Archive for Management – Page 2

Winter is just around the corner

Before long the leaves will begin to change and as much as I would love to press the pause but-ton on our beautiful fall surroundings, winter will be here before we know it. Although we are not the northern-most state on the map, Virgin-ia dairy producers are still faced with cold and windy conditions for several months of the year, usually starting in December. During these months, it is especially important to keep in mind a few key management factors related to milk quality.

First of all, it is imperative to monitor water heaters and ensure they are maintaining water temperatures. A quick way of determining whether the water in the parlor is hot enough and whether there is enough hot water is to test the temperature of the dump water. The dump water during the wash cycle should read a minimum of 120°F. Water that is not hot enough and/or insufficient water volume will result in improperly cleaned milking equipment, which may result in abnormally high bacterial counts in milk, including PI counts.

With winter also comes the age-old question “should I continue post-dipping teats during the cold months”. Assuming that the udder is dry, teats of healthy animals lacking edema are not typically affected by the cold in the wind-protected conditions found in Virginia free-stalls. However, when the temperature, ac-counting for the wind chill, is below -25°F, pre-cautions should be taken to avoid frostbite on teats. It is imperative to provide ample dry bed-ding for the cows to lie on during these harsh conditions. Furthermore, a windbreak would significantly reduce the risk for frostbite. In terms of teat dipping, a few considerations may be made. The cessation of post-dipping all to-gether will still not provide a dry teat because of the thin layer of milk present on the skin. There-fore, the risk for frostbite is still present. One possible solution would be to apply the post-dip in the parlor, allow the dip to remain on the teats for 30 seconds, and then blot the teats dry. This would allow an appropriate kill time to reduce the load of contagious pathogens on the teats, but also when releasing the cows back to the free stall, would provide them with dry teats, thus reducing the risk for frostbite. There are also a variety of winter teat disinfectants on the market -everything from a dry, powdered dip to those with high emollients. These are also viable options to the traditional dips, but the same pre-cautions should take place if the environmental conditions are harsh enough for frostbite. Fur-thermore, any liquid teat disinfectant could freeze, which may cause the active ingredient to precipitate out. Once a dip has frozen, check with the manufacturer as to the appropriate steps to take.

In summary, although the winter months are often thought of as the best time for milk quality, producers in VA still experience elevated bulk tank SCC. In fact, based on the recent SQMI pro-ject, the lowest bulk tank SCC values are seen in March and April. Therefore, considerations and precautions are warranted in the winter. It is important to provide animals shelter from the wind, consider blotting teats on the very cold and windy days, and monitor the function of the wa-ter heaters to ensure the equipment is appropri-ately cleaned after each milking.

Source: Dairy Pipeline

Accelerated milk replacer benefits dairy calves

Dairy calves that are fed higher-protein milk replacement produced more milk and had earlier weaning dates, improved health and better fertility rates, according to a new paper by University of Missouri Extension specialists.

Before weaning calves, producers feed them a milk replacement, a concentrated powdered milk diluted with water. In a two-year study on a pasture-based dairy, calves fed higher-protein milk replacers showed fewer health problems, says dairy veterinarian Scott Poock. As calves matured, they had higher conception rates at first breeding, and they bred at a younger age. They also gave 1,000 pounds more milk at first lactation. All of this translates into more money for the producer, says extension dairy specialist Stacey Hamilton.

In the study, researchers fed 28.5:15 protein-fat accelerated milk replacer to one group of heifer calves and traditional replacer to others. They used a mob feeding system of multiple calves per feeder at MU’s Southwest Research Center near Mount Vernon.

Poock says conventional milk replacer feeding programs limit dry matter intake of milk to 1-1.5% of body weight at birth. Higher-protein milk replacer allows dry matter intake of 2-3%.

“The higher level of milk feeding is counterintuitive to the goal of increased grain feeding and subsequent rumen development,” says Poock. However, the study shows that calves eat more grain after weaning when the milk ration is reduced one to two weeks before weaning.

A 2005 University of Minnesota analysis of feeding of high-protein milk replacers to dairy calves reported an 18% decrease in calf mortality. A Cornell University study found that calves inoculated with cryptosporidium and fed accelerated milk replacer had fewer days of diarrhea, less dehydration and improved feed efficiency than traditionally fed calves.

Hamilton recommends the accelerated milk replacer to push calves to weaning sooner and improve overall herd health. “We’ve seen the extra growth and health benefits,” he says.

He says it is important to mix the replacer thoroughly with the right ratio of powder to water. Clumps of undissolved powder can cause gut issues in the calves.

Poock, Hamilton and MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources interim associate dean Rob Kallenbach are authors of the paper.

For more than 100 years, University of Missouri Extension has extended university-based knowledge beyond the campus into all counties of the state. In doing so, extension has strengthened families, businesses and communities.

Gloves: Are You Protecting Your Herd?

Weekly we receive calls from producers that are experiencing milk quality issues on their farm. Often, we find common denominators on each farm that is the source of the high somatic cell count (SCC). Wearing gloves is a very simple management practice that could help to reduce contagious and environmental bacteria spread between quarters and cows.

Do you wear gloves while milking cows? You should! Gloves are a very inexpensive prevention tool for a large cost problem. This preventative tool can help to prevent bacteria and dirt from staying in the cracks, crevices and fingernail beds on your hands. Gloves can easily be disinfected between cows because of their smooth surface. Studies have shown that there are 75% fewer bacteria on used gloves than on bare hands. Wearing gloves also reduces the spread of both contagious and environmental bacteria by 50%.

Bacteria causing contagious mastitis on a farm is hard to cure, causing farms loss of milk production and money. Cows infected with contagious mastitis often cause a high bulk tank Somatic Cell Count (SCC). Due to this, producers should take every step necessary to prevent the spread of bacteria to other herd mates or within the udder. This bacteria travels from quarter to quarter via milk on your hands or within the milking unit. To limit the spread of contagious mastitis, milking practices such as milking infected animals last, post milking teat disinfectant, universal dry cow treatment and wearing gloves should be implemented on your farm.

In today’s milk market, gloves are necessary to reach the highest premium available to your farm. It should be written into your standard operating procedures and required that they are worn by all employees. When choosing a glove be sure that it fits the employee’s hands smoothly like skin. Gloves come in many sizes and colors. It may be necessary to buy a variety to find what works on your farm. Gloves that are too large often tear easily and get stuck in the inflations due to vacuum. Gloves should be disinfected regularly during milking with teat dip or disinfecting solution. Used gloves should be disposed of; reusing gloves makes them brittle, causing frequent tears and increased risk of udder contamination.


A Look at Feeding Strategies During Challenging Times

Difficult economics in the dairy industry now and in recent years have herd owners and their advisors working to find opportunities to increase margins and/or cut costs, writes Tom Overton and Larry Chase, Department of Animal Science and PRO-DAIRY at Cornell University.

Using averages from 36 New York farms that completed both the 2016 and 2017 Cornell Dairy Farm Business Summary (Karszes et al., February 2018 PRO-DAIRY e-Leader), purchased grain and concentrate cost averaged $5.81 per cwt of milk (31% of total operating costs) and total feed and crop expenses averaged $7.34 per cwt of milk (39% of total operating costs). Given the large contribution of feed and crop expenses to total operating costs, it is logical to carefully evaluate these aspects of management. The following outlines five key focus areas to ensure that your feeding program is all that it can be:

1) Know and track Income Over Feed Cost (IOFC) and Income Over Purchased Feed Cost (IOPurFC)

Income over feed cost (milk revenue minus feed cost) is more correlated with overall farm profitability than any other single metric and can be refined further to look specifically at Income Over Purchased Feed Cost. In analyses of feeding programs conducted as part of PRO-DAIRY discussion groups, income over total feed cost varied as much as $3.00 per cow per day, even across well-managed herds.

In our last analysis, herds with higher IOFC had:

  • Higher fat and protein yield per cow (generally over 6.0 lbs/day of fat and protein shipped)
  • Higher feed efficiency (over 1.65 lbs of ECM2 per lb of DMI) across the lactating cows
  • Higher feed cost per cow per day (cows were making more milk and so had higher DMI)
  • Slightly higher cost per lb of TMR dry matter — $0.137 vs $0.132 per lb
  • Optimized use of forages (0.9 to 1.0% of cow body weight as forage NDF intake)

Income over total and purchased feed cost as well as feed efficiency can be calculated and tracked using spreadsheets or calculated using the Dairy Profit Monitor online program developed by PRO-DAIRY.

The Dairy Profit Monitor online program allows for a farm to track these and other metrics related to production and efficiency and compare itself with other farms in the program.

2) Make sure you are optimizing use of homegrown forages and feeds

Herds that focus on and achieve high forage quality can be rewarded by increasing use of high quality forage in the ration. One time-tested metric is to calculate forage NDF intake as a percentage of body weight for lactating cows. Herds optimizing forage use often are able to feed 0.9 to 1.0% of body weight as NDF from forage sources. Newer forage analytical techniques have enabled us to have estimates of undigested NDF at 240 hours of in vitro digestion (uNDF240), which represents maximum digestibility and correlates with intake potential. Research conducted at Miner Institute suggests that cows will consume 0.30 to 0.35% of their body weight as uNDF240. Data from the 2017 Cornell and Vermont Corn Silage Hybrid Trials Lawrence et al. suggest that 2017 corn silage fiber digestibilities are generally lower than 2016 corn silage – many herds that have transitioned onto 2017 corn silage lost anywhere from 3 to 7 lbs of milk per cow per day. In this case, watch the marketplace for nonforage fiber sources (e.g., soyhulls, corn gluten feed, citrus pulp) that generally have high fiber digestibility and can help to compensate for the lower NDF digestibility in 2017 corn silage. 

In addition to optimizing use of forages based upon their analyzed nutrient composition, farms that have the ability to feed more than one silo of the same type of forage (i.e., multiple haylages or multiple corn silages) should make sure that they are feeding the right forage to the right animals. The highest quality, highest digestibility forages should go to the transition and early lactation cows. Typically, nutrient requirements of heifers and far off dry cows are relatively low, so lower energy, lower digestibility forages can be targeted to those groups. 

3) Fine-tune your feeding management

Losses due to poor bunk and feeding management can be subtle but meaningful. Are you taking at least 6 inches (preferably 12 inches) of silage off of the face of bunk silos every day and ensuring that bunk faces are tight and leftover feed kept to a minimum? Have mixer wagons and other equipment used in feeding (e.g., tub grinders) been maintained so that they deliver consistent performance? Is feeding accuracy being monitored and shrink of ingredients being tracked? Is fresh feed available for cows upon return from the parlor and is it being pushed up regularly (i.e., every 2 to 3 hours). We recommend targeting 5% refusal rates for close-up cows (close-up refusal can be re-fed to far-off cows) and fresh cows, and targeting 2 to 3% refusal rates for high cow groups (refusal from fresh and high groups can be re-fed to late lactation cows).

4) Strategically review rations with your nutritionist

Now is a good time to review rations and ration strategy with your nutritionist and make strategic decisions about where to try to save cost without compromising herd performance. In addition to making sure that you are optimizing use of homegrown forages and feeds (see above), there may be opportunities to decrease amounts of rumen-degradable protein sources (e.g., canola meal, soybean meal) in the diet. Furthermore, laboratory assays are now commercially available that allow for feed suppliers to evaluate protein digestibility and undigestibility of protein ingredients. Overall, proteins based upon soy or canola look to have good overall digestibility and little variation among sources; however, distillers grains and animal proteins (e.g., blood meal) can vary greatly in their digestibility – some are excellent and some are poor.

We are hearing that some financial consultants are advising farms to remove all additives and higher value/higher cost nutrients from rations in order to save cost. Although we recognize the need to make sure that there is return on the feed investment, we think that these across the-board types of sweeping recommendations are poor and likely stand more chance of hurting cash flow rather than helping cash flow.

Our recommended approach is to review rations and prioritize maintaining ration ingredients and feed additives that directly affect daily cash flow/income over feed cost by contributing to component yield/feed efficiency or are fed during very focused periods of the lactation cycle (i.e., close-up and fresh cows) with research based evidence that they contribute to improved productivity and health. The long-term implications on production, health, and reproduction for not meeting the needs of the transition cow are large. For more discussion on these decisions and other management decisions, see the Making Decisions about New Technologies on the Dairy paper that was presented at the 2017 Cornell Nutrition Conference.

Finally, we suggest that calf nutrition should not be a place where farms seek to cut feeding rates or quality of milk replacer. Such apparent savings can be easily erased (and then some) by increased drug costs for treatment and calf morbidity/mortality with long-term impacts. 

5) Carefully review cow and heifer inventories and needs

Are the right cows being milked? How many heifers do you need? This topic is covered in part in another recent PRO-DAIRY paper Ten Key Herd Management Opportunities on Dairy Farms During Low Margin Times. Overstocking of cows generally contributes to lower feed efficiency through negative effects on milk components and poorer rumen efficiency as a result of more aggressive feeding behavior and altered time budgets. Are you compromising performance of the whole by continuing to milk cows that are not covering their feed and variable costs?

Many farms have improved their reproductive performance significantly over the past few years, such that we have seen overall heifer numbers grow as a proportion of the lactating herd. Feed costs are a major portion of the cost of rearing heifers – are the goals of the farm such that every heifer needs to be raised? Should you give up more quickly on heifers (or cows) that are not getting pregnant and save that feed cost?

There are a number of excellent business management resources focused on the cost of replacement heifer programs and spreadsheets that allow evaluation of various aspects of the heifer enterprise that were developed by Jason Karzes and available at the PRO-DAIRY website.

Source: Cornell

Brazilian Study Identifies Genes Potentially Associated with Heat- and Drought-resistant Cattle

Cattle productivity in Brazil is significantly affected by the decline in pasture quality during the dry period of the year, writes André Julião with Agência FAPES (FUNDAÇÃO DE AMPARO À PESQUISA DO ESTADO DE SÃO PAULO).

In conjunction with the effects of global warming occurring in this century, this problem makes the selection of livestock resistant to climate change increasingly necessary.

In an article published in the journal Genetics Selection Evolution, researchers in Brazil and Australia point to a solution.

The scientists identified 16 genes potentially associated with resistance to climate variations that affect weight gain in Nellore cattle, Brazil’s main beef production breed. The candidate genes are linked to cellular regeneration and differentiation and to inflammatory and immune responses, among other biological processes.

The study was part of the Thematic Project Genetic aspects of meat production quality, efficiency and sustainability in Nellore cattle; the principal investigator was Lucia Galvão de Albuquerque, Full Professor at the São Paulo State University’s School of Agrarian and Veterinary Sciences (FCAV-UNESP) in Jaboticabal, Brazil.

The study was conducted in partnership with researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia.

“We studied the interaction between genotype and environment in Nellore cattle, with the specific aim of identifying animals that are less sensitive to environmental changes. Breeders and scientists are always concerned with improving average productivity, but now it’s necessary to identify animals that are more resistant to climate change,” said Roberto Carvalheiro, a researcher at FCAV-UNESP and first author of the study. Carvalheiro performed part of the study in Queensland thanks to support from FAPESP via a Research Fellowship Abroad.

“This should be of particular concern in Brazil, where cattle are raised on different types of pasture and under diverse environmental conditions, especially when considering global climate change,” he added.


To identify the 16 genes that may indicate tolerance to environmental variations, the researchers used the sire directory Aliança Nelore. Maintained by GenSys Consultores, based in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the directory comprises genetic and phenotypic data on productive traits that have been evaluated in more than a million calves belonging to approximately 500 Brazilian, Paraguayan and Bolivian herds.

To standardize the analysis, the researchers considered only calves that had known sires and dams; belonged to contemporary groups of at least 20 animals of the same sex; were born in the same herd, year and season; and were raised in the same management group. Their overall postweaning weight gain ranged from 30 kg to 250 kg (between weaning, at approximately seven months, and long-yearling age, approximately 17 months). Overall, the study analyzed 421,585 animals from 9,934 contemporary groups.

This dataset was considered suitable for an assessment of the sensitivity of beef cattle performance to environmental variation given the quantity of data and the diversity of herd management and environmental conditions. For example, the average annual precipitation on the cattle farms ranged from approximately 700 mm to 3,000 mm depending on the location; the dry season in some regions can last up to seven months.

Studies of this kind that focus on the interactions between genotypes and environmental conditions typically use an index that combines temperature and humidity to summarize the environmental conditions in which the animal was raised, but for researchers, this fails to capture the quality of the pasture, which is a key factor in beef cattle productivity in the Brazilian pasture-based system.

“Calves are born nine and a half months after insemination and produce only when they’re two or three years old,” Carvalheiro said. “We can forecast rainfall two weeks ahead, but we haven’t the faintest idea what the pasture on this or that farm will be like two years from now. Hence the interest in identifying animals whose performance won’t be affected by unexpected conditions.”

Weight gain ten months after weaning was chosen as a key trait affected by environmental variation and accurately recorded in the database. Calves are normally weaned as soon as the time of abundance for pastures begins to cease. Thus, the 10 month period corresponds to the advent of the dry season, causing a drop in pasture quality.

After testing several statistical models, the researchers found nonlinear reaction norm models (RNM) most suitable to analyze sensitivity to environmental variation, as genomic regions and environmental conditions are not linearly correlated. They classified such conditions as harsh (poor pasture), average (better but still poor) or good (well-managed pasture, a rarity in Brazil).

“Genes that indicate good resistance to harsh or average conditions aren’t the same as those that count most in the average-to-good gradient,” Carvalheiro said.


The statistical analysis showed that under harsh environmental conditions, genes associated with acute inflammatory responses, cell differentiation and the proliferation of keratinocytes – cells that produce keratin, the key structural material in hair, horns and hooves – seemed to play an important role in beef cattle sensitivity.

In humans and mice, for example, the gene REG3A is associated with skin injury repair and skin homeostasis, thus contributing to immune defense. Another gene in the same family, REG3G, is associated with antimicrobial defense in the mammalian intestine and with intestinal mechanisms for maintaining symbiotic host-microbe relationships, potentially protecting the intestine during severe feed restriction.

On the other hand, the genes that play a key role in resistance in less harsh environments (average to good) are associated with inflammatory and immune responses. Among these, IL4 and IL13 were found to be the most plausible candidates in this type of environment. Both genes share a range of activities involving monocytes, epithelial cells and B cells, thus contributing significantly to the defense of the organism. In other studies, they have been found to be involved in regulating protein metabolism and muscle function, among other metabolic functions. Overall, the 16 candidate genes were found to be involved in 104 different biological processes.

The results of the research can be applied immediately in herds covered by the database. Bulls that perform best under harsh environmental conditions, for example, can be selected as sires and will probably have offspring that are more resistant to climate change.

However, the results must now be validated in other cattle herds. New studies will verify whether the 16 candidate genes also affect resistance to climate change in independent populations of animals not included in this study and in other breeds besides Nellore.

The article “Unraveling genetic sensitivity of beef cattle to environmental variation under tropical conditions” by Roberto Carvalheiro, Roy Costilla, Haroldo H. R. Neves, Lucia G. Albuquerque, Stephen Moore and Ben J. Hayes can be read at:

Headline image courtesy of Léo Ramos Chaves / Pesquisa FAPESP.

This text was originally published by FAPESP Agency. Read the original here.

Low Price Margin Herd Health Do’s and Don’ts

Each time the dairy industry experiences low milk prices, managers start looking for ways to save money, writes Robert Lynch, DVM and Dairy Herd Health & Management Specialist with Cornell University’s PRO-DAIRY Program.

This is smart and something that all good businesses do. If less money is coming in, how do we cut down on how much money goes out without hurting the business in the long run? These decisions can be pretty challenging when it comes to herd health expenses since the consequences of a bad decision in this area might not be seen right away. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to consider as we all turn our attention again to reducing unnecessary expenses on the dairy.


Review your treatment protocols to make sure they align with efficacy standards. This includes screening the daily treatment sheets to make sure protocols are being followed. Altering drug doses and/or treatment frequencies rarely lead to improved treatment outcomes, but significantly add to treatment expenses, not to mention the additional risk of having a drug residue.


Decrease the dose or duration of therapy from the agreed upon protocols without your veterinarian’s approval of the change. Sub-therapeutic use of medication reduces efficacy leading to increased treatment failure, poor animal performance, and increased risk of mortality.


Eliminate steps in your vaccine protocol that lack sound disease prevention data. Have your herd health team review the current program. For disease threats faced by the dairy, does using the product make sense? Are those responsible for administering vaccines clear on what to do? Giving too many vaccines is a waste of money and may increase the risk of complications.


Eliminate vaccination steps that lead to lowered herd protection from known disease threats unless you can absorb the cost of a disease outbreak. Reducing vaccines to save money could potentially end up costing you a lot more should the disease present itself.


Critically evaluate replacement animal inputs to ensure they are contributing to heifer performance. Track heifer performance regularly to make sure your replacement program is working and maximizing your investment in those inputs.


Make cuts in your heifer raising program that end up delaying their entry into the milking herd or decrease their performance as adults. Adding unnecessary time to first calving will increase your heifer raising costs significantly and you may also reduce their future milking potential.


Augmented reality brings cow data to farmers

Nedap’s dairy augmented reality brings relevant cow data straight to a farmer’s field of view, enabling a farmer to locate a cow and get relevant data without searching for it.

Nedap debuts its dairy augmented reality system for the first time at World Dairy Expo.

Picture this scenario: It’s time to do a herd check on the cows. You finish up the remaining chores and head out to the free-stall barn. One cow, No. 225, has a severe case of mastitis and you’re keeping a close eye on her.

You get your goggles on and head into the barn. You gently say “225” as if talking to someone walking aside of you. Within a second, a green arrow points the way to cow 225. She’s in the other end of the free-stall barn.

The arrow didn’t come down from the rafters; rather, it shows up right in front of you courtesy of those goggles you have on.

Now that you have located 225 you probably want to know how her last milking went. You say, “last milking.” Within a second, all the information on 225’s last milking comes up — how much she produced, average production for the day or week, her eating behavior and more.

This is what’s possible when you have a cow management system linked to augmented reality. Nedap, a Dutch multinational company, thinks this could be the future of cow monitoring systems. It debuted its dairy AR system for the first time in the U.S. at World Dairy Expo.

High-tech monitoring

Visitors at expo got to test the system using a pair of Microsoft Hololens goggles that were linked to a fake cow with a monitoring collar attached.

Looking into the goggles was nothing special until you were looking directly at the cow itself. Just above the cow was a plethora of information about its heat status, production history, health and more displayed in a “virtual cow card.” Navigating through the menus on the card is easy; all you do is “push” a button or say what you want to look at it — the voice recognition works really well.

So, where does all that cow data come from?

“This augmented reality is our latest innovation and latest add-on to our activity monitoring system, which we call Nedap CowControl,” said Rudy Ebbekink, Nedap livestock management.

CowControl works using smart tags attached to each cow’s collar or foot. The system can track anything from heat signals and health to how much a cow has eaten and its inactive behavior. CowControl includes a cow locating system that can pinpoint exactly where a cow is at on the farm. Data collected is normally delivered to a farmer’s smartphone or computer where they can remotely see what’s going on in the barn, but with AR goggles the data is brought to a farmer’s field of vision.

Chris TorresRudy Ebbekink demonstrates Nedap’s dairy augmented reality system using Microsoft Hololens goggles

HI-TECH MONITORING: Microsoft Hololens goggles allow Rudy Ebbekink to demonstrate how to use Nedap’s dairy augmented reality system on a farm.

“So, we actually combine the real field of vision when the farmer walks the barn with digital information, and it’s not only that, but we also are able to pinpoint the information exactly above the cow it concerns,” he said.

It took two years for the company to develop the technology, Ebbekink said. It was first debuted in late 2018 at EuroTier in Germany.

Not for sale, yet

Showing off technology at a trade show is one thing; seeing it work on farms is another thing entirely.

Ebbekink said the company is still in the development stage of the program, and it could be a while before dairy farmers are able to use it.

For one thing the company hasn’t finalized what type of goggles it will use to launch its AR platform. While the Microsoft Hololens goggles are good for demos, Ebbekink said the company is waiting on a newer version of the goggles that will be more robust with better battery life and a wider field of vision.

Selling farmers

The bigger question the company must answer is how it plans to sell dairy farmers on using AR technology. Getting farmers to test it out for themselves will be key.

Initial tests on farms, he said, were met with comments about how silly the goggles looked, but the conversation quickly changed once farmers put the goggles on.

Chris TorresSmart tags are shown around the neck and ankle of a life-size plastic cow at World Dairy Expo

SMART TAGS: The dairy AR system is made possible using smart tags on cows, such as these tags on this display cow at World Dairy Expo.

“When they wear the goggles and they see all that information about their cows that is relevant when they walk around in that place, then they slowly start to say, ‘Oh well, this is actually not as weird as it looked like from the outside,’ and they really see the value of that,” he said. “Luckily, it’s really an intuitive way of consuming all that herd data. You use your voice, you use hand gestures as you would in the normal life and it really is an intuitive way of consuming that information.”

AR vs. VR

You might be wondering what the difference is between augmented reality and virtual reality (VR).

Well, if you ever heard of Pokemon Go — more than likely your children or grandchildren have heard of it or played it — or Snapchat, this is AR. It essentially adds digital elements to a live view by using the camera on a smartphone.

VR is a more immersive experience that shuts out the physical world around you. So, if you put on a pair of VR goggles and it feels like you’re in the middle of a video game, that’s virtual reality.


The Five Freedoms: A history lesson in animal care and welfare

The Five Freedoms have been the basis of animal welfare since the 1960s. Learn about what they are and why they have endured, writes Melissa Elischer, Michigan State University Extension

Concern about animal care and welfare is not a new topic for those who raise animals, but it continues to be of greater concern for the general public. More and more people want to know and understand how animals, especially those raised to enter the food chain, are cared for, where and how these animals live, and what a modern farm is like. The answers to these questions do not have one single, correct answer. In reality, there are innumerable correct ways to raise animals depending on the animals’ breed and “job” (e.g., cattle raised for dairy production verses cattle raised for beef production) size, location, climate, facilities, staff, goals of a farm and several other factors. What remains the same across all farms is that farmers care about the animals they raise and want animals thriving. One way to ensure animals are in a positive state of welfare is to use the Five Freedoms as benchmark for meeting animals’ needs.

To understand the importance of the Five Freedoms and why there were developed, let’s turn back to 1964 when Ruth Harrison, a British woman, co-wrote “Animal Machines.” The book described intensive livestock and poultry farming practices of the time. The outcry of the British public regarding the information in the book prompted the British government to appoint a committee to look into the welfare of farm animals. In 1965, the committee, chaired by professor Roger Brambell presented the 85-page “Report of the Technical Committee to Inquire into the Welfare of Animals Kept under Intensive Livestock Husbandry Systems,” which became known as “The Brambell Report.”

In summary, the report stated that animals should have the freedom “to stand up, lie down, turn around, groom themselves and stretch their limbs.” These freedoms became known as “Brambell’s Five Freedoms” and were expanded on to create a more detail list of the needs. The Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee was created in response to Brambell and colleagues’ report to monitor the livestock production sector. In 1979, the name was changed to the Farm Animal Welfare Council (now Committee) and by the end of that same year, the initial Five Freedoms had been codified into the format below.

The welfare of an animal, which includes its physical and mental states, how it is coping with its environment, and involves human experiences and ethics to evaluate animal welfare through observation and interpretation of an animal’s behavior and health status. The codified Five Freedoms are as follows:

  1. Freedom from Hunger and 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 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.

The Five Freedoms are used as the basis in writing animal care protocols and expectations for many professional groups, including veterinarians as noted on the American Veterinary Medical Association website. They have been adopted by representative groups internationally including the World Organization for Animal Health and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Most of the animal welfare audits developed for implementation on farms and in processing facilities are based on the Five Freedoms.

The impact and use of the Five Freedoms is widespread across the world. An upcoming article from Michigan State University Extension will focus on recognizing how animal caregivers, especially youth in 4-H animal science projects, use the Five Freedoms every day in caring for animals.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension and was updated from an original article written by Tina Conklin.

Is Selective Dry Cow Therapy Right For Your Herd?

Blanket dry cow therapy (BDCT), the treatment of all cows at dry off with antimicrobial infusions in each quarter, has been a linchpin of mastitis control. A 2013 survey of over 600 herds found that 85% of herds use BDCT and bulk tank somatic cell counts (BTSCC) tend to be lower in herds that use BDCT. However, with increased public concern over food safety and antimicrobial resistance, reflection on milk quality dogma is not a bad idea. Despite the success of BDCT to prevent and cure intramammary infections (IMI) over the dry period, the landscape of mastitis has changed in the fifty years since this management tool was first applied. The predominant mastitis-causing bacteria in many herds have shifted from contagious to environmental-reservoirs, such as coliforms. Improved housing, bedding, feeding and the use of internal teat sealants have all played a role in reducing the rate of IMI during the dry period. So is it time to consider selective dry cow therapy (SDCT), i.e., treatment at dry off of only infected cows? Maybe, but each herd will need to consider this option carefully to ensure that their dry cow program is ‘tailored to fit’ their needs.

Before you consider SDCT, you must have all other parts of your milk quality program in place and protocols consistently followed. Herds that have BTSCC > 200,000 cells/mL are not the best candidates for SDCT. Metrics for outcomes (e.g., the percent of cows at first test date with subclinical mastitis or clinical mastitis rate in the first 60 DIM) need to be tracked regularly. Also, the decision to treat or not treat cows at dry off has to be based on sound information regarding infection status of each cow. Herd-specific plans, at the very least, must include clinical mastitis history and individual cow SCC before dry off. Also, most studies suggest that a second tier of selection, bacterial culture of low SCC cows, should be added before giving the “green light” not to treat a cow at dry off.

There are a few speed bumps for SDCT, beyond the need to carefully construct an evidenced-based treatment selection protocol. In the U.S., fewer herds are tracking subclinical mastitis (DHI SCC or CMT). Without this information, it is nearly impossible to track the impact of changes in dry cow treatment programs—bulk tank SCC are inadequate to measure change. Because of greater emphasis on so-called ‘parlor efficiency’, increased rate of cow throughout in many larger dairies pressures milking operators to not spend time stripping milk from teats, let alone identify clinical mastitis. Thus, critical outcomes to assess the efficacy of change in a dry cow therapy program, such as new and cured IMI over the dry cow period, and clinical mastitis in the first 30 to 60 DIM, will be unavailable in these herds. Also, < 15% of herds routinely incorporate milk culture, often stating that labor is an issue.  The bottom line for the decision to use SDCT is either do it correctly or flirt with disaster.

BDCT also has risks, e.g., employees who are poorly trained in infusion techniques. But increased mastitis in early lactation, as a result of a poorly designed or executed SDCT protocol, can be costly. Cows with a first test date SCC ≥ 200,000 cells/mL produce about 1,600 lb less milk than cows with first test date SCC < 200,000 cells/mL, and were two to three times more likely to have clinical mastitis and be culled by 60 DIM (Kirkpatrick and Olson, 2015). Clinical mastitis in the first 30 DIM is likely to have a greater economic impact on a cow as compared to cases later in lactation, with one estimate of $444 per case (Rollin et al., 2015). Finally, milk weights at dry off in many herds rival peak milk production from 25 years ago. This increases the risk for teat canals to remain open during the dry period (Dingwell et al., 2004), which especially increases the need to use internal teat sealants when using SDCT.


Selective dry cow therapy can lead to less antimicrobial drug use and better use of labor resources. However, herds that consider this approach should follow three rules in order for SDCT to be effective.

  1. Have a sound dry cow management control program in place- e.g. bedding, ventilation, feeding to reduce metabolic stress in transition cows. Internal teat sealants are strongly recommended.
  • Use evidence-based criteria to select treated cows from non-treated cows—this includes SCC, clinical mastitis history, and preferably milk culture.
  • Monitor subclinical and clinical mastitis in early lactation cows—this requires individual cow SCC and complete records

For more information on SCC and dry cow infections, see these QMA Articles:

Monitoring New Infections In Dry Cows

Revisited Article: You Are Here (On the Somatic Cell Count Map)

Source: Quality Milk Alliance

Getting the most from your single-cut hay system

For a variety of reasons, some hay acres are harvested only once per year. Here are some tips for good results in this situation, writes James Isleib, Michigan State University Extension.

Hay field mowed and into round bales

Why use a one-cut hay system? Multiple hay harvests during the growing season are the commonly accepted management practice. However, there are local circumstances that make a single-cut system a reasonable choice. For example, many thousands of farm acres in areas of Michigan’s eastern and western Upper Peninsula support predominantly timothy/trefoil hay stands on poorly drained, clay soils. These areas have a very short growing season and untiled clay soils, which are often soft and unstable during wet periods, especially in spring and fall.

Many of these farmers harvest dry hay using a late July/early August single-cut system. The resulting hay is used primarily to feed beef cattle and horses or trucked for sale out of the region. The quality is usually acceptable for this purpose. In recent years, hay markets have remained fairly strong compared to weak prices for other Michigan cash crops.

In addition to challenging soil conditions and the constraints of a short growing season, low land costs help to make a one-cut hay system viable in these areas. The chance for success with cash crops such as corn and soybeans is quite low, making hay and small grains the most attractive cropping options. This results in low land rent and land purchase prices. Hay is the best, maybe the only, economic option.

The Upper Peninsula isn’t the only place where hay is only cut once in mid-summer. On farms in more moderate climates where time and labor are in short supply, maximum yield is not essential and top hay quality is not required, a single cut system may be adequate.

Maximizing the value of a single-cut hay system involves some basic, time-proven practices similar to multi-cut systems.

Plant maturity at time of harvest is still important, even though most single-cut hay farms harvest late, compared to the first cut on a multi-cut farm. Most single-cut hay, harvested only once in midsummer, will have lower protein, digestibility and general nutritional value than hay harvested at an earlier plant maturity, but will (hopefully) be acceptable for its intended use if fed to animals with low to moderate nutrient demand. Waiting too long can result in even coarser, stemmier, lower-protein and lower-value hay. The goal is to maximize yield without giving up too much quality.

Forage species selection for the single-cut hay system involves using later maturing grasses.

  • Timothy is a late-flowering grass, which makes it a good candidate for a single-cut system.
  • Birdsfoot trefoil does not tolerate a lot of competition in the seeding year, which matches well with timothy or forage-type Kentucky bluegrass.
  • If orchardgrass or other perennial forage grass is used, later-maturing varieties should be selected. Alfalfa, red clover and ladino clover are also good hay components, but will lose quality after flowering more quickly than trefoil.

Baled hay


Baled hay in Ontonagon County, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Jim Isleib, Michigan State University Extension

Soil fertility should be considered carefully with a single-cut system. If too much hay growth is encouraged, the resulting crop could be hard to dry thoroughly before baling. High yield swaths and windrows take more time to dry, increasing the possibility of rain damage. Extra tedding and raking to assist with drying can result in excessive leaf shatter and loss of quality.

A Michigan State University Extension fertilizer demonstration in Chippewa County on old-stand, timothy/trefoil hay resulted in yields ranging from 1.5 dry tons per acre (no fertilizer) to 3.1 dry tons per acre (full fertilizer rate recommended by MSU Soil and Plant Nutrient Laboratory).

Economic analysis indicated that a single crop removal rate fertilizer application over the three-year period was most advantageous in terms of cost per ton of dry matter produced. However, the host farmer indicated that he would never want three tons dry matter in one cutting because it would be too hard to dry and bale. He said the normal 1–1.5 tons dry matter he gets without fertilizer is about right. It’s a different way of looking at hay production.

Basically, the single-cut hay crop can’t be too much to handle for your equipment and expected drying conditions. Soil testing will provide important information about the pH, potassium and phosphorus status of any hay field and should be included in the management of single-cut hay fields.

The importance of rain during curing, moisture at baling and good bale storage are not different from a multi-cut system.

On most farms, single-cut hay systems are not usually recommended by MSU Extension. However, there are cases where this practice makes sense. Having a good understanding of the forage species in your field, soil fertility and forage grass and legume characteristics can help you manage the single-cut hay system to your best advantage.

Source: The Dairy Site

Wisconsin dairy industry pushes back against new manure storage rules

The Wisconsin dairy industry raised a stink Monday over potential new restrictions on manure storage, insisting the regulations would make life harder on struggling farmers and force them to relocate.

State agriculture officials have been working for nearly three years on new farm siting standards. If the governor and Legislature approve the standards local governments could impose them as local ordinances or ignore them.

Regardless, industry advocates say the changes would have a chilling effect on factory farm expansion at a time when farmers are already grappling with low milk prices. The new standards would be so onerous that farmers could move to other states, a coalition of agricultural groups said during a state Capitol news conference.

“Adoption of this rule without change will simply put a halt to livestock expansion in the state,” said Cindy Leitner, president of the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, which represents factory farms.

The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection adopted regulations in 2006 that set up a minimum 350-foot minimum distance between manure pits on farms with 500 or more animals and neighbors’ property lines. If a local government permits farms it must apply the state standards. So far 134 local governments have imposed the standards, according to DATCP figures.

Things changed in April when a DATCP advisory committee concluded a 350-foot minimum doesn’t protect residences, schools and other high-use areas such as playgrounds from odors.

Under the proposal, new farms with at least 500 animals as well as farms looking to expand to at least 500 animals to place manure storage facilities between 600 feet and 2,500 feet from neighbors’ property lines depending on the size of the herd.

Farms could reduce the setback by taking steps to mitigate the stench, such as using anaerobic digesters and injecting manure into the ground rather than spreading it.

The agricultural groups sent a letter last week to DATCP arguing nothing shows the new approach will be workable. For example, farmers could be forced to fit manure facilities thousands of feet from a neighbor’s empty field rather than a residence, they said.

They also accused DATCP of not running tests on how the new setbacks would affect farms and lamented that farmers would have to purchase expensive odor-mitigation equipment to reduce setback distances.

“The changes would … send a message that we don’t want modern dairy farms in our state,” Tom Crave, president of the Dairy Business Association, said at the news conference.

Sara Walling, administrator of DATCP’s agricultural resource management division, said the department doesn’t want to run anyone out of Wisconsin. She stressed that the changes would apply only to new farms and farmers looking to expand. Still, the department is poring over public comments on regulations with an eye toward tweaks, she said.

“We intend to take all of this into consideration,” Walling said. “This is a balancing act we’re trying to strike (between) the interest of the farm and the community in which it resides.”

DATCP plans to submit a final version of the regulations to its board in November. If the board signs off the regulations would go next to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers for approval. A green light from the governor would send the package to the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff didn’t immediately respond to an email asking if the governor supports the changes. Mike Mikalsen, an aide to Republican state Sen. Steve Nass, co-chairman of the Legislature’s rules committee, also didn’t immediately respond to an email.


Heifer Raising Costs in 2019

The cost of raising heifers is often above their market value. A slide rule* for heifer raising costs at various weights with labor included would be $2.33 per head per day at 700 pounds with $0.10 slide down for each 100 pounds under 700 pounds and a $0.15 – $0.25 slide up for each 100 pounds over 700 pounds. Breeding age heifers, of course, run a bit higher due to extra labor and breeding fees at this age. Realize costs vary greatly from farm to farm. Thus, know this thumb-rule “slide guide” is just that–a thumb-rule guide. Calculate your own costs for more accuracy. Feed cost should change about $0.15/head/day for each 100 pounds calculated with feed prices below:

Heifer Costs 2019* Size     700 15.75 lbs DM daily
Corn Price $3.25 bu 5 lbs $0.29 /hd/day
Hay Price $140 ton 10 lbs $0.56 /hd/day
Supplement $0.18 lb 1.5 lbs $0.27 /hd/day
2.25% BW   16.5 lbs $1.12 /hd/day
    Feed Costs = $0.068 lb feed

Estimated cost of raising heifers from 2017 is shown in the table on the right as costs did not change much since that time. For 24 months of feeding, around six tons of dry matter is needed per heifer for a total feed cost of $1,167. The livestock costs add another $268.40. Facilities and equipment add another $240.62 for a total of $1,672.02 before heifer ownership cost or labor is considered. This equates to a cost of $2.30 per head per day without labor on average or a cost of $2.67 per head per day with labor included. For producers selling raised heifers, the ownership cost of $110 (interest on investment) and the initial calf value of $175 in this example needs to be added in to obtain a break-even sale value of $2,241 over the 24-month period.

Reducing the heifer raising period from 24 months to 23 months saves approximately $93 per heifer. For a 100-cow herd raising 40 replacements each year, this savings would equal $3,720 per year. Reducing the cull rate by 10% would further reduce heifers needed by four thus reducing heifer raising costs by another $7,892 ($2,148 -$175 calf value = $1,991 x 4). Since studies prove rotational grazing of dairy heifers reduces the cost of raising heifers, this budget has 1.25 ton of pasture forage per heifer included.

It typically costs $5-$6 per calf per day to raise a calf from birth to weaning. A 56-day birth-weaning period typically has an estimated $336 of expenses. If this birth-to-weaning cost is subtracted, along with the ownership cost and initial value of the heifer, the cost to raise from weaning-to-calving is $1,620 over 674 days or $2.40 per day for the average weight heifer. For custom heifer raisers who obtain the heifers after weaning without taking ownership, the previous thumb-rule would be a good starting point for negotiations but could vary depending which costs above feed costs (veterinary, medicine, breeding, and bedding) need to be recovered. Returns to labor and facilities are often very negotiable from one producer to the next depending on opportunity costs of each due to facility age or demand for use.

Source: Iowa State Extension

Sustainable dairy project finds ways to lower emissions, boost profits

Dairy cows on a farm near Roxbury, Wisconsin. UW–Madison researchers found that a combination of ideal cow genetics, improved feeding strategies and better manure management could allow dairy farms to cut emissions by a third to almost half, while producing more milk with less feed. Credit: Bryce Richter

A six-year-long, nationwide research project has concluded with solutions to help the dairy industry reduce greenhouse gas emissions while boosting profitability.

The $10 million Dairy Coordinated Agricultural Project, or Dairy CAP, set out in 2013 to assess the greenhouse gas contributions of the and help farmers meet the industry’s goal to cut emissions 25 percent by 2020.

The project’s recommendations center on efficiency. Researchers found that a combination of ideal cow genetics, improved feeding strategies and better manure management could allow to cut emissions by a third to almost half, while producing more milk with less feed.

That efficiency increases profits and ensures economic feasibility, a prime concern as farmers continue to endure years of low milk prices.

University of Wisconsin–Madison professors Matt Ruark and Molly Jahn led the Dairy CAP in collaboration with seven other universities; the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funded the project; and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, an industry research group. The team issued its final report earlier this year.

“I think there’s three big takeaways,” says Ruark, a professor of soil science. “One, efficiency in milk production leads to reduction in . Two, reductions in greenhouse gases can be achieved along with reductions in nutrient loss and increases in economic returns. And three, that dairy-based cropping systems can be adaptive to .”

Milk production primarily leads to greenhouse gas emissions through the methane produced in cows’ rumens, during manure storage and spreading, and in association with growing crops for feed.

Methane is an inevitable byproduct of ruminant digestion and it’s concerning because it’s 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide from manure and fertilizer is 10 times more potent than methane.

The Dairy CAP team tracked emissions at each of these stages. Experimental modifications were followed throughout their entire life cycles to identify how, for example, feed changes affected not just the production of milk and methane but manure emissions and the growth of crops fertilized with that manure.

Experiments were conducted at the UW–Madison Dairy Cattle Center, the Arlington Research Station, the USDA Dairy Forage Research Center in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, and at partner institutions. The experiments helped refine feed-to-manure computer models of emissions and economic returns for both 150- and 1,500-cow dairy farms.

The benefits from breeding cows for efficient milk production and using the best feed practices, manure handling and cropping systems added up quickly.

“If we implement these best management practices, we’re going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 36 percent” for a 1,500-cow dairy, says Ruark. “At the same time, we’re going to reduce nitrogen losses to groundwater by 41 percent. We’re going to reduce phosphorus losses to surface water by 52 percent. And we’re going to increase profit 20 percent.”

Similar practices could drop greenhouse gas emissions by 46 percent for 150-cow dairy farms, the researchers found.

One of the most effective ways to cut emissions is to use an anaerobic digester to convert the methane from stored manure into carbon dioxide, since it is less potent. While this is an expensive solution, the costs could be partly offset by generating and selling electricity from burning the methane or converting it to compressed natural gas to fuel cars and trucks.

Yet, changing practices to cut emissions could be a tough sell while farmers continue to struggle through a years-long slump in milk prices, says UW–Madison professor Mark Stephenson. An expert in dairy economics, Stephenson evaluated alternative manure management for the Dairy CAP. Low milk prices have helped push 800 Wisconsin dairy farms to close in the year since August 2018.

“One of the legs of sustainability is economic. Just because you want to reduce greenhouse gases doesn’t mean that you can afford to employ the best practices,” says Stephenson. “The efficiency gains are key to the adoption.”

That efficiency stems from improving the conversion of feed into milk through feeding practices and dairy cow genetics, which can reduce both costs and emissions. Researchers also assembled recommendations to help farmers adapt to a warming climate, such as ways to predict the ventilation needed in a barn to keep cows cool and productive.

The project’s findings have been distributed by the Division of Extension and on the Virtual Farm website hosted by Pennsylvania State University. The site demonstrates the typical operations of both large and small dairy farms and ways they can reduce their impact on the environment.

“The Dairy CAP was a really exciting opportunity to work cooperatively with about 100 scientists all over the country,” says Carolyn Betz, the project manager and author of the final report.

She recognizes that the challenges facing farmers today may make it hard to quickly adopt new management practices. But Betz sees opportunity as farms inevitably update their operations over time.

“When farmers are making changes anyway, we hope they’ll incorporate these solutions,” says Betz.


Rumen Microbes in Cows 101

You give a lot of thought to your cattle and their well-being. However, one thing you likely haven’t given much consideration to is rumen microbes. 

What are the microbes found in the rumen of cattle? Why should you care?

Rumen microbes include the protozoa, bacteria and fungi that live inside the rumen, one of the cow’s four stomach compartments. In just 1 milliliter of rumen fluid, you can find 25 billion bacteria,1 10 million protozoa2 and 10 thousand fungi.3 That’s more than a quadrillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) rumen microbes per cow.4

What do microbes in the rumen of cows do?

Rumen microbes work together to break down what the cow eats, turning the feed into energy and protein for the cow. They produce volatile fatty acids for additional energy, and the microbes themselves are an important protein source at the end of their life cycles.

What and how we feed cows affects which microbes grow, how feed is utilized and the nutrients available to the cow.

What can go wrong?

A change in rumen pH can wipe out the entire population of rumen microbes. Poor quality feed, abrupt diet changes or transportation stress can cause changes to rumen pH.

Bloat occurs when a cow is unable to rid herself of excess gas that is produced when microbes break down feed. Sub-acute rumen acidosis (SARA) can result when the population of bacteria is unbalanced.

If the pH of the rumen gets below 5.4 and stays there, the microbe population can produce lactic acid, which can build up and paralyze muscles, including the diaphragm. The animal could stop breathing and die because of an imbalance in the rumen microbe population.

What can I do to maintain rumen pH?

Rumen pH is never constant – it goes down after each meal and starts to rise when the animal chews its cud. The goal for rumen pH should be to stay at 5.9 or higher, and you can implement strategies to keep it there.

One strategy includes minimizing abrupt changes in the diet, which can make things to go awry quickly. Another strategy is to encourage cattle to snack eat to optimize rumen microbe populations.

Supplements with intake control properties help send metabolic signals to the cow, telling her it’s time to stop eating the supplement and go graze. After a day of small, snack-size supplement portions, cattle don’t return famished to eat a “super-size” portion – which can cause a broad shift in rumen pH.

The science of nutrition is having a balanced diet and providing nutrients to the cow to keep rumen microbes from going bad.

You aren’t feeding your cows, you are feeding the rumen microbes inside the cow. It’s your success or failure in feeding the rumen microbe population that impacts animal performance.


Is Breeding for A2 Milk for You?

A2 milk appears to be all the rage in the dairy industry today. In commercials on TV, online, at the grocery store and even on the farm, many people are talking about A2 milk.  There have been claims in the press that A2 milk is easier for humans to digest, improves health and lowers the risk for some diseases.  Many of these claims have not been proven by science.

What is A2 milk?  

Beta-casein, which makes up 30% of milk protein, exists in two forms: A1 and A2.  A2 milk only contains the A2 variant of beta-casein protein. Cows with the A2A2 gene only produce A2 milk.  Jersey, Guernsey, Normande and Brown Swiss breeds have a higher percentage of A2 genes than Holstein.

Testing your herd

Some farmers have transitioned to A2 herds, but this can take many generations, depending on the status of your herd. One way to determine the status of your herd is to genomic test your cows and heifers.  

If you are already genomic testing, A2 status can be determined for an extra $5 per animal. If you choose to transition to an A2 herd, you can determine which cows and heifers to keep or cull once you receive your genomic results.  

An A2A2 animal bred to another A2A2 animal will always have an A2 offspring. Cows that are A1A2 or A1A1 will not produce A2 milk.

Many A.I. studs have been marketing A2 bulls and more information can be found online or in published bull catalogs.  

Breeding for A2

The University of Minnesota’s research dairy herd at the West Central Research and Outreach Center at Morris uses Holstein, Jersey, Montbéliarde, Normande and Viking Red in their breeding program.  For the Normande breed, six bulls have daughters and the other 14 bulls are genomic only bulls.  As expected, the Holstein breed has the lowest percentage of A2A2 bulls in the Top 25 for Net Merit. The Jersey and Normande breeds have the highest percentage of A2A2 bulls.

Over 50% of the Holsteins in the herd are A2A2, which was not expected because we did not select for this trait.  The 1964 genetic line Holsteins had a lower percentage of animals that were A2A2 at 26%. The crossbred cows and heifers ranged from 36 to 50% of animals that were A2A2.

Table 1 gives the A2 status of the Top 25 Net Merit Proven bulls for Holstein and Jersey and the Top Proven Montbéliarde, Normande and Viking Red bulls available in the U.S.

During the past year, all cows and heifers were genotyped at the University of Minnesota’s research dairy herd in Morris.  The A2 status of the cows and heifers in the herd is shown in table 2.

A2 status of the top genetic bulls by breed

Breed Number of bulls % A2A2 % A1A2 % A1A1
Holstein 25 20 76 4
Jersey 25 72 28 0
Montbéliarde 17 41 47 12
Normande 20 85 15 0
Viking Red 24 54 42 4

A2 status of the University of Minnesota dairy herd in Morris, MN

Breed Number of cows % A2A2 % A1A2 % A1A1
Holstein 114 56 33 11
1964 Holstein 82 26 48 26
Holstein-sired crossbred 65 49 34 17
Jersey-sired crossbred 51 47 45 8
Montbéliarde-sired crossbred 98 36 47 17
Normande-sired crossbred 56 50 45 5
Viking Red-sired crossbred 136 45 40 15

Should you care about A2 milk?

Well, if the industry pays a premium for A2 milk, then you might consider selecting your herd for A2A2 animals and even start using A2A2 bulls.  However, remember that selecting from the top Net Merit bulls is essential to maximize farm profitability, so be sure to check out that list when placing an emphasis on A2 genetics.  

The future will tell if A2 milk is just a fad or if it will permanently have a seat at the table of the dairy industry.


Body Condition in Transition Cows

Excellent nutrition during lactation results in proper body condition in dry cows, which is a determining factor for a successful next lactation. Body condition is regulated by physiological and genetic mechanisms and can be easily influenced by environment (e.g. feeding levels, stocking densities). Good body condition in dry cows can only be achieved with correct management throughout the entire lactation.

The transition period is considered one of the most challenging times for dairy cows and extends from three weeks before parturition to three weeks after parturition (Drackley, 1999). One of the main challenges during this period is a physiological drop in intake coupled with an increase in the energy demands (mainly from the initiation of lactation), which causes a negative energy balance (Drackley, 1999). This predisposes dairy cows to mobilize fat tissue to make up for the lack of energy, which in turn decreases the body condition of these animals.

When cows are not properly managed (e.g., overstocking, inadequate nutrition, high incidence of diseases), the drop in dry matter intake is magnified and cows intensively mobilize fat tissue, subsequently developing ketosis, which is an important risk factor for metabolic and infectious diseases, as well as poor production and fertility (Benedet et al., 2019). Furthermore, due to intensive genetic selection toward higher milk yields in the last decades, the mobilization of adipose tissue has been greatly intensified (Cousillas et al. 2019).

Body condition score (BCS)

A system to subjectively measure cows’ body reserves was first designed in the 70s (Lowman eta al., 1973). Since then, multiple systems aiming to score the degree of apparent fat tissue accumulation were developed around the world. In the United States, a 5-point body condition score system that progresses in quarter points (0.25 points) has been widely adopted (Ferguson et al., 1994). You can learn more about the description and use of this scoring system through practical educational materials developed by Penn State Extension (Link: body condition in dairy cows).

Numerous studies suggest an optimum calving BCS between 3.0 and 3.5. A lower BCS than this may be associated with lower production and reproductive performance, while a higher BCS (>3.5) may reduce feed intake and increase risk for metabolic diseases (Lüttgenau et al., 2016). Furthermore, during the transition period animals should lose no more than 0.5 BCS points (Roche et al., 2009). A practical summary of the recommended BCS across the production cycle is provided in Figure 1.

Body condition and its relationship with health and performance

There is a general perception that thin cows may have more health issues; however, there is not much research supporting this hypothesis. Conversely, there are many studies suggesting that there is an association between over-conditioned cows and impaired immune response (Roche et al., 2009). This may be caused by the greater BCS loss post calving that is associated with over conditioned cows (Contreras and Sordillo, 2011).

It has been reported that fresh cows with BCS >3.5 have 30% greater odds of succumbing to milk fever than cows with BCS of 3.0 (Roche and Berry, 2006). This might be due to the decreased post-caving dry matter intake observed in cows with greater BCS (>3.5) and the higher demand of calcium for milk production (Roche et al., 2009). Additionally, cows with a BCS of >3.5 at calving are at a higher risk of developing ketosis compared to those with a BCS of 3.25 (Gillund et al., 2001).

Figure 1
. Body condition score recommendations for lactating and dry dairy cows.

There are only limited studies that have evaluated the relationship between body condition and infectious diseases such as mastitis or metritis. For instance, in a study involving almost 10,000 dairy cows, cows that lost body condition during the dry period had a greater incidence of uterine diseases and indigestion (Chebel et al., 2018). Similarly, losing body condition during the dry period was associated with a higher likelihood of antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory treatments (Chebel et al., 2018). Furthermore, there is evidence that indicates that rapid loss of condition during the transition period may reduce the chances of recovery from infectious diseases (Contreras and Sordillo, 2011).

In addition to the negative effects that body condition loss has on animal health, losing body condition before or after calving affects the fertility of dairy cows. For instance, cows that lost body condition during the dry period had a lower pregnancy rate after first and second postpartum inseminations (Chebel et al., 2018); while a lower proportion of cows that lost body condition during the first 60 days after calving became pregnant compared to cows that maintained or gained body condition (Carvalho et al., 2014).

Body condition profile

Generally, the body condition profile of a cow starts high and slowly declines to a lowest point at 40 to 100 days in milk (DIM). On the other hand, milk production starts low and peaks almost at the same time that body condition reaches its lowest point. However, soon after milk peaks are reached, cows slowly drop production and start replenishing body reserves. This is a physiological hormone-regulated process that cows experience as their bodies prepare for the next lactation.

Management has an effect on fat accumulation, whereas condition lost is generally regulated by genetics (Roche et al., 2009). It has been calculated that up to 60% of variations in BCS are due to differences in genetic makeup (Roche et al., 2009). This might explain why there are cows that start accumulating body reserves faster than others, which in many cases may end up as over conditioned and lower production cows that need to be dried off earlier.

In dry cows, the increase of body condition can get accentuated when an inappropriate diet is provided. It is a common practice to provide leftovers from the lactating cow ration to the dry cows or use the lactation ration as part of the dry cow ration. These lactating cow rations are designed to have high energy that this particular group of cows may not need. Unfortunately, these practices can accelerate the fat accumulation process during the dry period. It is recommended that cows do not lose or gain body condition during the dry period; otherwise, cows would be more likely to develop ketosis. Additionally, small herds that have only a few dry cows, tend to mix rations for more than one day. This practice may cause a low feed intake which can result in body condition losses in the cows.

Study Case

A field study case was conducted on a 60-cow dairy farm in Lancaster County, PA, last winter (2018) to evaluate body condition changes and its impacts on metabolic status in transition cows. Eleven dairy cows of different parities were enrolled at 35±3 days prior to calving and followed for 63±3 days after calving. Body condition scores were recorded weekly by the same person during the study period. Blood samples for assessment of ketones body concentration were collected at 0±3, 7±3, 14±3, 21±3, 28±3 and 35±3 days after calving. Concentration of ketone bodies (β-hydroxybutyrate; BHB concentrations) were measured using a handheld device (BHBCheck™, PortaCheck & PortaScience, Moorestown, NJ).

Figure 2.
Body condition score (solid blue line; average ± standard deviation) and ketone bodies concentrations (β-hydroxybutyrate; solid red line; average ± standard deviation) of peri-parturient dairy cows. * indicates statistical differences.

Results indicate that the average body condition of this group of cows at calving (± 3 days) was 3.82 (Figure 2). This condition rapidly dropped to 3.39 on day 7 ±3 after calving and to 3.18 at day 14±3 after calving (Figure 2). Body condition reached the lowest point at day 21±3 after calving with an average body condition of 3.05 (Figure 2). There were statistically significant differences in BCS between the pre-calving days -28, -21 and -14 and post-calving days (Figure 2).

Even though a drop in BCS is expected after calving, the study animals lost condition in a very rapid and high manner. The total BCS loss was 0.77 points after 3 weeks post-calving. As mentioned before, this rapid and large fat mobilization upsurges the risk of infectious and metabolic diseases and decreases cow performance and fertility, increasing the likelihood of early culling of those animals.

It is recommended that cows maintain body condition during the dry period; however, dry cows are often over conditioned or even worse, underconditioned. Adjusting body condition during the transition period is not recommended, and nutritional recommendations to achieve good body condition in different groups must be followed. It is crucial that producers identify, through regular monitoring of BCS, cows that are accumulating fat early during the lactation period and mange those animals nutritionally different to avoid over conditioning.

Figure 3.
Circulating concentration of ketone bodies (β-hydroxybutyrate; average ± standard deviation) in blood of post-partum dairy cows grouped by parity. Different letters within the same group of columns represent significant differences.

The average blood BHB concentration at calving was 1.04 mmol/L and, although there were numerical differences between post-partum days, these differences were not statistically significant (Figure 2). Regardless of post-partum days, second and first lactation cows had the highest BHB concentrations between 14±3 and 21±3 days after calving (Figure 3). This pattern in BHB concentration often reflects management issues, such as overstocking, that does not allow younger cows to compete with older animals in order to cope with the challenges of the transition period. In this group of cows, there were two subclinical ketosis cases (i.e., BHB > 1.2 mmol/L) and one cow died due to hypocalcemia complications.

Feeding nutritionally poor diets, overstocking, and commingling first lactation cows with older cows are management practices that can increase fat mobilization during the transition period. These issues are easy to identify and address in conventional farms if proper monitoring of BCS is performed on a weekly basis; however, addressing some of these issues may be costly (e.g., adding a new barn). Alternative solutions such as grouping cows for fewer days in milk and dividing pens with gates or fencing may be possible options in these situations.

This particular farm fed lactating cow ration to the dry cows, which could be one of the reasons that dry cows had a greater body condition score than recommended. Also, it was reported that the farm had issues with reproductive performance, which may be another important factor that could cause the observed over conditioning in dry cows. This is a vicious cycle since poor reproductive performance predisposes cows to have a long lactation with low milk production, leading to over conditioning; while over conditioned cows are at a higher risk of developing metabolic diseases during the transition period which impairs reproduction. A critical first step toward addressing this issue is to actively and accurately monitor and treat metabolic and infectious diseases in cows during the post-partum period and assess and polish the reproductive program to maximize reproductive performance. Implementation of other best management practices, such as preventing heat stress and avoiding overstocking of transition cows, may be beneficial for addressing this issue.


Can You Make Overcrowding Work for You?

What is overcrowding? Overcrowding may be too simple of a term to use when we talk about dairy housing. You really need to ask, “What is it I am limiting to the cows?” There can be many limiting elements to any given housing system, but just like a chain the housing system is only as good as its weakest link. Start with the basics; air, water, feed, and stalls.

Stalls are the often-used metric to measure overcrowding. It easy to see, measure and calculate cows per usable stall. However, it may not be the limiting factor! Many times, it is one of the other basics of animal housing.

Feed space is also easy to measure. The total usable feed space divided by the number of cows in the pen gives inches per cow. Now the evaluation of that is much harder. The old golden rule of thumb is 24 inches per cow to allow all cows to eat at the same time. However, many of todays cows are a little wider than 24 inches or maybe don’t like to push together that tightly at the bunk. What animals are in the pen? Are first lactation animals mixed with older cows? Do submissive animals have to compete with boss cows to get bunk space? Feed access is also important. Ideally feed should be available 21 plus hours per day and consistently pushed up, so it is within reach when a cow gets her chance at the bunk. So, the question is how many cows can eat at one time, and is feed there? Some freestall layouts, like the 3 row or 6 row, will have limited feed space even when the stall stocking density is held to 100%.

When we look at air, we really are evaluating ventilation. The goal of any ventilation system is to maintain excellent air quality within the shelter by controlling moisture, temperature, gas and pollutant levels. Air quality inside the shelter should be equal to or better than air quality outside the shelter. While year-round ventilation is needed, summertime is when cows are most often stressed by poor ventilation with inadequate heat abatement. Natural ventilation, the most often used ventilation in freestall housing, is driven during the summer primarily by outside wind speeds and the opening(s) into the shelter. While as designers and managers of the housing system we don’t have any control over the outside wind speed, the size of the openings is within your control. As freestall housing has evolved over the years shelters have become much higher and much more open on the sidewalls in an effort to provide better natural ventilation during summer months. A key factor to summer ventilation is square feet of opening per cow. If the windward sidewall and/or endwall opening is 11 square feet plus per animal within the shelter, summertime ventilation is much better. If that opening is less than 8 to 9 square feet, ventilation is probably going to be compromised.

What about water. A couple of things to remember about water are; first it is the second most important thing you need for life, right after oxygen, second milk is 87% water, and third pound for pound cows drink twice as much water as they eat in TMR. So, water availability is an important factor when evaluating dairy housing. The easiest factor to evaluate is inches of water space per cow. Simply add up the accessible linear water space in the pen and divide by the number of animals in that pen. The goal is to be at 3inches plus per animal in lactating groups. If the waterer space is too low, can extra waterers be added to the pen, or larger waterers be installed in place of smaller ones? The harder factor to evaluated is flow rate of water to the watering stations. To get a handle on that you need to make some observations of the waterers during peak demand times such as right after cows return from milking or during parlor cleanup time. Are any of the waterers going dry, because the demand for water is out pacing the piping’s ability to deliver it to the waterer?

Other factors also come into play when pens are overstocked. As animal numbers within a given pen are increased animals have less open space to move from feed, to water, to rest, and socialize. Wider feed alleys and freestall alleys in newer housing is promoted for just this reason. Also, as numbers within the pen increase the time away from the pen during milking may increase if no changes are made to how groups are moved to and from the parlor. Ideally time away for the pen should be no more than 3 hours per day. Changes may be needed to increase parlor throughput or decrease the number of animals moved to the parlor at one time to optimized time cows have access to the resources within the shelter.

Limiting resources affects animal behavior such as feeding and resting time and aggression, and also the animal environment such as air quality, cleanliness and heat stress. In short there is no easy answer to the question “Can You Make Overcrowding Work for You?”. It really is dependent for how well you can manage and modify your given facilities to provide for the cows needs without limiting needed resources.


Are Cows Telling You Something About Your Compost-bedded Pack Barn Management?

Figure 1.

Compost-bedded pack barns have become a popular system for housing dairy cattle. These barns consist of an open area without stalls that allows free movement of the cows around the barn, therefore providing cow comfort. To ensure cow comfort, different bedding materials can be used in compost- bedded pack barns. The most common bedding materials are wood shavings or sawdust, although wheat or rye straw can also be used. For the latter, however, bedding management can become more challenging.

Given that manure from the cows is mixed with the bedding material, the compostbedded pack barn system is considered a “living system” with a heavy load of environmental pathogens that may increase the incidence of mastitis. To minimize the incidence of mastitis, it is critical to ensure the bedding material is as dry as possible. This is accomplished through aeration of the bedding material, which can be done using a rototiller, a vertical plow or chisel, or any other tool combining these actions. Through the frequent and proper aeration, heat production from microbial activity will be maximized and water will evaporate more easily. This will result in much cleaner cows.

Even though one of the goals of the system is to ensure cow comfort, it has been quite common for me to observe unusual behavior when visiting farms with compost-bedded pack barns. This unusual behavior typically includes standing cows in the feeding alleys (despite the presence of feed) or cows standing in front of the compost-bedded area.

My interpretation of this unusual behavior is that cows are telling us something about the management of the bedding material. If cows avoid walking and laying down on the bedding, then it is fair to assume there may be something wrong with the bedding. My best recommendation is for one to walk around the barn and experience the footing. When you do so, are you walking on an irregular surface full of holes and hard bumps? (Figure 1.) Are you noticing tracks of tractor wheels on the ground? Are you stepping on saturated spots? Most importantly, are you uneasy when walking around your compost-bedded pack barn? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then very likely you are having trouble managing your compost-bedded pack barn. And if you are hesitant to walk around, then the cows might be as well.

Finding a problem is always easier than finding solutions. So, what should managers do after finding cows are not comfortable in the compost-bedded pack barn? Even though this is extremely hard (but not impossible) to accomplish, sometimes the best answer is to start all over from scratch. This may mean emptying the barn and placing fresh bedding material. After this, maintaining good aeration will become critical to maintain a dry, warm, and fluffy bedding that ensures a comfortable.

Source: May Virginia Dairy Pipeline, 

Young dairy farmers continue Marin-Sonoma ranching tradition, stick to organic milk

Louis Silva says he doesn’t need Saturdays and Sundays off. He loves taking care of the 125 dairy cows he and his wife, Marissa Silva, keep on her family’s ranch in the Marin County town of Tomales. It’s what he’s wanted to do since he was little, when his dad and uncle and grandfather had a dairy operation in Elk Grove (Sacramento County). It’s what Marissa has wanted too, even if it means that Louis, 34, now works 16-hour days while she cares for their two young children.

“We both love it, and we both understand that that’s the nature of the business,” says Marissa Silva, 31. “It’s good that we found each other, because not a lot of people understand that or would want to put up with it.”

Young dairy farmers like the Silvas are not the norm in the aging U.S. farm workforce, where the average age of farm operators is 57.5, according to the latest U.S. Census of Agriculture. The relentless demands of farm life are one of the main reasons most young adults don’t follow their parents into farming. Yet the Silvas’ dairy is among three in Marin run by farmers in their 20s and 30s who have recently signed on as suppliers to Straus Family Creamery in Petaluma, which uses their organic milk in its bottled milk, cream, yogurt, sour cream, butter and ice cream.

Dairy farming is a turbulent business, subject to fluctuating prices and oversupply. The number of dairy farms in the country dropped by 40% from 2002 to 2017, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture, meaning the country’s milk production became consolidated within larger farms. Yet over the same period, the number of farms in Sonoma and Marin dipped only slightly, from 159 to 156, USDA records show.

Albert Straus, founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery, attributes Marin and Sonoma dairies’ staying power to the fact that approximately 85% of them sell organic milk, which fetches higher prices than conventional varieties.

Conventional dairies, on the other hand, have a tougher road in a fluctuating market, he says. “When the price goes down, you try to produce more milk to balance your income, even though it might be costing you more,” Straus says. “There’s no way to survive.”

Straus’ creamery sets prices and volume for its dairy farmers on a quarterly basis, when it holds meetings with suppliers to discuss sales and other numbers.

“They have such a good grasp on monitoring supply and demand,” Marissa Silva says. “He’s able to just give us a fair price, and we feel really confident we’re going to continue to get a fair price.”

Even though it has grown by double digits for many years, organic dairy accounted for only 5% of all U.S. milk product sales in 2016, with production concentrated in California, home of the most certified organic cows in the country, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. Organic dairy, and dairy in general, faces increased competition from plant-based milk substitutes, which grew in sales by 20% from 2017 to 2018, according to Nielsen data compiled for the Plant Based Foods Association.

Yet Straus also continues to grow, with a dozen total suppliers in Marin and Sonoma counties. It signed on the Silvas in April, and the other new young farmers providing milk to the creamery are siblings William Nunes and Lianne Nunes-Taverna at their family’s 100-year old ranch in Point Reyes National Seashore, and brothers Jayson and Jeremy Spaletta of JJ’s Family Dairy near Petaluma.

The Silvas are contracted to supply about 450 gallons of milk a day to Straus, which sends a truck down their gravel road every two days. They also sell a smaller amount to Daily Driver, the San Francisco creamery and bagel bakery. Together, it’s a relatively small amount compared with the 16,000 to 17,000 gallons Straus goes through daily.

The couple lease 220 acres from Marissa’s father, Gary Thornton, who raises beef cattle on the rest of the 1,013-acre property. It’s located in a gently sloping valley where their ancestors founded a dairy in 1852. The Silvas’ caramel-brown Jersey cows, which produce a milk high in fat, cluster on the expanse of grassland bleached white-blond in late summer.

Louis Silva wakes up every morning at 4 to get on his all-terrain vehicle and round up the cows into the milking barn, where a part-time employee milks them twice a day. After stopping for breakfast and maybe a quick nap, he makes the rounds feeding the various groups of cattle depending on their age and reproductive cycle.

Between feedings, he cleans the milk tank and assists the breeder, who comes every few days to artificially inseminate the cows. He takes a break midday to spend time with the family or drive into Petaluma for errands. He starts the cycle again around 3 p.m., rounding up the cows for milking and feeding, usually finishing up by 8 p.m.

Supplying for Straus means following sustainability measures like rotating pasture. Louis Silva spends less time feeding the cows from February through June, when there’s more grass for them to eat.

“When they’re on grass is my vacation time,” said Silva, whose last day off was the day the couple’s son, Reed, was born, about four months ago.

“I’ll be here unless I’m dead or in the hospital,” he says, but “I wouldn’t change it.”


Exploring the Best Combinations of Genomics, Semen Type, and Culling in Dairy Cattle

Commercially affordable sexed semen (since 2006) and genomic testing (since 2009) have added to the options that dairy farmers should consider when looking to increase profitability. These technologies, combined with good overall management, and older technologies such as embryo transfer or beef semen, lead to an expanded number of choices regarding genetic selection, breeding and culling. Among the options to consider are:

  1. which animals to breed  with sexed semen,
  2. which dairy calves to raise as herd replacements,
  3. which cows to cull,
  4. possible use of beef semen to create crossbred calves, and
  5. whether to use genomic testing.

The best combination of these practices is often not obvious. This article lays out some of the key principles behind finding these best combinations and discuss results of some combinations that lead to greater profitability.

Please check this link first if you are interested in organic or specialty dairy production.

Genetics and Genomic Testing 101

Genomic testing provides more reliable estimates of the genetic merit of animals than estimates that are only based on the animal’s relatives, and testing can be performed at a young age. The parent averages or predicted transmitting abilities (PTA) of the various traits on the genomic test report are the genetic merits that the animal is expected (predicted) to transmit to its offspring (the next generation). The expected genetic merit of the animal itself is the estimated breeding value (EBV), which is PTA x 2 = EBV. The EBV of Lifetime Net Merit (NM$) differences between animals provide direct estimates of the differences in profit when exploring the economics of genomic testing and breeding decisions. Differences in PTA of NM$ only show half of the profit differences between animals. For example, if two animals have PTA of NM$ of +$300 and +$400, then the difference in lifetime profit is expected to be $200. PTA are expected values of genetic merit but the true genetic merit can be quite different. Genomic testing provides PTA that are on average more similar to the true genetic merit of animals.

How to Evaluate Breeding Schemes

At the University of Florida, we put together a herd budget model to evaluate combinations of genomic usages, semen type, and culling rates given herd specific data and prices. The bottom line is to focus on profit per milking cow per year. In this model, dairy calves kept as replacements were valued based on their genetic merit. This genetic merit depends on the genetic merit of the dams and sires of the calves and on the sale value of the surplus heifer calves. A greater surplus of dairy calves can be created with sexed semen, but this is at a higher cost than using conventional semen and at lower conception rates. Sexed, conventional, and beef semen can be applied to different groups of cattle. Results of some user-defined and optimal breeding schemes are shown in this article.

The cost of genomic testing was set at $50 per tested calf, which included the extra labor cost for obtaining and sending the sample. All born alive dairy calves were tested if genomic testing was applied. Culled cows were sold at approximately half the cost of raising heifers. Dairy bull calves and surplus dairy heifer calves were sold a one month after birth at a profit of $150 after their expenses. The initial premium for a crossbred calf was $75 over the price of a dairy bull calf. Many other inputs that affect the outcomes are not shown here but certainly affect the outcomes from the model. The cow cull rate was fixed at 35% and did not vary with breeding scheme.

Optimal Breeding Schemes

The best breeding scheme generates the greatest profitability. This means finding the optimal combinations of semen type (sexed, conventional, or beef) per service number and per parity. The herd budget model can search for these best breeding schemes. A constraint is that at least enough dairy heifer calves must be born to replace culled cows.

Scheme #1: Changing premium for crossbred calves

figure 1

Figure 1. User-defined and optimal breeding schemes and profitability depending on the premiums paid for crossbred calves and the use of genomic testing or traditional genetic reliabilities. The top part has a user-defined breeding scheme where the top 60% of heifers were bred with sexed semen (se). The bottom 50% of second parity and older cows were bred with beef semen (be). All other breedings in heifers and cows were with conventional semen (co). In the bottom part, no conventional semen is used although this was an option. Profit is expressed as per milking cow per year.

Figure 1 shows results from an analysis where the premium for crossbred calves was set at +$75, +$150 and +$225 over the sale price of purebred dairy bull calves. The top part has a user-defined breeding scheme where the top 60% of heifers were bred with sexed semen (se). The bottom 50% of second parity and older cows were bred with beef semen (be). All other breedings in heifers and cows were with conventional semen (co). This scheme resulted in the occurrence of just enough dairy heifer calves to replace culled cows, but there was no surplus.

Profit per milking cow per year increased with a greater premium for crossbred calves as expected. Genomic testing resulted in a loss of $5 per milking cow per year for all three example premiums. Genomic testing results were used to identify the top 60% heifers to breed with sexed semen, and the bottom 50% of older cows to breed with beef semen, but not for calf selection.

The bottom part of Figure 1 shows results for more profitable breeding schemes. The schemes depended on the premium of crossbred calves and use of more sexed semen. Conventional semen was not used at all. The schemes also depended a little on whether genomic testing was used.. Profit per milking cow was increased by $13 to $81 compared to the user-defined scheme in the top part of Figure 1. The better breeding schemes were clearly more profitable than a reasonable user-defined breeding scheme. Genomic testing now added additional value compared to relying on traditional genetic reliabilities, but the value decreased with the size of the premium for the crossbred calves.

Scheme #2:  Effects of Pregnancy rates

Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 2. User-defined and optimal breeding schemes and profitability depending on pregnancy rates and the use of genomic testing or traditional genetic reliabilities. The top part has a user-defined breeding scheme where the top 50% of heifers were bred with sexed semen (se). All other breedings in heifers and cows were with conventional semen (co). Beef semen (be) was not allowed to be used. Profit is expressed per milking cow per year.

Figure 2 shows the effect of greater pregnancy rates (≈14%, ≈20%, and ≈28%) on the profitability and optimal breeding schemes. The set-up was the same as in Figure 1. The user-defined breeding scheme was set with 50% sexed semen in the top heifers and conventional semen in all other animals. The conception rate of sexed semen was assumed to be 80% of the conception rate of conventional semen. Therefore, the pregnancy rates were changed about a percentage point when more or less sexed semen was used.

The user-defined schemes resulted in increases profitability with greater pregnancy rates, as might be expected. Genomic testing was not profitable when pregnancy rate was ≈14% but generated $38 more profit per milking cow per year when pregnancy rate was ≈28%. At the low pregnancy rate, no surplus calves were available so genomic testing results were only used to select the top 50% of heifers. At the high pregnancy rate, genomic testing was used to select the surplus calves (26% surplus when pregnancy rate was ≈28%) and again to identify the top heifers to breed with sexed semen. There was clearly a strong interaction between the value of genomic testing and cow pregnancy rate in the herd.

The bottom part of Figure 2 shows again increases in profitability over the user-defined scheme in the same situation.  Genomic testing resulted in the use of more sexed semen. Genomic testing was profitable even at the lowest pregnancy rate in combination with the use of more sexed semen, which resulted in a small surplus of dairy calves. At the highest pregnancy rate, genomic testing resulted in a $57 increase in profit per milking cow per year compared to no genomic testing.

The optimal breeding schemes were limited to the use of only sexed and conventional semen in Figure 2. Beef semen was not allowed to be used to help with a better comparison with the user-defined scheme. This means that even better breeding schemes are possible when all three breeding types are available at these varying levels of pregnancy rates.

Several pieces of the puzzle were not included in the results shown above. One value of genomic testing is the ability to correct parent misidentification errors. The value of correcting misidentification errors is generally too low by itself to warrant genomic testing, except perhaps to identify elite breeding stock. The analyses above also assumed a fixed annual cull rate of 35% to avoid the complicated effects of more or less voluntary culling. Genetic progress in sires is double today from what it was 5 years ago, meaning that heifers are genetically better than cows and incrementally more so than in the recent past. Few studies have investigated the direct effects of genetic improvement on optimal cull rates. Data from these studies allow us to conclude that the economic optimal cull rates continue to depend more on cow depreciation than on accelerated genetic improvement in heifers, but culling should be increased by a few percentage units with improvement in the genetic merit of heifer calves born on the farm.

Take Home Messages

  • Genomic testing of females on the farm can be profitable, depending on the fraction of surplus heifers available and smart breeding decisions regarding the use of sexed and beef semen.
  • Better reproduction makes innovative breeding schemes more profitable.
  • The opportunity cost of not using innovating breeding schemes is greater than a decade ago.
  • Seek professional help to discover and implement an innovative breeding scheme that combines components of genomics, various semen types, and voluntary culling while protecting the farm’s risk.


Cows Go Wireless on the Dairy Farm of the Future

On the dairy farm of the future, the cows are going wireless.

The bovine residents of a British agricultural technology research center are helping to test next-generation mobile technology aimed at helping make dairy farming more efficient.

The herd’s 180 cows are fitted with wireless monitoring collars that work like fitness trackers, recording their movements and eating habits, and sending data to the cloud using fifth generation, or 5G, mobile network signals.

From there, an algorithm analyzes the information, notifying farmers and veterinarians through a smartphone app if there are any fluctuations that could indicate an illness or other health condition that needs more attention.

The goal is to boost productivity and save manpower by allowing farmers to keep an eye on their herds remotely.

“Having the data available to your phones, to mobile devices, just makes it that much more accessible, much quicker,” explains Mark Gough, a herdsman at the experimental farm run by the British-government-backed Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre.

“You can be at one end of the building, you get an alert, it’s telling you exactly which cow it is, what the problem potentially is, and it’s an instant assessment,” said Gough, pulling out his iPhone to check on cow No. 866.

The app showed a spike in activity that indicated the cow went into labor and calved overnight, without any complications, he said.

Farms are no stranger to technology, with robotic milking systems and self-steering tractors now in common use. The next wave of innovation could come from 5G technology, which telecom experts say will bring ultrafast download speeds and reduced signal lag that promise to transform industries.

New 5G networks will let many more devices connect to the internet, making them better suited than existing 4G networks for handling lots of users or sensors and heavy data traffic.

Wireless carriers in Europe and elsewhere have just begun launching 5G service this year in a global rollout expected to take up to a decade, and comes amid a geopolitical battle between the U.S. and China over concerns about the security of data on the new networks.

The center’s experimental farm in Somerset, southwest England, has built a 5G network to send data from the collar sensors to the cloud, bypassing the farm’s slow broadband connection — a common problem for rural internet users. The trial is part of a national project, partly funded by the U.K. government.

By sending the cows’ data to the cloud, farmers can use an app to monitor each cow, saving the time and effort of checking on them individually. The data can also be sent to other people such as veterinarians, who can monitor the state of the herd’s health in real time, said Duncan Forbes, project manager at the experimental farm.

Sensors and big data sets are also being used to monitor pigs, sheep, beef cattle, poultry and even fish. In a separate Agri-EPI project dubbed Tail Tech, data algorithms can interpret the mood of pigs by the angle of their tails using a camera over the pen.

For the milk cows at the English farm in Somerset, the connected collars are just one of a number of technologies increasing productivity.

When the cows decide they’re ready to be milked, a collar transponder identifies them when they enter the robotic milking pen and keeps a digital tally of their milk contribution.

At feeding time, an automated feeder glides overhead on ceiling-mounted rails, dropping precise amounts of grass into a feeding trough.

Forbes says the new technology has boosted performance at the farm, which produces as much as 5,000 liters of milk daily that’s sold to a nearby cheesemaker.


Methane Emissions From Dairy Cattle

There are a large number of options that can potentially be used to mitigate methane emissions from dairy cattle. The basic result of using these approaches is an improvement in the efficiency of nutrient use in the animal and increased productivity. Methane emissions per unit of milk produced will decrease as a result of these changes. An important component is continuing to improve forage quality. Higher quality forages have higher digestibility in the cow and less methane emissions than lower quality forages.

A second approach is to better balance the diet protein and carbohydrate fractions to improve the efficiency of both rumen fermentation and feed nutrient use. Methane emissions will be reduced as a result. There are also opportunities to provide specific feed additives to decrease methane emissions from the cow. Their use is currently limited due to lack of data to demonstrate their efficacy in lactating dairy cows. Ionophores are one feed additive that does have data indicating improved feed efficiency and decreased methane emissions.

Applicability and Mitigating Mechanism

Potential mitigation options include:

  • Improved forage quality
  • Rations balanced to improve efficiency of rumen fermentation
  • Use of ionophores in rations


  • Many options will require some financial investment
  • Management changes may be needed
  • Requires a systems approach
  • Feed additives that could be helpful in reducing methane emissions have not been tested in animal trials
  • Cost to benefit ratio cannot be defined for many practices that could be use


The cost of practices that could be implemented on a dairy farm to reduce methane emissions will be highly farm specific. Each farm will need to evaluate the available mitigation options to determine the best choices for their situation. The costs for implementation will also vary between farms due to differences in their current cost structures. The initial benefits to the farm will be improved efficiency of animal production, efficiency of nutrient use and improved profitability.

Source: Cornell

Rumen Development in the Dairy Calf

The dairy calf begins its life as a simple stomached animal, yet spends most of its life as a ruminant whose digestion depends largely on fermentation. The change from one digestive method to another is a process that is called rumen development. A dairy cow has a four-part stomach system consisting of the reticulum, rumen, omasum, and abomasum. The first two compartments make up one large fermentation vat, the third is an unusual looking organ that absorbs water and minerals from digesta leaving the rumen, and the fourth is the true stomach that functions like the stomach of monogastrics (including pigs and people). All four of these stomach compartments are present at birth; however, only the abomasum is fully developed and functional. The other compartments, most notably the reticulum and rumen, are essentially undeveloped in the neonate. The reticulum and rumen are sterile at birth, and it is often several weeks before a constant bacterial population is established that resembles the bacterial population of an adult ruminant. 

Feeding Calves

When we think of feeding calves, the first thing that comes to mind is probably milk or milk replacer. Liquid feeds are the primary nutrient source for calves in the first weeks of life, and they bypass the reticulum and rumen via closure of the esophageal groove. The formation of the esophageal groove sends liquid feeds directly into the stomach compartment that will digest them best—the omasum followed quickly by the abomasum. When we offer nutrient-dense liquid feeds, they provide the needed nutrients for maintenance and growth of young calves. However, milk and milk replacer do not allow for much growth or any maturation of the reticulum and rumen as they are being bypassed. Feed, most notably dry feed, has to remain in the rumen in order to begin the rumen development process. Dry feed, such as calf starter (grain mixtures) or forage, will not pass through the esophageal groove, and thus flows from the esophagus into the reticulo-rumen where digestion begins.

How a Rumen Develops

The bacteria that colonize the rumen are obtained from the environment, other animals that the calf comes into contact with, and bacteria found on feeds. Milk often is one of the first sources of rumen bacteria.

When dry feed enters the rumen, it absorbs water that the calf has consumed. That, along with the anaerobic (absence of oxygen) environment of the rumen, provides a perfect place for bacteria to grow. As these bacteria grow and metabolize nutrients, they produce volatile fatty acids. The primary volatile fatty acids produced in the rumen are acetic, propionic, and butyric acids. This acid production lowers the pH of the rumen and establishes an even better environment for bacteria to continue their growth, especially for bacteria that digest starch and produce propionic and butyric acids. Calf starter feeds contain carbohydrates in the form of starch which is fermented by bacteria that produce propionic and butyric acids. When forages are digested, due to the different species of bacteria that digest fiber, the primary end product is acetic acid.

Acetic and propionic acids are absorbed through the rumen wall and are taken up by the blood and pass through the liver to be made into metabolites that can be used for energy sources by the calf. However, butyric acid is not absorbed through the rumen wall, and the cells of the rumen wall have an alternative metabolic process that allows butyric acid to be converted into an energy source for use by the cells in the rumen wall. Thus, butyric acid produced in the rumen primarily provides energy for growth of the rumen wall. Acetic and propionic acids provide energy for the entire calf, part of which is shared to the rumen wall, but overall compared to butyric acid, much less acetic and propionic acids are used to fuel rumen development.

Develop the Rumen before Weaning Calves

Research has shown that once a significant amount of starter or grain is consumed by the calf each day (approximately 0.25 to 0.4 lb per day), it takes about 3 weeks to then develop the rumen to the point that this digestive organ by itself has an established microbial population and enough absorptive capacity to allow the calf to continue normal growth once milk or milk replacer is stopped (weaning). If liquid feeds are removed before rumen development has occurred, the calf will not grow and may even lose body weight for 1 to 3 weeks until the time that the rumen is developed.

Therefore, digestion of starch sources is a major component of rumen development, and calf raisers should provide feeding, housing, and management practices that encourage calf starter intake and thus rumen development. Many different studies in countries throughout the world have confirmed the feeding and management practices that inhibit calf starter intake. Classically, a poor housing environment that creates sick calves will reduce appetite and intake. Overfeeding milk or milk replacer (> 14% of body weight per day) reduces calves’ appetite for dry grain. Unpalatable, dusty, or moldy starters will also reduce calf intake. Free choice water is needed, as well as clean buckets for feeding both water and grain. Any time you notice 2-week-old calves that are not eating grain, stop and determine why they are not eating it. If they are not eating a half pound a day by 4 weeks of age, again, look for the cause.

Body weight gains from calf starter are always going to be cheaper gains than from milk, but both are needed in the young calf. Early weaning programs (35 days or less) require great attention to starter intake as the rumen will not be fully developed by the time milk feeding is reduced; however, with good management, these programs can be very successful. If high levels of milk are fed which restricts grain intake, it may still take 3 additional weeks of high grain intakes for rumen development to occur even if weaned at 8 to 10 weeks of age. 

Any time we evaluate the cost of feeding and maintaining a dairy replacement animal, the preweaned calf is always found to be the most expensive per day (primarily labor and feed), while the first group after weaning is the very least expensive replacement animal. Thus, age at weaning and heifer economics go hand in hand. Obviously, weaning at a reasonable age is only part of the equation, as we want calves to continue to grow at all stages. Thus, rumen development is the key. 

Calves are born with undeveloped rumens, yet they will spend the vast majority of their lives as ruminants. Our job is to allow calves to make the transition easily and in a timely manner so that they grow to be cost-effective forage consumers that are efficient and productive animals.


Dairy Improvement Services: Which ones are worth investing in?

As the saying goes … ‘Nothing is as constant as change’.  Today in the dairy farming industry, the world over, owners and managers face a change in the data services they use, which data pieces are important to them and who has access to their data. This article will focus on factors milk production focused farms need to assess when it comes to the use of dairy cattle improvement programs and services.

Herds of The Future

Currently, the average US dairy herd size is 250+ milking cows (in 37,000 herds) and 90+ in Canada (in 10,500 herds). Those averages have been increasing and will increase faster as labor availability diminishes, technology is applied, and margins per cow remain narrow.

Recent USDA analysis has shown that in the US 2000+ cow herds have a 20% lower daily cost per cow as compared to herds with 100-200 cows – “on a per hundredweight basis, large farms face 12% lower feed costs, 20% lower operating costs, and 45% lower allocated overhead than smaller operations” (Ben Laine, dairy analyst for Rabobank). Twenty per cent savings is huge – so we can expect to see larger herds. Presently 55% of US milking cows are in herds of 1000+ cows.

Double the current average herd size may not be the answer. The USDA study also shows only 4-5% savings in daily cow cost for 500 cow herds compared to 100-200 cow herds.

Canadian herds are currently considering how they address the loss of market share to foreign milk products, the payback on purchasing technology and the size of quota holding for their operation.

Milk producers in both the US and Canada need data on which to base their planning and management.

It’s a Changed Business Model

Only milk with unique content (A2A2, BB … etc.) will demand a significantly higher future farm gate price.

For most farms, the market for surplus heifers and cows no longer exists.  A profit centre, often 10% but up to 50% of farm revenue, has disappeared.

With sexed semen, only the top 60% of females need to be bred dairy to produce herd replacements. The remaining animals including low fertility animals can be breed to beef sires.

Dairy farms will sell both milk and meat. The meat revenue will be from beef-dairy cross animals born on the farm.

Dairy farm managers will need to focus on ways to increase revenue while keeping costs under control.

In short, generalization is gone, and specialization and focus must be practiced – in order to have a positive bottom line.

Future On-Farm Focus

These three areas of dairy farming will be added to milk producer planning in the future:

  • Producing to consumer demands/needs.
  • Efficiencies will supplant production, type, cattle shows and high records.
  • A total business approach must be considered – from the soil to the consumers’ tables.

Improvement Services for Milk Producers to Invest In

The following are areas for milk producers to consider when enrolling or investing in improvement services in the future:

  • Virtual Management Service will be Very Important

All farms, no matter the size or country, will need an animal, herd and farm information to plan, manage, feed and breed their operations. Progressive farms will not stop animal and herd recording. They need the data. They may, however, discontinue traditional DHI and herdbook recording and go to global cloud-based data systems that are linked to their on-farm electronic data capture systems.

  • Genotyping Service will be Very Important

Herd replacements females need to be genotyped. To identify: 1. Accurate parentage; 2. Animals that can be culled and not raised based on production, longevity, functionality; reproductive fitness and resistance to disease genetic results; 3. Desired protein (beta and kappa caseins) genotypes, as well as other ingredients in milk; and 4. For optimal mating decisions.

  • Private vs Cooperative Service will not matter

Traditional animal and herd recording systems have been provided by cooperative type organizations. However, that is changing. Private organisations are now providing parentage verification, data capture, new trait evaluations plus indexing and testing for a host of other things with more services promised.  So, where once it was the domain of cooperatives to provided trusted information, it now comes down to the trust that producers put in the information provided by whomever.

  • Animal Traceability Service will, in time, be Important

Being able to guarantee product by having an effective and accurate animal traceability system in place exists in many countries. It will come to North America. There are three components to animal traceability: premise identification; electronic identification; and tracking of animal movement. In most areas, North America has the first two, however not the third one. All livestock owners will require a service whereby an animal’s location and movement can be known. Farm biosecurity, including records, will also be a necessity.

  • Animal Purity will not be necessary

Animal purity in milk production herds will not add revenue for the milk shipped or reduce on-farm costs. Milk producers need to breed for the gene make-up in their animals, not purity.

  • Third-Party Verification will not be necessary

Milk producers need to be focused on their farm and its profitability but do not require third-party verification of the data on their farms.

The Future for Improvement Services

Milk production focused farms will decide on a cost: benefit basis which improvement services or programs they will use. Not all the current services will survive either entirely or in their current format.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Herds will be fewer and larger. Consumers, efficiencies and a total farm approach will need to be added to what is important in animal, herd and farm improvement services.

The future scope, options and services in improvement programs offered to milk producers will need to be different from the past or present services. Milk producers will participate according to their plans and needs.




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Benefits of cross-breeding dairy and is it right for you?

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have been comparing the performance of three-way-cross cows (made up of Viking Red, Montbeliarde and Holstein) to Holsteins.

It differs from a similar study completed last year because it is the first to be conducted on commercial herds within the US.

Farmers Weekly was invited to a study tour in The Netherlands where the results where revealed and where an American dairy producer spoke about the benefits of cross-breeding. 

The research

Three-way-cross dairy cows are more profitable than pure Holsteins, a 10-year study in the United States has concluded.

The trial, which was undertaken by researchers at the University of Minnesota across seven high-production herds in the state, is the first cross-breeding study to be conducted on commercial herds within the US.

It found two-way crosses produced the highest profits – 13% higher than pure bred Holsteins on average – while profits delivered by three-way crosses were 9% higher.

This was not down to higher daily production, with little difference seen in fat and protein production among the breeds.

Instead it was a cumulative effect stemming from improved longevity and therefore greater lifetime production, better fertility, fewer health treatments and higher calf and cull values.

The study found:

  • Conception rates across three lactations averaged 33% for Holsteins compared with 39% for two-way crosses and 46% for three-way crosses.
  • Two-way crosses averaged 12 fewer days open in comparison with Holsteins while three-way crosses averaged nearly 17 fewer days open across three lactations.
  • Health treatments for both three-way and two-way breeds were £13-14 less compared with Holsteins (which averaged £58 over three lactations).
  • The survival of two-way and three-way crosses was higher. Overall two-way crosses survived for an extra 158 days and three-way crosses lived for 147 days longer than Holsteins.
  • Stillbirths among cross-bred cows were 2% lower, meaning farmers had more calves to sell.

Presenting the findings at the ProCross Summit in The Netherlands earlier this month, Professor Les Hansen, who led the research alongside Dr Amy Hazel and Professor Bradley Heins, said this resulted in greater profitability (see table).

Daily profit differences £/cow

  Holstein 2-breed (VRxHO) 2-breed


Holstein 3-breed


3 -breed


Number of cows 640 376 358 250 109 117
Production 11.79 11.63 12.04 12.01 11.65 12.09
Calf value 0.33 0.38 0.39 0.34 0.40 0.38
Cull value 0.55 0.58 0.53 0.57 0.56 0.60
Total income 12.67 12.60 12.96 12.92 12.61 13.07
Total feed 4.58 4.51 4.61 4.62 4.51 4.59
Lactation overhead 3.33 3.29 3.31 3.34 3.31 3.33
Replacement cost 1.27 1.16 1.05 1.27 1.07 1.15
Health treatment 0.19 0.13 0.14 0.20 0.14 0.13
Breeding 0.15 0.14 0.14 0.15 0.14 0.14
Total expense 9.70 9.44 9.41 9.77 9.36 9.51
Daily profit


2.97 3.16 3.55 3.15 3.25 3.56
Percentage difference   6% 19%   4% 13%
Note: Figures have been converted from USD to GBP at 1USD to 0.80GBP and decimals have been rounded up

Prof Hansen added: “The improved performance of the cross-bred cattle resulted from a combination of hybrid vigour which gives the out-crossed animal better performance than the average of its parents.”

What is ProCross?

It is a three-way cross of Viking Red, Montbeliarde and Holstein used in rotation to maximise hybrid vigour.

The study has so far compared only two- and three-way crossed. Preliminary data on the effects of crossing animals back to Holstein showed slight gains in fertility in first lactation Holstein-sired ProCross animals compared with pure Holsteins.

Analysis revealed that conception rates were 3% higher in Holstein cross ProCross group at 46% at first service.

However, this was not as good as second- and third-generation animals.

Preliminary production data showed Holstein-sired ProCross produced 589kg less milk compared with the Holsteins at 12,254kg but only 11kg less fat and protein at 813kg.

Currently, a lower number of Holstein cross ProCross animals are milking in first lactation and therefore fewer have been compared. But Prof Hansen says more data will become available as more daughters enter the milking herd.

Marco Winters, head of genetics at AHDB, said cross-breeding should not be entered into lightly.

“Cross-breeding does have a place but is not a silver bullet to all problems like it’s made out to be. Farmers have to go into it with their eyes wide open and understand what they are doing,” he said.

About the herds taking part

The study compared 2,300 ProCross and 2,000 Holsteins across the seven herds. Average production for December 2017 across the herds was 13,587kg of milk with 512kg fat and 426kg protein.

All herds were calving year-round and were fully housed in cubicles and fed a Total Mixed Ration (TMR).

Semen from high-ranking proven bulls was used for each mating; corrective breeding was carried out for conformation and Holstein matings were protected against inbreeding.

Before jumping in, Mr Winters said farmers should consider what issues they were trying to tackle. If improvements could not be made through management or better breeding, then cross-breeding might be considered.

ProCross cows in a shed

© Rhian Price

He pointed to Irish studies showing that heterosis gains were most beneficial in poorer environments.

“So, for herds that have good management conditions, or which already achieve acceptable levels of performance, heterosis will be least beneficial,” he explained.

However, once they make the decision farmers needed to be fully committed and must select the right breeds.

“The more breeds you introduce, the more complex it becomes, and you have to be careful you maintain that rotation,” he said.

  • Take time to select the best breeds for your system.
  • Use breeds that are making genetic progress so you can continue to use the best bulls year on year.
  • Carefully select the best bulls from each breed for the traits you desire.
  • Use the Spring Calving Index and Autumn Calving Index (SCI/ACI) to select bulls. These rank all bulls (regardless of breed) on one common base so farmers can compare them like for like.

Source: Marco Winters

Lifetime profitability and how it was calculated

Daily profit was calculated by dividing lifetime profit by the number of days within the herd.

Lifetime profit was estimated from the income (milk, calf and cull values) and expenses (all feed, replacement costs, breeding costs, hoof-trimming and carcass disposal) for each cow after first calving on a daily basis, providing they lived beyond 45 months.

Return to top

Case study: Ben Andersen, Andersen Dairy Inc, Idaho

American dairyman Ben Andersen began cross-breeding 16 years ago in an attempt to lift poor pregnancy rates and reduce cow losses.

Ben, alongside his father and brother, originally milked 500 Holsteins under the Seagull Bay prefix, and has produced top genetics for AI studs including the bulls Seagull Bay Supersire and Seagull Bay Silver.

Farm facts

  • 2700 cows across two units (milking and dry stock made up of about 80% ProCross genetics and the remainder Holsteins).
  • Partner in Winstar Genetics implanting 450 embryos each month with the aim of breeding high genetic merit Holstein sires for stud.
  • Winstar Genetics is a 6,000-cow dairy that carries out all of the IVF/embryo transfer. It uses embryos from Seagull Bay and has purchasing rights over the genetics, with the remainder going back into the Andersens’ herds.
  • 324ha owned.
  • Buy in about 80% of their feed and have agreements with neighbours for taking compost and manure.

But, not content with the herd’s fertility and high culling rate, they began looking at other options.

They started crossing to Jersey in 2003 but weren’t “completely convinced” because of the high variation in cow size and low bull calf values.

After visiting a ProCross herd in California they took the decision to cross-breed the whole commercial herd, later discontinuing Jersey semen and opting for the Holstein cross Montebeliarde cross Viking Red.

They still run a small number of elite Holsteins for their genetic programme but Mr Andersen said they were so impressed with the results that they had increased the number of ProCross animals and had been rewarded with better herd performance.

Idaho farmer Ben Andersen and his wife Robbie

Ben Andersen with his wife Robbie © Rhian Price

He admitted this was not all down to genetics and said better management had also played a role.

Stillbirths had decreased primarily because of management, with 24-hour monitoring, although little assistance was required, he explained.

Pregnancy rates have risen by 15% since the introduction of a pre-synch programme in 2016.

Although Mr Andersen conceded that using synchronisation protocols might not be a long-term answer and could be banned at some point, he believed it was possible for his herd to achieve 30% using monitoring protocols.

Heifers are bred three times to sexed semen before being served to beef while 75% of the cows are also AI’d to beef sires.

Breed comparison

The family has been comparing performance of the commercial Holsteins and ProCross, and Mr Andersen admitted the results had been surprising.

“I anticipated when we started this journey we would decrease in production and increase in health and fertility,” he said. “To my surprise we haven’t given up production.”

The June milk records show 592 Holsteins averaged 37.8kg of milk while 713 G2 ProCross (Holstein cross Montbeliarde) averaged 37.9kg and 493 G3 (Holstein cross Montebeliarde cross Viking Red) averaged 38.5kg. All were at 4.1% butterfat and 3.2% protein.

He said the gains in fertility were saving him money, with a 10% difference in pregnancy rate of the Holsteins and G1 and G2 animals (31.7% compared with 41-42%).

The ProCross cows are also eating 2kg less feed per day.

Feed efficiency is important, given that the farm buys in 80% of its feed for the dairy, including silage, alfalfa, soya and flaked maize. With price volatility increasing and only 324ha owned, it is a worry for the future of the enterprise.

“It is a concern. It worked well [buying in feed] for a long time in the west but there’s concern because of the volatility of the markets,” Mr Andersen said.

Herd performance improvements at Andersen Dairy

  2002 2016 2019
Cow deaths 10% 5.5% 3.7%
Stillbirths 10% 4.5% 3.6%
Left Displaced Abomasum 3.5% 0% 0%
Culling rate 40% 35% 28%
Pregnancy rate 12-16% 23-27% 36-40%


10 Ways to Improve Early Lactation Performance and Peak Milk Yield

Peak milk is the highest recorded test day milk production in a cow’s first 150 days in milk (DIM). Historically, producers used peak milk as a measure of the success of dry period and early lactation nutrition and management. Peak milk indicates how well the cow responds to feeding practices during the dry period, calving and early lactation periods.

Most cows achieve peak milk by 45 to 90 DIM and then slowly lose production over time. Many cite that each added pound of peak milk could lead to 200 to 250 pounds more milk for the whole lactation.

Nutrition and health disorders in early lactation affect peak milk. For example, low dietary fiber diet/sorting can lead to rumen acidosis, which can result in lameness or displaced abomasum. Both conditions can cause reduced peak milk.

1. Start cows with a successful dry period

Research shows dry period nutrition and management affects health and performance after birth. Thus, evaluate your dry cow program if you’re unhappy with milk cow performance. Key goals for dry cows include:

  • Maintaining dry matter intake (28 to 32 pounds per day)

  • Avoiding overfeeding energy

  • Preventing body condition score (BCS) gain

  • Optimizing comfort

  • Addressing hoof health

2. Prevent subclinical milk fever

Reduce the risk of subclinical milk fever (low blood calcium) during the first week of lactation. Low blood calcium (less than 8.0 milligrams deciliter) correlates with the following.

  • Ketosis

  • Higher somatic cell count

  • Delayed uterine involution

  • Metritis

  • Depressed feed intake

  • Reduced milk yield

3. Optimize feed intake immediately after calving

  • Provide 10 to 15 gallons of warm water with drinkable drench.

  • Allow access to fresh total mixed ration.

  • Provide 5 to 10 pounds of alfalfa/grass hay.

  • Keep the feed bunks clean and fresh.

4. Optimize cow comfort

To optimize cow comfort in the fresh cow group:

  • Use a stocking rate at 80 to 85 percent of capacity.

  • Keep cows in a fresh cow group for 14 to 21 days.

  • Provide 30 to 36 inches of bunk space per cow.

  • Reduce social stress (especially for first calf heifers).

  • Prevent cows from separating from the normal herd mates.

  • Invest in cow cooling for dry and lactating cows.

5. Maintain rumen health and prevent ruminal acidosis

  • Provide a flake of alfalfa/grass hay for the first five days after calving. Early lactation diet should contain plenty of good quality digestible fiber (31 to 35 percent neutral detergent fiber).

  • Maintain fiber mat with consistent feed intake and avoid empty bunks.

  • Provide free choice buffer, and monitor buffer intake.

  • Minimize the risk of slug feeding or diet sorting that may result in rumen acidosis (low rumen pH; sour stomach).

6. Identify cows with a history of metabolic or health problems

Cows with a history of milk fever, ketosis or mastitis are likely to face these problems again. Keeping an eye on cows prone to health problems allows you to help prevent these problems.

For example, move cows carrying twins or first calf heifers into the dry group early. Data shows a correlation with a 7- to 10- day earlier calving date.  

7. Evaluate BCS

The target BCS at calving is 3.0-3.25. You should avoid having cows reach a BCS greater than 4. A lower BCS at calving allows for 0.5 to 1.0 units of BCS within herd variation. This provides a safety margin to avoid overweight cows that:

  • Have a higher risk for ketosis and fatty liver.

  • Are often more difficult to breed back.

8. Position feed additives

Fresh cow groups are most likely to offer a return on investments for feed additives. Studies support the following additives:

  • Ionophores increase glucose availability.

  • Rumen-protected choline improves liver health and function.

  • Protected amino acids meet amino acid requirements without overfeeding protein.

  • Supplemental protected fat increases energy intake.

  • Yeast culture stabilizes rumen fermentation.

9. Avoid anti-nutritional factors

Anti-nutritional factors include feeds containing mold, wild yeast and poorly fermented feeds. Mold counts over 100,000 colonies per gram likely decrease feed intake and diet digestibility.

10. Feed correct amounts of antioxidants

Antioxidants (for example, vitamin E and selenium) help reduce the impact of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress could be too much fat mobilization, poor air quality or injury. These all decrease the efficiency of immune system function.


Silage Season Safety – Processing & Packing

It’s impossible to thoroughly cover all critical safety information in a short period of time. Be sure to always seek out OTHER critical information and resources on harvest season and silage/silo related safety

When you’re processing and putting up silage in any type of structure, it’s a complicated job, and potentially dangerous.  

Silo Gas

  • Let’s talk silo gas for a minute – also known as nitrogen dioxide.  It’s a normal part of the silage making process.  We start to see this gas a few hours to a day or so after a silo is filled – And then it’s produced for about 2-2.5 weeks
    Silo gas is created in ANY type of silage storage
    system, but is a particular problem in tower silos.

    depending on conditions – Silo gas is produced
    in ALL kinds of silos – tower silos, bunkers, piles, bags – the biggest issue however, is when it’s a confined space.  This could be in a tower silo, an adjoining room, the chute or in the space between silo bags.

  • In the air, nitrogen dioxide has a faint yellowish color though in low light conditions, you probably won’t see it…It smells a bit like bleach.  It is very irritating — even a few breaths can cause serious health problems.
  • Avoid silo gas, especially during that initial three-week post-harvest window. Treat a tower silo and areas surrounding stored silage as a confined space.  Ventilate thoroughly – generally with the blower.  Get more information – entering any confined space incorrectly has deadly consequences.

Bunker Silo Rollovers & Other Issues

  • There are special hazards with packing a bunker silo.  Some great detailed information can be found in this piece from Penn State on horizontal silo safety.
  • Tractor rollovers occur every season while people are packing bunkers and piles – It’s critical that you select the right tractor – it MUST have a ROPS (rollover protective structure) and a seatbelt.
  • A wide front-end is also an absolute must. Front-wheel and front wheel-assist tractors provide extra traction and stability for packing. Duals usually increase stability as well as appropriately-placed weights.
  • Backing a tractor up ANY slope is preferred – you achieve better stability AND CONTROL.  
  • On a slope – as you fill a bunker, make sure your packed, wedge-shaped surfaces are not too steep – We generally talk about a safe slope being 3 to 1 or something even less steep. On a pile or bunker that’s 20 feet high, you need a wedged surface do drive up that’s at least 60 feet long in the horizontal direction.  Anything less, and you run a great chance of rolling a tractor.
  • There are many other precautions to take with your employees and family members who are working at this time…Like these:
    • Only experienced people should be permitted to operate equipment.
    • Require all equipment operators to remain in their vehicles to avoid being run over.
    • Keep visitors and children out of ANY farm work zone.  A packing operation seems cool and fun to watch – but operators have a lot to pay attention to, and the chaos associated with visitors and bystanders can be very distracting.
    • Have workers wear brightly colored safety vests or t-shirts to increase visibility.


What’s in a healthy cow?

Think about the healthiest cows in your herd. What defines them as your healthiest?

Is it their older age? Is it the fact they’ve never had mastitis? Or are they the ones that leave the fresh pen quickly after calving because they don’t have the lingering effects that come with milk fever, metritis, a retained placenta, ketosis or a DA?

We’re willing to bet that your healthiest cows are the ones you don’t even notice. They’re not on your radar because they simply go about their business, producing high-quality milk with no troubles to you or your team of employees.

We call those unnoticed cows, the four-event cows. If you look at a cow card on your herd management software program, you’ll recognize a four-event cow by the lack of items on her list. Throughout her lactation, she experiences only four events: 1-fresh; 2-bred; 3-confirmed pregnant; and 4-dry.

When those are the only four events in a cow’s lactation, chances are she’s profitable and healthy.

A healthy cow is the resulting sum of many parts: a solid nutrition program, exceptional transition and fresh cow care, proper milking procedures, comfortable housing – and the right genetics!

While genetics makes up only a small part of the full equation, it’s a real and measurable aspect of what’s in a healthy cow.

Healthy genetics?

In April of 2018, the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) released a new set of health traits. These traits are based on the database of recorded cases of common, costly health problems in dairy cattle. These six new traits measure the resistance that animals will have to each respective health and metabolic issue and are in place to help dairy producers breed a next generation of healthier cows.

They include mastitis, labeled as MAST, ketosis (KETO), retained placenta (RETP), metritis (METR), displaced abomasum (DA), and milk fever (MFEV).

Taking advantage of the new health traits in your genetic plan offers a great opportunity to create healthier cows. Most of these new traits are also correlated with Productive Life, so if you want the simplest approach to healthier genetics, Productive Life has you covered.

 Healthier genetics, plain and simple

For more than two decades, PL has told us how many more, or fewer, months a cow is expected to produce within any given herd. While cows are most often culled because of low production or poor fertility, those reasons typically trace back to more specific health issues in the cow’s life.

Selecting for PL or the new health traits within your genetic plan will help you address any specific health issues in your herd.

We know this from the DairyComp analyses we’ve done on many large, progressive herds. In the following example, we analyzed the a well-managed, 2400-cow dairy that does a great job at accurately recording health events. We compared the animals whose sires had the highest average PL against the animals whose sires had the lowest PL values.

No animals are given preferential treatment – they are all cared for with the same, high level management practices. With no other differences separating these animals except their sires’ PL values, we compared how many health events each group had. We looked specifically at cases of mastitis, ketosis, retained placentas, metritis, displaced abomasum, and milk fever.

As expected, Table 1 shows that the cows in the High PL group had far fewer cases for each health event.

Table 1 # of cows Avg. Sire PL Mastitis Ketosis Retained Placenta Metritis Displaced Abomasum
Low PL cows 607 1.3 258 22 32 33 29
High PL cows 600 6.2 79 3 16 16 7
Difference   4.9 179 19 16 17 22

The economics of healthy genetics

We know these health events have a cost attached to each case, and CDCB has calculated those figures. The dollar value put on each case is modest – not accounting for lost production or decreased fertility. Their calculated values only measure the direct costs associated with each trait.

Let’s take those costs and apply them to our example herd. To do this, we multiplied the dollar value per health event by the difference in number of events between the low PL group and the high PL group. Table 2 shows the economic impact of Productive Life within a 2100-cow dairy.

Table 2 Mastitis Ketosis Retained Placenta Metritis Displaced Abomasum Milk Fever
CDCB-calculated cost per health event $75 $28 $68 $112 $197 $34
Difference in health events based on sire PL 179 19 16 17 22 12
Total cost in this herd $13,425 $532 $1,088 $1,904 $4,334 $408

This farm saves a total of $21,691 just because of the genetics in its healthy cows!

Want healthier cows? Genetics will help.

If you include Productive Life, or any of the six new health traits, within your customized genetic plan, you will create a next generation of unnoticed cows – the type that produce well and go about their business with few health troubles.

Environment, cow comfort and management practices all play a leading role in the health of your herd. Now you also see how genetics can positively impact both cow health and the economic health of your dairy.

Source: Alta Genetics

Including Employees in the Decision-Making Process

How many farms operate under the “Ben Cartwright School of Farm Management” where the boss (owner) makes all the decisions and the employees execute the “orders”? In this kind of operation, employees believe that they are always “walking on eggshells” in the presence of the owner because he frequently criticizes the speed and quality of their work. If an employee makes a suggestion to the owner, the idea is quickly dismissed, and the employees are told that the idea will “never work on this farm.” Furthermore, the owner operates under this attitude: “I have farmed all my life, and what would an employee know about operating my farm?” Employees must present ideas to the owner in a manner that allows the owner to think that the new information is “his idea.” This kind of management style may reduce the farm’s profitability because the owner will make changes only when he thinks “his ideas” will improve the operation of the farm. 

Consider Employee Morale

Many farm owners believe that that they must constantly “ride herd” over their employees. The employer may have stated on numerous occasions that employees need to “tend to business and work hard”; otherwise, they can easily be replaced.  The employees may believe that the owner does not trust their judgment in making decisions and does not care about their physical and emotional well-being. Employee morale may suffer, and employee turnover may increase because the employees think that the owner considers a model employee to be an individual with a “strong back and a weak mind.”

Merely talking about employee suggestions and not implementing the suggestions conveys the distinct impression that management does not wish to change the operation of the farm. Employee morale will decline because employees perceive that the owner will never change the way the farm operates.

Employees Are the Farm’s Most Important Asset

A farm’s employees are the business’ most important asset. Employee development will be the key to the long-term viability of a farm because, as farms grow and expand, they hire additional personnel.

As the former owner-operator of a dairy farm, the author encouraged employees to attend industry and extension meetings as well as farm shows. The time that employees spent attending industry-related functions “on the owner’s time” reaped major dividends. By encouraging employees to attend educational programs, the owner conveys to the employee that the employee is a valued member of the farm operation. Second, the owner respects the employees’ judgment. Finally, the owner is looking forward to hearing the employees’ views on the programs they attended. We all have different learning styles. Thus, owners and employees may pick up on certain concepts at a meeting that another person may miss. The time that the owner and employees spend discussing their perspectives on a educational program may provide solutions to specific problems and strategies to improve the farm’s profitability.  

Carry through with Employee Suggestions

Implementing employee suggestions shows the employees that the employer values their suggestions, which will simplify the operation of the farm and improve farm profitability. The author is a strong proponent of the “KIS” (keep it simple) style of farm management. His former herdsman, Ron, was adept at breaking down a task into its numerous steps. Reinforcing the concept that time is money, Ron was able to streamline a task so that the time and effort to complete the task were reduced. His employees knew that if the profitability of the farm increased, the owner would share a portion of the profits in the form of employee raises and the purchase of shop tools and farm equipment that would make everyone’s life easier on the farm. Remember, if business owners were not open to new ideas and willing to change, they would still be traveling to the West Coast in covered wagons!

Schedule Employee Meetings

Employee meetings provide a forum in which the owner can train and update employees on changes in the farm’s standard operating procedures (SOPs). Owner and employees can air concerns about the farm’s management. Prior to the busy seasons (planting and harvesting crops), meetings on the author’s farm focused on discussing the “game plan” that would be implemented to accomplish the necessary tasks. Employee responsibilities were reviewed. Employees were cross-trained to handle tasks performed by another employee. The meeting concluded with a discussion of how the farm operates as a team.  Employees left the meeting with the clear expectation that the owner and employees would do whatever it took to get the job done. It was clear that lapses in employee safety and unsafe equipment operation would not be tolerated!

Take Breaks as Necessary

After the busy season was completed, the author and his employees “slowed down” for one or two days. Herd, cropping, and financial records were updated. An inventory was taken of equipment that needed repairs and scheduled maintenance. Several days later, a meeting was held in which full-time and part-time employees discussed the farm performance during the “crunch time.” Employees were recognized for making decisions that contributed to the success of the task (e.g., quickly repairing broken equipment, taking care of the herd with a limited amount of help, etc.). Discussion was focused around the following questions: What worked well? What changes should be made? How should changes be prioritized? The owner and employees need to reach a consensus when the changes should be implemented. Then the owner makes the changes.  

Maintaining Communication

Owners and managers need to “cast their shadow” every day – ask how an employee is doing (ask how they are feeling, how their children are doing in school, sports, etc.), how is their job going, and what can the owner do to help the employee (equipment needing repairs, ordering  supplies, etc.).  Although asking these three questions may take less than a minute, this gesture conveys that the owner is interested in the employee’s health and well-being and in helping the employee perform the job at maximum productivity.

Farm owners who are open and receptive to their employees’ suggestions create a positive work environment. Employees relish the opportunity to work for a business where the owner acknowledges and implements employees’ suggestions.  Remember the old adage “Sometimes two heads are better than one” in solving problems.

Delegate Tasks and Lead by Example

An owner’s willingness to delegate responsibilities states that the owner believes that the employee is a valued member of the farm’s operation. Owners should lead by example. Never ask an employee to do a task that you would never do. The author’s former herdsman, Ron, was given the latitude to make decisions when equipment broke down or the weather forced a change in plans. Employees knew that the owner always backed up Ron’s decision and would never second guess his actions.

Employees Must Know Their Responsibilities

To maximize employee productivity, owners need to provide each employee with a job description that will outline the employee’s responsibilities. “Reading the boss’ mind’ should not be a part of the employee’s job description! Owners and managers must take the time to explain and train the employee to perform a specific task in a manner that follows the farm’s standard operation procedures. Constant training is necessary to make sure that owner and employees are on the same page. 


Help prevent next-lactation mastitis on dry off day

What happens in the dry period … doesn’t stay in the dry period. The productive revenue potential of an average U.S. Holstein is nearly $4,500.* That value can be compromised when cows calve with mastitis, leading to lowered milk production and increased milk waste and culling rates. Your cows’ next lactation begins on the day of dry off; your mastitis prevention should too.

A seven-year study of environmental streptococci intramammary infections found that 51% of these infections occurred in dry cows.1 If these infections are not addressed, you face increased production loss and increased expenses as soon as affected animals join the milking herd. Dry cow therapy can resolve existing infection and prevent next-lactation mastitis, saving you money in treatment costs and associated labor.  

Preventing mastitis in dry cows can also have a positive effect on the major drivers of dairy profitability: somatic cell counts, energy-corrected milk production per cow, death losses, net herd turnover costs, pregnancy rates and heifer survival. Healthy cows typically produce more milk, get pregnant faster, have lower somatic cell counts and stay in your herd longer. Dry cow therapy can be a low-cost way to prevent cows from more costly mastitis infections during lactation. It can also help protect the investment you’ve made in your herd’s next lactation while benefitting your dairy’s profit margins.

Follow these three steps to help prevent next-lactation mastitis: 

  1. Clear up lingering mastitis infections with an intramammary dry cow tube. Treating residual mastitis infections at dry off can help prevent the need for antibiotic use during lactation. Intramammary dry cow tubes also ensure that mastitis infections are not sealed inside the udder, where they can fester until diagnosed at the cow’s next lactation.  
  2. Prevent bacterial invasion with ORBESEAL ®. During the dry period, keratin plugs form in the teat and act as a physical barrier to bacterial entry. However, not all cows are able to form this plug on their own. A proven, well-researched internal teat sealant is an easy way to ensure that all of your cows have the protection they need.
  3. Vaccinate against E. coli mastitis. Coliform intramammary infection rates are about four times greater during the dry period than during lactation.2 Vaccination can reduce the severity of these cases, which can eliminate the need for treatments and mean less production loss for your dairy.   

Talk to your veterinarian to establish a dry cow management plan that ensures what happens in the dry period doesn’t affect your cow’s next lactation or your bottom line.

Refer to the ORBESEAL label for complete instructions on proper administration at dry off and removal at freshening.

About Zoetis
Zoetis is the leading animal health company, dedicated to supporting its customers and their businesses. Building on more than 65 years of experience in animal health, Zoetis discovers, develops, manufactures and commercializes medicines, vaccines and diagnostic products, which are complemented by biodevices, genetic tests and a range of services. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals with sales of its products in more than 100 countries. In 2018, the company generated annual revenue of $5.8 billion with approximately 10,000 employees. For more information, visit

Five Factors for Choosing Mastitis Treatment

Determining the true cost of a mastitis cure requires more than just comparing the price per box of mastitis tubes. Consider these five factors when weighing treatment options:

  1. Treatment efficacy: When looking at treatment efficacy, how can you tell if the product really works? Is it clearing up the infection and eliminating mastitis-causing pathogens in the udder? An incomplete cure can lead to relapses and chronically infected cows. Monitor treatment success to make sure you’re seeing high bacteriological cure rates, lower relapse rates and lower somatic cell counts. It’s the only way to know whether the treatment is working. 
  2. Cost of treatment per day: The price per box of mastitis tubes can be misleading. Look at the number of treatments per box and the frequency of treatment (every 12 hours versus every 24 hours).
  3. Cost of milk discard: Read and follow the product label for milk discard. Shorter milk withdrawal periods are often more economical because producers can resume putting milk back in the bulk tank sooner. Extra-label use can only be done under the supervision of a veterinarian. If extra-label use is necessary, the veterinarian must provide specific use recommendations and additional milk withdrawal recommendations.
  4. Potential for residue risk: Managing products with high-residue risk profiles can compromise operational efficiency. It also can increase the potential for shipping contaminated milk. Choose efficacious products with low-residue risk profiles.
  5. A clinical mastitis cure may not equal a bacteriological mastitis cure: A clinical cure, when milk returns to normal, may not be the same as a bacteriological cure and may not equal treatment success. For hard-to-kill mastitis pathogens, flexible mastitis therapy treatment that’s on-label can sometimes be necessary to achieve a bacteriological cure and help reduce the chance of relapse.

SPECTRAMAST® LC (ceftiofur hydrochloride) Sterile Suspension has a proven bacteriological cure rate of 70.4% using ONLY TWO SYRINGES OF SPECTRAMAST LC, based on efficacy studies conducted by Zoetis involving 352 cows across 13 dairy operations and representing a broad range of mastitis-causing pathogens.1 

Labeled to treat both clinical mastitis and diagnosed subclinical mastitis infections caused by a broad spectrum of pathogens, SPECTRAMAST LC has benefits, including:

  • Convenient, once-a-day dosing
  • A 72-hour milk discard
  • A two-day pre-slaughter meat withdrawal — the shortest withhold time available for greater management flexibility
  • Optional, on-label flexible label therapy to treat for at least two days and up to eight days to achieve a complete, bacteriological cure.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mastitis treatment. Explore options for flexible mastitis treatment that may not only knock out physical mastitis symptoms but also eliminate mastitis-causing bacteria to achieve a bacteriological cure. When you achieve a bacteriological cure the first time, you may limit the need for re-treatment and using additional antibiotics. This is important for the health of your cows as well as critical for your dairy’s bottom line.

Learn more about SPECTRAMAST LC by contacting your veterinarian or Zoetis representative.

A Strong Start in the Face of Stress

Have you heard? Research shows that INFORCE™ 3 can provide lasting protection against key viral respiratory diseases for young calves and boosts cow immunity in the face of calving stress.1,2,3

You already understand the importance of vaccinations — from the time a calf is born to freshening — to help prevent diseases and ensure overall herd health on your dairy. New studies show additional benefits of vaccinating:

A healthy start for calves.
In separate studies, INFORCE 3 was administered to colostrum-deprived calves and to calves with maternal antibodies against the virus that causes infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR). When compared with unvaccinated calves, those administered INFORCE 3 demonstrated:1

  • Reduction in the incidence of IBR respiratory disease
  • Reduction in the days of disease duration
  • Protective response lasting at least 15 weeks for calves vaccinated in the presence of maternal antibodies 
  • Protection against IBR respiratory disease for at least six months after the vaccine was administered to colostrum-deprived calves

Effective protection when cows need it most.
On the day of calving, dairy cows are immunosuppressed and at their most disease-vulnerable state, potentially opening the door to harmful pathogens during a time when they are most in need of protection. By vaccinating with INFORCE 3, you can expect:

  • Protection in the face of calving stress. In a new study, cows vaccinated with INFORCE 3 on the day of calving demonstrated equivalent or greater innate and adaptive local immune responses than those vaccinated up to 12 days before calving.2
  • Reduced risk of impacting milk production. Another study shows that INFORCE 3 protects fresh cows from clinical and subclinical respiratory disease caused by the bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV). Even more, compared with cattle not vaccinated against BRSV, those that received INFORCE 3 produced more than 200 pounds more milk per head and a $36 income advantage per cow.4

Protecting your cattle is easier than ever because INFORCE 3 can now be administered within a single nostril, instead of half the dose in each nostril. To see all of the benefits vaccinating can provide, work with your veterinarian to develop a vaccination program that supports a rapid and complete immune response.

Holstein Association encourages use of RFID ear tags now to meet USDA requirements

Holstein Association USA (HA) is encouraging all dairy producers to begin the transition to electronic animal identification. On January 1, 2023, virtually all dairy cattle will be required to have electronic ID to move interstate. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its implementation timeline for mandatory electronic animal identification for cattle earlier this year. By Jan. 1, 2023 all dairy cattle will require an official 840 RFID ear tag for interstate movement.  The only exceptions will be feeder cattle and male dairy cattle born before March 11, 2013.

The use of radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags speeds up data collection and improves animal disease traceability, notes Darin Johnson, HA Dairy Identification Manager. “Holstein Association USA encourages dairymen to consider adding or switching to RFID ear tags with their next inventory tag order,” he says.

To initiate the move away from metal tags, and toward RFID ear tags, USDA has announced an implementation timeline: 

  • Dec. 31, 2019 – USDA will discontinue providing free metal tags. However, approved vendors will be permitted to produce official metal tags for one additional year. Approved vendor tags will be available for purchase on a State-by-State basis as authorized by each State animal health official through December 31, 2020.
  • On January 1, 2021, USDA will no longer approve the production of metal ear tags with the official USDA shield. In addition, accredited veterinarians and/or producers can no longer apply metal tags for official identification and must start using official RFID ear tags.
  • On January 1, 2023, RFID tags will be required for cattle moving interstate, and animals previously tagged with metal ear tags will have to be retagged with RFID tags, notes Johnson.

“Holstein Association USA encourages dairymen to consider adding or switching to RFID ear tags with their next inventory tag order,” says Darin Johnson, Holstein Association USA Dairy Identification Manager. “USDA has been providing free metal ear tags, so their implementation timeline has focused on the move away from them. For our members that have been using visual 840 tags, those animals also will have to be retagged after January 1, 2023 to comply with USDA’s RFID requirement.” 

In order to purchase official 840 RFID tags, producers must first obtain a premise identification number (PIN) from their state’s Department of Agriculture. For help in obtaining a PIN, go to

For more information on RFID, go to or

Those wanting to learn more can visit, or contact Darin Johnson at 800.952.5200, ext. 4048, or by email, 

Washington state at the forefront of a national discussion on treating dairy manure

Washington’s besieged dairies are testing several promising systems for recycling cow manure, turning it into fertilizer and clean water.

To do that, engineers are using processes that range from oversize bins of worms to cutting-edge technologies to reduce and reuse the nitrogen and phosphorous found in manure.

The stakes are huge. In recent years, the state’s $1.1 billion dairy industry has been the target of an onslaught of government regulations and private lawsuits, most of which targeted surface and groundwater pollution linked to manure.

In the past year, the five publicly subsidized manure projects have faced financial, technical and regulatory challenges. Some have struggled to meet their goals. Nevertheless, final reports submitted last month to the State Conservation Commission suggest progress — and offer hope that the dairies can find an economically feasible way to handle manure.

The technologies are experimental. Still, they are putting the state at the forefront of a national discussion on treating dairy manure, Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon said.

“No question, it has been fantastic to have this opportunity,” Gordon told the Capital Press. “The diversity of the five projects has been nice.”

Manure control, also known by the euphemism “nutrient management,” is a major concern for dairies in Washington, the 10th top milk-producing state in the country. The state has about 400 dairies and 280,000 milking cows, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Each 1,400-pound Holstein produces about 115 pounds of manure a day.

Many dairies store the manure, which is chock-full of nitrogen and phosphorus, in lagoons. It is then sprayed on fields as fertilizer for crops that can be fed to the cattle.

Others pump manure into anaerobic digesters to produce gas to operate electrical generators or to be sold to natural gas companies.

The problems arise when too much manure is applied to fields and the compounds migrate below the surface. If they go deep enough they can impact the groundwater and, potentially, nearby streams.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency, state Department of Ecology and environmental groups have all tried to regulate or sue dairies over manure and how it impacts groundwater and rivers. The State Board of Health is considering adopting yet another layer of regulations.

State funds trials

State legislators, sympathetic to dairies, have funded the trials to test better manure management. Lawmakers were particularly intrigued by a 2017 presentation by Sedro-Woolley, Washington, technology developer Peter Janicki.

He said that with taxpayer support, his company and others could eliminate all problems related to manure. Following that, lawmakers approved funding for innovative projects. The conservation commission distributed a total of $3.88 million for the five trials.

Each system has pros and cons for farmers weighing capital and operational costs versus the cost of doing nothing.

No single approach will suit every dairy, said Eric Powell, business development director for Regenis, a Ferndale, Washington, company collaborating with dairies in Whatcom and Yakima counties.

“Dairies need options, and we’re trying to show what’s possible,” he said. “Dairies are not in a place where they can stick their necks out — not with the way the industry is — and try something totally unknown.”

Lawmakers impressed

Janicki stirred interest in innovative manure projects at presentations two years ago to the state Senate and House agriculture committees.

He talked about his company’s success in purifying human waste in Africa into drinking water. The same could be done for cow manure, but public funding would be needed to adapt the technology, he said.

Otherwise, it would cost too much, he said. After a few systems were built on dairies, capital costs would come down and be reasonable, he said.

Smells, greenhouse gases and water pollution, Janicki said, “will all become a thing of the past if we make it happen.”

A project involving Janicki’s company received the single largest grant, $1.75 million, for a “vapor recompression distillation” system at Natural Milk Dairy in Snohomish County.

The Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians is the lead partner in the project and received the grant.

The project, however, has fallen behind schedule. Originally, the system was scheduled to be converting manure into dry and liquid fertilizers and water clean enough for livestock by June.

The goal now is to have it operating in the first three months of next year, said Stanley Janicki, vice president of business development and Peter Janicki’s son.

“We’re very confident in the project and excited,” he said.

Natural Milk Dairy owner Jeremy Visser said he’s proud to be part of the project, but wishes it were moving faster. “We’re not setting any world records for getting something done,” he said.

“From my perspective, we’ve got all our ducks in a row,” Visser said. “I’m 100% confident it will come to fruition.”

Stanley Janicki attributed the delay to doubling the planned size of the system to handle 90 gallons a minute, the entire manure output of the 3,000-cow dairy.

At the same time, the company, which has changed its name from Janicki Bioenergy to Sedron Technologies, installed a system at a Texas dairy. Stanley Janicki said the Texas project did not affect the pace of work in Washington.

The project has also received other public funding. The Natural Resources Conservation Service provided $1 million, and the Washington Department of Commerce gave $283,000. The Washington Dairy Products Commission contributed $250,000.

Most recently, the Washington Department of Ecology awarded the tribe another $1 million for the project.

The project will guard against fecal coliform bacteria getting into the Stillaguamish River, a tribal spokesman said in an email.

“The tribe needs a habitat that supports salmon and shellfish. Dairy farmers need to dispose of manure in a way less impactful on the shellfish environment. We found something we can work together on to address both needs,” according to the spokesman.

The tribe is optimistic the project will work, the tribe’s chairman, Shawn Yanity, said in a statement. “We will try any and all methods to help protect the land that the shellfish live on.”

Janicki’s company also will install a system at a new 4,500-cow dairy in Indiana, planned by the same owners as the Texas dairy, according to Indiana state records.

“We have a number of systems basically in the sales pipeline,” Stanley Janicki said.

‘The next leap’

Washington State University animal scientist Joe Harrison received a $186,795 grant to research producing struvite, a fertilizer, from manure.

“We’re probably the only people in the world doing this right now,” Harrison said. “Every piece of data we get, nobody else has.”

If phosphorous-saturated soil washes into waterways, aquatic life is stifled. Capturing phosphorous from cow manure as struvite would control runoff pollution and extend the supply of a finite resource, he said.

The potential market for struvite is immense, according to the project’s final report.

Researchers towed a cone-shaped struvite maker to 30 dairies. Manure was pre-treated to screen out solids and went into the cone for further treatment.

Out came wastewater with most of the phosphorous removed. Altogether, researchers made about 100 pounds of struvite.

To test struvite as a fertilizer, it was spread on alfalfa fields in Ellensburg and Moses Lake. Because there wasn’t enough struvite from dairies, researchers also obtained some from a sewer plant in Idaho.

Struvite from humans or cows is all the same, Harrison said. The fertilizer has worked well on the two fields, he said. “It all looks really good right now.”

In making struvite on the farm, dairies will be challenged to keep down chemical costs and increase the yields of marketable struvite. Chemicals averaged 39 cents a cow per day. With labor and maintenance, operational costs were roughly 45 cents per cow per day, according to the final report.

Harrison noted that a dairy may not need to take phosphorous from its manure year-round. One or two weeks may be long enough to bring the farm’s supply of phosphorous in line with its demand, he said.

Harrison said he believes the technology is maturing toward being ready for the marketplace.

“I think it’s ready for the next leap,” he said.

‘It’s new school’

Organix, a Walla Walla company, received a $762,000 grant to install and operate a filtering system patented by an international company, BioFiltro.

Organix describes the system as “essentially a giant aerated worm bin.” The worms take out more than 90% of the nitrogen, phosphorous and suspended solids.

The process produces worm castings, a soil amendment, and “worm tea,” water that has passed through the worm castings. Both are marketable products, according to Organix.

The company already had installed a large system at Royal Dairy in Grant County. It proposed installing the system at two more dairies. It got funding from the conservation commission for one dairy. Both dairies, however, decided against participating for financial reasons, according to Organix.

The company found a third dairy, J&K Dairy in Sunnyside, willing to take part, though on a smaller scale.

Organix installed a system to process 250 gallons of manure a day. Because of the small scale, the worms are in a portable container. The installation cost was $74,855, according to the final report.

“It’s working exactly like we hoped it would,” Organix President Russ Davis said.

The company has been around since 2001, and Davis said he’s been looking for something affordable, reliable and easy to maintain to process manure. “Nothing complicated,” he said.

Organix estimates that installing a BioFiltro system at a Washington dairy would cost about $500 per cow. Operating costs would be $4 per cow each year. An enclosed system would be especially suitable for dairies in Western Washington, where rain is heavy.

A large system, however, needs land. Royal Dairy uses 2 acres to process 150,000 gallons of wastewater a day. It plans to expand to 6 acres to process 700,000 gallons a day, according to Organix.

The system will eliminate a dairy’s worries about polluting water, Davis said. He said he believes the system will be attractive to the upcoming generation of dairy farmers.

“They’d like to tell their friends they’re sustainable,” Davis said. “It’s new school.”

For the future

Coldstream Farms, a Whatcom County dairy, received a $930,305 grant for a manure-processing system that turns out solid fertilizer, liquid fertilizer and, hopefully, water pure enough to put in the Nooksack River.

Dairyman Galen Smith said he’s grateful he has a chance to show that dairies can be a source of clean water.

“We’re trying to set the table for sustainability and growth for our kids,” he said.

The dairy’s partners on the project are Regenis and Whatcom County Public Utility District No. 1.

The final report estimates that equipment for a 500-cow dairy would cost $645,000, while annual operating costs would total $200,285.

In several steps, the technology separates the solids and water. The end product is 24% dry fertilizer, 35% liquid fertilizer and 43% water.

The Department of Ecology still must issue a permit to discharge the water into the river.

“Because this plant is a pilot project, it’s taking longer than would typically be the case for a new industrial permit application,” an Ecology spokesman said in an email. “The best time frame we can provide right now is several months.

“We’re excited to be involved in this pilot project because it could open the door to new chapters on both streamflow and manure management,” according to the spokesman. “Getting this right will help the project succeed, and could help get future manure wastewater treatment plants in operation.”

Powell, of Regenis, said he’s confident the system can comply with water-quality standards Ecology sets.

Smith said if Ecology doesn’t take the water, he could use it. It will be clean enough for livestock, he said.

“Should it not come about, we have lots of other options,” he said.

Putting water in the river is a feature of the project. A lot of rain falls in Whatcom County, but summers are generally dry. By late summer and early fall, rivers and streams are running low.

The PUD would own the “new water.” Ecology already, however, has identified the water as a way to offset the drilling of new wells in the basin.

Looking good

George DeRuyter and Son and D&A dairies in Outlook received a $250,000 grant to install a system that converts manure into nitrogen gas that is released into the atmosphere. Air is naturally 78% nitrogen. The process relieves a farm of excess nitrogen.

The system started up last month, dairyman Dan DeRuyter said.

“It looks good,” he said. “We can just manage manure better, less trucking.”

The Yakima County dairies, which combine manure streams, are working with Regenis and DVO Inc. of Wisconsin. Municipal wastewater plants use the technology, but it must be adapted for dairies.

From a global perspective, losing nitrogen is not ideal, but for large dairies with too much, the system can reduce the oversupply, according to the final report.

The system was originally scheduled to be operating by last fall, but construction was delayed until this summer. The report cited several reasons for the delay, including needing the 3.5 million-gallon lagoon for winter storage.


Ten ways to improve early lactation performance and peak milk yield

Peak milk is the highest recorded test day milk production in a cow’s first 150 days in milk (DIM). Historically, producers used peak milk as a measure of the success of dry period and early lactation nutrition and management. Peak milk indicates how well the cow responds to feeding practices during the dry period, calving and early lactation periods.

Most cows achieve peak milk by 45 to 90 DIM and then slowly lose production over time. Many cite that each added pound of peak milk could lead to 200 to 250 pounds more milk for the whole lactation.

Nutrition and health disorders in early lactation affect peak milk. For example, low dietary fiber diet/sorting can lead to rumen acidosis, which can result in lameness or displaced abomasum. Both conditions can cause reduced peak milk.

Ten ways to improve early lactation performance and peak milk yield

1. Start cows with a successful dry period

Research shows dry period nutrition and management affects health and performance after birth. Thus, evaluate your dry cow program if you’re unhappy with milk cow performance. Key goals for dry cows include:

  • Maintaining dry matter intake (28 to 32 pounds per day)

  • Avoiding overfeeding energy

  • Preventing body condition score (BCS) gain

  • Optimizing comfort

  • Addressing hoof health

2. Prevent subclinical milk fever

Reduce the risk of subclinical milk fever (low blood calcium) during the first week of lactation. Low blood calcium (less than 8.0 milligrams deciliter) correlates with the following.

  • Ketosis

  • Higher somatic cell count

  • Delayed uterine involution

  • Metritis

  • Depressed feed intake

  • Reduced milk yield

3. Optimize feed intake immediately after calving

  • Provide 10 to 15 gallons of warm water with drinkable drench.

  • Allow access to fresh total mixed ration.

  • Provide 5 to 10 pounds of alfalfa/grass hay.

  • Keep the feed bunks clean and fresh.

4. Optimize cow comfort

To optimize cow comfort in the fresh cow group:

  • Use a stocking rate at 80 to 85 percent of capacity.

  • Keep cows in a fresh cow group for 14 to 21 days.

  • Provide 30 to 36 inches of bunk space per cow.

  • Reduce social stress (especially for first calf heifers).

  • Prevent cows from separating from the normal herd mates.

  • Invest in cow cooling for dry and lactating cows.

5. Maintain rumen health and prevent ruminal acidosis

  • Provide a flake of alfalfa/grass hay for the first five days after calving. Early lactation diet should contain plenty of good quality digestible fiber (31 to 35 percent neutral detergent fiber).

  • Maintain fiber mat with consistent feed intake and avoid empty bunks.

  • Provide free choice buffer, and monitor buffer intake.

  • Minimize the risk of slug feeding or diet sorting that may result in rumen acidosis (low rumen pH; sour stomach).

6. Identify cows with a history of metabolic or health problems

Cows with a history of milk fever, ketosis or mastitis are likely to face these problems again. Keeping an eye on cows prone to health problems allows you to help prevent these problems.

For example, move cows carrying twins or first calf heifers into the dry group early. Data shows a correlation with a 7- to 10- day earlier calving date.  

7. Evaluate BCS

The target BCS at calving is 3.0-3.25. You should avoid having cows reach a BCS greater than 4. A lower BCS at calving allows for 0.5 to 1.0 units of BCS within herd variation. This provides a safety margin to avoid overweight cows that:

  • Have a higher risk for ketosis and fatty liver.

  • Are often more difficult to breed back.

8. Position feed additives

Fresh cow groups are most likely to offer a return on investments for feed additives. Studies support the following additives:

  • Ionophores increase glucose availability.

  • Rumen-protected choline improves liver health and function.

  • Protected amino acids meet amino acid requirements without overfeeding protein.

  • Supplemental protected fat increases energy intake.

  • Yeast culture stabilizes rumen fermentation.

9. Avoid anti-nutritional factors

Anti-nutritional factors include feeds containing mold, wild yeast and poorly fermented feeds. Mold counts over 100,000 colonies per gram likely decrease feed intake and diet digestibility.

10. Feed correct amounts of antioxidants

Antioxidants (for example, vitamin E and selenium) help reduce the impact of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress could be too much fat mobilization, poor air quality or injury. These all decrease the efficiency of immune system function.


Improving Artificial Insemination Techniques

It is well known that daughters of sires available through artificial insemination (A.I.) produce more milk than daughters of sires used in natural service. Cows sired by proven A.I. sires have been shown to be $148 more profitable in a fluid milk market during their lifetimes. These daughters live one month longer and produce more than 1,400 kg more lifetime milk.

Using incorrect A.I. techniques can lower the overall success rate of the A.I. breeding program. Most producers learned correct semen handling techniques and insemination procedures at one time; unfortunately, many have developed bad habits that have lowered their success rates. This publication reviews proper procedures that should help eliminate some of those common mistakes.

Maintenance of Semen Tank and A.I. Equipment

Keep semen tanks in a secure, clean, dry place away from corrosive chemicals. Your tank’s location should allow for easy moving for filling with liquid nitrogen. Store tanks in a visible place, and frequently monitor the nitrogen level. Only store about a 6-month supply of semen. Make sure your investment is insured and secure.

Always check the semen inventory list before removing semen from a tank to make sure each time that the correct canister is used. Do not lift semen above the frost line in the neck of the nitrogen tank. Dangerous temperatures exist in the upper half of the neck in the area beyond the frost line. Exposure will lower subsequent fertility.

Store insemination equipment in a clean plastic or stainless steel box. Keep this box closed when it is not being used. All equipment should be clean when returned to the box. Always maintain sterility of the plastic sheaths used to cover the straw gun.

Proper Semen Handling

Identify and restrain the cow or cows to be bred before thawing the semen. Be sure that cows being inseminated are in heat or at a proper interval after being synchronized. Use the AM-PM rule, or breed at a specific recommended time after hormone treatment.

Wear safety goggles for eye protection when handling semen. When preparing the A.I. gun, quickly remove the straw of semen from the goblet with tweezers and not fingertips. This helps to keep the straws in the goblet below the frost line and avoids warming the straw too quickly. It is generally recommended that only one straw be thawed at a time. If more than one straw is thawed, they should be agitated to prevent the possibility of freezing together during thawing. If synchronizing and breeding groups of animals, you can thaw several straws together as long as you are using them within 15 minutes.

Shake the straw after it is removed from the tank to eliminate any drops of nitrogen at the end of the cotton plug. This will eliminate the plug bursting off when it is put in the water bath. If you have a large group of animals to inseminate, have one person thawing and another breeding animals to use semen more promptly.

A 1-pint, wide-mouth thermos and a dial thermometer work well for thawing straws if you have a source of warm water. Thaw semen in 95°F water for 45 seconds. Electronic thaw devices are handy, especially DC versions that can be used with vehicles. Maintain accuracy by regularly checking temperatures and calibrating your thermometer.

After the straw is thawed, dry it off with a clean towel and check the printed information on the outside of a straw to verify the bull’s identity. Record the bull next to the cow’s number.

Maintain an accurate semen inventory. This can be easily done using PCDart or other dairy computer software programs.

Use semen within 15 minutes of thawing. Watch the time carefully, especially when thawing multiple straws. In cold weather, warm the gun by rubbing it with your hands. Place the end with the cotton plug in the gun. Cut the sealed end at a 90° angle about one-quarter inch from the lab seal. If the straw is not cut squarely, the plastic sheath may not seal tightly against the straw. Some semen will then back flow between the sheath and the straw rather than going inside the cow.

A half-cc straw contains about 10 drops of diluted semen, so each drop lost is 10 percent of the total contents and sperm numbers. A quarter-cc straw only has 5 drops. Every drop counts.

Place a sterile plastic sheath over the gun and seal it. Wrap the end in a paper towel to prevent exposure to the sun and to maintain sanitation. Sheath protectors can also be useful. Then place the end of the gun in your shirt or pants pocket to maintain temperature on the way to the cow. During hot weather, do not place the insemination gun in direct sunlight or on hot surfaces. This will kill sperm cells.

Correct Semen Placement

After the gun is loaded, clean the region of the vulva to prevent contamination of the vagina and uterus. If you are not completely sure the animal is in heat, pick up the cervix and uterus and see if you get a clear mucous discharge from the vulva. If the mucus is present, it is a good sign that she is in heat.

Insert the gun in the cow upward at a 30° angle. This avoids entering the bladder. Remember: Inseminating a cow does not require much force or pressure. Do not force the gun. Try to move the cervix around and bring it to the gun. Take your time, relax, and concentrate on technique. If the cervix is over the rim of the pelvis, pull it back toward you and guide the cervix to the gun. If the gun is getting caught in folds of the vagina, try stretching the cervix away from you to free the gun and allow easier passage to the cervix.

Deposit semen in the body of the uterus. This area is less than 1 inch long and is about the size of a dime. It is located immediately in front of the cervix. A common mistake is to deposit the semen several inches into the right uterine horn.

Feel the end of the gun with your finger when you are just outside the cervix. Be sure the gun is passing through the cervix and that you are not just stretching the vagina. When the tip of the insemination gun passes through the front ring of the cervix, it is in the uterine body. Check the location by placing your index finger in front of the cervix. You should just be able to feel the tip of the gun. After you feel the tip of the gun, lift your index finger and slowly deposit the semen over a 5-second period. Be sure that your fingers are not misdirecting the flow of semen or blocking a uterine horn. Reposition the gun each time the animal moves.

If the cervical mucus of a cow previously bred feels thick and sticky, the cow may be pregnant. On repeat services, it is best to deposit the semen just past the half-way point of the cervix. Be careful because you can inadvertently cause abortion.

Certain problems can occur. If you find blood on your glove, be gentle. Concentrate on placement. Practice proper sanitation procedures. Some cows are obviously more difficult to inseminate. Be patient and don’t give up on the hard ones. They too will work.

Researchers at the Pennsylvania State University developed techniques in radiography years ago to evaluate accuracy of insemination very clearly. These techniques overcome some of the limitations of the earlier dye techniques used to evaluate placement. A study was reported in which 20 professional technicians and 20 owner-inseminators were evaluated using the radiography technique. Each inseminated a total of 20 reproductive tracts. Radiographs were taken to access inseminating gun placement.

These data showed that only 39 percent of the gun tip placements were in the uterine body. A total of 25 percent of the gun tip placements were in the cervix. Twenty-three percent were in the right uterine horn, and 13 percent were in the left uterine horn. Sixty percent of the semen was distributed in the cervix or disproportionately in one uterine horn. Only 40 percent of the semen was located in the uterine body or equally distributed in both uterine horns.

The normal ratio of ovulation or release of eggs is approximately 40 percent from the left ovary and 60 percent from the right ovary. Because migration of embryos is rare, the pregnancy ratio should be the same, 40 percent left uterine horn and 60 percent right uterine horn. This is an easy way to have your veterinarian check on the job you are doing with correct semen placement. Data on 100 or more pregnancies are required for a proper evaluation.

The need for retraining may be necessary because many have not yet mastered the expertise required for proper gun tip placement and insemination. A goal of first service conception rates of 55 percent or more and fewer than 1.8 services per conception is reasonable for breeding virgin heifers. Goals for lactating cows might be at 40 percent conception and fewer than 2.5 services per conception. Set goals that are challenging but realistic compared to historical herd performance.

Practice good insemination techniques; consider retraining. You may improve your herd’s conception rate. Your cows can’t make up for your mistakes in improper semen handling and placement.

When Is the Correct Time to Breed?

It has been thought for some time that optimum conception is achieved if an animal is bred 14 hours after onset of heat. With proper heat detection, acceptable results can be obtained with the AM-PM rule.

Recent evidence shows that animals bred once a day in the morning will produce comparable results to the traditional AM-PM rule. This is especially useful when artificially breeding heifers that are generally not located near the milk parlor. Breeding once daily in the morning is preferred over breeding in the afternoon, usually because higher proportions of animals show first signs of estrus late in the afternoon or during the night.

Research from Virginia Tech shows that highest pregnancy rates occur when animals are bred 5 to 12 hours after the first signs of estrus, which is defined as the “red zone.” If you breed at 12-hour intervals (for example, 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.), you would be always hitting the red zone. If you breed once a day, you are only in the red zone half the time (even though once-a-day breeding has been shown to be effective).

If you breed twice daily but at intervals other than 12 hours, you must miss part of the red zone. For example, if you breed at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., you are breeding at 8- and 16-hour intervals. Therefore, there are 4 hours each day when animals can come into heat and you will be out of the red zone. In this example, a cow coming into heat from 9 p.m. to midnight will be bred outside the red zone.

Producers trying to get an edge on optimum fertility need to make the most of their opportunities. If you consider 5 to 12 hours after the first signs of estrus as the red zone, or the most optimal window to breed, look to see how many times you breed during the correct period. Of course, accurate detection of early signs of estrus is critical to success.

Once-a-day artificial breeding done in the morning can be used effectively. Optimize heat detection and conception rate management techniques. This does not mean once-a-day heat detection. Heats must still be detected two to three times a day for more than 15 minutes per observation. Moving animals prior to observation helps. Animals are more active on dirt than concrete. Feeding and milking times are not the best times to watch animals for heat. Use prostaglandins to bring groups of animals in heat together and increase heat activity.

Before you give once-a-day breeding a try, look at your conception rate, average days to first service, and percent heats observed on DHIA, and make sure you do not need to improve in those areas first.

The following checklists are designed to help you self-evaluate your semen tank maintenance and semen handling insemination techniques. We hope you find this checklist helpful to review your semen handling procedures.

  Yes No  
1.     I keep my tank in an area where it can be easily observed.
2.     I check the tank daily for external frost buildup, indicating a loss of vacuum.
3.     I keep my tank on a wooden platform instead of on concrete.
4.     I keep my semen tank away from the milkhouse cleaning acids, manure, fertilizer, and pesticides.
5.     My tank is easy to get to, so the nitrogen can be replaced.
6.     I rarely transport my semen tank.
7.     If I take the tank anywhere, I fasten it securely in the truck.
8.     I keep my tank out of direct sunlight.
9.     I keep children and animals away from the semen tank.
10.     I keep the semen protected from vandals and thieves.
11.     I keep my tank in an area where lighting is available so I can easily see into the neck for straw removal and inventory.
12.     I measure the liquid nitrogen monthly and replenish when level falls to 3 inches (1 inch is a red flag).
13.     I always keep the same bull on 1 cane and inventory of semen location so I can easily find the semen I want without raising a straw over the 5-inch mark.
14.     I keep accurate records of the bulls I have and where they are in the tank; I cross out the names of the bulls that have been removed.
15.     I have a backup plan to relocate semen rapidly in case of tank failure.
  Yes No  
1.     Use a new glove for every insemination.
2.     Lubricate the glove with mineral oil or a commercial A.I. lubricant.
3.     Speak to and touch the animal to make her aware of your presence.
4.     Massage the anus with mineral oil or lubricant.
5.     Gently enter the rectum by forming a cone with your fingers.
6.     Gently and thoroughly clean the rectum of manure.
7.     Check the uterus for any abnormal condition.
8.     Clean manure from the vulva and from the underside of your arm with a paper towel.
9.     Spread the vulva by pulling down with your arm in the rectum.
10.     Gently and smoothly pass the gun through the vagina to the opening to the cervical canal — the cervical os.
11.     Place the tip of the gun into the os.
12.     Hold the cervix ahead of the gun’s tip; manipulate the cervix to allow the gun to pass.
13.     Avoid passing the gun through the cervix if pregnancy is suspected. NOTE: Pregnancy is indicated by a “sticky” mucus plug.
14.     Place your index finger at the far end of the cervical canal opening.
15.     Gently move the gun tip forward until you feel it with your finger.
16.     Pass the gun tip ¼ inch past the end of the cervix. Your target is only the size of a dime.
17.     Be certain the gun tip is not caught in between cervical rings.
18.     Concentrate on accurate semen placement during deposition.
19.     Firmly hold the cervix while keeping the index finger in contact with the top of the gun tip.
20.     Hold the shoulder of the gun between your ring and middle fingers.
21.     Hold your right hand against your left arm to ensure that the gun is not pulled back, out of the cervix, during semen deposition.
22.     Slowly (5 seconds) push the plunger into the straw gun.
23.     If the animal moves, stop the deposit. Wait until movement stops, check positioning, then continue to deposit.
24.     Gently remove the gun and check for an abnormal discharge and a complete semen deposit.
25.     Record when, and to what sire, the animal was bred.
  Yes No  
1.     Blood on your glove? Be gentle.
2.     Proper placement? Concentrate.
3.     No more than 1 to 3 minutes on most cows? This comes with experience.
4.     Are some repeat service cows showing abnormal discharge? Sanitation is important. Use sheath protectors.
5.     Do you give up on the rough ones? Patience; it will work


Animal Welfare Considerations in Dairy System Design

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.

Source: Penn State Extension

Keeping a Workforce Motivated Takes More Than Just Money

A recent business magazine article (The Best Ways to Reward Employees) listed “a strategic reward system for employees” under the heading Growth Strategies. At first glance it may seem strange that a strategy for growth is rewarding employees, but consider how key the workforce on your dairy is to the day-to-day completion of tasks that have huge impacts on your bottom line. Cutting corners in the milking parlor? A new case of mastitis costs hundreds of dollars per cow. Missing a few feed push-ups? A two-pound drop in dry matter intake means four pounds less milk per cow in the tank. So if you want to grow your dairy income, think about starting with improvements in the management of your workforce.

An online article from Monster for Employers (What are the big motivation factors for employees?) reported employees often say they are leaving a job for “financial reasons” in order to preserve good references or because they don’t see anything changing if they tell the truth. So what are some of the real reasons that workers leave? There will always be a variety of issues surrounding worker turnover, and sometimes money may be an influencer, but often times it is those “other things” that keep an employee loyal to the dairy or cause them to look for work elsewhere. Gathering data on a farm last fall, I was talking with a long-time herd manager about his tenure at the dairy, and two things stuck in my mind from that conversation. He stayed at the dairy because “it was a pretty good place to work and they care about what I think” and because “I was almost always able to see my kids play ball.” Flexibility in scheduling allowed him to make up time so that he could leave early to be with his children, and his opinions and ideas mattered to the owners. In this case, these factors were more powerful motivators than a higher paycheck from the neighboring dairy. Reducing working turnover and keeping long-term employees with key knowledge of your dairy saves money.

Profit margins in the dairy industry have been tight in recent times, and many businesses are looking for ways to earn more, spend less, and improve their bottom line. When considering ways to boost profits, do not overlook the assets you have in people. Both of the earlier articles referred to aspects of performance management—reward and recognize people for positive behaviors that impact things like cow comfort, feed efficiency, or milk quality. Research detailed in Managing Employee Performance (login required) shows that creating a business culture focused on performance—setting goals and holding workers accountable—helps to improve worker performance. Recognition of outstanding performance is a strong motivator for employees. Likewise, ignoring the poor performance of marginal workers is a strong demotivator for those same top-level employees. Think about working side-by-side with someone who does sloppy work, takes longer breaks, comes in late for work (you get the picture!) but gets paid the same at the end of the week as you do. How do you feel about your work, your job, your boss, yourself? Now think about working side-by-side with that same worker, where your manager praises your good work and your co-worker comes back from a break grumbling because the boss says he has to go back and fix his mistake from earlier in the day. How do these two very different situations influence your attitude and mindset?

Communication and providing informal feedback from managers to workers needs to happen daily. While as a manager it is important to correct worker errors privately, it is critical to correct mistakes in a timely manner. Negative worker attitudes and sloppy work can fly through the air and take hold on your dairy like the flu virus in a crowded airport! Likewise, those “cutting corners” behaviors can erode away day-to-day efficiency of operation and care of animals. So before the week is up, take some time to notice what is happening in various aspects of your dairy and with your workers. Make time to offer positive feedback to those workers doing above average work. Make time to notice areas where retraining may be necessary because procedural drift away from the correct way of completing a task has happened. Make time to invest in your workers, and your return on that investment may just surprise you in your next milk check.


Dairy farmers find a different way to value add

INNOVATORS: South Gippsland Dairy’s Campbell Evans, managing director, Neil Walker, farm services and Shelley Walker, marketing manager.

“We wanted to do something different, not what everyone else is doing,” Shelley Walker said.

Three years ago, Ms Walker and husband Neil, who milk 180-200 cows near Korumburra in the heart of Victoria’s South Gippsland, were looking for a way out of the dairy crisis.

Value-adding made sense but, with the market awash with boutique milk brands, the couple decided to take another course.

“We ruled out fresh white milk right from the start,” she said.

“You need to be processing millions of litres to make money and be running seven days a week.

“That’s a lot of work.”

The answer presented itself when a mutual friend introduced them to dairy process engineer Campbell Evans, who raised the idea of marketing colostrum.

Colostrum is a big business, estimated at more than $US1.40 billion globally in 2018.

The big Australian processors, including Murray Goulburn, once supplied the market but Mr Evans said he knew of only one other small Australian business selling colostrum these days.

With its small volumes, high-value niche, absence of Australian competitors and longer shelf life, colostrum made sense.

“You have to recognise at the very start that we’re a small family-owned business,” Mr Evans said.

“How do you start in the dairy industry today without being a worldwide company and actually do something?

“The product has to fit the capabilities and the resources you have.”

Their business, South Gippsland Dairy (SGD), is now on the verge of launching its product and has just recruited its first suppliers.

While the idea was to select a business that was bite-sized enough for the trio to handle, the road has been far from easy.

“It was more challenging than I’d imagined, primarily because there is no other producer for these authorities to refer to,” Mr Evans said.

“They were all starting from scratch.

“We were having to go to Canberra to get classification for what colostrum actually is, it doesn’t exist in some of the codes.

“We’ve come to some big hurdles, from the whole of veterinary medicines, through Dairy Foods Safety Victoria to the Therapeutic Goods Administration; we’ve had to have all of those authorities involved.

“We could have been far more successful in financial terms just importing the stuff and repacking. 

“That was an option for us some two years ago but we said that’s not true to our cause and what’s the point of doing that?”

Mr Evans said he hoped the business will be able to repay their investment within two to three years, depending on its level of market success.

In fact, SGD will trade heavily on its status as a high-end colostrum supplier and a 30-day supply of tablets will retail for the premium price of $55.

Mr Evans said while many brands of powder contain as little as 5 per cent colostrum, SGD’s was pure and proven to be more potent than others.

“We will never be the biggest producer but we would like to be the best producer in the world,” he said.

“We’ve had CSIRO test the product and our results are good.

“They take antigens that those antibodies will attack, or attach to, put them in a dish and measure how effective the colostrum is at attacking them.

“We’ve been testing our product for two years.

“Now, we’re confident we have consistently superior product.”

Aside from purity, the key to producing high quality colostrum is fastidious handling from farm all the way through the factory.

SGD farm services manager Neil Walker said the colostrum had to be from the first milking.

Each batch is strained, decanted into 10-litre bags and frozen on farm before being processed at SGD’s small facility in Leongatha, Vic.

Farmer-suppliers are paid $3 to $7 a kilogram, depending on the quality of the colostrum and must sign on to a colostrum management program to ensure adequate colostrum is retained for calves.

SGD believes its small-scale collection and processing system, which processes about 12kg of powder per hour, gives it a big advantage over large dairy processors.

“If you’re a large cooperative that has a big processing facility then, by the time you get this small amount of stuff and fill your pipeline, nothing’s coming out the other end because it’s been flushed out by the time you get through the process,” Mr Evans said.

“Large companies that take it by the tanker-load have diluted it all down with milk.

“They had to get such volumes of colostrum, they would collect it from all over the state for one processing plant. 

“By the time is gets collected, consolidated, all sudden by the time it gets processed, it’s days and days of deterioration.”

Mr Evans said large processors also tended to put the colostrum through spray dryers operating at 160 degrees, while SGD’s colostrum is freeze dried at -50 degrees.

The trio plan to expand SGD’s product offering, with capsules and even skin creams on the agenda.

Convinced of its immune-boosting, gut-healing properties, they hope its results will build a loyal customer base.

“We want 75pc of customers to keep coming back and buying not one but 12 lots a year,” Ms Walker said.

“If people are getting results for their own health, they’ll come back to it.”


Source: Farm Online

Cows calving in mud ‘unacceptable’

Images of cows calving in knee-deep mud while being wintered on crops are unacceptable, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says.  

Also known as ‘winter cropping’ or ‘winter grazing’, wintering on crops is when livestock like cattle, sheep and deer are strip fed a crop.

If not well managed, it can leave animals stranded in muddy paddocks, unable to lie down or move freely, as shown in images released last week.

O’Connor announced on Wednesday he had established a taskforce to respond to the issues associated with the practice.

“Images of cows up to their knees in mud, unable to lie down and rest and calving in these conditions is unacceptable to me and I’ve heard loud and clear from the public that it’s unacceptable to them too,” he said.

“Winter crop grazing is necessary in some parts of the country to provide enough feed for stock at a time when there’s not a lot of pasture. 

“Done well, it provides animals with quality feed to keep them warm over winter. Done badly it means cattle can be knee-deep in mud which gives rise to completely justifiable concerns for their welfare.”

Winter grazing could also have environmental impacts, including the spread of sediment and nitrates into waterways, and the Government was working on ways to address those, O’Connor said. 

“The Government has bottom lines on animal welfare and there are some people falling well below acceptable practice. 

“Unfortunately, it’s another situation of a small number of farmers letting the side down and bringing everyone into disrepute.”

O’Connor said it was time for greater co-ordination, faster action and consequences. 

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ animal welfare unit had stepped up its compliance activity and was keeping a “very close” eye on the situation.

“Our international reputation depends on getting this sort of thing right, as does our social licence to operate within New Zealand,” he said.

“I know industry groups have been working to improve wintering practices and protect animal welfare. I want to add extra impetus to that work.”

The taskforce would include vets, industry leaders and officials who could identify the issues and offer solutions.

The group was expected to meet in the next few weeks and present its first steps for dealing with the situation by the end of the month. 

Environmentalist Angus Robson, who used the images to launch a campaign against intensive winter grazing, said he was happy to hear the Government was taking action.

“I’ll be even happier if they follow through,” he said.

Robson said several things could be done to improve the situation, including introducing clear standards for what was acceptable, and an infringement system similar to that used for traffic offences.

“Only the worst cases go to prosecution and it takes a lot of time and money to go through that process,” he said.

“A $200 fine for a cow not having somewhere dry to lie down is much easier to enforce than a prosecution that has to meet really tough standards.”

He also wanted to see complainants given anonymity and a 48-hour timeframe for inspectors to respond to complaints.

“They’re not big things but they would start making a difference,” he said.

“Ultimately we need to have fewer cows but we need to work towards that slowly.”


Source: Stuff

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