Archive for Management

National Mastitis Council updates Post-milking Teat Disinfection Fact Sheet

Teat disinfection plays a key role in the National Mastitis Council (NMC) mastitis control plan. To help dairy producers and their advisers implement the most science-based teat disinfection protocols, NMC Teat Health Committee members updated the organization’s Post-milking Teat Disinfection Fact Sheet. This free resource is available here

The Post-milking Teat Disinfection Fact Sheet addresses various types of post-milking teat disinfectants, including those used for different seasons. Always thoroughly review manufacturer label claims and directions for mixing, use and storage prior to deciding if a product is right for a dairy farm. The Fact Sheet guides users with teat dip application, handling, storage, use and methods for protecting efficacy. This NMC resource also discusses teat dip cups, sprays and automated milking systems.

Why is post teat disinfection so important? The rate of new intramammary infections can be reduced 70 percent or more by disinfecting all teats of all cows with an effective product immediately after every milking, compared with no disinfection. Teat disinfection does not affect existing mammary gland infections, but it may reduce colonization of the teat end by mastitis pathogens and thus reduce the chance of new intramammary infections.

NMC leaders remind dairy producers that good teat disinfectants have efficacy against the major mastitis pathogens, are economical, easy to apply and help maintain or promote good skin condition. Only use products that are registered or licensed with the appropriate regulatory authority in your jurisdiction. For example, regulatory authorities include the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Veterinary Drugs Directorate of Health Canada, and European Medicines Evaluation Agency. In the United States, FDA regulates teat disinfectants as over-the-counter drugs and does not require proof of effectiveness. In Canada, however, teat disinfection products must complete a full submission and approval process for veterinary drugs. Dairy producers should request information from the manufacturer or supplier on the registration or licensing and results of controlled research studies showing efficacy.

National Mastitis Council is a professional organization devoted to reducing mastitis and enhancing milk quality. NMC promotes research and provides information to the dairy industry on udder health, milking management, milk quality and milk safety. Founded in 1961, NMC has about 1,000 members in more than 40 countries throughout the world.                               

Will artificial intelligence technology change the dairy industry

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) on ranches and dairy farms represents tremendous potential to benefit the Florida cattle industry. That’s driving a discussion at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences about how to harness this potential with tools that gives ranchers insight on each animal in their herds.

Producers may already get more data from sensors and other technologies than any human mind can make sense of. AI can link and analyze all sorts of data that exist in separate silos. UF/IFAS animal scientists working with computer scientists and engineers could reveal relationships between data points that inform decisions down to the individual animal.

Imagine if we could link an individual cow’s feed efficiency to its unique genetics as we select animals for breeding. Imagine if we could identify the point for each animal on a ranch at which heat stress makes it ill.

Imagine, too, if we could tell by how many steps it takes and how its posture changes day-to-day if a cow is developing sore feet. Imagine the advances in milk production and animal welfare if we could predict and prevent illness by subtle behavioral changes like how often a cow shows up at the feed bucket.

Albert De Vries of the UF/IFAS Department of Animal Sciences is already using a form of AI called machine learning to determine with precision how to better breed cattle. He is also exploring using AI to measure how much a cow eats by analyzing changes in the topography of the grain in the trough.

As an editor of a prestigious international journal, De Vries has familiarized himself with a range of AI applications in cattle and dairy. He believes UF/IFAS needs to go more assertively into this line of inquiry.

The University of Florida took a major step toward unlocking the potential of this game-changing technology when it announced in July a $70 million campus-wide AI initiative.

The announcement specifically mentioned the challenge of food insecurity as one of many possible areas to direct AI-fueled science. AI will become part of the curriculum at the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and throughout campus so that our students take some level of knowledge and skills related to AI into their jobs.

The initiative is supported by a $25 million gift from UF alumnus Chris Malachowsky and $25 million from NVIDIA, the technology company he cofounded. UF is investing an additional $20 million in the initiative, which will create an AI-centric data center that houses the world’s fastest AI supercomputer in higher education.

UF/IFAS will be proposing to university administration how an investment of a substantial portion of these funds in agriculture can result in huge payoffs.

All this isn’t going to replace the intuition and responsible management practices ranchers develop from years of experience. AI, though, is one way UF/IFAS is likely to help the Florida cattle industry in the decade to come.

Scott Angle
University of Florida’s VP
Agriculture and Natural Resources


Looking for a change? Try Guernseys

Guernsey cattle originate from Guernsey, a tiny island in the English Channel and can be found in many countries around the world.

The Guernsey cow of today has more potential than ever.

While being very versatile, the Guernsey is a competitive dairy cow able to efficiently and effectively maintain a profit.

For the commercial dairy farmer that needs higher components in their milk to take advantage of component premium prices and who are spending too many nights assisting with difficult calvings, read on because the Guernsey breed has something more to offer.

Milk component advantages

Guernseys produce superior milk in total components, flavour and colour.

The fat to protein ratio in Guernsey milk is very favourable to milk companies that are now using this system to pay dairy farmers for their milk, not to mention the unique golden colour of the milk.

Guernsey milk contains unusually high contents of beta carotene.

Guernsey milk is also higher in vitamins B1 and B12, Vitamin A and has naturally occurring Vitamin D.

Guernsey cows generally have a higher incidence of producing milk with only the beta casein protein A2 and eliminating the A1 gene.

In fact, many people, who think they are reacting to the lactose in milk, are actually reacting to the A1 protein and can easily digest Guernsey milk.

Choosing to use component improvers from the Guernsey sires available will yield impressive results when the offspring enter the milking herd.

Crossbreeding advantages

The Guernsey cow can be crossed with any breed to take advantage of their ease of calving.

They can be bred to calve at two years of age.

Their offspring will inherit the Guernsey quality of milk and increase the hybrid vigour in the resulting offspring, which will typically improve reproductive performance and longevity.

The calf that results from using a Guernsey sire on a black and white cow is nearly indistinguishable from a typical commercial calf.

Almost always black and white, it will be of similar frame size to an average to small commercial animal.

Using a Guernsey sire is similar to using an extreme calving ease sire and will result in a healthier, more vigorous calf and a dam that starts its lactation without the stress of a difficult calving.

Bull calves will not be discounted at the market as they are identical to 95 per cent of the other bull calves that pass through the market on a normal day and better value in body weight than some of the other crossbred or coloured-breed calves.

Economical advantages

The Guernsey cow is an efficient converter of feed to product.

Guernseys require less feed than their Holstein counterparts and convert that feed into more protein and butterfat per unit of body weight resulting in several economical advantages.

Bottom line in profit comes from the amount of solids your cows produce less the amount of feed that you input into your cows.

The Guernsey cow is also an excellent grazer.

It is a cow that is made for pasture-based milk production.

Because of its grazing abilities, gentile disposition, calving ease and the ability to efficiently produce milk with less feed than other breeds, it is the ideal candidate for intensive grazing.

Dairy producers can realise her profit potential while reducing management costs.

Calving advantages

The Guernsey female reaches reproductive maturity at an early age and can be bred to calve between 22 months of age to two years of age.

This provides an early return on investment.

Guernsey cows experience fewer calving problems and this calving ease will be passed onto Guernsey crossbreds as well.

In addition to the direct calving ease realised from using a Guernsey sire on a cow or heifer prone to calving problems, the crossbreds themselves will experience easier calvings.

Other advantages

A moderate temperament and disposition make the Guernsey cow easy to work with.

Dairy farmers who have mixed herds note that the Guernseys are very compatible with the other breeds, as well as easy to milk and keep clean.

As proven by Guernseys in Australia, this cow is adaptable to any climate.

It has flourished in southern, northern, hot and cold climates.

Her fawn and white coat enhances her heat tolerance and reduces heat stress, which adds to her ability to maintain production levels anywhere.

Guernsey semen is available from semen distributors throughout Australia and includes overseas and Australian bulls.

Semen costs per straw are also competitively priced and semen is available in both sexed and non-sexed.

Agri-Gene is the distributor of Guernsey progeny test semen for the Guernsey Society.

For further information, contact Guernsey Cattle Society of Australia federal secretary Joyce Cleggett, or (08) 8739 4368 or federal president Laurie Dunne, or (07) 5544 2198.

Visit the Guernsey Society website at or find them on Facebook.

Calf rearing bottlenecks headlines Dairy Calf and Heifer Association October 20 webinar

The next Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA) webinar features “Calf Rearing Bottlenecks.” Presented by Kelly Reed, Diamond V ruminant technical specialist, this free webinar starts at 2 p.m. Central time on Oct. 20.

During the webinar, Reed will discuss the value of investing in the milk-fed calf and how health challenges impact future performance. Next, she will explain the value of calf audits – a systematic evaluation of a calf program to identify key bottlenecks limiting performance. Reed’s bottleneck discussion will focus on colostrum and maternity management, sanitation and cleaning, milk delivery, milk total solids and volume, calories, dry bedding, air quality and ventilation. Furthermore, she will offer helpful tools, key performance indicators and practical examples.

As a ruminant technical specialist, Reed is responsible for providing technical and research assistance, and sales support. Prior to joining Diamond V, Reed served as herd manager for five years and advanced to general manager for a leading dairy in Washington’s Yakima Valley. She managed 75 employees and used her veterinarian training to identify bottlenecks and implement tangible solutions. In addition to her responsibilities at Diamond V, Reed owns and operates Reed Dairy Veterinary Services, Prosser, Wash. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Cornell University in 2009.

The American Association of Veterinary State Boards granted one Registry of Approved Continuing Education (RACE) credit for this DCHA webinar. Thus, veterinarians who attend will earn one CE credit.

To register for the webinar, go HERE and follow the prompts. As the webinar approaches, you will receive an e-mail with information on how to log in to participate.

This webinar is sponsored by Diamond V. The Dairy Calf and Heifer Association does not support one product over another and any mention is not an endorsement by DCHA.

If you are a DCHA member and cannot attend the live program, you may access the webinar through DCHA’s online Member Center. To access the webinar, DCHA members need to visit HERE and enter their username and password.

For more information about DCHA’s webinars, e-mail Sue Schatz, DCHA member services director, at: Follow DCHA on social media or visit the DCHA website to learn about future webinars.

The Dairy Calf and Heifer Association was founded in 1996 based on the mission to help dairy producers, calf managers and those professionally focused on the growth and management of dairy calves and heifers. With a national membership of producers, allied industries and research leaders, DCHA seeks to provide the industry’s standards for profitability, performance and leadership, serving as a catalyst to help members improve the vitality and viability of their individual efforts and that of their business.

More space for climate and cow in dairy barn

Future stables are expected to be more in line with the natural behavior of cows, climate control, limiting emissions, reuse of waste, quality of manure and capital efficiency. That says Paul Galama of Wageningen Livestock Research. Together with colleagues and an international team of scientists, he mapped out stables of the future.

The aforementioned factors, including climate control, the behavior of cows and the reuse of waste, influence each other. That is why, according to the researchers, it is important to make a conscious decision. A larger house leads to higher construction costs, an adapted landscape and possibly higher emissions. For example, bedded pack barns seem to be good for animal welfare due to the large amount of space, less ammonia emission and longer cow life.

What options does a farmer have?

The first important consideration is: how much space do I want to give my cows (see figure). In a bedded pack barn, the space to lie is about 4x as much as in a cubicle barn. If the cows were to graze all day, you could even use this space for horticulture, pigs or chickens. A multifunctional building. Another consideration is which fertilizer products fit my company. Floors that separate manure into faeces and manure and a cow toilet offer opportunities to limit emissions and fertilize more precisely on grassland and arable land. Bedded pack stables with wood chips, sawdust, elephant grass or sea grass as a soil material offer opportunities to produce manure with a lot of organic matter.

What now?

The main challenge is to see the barn more as part of a business system, because it has an impact on the entire business and manure chain of barn, storage and use. It must fit in with the vision of nature management, closing cycles, precise agriculture and appreciation by society. There are still many technical challenges. Think of: low-emission and easily walkable floors, techniques of manure removal and storage, alternative free-run bottoms, sustainable building material, flaring of methane or floating stables with maximum use of residual flows from nearby cities.

The “Multi climate” building is a sketch by architect Sprecher that needs further thought. Galama finds this a very interesting challenge. The idea is to capture the air in the barn or free-stall barn or the air from manure basements and blow it through the soil material in the free-wheeling area. The free lying and walking area for the cows can then be used even more as a biofilter.

In any case, the researchers believe that combining stable systems and innovations is the future. “There are already many techniques available to reduce emissions in existing houses.” Galama says, “We expect more physical space for natural animal behavior is win-win for farmers and animals.”


Mega Dairy Integrates RNG Production

Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman, Oregon is the state’s largest dairy farm, housed on 93,000-acres of farmland. The complex includes 3 dairies. In 2012, Threemile Canyon Farms installed an anaerobic digestion system to treat manure from 33,000 dairy cows. Biogas was being used to generate electricity for farm operations. More recently, Threemile Canyon partnered with Equilibrium Capital to invest in converting its methane digester from generating electricity to producing renewable natural gas (RNG). According to Iogen, the $55 million project began injecting RNG into the grid in July 2019; the RNG is being used as transportation fuel in California. Iogen provided the project with a structured 10-year RNG offtake agreement that “provides an investment-grade floor price for RNG with market upside sharing, and is managing all fuel compliance activities, including generating and monetizing D3 RINs under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard and LCFS Credits under the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard program,” stated the company in a press release.

THIOPAQ®, a biogas desulfurization technology developed by Paques, removes hydrogen sulfide. Diagram courtesy of Paques Environmental Technologies

The first step in the conditioning system installed to clean the biogas features the THIOPAQ® process, a biogas desulfurization technology developed by Paques to remove hydrogen sulfide (H2S). “The THIOPAQ® is a chemical scrubber with a biological component,” explains Andrew Delgado, Paques’ Project Team Leader. “H2S is first absorbed with an alkaline solution in a scrubber tower.   A bioreactor containing Thiobacillus bacteria simultaneously reduces the H2S to elemental sulfur while regenerating the alkalinity.” The desulfurized gas exits at the top of the scrubber tower where it is further treated in an amine process supplied by Wartsila to remove carbon dioxide. Drying and compression steps complete the gas upgrading process before it is injected into a pipeline.

Delgado adds that the scrubbing process works just like a caustic scrubber that achieves very high removal rates (>99.5%). The difference with the THIOPAQ® process is that it biologically regenerates the alkalinity thereby significantly reducing operating costs.   The sulfur is converted to safe, odorless biological sulfur, which is removed from the process as a slurry, and is ultimately used as a soil amendment.

Threemile Canyon Farms received the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s 2020 Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability Award, judged by an independent panel of dairy and conservation experts who consider innovation, scalability and replicability when choosing winners. The farm uses the digested solids for cow bedding, and the liquid effluent to irrigate its crops. “We grow about 300,000 tons of potatoes each year, which are processed at a local manufacturing plant,” notes the farm’s website. “Any processing waste, such as ‘peels and culls’, is returned to the farm and recycled as feed for our dairy cows.”


Proper hoof care can prevent foot rot in cattle

Sores on the feet can sure make a person feel miserable not to mention making it hard to walk.

The same can be true of cattle when they develop foot rot in the crevasse between their toes, causing some of them to become lame according to the veterinarians at the Beef Cattle Institute, writes Kansas State University.

Speaking on the weekly Cattle Chat podcast, Kansas State University veterinarian Bob Larson explained how this condition develops.

“Foot rot is a bacterial infection that occurs between the claws of the hoof. In the summer, it can develop when cattle are standing in wet or muddy areas,” Larson said.

He added, that foot rot typically happens when the cows get a cut from a rock on the soft tissue between the hoof claws and then an infection develops in the wound.

“The organism that causes foot rot lives in the soil so it is present all the time,” Larson said.

One of the first signs of foot rot is that the impacted animal begins to walk with a limp or become lame, said veterinarian Brad White.

Larson and White agree that foot rot typically responds well to antibiotic treatment.

“A lot of times, if you see a cow that is lame and diagnose foot rot, she will be back to being sound pretty quickly after appropriate treatment,” Larson said.

White added, “Early identification of the problem and quick treatment are key as well as preventative management.”

One of the easiest ways to prevent foot rot is to manage the cattle in a clean, dry environment to minimize the mud exposure, Larson said. He also added that some producers advocate including iodine in the mineral mixes or as a feed supplement.

“With any iodine or salt feed additive it is hard to know for sure that the cow is getting the right dose so it might offer some preventative aspects, but it would not be a treatment,” Larson said.


Milk progesterone concentration useful for detection of candidate genes associated with dairy cattle fertility

The study entitled “Genome-wide association study for endocrine fertility traits using single nucleotide polymorphism arrays and sequence variants in dairy cattle” identified several potential candidate genes, and DNA variants that can contribute to an index of markers for genetic improvement of fertility in dairy cattle.

In this paper, the whole genome of dairy cows was screened for associations with several fertility traits based on milk progesterone concentration, such as commencement of luteal activity. In total, 17 genomic regions where identified. Fine-mapping target regions on chromosomes 2 and 3, using imputed sequence variants identified several potential candidate genes, and variants that can contribute to an index of markers for genetic improvement of fertility.

Progesterone based fertility traits

Endocrine fertility traits were defined from progesterone concentration levels in milk. These endocrine fertility traits are good indicators for fertility in dairy cows because they are less biased by farm management decisions, have higher heritability, and more directly reflect a cow’s reproductive physiology than classical traits derived from insemination and calving data. Hence endocrine fertility traits might be more useful to detect genomic regions associated to fertility.

This is one of the few studies that has attempted to locate genomic regions associated to endocrine fertility traits, and the findings in this study help to shed more light on the genetic architecture and underlying biology of fertility in dairy cattle.

Recording reds keeps NSW dairy business on track

Warren Gallagher values his herd recording information so much he changed his business to make the most of it.

The NSW dairy farmer uses data gathered from his monthly herd tests to not only make breeding and culling decisions but to also help him plan the next 12 months.

Robust breed data is so important to his farm business that five years ago he made the switch to milking and breeding Aussie Reds.

“Moyola Aussie Reds is part of the evolution to make better choices with more information,” Mr Gallagher said.

“Pretty much, it was my quest for information which guided me to where I am now.”

Unless you have the correct information, you can’t make a correct decision.

Mr Gallager milks 240 Aussie Reds at Clunes, 40 kilometres inland from Byron Bay in northern NSW.

Monthly herd recording has been a ritual at the farm for 44 years.

Mr Gallagher also reports his heifer workability traits each year to assist with DataGene’s genetic evaluation system.

Australian Breeding Values (ABVs) for a bull’s milking speed, temperament and likeability are based on workability reports provided by dairy farmers like Mr Gallagher.

When it comes to information, Mr Gallagher said “every bit counts.”

“If I don’t have information, I can’t plan,” he said.

“Herd recording used to be more about milk – focusing on production – now I concentrate more on cell counts.

“It helps to make decisions because unless you have the correct information, you can’t make a correct decision.”

HAVE A PLAN: Warren Gallagher says every bit of information counts: “if I don’t have information, I can’t plan.”

The herd’s information is stored in the Easy Dairy computer program.

When a heifer enters the dairy for the first time, the computer program recognises this and prompts Mr Gallagher to score its workability traits a month after it has calved.

“It is very simple to record,” he said.

“It is super easy to put it in and certainly no trouble, all you do is tab across and it keeps telling you what to do.

“I guess we all have a responsibility to help the industry out by supplying data.”

When it comes to scoring a heifers’ likeability, “I ask myself, do I see her as a potential old cow,” he said.

Since moving across to Aussie Reds, temperament and milking speed have both been consistently good across Mr Gallagher’s herd and his workability reports reflect this.

Breeding priorities

Udders and a cow’s dairy strength or type are the most important breeding objectives for the Moyola Aussie Red herd.

Mr Gallagher believes these two traits contribute to a cow’s longevity.

To select the bulls used to join the milking herd, Mr Gallagher examines the sires offered by his preferred breeding company and then checks their Good Bulls status and rankings for udder and type.

DATA ENTRY: When a heifer enters the dairy for the first time, the computer program recognises this and prompts Mr Gallagher to score its workability traits a month after it has calved.

Rearing only 40 heifers a year, dairy bulls are used to artificially inseminate 100 of the best cows each year.

These cows are identified through their herd recording data as well as their udder and frame.

The rest of the herd – about 140 – are joined to beef bulls.

Mr Gallagher has a market for his beef-cross animals, but this breeding program helps him manage the workload as the sole farm operator.

He said the frame of an Aussie Red provided it with a higher meat value than other dairy breeds when sold directly to an abattoir.

Until recently, the Clunes area had been dry and Mr Gallagher relied on feeding bought-in hay, hand feeding for only the second time in his farming career.

Normally, the cow’s milk from 61 hectares of irrigated pasture with dry cows fed round bale silage made from summer grasses.

Milkers are supplemented with up to 8kg/cow/day combination of corn, wheat and canola meal.

Producing 1.6 million litres of milk for the year, Mr Gallagher said the alteration to the diet at the end of the herd’s lactation didn’t affect the Aussie Reds.

Thanks to a strong history of herd recording, he has the data to back this up.


Can cattle keep their barns clean?

In cooperation with animal behaviour scientists from The University of Auckland in New Zealand and scientists from the Institute of Animal Welfare and Animal Husbandry in Celle, Germany, which belongs to the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI), behavioural biologists at the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN) are investigating the excretion behaviour of cattle. Can cows keep their barn clean and protect the environment and themselves better against diseases?

Pets are usually house-trained and even pigs (if possible) look for a secluded corner for defecating. The situation is completely different with cows. They go to the toilet wherever they happen to be. This has negative consequences for the environment and the animals themselves. The resulting ammonia emissions contribute to poor air and water quality. However, these issues could be significantly improved if cattle used a toilet for defecating and urinating, and the waste products could be separated. A dirty barn also has adverse effects on the hoof and udder health of animals and increases the effort required to keep living areas clean. An adult dairy cow produces on average 20 to 30 litres of urine and 30 to 40 kilograms of faeces per day.

Behavioural scientists want to improve barn hygieneIn a recent study, the scientists concluded that associative learning methods such as operant conditioning should allow for successful latrine training in cattle. The results of the study have now been published in the renowned journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews*. The study analyses the neurophysiological basis of excretory behaviour in mammals and considered the likelihood that cattle can learn to control behaviour relevant to toilet training. It was concluded that cattle have the intelligence and neurophysiological capabilities to enable toilet training. The practical investigation of toilet training is currently being investigated at FBN with partners from Celle and New Zealand in a collaborative project funded by the Volkswagen Foundation to a value of 250,000 Euros.

Training is carried out in latrines specially constructed for calves, which have an easily identifiable green colour. Urination outside the latrine is signalled with a short shower, whereas in the latrine it is rewarded (see video).

“In a first step, we wanted to investigate to what extent cows can be trained to control excretion behaviour at all”, said project leader at FBN Dr. Jan Langbein. “Overall, this is a very complex process. However, we can now answer this question with a clear yes, as actual experiments with the calves have shown. Operant conditioning techniques, which focuses on rewarding desired behaviour, has proved its worth. Practical methods to integrate toilet training into daily farm routines need to be further developed.

A practical breakthrough is still pending, despite research efforts in several other countries including Denmark, England, Estonia, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands. Therefore, the scientists from Dummerstorf and their research colleagues in Celle and New Zealand want to take the next big step forward. “If we really manage to use the intelligence of the animals to set up cow toilets in practice, everyone would benefit: The cows, the farmers and the environment”, says project coordinator Lars Schrader from FLI.


Colostrum Research Shows Scours-Vaccinated Cows Produced Insufficient Antibody Levels

Independent researchers* recently measured colostrum from scours-vaccinated cows for general antibody levels needed to achieve successful passive transfer, plus for specific antibody levels needed to maximize immunity against scour-causing pathogens. In samples meeting the industry standard for general mass of antibody (50g/l antibody, also referred to as immunoglobulins), results showed only 1% of cows had high concentrations of specific coronavirus antibodies, 3% were high in rotavirus antibodies and 7% provided colostrum that was high in E. coli antibodies.

“To achieve successful passive transfer, newborn calves need a high level of general antibodies. But that’s often not enough to prevent scours,” says Bobbi Brockmann, Vice President of Sales and Marketing with ImmuCell. “Calves also need elevated levels of specific antibodies to maximize immunity against scour-causing pathogens. Traditionally, farmers have relied on pre-calving scour vaccines to increase antibody levels in colostrum to protect against common scour-causing pathogens. These vaccines require the already immunosuppressed pregnant cow to mount an immune response and then transfer those specific antibodies into colostrum. Unfortunately, a vaccine response rate is inherently variable and protocol drift increases that variability, creating an even bigger gap between what farmers pay for and the calf protection they actually get.”

The study analyzed 97 single-cow colostrum samples taken from 10 well-vaccinated herds (8 to 10 samples per herd), comprised of farms in California, Idaho, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas. Each herd had been using a dam-level vaccination program according to label recommendations for more than three years. Researchers collected first-milk colostrum post-calving from only multiparous cows, and then used Bethyl Laboratories assays to measure general antibody mass, virus neutralization assays to quantify specific antibody titers against coronavirus and rotavirus, and a USDA-approved titer assay to determine specific E. coli antibody levels.

Figure 1 shows each cow’s colostrum relative to mass of antibody and titer level against coronavirus, rotavirus and E. coli. The red lines distinguish the quandrants. According to the results, almost half of the cows sampled provided colostrum which fell in all three “low : low” quandrants, indicating that the colostrum was low in general mass of antibody and specificity against coronavirus, rotavirus and E. coli pathogens.

The results also showed that an extremely low number of cows provided colostrum in the “high : high” quandrant, with only 1% for coronavirus, 3% for rotavirus and 7% for E. coli antibody.

“Vaccination is simply the act of administering a vaccine. These numbers confirm that immunization is not a guaranteed outcome with vaccination, and calves are left unprotected against scour-causing pathogens,” states Brockman. “Despite increased adoption of pre-calving scour vaccines since the 1970s, scour incidence has not improved, likely because of extreme variability. Farmers and veterinarians are seeking alternative treatments that deliver guaranteed levels of specific antibodies – without a vaccine.”

During a recent immunology symposium, Dr. Chris Chase, Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences at South Dakota State University, highlighted the use of preformed antibodies to immunize newborn calves against scour pathogens. According to the SDSU professor, these antibodies protect against both bacterial and viral scours. “With vaccines, there are too many outside factors, making a 100% immunization response rate biologically impossible,” says Dr. Chase. “But with a USDA-approved antibody product, farmers know exactly what they’re getting – a level of immunity proven in third-party studies to protect against scours.”

* Research, Technology, Innovation, LLC. Colostrum, as an effective mechanism, needs both a shotgun and a sniper in its artillery: How colostrum quality and specific antibody levels against scour-causing pathogens fall short even within well vaccinated herds [White paper].

Introducing the DeLaval Parlour milking system P500

DeLaval announces its latest Parlour milking system P500, the only parallel parlour in the dairy industry with three options to control the cow flow and no sequence gates in the floor. This innovation is a continuation of the countless customer solutions launched over the years by DeLaval to help farmers around the world in their daily lives.

“The DeLaval Parlour P500 has been designed to do more on a smaller footprint, making it an ideal choice for both new builds and retrofits,” Gavin Strang, DeLaval Market Development Manager, Capital Equipment, said.

The DeLaval P500 features all of the significant functionalities of the existing DeLaval parlour assortment, plus a newly developed synchronized milking process with these patented technologies:

DeLaval SynchroArc™ is more than an open-bottom neck rail with no obstructions. Its design promotes free-cow flow for optimum throughput, offers better indexing of mixed herds, and accommodates a 30 percent smaller footprint.* Ceiling heights can be as low as 2.45m

DeLaval SynchroSweep™ features independently controlled, suspended, non-overlapping sequence gates, which also lift up during milking to minimize stress on cows and components. This design and process creates a quieter environment that can speed up cow-exit cycle times by 56 percent.* 

DeLaval SynchroControl™ puts the operation of the milking system at the fingertips of the dairy producer. This feature makes it possible to configure multiple indexing management styles, contributing to its safe, comfortable and efficient operation.

Click here to find out more about the P500 Parlour

New company to reduce cows’ methane using feed additive made from the seaweed

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO announced the formation of a new company to take a methane-busting seaweed to market, with $13 million secured from five investors.

FutureFeed Pty Ltd will commercialise a livestock feed additive made from the seaweed Asparagopsis, which has been shown to reduce methane emissions in beef and dairy cattle by more than 80 per cent in research trials in Australia and the USA.

AGP Sustainable Real Assets-Sparklabs Cultiv8 Joint Venture, GrainCorp, Harvest Road, Woolworths and CSIRO have committed to investing in the company.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said it was great to see Australian companies getting behind an Aussie innovation with immense global potential.

“This is a game-changer – not only for livestock production, but also for our environment – with the potential to create an entirely new industry, while supporting jobs in the Australian agriculture sector,” Minister Andrews said.

“This is an example of what can be achieved when industry and researchers work together to solve real-world problems.

“It also highlights the ongoing jobs and economic opportunities that can come from ensuring our world-leading research is commercialised.”

The newly established FutureFeed company will develop a full value chain for the livestock feed supplement, from seaweed cultivation and production through to processing and feed manufacture in order to supply beef and dairy industries globally.

The company expects to see commercial volumes of the feed additive supplied into the Australian beef and dairy market by mid-2021, with international markets to follow.

When Asparagopsis is fed as a supplement to cattle, it not only reduces methane emissions but also supports productivity. The supplement has been developed and trialled over more than five years by CSIRO in collaboration with Meat & Livestock Australia and James Cook University.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said FutureFeed is science solving the seemingly unsolvable – reducing the emissions but not the profits.

“FutureFeed enables agriculture and the environment to be partners not competitors, helps overcome negative perceptions of the cattle industry, and gives Australian farmers an advantage in the global marketplace as first adopters of this Aussie innovation,” Dr Marshall said.

“FutureFeed is addressing some of the greatest challenges we face, including food security, sustainable production and climate change, by turning science into a real product in the hands of business so they can turn it into jobs and economic growth.

“By earning equity in FutureFeed, CSIRO can continue to invest in great science for the future of industry.”

CSIRO scientists estimate that if the feed additive were to be adopted by 10 per cent of beef feedlots and dairy industries globally, this could reduce livestock industry greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 120 megatonnes per year, equivalent to taking around 50 million cars off the road for a year.

The company will be exploring market options for greenhouse gas abatement payments for livestock producers that adopt the supplement.

FutureFeed Pty Ltd has been formed after a competitive investment process designed to ensure a mix of investors with expertise across the livestock value chain encompassing aquaculture, feed supply, beef production and processing, and retail.


Turn off radio to help lift milk quality

Switching the radio off is just one of the strategies Western Australian dairy farmers Luke and Vicki Fitzpatrick believe helps their herd of 200 cows keep calm, quiet and generally mastitis-free.

The Fitzpatricks are among the top 100 farmers in the country this year producing the best quality milk, determined by their bulk milk cell count (BMCC) results.

A fourth-generation farmer, Mr Fitzpatrick has been milking since 1997 in an 11-a-side double up dairy on a 200-hectare milking platform at Waroona, about an hour’s drive south of Perth.

Mr Fitzpatrick said his family achieved a low BMCC, and their seventh annual Gold Milk Quality Award in a row, by being attuned to mastitis prevention and detection.

“We have bred calm, quiet cows and we keep noise to a minimum in the dairy, hence no radio!” he said.

“Cows enter the dairy of their own accord, we wait for milk let down, and do a precise and thorough teat spray post-milking.

“We’ve had great results with our triangular vented cup liners – there is almost no slippage.

“We also use Ambic in-line mastitis detectors to help pick up any clinical mastitis cases quickly.

“We use teat seal on all cows and herd test every month to find any high BMCC suspects.”

Mr Fitzpatrick said most farmers got a kick out of some aspect of dairying, but he particularly enjoyed maintaining milk quality.

“I personally took it on 20 years ago to get on top of the count,” he said.

“I try to keep the BMCC around 50 as this gives me a bit of leeway if we get a spike, and it doesn’t take much to slip into grade two milk which I want to avoid.”

The Fitzpatricks calve two-thirds of their herd from March to May and the remaining third over November and December.

While that is the most profitable calving pattern for their farm, it also means they avoid calving in the muddier winter months.

Twenty years ago, they chose to stop feeding their heifer calves antibiotic milk to restrict development of antibiotic resistance in the herd.

“It might be saving some farmers money now but then it may come back to bite them in the form of antibiotic resistance,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.

“It’s a choice that we’ve made and the proof is in the health of our herd and quality of our milk.”

On the breeding front, Mrs Fitzpatrick chooses their bulls based on profitability but also selects for good mastitis and temperament scores.

Keeping himself and employees trained in the latest milking practices is another investment Mr Fitzpatrick has made to produce top quality milk.

“I’ve completed Dairy Australia’s Cups On Cups Off course and I get all our staff to do it,” he said.

“Before doing the course I thought that I’d learned it all, but I still learned new things which have been helpful.

“We’ve been in the top five per cent for milk quality since 2004, bar one year.

“There’s a large and often underestimated financial gain in achieving these results and it’s personally satisfying for us.”


Why Respiratory Protection Is for Your Prefresh Cows, Too

Why Respiratory Protection Is for Your Prefresh Cows, Too

By Matt Boyle, DVM, Dairy Technical Services, Zoetis

If you hear “respiratory protection,” your mind may go straight to your calves, but do you also think about your prefresh pen?

Just like the first few days of life or at the time of weaning, prefreshening is a stressful time for cows. That stress leads to a depressed immune system and increased susceptibility to harmful respiratory pathogens that can put prefresh health and overall lactation performance at risk. In cattle this can open the door to three major causes of respiratory disease: bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV), infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) virus and parainfluenza 3 (PI3) virus.

Not only do these diseases have immediate effects on your cows, but they also can have lifelong effects on health and productivity. If you’re still wondering why you should prioritize helping adult cattle defend against respiratory disease, consider these two major reasons that impact animal well-being and your bottom line. 

It’s vital to maintaining health and wellness — for the cow and her calf. BRSV continues to circulate in adult cattle, many times undetected, resulting in the transfer of BRSV‑specific maternal antibodies in unvaccinated herds.1 While those antibodies offer some defense against BRSV during a calf’s first weeks of life, that protection is only temporary. Alternatively, vaccinating a prefresh cow against respiratory disease gives her an antibody defense, enabling her to pass maternal BRSV antibodies along to her calf without previously contracting the disease herself and protecting the health of both mother and baby.

It encourages positive production. One study found a significant reduction in milk yield for herds with BRSV-related outbreaks compared with infection‑free herds.2 Diving into more specifics, BRSV outbreaks have been found to increase somatic cell count (SCC) by more than 10,000 cells/mL per cow.2 Applying this to your herd’s production, for every 100,000 cells/mL increase in bulk tank SCC, milk yield has been shown to decrease by 5.5 pounds per cow.*,3

So, when you’re focused on keeping your cows healthy, that provides for increased milk production. Higher milk production can correlate with more profit — about $192 per cow per year, a study by Zoetis and Compeer Financial found.*,3

Ready to protect your herd and your peace of mind? Discover how you can provide your prefresh cows with respiratory protection, here.

New partnerships aim to improve animal feed processes and reduce costs across the US

Ag-tech company Consumer Physics is teaming up with Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Vita Plus and Feed Supervisor to market its SCiO Cup – an instant, portable, lab-grade forage dry matter analyzer. The partnerships with three of the leading dairy industry players in the U.S. are expected to enable the company to reach the 75,000 American farmers with approximately 9 million milk producing cows.

“The agreements we have signed are important milestones towards the large-scale adoption of our technology,” said Damian Goldring, Consumer Physics’ Co-Founder and CTO. Goldring added that “SCiO Cup substantially reduces farm feed costs and is imperative for animal performance & profitability”

DFA is the largest organization of dairy farmers in the U.S. and it is marketing SCiO Cup directly to its 13,000 members. “This is a unique opportunity to help our members improve their processes and profitability by adopting this revolutionary product and measuring dry matter frequently,” said Rene Lavoie, Director of Purchasing and Vendor Relations at DFA Farm Supplies.

Vita Plus provides feed, nutrition, and management expertise to dairy and livestock producers. They use SCiO Cup in their day-to-day operations with dairy farmers and help customers use the tool to best manage their forages throughout the year. “We have begun using SCiO Cup in our own operations and we’re already seeing our customers adopting this easy-to-use solution to ensure consistent dry matter intake in their farms,” said Matt Gabler, Vita Plus sales manager.

Feed Supervisor Software provides feed and inventory management solutions to dairy and livestock producers. “Incorporating SCiO Cup with the Feed Supervisor System takes precision feeding to the next level,” according to Keith Sather, President and developer of Feed Supervisor. “The SCiO Cup technology allows our clients to fine tune their feeding programs by eliminating the inconsistencies associated with weather events.” The company also provides support services to SCiO Cup users.

Consumer Physics will continue with its existing sales operations that began earlier this year with the product launch. The company is also in talks with several other potential partners in the US and worldwide.

SCiO Cup is a smartphone-operated device that transforms feed analysis by enabling frequent dry matter analysis, in just a few seconds. It enables on-farm decision making ensuring consistent dry matter intake and continuous balancing of rations based on dry matter changes. In addition, SCiO Cup can be used on-field for planning silage harvest timing at optimal moisture levels.

SCiO Cup supports dry matter analysis of chopped corn silage (green and ensiled), legumes silage, grass silage, small grains silage, mixed silage, and more. Silage calibrations are seamlessly and continuously updated in the cloud to ensure seasonal and regional accuracy. SCiO Cup also enables users to track past dry matter results, and trends across time, per field or feed bunker/pit.

The product has been developed by Consumer Physics using Near Infra-Red Spectroscopy (NIRS) and it is based on an earlier version that has been completely upgraded after three years of extensive field tests.

Click here for more information about SCiO Cup.

About Consumer Physics

Consumer Physics was founded in 2011 by a team of scientists and subject matter experts. The company developed SCiO, the world’s first pocket-sized connected micro-spectrometer. Utilizing the latest optical, algorithmic, and computer technologies, the company has taken the traditional NIR Spectrometer and miniaturized it into SCiO. Agriculture businesses around the world have successfully integrated SCiO to improve the way they grow crops and harvest them, handle quality control, monitor trends and performance through a powerful connected ecosystem.

Consumer Physics website:

ADC Asks for Congressional Leadership to Stop the Bleeding Caused by the Pandemic

The American Dairy Coalition (ADC), along with more than 40 other agriculture-related associations, sent a letter to Congressional leadership requesting they replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) in their upcoming continuing resolution. This fund has been utilized for years to reimburse programs that provide safety net tools to farmers such as Dairy Margin Coverage, Marketing Assistance Loans and Agriculture Risk Coverage as well as many other programs farmers count on— especially in times of uncertainty. Without CCC reimbursement, the benefits of certain programs farmers rely on could be delayed, putting businesses in additional financial distress.

According to the USDA’s most recent projections, cash receipts could be at the lowest level in more than 10 years. Farmers navigating the fallout of low commodity prices, retaliatory tariffs, global pandemics and natural disasters must have access to safety net programs that allow them to stay financially sound while providing nutritious, safe and affordable food for families across the nation. We urge Congress to heed the request of our fellow signees and include reimbursement for the CCC in their upcoming continuing resolution.

Fall Season is a Good Time to Manage Some Pasture Weeds

Fall is the best time to control some of North Dakota’s most notorious weeds in pastures and other grasslands, according to North Dakota State University Extension specialists.

“Leafy spurge and invasive thistles can be challenging to control in pasture and grasslands due to their extensive root systems,” says Miranda Meehan, Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist. “In the fall, plants begin to allocate energy to their root systems. As a result, fall herbicide treatment maximizes injury to the root system.”

Here is advice on dealing with some of the worst weeds.

Leafy Spurge

“Proper timing of herbicide applications is essential for good leafy spurge control,” says Extension rangeland management specialist Kevin Sedivec.

In the fall, leafy spurge is most susceptible to Tordon (picloram), dicamba (Banvel and other trade names), Facet L (quinclorac), Facet L + Overdrive and Method (aminocyclopyrachlor). Fall-applied Plateau (imazapic) provides better long-term control and causes less grass injury than spring or summer treatments.

The combination of Tordon plus Overdrive also will improve leafy spurge control compared with Tordon used alone. Overdrive contains dicamba plus difluenzopyr, which is an anti-auxin compound that often improves broadleaf weed control when applied with auxinlike herbicides such as Tordon, dicamba and 2,4-D.

To achieve the greatest control, the treatment must be applied at the appropriate stage of development. Tordon, dicamba and Facet L should be applied when the plant has 4 to 12 inches of regrowth. However, Method is most effective when applied at the rosette stage. Overdrive should be applied prior to a killing frost.

Leafy spurge control must be considered a long-term management program, the specialists say. Research at NDSU has shown that more of the root system is killed when a combination of control methods is used, compared with any method used alone.


Thistles tend to invade overgrazed or otherwise disturbed pastures, rangeland, roadsides and waste areas. Fall is the ideal time to treat many on the noxious thistle list, including Canada thistle, musk thistle and bull thistle. If you are unsure of what thistle you have, refer to the NDSU Extension publication “The Thistles of North Dakota” (

Control of Canada thistle is usually greater when treatment is applied in the fall to plants in the rosette form. Herbicides that control Canada thistle in noncropland include products that contain clopyralid (various), Tordon (picloram), dicamba (various), dicamba plus diflufenzopyr (Overdrive), Method (aminocyclopyrachlor) and Milestone (aminopyralid).

Fall is the preferred time for applying herbicides to biennial thistles, such as musk thistle and bull thistle. This allows for application at the rosette stage, when the plants are most susceptible to herbicides.

Herbicides should be applied as late as possible in the fall, but prior to a killing frost, to allow for maximum seedling emergence and rosette size. Seedlings that emerge after spraying will remain vegetative until the following spring and can be treated then.

Biennial thistles can be controlled effectively with Milestone (aminopyralid), Stinger, Transline or Curtail (clopyralid), Tordon (picloram), Method (aminocyclopyrachlor), or dicamba (various) or dicamba plus diflufenzopyr (Overdrive).

Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut tests susceptibility of cattle to COVID-19

The origin and transmission routes of SARS-CoV-2 have not yet been fully elucidated scientifically. To better understand the potential role of farm animals in the corona pandemic, the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI) on the island of Riems conducts infection studies.

This worldwide first experimental study on cattle shows a low susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 and the results have been published on the preprint server bioRxiv.

The zoonotic pathogen SARS-CoV-2 has the ability to infect not only humans but also animals. This in turn makes them a potential source of risk for humans. Within the scope of its official tasks in the fields of animal health and zoonoses, the FLI on the island of Riems has now tested cattle for their susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 in an experimental study following experiments on the susceptibility of pigs, chickens and guinea pigs. The animals were experimentally infected with SARS-CoV-2 via the nasal mucosa.

While no virus replication could be detected in pigs, chickens and guinea pigs, two out of six cattle showed low virus replication and subsequent antibody formation. The other four infected animals showed no signs of infection. No infection occurred in three additional contact animals.

These results suggest that cattle have a low susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 and do not transmit the virus. Therefore, they do not appear to play a relevant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2, nor do the test results suggest that they could be relevant as a source of infection for humans. However, it cannot be ruled out that the pathogen may be able to adapt by mutation.

“Therefore, there is no immediate cause for concern, but we have to keep an eye on further developments”, says Prof. Martin Beer, head of the Institute of Diagnostic Virology at FLI. So far, there is no confirmed case of SARS-CoV-2 infection in cattle worldwide.

Source: BioRXiv

From the October issue Journal of Dairy Science

Postpartum disease and disorders may pose a threat to dairy cows, negatively affecting culling, lactation, and reproductive performance. Approximately one-third of dairy cows have at least one clinical disease (e.g., metritis, mastitis, digestive issues, respiratory problems) during the first three weeks of lactation. Transition from pregnancy to lactation poses the greatest risk for culling or even death in dairy cows. In an article appearing in the Journal of Dairy Science, scientists from Kansas State University made it their objective to characterize associations between periparturient disease and multiple physiological indicators of cow status in transition dairy cows.

The authors assessed ovarian activity, metabolic and production traits, and activity-recorded physical traits of 160 postpartum diseased and healthy dairy cows. Cows were fit with activity monitor ear tags during mid-gestation to monitor ear skin temperature, eating, rumination, and activity. Routine daily monitoring of close-up dry cows and late-gestation heifers took place in addition to documentation of any health disorders. Other factors, such as body condition, rectal temperature, and blood metabolites, were monitored as well.

Cows with disease status had greater concentrations of free fatty acids, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and haptoglobin; greater rectal temperature; and less calcium compared with healthy cows on postpartum days 0, 3, 7, and 14.

“We found that prebreeding body condition score and body weight were greater in healthy cows. Disease also delayed postpartum ovulation, such that the odds for having delayed ovulation were 1.92 times greater in diseased cows than in healthy cows,” said lead author Jeffrey S. Stevenson, PhD, Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, Kansas State University, Manhattan, USA.

Healthy cows were observed to be more active compared with diseased cows and had greater postpartum rumination times. Acute changes in all activities were associated with calving and could serve as predictors of impending parturition based on abrupt decreases in rumination and acute increases in total activity.

The study concludes that disease negatively affects postpartum metabolic profiles and first ovulation and is associated with measurable changes in physical activity.

About the Journal of Dairy Science
The Journal of Dairy Science® (JDS), an official journal of the American Dairy Science Association®, is sco-published by Elsevier and FASS Inc. for the American Dairy Science Association. It is the leading general dairy research journal in the world. JDS readers represent education, industry, and government agencies in more than 70 countries, with interests in biochemistry, breeding, economics, engineering, environment, food science, genetics, microbiology, nutrition, pathology, physiology, processing, public health, quality assurance, and sanitation. JDS has a 2019 Journal Impact Factor of 3.333 and 5-year Journal Impact Factor of 3.432 according to Journal Citation Reports (Source: Clarivate 2020).

About the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA)
The American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) is an international organization of educators, scientists, and industry representatives who are committed to advancing the dairy industry and keenly aware of the vital role the dairy sciences play in fulfilling the economic, nutritive, and health requirements of the world’s population. It provides leadership in scientific and technical support to sustain and grow the global dairy industry through generation, dissemination, and exchange of information and services. Together, ADSA members have discovered new methods and technologies that have revolutionized the dairy industry.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey, and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray’s Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers.

About FASS Inc.
Since 1998, FASS has provided shared management services to not-for-profit scientific organizations. With combined membership rosters of more than 10,000 professionals in animal agriculture and other sciences, FASS offers clients services in accounting, membership management, convention and meeting planning, information technology, and scientific publication support. The FASS publications department provides journal management, peer-review support, copyediting, and composition for this journal; the staff includes five BELS-certified ( technical editors and experienced composition staff.

Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council collaborates with CDCB for October 2 webinar

Join the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council (DCRC) for its next webinar – “Genetic impacts on calving, feed efficiency” – on Oct. 2, starting at 2 p.m. Central time. Ezequiel Nicolazzi and Kristen Parker Gaddis, both with the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB), will co-present during this free, one-hour webinar.

The strides of the U.S. dairy herd in productivity, cow health and overall performance have been fueled by progress in herd management and the rapid pace of genetic improvement. In the past decade, the genomic revolution has forever changed genetic evaluations, dairy cow performance and herd management.

Calving traits and feed efficiency are the emphasis in 2020 for CDCB, which delivers the U.S. dairy genetic evaluations and manages the world’s largest animal database.

Calving traits that previously were problematic in many U.S. dairy herds have been successfully improved through better genetics and management practices. In this webinar, Nicolazzi will describe the genetic trends of dystocia and stillbirth and how CDCB re-scaled the evaluations for Sire Calving Ease and other calving traits in August 2020 to match the observed on-farm incidence rates.

In December 2020, a revolutionary new trait, Feed Saved, will become available in dairy’s genetic toolkit and Parker Gaddis will share how producers can incorporate this trait into their breeding programs. Genetic selection for feed efficiency has been a long-time goal of geneticists and producers alike, with the promise of improving farm profitability and lowering the carbon footprint of milk production.

To register for this webinar, go HERE and follow the prompts. As the webinar time approaches, you will receive an e-mail with information on how to log in to participate. If you are a DCRC member and cannot attend the live program, you may access the webinar HERE after Oct. 12.

Nicolazzi is CDCB’s technical director and leads the delivery of the U.S. national genetic evaluations and genomic predictions, as well as summaries of dairy management information for the U.S. dairy industry. Previously, Nicolazzi worked with various dairy and genetic research organizations in his native country of Italy. Nicolazzi earned his doctorate degree in animal breeding and genetics, as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Universitá Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.

Parker Gaddis, a CDCB geneticist, studied at North Carolina State University, where she received her bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in animal science and quantitative genetics. Her doctorate research focused on the use of producer-recorded cow health information to improve understanding of the genetics behind disease resistance, analysis of the health data, and estimation of traditional and genomic breeding values of dairy animals for common health traits.

For more information about DCRC’s webinars, e-mail Paula Basso, DCRC Education Committee chair, at: or e-mail DCRC at:

The Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council is focused on bringing together all sectors of the dairy industry – producers, consultants, academia and allied industry professionals – for improved reproductive performance. DCRC provides an unprecedented opportunity for all groups to work together to take dairy cattle reproduction to the next level.

Dairy Repro 101: Anatomy and Function in a Dairy Cow

This resource provides a foundational understanding of how the reproductive system functions in a dairy heifer or cow, useful for anyone involved in reproductive management on a dairy farm.

Life of a Dairy Animal (Female)

Credit: Andrew Sandeen, Penn State Extension

To begin a conversation about reproductive management on dairy farms, there are three phases to consider in the dairy female: nonlactating heifer, lactation, and dry period. Efficient management during each phase will generally lead to greater economic returns by minimizing feed costs, maximizing milk production, and capitalizing on the supply of offspring (allowing for strategic marketing and culling practices).

The first phase is the nonlactating heifer phase. This is a long period of time, spanning approximately two years. During this phase, costs to the farm are significant for feed, housing, and labor. Unless a heifer is sold, there will not be any income generated from her until she calves and starts producing milk. General recommendations are to see heifers calve between 22 and 24 months of age to maximize production potential while also minimizing costs. If heifers are managed well, this is usually achievable.

The second phase will hopefully occur multiple times – lactation. During this phase, income should exceed expenses. Goals during this phase are to see a good peak in milk production early in the lactation and then sustained production at profitable levels. Minimizing the length of time a cow is milking for a particular lactation allows for higher average milk production in the herd, as well as a steady supply of offspring, which can be achieved with good reproductive management.

The third phase is the dry period, often lasting about 50 to 60 days between lactations and recurring after each lactation. This phase is similar to the nonlactating heifer phase in terms of no income being generated, but this phase is important for preparing a cow for the following lactation. Managing dry cows to minimize health disorders at the beginning of their upcoming lactation will positively impact future reproductive performance.

Reproductive Anatomy

Credit: photo from Dr. Michael O’Connor, Penn State University; modified by Andrew Sandeen, Penn State Extension

The reproductive tract of a heifer or cow is positioned at the back of the cow in the pelvic cavity just below the rectum, which allows for manual palpation of the tract. This “accessibility” allows for quick and easy artificial insemination (AI), pregnancy diagnosis, and other reproductive evaluations.

Starting from the outside, moving in…

The vulva is simply the genitalia that serves as the external opening into the reproductive tract.

The vagina is where copulation takes place. It is generally lubricated with mucus. It is also where the urethra discharges urine from the bladder.

The cervix serves as a barrier between the vagina (an environment subject to the presence of bacteria and “dirty” things) and the uterus, where a clean, protected environment is critical for embryo implantation and maintenance of pregnancy. The cervix produces mucus during estrus and closes down to serve as a seal during pregnancy.

The uterus provides an environment for an embryo to develop into a fetus and reside until the completion of pregnancy. In cattle, the uterus is composed of one main body connecting two horns.

The oviducts are small and difficult to find in a reproductive tract specimen, but they play an important role in fertilization and transportation of sperm cells and oocytes, both before and after fertilization.

The ovaries, of which there are two (one per uterine horn), are dynamic organs with constant growth and regression of two key types of structures – follicles and corpora lutea (plural for corpus luteum), often referred to as CL.


Credit: photo from Dr. Adrian Barragan and Marcella Martinez, Penn State Extension; modified by Andrew Sandeen, Penn State Extension

The uterus is composed of two horns, each horn corresponding to a specific ovary, and a small body just next to the cervix. The uterine body is the target location for semen deposition during artificial insemination.

Within a couple weeks of fertilization, a viable embryo will become established in the uterus, hatching and implanting itself, where it will stay for the duration of pregnancy.

If a viable embryo does not establish in the uterus, the uterus produces a hormone called prostaglandin (PG) F2α around Day 17 of the estrous cycle which causes regression of CL on the ovaries.


Credit: photo from Dr. Adrian Barragan and Marcela Martinez, Penn State Extension, modified by Andrew Sandeen, Penn State Extension

Oviducts are the passageways between the two ovaries and the uterus. Though small in size, they are the critical for cow reproduction because they are where an oocyte (egg) may be fertilized by a sperm cell to form an embryo.

After ovulation of a follicle, an oocyte is release from the ovary and captured up into the oviduct. The oocyte migrates to an area in the middle of the oviduct where, if viable sperm cells are present, may be fertilized.


Credit: Dr. T.Y. Tanabe, Penn State University

Ovaries are always changing. At times they are small, not appearing as much more than a knot-like structure, and at other times they can double or triple in size. What causes the changes in size? Most commonly, an ovary will increase in size in response to reproductive hormones with the appearance of one or both of two main ovarian structures, a corpus luteum (CL) or a large, fluid-filled follicle. There is no other organ in the body that undergoes as much structural change as the ovaries. There is constant growth and constant regression, both of which sometimes occur at a rapid pace and can continue in a cyclic pattern.

Oocytes (eggs) are housed within follicles on the ovaries, and the total number of oocytes is in constant decline. A heifer’s ovaries have a full supply of oocytes when she is born, with no additional oocytes ever produced. The fate of those oocytes is either a natural death process, which happens to the majority of them, or ovulation.


Credit: photo from Dr. Adrian Barragan and Marcela Martinez, Penn State Extension; modified by Andrew Sandeen, Penn State Extension

Ovaries are loaded with follicles, each of which houses a single oocyte (egg). The follicular cells around the oocyte produce key reproductive hormones while responding to hormones originating in other regions of the body.

During late stages of development, follicles grow and fill with follicular fluid. During these later stages they also produce high levels of estrogen.

Towards the end of the estrous cycle, one or more follicles are able to reach the point of ovulation. After ovulation, the remaining cells of the ovulated follicle are collectively transformed into luteal cells and form a corpus luteum (CL).

Corpus Luteum

Credit: Dr. Adrian Barragan and Marcela Martinez, Penn State Extension

The corpus luteum (CL) is a distinct but temporary structure on an ovary which is formed from an ovulated follicle. In the image above of a bisected ovary, the CL is the round, orange structure at the bottom of the picture.

If pregnancy is established after ovulation, a corpus luteum will remain for the duration of the pregnancy, producing progesterone, an important hormone for maintaining pregnancy.

If pregnancy is not established, hormonal signals from the uterus towards the end of the estrous cycle cause a rapid decline in progesterone production and complete disappearance of the CL within a few days.

Ovarian Hormones

Credit: image from Dr. Rob Lofstedt, Library of Reproduction Illustrations; modified by Andrew Sandeen, Penn State Extension

The image above is an ultrasound image of a cow ovary. On the right (red dashed line), is a large CL. To the immediate left of the CL is a black circle, which is a large fluid-filled follicle. The less distinct line that encases both of these structures defines the edge of the ovary.

These two key structures, follicles and CL, produce important reproductive hormones. Large, fluid-filled follicles secrete high concentrations of estrogen, a hormone important for causing estrous behavior and playing a key role in the process of ovulation. With a function almost opposite of follicles and estrogen, CL produce progesterone. Progesterone is commonly known as the hormone essential for establishing and maintaining pregnancy. It also has a controlling effect on follicle activity, preventing ovulation and estrus behavior.

Pituitary Hormones

Credit: Andrew Sandeen, Penn State Extension

The pituitary gland releases several hormones important for reproductive function. Two important ones to highlight are called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).

Follicle stimulating hormone stimulates follicular growth on the ovaries. It is not commonly used for reproductive management protocols, except for embryo transfer protocols to stimulate development of multiple follicles.

A large surge of LH is the critical event that triggers ovulation of a large follicle on an ovary. This event typically corresponds with larger follicles that are ready to ovulate. Luteinizing hormone also stimulates development and maintenance of a CL.

Another important hormone secreted by the hypothalamus, known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), controls the secretion of both FSH and LH. Treatments with GnRH are common in various reproductive management protocols, especially timed AI protocols, causing a surge of LH and subsequent ovulation.

Prostaglandin F2α

Credit: created by Andrew Sandeen, Penn State Extension with free clipart

Prostaglandin F2α (PGF) is released from the nonpregnant uterus towards the end of the estrous cycle and directly impacts any developed CL on the ovaries. It causes regression of the CL, which is a structural breakdown of the tissue and leads to a rapid decline in circulating progesterone.

Prostaglandin F2α is commonly used in estrous synchronization and timed AI protocols. Two important things to understand are that administration of PGF during the first few days of the estrous cycle when a new CL is developing (or after GnRH-induced ovulation) will not cause complete regressions of the CL, and treatment of a pregnant animal can cause a loss of pregnancy.

Estrous Cycle

Credit: Andrew Sandeen, Penn State Extension

The estrous cycle of a cow, on average, is 21 days long, though it can typically fall anywhere between 18 and 24 days in length. After calving, it usually takes a few weeks for normal cyclicity to be re-established, but from that point a healthy cow should continue cycling until becoming pregnant again.

Follicles, colored yellow (growing) and red (regressing) in the image above, grow throughout the estrous cycle. As the follicles get larger, they produce more estrogen. At the end of the cycle, one or more follicles reach a peak in both size and estrogen production.

The CL that forms from an ovulated follicle, shown as the orange structure in the image above, secretes progesterone, represented as the lighter orange area under the curve. Progesterone, which is high in the middle of the estrous cycle, limits follicle growth and natural ovulation, but once the CL regresses and progesterone declines, the end of the cycle is near and a follicle will likely ovulate within the next few days, starting the cycle over again.

Follicular Waves

Credit: Andrew Sandeen, Penn State Extension

The ovaries have their full supply of follicles at birth, each one containing a single oocyte. Over time, that supply is diminished as follicles grow and either die off (the fate of most of them, represented by red circles in the figure above) or ovulate (the fate of just a select few).

Looking at the cyclical pattern of follicle growth in a mature heifer or cow, a group of small follicles grow over a period of several days, with gradual loss of some follicles and growth to a significant size for a few. Under conditions of high progesterone, all of the follicles eventually die off and a new group begins to grow. This growth has been described to have a wave-like pattern; thus it is common to refer to a heifer or cow as having follicular waves. Interestingly, the number of waves per cycle can vary. There are typically either two or three follicular waves during each estrous cycle.


Credit: Andrew Sandeen, Penn State Extension

If a large follicle is present at the time of a surge of LH from the pituitary gland, typically occurring after progesterone has declined, ovulation of that follicle will usually occur. The wall of the follicle bursts open, allowing fluid and the oocyte (egg) to be released. The oocyte enters the oviduct, where it migrates to the site of potential fertilization.

Back at the ovary, the cells of an ovulated follicle quickly transform into a CL.


Credit: “Reproduction Fertilizing Ovum Egg” from DLF.PT

After ovulation of a follicle and migration of an oocyte into the oviduct, fertilization can take place if viable sperm cells are present.

With natural service by a live bull, semen is deposited in the vagina near the opening to the cervix. With artificial insemination, it is recommended that semen be deposited on the other side of the cervix in the body of the uterus. Either way, sperm cells make their way into the oviduct and to the specific, central region where fertilization occurs. If viable sperm cells don’t arrive at the right time, fertilization will not occur, since an oocyte only remains viable for a few hours.

Timing of insemination is critical for maximizing the odds for fertilization and pregnancy. Ideally, artificial insemination should be performed 4 to 16 hours after the onset of estrus.

After fertilization, muscle contractions in the oviduct aid transport of the developing embryo into the uterus within a few days, where it will reside for the duration of the pregnancy.


Credit: Dr. Michael O’Connor, Penn State University

The length of gestation (pregnancy) in a cow is approximately nine months, typically ranging between 277 and 286 days.

There are several key steps in the early stages of pregnancy.

Around Day 17 after ovulation, a viable embryo secretes a protein called interferon-tau that causes the reproductive system to recognize the pregnancy and stops the release of PGF from the uterus that would occur during a normal estrous cycle, thus saving the CL from regression and allowing sustained progesterone.

An embryo begins the process of implantation into the uterus about three weeks after ovulation and is well established by Day 40 of pregnancy.

A placenta develops that has a different style of attachment than is found in most other species. The placenta attaches to the uterus at numerous locations through structures called cotyledons which create an appearance of many buttons. Cotyledons have abundant blood flow and connective tissue. The umbilical cord starts forming about one month after conception from small vessels at these sites of attachment and is where the exchange of blood between the mother and her fetus occurs.


Credit: Dr. T.Y. Tanabe, Penn State University

Though the majority of bovine pregnancies involve a single fetus, twin pregnancies are not entirely uncommon (commonly around 5%). Twins are typically undesirable because of calving difficulties, effects on cow health, and an issue called freemartinism. A freemartin is a sterile heifer that was born twin to a bull. The reason most heifers born twin to a bull are infertile is because they are exposed to the male reproductive hormones during pregnancy, causing incomplete development of their reproductive tract (as shown in the picture above).


Credit: Dr. Adrian Barragan and Marcela Martinez, Penn State Extension

Calving, also referred to as parturition, is initiated by the fetus. Hormonal changes eventually cause regression of the CL, pelvic ligament dilation, cervical secretions, and muscle contractions. After delivery of the calf, expulsion of the placenta may take several hours, but is an important final stage to allow for recovery of the tract and a healthy start into lactation.

The calving process has three stages: dilation, expulsion of the calf (also known as labor), and expulsion of the placenta.

During the first stage of calving, the cow’s cervix dilates, the uterus begins to contract, and the calf rotates into position for expulsion. This stage is thought to last up to 24 hours. Cues include an engorged udder, leaking of colostrum, and discharge from the vulva.

The second stage begins with the breaking of the amniotic sac and abdominal contractions in the cow as the calf moves into the birth canal. This stage ends with expulsion of the calf. Intervention is needed only if there is a lack of noticeable progress every 15 to 20 minutes, if the cow or calf are showing significant signs of distress, or if the calf is in an abnormal position.

The final stage is expulsion of the placenta. It is a critical step that must be completed before the uterus can begin to recover. When the placenta does not completely detach and is not expelled within 12 to 24 hours, this is a condition commonly called retained placenta and considered a health disorder.

For more details on calving, see our article “Maternity Management Practices in Dairy Farms” .


Credit: Penn State Extension Dairy Team

The ovary is a busy, important place in the dairy cow, playing a big role in reproductive function. It is the starting place for oocytes, which are housed in follicles that grow in a wave-like pattern throughout the female’s lifetime. Corpora lutea come and go after ovulation.

Within a week after fertilization, the uterus becomes home to a developing embryo. What eventually becomes referred to as a fetus develops a placenta that has a cotyledonary attachment to the uterus and spends nine months developing into a calf.

Hormones play a critical role in many aspects of reproductive function. Many of the important ones are produced by the ovaries, the uterus, and the pituitary gland. They control follicle development, ovulation, maintenance of pregnancy, estrous behavior, and many other things.

Source: Penn State Extension

Case Study of a Mastitis Investigation in an Automatic Milking System (AMS)

In November of 2019 we received a call from a farm with concerns about the level of mastitis in their herd. The farm installed 2 AMS (robotic milking) about 3 years prior, at which time they also built a new 3 row, sand bedded freestall barn with drive through feeding.

In late 2018, they started treating more cows for mastitis and reported a poor recovery rate. They defined recovery as absence of abnormalities in milk. Mastitis detection methods consisted of identifying cows with high milk conductivity followed by manual striping and observation of any visible signs of abnormal milk or udder inflammation. Cows identified as having visual signs of mastitis were treated with an intramammary ceftiofur product without knowing the etiology of the mastitis-causing pathogen.

The farm was not initially conducting monthly individual somatic cell count (SCC) testing because they did not have access to an automated sample collection device. In September 2019 they were able to locate a sample device and started measuring SCC of the whole herd monthly. They observed that several cows with high SCC (≥200,000 cells/mL) did not register high conductivity levels.

The farm had been in contact with the milking equipment service personel and their veterinarian to address the high SCC issue. In December 2019, the farmer reached out to Extension to help investigate this mastitis problem.

Milk Quality Situation

Monthly average Bulk tank SCC was consistently greater than 200,000 cells per mL since December 2017 and data for December 2019 is shown in the following table. The level of bulk tank SCC indicated that some cows were experiencing intramammary infections.

Test date Bulk Tank SCC
12/02/2019 284,000
12/04/2019 219,000
12/06/2019 270,000
12/08/2019 213,000
12/10/2019 250,000
12/14/2019 265,000
12/16/2019 298,000
12/18/2019 236,000
12/22/2019 311,000

Bulk tank cultures indicated that both SPC and PI increased between August and November 2019 (Figure shown below). An inappropriate water temperature for AMS cleaning was identified and resolved after which the SPC and PI counts returned to normal values.

In March 2019, the farmer sent three bulk tank milk samples for microbiological diagnosis. These cultures identified the presence of Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus agalactiae meaning that the herd had one or more cows infected with contagious pathogens. The total number of non-contagious bacteria was also identified as an issue with environmental mastitis resulting from stall hygiene and/or udder preparation during milking.

We estimated the prevalence of subclinical mastitis (SM) from individual cow SCC tests (single SCC test ≥200,000 cells per mL) as 24% to 49% of cows between September and December 2019. During this period 26% of cows experienced chronic SM (two consecutive SCC tests ≥200,000 cell/mL). Our goals for the prevalence of SM is <15% of cows and for chronic SM <5% of cows.

We concluded that there were issues with both contagious and environmental mastitis and scheduled a farm first visit to gather more information.

Farm visit

We conducted the following activities:

  • Udder hygiene scoring of all cows using the scoring system recommended by Dr. Pamela Ruegg. 83% of cows were scored as 1 and 2 and 17% of cows were scored 3 and 4. Ideally no more 10% of cows should be classified as 3 and 4.
  • California Mastitis Tests (CMT) was performed in all quarters of cows identified as having SM (n=21), chronic SM (n=12), and fresh (n=1). Overall, we sampled 29% of the herd, and all sampled cows had at least one CMT positive quarter. Milk samples were taken from CMT positive quarters and submitted for microbiological analysis. Quarter microbiology indicated that 76% of samples were positive for bacterial growth and 46% of cows sampled were infected with contagious pathogens (figure shown below).

Our Recommendations

  • Perform SCC tests on all cows.
  • For cows with high SCC counts (> 200,000 cells/ml), collect milk samples from CMT positive quarters and perform culture analysis to determine the pathogen type. Re-sample these quarters 3 to 4 days after initial sample if no bacteria are found.
  • For fresh and low SCC cows, collect 3 series of composite (4 quarters) samples every 3-4 days to ensure you have not missed any infected cows. Discuss with your herd veterinarian fine tuning of this sampling strategy.
  • Send milk culture samples to the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory or other certified lab for microbiological analysis.
  • Develop a method to segregate and/or cull cows infected with Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Develop an individual cow mastitis treatement protocol based on microbiological results of in consultation with the Herd veterinarian. Antimicrobial therapy can be successful against Streptococcus agalactiae but not Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Continue assessing intramammary status by using results from bulk tank microbiological analysis and SCC measurements from the AMS. Talk with your herd veterinarian to develop a plan to monitor intramammary status by using both data.
  • Improve stall maintenance to improve cow cleanliness, especially lower legs, and udder. Use udder hygiene scoring to assess progress.
  • Perform routine checks and maintenance of AMS and associated equipment to ensure proper function.

Adjustment of Farm Management Practices

The barn and pen configuration made it difficult to isolate infected cows. Modifications were made to the barn to enable splitting the herd into two groups. Efficient use of the AMS required that the number of cows in each group be approximately equal. The number of cows infected with contagious mastitis were more than ½ of the herd so aggressive culling of these cows was done at the time of group creation. The farm continued to monitor, and cull cows infected with contagious mastitis from that group.

An automated SCC measurement system was installed on each of the AMS to aid in monitoring the mastitis status of individual cows in the herd. The farm plans to continue perform microbiological testing of the bulk tank and individual cows to identify types of mastitis pathogens and aid in treatement decisions.

Take home messages

  • Continuous monitoring of individual cows and bulk tank milk is necessary to identify the types and prevalence of mastitis in any herd.
  • Pre and post milking sanitization can be performed with AMS technology. Both have several levels of intensity and should be adjusted according to the general cleanliness of udders in the herd. Sanitization will reduce but not eliminate the transfer of contagious mastitis pathogens. It is still necessary to monitor the herd to detect the presence of contagious pathogens.
  • Keeping stalls clean and dry—and thereby udders and teats clean—is the first line of defence for environmental mastitis. Periodic udder hygiene scoring is a good way to assess the effectiveness of stall and bedding maintenance.
  • Some AMS barn designs make it difficult to create isolated groups of cows, should the need arise. Consider this when desiging an AMS barn.


To Niche or Not to Niche? Big Questions Face Dairy Markets


Currently milk producers see milk checks as cash flow and they fear giving up cash flow. And so begins the cycle.  Too much fluid milk. Fluid milk with nowhere to go. Fluid milk ends up being dumped. This repeating cycle has been with us for at least fifty years due to the fact that milk is seen as a commodity.  As a commodity, there is no differentiation between fluid milk products. Every unit is the same as every other unit.  In the competitive market place, a differentiated product is able to stand out from competitors and win the interest of consumers. We can argue the well known health benefits until the cows come home, but we will still be faced with shrinking markets.  Producers need consumers. We can’t afford to stubbornly hold our positions or the day may come when one side or the other withdraws from the fight. Dairy producers need to design their cash flow so that they are not dependant on volume alone for cash flow.

DO HEALTH MIS-PERCEPTIONS CONTINUE TO AFFECT DAIRY MARKETS?                                                                   

When I meet with non-dairy friends, they see all farms through fond memories of fairy tales, nursery rhymes and their relationship with their own pets. Regarding animal care, this last perspective leads some consumers to fall too easily for negative attacks regarding animal treatment on dairy farms.  We need to look at ourselves from their perspective. They don’t produce products from their pets.  They don’t have herds of pets. The idea of herds of the same animal living together or diseases that spread from animal to animal is not usual to their companion animal experience. With enough negative publicity or lack of positive information, consumers may choose another option when sourcing their beverages.


It is up to the dairy industry to explain how milk is different from other beverages. However, we don’t want to be a product that professes difference that the consumer doesn’t accept. Different does not necessarily mean a product is provably better but we must win perceptions. The purpose of advertising and promotion that occurs in our society is to achieve the end result of earning the consumer’s dollar. It is a competition and we must start by recognizing where the competition actually is. We should compete against other non-dairy beverages.  We can learn from those who do the most convincing job?   A good starting question is to ask why many non-dairy beverages try to be perceived as “milk”.  We need to emphasize different taste.  Unique health benefits.  Speak up about the different benefits for different ages of consumers from birth to assisted living. If we continue to be stubbornly undifferentiated, eventually that sameness will drive prices lower and vital consumer support will also decline.


We are all consumers and accept responsibility for the buying decisions we make.  Milk producers can earn new consumers by caring enough to recognize and align our milk products with their real concerns. Creating a brand for milk benefits that show it to be safer, healthier and with a wide variety of tastes that appeal to the whole family. If your current niche differentiation is that you are organic, the time has come to admit that it is not enough.  Organic milk is still fluid milk and simply puts milk in a different commodity market. The opportunity must be taken to differentiate your milk by focusing on specific aspects that are sought by specific markets. Generations before us have promoted healthy milk.  Today the appeal needs targeted outreach to the hearts of all consumers.  Pregnant women.  Babies. School children.  Sports diets. It must start with the recognition that members of households have different requirements and personal preferences from the points of view of health needs, taste, sustainable packaging and ease of availability.  The dairy industry can’t assume that consumers are also not a commodity that has only one profile to appeal to.  As well, we can’t assume that all consumers are well-informed on the differences between the facts and fallacies regarding the production of milk and its impact on health. Where does your milk fill a specific need?


Finding and building a niche market cannot be done for free.  It takes dollars to advertise.  It takes time and money to find the working partnerships.  It takes investment to make profitable changes to the milk delivery line as it moves milk from farm to table.  For this reason, a lack of resources can be the most difficult part of making the transition from commodity to niche product. Wherever your dairy is operating, there are other producers, manufacturers, marketers and retailers. The forward building dairy business will look for the partnerships that not only build their own dairy but the community they serve as well.  Without customers there is no dairy industry. Although I have previously said nothing is free, all dairy businesses have the opportunity to share free virtual content that highlights the health, safety and entertainment value of dairy farming.  Reinforcing a positive dairy milk image is step one. And “Yes!” – I said entertainment value.  With zoos and parks facing the challenges of health and safety, virtual farm experiences from simple to complex, depending on your resources, can fill a niche. Additionally, consumers in restricted times are receptive to experiences to accompany their purchases. Some creative dairy folks are filming virtual calf shows.  There are opportunities to provide experiences from calving to milking lines. At an in-house creative level, dairy kitchen recipes can expand consumer experience and put dairy products on more tables.


Many business analysts us graphics to show the rising trajectory of successful business decisions. We are convinced by rising income, rising production, reduced costs and reduced debt. That’s on paper. In real life, time doesn’t stop to allow us time to see the future more clearly ahead of time and then change the lines to reflect our positive success. We cannot perfectly control the future.  We cannot perfectly control the consumer market. Perfect answers are not needed.  Forward progress is needed.  Having said that, vulnerability and risk come with every change.  From the size of the investment that is needed, to the development of the equipment, people and advertising, progressive dairy producers must face many issues when daring to be different. These factors include weather changes, pests, currency fluctuations, economics and political support or lack of it.  That is the dairy side.  On the consumer side, there is reduced disposable income, marginalized demographics and those who are vulnerable for other reasons during these unusual times.

THREE KEYS: 1. Responsibility. 2. Innovation 3. Relationship   

The dairy milk producer does not exist in a vacuum.  From the cow in the dairy line to milk on the table, each step depends on effective input from numerous other businesses. As the world, as we know it, is disrupted, innovation will be important as a way to find ways to keep the dairy business line operating successfully from end to end.  It is risky to feel that the producer at one end does not need to be connected to consumer concerns at the other end.  Going forward the dairy producer will survive because of a successful direct to consumer relationship. It takes acceptance of this responsibility to start the ball rolling.  Then comes willingness to change and innovate.  All three steps are needed for a dairy operation to begin the process of producing not just fluid milk but also niche products.  Simultaneously, the dairy industry has to have compassion for the reality that many businesses are completely interrupted or closed due to the global pandemic. These closures may not immediately affect your dairy business, however, eventually the domino effect will, at the very least, affect the purchasing habits of consumers. It makes sense to start early to consider what new infrastructure would enhance your longevity in the dairy industry.


 Long before the decision to invest in new niche market infrastructures, a dairy producer considering change needs to allot time for experimenting with milk specializing, learning new techniques that might be necessary and continually analyzing all changes and the resulting effects on improving milk quality. It can take years, and require significant trial and error, to be able to consistently produce milk for an identified niche market. Niche milk quality, rather than supply and demand, should determine prices – but “should” is the key word here.  In theory, consumer will pay premiums for better-quality milk however, price premiums are not guaranteed.  As much as everyone prefers the comfort of a sure thing, today’s business environment means that this surety is unlikely to be achievable.  Through constant evaluation and adaptation, every dairy operation needs to evaluate processes and track data. Tracing of actual results is key to achieving potential markets and improving consumer market penetration.


Reinforcing the reality that no business, dairy or otherwise, can operate totally in a vacuum, specializing in niche markets will mean reaching out to new partnerships and collaborations. Finding a community of viable partnerships is not easy. Many businesses have had tough years based, at least in part, on the new realities of the Covid Pandemic.  On the bright side, there are great reports of innovation and new beginnings.  From new packaging to green manufacturing, we are excited to see the opportunities for new business partnerships to reach consumers in new ways.

Closer to our own milk industry, it is important to recognize that many non-milk beverages are well along the path of marketing to consumers in new ways.  Specialty micro-breweries. specialty sodas and a booming growth in specialty coffees are fiercely competitive in the beverage market.  We can learn from their successes and failures.  Individually, dairy producers need to consider and implement ways to raise the profile of dairy products. This can be undertaken through support of community events, 4H competitions and vulnerable groups, all of which may vary from community to community.  The important point is to earn, learn and give back to the community where you are. The dairy future will have a strong foundation only if if builds on consumer confidence, relationships and interaction.


 In the past volume of production was the priority. If dairy keeps chasing volume, it means also accepting the risk that an outside force could make some dairy operations irrelevant.  We readily acknowledge the uncontrollable impact of forces such as a global pandemic, weather disasters, economic upheaval and politics.  A more controllable possibility is for dairy to adapt and transition toward selling to specialty markets. This means building long-term relationships with buyers and resulting outcomes in milk consumption. There will be opportunities to innovate new products and give dairy a higher profile position. Strong dairy niche markets will provide more stable income and reduced risk. The most important outcome is that the dairy industry will continue to provide safe and healthy food for the entire community.  




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What Do High Producing Herds Really Feed?

Milk production continues to increase due to advances in genetics, forage quality, herd management, cow comfort, increased nutrition knowledge and ration formulation approaches. The highest current record for a Holstein cow is 78,170 pounds of milk in 365-day lactation. This is an average of 214 pounds of milk per day. There are 186 Holstein herds with rolling herd averages of >30,000 pounds of milk per cow for herds that process records through the Raleigh dairy records processing center. These are herds in the Eastand Midwest regions of the U.S. There are 17 of these herds located in New York. Overall, these herds represent 2.5% of the Holstein herds processed through this center. High levels of peak milk production are needed to attain these high levels of milk production. Peak milk production of 104, 134 and 146 pounds perday for 1st, 2nd and 3rd+ lactation cows were reported for herds with a rolling herd average of 34,000 pounds of milk per cow.

There have been previous papers that have examined the rations or feeding practice used in high producing herds (Barmore, 2002; Boterman and Bucholtz, 2005; Endres and Espejo, 2010 and Shaver and Kaiser, 2004). A symposium paper outlined the strategies used to develop rations for high producing herds(Chase, 1993). This paper will use a similar approach with current rations used in high producing herds.


The rations evaluated in this summary are from several sources. Some are from field researchprojects that the Cornell group has conducted or herds we have interacted with. A request was also sent to feed companies and nutritional consultants for current rations of high producing herds. The goal was to userations fed in the last 10 years. The response from our industry partners was very good. Key points on herd selection and data analysis are listed below.

  1. Herd selection criteria:
    1. >95 lbs. milk/cow/day if feeding a 1-group
    2. >100 /cow/day for the high group ration in herds with multiple feeding groups.
  2. All rations were evaluated using the CNCPS 5.5 model. However, if an AMTS or NDS ration filewas provided, the information from these programs was used.
  3. Feed library forage analyses were modified based on forage analysis data provided from the
  4. CNCPS feed library values were used for non-forage feeds and modified only if analytical values were provided with the rations
  5. Dry matter intake and body weights used were from the rations submitted. No modifications were
  6. Milk production used in preparing the summary was the lowest of the ME or MP predicted milk from the CNCPS model. This was done since the input milk values provided with the rations were a mix of actual or targeted milk production. Using the lowest ME or MP milk provided a uniform approach for all herds and
  7. No adjustments were made to the amounts of each feed included in the


Table 1 provides descriptive information on the herds used. Feed efficiency (ECM/DMI) and dailypounds of milk components produced are high compared with lower producing herds. Methane emissions per pound of milk tend to be lower than herds producing less milk per day.

Table 1. Herd characteristics, milk components and methane emissions.

Item High Herds


High Herds


High Groups


High Groups


Number 26   53  
Body Weight, lbs. 1530 1400 – 1650 1557 1400 – 150
Dry Matter Intake, lbs. 59.7 54.2 – 60.3 60.5 50 – 69.8
Milk, lbs./day 104 92 – 128 107 95 – 129
ECM, lbs./day 108.5 98.6 – 125 110.8 98 – 129
Milk fat, % 3.77 3.2 – 4.1 3.7 3.2 – 4.2
Milk fat, lbs./day 4.02 3.7 – 4.05 4.07 3.58 – 4.83
Milk True Protein, % 3.05 2.8 – 3.3 3.06 2.9 – 3.2.
Milk True Protein, lbs./day 3.26 2.87 – 4 3.35 3 – 3.84

Components lbs./day

7.3 6.6 – 8.3 7.4 6.6 – 8.6
ECM/DMI 1.82 1.64 – 2 1.83 1.58 – 2.15


495 441 – 551 493 419 – 585
CH4, g/lb. milk 4.56 4.2 – 4.93 4.45 3.7 – 5
CH4, g/lb. DMI 8.29 7.54 – 9.15 8.15 7 – 9.54

Tables 2 and 3 contain information on the forage and energy sources used in these rations. Conventional corn silage was the primary forage fed in 34 of these herds and groups. BMR corn silage was the main forage fed in 14 herds and groups. Three herds from Israel used wheat hay or silage as the primary forage. A wide variety of energy sources were used (Table 3). There were 3 high herds and 2 high groups that fed no animal or bypass fats in the ration.

Table 2. Forages fed, number of herds.

Forage High Herds (26 herds) High Groups (53groups)
Corn silage 15 46
BMR corn silage 7 24
Legume silage 14 36
Legume hay 8 5
Grass silage 2 6
Grass hay 2 5
Mixed legume-grass silage 5 14
Mixed legume-grass hay 1 3
Straw 6 9
Small grain silage 4 1
Wheat silage or hay 3 1

Note: 12 of the high groups used a blend of conventional and BMR corn silage.

Table 3. Concentrate and fat sources fed, number of herds

Feed High Herds (26 herds) High Groups (53 groups)
Corn grain 23 48
Flaked corn grain 1 6
High moisture shelled corn 7 14
High moisture ear corn 2 5
Molasses 7 12
Soy hulls 8 18
Beet pulp 0 2
Citrus pulp 2 14
Whole cottonseed 14 19
Chocolate/Candy 0 7
Bakery byproduct 2 10
Whey (liquid) 6 15
Sugar (added) 1 11
Wheat midds 3 16
Animal fat 9 24
Bypass fat 20 47

Table 4 contains information on the protein and amino acid sources fed. A combination of soybeanmeal and expeller soybean meal was used in 9 of the high herds and 32 of the high group herds. Ten of thehigh herds used a mix of soybean and canola meal. This combination of protein sources was used in 28 of the high groups. There were no addedmethionine products used in 9 of the high herds and 6 of the high group rations. There was limited use of supplemental lysine products in these herds.

Table 4. Protein and amino acid ources fed, number of herds

Feed High Herds (26 herds) High Groups (53 groups)
Soybean meal 15 38
Expeller soybean meal 17 42
Roasted soybeans 6 12
Canola meal 16 36
Distillers grain 13 19
Corn gluten meal 1 6
Corn gluten feed 7 8
Corn germ meal 0 6
Urea 11 29
Blood meal 10 24
Animal protein blend 3 21
Added Methionine product 16 43
Added lysine product 4 11
Herds not using a methionine product 10 10

Table 5 has information on the nutrient composition of the rations fed in these herds. The mean values for CP, NDF, sugar, starch and fat are like the rations in many dairy herds. However, the wide range of these values between herds is very interesting. Ration CP varies from 13.8 to 18.4% of ration dry matter. Ration NDF levels vary by 5 to 10 points between herds. Ration starch ranges from 20.6 to 33%. There arewide ranges for most of the other nutrients. The average lysine and methionine levels are slightly lower than current recommendations when expressed as a percent of the MP. However, there are large differences between herds in these values. Total ration unsaturated fatty acid intakes are high compared with other herds. The main reason for this is the higher dry matter intakes in these high herds and groups. The CNCPS predicted daily rumen degradability of selected feed fractions is in Table 6. The rumen is actively degrading large quantities of nutrients due mainly to the high levels of dry matter intake.


This dataset provides an insight into the rations used in high producing herds and groups. The quantity of forage fed ranged from 33 to 69% of the total ration dry matter. These herds are producing high levels of milk using a variety of forages and other ration ingredients. Many of the ration nutrient composition values are like the values from other dairy herds. These herds are producing high levels of milk by a combination of factors that allow the cows to attain higher levels of dry matter intake. This result has also been observed in other high herd evaluation studies.

Table 5.    Ration nutrient composition.

Item High Herds High Groups
CP, % of DM 16.9 (15 – 18.4)a 16.7 (13.8 -18.3)
MP, g/day 3143 (2889 – 3604) 3191 (2889 – 3647)
Microbial Protein, % of MP 50.5 (44.4 – 59.4) 50 (44.9 – 56.8)
ME, Mcal 71.2 (65.5 – 83.1) 72.3 (60.5 – 82.8)
NDF, % 30.3(24.9 – 34.1) 30 (25.7 – 35.7)
Forage NDF, % of NDF 72.4 (54.3 – 86.9) 75.5 (51.4 – 87.1)
Forage NDF, % of BW 0.84 (0.65 – 1.05) 0.88 (0.59 – 1.14)
Fermentable Fiber, % of DM 22.2 (18 – 30.1) 22.2 (17.7- 28.4)
Sugar, % of DM 4.55 (2.9 – 8) 4.4 (2.2 – 7.6)
Starch % of DM 26 (21.1 – 29.7) 27 (20.6 – 33)
Fermentable Starch % of DM 19.75 (16 – 23.9) 20.4 (16.5 – 24.8)
Soluble Fiber, % of DM 6.24 (1.1 – 9.6) 5.0 (2 – 8.9)
NFC, % of DM 40.4 (36.4 – 45.7) 40.6(34.8 – 45.3)
Fat, % of DM 5.2 (3.3 – 6.4) 5.1 (3.7 – 6.9)
LCFA, % of DM 4.1 (2.4 – 5.6) 4.2 (2.9 – 6)
Lysine, % of MP 6.55 (5.83 – 7.02) 6.65 (6.2 – 7.1)
Lysine, g/Mcal ME 2.9 (2.57 – 3.26) 2.93 (2.68 – 3.62)
Methionine % of MP 2.3 (1.92 – 2.72) 2.4 (2.09 – 2.76)
Methionine, g/Mcal of MP 1.02 (0.87 – 1.2) 1.08 (0.9 – 1.29)
C 16:0 fatty acid intake, g 271 (100 – 454) 307 (136 – 527)
C 18:2 fatty acid intake, g 425 (279 – 574) 394 (266 – 682)
Total unsaturated fatty acid intake, g 739 (492 – 996) 688 (486 – 975)

a Values in parenthesis represent the range for each nutrient. Table 6. Rumen Degraded Starch, Fiber and Protein, grams/day

Item High Herds High Groups
Starch 5319 (4708 – 6318) 5621 (4320 – 6707)
Fiber 3998 (2372 – 5927) 4153 (3289 – 5947
Total carbohydrates 11910 (10756 – 13533) 12068 (10450 -13868)
Protein 2673 (2318 – 3075) 2641 (1992 – 3276)



Barmore, J.A. 2002. Fine-tuning the ration mixing and feeding of high producing herds.

Proc. Tri-State Nutrition Conf., Fort Wayne, IN. Pp: 103-126.

Boterman, E. and H. Bucholtz. 2005. Feeding practices of high-producing herds in Michigan. Proc. Tri-State Nutrition Conf., Fort Wayne IN. Pp:113-129.

Chase L.E. 1993. Developing nutrition programs for high producing dairy herds. J. Dairy Sci. 76:3287-3293.

Endres M.I. and L.A. Espejo. 2010. Feeding management and characteristics of rations for high-producing dairy cows in free stall herds. J. Dairy Sci. 93:822-829.

Shaver, R. and R. Kaiser. 2004. Feeding programs in high producing dairy herds. Proc.

Tri-State Nutrition Conf., Fort Wayne IN. Pp: 143-17

Source: Cornell

Proper Dry-Off Techniques Matter

Cows are at greatest risk of developing new intramammary infections during the dry period. This is due to a number of factors that influence susceptibility of the udder to new infections during this timeframe,1 as well as failure to reduce bacterial exposure at the teat ends. Reducing bacterial exposure at the teat ends begins at dry-off. Proper dry-off techniques matter.

Follow these steps at dry-off to minimize new intramammary infection risk.

·Make cleanliness a priority. The need for cleanliness when administering a dry cow treatment (DCT) and/or an internal teat sealant (ITS) cannot be overemphasized. Introducing bacteria into the teat ends at dry-off can result in acute mastitis infections prior to udder involution.1 Keep the syringes clean and dry. Wear new, clean gloves and replace when soiled to ensure hygiene.

·Prep each quarter. Start by ensuring each quarter has been properly milked out. Dip all teats with a germicidal teat dip and allow 30 seconds contact time. Dry teats with a clean, dry towel, then disinfect teat ends by scrubbing each with a 70% alcohol-soaked pad, starting with the teats furthest away from you. After cleaning with alcohol pads and visually examining the pads following each teat end scrub, one should not see any color on the pad. The pad should appear white if pre-milking techniques are adequate. If there is color, the teat end is still dirty and should be re-scrubbed until an alcohol pad appears white.

·Use partial insertion. Partial tube tip insertion of both DCT and /or an ITS results in less disruption to the keratinized epidermidis within the streak canal which is needed to form the keratin plug.1 The keratin plug is the cow’s natural barrier to bacterial invasion during the dry period. Insertion depth of the tube also plays a role in infection risk. Compared to full insertion, partial insertion has been shown to reduce new infection risk by 50%.2

·Use blanket or selective DCT. Infuse the teats in the opposite order of cleaning. Following tube tip removal, take care not to touch the tube tip with fingers prior to insertion. Because Gram-negative infections usually self-cure during lactation, Gram-positive infections are the target for DCT at dry-off.3,4 Benzathine cloxacillin, the active ingredient in Orbenin-DCTM, targets and is very efficacious against Gram-positive bacteria. Orbenin-DC is a prescription DCT that offers zero milk withhold post-calving.

·Use an ITS. Since many quarters have a delay or failure in forming an adequate keratin plug during the dry period, an ITS such as ShutOut™ is often recommended to provide an inert internal physical barrier to bacterial invasion of the teat canal and cistern. ShutOut can be used with or without DCT. The use of an ITS alone, or with DCT at dry-off, significantly reduces the incidence of intramammary infections and clinical mastitis post-calving.5 If using selective DCT, an ITS plays an indispensable role in reducing new intramammary infection risk in cows not receiving antibiotic.

·Properly administer an ITS. If used alone or following DCT infusion, scrub the teat ends with a 70% alcohol wipe, starting with the teats furthest away from you. Remove the cap, do not touch the tube tip, then pinch the teat where it joins the base of the udder. Administer in opposite order of cleaning using partial insertion. Infuse the entire contents into each teat end using gentle and continuous pressure on the plunger until contents are fully expressed. At removal, deposit a small quantity of sealant into the teat canal. Do not massage the sealant into the udder following administration. Re-apply a germicidal teat dip as a final step to complete the dry-off process.

·Properly remove an ITS post-calving. At first milking, thoroughly hand-strip every teat beginning at the top of the teat and work downward. Express 10 to 12 strips per teat before applying the milking machine. Bucket milk fresh cows for at least three milkings, if possible, to ensure that most of teat sealant has been removed.

Consult with your herd health veterinarian to create a comprehensive dry cow program. To learn more about Merck Animal Health dry cow products, contact your Merck Animal Health representative or visit

1.Bradley, A.J., Green, M.J. Nov. 2004. The Importance of the Nonlactating Period in the Epidemiology of Intramammary Infection and Strategies for Prevention. Vet Clin North Am Food Anim Pract. 20(30):547-68.

2.Nickerson, S.C. Dec. 1, 1987. Resistance Mechanisms of the Bovine Udder: New Implications for Mastitis Control at the Teat End. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 191(11):1484-8.

3.Arruda, A.G., Godden, S., Rapnicki, P., Gorden, P., Timms, S.S., Aly, Lehenbauer, T.W., Champagne, J. 2013. Randomized noninferiority clinical trial evaluating 3 commercial dry cow mastitis preparations: I. Quarter-level outcomes. J. Dairy Sci. 96:4419-4435.

4.Johnson, A.P., Godden, S.M., Royster, E., Zuidhof, S., Miller, B., Sorg, J. 2015. Randomized Noninferiority Study Evaluating the Efficacy of 2 Commercial Dry Cow Mastitis Formulations. J. Dairy Sci. 99:593-607.

5.Rabiee, A.R., Lean, I.J. 2013. The effect of internal teat sealant products on intramammary infection, clinical mastitis, and somatic cell counts in lactating dairy cows: A meta-analysis. J. Dairy Sci. 96:6915-6931.

Orbenin-DCTM (cloxacillin benzathine intramammary infusion) is a dry cow mastitis treatment with the shortest dry period of 28 days and a short tip to minimize the risk of new intramammary infections. For use in dry cows only. Do not use within four weeks (28 days) of calving. Treated animals must not be slaughtered for food purposes within 4 weeks (28 days) of treatment. For additional information, please see the product label.

Bovilis® J-5 prevents coliform mastitis in early lactation. This low-endotoxin vaccine puts less stress on cows and is the only brand with the endotoxin level printed on the bottle. This product contains oil adjuvant. In the event of accidental self-injection, seek medical attention immediately. For additional information, please see the product label.

Calcium added to acidified prepartum diets for dairy cows benefits future reproduction

Achieving an appropriate calcium balance in dairy cows is critical near calving, but not only to ensure a healthy transition to lactation. According to a new study from the University of Illinois, calcium added to acidified prepartum diets can improve a whole suite of postpartum outcomes, including lower rates of uterine infection and quicker return to ovulation.

“We know that calcium metabolism in dairy cows is very important. There’s research saying that 50% of multiparous cows [those on their second or third pregnancy] suffer some sort of deficiency of calcium,” says Phil Cardoso, associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Illinois.

Cardoso explains that the common practice of feeding an acidified diet prior to calving forces the cow to manufacture and redistribute calcium from her bones. This activation of internal calcium production carries the cow through to lactation, when she resumes consuming calcium in her diet.

Producers commonly feed negative DCAD diets in the weeks before calving, usually supplemented with a small amount of calcium (1% of dry matter). The practice is typically enough to avoid full-blown milk fever, or clinical symptoms of calcium deficiency. But Cardoso says there has been little guidance on how much to acidify the diet to remobilize the optimal amount of calcium and avoid excretion in the urine. He also says no one has tested the effects of adding different concentrations of dietary calcium to the fully-acidified DCAD diet.

“Calcium is important for many cellular processes. Without adequate calcium concentrations, tissues don’t work optimally and are subject to inflammation and susceptible to disease. We wanted to test whether an increased amount of calcium – 2% of DM – added to an acidified diet during the last month of pregnancy could prevent those issues and lead to more favorable reproductive outcomes,” Cardoso says.

His team fed 76 multiparous Holstein cows one of three diets in the month before calving: a control, non-acidified DCAD diet with no added calcium; an acidified DCAD diet (-24 milliequivalents per 100 grams of dry matter) with no added calcium; and an acidified DCAD diet (-24 milliequivalents) with added calcium at 2% of dietary dry matter. The DCAD formulation was mixed with typical forages and corn silage in prepartum diets. After calving, all cows were switched to a typical postpartum diet with 1% of dietary dry-matter calcium.

The researchers then monitored changes in the blood, uterus, ovaries, and pregnancy status at two and four weeks post-calving.

“There was a tendency for cows fed the negative DCAD + calcium diet to get pregnant at a higher rate than cows fed the control diet, but we need to test that in a larger population to be sure of that result,” Cardoso says.

What he is sure of is that cows fed the diet with added calcium took less time to ovulate and had lower levels of uterine infection than cows on the other diets. This was likely due to the fact that cows on the calcium-added diet had more tight junction proteins in the uterine lining; these proteins bind adjacent cells, preventing a “leaky” tissue that could allow pathogens to enter the bloodstream during calving.

“Ours is the first study showing tight junction proteins even exist in the uterus of the dairy cow, and also clearly indicates that added calcium improves their number and function,” Cardoso says.

Cows fed the calcium-added diet also had more favorable disease-fighting antioxidants in the blood and more glands in the uterine lining, which keep the organ clean and produce hormones that can kick-start ovulation. “That could be why we saw better pregnancy rates,” Cardoso says.

He points out that many producers have been using a negative DCAD strategy for decades, but aren’t acidifying the diet enough, taking it to only -5 milliequivalents and not adding calcium, or adding it at only 1% of dietary dry matter.

“We are saying that you need to go to -20 milliequivalents and up to 2% of dietary dry matter for calcium,” he says.

The message to the dairy industry is clear: A negative DCAD diet with added calcium is helpful not only to get through the transition to lactation. It can help improve future pregnancy outcomes in the herd. Cardoso wants to get the message to both nutritionists and veterinarians, who he’d like to see talking to each other more often to create strategies for improved reproduction.


Hospital Pens: Does one size fit all?

I am a big believer in not putting the Hospital and Fresh cows together. I also like having lame cows separated into their own pen if possible. The walking surface and manger should be different for these groups.

So, in answer to the question: No, one size does not fit all.

The other question that arises is, “How many animals should be in the Hospital?” The correct answer to this is: It depends. The average for dairies is 2.5% of the Herd. For feedlots, typically the target is 4% to 5%. The reason for mentioning the feedlot is because if you are raising young stock, my target would be about 4% of all the young stock.

Why so high?

I did a study once about isolating sick calves and treatments. The results showed that if you find one to two sick calves in a pen (the pen size was 21 head), and removed them, then the rest of the pen was okay. However, past that number you end up treating the entire pen.

Clearly isolating helps prevent disease.

The DHI-Plus mobile app from Amelicor does a nice job of showing you the numbers. Here are two examples of real herds.

Herd One


Herd Two


Obviously, these herds are different sizes.

The proper comparison is to use the Percent of the Herd in the Hospital and not the total Number in the Hospital.

I will use the total number… but only to go and look at the pen itself – to determine if it is sized correctly.

One last thought: The way the numbers are presented makes it nice to see if an outbreak is occurring.

Discover More About Health Events by Using DHI-Plus Herd Management Software:

Will 2020 corn silage be one for the history books?

As historic as 2020 has been for life in general, it’s also brought about a silver lining of a seemingly adequate growing season for farmers when compared to years past. However, a ‘near-perfect’ growing season still comes with its necessary tweaks to harvest corn for ideal silage. The weather and environment in which corn is raised is just the beginning of a myriad of management considerations that harvesters should think about when the countdown to chopping whittles down to two weeks or less before go-time.

Current status

“It’s interesting – in years where we have adequate feed inventory and above-average yields, we typically have below-average forage quality,” explains John Goeser, Rock River Laboratory animal nutrition, research, and development director. This spring and summer’s heat units and moisture hit “good” on the growing spectrum, but what may prove great for the plant is actually not ideal for the feedstuff it becomes.

“Lignification is likely to be greater this year, and I’m hearing about above-average grain yields,” says Goeser. “These observations could boil down to less-than-ideal fiber digestibility.”


Goeser shares that lignin is concentrated at the bottom of the corn plant – and as such, high-cutting corn for silage at harvest could help improve the fiber digestibility of the whole-plant corn silage that is made. “High cut means six to ten inches higher than normal – which can be various heights depending on the preference,” states Goeser. “This can go up to two feet high – yielding a feed that is similar to almost snaplage or earlage.”

The nutritional components of corn silage are affected by cutting height. Research has found that in high cutting height harvests, silage quality increased while dry matter yield decreased[1]. Goeser recommends starting from the “normal” cutting height of harvests in years past and going up from there.

Scouting fields is still an essential practice during a good growing year. “Walk corn and look at it from a plant health and condition standpoint,” advises Goeser. If feasible, he also recommends pulling the chopper out a few days early to chop a 100-foot run into the field at two to three different cut heights. “Take samples at each cutting height and send them into the lab for a nutritional measure to dial in your timeline and reap the rewards of expertly timed harvest.”

“Consider using the InField updates free tool for dry matter (DM), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), and starch measures to understand plant maturity as well as moisture in similar regions,” suggests Goeser. Another option is to cut numerous stalks out of the field, at different heights, chop them with a wood chipper or other means, and send a sub-sample to the laboratory.

Goeser also highlights strict attention to both milk line and moisture to time the harvest. “If the milk line advances past maturity, let it go a little further to hit moisture at the right time. Missing moisture and harvesting on the dry side can wreak havoc on the silage quality.” In such cases, he recommends shortening the cut length in an effort to save the crop’s potential.

Opportunities for Iowa corn

As Iowans all face the difficulties associated with the aftermath of the recent derecho storm, farmers, in particular, must look at all options available for their corn crops. “For corn that is snapped off and dead or dying, growers should speak with an agronomist to discuss what they can do at this point,” says Goeser. “Removing the plants from the field is the first priority in this type of situation. If it’s just lodged, corn is incredibly resilient and will likely gooseneck and stay alive.” In such cases, Goeser recommends networking with local grain farmers to help them in time of need, but also potentially salvaging what could be cheap feed. “If harvesting damaged fields in this region, scout the field prior to chopping – being mindful of remnants from the storm while also ensuring no employees are in the field when chopping has commenced.”

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

[1] Ferraretto, L. F., R. D. Shaver, and B. D. Luck. 2018. Silage Review: Recent advances and future technologies for whole-plant and fractionated corn silage harvesting: A contemporary review. J. Dairy Sci. 101:3937-3951.

Cut Dairy Mastitis Treatment Costs in Half by Targeting Gram-Positive Cases

“When we culture mastitis, cases come in three flavors, so to speak: Gram-positive, Gram-negative and no-growth,” stated Stephen Foulke, DVM, DABVP, Boehringer Ingelheim. He says to focus on the first flavor.

“We now know that Gram-negative and no-growth mastitis typically does not require treatment,”1,2 he added. “We could potentially cut up to 60 percent of treatment costs by only focusing on Gram-positive pathogens.”3

A targeted approach

“Targeting and treating Gram-positive mastitis cases can save producers money on antibiotics and discarded milk as well as reduce hospital-pen density,” said Daryl Nydam, DVM, PhD, professor at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and faculty director at Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. “It also demonstrates the dairy industry’s commitment to thoughtful antibiotic use.”

Targeted mastitis therapy is a two-step approach: First, it’s identifying the mastitis-causing pathogen through culturing; then, it’s making a thoughtful treatment decision based on the results.

Step One: Identify the pathogen

For mild to moderate mastitis, culturing helps identify the right animals to treat. “In broad brush strokes, when you culture, the results are generally equally distributed as one-third no-growth, one-third Gram-negative and one-third Gram-positive,” Dr. Nydam explained.

  • No-growth: A no-growth case means that the cow has cleared the infection on her own, and does not need antibiotic treatment.2 “Occasionally, it might be due to a different pathogen like Mycoplasma that doesn’t grow under standard conditions, or an intermittently shed bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus,” said Dr. Nydam.
  • Gram-negative: “A Gram-negative infection stimulates an acute immune response that can cause inflammation and more systemic signs,” he continued. However, most Gram-negative mastitis cases, including those caused by Escherichia coli, will self-cure, and antibiotic treatment will not alter the outcome.1 Not only that, but most antibiotics have limited efficacy against this pathogen.
  • Gram-positive: Gram-positive mastitis cases do require antibiotic treatment, and can become chronic if left untreated. Often, Gram-positive infections stimulate a less-acute immune response that results in prolonged inflammation and localized signs.

Step Two: Make a thoughtful treatment decision

“When looking for an antibiotic, find a product that is effective against Gram-positive bacteria, such as staphylococci and streptococci,” advised Dr. Foulke. “Ideally, the tube has a tip that allows for partial insertion, since long tips can actually drag bacteria up into the teat. Before using any kind of treatment, try to be diligent about properly disinfecting the teat ends with an alcohol pad. We also want a short-duration treatment (1 to 3 days) to get cows back in the tank as soon as possible.”

“A treatment program should be designed in consultation with a herd veterinarian,” said Dr. Nydam. “For any mastitis control program to work, it is important to focus on having healthy, immunologically robust cows that are housed in clean, dry and comfortable environments. We also want to ensure proper milking procedures are in place, which includes cleaning and drying teats before milking, as well as properly maintaining milking equipment. Keeping animals healthy will be far better for the cows, the farmers and the public than any treatment plan.”

Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health

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Making new and better medicines for humans and animals is at the heart of what we do. Our mission is to create breakthrough therapies that change lives. Since its founding in 1885, Boehringer Ingelheim has been independent and family-owned. We have the freedom to pursue our long-term vision, looking ahead to identify the health challenges of the future and targeting those areas of need where we can do the most good.

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Be Safe and Smart Around Silage

Corn silage making season will soon be upon us. It is important to take the time to communicate with employees proper protocols while making silage, along with safe practices around silage piles or silos. A few years ago, I had the privilege to travel with Keith Bolsen, professor emeritus for Kansas State University, for the I-29 Moo University Winter Workshops as we discussed forages. Dr. Bolsen shared some great points with attendees not only on making great silage but also how to stay safe around silage. Professor Bolsen stressed these main areas to consider concerning silage safety.

Safety Considerations


Tractor roll-over’s are a leading cause of accidents and deaths on farms. Due to the steep nature of the piles or the sheer walls that exist on bunkers extra precaution is needed when operating tractors while packing the silage pile. To help with the steep nature of silage piles the recommendation is to utilize a 1 to 3 slope on ends and sides of drive over piles. Tractors should also be backed up piles to help tractors from flipping over backwards on steep slopes. It is suggested to put lighting or rails above the walls on silage bunkers to provide an indication for the location of the edge of the wall. Next is the lack of employees utilizing the safety belt when operating the tractor which causes them to be thrown from the tractor potentially being crushed in a roll-over. Tractors should also be equipped with R.O.P.S. (roll-over-protective structures) which help provide a protective barrier around the person operating the equipment.

Entanglement in silage making equipment unfortunately happens too often. Due to the extensive amount of moving parts including blades, knives, belts, chains, gears and PTO shafts it is extremely important to make sure all shields and safety guards are kept in place while operating equipment. This equipment is extremely large and can now chop twelve plus rows of corn at a time, thus, it is crucial to know where all employees are before starting the equipment and moving forward. Absolutely, do NOT let children play around this equipment.


Falls are another source of injury or death around silage piles. It can occur when climbing up the silo, falling off the side of the bunker, or face of a pile. Make sure all guard rails are properly installed on silo ladders and chutes are in good repair prior to accessing them. Workers need to utilize good practices when there is slippery conditions or wet weather. Care should be taken when removing tires and tarps covering the pile, making sure not to get too close to the edge and fall off. Other types of falls have occurred when employees have slipped out of the bucket of the pay loader trying to access the face of a pile.


Silage pile avalanches are also another source of danger. People should never stand closer than three times the height of the feeding face of the pile to help eliminate potential entrapment in a silage avalanche. To help minimize this risk, silage piles should never be constructed higher than the defacing or unloading feeding equipment can reach the top of the pile. This prevents undercutting which creates a cornice on the top of the silage pile that can potentially collapse entrapping people in the silage. Weak spots can occur between old crop and new crop silage if a pile is “added unto” causing silage to release and break away. Thus, extra caution should be used in these areas of piles. When accessing the pile always start at the top working your way down the face of the pile. Never dig into the pile with the loader from the bottom and work up. Utilizing a tractor or equipment that has a R.O.P.S. installed will also provide extra protection if an avalanche occurs and the cab is entrapped in silage.


When first accessing silos, bunkers and piles be aware of toxic gases that are produced during the fermentation process. Silos typically have the highest risk of these gases being concentrated although they can occur in all types of silage fermentation. These gases include nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4). These gases are toxic and often fatal when inhaled. Typically, the greatest concentration of these gases occurs during the fermentation process in the first 3 weeks after completion of filling the silo. Once a silo is opened for the first time run the silage blower for 20-30 minutes and wear a respirator before entering the confined space. Precaution should also be taken when opening bunkers or piles for the first time as they are also tightly-sealed and gases can concentrate under the tarps.


Southland dairy farmer a fan of ad-lib feeding

For Makarewa dairy farmer Amy Johnston, ad-libbing saves money and time and she says “it’s liberating”.

She has reared calves for 26 years, and for the past 10 years has been using an ad lib feeding system until the calves are three to four weeks old.

She found it more efficient and economic, less time-consuming and with fewer deaths and little illness.

This year she is rearing 250 calves at her and husband Graeme’s dairy farm.

During the first three to four weeks of life, each calf will drink about eight litres of milk a day, as and when it wants.

As the newborn calves come into the shed she gives them their first and most important meal of gold colostrum, and she makes sure they are able to suckle on the calf feeder.

Once they can feed themselves, they are put in pens of 20.

The shed is warm and dry with good quality bedding.

Every morning she fills a 200 litre recycled plastic drum with milk for each pen.

Each drum has been fitted with teats and piping and the calves quickly learn they can drink as much and as often as they want.

“The calves almost rear themselves.”

The calves also have access to hay and meal as needed.

She keeps a close eye on their health.

“As I don’t often go into the pens, I don’t take bugs in and they don’t get upset stomachs.”

The calves are dehorned at two weeks and once they have healed they are let out into paddocks at three to four weeks.

She then once a day feeds them from a trailer feeder.

“They get nice and strong, skipping about and happy.

“It is the best outcome and I am really proud of them.”

The system proved its usefulness when she spent two weeks in hospital in August last year after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Her husband fed the calves using the same system and they did well.

Having MS means she is easily tired and the simpler, less time-consuming system means she uses less energy.

“I am really pleased I am doing it this way.

“You go into the sheds and it is quiet, and they are not distressed or standing there screaming at you as they have a full belly.

“They don’t have sore tummies and they don’t butt you or knock you over to get to the milk.”

Ad lib feeding is easier and less time-consuming for young mums who are often calf rearers.

“It is a busy time and the pressure goes on with the family.”

Johnston has read a study, which said calves start growing udder tissue at four weeks.

Ad libbed calves started growing better udder tissue.

Other studies showed ad libbed calves, as heifers, produced 500 litres more milk in their first year of production.

Source: NZherald

Wearing Gloves on a Dairy Farm

Wearing gloves is a very simple management practice that could help to reduce milk quality issues and limit spreading of contagious and environmental bacteria between quarters and cows.

The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is receiving a great deal of attention due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dairy producers rely on PPE to perform certain aspects of their jobs such as wearing disposable gloves during milking. In a recent article, Dairy Educator Amber Yutzy discussed the importance of gloves to reduce mastitis.

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

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

Mastitis caused by contagious bacteria on a farm is hard to cure and results in loss of milk production and money. Cows infected with contagious mastitis often cause a high bulk tank Somatic Cell Count (SCC). Due to this, producers should take every step necessary to prevent the spread of bacteria to other herd mates or within the udder. Bacteria travel from quarter to quarter via milk on your hands or within the milking unit. To limit the spread of contagious mastitis, milking practices such as milking infected animals last, post milking teat disinfection, universally treating dry cows, and wearing gloves should be implemented on your farm.

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

There is concern that gloves may be more difficult to source due to the pandemic, so what can you do on your farm?

  • Don’t wait until you run out to order more.
  • Review glove usage procedures with your employees and family.
  • – Remind everyone that wearing gloves is not a substitute for proper handwashing and review handwashing procedures.
  • – Post signs to remind everyone to wash their hands.
  • Keep a reserve of gloves dedicated for the highest risk activities including treating sick animals, employees with cuts, wounds, or skin issues on their hands, and for milking cows with mastitis.
  • If possible, milk cows with mastitis last and wash and sanitize your hands afterward.

It is becoming increasingly important to implement good hygiene on farms. Being proactive in preventing new mastitis infections now, will help to decrease the chance of an outbreak. If gloves should become difficult to purchase it is important to follow recommended hand sanitizing practices between all infected animals to reduce the spread of bacteria.

Photo courtesy of Penn State Extension. 

Aspirin after calving can provide relief to dairy cows, increase milk production

Dairy cows that received a short course of anti-inflammatory medication after calving had lower metabolic stress and produced more milk than untreated cows, according to researchers, who say the regimen they tested could be adopted more easily by producers than previously studied treatment strategies.

“Dairy cows experience systemic inflammation and stress around calving, and these responses increase the risk of diseases, negatively affecting the cows’ health and performance,” said lead researcher Dr. Adrian Barragan, clinical assistant professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

An extension veterinarian, Barragan noted that stress and inflammation related to calving can increase the incidence of diseases such as mastitis, an infection of the udder, and clinical metritis, which is a bacterial infection of the uterus that can affect up to 40% of postpartum animals. Previous research suggests that each case of clinical metritis can cost producers about $359, and the total estimated costs of metritis to the dairy industry are estimated at $650 million.

“Decreasing this inflammation and stress could be a potential strategy for preventing disease in early lactation, improving the welfare and performance of dairy cows, and reducing disease-related costs for producers,” he said.

Earlier research had shown that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, can reduce inflammation and increase milk production in postpartum cows. However, these studies involved numerous time-consuming interventions that require extra labor. In addition, treatment length and intervals, ensuring accurate individual drug dosage, and available methods of administration may make these strategies difficult to mesh with modern dairy farm logistics.

Barragan explained that in this study, the research team set out to test a regimen that would be less labor-intensive and less expensive than similar methods used in previous studies. A major goal of the project was to prove the effectiveness of a treatment that would be relatively easy and economical for producers to adopt.

The researchers, who recently reported their findings in the Journal of Dairy Science, hypothesized that cows treated with the NSAID acetylsalicylic acid — better known as aspirin — after giving birth would have lower incidence of diseases, lower biomarkers of metabolic stress and increased milk yields compared to untreated cows.

To test this, 246 cows at a family-owned dairy farm in central Pennsylvania were studied, from calving throughout lactation. The treatment group received two treatments with aspirin, the first within 12 hours after birthing and the second 24 hours later.

The aspirin was administered in boluses, or in pill form, as opposed to previous studies’ protocols in which the drug was pumped into the rumen or injected — methods that are more labor-intensive and time consuming — or mixed in drinking water, which may lead to inexact dosing. Earlier research also called for shorter intervals between treatments and/or longer courses of treatment.

“We found that cows treated with the proposed anti-inflammatory strategy had lower metabolic stress 14 days after calving and a lower incidence of clinical metritis, compared to untreated cows,” Barragan said. “Also, treated cows that had given birth more than once, known as multiparous cows, produced 3.6 more pounds of milk per day during the first 60 days in milk compared to their untreated counterparts.”

Although the published study did not include an economic analysis, he pointed out that the estimated value of this increased milk production for an average Pennsylvania dairy herd of 80 cows — taking into account current milk prices and costs for aspirin treatment and labor — would be about $2,250 annually.

“These results suggest that an easy-to-apply, economical and practical anti-inflammatory strategy after calving may improve the health of dairy cows, enhancing both animal welfare and farm profitability,” Barragan said.

Other Penn State researchers and students contributing to this study were Dr. Ernest Hovingh, extension veterinarian and associate research professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences, Louise Byler, former research assistant in veterinary and biomedical sciences, Alan Ludwikowski, former undergraduate student in veterinary and biomedical sciences, and Stephanie Takitch, former undergraduate student in animal science.

Team members also included Dr. Santiago Bas, of Phytobiotics Futterzusatzstoffe GmbH Bvd, Argentina; Dr. Jeffrey Lakritz, professor in the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine; and Joe Zug and Stacey Hann, of Zugstead Farm, Mifflintown, Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture supported this work.


4 Simple, But Essential Steps to Dry Off Success

When it comes to mastitis, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of milk, which means even the small things can make a big difference. Preventing mastitis infections in the dry period is your opportunity to set cows up for successful production and good health in the next lactation.

Let’s look at what’s at risk if cows calve in with mastitis after the dry period. One study found that cows with a high first-test somatic cell count (SCC) that was greater than 200,000 cells/mL produced an average of 1,583 pounds less milk than cows with a normal first-test SCC.1 Those animals with a high first-test SCC also were:

  • Open 17 days longer
  • Three times more likely to have a case of clinical mastitis
  • Three times more likely to leave the herd

So, how can you avoid these production losses?

By ensuring each step of a comprehensive dry cow program is done, and done correctly. It’s one thing to know what needs to be done, and it’s another to make sure it’s happening in real time in the parlor.

Here are four of the most commonly missed steps that can make or break a dry off program:

1. Clean teat ends completely. This may seem easy, yet many farms simply fail to do it correctly. It is especially important to clean the teat ends prior to administering any products to prevent pathogens from being pushed into the teat canal. Don’t forget to clean teats thoroughly (again) between the application of a dry tube and a teat sealant.

2. Prevent cross contamination. Once a teat is properly cleaned, it’s essential to avoid reaching across that teat end. To avoid cross contamination, employees should work from farthest to closest teats when cleaning, but closest to farthest teats when administering products. Additionally, make sure your employees wash their hands or change gloves between cows to prevent the spread of bacteria.

3. Squeeze the teat base. When applying an internal teat sealant like Orbeseal®, squeeze off the teat canal at its base to prevent the product from entering the udder. Teat sealants serve as a replacement for the keratin plug, so they need to remain at the end of the teat.

4. Tell your employees WHY. Your employees want to do what is best for your herd, but it might be tempting to speed through the process if they don’t understand the importance of each step. During training, emphasize why dry cow management is important for a productive lactation. Then, clearly explain what steps your employees need to take, so they fully understand their role in setting your herd up for success in the dry period.

These steps are crucial to the success of a comprehensive dry off program that includes:

  • Treat: Help clear up subclinical mastitis infections with a dry cow tube.
  • Seal: Block pathogens from entering the udder with an internal teat sealant.
  • Protect: Prevent new mastitis infections with an Escherichia coli (E. coli) vaccine.

Following dry off best practices and utilizing a comprehensive dry cow program can help prevent mastitis and decrease SCC, ultimately protecting your dairy’s productivity.1 Learn more about how mastitis prevention during dry off can help protect your dairy’s profitability. Refer to the ORBESEAL label for complete instructions on proper administration at dry off and removal at freshening.

About Zoetis
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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 precision livestock farming. 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 2019, the company generated annual revenue of $6.3 billion with approximately 10,600 employees. For more information, visit

Does breed type influence methane emissions from cattle?

An Aberystwyth University study investigating the role of traditional and modern breeds of beef cattle in influencing methane emissions has been published in the journal PLOSONE.

The paper Traditional vs Modern: Role of Breed Type in Determining Enteric Methane Emissions from Cattle Grazing as Part of Contrasting Grassland-Based Systems is available online here.

The study was the first to quantify methane emissions for free-ranging beef cattle pastured on common grassland types in the lowlands and the uplands.

Scientists at The Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) collected data from steers of a modern, fast-growing crossbreed (Limousin cross) and a smaller and hardier native breed (Welsh Black) when grazing lowland perennial ryegrass at Penglais Farm in Aberystwyth and an upland mixed pasture located at 540m above sea level, in the Cambrian Mountains.

Overall, any effects of breed type were relatively small compared to the combined influence of pasture type and location.

The amount of methane produced per day was lower for cattle in the uplands, whereas methane emissions per unit of live-weight gain were lower for cattle in the lowlands due to growth rates being higher on the ryegrass.

The lead author, Dr Mariecia Fraser of IBERS, a grazing ecologist specialising in management of upland systems said; “These results will have an important role to play in producing refined carbon footprints for different beef systems. The grasslands found in the hills and uplands of the UK support a variety of ecosystem services, such as biodiversity and landscape character, which are frequently dependent upon livestock farming.”

Cattle and sheep turn forages and poor-quality feeds into human edible foods, but there is an inevitable environmental cost in terms of release of pollutants.

Methane is a significant contributor to greenhouse gases and hence to global climate change. Agriculture is the source of about 38% of total UK emissions of methane, and of this about 85% comes from burping livestock.

Despite the prevalence of pasture-based beef production systems across Europe very few studies have measured methane emissions from grazing cattle.

It is possible that differences in physiology or behaviour could influence emissions from traditional and modern breeds depending on the nature of the herbage being grazed.

The study was carried out as part of the ‘Improvements to the National Inventory: Methane’; a UK-wide collaborative project led by IBERS.

Project leader Dr Jon Moorby said; “The data generated will strengthen the limited evidence base for future policy development regarding climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies within pastoral livestock systems.”


Proper location of solid feed can improve nutrient intake and growth of dairy calves prior to weaning

Dairy producers are feeding dairy calves more milk before weaning, as research has demonstrated that greater milk consumption provides short- and long-term benefits for calves. Encouraging solid feed consumption by calves on high-milk diets, however, can be challenging. Researchers have concluded that gradual weaning solves this problem more effectively than abrupt weaning, but more research is needed to optimize the process. In a recent article appearing in the Journal of Dairy Science, scientists from the University of Guelph studied gradual weaning of 60 calves divided into four groups using two weaning programs and two feed placement locations.

It is unknown whether a step-wise reduction in milk consumption during gradual weaning is better than a more continuous reduction. “It was predicted that small, frequent reductions in milk would be a more natural weaning process and cause less stress,” said lead investigator Trevor DeVries, PhD, Department of Animal Biosciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada. “Therefore, reducing milk by larger quantities in a step-wise weaning program may be more noticeable to the calf and result in more behavioral indicators of stress, such as increased activity and vocalizations.” Improving weaning transition, optimizing solid feed intake to prepare for a solid diet, increasing weight gain, and reducing stress are all important considerations.

The University of Guelph study compared continuous reduction of milk during weaning with step-wise reduction, as well as varying the location of the solid feed. Solid feed was placed next to the calves’ milk source or on the opposite side of the pen, next to their water source. Because cows associate locations with the quality of food located there, the researchers hypothesized that placing the solid feed near the highly desirable milk would encourage solid feed intake.

Contrary to expectations, both weaning programs resulted in similar solid feed consumption, weight gain, and behavioral indicators of stress. As hypothesized, however, calves fed solid feed near their milk supply consumed more solid feed, milk, and water prior to weaning, resulting in 10 percent higher average daily weight gain during that time period. These calves also had greater feed efficiency in the second week of weaning and showed fewer stress-related behaviors once weaning concluded. This work highlighted that further research is needed on weaning strategies, water placement, and how these apply in group housing situations.

Source: EurekaAlert

Dairy cows benefit from fatty acids in early lactation

The benefits of including fat in dairy rations are well known: the energy-dense nutrient is hugely beneficial to meeting increased nutritional requirements as cows simultaneously produce milk while maintaining body condition ahead of breeding. Current research, however, goes to show that understanding the roles of different fatty acids, the building blocks of fat, can significantly improve animal performance. Dr Richard Kirkland, Global Technical Manager for Volac Wilmar Feed ingredients, argues that these findings present dairy producers with opportunities to target specific fatty acid blends according to requirements on individual farms.

“Data indicate key roles for palmitic (C16:0) and oleic (C18:1) fatty acids at different stages of lactation and depending on requirements at farm level,” says Dr Kirkland. “C16:0 is very beneficial in improving milk fat production and yield, but it is now clear that this may be at the expense of body condition and weight loss in early lactation, the knock-on effects of which may include poor fertility.

In contrast, delivering C18:1 to the small intestine, achieved by supplementing with rumen-protected calcium salts, improves total fat digestibility and can enhance fertility through improved egg and embryo development. Unlike C16:0, C18:1 helps partition nutrients toward body fat stores, reducing body condition loss in the critical early lactation period.”

The importance of C16:0 to C18:1 ratio

In a recent study presented at the American Dairy Science Conference in June 2020, Professor Adam Lock’s group from the Department of Animal Science (Michigan State University) assessed the response to Mega-Max, a rumen-protected fat supplement which contains a 60:30 ratio of C16:0 to C18:1 on cow performance from calving through early lactation. During the study, dairy cows were offered a control ration with or without supplementation with the fat supplement from calving until 24 days in milk. From days 25-67 in milk each group was further subdivided into control or supplemented rations.

Throughout the fresh period (days 1-24 in milk), control and fat supplemented cows maintained similar body condition. However, the fat supplemented group saw notable increases in milk fat percentage and yield, resulting in 3.1 kg more energy corrected milk than the control group,” explains Prof Lock.

“Supplementing cows in the fresh period and then throughout the peak period (days 25-67 in milk), had no effect on dry matter intake but increased milk yield by 5.1 kg per day and milk fat content by 0.2%. This led to a significant increase in milk fat yield from 1.76 kg to 2.07 kg per day in control and fat-supplemented treatments, respectively. Crucially, this was achieved without increased loss of body weight or condition score.”

Managing the C16:0 to C18:1 ratio through lactation

This new study goes to show that fatty acid profile through early lactation is key to ensuring that production responses resulting from supplementation with fat do not push the cow into further negative energy balance. John Newbold, Professor of Dairy Nutrition at Scotland’s Rural College argues that these findings highlight the opportunity to manage the C16:0 to C18:1 ratio through lactation. “It is clear that when considering fat supplements for dairy cows, lower C16:0, with higher C18:1, supplements are most appropriate through early lactation to help partition nutrients toward body reserves and prevent excessive body condition loss. Furthermore, providing more C:18.1 to the ovary is beneficial for development of embryos and the improved digestibility provides an additional boost in megajoules,” explains Prof Newbold.

Meeting specific nutritional requirements

When it comes to fat supplements, Dr Kirkland emphasises on the importance of rumen-protection. Rumen-protected fatty acids, such as calcium salt supplements, allow fat to be increased in the diet without negative effects on fibre digestion as is the case with liquid oils or high-fat ingredients such as brewer’s grains.

Rumen-protection is also essential to deliver the unsaturated fatty acids, such as C18:1, to the small intestine for digestion and utilisation by the cow,” concludes Dr Kirkland.

“Working in tandem with sufficient dietary fat supply and most-appropriate fatty acid profiles, rumen-protected fat supplements offer producers the ability to meet specific nutritional requirements at varying stages of lactation to optimise herd performance.”


Maintaining a low percentage of empty cows is key to success

Ensuring cows calve when they should is the focus of the fertility program at the Western District farm of Bruce and Andrea Vallance.

The Vallances concentrate on achieving good fertility in their 800-cow herd at their Nullawarre farm, split-calving the herd to ensure they can utilise available feed and give them enough heifer replacements to sustain herd numbers.

About seven years ago they were experiencing a 20 per cent empty rate and went looking for answers; what they ultimately learned has seen them reduce that figure to about five per cent.

“The fertility issues we had seven years ago that we had to address we could have bred-out with the Friesian breed, but crossbreeding gave us a quick answer to that question,” Mr Vallance said.

“A big part of that was using the fixed AI program. After the first seven weeks we have about 80 per cent pregnant.

“Seven years ago that figure was around the 60 per cent mark.”

The farm’s 60:40 split-calving system has paid dividends.

“This makes whole farm planning much easier throughout the year in terms of managing their labour requirements and resources,” Mr Vallance said.

“It works for us because it means the cows are calving when we want them to calve to utilise the feed, and we get the heifer replacements we need to be a sustainable herd.

“It just makes life easier.”

They have achieved good fertility in the herd over the past seven years through an intense crossbreeding program, using fixed-time AI, lead feeding and by placing an emphasis on industry training programs for staff education.

Mr Vallance credits a shift to a crossbreeding model and their AI program as the main drivers behind their success.

A focus on staff education has ensured that all employees receive training and are across the goals of the herd.

“Isaac, who manages here, we send him to just about all training courses — the cow fertility courses, lameness, all those sorts of ones and he brings that information back to the farm and trains up everyone and make sure those systems are in place on the farm,” Mr Vallance said.

“We have got a younger herd because of fertility because we bring in so many heifers which has kicked a lot of cows out.

“We’ve replaced the herd quite quickly, and you can’t do that without fertility, so now we’re at the stage it can give us some options in the farm business to use some beef bulls to value add to the whole business and diversify a little bit.”

For more information or to hear more about the Vallances’ experience improving herd fertility,

Can Seaweed Cut Methane Emissions on Dairy Farms?

Seaweed may be the super food dairy cattle need to reduce the amount of methane they burp into the atmosphere.

Early results from research at the University of California-Davis, indicate that just a touch of the ocean algae in cattle feed could dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions from California’s 1.8 million dairy cows.

“This is a very surprising and promising development,” said animal science professor and Sesnon Endowed Chair Ermias Kebreab inside the UC Davis dairy barn where he is testing seaweed efficacy with 12 Holstein cows. “Results are not final, but so far we are seeing substantial emission reductions. This could help California’s dairy farmers meet new methane-emission standards and sustainably produce the dairy products we need to feed the world.”

Kebreab’s project is the first to test seaweed on live dairy cattle anywhere in the world.

His team will publish preliminary findings in late June and begin further tests with additional cattle later this summer.

A question of digestion

Cows and other “ruminant” animals like goats and sheep burp continuously throughout the day as they digest food in their rumen, the first of four sections of their stomachs. The rumen is home to millions of microbes that help ferment and break down high-fiber food like grass and hay. This fermentation produces gases that combine to form methane, an especially potent heat-trapping gas.

So, as cattle perpetually burp and exhale, they emit methane. Cows also pass methane gas from the other end, but to a much lesser degree. Manure, too, is a source of methane emissions.

In an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, California legislators recently adopted regulations requiring dairy farmers and other producers to cut methane emissions 40 percent by 2030.

“Since much of a dairy’s methane emissions come from the animal itself, nutrition can play a big role in finding solutions,” said Kebreab.

Molasses, please

Testing supplements in cattle feed is not new. Kebreab and his colleagues at UC Davis and beyond are finding varying degrees of success with a wide range of feed additives. Some compounds work in the lab with simulated cattle digestive systems, but not with live animals. Researchers in England, for example, found success with curry supplements until they tested it with live cattle.

“The cows didn’t like the curry,” Kebreab said.

During lab tests last year, researchers in Australia found that just 2 percent seaweed in cattle feed could reduce methane emissions by 99 percent. The seaweed apparently inhibits an enzyme that contributes to methane production.

Judging from the reaction of the UC Davis cows, the seaweed is so far, so good — especially when cut with a bit of molasses.

“The molasses masks the smell,” Kebreab said, smiling as two Holsteins nudged a gate that opens when it’s time for their next meal. “They enjoy their feed.”

To test seaweed efficacy, Kebreab and animal nutrition graduate student Breanne Roque have separated 12 cows into three groups. Two groups are fed with different doses of seaweed, and one group’s feed has no seaweed at all. They rotate through the two-week feeding regimens with a weeklong seaweed fast in between.

Four times a day, cows get a snack from an open-air contraption that measures the methane in their breath as they eat the treat.

“The numbers we’re seeing are amazing — well beyond the target that farmers will need to reach,” Kebreab said.

Throughout the seaweed diet, the cows’ milk is tested for qualities like yield, flavor and nutritional content.

A love of milk

Sustainable dairy production is not just an academic endeavor for Kebreab. He has loved milk since he was a young boy growing up in Eritrea, a country in the Horn of Africa.

“I was always amazed at how an animal that eats grass can produce such a high-quality food,” Kebreab said. “And I loved the taste. We didn’t get that much — maybe once or twice a week. I wondered, can we find a way to produce enough milk for everyone?”

Kebreab is trying. Among his many projects, Kebreab recently received a $500,000 grant to help improve sustainable livestock production in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, where dairy cattle produce 5 to 10 liters of milk per day compared to the 45 liters that cows in California can produce. He is working with researchers and funding from the University of Florida with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“By improving the quality and quantity of dairy production in developing countries, we help families rise from poverty and malnutrition, and also reduce the carbon footprint of cattle worldwide,” Kebreab said.

If seaweed proves to be a climate-smart supplement, producing it could be environmentally friendly, too. As Kebreab notes, “Growing seaweed doesn’t require land, fresh water or fertilizer.”

But there is still a lot to learn before farmers should consider feeding cattle seaweed.

“We have much more research to do to determine if seaweed supplements could provide a viable, long-term solution,” Kebreab said. “But we are very encouraged by these early results.”


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