondition the skin

Teat skin thickness changes rapidly during extreme temperature changes.

“Increasing the level and number of emollients in your post dip well before winter can help precondition teat skin by making it more pliable and ready for weather changes,” says Engel.

A chlorine dioxide teat dip containing lactic acid can help exfoliate the teat skin to slough off excess keratin. This type of teat dip helps reduce hyperkeratosis and prepare teats for colder temperatures.

“Smoother teat ends also harbor fewer bacteria and are easier to clean,” says Engel.

2. Develop a winter teat dip plan

Using the appropriate post dip to help control mastitis is just as essential in the winter as it is during summer. Emollients are a critical ingredient in winter teat dip.

“Emollients help protect, heal and soften skin in harsh winter elements,” says Engel. “A successful winter teat dip should also include an effective germicide proven to kill mastitis-causing bacteria.”

  • As soon as the weather starts transitioning to cooler temperatures: Use a post teat dip containing a higher level of emollients with the proper protection against mastitis. 
  • When weather hits below freezing: Use a winter teat dip with a high level of emollients (74 to 76 percent) with a low enough freezing point to protect your cows.

3. Maintain equipment and optimize automation

When your milking equipment runs smoothly, it is more efficient for your dairy and more comfortable for your cows. To keep your equipment performing it’s best, work with your dealer to schedule routine service checks.

“Make sure to confirm equipment settings are optimal for your cows’ milk production and your liners,” says Engel. “Vacuum and pulsation level settings too low or too high increase teat stress and aggravate teat ends. Check your detacher settings so they are not too low with your milk flow rate. If settings are too low, they can cause excessive compression on teat ends.”

4. Review milking procedures

Milking procedures help maintain healthy teats and harvest high-quality milk. The ideal milking procedure includes appropriate stimulation, milk letdown time of 90 to 120 seconds, clean teats and proper unit attachment and alignment.

“Take time to educate your milkers about the effects winter weather can have on teat tissue. Since hyperkeratosis can be higher in winter, soil traps on teat ends more,” says Engel. “To ensure suitable cleanliness, have milkers wipe teats in a downward, twisting motion. Then flip the towel to a clean area and make a second slightly more aggressive wiping pass across teat ends.”

5. Get the housing environment read

Having the cows’ housing environment ready for winter can help minimize the weather’s impact on teats. Environmental adjustments could include bedding more frequently and using less recycled bedding.

“Adequate bedding is especially important for fresh cows and heifers – udder edema and lower circulation makes them more prone to teat damage,” says Engel. “Fresh, dry bedding is also a key component to preventing environmental mastitis.”

Consider adding wind blocks to help reduce wind speeds and avoid chapping or frostbite. Keep alleys and holding pens clean with frequent scraping.

“By preparing for winter, you can help keep your milk quality on par,” says Engel. “Remember, your milk quality specialists are there to help guide you – reach out to them with questions or advice so you can be sure your farm is profitable all year long.”


The Cow-Milking Robots Keeping Small Farms in Business

Nate Tullar, a 38-year-old dairy farmer in Orford, N.H., opens an isolation gate so cows can freely enter the stall within the Lely Astronaut, a robotic milking machine.Greta Rybus

Ever since Nate Tullar was a toddler, when adults asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he knew what to tell them. In the ’50s, Tullar’s grandparents, George and Barbara, had bought Tullando Farm, a dairy farm located along the Connecticut River in Orford, a town in northwest New Hampshire, and started out milking a dozen cows; his parents, Rendell and Karen, had taken up the business after them. Tullar grew up milking and feeding cows, and showing them at fairs. He knew he would be a dairy farmer, too.

These days, this kind of career conviction is one—perhaps the only—logical reason for a young person to become a dairy farmer, especially at the small-scale dairy operations of the Northeast and Midwest. The high cost of barns, farm equipment, and cows, plus volatile prices for milk and feed, reward larger operations that can spread production costs over more animals. In 1987, 202,068 farms produced about 144 billion pounds of milk, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture; by 2017, just 40,219 farms made 215 billion pounds of milk. While dairy farms had a median of 80 or fewer cows in 1987, that figure increased to 900 cows more than a quarter-century later. Nowadays, dairies in the West and Southwest can have 15,000 or 20,000 milking cows, Dave Swartz, an assistant director of programs for animal systems with Penn State Extension told me.

Tullando Farm is among the smaller-scale farms that stayed in business. I visited Tullar, who is 38, on a grey summer day. He greeted me in a Red Sox shirt, Carhartt pants, steel-toed boots, and a red hat, in the Tullando Farm office. Inside hung a yellow and blue banner, stamped with the Tullars’ name, 1956 establishment date, and their enduring motto: “In Cows We Trust.”

While Tullar was growing up, he watched his parents and grandparents expand their herd size, build new barns, and embrace the latest technologies. In 2000, Tullar graduated from the University of New Hampshire’s dairy-management program to begin working full-time at the farm. The dairy’s schedule included six- or seven-hour sessions milking over 400 cows, three times a day. Tullar was on the morning shift—“from four to ten,” he said.

Tullar gradually began helping his parents manage the dairy while his younger sister, Emily Gray, kept track of finances. Tullando Farm has a long history of taking progressive steps to stay in the dairy business, which is why, in addition to adopting best practices for soil health, cattle genetics, and animal comfort, the Tullars decided to computerize as much as their operation as possible. In 2012, they built an enormous new free-stall barn with thermostat-controlled fans and curtains, automated manure-scrapers, and spinning, bristly yellow brushes that cows rub up against when they need a scratch.

In 2014, the Tullar family completed the last, and perhaps most dramatic, step in their long-term improvement plan: They bought eight cow-milking robots called Astronauts, invented by the Dutch company Lely in 1992. For three, 24-hour days after the robots’ arrival, Lely employees helped Tullando Farm herd every one of their 480 cows into and out of the new milking machines, three times each day, to get the animals acquainted. At three months, everything was working the way it was supposed to. These days, a number of European and North American manufacturers sell robotic milkers, which are used by an estimated 4.5 percent of dairy operations in the United States (including Tullando Farm), Joao Costa, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky who researches dairy-precision technology, told me.

Over the four years since then, changes in the global economy and a glut in the domestic market have placed extra pressure on those, like the Tullars, who have weathered the industry’s longer-term restructuring. Historically, strong prices lead to increased milk production one year, oversupply lowers the price the next two years, then prices rebound. But three years ago, Europe eliminated a quota system that had limited the amount of fluid milk farmers could produce. That action, combined with Russia’s 2014 embargo on European Union products, decimated demand abroad for U.S. dairy products—and it came as people in the U.S. were drinking less milk. All this interrupted the normal three-year cycle for federal milk prices. Other recent events, such as President Trump’s trade war and Canada’s, China’s, and Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs on U.S. dairy, haven’t improved matters. Last week, however, the Trump administration agreed to sign the new United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, which is expected to open up more Canadian dairy market access for U.S. farmers by 2020.

U.S. dairy cooperatives—businesses owned and operated by member dairy farmers to market their milk—have had to close membership to new farmers and in some cases, even dump surplus milk. “We’ve never really had an extended four-year cycle where there weren’t things we could do in the U.S.,” Bob Wellington, an agricultural economist and a vice president at the northeast dairy cooperative Agri-Mark, said.  

Increasingly, many farms can’t offer job security for young people like Tullar. “The problem is they don’t have the income to support the kids coming back on the farm,” Wellington said. He added that some Agri-Mark farmers earn an income low enough to make them eligible for food stamps. After a member farmer committed suicide this past winter, Wellington included a list of mental health and suicide prevention resources in Agri-Mark’s February membership letter.

Despite the fraught economics (and emotions), there remain young farmers who are willing to take the risk. Some work second jobs off the farm. Others diversify with value-added products like meat, maple, or yogurt, or they invest in their own bottling plant to direct-market milk in the old-timey glass jugs that speak directly to a certain kind of consumer’s buy-local, know-your-food, support-your-farmer tendencies.

Nate Tullar continues his family legacy. On my tour of Tullando Farm, we passed a giant red cow statue that stood just outside the farm office—a gift from Lely. Just inside the barn and across the aisle from some chewing cows, I spotted a stationary red-and-gray machine that looked like R2-D2; Tullar told me it was an out-of-commission pusher that, when working, keeps feed within reach of cows’ mouths. As for the Astronauts, Tullar led me to the center of the barn and into the long, narrow milking parlor so I could see them in action. While the machinery’s pumping power and chemical supplies lived on the floor above, the eight red, refrigerator-like housings for the milk lined either side of the first-floor aisle.

Next to each Astronaut case, a horizontal gap in the wall offered a window into the automated milking process. A cow walked into the stall-like enclosure and stuffed her face in some grain while the rear gate closed behind her. Next, the robotic arm swung beneath her belly and cleaned her udder with spinning brushes and peroxide disinfectant. Red lasers located her four teats before cups suctioned onto each one. She continued eating as the robot pumped the milk. Eventually, one by one, the teat cups dropped off and the cow received an iodine spray. The stall’s front gate then opened and the cow went on her way.

“Before we put in the robots, we didn’t have enough help,” Tullar said. While the Lely Astronauts required a “substantial investment”—between $150,000 and $200,000 for each robot, not including barn costs—Tullar said they make up for four full-time employees. Using an app on his phone, which tracks the black transponders that hang from each cow’s neck like a bell, Tullar knows what’s going on with his animals at all times: when they’re sick, in heat, or moving around too much for the robot teat cups to get a good grip. And now, instead of herding them and hooking up the milking machines by hand, he has the time to walk among and observe his free-roaming cows, who like to come up and ask for a pat.

“We need to be more efficient as an industry, and that is a really good way to do so,” Costa told me. Dairies have struggled to retain employees, as farms often can’t match wages at warehouses or fast-food chains, and robots help solve that problem. In the future, Costa expects technology to not only perform the manual jobs and take down data for farmers, but to integrate all that information and make management decisions easier and faster. “We’re going to depend less on human labor,” he said.

Amid all this change, Tullar is trying to hang onto some semblance of what his grandparents started. What keeps him from despairing about the equipment repairs going undone, robots still to be paid off, and the stubbornly low milk prices, he said, is pretty simple: the tractor, the fields, the cows. Just before the rain came that August afternoon, I followed Tullar past an unlatched barbed wire fence, through tall grass and wildflowers and into one of his grandparents’ old pastures bordering the river and cornfields. He called out, “C’mon girls!” at the 20 dry cows grazing along the tree line and waited for them to trot over. Gathered in a loose semi-circle, Tullar’s herd pressed their wet noses to his arms, his legs, his face. “They just wish I had grain,” he said, but I wasn’t so sure that was true. I didn’t see them nuzzle the robots like that.


Driving Profitability — Tip #2: Improve Pregnancy Rates, Boost Profitability

This is the second in a series of Dairy Financial Driver Profitability Quick Tips. Information is based on work by Zoetis and Compeer Financial to analyze 11 years of herd data from 489 year-end financial and production-record summaries to identify key drive

Quicker pregnancies are essential to keep milk flowing and the next generation of herd replacements growing.

A 9% difference in pregnancy rate added up to a $143/cow/year difference in net farm income between the top one-third of herds and the bottom one-third of herds, 1,*according to a study by Zoetis and Compeer Financial that analyzed 11 years of herd data from 489 year-end financial and production-record summaries.1,*

Optimizing pregnancy rate is not only about making sure cows efficiently move through the stages of production, but also about ensuring cows spend less time in late lactation when milk production is lower. Your goal should be to have cows spend more time at the front end of the lactation curve, ultimately driving profitability.

Follow these three tips to improve pregnancy rates and maximize profit opportunity:

  1. Get cows pregnant earlier in lactation. — Staying at the front end of the milking curve means more efficient milk production. Optimize pregnancy rate by implementing a high-conception rate fertility synchronization program followed by an intensive heat detection program to identify open cows for prompt re-insemination.
  2. Keep your fresh cows healthy— Good fresh cow care is key to ensuring fresh cows are ready to breed. Evaluate your fresh cow program to make sure stress is minimized, rations are balanced, and health evaluations are done at the front and back of a cow. Look for signs of illness such as loss of appetite, drooping ears, depressed attitude, increased temperature, abnormal tail carriage and vaginal discharge, in addition to the telltale foul smell, which may signal a metritis infection. If metritis is an issue, eliminate the need for pen moves and avoid the cost of discarding milk by using a proven, on-label treatment.
  3. Calve in the right heifers for your dairy. — First-lactation animals typically make 15% less milk than second-lactation animals. Therefore, it’s important to manage and monitor heifer inventories closely with the goal of balancing your heifer and adult cow population. Having the right number of heifers with genetics that achieve your herd goals will allow you to minimize replacement costs while avoiding milk production gaps. Genomic testing with CLARIFIDE® Plus can help identify heifers that will live longer in your herd.

The bottom line is getting cows pregnant at a faster rate increases milk production — which is ultimately the driving force behind profitability.

Find out more about 21-day pregnancy rate and the other Dairy Financial Drivers. Contact your Zoetis sales representative to discuss solutions for improved pregnancy rates on your dairy.

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

Fall and Winter Grazing Options Following a Drought

The 2018 extended drought in southwest Missouri has left pastures and hayfields with few forages left at the end of summer according to Tim Schnakenberg, field specialist in agronomy with University of Missouri Extension.

“Livestock producers are scrambling to offset the cost of high priced hay by ensuring that forages are growing for fall and winter grazing,” said Schnakenberg.

According to Schnakenberg, under normal circumstances, the cost of feeding a cow per day during the winter months using hay is 2-3 times more than if the same cow was dependent on fall and winter pasture.

“Considering the cost of hay today, it may be more like 6-9 times the cost, which gives even more credence to the necessity of efficient fall grazing practices,” said Schnakenberg.

Dependent on the conditions of their fields, producers could consider a few options.

First, consider stockpiling your better tall fescue and Bermudagrass fields.

“This is our cheapest and easiest option for fall and winter grazing. It’s estimated that 80 to 90 percent of livestock producers should primarily focus on this option if fescue stands are strong,” said Schnakenberg.

It is easy to look at a droughty fescue field and think there is no hope for regrowth.

“We know from past droughts, that there is lots of hope for fescue to return in the fall. First, make sure there is some green in the base of the crown. If the plants are still alive and there is a 75% stand of fescue left, the best approach will be to stockpile it,” said Schnakenberg.

Rotational grazing will nearly double utilization. Strip grazing or multiple paddocks work exceptionally well for rationing out stockpiled fescue.

Second, pastures with poor stands of fescue or with no fall growth potential may be planted with winter annuals according to Schnakenberg.

“Planting winter annuals into a strong fescue stand is counter-productive and may not be cost-effective,” said Schnakenberg. “August is the month to evaluate stands of fescue. Many fields are full of grassy and broadleaf weeds like foxtail, purpletop, broomsedge and ragweed. If there is little tall fescue left, a plan should be developed for either providing temporary forage or a long-term plan for reestablishment.”

Winter annual forage options for fall and winter grazing include cereal rye, triticale, wheat, oats, barley, turnips, kale and radishes. Each one has its benefits and challenges.

Or third, complete renovation of worn-out fields is also an option.

“Some fields may be due for complete renovation. Think of the long-term goals and plan for success,” said Schnakenberg.

Fields that will be killed to renovate using winter annuals would be prime candidates to establish warm season grasses next spring or novel endophyte fescue the following late summer/fall.

Source: University of Missouri Extension


Fibrolytic enzymes could boost dairy cow efficiency

An international group of researchers from Canada, South Korea and Egypt explored the use of fibrolytic enzymes (FETR) as an additive to dairy cow rations and its potential to influence lactation, feeding behavior and digestibility when used with a barley silage-based diet.

The team members published their work in the Journal of Dairy Science.

“This study aimed to evaluate the effects of supplementing a fibrolytic enzyme product applied directly to a barley silage–based diet fed to dairy cows during mid-lactation on milk yield, milk composition, nutrient intake and digestibility, and feeding behavior,” the researchers said.

During the feeding trials, the researchers found that there was no influence on feeding behavior from use of the enzyme, but it did improve feed efficiency and milk protein amounts. “Pretreating dairy cow barley-based TMR with FETR improved dairy cow performance during the mid-lactation phase,” they added.

“Based on the current study, the optimum dosage of the fibrolytic enzymes was 0.75 mL of FETR/kg DM of TMR [total mixed ration],” they said. “Applying this dosage improved NDF [neutral detergent fiber] digestibility, fat yield, FCM [fat corrected milk] yield, and feed efficiency of dairy cows fed a diet containing 34% barley silage (DM basis).”

Why fibrolytic enzymes with barley silage?

Dairy cows have the ability to transform forage into milk and protein products for human use, the researchers said. However, the rate and amount of forage digestion cows make is lower than when they are fed concentrates – limiting feed intake and cow performance.

It is important to boost forage digestibility to improve milk production, they said.

Fibrolytic enzymes can be added as feed additive in ruminant diets to improve forage fiber digestion and support increased milk production in cows, they said. enzyme use also has been linked to improved digestibility of dry matter (DM) and neutral detergent fiber (NDF).

“However, there are inconsistent results regarding the effect of providing fibrolytic enzymes to ruminant diets on dairy cow performance (Bernard et al., 2010; Chung et al., 2012; Dean et al., 2013),” they said. “Thus, the use of fibrolytic enzymes as feed additives has not yet been extensively adopted in commercial dairy farms.”

As feed costs can vary, however, it remains important to “refine” enzyme use as feed additives to increase feed efficiency and lower the price of milk production, the researchers said.

In western Canada, whole-crop barley can be a main forage element for dairy and beef rations, they said.

Previously, three barley forage varieties were examined for their in vitro NDF digestibility to examine use of the forage with beef cattle, they said. “From the results of this study, it was found that all barley varieties, despite differences in NDF digestibility, have a similar effect on feed efficiency,” they added.

It was also noted that other factors also altered forage digestibility and quality, the researchers said. The range of nutritional quality for forage barley indicates that additional additives – like “fibrolytic enzyme products with high activity (xylanase and cellulase)” – may be needed to improve the digestibility of barley silage.

However, there is little information available on milk production response in cows when a fibrolytic enzyme is added to their barley silage-based ration, they said.

Methods and materials

Prior to the feeding trial an in vitro examination was conducted to establish if adding fibrolytic enzymes would alter animal performance when used with a barley silage-based diet, the researchers said. The enzyme was tested on barley silage samples at six levels – 0, 0.25, 0.50. 0.75, 1 and 1.25 mL of FERT/kg DM of silage – and the gas generated was measured.

In the feeding trial, eight cows were given one of four diets for a period of 22 days, before being rotated to another of the trial diets, the researchers said. Each period on diet included a 16-day adjustment window and 6 days for sampling.

The diets included a total mixed ration (TMR) with 34.1% barley silage, 16.1% alfalfa hay, 19.7% barley grain and 30.1% concentrate on a DM basis and that diet was supplemented with 0, 0.5, 0.75 or 1mL of FETR/kg dry matter (DM), they said. The enzyme pretreatment was added to the feed during the mixing process.

Feed intake, feeding behavior and milk yield were noted daily during the 6-day period and milk samples were collected for the final three days and checked for milk fat, protein, lactose, MUN and TS, they said. TMR, ort and fecal samples also were gathered for analysis and to determine total tract digestibility of DM, organic matter, NDF and potentially digestible NDF.


In a pre-feeding trial in vitro test, adding the enzyme linearly increased digestibility of dry matter and appeared to improve the digestion of barley silages, the researchers said. There also was a linear effect on the digestibility of in vitro NDF digestibility.  

Adding the enzyme to cow rations did not alter the intake of DM, OM or NDF, they said. “The response of DM, OM, and NDF digestibility to the increasing level of FETR was cubic, where the intermediate dosage (0.75 mL of FETR/kg DM of TMR) has exhibited the best effect on nutrient digestibility,” they added.

“Pretreating dairy cow barley silage–based diet with 0.75 mL of FETR/kg of TMR increased the milk production efficiency of dairy cows fed diets containing 34% barley silage (DM basis),” they said. “The positive effect of adding FETR could benefit the dairy industry in western Canada, where barley silage-based diets are common.”

The additive improved FCM and energy-corrected milk, with the highest levels found when 0.75 of the enzyme/kg was added to the TMR, the researchers said. Milk fat yield also increased, however the highest amount of enzyme tended to lower milk fat yield.

Milk protein composition increased linearly as more enzyme was added but yield did not, they said. The 0.75 diet also was found to generate the best milk lactose percentage, the best feed efficiency and a higher FCM yield. However, MUN was not altered.

“These findings indicate that supplementing the forage with moderate enzyme levels could enhance dairy cow performance,” they said. 

Blood test aims to point at future complications for dairy cows

A new blood test has been developed to help farmers and vets predict the future health and productivity of dairy cows.

Researchers based at Edinburgh University’s Roslin Institute and Scotland’s Rural College, or SRUC, say testing heifer calves for molecules in their blood, known as microRNAs, could help predict their likelihood of developing disease in the future.

They say the blood levels of certain microRNAs change dramatically during the early life of cows, and some of these molecules are associated with diseases including lameness and mastitis, and with milk production.

According to the researchers, blood testing to monitor microRNA levels in young heifers could help identify those that are likely to have problems in later life – a move they believe will benefit the dairy industry and improve animal welfare.

The approach of testing microRNAs is already being used to diagnose diseases in humans.

Dr Xavier Donadeu from the Roslin Institute said the new testing method could benefit all livestock, and not just dairy cows.

He said: “As shown in previous studies, these results demonstrate that blood testing for micro-RNAs may be very useful as diagnostic tools in dairy cows and potentially other livestock species.

“They could allow for early selection of the healthiest animals in a herd in order to aid productivity and animal wellbeing.”

SRUC Professor Georgios Banos added: “This work was funded by SRUC as a strategic topic of priority. We are investing in scientific research on the development of practical solutions for the improvement of livestock and farm practices.

“We are already designing collaborative follow-up projects and we look forward to exciting new outcomes.”

The researchers say the test has the potential to make a big difference to the dairy industry because up to one third of UK dairy cows are affected by disease or reproductive failure.


Source: The Press and Journal

Feeding Decisions and Management Can Impact Your Dairy’s Bottom Line

As feed, fuel, and fertilizer costs skyrocket, cost containment is front and center on everyone’s mind. It is important to note that improving income over expenses not just decreasing expenses should be your goal when looking for ways to improve or maintain profitability.

This concept is very important when it comes to decisions related to your feeding and management practices. In addition, feeding programs should positively impact the health and longevity of cows.

Outlined below are areas that relate to your feeding management program that can directly impact your profitability. Please take a few minutes to see if you can improve upon these low or no cost management areas to improve your profitability

  1. Take Care of the Money Makers– Early Lactation Cows: Early lactation cows are generally the most profitable cows in a dairy operation. During early lactation, these cows have the highest efficiency of converting feed into milk. These feed dollars and management time needs to be directed toward getting this group of cows to milk to their potential and ensuring they get pregnant. Adequate feedbunk space, frequent feed delivery and constant access to fresh feed, properly balanced rations, feeding high- quality forages and easy access to clean, cool water are the hallmarks of a well- executed feeding and management program. Grouping early lactation and high producing cows together may also allow the use of more expensive feed additives and ingredients in those needing these products. Regrouping cows works as long as frequent pen movements do not disturb the social structure of the group and result in lower milk production.
  2. Harvest or Purchase High Quality Forages: Bottom line– Feeding high quality forages allow rations to be balanced with less grain (savings in feed costs) and these higher digestible forages support the production of more milk. Thus, quality forages have a direct impact on the profitability of your operation. If 5 lbs of alfalfa hay is fed, you could pay $80 more per ton for alfalfa hay and have the same income over feed costs if milk production increased by just 1 pound (assumes milk price is $20/cwt milk; at $15/cwt milk, this break even number is $60 more per ton.) So, if you get 2 lbs more milk, you can pay $160 more per ton with identical income over feed costs. In addition, the grain mix may be able to be changed reducing feed costs even more. Take home message: Sometimes paying a little more for a higher quality forage will make you more money even though you spend a little more for the forage itself.
  3. Milk Cow Diets Need to Contain Some Corn or other starch sources: Rations for milking cows need to be balanced to provide adequate amounts of starch (24-26% starch, 3-5% sugars). Ruminally degraded starch (abbreviated RDS), commonly found in corn and other grains, provides energy for rumen bacteria to make microbial protein, the primary source of protein for the cow herself. When inadequate amounts of starch are provided in diets for early lactation cows, milk production is reduced because microbial protein synthesis is reduced. Bottom line: make sure you work closely with your nutritionist to get a well balanced ration for your herd.
  4. Review feeding programs: Formulating rations start by analyzing the forages you are feeding currently. These results are then used to balance rations for the milking herd, dry cows and heifers based on current production and amounts of forages available to be fed. Rations should be rebalanced at least quarterly if not monthly.
  5. Purchase feed ingredients in bulk with neighbor(s): By purchasing feed ingredients in tractor-trailer loads, feed costs should be lower.
  6. Get Cows Rebred: Cows need to be rebred in a reasonable time frame for them to be a part of the profitable dairy operation. This reasonable time frame is influenced by the production level of a particular cow. Higher producing cows can take longer to get bred that lower producing cows. The prudent use of heat synchronization, routine pregnancy checks via a veterinarian, and properly implemented and up-to-date vaccination program can help you get more cows rebred in a reasonable time frame. The goal here is to maximize the amount of time cows spend at the higher production versus lower production levels and thus resulting in higher profitability.
  7. Improve Cow Comfort: Reductions in heat stress on not only the milking herd but also dry cows, baby calves, and heifers can improve these animal’s immunity, feed intake, and thus profitability now and into the fall. Comfortable stalls that are well bedded and properly sized allow for cows to rest and “make milk’.
  8. Strive for Milk Quality Bonuses: Proper milking practices, routine milking equipment maintenance, and housing cows in a clean environment are important parts of producing higher quality milk. Feed additives can help improve the immunity of cows but cannot fix management problems leading to high cell counts.
  9. Dry and Transition Cows: Feeding and management programs for dry and transition cows directly impact production, breeding potential, health, and thus profitability after calving. Dry cow rations need to be properly balanced such that they maintain body condition and transition cow diets need to prevent metabolic diseases, such as ketosis and milk fever. Overfeeding energy to dry cows (i.e. large quantities of corn silage in unbalanced rations) can waste feed resources and compromise the health of these cows after calving. Remember to work with a well-trained nutritionist to balance rations for your dry cows which not only utilize your forages but meet and do not exceed the nutrient needs of these cows especially for energy.
  10. Calve heifers at 24 months of age: Calving heifers over 24 months of age increases heifer rearing costs and increases the time she is an income-utilizing versus an income-generating asset. Older heifers are less efficient at using feed for growth and consequently cost more to maintain. A survey conducted in 2007 with Wisconsin dairies or custom heifer raisers calculated that feed costs accounted for 52% of the total cost ($1.06/heifer/day) to raise a heifer until freshening. Remember these costs were calculated before the large spike in corn and soybean meal prices. Thus, these costs are probably closer to $1.20 or more/heifer/day today. Reviewing your heifer management program can help decrease costs associated with raising heifers.

Source: University of Kentucky Extension

What You Should Know About Coliform Mastitis

Learn management practices that can help improve your dairy herd’s bottom line

The dairy industry continues its struggle to control coliform mastitis, which was found to be the source of up to 50 percent of mastitis infections on U.S. dairy herds in 2017.¹ The consequences can be devastating, with research indicating a cost of $444 per clinical case of mastitis during the first 30 days in milk.²

Producers can suffer economic losses from clinical mastitis such as added labor, discarded milk, antibiotic treatment, production loss, veterinarian costs, culling and death (see Figure 1).³ In fact, clinical mastitis has been identified as the most common cause of death in adult dairy cows.²

Coliform mastitis infections can arise anytime during a cow’s lactation, but the highest risk period is early to peak lactation. Older, higher-producing cows are especially susceptible. Fortunately, producers can take steps toward prevention and control.

Focus on cleanliness

“Environmental pathogens that cause coliform mastitis can be found anywhere manure comes in contact with the udder,” said Dr. Linda Tikofsky, senior associate director of dairy professional veterinary services, Boehringer Ingelheim. She said producers can minimize mastitis risk by :⁴

  • Providing an ample supply of dry, clean bedding that is frequently groomed;
  • Refraining from overcrowding and/or overgrazing;
  • Managing water tanks, feeding areas and walkways to eliminate standing water or excess manure that might splash onto the udder; and
  • Ventilating barns to limit heat stress and the spread of bacteria

Implement a vaccination protocol

Vaccination can help reduce the severity and incidence of coliform mastitis.⁵ “I recommend vaccinating all cows at dry-off, then giving a booster vaccine two to four weeks later,” said Dr. Tikofsky. “If you’re struggling with an outbreak or it’s simply more convenient, you can also vaccinate the entire herd at once. Just don’t forget to give a booster. The vaccine you choose should have a short meat withdrawal and provide protection against E. coli, endotoxemia caused by E. coli and Salmonella Typhimurium. A veterinarian can help create a protocol that is best suited to your operation’s needs.”

Be prepared for an infection

Even with the best practices in place, mastitis infections will still happen. When mild or moderate clinical mastitis cases occur, Dr. Tikofsky recommends taking a milk sample, culturing and waiting 24 hours for results before treating. “Culturing can be done without a negative effect on cure rate or animal welfare in cases of mild or moderate mastitis,” she explained. “If you think you’re experiencing a coliform mastitis outbreak, work with your veterinarian to identify and address the cause.”


Do Your Cows Know How You Feel About Them?

Handling, transportation, environment, feed, interactions with other animals, and interactions with humans can stress cattle. Do our attitudes influence factors that can affect profitability?

The saying goes “attitude is everything,” but is it? Researchers have been and are likely to continue exploring this notion in relation to production, reproduction, safety, and other aspects of operating dairy farms. Many stimuli including handling, transportation, their environment, feed, interactions with other animals, and interactions with humans can stress cattle. Do our attitudes influence factors that can affect profitability on dairy farms?

The interactions between humans and animals, along with attitudes of the animal handlers, were examined during a study of 30 organic dairies in Germany and Denmark (Ivemeyer et al., 2018). Data collected included observations of the milkers’ behavior toward the cows, survey responses on attitudes of the farmers, and udder health according to 3 indicators (percent of mastitis quarters, somatic cell score, and cure rate). More favorable udder health ratings were recorded when the respondents’ attitudes favored patience when moving cattle, pleasant behavior toward cows, a greater number of positive interactions with cows, and when the routines of the milkers were unchanged. Another European study assessed the interactions between humans and cattle by gauging whether certain factors influenced whether cattle avoided being touched by humans while at the feeding rack (des Roches et al., 2016). The study authors concluded that characteristics of the farm such as bedding, herd size, or milking system did not influence the cattle to avoid being touched; however, an avoidance association was observed when the farmers possessed a negative behavioral attitude toward the cows, which included behaviors such as naming cows, issuing a warning to them prior to milking, yelling, or reluctance to cull favorite cows. The average farm sizes in the studies previously mentioned were 85 cows and 54 cows, respectively.

A positive attitude and drive to seek assistance and information can be positively reflected by herd health measures including mastitis and decreased bulk tank somatic cell count (BTSCC). Researchers who conducted a survey of dairies in the southeastern U.S. concluded that producers reporting BTSCC levels at or below 300,000 who sought information and desired to lower their SCC were able to observe positive results and decrease the BTSCC (DeLong et al., 2017). Further, these researchers also noted an association between farmers’ attitudes toward their ability to manage mastitis related to milking practices and a lower BTSCC. An earlier study of factors influencing mastitis management across several states highlighted the role that attitudes can have, as the survey respondents reported higher BTSCC when the lack of adherence to milking protocols and cases of mastitis were perceived as issues on farms (Schewe et al., 2015).

The findings from a recent study of 265 male and female Finnish dairy farmers indicated that their well-being was tied to several factors including working with healthy farm animals along with family interaction, a workload that is within reason, and the sustainability of the farm economy (Kallioniemi et al., 2018). These results reflect that maintaining herd health aids in the positive well-being of the farmers that were surveyed.

These studies would indicate that a component of a farm management strategy is the right attitude. While the recent online trend of cow cuddling may be a bit extreme, it might be worthwhile to take a few minutes to check negative feelings at the barn door. Focusing our efforts on things that we can control and anticipating positive results may provide a boost in productivity and make for a better work environment.

Source: PennState Extension

How Can I Improve Labor Productivity?

Increasing labor productivity enables an industry or economy to produce the same amount or more output with fewer workers.  Because labor productivity is directly related to output, it has a major impact on economic growth and the standard of living.  U.S. labor productivity growth since 2011, at an annual rate 0.4 percent, is lower than the annual growth rate of 2.5 percent year experienced from 1995 to 2010 (Wolla, 2017).  Unless this growth rate of labor productivity increases, slow economic growth rates and relatively low wage rate increases are likely.

What about labor productivity in production agriculture?  Langemeier (2017; 2018b) provides labor efficiency and productivity benchmarks for farms.  Labor efficiency is computed by dividing total labor cost (hired labor cost plus family and operator labor cost) by gross revenue.  Labor productivity is computed by dividing gross revenue by the number of workers, which includes hired employees, family employees, and operators.  If all of the employees, including family employees and operators, are fully employed, it is relatively easy to compute the number of workers.  If some of the workers are seasonal or part-time, the total months worked for these employees or operators should be summed and then divided by 12 to arrive at the number of workers.  Based on previous analysis, farms with below average labor efficiency and above average labor productivity have labor efficiency measures below 9.1 percent and labor productivity measures above $650,000 per worker.

This article discusses the importance of resource allocation, physical capital, human capital, and technological change to labor productivity.  Resource allocation refers to how much is being spent on inputs such as labor, purchased inputs (e.g., seed, feed, and fertilizer), capital, and management time in proportion to total costs.

Improving Labor Productivity

Resource Allocation

The first question to ask with respect to labor productivity is as follows.  How efficiently am I using the current work force?  These leads to various other questions.  Have we used our labor in accordance with expectations?  If not, are their inefficiencies in our production processes?  Do we need to expand the operation to more fully utilize our work force?

After answering questions pertaining to labor use, we can expand our discussion to use of all inputs.  It is imperative that farms use the optimal input combination as the scale of production increases, which is often referred to as using expansion path proportions.  Examples can be illustrated with a couple of questions.  If we add an employee or a family member, have we also appropriately changed our use of purchased inputs and capital?  Conversely, if we buy machinery, are we making the appropriate changes in labor and purchased inputs?

Increases in Physical Capital

Physical capital includes machinery and equipment, buildings, grain bins, and land.  Farms have adopted technologies that use relatively less labor and relatively more capital for decades.  The important point here is to determine whether the increases in physical capital that have occurred on your farm has led to improvements in labor efficiency and productivity.  Of course, it is also important to determine whether asset purchases have improved profitability.

The impact of increases in physical capital or asset purchases has two dimensions.  First, has each asset purchase increased technical and cost efficiency?  Technical efficiency refers to a farm’s ability to efficiently produce outputs for a given level of inputs, while cost efficiency measures a farm’s ability to produce outputs at the lowest cost per-unit.  To answer this question, it is important to make sure that the benefits of every asset purchase outweigh the costs.  Second, how does each asset purchase impact our ability to expand or garner economies of scale?  In particular, have asset purchases allowed us to more efficiently utilize labor?  Labor costs are certainly one of the costs related to economies of scale or the response to per-unit costs with increases in output.  As a farm expands, you would expect per-unit labor costs to decline.  If a farm expands and labor efficiency and productivity remain the same, the farm has potential labor use problems that need to be explored.

Increases in Human Capital

Human capital represents knowledge and skills that individuals acquire through education, experience, and training.  It is important for farm managers and operators to assess their current management skills and gaps.  Skill checklists can provide this self-assessment.  Langemeier and Boehlje (2018), in their discussion of the skills and competencies needed for farm growth, describe skills pertaining to production, procurement and selling, financial management, personnel management, strategic positioning, relationship management, leadership, and risk management.  If a farm has major gaps in their skill sets, they either need to try to fill this gap with education and training, or hire someone that has these skills.

Technological Change

In production agriculture, technology adoption often fosters more efficient use of labor, and leads to economies of scale and competitive advantage for a couple of reasons.  First, early adopters of technology often reap above average profits.  Second, farms that do not adopt beneficial technology become increasingly inefficient.  Mugera et al. (2016) indicate that technical change is a key driver of productivity and profitability.  The production frontier for production agriculture, which represents the relationship between aggregate output and aggregate input, is rapidly shifting upward.  In this environment, even farms that make changes to their operations, such as becoming more efficient or expanding, are in danger of being left behind by the farms pushing the production frontier upward.

The upward shift in the production frontier will almost certainly continue (Langemeier and Boehlje, 2017).  Forthcoming technology advancements will expand our use of robots, artificial intelligence, and data analysis.  This leads to a couple of very important questions that need to be addressed by individual farms.  Does our farm have mechanisms in place to fully evaluate potential new technologies?  Do we have the ability and flexibility to fund multiple new technologies?

Concluding Thoughts

Labor productivity represents the ratio of output per worker.  The benchmarks for labor efficiency (total labor cost divided by gross revenue) and labor productivity (gross revenue per worker) are a labor efficiency measure below 9.1 percent and a labor productivity measure above $650,000 per worker.  Labor efficiency and productivity can be improved by examining per unit costs among inputs and making appropriate adjustments to a farm’s input mix (i.e., labor, capital, and purchased input cost proportions); by increasing physical capital per worker; by increasing human capital per worker; and/or by adopting new technology.

In addition to benchmarking labor productivity, a farm should benchmark key financial and production metrics such as the operating profit margin ratio, asset turnover ratio, yield per acre, and animal performance, and examine the relationship between change in equity and retained earnings.  More information pertaining to benchmarking can be found in Langemeier (2018a).


The true cost of calf deaths

Unacceptably high calf mortality rates on Australian dairies cause significant financial loss to individual enterprises. The extent of this financial loss is often not appreciated because it is hard to assess.

On many dairies, losing a few calves a year is not regarded as a big financial loss and that, in fact, is probably right. The things which are costing the enterprise money are the related but unseen financial effects of clinical and subclinical disease in the surviving calves.

When farmers are asked to estimate the cost of dead calves, most will list the obvious losses:

  • Farmgate value of the calf.
  • Value (if any) of the feed the calf consumed before death.
  • Labour costs to rear them to the time the calf died.
  • Veterinary costs, including drugs.

My experience and that of other large-scale calf rearers is that, as a generalisation, for every dead calf, there are about five sick ones. In this context, I would define a sick calf as one which needs or receives supportive therapy of some sort – tube feeding, isolation, electrolytes or drugs.

For every five sick calves there are probably 25 diverting nutrients from growth into immune system function to defend their bodies against infection, i.e. staying healthy but in doing so have reduced weight gains/kilogram of feed consumed.

It is the related illness, poor feed conversion efficiencies and sub-optimal growth rates in surviving calves that cost far more money than the value of the dead calves.

For example, it is quite possible that a group of calves under stress will consume double the amount of grain to reach a target weight when compared with a group of unstressed calves. This alone is an unnecessary cost but when coupled with the other unseen costs linked to poor early life growth rates, such as reduced lifetime feed conversion and failure to reach genetic potential for milk production, the financial impost associated with the cost of dead calves can be huge.

The figures I have given are not graven in stone; they will vary from farm to farm and year to year. The point is that by scrimping on rearing costs, calf health and growth rates will be jeopardised and the long-term financial losses will far outweigh any money saved in the short term.

Long-term productivity will certainly be compromised and animal welfare outcomes will not meet consumer expectations.

Often farms have no easily accessible factual record of the number of deaths that occur in a particular year. Guesstimates of losses are often later proven to be under-estimates.

The death of only 2 per cent of heifers reared is often viewed as a really good result. If one takes the approximate figures I have given above, two dead calves are linked to 10 sick calves and 50 that are not ill but which have enough of an immune challenge to decrease their feed conversion efficiency.

It is important to remember that I am not using these figures as facts. They are just approximations of what may be happening; on some farms, the results will be more favourable, on others the results will be much worse.

What I am trying to illustrate is that the actual cost of any dead calves can be a drop in the ocean A range of factors can cause an exponential increase in these costs on dairies rearing higher number compared with the real, on-going losses sustained, but not seen, by the enterprise.

Which calves should be included in the mortality statistics? From the point of view of improving calf management, it is generally accepted that if a calf is brought in from the calving area to the rearing area and is expected to live, i.e. it is tagged and treated normally for the first few hours of life but subsequently dies, that is should be counted as a dead calf.

Usually counting would cut off at 12 weeks, once a calf has been weaned but since some farms still have 12-week-old heifers on milk, maybe those farms should use a timeframe of weaning plus four weeks as the cut-off point for inclusion in mortality statistics.

Whatever upper age limit is chosen, it is important to be consistent from year to year. It is also important to include a few weeks post weaning in the statistics as poor weaning practices can result in post-weaning deaths, which still relate to poor calf management pas those deaths are not a result of poor calf management practices.

Stillbirths and calves that are obviously ill or deformed at birth should not be counted. A note should be kept of these deaths, though, as they may be a result of herd health problems.

Now, let’s consider what is an acceptable mortality rate. In an average beef herd in southern Australia, and I have managed several, it is pretty unusual to lose more than 1 per cent of calves, particularly in the first 2-3 months of life. This is what nature can do – 1 per cent or less.

Therefore, if dairy calves are to be removed from their natural mothers and raised by human surrogate mothers, those surrogates should have less than 1 per cent deaths as the goal. Achievinfor animal welfare this will have a positive financial impact on the business and will allow the farm to meet consumer expectations.

Money spent on raising heifers does not give a return until those heifers enter the herd. It is important to remember that, providing the money is spent proactively on raising healthy calves, not reactively on treating sick calves, the greater the investment, the greater the return will be.

Attempting to save money by reducing the costs of calf-feeding inputs will result in calves that do not achieve recommended growth rates and that are more likely to become ill and die.

Calves that are limit-fed will achieve low growth rates and will be on feed for much longer to achieve a target weight. Their efficiency of gain will be lower than calves that are fully fed (i.e. it will cost more to grow calves out to a target weight) and they will be far less productive cows when they enter the herd.

Add together the:

  • Direct costs of increased mortality.
  • Direct costs of increased sickness.
  • Extra costs per kilogram of weight gain.
  • Lower lifetime milk production.
  • Lower lifetime feed conversion efficiency.
  • Poor animal welfare outcomes.

This reveals the enterprise has a significant financial burden as well as not meeting welfare expectations.

In times of low milk prices, it is a normal survival tactic to try to cut back on every expense. The best way to economise in the area of heifers is to do a really good job.

Sick calves mean that somewhere, something is not being done well; this only adds to the costs of rearing heifers. Raising healthy calves is not any more expensive up front than doing a bad job – it just means money is spent in different areas.

Raising healthy calves may mean spending less money for a better result and it is far more satisfying than dealing with sick and dying calves.

Doing the most effective and economical job with pre-weaned calves means having:

  • Excellent colostrum collection, storage and administration practices.
  • Farm-specific sanitation protocols that are followed to the letter.
  • Milk and grain feeding schedules that allow calves to grow at the recommended rates.
  • The ability to weigh calves and to monitor the success of the calf management program.

Failure to acknowledge that an enterprise has a calf management problem will not make the problem go away; the problem will continue to drain resources from the enterprise until it is addressed.

Increasingly, high death rates are becoming not just an economic issue, which farmers can choose to ignore if they are prepared to accept the financial loss, but an issue of customer expectations. A pile of dead calves outside the calf shed is not something which the average customer would be happy about.

The good thing is that making management changes to meet consumer expectations only involves changes that reduce morbidity and mortality rates and increases growth rates and health outcomes, that is, changes that are beneficial to the enterprise.

At times when farmers are looking for ways to improve profitability, improving calf management is an area that delivers multiple benefits.

SourceThe Australian Dairyfarmer

Breeding shift may continue in New Zealand

Dairy farmers will need to think about their breeding choices to ensure they have a herd capable of producing milk with higher fat content to get the best returns, a new report says. DairyNZ strategy and investment leader Bruce Thorrold released the report, which said shifts in bull breeding worth (BW) reflected an increase in the value of fat.

In what was the most significant change to global dairy trade in the last 20 years, milk fat would earn dairy farmers more than protein in the 2018-19 season.

Fat had been a low-value milk component, but it had seen a steady rise in recent seasons due to consumer-driven market value, Dr Thorrold said.

“That’s a welcome change for New Zealand farmers who are set to receive a strong milk price, buoyed by the value of milk fat.”

The changes in fat price had produced large shifts in BW, both between and within breeds. Of the top 200 bulls by BW, 70% were Jersey, 5% were Holstein-Friesian and 25% were cross-bred (Jersey and Holstein-Friesian), he said.

On average, Jersey bulls were increasing by $25 BW. Cross-bred and Ayrshire bulls were relatively unchanged, down $4 and $3 respectively.

Within breeds, individual bulls would shift up or down by as much as $40 BW relative to their breed average shift.

New Zealand Animal Evaluation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dairy NZ, administers the BW index, which is used to rank cows and bulls according to their ability to meet the national breeding objective of breeding dairy cows that would be the most efficient converters of feed into profit for farmers.

The economic values for fat and protein were calculated by partitioning the milksolids price into a value for fat and protein before accounting for the cost of producing each component. The value of fat relative to protein had been increasing for the past three seasons, and the trend was forecast to continue, Dr Thorrold said.

New Zealand was uniquely positioned to take full advantage of strong demand for fat-based milk products, due to the strong influence of Jersey genes in the national herd.

There was a high genetic variation in the trait in New Zealand dairy cattle which enabled farmers to respond quickly to market signals.

The milk prices used in BW lagged behind the market price because it looked out to smooth short-term changes.

“For breeding the national herd, we need a long-term view. If current fat prices are maintained, the shift in favour of high fat bulls will continue next year.”

Calves born in spring 2019 would have the BW2019 values, he said.

Many farmers used semen from bull teams selected by breeding companies to help them breed the next generation of milking cows. The breeding companies were aware of the changes and were using them to help select the bulls they used in their teams.

DairyNZ was encouraging farmers to talk with their breeding companies to review whether the product they ordered was still meeting their needs.


Source: Otago Daily Times

High Nitrates Detected in Forages

High level of nitrates have been detected in forages this year. Depending on where you live, it could be due to weather conditions, fertilizer, previous crop, or a combination. Regardless of the situation or where you are located in South Dakota, it is advised to have your forages tested for nitrates this year. Asking your neighbor, if he or she has high nitrates, is no indication of what your forage will be. Likewise, there is variation amongst fields that sit side by side.

Common forages that accumulate nitrates include: oats, wheat, millet, sudangrass, sorghum, corn, orchardgrass, tall fescue and weeds (i.e. kochia, pigweed, lambsquarters, ragweed). Another concern are cover crops. Several of the cover crop mixtures include the plants listed above. In addition most cover crops include brassicas (turnips, radishes, rapeseed) that can also accumulate nitrates.

If forages are too high in nitrates, abortion and or death could occur. Death may occur within 1 hour, or in the usual case, 3 to 4 hours after the onset of difficult breathing. An analysis of your forages, will prevent you from having these wrecks.

Several laboratories perform nitrate testing. Depending on lab, up to $20/sample. One abortion will pay for a lot of testing. Taking a representative sample is important regardless if it is standing forage or bales. When sampling from a standing crop, collect plants from all parts of the field, the good and bad areas. Do not sample from just one end of the field or the most convenient. If the hay is in a bale, a hay probe needs to be used to collect cores. For the proper method of sampling, view Proper Sampling of Hay and Forages or contact a SDSU Extension expert.

If an analysis indicates nitrates are present, most forages can be incorporated into your feeding program by blending with feedstuff that are low in nitrates. When nitrates get above 2000 ppm nitrate nitrogen, it should not be fed to pregnant animals, regardless if you were going to blend.


New and Improved Virtual Cow Breeding Tool to Benefit Dairy Breeding

Holstein UK is delighted to announce the re-launch of its Virtual Cow educational and breeding model that will help dairy farmers. Previously only exclusively available to Holstein UK members, now the new, refreshed and improved Virtual Cow platform is available for all dairy farmers to access from the main Holstein UK website and it comes with additional features such as updated navigation and linear traits. 

The Virtual Cow is an online tool which graphically illustrates the linear scale for cow conformation, including mammary, legs & feet, body conformation and dairy strength traits. This allows for improved understanding of dairy cow conformation and easy visualisation of anatomical differences within each of the 21 traits across the linear scale. The virtual cow illustrates the angle from which each trait should be viewed and is accompanied by a written description of how and where each trait is measured. It also demonstrates a range of locomotion scores with three on farm videos that highlights the main differences between the scores.

Jess Edwards, NBDC Research and Breed Development Co-ordinator, commented; “The new Virtual Cow will be available to use on all mobile, tablet and desktop devices and is a valuable tool for dairy farmers.  It has the potential to transform the understanding of the structure and movement of the milking cow. This exciting redevelopment will include an advice and guidance section for each trait that draws upon the vast anatomical knowledge within our team of classifiers. The Virtual Cow can also be used by agricultural universities and colleges as a developmental tool for students looking to progress knowledge of dairy breeding.” 

She adds; “The new and improved Virtual Cow has been launched ahead of UK Dairy Day, the UK’s leading trade event for the dairy industry. It will be on display in the NBDC Breed Village, where members of the NBDC Classification team will run Virtual Cow alongside practical demonstrations for Type Classification and Linear Scoring for the Ayrshire, Jersey and Holstein breeds across the 3 sessions.”

Visit the NBDC Breed Village or the Holstein UK stand at UK Dairy Day, Hall 2 H229, to learn more about this innovative educational tool which has the capability to enhance, develop and assist commercial breeding decisions.


Source: Holstein UK 

The pros and cons of feeding pasteurized milk to calves

Pasteurized whole milk is one of many strategies used to supply the liquid diet of growing calves. This whole milk can be sourced from several different areas of any given dairy operation, including saleable bulk tank milk, transition milk, mastitic milk and other non-saleable antibiotic-containing milk. While feeding saleable bulk tank milk to calves usually results in an economic loss to the producer, pasteurizing and feeding non-saleable milk — essentially waste milk — can be an effective, cost-efficient method for utilizing an otherwise unusable product, provided it can be managed properly.


How pasteurization works

A primary concern when feeding waste milk to calves is the bacterial load that may be present in the milk. Pasteurizing waste milk has been recommended in order to reduce bacterial contamination and limit the spread of diseases that can be transmitted through milk. Pasteurization is a method of exposing this waste milk to specific temperatures for specific amounts of time in order to reduce the pathogen load. Table 1.0 lists the temperature and time guidelines set forth for adequate pasteurization.

It is important to note that pasteurization is not a sterilization technique. Recent research has demonstrated that any remaining bacteria in pasteurized milk has the ability to proliferate to dangerous levels if holding temperature and/or feeding time is mismanaged. Additionally, pasteurizing highly contaminated milk may allow certain varieties of viable pathogenic bacteria to survive the pasteurization process.

Types of pasteurizers
Batch pasteurization uses a vat or tank with a heating element that heats the milk. Agitators are used with batch pasteurization to eliminate cold spots within the tank. This system typically heats the milk for longer periods of time at lower temperatures, as compared to high-temperature short-time units. Thereafter, milk is cooled and can be fed to calves. 


  • Low-cost


  • Large batches may take several hours to pasteurize
  • Manual cleaning process

Continuous flow pasteurization circulates milk through a network of heated coils for a rapid increase in temperature. This high-temperature, short-time system can be equipped to rapidly cool the milk to feeding temperature once pasteurization is achieved. 


  • Rapid pasteurization
  • Cleaning process may be automated, using a system similar to that used in milking systems


  • Expense
  • Requires an adequate supply of hot water

Colostrum pasteurization is typically done in a batch pasteurizer held at 145 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 minutes to effectively kill bacteria while also preserving high-quality colostrum components. Both time and temperature parameters for colostrum pasteurization should be carefully followed. When compared to raw milk, colostrum is extremely high in both protein and fat content. High-temperature, short-time pasteurizers can denature important proteins — such as immunoglobulins — and can thicken colostrum, making cleaning and maintenance of the system very difficult. 

The benefits of feeding pasteurized waste milk
Reduced disease transmission: Heating milk to 162 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds is effective at eliminating Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Salmonella, E. Coli, Listeria, Mycobacterium paratuberculosis (the organism responsible for Johnes disease) and Mycoplasma bacterium. Reducing bacterial exposure to calves can lower morbidity and mortality rates while also reducing the opportunity for pathogens to spread throughout a calf barn.

Utilization of waste milk: Unless fed to calves, waste milk is seen as a loss to dairy producers. Utilizing waste milk to feed and raise calves allows for producers to avoid potential economic losses, disposal challenges and environmental concerns that may arise during the discarding process. The profitability of a pasteurization system is dependent upon many factors, including labor, equipment, installation, maintenance, energy costs, number of calves, amount of waste milk available and other variable costs.

Opportunity for improved calf health and performance: Pasteurized waste milk tends to contain more protein and fat on a dry matter basis as compared to a traditional milk replacer, making it more energy-dense. Research has shown that pasteurized-milk-fed calves typically outperform milk-replacer-fed calves, due to the increased nutrient composition and non-specific immune components (e.g. hormones, growth factors, etc.) found in waste milk.

The drawbacks of feeding pasteurized waste milk
Intensive management: Compared to a milk replacer feeding program, feeding pasteurized milk to calves requires thorough research on what type of pasteurization system is most suited for the farm prior to purchase. Infrastructure needs to be considered in order to properly harvest, store and transport both pre- and post-pasteurized milk, to avoid contamination and reduce pathogen load. Strict pasteurization, sanitation, maintenance and monitoring protocols need to be set up and strictly followed. 

Failure of pasteurization: Routine monitoring of the system is vital to ensure that failure of pasteurization is avoided. Pasteurization failure can occur due to a number of causes, including human error, malfunctioning and/or contaminated equipment, heating and cooling inadequacies or unusually high bacteria counts in the pre-pasteurized milk. If fed to calves, improperly pasteurized milk can quickly lead to calf morbidity and mortality. 

Inadequate waste milk supply:
 Due to the inconsistent and sometimes unpredictable number of cows producing waste milk and the number of calves feeding on milk at any one time, there may be times when the supply of waste milk available for all calves is inadequate. As such, it is imperative to have a strategy in place in the case that waste milk supply may be limited. Options available to surpassing milk shortages include utilizing a milk replacer, using a milk extender or pasteurizing saleable milk. Older calves are more tolerant of diet changes than young calves. A common suggestion is to switch the diet of older calves during waste milk shortages, with the goal of limiting diet changes as much as possible in order to avoid digestive upset.

Inconsistent nutrient composition:

Unlike milk replacer, the nutrient composition of waste milk is variable. This inconsistency has the ability to cause digestive upset in calves, especially in young calves. The suggested quality goals of pasteurized waste milk are found in Table 2.0. Milk replacer, fat supplements, whey proteins or milk balancer can be used to increase components. Pasteurized milk with high bacterial counts should never be fed to calves in the event of inadequate waste milk quality. 

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ option when it comes to selecting a liquid feeding program for growing calves. Major factors to consider when establishing a program should include targets for nutrient intake in relation to growth goals, ease of managing the program, economics and potential disease risks.

Elizondo-Salazar, J. A., C. M. Jones, and A. J. Heinrichs. 2010. Evaluation of calf milk pasteurization systems on 6 Pennsylvania dairy farms. J. Dairy Sci. 93:5509-5513.
Jorgensen, M., and P. Hoffman. 2015. On-farm pasteurization of milk for calves. University of Wisconsin Dairy Update.
US Department of Agriculture, Bovine Alliance on Management and Nutrition. 2008. Managing a pasteurizer system for feeding milk to calves. AFIA Publications, Arlington, VA.
US Department of Agriculture, Bovine Alliance on Management and Nutrition. 2008. Feeding pasteurized milk to dairy calves. AFIA Publications, Arlington, VA.

Dairy Farmers Need Higher Milk Prices to Fund Fodder Purchases and Sustain Milk Supplies

Speaking after this week’s IFA National Dairy Committee meeting, Chairman Tom Phelan said representatives from all around the country were vocal and frustrated: dairy farmers’ backs are to the wall, and only higher milk prices – starting with 1c/l for August milk – will help with the massive expenditure increase on fodder and feed necessary to keep the milk flowing. 

“Teagasc last week revealed that dairy farmers would spend an average of 75% more on feed in 2018 – this is cash many simply do not have.  Our Committee reps testified to the financial and mental pressures suffered by farm families trying to keep cows fed while dealing with the family and back to school/college demands on their cash flow,” Mr Phelan said.

“European markets have been firming in recent weeks with most European indicators for early September (EU Milk Market Observatory, spot quotes and futures) suggesting milk price equivalents around 33-34c/l net of VAT – that’s at least 2c/l more than most co-ops are paying,” he added.

“When European milk purchasers have been increasing July, August and in some cases already also September prices, and when Arla are planning to pass back the totality of their estimated €300m 2018 profits back to farmers, Irish farmers cannot be left behind by their co-ops,” he said.

“So, the National Dairy Committee voiced the following demands to co-op boards, which will be meeting in coming days to decide on milk prices:

1 – Roll all top ups/bonuses back into the base milk price

2 – Return back to farmers the true value of improved dairy prices – we believe that is at least 1c/l on August milk

3 – Commit to continuing to return any further improvements in coming months to help farmers pay the fodder without which co-ops will not get the milk volumes they have budgeted on

4 – Over the coming months, eliminate the unsustainable gaps which co-ops have allowed to develop between their milk prices”.

“The Committee recognises the efforts made by co-ops to support farmers through the near 12-month fodder crisis.  However, the financial and mental pressures on many farmers demand higher milk prices to help them buy the fodder and feed they will need to sustain autumn supplies.  Markets justify higher prices, and co-ops must deliver them without delay,” he concluded.


Source: IFA

Reduce On-farm Injuries by Understanding Animal Behavior

Even though most dairy cattle are relatively calm and tame, personal injuries to workers when handling dairy animals still happen all too frequently. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

Within the dairy industry there is a high percentage of contact time between animals and human beings on a daily basis. So how are these injuries occurring? Many injuries by animals are the result of being stepped on, kicked, fallen on, crushed by cows, mauled by dairy bulls, or gored by animals that have not been dehorned.

When training workers about proper livestock handling practices, it is important to remind workers that dairy animals have panoramic vision, which means they are able to see all the way around themselves except for a small blind spot at the nose and rear of the animal.

Understanding the “Flight Zone”

Knowing how to approach an animal from the side while using verbal cues in a non-threatening manner will minimize spooking an animal. Understanding and using the “flight zone” in the proper manner can help facilitate the moving of an animal in a desired direction. The flight zone is often referred to as an animal’s “personal space.” In essence entering the flight zone will cause the animal to move away from you. For example a wild animal will have a large flight zone up to as much as 160 feet in diameter, whereas a tame dairy cow will have a very minimal flight zone and can often be difficult to move. Learning the flight zone penetration area will take some practice within each species (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Flight zone illustration Courtesy of Temple Grandin

Stress Considerations

Noise Sensitivity

Cattle are very sensitive to noise and higher frequency of noises than humans. Yelling and hollering causes stress to animals and can make them more difficult to handle. Staying quiet and calm will help minimize these reactions. Additionally, unexpected loud noises such as banging gates, loud exhaust from air cylinders, etc. may startle animals. One way to help condition cattle is to utilize a radio playing in the barn to help reduce the reaction to strange, sudden noises.


We need to remember that cattle are herd animals and isolation may cause an animal to be nervous, stressed or agitated. So when we are working with an animal, having another companion animal near will help keep the animal being treated calmer.

Past Experiences

Cattle do remember painful or frightening experiences. So if a part of the barn brings up unpleasant memories for a cow such as pokes, slipping or rough handling they may become unwilling to cooperate and react accordingly.

Warning Signs

Good livestock handlers should be able to watch for warning signs of an agitated animal. They will show such signs as raised head or pinned ears, raised tails, raised hair on back, bared teeth, excessive bawling, pawing the ground, and snorting.

Proper Handling

Appropriate livestock handling behavior includes:               

  1. Slow and deliberate behavior.
  2. No loud noises or quick movements.
  3. Do not prod an animal when it has no place to go.
  4. Gently touching animals will have a more favorable response than shoving or bumping them.
  5. We need to respect animals and not fear them.
  6. Intact male animals, especially dairy bulls, should be considered potentially dangerous at all times and proper equipment and facilities should be made available to assure safety of handlers.
  7. Breeding animals tend to become highly protective of their young especially during parturition.
  8. Animals will defend their territory and this should be kept in mind at all time, given the size, mass, strength, and speed of an animal.
  9. Cows will typically kick forward and out to the side and will also have the tendency to kick toward the side where they have pain from inflammation or injuries. Thus, if a cow has a single quarter with mastitis you may want to approach her from the opposite side of the non-affected udder when examining her or utilize proper restraint to avoid being hurt.

Personal Protection

Personal hygiene is extremely important as humans can contract diseases from livestock (Zoonoses). Diseases such as leptospirosis, rabies, and ring worm are fairly common whereas anthrax and bovine tuberculosis are rare but still exist. Using personal protective equipment such as splash guards, eye wash stations, gloves, and wash stations will minimize disease along with good hygiene by livestock handlers. Dead animals should be disposed of in a timely and proper manner to minimize the spread or potential exposure to a disease.

Handling Equipment

Lastly, using appropriate livestock handling equipment is a must. Equipment such as man-gates in pens, working/squeeze chutes, treatment pens, halters, head-gates, anti-kicking devices, hip lifters or cattle lifters should be available and in proper working order. Make sure that employees are trained on proper use of this equipment. Facility design is also important including gate placement, pen size, spacing between railings or boards and lighting.

Source: SDSU Extension

Helpful employees

Having trouble with employees following protocols consistently? Maybe you have a common problem called “helpful employees”.

One of the most common issues that I see in dairy parlors in Michigan is what I call helpful employees. “But that is exactly what we want,” you might say, and while we do want helpful employees, we want them to be helpful in performing their task within our predetermined protocols.

This problem really jumped out at me when the Michigan State University Extension Dairy Team was conducting a field study in Michigan this past summer.  The project looked at milking efficiency in parlors, focusing on ensuring the best possible milking experience for cows.  As I was observing employees at work performing the farms protocols, I noted that often, helpful employees would enter the parlor and negatively impact the routine.

In some cases, the helpful employee was an individual that was fetching cows, but in other cases it was just someone who was looking for a task to do.  In either case, the employee would enter the parlor and jump into the routine, without first determining where they could be most helpful and still maintain the proper protocol. 

When milking cows the protocol is important for several reasons. First, there needs to be sufficient time for the teat dip (sanitizer) to effectively kill bacteria on the outside of the cow’s teat. Second, there needs to be adequate stimulation of the cow’s teat in order to engage her natural milk letdown response. Third, there needs to be adequate lag time (time between start of stimulation and milker unit attachment) to allow the cow’s milk letdown response to occur.

What we are trying to accomplish with each of these is to be efficient with time, but make sure that time goals for cows are still met:

  1. 10-15 seconds per cow of stimulation (in the first pass)
  2. 30 seconds of dip contact time
  3. Apply unit 60-120 seconds after stimulation

However, if we just give these goals without the reasons, employees are less likely to follow them because they do not understand the importance of these goals.

Of course, this is not just a Michigan problem, I also observed helpful employees on a recent visit to some Texas dairies with our MSU Extension Dairy Team, and I have seen this problem on dairy farms in other states as well.  So, what can we do about this issue and are there broader applications for other types of farms and businesses?  I think the answer is yes to both of these questions and there are couple of ideas to consider:

  1. A protocol solution for dairy farms: I am now advising dairy farms to consider adding to their milking protocol, “Someone has to step out, before you can step in”. Having only one person working with a group of 5-8 cows at any one time, keeps the protocol intact.  If someone comes into that 5-8 cow space to help, the first person needs to step out and do something else. Two or more people are not allowed to perform the milking protocol in that space, at the same time.
  2. A training solution that has broader application: Employees need to know the reasons for our farm or business protocols. Practically, this means that they need to understand the goals for their area of the business and how their actions (the protocol) affects these goals. Employees with this level of understanding are more likely to feel competent in their job, have a higher level of engagement and perform to the standards that you expect. They will be the helpful employees that you really want on your farm.

If employees know the goals and how their actions affects those goals, and still choose not to follow the protocols, we have moved into the area of employee performance feedback and discipline, and another Ag Forum article.

Encourage helpful employees and do not break that great attitude by merely telling them, “follow the protocols,” or, “just do what I say,” rather, help them understand how to be the most helpful, while also meeting the goals of your farm.


World’s first floating dairy farm could be wave of the future

“It’s a logical step to produce fresh food on the water.”

Floating farm project leader Mink van Wingerden beside the floating dairy farm plaform being built at Merwehaven in the Dutch city of Rotterdam.

You’ve heard of offshore drilling platforms and offshore wind farms. Now a Dutch company is developing what’s being called the world’s first offshore dairy farm. Plans call for the high-tech, multilevel facility to open this fall in Rotterdam, a port city about 50 miles southwest of Amsterdam.

The floating farm will produce milk and yogurt near Rotterdam’s center, taking advantage of unused space while helping curb the expense and pollution associated with transporting food products from distant farms to local grocery stores.

“Seventy percent of the face of the Earth is water, while the world population is growing and arable land is limited so we have to look in other ways to produce fresh food next to the citizens, to reduce transport,” said Minke van Wingerden, a partner in the Rotterdam-based property development firm Beladon and the leader of the project. “It’s a logical step to produce fresh food on the water. Most big cities are situated in [river] deltas, and it’s easy to use the deltas for food production.”

She said the floating farm concept could be adopted by other port cities, with farms producing poultry and fruit as well as dairy products.

The first of up to 40 Meuse-Rhine-Issel cows, which are known for long lives and robust health, will come on board in November, van Wingerden said. By December, the farm — built on a floating concrete platform near the mouth of the New Meuse River — should be producing more than 200 gallons of milk and yogurt a day. The animals’ manure will be collected by poop-scooping robots and sold as fertilizer.

The cows will be kept on the farm’s second level, a garden-like enclosure where the animals will be milked by robots. One level up, greenhouses will grow grass, clover and other crops that will used to feed the cows. The farm’s bottom level will house the machinery needed to process and package the milk and yogurt.

The cattle, which will also feed on used grain from local breweries, will be able to descend a gangway to graze on nearby land. But dairy experts working on the project think the cows will prefer the shelter of the floating habitat and spend most of their time on the waves.

The farm will be anchored to the bottom of the harbor and should be stable even in bad weather, according to van Wingerden. “We asked vets in Utrecht if the cows would get seasick [on the floating platform], and they said no,” she said. “So the cows will [be] very comfortable.”


Source: NBC News

Wisconsin Dairy Navigates Gaps In Immigrant Labor Policy

As farms and other agricultural businesses around Wisconsin struggle to find and retain employees, many turn to seasonal worker programs to hire workers from outside the United States to fill empty positions. Performing jobs that often otherwise go unfilled, these seasonal workers play key roles in local economies, including in western Wisconsin.

The federal H2A (for agricultural workers) and H2B (for low-skill, non-agricultural workers) visa programs allow employers to hire workers from abroad during their busy seasons if they can fulfill two conditions. One, employers must be able to prove that there are not enough willing, qualified and available American workers to employ and, two, that employing seasonal workers would not affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed Americans.

Without these visa programs, many Wisconsin farms would not be able to operate at their current capacity, said Simon Jette Nantel, farm management specialist at the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability and an assistant professor in the UW-River Falls Department of Agricultural Economics.

“I believe it has a positive impact on the local economies, because without those foreign workers, pretty much all the farmers wouldn’t be able to operate at the scale that they operate on,” Jette Nantel said. “And they wouldn’t be able to offer produce that is competitive at such a cost. In the end, they allow for those farms to produce at a higher scale.”

Many H2B workers have jobs in the landscaping, food service or other industries, while H2A workers are employed at various types of farms nationwide. Largely from Mexico and Central America, they essentially fulfill roles that U.S. citizens do not.

“Many farmers have tried putting ads in the paper, recruiting from high schools or talking to neighbors, but they can’t rely on those workers, or they’re just not interested,” said Jennifer Blazek, director of the Farm & Industry Short Course at the UW-Madison College of Agricultural & Life Sciences. “People are interested in working on a farm, until they actually work on a farm.”

Regardless of the nature of the work, both visa programs have attracted thousands of immigrant workers in recent decades, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, a public policy think tank that researches and communicates on foreign policy issues facing the United States and other nations. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor issued over 130,000 visas for the H2A program, which has no limit. This number is steadily increasing.

The H2B program, which does have a limit set annually by Congress, reaches it year after year, and oftentimes leaves many employers with fewer workers than they requested. The 2018 cap was originally set at 66,000 visas, but was later increased to 81,000.

Seasonal worker program numbers in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, 1,235 visas (575 H2A and 660 H2B) were certified between Oct. 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018. Of this total, 342 visas (106 H2A and 236 H2B) were for employers located in seven counties in western Wisconsin fronting the Mississippi River: Pepin, Buffalo, Trempealeau, Vernon, Crawford and Grant. This region is home to 4.6 percent of the Wisconsin’s population; however, it accounted for 27.7 percent of the state’s H2A and H2B temporary visas during this time period.

While the reasons for this difference are not entirely clear, Trisha Wagner, an outreach program manager for the UW-Extension Farm Management Program, pointed to a decline in rural populations and challenges in retaining younger generations who might perform these jobs in rural areas like much of western Wisconsin.

Like employers nationwide, many in Wisconsin rely heavily on foreign workers, especially during busy seasons. In the seven-county region in western Wisconsin, these employees are typically employed under a variety of titles, including “forest and conservation workers, landscaping and groundskeeping workers, food preparation workers and farmworkers,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Richard de Wilde of Harmony Valley Farm in Viroqua said that his 40 seasonal workers are “the dream team.” He described them as “absolutely everything you’d hope for in employees. They are dependable, capable, smart, very productive, inventive, and all around pleasant to work with.”

sparkle-motion (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Harmony Valley Farm, an organic produce and beef operation in Viroqua, employs seasonal workers on temporary visas.

Scott Kee, the vice-president of operations at Sacia Orchards in Galesville, echoed this praise for the program. He said hiring seasonal workers is “the only way we can get the crops off the trees.”

“It’s not political for us, it’s pragmatic,” Kee also said.

Although not required by law, many employers provide H2A or H2B employees with housing for their duration in the U.S. At Sacia Orchards, Kee said that they’ve built two on-site dorms for the 32 H2A workers.

“We’re asking them to handle precious cargo and to be safe. So, they need to have a nice bed and a nice place to sleep, understandably, since it’s hard work,” Kee said.

The non-seasonal (and non-eligible) dairy industry

While many farms and other businesses utilize the H2A visa program, there is one major Wisconsin industry is almost entirely left out of the equation: dairy.

Due to the year-round nature of the dairy industry, dairy farms do not qualify for the seasonal worker programs, even though they struggle with finding and retaining good labor.

“Many dairy farmers would like to have access to a program that would allow them to bring in workers for a few years, but that doesn’t exist,” said Simon Jette Nantel of the UW Center for Dairy Profitability. “Therefore, a majority of the farm labor is migrant workers – and to what extent they’re documented or undocumented, we’re not able to get statistics.”

Some dairy farms hire full-time immigrant workers, many of whom are undocumented. In 2008, 40 percent of Wisconsin’s dairy workforce were immigrants – up from just 5 percent in 1998, reported the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Their numbers have been even higher at larger dairy operations.

Under the Trump administration, dairy farmers and their immigrant employees say they are facing increased hostility and fear crackdowns that could jeopardize their livelihoods. Meanwhile, there have been legislative efforts to expand guest worker programs to include the dairy industry as it grapples with a growing reliance on undocumented immigrants for its workforce.

An immigrant worker at a Wisconsin dairy feeds calves. Photo taken in 2009.
Robert Gutsche Jr./Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

“The labor market is tight everywhere, and dairy farmers are also struggling for labor,” Jette Nantel added.

In May 2018, the seven-county region in western Wisconsin had a 2.5 percent unemployment rate, consistent with the statewide rate of 2.6 percent.

One program that dairy farmers have utilized as an attempt to rectify their labor shortage is the H1B visa program, which allows employers to temporarily hire specialized, educated workers in certain fields.

Jennifer Blazek of the UW-Madison ag school said that oftentimes dairy farms hire veterinarian students from other nations under the H1B program; however, they are still temporary, and leave those businesses with the same shortages they faced prior to their arrival.

“It would seem logical for dairy farmers to participate in these programs,” added UW-Extension’s Trisha Wagner. “We have these visa options for other agricultural industries, but not dairy. And a lot of farmers are feeling the labor issue right now. Unemployment is low, so it’s hard to find help.”

While lower unemployment rates are generally positive for job-seekers and the broader economy, they illustrate a labor shortage problem in the, dairy and broader agriculture industries.

“If we couldn’t bring these seasonal workers over, we would have less horticultural production here,” said Jette Nantel. “And, we’d be buying products from other places and would have no say on the labor or environmental conditions there.”

Source: WisContext

Pre-Fresh, Maternity and Post-Fresh Space: Getting the Numbers Right

The importance of proper care and management of dairy cows during the final 60 to 45 days of their pregnancy cannot be overstated. The nutrition, health care, and environment provided during this period have a tremendous influence on their health and performance well into the next lactation.

To keep stress at a minimum the dairy shelter “basics” which include providing excellent ventilation, a dry comfortable resting area, good access to feed and water, and a confident footing are the same for all dairy animals. Some minor adjustments to the feeding space and resting area stall and/or pack space are necessary to accommodate the cow’s slightly larger size, reduce stress, and improve cleanliness – especially for those cows close-to, during, and after calving. Avoiding group overcrowding – especially in the close-up and maternity areas – is extremely important in keeping stress to a minimum.

Reproductive performance peaks and valleys caused by such factors as heat stress, environmental stress, and new animals entering the herd create fluctuations in dry cow population. These fluctuations present a design and management challenge trying to match the space available to the number cows occupying it.

Typical grouping for cows from dry-off to post-fresh include:

Far-off – from dry-off until ~3 weeks pre-freshening

  • Freestalls: 4 inches wider than those used for lactating cows (52 inches typical)
  • Bedded pack: 80 to 100 square feet of bedded area per cow
  • Provide 27 to 30 inches of feeding space per cow
  • Provide restraint facilities for vaccines & observation (headlocks or chute)

Close-up – cows ~3 weeks (heifers 4 weeks) pre-fresh to a few days (hours) pre-calving

  • Freestalls: 4 inches wider than those used for lactating cows (52 inches typical)
  • Bedded pack: 100 to 120 square feet of bedded area per cow
  • Provide 27 to 30 inches of feeding space per cow
  • Provide restraint facilities (headlocks or chute)

Maternity – a few days (or hours) before to a few hours after calving

  • Box stalls: 16 feet by 16 feet (12 feet x 12 feet minimum)
    Area for fresh feed & water if kept more than 1 to 2 hours
    Restraint facilities for calving assistance
  • Freshening pack: 150 to 200 square feet of bedded area per cow
    Provide 27 to 30 inches of feeding space per cow
    Restraint facilities for calving assistance

Post-Fresh – 1 to 3 days post-calving

  • Shelter recommendations similar to far-off group

Many designers assume ‘uniform’ calving year-round, with a 12-month calving interval, first calving at 24 months, and a 30% culling rate. In practice these guidelines fail almost immediately since ‘uniform calving’ is difficult to achieve – especially in expanding herds where large numbers of cows are purchased to fill the stalls available.

A study in 2000 of 160 New York dairy herds tracked the number of calvings over 365 days. Approximately 26% of the herds freshened at least 5% more than the total number of cows. The study also examined the monthly distribution of calving to see if herds exceeded the uniform calving rate by 25, 35, and 50%. Only 10% of the herds surveyed had no months when the pre-fresh and maternity areas were not overcrowded. Where pre-fresh and maternity areas were sized according to a uniform calving model, 65% of the herds were 25% overcrowded for at least 2 months of the year, while 40% were overcrowded by 35% for at least 2 months. For at least one month, over 40% were overcrowded by 50%. Therefore, it seems that facilities for pre-fresh and maternity cows should be sized perhaps 30% larger than the uniform model to reduce overcrowding of these areas. Table 1 illustrates the difference between the ‘uniform model’ and ‘real world’ study for a total herd size of 100 cows.

Table 1. Estimated group sizes for different calving scenarios (adapted from Stone, 2000)

  Perfect Uniformity Reality
Total cows 100 100
Annual freshenings 105 105
Milking cows 87 82 to 90
Far-off dry cows 9 9 to 15
Close-up dry cows & heifers 7 6 to 12
Maternity 1 5
Post-fresh cows 3 3 to 8

Of course, increasing facility size increases initial investment as well. The exact cost of overcrowding pre-fresh and maternity areas is difficult to determine. Overcrowding can lead to increased stress that may increase the incidence of freshening health disorders such as retained placentas (RP) and left displaced abomasums (LDA). Some estimates indicate that each RP and LDA cost a dairy over $200 and $300, respectively. Relatively minimal decreases in each of these disorders can justify the additional costs to provide more space and reduce stress (Stone, 2000).

Keeping stress at a minimum throughout the dry and freshening cycle increases the chance of cows calving without health problems and entering the lactation cycle productive and in good condition. Meeting the environmental and space needs of these special cows is a key element in a successful overall pre-fresh, maternity, and post-fresh management program. Do the numbers add up for your pre-fresh, maternity, and post-fresh needs?


Researchers feed seaweed to dairy cows to reduce emissions

In this June 8, 2018 image taken from video, cows are milked at a dairy farm at the University of California, Davis, in Davis, Calif., where researchers are feeding seaweed to dairy cows in a bid to make cattle more climate-friendly. UC Davis is studying whether adding small amounts of seaweed to cattle feed can help reduce their emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s released when cattle burp, pass gas or make manure. Terry Chea AP Photo 

University of California researchers are feeding seaweed to dairy cows in an attempt to make cattle more climate-friendly.

UC Davis is studying whether adding small amounts of seaweed to cattle feed can help reduce their emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s released when cattle burp, pass gas or make manure.

In a study this past spring, researchers found methane emissions were reduced by more than 30 percent in a dozen Holstein cows that ate the ocean algae, which was mixed into their feed and sweetened with molasses to disguise the salty taste.

“I was extremely surprised when I saw the results,” said Ermias Kebreab, the UC Davis animal scientist who led the study. “I wasn’t expecting it to be that dramatic with a small amount of seaweed.”

Kebreab says his team plans to conduct a six-month study of a seaweed-infused diet in beef cattle starting in October.

More studies will be needed to determine its safety and efficacy, and seaweed growers would have to ramp up production to make it an economical option for farmers.

Dairy farms and other livestock operations are major sources of methane, a heat-trapping gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Researchers worldwide have searched for ways to reduce cattle emissions with various food additives such as garlic, oregano, cinnamon and even curry — with mixed results.

If successful, adding seaweed to cattle feed could help California dairy farms comply with a state law requiring livestock operators to cut emissions by 40 percent from 2013 levels by 2030.

“If we can reduce methane on the dairy farm through manipulation of the diet, then it’s a win for consumers because it reduces the carbon footprint, and it’s for dairy farmers because it increases their feed efficiency,” said Michael Hutjens, an animal scientist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.


Protecting the Integrity of Brazilian Dairy Products During Milking Automation

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service predicts that Brazilian fluid milk production is set to increase by 1.8% in 2018, with volumes potentially growing to 23,980 MMT compared to 23,550 MMT in 2017*. This is good news for dairy farmers, especially the ones who have invested in automation in order to boost productivity. Automated milking systems help to eliminate rigid schedules associated with dairy milking activities and improves milking consistency. While robotic milking has benefitted the industry, it is not without its challenges.

While the robot performs the repetitive task of milking, the system’s tubing does the rest of work from collection to deposits into containers that will transport the product to its final location. Poor equipment sanitation can have serious effects in raw milk applications, impacting everything from product quality to production efficiency. Tubing plays a vital role in maintaining/upholding product safety, hygiene and quality.

Choosing the right raw milk collection transfer tubing with benefits that include kink resistance, tear resistance, milk fat absorption resistance and cold flexibility can also help to safeguard milk processing equipment. Further, while the principle of the milking machine is the same regardless of the location of the farm, the environmental conditions the milk tubing is exposed to differs from northern to southern climates and so tubing attributes such as cold flexibility are important. Another important factor to take into consideration is to choose tubing that complies with global regulations.

Tygon® II silicone milk tubing offers ultra-high purity characteristics with extremely low extract- ables and leachables. This tubing does not contain plasticizers or other additives and by-products that can leach into the milk during raw milk collection and cause toxicological issues. Tygon® S3 M-34-R milk tubing, which was designed specifically for the dairy industry, is entirely clear allowing for immediate visual inspection and verification of cleanliness. Its smooth, non-porous inner surface reduces the occurrence of buildup from butterfat, milkstones and milksoil and can help to eliminate the possibility of bacteria growth within the milk transport line.

As for vacuum tubing, Tygon® S3 A24-C, which is suited for supply air transport, has a smooth inner surface that is less susceptible to particle entrapment which can impact air flow. Tygon S3 A-24-C is designed to work with Tygon S3 M-34-R to provide both easy flow and vacuum within the milking process.

Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics services the Brazilian market through our plant in São Caetano do Sul, SP, which can help Brazilian and other South American dairy farmers to find the best tubing to ensure that the integrity of their milk products is protected. Product performance lead-ership combined with global consistency and regulatory compliance give customers peace of mind and protect their brands.

How climate change will impact cows and the dairy industry

By the end of the century heat stress in cows could see average sized dairy farms losing thousands each year if farmers fail to act on environmental changes

The unusually hot summer of 2018 has proved challenging for farmers across the UK. Among other things, the scorching weather and lack of rain has damaged crops, and the grass used to feed farm animals too.

Unfortunately the unusual may become more usual as the effects of climate change are felt more frequently across the world. The high ambient temperatures and humidity seen this year, as well as extreme weather conditions such as flooding, are a significant challenge to the future of farming.

Pasture-based systems of dairy production, which are very common in the UK, are particularly sensitive to environmental factors. In fact, dairy cows are more likely to be vulnerable to the effects of climate change than cows that are housed, because housing provides shelter and technological options to mitigate the extremes of weather.

For our recent study, our team looked at how climate change might impact UK milk production, given what we already knew about how it affects dairy cows. In particular, we wanted to quantify the effects of heat stress on milk production.

Heat stress in cows occurs when ambient temperature and humidity go above animal specific thresholds. These thresholds are estimated by the temperature humidity index (THI). At present, the current British temperature and humidity is considered moderate on this scale, but is expected to get worse. It is open to debate, and depends on the cattle themselves, but generally a THI of more than 70 is regarded to be the point when heat stress becomes a problem and less milk is produced.

Using 11 different climate projection models, and 18 different milk production models, we estimated potential milk loss from UK dairy cows as climate conditions change during the 21st century. Given this information, our final climate projection analysis suggests that average ambient temperatures in the UK will increase by up to about 3.5C by the end of the century. This means that THIs during the summer, in some parts of the country, will lead to significant heat stress for cows if nothing is done to alleviate the hot weather’s effects.

Lactating cows initially respond to mild heat stress by sweating, panting, drinking more, and seeking shade when possible. At higher temperatures cows eat less feed, which leads to a fall in milk production. In southeast England – the region with the highest incidence of heat stress – the average annual milk loss is projected to exceed 170kg/cow. Cows in the UK currently produce an average of about 7,500kg of milk each year so these future losses would be about 2.4 per cent of their production.

However, climate change projections also suggest the UK would experience more heatwaves, and these would lead to even greater losses of milk. For example, the hottest area (southeast England) in the hottest year in the 2090s is predicted to result in an annual milk loss exceeding 1,300kg/cow, which is about 18.6 per cent of annual milk yield.

In economic terms, southwest England is expected to be the region most vulnerable to climate change because it is characterised by a high dairy herd density, and so potentially, a high level of heat stress-related milk loss. In the absence of mitigation measures, the estimated heat stress-related annual income loss for this region by the end of this century may reach £13.4m in average years, and £33.8m in extreme years.

However, by the end of the century we predict dairy cattle in large portions of Scotland and Northern Ireland could experience the same level of heat stress as cattle in southern England today.

Mitigation now

These predictions assume that nothing is done to mitigate the problems of heat stress. But there are many parts of the world that are already much hotter than the UK where milk is produced, and much is known about what can be done to protect the welfare of the animals and minimise economic losses from heat stress. These range from simple adaptations, such as the providing shade, to installing fans and water misting systems.

Cattle breeding for increased heat tolerance is another potential, which could be beneficial for maintaining pasture-based systems. In addition, changing the location of farming operations is another practice used to address economic challenges worldwide. Even though there is little indication that movement of dairy farming operations is a feasible strategy to decrease the risks of environmental challenges in the UK, regions with little or no prediction of conditions leading to heat stress (for example some parts of Scotland) may become increasingly important for UK dairy farms that depend on the availability of pasture.

In any case, we estimate that by 2100, heat stress-related annual income losses of average size dairy farms in the most affected regions may vary between £2,000-£6,000 and £6,000-£14,000 (in today’s value), in average and extreme years respectively. Armed with these figures, farmers need to begin planning for a hotter UK using cheaper, longer-term options such as planting trees or installing shaded areas.


The Benefits of Different Building Materials Used for Dairy Facilities

When building a dairy parlour, there are a variety of different materials you can use for walls.

Humidity is a big factor due to water use in a dairy parlour. Good options for water resistance would be using concrete, tile, FRP, or Duramax PVC. Each material has its pros and cons, but they all aim to provide a stress-free and hygienic environment for the cows. In this article we will discuss the water resistance, installation, and maintenance of each material.

Maintenance and Hygiene
Bacteria and dirt can be a big issue to a dairy parlour. There has been a correlation with the cleanliness of the dairy facility, cleanliness of the cow, and levels of mastitis. Mastitis, or inflammation to the udders, can be spread through handlers, clothing, and equipment. It is important that the walls and floors are easy to maintain and clean. A smooth, cleanable, light colored surface is optimal for easy maintenance and hygiene.

Concrete: has a smooth surface and can withstand high pressure water hoses, however it is porous and can stain with dirt and bacteria.
Tile: has a smooth surface but gaps between each tile filled with grout.
FRP (Fiber Reinforced Plastic): panels are commonly used in kitchens, restrooms, and offices, the sheet of FRP has a rough textured surface and rivets which may be susceptible to bacteria hiding between crevices.
Duramax PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): is light reflective and has a seamless surface that is easy to clean.

Installation and labor time can make a huge difference in overhead cost. The amount of work required depends on what material is used and if any time is needed for drying/layering. Each material has a different process that may require additional time or material.

Concrete blocks do not have any footing so the height is a maximum of 4 feet. A long period of time is needed until the concrete hardens into full strength.
Concrete slabs can be used by screwing or nailing to the stud walls. The panels would need a paint or tile finish which is an additional few days.
Tile requires a concrete slab backing due to the wet environment. Adhesive is required on the slabs before placing each tile with spaces between. After 1-2 days the adhesive should dry and then grout is placed between each tile spacing. The grout should dry after 1 day and then grout sealant application.
FRP Panels requires a backer and adhesive as well. After installing a non-wood backer, apply adhesive and FRP panels with spaces between each panel. Rivets should fasten the panels to the backer and apply trim on the spacing between each panel.
Duramax PVC require screws to attached onto the wall studs. After applying the first panel, the second panel interlocks using the fasteners. Requires a silicone sealant between each panel to be extremely waterproof.

Water Resistance
Water resistance is a crucial part of keeping a dairy facility clean and mold-free. Water-use, humidity, and an animal habitat are big factors in the environment of a farm. Some materials require sealant or non-wood backings to become completely water resistant.

Concrete won’t allow water through but since it is porous, water vapor will penetrate. This shouldn’t be a problem as long as there is no wood behind the concrete.
Tile completely waterproof if sealant is used on grout. However, if tile is cracked, water that enters grout cannot escape.
Fiber Reinforced Plastic is very water resistant, as long as there is no wood backing, there should not be a problem.
Duramax PVC is completely waterproof, water vapor cannot penetrate if a silicone sealant is used between panels.

Overall, there are many options for building materials used in a Dairy Parlour. Depending on the size, budget, and overall look, each material has its benefits. Pricing can be a big factor in deciding but don’t forget about practicality and maintenance. The building environment can affect the daily cleaning, cleanliness of cows, and overall milk production.

Limit-Feeding Dairy heifers

The concept of limit-feeding or precision feeding dairy heifers has been studied for the last decade primarily at Penn state and the University of Wisconsin.  The goal of this research was to decrease costs while providing for adequate growth and performance after the heifer calves.

A few concepts regarding limit feeding and raising heifers are:

  1. Heifers are either the first or second largest cost on the dairy.
  2. Feed is the largest cost in raising heifers.
  3. Labor would be the second greatest cost in heifer raising.

An idea taken from the beef and other meat industries is the concept of feed efficiency.  In other words, how much feed per unit gain.  But differing from the meat industry is that we target growth at 1.8 to 2 pounds of gain per day over the post-weaned phase.   Precision feeding allows the farmer to precisely balance the heifer’s diet with little wasted feed and a reduction in cost.  There are no novel or different feed ingredients needed to make this work.  However, there are some hard and fast methods that must be adhered to, to make this work on your farm.

How do you do this?

Birth to weaning- no changes from what is presently done on the farm.

Penn State recommends the following regarding nutrition and management.


General: No free choice forages or concentrates are fed.  The diet must be followed specifically (Precision Feeding)

Dry matter intake (on a dry matter basis):

  • Pre-puberty 2.15% body weight/day
  • Post-puberty 1.65% body weight/ day

Crude protein:

  • Pre-puberty 14-15%
  • Post-puberty 13-14%

No RUP sources are needed here, this can be done with conventional ingredients.


The requirements are based on heifer size, growth rate, and environment the heifer is raised in.

Limit-feeding diets have a fixed energy requirement that meets an average daily gain of 1.75 to 2.0 pounds per day.  This is equivalent to 130 kcal of metabolizable energy per pound of metabolic body weight (BW0.75).  Work with your nutritionist or contact a UNH dairy specialist to help you with this if needed.


Based on the fact that the heifers are limit fed, using poor quality forage (heifer hay) probably will not work here.  Data suggests that NDF values as low as 19% can work in this situation, but typical NDF values range from 23 to 31% over the growth period.

Vitamins and minerals  

There are no data indicating any changes required while limit feeding heifers

Concentrate sources

In this diet, a higher portion of the diet will be made of concentrate allowing the producer more flexibility in meeting nutrient requirements.  It is important to meet the minimum NDF values, most of this will be from forage and help prevent any laminitis from happening.  It is also suggested to limit the amount of alfalfa hay as this combination of a higher grain and alfalfa can result in frothy bloat.


  1. Heifers must be weighed often to ensure that heifers are gaining within the target gains of 1.75 to 2.0 pounds/day.  For ease of weighing, anytime a heifer is handled, she should be weighed either via electronic scale or taped.  Recent data indicates that dairy heifer weigh tapes are accurate.  It is recommended that heifers be weighed monthly at the same time of day.  These results will allow you to adjust the diets as the heifers grow. 
  2.   Make sure all heifers can eat at the same time, no overcrowding because heifers will consume all their feed within an hour, headlocks work best to allow the heifers to eat without competing with a boss heifer.  ALL heifers have to eat at one time.
  3. Feed only once a day at the same time.
  4. Grouping heifers should have a range of body weights less than 200 pounds within a pen after 4 months of age (2-4 month age variation at the most within a pen).  
  5. No straw or shavings as bedding- they will eat it.
  6. Expect a lot of vocalization at the start, they will settle down eventually.
  7. When heifers are approaching freshening (two months prior to calving), you can add them to the high forage dry cow pen.  Their rumens will adjust.

Experience at UNH

We have been limit feeding post-weaned heifers for a few years now.  What we see is adequate growth, no feed wastage, and no negative effects on performance or breeding.  Routinely, our age at first calving is 22 months.  If you are interested in limit feeding don’t hesitate to contact me or work with your nutritionist.  You should see adequate growth, lower feed costs and lower labor costs.


Heifer Mastitis: Prevention is the Key!

Prevention of mastitis requires reducing exposure to mastitis pathogens and enhancing the ability of the heifers’ immune system to respond.

The ultimate goal for any heifer management program is to develop a healthy adult cow that produces high quality milk. This success depends on how heifers are managed from birth to first calving. Mastitis is considered one of the most significant and costly diseases in dairy cows and results in decreased production and profitability.

Mastitis in heifers is rarely detected before calving, but few farms actively look for an infection before the animal calves. Subclinical mastitis can be difficult to detect because the milk appears to be normal but a high somatic cell count is present. It is recommended that all producers use the California Mastitis Test (CMT) on fresh cows to detect mastitis in each quarter. The CMT provides an inexpensive option for detecting mastitis early and provides the most accurate results 5 days post fresh. Producers also have other options available to them to detect mastitis. Microbiological exam of milk samples may be obtained from suspect quarters to determine the type of bacteria with which each quarter is infected. This exam can be more time consuming than CMT but also provides more in depth evaluation. With increased technologies, culturing on farms has become more popular in Pennsylvania and costs to do so have greatly decreased.

The highest risk factor in the development of heifer mastitis can be linked to exposure to mastitis causing organisms. The environment that heifers are housed in year round can play a large role in the exposure. Heifers should be housed in a clean, dry environment with sufficient amounts of bedding. Animals that have manure cover on the legs and udder area will experience an increased incidence of mastitis at freshening. All heifers should be treated to the same clean environment as the milking herd. These animals are the future of the farm and will soon be relied upon to provide high production levels to keep dairy farms profitable.

A second risk factor that contributes to heifer mastitis is feeding of waste milk to calves. This practice should be discouraged unless milk can be pasteurized prior to feeding. The exact mechanism that the organism is transferred to the udder is unknown but it is likely related to colonization of the teat skin and inner thighs with mastitis causing organisms. Studies have shown that milking herds with a high incidence of mastitis also have a high incidence of heifer mastitis.

Prevention of mastitis is based upon reducing exposure to mastitis pathogens and enhancing the ability of the heifers’ immune system to respond. Prevention of mastitis in heifers includes the following strategies:

  1. Controlling mastitis in the existing adult herd; contagious mastitis is more likely to spread if there is a high incidence of mastitis on the farm.
  2. Use of individual hutches for pre-weaned calves to prevent suckling.
  3. Feed milk replacer or pasteurized milk rather than waste milk.
  4. Control flies, this is especially important in the upcoming months.
  5. Milk fresh heifers first using clean milking equipment.
  6. House heifers in well bedded areas that are clean and dry.
  7. Consider implementing a heifer mastitis vaccination program.

Remember, heifers are the future of your dairy farm. Introducing healthy, viable heifers into the milking herd will help to increase productivity and profitability in the future.


How climate change will affect dairy cows and milk production in the UK – new study

The unusually hot summer of 2018 has proved challenging for farmers across the UK. Among other things, the scorching weather and lack of rain has damaged crops, and the grass used to feed farm animals too.

Unfortunately the unusual may become more usual as the effects of climate change are felt more frequently across the world. The high ambient temperatures and humidity seen this year, as well as extreme weather conditions such as flooding, are a significant challenge to the future of farming.

Pasture-based systems of dairy production, which are very common in the UK, are particularly sensitive to environmental factors. In fact, dairy cows are more likely to be vulnerable to the effects of climate change than cows that are housed, because housing provides shelter and technological options to mitigate the extremes of weather.

Heat stress in cows

For our recent study, our team looked at how climate change might impact UK milk production, given what we already knew about how it affects dairy cows. In particular, we wanted to quantify the effects of heat stress on milk production.

Heat stress in cows occurs when ambient temperature and humidity go above animal specific thresholds. These thresholds are estimated by the temperature humidity index (THI). At present, the current British temperature and humidity is considered moderate on this scale, but is expected to get worse. It is open to debate, and depends on the cattle themselves, but generally a THI of more than 70 is regarded to be the point when heat stress becomes a problem and less milk is produced.

Using 11 different climate projection models, and 18 different milk production models, we estimated potential milk loss from UK dairy cows as climate conditions change during the 21st century. Given this information, our final climate projection analysis suggests that average ambient temperatures in the UK will increase by up to about 3.5℃ by the end of the century. This means that THIs during the summer, in some parts of the country, will lead to significant heat stress for cows if nothing is done to alleviate the hot weather’s effects.

Lactating cows initially respond to mild heat stress by sweating, panting, drinking more, and seeking shade when possible. At higher temperatures cows eat less feed, which leads to a fall in milk production. In south-east England – the region with the highest incidence of heat stress – the average annual milk losses due to heat stress is projected to exceed 170kg/cow. Cows in the UK currently produce an average of about 7,500kg of milk each year so these future losses would be about 2.4% of their production.

However, climate change projections also suggest the UK would experience more heatwaves, and these would lead to even greater losses of milk. For example, the hottest area (south-east England) in the hottest year in the 2090s is predicted to result in an annual milk loss exceeding 1,300kg/cow, which is about 18.6% of annual milk yield.

In economic terms, south-west England is expected to be the region most vulnerable to climate change because it is characterised by a high dairy herd density, and so potentially a high level of heat stress-related milk loss. In the absence of mitigation measures, the estimated heat stress-related annual income loss for this region by the end of this century may reach £13.4m in average years, and £33.8m in extreme years.

However, by the end of the century we predict dairy cattle in large portions of Scotland and Northern Ireland could experience the same level of heat stress as cattle in southern England today.

Mitigation now

These predictions assume that nothing is done to mitigate the problems of heat stress. But there are many parts of the world that are already much hotter than the UK where milk is produced, and much is known about what can be done to protect the welfare of the animals and minimise economic losses from heat stress. These range from simple adaptations, such as the providing shade, to installing fans and water misting systems.

Cattle breeding for increased heat tolerance is another potential, which could be beneficial for maintaining pasture-based systems. In addition, changing the location of farming operations is another practice used to address economic challenges worldwide. Even though there is little indication that movement of dairy farming operations is a feasible strategy to decrease the risks of environmental challenges in the UK, regions with little or no prediction of conditions leading to heat stress (for example some parts of Scotland) may become increasingly important for UK dairy farms that depend on the availability of pasture.

In any case, we estimate that by 2100, heat stress-related annual income losses of average size dairy farms in the most affected regions may vary between £2,000-£6,000 and £6,000-£14,000 (in today’s value), in average and extreme years respectively. Armed with these figures, farmers need to begin planning for a hotter UK using cheaper, longer-term options such as planting trees or installing shaded areas.



Kiwi developed mastitis test gives result in 10 minutes

A new rapid farmside test developed in New Zealand is able to detect the presence of mastitis bacteria in just 10 minutes.

The method developed by Koru Diagnostics is almost 24 hours faster than its nearest rival, and three to five days faster than traditional methods.

Koru Diagnostics CEO Rhys McKinlay says the technology doesn’t rely on culturing or detecting the bacteria itself.

“It quickly and accurately detects specific biomarkers in fresh milk samples that are indicative of an infection,” he says.

The Palmerston North-based start-up has raised over $900,000 in its first round of investor funding, which will give them commercialisation runway until late 2019.

“These funds will be directed towards product development and commercial scale-up, protecting our IP and securing new commercial partnerships,” Mr McKinlay says.

Mastitis is a common infection of the udder tissue in dairy cattle and represents $300 million in treatment costs and production losses in New Zealand alone.


Source: Newshub.

Recognizing Mental Health Disorders

Mental health can be defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community.” In contrast, a mental health disorder is a diagnosable illness that affects a person’s thinking, emotional state, and behavior and disrupts the person’s ability to work, carry out other daily activities, and engage in satisfying personal relationships. All of us exist somewhere on a spectrum ranging from good mental health to having a mental health disorder. Stress at work, financial problems, health issues, excessive drinking, and social or family problems can move someone from the healthy to unhealthy end of the spectrum.

Approximately 18% of adults in the US will experience a mental health disorder in any given year. The most common mental health disorders are anxiety and depression, but also include substance use disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, and schizophrenia. Often an individual will experience more than one of these conditions at the same time. Only about 40% percent of people with a mental health disorder in any given year will seek professional help for it.

For those suffering at the extreme end of the mental health disorder spectrum, suicide is sometimes seen as an option for ending suffering. Suicide is the tenth most common cause of death in the US, with 45,000 suicides in the US each year. White males between the ages of 45 and 65 are the most common group to die because of suicide. Farmers have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession.

Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders

While there are many different mental health disorders, common signs and symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • An unusually sad mood. Feeling anger or rage. Irritability. Change in mood.
  • Loss of enjoyment and interest in activities that used to be enjoyable. Withdrawing from friends.
  • Lack of energy and tiredness.
  • Feeling worthless. No sense of purpose.
  • Thinking about death and wishing to be dead. Threatening to kill or injure oneself.
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
  • Being agitated.
  • Change in eating behavior. Loss of interest in food or eating too much.
  • Change in sleeping patterns. Not sleeping or sleeping too much.
  • Acting reckless.
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use.
  • Rapid heartbeat or breathing.
  • Dizziness, headache.
  • Unrealistic and/or excessive fear or worry.
  • Statements, such as: “I’m a failure.”, “Nobody cares.”, “Everyone would be better off without me.”

What to Do If You or Someone You Know is Suffering from a Mental Health Disorder

If a barn is lost in a fire or natural disaster or someone suffers a physical injury neighbors, friends, and family will often respond to help the farm or individual recover. In the case of an individual suffering from a mental health disorder this response is often lacking. The lack of response may be related to our uncertainty about what to do or it may be related to our inability to see the condition. The inability to see someone is suffering from a mental disorder may cause the person to be labeled as lazy, uncooperative, or not really ill.

If you suspect someone is suffering from a mental health disorder, sometimes the best thing you can do is simply ask, “How are you doing?”. Try to get them to open up without pressuring them and then just listen without judging, interrupting, or offering advice. If someone is an immediate danger to themselves or others, call 911 or a suicide prevention hotline. After listening to the person, you may want to recommend they seek professional help (primary care physician, mental health professional, or certified peer specialist) and suggest some self-help options (talk with family, friends, or church members, participate in a peer support group, read a book, change diet, exercise, etc.).

If you or a friend or family member are suffering from a mental health disorder, a variety of mental health resources can be found on the:

Portions of this article were adopted from:


Four Considerations for an Optimal Fresh Chopped Corn Harvest

Hitting the outlined targets for harvesting corn intended for silage can offer dividends through exceptional feed over the next year.

Midwestern corn intended for silage appears to be popping tassels at a fast and furious pace in 2018. Thanks to early and steady rain throughout the growing season, great sunshine, and heat, growing degree days have been prevalent and have lit a ‘planning for harvest’ fire under many growers. This preparedness always includes dry matter assessment in an effort to determine the chopping timeline.

“There are two reasons we are interested in dry matter (or moisture) of freshly chopped whole-plant corn intended for silage,” explains Dr. John Goeser, animal nutrition, research and innovation director for Rock River Laboratory. “Fermentation characteristics and crop maturity; assuming that dry matter correlates to kernel maturity.” Goeser recommends reviewing university guidelines for ideal dry matter levels, dependent on storage type for you or your customer’s farms but offers a general guideline of 35% dry matter (65% moisture). “Realizing that chopping can take some time, it’s best to begin the harvest just before you reach the dry-matter target. Continue chopping beyond the target and realize an average dry matter that is right around the ideal level.”

As growers, nutritionists, and agronomists prepare and assess the maturity of corn that may require an earlier harvest than normal, Goeser offers a few additional considerations and targets to achieve a good fermentation ahead, and great feed to get through the next year:
1) Monitor crop maturity aggressively
Goeser recommends taking the time to monitor crop maturity regularly as the chopping season looms. In addition to dry matter measurement, milk line and kernel maturity review can also be utilized to gauge crop progress, but moisture is still a strong component when it comes to fermentation characteristic assessment. “The opportunity for failure, or for challenges to arise, is far greater when we aim for dryer and more mature thresholds,” explains Goeser. “It will be harder to pack and ferment at those dryer levels. If we experience a dry spell with 80-degree [F] days and wind for a week, corn can go from drying out a point a day to losing several points of dry matter per day, leading to a fluffier crop [when harvested] that has kernels that are harder to process, among other detriments to the goal of an optimal feed.”
2) Include data from the InField Updates* tool in your decision to chop
“Fiber and starch data provide direction as to the energy content per pound that the crop is going to have,” explains Goeser. “We should shoot for more starch and less fiber, considering fiber is the least digestible nutrient out there, but it has to be balanced against dry matter. NDF and starch determine potential nutritive quality, so I recommend less than 40 percent NDF. Hitting this target usually ensures starch greater than 32 to 35 percent.”
InField Updates is a free, crowdsourced in-app tool from Rock River Laboratory that offers timely fresh Dry Matter (DM), Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF), and Starch statistics, on a map, to determine the optimal harvest timeline of corn intended for silage. “Check InField Updates daily during chopping season to track moisture levels and the fiber to starch ratio in your area,” suggests Goeser. “The data provided can be used as a comparison but also help dial in your chopping timeline.” Download the FeedScan app and click on ‘InField Updates’* to try out this tool.
3) Consider high cutting experiments on you or your clients’ farms
“Many areas experienced plenty of heat and moisture early in the growing season this year, so I’m forecasting fiber digestibility and stover characteristics to be more ‘woody’ this year,” observes Goeser. “These characteristics can be varied with cutting height.”
He suggests growers and their consultants prepare accordingly with an on-farm experiment when kernels are around half milk line. Cut three to four stalks at ‘normal’ cutting height of 6 to 8 inches, another set of stalks at 12 to14 inches, and one final set of stalks at 18 to 20 inches, then chop the stalks and send them to the preferred laboratory for a forage analysis that includes Neutral Detergent Fiber Digestibility (NDFD).
“Two things will change with high cutting,” says Goeser. “First, fiber to starch ratio because of more grain with less stover, and secondly, NDFD. The fiber portion at the top of the plant is more digestible than the lower section, so NDFD can be substantially improved by leaving the woodier portion in the field.”
4) Utilize KPS when you start chopping and throughout the harvest
Reviewing Kernel Processing Score (KPS) regularly throughout the harvest can help ensure kernel processing is up to par for optimal digestion, but frequency is up to the grower and their consultants. “It’s one thing to have your equipment ready for the season, but changes happen in equipment and crop status which affect KPS. Processing can be monitored by checking KPS once a day or even every couple of days,” suggests Goeser. “These samples can be sent to the lab for KPS analysis to check fields and keep the equipment processing correctly. Understand that the KPS benchmark is lower for unfermented, fresh chop whole plant corn, relative to what it will be six months into fermentation,” advises Goeser. “Fresh chopped corn KPS will improve as the fermentation process breaks down starch and the kernel more as time goes on. Thus, the fresh chopped corn KPS goal is around 60 to 65, while fermented silage should be 75 or better”.
To generally assess KPS without a lab, a simple float test can be performed. Drop one pound of chopped corn into a bucket of water. The stover and leaves will float, with the crushed kernels ending in the bottom. Rinse the kernels through a screen to then assess visually. The recommended state after processing is complete kernel destruction.
Through careful assessment and utilizing the data available, nutritionists, agronomists and the growers they advise can optimize the chopping timeline. Goeser shares, “Spending a short time now to dial in a balance of moisture level and nutritive qualities, and harvesting at that appropriate time will pay back dividends in the form of an exceptional feed for the next 12 to 14 months.”

Founded in 1976, Rock River Laboratory is a family-owned laboratory network that provides production assistance to the agricultural industry through the use of advanced diagnostic systems, progressive techniques, and research-supported analyses. Employing a team of top specialists in their respective fields, Rock River Laboratory provides accurate, cost-effective, and timely analytical results to customers worldwide, while featuring unsurpassed customer service.

Are you ‘immune’ confused? Let’s get to the basics…

The word ‘Immune’ has become a buzz word in the dairy industry over the past few years. You can feed this, or inject that, or breed for improved immunity…it can be very confusing to even know where to start! Let’s take a quick look at the very basic and critical role that omega fatty acids play in improving immune health.

According to Dr. Charlie Staples, from the University of Florida, the amounts of omega fatty acids that we feed our cows have ‘profound physiological effects on the cow as these omega fatty acids exert complex control over inflammation and immunity.’

Watch this 3-minute video to learn how these powerful omega-3s make such a difference in cow health and productivity…a whole new healthy. 

Improve Dairy Profitability and Herd Health by Incorporating Managed Grazing

Lyden Rasmussen, owner of Koro Dairy, hosted a successful grazing and pasture management field day on July 26, 2018, to teach other farmers about the benefits of Managed (Rotational) Grazing. Koro Dairy showcased their successful transition to a managed rotational grazing operation. Through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the dairy was able to obtain a managed grazing plan, and a design and installation guideline for structural practices such as fences and watering facilities. EQIP provides financial assistance for a variety of practices intended to help farmers to achieve environmental goals on their land. With the Prescribed Grazing Practice, farmers receive a flat rate payment to implement a grazing system and commit their land to permanent pasture for 5 years. “This practice includes developing a prescribed grazing plan that considers the resources on the farm, such as soil productivity, landscape, livestock type, environmentally sensitive areas and water sources to determine carry capacity and stocking rates for pastures, paddock layout and hay harvesting schedules,” said Brian Pillsbury, State Grazing Specialist for NRCS in Madison. Other EQIP cost-shared practices that facilitate this practice are fencing, animal trails/walkways, forage planting, pipeline and watering facilities.

In addition to utilizing grazing to lower the cost of production for his milking herd, Lyden is also planning on utilizing rotational grazing with his dairy heifers. Raising dairy heifers on the farm is the second highest expense on most operations. In fact, over 50% of those costs are for feed, from birth to freshening. Managed grazing can help curb those feed costs, help herd health, and more.

On hand was Cutler Fence, demonstrating equipment and fencing materials to set up an actual rotational grazing system on the farm. New technologies make fences easier to install and maintain. They are affordable and time-saving. “NRCS can help cost share a grazing setup; contact your local USDA service center to get started with a conservation plan,” said Adam Abel, NRCS Resource Conservationist. “NRCS has relationships with many local contractors who know NRCS practice requirements and standards for managed grazing; we’re looking to get landowners a fence that will last for 20 years with very little maintenance,” added Abel.

Pasture raised heifer benefits include increased milk production in the first lactation, higher fertility rates, greater herd longevity and herd health. To learn more about heifer replacement comparison costs and cost savings, read the Improving Dairy Profitability, Incorporating Managed Grazing factsheet. “If set up properly, Managed Grazing can lessen the amount of time a farmer spends growing and harvesting feed, feeding and watering cattle, and hauling manure. The cattle are doing that themselves now,” said Merrie Schamberger, NRCS District Conservationist in Oshkosh.

Field day participants were also able to walk on a new lane installed on the farm. With cattle having more access to pastures, trails can get worn down. Installing a lane with EQIP financial assistance that meets NRCS standards enables livestock easy, reliable access to pastures. “Lanes are designed to be elevated and pitched in the center so water goes off both sides,” explained Mike Haase, Winnebago Land and Water Conservation Department (LWCD). He adds, “This lane is designed to meet NRCS standards and last for years; Lyden can do small amounts of maintenance after rainfall events to keep the lane functional for his livestock.”

Next, Abel presented a rainfall simulator demonstration. The rainfall simulator demonstrated that samples with long time no-till, cover crops and actively managed pasture had higher rates of infiltration than conventional field samples. Conventional samples had much more runoff and less infiltration. “Pasture that is well managed is by far the best filter we can put on the land to protect from runoff,” said Abel. “The great thing about rotational grazing, if it’s done right, you can get as much yield out there as you could if you were taking your tractor out there and cutting it; you can reduce your labor and your cost to harvest feed for at least 6 months out of the year. A whole farm filter to keep water and soil in place; that’s why NRCS is here to help farmers with managed grazing,” added Abel.

Participants walked through Koro Dairy’s rotationally grazed pastures, seeing first-hand how easy it was to move livestock from one paddock to the next with NRCS cost-shared fencing. Field day presenters encouraged participants to consider managed grazing as an option whether you are a dairy, beef stocker, cow/calf, sheep, or other type of livestock producer. You can reduce your costs in seed, fertilizer, fuel, machinery and time. You can also improve overall herd health and reduce your veterinarian bills, while extending the production life of your animals. With grazing, fewer inputs and active management leads to farm profits and happy, healthy livestock.

The field day was planned in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, NRCS; Winnebago LWCD; University of Wisconsin—Extension and Cutler Fence. For more information about incorporating managed grazing on your farm, contact your local USDA‒NRCS Service Center.


Coaching for Performance

One of the most difficult things for farm managers/owners to master is coaching employees for optimal performance. Just like becoming an 85% free throw shooter on the basketball court, it takes practice. Once mastered you will see employees who understand goals and expectations more clearly, are more motivated, have ownership of their work, show greater responsibility, while maximizing their potential and problem solving ability. What you as an employer get is more productivity and lower turnover along with being freed of the day-to-day micromanagement of employees.

For this to happen it often requires a mindset change on the part of the employer via letting go of short-term control and constant micromanagement of employees. Coaching is not creating an anarchy but instead empowering employees to think and act on their own, making decisions as the need arises through knowledge gained by teaching and leadership. It does require effort, patience, and insight into learning what makes your employees tick.

We also need to remember how humans are different than machinery, plants and animals. Quoting Dr. Bob Milligan, Professor Emeritus Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University (2014), “1. People can think, so they can make decisions. 2. People can speak, so they can ask questions, provide feedback and provide new ideas. 3. People have feelings, so our actions impact their motivation, attitudes and performance.” As an employer or manager/supervisor you are the team’s leader and you need to remember how your coaching of the team will help achieve the desired outcome.

Coaching is different than the evaluation process, which often is only done once a year. Coaching focuses on guidance and development of the employee by being proactive and positive and providing feedback. The employer must take the time to understand and determine the following:

  • Each employee’s unique strengths and weaknesses.
  • What it will take to help the employee overcome any barriers to their success.
  • Finding out what motivates each individual employee and tailoring incentives toward them.
  • Communicating direction towards achieving company goals.
  • Helping employees understand the big picture.
  • Helping employees understand their individual role in the company’s success.

When getting employees to improve their performance through coaching there are six critical steps involved.

  1. Describe the problem in a professional non-confrontational manner.
    This discussion needs to be positive and done in a non-threating manner. This is not the place to blame but instead uncover causes of the problem to work towards solutions.
  2. Ask the employee(s) help in solving the problem.
    In doing so you will get the employee(s) commitment via asking them to decide what to do to solve the problem. In return you are boosting the employee(s) self-esteem because you value their opinion and ideas.
  3. Discuss the causes of the problem.
    You need to remember this is a discussion about a performance problem, not about the employee’s attitude or personality. You need to remain friendly and relaxed throughout the conversation. Information should be gathered using open-ended questions which often start with words like “How”, “What”, “Who”, and “When” and cannot simply be answered yes or no.
  4. Identify and write down possible solutions.
    By writing down the solutions you have a reference point to follow what must be done, and if one does not work you can go to the next proposal. In doing so, involve the employee(s) in choosing the best solution and identify their role in the solution.
  5. Decide on a specific action to be taken by everyone.
    By identifying specific actions and responsibilities for the solutions and writing it down it will emphasize that the responsibility for improvement rests with the employee(s).
  6. Agree on a specific follow up date.
    By setting a date it sends a message to the employee(s) that solving the performance problem is important and it also tells the employee(s) that you want to know how well the actions agreed upon are being handled. It also allows for further follow up or tweaking to the problem if needed. As always end the discussion on a friendly note.

As you will see, how each employee meets the goals established is left up to the employee(s) and it gives personal ownership towards the goal or desired outcome.

In the end you have helped the employee(s) understand the “Why is it done this way? or Why a certain behavior is it needed?”. Along with enabling them to become a part of the solution or desired outcome. We need to remember that in a T.E.A.M. nobody goes it alone and that T-together, E-everyone, A-achieves, M-more. Using appropriate coaching methods with employees will help you as a manager to achieve the desired employee(s) performance you are looking for in your operation.


Effects from Heat Stress Can Stretch into Fall

The effects of heat stress can continue long after cooler weather has arrived — even for cows not in milk. In fact, research has shown that proper cooling in the dry period improved subsequent lactation by up to 16 pounds more milk per day and 20 pounds more 3.5-percent fat-corrected milk (FCM) per day.1

“Most producers pay careful attention to the heat stress on their lactating cows, but dry cows need the same attention,” says H. Nielsen, DVM, Technical Services – Ruminant, Lallemand Animal Nutrition. “Heat stress takes a toll on every member of the herd, and the effects don’t simply dissipate when the stressor is over.”

Stress of any kind can cause animals to divert energy from performance, and their bodies do not quickly shift back into production-mode when the period is over. In research on heat-stressed herds, the period of lowest milk production occurred two months after the highest ambient temperature,2 Dr. Nielsen notes.

University of Florida research showed heat stress can even affect the growth and future milk production of calves in-utero. These calves were born earlier with decreased weight at birth and decreased reproductive performance as heifers. Their productivity struggled even after entering the lactating herd, where they experienced reductions in milk production nearing 11 pounds per day during peak lactation.3

In addition to persistent productivity losses, herds also can experience lowered immune function after a stressful event.

“It’s common for producers to see increased incidence of diseases after a stressful event,” Dr. Nielsen says. “Not just heat stress, but any time where the animal experiences changes in her environment like pen movements or even ration changes. It’s critical to maintain feed intake and keep up a robust immune system that’s primed to fight off health challenges.”

Probiotics are an easy, cost-effective way to support the immune system of cattle against everyday natural challenges. The right probiotic can initiate an active process of stimulating microflora — the dynamic and robust bacterial communities in the lower intestinal tract — to enhance lower gut health. The lower gut signals to the rest of the body, which stimulates the innate immune system, Dr. Nielsen explains.

One probiotic, Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii CNCM I-1079 — found in the brand ProTernative® — has been proven to positively modulate the immune system of cattle during times of stress. In a study, S. c. boulardii CNCM I-1079 supported higher peak milk and resulted in fewer health events for transition cows.4

He advises that producers still must lay the foundation for reduced stress by providing clean, readily available water; using adequate heat abatement techniques like providing shade, fans and/or sprinklers; and ensuring cattle are fed during the cooler times of the day to keep intake up.

“We’re only beginning to see the long-term effects of heat stress in our herds. Probiotics are a relatively new tool in helping fight against these negative effects,” Dr. Nielsen says. “It’s going to take all of our tools to protect cattle and keep performance up during — and long after — stressful periods end.”

Lallemand Animal Nutrition is committed to optimizing animal performance and well-being with specific natural microbial product and service solutions. Using sound science, proven results and knowledge, Lallemand Animal Nutrition develops, produces and markets high value yeast and bacteria products ─ including probiotics, silage inoculants and yeast derivatives. Lallemand offers a higher level of expertise, leadership and industry commitment with long-term and profitable solutions to move our partners Forward. Lallemand Animal Nutrition is Specific for your success. For more information, please visit Lallemand Animal Nutrition. 

Injectable trace minerals improve oxidative stress after aflatoxin challenge in dairy cows

When dairy cattle consume aflatoxin-contaminated feed, they are lethargic, their appetite wanes, they produce less milk, and their immune system goes awry. Some of those symptoms relate to oxidative stress, in which dangerous free-radicals bounce around, damaging cells. In a new study, researchers at the University of Illinois investigated the potential of injectable trace minerals to reduce the damage and keep dairy cows healthier.

“If we’re providing enough trace minerals to manufacture more detoxifying enzymes, the liver has a better chance of fighting the aflatoxin,” explains Russell Pate, doctoral student in the Department of Animal Sciences at U of I and lead author on the study.

Phil Cardoso, assistant professor in the department and co-author on the paper, adds that an injectable product could be helpful during aflatoxin challenge, when a cow’s appetite is suppressed. “Our idea for injecting is that it might help during a time when intake is impacted. If something is causing her to eat less, she’ll consume less of any diet-based mineral too.”

The researchers injected lactating Holsteins with Multimin®90, a commercially available injectable trace mineral formulation, twice, approximately a month apart. Another set of animals received a saline injection only, but both sets received the recommended amount of trace minerals in their diet. About a month after the second injection, the researchers used a balling gun to introduce aflatoxin-contaminated feed to half of the animals.

Cows receiving aflatoxin and saline had greater liver inflammation and lower feed efficiencies than cows that weren’t exposed to aflatoxin. But introducing Multimin®90 to aflatoxin-challenged cows increased liver concentrations of selenium and iron. It also bumped up the activity of serum glutathione peroxidase, whose job is to protect cells from oxidative damage by neutralizing free-radicals.

“As we had hypothesized, supplying cows with trace minerals via injection, independent of minerals ingested in the feed, resulted in an improved immune response and reduced oxidative stress when cows were challenged with aflatoxin,” Pate says. Trace minerals are co-factors of enzymes responsible for alleviating the oxidative stress in animals.

Aflatoxin M1 was present in all milk samples for cows that received the contaminated feed. In other words, injectable trace minerals didn’t prevent transfer of the toxin into the milk. The researchers were not surprised by the result, though.

“We knew it would not help with transference to the milk. If the cow is exposed, she needs to excrete that toxin through milk, urine, feces; anywhere to get rid of it,” Cardoso explains. “To stop transference to the milk, you have to first identify the source of the aflatoxin and avoid feeding it. But sometimes you just can’t. In those cases, we are showing for the first time that an injectable trace mineral will provide a benefit.”


Source: ACES

Animal Welfare in Dairy System Design

Modern dairy shelters provide the five freedoms of animal welfare that are essential to cow comfort and animal husbandry.

Instead of looking for what we do wrong in the dairy industry maybe we should look at what we do right. The “Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare” are as follows:

  1. Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
  2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to express (most) normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

To me these are the basics of good animal husbandry. I can’t think of a dairy producer, nutritionist, veterinarian, ag builder, or anyone involved in the industry as a whole that does not want to provide these freedoms to their animals. The health and welfare of the animals is a known barometer of the health and welfare of the dairy business. Simply said, healthy cows are more productive.

As I look through the above list, all of the design standards for modern dairy shelters can be reflexed. Freedom from hunger and thirst means providing 3+ inches per cow of waterer space, feed space of 30 inches for prefresh cows, 20+ hours per day of access to feed and water, and minimizing total milking time per day to less than 3 hours.

Freedom from discomfort means good stall design, making neck rail modifications, making stalls longer in older barns, using more bedding, sand bedding, proper grooving/texturing of concrete, maximizing lying time, and minimizing standing time. It means providing proper ventilation for the season and heat abatement in the summer months.

Freedom from pain, injury, or disease is the design and use of treatment systems/pens, installation of rubber or resilient flooring, and development of vaccination and treatment protocols with the oversight of the veterinarian. It includes proper design and construction of alleyways, floors, and stalls.

Freedom to express normal behavior just means freestall design with adequate lunge room, feed bunks that present feed at 4 to 6 inches above the animal’s front feet, 4 to 6 inches of water in the water trough, and providing adequate floor space for animals to move throughout the shelter and around animals at the feed bunk or waterers.

Freedom from fear and distress may be the hardest to measure and really know if we are doing our best. I think as an industry we are moving in the right direction with management tools like pain medication at dehorning, stockmanship training for employees, and protocols for downed cows.

I don’t think we should live in fear of the animal welfare topics that seem to lurk on the horizon. Rather, I think we should be proud of the comfort and care we provide day in and day out to the animals of the US dairy industry.

To learn more about Animal Welfare in Dairy System Design take a look at Penn State Extension’s recent Technology Tuesday Webinar.


Cow tails: Keep them clean and safe

Follow these tips for your automated alley scraper system

Dirty cows have a negative impact on milk quality, including greater chances of mastitis and a high somatic cell count (SCC). Dirty cows usually mean a dirty tail and dirty tails can come from dirty stalls. Long tails are here to stay since the ban of tail docking. But thankfully, managing manure for cow hygiene is more automated than it’s ever been.
“Automated alley scraper systems have been successfully used on livestock farms for decades to keep freestalls and cows clean,” says Andy Lenkaitis, GEA product manager for manure equipment. “I work with many farmers who produce high-quality milk and have cows with long tails. They make management of their automated alley scraper systems a priority to avoid tail entanglement or animal injury.”

Manage your alley scraper system to help ensure your cows are safe and clean with these tips:

Scraper system

  • Check your control panel load sensor seasonally to monitor the scraper system’s power. Monitoring its power will limit the chance of creating extremely high cable tension and help you notice abnormal power spikes.
  • Manage the control panel settings for proper sensitivity, especially during dry conditions or when you bed stalls.
  • Properly adjust the tension of your scraper cable, rope or chain system to prevent scrapers from jumping around and potentially pinching a tail against the curb. Your local equipment dealer can assist you with this task if needed, or check the manual for detailed instructions.
  • Leave 1 inch between your scraper wing and the curb to help prevent pinching tails.
  • Consider having a scraper wing with a roller for offset alleys or if you want to keep the blade tip touching the curb.
  • Choose a blade that has smooth surfaces near the stall beds as they make it more difficult to snag a loose strand of hair.
  • Take care of sharp edges, protruding bolts or pinch points immediately to reduce injury to your cows.


  • Be sure your brisket board is in its proper position for your herd (typically 65–72 inches ahead of the rear curb) to allow cows to move ahead in the stall. This adjustment will allow cows to have more of their body in the stall. Note: It may require more frequent cleaning of the stall bed as the chance of manure in the rear third of the stall may increase.
  • Maintain a fly abatement program and ensure proper airflow to reduce the presence of flies. This reduces the likelihood of a cow to swing her tail and leave it in the alley.
  • Adjust scraper run times to align with milking, feeding or pushing up feed to reduce the chance of a cow lying in the stall at scraping times.
  • Alter feeding pattern to align with the scraper position in pens.

Other management considerations include having safety glasses for your employees to prevent tail switches from harming their eyes during milking. Having a tail trimming protocol that works for your dairy’s schedule is also beneficial. For example, you may consider trimming every cow’s tail when she calves.

“A clean environment is key for high-milk quality,” says Lenkaitis. “By taking care of your automated barn scraper system, you will take care of your cows and your cows will take care of you.”

About GEA

GEA is one of the largest suppliers of process technology for the food industry and a wide range of other industries. The international technology group focuses on process technology and components for sophisticated production processes in various end-user markets.

In 2017, GEA generated consolidated revenues of about EUR 4.6 billion. The food and beverages sector, which is a long-term growth industry, accounted for around 70 percent. The company employs almost 18,000 people worldwide. GEA is a market and technology leader in its business areas. The company is listed on the German MDAX stock index (G1A, WKN 660 200) and included in the STOXX® Europe 600 Index. In addition, the company is listed in selected MSCI Global Sustainability Indexes. Further information is available at

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