Archive for the ‘Conversations’ Category

Conversations: Ask you management team about lagoon management

The 2009 dairy economy was stress enough, but now 2010 is bringing additional environmental regulations. As producers and their advisors meet in the conference room (or kitchen), the conversation will certainly address ways to manage manure.

By Bill Braman, Ph D.

Public relations and regulatory pressures on manure storage and handling are mounting across the country. Odor reduction and solids disposal are two key issues. State and federal regulations will have significant impact on our industry, applying more stringent regulations – especially on large-herd dairies. While many types of manure management systems already exist, one low-cost option is gaining traction: treating manure lagoons with bacteria.

1) How are some of the new EPA regulations going to affect me?

In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set new standards for the treatment of waste on dairy herds of 700+ head. These dairies are obligated to meet updated air reporting requirements. Additionally, these regulations allow for direct EPA intervention if requested by a neighbor or local authority regarding complaints to investigate releases of hazardous substances. For the most part, these regulations shouldn’t affect smaller operations, but as our industry continues to consolidate, these regulations could have a profound impact on how expansion and consolidation plans are drafted. Ask whether or not the new EPA regulations affect your current operation or potential expansion plans.

2) What is the idea behind using bacteria to treat manure?

While there are some bacteria native to manure lagoons, the idea is to supplement this native bacteria with strains specifically selected to accelerate the degradation of solids and odor-producing gasses. The approach is called bacterial seeding, and is fairly common at municipal waste treatment facilities. This process helps maintain a robust bacterial population that breaks down waste through digestion. Discuss the types of bacteria currently growing in your lagoon.

3) Is this type of treatment effective in reducing odors or solids?

Odor is largely due to anaerobic decomposition. Research shows that by increasing the activity level of beneficial bacteria, foul odors can be mitigated. For example, Chr. Hansen Animal Health & Nutrition developed a bacterial manure treatment product proven to reduce odor-producing compounds such as ammonia nitrogen and organic nitrogen. Since the bacteria essentially liquefies the solids, the lagoon can be easier to agitate and pump – and even be pumped lower since there is less risk of clogging. Review how you may save on agitation and pumping time and expenses when solids exist in a more liquid state.

4) Is the bacteria safe for a lagoon?

Lagoons that don’t have adequate amounts of natural bacteria are actually more of a concern than a lagoon with supplemental bacteria. Without adequate numbers of bacteria, a lagoon can accumulate excess solids on the bottom or form a firm top crust, increasing the difficulty and expense to clean the lagoon.

Multi-stage lagoons benefit, in that fluids can flow more easily from one stage to the next – keeping solids suspended longer. Identify how your lagoon could benefit from easier flow and clean out..

5) Can the manure still be used on cropland?

Due to the digestion process, nitrogen binds in the cells of the bacteria. This nitrogen is organic and gets released into the soil as the bacteria break down. In fact, after cleanout, the predigested manure solids absorb into the soil quickly, with less opportunity for caking on the surface. Untreated manure can burn crops if applied incorrectly, and the odor from spreading can be offensive to neighbors. Ask about the nutrient values of bacteria-treated lagoons to learn how this could impact your crop management program.

6) It’s February. Will this treatment be effective in winter?

Fermentation activity is certainly reduced in colder temperatures. However research demonstrates there is fermentation activity in the lagoon even when frozen over. Discuss how much fermentation activity occurs year-round in a lagoon, especially in warmer climates.

6. How much bacteria is needed to be effective?

The treatment protocol is typically designed as a two-step process. The first step is a “shock treatment” of the existing lagoon contents. One cost-saving opportunity is to begin a program right after your lagoon has been pumped – that way less product is needed for the initial shock treatment. The second step is built around an ongoing application (typically bimonthly) that is appropriate for the number of animals, waste and water volume. Ask about calculating the amount of water used for flushing and the total volume in the lagoon to get an idea of how many gallons you would need to treat.


Bill Braman, Ph.D., is vice president of sales & marketing for Chr. Hansen Animal Health & Nutrition. Contact him via phone: 888-828-6600; or e-mail uswbr@ For more information, visit

Conservations: Ask your nutritionist about a TMR audit

Feed is the single greatest operating expense on dairy farms. As producers and their advisors meet in the conference room (or kitchen) to discuss the feeding program, the conversation will turn to how to reduce inefficiencies when feeding and how to better maximize your return on the investment in feed.

By Curtis Harms, D.V.M

Curtis Harms, D.V.M., is Central Region Manager with Diamond V. Contact him via office phone: 712-336-8113, cell phone 712-330-0177; e-mail:; or visit

Every feeding program on every dairy includes a large number of elements that impact the dairy’s overall production and profitability. Well-formulated, well-prepared total mixed rations (TMR) with the right particle length nutritionally lay the groundwork for a well-fed, well-performing herd. The TMR and feedstuffs directly affect rumen health and function, milk production and milk components. The optimization of rumen performance and day-to-day feeding consistency lay the foundation for herd health and dairy profitability.

1) What is included in a TMR audit ?

A TMR audit helps many dairies identify opportunities to advance their feeding program and increase profitability by doing a better job of feeding. A TMR audit typically focuses on the feeding center and daily feeding activities. Factors that are examined include:

Proper use of feeding software, a useful tool in monitoring mixing time, travel time, accuracy of ingredient measurements and ingredient order. Feeding software helps feeders feed more consistently.

How feed is processed in the TMR mixer and the challenges the feeder faces.

The number of trips and travel times needed to get ingredients. Ideally, trips are minimized as the costs of diesel, tire and equipment wear/tear as well as labor add up.

How the bunker face, piles and commodity sheds are being managed to minimize shrink and improve consistency. At some dairies, the use of upright bins may limit shrink from wind loss, birds, tire loss, etc. and, in doing so, pay for themselves.

If defacing and blending forages prior to feeding can create a more consistent ingredient for every pen of cows that day.

Developing a clear harvest and forage storage plan can contribute to the production of higher quality forages to support higher milk production.

The planning of equipment maintenance: what needs to be done, by whom and when. Could a written schedule help get things done on time and help avoid tasks being overlooked or forgotten?

The timing of feed delivery. Fresh feed should be available when cows return from the parlor. Every opportunity to drive optimum dry matter intake promotes profits. Each additional pound of dry matter intake equals 2.5 lbs of milk.

How is inventory management and communication? Can it be improved? Who is responsible for ordering feed? Key ingredients should always be on hand. Plan ahead to make the diets more consistent.

How efficiently is labor used: from mixing feed to opening gates to moving cows.

Ask your nutritionist to evaluate your current feeding practices and identify areas for change or improvement. Discuss and prioritize areas to focus on for better feed management.

2) To what degree is teamwork a consideration?

Good communication among team members is invaluable. Protocols and communication systems should be in place and actively used. For instance, how often do your cows run out of feed? What should night milkers do if feed runs out before morning? How is this communicated to the feeder when it happens? Do you have accurate pen numbers for the feeder every day? How often should workers run moistures? What is the plan if forages get wetter today? What is the plan if excessive refusals occur? What happens to refusals? They have value too.

Ask your nutritionist for input and insights on effective teamwork and communications. Discuss what changes might be appropriate and how your dairy could benefit.

3) What other advantages are there to doing a TMR audit?

Another tremendous benefit to the TMR audit is that it holds the whole team accountable. That is important because optimizing feeding practices, rumen performance and consistency every day is a key component in herd health and dairy profitability.

Decisions should be based on sound science and good data, not one person’s perception. We find that on every dairy opportunities exist to improve in specific areas, but these opportunities require time and focus to identify and act on.

Ask for your nutritionist’s help in developing a plan based on your TMR audit, prioritizing the steps to be taken, presenting it to your team and monitoring its implementation.

Conversations: Ask your veterinarian about pregnancy detection

Early dairy cattle pregnancy detection is critical insight for getting cows bred back timely, keeping them productive and healthy. As producers and their advisors meet in the conference room (or kitchen) to discuss preg-check options, modern technology offers new choices.

By Jeremy Howard

If you know sooner which cows are open, efforts can be made to get them re-serviced earlier in lactation. Modern technologies now offer great pregnancy detection options. Make sure you know the best options, and why they are right for your operation.

1. Why is it important to diagnose pregnancy early?

For most dairy producers, identifying open cows is a critical part of streamlining their herd reproductive program. Once cows have been identified as open, they can be rebred or re-entered into a synchronization program.

Ask your veterinarian to identify the biggest challenges facing your herd’s reproductive program. Ask if earlier pregnancy detection will help address some of those challenges.

2. How will early pregnancy detection help?

A delay in rebreeding will increase the number of days a cow is open, and university experts are beginning to determine the costs associated with higher days open. These expenses include increased breeding costs, a greater risk of culling, higher replacement costs and reduced milk production.

Research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine has focused on quantifying a cow’s net present value in a herd, as well as the additional revenue she would be expected to generate if she breeds back and stays in the herd. According to this research, delays in rebreeding are estimated to cost as much as $3 per extra day open.

Dr. Albert De Vries at the University of Florida has taken a similar look at the impact of reproductive efficiency on overall farm profitability. He has determined the cost per extra day open ranges from $3.19-$5.41 per cow, per day over 90 days in milk, with a major factor being the availability of replacement heifers. For herds without replacements available, the costs can be quite high.

Ask your veterinarian to evaluate herd records to determine average days open, benchmarking your average against other herds. Discuss ways that period can be shortened.

3. What options are there for early pregnancy detection?

In the last 10 years, technologies have become available allowing pregnancy detection to be conducted earlier, post breeding. Traditional rectal palpation can be conducted 35-45 days after breeding. Ultrasound and blood-based testing can be used as soon as 28 days after breeding with accurate results. Incorporating either ultrasounding or blood-based testing into an aggressive reproductive program can improve pregnancy rates and percent of herd pregnant by 150 days in milk, of a dairy herd.

Ask your veterinarian to evaluate the average services per conception and the percentage of animals requiring rebreeding. Of those cattle requiring more than one AI service, what is the average service interval?

4. What are the advantages of these options?

Ultrasound is accurate and rapid, and the outcome of the test is known immediately at the time of testing. However, ultrasound equipment is expensive, and requires training and experience to accurately perform pregnancy examinations. If ultrasound equipment is not owned by the producer, it may require more coordination of both personnel and equipment.

Blood-based testing lets breeders check females easily and more accurately, sending samples to a locally certified lab, and receiving results back in as little as 27 hours.

Ask your veterinarian to evaluate current pregnancy detection protocols. Ask your veterinarian to evaluate if staffing, cow handling systems or facilities are better suited for other pregnancy detection options.

5. How does a blood pregnancy test work?

The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) evaluates the blood (more specifically, the serum or plasma) of a cow for a protein called Pregnancy Specific Protein B (PSPB). PSPB is produced by the placenta, and therefore pregnant animals will have the protein in their blood. The test can be performed as soon as 30 days post-insemination or 25 days after embryo transfer (ET), but cows must be at least 90 days in milk to ensure proteins from the previous pregnancy do not interfere with results.


Jeremy Howard is the sales manager with BioTracking, LLC. Contact him via phone: 208-882-9736; e-mail:, or visit

Conversations: Ask your veterinarian about udder health

Mastitis is the most common and costly disease on dairy farms. Financial losses include lost milk production, treatment costs, discarded milk, reduced quality premiums, labor costs, culled cows and death. Trying to control mastitis is like trying to control the common cold, but a strong management program can keep the number one dairy health issue in check.

Dr. Andy Skidmore is a dairy technical services veterinarian for Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health.

By Dr. Andy Skidmore, D.V.M., Ph.D.

The basics of mastitis management can seem like common sense, but often we need a reminder to not be complacent and to look for areas of improvement. As consumers increasingly question how food is produced, mastitis management, udder health and, ultimately, the quality and safety of milk, become larger issues. Challenge yourself to review your mastitis management practices and find ways to improve the quality of the milk you produce.

1) How can I prevent mastitis in my herd?

It is always better to prevent a disease than to treat one, and this is certainly true for mastitis. The milking parlor and the barn are the two primary areas of mastitis prevention. Strict milking procedures and stall and bedding management should be in place and communicated to all employees.

Ask your veterinarian to review your milking procedures and management practices.

2) Is it necessary to treat dry cows?

The dry period and near calving are the times of greatest risk for mastitis, so dry cow treatment is critical to your mastitis prevention program. Use an approved dry cow treatment with broad-spectrum coverage. Following treatment, ensure dry cows have a clean, dry environment, and monitor cows periodically for swollen quarters.

Ask your veterinarian about ways to improve your dry cow mastitis prevention program.

3) How do I diagnose mastitis, particularly subclinical cases?

Early detection increases treatment success, so it’s important to have a comprehensive monitoring program in place. Milkers should be vigilant in watching for clinical signs in the parlor. Subclinical cases are particularly hard to diagnose because there are no visible signs, so it’s important to regularly test individual cows for somatic cell counts.

If your somatic cell counts and/or cases of mastitis increase or are higher than usual, ask your veterinarian to identify areas you may be overlooking to diagnose both clinical and subclinical cases.

4) Should I treat a clinical case if the culture doesn’t grow any bacteria?

Up to one-third of all clinical cases will not grow any bacteria on culture. If bacteria are not present in the udder, then antibiotics won’t help the cow and therefore she should not be treated. The reasons this could happen include: bacteria have either already been eliminated and the gland is still healing, bacteria were never present, something else caused the inflammation or the sample/culture did not represent the true status.

Ask your veterinarian how to manage clinical cases that do not grow bacteria.

5) How does identifying the bacteria help make better treatment decisions?

In the animal health industry we often say, “Know the bug, know the drug.” In treating mastitis, this advice holds true. If possible, culture milk samples to determine if the bacteria is gram positive or negative. Gram negatives, which represent 40% of cases, do not respond well to antibiotic therapy and should not be treated in the mammary gland. Responsible antibiotic use is critical to the image of the dairy industry and the efficiency of animal health programs, so targeted therapy such as this, should be part of your mastitis management protocols. New technologies are being developed to aid producers in mastitis diagnostics.

Work closely with your veterinarian to identify and treat mastitis efficiently and effectively.

6) How do I know that my mastitis treatment is working?

Evaluating your mastitis management program is an important step in the process. Most importantly, watch for visible signs of improvement at milking time, follow label directions of your treatment and be careful not to over-treat your cows. Evaluate changes in somatic cell counts, milk production, discarded milk, recurrence rates, days of withheld milk, days in the sick pen, etc. Keep in mind cows respond differently depending on age of the cow, stage of lactation, season and genetics.

Ask your veterinarian to review and evaluate the effectiveness of your treatment protocols.


Dr. Andy Skidmore is a dairy technical services veterinarian for Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health. He lives in upstate New York, and can be contacted by phone: 716-474-2715 or e-mail:

Ask your veterinarian about BVD Management

Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) threatens herd health in a number of ways and can have a major negative impact a dairy’s bottom line. As producers and their advisors meet in the conference room (or kitchen) to discuss BVD, the good news is that combining management and a proper vaccination program with new testing methods can make a difference.

By Tom Shelton, D.V.M.

We didn’t know a lot about BVD when it acquired its name in 1946, and after decades of research and experience, we know today it is often associated with underlying a wide spectrum of diseases. These diseases include sub-clinical infections that are manifested in commonly recognized problems like pneumonia, scours, lameness, mastitis, repeat breeding problems, abortion, mummification of the fetus and congenital defects.

Dr. Tom Shelton is a dairy technical services veterinarian for Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health. He lives in Utah and can be contacted by phone: 208-867-3502 or e-mail:

1) When should I be suspicious that I have a BVD problem?

BVD could be the culprit if you notice unexplained animal health challenges or if you run into disease situations beyond the norm.

Ask your veterinarian about additional BVD red flags to look for on your operation and work with your veterinarian to determine if BVD is the underlying problem.

2) I vaccinate my herd regularly for BVD. Why would it still be a problem?

A number of recent studies have looked at the incidence of persistently infected (PI) animals that have been routinely vaccinated. In a number of cases, well-vaccinated herds have had either PI calves or PI lactating cows. While vaccination is critical to BVD protection, if it were 100% effective, we would not be finding this many infected animals.

3) If I can’t count on 100% protection, how can I maximize my vaccination program?

Unborn calves are at risk of developing a persistent infection from 40-120 days of pregnancy. To maximize protection in the dam at this critical time of gestation, an annual booster vaccination should be given 30-45 days post calving. Another common problem that manifests itself as “vaccine failure” may be adding infected animals (or unborn infected calves) to the herd as a result of poor biosecurity measures. For example, it’s common practice to add springer heifers that may be negative themselves for BVD, but are carrying an infected fetus.

To prevent this source of infection, ask your veterinarian about biosecurity measures you should take on your farm.

4) Is BVD a concern after 120 days of pregnancy?

Research has demonstrated that if a cow contracts an acute BVD infection after 120 days of pregnancy, the virus still can infect the unborn calf and have devastating effects. This is called congenital infection, or CI. In addition to a number of congenital abnormalities and abortion, some of these animals are born looking perfectly normal. However, these calves can get acutely sick more than twice as often as unaffected calves, and heifers can be delayed in getting pregnant.

5) What’s the risk of PI compared to CI?

Cows are at risk twice the number of days in gestation for CI compared to PI. For 80 days (from 40 to 120 days), unborn calves are at risk for developing a persistent infection. For 165 days (from 120 to 285 days) unborn calves are at risk for developing a congenital infection.

Talk to your veterinarian about ways to provide fetal protection for the entire pregnancy – for both PI and CI.

6) If we suspect BVD, what testing options do we have?

Testing for BVD within herds and individual animals has progressed greatly. There are now very affordable, accurate tests for bulk milk samples, pooled samples of individual animals and serological monitoring within herds. These new testing procedures have provided a great opportunity to refocus our attention to an insidious problem.

Ask your veterinarian to help you sort out the most cost-effective approach to BVD monitoring and diagnostics.

7) Why is minimizing the effects of BVD so important to the health of my animals?

The way BVD spreads among animals is complex and extensive. It will decrease the overall health of dairy animals and ultimately result in lost production and efficiency. In our quest to raise healthy animals, operate more efficiently and maximize our return on investment, we can’t lose sight of the often hidden scourge, BVD, and remain diligent in our vaccination practices. In addition, new testing methodologies, giving us effective and inexpensive results, have changed the equation for the fight against this costly disease.


Dr. Tom Shelton is a dairy technical services veterinarian for Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health. He lives in Utah and can be contacted by phone: 208-867-3502 or e-mail:

Ask your veterinarian about Heifer Management

Dairy producers are often not capturing maximum value from their heifers. As producers and their advisors meet in the conference room (or kitchen) to discuss heifer management, the first step to getting maximum profit potential from heifers is to establish a set of protocols to ensure heifers are on the appropriate nutrition, vaccination and management programs.

By Doug Scholz, DVM.

Replacement heifers have a tremendous influence on the genetics, profitability and sustainability of dairy herds. Healthy and well-developed heifers provide several economic advantages for producers – they reach breeding size sooner, get to the milking string earlier, have lower rearing costs and a significant financial impact on a dairy’s long-term prosperity.

Doug Scholz, DVM, is director of veterinary services, farm animal business for Novartis Animal Health. Contact him at or visit

1) Why aren’t heifers a higher priority for most producers?

Unfortunately, heifers usually take a backseat to other farm management areas that directly impact short-term cash flow. When milk prices are low and feed costs are high, it’s not surprising that most dairy producers’ day-to-day priorities focus on management areas directly impacting immediate revenue. But history suggests that even in times of high milk prices and economic prosperity, certain management areas are traditionally underserved, and potential profits are left on the table. Heifer management may be the most common example. As an industry, we haven’t been very progressive in establishing standards for managing heifers, and there is a lot of room for improvement in this area.

Talk to your veterinarian about your current heifer management program, identifying areas for change or improvement. Discuss immediate areas of focus to resolve any recurring problem areas.

2) Where could I be losing potential value from my heifers?

Lost value typically stems from a lack of consistency and formalized protocols surrounding heifer management, resulting in diminished growth and inefficient reproduction. Wide variances in heifer growth rates, calving age and health protocols are common, representing  thousands of dollars in lost income potential. These losses are cumulative over the cow’s lifetime and come from poor performance, reduced milk production and extra healthcare costs.

Ask your veterinarian about setting goals for heifer growth rates and body condition scores. Ask about record-keeping tools to help ensure protocols are followed consistently.  Discuss prevention strategies against diseases like Lepto hardjo-bovis that can lead to reproductive failure.

3) What are the most important management factors influencing heifer performance?

It really begins with prenatal care, making sure dams are on a solid health management plan prior to calving. Once the calf is on the ground, the most important management areas are colostrum, growth and development, nutrition, vaccination and/or disease prevention.

Ask your veterinarian about vaccination timing for pregnant cows to ensure protective antibodies are transferred in the colostrum. Talk to your veterinarian about transitioning calves to a postweaning diet designed for volumetric growth.

4) Why is proper vaccination so important for heifers?

One of the most critical elements in a successful heifer management program is an effective vaccination strategy. In fact, proper vaccination is just as important as nutrition in promoting heifer health. What producers might not realize is that calves born to first-calf heifers are significantly more vulnerable to diseases than calves born to older cows. For instance, research has shown that the odds of a calf dying from scours are six times greater when it’s born to a first-calf heifer, as compared to an adult cow. Adult cows that are vaccinated properly have higher antibody levels in the colostrum to pass on to the calf. Heifers, on the other hand, haven’t yet been exposed to antigen loads high enough to stimulate their immune systems, so the level of protective antibodies in a heifer’s colostrum isn’t nearly as high as an adult cow’s. In addition to scours, heifers need effective vaccination against reproductive and respiratory diseases.

Ask your veterinarian about vaccination timing for heifer calves. Protection from respiratory, reproductive and clostridial diseases is needed at two to four weeks of age. Booster doses may be needed at weaning.

5) What is the most critical time for heifer development?

The period from calving to three months of age is without question the most critical time for heifer growth and development. Heifers with a history of disease, insufficient nutrition or overcrowded housing conditions as young calves are likely to perform poorly in both reproduction and milk production. Getting heifers off to a fast start is the key to ensuring they reach breeding condition on time and in good health. Your veterinarian can help you install a heifer management plan to ensure your heifers start quickly and are well-prepared for a profitable role on the dairy.

Ask your veterinarian about grouping calves according to their nutritional and management needs.  Placing three to four animals in a group for one month postweaning allows calves to gradually adjust to group living. Ask about ways to improve calf environment to minimize exposure to viral and bacterial pathogens.


Doug Scholz, DVM, is director of veterinary services, farm animal business for Novartis Animal Health. Contact him at or visit

Conversations: Ask your nutritionist about corn silage quality

Feed costs can represent as much as 60-65% of the total cost of dairy production. As producers and their advisors meet in the conference room (or kitchen), the conversation will turn to evaluating the quality of ration ingredients, especially corn silage.

By Jerry Weigel

Representing a growing share of the typical dairy ration, high-quality corn silage is vital for today’s high-producing dairy herds. But what does “high quality” mean? Here are a few questions to help decipher the results of your silage tests.

1) What are you looking for when you evaluate corn silage quality?

I look at representative (at feeding time) silage samples for moisture, fiber digestion, feed intake potential, crude protein (which could be a real economic variable) and any mycotoxin concerns. I also take into serious consideration the nature of the sample, how representative it is (I cannot emphasize that enough), as well as the lab that did the analysis. Finally, I consider what method was used to determine the quality.

Ask your nutritionist about sampling methods and what steps you can take to ensure representative samples are taken. When you receive your test results, ask your nutritionist to explain your corn silage moisture, fiber digestibility and crude protein levels, and how they fit in your feeding program. Find out if mycotoxins are a concern in your area.

2) What are important factors related to starch analysis?

I have to set a limit (approximately 30%) on the amount of available starch in the total dry matter of the diet. After I have the chemical analysis back, determined the net energy for lactation (NE-L) of the corn silage and found that we have good NE-L without excessive starch, it allows some additional ration flexibility with corn grain inclusions or the use of co-products. Additionally, I need to know the degree of silage fermentation – has the silage fermented for two months or four months?

Ask your nutritionist to explain starch evaluation, especially NE-L. Given the test results of your corn silage sample, is there ration flexibility for inclusion of corn grain or co-products? How does silage fermentation factor into starch analysis?

3) What about fiber?

We have to understand and, maybe more importantly, expect how the rumen will react to a given fiber, based on the forage source. As we learn more about the various fiber fractions and how the rumen reacts to these fractions, we can better predict how the forage will perform in the cow and even evaluate any synergies of ingredients within the diets.

Ask your nutritionist about corn silage fiber test results and how these results translate into rumen dynamics. Ask how corn silage fiber will interact with other ingredients in the diet.

4) How can an accurate assessment of my corn silage feed components reduce my total feed costs?

The historical average incorporation of corn silage into lactation rations on a percentage of dry matter has been around 45%, but recent evidence suggests that we could approach 60% with the right corn silage, one with a high-energy contribution. This is especially true when we have expensive corn prices, and we can increase the inclusion levels of corn silage in our TMRs. For example, if corn grain goes from $3.00/bushel to $4.00/bushel and we price silage at 10x per bushel of corn grain, we could reduce the corn grain in the TMR by 2 lbs./cow/day. In this scenario, the potential feed savings could be in the area of 4¢ per cow per day, just by eliminating 1-2 lbs. of corn consumption.

After evaluating the corn silage test results, ask your nutritionist about current corn silage inclusion rates. Given prices/values for other feedstuffs, could the inclusion rate be adjusted higher to reduce purchased corn costs? Why or why not?

5) What’s the best way to evaluate/predict corn silage digestibility?

Ask the cow! On a serious note, the total understanding of forage digestibility is critical to the economic returns of the dairy. Historically, we have only looked at acid detergent fiber (ADF), but recent information has now led us to believe ADF is a poor predictor of silage digestibility. It is my opinion as a nutritionist that there are three predictors for digestibility (neutral detergent fiber digestible, or NDFD): 1) Animal tests where the test ingredient is fed; 2) In vitro studies where the test ingredient is ground to 1 mm and dry matter disappearance is determined; and 3) In situ digestibility evaluation where the test ingredient is measured (as fed) in rumen fluid and fiber disappearance is measured. If one cannot use the cow, it is my opinion in situ is the best method, as this procedure comes the closest to what the rumen observes.

Ask your nutritionist to explain how predicted forage digestibility is determined, and what implications that has for your herd. Ask how herd performance can be expected to compare to predicted digestibility.


Jerry Weigel   is the manager of nutrition and technical service for BASF Plant Science. Contact him via phone at 919-547-2554 or e-mail:, or visit

Ask your agronomist about ALFALFA SEED SELECTION

Considering the economic hardships experienced by dairy producers throughout last year, alfalfa seed decisions should be looked at differently for 2010, especially when a large variation in product price and performance exists. As producers and their advisors meet in the conference room (or kitchen), the conversation should explore side-by-side comparisons and stress income per acre.

Chad Staudinger is Forage Product Manager, Dairyland Seed Company Inc. Contact him via phone: 608-220-9249; or e-mail:

Chad Staudinger is Forage Product Manager, Dairyland Seed Company Inc. Contact him via phone: 608-220-9249; or e-mail:

By Chad Staudinger

The economic impact of alfalfa seed decisions is overlooked, as the focus continually leads to corn variety selection.  Considering the economic hardships experienced by dairy producers throughout the last year, alfalfa seed decisions should be looked at differently for 2010, especially when a large variation in product price and performance exists.  This large variation in performance may present a considerable opportunity to increase income per acre for dairy operations. Here are some questions to discuss with your agronomist to ensure these opportunities are being explored.

1) How do I know if alfalfa yield differences exist on my farm?

Differences in the genetic yield potential of alfalfa varieties are sometimes overlooked because, unlike corn, often times they cannot be visually observed in the field.  The only method to truly measure alfalfa yield performance is to weigh the harvested material coming from each field.  Side-by-side comparisons are also great but do require measuring the weight of each variety and also accounting for moisture differences to get an accurate record of the dry matter harvested per acre.  Ask if you should be doing a side-by-side comparison on your farm.

2) How much yield variation exists between alfalfa varieties?

When looking at the largest of datasets available from Dairyland Seed, lead selling varieties from various companies with more than 70 reps of data can vary by more than 12% in forage yield.  When looking at the difference between the best and worst variety in one field, however, the differences can be much greater.  Using four years of data from the University of Wisconsin alfalfa variety trials, the average annual difference in yield between the best and worst variety was 21.2% for full production years.  Considering an average on farm yield of 5 dry tons/acre in full production years, this amounts to a yield difference of 1.06 dry tons/acre per year. Ask to see university or third-party data from your area.

3) What does a yield difference of 1 dry ton/acre mean economically?

In order to apply economics to this concept, you must be aware of the alfalfa market in your area.  Let’s consider the value of alfalfa to be $100.00 per dry ton.  This means a yield difference of 1 ton equals $100.00 annually.  If a stand lasts 3 or 4 years, this adds up to an impressive $300.00 to $400.00/acre over the life of the stand.  If a bag of alfalfa seed can plant 2.5 acres, this adds up to $750.00 to $1000.00/bag of alfalfa seed.  Even a 5% increase in yield, or .25 tons/year, can increase your return by $100.00/acre, or $250.00/seed bag in 4 years. Ask about the economic impact of varietal decisions on your operation.

4) Other than yield, what factors should help me decide which variety is right for my operation?

• Disease Resistance. Look for a DRI (Disease Resistance Index) score close to 30.  Make sure the variety shows resistance to all major diseases in your area.  Common diseases in the Midwest include Anthracnose, Aphanomyces, Bacterial Wilt, Fusarium Wilt, Phytophthora Root Rot, and Verticillium Wilt.

• Persistence and Winter Survival. Look for varieties that excel in wheel traffic tolerance, spring green-up, recovery after cutting, and drought stress.  If you are in the northern U.S., pay particular attention to winter survival ratings and choose a variety with a WS rating of 2 or under.

• Forage Quality. Choose varieties that produce dense, fine stemmed alfalfa stands.  This will help ensure your variety has high potential for producing quality forage.  The best way to control the quality of your alfalfa forage is to know the maturity of your variety and to intensively manage your cutting schedule around it.

• Value Added Technology and Traits. Look for options that can increase income per acre in your operation.  Choose technology that increases yield, such as hybrid alfalfa or traits that might help protect yield, such as herbicide resistance or pest resistance.  Quality traits are in the pipeline such as low-lignin and increased tannin expression that may have a significant impact on forage quality in the future.

Ask about the potential for technology or traits in alfalfa to increase your profitability.

5) What about price?

Alfalfa seed prices typically range from $2.00/lb to $7.50/lb.  Considering this price range and a seeding rate of 20 lbs/acre, your seed input cost per acre can range from $40.00 to $150.00.  However, when comparing the $2.00/lb to the $7.50/lb alfalfa, if the higher priced alfalfa yields 1 ton more per acre, the extra cost of the seed is recovered in the first full production year.  Remember that your decision will affect you for 3 to 4 years.  Discuss the importance of value and price before making your alfalfa seed decision.


Chad Staudinger is Forage Product Manager, Dairyland Seed Company Inc. Contact him via phone: 608-220-9249; or e-mail:

Ask your nutritionist about DIRECT-FED MICROBIALS

2010 is here and, given the economic fallout from 2009, hard decisions will need to be made on a number of dairy management fronts. As producers and their advisors meet in the conference room (or kitchen), herd nutrition may be one of the most debated and diverse conversations of all.

By Brad Clyburn

When management discussions with your dairy advisors get around to nutrition, feed additives will likely raise a number of questions. One nutrition conversation that should be on the table concerns direct-fed microbials (DFM). DFMs are getting a closer review, based on their reported benefits in both herd health and production. Since there’s no doubt saving money on veterinary bills and squeezing a few more pounds of milk out of each cow would help your bottom line, here are a few starter questions to explore.

Brad Clyburn, Ph.D., is Key Account Manager with Chr. Hansen Animal Health & Nutrition. Contact him via phone: 817-718-6996; e-mail: or visit

Brad Clyburn, Ph.D., is Key Account Manager with Chr. Hansen Animal Health & Nutrition. Contact him via phone: 817-718-6996; e-mail: or visit

1) What are DFMs?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t allow the term “probiotics” to be used in our industry. For humans, you find probiotics in products you consume every day, such as yogurt and cheese. We broadly call these “beneficial bacteria,” since they contribute to good health and even some levels of immune response. However, there are also pathogenic (bad) bacteria that can negatively affect your health.

Your dairy herd is also exposed to both good and bad bacteria, and their health and performance could be also be compromised. Ask your nutritionist about how these bacteria may affect your cow’s health and performance, much like good and bad bacteria can affect your health.

2) What is the science behind DFMs? How do they work in the rumen?

A DFM is a beneficial bacteria that helps balance the intestinal microflora. In dairy cows, this specifically means managing the amount of lactic acid in the rumen. It’s well known that excess lactic acid in the rumen can contribute to health-related issues, such as acidosis. Certain DFMs have been proven to provide bacteria which consumes lactic acid, thereby helping provide a level of acidic control. Ask about other issues or challenges related to excess lactic acid in the rumen.

3) What benefits will I see by using DFMs?

Research proves that a continual feeding regimen of DFMs can have significant improvements in both health and production. Because the rumen is in better balance, the cow’s dry matter intake (DMI) can improve. The result of increased DMI is better health and production. In fact, research from Chr. Hansen Animal Health & Nutrition demonstrates 3-5 lbs. more milk, along with improvements in fat and protein yields. Ask to see data on this kind of performance, and discuss how improved DMI can positively affect cow health.

4) When should I consider using DFMs?

Continual feeding of DFMs in all groups is recommended, but since each operation is managed differently, you should discuss some of these common scenarios when a DFM can have the most impact:

• at birth. The intestinal tract of newborns is basically sterile, which provides the best opportunity for introducing the beneficial bacteria found in DFMs.

• during weaning or other diet change. At weaning, a young animal’s digestive system is not fully developed to efficiently change from milk to plant-based rations. Additionally, any time the forage changes the cow’s rumen undergoes a period of stress as she adjusts to the new forage.

• during periods of stress. Handling, shipping, vaccination, weather changes and extremes, surgery and other situations can put stress on the animal, resulting in reduced appetite and feed intake and weight loss.

• after antibiotic therapy. Antibiotic treatment often lowers the number or growth of Lactobacillus and other beneficial microbes in the digestive tract. DFMs assist in replenishing these beneficial bacteria, resulting in a quicker return to a balanced intestinal microflora.

• daily feeding. Since many stressful situations can’t be anticipated, daily feeding is recommended as a preventive measure. DFMs have been shown to improve animal performance and health when included in the diet.

5) How do I select a brand?

By law, DFM product labels must indicate a cell count guarantee. Be sure to compare labels for this guaranteed analysis and investigate the packaging. Many products are shipped with live bacteria, but arrive on the farm dead because they were improperly packaged. Good packaging technology can keep bacteria alive without refrigeration. Discuss reputable manufacturers that:

• have a core competency in all aspects of microbiology, including the selecting, growing, harvesting and stabilizing of microbial cultures.

• have food-grade manufacturing facilities that follow FDA guidelines and practices.

• have highly concentrated and stable products that do not require refrigeration.

• meets all HACCP food safety criteria.

• guarantees the level of viable organisms.

• has conducted extensive university research to support product effectiveness.


Brad Clyburn, Ph.D., is Key Account Manager with Chr. Hansen Animal Health & Nutrition. Contact him via phone: 817-718-6996; e-mail: or visit