Archive for Management

Arkansas dairy farmer adapting to financial struggles of milk industry

The Simon family milks cows twice a day 365 days a year in Conway.

But in recent years, the profit margins have been slim, prompting Matt Simon and crew to adjust and adapt to the changing market.

Throughout the recent several years, it’s just been a real struggle to come up with enough money at the end of the year to keep going,” Simon said.

One of the U.S.’s top milk processors, Borden Dairy Company, announced its filing for bankruptcy due because of the significant financial struggles and changing consumer habits.

The price of raw milk has increased over 25 percent, according to Borden officials.

Americans are opting in for other drinks besides fluid milk. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a 6 percent drop in Americans who drink milk.

From the processor to the farmer, it’s an industry amass with uncertainty.

“The answer’s simple, there’s not been enough money generated through the business to keep everybody happy to stay in business,” Simon said.

Bruce Tencleve, with the Arkansas Farm Bureau, noted over a 20-year-period, the number of dairy farms plummeted from 650 to 33.

Simon Bros. Dairy remains one of those 33 predominantly family-owned operations, which are smaller and more labor-intensive.

“The problem is they don’t ever come back so when you lose that, they’re gone. That’s sad but unfortunately true,” Tencleve said.

Tencleve noted there’s an ever-growing push for the smaller family-operated dairy farms to become mass producers by utilizing thousands of cows for milking versus a couple hundred.

He equates the foreseeable trend to that of soybeans, corn and other crops that are produced in greater quantities.

Tencleve also places partial blame for the milk industry’s poor financial climate on trade.

But there are efforts underway by the Farm Bureau to attract more dairy producers to the Natural State.

“Cost of production be a little bit less, electricity cost, land cost. Those factors, we’re trying to entice people to come here but we just haven’t had that first one to take that jump yet,” Tencleve said.

The Simon family may not have the power to control the markets but they do have the passion to continue serving Arkansans one cow at a time.

“It’s a good lifestyle. I enjoy what we do but at the same time, we have to be able to make some money yo keep going in the future,” Simon said.

The Arkansas farming industry as a whole generates nearly $18 million annually.


Holstein Association USA Hosts Free Robotic Milking Seminar

Join Holstein Association USA on January 14, 2020 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Hartford, Conn. in the Charter Oak room for a Robotic Milking seminar.

This seminar brings together experts in the field to discuss optimizing robotic milking on a dairy and explore the opportunities and challenges in this growing technology.

The Robotic Milking Seminar will be from 12:00 p.m. until 2:30 p.m., lunch is included. The program includes a dairy producer panel and an industry expert panel. There is no charge for attendance.

Dairy Producer Panel

  • Angie Facey, Bree-Z-Knoll Farm
  • Mary Margaret Cole, University of Connecticut
  • Brad Osborne, Osborne Dairy

Industry Expert Panel

  • Adam Griffin, Sr. Farm Management Support Advisor at Lely
  • Bill VerBoort, General Manager of AgriTech Analytics

At 10:30 a.m., Holstein Association USA will hold their 2020 Member Update Meeting, followed by lunch. All are welcome to attend starting at 10:30 a.m.

Holstein Association USA, Inc., provides products and services to dairy producers to enhance genetics and improve profitability–ranging from registry processing to identification programs to consulting services.

The Association, headquartered in Brattleboro, Vt., maintains the records for Registered Holsteins® and represents approximately 30,000 members throughout the United States.

Hired hands: Minnesota’s struggling dairy farmers turn to Latino immigrants for help

Craig Gjerde, left, and Paul Gjerde run a dairy operation near Sunburg in west-central Minnesota.

Seventeen years ago, Paul and Craig Gjerde went all in on the dairy operation they run with their father in west-central Minnesota, expanding their herd from 125 cows to 300 and building a barn and milking parlor.

The Gjerdes have milked their share of cows and can do so if they need to, but with so many other duties – growing crops, feeding the animals, managing the farm’s finances – the men wouldn’t be able to run their operation efficiently without a few hired hands.

Yet, in recent years, finding people willing to work on the dairy farm, with its twice-a-day-milkings, physical demands and odd hours, has been difficult. Fortunately for the Gjerdes, they have found what they need in the Latino immigrant population that lives in the Willmar area. These days, four Latino employees milk the cows in the afternoon, clean the stalls and milking machines and then milk the cows again in the early morning, around 2:30 a.m.

“We need them,” Paul Gjerde said of his crew. “I don’t know how we would do it without them.”

It wasn’t always this way. The brothers remember when high school or college students would stop by, looking for work baling hay or doing the other tough jobs on farms. That hasn’t happened for 20 years; the only people willing to work on their farm these days, the brothers say, are Latinos, new to the country and looking to make a living.

Willing to do the work

The hub of the Gjerde enterprise is Paul Gjerde’s farm site five miles south of Sunburg, an old Norwegian settlement that still celebrates Syttende Mai (Norway’s independence day) and whose sole café still serves Klub (a Norwegian potato dumpling) every day.

From a distance, the farm is but a cluster of buildings that fades into an endless horizon of snow-covered fields dotted by groves of trees. Years ago, it was one of many dairy farms around here; now, it’s the only one in Kandiyohi County’s Arctander Township.

On a recent cold December day, Michelle Rodriquez hooked cows up to machines in a 16-stall milking parlor, eight cows on either side of her. Originally from El Salvador, Rodriquez has been working on the farm for about five years. She grew up on a small farm with chickens and pigs, so the surroundings here are comforting, the work familiar.

“I like the cows. And the work – it’s not too hard for me,” she said in halting English. She added, with a laugh, “the weather is bad, though. Driving (in the snow) is bad! But otherwise it’s fine.”

With her mother and two sisters living in Willmar, and two brothers in New York, Rodriguez said she had no plans to return to Central America, where her father remains. Minnesota was safe, with more opportunities to earn a paycheck, she said.

The Gjerde dairy operation near Sunburg.
MinnPost photo by Gregg Aamot

The Gjerde dairy operation near Sunburg.

Nathan Hulinsky, a University of Minnesota Extension educator, said many dairy farmers, navigating a tight labor market, have found a source of workers in the Latino community.

“A lot of Hispanics don’t seem to mind the physical labor,” he said. “They are willing to take that job at a price that works for both sides, whereas I think some in the non-immigrant workforce maybe say, ‘I can go uptown and get the same money and an easier job.’”

The construction industry is one of the main competitors for dairy farmers who are looking for workers, Hulinsky said. Another one, at least in this region of the state, is turkey processing – namely the Jennie-O Turkey Store plant in Willmar. The Gjerdes were paying their workers $12.50 an hour last month, roughly comparable to what they believed was Jennie-O’s $13.50 wage for unskilled labor. (Recent job postings showed Jennie-O offering a starting wage of $14 for general production workers.)

To work for the Gjerdes, workers must provide a Social Security Number or a Green Card, a federal document that allows immigrants to live and work in the United States. A survey for the National Milk Producers Federation showed that Latinos make up about half the workforce at dairy farms around the country. Statistics for Minnesota were not available.

An uncertain future

In addition to finding workers, many challenges perplex the small dairy farmer: this year’s unusually wet growing season, competition from large-scale dairy operations, changing consumer habits and, perhaps most significantly, volatile milk prices. (In 2018, the price per-hundredweight of milk – how dairy farmers are paid – hovered around $14 or $15, down about $10 from record highs reached four years earlier. (It inched back up in 2019 and reached about $19 in December).

The stress is showing. According to the state Department of Agriculture, Minnesota had 2,763 dairy farms at the start of 2019 and had 2,536 in November – a drop of about 8 percent. (The agency bases its numbers on dairy farm licenses).

Obert Gjerde, Paul and Craig’s 80-year-old father, still helps on the farm. It’s been a good life – challenging but rewarding. But he’s not sure he’d recommend it to his grandchildren – not now, anyway, with commodity prices the way they are. “You worked hard and you did well,” he said in summing up his life’s credo. “It’s not necessarily that way anymore.”

The future of dairy farming, perhaps, can be found a few miles south of the Gjerde farm, where acquaintances run an 1,800-head operation. Or a bit to the west, where a massive dairy operation milks about 8,100 cows a day.

The brothers don’t want to sell their herd or do anything else. They do wonder, however, about trying something different – perhaps selling bottled milk to the wealthy cabin owners who live on lakes throughout the region. It will take some creativity to survive. They have also talked about joining a recent trend in dairy farming: robotic milking.

For now, they hang on, thankful for the Latino workers who have helped to keep their operation afloat, who have proven to be reliable, who have made friends with Paul Gjerde’s children. “They’re good workers. They show up on time and they’re big on cleanliness,” he said. “These guys are really good.”


NSW Focus Farmer drives down costs

NSW dairy farmers Justin and Libby Walsh achieved significant gains in pasture growth and slashed their production costs in a tough season by taking part in Dairy Australia’s Focus Farms program.

The South Coast farmers recently took over the family farm from Mr Walsh’s parents after a period of succession planning and saw the transition as an opportunity to set up their operation for success.

Now 15 months into the two-year program, Mr and Mrs Walsh have made significant inroads to drive down their cost of production and increase their profit margins.

“Focus Farms is one of the best and most valuable programs that Dairy Australia runs,” Mr Walsh said.

“Through the program, we now have a solid base to easily assess improvements in our business for the long-term, as well as access to an enhanced level of analysis of our unique situation to inform decision-making.”

Achieving tangible outcomes

When he entered the program in August 2018, Mr Walsh identified his pasture and fertiliser management approach as a key area for improvement to drive profitability.

Despite securing a high milk price in recent years, Mr Walsh said it was challenging to realise the benefits due to his high cost of production.

“Our main objective was lowering our cost of production and a key goal was growing more grass,” he said.

Mr Walsh set a goal of doubling his tonnage per hectare by the end of the program and he is already well on his way to success.

Adapting his pasture and fertiliser programs after receiving advice from his support group, Mr Walsh has moved toward planting the entire milking platform with a combination of ryegrass and oats.

The Walshes also used widespread suppression of kikuyu to plant ryegrass earlier in the year to get more grazing out of each season. The result, that while the South Coast experienced one of its driest seasons on record, the Walshes achieved a 50 per cent increase in dry matter tonnage a substantial boost of two tonnes per hectare.

Connecting with farmers and advisers

The Walshes have found the best part of the Focus Farm program has been connecting with other farmers and service providers who offer more micro-level advice on their operations.

Their support group is comprised of nine local farmers and six service providers, including a nutritionist, an agronomist, a feed specialist, a Dairy Australia representative, a processor field officer, and a farm business consultant. Together, this network provides advice on a range of opportunities for improvement in the Walshes’ farm business operation a unique opportunity to draw from a variety of skills and perspectives to make informed decisions.

For Mr Walsh, the key benefit of this network has been receiving tailored advice that looks at every aspect of his farming operation with a better understanding of his unique situation.

Having already used DairyBase to compile and compare his farm data using “the same language as other farmers”, Mr Walsh saw Focus Farms as an opportunity to generate real-life comparisons using knowledge provided by farmers and service providers in his region.

“Participating in the Focus Farm program was a real opportunity to bring these people together I wouldn’t have had access to the depth of knowledge that was provided to us without this program,” he said.

“Your support group gets to know the intricacies of your farm business, rather than the high level or general advice you would usually receive.”

As well as immediate access to an experienced support group, Mr Walsh has broadened his network through referrals and signposting.

“You can do a lot of networking through people in your support group and I now have contacts for specialists for hay or for repro that I wouldn’t have had before,” he said.

“The networking is unbelievable through this program you don’t really understand how wide-reaching this program can be until you’re in.”

Reward for openness and transparency

While he was initially uncertain about the benefits of sharing detailed information about his farm with others in the industry, Mr Walsh said he had been rewarded with stronger relationships and better advice.

“The process can be a little confronting at first, but my wife and I decided that unless people understood the financial position we’re in negative or positive it was very difficult to provide sound advice,” he said.

“While it was confronting, we knew our support group would use their professional discretion, and it puts them in a much better position to provide advice about our farm.”

Since openly sharing information about his farming system, Mr Walsh believes other farmers have repaid his openness with more informed discussions and insights. “I find that people reciprocate your openness you can have much better discussions because people can see you know what you’re talking about and that you’re being up front,” he said.

“The vast majority of dairy farmers are facing similar situations or decisions, and people are definitely more open toward us now that we’re more open to them.”


Dairy Sense: Small Grain Silage for the Lactating Herd

Double cropping corn silage acres with a small grain is a strategy that provides additional forage inventory and maintains cover on fields, reducing sediment and nutrient loss. There are pros and cons with any cropping and feeding strategy. Recently there has been a focused approach by some consultants to produce small grain silage that mimics alfalfa, especially for protein. Optimizing fertilization should increase both forage quality and quantity. The problem is if the small grain silage does not meet that “alfalfa” quality standard it is considered a failure and not milk cow worthy. Successfully incorporating small grain silage into milk cow rations is not dependent only on fiber and protein content.

Two farms who have worked closely with Penn State Extension provided details on their financials, feeding programs and cropping strategies (Table 1). Both herds are well managed. Their annual ration consists of corn silage and small grain silage as their only forage source for the lactating herd. The high profit herd has had a positive profit for the past three years versus the medium profit herd with only one year. Approximately fifty percent of their acreage is double cropped. Both operations have opportunities for improvement, but the recommendations will be very different.

The high profit herd’s opportunity lies in their cropping program. An action plan could be developed to improve both forage quality and quantity (Table 1). The three-year average yield represents two wet and one drought year. The high profit farm has red shale and clay loam soils which are highly susceptible to compromised yields during drought. Forage quality is average, and many nutritionists would consider the ryelage low quality and unacceptable milk cow feed. This farm does rely on purchased feed to compensate for limitations related to forage quality and quantity. Their strength is excellent cow management and achieving performance from their animals to generate income that balances with their expenses.

The medium profit herd’s opportunity involves feeding and cow management. Forage quality and quantity is very good and not a limiting factor. An action plan to address bottlenecks to TMR consistency, first calf heifer performance, and metabolic problems is needed. Facilities and labor are an added problem affecting feeding management and impacting animal performance. This operation has a strong foundation with the forages. Slight adjustments in feeding management practices would enable this farm to achieve higher milk income and potentially improved cash flow.

Every dairy operation is unique and “standard recommendations” related to cropping, feeding and financial strategies usually do not work. Double cropping is not for everyone, however, there are many operations successfully utilizing this strategy and making it work. Small grain silage does not have to mimic alfalfa to generate milk production and profitability. There is always room for improvement, whether it is addressing forage quality and quantity or feeding and cow management.

The SWOT approach, determining strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats is a valid approach to find the low hanging fruit first and then move forward on the more challenging bottlenecks. There are many viable dairies despite the market conditions from the last five years. In many instances a slight “nudge” in a management practice could make all the difference to achieve a positive cash flow. Analyzing the whole farm system is a valid approach to decide if double cropping is the correct strategy for the operation.

Table 1. Small grain silage usage on a high and medium profit herd1

  High profit farm Medium profit farm
Production: Energy corrected milk, lbs.2 82.0 78.9
Acreage double cropped, % 47 55
  High profit farm
Forage: CS
High profit farm
Forage: Ryelage
Medium profit farm
Forage: CS
Medium profit farm
Forage: Triticale
Ration: High group, DM lbs. 30.0 1.1 25.0 6.6
Ration: 1st lactation group, DM lbs. 14.3 2.7 20.4 5.4
Yield, as fed tons3: (3 yr. average) 16.8 4.7 22.7 6.0
Quality4: Protein, %DM 7.4 11.4 6.9 18.0
Quality4: Neutral detergent fiber, %DM 46.7 58.4 34.3 49.9

1Using FINPACK® to evaluate profitability, the high profit herd had a positive profit each year from 2016 through 2018. The medium profit herd had only one year of positive profit during the same time frame.

2Energy corrected milk reflects the average production for 2018.

3The three-year average reflects the harvest years of 2016 through 2018.

4Quality metrics are from the 2018 cropping year.

Action plan for examining small grain silage as a viable approach to cropping and feeding strategies.

Goal – Complete a cash flow plan including the whole farm, dairy and cropping enterprises.

Step 1: Using Penn State Extension’s Excel spreadsheet, complete a year end analysis for 2018 on both a cash and accrual basis.

Step 2: Record the amounts fed of all home-raised and purchased feeds for all animal groups. Incorporate rations that include small grain silage as a comparison.

Step 3: Develop the cropping enterprise including all home-raised feeds, yields, direct expenses and overheads. Decide on the number of acres to be double cropped and the expected tonnage needed to feed the various animal groups (use this to compare against the current program)

Step 4: Evaluate the impact of incorporating double cropping into the whole farm system compared to the current cropping and feeding program.

Step 5: Work with the appropriate consultants to discuss bottlenecks to implementation.

Economic perspective:

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

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

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

Note: November’s Penn State milk price: $20.32/cwt; feed cost/cow: $6.67; average milk production: 83 lbs.
Feed cost/non-lactating animal/day.


Is Your Farm Ready for the New Ag Labor Laws?

Beginning January 1, 2020, New York farm employers face several major changes to the laws that govern farm employment. Labor is one of the largest inputs for most New York farm businesses and one of the most socially and ethically complex issues for managers. As a farm manager, you should consider your overall human resource management strategies and actively choose how your business will adapt to the new requirements while staying in legal compliance. The major changes to the law include:

  1. Overtime
  2. Weekly day of rest
  3. Collective bargaining
  4. Workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance
  5. Disability insurance and Paid Family Leave

It is your responsibility as an employer to inform yourself and your employees about these changes, and ensure that your business is in compliance. We have complied the following list of resources to assist you in this effort.

Updates to Farmworker Rights and Employer Responsibilities

This NYSDOL fact sheet summarizes the major features of the new legislation and provides contact information for various agencies that can provide resources and support to help farmers achieve compliance.

Overview of New York Labor Regulations

This recorded webinar, presented by Richard Stup from Cornell Ag Workforce Development, describes the new ag labor regulations going into effect January 1, 2020. You can download a PDF version of the presentation, and use it as a checklist to ensure that your farm has made the necessary changes.

Adapting Your Labor Strategies to New York’s Revised Farm Employment Laws

This extension bulletin describes a process farms can use to analyze and select a labor strategy in response to the new overtime regulations. It describes various strategies that farms can use to adapt to the new laws, and discusses pros and cons of each strategy. The document also includes a link to Cornell’s Overtime Cost Calculator, which farms can use to evaluate their labor costs under the new overtime rules.

NYSDOL Pay Notice and Work Agreement for Farm Workers (LS 309)



Farms are legally required to have a written Work Agreement on file for all employees, and you must update the agreement any time wages or other terms of employment change. Most agricultural employers should be updating their employee Work Agreements to reflect the various changes coming in 2020. The easiest way to meet this requirement is to use form LS 309 provided by Department of Labor. DOL recently updated form LS 309 to reflect the new overtime and day-of rest rules.

What Employers Can and Cannot Say About Unions

New York farm employees will have the right to organize in unions and collectively bargain under the state’s new farm labor law. Farm employers need to understand that in an environment where employees may try to organize there are some special rules about what employers can and cannot say or do about unions.


Momentum growing to add value to dairy calves with beef sires

Interest in the use of beef sires on dairy cows to increase calf value is rapidly gaining momentum across the dairy industry, according to two Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialists.

A beef influence in the breeding program of dairy operations for some of their cows can increase the marketability, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Jason Smith, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, Amarillo, covered the topic at Southwest Dairy Day in Snyder.

It’s estimated traditional dairy cattle make up approximately 20% of the beef market through finished cattle and cull cows. Traditionally, the best heifers are kept as replacement females, while the remaining dairy heifers and bull calves enter the beef supply chain. 

Changes in packer demand for finished straight-bred dairy calves have driven a decline in their value, Smith said. A beef-on-dairy breeding program can add value to these calves by improving traits that directly impact the cost of gain and carcass value.

“It’s a hot topic right now in both the dairy and beef industry,” he said. “With tight milk margins, dairy producers are looking for a way to add value and generate additional income in their system. With tight feeding margins, the beef industry is looking to determine exactly how and where these cattle fit into the production chain, and what their value is.

“As adoption of the practice grows, we expect a greater number of these cattle to enter the supply chain in the very near future.”

Juan Piñeiro, DVM, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension dairy specialist in Amarillo, said most progressive dairy farmers have already adopted the practice. 

“They are using sexed dairy semen to build their heifer supply and beef semen to add value to the rest of the calf crop,” Piñeiro said. “The use of sexed semen and improvements in reproductive efficiency have led to a surplus of replacement heifers. Since dairymen have more dairy heifers than needed, they started utilizing the beef semen with a proportion of the herd to capture the added value.”

As the interest grows, basically two things are happening. 

Limflex beef bulls are crossed with Jersey cows to increase the marketability of the traditional dairy calf. (Courtesy photo)

“The dairy industry is trying to figure out how to strategically use the practice, and the beef industry is in the process of determining the value of these cattle,” Smith said.

Dairymen have said there is currently a substantial price differential between straight-bred and beef-on-dairy calves – where beef-on-dairy calves have an advantage of up to seven to 10 times that of straight-bred Holstein calves, Piñeiro said. The crossbred calves require less time on feed than straight-bred dairy cattle to reach a target endpoint, thus reducing the use of natural resources and improving the sustainability of the production system. 

Feeders are looking at experiences with these cattle in terms of health, growth and efficiency, while packers are looking at carcass quality, yield and cut-out. 

“These experiences will dictate the calves’ value, which is being determined as we speak,” Smith said. “There are already beef-on-dairy cattle in the supply chain, and there have been for a long time. But we certainly expect that number to grow substantially in the future, especially in this region where large dairies, calf ranches, backgrounders and feed yards coexist.

“This presents a great opportunity to build relationships across the production sectors.” 

There is currently a lot of focus on identifying certain beef breeds that work better than others on certain dairy breeds in a dairy-beef cross-breeding system, he said.

While this may work for the average animal within a breed, emphasis should be placed on trait complementarity – utilizing beef genetics that complement the weaknesses or limitations of straight dairy-bred cattle.

The introduction of beef traits is expected to address issues with mature size, growth performance, average daily gain, and feed efficiency, as well as carcass muscularity and yield.

“The focus shouldn’t just be on the fact that they now have beef genetics, but rather that they have the right beef genetics,” Smith said. “That’s because there is as much variation within a breed as there is across breeds for a number of traits that are economically relevant.”

On the flip side, one of the positive attributes of the dairy genetics is that retail products from dairy carcasses tend to be very uniform, whereas traditional beef cattle tend to be more variable, he said. 

“The uniformity and predictability of retail product characteristics and cutout add value,” Smith said. “The dairy production system also provides a good opportunity for age and source verification.”   

He also said genetics is only one part of the equation. 

“From a management standpoint, health needs to be a priority,” Smith said. “We can have a huge impact on growth performance and feeding outcomes through preventative health management. Colostrum timing, quality and quantity, as well as other management factors during that calf’s first few days of life are key.”

Typically, the dairy sells male calves to a calf ranch, which later sells them to a backgrounding yard and finally to a feed yard before the calves are sold to a packer.

“Dairies could consider retaining ownership of the calves throughout the live production chain,” he said. “There is certainly some economic risk involved, but if handled properly, that would allow a dairy to realize the added value of their beef-on-dairy calves and diversify the operation.”

Smith said while it seems the market has not yet settled on a value, that value will be driven by experiences with those calves. Some beef-on-dairy calves have sold near the top of recent feeder calf markets, while some have sold toward the bottom of the market. 

“Genetics and calf care, as well as other value-added attributes, such as age and source verification, seem to be driving that difference,” he said.


Five Feeding Strategies to Follow During Tough Economic Times

Difficult economics in the industry now and likely into the future have herd owners and their advisers working to find opportunities to increase margins and/or cut costs. Knowing the large contribution of feed and crop expenses to total operating costs, it is important to carefully evaluate these aspects of management. Tom Overton and Larry Chase, Department of Animal Science and PRO-DAIRY Cornell University, outline 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 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 lb. per day of fat and protein shipped) 
• Higher feed efficiency (over 1.65 lb. 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 can 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 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 lb. of milk per cow per day. In this case, watch the marketplace for non-forage fiber sources (e.g., soyhulls, corn gluten feed, citrus pulp) that generally have high fiber digestibility and can help 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 the face of bunk silos every day and ensuring that bunk faces are tight and leftover feed is kept to a minimum? Have mixer wagons and other equipment used in feeding (e.g., tub grinders) been maintained so 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 refed 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 refed 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 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. 

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? 

You can find the full article here.
Originally published in March 2018 by Tom Overton and Larry Chase with PRO-DAIRY Cornell University.

Dairy calves slip through Canadian transport code cracks

Many practices for handling male dairy calves do not conform to new transport of animals regulations that will be phased in this February, a new study indicates.

Calves are often shipped before they are eight days old, contrary to new Canadian Food Inspection Agency requirements, and time in transit sometimes exceeds the new rules mandating that young calves go no longer than 12 hours without feed, water and rest.

Without changes in infrastructure and handling, there might be more on-farm killing of healthy calves if producers don’t have the facilities to house and feed them or if available markets are more than a 12-hour drive distant, it warned.

The study, led by University of British Columbia animal welfare professor David Fraser, was prepared for the National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Council and presented to that group Nov. 27.

“We went from west to east, looking at how marketing happens for male dairy calves in Canada, and found a huge variation in how things are done,” said Fraser.

Most male dairy calves are shipped before they are a week old, sometimes to other farms or through auction marts or assembly yards. Many are destined for veal production operations, particularly in Ontario and Quebec, which have about 97 percent of Canada’s veal production.

Under the new livestock transportation rules, “all calves too young to be fed exclusively on hay or grain would be limited to 12 hours total journey from the dairy to their destination and this is very different from current practice,” said Fraser.

He noted a working group involving the CFIA and dairy personnel was already in place to address some of the issues itemized.

The group that undertook the study comprised dairy and veal producers, veterinarians, auction market personnel and provincial and federal regulatory staff.

“The feeling was that positive changes could be made to implement the new regulations but without changes in infrastructure and skills, we might see some negative outcomes,” said Fraser.

“First of all, more on-farm killing of healthy calves from farms that are simply more than 12 hours away from a facility that can raise them. This would require at the very least good training and equipment to perform on-farm euthanasia, although we felt it would be resisted by both dairy farmers and the public.”

Fraser said research showed calves of no commercial value, those born sick, weak or otherwise compromised, are often shipped to auction markets.

“In British Columbia, our sample indicates about 10 percent sell for $10 or less. Around two percent don’t sell at all. The problem is likely that some farmers are not willing or trained or equipped for euthanasia and we noted positive steps that are being made for appropriate use of euthanasia in the dairy sector.”

Also noted was “huge variability” in dairy farm practices before male calves are shipped, including whether adequate colostrum and other nutrition is provided. That leads to a wide variation in the condition of calves sold.

Available pen space, facility design and staffing may not be adequate to care for young male calves beyond a few days, so in many cases they are shipped as soon as possible, the study said.

It also indicated producers who pre-condition male dairy calves, which includes vaccination and weaning, can sell the animals for premium prices.

“One estimate was that possibly 15 percent of male dairy calves in Ontario might be in this pre-conditioned calf category,” Fraser reported.

Another way to increase male calves’ value and thus their welfare is to introduce beef semen in breeding. That might improve prices, providing an incentive for producers to invest in better facilities and management.

The report noted age of the calves is often used as a proxy for transport fitness. In New Zealand, for example, they can be shipped after four days of age, while Europe prohibits shipping until 14 days of age.

“We noted that calf health can decline on dairy farms if the housing and management are poor, if they haven’t been fed colostrum well, if they’re not receiving adequate nutrition, if the air quality is such that it’s causing respiratory disease, if herd health is poor and they’re being continually exposed to pathogens. Hence age is no guarantee of fitness for travel,” said Fraser.

Also noted was huge variation in the use of antimicrobials to protect calf health before marketing. That includes the use of Class 1 antimicrobials, those important to human health, and the industry is trying to curtail use.

However, eliminating the use of these entirely could adversely affect calf welfare, the report said, so reduction and judicious use are recommended.

The national code of practice for the care and handling of dairy cattle, now being updated, requires that calves receive adequate colostrum before being transported and recommends that unweaned calves be given at least half of that day’s ration of milk before transport.

The veal code of practice also provides transport cautions.

“Neonatal calves are not able to cope well with transport, especially long journeys or journeys involving intermediate stops. They can be weak, have difficulty walking, are susceptible to extremes of cold and heat, and are vulnerable to disease. Young calves also have modest energy reserves, and the time of their last feeding must be considered when arranging transport,” it reads.

The report to the NFAHWC recommended careful consideration of calves’ fitness for transport and said a system of benchmarking, so producers could compare themselves to best practices and improve if necessary, could be effective.

However, the implementation of new regulations raised concerns for male dairy calf welfare overall.

“This is not one of those cases where … a large fraction, large percentage of current transport already fits the new regulations,” said Fraser. “In this case a large percentage of current practices do not fit the new regulations.”


Three must-haves to minimize fresh cow stress, help build immunity

It’s no secret that keeping fresh cows healthy can help improve production, but managing cow comfort can prove challenging in stressful environments.

During the fresh period, cows’ energy requirements often exceed their dry matter intake, creating a negative energy balance that can impact their immune system. Pen moves, especially to the hospital pen, also can affect fresh cows’ health by exposing them to disease-causing pathogens and prompting stress-related decreases in appetite.

While these stressors are hard to avoid, they can put fresh cows at a greater risk for developing metritis1, infectious mastitis2 and Salmonella.3 A higher rate of disease in fresh cows can affect your bottom line by negatively impacting milk production and increasing treatment expenses.

Use these tips to help support fresh cows’ immune systems and minimize stress during the fresh period:

  • Maintain a healthy environment: Keep pens clean and dry to minimize vulnerable cows’ exposure to disease-causing pathogens. Also consider decreasing stocking density in the fresh pen and allow greater access to the feed bunk to help cows get the nutrition and energy they need to support immune function.
  • Reduce social stress: When cows change pens, it can take up to three days for them to re-establish social structure.4 In the meantime, sick cows impacted by social stress spend less time laying down, which can reduce their overall comfort. One way to avoid pen moves when fresh cows become sick is to choose an antibiotic with zero milk discard. This will help keep milk in the bulk tank while helping to minimize social stress.
  • Train employees to spot disease sooner: Treatment success improves when sick cows are identified earlier in the disease process. Help improve health outcomes by training your staff to watch for early signs of illness:
    • Decreased dry matter intake — check the temperature of cows that might be hanging back from the bunk to detect a possible fever
    • Dehydration — “depressed cows” with sunken, dull eyes or poor rumen fill
    • Drop in production or reduced udder fill — fresh cow udders should be full and tight

Tune in to the latest Dairy Wellness Podcast to learn more about how you can support fresh cow immune systems and reduce stress.

About Zoetis

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

“Rules of Thumb” for Feeding Haylage Versus Hay

Silage makes an excellent feed for ruminant animals. However, feeding silage is much haylagedifferent than feeding hay. Silage, because it is much wetter than hay, is much more susceptible to deterioration. Sealed from oxygen during storage, the forage undergoes fermentation. However, when it is once again exposed to air when it is fed, it can still deteriorate quickly. Because of this, baled silage must be managed slightly different than hay.

Whether it is in an upright, bunker, pit, or bag silo or as a wrapped bale, the process of fermentation is very similar. Essentially, bacteria that occur naturally on the surface of dying plant leaves undergo massive population buildups once oxygen is excluded from their environment. They derive energy from the sugars that are inherent in plant cell sap and tissue via a fermentative process. They undergo many, many cycles of feeding and reproduction until their populations become so high that the waste of their fermentation processes leads to a buildup of acid. This is why silage has a low pH. The smell of silage is also the by-products of the fermentation process. Though this silage is produced in bulk in a silo or wrapped bale, the fermentation is essentially the same process that happens on a smaller scale when a ruminant animal such as a cow, sheep, or goat ingests the forage. This is why this feed is such a natural fit for dairy, beef, sheep, and goat production. Essentially silage is “pre-ruminated” forage.

But, therein lies the major issue with feeding silage: instability. An analogy to our eating habits would be potato salad. Pre-cooked and prepared, it doesn’t need to set out very long before we eat it. This is especially true at a summer picnic where temperatures can speed the deterioration. But, this can also occur in the winter time, even though it may take longer for it to spoil. In either case, it is not worth the chance of eating it if it has set out very long.

Thus as a “rule of thumb,” never leave silage exposed to the air more than two days during feeding. If the daytime temperature exceeds 60○F, don’t leave it exposed more than one day. This rule of thumb is especially important for producers who feed baled silage (haylage). It is extremely critical to those who use an in-line bale wrapper, since this determines the feed-out rate. If you have made baled silage using an in-line bale wrapper, you must be feeding enough animals that you can feed at least one bale per day in the winter. This is because as a bale is fed, the next bale is being exposed to air. Individually wrapped bales are usually not subject to exposure before they are fed, and thus the feeding schedule is somewhat more flexible.

Here are some additional “rules of thumb” on how to feed silage bales or, in some cases, what not to do:

• Ensure that the storage site doesn’t increase the chances of exposure to air. Some storage sites increase the likelihood of punctures to the plastic wrap. Examples would be areas near trees that have dropped limbs, rodent and other varmint dens, or that are freshly mowed and have coarse weed stubble. Many of these may create punctures that go unnoticed until it is too late.

• Ensure that the forage is between 45-65% moisture before it is wrapped and ensiled. Baling when the crop is too dry is the most common problem because a field may start out at the right moisture and end up being too dry. Dry forage doesn’t provide the bacteria enough moisture to allow sufficient fermentation. But, it does allow fungi to grow during storage and feeding that can lead to deterioration. Baling too wet is less common. However, high moisture silage spoils more quickly when exposed to air.

• Don’t spear into bales after they have been wrapped. Squeeze carriers or handlers are better, but may still stretch, tear, or puncture bales. Any hole in the plastic barrier can lead to small areas or even entire bales that deteriorate.

• To feed a bale that has been wrapped using an in-line wrapper, simply spear into the bale, lift, and pull away. The plastic between it and the next bale will tear away. Then cut over the top and peel the plastic off in one large section. To feed an individually wrapped bale, cut a large X in the end to be speared and pull back the flaps. Spear the bale, lift, and cut across the top and down the other flat side to peel the plastic off in one piece. In both cases, twine should then be removed before placing in the paddock and placing a feeding ring around the bale.

• The ensiling process usually completes within 2-6 weeks, depending on a large number factors. Yet, at essentially any point, the forage can be fed. The feeding rate should still be relatively quick, however, as excessive heating, as well as spoilage, could be significant if exposed for days or even hours.

Wastage and refusal is rarely an issue with feeding baled silage, unless a bale is being fed to too few animals. If silage remains when the time frame for feeding has been exceeded, put out a fresh bale. Forcing animals to eat waste or refused silage may force them to eat deteriorated material and can lead to animal health issues. Bale size, which can usually be adjusted on the baler, should be determined during the growing season by considering the number of animals and the feed out rate that will be needed during the feeding period.


6 things I learned from visiting US ‘mega-dairies’

Dairy farming in the US has become synonymous with the words “mega-dairy”.

While the scale of US dairy farms bears little resemblance to UK operations, there are some striking similarities and many of the challenges facing the UK dairy sector are also issues for US producers.

Our livestock editor, Rhian Price, was invited by World Wide Sires to attend its Global Training Centre in Washington state, where she toured dairy farms milking in excess of 5,000 cows.

Below, she reports on her findings and busts some myths about large-scale dairying.

1. Large-scale dairying categorically does not equate to poor animal welfare

We visited five farms during the 10-day trip, each milking between 2,500 and 35,000 cows.

Cow welfare on each unit was exemplary, with the largest even employing an animal welfare officer to be on call 24/7. It was his job to visit the dairy at regular intervals, look at ways it could make improvements and train staff.

Each dairy had strict protocols clearly displayed on walls detailing how staff should handle animals. Staff were encouraged to report bad behaviour by calling the welfare officer (his number was clearly displayed on posters).

Calf hutches on US dairy farm

They also had zero tolerance to animal cruelty, and anyone seen tail jerking or hitting any animal would be fired on the spot.

Alkathene pipes were banned. Instead, workers were supplied with paddles and bottles filled with stones, which rattle when shaken, to move cows. Cameras were everywhere to capture workers.

2. Animal activists are making farming difficult

Many dairy farmers have been forced to move further away from large cities and towns as pressure from animal activists intensifies.

On our journey through Yakima County – an area densely populated by dairies and fruit-growing farms – we passed farms that stood eerily empty.

The farmers had been forced off the land, unable to afford to challenge expensive lawsuits filed against them by anti-farming groups.

Most of the time the activists cite pollution or noise, and even though the farms haven’t broken any rules they simply can’t afford to contest the lawsuits, so the cheaper solution is to up sticks.

At one dairy they told us how they have a $10,000 (£7,500) bounty put up by one prominent lobby group which is determined to put them out of business.

3. Labour is a huge challenge

The dairy industry in the US is largely reliant on migrant labour from Mexico. 

Under the H-2A visa programme farmers can employ non-immigrant foreign workers temporarily. The problem is, these workers can’t stay for more than 12 months.

While this restriction suits fruit farms that require seasonal labour, it makes dairies – which require year-round employment – ineligible for the programme.

The visa process is bureaucratic and many farmers choose to pay firms specialising in visas to handle the immense amount of paperwork. They also guarantee the workers are legal.

Most of the diaries we visited use citizen verification systems such as E-verify to ensure their employees have the right to stay and work.

Others opt to use only American citizens or employees who have been granted legal residence by the government. 

Worker with cattle on US dairy

However, some estimates suggest half of workers on US farms are undocumented and working illegally.

To make things even more difficult, farms are being forced to increase wages to compete with better paid industries such as construction, where manual labourers receive $25/hour (£19).

The legal minimum wage in Washington is $12/hour (£9.26, compared with £8.21 in the UK for people aged 25+) but most dairies will pay upwards of $15/hour (£11.58) to attract staff, with more senior positions such as herd managers earning the equivalent of £60,000.

4. Open lots

The majority of cows are housed in open lots and bedded with compost manure.

Following heavy rainfall on the night we arrived, at first glance some of the pens looked quite dirty but the cows had plenty of space.

Another benefit is that cow slippages are infrequent, with minimal concrete at the feed bunk and parlour, and, without free stalls, cows can’t become trapped in cubicles.

Dairy cows in open lot on US dairy farm

Most of the dairies were running somatic cell counts below 150,000 cells/ml. Key to making the compost bedding work is drying it well enough.

Peak temperatures of 40C in the summer help this, but it can become more difficult to manage in the winter months.

The pens are scraped out three times a week and chain harrows behind the scraper keep the bedding friable.

The added bonus of using compost bedding is the farm doesn’t have to worry about exporting or spreading manure, with compost sold for fertiliser.

The only thing stored in pits is dirty water, although these can costs hundreds of thousands to build as they must be double lined with special liners and have a mandatory leak-detection system.

5. Hormones are banned

While there isn’t a universal US ban on using recombinant bovine somatotropin (RBST), a hormone that can increase milk production,  many milk processors have banned it.

Darigold, the main milk processor in the region we visited, banned it in 2006.

Medicine use on farm is regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration under the Pasteurised Milk Ordinance (PMO), which grants or removes approval of drugs. The anti-inflammatory Melixicam, for example, isn’t approved under the PMO.

As in the UK, farm assurance schemes are not required by the government but membership can be made mandatory by food processors.

Many dairy processors, including Darigold, now require farm suppliers to sign up to Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (Farm), which sets standards for animal care, environmental and antibiotics stewardship.

6. Protocols are key

With some of the farms employing up to 180 people, protocols are essential to ensure consistency.

Each area on the dairy has a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and members of staff have specific jobs they don’t deviate from.

This ensures tasks are done consistently well every day of the year, with key data regularly reviewed to see where improvements can be made.

About the Global Training Centre

The Global Training Centre is owned by breeding company World Wide Sires and offers management and reproductive training to people working within the dairy industry.

Training is delivered by the WWS team of vets and advisers and is a balance of classroom presentations and practical training on working dairy farms in Washington state.

For additional information on the availability and cost of courses, contact Michael Halliwell at or 07710 474145.


Dairy facial eczema (FE) costs New Zealand Dairy Farmers $100k annually

FE can cost dairy farmers at least $100,000 each year in lost milk production.

Dairy facial eczema (FE) can cost farmers at least $100,000 each year in lost milk production, a recent study has found.

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) Sustainable Farming Fund is supporting the Facial Eczema Action Group – made up of veterinarians, dairy farmers and rural professionals – to explore ways of raising awareness of FE so that more farmers take preventative action.

Many cows don’t show clinical signs of FE. As a result, farmers often don’t know why milk loss is happening and end up drying off their cows early.

“It’s hitting farmers hard in the pocket. They’re losing 0.14-0.35kg milk solids per cow per day,” said Emma Cuttance, a dairy veterinarian and head of Veterinary Enterprises Group (VetEnt) Research – which is leading the project. 

“We worked out that one of the herds in our study had lost $125,000 just in milk production.”i

She says zinc is currently the main way of treating FE. “But many farmers don’t administer enough to control the toxin that causes FE.”

Trial work in 2014, examining zinc concentrations in the blood of 1200 cattle from over 100 farms in the North Island, showed that about 70% of cattle did not have enough zinc to protect against FE.

“Blood testing is the best way to determine how badly affected the cows are if they have FE. However, getting farmers to do blood tests can be tricky because of the cost and time involved,” Cuttance said.

The project team brought in AgResearch to examine the wellbeing of cows affected by FE to see if there are other ways of identifying symptoms.

Steve Penno, director of investment programmes at MPI, said its support of the project recognised that FE was an issue that needed to be addressed.

“Whichever way you look at it, it’s in farmers’ best interests to proactively manage this disease, by improving cattle health and wellbeing and the bottom line.”

He says to help prevent the disease, farmers need to monitor the spore count on their own farm.

They are advised to start a management programme when spore counts trend upwards to 30,000 spores/g and continue until spore counts are 10,000 spores/g or below for at least three weeks. 

Blood testing is advised to check the effectiveness of zinc administration.


Little Things Can Make Big Difference in Dairy Farming

On dairies like many other businesses there are an abundance of day-to-day activities. Unlike other businesses, dairy farms are a 7 day a week, 24 hour a day, 365 day a year operation. The major tasks like feeding, milking, scraping, and youngstock care take priority daily. Major project changes like building a new barn or upgrading the parlor take time for planning and execution in addition to the day-to-day. So, it is not surprising that the “little things” can get short changed from a time to time. Becoming more aware of and focusing some time on the “little things” can have a big impact on productivity and profitability.

One “little thing” to consider is feed push-ups. Cows eat more when fresh feed is available, after they return from milking and when feed is pushed up within reach. If feedbunks are overcrowded, the more timid animals may wait to eat, often when the feed has already formed that ridge from the more dominant cows eating, resulting in lower dry matter intake and lower production. The timing of feed push-ups may be just as important, if not more important than how many get done in a day. Scheduling work around the cows’ needs may be more effective. Increasing dry matter intake by one pound per cow per day can increase milk yield by about two pounds. So if one pound of dry matter costs $0.12 and a pound of milk is $0.18 then there is a three-found return on getting that one extra pound of intake. Of course this varies by stage of lactation, current ration, etc — but on average this is a pretty good return on investment.

One of those other “little things” to consider is timing. Whether it is consistent feed drop times or timing of synchronization programs and breeding, when things happen matters to the final results. How compliant are workers to the timing of tasks in the operation and is this “little thing” costing big dollars? Research presented by Dr. Katy Proudfoot at the 2019 Penn State Nutrition Conference showed that feed delays on alternate days caused increase stress in animals. Inaccurate timing of synchronization programs with breeding times can decrease conception rates and therefore pregnancy rates. Depending on the herd, this can be a big dollar impact. Spending time, rather than any more money and paying attention to the timing of tasks and adjusting when necessary can also result in a positive return on investment.

One last “little thing” is simply courtesy. Taking time to thank an employee for a job well done or to recognize effort for improvement when someone is continuing to struggle with a task can go a long way in impacting morale and productivity. When stressed – whether from a simple bad day or pressures from outside the farm, we often react more abruptly and omit those two important words that we teach our children – “please” and “thank you.” Again those little things can make that big difference.

While the day to day of operating a dairy can be intense at times, don’t overlook the impact that those many, many “little things” that may be neglected can have. Take time to make a list of “little things” for your dairy. Or better yet, enlist your trusted advisors to help with creating that list. Then develop a plan for monitoring how well those little things are getting done. If there is a gap between what is happening and what you would like to happen, then schedule time each week or each month to start narrowing those gaps by not losing sight of the “little things.” Take them one at a time and remember to continue to monitor to maintain your progress. After all, we have heard so many times that it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.


On-Farm Culture: The Smart Approach to Clinical Mastitis Treatment

Does every cow with mastitis need treated? Have you ever wondered if the treatment you are giving is effectively curing the case of clinical mastitis? What if her immune system has already cleared the infection? On-farm culturing allows for more informed decisions to be made regarding treatment and can help answer questions about whether to treat a quarter or not.

Mastitis is associated with the most frequent antibiotic use in dairy cows. One study found that the cost of treatment and discarded milk associated with clinical mastitis could exceed $350 per cow per year. Antibiotics are frequently used to treat clinical mastitis, however often antibiotics are either ineffective or not needed to treat the disease. Producers that use unnecessary antibiotics will lose profit and run the risk of developing antibiotic resistance on their farm.

Identifying the species of bacteria responsible for causing a mastitis infection can be beneficial in determining treatment options and reducing unnecessary antibiotic use. Management strategies can be changed to help prevent specific pathogen types in a herd. Staphylococcus aureus is an example of a pathogen that is transmitted through the parlor during milking. Wearing gloves, teat dipping, and milking infected cows last are some of the ways this pathogen can be prevented and controlled. Identifying the pathogen on a farm can help producers change management strategies to prevent additional cows from being infected. On-farm culture may also help a producer decide not to treat a cow. Results in one study found 10 to 40% of cultures from clinical mastitis showed no growth following culturing. Cultures that show no bacterial growth usually require no treatment because the immune system has already cleared the bacterial infection.

Traditionally, producers send milk samples into local laboratories for culture results. One downfall of laboratory testing is the time from milk submission until results are in a producers’ hands can take several days. This time lag associated with laboratory results contributes to producers making uneducated treatment decisions. Implementation of an on-farm culture program can help producers make proactive treatment decisions in a timelier manner. Submitting a sample for bacteriological culture can also be costly for a producer. On-farm culturing is often more cost-effective than obtaining laboratory results.

So how do you get started with an on-farm culture program? Penn State University has created a quad plate culturing system for dairy producers. Each quadrant of the plate can selectively grow different species of bacteria. Quadrant I MacConkey’s Agar (MAC) detects Gram-negative bacteria such as coliforms and non-coliforms. Quadrant II is Edwards Modified Agar (EMCO) and detects Streptococci bacteria. Quadrant III is Baird Parker Agar (BPA) which detects Staphylococci bacteria. Finally, quadrant IIII is Blood Agar (BA) capable of growing most types of bacteria and is used to confirm the results of other quadrants.

In order for a producer to get started culturing they will need the following supplies: sterile test tubes to collect aseptic milk samples, sterile swabs to plate milk onto agar plates, agar plates to grow bacteria, and an incubator that remains at a constant temperature to grow bacteria. Once a milk sample is aseptically taken it should be plated onto a quad plate. Plates should be incubated for 24 hours and then observed for preliminary bacterial growth, an additional 24 hours of incubation may be needed to collect final results. Penn State has also created a free user guide which can help producers identify bacterial growth on their plates. Farm personnel handling on-farm culture responsibilities should consult with their herd veterinarian in order to make appropriate treatment decisions for their herd based on culture results.

On-farm culture cannot identify every mastitis-causing bacterium on your farm. For example, Mycoplasma bovis is a microorganism that requires special media and conditions to grow, which can only be done in laboratories. On-farm culture is designed to help producers make more proactive treatment decisions regarding mastitis. Producers will be able to identify cows with no bacterial growth; these cows have self-cured the bacterial infection. Producers will also be able to identify Gram-negative pathogens which are often self-limiting or unresponsive to treatment, or Gram-positive pathogens which generally respond more effectively to antibiotic treatment, although some are not susceptible to antibiotics. To make a treatment decision udder health history of the cow should be examined and a consultation with a veterinarian should be set up to implement a treatment protocol.


Four Good Reasons for Using Beef Sire Semen in a Dairy Herd

There was a time when the « purebred registered » females in a herd were all inseminated with proven sires or sires from progeny testing programs. Practically all of the heifers were destined to be replacement animals. Only when heifers reached first calving were the best selected during their first lactation.

We now select at breeding

For a growing number of producers, the way of doing things described above is now a thing of the past. We are increasingly seeing replacement animals being selected at breeding, and those that will not be kept as replacement animals are being inseminated with beef sire semen. According to our statistics from early 2019, this is the case for more than 10 % of inseminated dairy cows. (This rate was less than 3 % before 2012) We estimate that by the end of 2019, 10 % will probably even be a conservative estimate. In the month of October, the market for crossbred male calves reached a differential of $1.70/pound, ($2.71/lb crossbred males vs. $1/lb Holstein males). The use of beef sire semen has actually reached close to 40% in some dairy herds! 

Why use beef sire semen in a dairy herd? 

The increasingly interesting offer of sexed semen by A.I. centres, (volume, genetic quality and fertilizing capacity), the advantageous prices for crossbred calves and the coming of genomics are all factors that influence the usage rates by dairy producers. 

  1. A higher level of sexed semen use increases the proportion of heifers from the best females of the herd. For example, if 50 % of the females in the herd are inseminated with sexed semen, beef sire semen can be used on around 25 % of females while still ensuring that there will be sufficient replacement animals for the herd (the other 25 % are bred with conventional semen).
  2. The use of genomic testing is progressively being adopted by dairy producers. Thus, so is the certainty of the genetic potential of female calves at birth. Tracking the best subjects in the herd from a very young age allows us to choose the next generation of females at breeding. The cost of genotyping is going down and the results are available for a growing number of traits, several of which are genetic faults.
  3. Females that are not kept as dams  can be inseminated to produce calves that have a plus-value at a young age, crossbred dairy/beef calves. The advantages of a good gestation rate with beef sires, the reduced cost of semen as compared to elite sires from the same breed (proven or genomic) and the price of calf sales at auction are all good reasons to use more beef sire semen. 
  4. The market for freshly calved heifers remains limited by the availability of quota and national production needs, which have been fairly stable over the past two years. The cost of raising a heifer to calving is around $3,000 and if the market for a young fresh cow is only $2.000, producers are not inclined to raise more heifers than are needed to meet the needs of their farm.

Compass integrates the use of beef sire semen into herd management strategies 

Lactanet and Holstein Canada’s Compass software is a tool that was designed to help producers make better herd management decisions related to genetics. Decisions such as genotyping, sire semen choices, and whether or not to raise the heifers born on the farm that can help to maximize returns on investments made on replacement animals. This new software allows the producer to specify their usage rate of beef sire semen and to target the females that are worthy of being inseminated with sexed semen.

Keep an eye out for my upcoming articles on the various herd management possibilities made possible by Compass. 

Another article on this subject: Use of Beef Sire Semen in the Dairy Industry

Compass :

US dairy margins widen for September

The September margin in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Margin Coverage Program increased by $0.56 per hundredweight from the August margin. The September margin reached $10.41 per hundredweight, the second-consecutive month margins have fallen outside the threshold necessary to trigger a federal payment.

The increase is the greatest seen since the beginning of 2017, allowing for the change in the alfalfa-hay price in the margin formula’s feed-cost calculation. The September all-milk price was $0.40 per hundredweight greater than August. The Dairy Margin Coverage calculated feed-cost for September was $0.16 per hundredweight. That was less than August, mainly due to a reduction in corn price.

The Dairy Margin Coverage margin is currently projected to remain greater than $9.50 per hundredweight for the remainder of 2019 and during all of 2020. Milk prices are expected to generate most of the monthly changes in the margin forecast. Feed costs are expected to remain relatively stable during that time.

Visit and search for XA9ktjDaF1o to watch a National Milk Producers Federation video addressing the use of the Dairy Margin Coverage Program. Visit for more information.


Effects of feeding frequency on dairy cattle

When cows are fed twice per day, less feed sorting will occur. Photo: Ronald Hissink

Feed delivery frequency is an important strategy in modern dairy management, as it affects feed intake, digestive physiology, animal health, hormonal profile, milk production, resistance to thermal stress and economic returns. This article provides a review of these aspects and their responses to different feeding frequency levels.

It was found that increasing the frequency of feed provision (2x) increases the amount of time cows spent feeding each day and also changes the distribution of daily feeding time, resulting in cows having more equal access to feed throughout the day compared to the situation when feed is provided only once per day. Another result of feeding twice per day was that less feed sorting occurred. When dairy cows sort feed, they usually select the finer and/or smaller particles. In one study, there was 8% more forage remaining in the bunk when the cows were fed once compared to when they were fed twice. Since longer particles are a significant source of fibre, sorting increases the risk that cows will not consume adequate fibre to maintain healthy rumen function.

When cows are fed twice per day, less feed sorting will occur. Photo: Ronald Hissink

When cows are fed twice per day, less feed sorting will occur. Photo: Ronald Hissink

Rumen functions

When animals are fed 5-6 times per day, there will be a stable pH in the rumen at levels ranging from about 5.5 to 5.8, but when they are fed only 1-2 times per day, the pH will vary from about 5.1 to 7.1 within the same day. With a stable pH value in the rumen, the digestibility of dietary fibre will be increased due to the increased microbial activity in the rumen, which results from the increased energy level needed for such activity. High-frequency feeding also reduces the amount of ammonia produced in the rumen following digestion of protein, indicating low rates of degradable protein formation and high rates of non-degradable protein, which is used for productive purposes. The increased ratio of non-degradable protein relative to the degradable protein in the rumen can probably be attributed to the increased rate of passage of digesta from the rumen with high-frequency feeding allowing insufficient time for degradation.

Metabolic disorders

There has been some concern that providing feed once a day may result in slug feeding, which could predispose a cow to sub-acute rumen acidosis. Alternatively, more frequent offerings of feed may result in cows spreading out their feeding times more evenly throughout the day. Further, a steady input of nutrients into the rumen over the course of the day should benefit rumen function, which in turn may reduce the risk of sub-acute rumen acidosis.

Hormonal changes

There are a number of hormonal changes associated with feeding frequency (Table 1). The increased production of growth hormones in the 4x group resulted in a daily gain of 1.40kg while those in the 1x group gained 1.27kg per day with similar feed intake levels. The reduced insulin secretion with frequent feeding helps produce carcasses with more muscle and less fat since insulin is positively related to carcass fat formation. Also, lower production of thyroid hormones with frequent feeding helps reduce the metabolic rate and heat increment and hence improves energy utilisation for growth and other productive purposes.

Milk production

In one study, milk production was increased by 3% when feeding frequency was increased, probably because of the increased feed intake. Milk fat concentration also increases by 8% with frequent feeding, mainly due to the consumption of larger amounts of fibre, as explained above. With increased fibre consumption, there is increased production of acetic acid in the rumen, which acts as a precursor of milk fat synthesis. There was no evidence, however, that concentrations of milk protein and lactose can be affected by changes in feeding frequency.

Mitigation of thermal stress

Increasing feeding frequency should reduce heat production because it promotes a uniform rate of absorption of nutrients and spreads the total heat increment due to feeding over a longer time period. Frequent feeding of heat-stressed cows also helps prevent the problem with milk fat by maintaining uniform rumen fermentation and permitting a higher intake of concentrates without a decrease in the rumen pH or the acetate-to-propionate ratio. During winter, animals are exposed to low-temperature extremes and windy and wet weather. These variables can double their daily calorie needs and, if these are not met, this could result in sickness and a greater risk of death, especially in young calves. By consuming smaller volumes more frequently, calves can better fend off diarrhoea or digestive disturbances at any time of year.

Profit potential

It was reported that 97.1% (34 of 35) of the calves in the 3x feeding group entered the milking string. In comparison, 80% (28 of 35) of calves fed twice per day entered the milking herd. This means that for every six calves fed three times a day one additional heifer entered lactation. Calves fed three times per day also averaged 516kg more milk and calved 16 days earlier. This can translate to improved herd longevity, while increasing the number of replacement heifers that ­successfully make it to the milking line.


New Vaccine to Stop Spread of Bovine TB

Scientists at the University of Surrey have developed a novel vaccine and complementary skin test to protect cattle against bovine tuberculosis (bovine TB).

Publishing their findings in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers reveal they have for the first time created a vaccine that is compatible with a synthetic form of the tuberculin skin test (PPD), a legally required test used for the surveillance of TB in cattle throughout the UK.

Bovine TB is an infectious disease in cattle affecting their lungs, and those that test positive for the disease are culled. The BCG vaccine, which is currently used to protect humans against TB and is effective in cattle, is incompatible with the PPD test.

Cattle that are vaccinated with the BCG vaccine, which contains a harmless strain of the bovine TB pathogen Mycobacterium bovis, produce a positive PPD test for TB making it impossible to distinguish, with the PPD skin test, if the animal has TB or has simply been vaccinated.

Vaccinating cows with BCG is therefore banned in most countries in the world, enabling vets to continue to use the PPD skin test to diagnose the disease in cattle.

During this innovative study, researchers sought to make a new BCG vaccine strain that lacks some of the proteins that are shared with the pathogen Mycobacterium bovis by identifying genes that contain encoded immunogenic proteins that could be removed from BCG without affecting its ability to work as a live vaccine.

To do this, a collection of BCG strains that had each lost a single gene were injected into cows and survival rates measured. This allowed the team to identify genes that could be removed without compromising the BCG vaccine’s effectiveness.

These dispensable genes encoding immunogenic proteins were then deleted from the BCG chromosome to make a BCG-minus strain. The deleted immunogenic proteins were then used to develop a new synthetic skin test that, like PPD, will be positive for animals that have been exposed to TB but, unlike PPD, will be negative for animals that have been vaccinated with the BCG-minus strain.

The protective efficiency of the new strain was tested in guinea pigs. It was found that TB-infected guinea pigs tested positive for the disease using the synthetic skin test whilst guinea pigs vaccinated with the BCG-minus strain did not.

So, unlike PPD, the new skin test also works in animals that are protected from TB by BCG-minus vaccination. This potentially allows farmers and veterinarians to protect their animals with the new BCG vaccine, whilst still maintaining a diagnostic test that will detect TB.

Johnjoe McFadden, Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Surrey, said: “In order to control the spread of bovine TB, effective vaccination and accurate early diagnosis of the disease are critical.

This new vaccine provides protection against bovine TB and will help in the fight against this deadly disease which infects over 50 million cattle worldwide and is economically devastating to farmers.

“The next stage of our work will be to demonstrate that both synthetic skin test and BCG-minus vaccine works in cattle herds. If they do, then it will be possible to vaccinate cattle against TB yet retain the value of skin test for diagnosis.”


Winter dairy calf management

Clayton Burky, who represents the sixth generation on the farm, poses with a heifer calf at the Burky Dairy.

Winter roared in this year way before most of us were ready with corn still in the field, barn doors not dug out and winter calf supplies still in the back corner of the barn. Even though we know winter is coming, it never seems like we are ready when the first blast of winter comes.

Calves are most comfortable when the outside temperatures are between 50 to 68 degrees F, which is a calf’s thermoneutral zone. When temperatures are below the lower critical temperature of 50 degrees F, calves need extra energy to stay warm. At times during winter, this can be a challenge since 50 degrees F at night can have highs of 70 degrees F during the day. Usually calves deep bedded with straw manage this variation by nesting with their legs coved at least to the middle of the back leg when lying down.

As temperatures continue to fall, adding calf jackets to help keep calves warm will be beneficial. Studies show that calf jackets improve gain by 0.22 pounds per day compared to those without jackets. Adding jackets when it is warm out may cause the calves to sweat under the jacket and get chills at night. If you have a calf born premature, putting the jacket on at night and taking it off during the day is extra work but may help calves who cannot regulate temperature very well. Calf jacket material should be breathable with a water resistant shell. It is recommended that producers start using jackets once pen temperature averages less than 50 degrees F for newborn calves up to 3 weeks old. Once calves are over 3 weeks of age, they are comfortable until average pen temperatures are below 40 degrees F. The lower critical temperature continues to decrease as the calf’s rumen develops, creating heat to keep them warm. Calves who are not eating as much starter grain may not be comfortable at these lower temperatures due to less rumen activity. One important management step with calf jackets is to keep the jackets dry, which means calves should be dry before putting jackets on. If the calf is still damp, you will need to change jackets after a few hours. In order to put jackets on dry calves, you should have clean towels to dry the calves.

One thing that works very well when calving barn temperatures fall below freezing, or even 40 degrees F, is to have towels in a cabinet in the calving pen to help the cow dry the calf quickly. Putting calves in a warm room or calf warmer can also help warm and dry them off. The warm air going in their lungs warms the insides but be sure it is warm enough and ventilated well so that the calf fully dries within a couple hours. Poor ventilation leads to the calf not drying and air quality becoming poor enough to cause pneumonia. When calves are first born and they start shivering, they are burning precious energy. A newborn calf has about 18 hours of brown adipose tissue reserves, making colostrum extremely important. Cold shivering calves can burn though these reserves even faster.

For each 1 degree drop in temperature below the lower critical temperature, a calf needs a 1% increase in energy to meet maintenance requirements. There are many different calf-feeding programs. With all programs to continue growth, more milk solids have to be fed without solids concentration exceeding 16%. The most common way to increase energy intake is to feed either more per feeding or add a third feeding. While 8 hours apart is ideal for three feedings, the most important part is to make timing consistent. Feed the same amount at each feeding, even if that means adding a lunch feeding between your normal feeding times.

Another beneficial practice is to provide warm water at 63 to 100 degrees F to calves within 30 minutes of finishing their milk. Water intake improves starter intake by 31%. These calves are then better able to stay warm as their rumen digests the grain. Cool water may also improve starter intake but it lowers their rumen temperature, requiring energy to warm the water and even more energy to maintain weight and allow for growth.

Close attention needs to be paid to winter ventilation; keeping barns or hutches warm is not really the goal. Keeping air fresh to minimize disease while not allowing a draft on the calves is the goal. There are many ways to do this. With hutches, it usually means having either permanent winter wind breaks or temporary wind breaks, like straw bales. Winter winds seem to change and bring cold nasty weather out of every direction, even the south. In calf barns, pens are a microenvironment affected by ventilation and pen design. Studies have found that solid sides slow disease spread but are only beneficial if the front, back, and top of the pens are open; otherwise, they create a high disease microenvironment. When disease and ventilation are challenging your calves, a properly designed positive pressure tube providing ventilation at a rate of 15 cubic feet per calf per minute can improve calf health without creating a chill.


Dairy Sense: Getting Lost in the Minutia

Production perspective:

Trouble shooting herd problems can be very challenging and difficult. Reflecting on how problem herds were approached several decades ago compared to today is a complete 180. There is access to many resources and tools that help address bottlenecks to animal or crop performance. The other component is including financial data into the solution. Every recommendation to fix a problem can have a ripple effect, which ultimately can impact cost of production and profitability. Getting caught up in the details or minutia of a production problem is typically not the right path to take.

Since feed costs normally represent a high percentage of the milk income, nutrition is the focus when troubleshooting problems related to production, components, health and growth. Even with all the advances related to ration formulation, i.e. computer models, amino acids, fatty acids, metabolizable protein and energy, digestibility and rate of passage to name a few, none of these are usually the culprit in performance concerns. The basics related to feed management continue to be the areas that plague producers trying to optimize animal performance. Actual dry matter intake is a number that is still elusive on many operations.

Twenty-two well managed dairy operations participated in a two-year project tying together financials with feeding management. Producers recorded their batch weights fed and refusal on the day a TMR sample was taken. Milk production was calculated by number of cows going into the bulk tank and components were from the milk check for the respective month. Dry matter intake efficiency was evaluated based on the operation’s profitability using FINPACK® (Table 1). The results support observations from previous year’s work tying together income over feed cost with feeding management. One metric alone rarely defines a herd’s performance or financial health. In the high profit group, there is a substantial range on milk production, dry matter intake and efficiency. There is certainly opportunity for improvement on a few of the high profit farms, however their low efficiency was not necessarily a detriment to being profitable.

All herds on the project used a nutritionist and rations were formulated using current models. The paper rations showed that the various nutrient requirements were satisfied. The big discrepancy was with the formulated dry matter intake compared to what the cows were consuming. The factors influencing intake were related to the physical nature of the forages or ration. Since intake on many herds did not match the formulated diet, that negates the assumption that cows are receiving the “perfect” amino acid profile or the correct amounts of metabolizable protein and energy. Similar ration approaches were used in all three profit groups, which illustrates that ration formulation has minimal influence on animal performance and profitability.

The very well managed herds can benefit from the nutritional advancements consultants incorporate when formulating rations. However, the reality is too many dairies still need work on the basics related to feed management and cow comfort. Years of working with dairy producers has cemented the concept that the big picture approach is still valid. Focusing on the minutia of nutrients to the nth decimal place is not going to solve a major animal or financial performance problem. It is easy to get hung up on the details when working on a computer. It is more difficult to sort through the animal and human dynamics at the farm level to solve problems.

Table 1. Dry matter intake efficiency based on herd profitability.

  High Profit
High Profit
Medium Profit
Medium Profit
Low Profit
Low Profit
Number of farms 7 7 7 7 8 8
Energy corrected milk lbs. 84.0 83.0 80.0 77.9 76.4 74.5
Std dev +/- 7.58 10.20 3.03 2.60 5.97 3.90
Dry matter intake, lbs. 56.9 54.2 52.7 50.5 51.7 48.7
Std dev +/- 6.56 5.12 3.64 3.93 2.56 1.59
Intake efficiency 1.50 1.54 1.53 1.55 1.48 1.53
Std dev +/- 0.22 0.20 0.11 0.09 0.14 0.10

This data is based upon work supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, through the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program under subaward number ENE:15-136.

Note: Based on profitability for 2016 and 2017; high profit farms had positive cash flow for both years; medium profit farms had 1 positive cash flow year; and the low profit herds had negative cash flow both years.

Action plan for improving dry matter intake efficiency

Goal – Monitor energy corrected milk, dry matter intake and feed efficiency on a monthly basis.

Step 1: Set a schedule for monitoring the dry matter percent of the TMR.

Step 2: Record refusals so the actual intake can be calculated per pen.

Step 3: Calculate energy corrected milk using the equation (12.82 * fat lbs.) + (7.13 * protein lbs.) + (0.323 * milk lbs.). (Use bulk tank milk pounds and components from milk check)

Step 4: If feed efficiency is consistently on the low end of the recommended range (<1.45), sample the TMR for analysis to check for accuracy. Examine ingredients being used for energy sources, i.e. corn silage, cereal grains, byproduct feeds.

Step 5: Check forage digestibility, feed (i.e. corn grain) particle size and ration particle size for possible issues impacting rate of passage.

Step 6: Work with a nutritionist on strategies to bring intake in line with production.

Economic perspective:

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

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

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

Note: October’s Penn State milk price: $19.60/cwt; feed cost/cow: $6.37; average milk production: 81 lbs.

Feed cost/non-lactating animal/day.

Clay as a feed supplement in dairy cattle has multiple benefits

Dairy producers frequently add clay as a feed supplement to reduce the symptoms of aflatoxin and subacute ruminal acidosis (SARA) in lactating cows. In a new study from the University of Illinois, researchers show that clay can also improve the degradability of feedstuffs.

“Farmers are giving this clay, but they want to know if the corn silage or hay the cow is eating is affected. We found that yes, the clay is changing the way the cow degrades feedstuffs,” says Phil Cardoso, associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Illinois and co-author of the Animal Feed Science and Technology study.

Cardoso and his team tested the degradability of six feedstuffs — dried alfalfa hay, grass hay, wet brewer’s grains, ground corn, corn silage, and soybean meal — along with no added clay, 1%, or 2% of dietary dry matter.

The researchers placed the feedstuffs into mesh bags and inserted them directly into the rumen through a cannula or fistula, a surgically installed portal that allows the contents of the rumen to be sampled for research purposes. The bags were then drawn out at multiple time intervals (two hours to four days) and analyzed.

“There were some differences in how the feedstuffs degraded over time. When clay was added to grass hay at 2% of dietary dry matter, the digestibility and usage of the fat in that material was maximized. It’s better. And we didn’t see a decline in degradability of the other feedstuffs, either,” Cardoso says. “Overall, to maximize the benefits of clay, we’d recommend adding it at 1 to 2% of dietary dry matter.”

Cardoso’s previous research has shown that multiple types of clay are effective in handling aflatoxin, a toxic substance produced by fungal contaminants on feed. When the toxin is bound up by the clay, it is simply excreted from the cow’s body, rather than being absorbed in the bloodstream. And a 2018 study by Cardoso’s team showed that aluminosilicate clay improved cows’ immune function and reduced liver inflammation during an aflatoxin challenge.

Cardoso says, “From all of our work on this, I can tell producers whenever they are facing the risk of aflatoxin, they should consider using clay without worrying about it binding other minerals or hindering forage digestibility. Rather, we’ve shown digestibility could increase. Of course, it’s important to ensure the specific clay product has been tested.”

Clay’s benefits don’t stop there. Because the material attracts and binds positively charged ions, clay can make the rumen less acidic. This is important particularly given the popularity of increasing grain concentrates in TMR feed, which can lead to SARA. In a 2016 study from Cardoso’s group, cows challenged with excess wheat in a TMR diet produced more and higher-quality milk and had higher rumen pH when fed bentonite clay at 2% of dietary dry matter.

“Basically, clay has all these benefits: It reduces aflatoxin toxicity, works as a pH buffer, and also improves the degradability of some feedstuffs,” Cardoso says. “Producers should know this.”


Four ways conservation pays for dairy farmers, even in a weak agricultural economy

The dairy industry is a critical part of the landscape, economy and social fabric of Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay. But it’s under stress.

Dairy is in the fourth year of an economic downturn in which many farmers have struggled to break even. Dairy farmers in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. are highly motivated to increase their resilience to unfavorable economic and environmental conditions, including highly variable milk and feed prices, unpredictable farm policies and extreme weather – most notably increased heavy rain events and flooding.

While dairy prices have recently trended upward and PennState Extension’s dairy outlook  predicts milk price could approach $20/cwt by the end of 2019, another PennState Extension analysis  found that the gross milk price breakeven point for most farmers in the state is $21.20/cwt.

Most of these factors are out of farmers’ control, but conservation is something farmers can be sure of.

That’s what my colleagues and I concluded after digging into the budgets of four Pennsylvania dairy farmers in our new report: How conservation makes dairy farms more resilient, especially in a lean agricultural economy. The report shows how a variety of conservation practices can deliver multiple returns on investment that simultaneously benefit the farm budget and the local environment.

Here are our four key findings:

1. Conservation practices can pay, often in unanticipated ways.

Dairy farmers who adopt conservation practices including manure storage, nutrient management, cover crops, conservation tillage and stream fencing realize a variety of financial benefits including reduced labor hours, savings on external feed and bedding, and lower vet bills due to improved herd health.

Too often, though, these economic benefits are not recognized or quantified because farmers’ recordkeeping tools aren’t set up to easily connect agronomic and financial sides of the business.

2. Economic gains come at the farm level.

Farmers, their advisers and other stakeholders often take too narrow a view of the costs and benefits of conservation – looking at a single practice for a single year – which means they miss a large part of the picture. Presented this way, much of the economic value is hidden.

The real value becomes apparent when farmers see the economics of conservation within the context of their entire operation and tallied over multiple years. That’s because farming is an interconnected system, so a change in one practice can affect many outcomes. By looking at conservation in the context of overall farm budgets, farmers can see the impacts on yield, herd health, input costs, labor costs and more, and understand how combinations of practices have a larger positive impact than expected based on the individual impact. New report shows how a variety of conservation practices can deliver multiple returns on investment that simultaneously benefit the farm budget and the local environment. Click To Tweet

3. Accurate recordkeeping typically results in better management.

Accurate and frequent recordkeeping for both economic and conservation measures is essential for dairy farmers to understand their farm’s economic status – whether profitable or not – and to assess the return on investment for conservation practices.

The volatile ag economy makes it even more important to keep excellent records, identify opportunities to improve efficiency and avoid loss, and leverage conservation to improve yield resilience in the face of unpredictable weather.

4. Investments in conservation have increasing returns.

Finally, our analysis found that farmers who have access to additional financial assistance for conservation through cost share programs and grants are typically able to make larger investments in practices that achieve even greater economic and environmental benefits.

Increasing financial support for farmers through government programs, tax incentives and other innovative financing strategies is an important next step to making the dairy industry more resilient in the face of economic and environmental pressures.

The challenges of the dairy economy in Pennsylvania coincide with near-term deadlines on required milestones to improve water quality under the EPA’s Total Maximum Daily Load for the Chesapeake Bay. Pennsylvania missed its 2017 target for nitrogen reductions by more than 17 million pounds statewide, with 16 million pounds of that reduction to come from agriculture.

Sustaining dairy farms for generations to come

For too many farmers, looking beyond the year at hand is difficult if not almost impossible, which puts the long-term benefits of conservation out of reach. To help overcome these challenges, our report offers specific recommendations for increasing educational, technical and financial resources for farmers to make conservation practice adoption more viable – both in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Being a farmer isn’t just about the job or the business – it’s about heritage and culture. Sustaining the dairy way of life – the economy and the environment – is essential for sustaining the cultural fabric of this region and other places where dairy is a significant part of the community and landscape.

It’s my hope that this report will help dairy farmers and other producers sustain their way of life for generations to come.


Can touching cows’ teats during milking spread bacteria leading to mastitis?

Bacteria live on skin, so there’s always a risk that teats will become contaminated by mastitis bacteria during the milking process, writes DairyNZ senior scientist Jane Lacy-Hulbert.

Bacteria can be spread during milking by contact with milk from an infected udder. The risks can be minimised by ensuring good teat condition and effective teat-spraying practices.


Foremilk stripping is the most effective way to detect clinical mastitis, which shows as abnormalities in the milk. Stripping a few squirts of milk onto a black paddle, rather than the ground, makes these changes more visible.

Farms that routinely foremilk strip tend to have better control of their bulk milk somatic cell count (SCC). Foremilk stripping offers other advantages to make milking easier on-farm:

Teat condition monitoring

Maintaining healthy teat skin is important for successful prevention of mastitis. Bacteria grow and multiply in rough teat skin and teat sores. Foremilk stripping provides an ideal opportunity to check teat condition and spot any emerging issues.

Calmer cows

Milker injuries are common on-farm. Cows that are less familiar with their udders being touched can fidget and kick during cup attachment. ACC reports large numbers of injuries caused by cows kicking milkers.

However, when they have their foremilk stripped and teats inspected, cows become more accustomed to having their udders handled, so they’re less likely to react during cup attachment.

Calmer cows also produce dung less frequently while being milked, kick the cups off less often, move through the dairy easily and produce less adrenalin and, thus, better milk letdown than stressed and anxious cows.

Increased cure rates

Early detection of mastitis increases the chance and speed of cure.

Reducing the risk

  • In early lactation, foremilk strip regularly, initially, then implement strategic stripping. Monitor the bulk milk SCC and filter sock, and strip more regularly when suspicious about mastitis.
  • Use gloves when foremilk stripping cows. Gloves have a smooth surface, which are easier to clean and harbour less dirt and bacteria than bare hands.
  • Review teat-spraying procedures. Teat spraying after milking reduces bacteria left behind on the teats, which can include those left behind by foremilk stripping.
  • Check teat spray coverage. To be effective, teat spray needs to cover all sides of the teats, as well as the teat tip; this can be achieved by manual and automatic spraying systems.

Touching teats will increase the incidence of mastitis in cows.

Not if hands and teats are kept clean. Foremilk stripping, to find new cases, and teat spraying after milking, to prevent new cases, provide effective control of mastitis.

Learn more about mastitis management at


New Research: Milking Three Times in Two Days?

Looking for information on milking three times in two days? This research programme will investigate the human, animal and pasture response to milking three times in two days (3-in-2).

Started in July 2019, Flexible Milking for Healthier People and Cows is a three-year project, led by DairyNZ and funded by $499,536 from the Sustainable Farming Fund and $306,914 from the DairyNZ levy.

Project goals

  • Farmers and advisers will have the confidence to adopt, optimise, and support the use of 3-in-2 milking.
  • Enhanced wellbeing (less hours spent working on farm and greater flexibility).
  • Increased economic sustainability of farming businesses using 3-in-2 milking (through people and cow health).

Year one

The first year of the study will focus on learning from farmers already using 3-in-2 strategically. This will help guide development of resources and information. A farmlet trial will also be set up at Lincoln University Research Farm. Four milking frequency scenarios will be tested:

  • Full season twice-a-day (TAD) (the baseline for comparison, i.e. ‘control’ scenario).
  • 3-in-2 from March.
  • 3-in-2 from December.
  • Full season 3-in-2.
  • The impact on milk production, body condition, animal behaviour, pasture production and grazing management will be measured.

Trial details

  • Farmlet set-up

Each farmlet will be managed independently, using the same set of decision rules.

Each farmlet consists of 11 paddocks of 0.75 ha and 29 cows, resulting in a stocking rate of 3.5 cows/ha (estimated comparative stocking rate of 81).

Each farmlet will receive 150-180 kg N/ha, applied over 7 applications.

  • Grazing management

Between planned start of calving and balance date the rotation length will be determined by the spring rotation planner.

After balance date a 22 day rotation will be targeted until mid-Feb, this means each herd grazes a paddock every 2 days.

Herds will be allocated a fresh break after each milking, so for herds milking TAD there will be four beaks per paddock, and for herds milking 3in2 there will be three breaks per paddock.

Paddocks will considered for silage if forecast residuals above target for more than 3 days or if pre-grazing cover is above 3100 kg DM/ha (and feed wedge allows).

A 28-29 day rotation will be targeted mid-Feb to mid-April, and 44 d from mid-April to the end of May.

  • Milking times

Weekly farm walk for pasture cover.

Milk volume, flow properties and liveweight will be recorded at each milking

Fortnightly herd test for milk composition.

Monthly body condition score.

Monthly pasture quality, botanical composition, calibration cuts.

Activity monitoring on all cows in the full-season 3in2 and full-season TAD herds via IceQube devices to identify time to first heat.

Activity monitoring on 10 cows per herd via CowManager ear tags for grazing behaviour.

  •  Measurements

After calving cows are milked once-a-day for the colostrum period and then enter their allocated herd.

Milking intervals are 12-18-18 for 3in2 and 10-14 for TAD.

For 3in2 this means milking times of 5am, 5pm and then 11am the following day.

For TAD this means milking times of 5am and 3pm.

Year two

The project will expand to piloting 3-in-2 on commercial farms, including measures to evaluate the effects on people of moving to a 3-in-2 system. A second trial will be conducted to investigate the effect of different intervals used with 3-in-2, (as well as TAD and OAD) on milk production.

Originally, 3-in-2 started as milking every 16 hours (16-16-16), but this has a night milking associated with it. It was then adapted to 14-16-18 and now to 12-18-18 (which will be tested in the farmlets) to suit staff.

This second trial will also look at whether milking intervals could be extended to 21-hour intervals once a week. This would enable two milkings to be completed on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with one milking each on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Year three

The focus in this stage will be on modelling to predict outcomes in different flexible milking scenarios. For example, if a farmer wanted to go once-a-day (OAD) milking during calving (to reduce work at a busy time); then go TAD through peak lactation; then 3-in-2 through mid-lactation; and OAD near dry-off.

Dairy farmers will be given results from the project regularly and resources will be developed to help farmers make informed decisions regarding the use of 3-in-2 milking.

Dairy farmers that subscribe will be given results from the project regularly.


Best Practices For Manure Management

As fall has arrived and the time to empty manure  pits  in  preparation  for winter storage is nearly upon us, there’s no better time to think about manure management strategies. Research has demonstrated that there is a greater risk for phosphorus  (P) and nitrogen (N) loss when manure is applied to fields in the fall rather than the spring. Therefore, while time can be short during the fall harvest season, it’s especially important to follow best practices.

This is particularly true in the Northeast  where  more   than   half   of annual precipitation can occur during the nongrowing season. This precipitation, combined with limited water uptake by plants, low rates of evaporation, and extended periods of frozen soils, leads to a higher rate of both surface runoff and tile drainage during fall, winter, and early spring. Research at Miner Institute has found that   approximately    three-quarters of annual runoff occurs between November 1 and April 30.  Not  only is the risk of runoff greater, but there will be a long delay between when the manure is applied and plants will once again require those nutrients.

Cover crops can help bridge this gap by sequestering fall-applied nutrients during the nongrowing season, but another key to nutrient retention is incorporating the manure  into  the soil. This can significantly reduce N volatilization losses to the atmosphere. Perhaps more importantly, greater manure-soil contact increases the amount of P bound to the soil, resulting in a lower risk of transport  in subsequent runoff (especially as dissolved, bioavailable P). This can be accomplished by injecting the manure, but in the absence of manure injection equipment, tilling in a broadcast manure application can achieve the same objective.

A recent two-year study in Wisconsin found additional benefits from tillage following late fall/early winter applications of liquid dairy manure. Research plots were managed  either as no-till or fall chisel plowed with a spring soil finisher. The researchers surface-applied manure (4,000 gal/A) to the plots following fall corn harvest for silage and then either incorporated the manure with a  chisel  plow  or  left it on the surface. The study also looked at how the timing of manure applications impacted nutrient losses (no manure, December, or January applications).

Regardless of the timing of the manure application, the tilled plots experienced fewer  surface  runoff   events   and less total surface runoff than  plots  that didn’t receive tillage. This may sound somewhat counterintuitive, as one benefit of no-till can be greater infiltration rates due to a more extensive network of macropores.  However,  the ground was frozen for significant periods during the nongrowing season, reducing much of the impact that differences in soil structure between treatments may have imparted.

The decrease in surface runoff from the tilled plots had a significant impact on the level of nutrient export relative to the no-till plots. The no-till plots lost 200 times more P in the first year and a more moderate 3.4 times more  P in the second year compared to the tilled plots. Additionally, they found that early or late winter applications mattered less than whether the soil was frozen at the time of application. Applying manure to frozen soils, regardless of tillage treatment, resulted in greater nutrient loss because the manure had no opportunity to infiltrate and interact with the soil.

The researchers attributed the reductions in surface runoff and P loss to the much greater surface roughness in the tilled plots compared to the relatively smooth surface in the no-till plots. This can be especially important during the winter months, when a frost layer in the surface soils prevents water from immediately infiltrating the soil and increases the risk of surface runoff events. Due  to the surface roughness in the tilled plots, there was greater opportunity for water to pond and ultimately infiltrate  the  soil or evaporate, rather than leaving as runoff. In contrast, there was minimal opportunity for surface ponding in the no-till plots, leading to much more immediate runoff down the plot slope (5.8% slope). The drastic reduction  in P loss during the first year in the tilled plots occurred because there was only one runoff event, as opposed to nine events in the no-till plots.

The results of this study reinforce the need to incorporate surface-applied manure to decrease the risk of offsite P transport. For those who work in a no- till system, it’s an important reminder that leaving manure on the field surface poses a significant risk for nutrient loss. Investigate the different methods of manure injection that will increase the manure-soil interactions to help minimize nutrient losses from the field, while maintaining the soil health benefits of your no-till system.

− Laura Klaiber

Source: WH Miner Institute

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.


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