Archive for Management

Plan for winter forage needs

This has been an interesting growing year, to say the least.

  • There are large areas of winterkill throughout the Midwest.
  • Hay prices have remained high, in spite of low milk prices.
  • The amount and quality of hay this year has been variable; and
  • Corn silage tonnage will be lower than average.

It’s common for hay prices to climb in late winter and spring due, in part, to an increase in demand caused by livestock producers not anticipating their forage needs. To maximize your profits, it is important to plan for the amount and quality of forage your farm will need. Forward planning minimizes the risk of running out of forage and having to buy at inopportune times.

Take a forage inventory

A total forage inventory should be done at least quarterly. After each specific crop is harvested, the forage inventory should be updated with the new amounts and inventoried by quality.

Going into the fall, it is especially important to determine and plan for winter forage purchasing needs. This will help avoid dramatic ration changes caused by the poor allocation of forage. It is better to make small adjustments in rations than to run out of forage and have to make a drastic change.

Cows do not adjust well to dramatic ration changes. Each summer I get calls from farmers that have run out of corn silage and are exploring their options or wanting to know the minimum time corn silage needs to be in storage before feeding.

  • Hay crop silages need at least three weeks to complete fermentation.
  • Corn silage should be in the silo at least 4 months to maximize the starch digestibility of the kernels.

Regularly calculating forage inventories allows for the anticipation of shortages and gives farmers time to explore their options. If shortages are discovered early, several options exist to remedy the situation. These include:

  • Purchase hay or other forage.
  • Reduce animal numbers.
  • Re-balance rations, substituting some high fiber co-products for a portion of the forage.
  • Re-balance rations, reallocating forages based on availability.

Determine forage quality

In addition to determining total amounts of forage, segregating forages by quality, especially in a year when forage is expensive, may help increase farm profitability. The best time to sample and analyze forages is during harvest. Bags or bales can be identified by the quality and cutting with spray paint on the bag.

Recommended forage quality for different classes of dairy animals by relative feed value (RFV):

  • Early lactation cow: 160 RFV
  • Dairy calf + middle and late lactation cow: 140 RFV
  • Heifer (12-18 months): 120 RFV
  • Dry cow + heifer (18-24 months): 100 RFV

Developing a forage inventory

Ask these five basic questions when developing a forage inventory:

  1. How much total forage do I have available?
  2. How much forage is required for all of my animals?
  3. How does the forage inventory quality match the requirement for my animals?
  4. Can a feeding program be developed based on the forage supply available and the forage needs of the animals?
  5. Should I change my cropping strategy next year to better match my forage requirements?

One challenge with getting accurate inventories is forage density. The University of Wisconsin sampled 87 hay crop bunkers that averaged 15 pounds of dry matter per cubic foot but the range was 6.6 to 27.1 pounds. Corn silage bunkers averaged 14.5 pounds of dry matter per cubic feet and the variation was 7.8-23.6 pounds.

Another challenge is accurately determining shrink. This also varies widely depending on the storage location, type, packing sealing and feed out management. These are important reasons why forage inventories need to be done frequently.

Software can help

Many excellent feed management software packages allow users to manage and monitor feeding accuracy as well as track feed inventories. Most nutritionists have spreadsheets and can help calculate forage inventory by the class of forage (hay and corn silage) and the forage requirement. Many are available for free online.

The purpose of regularly inventorying the forage is to determine the quantities of forage available on the farm. When matched with animal numbers, you can make decisions regarding an adequate supply of forage for the intended feeding period. Because there can be a large variation in forage density and dry matter intake, inventories should be updated every three months.


“STAPH” Meeting: A Different Approach To Combating Mastitis?

The numbers don’t lie: Mastitis infections in dairy herds are one of the most financially detrimental occurrences a producer can face. With an estimated $2 billion in losses each year in the U.S. and $400 million in Canada, more preventative and sustainable measures to alleviate mastitis infections are sorely needed. Staphylococcus aureus remains one of the most prevalent causes of contagious mastitis as it proliferates quickly, is prone to resurgence, and due to its ability to often evade immune responses and develop resistance to antimicrobials, is difficult to eliminate from herds. A study of Finnish dairy cattle found that cows infected with aureus mastitis experienced a loss of roughly 5 lbs. of milk/day. Management strategies such as segregation and culling of infected animals, cleanliness and efficient treatment upon identification have helped dairies to better combat staphylococcal mastitis infections, but control and eradication in herds remains a struggle.

The use of purified surface protein vaccines isn’t a novel area of research, but new applications are being explored as a means to improve mastitis treatments. Surface proteins are located in the bacterial cell wall and determine how  the cell interacts with its environment, especially with regard to immune response. By removing virulence factors (the disease-inducing mechanisms) from foreign antigens, the  surface  proteins can be used to mimic a natural infection and spur an immune response in the host. Antigenic similarities between two different strains of bacteria can result in one exhibiting cross-protective effects against another; this has captured the attention of researchers in the quest to find vaccine development strategies that are cost-effective and sustainable. Research from the University of Tennessee in a recent volume of Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology evaluated the protective effects of Staphylococcus chromogenes (a common causative agent of subclinical mastitis) against S. aureus infection. Results from the study showed that not only did inoculating cows with  a S. chromogenes surface protein result in a protective immune  response,  but the presence of S. chromogenes also prevented intramammary  colonization  of S. aureus. Current mastitis  vaccines on the market create antibodies against staphylococcal infections, but don’t prevent new infection. Wouldn’t it be great if staphylococcal bacteria  could use their powers for good, rather than for evil? While this study was not without its limitations and the exact mechanism of immune response and antibody production is not yet known, opportunities exist to conduct further study and broaden this avenue of research.

With the push to reduce antimicrobial use on farms (such as in the practice of the prophylactic treatments administered at dry-off), development of more treatments of this nature shows promise as a potential method of eliminating resurgent infections in herds. While currently the most effective means of treatment, intramammary therapy for clinical and subclinical mastitis accounts for the greatest amount of drug use on dairy farms. Many antimicrobials on the market are targeted to treat gram-negative bacteria (S. aureus is gram-positive), so may not be as clinically effective without the use of additional, off-label drug use. While veterinarians are permitted to use off-label drugs for treatment if clinically appropriate, there are many criteria which must be met as many of these drugs are also used in human medicine and may create a public health risk. Residues from use of these additional drugs also has an effect on withholding times. Development of a vaccine that reduces the need to turn to blanket prophylaxis  or antimicrobial therapies would invoke a realm of possibilities of improving herd health. It would be interesting  to see the application of such a vaccine in youngstock or transition cows to evaluate protective effect in stages of sensitive immunity. This is one “staph” meeting we should be looking forward to hearing more about.

— Cari Reynolds

Source: WH Miner Institute

Choosing beef genetics for use in dairy herds

While there has always been some beef on dairy crossbreeding occurring, it was rarely conducted in a systematic large-scaled manner.

The reality is that with genomic selection tools and sexed semen, not every dairy cow needs to be bred to a dairy bull to supply replacements. At the same time, one of the major beef processors in the U.S. announced they would no longer buy dairy steers, resulting in dramatically reduced values for dairy steers up and down the supply chain.

Consequently, many dairy operations have seized on the idea of breeding a portion of their herd to beef bulls as a way to add value to bull calves and generate additional income.

But what should dairy producers consider when choosing beef bulls to use on dairy cows?

Strengths & weaknesses

Before jumping in blindly with a crossbreeding program, it would be useful to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the existing product (dairy steers).

Dairy steers have a key advantage over many of the beef breeds raised in North America in that they come from a more consistent gene pool. Dairy steers are more predictable for both feedlot performance and carcass characteristics. In particular, they generally grade well with a high percentage of Choice and Prime carcasses with less backfat.

However, packers have significant concerns with dairy steer carcasses.

Compared to native cattle, dairy steers lack muscling. The result is smaller ribeyes with a narrower shape that is less desired in some markets. For this reason, many branded beef programs and end-user specifications exclude dairy genetics, particularly for the high-value middle meats (rib and loin).

Skeletal size is another challenge with the dairy steer. Excessive frame size in Holsteins can slow processing speeds and increase labor demands on the harvest floor. Many plants have insufficient rail heights to accommodate the skeletal length of some Holstein steers.

On the other hand, Jersey steers are too small-framed and simply lack performance, efficiency and carcass weight compared to beef genetics.

What breed should I use?

Breed choice is often the first question asked, even before selection criteria have been determined. The beef industry has been arguing about which breed is superior for at least 50 years and we still have not reached complete agreement.

Rather than concentrate on breeds, we should first determine the objectives and then use available data to select what genetic inputs will best accomplish those goals.

That said, there are breed differences that can be exploited. Data from the USDA Meat Animal Research Center shows that breeds do differ in carcass traits. Cattle sired by Continental breeds had increased ribeye area (REA) and reduced marbling compared to Angus-sired calves.

That’s not to say Continental sired cattle are always heavier muscled and that every Angus is superior for marbling. But this information does show that Angus bulls need to be better than breed average to equal the expected REA from a steer sired by an average Limousin sire, for instance.

Job description

The decision to use a particular beef bull in a crossbreeding system with dairy cows needs to address this criteria:

  • Acceptable conception rate
  • Acceptable calving ease
  • Add muscling and rib eye area (REA)
  • For Holstein: moderate skeletal size
  • For Jersey: Performance
  • Maintain or add marbling

The first two criteria are absolute “must haves.” No one can afford reductions in AI conception rates. Unfortunately, obtaining reliable rankings for AI sire fertility can be challenging. Semen company representatives can be invaluable resources in identifying sires proven to satisfy customers and avoid problems.

The same is true of additional problems caused by calving difficulty. The good news is the beef industry has been intensively selecting for easier calving for some time, so this is much less of a concern than it might have been in the past.

Although the exact values for each beef breed will vary, setting independent culling levels to eliminate perhaps the worst 40% or so of a breed would eliminate most calving difficulty risk. Excluding the most extreme low-birth weight sires may also be prudent to reduce challenges from short gestation periods.

Once those two criteria are satisfied, the low-hanging fruit in adding value to dairy steers lies in narrowing the gap in carcass value between dairy and native cattle. That means increasing ribeye area and reducing frame size of Holstein-cross calves. Sires to be used on Jersey cows should primarily be selected on added muscle, as almost any beef cross will improve performance.

Marbling also needs to be considered as it directly influences Quality Grade and carcass price. EPDs for all these traits are readily available and should be used to guide selection decisions. Selection decisions can be simplified by using one of the terminal index that are published by most beef breeds (e.g. Angus $B, Simmental TI).

Carcass traits chart SDSU

Potential pitfalls

There is a misconception that all beef genetics are created equal in terms of usefulness in creating a dairy-beef crossbred calf. Calves sired by bulls whose primary attribute is being cheap and black are viewed very skeptically by feeders and packers.

Cattle sired by specifically selected genetics combined with excellent health status will be much more attractive compared to garden variety crossbreds, especially if accompanied by verification and backed with data.


A Fat Milk Check

By: Kristen Gallagher

When it comes to milk revenue, components are king. Growing up, I remember how closely my parents would watch the protein and fat yield in our milk check. Dairy processors and farmers know that the nutrient profile of the milk is valuable but the question is, exactly how valuable?

Figure 1 Average butterfat test of producer receipts Northeast Federal Milk Marketing Order 1

In the July edition of Hoard’s Dairyman, the editorial comments focused on how demand for  milk  fat  has revived after a half century of little consumer preference. About 14% of skim milk is exported by the U.S., while only 2% of milk fat will leave our borders. Americans are using milk fat again, and with that increase in demand, U.S. dairy farmers are increasing the milk fat percent in the milk shipped out the door. We’re seeing a similar trend here in the Northeast Federal Milk Marketing Order 1.  Over  the last 20 years there’s been an increase in overall butterfat component price (Figure 1) or the increase in fat value, and also an increase in the fat percent coming from the farm (Figure 2). This serves a basic rule of economics: As you increase price, an increase in supply will shortly follow.

Figure 2 Average price per pound of butterfat in Northeast Federal Milk Marketing Order 1

Having more milk fat around isn’t just an interesting trend, it’s extremely influential in determining the Class III milk price and mail box price. Class III milk is a “bundle” of the butterfat price, the protein price, and other solids price. Here in the Northeast Milk Marketing Order, we’re lucky to have a slight majority of milk receipts coming from Class I at 29.1%. But the next largest class supplied here is Class III at 27.2% of total milk receipts. Class III milk is also very important in determining the Statistical Uniform Price which determines the value of a hundred weight (cwt) across a federal order. The Statistical Uniform Price can also be called the “Total Blend Price” and is the Class III price added to the producer price differential which varies based on location to Boston, MA. For July 2019, the Class III price was $17.55. If you were a farmer that shipped to Syracuse, NY, your producer price differential would be $0.53. Adding the Class III price of $17.55 to the producer price differential of $0.53, the value of milk at 3.5% fat for that producer in Syracuse is $18.03/cwt (without any other cooperative deductions or quality bonuses). The producer price differentials will change based on the location your milk is shipped to.

Figure 3 Average price per pound of protein in Northeast Federal Milk Marketing Order 1

As any dairy farmer knows, if you can increase the fat percent in your own bulk tank, you increase the total pounds of 3.5% milk fat, increasing your revenue. The same idea works for increasing the protein percent in milk, but at the moment, protein really doesn’t have the same consistently high value that fat has had over the past decade (Figure 3). The Class III prices are increasing (Figure 4) as the value of milk fat is rapidly increasing and the value of protein has remained  stagnant. Even with the static value   of protein, Northeast farmers have slowly increased the protein shipped off farm, but not to the extent in which we have increased milk fat. So at this time, fat remains the driver for your Class III prices and the milk price dairy farmers should be monitoring. There are many management tools that are being developed to better manage fat. Ask your nutritionist or milk co-op if there are tools available for your farm to better manage milk fat.

Figure 4 Class III Milk Price for milk containing 3.5% butterfat in Northeast Federal
Milk Marketing Order 1

Source: WH Miner Institute

Farm Sector Profits Expected To Increase in 2019

Net farm income, a broad measure of profits, is forecast to increase $4.0 billion (4.8 percent) to $88.0 billion in 2019, after increasing in both 2017 and 2018. In inflation-adjusted 2019 dollars, net farm income is forecast to increase $2.5 billion (2.9 percent) from 2018. If realized, in inflation-adjusted terms, net farm income in 2019 would be 35.5 percent below its peak of $136.5 billion in 2013 and below its 2000-18 average ($90.1 billion).

Net cash farm income is forecast to increase $7.6 billion (7.3 percent) to $112.6 billion. Inflation-adjusted net cash farm income is forecast to increase $5.8 billion (5.4 percent) from 2018, which would be 4 percent above its 2000-18 average ($108.3 billion). Net cash farm income encompasses cash receipts from farming as well as farm-related income, including government payments, minus cash expenses. It does not include noncash items—including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income of operator dwellings—reflected in the net farm income measure above.

Cash receipts for all commodities are forecast to decrease $2.4 billion (0.6 percent) to $371.1 billion (in nominal terms) in 2019. Total animal/animal product receipts are expected to increase $0.9 billion (0.5 percent) but fall 1.3 percent when adjusted for inflation. Increases in milk and hog receipts are expected to be nearly offset by declines in broiler and chicken egg receipts. Total crop receipts are expected to decrease $3.3 billion (1.7 percent) in nominal terms from 2018 levels following expected decreases in soybean receipts. Direct government farm payments are forecast to increase $5.8 billion (42.5 percent) to $19.5 billion in 2019, with most of the increase due to higher anticipated payments from the Market Facilitation Program.

Total production expenses (including operator dwelling expenses) are forecast to increase $1.5 billion (0.4 percent) to $346.1 billion (in nominal terms) in 2019. Spending on feed and hired labor is expected to increase while spending on seed, pesticides, fuels/oil, and interest are expected to decline. After adjusting for inflation, total production expenses are forecast to decrease $4.6 billion (1.3 percent).

Farm business average net cash farm income is forecast to increase $8,400 (11.4 percent) to $81,900 per farm in 2019. This would be the first annual increase after 4 consecutive years of declines. Every resource region is forecast to see farm business average net cash farm income increase by 5.6 percent or more. All categories of farm businesses except poultry are expected to see average net farm income rise in 2019.

Farm sector equity is forecast up by $46.1 billion (1.8 percent) in nominal terms to $2.67 trillion in 2019. Farm assets are forecast to increase by $59.8 billion (2.0 percent) to $3.1 trillion in 2019, reflecting an anticipated 1.9-percent rise in farm sector real estate value. When adjusted for inflation, farm sector equity and assets are forecast to be relatively unchanged from 2018. Farm debt in nominal terms is forecast to increase by $13.7 billion (3.4 percent) to $415.7 billion, led by an expected 4.6-percent rise in real estate debt. The farm sector debt-to-asset ratio is expected to rise from 13.31 percent in 2018 to 13.49 percent in 2019. Working capital, which measures the amount of cash available to fund operating expenses after paying off debt due within 12 months, is forecast to decline 18.7 percent from 2018.

Get the 2019 forecast for farm sector income or see all data tables on farm income indicators.

Median Income of Farm Operator Households Forecast To Increase in 2019

Median farm household income is forecast to reach $74,768 in 2019, an increase of 3.7 percent in nominal terms; in inflation-adjusted terms, it is a 1.9-percent increase. The total median income of U.S. farm households increased steadily over 2010-14, reaching an estimated $81,637 in 2014 (in nominal terms). Median farm household income then fell 6.0 percent in 2015 and continued to decline slightly through 2018. The 2017 and 2018 declines occurred despite an improvement in sector incomes as a whole and sharply higher income for households with commercial farm operations. However, only 10 percent of U.S. farm households operate commercial sized farms. The median farm household is more likely to operate intermediate or small farms, categories where farm-sourced income dropped in 2018 with no appreciable increase expected in 2019. 

Farm households typically receive income from both farm and off-farm sources. Median farm income earned by farm households is estimated at -$1,840 in 2018 (nominal terms) and is forecast to increase slightly to -$1,644 in 2019. In recent years, slightly more than half of farm households have had negative farm income. Many of these households rely on off-farm income—and median off-farm income is forecast to increase 2.2 percent from $65,841 in 2018 to $67,314 in 2019. (Because farm and off-farm income are not distributed identically for every farm, median total income will generally not equal the sum of median off-farm and median farm income.)

Get the 2019 forecast for farm household income or see the Farm Household Income and Characteristics data product tables for financial statistics of farm operator households. 

Source: USDA

Colostrum From First Lactation Heifers: Feed it or Dump it?

Conventionally, colostrum from heifers having their first calf is regarded as lower quality in comparison to older cows. There is published work that supports this theory; on average, colostrum from 1st lactation animals contains less immunoglobulins than older cows (Muller, 1981; Morrill, 2012).

However, colostrum from first lactation animals should not immediately be discounted as inferior. Because of the more aggressive vaccination programs on dairy farms today, first lactation animals potentially have greater exposure than before. Additionally, heifers generally produce less colostrum volume and have less leaking pre-partum than older cows, potentially resulting in colostrum that contains as many antibodies as colostrum from older cows.

Recently, Shivley et al (Oct 2018), published the results of the National Animal Health Monitoring System’s Dairy 2014 study in the Journal of Dairy Science. This study included 1,972 heifer calves from 104 operations in 13 states. Colostrum samples from this study do, in-fact, validate that the older cows have more immunoglobulin rich colostrum (84.7 g/L on average).

However, there was no difference between first and second lactation dams (average 72.3 and 72.0 g IgG/L, respectively). Interestingly, when calves were fed their mother’s colostrum, calves from 1st lactation dam’s had significantly higher serum IgG concentrations (25.7 g/L IgG) than calves that consumed colostrum from second and third lactation dams (24.1 and 22.4 g/L IgG respectively), despite the colostrum containing a lower concentration of IgG. Researchers were not able to identify the reason for this but it could be related to lower birth weights in calves out of heifers.

The only way to know if colostrum is of high quality is to test it. Using a BRIX refractometer or a colostrometer, colostrum can quickly and easily be assessed for quality. For reference, colostrum containing at least 50 g/L IgG (22% on the BRIX scale) is considered high in antibodies. A field study from the University of Pennsylvania included 241 first milking colostrum samples (from all lactations) that averaged 37.5 g/L IgG, however the range was 9 – 166 g/L (Baumrucker, 2010). There is no way to know if colostrum contains enough antibodies without testing. Neither color nor thickness are reliable indicators of IgG content.

Similarly, there is no predictable relationship between volume of colostrum and IgG content when the first milking is immediately after calving (Baumrucker, 2010). However, if the first milking is not immediately after calving, the cow begins producing milk which dilutes the colostral IgG’s. A study found that colostrum quality is diluted by an average of 3.7 percent per hour from calving to milking (Morin, 2010) because a cow starts producing milk immediately after giving birth. This means that if a cow is first milked 8 hours after calving, colostrum quality has been reduced via dilution by 29.6 percent. 

Michigan State University Extension recommends testing colostrum to know if it contains enough IgG to use as a first feeding for calves. If colostrum tests lower than 22 percent BRIX, then it is still suitable to use as a second feeding. Don’t immediately discount colostrum from first lactation heifers, as it may be just as high of quality as colostrum from older cows.

Source: Michigan State University Extension

Plan for winter forage needs

This has been an interesting growing year, to say the least.

  • There are large areas of winterkill throughout the Midwest.
  • Hay prices have remained high, in spite of low milk prices.
  • The amount and quality of hay this year has been variable; and
  • Corn silage tonnage will be lower than average.

It’s common for hay prices to climb in late winter and spring due, in part, to an increase in demand caused by livestock producers not anticipating their forage needs. To maximize your profits, it is important to plan for the amount and quality of forage your farm will need. Forward planning minimizes the risk of running out of forage and having to buy at inopportune times.

Take a forage inventory

A total forage inventory should be done at least quarterly. After each specific crop is harvested, the forage inventory should be updated with the new amounts and inventoried by quality.

Going into the fall, it is especially important to determine and plan for winter forage purchasing needs. This will help avoid dramatic ration changes caused by the poor allocation of forage. It is better to make small adjustments in rations than to run out of forage and have to make a drastic change.

Cows do not adjust well to dramatic ration changes. Each summer I get calls from farmers that have run out of corn silage and are exploring their options or wanting to know the minimum time corn silage needs to be in storage before feeding.

  • Hay crop silages need at least three weeks to complete fermentation.
  • Corn silage should be in the silo at least 4 months to maximize the starch digestibility of the kernels.

Regularly calculating forage inventories allows for the anticipation of shortages and gives farmers time to explore their options. If shortages are discovered early, several options exist to remedy the situation. These include:

  • Purchase hay or other forage.
  • Reduce animal numbers.
  • Re-balance rations, substituting some high fiber co-products for a portion of the forage.
  • Re-balance rations, reallocating forages based on availability.

Determine forage quality

In addition to determining total amounts of forage, segregating forages by quality, especially in a year when forage is expensive, may help increase farm profitability. The best time to sample and analyze forages is during harvest. Bags or bales can be identified by the quality and cutting with spray paint on the bag.

Recommended forage quality for different classes of dairy animals by relative feed value (RFV):

  • Early lactation cow: 160 RFV
  • Dairy calf + middle and late lactation cow: 140 RFV
  • Heifer (12-18 months): 120 RFV
  • Dry cow + heifer (18-24 months): 100 RFV

Developing a forage inventory

Ask these five basic questions when developing a forage inventory:

  1. How much total forage do I have available?
  2. How much forage is required for all of my animals?
  3. How does the forage inventory quality match the requirement for my animals?
  4. Can a feeding program be developed based on the forage supply available and the forage needs of the animals?
  5. Should I change my cropping strategy next year to better match my forage requirements?

One challenge with getting accurate inventories is forage density. The University of Wisconsin sampled 87 hay crop bunkers that averaged 15 pounds of dry matter per cubic foot but the range was 6.6 to 27.1 pounds. Corn silage bunkers averaged 14.5 pounds of dry matter per cubic feet and the variation was 7.8-23.6 pounds.

Another challenge is accurately determining shrink. This also varies widely depending on the storage location, type, packing sealing and feed out management. These are important reasons why forage inventories need to be done frequently.

Software can help

Many excellent feed management software packages allow users to manage and monitor feeding accuracy as well as track feed inventories. Most nutritionists have spreadsheets and can help calculate forage inventory by the class of forage (hay and corn silage) and the forage requirement. Many are available for free online.

The purpose of regularly inventorying the forage is to determine the quantities of forage available on the farm. When matched with animal numbers, you can make decisions regarding an adequate supply of forage for the intended feeding period. Because there can be a large variation in forage density and dry matter intake, inventories should be updated every three months.


Keeping Pre-weaned Dairy Calves Healthy and Growing in Cold Weather

The most critical and most expensive period of calf growth in raising dairy calves is the pre-weaning period. During this period calves are highly susceptible to cold stress with a lower critical temperature of 50°F for newborn calves and 32°F for older calves. Cold stress can result in calves turning to stored body fat to generate body heat, essentially losing weight. In addition, calves experiencing cold stress will have compromised immune systems making them more susceptible to disease.

Three main areas to focus on for winter calf care include:

  1. Overall nutrition and feeding requirements.
  2. Management.
  3. Calf environment.

Nutrition and Feeding

  • Feed more milk or milk replacer daily if using individual bottle or pail feedings in one of three ways: 1) add a feeding or a third meal, 2) increase the volume fed by 1/3 or 3) increase the total solids fed. Producers should work with a nutritionist to make sure they are not exceeding 15% total solids in the milk replacer.
  • Traditional calf milk replacer should contain a minimum of (air dry basis) 20% protein, (22 to 24% protein if it contains non-milk proteins such as soy protein or fish meal) and at least 15% fat. Fat sources in milk replacers such as milk fat, tallow, choice white grease or lard are preferred over vegetable oils, which are poorly utilized by calves. Replacers containing 15 to 20% fat are preferred, especially for calves housed in colder environments. Milk replacers containing all milk products generally are better than those containing vegetable proteins, vegetable oil, or fish proteins. If milk replacers containing non-milk protein sources are going to be fed, it is recommended not to start before 3 weeks of age. After the third week, calves should be able to better digest formulations with non-milk protein sources. Calves also can be fed mastitis/antibiotic milk if it appears wholesome and if it is not from a cow with staphylococcal and/or coliform mastitis. If calves are going to be fed discard milk, pasteurization of the milk is recommended. Milk should be fed at a minimum of 101.5°F or body temperature.
  • If you are following an accelerated program you will be using a milk replacer with an increased protein content (26-28%) and a decreased fat content (15-20%).
  • Addition of a commercial fat supplement to increase the energy content in your milk or milk replacer may be utilized, however, it is recommended to use products that are made to mix specifically with liquids.
  • Studies now recommend that small breed calves consume 1.3 lbs. of Dry Matter (DM) with 0.3 lbs. of fat and large breed calves consume 2.0 lbs. of DM and 0.5 lbs. of fat per day in addition to calf starter and fresh water.
  • Offer fresh clean water daily and during extremely cold weather it may be necessary to do so several times a day due to freezing conditions. It should be warmed to body temperature prior to feeding during cold periods. Consumption should be at the rate of 1 gallon/day for the first month and 2/gallons per day for the second month prior to weaning.
  • In addition, to milk or milk replacer, give calves free access to a calf starter grain mixture a few days after birth. Calf starter should contain a minimum of 18% protein and be palatable to encourage the calf to begin eating at an early age. Additionally, there are now calf starters on the market with 22% protein content available for accelerated growth. Overfeeding total protein in the diet may lead to scouring or loose stools. Physical form of the starter is also important; coarse and/or pelleted are better than finely ground starters. By two weeks of age the calf should be eating approximately one-half pound of starter. Top quality hay should also be offered starting around weaning time. The Calves are typically weaned between 6 to 8 weeks of age but they should not be weaned unless they are consuming a minimum of 2.0 lbs. of calf starter and drinking water for at least three consecutive days.
  • Utilization of electrolytes may be necessary if calves become dehydrated when ill.

ManagementA group of young dairy calves lying down in bedding, some are wearing red jackets.

Calf management takes dedication and extra time, especially during cold weather. Extra labor or time will be needed for increased feedings, additional bedding, and cleaning. Calf coats requires extra time for utilization and laundering, during cold weather to help provide extra protection. Weaning calves during extreme cold conditions provides added stress to the animal and consideration should be given to delaying weaning until temperatures are less extreme.


Whether you are using individual pens, hutches, or group housing for calves there are some key principles to remember regarding young calf housing.

  • Newborn calves have limited body fat reserves and a minimal hair coat.  When moving newborn calves first make sure they are dry. Keep them warm by either transporting them in a trailer or covered device with clean bedding.  If a wheel barrow or open bucket is used for transport putting a clean calf blanket on will with clean bedding underneath will help maintain body heat.
  • Deep, dry bedding is essential. Straw is preferred, especially during the colder winter months as it allows calves to nestle down into the straw to maintain body heat better. Make sure the bedding is dry by kneeling or placing your knees on the straw for 20 seconds, if they become wet you either need to change the bedding or add more.
  • Adequate ventilation that provides fresh clean air, while keeping humidity down, without allowing for drafts is essential for calf barns. Draft prevention is key to keeping calves from catching respiratory diseases.
  • Calf blankets may be utilized during cold weather to help provide extra protection, however it is critical to clean the blankets between each use to minimize disease spread.
  • Sanitation of bottles and equipment is key to minimize diseases being spread between calves.

In summary, taking the time to properly manage dairy calves during cold weather is critical to keeping young calves healthy and growing at adequate levels.


Modern dairy production efficiencies reducing environmental impact

A new Journal of Animal Science study shows U.S dairy farmers have excelled in production efficiency — so much so that the environmental footprint to produce a gallon of milk has shrunk significantly since 1944 — using 90% less land, 65% less water, 63% smaller carbon footprint per gallon of milk.

More importantly, the trend on production efficiencies and reduced environmental impacts has actually accelerated in the last 10 years, based on a recently updated analysis of the original 2007 study, which concluded that Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions to produce a gallon of milk dropped nearly 20% over the 10-year period from 2007 to 2017.

Laura Campbell, manager of Michigan Farm Bureau’s Ag Ecology Department, said the recently updated study confirms what most farmers already know first-hand.

“Ongoing scientific research and improvements in genetics, animal nutrition, herd health management and ongoing advancements in crop production efficiencies have allowed dairy farmers to produce more with less,” Campbell said. “Unfortunately, that indisputable fact is often lost on the average consumer.”

According to Campbell, the Journal of Animal Science published a study in 2009, “The environmental impact of dairy production: 1944 compared with 2007,” by lead author, Jude Capper, and collaborators Roger Cady and Dale Bauman.

At the request of the Journal of Animal Science, two of the original authors, Capper, a livestock sustainability consultant, and Cady, principal of Cady Agricultural Sustainability Specialties, performed a follow-up assessment to measure the subsequent progress made in the U.S. dairy sector in the 2007 to 2017 timeframe.

The results, Campbell said, show that the resources needed to produce the same amount of milk, field to farm gate were significantly lower in 2017 than in 2007.

According to the assessment, here are the effects of improved performance in the U.S. dairy cattle industry on environmental impacts between 2007 and 2017.

In 2017, producing a unit of milk required:

  • 8% of the cows needed in 2007 for the same amount of milk = 25.2% reduction
  • 7% of the feedstuffs needed in 2007 for the same amount of milk = 17.3% reduction
  • 2% of the land needed in 2007 for the same amount of milk = 20.8% reduction
  • 5% of the water needed in 2007 for the same amount of milk = 30.5% reduction
  • The GHG emissions per unit of milk in 2017 were 80.8% of equivalent milk production in 2007 = 19.2% reduction.

There was also a reduction in the amount of waste produced in 2017 versus 2007.

In 2017, producing a unit of milk required:

  • 4% of the manure produced in 2007 = 20.6% reduction
  • 5% of the nitrogen excreted in 2007 = 17.5% reduction
  • 7% of the phosphorus excreted in 2007 = 14.3% reduction

Although total milk production in the U.S. increased by 24.9% between 2007 and 2017, the total GHG emissions from milk increased by only 1%, according to this study.

This paper, released Oct. 17, is open access and can be found here:


Time-saving Tips for Record Keeping With QuickBooks™

Seventy-three percent of farmers nationwide have computer access according to the latest USDA National Ag Statistics Service “Farm Computer and Ownership Report” (USDA, 2019). Three quarters identified having internet capabilities. Computer use for farm business is up 1% (49% nationally, only 40% in Pennsylvania) from the 2017 survey. This means one out of every two agricultural operations is using the computer for business purposes, such as managing financial records. A popular financial software package used in and out of agriculture is QuickBooks™. Maintaining quality financial data does not have to be cumbersome and time consuming. There are several concepts and methods (even if you don’t use QuickBooks™) that can actually make book-keeping easy and more efficient.

Different uses of the data

A business’s financial records really have two important purposes: provide the data to report on taxes and provide financial insight into the success and management of the business. Same data, but different interpretations. One difference is in the accounting method applied. Most agricultural businesses report taxes on a cash-based method (as money enters or leaves the business). Therefore, the financial records are set up for that method. To gain better financial insights of the operation, accrual accounting is recommended. This method tracks transactions as they happen, even the exchange of money. When done correctly, financial records using the accrual method will also generate the necessary data for cash based tax reporting. A simple way to get started with the accrual method is to track bills as they are received from vendors, or record invoices when they are sent to customers. This will provide insights into current accounts payable and receivable, and as well as cash flow management.

QuickBooks™ tips for simplifying data use

  • Download data

This seems like a logical first step. Today’s businesses are doing more and more electronically to save on time and costs. Transaction downloads from the bank are possible in QuickBooks™, either as Bank Feeds or using web connect files The biggest challenge is properly categorizing the transactions and matching them to existing entries. Though QuickBooks™ will auto-detect transactions that are always the same such as an utility bill payment, the details still need to be reviewed and adjusted, especially for vendors or customers that interact with different expenses or products.

  • Recurring memorized transactions

QuickBooks™ users typically learn early on about memorizing transactions (invoices, sales receipts, bills, etc.). This speeds up routine entries by automating the process. Editing a memorized transaction, such as a cell phone bill, allows QuickBooks™ to process automatically the transaction on a regular basis.

  • Use the find feature

Most software has a type of search feature, and QuickBooks™ actually has two: search and find. Though similar, they have slightly different options and purposes. Search is designed to be a general search, looking for keywords or terms of interest. It will examine throughout the company files (items, transactions, customers, etc.) and bring up relevant items. For greater accuracy with search, run the update search information first before starting a search. The “find” feature doesn’t require updating and focuses on transactions, not examining other areas like customers, vendors, or items. Only one type of transaction can be selected at a time, which can be time consuming if the transaction type is not known. There is an advanced find to further limit the results by account, customer, item, memo, or others.

Review and streamline the Chart of Accounts

The chart of accounts is the backbone or infrastructure to any financial system (paper or electronic). It is essentially the filing system that stores and relates the transactions of the business, whether it is income and expenses or assets and loans. Too often, the number of accounts a business has can quickly become cumbersome and hard to navigate. Consider reviewing these accounts occasionally, making sure they are relevant to the business. If an account is no longer needed, don’t delete it (as it may have historical transactions related to it) but inactivate or hide the account to prevent it from further use.

Another issue that can plague the chart of accounts is its use to categorize or class the data. Classes are a labeling system for enterprises (i.e. corn grain, soybeans, hay) to help identify related transactions (i.e. seed, fertilizer, chemical). Implementing a category/class system to label transactions will help filter the data when needed. Classes may even help streamline the chart of accounts for even greater efficiencies. The Penn State Extension Dairy Team has been working with producers on their cash flow plans over the past several years. The one commonality on pulling all the data together is how good the accounting system is and the set-up on the chart of accounts. Farms that are very organized and have a good set-up means more time can be spent on results and discussing business/production strategies. Otherwise the majority of time is spent trying to organize the data and check for mistakes, which leaves very little time for interpretation.

QuickBooks™ tips for efficient Chart of Accounts and beyond

  • Use the undeposited funds account wisely

Undeposited funds is an asset account (typically other current asset) where QuickBooks™ stores recorded transactions before depositing the money into a bank account. This feature is really useful if the business has regular bank deposits with multiple payments from customers throughout the day combined into one bank deposit. If the business typically records individual payments from individual customers, an undeposited funds account may be inefficient.

  • Group reports to process multiple reports at once

The memorize reports feature allows for quicker access to regular and routine reports, even custom ones. Group these memorized reports so they are easily found, and generate them all at once. In newer versions of QuickBooks™, schedule reports to generate automatically.

  • Use classes

Classes are labeling system for enterprises (i.e. areas or divisions within the business) to help identify related transactions (i.e. crop direct expenses related to corn).Add them when entering the data, then when it’s time to evaluate the data (generate reports, filter the data, etc.) invoke the classes to generate enterprise specific information. Keep classes general enough to be relevant on multiple transactions, but with enough detail to be informative. Classes may even help streamline your chart of accounts for even greater efficiencies.

Time is the one resource that is continually in short demand, especially when it comes to managing financial records. Try adopting some of these time saving tips to start reaping the rewards from these robust computer systems. Saving time on the front end of the data stream allows for more time to interpret the data and integrate that information into smarter management decisions.

Progesterone, Ovulation, and Pregnancy

The more we learn about progesterone, the more we realize the intricacies of how it impacts various aspects of reproductive function – oocyte quality, development of follicles, ovulation, fertilization, embryo quality, and maintenance of pregnancy.

In recent years, there has been concern about the impact of increased milk production on progesterone in dairy cows. The increased metabolism resulting from high feed intakes and high milk production causes a decrease in circulating progesterone at critical periods for reproduction (Wiltbank et al., 2014). With suboptimal progesterone, the typical consequences can be Low fertility, increased incidence of twinning, and Pregnancy loss.

Let’s look at three key periods when progesterone has a known impact on fertility.

1. Progesterone during follicular development

Each of a female’s many oocytes (eggs) are contained within a follicle on one of two ovaries from before birth. Follicles are recruited throughout a fertile heifer or cow’s life to develop and grow during brief periods of time, called follicular waves. Many follicles and oocytes eventually die off, but a select few develop to the point of ovulation during an estrous cycle. An even smaller number of those oocytes will be subsequently fertilized. The hormonal milieu during a follicular wave has a significant impact on the fertility and fate of an oocyte.

Higher progesterone concentrations in the circulation during follicular wave development correlate to healthier oocytes and more viable embryos (Wiltbank et al., 2014). In an experiment where researchers evaluated week-old embryos from superstimulated cows, a higher number and percentage of embryos were classified as transferable and freezable in the treatment groups which received higher progesterone during development of the follicles (Rivera et al., 2011).

Overall fertility is compromised when progesterone is low during development of a preovulatory follicle. This holds true even with first-wave follicles that develop in association with a small, developing CL and gradually increasing progesterone, which is sometimes the case in timed AI programs (Denicol et al., 2012; Stevenson, 2019). Bruinjé et al. (2019) found that 46.2% of luteal phases prior to insemination had milk progesterone peaks less than 24.7 ng/ml, which was associated with reduced fertility.

The risk of twinning is also related to progesterone. Double ovulation occurs more frequently in cows with low circulating progesterone during development of a preovulatory follicle (Stevenson, 2019). For example, Carvalho et al. (2019) found the incidence of double ovulation to be three times greater for cows manipulated to have low progesterone during a Double Ovsynch protocol (Carvalho et al., 2019), which also resulted in more twin pregnancies (see Figure 1). The frequency of twinning increases with increased parity, increased milk production, and the occurrence of multiple ovulations (Wiltbank et al., 2000).

Figure 1 – Frequency of double ovulation and twin pregnancy at 32 days after AI for cows on a Double Ovsynch program manipulated with additional treatments to cause low circulating concentrations of progesterone (P4) during growth of preovulatory follicles (Low P4) or supplemented with additional P4 to ensure high circulating concentrations during growth of preovulatory follicles (High P4; adapted from Carvalho et al., 2019)

The risks resulting from low progesterone during development of a preovulatory follicle extend into the first couple of months of pregnancy. Rates of pregnancy loss between Days 28 and 60 of pregnancy range from 3.5% to 26.3%, averaging ~12%, and one of the associated factors is low progesterone during growth of the preovulatory follicle (Wiltbank et al., 2016). Martins et al. (2018) found that low progesterone during the final stages of preovulatory follicle development increased the chance of both double ovulation and pregnancy loss between Day 35 and Day 56 post-insemination. Clearly, some cows are pregnant long enough to initiate maternal recognition of pregnancy but subsequently undergo early pregnancy loss (Carvalho et al., 2019).

When researchers used frequent measurements of milk progesterone to guide timing of AI and determine pregnancy status after AI, approximately 15% of cows were diagnosed as pregnant (consistently high progesterone) at 30 days post-AI but had a decline in progesterone by 55 days (Bruinjé and Ambrose, 2019; see Figure 2).

Figure 2 – In the research study of Bruinjé and Ambrose (2019), 1821 Holstein cows were inseminated. By 30±3 days post-insemination, 53.2% of those cows had a decline in milk progesterone (P4) concentrations and were deemed not pregnant. Over the following three weeks, there were additional declines in progesterone, suggesting pregnancy loss.

2. Progesterone just before AI

A standard timed AI protocol begins with gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) treatment. Ideally, circulating progesterone will increase and remain high until prostaglandin F2α (PGF) treatment a week later. Optimum response to PGF treatment is a rapid decline in progesterone, remaining low until the final GnRH treatment and AI. If progesterone does not decline soon enough and low enough, fertility is compromised (Stevenson and Pulley, 2016; Wiltbank et al., 2014).

In a recent research study, milk progesterone concentrations were greater than 0.5 ng/ml before AI 41.7% of the time, a predicament that was associated with reduced fertility (Bruinjé et al., 2019).

3. Progesterone after AI

After AI, progesterone is essential for maintaining pregnancy. Interestingly, efforts to supplement progesterone for improved retention of pregnancies have not resulted in consistently positive results (Wiltbank et al., 2014). Not only that, but supplemented progesterone between Day 15 and 17 post-AI might also increase the increase the incidence of twins being carried to term (Garcia-Ispierto and López-Gatius, 2017). Bruinjé et al. (2019) found that, if the naturally high concentrations of progesterone are established too soon (3-6 days post-AI) or too late (12 or more days post-AI), reduced fertility could result.

Potential adjustments

Options for improving progesterone status in a herd can be quite varied.

For those not frequently using timed AI, there is value in frequently measuring progesterone in individual milk samples, but this isn’t always feasible. There are benefits to keeping good records of estrous activity even soon after calving to determine if a cow has been cycling normally before insemination. Another option to consider is simply using more timed AI, which just might cause the desired decrease in frequency of twin pregnancies in addition to more timely insemination, improved conception rates, and reduced embryonic mortality.

For those using timed AI on a regular basis, there are several things to consider. Progesterone issues become problematic when a timed AI protocol such as Ovsynch is used with anovular cows, or when it is initiated during the first follicular wave of the estrous cycle. In both cases there is not a large enough CL present at the beginning of the protocol, thus progesterone concentrations are not ideal.

Some protocol suggestions to consider are:

  • For first insemination, use presynchronization protocols that include GnRH treatments to encourage development of luteal tissue and circulating progesterone prior to the final timed AI portion of the protocol (e.g. Double Ovsynch or G6G).
  • At the end of timed AI protocols, consider doubling up on PGF treatments. There seems to be enough evidence that two doses of PGF 24 hours apart on an Ovsynch or Cosynch protocol may be the most consistent method for causing complete CL regression and lowering progesterone concentrations near the time of AI (Wiltbank et al., 2014; Wiltbank et al., 2015).
  • Use CIDRs in the resynch protocol for open cows without signs of a CL. This can increase conception rates by 10% (Bisinotto, 2015a & 2015b), improve embryo viability, decrease pregnancy loss (Wiltbank et al., 2014), and reduce the odds of twinning (Cunha et al., 2008).

If reproductive performance in your dairy herd needs improvement, take a close look at how suboptimal progesterone concentrations circulating through the cows might be limiting fertility. Investigate how protocol changes might improve progesterone status and reproductive success.


Economic Benefits of Rightsizing the Farm Dairy Replacements Numbers

During the last few years, dairy producers have been facing not only low milk prices but also low prices on the heifer market. Producers can’t rely on raising replacements and later sell them to generate cash. To raise a heifer to the age of 24 months for $1,700 to $2,200 and then sell her for a half of what she is worth is not a sustainable thing to do. In some cases, even the feed cost alone is approaching to the sale price.

So, what can dairy operators do? It depends on what the manager’s intentions are. If he/she plans on a herd expansion or aggressive culling sick, low production, and cows with high SCC, it is perhaps a good reason to keep heifers you raise. However, if expansion is not in the future, then selling them as soon possible would save you a bundle.

Things managers need to know to take an action:

  1. How many heifers you need to replace annually (herd replacement rate)
  2. How many heifers the herd produces annually
  3. The farm costs of raising a heifer
  4. Current heifer market price
  5. Which heifer to sell, and which heifer to keep

The number of replacements a manager needs every year for the herd and how many heifers the herd produces annually. The difference between these two numbers is the number of heifers that can be sold.

Determining how many cows in the herd need to be replaced annually is not difficult. DHIA Herd Summary record provides all the numbers needed to calculate it. The basic formula is:

(herd size [milking and dry cows]) × (cull rate) × (age at first calving ÷24) × (1 + noncompletion rate for heifers*)1*) The heifer noncompletion rate, or heifer culling rate, accounts for heifers that are born alive but are sold or die before they calve. Cull rate here includes animals that die.

The number of heifers produced on a farm is more complex:

(herd size) × (12 ÷ calving interval) x (percent female calves) × (1 – calf mortality rate*) × (24÷ age at first calving)1*) Calf mortality counts deaths in the first 48 hours after birth.

How Does an Average Farm Measure Up?

For example, a producer manages a herd size of 238 cows, annual cull rate is 30 percent, age at first calving is 23 months, and non-completion rate for the heifers is 10 percent. Using these formulas, this producer would need 75 heifers annually, 150 heifers on the farm for two years. Producers can object that many things happen during the two year’s period and after the heifers join the milking herd. Having a few more heifers on hand is beneficial. Add an additional six percent (12 heifers) which totals 162 heifers in the farm at a time. Any more heifers above this count can be marketed.

Meanwhile, this dairy herd produces 111 heifers annually, or 222 heifers biannually. There are 60 heifers on the farm that can potentially be sold.

The expenses associated with raising the heifers are not so easy to get. Penn State researchers documented the costs of raising heifers for different stages of life quite well a few years ago (Table 1).

Table 1. Dairy heifer replacement costs2.

Heifer Age Heifer Market Value ($) Operating Daily Costs* ($/day) Operating Costs ($/period) Costs of Extra 60 Heifers
Birth to weaning 70 3.90 218 13,080
Weaning to 6 mos. 400 1.95 248 14,880
6 to breeding 600 2.32 606 36,360
Breeding to fresh 800 2.33 735 44,100
Total costs     1,807 108,420

*) Costs of feed, labor, bedding, reproduction, health

The daily operating costs in the above table represent averages across several farms.

The heifer raising costs vary widely among farms as some farms are more, and some are less efficient. Penn State data2 suggests that the difference between efficient and inefficient farms can be over $300 per heifer for feed and labor combined. Each dairy manager is encouraged to calculate his/her own costs of raising heifers. Heifers are the second largest expense on a dairy farm. This can be one of the most important steps managers can take to save money now and in the future.

The average operating costs associated with raising one heifer are $1,807. These costs do not include costs of facilities, equipment, and livestock costs. These costs indicate that the sooner the heifers are sold, the more savings it is. This manager could potentially save over $108,000 in operating costs. Additionally, he/she would receive $4,200 in sales if these heifers are sold right after being born. The longer the manager waits, the more dollars are invested, and the saving are smaller.

Saving feed and labor on these heifers can be attractive to producers who are facing shortage of feed due to either bad crop years or loss of crop land.

What Heifers to Sell?

If a manager sells heifer calves out of the hutches and they don’t have any health history, the only choice producers have is to take a closer look at the sire’s and dam’s PTA data. DHIA records provide the necessary information to find out the genetic makeup of the heifer and how much she is going to contribute to the herd in the future.

Health records are useful tool to evaluate heifers that are sold at older ages. Any diseased heifer, stunted in growth, difficult to breed, leg/hoof problem heifers can be culled. Respiratory issues, in particular, should be of a concern for future as they affect the cow for the rest of her life. Research indicates that calves with multiple pneumonia cases will produce about 743 lbs and 1,870 lbs less milk in the first and second lactation, respectively3.

Body condition, weight and size, are reason to sell. If a Holstein heifer weighs less than 750 lbs and measures less than 47 inches in the wither (565 lbs and 44 inches for Jersey heifer) at breeding age of 15 months, she should be re-evaluated. The Penn State growth charts provides weight and sizes for heifers of different dairy breeds.

Evaluate breeding. Repeated breeders will have troubles to get bred later in life.

Fewer heifer in the farm also helps with nutrient management. Fewer heifer also means less manure and phosphorus and less time spent with manure management.

Alternative to Consider

Another good reason to calculate the operation’s heifer raising costs is to consider the heifer custom raised. Raising heifers from birth to weaning is the most expensive period ($3.90/day). After that, the average operating costs per day for Pennsylvania farms are $2.26. A custom raising operation can typically charge $2.35 – $3.20 per head per day. If your operating costs are higher than the rate a custom operator charges, it would be worthwhile to investigate this option. It would not only save you some cash, free feed, barn space, but also free time to focus on the milking herd.


Maximizing Feed Intake: Key for Transition Cow Success

The transition period, known as the three weeks before and after parturition, is one of the most challenging times for dairy cows, since they face numerous physiological challenges such as increased energy demands, decreased dry matter intake and impaired immune system, among others (Drackley, 1999). These challenges make cows highly susceptible to metabolic (e.g., hypocalcemia and ketosis) and infectious (e.g., metritis) diseases. Ketosis and hypocalcemia are prevalent metabolic diseases affecting dairy cattle that are known as “gateway” diseases, because they increase the risk of other diseases and losses by affecting cow dry matter intake and impairing immune system functions. Therefore, efforts in transition cow management should be primarily aimed at preventing and monitoring these two conditions.

One of the main goals in preventing these metabolic diseases is to minimize the decrease in dry matter intake that cows experience during this period. Practices such as proper stocking density, avoiding commingling first lactation cows with older cows, decreasing pen moves and adequate feed bunk management are crucial to maximize cow intake. For instance, first lactation cows that are housed with older cows in an overstocked pen during the close-up period will produce 1.6 lb/d less milk for each 10% increase in stocking density above the recommended value (i.e., 80%) during the next lactation (Nordlund et al., 2006). In addition, these cows may also suffer a decrease in intake and resting time, subsequently predisposing them to diseases, such as lameness, low milk production and infertility.

When it comes to ensuring proper stocking density, it needs to be considered that this parameter can be measured based on feed bunk space or the number of stalls in the pen. Overstocking at the feed bunk may increase the risk of metabolic diseases, such as ketosis, hypocalcemia and DAs; while overstocking based on stall numbers may increase the risk of lameness (Nordlund et al., 2006). The recommended stocking density based on feed bunk space is 30” per cows; while 80% of stalls filled is the recommended stocking density based on number of stalls (Nordlund, 2011). These recommended stocking densities ensure at least one stall per cow and enough space in the feed bunk to avoid feed bunk displacements of subordinate animals, which compromise feed intake. Also, it is important to keep in mind the barn design when stocking transition cow pens. For instance, in a two-row free stall barn there would be one feeding space for each stall; therefore, stocking density at the feed bunk would equal the stocking density at the stalls. However, most of the modern dairy barns are three-row free stall barns, which means that feeding space at the feed bunk would be reduced by one third if 100% of the stalls are filled. Therefore, stocking pens based on cow feed bunk space requirements is recommended in three-row stall barns.

Another factor to consider when stocking transition cow pens is the feeding barrier in the pen. For instance, in pens with headlocks, cows will only use 80% of the feeding spaces, regardless of the pen stocking density (Nordlund, 2011). Similarly, in pens with post-and-rail feeders, additional space per cow should be provided to prevent dominant cows from displacing subordinate cows from the feed bunk (Nordlund, 2011). Regardless of the well-known negative effects of overstocking in cow health and performance, many producers may overstock transition cow pens thinking that subordinate cows will wait to eat or lay down until dominant cows are done using the feed bunk or the stalls; however, this may not be totally true. Cattle are “allomimetic” animals (herd animals), which means that they like to do activities (e.g., eating, lying down) as a group at the same time (Cook and Nordlund, 2004). Therefore, if subordinate cows do not have a spot in the feed bunk at feeding time, most likely their intake will be affected. A similar scenario would happen if there are not enough stalls for all the cows, which will compromise cow resting time.

Avoiding commingling of heifers/first lactation cows with older cows is often challenging in modern dairy farms due to the additional facilities needed and the high costs involved. The main negative effects of commingling are observed in younger cows that must compete with older and stronger cows for food and lying space. The losses observed are even higher when coupled with high stocking density. Therefore, if heifers/first lactation cows cannot be housed separately from older cows during the transition period, at least the stocking density should be maintained low (80%), specially at the feed bunk (30” per cow).

Another practice that could help improve intake in transition cows is to minimize the number of pen moves. Each time that cows are moved to a different pen, the animal hierarchy has to be established, which takes around 2 days (Cook and Nordlund, 2004). During this time, newly introduced animals in the pen may experience a decrease in resting time and feeding time, which results in a decrease in milk production and an increase in the risk of diseases (Cook and Nordlund, 2004). Therefore, minimizing pen moves of this group of animals may benefit feed intake. Having a combined close-up/maternity pen, where cows are moved 21 days prior to expected calving date and are allowed to comfortably calve in, may help to reduce number of pen moves; however, pen maintenance and monitoring of cows starting labor must be strictly performed.

Perhaps a little easier to manage, feed bunk practices can have an incredible positive effect on cow intake in this group of susceptible animals. In a study, where different feeding barriers and stocking densities were assessed, researchers found that regardless of these factors, the main stimulator for cows to stand up and go to the feed bunk was delivery of fresh feed (Huzzey et al., 2006). Another practice that was found to stimulate cows to go to the feed bunk was pushing-up feed (Huzzey et al., 2006). Therefore, delivering fresh feed ≥2 times a day and performing feed push-ups every 2 h could significantly contribute to optimal cow intake. In addition, other best feed bunk management practices such as providing enough feed, so cows can comfortably grab the feed with their tongue, in the feed bunk for at least 23 hours a day (Caixeta et al., 2018) and feeding for a 5% refusal (Bach et al., 2008) could also aid on maximizing DMI in transition cows.

Even with the best management practices, often, due to unpredictable reasons such as undesirable weather conditions (e.g., heat wave), management can fail to address the transition cow challenges, which could predispose animals to metabolic diseases. Therefore, practices to monitor and treat these “gateway” diseases must be in place in order to identify and address, in a timely manner, transition cow management issues. Routinely monitoring mineral concentrations of dry cow TMRs and urine pH are common practices to ensure that hypocalcemia prevention practices are working properly. Similarly, assessment of transition transition cow body condition scores and ketone body concentrations (in urine, milk or blood) are excellent practices to monitor metabolic status of transition cows and modify management and/or proactively treat subclinical ketotic animals if needed.

Never forget that without a well rationed diet, that provides the right amount of nutrients, minerals and vitamins for the different transition cow groups, none of the above practices will be effective. Therefore, team meetings with farm nutritionists, veterinarians and consultants must be performed on a regular basis to maximize transition cow management, and stay one step ahead of monitoring and preventing future issues.


New online tool to manage biosecurity risks for Australian dairy farmers

Dairy farmers now have access to a new online tool to build their skills and adapt their management approach to biosecurity risks.

Developed as part of an industry collaboration between Dairy Australia and Agriculture Victoria, the biosecurity tool enables dairy farmers to create a biosecurity plan tailored to their farm, based on Dairy Australia’s Healthy Farms Biosecurity Framework.

Dairy Australia technical and innovation manager Dr John Penry said it was important for all farms to have a biosecurity plan to manage disease risk.

“It’s crucial for dairy farmers to maintain a biosecurity plan tailored to their herd and farming system,” Dr Penry said.

“An outbreak of the diseases identified by the biosecurity tool could create significant and measurable losses in farm performance or the wider dairy industry.

“The biosecurity tool allows dairy farmers to manage their risks around 14 separate diseases such as salmonella and BVD.”

For each disease, dairy farmers can identify control measures under the seven categories of stock movements, herd health, farm inputs, visitors, effluent and waste, neighbours and dead animals.

Agriculture Victoria development specialist Dr Sarah Chaplin said the new online tool will help farmers understand how to manage their own biosecurity risks.

“The control measures offered by the tool for each disease are evidence-based, based on the level of risk that you have chosen,” Dr Chaplin said.

“Users decide what level of control they want to apply to different diseases with the tool’s risk matrix. It’s still subjective – it’s up to the farmer to decide whether they consider the consequences minor, moderate or severe.

“Once the farm’s specific animal health risks are identified, scientifically valid control measures are suggested.”
Focused control measures have a better cost benefit ratio than blanket application of all possible control measures.

Dairy farmers can access the biosecurity tool at – and farmers already using DairyBase can use their existing login details.

Victorian dairy farmers will be the first to have access to regionally based workshops where a delivery approach will be piloted before national roll out of the biosecurity tool.


Winter is just around the corner

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

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

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

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

Source: Dairy Pipeline

Accelerated milk replacer benefits dairy calves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gloves: Are You Protecting Your Herd?

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

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

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

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


A Look at Feeding Strategies During Challenging Times

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

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

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

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

In our last analysis, herds with higher IOFC had:

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Fine-tune your feeding management

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

4) Strategically review rations with your nutritionist

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

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

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

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

5) Carefully review cow and heifer inventories and needs

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

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

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

Source: Cornell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Headline image courtesy of Léo Ramos Chaves / Pesquisa FAPESP.

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Augmented reality brings cow data to farmers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

High-tech monitoring

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

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

So, where does all that cow data come from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not for sale, yet

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

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

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

Selling farmers

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

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

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

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

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

AR vs. VR

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst: by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
  2. Freedom from Discomfort: by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease: by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior: by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress: by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

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

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

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

Is Selective Dry Cow Therapy Right For Your Herd?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Monitoring New Infections In Dry Cows

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

Source: Quality Milk Alliance

Getting the most from your single-cut hay system

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

Hay field mowed and into round bales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baled hay


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Dairy Site

Wisconsin dairy industry pushes back against new manure storage rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Heifer Raising Costs in 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Iowa State Extension

Sustainable dairy project finds ways to lower emissions, boost profits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rumen Microbes in Cows 101

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

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

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

What do microbes in the rumen of cows do?

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

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

What can go wrong?

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

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

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

What can I do to maintain rumen pH?

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

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

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

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

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


Is Breeding for A2 Milk for You?

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

What is A2 milk?  

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

Testing your herd

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

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

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

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

Breeding for A2

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

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

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

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

A2 status of the top genetic bulls by breed

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

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

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

Should you care about A2 milk?

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

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


Body Condition in Transition Cows

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

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

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

Body condition score (BCS)

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

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

Body condition and its relationship with health and performance

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

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

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

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

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

Body condition profile

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

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

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

Study Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Can You Make Overcrowding Work for You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Figure 1.

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

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

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

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

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

Source: May Virginia Dairy Pipeline, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Genetics and Genomic Testing 101

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

How to Evaluate Breeding Schemes

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

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

Optimal Breeding Schemes

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

Scheme #1: Changing premium for crossbred calves

figure 1

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

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

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

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

Scheme #2:  Effects of Pregnancy rates

Figure 2

Figure 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Home Messages

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


Cows Go Wireless on the Dairy Farm of the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Methane Emissions From Dairy Cattle

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

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

Applicability and Mitigating Mechanism

Potential mitigation options include:

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


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


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

Source: Cornell

Rumen Development in the Dairy Calf

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

Feeding Calves

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

How a Rumen Develops

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

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

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

Develop the Rumen before Weaning Calves

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

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

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

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

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


Dairy Improvement Services: Which ones are worth investing in?

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

Herds of The Future

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Changed Business Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future On-Farm Focus

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

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

Improvement Services for Milk Producers to Invest In

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

  • Virtual Management Service will be Very Important

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

  • Genotyping Service will be Very Important

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

  • Private vs Cooperative Service will not matter

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

  • Animal Traceability Service will, in time, be Important

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

  • Animal Purity will not be necessary

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

  • Third-Party Verification will not be necessary

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

The Future for Improvement Services

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

The Bullvine Bottom Line

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

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




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

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

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

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

The research

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

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

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

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

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

The study found:

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

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

Daily profit differences £/cow

  Holstein 2-breed (VRxHO) 2-breed


Holstein 3-breed


3 -breed


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


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

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

What is ProCross?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the herds taking part

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

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

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

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

ProCross cows in a shed

© Rhian Price

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Marco Winters

Lifetime profitability and how it was calculated

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

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

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Case study: Ben Andersen, Andersen Dairy Inc, Idaho

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

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

Farm facts

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

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

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

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

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

Idaho farmer Ben Andersen and his wife Robbie

Ben Andersen with his wife Robbie © Rhian Price

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

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

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

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

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

Breed comparison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herd performance improvements at Andersen Dairy

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


10 Ways to Improve Early Lactation Performance and Peak Milk Yield

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

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

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

1. Start cows with a successful dry period

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

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

  • Avoiding overfeeding energy

  • Preventing body condition score (BCS) gain

  • Optimizing comfort

  • Addressing hoof health

2. Prevent subclinical milk fever

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

  • Ketosis

  • Higher somatic cell count

  • Delayed uterine involution

  • Metritis

  • Depressed feed intake

  • Reduced milk yield

3. Optimize feed intake immediately after calving

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

  • Allow access to fresh total mixed ration.

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

  • Keep the feed bunks clean and fresh.

4. Optimize cow comfort

To optimize cow comfort in the fresh cow group:

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

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

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

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

  • Prevent cows from separating from the normal herd mates.

  • Invest in cow cooling for dry and lactating cows.

5. Maintain rumen health and prevent ruminal acidosis

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

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

  • Provide free choice buffer, and monitor buffer intake.

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

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

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

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

7. Evaluate BCS

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

  • Have a higher risk for ketosis and fatty liver.

  • Are often more difficult to breed back.

8. Position feed additives

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

  • Ionophores increase glucose availability.

  • Rumen-protected choline improves liver health and function.

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

  • Supplemental protected fat increases energy intake.

  • Yeast culture stabilizes rumen fermentation.

9. Avoid anti-nutritional factors

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

10. Feed correct amounts of antioxidants

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


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