Archive for Management – Page 3

When is Hay Dry Enough?

There is a great misconception that once hay is “dry” and baled it is plain and devoid of life. The truth is that hay is never completely dry, and it is full of microscopic life. If the hay is not dry enough, those microscopic life forms can cause major problems.  It’s Alive! Many microorganisms (mainly fungi species like Aspergillus and Fusarium, bacteria, and others) are ever present in hay (Figure 1). They feed on available carbohydrates on the surface of the forage plants and inside the stems and leaves. This feeding results in the loss of some dry matter (DM), reduces the quality of the hay, and also generates heat. The temperature of these hay bales, stacks, and barns can get very hot. In extreme cases, it can get so hot that the bales can catch on fire, even without a spark (i.e., spontaneous combustion). Even if the temperature does not reach these extremes, these microorganisms can also form spores. It is these spores that give the hay a moldy smell.

Summary of heating during hay storage, including recommended actions at various hay temperatures, what is causing the temperature increase, and what is happening as a result of the heat.

Figure 1.  Summary of heating during hay storage, including recommended actions at various hay temperatures, what is causing the temperature increase, and what is happening as a result of the heat.

Nearly all hay goes through “a sweat” during the first few days after baling when the temperature rises. Figure 2 shows two cuttings of hay in a study I conducted while at the University of Kentucky wherein the bales’ temperature was tracked over time. Notice that the
summer cutting, which was put up at 16% moisture, stayed relatively cool even during higher average ambient air temperatures. However, the fall cutting was baled a little wet (20% moisture) for round bales and it spiked over 140° F within just 3 days.

Figure 2. Temperature of round bale alfalfa hay from summer (16% moisture) and fall (20% moisture) cuttings relative to the ambient air temperature during the first few days after baling.

Figure 2. Temperature of round bale alfalfa hay from summer (16% moisture) and fall (20% moisture) cuttings relative to the ambient air temperature during the first few days after baling.

The heat that is generated when hay goes through “a sweat” is a side effect of the microorganisms consuming the most digestible portions of the forage, such as carbohydrates like sugar and starch. Consequently, a substantial portion of the hay could be used up during this process.

Dr. Wayne Coblentz, Research Agronomist at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service’s U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, has conducted several experiments on the impact that hay moisture and the resulting heating of the hay have on dry matter (DM) loss, hay quality, and heat risk. He recently found that for every 10° F increase in maximum temperature, the hay would lose up to 2% of the DM during storage.

Since these losses are coming from the most digestible forms of energy in the forage, hay heating comes at the expense of digestibility and the concentration of energy in the forage. Dr. Coblentz showed that the TDN of bermudagrass hay is decreased by more than 1 percentage point for every 10° F increase in maximum temperature over 100° F. In other words, a good bermudagrass hay crop that was just a little too wet when it was baled might have gone into the barn at 58% TDN, but it likely will come out of the barn with less than 54% TDN if it heated up to 140 °F or more.

What is “Dry Enough?”

Much of the original research suggests hay moisture content should be kept less than 20% for small rectangular bales, less than 18% for round bales, and less than 16% for large rectangular bales. These are still good “rules of thumb,” but there are exceptions. Consider, for example, the advances in bale package sizes and high-density baling systems that have occurred in the modern era. These denser bale packages enable the heat to build up to a higher degree.  Other factors can also contribute to the extent of hay heating, including the amount of available carbohydrates in the forage crop, air circulation in the hay stack, relative humidity in the storage area, and the ambient temperature and humidity outside. Each producer’s situation will be somewhat different because of equipment, storage technique, and climatic differences. So, within the ranges provided in Figure 3, hay growers should allow for the effect that these factors might influence which target bale moisture is right for their farm.

Figure 3. The effect of bale moisture on the amount of damage that can be expected with different sizes and densities of hay bales, as well as other factors that affect hay heating.

Figure 3. The effect of bale moisture on the amount of damage that can be expected with different sizes and densities of hay bales, as well as other factors that affect hay heating.

Every year, I get 3-4 calls from folks who have had hay barns burn down. The calls almost always include the question, “Do you think I might not have gotten that hay dry enough?” It is truly tragic when it happens. The key is to control what you can control.  For more information on hay molding and heating, visit our website at

New tools from Extension help farmers navigate the Dairy Margin Coverage program

USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced the signup period for the new Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program will open June 17, 2019. Dairy producers who elect a DMC coverage level between $9 and $9.50 would be eligible for a payment for January, February, March and April 2019.

With the FSA signup there is renewed interest by farmers in learning more about the program. Mark Stephenson, Director of the Center for Dairy Profitability at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension, created resources to help farmers consider signup strategies for their farm. County Extension Agents can help farmers access information and tools for the DMC program. Farmers can utilize an informative video, chart the current forecasted margin, and access the DMC decision making tool from the website: For access to Dairy Margin Coverage informational meetings offered in your area visit or contact your local county Extension office

DMC, which replaces the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy), offers protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all milk price and the average feed cost (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer.

For example, a dairy operation that chooses to enroll an established production history of 3 million pounds (30,000 cwt.) and elects the $9.50 coverage level on 95 percent of production would receive $1,543.75 for March.

Sample calculation:

$9.50 – $8.85 margin = $0.65 difference

$0.65 x 95 percent of production x 2,500 cwt. (30,000 cwt./12) = $1,543.75

DMC premiums are paid annually. The calculated annual premium for coverage at $9.50 on 95 percent of a 3-million-pound production history for this example would be $4,275.

Sample calculation:

3,000,000 x 95 percent = 2,850,000/100 = 28,500 cwt. x 0.150 premium fee = $4,275

The dairy operation in the example calculation will pay $4,275 in total premium payments for all of 2019 and receive $9,950 in DMC payments for January, February, March and April combined. Additional payments will be made if calculated margins remain below the $9.50/cwt level.

All participants are also required to pay an annual $100 administrative fee in addition to any premium, and payments will be subject to a 6.2 percent reduction to account for federal sequestration.

For DMC signup, eligibility and related dairy program information, contact your local USDA service center. To locate your local FSA office, visit


Building a Dairy Farm Team

Would anyone doubt that a successful dairy farm requires a team effort? Silly question? Not at all. Most dairy farms have groups of people or collections of individuals rather than teams. Success does not demand a team approach. A farm manager who prefers a team approach faces a tough test of patience, people skills, and communication.

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

Team Basics

A dairy farm can have a team of people, a group, or just a collection of individuals. The differences among the three are important:

Team→ Several people who work together as a cohesive unit to achieve specific, shared goals.

Group→ Several people who have common goals but work independently without depending on each other for their success.

Individuals→ Several individuals who work independently to accomplish their individual goals without depending on each other for their success.

There are good reasons for dairy farm managers to form teams. Successful teams are likely to help managers accomplish the following:

  1. Efficiency in use of farm resources
  2. Complementarity of skills brought to the team by its members
  3. Reinforcement of goals, standards, procedures, and rules
  4. Mentoring of newer and less skilled team members by other team members
  5. Esprit de corps from team members personally enjoying each others’ company and the team’s accomplishments
  6. Peer pressure to help meet team goals and to correct performance deficiencies
  7. Monitoring of performance at both the individual and team level.

However, people sometimes have understandable reasons for resisting teamwork:

  1. Previous negative experiences with attempts at teamwork
  2. Fear of the risk that goes with commitment to a team effort
  3. Management’s failure to develop an atmosphere of trust in a team’s ability to be good for both the farm and individuals
  4. Some people not fitting well into a team environment, e.g., perfectionists, scorekeepers, grudge carriers, loners, and procrastinators.

Stages of Team Development

A dairy farm group goes through several stages before becoming a highly efficient and effective team. The stages are:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Initial Integration (norming)
  4. Total Integration
  5. Dissolution

Teams go through these stages at different rates and in different ways. Most will go through all five stages provided they don’t stall at an early stage and cease to function.

Note carefully! We are describing a process uncommon in group work. Teamwork is easy rhetoric. The practice of teamwork challenges even the most experienced dairy farm managers. Some farm managers look for “top down” shortcuts. Some scoff at the time necessary to turn a group of people into a team. However, for those who understand the principles and then work hard at implementation, the payoffs can justify the effort.

We turn now to the characteristics typically associated with each of the five stages in the team development process.

  1. Forming
    1. Members become acquainted
    2. Members learn about goals and tasks of the team
    3. Members evaluate work associated with and benefits of the team relative to career and personal needs
    4. Almost everyone exhibits good behavior and courtesy
    5. Leader is identified
    6. Preliminary plans are made for the next steps
    7. Members enjoy a good and seemingly easy start
  2. Storming
    1. High emotion
    2. Conflict may occur during long and seemingly inefficient meetings
    3. There is a lot of “behind the bosses’ back” and “behind the leaders’ back” kind of grumbling
    4. High emotion characterizes some of the interaction among team members
    5. Doubts based on previous negative experiences cause people to be cautious
    6. Doubts emerge about ability to deliver all that is expected
    7. Writing a mission statement and/or goals is stressful and leads to additional statements about differences of opinion
    8. Outcome finally is to push ahead with a sense that some important progress has been made but that there is much still to be accomplished
  3. Initial Integration (norming)
    1. Team begins to function cooperatively
    2. Rules of acceptable conduct, or norms, are established
    3. Team needs begin to take precedence over individual needs
    4. Hostility ceases
    5. Mission statement and detailed goals are completed
    6. Individuals begin to experience benefits of close cooperation with others on the team
    7. Sense of closeness and group purpose emerges
    8. Team has some major successes
  4. Total Integration
    1. Major successes continue
    2. Conflict is rational
    3. Creative tension regularly reappears
    4. “What next?” is a compulsive question
    5. Team struggles with how to handle changing membership
    6. Successes are widely recognized
    7. Members are concerned more about the team than their own successes
    8. Team is well organized; meetings are short and efficient
  5. Dissolution
    1. No team goes on indefinitely
    2. Teams that have functioned well sense when change, new members, and “mission accomplished” have taken members back to the forming stage.

Cultivating Team Performance

Neither the farm manager nor outside cooperators, e.g., veterinarians, can accept responsibility for team performance. Each team is responsible for its own performance. However, the following guidelines for team members, managers, and cooperators can help cultivate team performance:

  1. Establish urgency. Have a driving cause, issue, or need.
  2. Pay particular attention to early planning meetings and actions. Remember that most groups never reach the norming stage of team development.
  3. Set some clear rules of behavior. Those rules will vary from team to team. Examples include holding all scheduled team meetings, starting meetings on time, volunteering to help each other with disagreeable jobs, saying thank you, and not talking about problems with neighbors and friends.
  4. Set and seize upon a few performance-oriented tasks and goals. Make them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarding, and Timed.
  5. Challenge each other with fresh facts and information.
  6. Spend lots of time together. There is no substitute for a team caring about its members and each team member caring about the welfare of the team. Celebrate birthdays, go to a baseball game together, have frequent team meetings, and have a daily “coffee break” together.
  7. Exploit the power of positive feedback, recognition, and reward. Celebrating successes is time well spent.


Mental Health and Stress for Agricultural Producers

Did you realize

Farm families are the backbone of America. But farm families are feeling the pressure of an inconsistent and unreliable economy. These stressors can lead to mental and emotional distress, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and even suicide.

Farming and ranching rank in the top ten of most stressful occupations. They also rank first and third respectfully in suicides. Understanding what those stress signs are is imperative. We may want to ignore them but at some point, there is a price to pay-physical health like a heart attack, emotional health like a broken relationship, mental health like depression or worse. Taking care of yourself and those around you is so important.

So what can you do, be aware, add coping strategies, find someone to talk to. Be intentional! Exercise, get enough sleep, eat healthy, take time every day to reflect on the good things in your life.

Awareness is the first step to understanding Stress and its effect on us. Making small intentional steps daily can be a life saver!

Penn State Extension has prepared this selection of assets to help farm families navigate the numerous resources available online and provide timely, science-based education and information to support prosperous farms and healthy farm families.

If you are a farmer in crisis, or know of someone in need of immediate assistance, go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or call 1-800-273-8255 or dial 911.

Additional Extension programs to help communicating with producers with stress

If you want to host a class or series of these workshops contact Cynthia Pollich at or for program information and questions, please contact Penn State Extension-Lancaster.

Additional Resources


Dairy Sense: Will Raising Crossbred Dairy Steers Improve Cash Flow?

Production perspective:

Dairy producers have been investigating the strategy of using beef semen on their dairy cows to generate crossbred dairy steers as an alternative enterprise. The low prices paid for cull cows and calves has forced producers to examine other ways to improve their cash flow. The level of management related to home raised feeds, especially quantity and basic animal husbandry will determine if a profit is possible. There are a lot of aspects to consider about this kind of venture before moving forward.

Examining alternative enterprises relies heavily on knowing the current financial status of the business. It is not a far stretch to engage in the beef side since this aspect has always been a minor component of the dairy operation with income from cull cows and calves. Evaluating the dairy enterprise for the past six years in Pennsylvania, animal sales account for between 5.5 and 8.0 percent of the total inflow on a per cow basis. For the average producer thinking about implementing crossbred dairy steers (assume 40 animals annually), this may increase that number by two to four percent. When the expenses are factored in, it most likely will be a breakeven endeavor. There is a lot of homework that needs done before making any changes.

As with any commodity, there are market specifics including a consistent buyer and a good price. Producing an acceptable-quality carcass from dairy beef crosses requires feeding a high-energy ration and marketing them at an early age (12 to 14 months) and acceptable weight (1,150 to 1,450 pounds). The first questions to answer are: “can the dairy operation provide the number of beef animals to improve the cash flow?” and “will the price paid for Holstein beef crosses make a profit?”. For the week ending May 31 the average crossbred dairy steer price was $0.77/lb. The potential income on 40 animals could be around $35,000. The other side of the equation is the expenses, and growing good animals for beef production does not come cheap.

Adequate facilities, labor, and feed will be the three target areas that will determine if raising crossbred dairy steers is profitable. Good management practices must be followed to get animals to the desired weight within the proper time frame. The producer’s mind set must change from a forage-based approach to a high concentrate diet if the desired gains are to be achieved.

Dr. Tara Felix at Penn State developed an easy budget calculator to examine costs involved in raising dairy beef steers . Using the standard prices from the budget, the only changes made were for home raised corn grain, corn silage and hay based on high and low profit herds from the Extension dairy team’s crops to cow project. The comparison includes only the variable costs (feed, health, bedding, miscellaneous etc.) for 40 animals. The prices used for the high and low profit herds respectively were corn grain: $2.37/bu. and $4.62/bu.; corn silage: $22.58/ton and $40.51/ton; and hay: $231/ton and $64/ton. Expenses for the high profit herd came to $31,000 and the low profit herd $51,000. Herds doing an excellent job on their cropping enterprise have potential to make a cash surplus assuming fixed costs are reasonable. Herds that consistently struggle with high costs for their home-raised feeds would need to market their animals from this alternative enterprise at $1.10 per pound to breakeven just looking at the variable costs, which may not be realistic even for well finished dairy steers.

The same approach for determining what makes a positive cash flow for the dairy operation applies to the beef enterprise. The number of animals and the market price will determine the inflow needed to cover the outflow, and feed cost will be a substantial component. A positive return is possible, but good management practices must be in place to make it work.

Action plan for pursuing crossbred dairy steers as an alternative enterprise

Goal – Determine if raising dairy beef steers is a profitable endeavor

  • Step 1: Utilize Penn State Extension’s Excel Cash Flow Spreadsheet to determine the farm’s breakeven cost of production coupled with the costs to raise home raised feeds.
  • Step 2: Working with the appropriate consultants, evaluate what the beef market is looking for and what average price has been paid for crossbred dairy steers raised for beef markets.
  • Step 3: Determine the number of crossbred dairy steers needed to cash flow the operation and determine if current facilities and labor are adequate.
  • Step 4: Work with a nutritionist to develop the appropriate rations to achieve the necessary gains ensuring current feed inventories are adequate. If home raised feeds cannot cover the diet requirements, evaluate using purchased feed prices.
  • Step 5: Using a sample crossbred dairy steer budget, enter in numbers and prices appropriate for the operation. Determine the number of animals and price per pound needed to show a profit.

Economic perspective:

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

Also included are the feed costs for dry cows, springing heifers, pregnant heifers and growing heifers. The rations reflect what has been fed to these animal groups at the Penn State dairy herd. All market prices were used.

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

Note: Penn State’s May milk price: $18.49/cwt; feed cost/cow: $6.20; average milk production: 84 lbs.

Feed cost/non-lactating animal/day.


Scientists alter cows’ genetics to reduce methane emissions

Meat and dairy are New Zealand’s biggest earners when it comes to exports, however, they are also our largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. As we try to balance our economy with our commitment to the Paris climate agreement new research out this week thinks the secret to reducing climate change could be through breeding less burpy cows.

Methane emissions from ruminants including sheep and cows account for about a third of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions and are by far the largest single contributor. Although methane stays in the atmosphere for less time than carbon, as a gas it is much more effective at trapping heat – acting as a blanket over our planet and playing a significant role when it comes to climate change.

Methane isn’t physically produced by the ruminants themselves, instead, the animals act as a host to a group of microbes called methanogens that live in their digestive system. It is these methanogens that produce the methane by combining hydrogen and carbon dioxide during food digestion. To look at the relationship between methane emissions and livestock, a large European Union commissioned research project called RuminOmics took a team of more than 30 scientists and several breeds of common cow to see if there was a simple way to reduce the amount of methane produced.

The scientists inserted a brass cylinder into the mouth of the cows they were studying and pulled up fluid from the rumen, the first of four compartments found in the stomach of a cow. This is the area where grass that has been chewed and swallowed by the cow gets partially digested through a fermentation reaction. The researchers found that this fluid contained different types of protozoa, bacteria, fungi, DNA and single-celled organisms known as archaea. The bacteria produce hydrogen as they ferment the carbohydrates from the chewed up grass which is then combined with carbon dioxide by the archaea in the rumen producing a methane-rich gassy combination, 95 per cent of which is burped out by the cow.

Previous research has tried to solve this methane emissions issue by changing the diet that the cows ate, with the addition of seaweed instead of grass as one way of reducing the amount of methane produced. Although the extra seaweed was successful in methane reduction, the additional food cost plus the extra carbon footprint needed to transport seaweed to farms did not make it a viable option for many farmers. Rather than change the diet of the cow, the RuminOmics research, which was summarised in the journal Science Advances, found that it was more effective to change the methane-producing bacteria that lived in the cow. Their results found a strong link between the genetic make-up of the cow and they type of microbe that lived in its digestive system with high methane-producing microbes being inherited from one generation to the next. The simple solution they found was to selectively breed cows that didn’t have these inherited genetic traits which seemed to relate to the hosting of high methane-producing microbes. The study agreed with local work carried out at AgResearch, which has also been successful in selectively breeding sheep that have specific genetics to produce less methane from their grassy diets.

Altering the genetic make-up of cows by breeding for good heritable traits is standard in the livestock industry although it has typically been tailored to produce improved milk or meat yields. Now the challenge is to see if both an increased milk or meat yield and lower emissions can be bred together into one single productive yet environmentally friendly and less burpy cow.


Source: NZ Herald

A quality workforce works for your bottom line

Minimizing death rates is one of the top ways to maximize dairy profits, according to a recent financial analysis.1 Lower death rates are generally an indicator of good animal husbandry skills. And overall animal husbandry skills are in the hands of your employees.   

The true cost of death loss

The value of reducing death rates can be significant — $138 per cow per year, or 7 pounds of milk per cow per day.1,* That’s among the findings from a field study by Zoetis and Compeer Financial that analyzed 11 years of herd data from 489 year-end financial and production-record summaries.

Minimizing losses starts with your people

All data in this study point to death rates and net farm income being positively influenced by a well-trained, qualified and invested workforce. It’s true that your people are your greatest asset. They also can be your greatest liability if not properly led, trained or, rather, inspired.

Because managing employees can be one of the most complicated challenges on a dairy, here are a few places to start when looking to improve animal husbandry and minimize death rates:

  • Hire the right people. The people you hire, no matter how qualified, can take your dairy — and death rates — in the wrong direction if their goals and values differ from those of the operation. Prevent that by taking time to evaluate the goals of your operation and your employees. Interview your employees to help you make better hiring decisions. Ask them these questions.
  • Train your workforce on milk quality. The study shows elevated death rates in herds that have elevated somatic cell counts (SCC) — demonstrating both are linked to overall animal husbandry practices. Training on other milk quality practices before, during and after milking can help improve milk quality and animal well-being. For example, employees are trained to look for physical mastitis symptoms, but they should also look for evidence of subclinical mastitis infections.
  • Foster teamwork. A manager who is undertrained and disengaged can contribute to disengaged employees and turnover. A highly engaged team is a more capable team. This team is more capable of getting cows pregnant quickly and efficiently. They are invested in getting high volumes of milk harvested from cows on a regular basis. And they care more about limiting involuntary culling and death losses. Simple changes in people management can create higher employee engagement, improve team performance and increase dairy profitability.

Learn more here about death rates and other Dairy Financial Drivers impacting net herd income.

Cash cows come with age

It’s common to cull older cows while making room for younger ones. You orchestrate this herd turnover to ensure the longevity and productivity of your herd, but could it be hurting your farm’s profitability?

The cost of herd turnover extends beyond the difference between the monetary value of a cull cow and its replacement. You also must factor in the animals’ production potential. First-lactation animals produce 15% less milk than second-lactation cows and 25% less than third-lactation cows.1 When you replace mature cows with younger ones, you can experience production losses.

Zoetis and Compeer Financial identified net herd turnover cost as a major driver of dairy profitability in an analysis of 11 years of herd data, including 489 year-end financial and production-record summaries. Their study found that the difference in profit between the herds with the highest and lowest rates of turnover was 7 pounds of milk per cow per day, and $376 per cow per year.1*

The key to maximizing your herd’s production potential and your profit margins is minimizing your net herd turnover cost. In the financial driver study, the bottom third of dairies analyzed had an average net herd turnover cost of $1.99/cwt, more than double that of the top third of dairies at just $0.91/cwt. If you reduce herd turnover rates and maintain a herd with a higher proportion of aged cows, your milk production levels will increase, resulting in a positive impact on net farm income.

While you work toward reducing herd turnover, how do you still ensure the quality of your herd and the milk they produce?

Monitor and manage SCC Mastitis infections are difficult to diagnose, resulting in problems for cows and their milk production when the infection progresses and symptoms manifest. Individual somatic cell counts (SCC) of 200,000 cells/mL or higher may indicate a subclinical mastitis infection. By routinely monitoring your cows’ SCC data, you can spot mastitis infections before they have the opportunity to affect production. If your cows’ SCC are abnormally elevated, contact your veterinarian to talk about treatment options such as SPECTRAMAST® LC (ceftiofur hydrochloride) Sterile Suspension.**

Focus on fresh cow healthPost-calving infections, such as metritis, pose a serious threat to cows’ milk production and future reproductive potential. Keep cows in your herd longer by treating infection as soon as it occurs. EXCEDE® (ceftiofur crystalline free acid) Sterile Suspension*** is a convenient, two-dose metritis treatment with zero milk discard, allowing a cow to avoid a trip to the hospital pen, which is beneficial for minimizing social stress and exposure to more disease.2

Raise the right cows for your herdIf you want a herd that is going to meet your production and profit goals, you need to stock it with the right animals. Consider genomic testing with CLARIFIDE® Plus to help identify animals with increased risk for costly dairy diseases. This tool can allow you to select for traits that will bring your farm the most profit. Additionally, you can assess calves for production potential and health risks soon after birth, allowing you to make more educated breeding and replacement decisions.

Learn more about how net herd turnover cost or another one of the six dairy financial drivers can impact your farm.

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION FOR EXCEDE: People with known hypersensitivity to penicillin or cephalosporins should avoid exposure to EXCEDE. EXCEDE is contraindicated in animals with known allergy to ceftiofur or to the β-lactam group (penicillins and cephalosporins) of antimicrobials. Inadvertent intra-arterial injection is possible and fatal. Do not use in calves to be processed for veal. Pre-slaughter withdrawal time is 13 days following the last dose. See full Prescribing Information.

IMPORTANT DIAGNOSTIC INFORMATION FOR SPECTRAMAST LC: SPECTRAMAST LC is intended for use in lactating dairy cattle only with the specified, labeled pathogens. To assure responsible antimicrobial drug use, it is expected that subclinical mastitis will be diagnosed using a positive culture, or other pathogen-specific test, in addition to any other, appropriate veterinary medical evaluation prior to treatment.

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION FOR SPECTRAMAST LC: People with known hypersensitivity to penicillin or cephalosporins should avoid exposure to SPECTRAMAST LC. Product requires a 72-hour milk discard period and a 2-day pre-slaughter withdrawal period following the last treatment. Use of this product in a manner other than indicated on the label, or failure to adhere to proper milk discard period, will result in violative residues. See full Prescribing Information.


ROBOTS are READY…. Not Too Big. Not Too Small. Just Right.

“We farmed before the invention of electricity, tractors and silos and never dreamed that a time would come where we could be watching live weather forecasting, while we worked the farm fields in air-conditioned comfort.” My father, George Heatherington, 1999.

This opening quote may not include the modern technology that you now take for granted, but the point is that not so long ago, automation had not yet made it to the farm. However, as each new invention came along, it prompted new ways of working.  Then, as a result, specialization of animal genetics and crop production started to evolve. The chain from farm gate to consumer also expanded. It quickly grew to include refrigerated transportation, advanced processing plants, focused milk marketing and giant retail grocery chains.  Even as this was happening, those moving off the farm began to romanticize, “the way it was.”.

“Big or Small … Food Production is the Goal”

Everyone chimes in on what size farms should be.  Sometimes it is a contentious issue. Having even a distant connection to the farm tends to make us want the small, gentle and familiar ways to remain.  But that is unrealistic. The only real goal is that there must be enough healthy food for the consumer. The UN estimates that the world population will rise to 9.7 billion in the next thirty years.  Old ways aren’t fast enough, big enough or safe enough to meet those needs. One of the noticeable differences is that we are going to lose the heritage farm scenes that fed small numbers. But that doesn’t mean that modern farmers are going to stop putting generations of homespun passion into dairy production.  The systems must change. Evolving with the times has always been part of dairy farming history, but human farmers and dairy cattle are still the driving forces behind milk production even as it responds to the necessity of going high tech.

“Here Come the Robots!”

Technology is in our cars, our schools and our churches. In our lifetimes, everyone reading this article has witnessed science fiction technology move from books and movies and into our everyday life.  Robots in the house clean carpets and floors and manage heat, lights and appliances. We have smartphones in our hands wherever we go. Robots are on the farm, increasing production yields. Drones are overhead.  Tractors are managed by remote control.  Robotic arms are in the milking parlor.  Innovative applications are being created and are quickly evolving as new ideas propel new inventions, and the old ones become obsolete.

“It’s Your Turn. Turn to Robots.  Turn A Profit”.

Using economies of scale, large dairy farms are turning to robots. In 2017 Whitney Davis writing for Dairy Business News wrote, “At present, there are approximately 40 herds of over 500 cows or more in North America now using robots.” Just one year later Doug Reinemann reported in Wisconsin Farmer that “the latest statistics indicate that a total of more than 200 dairy farms in Wisconsin and Minnesota and more than 300 in the United States, and upwards of 500 in Canada are equipped with robot milking units.” This is exciting news, and from my des, I found myself asking the question, “Faced with closing their doors, what is stopping the smaller dairy herd from using robots?” The answer is a game changer.  First, answer money.  And if you don’t have it in your current milk situation, how could you even think of going to robots?  Many desk-dream ideas come to mind. Milk fewer cows. Get higher production.  Convince financial and herd consultants to find the most profitable way to introduce robots to your herd. Robots are leading the way to the future.  Financial support, rules and regulations and all the details that make this change feel like running-in-cement, make it not feasible for the dairy farm that is already bogged down.

Larry Tranel at IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY Extension and Outreach is a great resource for up-to-date information on Milking Robots.  There you can expand on the following points.

What’s UP with Robots?

  • Reliability, consistency and efficiency.
  • Volumes of herd management and analysis information (100 measurements/milking).
  • Cows eat more meals.
  • Higher production per cow (from 10% to 30%).
  • Pregnancy Rates go up.
  • Milk quality payments go up because of reduced Somatic Cell Count.
  • Cow longevity increases.
  • Return on Investment.
  • Cows thrive on consistency and predictability.

What’s Down with Robots?

  • Total Milking Labour – 75% decrease.
  • Hours spent on Heat Detection – 70% decrease.
  • Hiring, training, and overseeing employees – decreased 37 minutes per day.
  • Labour savings valued at $44,030 per year.
  • Lameness is decreased.
  • Cows are down …. They are resting more.
  • Less Illness.

Adding up all these positives that are potentially available, it is more than worth the effort to find the way to make robotic milking possible.  No robot can find the most workable solution for your situation.  But you can. Everyone on the dairy team has to be open to all “what if” scenarios.  Of course, turning to robots involves risk.  And yes, doing nothing is definite.  Definite failure.

“Change the Dairy Tale”

Everyone loves a good story.  Dairy farmers often regale friends and family with their passion for the dairy lifestyle.  Lifestyle is great, but it costs money.  And then there’s the other side of the story. Too often, dairy consumers are telling the tale about factory farms taking over America’s pastured past.  In 2019 we need to move beyond Old McDonald’s farm.  Today’s fairy tale is more relatable to those ones where the wolf is at the door. We need to think of the clever turnabout where Red Riding Robot saves the day!  Wouldn’t it be ironic if all the technology that got us to this dangerous precipice turns from villain to hero by saving the dairy industry?  It isn’t technology that is to blame for where we are.  It is whether we use it effectively or not. A story won’t make or break your dairy operation.  The story of what you do will. Kids in our public schools are making APPS.  Some are constructing 3D printers.  If children can rewrite the story.  So can dairy farmers.  Not too big.  Not too small.  Just right.

“Don’t Fight Change. Fight for the Future”

So you’re not a factory farm.  You don’t milk 500 cows.  What is your niche? You need one.  Whatever you do best, you need to make that your place in the dairy industry. Can you and a neighbour join forces the way corporations do to make your dairy production viable?  By harnessing the strengths of two smaller but convenient (to each other) operations, perhaps you can produce more efficiently to a specific demand of your local processor or local consumers, as Bullvine author Murray Hunt wrote in, “Specialty Milk EQUALS Money Everyday”.

“Robots Beyond the Farm Gate”

While we are growing accustomed to robots working beside us on the farm, we need to encourage the same creativity and invention beyond the farm gate. For instance, warehousing and shipping are two places that also need to evolve. Most often, these areas trend toward larger is better.  We need to creatively seek ways to ship our dairy products in more specialized and smaller, faster more accessible ways.  Small shipments could mean more specialization and also that dairy aisles don’t have those empty shelves that are part of the empty pockets of milk producers at the front lines of milk production.  We are not being loud enough in demanding research that improves the ways we get our product to our customers. Huge savings in manpower are needed in the processing and delivery of milk products.  If dairy farms are robot ready and the linking dairy service industries are not, it is literally counterproductive for everybody.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is always the option of doing things the way they have always been done.  Unfortunately, profits aren’t showing up with that same repetitive frequency.  It’s time for dairy producers to open their gates, minds and dairies to change. Whether it’s mechanization or clever partnerships with neighbours, or creative financing or robotics, those who understand and want to remain in the modern dairy economy must eagerly find workable solutions to labour and production issues.  Regardless of size, those dairies who are ready to change and evolve are the dairies that will remain and prosper.




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Disruptive tech may not be answer, say dairy farmers

Aaron and Rikki-Lee Tyrrell with their son Emmett, 4, and their dog at Tyrrells Family Dairy, Invergordon Vic.

Dairy farmers are hesitant to race and adopt disruptive technologies, believing it may not be the answer to their industry’s issues.

The Little Big Dairy Co’s Erika Chesworth said technology was already playing a part in the dairy industry, and it would continue. 

“These (disruptive technologies and micro-processing facilities) are exciting opportunities for some, but this certainly will not be an option for all,” she said.

Rikki-Lee Tyrrell who runs the Tyrrells Family Dairy, alongside her husband Aaron, at Invergordon, Vic, said they were always looking for new ways to monitor and improve production as effectively as possible, but within reason of affordability and knowing how well it works.

“Being the guinea pig (of new artificial intelligence) and having it fail, especially in the current climate, makes you hang back a bit,” Ms Tyrrell said.

She said the future of robotics on farm was already happening and was something they would consider.

“Technology has helped farmers in the sense that when they can’t afford something, technology takes up the slack. It has allowed for farmers to manage their farm more efficiently … helping them to step up a notch by applying their skills and time more effectively within other areas,” Ms Tyrrell said.

“However it is hard to make changes, with the climate and current hardships in farming and agricultural from policies and governments frequently changing.”

With new disruptive technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) entering the industry, she said it could change employment opportunities. 

“With new technologies, there would still be people behind the scenes making it work, so it would maybe more-so be changing the roles rather than removing them,” Ms Tyrrell said. 

new NSW Farmers Dairy Committee chair Colin Thompson said traceability was something producers believed consumers had the right to know, but it was already happening.

“Traceability through AI would be an advantage for both processors and consumers, but it is pretty much already happening through barcodes, processors can track the product closely,” he said. 


Source: Farm Online

Potential for reduced methane from cows

An international team of scientists has shown it is possible to breed cattle to reduce their methane emissions.

Published in the journal Science Advances, the researchers showed that the genetics of an individual cow strongly influenced the make-up of the microorganisms in its rumen (the first stomach in the digestive system of ruminant animals which include cattle and sheep).

“What we showed is that the level and type of methane-producing microbes in the cow is to a large extent controlled by the cow’s genetic makeup,” says one of the project’s leaders and co-author Professor John Williams, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences. “That means we could select for cattle which are less likely to have high levels of methane-producing bacteria in their rumen.”

Cattle and other ruminants are significant producers of the greenhouse gas methane — contributing 37 per cent of the methane emissions resulting from human activity. A single cow on average produces between 70 and 120 kg of methane per year and, worldwide, there are about 1.5 billion cattle.

The study comes out of a project called RuminOmics, led by the Rowett Institute at the University of Aberdeen and involving the Parco Tecnologico Padano in Italy (where Professor Williams used to work), the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, and a number of other institutions in Europe and the US.

The researchers analysed the microbiomes from ruminal fluid samples of 1000 cows, along with measuring the cows’ feed intake, milk production, methane production and other biochemical characteristics. Although this study was carried out on dairy cows, the heritability of the types of microbes in the rumen should also apply to beef cattle.

“Previously we knew it was possible to reduce methane emissions by changing the diet,” says Professor Williams. “But changing the genetics is much more significant — in this way we can select for cows that permanently produce less methane.”

Professor Williams says breeding for low-methane cattle will, however, depend on selection priorities and how much it compromises selection for other desired characteristics such as meat quality, milk production or disease resistance.

“We now know it’s possible to select for low methane production,” he says. “But it depends on what else we are selecting for, and the weighting that is placed on methane — that’s something that will be determined by industry or society pressures.”

The researchers also found a correlation, although not as high, between the cows’ microbiomes and the efficiency of milk production.

“We don’t yet know, but if it turned out that low-methane production equated to greater efficiencies of production — which could turn out to be true given that energy is required to produce the methane — then that would be a win, win situation,” Professor Williams says.

This research, from the Davies Research Centre at the University of Adelaide’s Roseworthy campus, aligns with the University’s industry engagement priority in agrifood and wine, and in tackling the grand challenge of environmental sustainability.


Source: Science Daily

Advice for Handling Animal Activists

We understand animal activist claims are upsetting and frustrating for all involved in the dairy industry. The best way to help drown out the negativity is by not contributing to it, such as referencing the claims, sharing videos or news stories, or tagging the activist group in social media posts. Actions like those only draw more attention and eyes to the group and its videos. 

Dairy farmers should continue to positively tell the story of the care and concern you show for your farm – animals and employees – every single day. If you see others in the industry sharing info about the videos (for example, on social media), please message them privately and ask them not to do so.

Other recommendations:


  • Post pictures, videos, stories about the care and concern you show for your animals on your farm.
  • Consider posting about the training your staff receives – protocols that you have in place to ensure staff are properly coached, and the culture you have in place so that everyone knows animal abuse is not tolerated.
  • Remind your employees about the importance of “See Something? Say Something.”


  • Publicly disparage other farms’ practices online. Now more than ever, we need to stand together as an industry. It plays right into activists’ hands when dairy farmers criticize other farmers online. Remember – activist groups aren’t advocating for a “different” type of dairy farming – they’re advocating for the end of animal agriculture. 
  • Get frustrated when people ask legitimate questions. Respect goes a long way towards building trust. You may be asked questions that you’ve answered a million times, but for the person asking, it’s the first time. Treat others how you’d like to be treated.
  • Feel as if you’ve got to answer every question or attend every argument. Set up a “banned words” list on your Facebook page and change the setting to block profanity. Contact American Dairy Association North East to learn how you can adjust settings on your social media channels.
  • Forget that you’ve got support. Reach out if you need help or advice in responding to this or any other issue. Beth Meyer is the Crisis and Issues lead at American Dairy Association North East. Email her or call 315-491-3892. 


Source: American Dairy Association North East 

Lowering somatic cell counts in milk

Somatic cell counts are a long-standing marker of milk quality, impacting shelf life and flavor. A lower SCC is better for cheese production and gives a longer shelf life for bottled milk.

The national maximum SCC level is 750,000 cells per milliliter per farm for domestic sales and 400,000 cells per milliliter for exports.

Although somatic cells occur naturally and are not a food safety concern, dairy farmers monitor them because they can be used as a measure of the health of their cows. Processors also pay a premium for milk with low counts. A farmer whose herd has a very low count can receive a significantly higher price per hundredweight compared to a farmer whose herd average is high.

In Minnesota, dairies can receive penalties up to $2.00 per hundredweight for high cell counts. In a time when farmers can’t afford to take any reduction in their milk price, it is important to take steps to avoid any penalties from your milk plant.

There are some simple and practical steps you can take that can help lower somatic cell counts on your farm.

Understand the problem

It is important to understand what the situation is on your farm to best manage the issue.

  • Bulk tank somatic cell count (BTSCC) is the measure used to test milk quality for a herd. Just a few cows with really high individual SCC can skew the entire bulk tank high.

  • Many cows in the herd with cell counts that stay high on a long term basis can also raise the bulk count.

  • On your DHIA report,

    • look at linear SCC scores,

    • percent of cows infected by days in milk,

    • and the “Changes in SCC Status” box.

  • Be sure to look at individual cow reports. This can help you pinpoint problem cows and potentially make culling decisions.

Culture your milk

Get a sample milk culture to determine what you’re really fighting.

  • Start with a bulk tank culture to find out if the problem is environmental, contagious or something else. The results will narrow down the strategy you should use to combat the issue.

  • Take bulk tank samples on multiple test days to get the clearest picture of what you’re dealing with. Sometimes one organism can overwhelm the plate so much that other present organisms won’t even show up.

  • Look for consistent culture results to narrow down the problem.

  • Consider culturing some cows individually, especially those that consistently have high SCC or have new infections.

Controlling contagious infections

Culture results may reveal the presence of contagious organisms like Staph aureus, Strep ag, or mycoplasma. If this is the case, there are a few key steps you can take to help reduce the spread of these organisms when culling is not an option.

  • Contagious cows should always be milked last to avoid spreading the organisms to non-infected cows.

  • Move infected cows to a different area of the barn or into a different pen. Keeping these cows separate is crucial to reducing the spread of contagious organisms.

  • Make sure the teat dip you are using is effective against the problem organisms.

  • More importantly, determine if you are getting proper teat dip coverage.

    • Pre-dip should have a contact time of at least 30 seconds with the teat skin surface.

    • Post-dip should fully cover the teat.

  • Look at equipment function and cleaning as well as the entire cow prep procedure.

  • Consider universal dry cow therapy for your herd if you are not already doing so.

Controlling environmental infections

If culture results reveal high counts of environmental organisms, the goal is to create an environment in which is hard for these organisms to survive. It’s important to keep cows and their bedding clean and dry.

  • Add more bedding to stalls or packs and change bedding more often.

  • It could be worth it to bed twice a day if you notice cows are really getting wet and dirty.

  • Make sure milking equipment is kept clean and spray off any equipment that may get dirty during milking.

  • Cleaning teats well during milking prep is critical.

    • There should not be any dirt or manure present on teats.

    • Taking the time to make sure teats are fully clean will make a huge difference in the presence of environmental organisms.

    • Proper pre- and post teat dip also helps fight environmental infections.

For additional milk quality resources, visit Quality Counts.


Train Employees on Great Animal Husbandry to Drive Profit

Excellent animal husbandry skills have a tremendous impact on animal health and well-being, but a recent study discovered just how significant that impact can be. Overall animal husbandry is a critical component of generating higher net farm income — $138 more per cow per year, or 7 more pounds of milk per cow per day, the study found.1

This recent study Zoetis conducted with Compeer Financial quantified the value of good animal husbandry practices on lifetime net farm income. Good overall animal husbandry generally means lower death rates, which can be used as a metric to measure profitability. The analysis of 11 years of herd data from 489 year-end financial and production-record summaries found that lowering death rates is one of the top six factors driving profitability on dairies. The difference in profit of $138 per cow per year, or 7 pounds of milk per cow per day, was found when the top one-third of herds in this study were compared with the bottom one-third of herds.1,* More details about this comparison can be found in the accompanying graphic.  

To improve animal husbandry and increase net farm income, work on building a well-trained, qualified and invested workforce. And because most agree that employees can be more complicated to manage than cows, here’s what we recommend:  

  • Hire the right people. The people you hire, no matter how qualified, can take your dairy — and death rates — in the wrong direction if their goals and values differ from the operation’s. Prevent that from happening by taking time to evaluate the goals of your operation and your employees. Interview your current employees to help you make better hiring decisions. Ask your current employees these questions
  • Train your workforce on milk quality. We see higher death rates in herds that have elevated somatic cell counts (SCC) — demonstrating both are linked to overall animal husbandry practices. Training on other milk quality practices before, during and after milking can help improve milk quality and animal well-being. For example, employees are trained to be on the lookout for physical mastitis symptoms, but they should also be looking for evidence of subclinical mastitis infections
  • Foster teamwork. A manager who is undertrained and disengaged can contribute to disengaged employees and increased employee turnover. A highly engaged team is a more capable team. This team is more proficient at getting cows pregnant quickly and efficiently. They are invested in getting high volumes of milk harvested from cows. And they are more capable of limiting involuntary culling and death losses. Simple changes in people management can create a higher level of engagement from employees, improve team performance and increase dairy profitability.

Minimizing death rates through employees with good animal husbandry skills is a necessary component to generating net farm income. Check out this video for more information on how minimizing death loss can help you maximize profits like the top dairies in this study. 

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

Dairy Sense: Equal Opportunity Margin

Whether a dairy operates a grass-based, organic, or high technology system, margin has the same significance. Calculating breakeven cost of production is critical to determine financial health.

Production perspective:

Calculating an operation’s breakeven cost of production is the critical first step to determine the financial health of a dairy business. Over the years the dairy industry has divided itself into three main production systems: grass-based, organic, and high technology. These systems can be low or high input regarding the cropping and feeding program and the expenses related to overhead and direct costs. Regardless of the type of production system, the margin still has the same significance. The scale may be different, but the breakeven cost of production can show a similar deficit or surplus cash flow.

The Extension dairy business management team has been summarizing results from 2018. It is no surprise last year is being compared to 2009 in its degree of devastation. All sectors of the industry have felt the effect of low margins. For organic producers the milk price hovered around $29 to $32/cwt with a breakeven range between $34 and $35/cwt. For the high technology operations, the average milk price ranged between $16 and $17/cwt. with break evens between $18 and $19/cwt. The challenge with grass-based systems is the low milk pounds. In this production system where no corn grain or additional energy sources are provided, it is not unusual to observe average milk production at 20 to 25 pounds of milk/cow/day. This typically does not provide the needed income to cover expenses even though costs are considered extremely low by conventional standards. The solution for success in the three production systems is knowing the breakeven cost of production.

It is no longer a good idea to wait for the market to provide the windfall of a high milk price. For the conventional producer, it would take at least a couple of years at a milk price of $22/cwt to combat the debt currently accumulating. Organic producers require a milk price in the high thirties or even forty dollars per hundred weight to make a dent on debt. It does not appear that scenario is in the industry’s near future. The main culprits affecting an operation’s margin are milk income, feed costs (both home-raised and purchased), labor, and debt service. Finding the bottlenecks to maintain a sustainable margin requires knowing the financial and production numbers and how to adjust management practices to improve the margin.

Grazing and pasture management are important in all three production systems just at different intensities. Energy is going to be the nutrient of greatest concern for pastured cows and heifers. As a general rule-of-thumb, a cool-season perennial pasture (most common in Pennsylvania) should be grazed no lower than three inches before removing animals and transferring them to a new pasture with at least six inches of forage growth. Pasture quantity and quality, like harvested forages, impacts both production and financials. Fertilization beyond what the animals contribute may be warranted when extending the grazing season into the fall and winter.

Stockpiling is a deferred grazing management strategy where animals are removed from pastures so forages can accumulate, usually beginning late July into early-August. Some cool-season grasses that have shown to be successfully stockpiled include: tall fescue, downy bromegrass, timothy, and birdsfoot trefoil. Inter-seeded annual forage crops, such as triticale and forage brassicas, into existing pastures can also be stockpiled. They will provide more forage mass and increase overall forage quality.

When grazing, either to provide the main forage source for lactating cattle or supplemental forage for cows and heifers, manage for BOTH quality and quantity. The benefit should be improved milk production that will equate to a greater milk income per cow. Properly managed pastures can reduce feed costs, so in theory these improvements should help maintain a stronger margin to cover other expenses. In today’s market, tweaking management practices to get the most bang for the buck is essential. Sustainable margins do not discriminate based on the production system.

Action plan for optimizing pasture management

Goal – Determine the business’s breakeven margin and evaluate pasture quality and quantity for improvements.

  • Step 1: Utilize Penn State Extension’s Excel Cash Flow Spreadsheet to determine the farm’s breakeven cost of production.
  • Step 2: Working with the appropriate consultants, evaluate grazing strategies for the herd to ensure adequate regrowth on pastures and monitor quality during the spring, summer, and fall.
  • Step 3: Set contingency strategies for supplementing forage and concentrates as pasture quality and quantity diminish.
  • Step 4: Monitor income over feed cost monthly if pasture is utilized for the milk herd. Monitor heifer height and weight monthly when on pasture.

Economic perspective:

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

Also included are the feed costs for dry cows, springing heifers, pregnant heifers and growing heifers. The rations reflect what has been fed to these animal groups at the Penn State dairy herd. All market prices were used.

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

Note: Penn State’s April milk price: $16.92/cwt; feed cost/cow: $6.14; average milk production: 84 lbs.

Feed cost/non-lactating animal/day.


Source: PennState Extension

Displaced Abomasum – Avoiding the Need for a Tummy Tuck in Dairy Cows

The majority of the health problems and associated veterinary costs for dairy cattle occur within the first 30 days of lactation. Management and feeding of the dry cow can have major implications on disease risk for dairy cows at calving. Adequate intakes of energy, fiber, protein, and certain minerals, especially calcium and those that affect calcium absorption and metabolism, are important in reducing the risk for metabolic diseases. Tips on feeding fresh cows for improved performance and reducing the risks for hypocalcemia, ruminal acidosis, and ketosis have been provided in other articles in the nutrition series.

Another disorder that primarily occurs within the first two weeks after calving is a displaced abomasum (DA). The abomasum is one of the four compartments of the ruminant stomach. It is referred to as the “true stomach” and lies just inside the abdominal cavity on the underside of the animal. Three scenarios possibly contribute to the abomasum becoming displaced:

  1. The cow loses about 10% to 12% of her body weight at calving due to the weight of the calf, placenta, and fluids. These losses in the abdominal cavity in conjunction with low dry matter intake (thus low rumen fill) allow for organs to shift.
  2. The increase in concentrate in the diet to meet the increased energy demands of lactation, in conjunction with rumen papillae associated with the cow’s recent mostly forage diet in the dry period, results in increased flow of volatile fatty acids to the abomasum, which can reduce its motility.
  3. Hypocalcemia, whether clinical (often 5% of cows) or subclinical (possibility as high as 50% on average), reduces the tone of smooth muscle which helps to hold the abomasum in place. All of these scenarios that typically occur, likely not independent of one another, with fresh cows can contribute to the risk for a DA.

Cows at greater risk for a DA after calving have low dry matter intake, high body condition scores, and high concentrations of blood non-esterified fatty acids prepartum. Rather low intake experienced by all cows at calving increases the risk for a DA. However, when cows calve during the heat and humidity of the summer, intake after calving is even lower than that of cows calving in the fall and winter.

A DA in cows beyond 60 days in milk typically occurs due to these factors:

  • low rumen pH caused by change in forage quality or particle size,
  • changes in diet formulation with inadequate fiber,
  • change in personnel responsible for the feed mixing, or
  • malfunction of the feed mixer or feed scales.

Diagnosis of a DA

About 80% to 90% of the cases of a DA result when the abomasum moves upward on the left side of the animal. However, right displaced abomasum occurs and even a rare right-torsed abomasum can occur (the abomasum floats up on the right side and then twists). This latter case is very serious in that blood supply becomes severely restricted to the abomasum.

Common symptoms of a DA include reduced feed intake, reduced milk yield, reduced fecal excretion, and ketosis from lack of feed intake, However, the definitive indication is the ping heard with a stethoscope when the side of the animal is thumped. When the abomasum displaces, it fills with gas, and the ping is from the thumping sounds bouncing back from the air-filled organ. Once the condition is diagnosed, a veterinarian can perform surgery or roll the animal to get the abomasum back in place.

Impact of a DA

The primary costs associated with a DA are from the loss of milk production. In a University of Guelph study, cows with a DA produced about 700 lb less milk during the lactation in which the DA occurred than cows not having experienced a DA. A Cornell University study revealed an even greater milk loss – about 1,200 lb less milk by cows with a DA from calving to 60 days after diagnosis of a DA.

Additional costs include the veterinary fees and other associated diseases (e.g., ketosis). In one study, 30% of the milk loss occurred prior to diagnosis of the disease; thus, early detection in very important. Both milk loss due to a DA and the risk of a cow being culled from the herd after experiencing a DA increase with lactation number. The goal is for less than a 4% incidence of a DA in a dairy herd.


Displaced abomasum is a common disease in dairy cattle, but with careful feeding and management, the incidence in a dairy herd can be kept below 5%. Feeding before calving to maintain a steady intake of a balanced diet to avoid a major decrease in intake and avoiding overconditioning greatly reduce the risk of a DA after calving. Providing a balanced diet (especially for fiber and energy) after calving and ample bunk and resting space will reduce the risk for a DA. When a DA occurs after 60 days in milk, it is best to review dietary fiber and particle size, proper operation of the feed mixer and scales, and feeding procedures by employees. Reducing the risk for a DA improves cow health and well-being, increases milk sold, and reduces veterinary costs.


Edible bale wrap developed to reduce livestock farm waste

Three PhD students have invented an edible bale wrap to reduce farm waste.

The patent-pending BioNet biopolymer was developed specifically for farms to wrap hay and silage.

It is the brainchild of three Imperial College London PhD students: Nick Aristidou, Will Joyce and Stelios Chatzimichail.

The trio came up with the idea after Mr Joyce, who grew up on a farm in Rutland, noticed his parent’s beef herd was creating a lot of wrapping waste.

One cow even died after eating the wrapping.

“We’ve eaten it and my colleague has fed it to his cattle,” says Mr Aristidou. “But we will need to do some official testing.”

With their invention, they have reached the finals of the Imperial College London Venture Catalyst Challenge (VCC), and could win £10,000 of funding.


Next, they’re looking into lacing the plastic with nutrients or probiotics. Researchers will then test the plastic for its nutritional quality and whether it is safe to eat.

They believe the material could be available to farmers in three to five years, with on-farm tests being carried out in the next 24 months.

“That [commercialisation] is the dream,” says Mr Aristidou. “The end goal is to get every livestock farmer using it.

“The product is there, it is just a case of scale and funding.

“The next stage is to really refine the product to market requirements by speaking to farmers and finding out what they want dosed into it. Then we’ll look at large-scale production.

“We can tailor what goes into the plastic for different animals – we could make one for equine animals, one for sheep, one for cattle,” he says.

If large-scale production is secured, they are confident they will be able to produce an affordable product for farmers.

“It’s just being able to secure the raw material at a low price,” says Mr Aristidou.

“Initially, we should be able to sell it a similar price to current plastic wrap, but at a low margin. But as more people want it we can produce it at a larger scale and it could easily become more affordable.”


Made in the shade: Argentinian dairy sets the pace

A shedded dairy system has unlocked significant productivity gains – and subsequently industry leading profits – for an Argentinian farming family.

Located at Pellegrini, in the heart of the high rainfall Pampas Humedas (humid Pampas) region about 400km south west of Buenos Aries, the Chiavassa Group milks 1300 Holstein cows supplying milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream manufacturers.

On average the herd produces 45,000 litres a day containing 3.4 per cent fat and 3.3pc protein. However, milk solid levels are adjusted according to market demand, particularly in summer when ice cream makers offer up to a 20pc premium.

The key to the operation is its loafing shed system, which maximises cow comfort while minimising health challenges.

Each 160x28m shed houses about 200 cows, which are milked three times a day through a DeLaval rotary system. 

Third generation farmer Cristobal Chiavassa said the 1750 hectare farm was generating US13c/litre profit (about A19c), compared to an industry average of about US3c/litre profit. 

Mr Chiavassa said the farm was producing milk for US24c/litre with an average sale price of 37c. Most farms were producing milk for about 30c for a 33c sale price, he said. 

“Our attitude is about producing better,” Mr Chiavassa said. “We have the benefit of generations of experience and now the technology to improve efficiency and increase productivity.” 

Part of the loafing shed system is the under-hoof compost bedding (peanut shells), which manages the breakdown of manure and promotes herd health. 

The compost requires constant maintenance, turned twice a day using either a rotary hoe or scarifier. 

Generating heat of up 60 degrees Celcius, the compost also helps to minimise the bacteria that causes mastitis. The compost is removed every six months and replaced with a new peanut shell bedding. 

The herd’s somatic cell count is in the 250,000 to 300,000 range, compared to Argentina’s usual 400,000 to 500,000 SCC levels. 

Each of the cows is fitted with a collar to monitor rumen activity as part of a forewarning system. Cows that record decreased feed intakes are often in the early stages of mastisis, enabling those cows to be treated at an earlier stage. 

Feed management is also a top priority. The Chiavassa Group grows all of its own roughages, in part thanks to a reliable 1200mm annual rainfall. 

The silage component of the total mixed ration routinely includes the Alltech toxin binder Mycosorb to maximise feed conversion.

Alltech Lienert Australia nutrition advisor Toby Doak said shedded dairy systems were particularly suited to Australia’s sub-tropics, where higher temperatures and humidity were a major issue.

“We’ve already seen a number of these systems introduced into Australia because it is well understood that increased cow comfort directly increases productivity,” Mr Doak said.

“There is certainly a high capital outlay involved but bringing the feed to the cows as part of total mixed ration system is certainly a better way to go because of the increased feed efficiencies.

“There’s virtually no feed wastage or spoilage. It’s one way producers can take much greater control of the environment.”

Alltech Argentina manager Jeronimo Larumbe said the Chiavassa Group was one of Argentina’s leading dairy operations.

“The family has combined technology and generations of experience to maximise the productivity of its dairy operation,” Mr Larumbe said.

Argentina’s highly productive Panpas region covers an amazing 750,000 square kilometres (To put that in perspective, that’s only a fraction under the size of NSW’s 809,000 sq km). 

But despite the seemingly massive competitive advantage the agriculture region promises, Argentina is facing massive structural challenges.

Inflation is running at shocking 34 per cent and unemployment has topped 9pc mark.

– Mark Phelps traveled to Argentina as a guest of Alltech Lienert Australia.


Source: Queensland Country Life


Rise of ethical milk: ‘Mums ask when cows and their calves are separated’

As vegan activism boosts awareness of animal welfare issues, more dairy farms let calves stay with their mothers. But is this really any better for the cows?

field of cows with suckling calves may sound like a normal rural scene. In fact, the view at David Finlay’s farm on the Dumfries and Galloway coast is a sight you’d be unlikely to see on any other dairy farm in the UK.

Almost all calves are separated from cows within hours or days of birth on dairy farms. This allows farmers to sell the milk that the calves would otherwise drink.

But it is a reality of dairy farming that jars with animal welfare campaigners and consumers, and one of the sector’s three biggest emotive issues, along with giving cows outdoor access and the killing of male calves straight after birth.

“It’s the one thing we’ve always been asked about by mums on our farm tours,” says Finlay. “They just don’t like seeing calves separated from their mothers so soon.”

The public reaction has led to a slow growth of a new sector, calling itself “ethical dairy farming”, where the calves are not removed immediately from their mothers. One expert estimates that around 400 dairy farms in Europeand Australia are trialling methods – varying widely from one farm to the next – for what is known as “calf at foot” systems.

With a herd of 125 cows, Finlay’s farm near Castle Douglas in south-west Scotland is the largest known producer in Europe to introduce the calf at foot system. But the switch, now in its third year, has been far from easy.

Finlay began the project in 2017 with the hope of proving such a method could work at a bigger scale. “The first year was disastrous,” he says, admitting that he wanted to call it quits. “We just couldn’t get the cows away from the calves and into the milking parlour. For weeks we’d be dragging the cows in there.

“It took a long time for them to trust that the calves were still going to be there when they came back. It was so much stress as the cows just weren’t used to it and didn’t know what the rules were.”

Finlay had to be talked into keeping the system going for another year by his family and other staff after his herdsman grew sceptical about the project and left, but by the second year the cows had begun to grow used to having their offspring around.

The calves still need to be separated after weaning at around five months, a process Finlay and his new herdsman Charles Ellett have learned to manage by starting off with overnight periods of separation first.

“That first day we don’t open the gates in the morning though there is a huge outcry from the calves and cows,” says Finlay, who has got round it by introducing a surrogate mother – usually an older cow not producing much milk. They then use this cow to lead all the calves into a field on the other side of the farm to settle them.

The initial period of overnight separation helps create social bonds between the calves, says Finlay, making the final separation easier. The female calves will then stay on the farm to become milking cows, while the male calves are sold after five to seven months to produce veal.

Leaving calves with their mothers has been found to reduce mortality rates and help them grow quicker by having all-day access to their mother’s milk, rather than a milk powder substitute. The suckling can also help protect cows against mastitis, one of the biggest disease risks facing dairy farming today.

However, the suckling adds up to “crazy amounts of milk” lost to the farmer to sell, says Finlay. He estimates his losses at more than 2,000 litres per cow being taken by the calf, which equates to upwards of £500 in lost revenue based on the current UK average milk price. The cows also hold back fat for their calves when taken into the milking parlour, “giving us semi-skimmed milk”, jokes Finlay.

But Finlay believes the model can work and that the improvement in the health and immune systems of the young calves will yield long-term dividends that will compensate, to some extent, for loss of milk. And he has already seen a surge in interest in what he is doing from across the UK and overseas.

Last year he raised more than £50,000 through a crowdfunding campaign to support the farm and its cheese production facilities. Conversely, vegan activism has also helped, he says.

“There was no demand for it before, but vegan campaigners have raised awareness [among consumers of higher animal welfare] and created a market for us to supply dairy to. Plant-based milks have also got people used to paying more for dairy,” he says.

It is the loss in milk more than anything else that Finlay thinks will put off all but a niche group of dairy farmers from ever considering it unless they can secure a premium for the leftover milk. However, he is hopeful that consumer support for more ethical farming approaches will be boosted by activism.

But other dairy farmers remain sceptical of the health and welfare benefits for the cows and calves – as well as the economics of making it viable. “It’s only ethical if you don’t know what the downsides are,” says National Farmers’ Union dairy board member Phil Latham, who runs a dairy farm in Cheshire and separates his calves at one week.

“Yes, the calves get to spend more time with their mother, but there are a whole host of compromises with an increase in disease risk from the mixing of different age groups and a lack of control over the calf’s food intake. The longer you leave the calf on the cow, the bigger the stress when you do separate them.

“It’s pandering to urban ignorance. If he can get a market premium from doing it and survive the milk losses then good luck to him, but it’s not about maximising welfare in my mind,” he says.

A recently published review of scientific evidence found that while longer cow-calf contact had positive behavioural impacts for calves, early separation within 24 hours reduced distress for cows and calves.

“The faster you break the bond [between cow and calf] the fewer vocalisations you are going to get from calves,” says Marina Von Keyserlingk, a professor in animal welfare at the University of British Columbia and co-author of the review.

Helen Browning, dairy farmer and CEO of the organic trade body the Soil Association, separates her calves and cows within 24 hours, but then keeps them with a surrogate mother cow who has been retired or rested from the dairy herd. Under organic standards, calves are separated from their mothers after birth, but are always kept in groups and must be given cow’s milk for their first 12 weeks.

“Calves hate being weaned and cows hate their calves being taken away, whether after one day or five months. But it is better to do it before a bond has developed. In nature cows would live together as a family with cows and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so we are already interfering a lot with that family process,” she says.

In terms of cow and calf health and welfare, farm vets say separation is not a priority. “If you really want to improve animal welfare then we should try to tackle lameness, calf mortality and ensuring the calf gets sufficient quantities of colostrum,” says Dr Kathryn Ellis, a farm animal vet at the University of Glasgow.

Browning says dairy farmers are looking to learn from what Finlay is doing, but that the industry still needs to think through what is best for the welfare of both calves and cows being kept to produce milk. “We should think about what issue we’re trying to resolve. Is it an emotive issue or a welfare issue? I think it is the former.”

Despite the scepticism, Von Keyserlingk estimates that more than 400 dairy farms are trialling calf at foot systems in Europe and Australia. Not far from Finlay’s farm in south-west Scotland, another dairy farmer keeping calves with their mothers has recently started selling his milk to consumers at £1.59 a pint.

“This could be the norm in 20-30 years, just as tie-stalls were in the past. But it’s a fundamental change for how farms operate so we need to help farmers figure out how to make it better for the health and welfare of cows and calves and at the same time practical for farmers,” says von Keyserlingk.

“To better support farmers in this transition, new research is needed on how these systems may be managed to function best for the cows and calves, including reducing the risk of currently common production diseases such as mastitis and lameness,” she adds.


Source: The Guardian

Dutch dairy tries to promote animal welfare and combat pollution with urban farming

Peter van Wingerden poses Monday with his herd aboard a futuristic three-story floating dairy farm moored in Rotterdam Harbor, Netherlands. T (Mike Corder / AP)

Peter van Wingerden’s dairy farm smells just like any other farm — the rich aroma of cow manure and grass hangs in the air around the unusual stable housing the cattle. The farm itself is far from traditional.

Moored in a small harbor in Rotterdam’s busy port, the farm is a futuristic three-story floating structure where one robot milks the cows and another automatically scoops up the manure that gives the enterprise its familiar smell.

Its roof collects rainwater and a raft of solar panels floating alongside produces 40% of the energy the farm needs.

The cows, gazing out over ships transporting gas and yellow cranes unloading ships, eat a mixture of grass cut from a local golf course and the field used by Rotterdam’s top soccer team, grain used by a local brewer to make beer, and potato peelings — all automatically cut, mixed and transported to food troughs by conveyor belts.

As countries around the world seek to meet the challenge of feeding growing populations in a sustainable way, Van Wingerden believes the farm, which opened in May and cost about $3.4 million, demonstrates a new sustainable way of producing food close to where most of it is consumed — in the world’s cities.

“Transporting all this food all over the world is really polluting the world. It’s doing damage to food quality, it creates food losses,” he said in a recent interview. “So we have to find a different model. We have to bring it much closer to the citizens. And that’s what we’re showing over here.”

The fully functioning showcase of circular-economy farming combines Dutch expertise in recycling, building on water and automated agriculture is drawing interest from around the world. Van Wingerden said he is already discussing floating farms in Singapore and China. A group is looking into locating one in Red Hook, Brooklyn. N.Y.

“We should stop exporting food, but we should start exporting knowledge and technology,” Van Wingerden said.

When the herd reaches its target capacity of 40 cows — there are currently 35 — it will produce 211 gallons of milk each day. The brown and white cows are a breed called Maas-Rijn-Ijssel — named for three rivers that flow through the Dutch region they originate from.

The farm pasteurizes the milk and turns some of it into yogurt on the middle floor of the pontoon. Manure is processed for use as fertilizer.

Jan Willem van der Schans, a senior researcher at Wageningen Economic Research who specializes in urban farming and circular economy issues, said floating farms could be the future for some sectors of agriculture such as fruit and some vegetables in some parts of the world. But he thinks that the level of automation and the unnatural surroundings of the cows may create opposition to the project.

“These are animals that we all like, and then, we like to see them in a meadow,” he said. “And then, we bring them into a very industrial environment, and I think that’s something that many people think is not the right direction for livestock farming to go into.”

Van Wingerden said that animal welfare is his top priority, pointing to many design elements in the construction that are intended to make life as easy as possible for the cows such as rubber floors and poles in the stable. A small meadow of grass speckled with wildflowers grows on land next to the pontoon. Once fencing is completed, cows will be free to walk down to graze in more natural surroundings.

“Animal welfare is for us design criteria No. 1,” he said. “We wanted to create the best stable — comfortable stable, solid stable — for the cows, and that’s what we did.”

The cows appear comfortable on the water. On a recent hot, sunny, day some lay in the shade, others stood, eating from the food troughs that overlook the busy Merwe Harbor, while others milled around the milking robot.

The pontoon rose and fell gently on undercurrents caused by the movement of nearby ships.

The movement didn’t appear to affect the cows.

“The cows are on four feet, so that helps a lot,” Van Wingerden said. “So they have not got any problem at all. They don’t get seasick. They don’t get seasick at all.”


Brazil’s largest dairy farm talks improving udder health

Brazil’s largest dairy farm, Fazenda Colorado, has been steadily growing since it was first purchased in 1964.But sometimes growth comes with growing pains. For farm technical manager and veterinarian Dr. Sergio Soriano, the farm’s growing pains came in the form of udder health issues. In a candid interview, Dr. Soriano talks challenge, change and progress.

With a total herd of 4,500 cows, 2,050 of which are in production, Fazenda Colorado is Brazil’s largest dairy farm. But it wasn’t always the largest. In fact, its beginnings are quite humble. There were only a few cows and some sugarcane on the property when Lair Antônio de Souza bought the farm in 1964.

Today, the farm spans 1,700 hectares, 700 of which are dedicated milk production to crops (600 to corn and 80 to grass – Tifton and CostCross) and 20 to facilities. The 2,050 cows in production are milked three times each day in a rotary milking system with 72 units. On average, each cow produces 40L of milk each day, totaling 82,000 liters per day. Cows are in milk, on average of 178 days.
Since his passing, the farm is now owned and operated by De Souza’s four children, Carlos Alberto Pasetti de Souza and his siblings Luiz Antônio, Celia Maria and Regina Elena. The farm is located in the city of Araras in the state of São Paulo. In 1982, the De Souza family created XANDÔ Dairy ( where they now process the milk they produce.

In July of 2016, farm technical manager and veterinarian Sergio Soriano brought together a team of consultants that included Rafael Ortega from Hipra, a Spanish veterinarian with more than 25 years experience in milk quality, and Portuguese veterinarian Luis Pinho, who acted as an external consultant. While the farm already had good indexes, they were looking to make improvements. Somatic cell counts at that time were quite high, and mastitis was becoming a big problem.
“Before we counted, on average, 400,000 somatic cells,” said Soriano. “Since the work started in 2016, this number is decreasing. Today, it is at 250,000 – 160,000 thousand is the average in the bulk tank.”

Outside rotary milking parlour at Fazenda Colorado
Outside rotary milking parlour at Fazenda Colorado

A holistic approach reaps the greatest rewards

The first step to improving udder health meant completing a farm-wide analysis. Only then would they know where to make changes. The analysis showed that the causes were multifactorial, and related to milking routine, the milking machine, environment and on-farm training.

“We had some problems with environmental bacteria, but what bothered us most were the contagious bacteria – Staphylococcus Coagulase Negative,” said


Dairy Cows Fuel Up on Coffee Creamer Each Day at This Iowa Farm

The cows at Cinnamon Ridge Dairy Farm run on coffee creamer to produce some of the best milk in the nation, according to the owner.

Trouble-shooting Milk Fever and Downer Cow Problems

In the time period shortly before calving, large amounts of calcium are removed from the blood and are utilized in the mammary gland to be part of the colostrum. Calcium in colostrum may be eight to ten times greater than in the blood supply. The rapid drop and the decreased mass of the calcium pool prior to parturition, and the failure of calcium absorption to increase fast enough after the onset of lactation, can predispose animals to milk fever or hypocalcemia.

There are other probable causes that have been associated with inducing milk fever. They include excessive bone formation due to elevated levels of gonadal hormones and rations containing excessive dietary levels of cations, especially potassium. In addition, other metabolic disorders can lead to clinical and subclinical hypocalcemia (i.e. ruminal stasis, displaced abomasum, retained placenta, prolapsed uterus, metritis, and ketosis). Table 1 lists additional factors and situations.

Table 1. Conditions associated with milk fever.
Factors Situations
Low calcium intake, especially for dry cows (< 0.40% in total ration dry matter (TRDM)) Heavy corn silage feeding; high moisture corn feeding; inadequate supplementation; low grain intake (dry cows); low forage – high grain feeding.
Low phosphorus intake (< 0.28% TRDM) Inadequate supplementation; high forage – low grain (i.e. pasturing dry cows).
Excessive calcium intake (between 0.70% and 1.00% TRDM) High legume intake by dry cows; over supplementation with calcium.
Excessive phosphorus intake (> 0.40% TRDM) Over supplementation; excessive grain feeding.
Excessive vitamin D intake (> 100,000 units per head daily) Over supplementation can lead to calcification of tissues and result in heart failure.
Low magnesium intake (< 0.20% in TRDM) Failure to balance low magnesium forages, i.e. corn silage, grasses, and small grains.
High potassium intake as it affects anion-cation balance (> 1.2% in TDRM) Forages high in potassium content – over 1.5% on a dry matter basis.
Reduced mineral absorption; rumen pH over 6.8 to 7.2; higher incidence with increasing age (lack of vitamin D, alimentary tract stasis, lack of motility, constipation) High legume ration; high pH water over 8.5; under 3 to 5 pounds of grain intake; underfeeding forage or effective fiber; excessive protein intake.
Selenium or vitamin E deficiency (< 0.10 ppm) (< 250 units per head daily) White muscle disease; lack of supplementation.
Toxemia Coliform mastitis, other toxin-forming organisms; lower gastrointestinal tract stasis; reproductive tract infections.
Nerve or muscle damage Injury at calving; damage from going down or lying on limbs for a prolonged time period.

Symptoms and Problem Situations

Stages of milk fever

Milk fever is divided into three stages based on clinical signs. Stage I milk fever often goes unobserved because of its short duration (< 1 hour). Signs observed during this stage include loss of appetite, excitability, nervousness, hypersensitivity, weakness, weight shifting, and shuffling of the hind feet.

The clinical signs of stage II milk fever can last from 1 to 12 hours. The affected animal may turn its head into its flank or may extend its head. The animal appears dull and listless; she has cold ears and a dry nose; she exhibits incoordination when walking; and muscles trembling and quivering are evident. Other signs observed during stage II are an inactive digestive tract and constipation. A decrease in body temperature is common, usually ranging from 96°F to 100°F. The heart rate will be rapid exceeding 100 beats per minute.

Stage III milk fever is characterized by the animal’s inability to stand and a progressive loss of consciousness leading to a coma. Heart sounds become nearly inaudible and the heart rate increases to 120 beats per minute or more. Cows in stage III will not survive for more than a few hours without treatment.

Problem situations

Milk fever is considered a herd problem when over 10% to 15% of the cows are afflicted on an annual basis. The higher value may apply to herds where many cows are freshening that have a history of getting milk fever, i.e. older cows being more susceptible.

A problem situation can be when a high proportion of cows in a sizable group of freshenings is affected. An example of this would be when five out of the last eight freshening cows are diagnosed with milk fever.

Forms of Milk Fever

Typical milk fever

An acute form affecting cows usually within a few days after parturition, but it sometimes occurs in late lactation or the dry period. Typical milk fevers respond well to treatment.

Refractory or atypical milk fever

An acute form with little or no response to treatment. The cow may remain alert, eat, and milk but cannot regain her feet. She may become a creeping downer cow with flexed pasterns and posterior paralysis. Rupture of the large muscle or group of muscles in one or both hind legs may complicate the problem. Similar fracture or dislocation of a hind joint may have occurred when the cow went down initially or in struggling to rise.

Tremors or sub-acute

Cows are easily excited with muscle twitching and tremors occurring. Usually, several cows are involved. Many of these animals may be in late lactation, dry, or recently fresh. Often, there is a magnesium deficiency involved as well.

Blood Parameters

The most notable changes occurring in the blood are a decrease in blood calcium and blood phosphorus levels and an increase in blood magnesium levels. In cases of milk fever complicated by a lack of magnesium, the blood magnesium level may remain normal or even be depressed. Table 2 illustrates the blood mineral levels for animals in various stages of milk fever.

Table 2. Blood serum concentration of dairy cows in various metabolic states.
State Blood serum (mg/dl)
Blood serum (mg/dl)
Blood serum (mg/dl)
Sources: Compiled from The Ruminant Animal: Digestive Physiology and Nutrition. Prentice Hall, Englewood, NJ. 1988. Chapter 24, Metabolic problems related to nutrition. pg. 494; The Dairy Reference Manual, Northeast Agricultural Engineering Service, Ithaca, NY. 1995. Chapter 6, pg. 167; and J. Dairy Sci. 71:3302-3309, 1988.
aMilk fever complicated by low magnesium may result in serum magnesium ranging from 1.4 to 2.0 mg/dl.
Normal lactating cow 8.4 to 10.2 4.6 to 7.4 1.9 to 2.6
Normal a parturition 6.8 to 8.6 3.2 to 5.5 2.5 to 3.5
Milk fever, Stage I 4.9 to 7.5 1.0 to 3.8 2.5 to 3.9a
Milk fever, Stage II 4.2 to 6.8 0.6 to 3.0 2.3 to 3.9a
Milk fever, Stage III 3.5 to 5.7 0.6 to 2.6 2.5 to 4.1a

Some cases of milk fever are complicated by a toxemia from infection in the udder, reproductive tract, or digestive system. This type of toxemia from infection may be reflected in the blood with a high packed cell volume (PCV), depressed white blood cell (WBC), and/or elevated blood urea nitrogen (BUN). It is recommended to include the WBC differential as this can indicate stress or infection.

Other blood parameters that can denote toxemia are sodium, potassium, chloride, and fibrinogen. Fibrinogen levels can signal that inflammation and infection is present. If toxemia is a factor and is not overcome, treatment for milk fever may not be successful.

For downer cow problems, consider creatine phosphokinase (CPK) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) in the blood test. CPK normally ranges between 105 to 409 IU/L. A value greater than 1000 IU/L indicates severe muscle damage from being down. AST levels over 200 IU/L flag a guarded prognosis and levels over 500 IU/L can indicate severe muscle damage.

Control Suggestions

  1. Make certain that mineral tests on forages are available. Minerals to test should include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulfur, and chloride.
  2. Consult with a nutritionist to evaluate the present ration program and the feeding management practices. Include all pertinent information including incidence and severity of milk fever cases.
  3. Collect a blood sample from the animal before administering treatment for hypocalcemia. If the animal does not respond to treatment, submit blood sample for blood counts and clinical chemistry. Include in the profile serum minerals, PCV, WBC with differential, and BUN. Some situations may warrant checking CPK and AST.
  4. Pending results of feed and blood testing and ration evaluations:
    1. Check feeding management practices. For example: Are dry cows consuming free-choice forages or mineral premixes? Is there selective consumption by cows for forages?
    2. Discontinue any free-choice mineral feeding. Force feed all minerals.
    3. Check that dry cows are receiving supplemental vitamin D at 15,000 to 25,000 units per head daily and that on average, milk cows are getting about 30,000 units per head daily. A maximum intake of 50,000 units per head daily should be used for all cows.
    4. Check dry cow rations, especially during the last two to four weeks prior to calving.
      • Limit grain intake to a maximum of about 0.5% to 0.8% of body weight.
      • Limit legume or mixed mainly legume forage to 30% to 50% of forage dry matter intake.
      • Limit corn silage to 50% of the forage dry matter intake.
    5. Remove moldy or spoiled forage or feed from the ration, especially those testing positive for mycotoxins.
  5. Use plain calcium borogluconate for the first treatment to minimize refractory cases.
  6. As a last resort, use one of the following:
    1. Feed–mixed with the grain or other quickly eaten feed–100 grams (3.5 oz) of ammonium chloride per head daily beginning not less than two days before and continuing at least two days after freshening. This is particularly appropriate if high rumen pH is suspected. Check urine pH promptly. Most cows should have a urine pH of 7.0-8.6.
    2. Inject intramuscularly 10 million units of vitamin D3 in a water-soluble, highly crystalline form within 24 to 48 hours of expected freshening. Do not repeat dose for at least 10 days if cow doesn’t freshen. Use three million units in a repeat dose.
    3. Before giving up on downer cows, give a drench of two pounds of Epsom salts in one gallon of water. This will sometimes remove toxins in the lower gastrointestinal tract and enable cows to stand within two to four hours.
    4. Administer high calcium boluses (about 75 grams of calcium carbonate) as soon as possible after calving and within eight hours of freshening; or administer calcium paste paying close attention to the manufacturers recommendations and directions.

Dietary Cation — Anion Balance

Another method of preventing and controlling milk fever is balancing dry cow rations for anions (negatively charged molecules) and cations (positively charged molecules). Sodium and potassium are the cations and chloride and sulfur are the anions of interest in formulating anionic diets. The dietary cation-anion balance (DCAB) equation most often used to determine milliequivalents per 100 grams of dry matter is: mEq/100g = mEq (Na + K) – mEq (Cl + S). Based on current research, the range that achieves the lowest incidence of milk fever is a DCAB of -10 to -15 mEq/100g dry matter (DM) or -100 to -150 mEq/kilogram.

Achieving a DCAB of -10 to -15 mEq/100g requires adjustments in the major mineral levels that are quite different than what is normally programmed for regular close-up dry cow rations (no anionic salts). Table 3 lists recommended mineral levels for both regular and anionic rations.

Table 3. Guide to mineral composition (dry matter basis) for close-up dry cows.
Mineral Regular Anionica
aDCAB may be calculated from the percent element in diet dry matter. The equation is as follows: mEq/100g DM = [ (%Na ÷ 0.0230) + (%K ÷ 0.0390) ] – [ (%Cl ÷ 0.0355) + (%S ÷ 0.0160) ]; Example: DCAB mEq/100g DM = [ (0.10 ÷ 0.0230) + (0.80 ÷ 0.0390) ] – [ (0.70 ÷ 0.0355) + (0.35 ÷ 0.0160) ] = 4.35 + 20.5 – 19.7 + 21.9 = 24.9 – 41.6 = -16.7.
Based on continuing research and field experience, calcium levels from 1.5% to 2.00% and magnesium levels of. 40% to. 45% may be warranted.
cA sulfur level of 0.45% may be tolerated for short periods of time (three to four weeks).
Calcium 0.45 to 0.55 1.40 to 1.60b
Phosphorus 0.30 to 0.35 0.35 to 0.40
Magnesium 0.22 to 0.24 0.28 to 0.32b
Potassium 0.80 to 1.00 0.80 to 1.00
Sulfur 0.17 to 0.19 0.35 to 0.40c
Chlorine 0.20 to 0.24 0.70 to 0.80
Sodium 0.10 to 0.12 0.10 to 0.12

Balancing rations for anions affects the cow’s acid-base status, raising the amount of calcium available in the blood. Urine acidity is affected by these changes in the cow’s acid-base status, Table 4. Checking urine pH can help producers and veterinarians monitor the effectiveness of an anionic ration.

Table 4. Urine pH predicts calcium status of cows at calving.
Ration DCAB Pre-fresh cow
Urine pH
Pre-fresh cow
Acid-base status
Fresh cow
Calcium status
Source: Davidson J. et al. Hoard’s Dairyman, pp. 634. 1995.
Positive (> 0 mEq/100g) 8.0 to 7.0 Alkalosis Low blood calcium
Negative (< 0 mEq/100g) 6.5 to 5.5 Mild metabolic acidosis Normal blood calcium
Negative (< 0 mEq/100g) Below 5.5 Kidney overload, crisis Normal blood calcium

Feeding a combination of different anionic salts is necessary for achieving the desired DCAB, Table 5. The most commonly fed salts are ammonium sulfate, calcium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, ammonium chloride, calcium chloride, and magnesium chloride. Pay special attention to the degree of hydration of specific salts in formulating rations as well as their costs and availability.

Table 5. Chemical composition of commonly available anionic macromineral salts.
Mineral salt Chemical formula Percent as-fed
Percent as-fed
Percent as-fed
Percent as-fed
Percent as-fed
Ammonium sulfate (NH4)2SO4 21.2 24.3 100.0
Calcium sulfate CaSO4*2H2O 23.3 18.6 79.1
Magnesium sulfate MgSO4*7H2O 9.9 13.0 48.8
Ammonium chloride NH4Cl 26.2 63.3 100.0
Calcium chloride CaCl2*H2O 27.3 48.2 75.5
Magnesium chloride MgCl2*6H2O 12.0 34.9 46.8

Before incorporating DCAB into a dry cow program, there are several factors to consider. Some of the anionic salts are very unpalatable which can depress intakes significantly in conventional feeding programs. In particular, ammonium salts may result in more intake and palatability problems, especially when a silage based ration is not being fed. Reduced dry matter intakes as a result of feeding anionic salts can lead to the development of other metabolic disorders.

Much of the success with anionic salts has been in herds feeding a total mixed ration. The use of an anionic diet is appropriate when high calcium forages are fed at relatively high levels during the close- up dry period. Animals should receive the anionic diet at least three to four weeks prior to expected calving.

Forages presumed to be good dry cow forages might actually contain high potassium levels that interfere with DCAB. When the potassium level in the total ration dry matter exceeds 150 grams (or > 1.2%), it is difficult to add the proper amounts of anionic salts to meet the ideal DCAB range. Re-evaluating the ration and forages may be necessary if more than 0.65 to 0.75 pounds of anionic salts are needed.

If DCAB is to be implemented in a herd, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur must be included in the forage analyses. Buffers must not be used in anionic salt rations because they will counter the effect of DCAB.


Inspect tower silos while empty

Many dairy producers are starting the silage season with empty silos this summer, says Reagan Bluel, dairy specialist for University of Missouri Extension. That presents a good opportunity to inspect those silos for problems.

Producers turned to silage stockpiles this winter to feed cattle after the drought of 2018.

Tower silos, designed to store chopped fermented silage, are at risk due to age and use. Concrete and steel corrosion compromises the structural integrity of the silo. “As a result, tower silos in disrepair may collapse because they can no longer carry the design loads caused by the stored forage,” says MU Extension agricultural engineer Joe Zulovich.

Empty silos are easier to inspect for structural damage than those being topped off, says Bluel.

“Now is the time to make a visual check the entire exterior for cracks and settlement,” she says. “Additionally, check interior sidewalls for cracks and degradation. If you can see daylight through a tower silo wall, you have a tower silo that is likely structurally compromised.”

Check the silo discharge door, roof and wall openings for sagging, she adds. Roofs can receive damage from overfilling, vibrations and the environment. Check regularly.

Climb into the silo and inspect sidewalls for cracks and bulges. Wear a mask to prevent breathing issues in the confined space.

Immediately make a plan if you find faults. Consider treating surface problems to prevent collapse, or using alternative storage for the 2019 silage crop. Perform regular preventive maintenance.

During her work with dairy farmers in southwestern Missouri, Bluel finds that leaning silos usually collapse within 24 hours. This puts lives and crops at risk. Proactive inspections reduce the likelihood of injury and costly cleanup. Zulovich notes that many silo failures are not included on insurance policies.

Be sure to harvest corn silage at the correct moisture, Bluel says. “If harvesting forage when it is juicier than ideal, as the feed ferments, the excess leachate containing acid from the silage will eat away at the concrete walls and foundation and weaken silo structure.”

Bluel says it is important to train new workers on the correct way to blow silage or green fodder into the silo.

Teach workers to blow silage using a silo forage distributer to evenly spread forage or blow forage exactly into the center of the silo to evenly load silo walls.  Uneven loads on a tower silo wall will likely cause the silo to collapse. Teach workers how to properly unload the forage wagon and monitor the silo blower. Use fall protection and work with a partner, particularly during harvest season, Bluel says.

Bluel recommends “Deterioration of Concrete Tower Silos,” a fact sheet from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, available for download here.

According to the International Silo Association, stone structures for grain storage date back more than 3,000 years. Until the 1800s, silage was typically stored in pits. An Illinois farmer named Fred Hatch is often credited with building the first modern silo in the U.S. in 1873. He dug an 8-foot pit in his barn and built a 16-foot aboveground extension made of wood. In an 1891 bulletin from the University of Wisconsin (updated in 1919 by the University of Missouri), agricultural scientist F.H. King promoted an improved type of silo that drew on the lessons of his detailed study of silo designs in the Midwest. The King Silo, as it came to be known, featured a now-familiar cylindrical design that reduced spoilage by eliminating corner air pockets and allowing tighter packing of silage. The following years saw extensive silage education through farm magazines, agricultural college bulletins and field demonstrations. Dairy and beef regions adopted the technology. Beef operations needed more storage capacity, and concrete block/stave and poured concrete silos appeared. While silos are not the only method for storing silage, this old science is still highly effective in storing high-quality feed for your dairy, says Bluel.


Source: MU Extension

Electronic ID to replace metal tags

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is beginning the process to move from using metal identification tags to electronic tags for beef and dairy cattle along with bison. As of right now, this change in ID tags will only apply to cattle previously required to have the traditional metal tags.

By Jan. 1, 2023, electronic tags that use radio frequency identification (RFID) will be required and all animals who have metal tags will need to be retagged with the approved electronic IDs, according to a USDA fact sheet.

These electronic tags are not implants and will still be able to be read visually or with an electronic reader.

In April of 2019, the USDA published a fact sheet outlining the timeline of electronic ID implementation:

As of Dec. 31, 2019, the “USDA will discontinue providing free metal tags;” however, the metal tags will still “be available for purchase on a state-by-state basis” through Dec. 31, 2020.

On Jan. 1, 2021, “Veterinarians and/or producers can no longer apply metal ear tags for official identification and must start using only official RFID tags”

By Jan. 1, 2023, “RFID ear tags will be required for beef and dairy cattle and bison moving interstate that meet … requirements. Animals previously tagged with metal ear tags will have to be retagged with RFID ear tags in order to move interstate.”

The USDA does not need congressional approval to implement electronic tags as the primary form of identification.

According to Aaron Scott, director of the National Animal Disease Traceability and Veterinary Accreditation Center, “There are no changes to the current regulations, so congressional approval is not required. Animals covered by the rule (9CFR Part 86) are currently required to have official identification to move interstate … Only tags approved by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service administrator may be used for activities under part 86 such as interstate movement.”

The USDA fact sheet also outlined the types of livestock that currently require, and will continue to require, identification tags. These include: “Beef cattle and bison (who are) sexually intact and 18 months or older; used for rodeo or recreation events (regardless of age); or used for shows or exhibitions. All female dairy cattle and all male dairy cattle born after March 11, 2013.”

The fact sheet also stated that “feeder cattle and animals moving directly to slaughter are not subject to RFID requirements”

Chelsea Good, Livestock Marketing Association’s vice president of government and industry affairs, commented on the animal traceability rule that went into effect in 2013 and explained that “while it is important, we need to oppose expansion of mandatory animal ID into feeder cattle.”

As for the new timeline and regulations that the USDA is moving forward with, Good stated that she “appreciates that (RFID tags) are not mandatory for all livestock.”


She went on to say that the LMA has hosted meetings to get feedback about changes in animal ID’s from their membership and at those meetings they experienced “less push back than expected.”

The introduction of mandatory RFID tags would mean that sale barns would need to add electronic readers.

According to Scott, “throughout 2017 and 2018, USDA met with state and industry stakeholders to discuss the way forward … at over 20 face-to-face public meetings.”

Scott went on to say that, “Although there were differences of opinion, some major themes arose from cattlemen and women, as well as veterinarians and state officials across the country.” Some of these themes included that the change to RFID tags should not affect feeder cattle, the cost of transitioning away from metal tags, access to traceability data and producer concern about data confidentiality, and concern about the reliability of APHIS’s data systems.

Another theme discussed was the “economic losses created by the need to restrain cattle to manually read and record the official ID number on small visual-only ear tags,” Scott said.

The new regulations have also caused division among livestock groups. In an April press release from the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, executive director James Halverson expressed concern about division within The Cattle Traceability Working Group, which is “a group of interested organizations and companies wanting to give input on animal identification and how that system will work and function in the future.”

At a meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, some members of the CTWG formed their own “Producers Council” that is made up of only livestock industry individuals and USDA officials who support electronic ID.

In the press release, Halverson stated that, “We aren’t against electronic ID, in fact that can be a useful tool that many producers, including several on our board of directors have decided to use, but we are against a top-down approach mandated to producers with little regard to whether that system will even work.”

“We’ve used the existing tools for a long time, and mostly effectively,” South Dakota State Vet Dr. Dustin Oedekoven stated.


Currently the USDA provides the orange metal tags free of charge. These metal tags are attached at the time of bangs vaccination primarily onto breeding age cattle that travel interstate, with some exceptions.

In South Dakota, the metal tag numbers along with brand information is stored in a data base located at the state veterinary office in Pierre. These two modes of identification are then used to track and trace any disease threats that the state may encounter.

Oedekoven explained that the orange metal tags were developed when brucellosis was a serious disease threat, but since 2000 South Dakota has been free of that disease which means that there is less of a reason to continue vaccinating for brucellosis.

According to Halverson, the current metal tag system has “proven to be a fairly adequate and good system.”

He said that in the last few years there have been a few bovine tuberculosis cases, but using just the brand and bangs ID numbers, they were able to track down the infected animal within 48 hours. It should also be noted that all of the TB cases in South Dakota have traced back to cattle imported from Mexico.

Oedekoven explained that an RFID tag “doesn’t have the capacity to store information … so there is no more information on an RFID than we have on a metal tag.”

Applying RFID tags wouldn’t have to be something that a veterinarian must administer, producers could apply for a premise identification number (PIN), purchase their own RFID tags and apply them without going through a vet.

“Producers are used to metal tags, not that they couldn’t transition, but the timeline is fairly aggressive,” Oedekoven said.


Source: The Fence Post

Is it Time to Quit Dairy Farming?

You make entirely different decisions, once you have answered the question posed in the title of this article. Have you failed or are you simply frozen in indecision? Are you facing bankruptcy, or is there a chance for recovery?  Have you nowhere to turn and nothing you can do?  Are you in the race? Or have you been eliminated?

“It’s only a matter of time before there’s nothing left.” 

With heart pounding certainty never before have dairy owners faced so many years of devastating downturns. Caught in the crosshairs of an economic and political climate that could continue indefinitely, even the most persistent are finding it difficult to find ways to keep their farm solvent. There are major debt loads. Personal guarantees are due. Family members and even young children are being negatively affected as they see that their family’s hopes and dreams disappearing. There are many who, finding themselves in this situation, would throw their hands up in despair. 

“Postpone The Pity Party”

I say this with no intention of minimizing the seriousness of the situation your farm is in. -I am not mocking it either. It is almost a given that rejection, failure and unfairness are a part of today’s dairy business life.  For years, one crisis after another has not only chipped away at producer income it has chipped away at producer confidence.  We can’t change what we have no control over, but we can control how we react to it.  No matter how tough or unjust the circumstances, there is always some positive forward action to be taken.

“Who Are You Going to Call?”

When self-esteem is at an all-time low, no one feels like making any call and talking about it their troubles.  So do it anyway. You have nothing left to lose. Make those hard calls.  Talk to creditors, bankers, family and counsellors. When you are down and feeling desperate, you need to look for that needle in a haystack piece of information that could make a difference. Suffering in silence is just as demeaning as blaming everyone and everything else. There is absolutely no room to continue with the romantic notion that dairy farming is going to magically right itself in time to save you, small dairies, your county or, depending on where you live, your country. The dairy industry is big business. If that is something you can accept as part of your dairy reality, then there are a few more things you can consider, when attempting to change the downward slide.

“Talk to the Leading Edge Not the Bleeding Edge”

Fifty years before you started farming, what did dairy farming look like?  How has your dairy changed during your tenure?  Are you expecting or hoping that change will stop now?

For a moment, ask yourself where the industry is currently succeeding.  What size is the most successful?  What size is unsuccessful? What business decisions are producing profits? What three things distinguish leading edge dairies from those who are bleeding money? Seek out ways to meet with, connect with or, at the very least, read about those who are rising to the top. Get the details on cash flow, mechanization, using new technology, nutrition and genetics and robotics. Are any of these relevant to your family dairy situation?

“Talk to the Family On the Front Line”

Having an open discussion with family members about the severity of the situation is probably the hardest conversation you will ever initiate.  As much as we would like to spare loved ones or protect them from stress and worry, this isn’t a decision from which they can be excluded. You may even be surprised at how aware everyone is.  Do your best to provide a clear explanation, providing numbers and dates and other relevant information that is true right now.  Don’t cite the past.  Don’t fear the future.  By stepping outside your comfort zone, show those you love that the best way to conquer fear is to face it head-on.  Allow them the time to ask questions, show fear and lay blame.  When everyone is on the same page, you will have an idea of what the next priorities should be.

  • Keep running the business. If you do decide to sell, don’t showcase that you have quit.
  • Get your paperwork in order. In one place.   Do it now!
  • Get rid of everything that isn’t working. These things not only slow you down, but they also bring you to a complete stop. Think broken equipment. Or it could be cows with more sentimental value than production value. Sick animals that are taking your time away from your priority producers.
  • Don’t spend money on new field equipment or on maintaining and repairing your own. Work with a custom operator to evaluate what can be sold and how your land and crops can be part of a business arrangement. Focus on efficiency. Crops or milk? What are you better at? Producing crops or managing cows?
  • If you decide to focus on your milk-producing cows, get the most from the best and sell the rest.

Once you give this area your focus, you will find more ways to put your money where the money is!

“Money Talks!”

Money is the beginning of your recovery. Talk to everyone who is on your money list

  • Those who want your money.
  • Those who have money.
  • Those who owe you money.

If possible, call together your lenders.  Have the same honesty and transparency with them that you and your family have gone through.  Don’t stop at the status quo.  Come up with at least one alternative.  Every person or business with a hand reaching into your pockets would also have the willingness to provide advice, information or even capital based on what they have learned from their connections to dairy businesses today. The goal is to seek a win-win for all parties.  Of course, in any new restructuring of the business relationship, there are risks.  The reward is to come up with strategic decisions that make the future viable.

“But Can You Bank on It?”  

Many dairies are well beyond a simple cash crunch.  Realistically more credit is not the answer for either side.  Have discussions about what options there are before foreclosure.

Financial businesses have issues with profitability too. They can’t simply cut off clients. Work with them from the idea that nobody wins when a dairy must close.  Be open and honest. Don’t simply fold. Discuss which is worse — write off or write down or is there a workable plan that can be put in place.  It goes without saying that those who owe you money must pay up. Now.

“Givers. Takers.  What Do Your Suppliers Do Best?”

Take a hard look at those people, companies and teams that you do business with.  If they submit invoices to your dairy, can you equate that expense with the value added that they provide? Suppliers are part of your team, and this is a time to expect more from everyone on that team.  Once again, off-farm businesses like these suppliers could offer a different perspective on your situation that might be helpful. You recognize that you can’t stand still.  It is time for all your health, nutritionists, equipment and feed suppliers to step up too!  Expand your discussions.  Nutritionists may have a business idea.  Veterinarians may suggest different animal housing management. Expect more or part ways. Ending one of these relationships may seem har, but how committed are they to your success?  What role do they play, or want to play, or should they play in your future?

“All I Ever Wanted….”

Facing your dairy crisis will make you repeat this mantra often, “All ever wanted to do was to milk cows!” Today you are milking all right, but you are about to lose it all if you don’t change something? Are you frozen and unable to do anything because of things you will not do?

In other businesses who (like small agriculture) have been squeezed out by economies of scale, it is common for the management and staff to be hired by the new ownership team.  However, in dairy, this type of takeover has been deemed distasteful and gets rejected for not being a viable solution. Before walking away, ask yourself where you will find the best place to use the skills you have spent your working life developing.  Can you afford to be unemployed? Where can you cash in on the abilities you already have? You are your own best asset.

“Seller Beware! Buyer Be Informed”

If you come to the decision to sell, don’t let the decision break the spirit that has brought you this far.  Your mental and physical well-being stands well above everything else you face.

You have come to where you are by doing your best. The optimism of dairy farmers is part of your character, but there comes a time when enough is enough.  In facing accountability, there is much that has been beyond your control.

  • Dairy market turmoil
  • Natural disasters
  • Sustained low commodity prices
  • Droughts.
  • Seasons (such as the current one0 where the planting window may close entirely
  • Unrelenting mental stresses leading to depression and health issues
  • Political talk is cheap. Political help isn’t enough.
  • The Opioid crisis.

You alone cannot turn any one of these around. Nor should you try.

At this point, your best step forward may be to take a step back and decide to take care of yourself. You are worth it.  You are needed for who you are as a person, not only as a dairy farmer.  Seek advice. Get spiritual support. Do what is best for your good health.


Regardless of where you are, focus on today.  Focus on what you can START.  Start something new.  Start a new change. START OVER.  Remember how many times you have heard, “Life isn’t a sprint. It is a marathon.” We can look at dairy and say, “Dairy isn’t a mad dash.  It is a long distance relay.” Love your team.  Love yourself!




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From Two Bulls, 9 Million Dairy Cows

There are more than 9 million dairy cows in the United States, and the vast majority of them are Holsteins, large bovines with distinctive black-and-white (sometimes red-and-white) markings. The amount of milk they produce is astonishing. So is their lineage. When researchers at the Pennsylvania State University looked closely at the male lines a few years ago, they discovered more than 99 percent of them can be traced back to one of two bulls, both born in the 1960s. That means among all the male Holsteins in the country, there are just two Y chromosomes.

If Holsteins were wild animals, they would fit in the category of critically endangered species.

“What we’ve done is really narrowed down the genetic pool,” says Chad Dechow, one of the researchers.

The females haven’t fared much better. In fact, Dechow — an associate professor of dairy cattle genetics — and others say there is so much genetic similarity among them, the effective population size is less than 50. If Holsteins were wild animals, that would put them in the category of critically endangered species. “It’s pretty much one big inbred family,” says Leslie B. Hansen, a Holstein expert and professor at the University of Minnesota.

Any elementary science student knows that genetic homogeneity isn’t good in the long term. It increases the risk of inherited disorders while also reducing the ability of a population to evolve in the face of a changing environment. Dairy farmers struggling to pay bills today aren’t necessarily focusing on the evolutionary prospects of their animals, but Dechow and his colleagues were concerned enough that they wanted to look more closely at what traits had been lost.

For answers, the researchers have begun breeding a small batch of new cows, cultivated in part from the preserved semen of long deceased bulls, to measure a host of characteristics — height, weight, milk production, overall health, fertility, and udder health, among other traits — and compare those to the modern Holsteins we’ve created. The hope is that they might one day be able to inject some sorely needed genetic diversity back into this cornerstone of livestock agriculture, and possibly reawaken traits that have been lost to relentless inbreeding.

“If we limit long term genetic diversity of the breed,” Dechow says, “we limit how much genetic change can be made over time.”

In other words, we could reach a point where we’re stuck where we’re at. There will be no more improvement in milk production. Fertility won’t improve. And if a new disease comes along, huge swaths of the cow population could be susceptible, since so many of them have the same genes.

Holsteins today are responsible for the vast majority of milk we drink and much of our cheese and ice cream. For at least the past century, these animals have been prized for their voluminous output. Over the last 70 years or so, humans have introduced a variety of methods to ramp up production even further. In 1950, for example, a single dairy cow produced about 5,300 pounds of milk a year. Today, the average Holstein is producing more than 23,000. In 2017, a prize-winning cow named Selz-Pralle Aftershock 3918 cranked out 78,170 pounds of milk — more than 200 pounds every single day.

“These cows are real athletes,” says Hansen.

This benefits consumers by keeping food prices low. It benefits farmers because they save on costs when fewer cows produce the same amount of milk. It also benefits the environment because a cow’s digestive system produces considerable amounts of methane and waste. (Although high-producing Holsteins consume more energy and generate more waste per cow, researchers estimate that the efficiency gains result in significantly reduced environmental impacts overall.)

Part of this success story has to do with changing the way Holsteins are raised and managed. But the biggest change has been in the way cows are bred. Long ago, farmers would bring in bulls from other farms to get their cows pregnant — a way of ensuring genetic diversity, or “stirring the pot,” as Hansen says. In the 1940s, they began to use artificial insemination. This way, a single dose of bull semen could be used to impregnate a whole lot of heifers. Soon, technology allowed the semen to be frozen, which meant a bull could father calves for decades, even long after he was dead. Meanwhile, the dairy world was keeping very detailed records, so the bull studs who sell the semen could tell which bull went on to produce the best offspring — and by the best offspring, they meant the daughters who produced the most milk.

By this point, a highly sought-after bull would sire thousands of daughters. Carlin-M Ivanhoe Bell, a bull born in 1974, had more than 80,000 offspring. Most bulls have fewer, though their progeny still number in the thousands. By the 80s, it was clear inbreeding was increasing significantly.

In 2017, a prize-winning cow named Selz-Pralle Aftershock 3918 cranked out 78,170 pounds of milk — more than 200 pounds every single day.

In the early days of artificial insemination, bulls would have to prove their merit in real life. That is, they’d sire 100 daughters, then when those daughters calved and began producing milk, their output was measured. The better the output, the more marketable the bull. This “progeny testing” was a valuable process, but it took several years to determine if a bull was any good.

In 2009, new technology came along: big data and genomic selection. Today, a bull’s marketability is determined by a computer. A complex algorithm analyzes the bull’s genetic makeup, taking into account the health of his offspring, their milk production, the fat and protein in the milk, and other traits, to come up with figures that rank him against other bulls. The key figure is called lifetime net merit. It represents the average amount of money a farmer can expect to earn over the offspring’s life by choosing this bull over another one.

While this allowed farmers to more efficiently evaluate animals across many key traits, the process also led to even higher rates of inbreeding. The “inbreeding coefficient” for Holsteins is currently around 8 percent, meaning an average calf gets identical copies of 8 percent of its genes from its mother and its father. That number is in comparison to a baseline of 1960 — and it continues to increase by .3 or .4 every year.

“Inbreeding is accumulating faster than it ever has,” Dechow says.

But is 8 percent too much? Dairy experts continue to debate this. Some argue that Holsteins are doing their job, producing a lot of milk, and that they’re a relatively healthy bunch. Hansen, however, notes that if you breed a bull to his daughter, the inbreeding coefficient is 25 percent; in that light, 8 seems like a lot. He and others say while inbreeding may not seem like a problem now, the consequences could be significant.

Fertility rates are affected by inbreeding, and already, Holstein fertility has dropped significantly. Pregnancy rates in the 1960s were 35 to 40 percent, but by 2000 had dropped to 24 percent. Also, when close relatives are bred, it’s more likely for cows get two copies of unwanted recessive genes, where serious health problems could be lurking.

“Something needs to change,” Hansen says.

For Dechow, the concern is the rate of increase and what that means for the future of the breed. “Imagine you’ve got a cow who has 100 really good genes and 10 really horrible genes. You eliminate that cow from your breeding program because she’s got 10 horrible genes,” he says, and “you’ve lost her 100 good ones, as well. You’re losing long-term genetic potential.”

Dechow grew up on a dairy farm, so long before he knew the ins-and-outs of the cow’s genome, he could see some of what was happening.

Holsteins look very different than they did 50 years ago. For one thing, they’ve been bred to have longer and wider udders, rather than deep ones. A deep udder can touch the ground, making it much more prone to infection or other problems, so that’s a change for the better. But other changes could be problematic. For example, modern Holsteins are bred to be tall and thin, to the point of boniness. That thinness is a byproduct of milk production, because “they’re directing the energy they consume towards milk,” Dechow says.

But it’s also something of an aesthetic choice. The ideal Holstein cow — at least in the view of people who judge these things — is “feminine and refined.” That means thin and angular. The problem is, a tall, thin cow isn’t necessarily the healthiest cow and shorter and rounder cattle are more likely to get pregnant.

“If we limit long term genetic diversity of the breed,” Dechow says, “we limit how much genetic change can be made over time.”

A few years ago, Dechow and others started to wonder, just how significant was the inbreeding and loss of diversity? In the early 50s, there were about 1,800 bulls represented in the population. They knew there were fewer today, but they had no idea how few. Dechow and his colleagues Wansheng Liu and Xiang-Peng Yue analyzed the paternal pedigree information of nearly 63,000 Holstein bulls born since the 1950s in North America.

“We were a little bit surprised when we traced the lineages and it went back to two bulls,” he says. They’re named Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation and Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief. Each one is related to about half the bulls alive today. Essentially, Elevation and Chief outcompeted every other bull on the market. Even Select Sires, a company that is in the business of selling bull semen, was surprised by the findings. Charles Sattler, a company vice president, sees the news as a bit of a reality check, but not a cause for alarm. “Probably the biggest concern is, are there any really valuable genes we may have lost along the way that we could make use of today?” he wonders.

Not too long ago, there was another Y chromosome represented, that of Penstate Ivanhoe Star, born in the 1960s. His decline demonstrates one problem with all this inbreeding. In the 1990s, dairy farmers around the world started noticing calves being born with such serious vertebrae problems, they didn’t survive outside the womb. Around the same time, calves were being stillborn with a condition called bovine leukocyte adhesion deficiency. It turns out Star, and his prolific son, Carlin-M Ivanhoe Bell, had problematic recessive genes that didn’t come to light until a few generations of inbreeding. 

After this discovery, farmers stopped breeding cows to Star’s descendants and that problem was resolved. But could other problems be lurking within the chromosomes of our remaining Holsteins? What had been lost with all this inbreeding? These questions troubled Dechow enough that he began searching out some of those old genes.

That required digging into the archives of the National Animal Germplasm Program in Fort Collins, Colorado. It’s like a seed bank, except it collects ovarian tissue, blood, and semen from domesticated animals, and it holds about 7,000 cocktail-straw-sized semen samples from Holstein bulls.

Dechow’s team found two that weren’t related to Chief or Elevation, so they took those samples, got eggs from top-notch females, and created embryos to implant into surrogate Penn State heifers. The idea was to combine the half-century-old Y genetics with DNA from females who are among the finest examples of modern-day milk production. Over the course of 2017, the animals wound up giving birth to 15 calves, seven of them male. The oldest of these animals are about two and two now have calves of their own.

Every parameter in the development of these cattle will be measured, and their DNA is being analyzed and compared to the general population. It turns out that not a lot is known about the Y chromosome, so this is an opportunity to use this newly-introduced variation to understand it better. Semen samples were also taken from the bulls and sent to the germplasm bank in Colorado. Dechow can already see a difference on the ground in the way these cattle look. They’re a bit shorter than most Holsteins, and also heavier. They’re also a little less docile than average.

Select Sires has collected semen samples from the bulls and run them through its grading program to so-so results; they came out in the middle of the pack. They’ve offered some of these samples for sale to dairy farmers, but sales so far have been minimal. Dairy farmers today are already struggling financially, and it’s not easy to convince them there’s a benefit to getting DNA from average bulls.

Dechow is still hopeful that there will be more to gain from this research once the cattle mature.

“My pie-in-the-sky dream,” Dechow says, “is that we’ll able to show these old genetics still have something to offer.”


What Are the Options for Non-saleable (Waste) Milk?

Photo credit: Ginger Fenton

During challenging economic times, it is difficult to consider the financial loss that occurs when milk is withheld from sale for various reasons. The need for a safe food supply at all levels has placed increased attention on agricultural production practices. Concerns regarding the potential spread of pathogens, antimicrobial resistance, and other hazards surrounding biosecurity and safe animal feeding practices have brought attention to the issue of how to handle non-saleable or waste milk.

Waste milk can be generated in several ways from the farm to the final food product including waste water, by-products from manufacturing such as whey, returned finished product, and milk considered non-saleable or that has been rejected. Waste water used for washing milking equipment and tanks, cleaning the parlor, and flushing systems on the farm usually contains milk that is diluted with water. Similarly, waste water is generated as milk is further manufactured into finished products at a processing plant.

As waste water containing milk is generated, the proportion of milk to water is important. When more organic matter, which in this case is milk, is present, the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) is greater, which means that more oxygen is required by the bacteria that degrade the organic matter. Odors and slowed degradation result when the oxygen supply is insufficient. The BOD for milk is 5 times higher than that of manure and places greater demands on a treatment system.

Waste milk should not be dumped into drains or discharged into surface water because of the disruption it can cause to biological systems leading to potential harm to vegetation, wildlife, and fish. If milk is disposed of via a septic system, the necessary permits need to be in place. Consult your local or state regulatory agencies for the proper process and permits in your area. Other disposal options that may have a fee attached are an anaerobic digester that can accommodate food wastes, a sewage treatment plant, or a landfill.

An option for the farm, if storage space permits, is to add milk and/or milkhouse waste to the manure storage system for eventual land application. If this route is chosen, a Nutrient Management Plan or Manure Management Plan should be followed.

Many farms chose to feed their waste milk to calves. Keep in mind the reason why that milk was considered as waste milk when making the choice to feed it to calves. Proper storage and handling of waste milk are necessary if it will be fed to calves. A great deal of research surrounds this practice and is beyond the scope of this article. More information on pasteurizing and feeding non-saleable milk to calves .

Additionally, waste milk from the farm as well as milk that has been returned from commerce, for example milk that is near the sell-by date, may be considered as a feed source for other livestock species. This may be of particular interest to producers with pigs; however, additional state regulations may apply when determining what is acceptable to feed to other livestock, especially swine, or what is considered as “garbage.” Here are some questions to consider when determining whether waste milk or other food processing residue is suitable as animal feed (Food Processing Residual Management Manual 2001).

  • Is the food product free of physical hazards such as glass, metal, or plastic that could injure an animal consuming it?
  • Is the product free of chemical or microbiological hazards that could cause illness or injury to the animal?
  • Is the quantity and quality consistent to allow incorporation into the animal’s diet with minimal disruptions?
  • Is there enough of the milk or product to pursue it as a feed option?
  • Will the product provide a desirable energy or protein source when incorporated into the diet?
  • Is it palatable or likely to be consumed by the animal?
  • Are there practical options for handling and storage until it is fed?
  • What is the biosecurity risk that may accompany the feeding of waste milk or other food processing residual? Can that product lead to the spread of disease?

While maximizing the value of your milk is critical during challenging economic times, careful consideration should be taken on the true value of repurposing waste milk. Taking the time to evaluate waste milk as a product can assist you in making the best choice for use or disposal.


Why JD testing is important to the Queensland dairy industry

Last week, QDO hit the impressive milestone of 200 Johnes disease (JD) tests completed as part of our biosecurity commitment to mitigate on farm risks to our members. According to the project team, this equates to 100kg of faecal samples collected over the past three months, which just goes to show QDO’s dedication to herd health!

Many non-member dairy farmers questioned why QDO had undertaken the JD testing scheme in the first place when Johnes is not known to be present in any significant level in Queensland.

Much is unknown about Johnes disease including the health risks it may carry to humans who consume product from JD positive livestock.

According to the MLA, the disease can possibly also infect humans, but it is not known if this causes illness. What this means is that at this stage, the potential health risk to humans is largely unknown but should not be ignored.

To be clear, our intention to test for JD is not to cause undue concern or hysteria about a disease that has been in the Australian market for decades. Indeed, according to the USDA, JD is found in all countries around the world.

QDO’s decision to commit to the program was made back in 2016 based on our mandate to mitigate potential risks that may be caused by biosecurity hazards. Good herd health is vital for productivity and remains a priority for our members. Future economic ramifications for farmers with herds carrying JD should also be to be a consideration.

The Johne’s Beef Assurance Score and the Dairy Score that farmers are given after testing allows for the assessment of the risk of a herd for JD. Depending on the outcome of testing, farmers may wish to amend their biosecurity plans for the property. Although the scoring systems are a voluntary tool in most states, they are part of the WA and NT entry requirements. It makes sense therefore for any farm that may consider destocking or selling breeding stock intrastate or interstate to ensure they maintain a good score.

QDO has been in contact with all its members to offer JD testing before the June 30 cut-off date. Time is certainly running out for non-members wishing to be tested by QDO at no additional cost. To join and be tested, contact QDO on 3236 2955 today.


Robotic dairy survives on economy of scale

On a dairy farm in rural Eyota, Minn., a day-old calf wobbles up to a robotic feeding stall. An RFID reader scans the tag clipped to the calf’s ear and measures the amount of milk allotted to the baby as she drinks from the feeder.

In just a generation or two, farmers have embraced high-tech advances in their fields and barns.

But those advances led to a sharp increase in production in the midst of a trade war with two of the U.S.’s largest dairy export markets. That has left many American farms awash with excess product and no one to sell it to. However, the economy of scale has kept some larger dairy producers afloat.

“There’s been a crazy amount of technology added to farming,” said Dana Allen-Tully, a manager and operator of the multigenerational Gar-Lin Dairy Farms. “We can access our cow files on our phone, I can look up a specific cow on my phone, or I can see what the feeders are doing on my phone.”

The automatic feeders allow calves to have multiple, smaller meals throughout the day to mirror the feeding schedule they would have if they were out in the pasture with their moms.

Each calf is fitted with an ear tag shortly after it’s born that has an identification code, similar to a Social Security number, that can be scanned by the automatic feeder when the baby approaches the milk distribution stall.

Information associated with that code, such as how much a calf should eat and when it should eat, is transmitted to the feeder and governs the flow of milk through the dispenser.

Data from robotic feeders are fed back to a handheld device, where supervisors can monitor how much the calves drink and how fast.

“Calf feeding is by far one of the hardest jobs on the farm because it’s so physical. You’re dealing with a calf that weighs 100 pounds and you’ve got to lift it and work with it, so this was built to improve the environment for the employees too,” Allen-Tully said.

Gar-Lin is an efficient operation. It pasteurizes waste milk to feed to calves, instead of dumping the milk and purchasing milk replacement, and roughly half a mile away Gar-Lin employees harvest hay to feed their herd.

They grow their own to reduce the cost of feed, and they use manure from their cows to fertilize their fields.

Of the 4,500 acres they farm, 3,100 of that goes to feed the animals.

They’ve become partially independent of external suppliers to keep their cost down and to keep in line with federal EPA regulations that apply to dairy farms of 700 head or more. They have an on-site nutritionist who analyzes the feed and balances rations to optimize milk production as well as cow health and performance.

“Our cows eat a way better diet than I do,” Allen-Tully said, laughing.

Gar-Lin Dairy was purchased by Allen-Tully’s parents from her grandparents in the mid-1970s. At that time, they were milking about 40 cows.

Dana’s parents decided to expand the dairy and by the time Dana graduated from high school, they were milking 300 cows. When Dana returned to the farm after college, her parents had doubled their herd to 600 cows.

In 2006 the herd expanded to 1,100, and from there it’s grown to the current size of 2,000 cows and 45 employees. Allen-Tully attributed the growth as necessary to make a profit in an industry with stagnant milk prices but inflation in equipment and supply costs.

“Consolidation in the dairy industry is happening way faster than I expected it to,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll be considered a ‘big farm’ for very long, I think we’ll be average.”

She noted that the cost structure of products in the market, such as deeper discounts on supplies for producers who buy in larger bulk orders, is driving smaller farmers out of business and prompting mid-size farms to expand to survive.

“I can buy a gallon of teat dip so much cheaper than someone who uses only a gallon, because I buy 275 gallons at a time and they’re going to buy 15,” she said. “I think it’s sad.”

Gar-Lin fills three 6,000-gallon tanks to be shipped per day to manufacturing and distribution facilities.

The dairy’s semi-robotic carousel in the parlor can milk up to 50 cows at a time and 270 cows in an hour. The machine monitors and records the amount of milk each animal produces, as each cow walks on and off the carousel on their own.

They send their milk to Land O’Lakes, which sells dairy products internationally through partnerships with major food manufacturers across the globe.

“I think trade has affected us, but the issues that they’re trying to fix should have been fixed a long time ago,” Dana said.

She hopes Congress will pass the trade agreement with Mexico and Canada and noted that Mexico received more dairy products from the United States than any other trading partner before the trade war.


Alfalfa heaving: A potential concern for this year’s alfalfa crop

Alfalfa stands across the Midwest are sometimes damaged during the winter and early spring. Winter injuries are most commonly the result of extremely low or fluctuating temperatures, persistent ice sheeting and lack of snow cover. These environmental conditions can lead to decreased crop quality and yield losses via exposure to disease and plant death.

During my on-farm visits with dairy producers this spring, I have witnessed a significant increase in the number of alfalfa fields affected by alfalfa heaving. Alfalfa heaving is a condition defined by alfalfa crowns and roots being forced above the surface of the soil as a result of freezing and thawing. Heaving occurs more commonly in heavy soils that feature a high moisture content. Repeated freezing and thawing causes soil expansion and contraction, which pushes the taprooted plants out of the soil in late winter and/or early spring. Older alfalfa stands are especially prone to heaving, due to their more developed taproot, compared to grasses or first-year alfalfa stands, which have more fibrous root systems.

Heaved alfalfa plants can be damaged in four ways:

  1. Roots can be mechanically damaged by the lifting itself
  2. Roots and crowns can be dried out when exposed to air
  3. Exposed crowns and roots can be injured by cold air temperatures
  4. Lifted plants can be cut off below the crown when harvested

Scout potentially affected fields

Evaluate your alfalfa stand when two to four inches of growth become available, in order to count the number of stems per square foot. Assuming heaving damage is minimal, an alfalfa stand needs at least 40 stems per square foot to be economically viable and, ideally, 55 or more stems per square foot to ensure maximum yield potential. After the initial observation of your alfalfa field, dig up a few plants to determine if the taproot is broken. Alfalfa plants with broken taproots will likely green up initially but die when temperatures rise and the soil dries out. The length of time before the plant dies will typically depend on the length of taproot above the break, and the plant’s lifespan can vary widely, from only reaching green-up (broken three to four inches below soil surface) to sufficient growth for the first crop (taproot broken six to eight inches below the soil surface) to growth until the first dry spell (taproot broken eight to 12 inches below the soil surface).

Severe heaving: Fields with more than 1.5 inches of heaving (as measured from the soil surface to the top of the crown) will likely have broken taproots and can also suffer significant damage from harvesting equipment. These fields will most likely need to be terminated immediately and transitioned into another crop species for the upcoming growing season, since over-seeding alfalfa in an existing alfalfa stand is not an option, due to the potential for autotoxicity death in new alfalfa seedlings.

Moderate heaving: Fields with one inch of heaving or less are likely to have unbroken taproots and may be salvageable for at least the current year. These fields may have a delayed green-up and might require both a more delayed harvest than normal (i.e., 25 percent bloom) and a raised cut height at harvest to ensure a cut above the now elevated crown height. If taproots are unbroken, natural settling can occur during the growing season, and if they are reseated, the alfalfa should survive into the next growing season. Stands entering winter with elevated crowns will likely suffer winter injury and kill.

What are our options?

Depending on the severity of the heaving, right now could be the best time to establish a plan to ensure adequate forage inventory for the upcoming year. If heaving is confined to patches in the field, consider renovating the stand by re-seeding the affected patches. If moderate heaving allows you to keep the field for more than one year, consider planting red clover or a mixture of red clover and grass to ensure an adequate forage yield. If the goal is to maintain the field for this growing season, and if additional legume yield is desired, consider berseem clover, crimson clover or even field or forage peas, depending on the ratio of seed cost to potential yield. It is important to remember that, when another grass or legume is patched into an existing stand, the newly-seeded area will need time — often, a minimum of 60 days after planting — to become established prior to harvest. If severe heaving has taken place and the alfalfa stand is terminated but additional forage is required, other options include warm-season sorghum Sudangrass and Sudangrass BMR varieties, which can be planted and harvested within a 50- to 60-day window, followed by subsequent harvests every 30 days into the fall (in optimal growing conditions). Other cool-season grass options for filling forage inventories include spring cereal grains, such as oats, barley, triticale and Italian rye grass.

Minimize the potential of future heaving

The most practical method of reducing heaving in future years is to leave residue or approximately six inches of stubble on the soil surface from the fall through the winter. Residue helps reduce heaving by insulating the soil, which decreases the potential for freezing and thawing. Another great way to reduce instances of heaving is tiling fields to enhance draining internally and on the surface.

For additional information, see my previous article on evaluating alfalfa stands for winter injury.


Hesterman, O.B. and J.C. Durling. 1991. Avoiding winter injury to alfalfa. MSU Extension Bulletin E-2310.

Lewandowski, R. 2019. Check alfalfa stands for heaving damage.

Undersander. D. 2009. Heaving in alfalfa fields. University of Wisconsin Agronomy Advice.


Slow Spring Shaves Hay Yield, Quality Issues

LMIC lowered hay yields across the board this week and edged prices up as this spring continues to have devasting impact on fields and fieldwork. Reports out of the Northern Plains and Midwest with respect to hay are not positive. New seedings of alfalfa in those states are about half of all new seedings this year, and some of those acres are likely struggling with soils that are wet, cold, or flooded. Winterkill was also potentially an issue in these areas, as this winter was not the kindest either. It is unknown how many of those fields face irrecoverable situations, but for now, we assume that should the fields dry out those acres will still be harvested, but may lose a cutting.

With all the rain and lack of sun, it has been very difficult to get into fields. Fieldwork has the potential to tear up fields as well, further adding to yield drag. First cutting appears to be delayed across the Midwest and Northern Plains. The quality that is being taken off those fields will also face challenges. Windows for drying have been few and far between. High quality, dairy-quality hay is most at risk.

The latest USDA-NASS Agricultural Prices showed hay prices jump nationwide, adding $15 per ton to alfalfa when compared to the previous month and $4 to other hay. Tight hay stocks hasn’t helped the situation and prices are expected to be high early in the year. The Northern Plains and Midwest are not major alfalfa producing regions. Production last year in those states was 36% of total alfafa production, but as the new seedings report indicated there was an incentive to plant more acres. The potential to catch up production later in the year remains an optimistic bias to raising prices too high too fast. The western states haven’t had near the moisture problems that other regions of the country have experienced and good production should help keep alfalfa prices similar to a year ago. In other hay, the Midwest and Northern Plains are some of the highest producing states. LMIC moved yields slightly lower on delayed first cutting, but may have to adjust much lower should first cutting be missed entirely. Hay stocks are presumably tight in other hay as well, and if a cutting is lost, high prices could continue through summer.


Source: LMIC

Calf Success: What you need to know about electrolyte therapy in young calves

Young calves are around 70–75 percent water by bodyweight and must be well-hydrated in order to stay healthy and grow to their full potential. Dehydration and severe electrolyte loss in calves can stem from several causes including inadequate water intake and heat stress. However, the main culprit to dehydration is often due to bouts of diarrhea, more commonly called scours, which can cause calves to lose 5-12 percent of their bodyweight as water. Smith et al., (2012) reported that, despite progress in understanding the pathophysiology of neonatal diarrhea, recent data indicates that over 60 percent of dairy calf deaths in the U.S. are the result of diarrhea. When calf diarrhea hits, it is critical to reverse the effects of dehydration to avoid metabolic acidosis, weakness, severe weight loss and/or mortality. Oral rehydration by electrolyte therapy is an effective way to reverse the symptoms of dehydration, and is a relatively simple process if protocols are put into place and adhered to by calf-raising staff.

What are electrolytes?

Electrolyte products typically include a combination of sodium, energy, amino acids and alkalizing agents designed to get calves back on their feet. Electrolyte therapy is a common management practice used to replenish fluids and combat metabolic problems in a dehydrated calf, including acidosis and electrolyte losses associated with diarrhea.

When should I provide electrolytes?

Dehydration: As is illustrated in Table 1, calves who are 5 percent dehydrated will show no clinical signs of dehydration, although they will present with diarrhea. In other words, a scouring calf is a dehydrated calf. The amount of electrolyte product a dehydrated calf needs to rehydrate is based on calf bodyweight and dehydration percent. For example, if a100 pound calf is estimated to be 8 percent dehydrated, she will have lost 100 x 0.08 = 8 lb water / 2 = 4.0 quarts of liquid. To replace the water lost due to scouring, she will need to replenish that 1.8 quarts of liquid on top of her normal milk or milk replacer feeding. If a calf is down and will not suckle, it is advised to contact your veterinarian about administering IV fluids to rehydrate and reverse acidosis as soon as possible.

Stress events: Electrolytes can be given to calves who have recently been or will be placed under a stress event, such as pre- or post-transport. It is common practice for calves to receive a dose of electrolytes before they are loaded onto a truck for transport, and, depending on how long the haul is, a second dose immediately after arriving at their new destination. Providing electrolytes gives young calves the extra boost they need to combat the negative side effects of stress and can also help keep them hydrated on longer hauls.

Timing: Electrolytes should be fed to calves several hours after milk feedings and should never be mixed in with the milk or milk replacer. Mixing electrolyte powder with the milk diet does not give a scouring calf the additional water she requires to rehydrate and can change digestion by altering the casein clot in the abomasum. Under heat stress conditions, electrolytes should be given at an equal interval between milk feedings. For example, if calves are fed in the morning and evening, an electrolyte feeding should be offered at noon. If necessary, a second electrolyte feeding can be offered a few hours after the evening milk feeding.

Should I skip milk feedings?

Scouring calves lose water and nutrients faster than their non-scouring counterparts, and require the liquid and nutrients provided by their milk feedings. Very few electrolyte products offer calves the nutrients required to maintain immune system function, as most electrolytes only provide 15–25 percent of the calf’s daily energy requirements. The decision to skip a milk feeding should be based upon the milk feeding program implemented. For example, if a calf is receiving more than 2.5 pounds of milk powder equivalent per day, she likely has enough nutrition to get her through a skipped meal. On the other hand, a calf receiving only 1.25 pounds of milk powder per day should not miss a milk feeding, although skipping may be necessary if the calf is presenting with bloat or will not eat.

Not all electrolytes are created equal

When comparing electrolyte products available for purchase, it is important to know not only what you’re looking for, but also why you’re looking for it. Of course, the most important component of an oral rehydration solution is water itself, and any good electrolyte will contain the following:

Sodium: Dehydrated calves secrete sodium, and this mechanism can be exacerbated in the presence of Salmonella and E. Coli. Water and sodium are closely linked, and water follows where sodium goes; thus sodium absorption in the small intestine also promotes water absorption. Sodium should be included in an oral electrolyte solution at 10–145 mmol/L.

Energy source: A simple sugar, such as dextrose (glucose), provides quick energy to the calf and also assists with sodium absorption through the small intestine. Glucose should be included at no more than 200 mmol/L due to solution osmolarity limitations.

Glycine: This is a non-essential amino acid that assists glucose absorption. Rehydration is key when considering a dehydrated calf. Sodium, glucose, and glycine are all tied together and play a key role in the water uptake mechanism of the small intestine.

Alkalizing agents: These are added to help reverse any metabolic acidosis that may be occurring within the calf. The most common alkalizing agents are acetate and bicarbonate, although some products may include propionate, citrate or lactate. The use of bicarbonate has been under scrutiny, as some believe it buffers the abomasum of the calf, which could affect the casein clot and, in turn, alter the calf’s digestive processes. Sodium acetate can be advantageous, as it does not buffer abomasal pH and offers some additional energy to the calf — but it can be two to three times more expensive than sodium bicarbonate and is very hydroscopic in dry form.

Electrolytes: Potassium and chloride are also included in oral rehydration products in order to maintain blood pH and assist with other metabolic functions.

Gelling agents: These include psycillium husk, pectin, guar gum and other gums, and function by thickening the manure in an attempt to reduce diarrhea and increase fluid retention. Including gelling agents in the oral rehydration solution, has not shown to be either advantageous or detrimental, so their inclusion is typically based on the personal preference of the producer. While some producers believe that gelling agents reduce scours and improve fluid retention, others believe that the agents make it difficult to diagnose whether a calf is still scouring and that the slowed passage rate makes it more difficult to pass toxins through the gastrointestinal tract.

Work with your veterinarian to diagnose and treat scours. Electrolytes help calves get back on their feet but do not necessarily combat the pathogen causing the scours. Remember: a scouring calf is a dehydrated calf, and oral rehydration therapy is an effective way to keep calves both hydrated and healthy.

Table 1. Clinical symptoms for evaluating the percent dehydration in calves.

(Adapted from J. M. Naylor, Can. Vet. J. 1989).

References:Heinrichs, J., and S. Kehoe. 2016. Electrolytes for dairy calves. Penn State Extension.

Quigley, J. 2001. Electrolytes for scouring calves.

Lauer, V. Calf Electrolytes. Progressive Dairyman. July 2018.

Naylor, J. M. 1989. A retrospective study of the relationship between clinical sings and severity of acidosis in diarrheic calves. Can. Vet. J. 30:577-580.

Smith, G. W., A. F. Ahmed, and P. D. Constable. 2012. Effect of orally administered electrolyte solution formulation on abomasal luminal pH and emptying rate in dairy calves. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 8:1075-1082.


Managing to Get More Milk and Profit from Pasture

Grazing management is the foundation of a successful and profitable pasture based system. For dairy producers who adopt a grazing system, proper management of low cost pasture is critical. In order to maintain or improve profitability, emphasis needs to be on reducing costs and/or improving efficiency at the farm level. Increased reliance on grazed forages offers considerable opportunity to reduce costs. In the USA, the estimated cost of pasture is about one-half the cost of ensiled legume or grass forages on a dry matter basis. The intake by the dairy cow and the efficiency with which low cost pasture is utilized is the single most important factor determining profitability. In grazing, it is about intake.

Potential Pasture Intake and Milk Output

Research from several counties has demonstrated that with well-managed grazing systems, pasture intakes of 35 to 40 lb. of dry matter (DM)/cow/day can be achieved by Holsteins with pasture as the only feedstuff. This is about 3% of the bodyweight for Holstein cows. In a study at Penn State University, we obtained a daily pasture intake of 45 lb/DM/cow with high genetic Holstein cows fed grass pasture as the only feedstuff. This intake can provide adequate energy to theoretically support up to 50 to 60 lb. of milk/day with Holsteins. However, most cows may still lose substantial body condition to achieve this production since energy outgo exceeds energy intake. Pasture intake and milk yields of this magnitude may only be achieved in the spring or early summer when pasture growth and quality are high. With the generally favorable price of milk in relation to grain supplement in the USA, it is most economical for most graziers to feed supplemental concentrates and feedstuffs rather than feed only pasture.

Factors Influencing Pasture Intake and Milk Output

In confinement operations, DMI is determined by feeding management, the amount fed, frequency of feeding, and other factors. Pasture intake by the grazing dairy cow is largely determined by how effective the cow harvests the pasture in the field. How full is the pasture feedbunk? This depends primarily on the grazing time and the rate of intake during that grazing period. The amount of pasture consumed is characterized by the amount of time spent grazing (grazing time, GT); the rate at which pasture is taken into the mouth (biting rate, BR), and the amount of pasture DM eaten with each bite (intake per bite mass or bite size). This can be written more simply as pasture intake = grazing time x biting rate x bite size. Grazing time and biting rate are primarily animal factors, which means that dairy producers have little control of these factors.

a Primarily animal factors
b Primarily influenced by sward factors

High yielding cows have a stronger hunger drive than low yielding cows, and consequently graze for longer times (500 to 700 minutes/day) and have high biting rates (up to 65 bites/minute). However, the major factor influencing pasture intake is the amount of herbage intake per bite, or bite mass. Bite mass can be controlled by management. Small increases in the intake/bite can have a major effect on daily pasture intake and animal performance. Bite size is primarily influenced by sward factors such as grass height and density of pasture, and the proportion of green leaf in the sward. If intake per bite declines, as it inevitably does on short swards, the behavioral constraints on biting rate and grazing time mean a reduction in daily forage intake. The amount of time spent grazing increases as the amount of pasture decreases, which is why high producing cows need to be provided a dense sward with at least 6 to 8 inches pasture height depending on the type of grass.

We conducted a study at Penn State where we compared concentrate supplementation when high yielding Holstein cows grazed at two pasture allowances (55 vs. 90 lb. of pasture DM/cow/day). Cows were equipped with electronic recorders to monitor eating and chewing behavior (see Table 1). Cows fed only pasture grazed about 617 minutes/day (10 hr), and averaged 56 bites/minute. This resulted in about 35,000 bites/day. This suggests that grazing cows may need stronger jaws and mouths than cows fed in confinement!

Table 1. Grazing behavior, intake, and milk yield of unsupplemented and supplemented cows grazing two pasture allowancesa.
aBargo, et al, J. Dairy Sci. 85:1777-1792 (2002).
bCows were fed 19 lb. concentrate per day, or about 1 lb/3.5 lb of milk.
  Low pasture allowance,
(55 lb/cow/day)
High pasture allowance,
(90 lb/cow/day)
  0 Suppl. + Suppl.b 0 Suppl. + Suppl.b
Grazing Behavior        
Grazing time, min/day 609 534 626 522
Bites/minute 56 54 56 55
Intake/bite, g DM/bite 0.55 0.55 0.60 0.59
Total bites/day 34,400 28,500 35,200 28,600
Intake (lb/day)        
Pasture 38.5 34.1 45.1 35.4
Supplement 19.1 19.1
Total 38.5 53.2 45.1 54.6
Milk yield, lb/day 42.1 65.3 48.8 65.8

In our study, the cows that produced more milk had more total bites (Figure 1). In fact, some cows producing over 80 lb. of milk had over 40,000 bites per day.

Figure 1. Milk production versus number of bites in a Penn State study of cows given two pasture allowances.

Obviously, adequate pasture availability is essential for cows to have this large number of bites. The most notable difference was the intake/bite. The unsupplemented cows in our study that were provided with a larger pasture allowance had a slightly higher DMI/bite (0.60 vs. 0.55 g) (Table 1). Couple this with the slightly longer grazing time, and these cows consumed 7 lb. (45 vs. 38 lb.) more pasture DM/day, and produced 6.8 lb. (48.8 vs. 42.0 lb.) more milk than cows with less available pasture.

In this study, the cows fed 19 lb. of concentrate consumed less pasture, since concentrate replaced pasture. Total feed intake was greater as expected. Daily milk production was 17 lb. (65.8 vs 48.5 lb.) to 23.3 lb. (65.3 vs 42.0 lb.) greater with supplementation. There was one lb. of milk response for each one lb. of concentrate fed (Table 1). Cows provided a lower pasture allowance had a larger increase in total feed intake and milk production than cows offered the higher pasture allowance. Cows fed the lower pasture allowance were obviously underfed, and had inadequate available pasture. This is common among graziers, particularly in the summer when pasture growth decreases.

Managing Pasture to Maximize Intake and Performance

What is available forage? The inches of available pasture is determined by measuring the height of the pasture and subtracting the desired stubble (residual) height. Pasture should be measured in several representative spots to get an average height. In Figure 2, the total forage from the soil surface is 7 to 8 inches. With a residual stubble height of 2 to 3 inches, the cow has 4 to 6 inches of available forage. It is important that the stubble height be maintained to assure the survival of the desired plant species. This is especially so under drought conditions where over-grazing will severely damage stands and delay regrowth. Under severe drought conditions animals should be removed from pasture and fed stored forages.

Figure 2. What is available forage?

The quantity of available pasture, which includes pasture height and density, is key to maximizing intake. Just as an empty feed bunk limits the intake and milk yield in a confinement dairy operation, an “empty pasture feed bunk” will limit intake and productivity. The effects of changes in sward height and bulk density on bite mass (intake/bite) with high producing Holsteins are illustrated in Figure 3. These data indicate a relationship between sward height and bite mass, with large increases in bite mass with increasing height over the range from 4 to 10 inches. Bite mass or intake per bite declines more rapidly with decreasing sward height in low density, or “open” swards. The implications suggest that in order to maximize herbage intake, you need to have a “dense” sward to maximize intake/bite and total intake and profitability.

Figure 3. Effect of sward height and sward density on bite mass at different sward densities.

To optimize milk production and profitability, we need to provide cows with pastures that allow them to consume high pasture intake. We need a pasture sward that provides a mouthful of highly digestible forage in every bite. If the pasture sward is too short, cows will not have as much intake per bite, and they will spend energy and grazing time. If animals are forced to graze pasture below 2 to 3 inches, to a short stubble or residual height, this will likely reduce the pasture regrowth.

In the recent Penn State study with Holstein cows (Table 1), the allocation of 90 lb. of pasture DM/cow/day clearly resulted in more pasture intake (45 lb. DM) than the allocation of 55 lb/cow/day (38.5 lb/day). In reviewing research from several countries, it appears that about 80 to 90 lb. of pasture DM should be available daily to each cow if maximum pasture intake is to be achieved when pasture is the only feedstuff. Supplementation with concentrates will reduce the pasture intake because of substitution rate and reduce the pasture allowance needed. We suggest the following (Table 2) as a guideline for pasture allowance.

Table 2. Pasture allowance and availability guidelines.
Expected dry matter intake (DMI) Pasture Allowance (DM)
Pasture Concentrate Total
lb DM/cow/day
40 0 40 70-80
37 6 43 60-70
34 12 46 50-60
31 18 49 40-50

For an example calculation, let’s assume that we have 100 cows and that 2,500 lb. DM/acre of pasture is available based on pasture measurements. Note, this is pasture DM cut to ground level. If our goal is 30 lb. of DMI/cow/day, then we need about 40 to 50 lb. of available pasture DM/cow/day (Table 2). This assumes about 60 to 70% efficiency of utilization. With 100 cows x 50 lb. of available pasture DM/cow, we need about 5,000 lb. of available pasture DM/day. With this information, about 2 acres of pastureland is needed per day to achieve 30 lb. DMI/cow/day for a 100-cow herd.

Assessment of available pasture is needed on a regular basis, just like the assessment of feed refusals and daily intake is needed for confinement feeding. If less pasture is provided, cows will reduce this pasture DMI, and more concentrate and forage supplementation is needed to maintain milk production.

We must emphasize that this example and discussion focuses on optimizing intake on a daily basis, similar to the daily feeding of a TMR in confinement. In both systems, we must plan and budget the acreage of land for each year’s forage. With pasture systems in the northeast and upper Midwest, providing one acre/cow for a 6- to 7-month grazing season is a reasonable target. This does not include pasture land needed for heifers and dry cows.


Grazed pasture represents the cheapest source of nutrients for dairy cows. Management of dairy cows and pasture is a major challenge, given the variation in grass growth and grazing conditions during the grazing season. Providing adequate available pasture that has dense sward will maximize the intake/bite and maximize pasture intake and low cost milk production. Allocation of the correct amount of area and pasture to achieve maximum intake is an important decision that the manager must make each day.


Access to skilled overseas workers now easier for Australian dairy farmers

Dairy farmers now have more opportunities to attract and retain staff, after skilled overseas workers employed under a Dairy Industry Labour Agreement were made eligible for permanent residency.

The changes were successfully progressed by the Australian Dairy Farmers, working closely with Dairy Australia, making the Australian dairy industry more attractive to skilled international labour.

The pathway gives dairy farmer Kristen Clark, from Finley, NSW, the opportunity to retain her skilled overseas worker who has developed a strong understanding of her farming system.

The fifth-generation dairy farmer milks 900 cows in the Riverina region alongside her mother, Helen and sister, Donna, producing more than eight million litres per year.

Kristen employs four family members on the farm, as well as five long-term local staff.

With farm workers increasingly hard to find in her local area, Kristen has employed a farm hand from Guatemala for the past five years under a temporary visa through a Dairy Industry Labour Agreement.

“We have always struggled to build our workforce and fill positions by getting locals on the farm,” Ms Clark said.

“We fill the gap with overseas workers, but the issue is that is they’re only able to be here for a limited time and they’re generally unskilled.

“The person we’ve employed has a built her skill base working for us — when she finishes up, we have to start from scratch with someone else.”

For each new farm worker Kristen employs, she estimates the cost to her farm business to be about $2000 in recruitment and training.

As well as reducing the cost of hiring new farm workers, the permanent residency pathway gives Kristen the opportunity to give her staff more training, building their capacity to learn new skills as her mum takes a step back from hands-on tasks.

Kristen also sees permanent residency as an opportunity for her overseas workers to get more involved in the local community.

“We want to employ people who live in our community, so we can give back to our community, but there will always be gaps to fill,” she said.

“People with permanent residency can fill that gap, because they get involved in the community as well.”

Farm hand Janeth Ventura is excited by the opportunities a permanent residency pathway will bring for her family and her dairy career.

The 36-year-old has raised her two children, aged 3 and 6, in Australia and hopes a permanent residency pathway will allow her to continue living in rural Australia, creating more stability for her family and her role on-farm.

“My father had a small dairy farm in my home country, so I’m in my element with this job and I love working with Australian dairy cows,” Ms Ventura said.

“I think working in Australia has improved my skills — I’ve learned new abilities because the farming system is so different.”

Through a permanent residency pathway, Ms Ventura hopes to upskill and pursue further training.

To vary existing labour agreements or apply for a new labour agreement to enable a pathway to permanent residency for their valued staff, farmers should email:

More information on the Labour Agreement can be found at the People in Dairy website at


Source: Farm Online

MU dairy first to use new breeding system in grazing herd

Early breeding allows lactating cows to be put on grass at peak quality and quantity when the nutritional need of cows is highest.

Researchers at the University of Missouri’s Foremost Dairy Research Center near Columbia are the first to use the Double Ovsynch timed artificial insemination (AI) protocol with a grazing dairy herd.

This year MU Extension dairy veterinarian Scott Poock bred cows in late April, two weeks earlier than usual. By front-loading the breeding season, Poock hopes to narrow calving to a six-week period from Feb. 1 to March 15.

The controlled calving window makes the most of the pasture-based grazing system at Foremost, Poock says. He wants cows and calves grazing when forage peaks. He also wants to maximize the lactation period.

This puts some pressure on cows to get pregnant right away. “They have to calve when we want them to or they fall out of the system,” he says.

Poock used Double Ovsynch to breed the 30-head grazing herd. While Double Ovsynch is commonly used in confinement herds in the United States, Foremost is the first to use the system in a grazing herd, Poock says.

To move all cows in the herd to the same breeding cycle, dairy workers insert a controlled internal drug release (CIDR) applicator coated with progesterone into each cow’s system. The progesterone is released into the bloodstream at a controlled rate to synchronize the estrus.

The flexible wings of the T-shaped applicator collapse to form a rod for easy insertion. The attached tail removes easily. Removal results in a drop in plasma progesterone and triggers estrus within days.

Poock compared Double Ovsynch with and without a CIDR. He will compare breeding response in these two groups in follicle development, estradiol levels and pregnancy rates. He takes ultrasound readings at two points: prostaglandin administration and artificial insemination.

Poock and his MU students also study how a head start on breeding improves conception rates in grazing herds. Poock’s research shows that heat-stressed cows have poorer conception rates. In 2018, Foremost cows were bred in mid-May, when temperatures soared and conception rates dropped.

Poock says the farm keeps replacement heifers from AI-bred cows to Holstein and Jersey dairy bulls. Heifers from the cows bred by a beef bull will be sold.

Poock works on these projects with MU Extension dairy specialist Stacey Hamilton and MU animal science professors Thomas McFadden and Matt Lucy.

To learn more about Foremost Dairy Research Center, part of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, go to in new window).


Four Tips to Fight Flies

What’s the buzz? Well, this time of year, the buzz you are hearing can only be one thing, flies. As temperatures rise, bugs and particularly flies begin to repopulate, and it doesn’t matter which species of livestock you show, pesky flies are a nuisance to everyone. They like to invade our barns, bite at our animals and can carry diseases. With proper prevention including barn management, daily care and good nutrition, you can do your best to limit your number of unwanted guests this summer.

1. Scoop the Poop

Flies breed and thrive in manure. So, the first step to total fly control is keeping your pens and barn as clean as possible. If you tie your cattle in their pen, make sure you clean their stalls regularly. If cattle are in a cooler, the temperature-controlled environment should help reduce flies already but go a step further and limit the amount of time you are going in and out of the door, so flies don’t get inside. For smaller species like pigs, sheep and goats, be sure to pick the pens throughout the day if you can, in order to keep fresh waste away from the animals. Also consider scooping out any urine-soaked bedding. The longer it sits, the more the ammonia smell will attract flies. When all of the feces and urine is cleaned out of the pen, you should haul the waste as far away from your barn as you can. The closer it is to the barn, the closer the flies will be. Taking it away ensures flies won’t have a breeding ground to reproduce near your barn.

2. Spray at the Source

Depending on your location and the humidity, you might want to spray an insecticide around your premises to keep flies and other insects from making themselves a permanent home in your barn. If you have the means, and flies are big problem because of weather or number of animals in the barn, consider investing in a fly control system that mists insecticide throughout the barn on a timed system. These will help a lot with eliminating flies and are common in pig, horse and large cattle barns.

If you don’t want to spray an insecticide, there are also some other tools you can look into for your barn, such as hanging fly traps, sticky paper or an electric trap. You could also consider poisonous fly bait on the ground, but keep in mind this could be dangerous if livestock were to consume it or if you have other four-legged helpers running around like dogs or cats.

3. Spray the Victim

Spray isn’t just for your barn and the premises. There are also many livestock sprays on the market that are safe and effective to use with a variety of animals to keep the flies away. Be sure to read and follow the label directions and use accordingly. Also pay attention to how much of it you put on if it is an oil-based product. Too much of it can cause your animal to get hotter and more uncomfortable.

4. Fight Flies with Feed

Did you know you can help control flies in your cattle, sheep and goats while you feed your animals? Sure Champ® Extreme with Climate Control is a pelleted, daily supplement that contains garlic, a natural insect repellent that repels flies through breath and skin excretion. Just like all our Sure Champ Products, Sure Champ Extreme comes with the Amaferm® advantage to promote appetite and digestive health. Extreme also includes ingredients designed to help support animals during extreme temperatures and support hoof and coat care. By feeding Extreme, you should see fewer flies landing on and biting your animals, all while keeping their digestive system healthy.

Flies are inevitable when you raise livestock. You can’t expect to eliminate every single one of them. However, when you plan ahead and take a proactive approach with your management and feeding routine, you can greatly reduce your risk of fly overload. Less flies = less pests, less pests = happy livestock, happy livestock = healthy livestock EVERY. DAY.

To learn more about how to #preptowin with Sure Champ or to find a Sure Champ dealer near you, visit

About BioZyme® Inc.

BioZyme Inc., founded in 1951, develops and manufactures natural, proprietary products focused on animal nutrition, health and microbiology. With a continued commitment to research, BioZyme offers a complete line of feed additives and high density, highly available vitamin, mineral, trace mineral and protein supplements for a variety of animals including cattle, pigs, poultry, sheep, goats, horses and dogs. BioZyme brands include Amaferm®, AO-Biotics®, Amasile™, VitaFerm®, Vita Charge®, Sure Champ®, Vitalize®, and DuraFerm®. Headquartered in St. Joseph, Missouri, BioZyme reaches a global market of customers throughout the U.S., Canada, South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. For more information about BioZyme, visit


Fixer upper: Calf housing edition

Five considerations for retrofitting existing facilities into calf housing.

Indoor calf housing has grown in popularity, particularly in the Midwest where bitterly cold winters make feeding calves in hutches challenging. But building a new calf barn isn’t feasible for everyone.

“Fixing up your old facilities and transforming them into a calf barn can be a cost-effective way to move calves indoors,” said Ben Ekern, Midwest Territory Manager with Calf-Tel.

Here are five considerations for retrofitting existing facilities into indoor calf housing:

1. Ventilation

The first thing to consider when retrofitting an existing facility is ventilation. It’s the most critical component and often the most challenging.

“It has to be done right,” said Ekern. “Getting good air in and bad air out is, without question, of the utmost importance for calf health.”

A minimum of four air changes per hour is ideal to reduce ammonia, minimize bacteria levels and provide a healthy calf environment.

Removing the walls from your existing facility can be a cost-effective way to add natural ventilation and increase air exchanges, but it might not be enough.

“A positive pressure ventilation system can help remove stagnant air and bring fresh air to needed areas,” said Ekern. “Your calves will be thankful you went the extra mile.”

2. Sanitation

Depending on the prior use of the facility you are moving your calves to, it may not be the most sanitary environment. Fully sanitize the facility before you bring in calves. Moving calves is stressful enough without adding contaminants into the mix.

Wash all building surfaces and clean with a sanitizing solution such as chlorine dioxide. While many farmers have bleach readily available, it’s not as effective at killing pathogens and removing biofilms as chlorine dioxide and broader spectrum sanitizers. Let the barn sit empty for at least 5 to 7 days before moving calves in.

Also, when planning your retrofit, consider barn layout for efficient cleaning and sanitation of calf pens.

“If possible, configure the barn to wean the entire barn or section of calves at one time,” said Ekern. “It’s more labor efficient and gives you time to clean, sanitize and let pens sit before new calves move in.”

3. Space

Retrofitted barns don’t always have an ideal footprint for the number of pens or space per pen you need. Overcrowding can cause stress on calves, potentially leading to health issues.

Provide as much space per pen as your facility will allow to keep calves clean and dry and support health. Use existing calf hutches for overflow housing during peak calving times in spring and summer.

“Keeping a row or two of hutches gives you a buffer, so you aren’t overcrowding the calf barn during peak times,” said Ekern. “Hutches are affordable, portable and easy to resell if needed.”

4. Feed delivery

Your delivery method for feeding calves may change once you move indoors. What worked for the hutches may not work in the retrofitted barn.

“Retrofitted facilities might not be equipped with or have space to add a milk house,” said Ekern. “If your milk tank or milk replacer mixing area is too far from the calves, milk temperature may cool down before feeding.”

Have a plan to ensure you’re delivering the proper temperature milk, no matter how far it must travel. You may need to increase the temperature of your mixing water to account for the cooling period during transportation. Use a thermometer to ensure milk or milk replacer is fed at 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Choosing the best pen system

Exposed wood from existing facilities is often used as part of the pen system to cut down on costs. But, wood is porous and can house harmful bacteria, even with a thorough cleaning.

“Any savings from using existing wood can quickly be lost with the extra cost of treating sick calves,” said Ekern. “Make an investment in a plastic pen system for an easier to clean, healthier environment.”

A plastic modular pen system is a great option for retrofitting. Modular pen systems are freestanding and portable. There are no anchors in the cement or costly metal cutting and fitting to lock you into one configuration.

“Retrofitted barns are often a short-term solution before building a new facility down the road,” said Ekern. “A modular pen system can save you money long-term because they can easily move from one barn to the next.”

The Calf-Tel Indoor Pen System helps you make the most of your space for an effective, economical solution to raising calves indoors.

For more information, visit or call Ben Ekern at 507-450-1624 to schedule a calf housing audit.

Hampel Animal Care, a division of Hampel Corporation, began serving the agriculture industry in 1981 with the introduction of the Calf-Tel housing system. Today it is the number one choice for calf housing worldwide.


Baling wet hay becomes hot news

High-moisture grass baled above 24% moisture can cause spontaneous combustion. Overheated bales can burn down a hay barn.

Craig Roberts, University of Missouri forage specialist, said frequent rains this year help grass growth, but it’s been bad for making hay. He’s part of the team on a weekly MU Extension teleconference between state and regional specialists.

Even if damp bales don’t go up in flames, nutrient quality cooks out of hay. Heat destroys carbohydrates and makes proteins indigestible to livestock.

“It’s been hard to find more than a two-day time with sunshine to cure hay,” Roberts said.

Pat Guinan, MU Extension climatologist, said May is normally the rainiest month on average. This year breaks rain records. Some places, particularly in southwestern Missouri, got more than 25 inches of rain in May. More rain remains in forecasts.

Missouri farmers need hay after two drought years depleted their stored feed. With short drying periods, farmers who cut hay shouldn’t rush to bale it while it’s still moist. Just accept the rain and then let the hay dry.

“Rain removes some soluble carbohydrates, but proteins remain intact when moist,” Roberts says. “Poor hay feeds better than moldy hay resulting from damp baled hay.”

All hay carries bacteria. Some thermophilic, or heat-loving, bacteria cause fires in confinement. Hay should not be baled above 20% moisture, Roberts said. Baling at 25-30% moisture asks for trouble.

Haymaking varies widely across Missouri. If producers were lucky enough to harvest first-cutting hay, that removed low-quality seed stems. Second-cutting hay should be higher quality without stems.

“We may make lots of hay, but it’s not high-quality hay,” Roberts said.

Mold and fire are not the only problems. Reports from field specialists told of farmers losing fields of forage to armyworms or alfalfa weevils. Rains didn’t slow pests.


What’s in a healthy cow?

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.


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