Archive for June, 2008

Dairy 20/20 –What’s your competitive advantage?

By Susan Harlow, editor
Northeast DairyBusiness

Competitive advantage – what do countries, regions, individual dairies have that gives them a business edge over their competitors? What can producers do to manage that competitive advantage?
That was the theme for Dairy Analysis 20/20, billed as East Meets West Multistate Business Analysis Workshop, which met in Gettysburg, Pa., in June. Now in its second year, the workshop brings together producers from around the country to analyze financial and management practices and exchange information.
The event is organized by Penn State Dairy Alliance, collaborating with Cornell’s PRO-DAIRY program, the University of Florida, New Mexico State University and AgChoice Farm Credit.
Producers from the 12 participating dairies submitted financial data ahead of time. During the meeting, all participants got a chance to analyze each other’s numbers and benchmark their own. The experience was invaluable, several of them said.
“This is where the rubber meets the road with the numbers,” said Lloyd Holterman of Rosy-Lane Holsteins in Watertown, Wis. “Here, we look at specific dairies’ numbers and ask how you got them. You can see the impact on profits.”
Industry benchmarks are helpful but not nearly as useful as seeing financial data from other dairies and being able to ask specific questions about them, he said.
New Mexico producer Doug Hubby, who milks 6,000 cows in the Clovis-Portales area, said he was enlightened by the chance to see production and financial details and talk to producers from other parts of the country.

Competitive advantage – what do you have?

The geographical spread of producers offered a good entry point for a discussion of competitive advantage. For instance, said co-coordinator Brad Hilty of Penn State Dairy Alliance, New Mexico has certain advantages – lower living and facility costs, a consistent, large herd size, a political climate welcoming to dairy. Some are less obvious – the lack of humidity means New Mexico producers don’t deal with liquid manure.
The state also has weaknesses such as high feed costs, much of it due to competing with West Texas dairies for alfalfa. Nor do producers have the opportunity to do much peer-to-per analysis – just what the Dairy 20/20 was set up for.
Pennsylvania, on the other hand, does have a dairy industry active in educating producers. It also has a better milk price and available water and forage.
Competitive advantages are often in flux. “Competitive advantage never lasts,” said Bob Barley, a Conestoga, Pa., producer. “Once it’s repeatable, it’s over. If you’re not moving forward, you’re going backward.”
The competitive advantage now may be shifting to producers who own their own land and can grow their own corn. Oil prices are another catalyst. “Fuel is one factor that has shifted competitive advantage to the Northeast as transportation costs increase,” Hilty said.
He outlined four areas that producers should work to gain competitive advantage: revenue control, cost control, asset control and managerial competence.

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Insure your margin

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the November 2007 issue of Midwest DairyBusiness.

LGM-Dairy will allow dairy producers to purchase “margin” insurance

By Dave Natzke

Most dairy industry experts forecast moderating milk prices in 2008. With volatility in feed costs due to ethanol and export demand and the uncertainty of weather, dairy producers may be looking at ways to lock in profit margins.
One tool available to many producers in mid-2008 will be a newly approved, federally reinsured dairy insurance program run through the Federal Crop Insurance Corp., called Livestock Gross Margin for Dairy (LGM-Dairy).
According to Bruce Babcock, professor of economics and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University who helped design the program, LGM-Dairy will provide protection against unexpected declines in gross margin on a targeted quantity of milk. The critical word in the equation is “margin.” Coverage is not based on a specific milk price or specific feed prices.
LGM-Dairy does not protect milk producers against anticipated declines in milk prices, or increased feed costs, Babcock warned. Nor does it protect against multiple-year declines in milk prices or increased feed costs. And, it does not insure against cattle death loss or any other cause of production loss or damage.

Margin projections
To determine margin, the producer must project the market value of his/her milk, as well as feed costs, on a per hundredweight basis. LGM-Dairy covers the difference between the gross margin submitted by the producer and approved by an adjuster, and the actual gross margin.
The all-milk price will be determined based on the simple average of daily settlement Class III milk futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) for a designated period. Producers will then add any basis, including premiums, to come up with their individual milk price. According to Babcock, Milk Income Loss Contract payments are not included.

Feed cost projection
To accurately determine feed costs, costs must be converted into:
• Energy: tons of corn equivalent
• Protein: tons of soybean meal equivalent
When determining actual feed costs, the corn price will be determined using a three-day average settlement price on Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) corn futures contracts, plus a predetermined basis adjustment that varies by month and state, established by USDA’s Risk Management Agency.
For example, for a policy sales closing date of Feb. 25, the expected corn price for July in Maryland equals the simple average of the Feb. 24-26 CBOT daily settlement prices for July futures, plus the Maryland corn basis for July (+44¢/bushel).
For corn months without a futures contract, the corn price calculation will use futures contract prices for the two surrounding months that have futures contracts, plus the state-specific basis for the month.
For example, for a March 31 sales closing date, the expected corn price for April in Kansas equals the average of settlement prices for March and May CBOT futures contract prices over the last three trading days of March, plus the April Kansas corn basis.
The soybean meal price will be based on CBOT soymeal futures prices. There is no basis adjustments for soybean meal prices.

How much milk?
The final factor is the amount of milk to be covered. A producer can insure any amount of milk for which he or she has adequate dairy cattle to produce, designating a monthly maximum “Approved Target Marketings” total on the policy application. Total milk to be covered must be certified by the producer and is subject to inspection by the insurance company.
Target marketings must be submitted for each month. Failing to submit a Target Marketings Report by the sales closing date for the applicable insurance period means the amount of milk covered for that period is zero.

Ready to purchase insurance
Armed with the projected margin (expected milk price minus expected feed cost per hundredweight), the producer is ready to apply for margin insurance. USDA’s Risk Management Agency will validate price and margin data, and LGM-Dairy policies will be sold on the third to last business day of each month.
Producers have the option of either signing up for month-to-month coverage, or sign up for year-long coverage. There are 12 insurance periods in each calendar year, and each insurance period runs for 11 months. Coverage begins on producer’s milk one full calendar month following the sales closing date, provided the premium for the coverage has been paid in full.
For example, for a July 28, 2008 sales closing date, coverage begins on Sept. 1, 2008 and covers milk produced through July 31, 2009; or the last month of the insurance period in which the producer has submitted target marketings; or as otherwise specified in the policy.
If the end date is on a Saturday, Sunday or federal holiday, or, if for any reason the relevant report is not available on the day of the ending period, then the actual ending value will be based on the most recent reports.
After application acceptance, the producer may not cancel this policy for the initial insurance period.

Premiums, deductibles
Premium cost depends on a number of variables:
• amount of coverage selected
• producer’s marketing plan
• level of futures prices
• amount of price volatility
Premiums are set so that the producer gets out what he puts in over the long haul. In times of high price volatility, premiums will be high. Producers who insure 10 months together will pay less than producers who insure month to month.
As with virtually any insurance policy, dairy producers can select a deductible level to manage premium costs. Producers who insure 100% of their margin will pay more than those who take a deductible. Allowable deductibles range from $0.00-$2.00/cwt., in 10¢/cwt. increments.
The premium for the initial insurance period is due with the application. In subsequent insurance periods, if the premium is not paid in full by the applicable sales closing date, the target marketings will be reduced to zero for each month of the insurance period, and no coverage will be offered.

In the case of a payable loss on insured milk, producers will receive a notice of probable loss approximately 10 days after all actual gross margins applicable for the insurance period are released by USDA’s Risk Management Agency. Producers must submit a marketing report and sales receipts showing evidence of actual marketings within 15 days of receipt of the notice of probable loss.
Payment will be determined by subtracting the actual total gross margin (actual milk price minus actual feed cost per hundredweight) from the gross margin guaranteed by the policy. If the result is greater than zero, an indemnity will be paid.
In the event that the total of actual marketings are less than 75% of the total of targeted marketings for the insurance period, indemnities will be reduced by the percentage by which the total of actual marketings for the insurance period fell below the total of targeted marketings for the period.
Failure to provide written, verifiable records or accurately report actual marketings or other information will disqualify the producer from receiving indemnity payments. Payment will not be made on any milk above the volume designated for the coverage period.

LGM-Dairy will offer producers two advantages, according to Babcock:
• Convenience: Producers can sign up 12 times per year and insure all milk they expect to market over a rolling 11-month insurance period.
• Customization. LGM-Dairy can be tailored to any size dairy.

LGM-Dairy has limited underwriting capacity, and will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Policies will not be sold after capacity is full.
In addition, LGM-Dairy is not available in all states. Producers in 30 states are eligible to participate, including:
• Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
• Northeast: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia.
•West: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

■ Bruce Babcock is professor of economics and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development  at Iowa State University. Contact him via phone: 515-294-6785 or
■ A list of participating insurance companies will be posted on the USDA Risk Management Agency web site,

Producers can insure dairy ‘margins’ in 2009

USDA’s Risk Management Agency announced availability of Livestock Gross Margin insurance for Dairy Cattle (LGM Dairy), beginning with the 2009 livestock reinsurance year.

LGM Dairy protects against loss of gross margin (market value of milk minus feed costs) on milk produced from dairy cows. The indemnity at the end of the 11-month insurance period is the difference between the gross margin guarantee and the actual gross margin (if positive).

The policy uses futures prices and state basis for corn and milk to determine expected and actual gross margin, and may be tailored to any size farming operation.

LGM Dairy is different from traditional options in that it is a bundled option covering the price of both milk and feed costs. Producers can sign up 12 times per year and insure up to 240,000 cwt. per year.

Dairy producers in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming will be eligible for LGM Dairy insurance.

Midwest DairyBusiness carried preliminary details of the program in its November 2007 issue. Find a copy of that article on the MidwestDairyBusiness web site link.

For more information, visit

Is it more than just the summertime blues?

Independent dairy producers tend to think they can ‘power through’ a stressful period. Be aware of signals if conditions are going beyond normal stress on you, your family members or employees.

By Dave Natzke, Editor

Feed costs are high and profit margins are tight. The hay is ready to cut, but there’s rain in the forecast. And your wife’s favorite brother didn’t show up for his shift in the milking parlor – again. Got stress?

We all feel anxious or under stress at times, and mild stress can keep us alert and focused. However, severe stress over a lengthy period can disrupt lives and lead to physical and mental health problems. 

Becky Wittig, business and community outreach coordinator with Mental Health America, Milwaukee, Wis., warned dairy producers attending the 2008 Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Annual Business Conference to be aware of signals if conditions are going beyond normal stress. 

Wittig said it’s important to identify signs of stress and specific stressors, and learn methods for a balanced life.

“Stress is an adaptive response in which a person’s body and mind prepares or adjusts to a threatening situation,” Wittig said. 

Stress may result as a reaction to relationships, responsibilities, losses, expectations, change, lack of recognition or unexpected interruptions. 

There are both good and bad kinds of stress, but the body can’t tell which is which, so it reacts in the same way. Physical reactions include release of stress hormones, increased alertness, eyes dilate, heart rates increase and digestion decreases. Blood flow decreases to the stomach, but increases to the legs and arms to prepare for the “flight or fight” reaction.

“A natural part of life, stress is also in the eyes of the beholder,” Wittig said.

Stress-hardy individuals view stressors as challenges and opportunities, feel in control of there circumstances and perceive they have resources to make choices and influence events. They generally have a good social support system and have an exercise routine, regular sleep patterns and a healthy diet.

But what about those less stress hardy?

“Bad” stress, or distress, can be acute (short duration) or chronic (long duration). Symptoms may include fatigue, irritability, headaches, muscle loss and lack of focus or function. People under stress are more prone to accidents and injury.

The hazards of chronic stress may include a weakening of the immune system resulting in a number of health issues, from allergies and ulcers to headaches, asthma and high blood pressure. When not handled properly, stress can trigger or compound issues related to mental illness, including depression or anxiety disorders.



“Depression is more than the blues,” Wittig said. “When the ‘down’ mood lasts for more than a couple weeks, the condition may be clinical depression, a serious and common illness that affects how you think and feel mentally and physically.”


Signs of depression include:

• nervousness or “empty” feeling

• feelings of guilt or worthlessness

• feeling tired or run down

• feeling restless or irritable

• don’t enjoy the things you used to

• feel like nobody loves you

• feel like life is not worth living

• sleep or eat more/less than usual

• have persistent aches and pains

If you, a family member or employee are affected by five or more of these for periods of two weeks or more, it’s time to seek medical help, Wittig advised.


Stress or anxiety disorders

Wittig said anxiety disorders – overwhelming fears that are chronic, unrelenting and progressive – grow worse in stressful conditions, interfering with occupational or social functioning. It’s the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting more than 40 million people. Causes may include: physical/genetic preconditions; highly stressful life expectations; unhealthy lifestyle choices; acute or chronic physical health problems; or underdeveloped stress management skills.

Mental health disorders – depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and/or substance abuse or dependence – may and do occur at the same time.

Mental illness changes the person’s thinking, feeling or behavior (or all three) and that causes the person distress and difficulty to function, interfering with carrying out daily activities.

“There are lots of misconceptions and misinformation regarding mental illness,” Wittig said. Admitting to being affected by mental illness carries a public stigma.

Mental illness is real, common and treatable, Wittig explained. It actually has a better ratio of treatment success than heart disease, she said. However, because most people – especially independent business managers – believe they can “tough their way through it,” two-thirds of those affected do not seek treatment.

What can you do if an employee or family member exhibits signs of depression or anxiety disorders? 

Be aware of the signs, and educate yourself and others about the illness, symptoms and treatments, said Wittig. Help the person get appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Offer support, reassurance and hope, and have realistic expectations.


Managing stress

Mental health – and mental illness – ebb and flow throughout the day, depending on the introduction or relief of stressors. To manage stress, Wittig suggested the following:

• plan ahead. Eliminate activities that are unnecessary.

• set limits. Learn to say “no.”

• list tasks and prioritize them. Do one thing at a time.

• deal with the “basics.”

• develop a list of things that fulfill you, and another list of things that “drain” you. Focus on the first list, and be aware of the second.

• refrain from negative thinking.

• take time for yourself.

• share your feelings

• maintain a circle of support

To manage work stress, take quiet time for reflection and preparation; take occasional breaks; emphasize communication; focus on what you are eating and what you are listening to. Take time to wind down or slow down.

Finally, Wittig said, focus on the things you can control.

“Most of the troubles we bring on ourselves are things we worry about that we can’t control. Worry about the things you can control.”




• Becky Wittig serves as the business and community outreach coordinator with Mental Health America, Milwaukee, Wis. Phone: 414-276-3122 or 877-642-4630. E-mail: Web site:

• Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) is a dairy-producer founded organization that provides educational programs and services to fellow dairy producers. Phone: 800-947-7379. Web site:




Behavior Studies: Thinking like a cow in a freestall barn

By Ron Goble

Thinking like a cow doesn’t come easy for your typical dairyman. So it’s not surprising that housing for dairy cows isn’t always designed or maintained in an adequate manner, according to a university researcher speaking at the 2008 High Plains Dairy Conference in Albuquerque, NM.

“Producers spend millions of dollars building indoor housing for dairy cattle, with the aim of providing a comfortable environment for their animals – one that ensures adequate rest, protection from climatic extremes, and free access to an appropriate, well-balanced diet,” said Marina von Keyserlingk, associate professor in the University of British Columbia’s Animal Welfare Program located in Vancouver, Canada.

 “Despite these laudable aims, housing systems do not always function well from the perspective of the cow; as poorly designed and maintained facilities can cause injuries, increase the risk of disease, and increase competition among herd mates for access to feeding and lying space,” von Keyserlingk said.

She and colleague Dan Weary lead the largest research group in North America focusing on improving the welfare of dairy cattle. In Albuquerque she reviewed a number of studies that they have completed over the last 10 years, focusing on issues surrounding the design and management of feeding, standing, and lying areas provided to dairy cows in modern freestall barns. Their research shows how knowledge of cow behavior can help improve design and management of freestall housing to prevent some of the problems associated with the systems.

Von Keserlingk grew up on a cattle ranch and following her doctorate in animal science, worked in the feed industry for seven years before returning to academia as a faculty member in the Animal Welfare Program in 2002. The mandate of the UBC Animal Welfare Program is to develop practical science-based solutions to improve the health, longevity, productivity and well being of dairy cattle.

“Despite decades of research on transition cows, we still have 30% to 50% of cows getting sick around calving. Not only is this a welfare concern for the cow but it doesn’t help the cow’s productivity and it certainly doesn’t help the producers’ bottom line,” she said.

Managing disease is something dairy producers have to deal with every day. The consequences of disease result in reduced milk production, reduced reproductive efficiency,reduce longevity, involuntary culling, lost revenues and poor animal welfare. What is unique about this research group is that they have taken a different perspective by asking questions such as: “What housing do cows prefer? Does the type of bedding matter? How do housing and management decisions affect behavior of cows? What about overstocking – how does competition affect lying and feeding times? How can animal behavior help identify those cows most at risk for disease?”

She reported on what research she and colleagues had done in evaluating housing design from the cow’s perspective. She said that cows spend about 5 hours a day feeding and an average of 12 hours lying down. The rest of the day is spent going to the milking parlor and hanging around.

“We built barns with the idea that cows should be eating or lying down. However, no one told the cow this,” she said. “We know from our studies that on average cows spend about 7 hours a day standing (not feeding) and in most freestall barns the cow is forced to do this on wet concrete.”

In terms of the lying area, the researcher reported that lying time increases when cows are provided dry, well bedded and well maintained stalls, and that given prior experience, they are comfortable with either sand or sawdust. Wider stalls increased lying time by an hour a day when comparing stalls of 44 inches with those of 48 or 52 inches.

“What about freestall bedding? There are still a lot of dairies that use mattresses,” she said. “We know that mattresses can be a problem and increase hock injuries. However, not all dairy producers can afford to rip all their mattresses out, so what can you do to make these cows more comfortable?”

Their work has shown that by adding 7.5 kg of sawdust bedding on top of the mattresses improves lying time by as much as 2.5 hours and prevents development of hock lesions compared to cows housed on mattress with little or not bedding.

Well-maintained stalls can also make a big difference to the cow. “When deep bedded stalls are well maintained we saw about 13.5 hours of lying time. However, as the bedding declined, so did the lying time by about 1.5 to 2 hours. In simple terms, for every 1-inch decline in bedding, cows reduced their lying time by about 25 minutes per day. That’s huge!” she declared.  

Design of lying area

This research group has also found that June 2008 Western DairyBusiness 15 cows have a strong preference for dry lying areas. “When given a choice lying down in a stall with wet or dry bedding, they almost never lie down in a wet stall,” she said. “Moreover, if we force them to lie down in the wet, they reduce their daily lying time by 5 hours. In all of our experimental work in this area, we have never seen such a strong preference for a particular aspect of the lying area.”

Stall architecture also plays a role. “Brisket boards are used to index the cow, because we want her to lie down in such a way that the stalls do not get dirty. However, what helps the producer comes at a cost for the cow – the price she pays is about an hour’s worth of lying time. The hardware in these stalls is primarily for our benefit, not hers,” von Keyserlingk explained.

She reported increased stocking density equaled shorter lying times. “We build barns thinking that because she only lies down on average about 12 hours a day that there should be no problems putting more cows than freestalls in a pen. However, we tend to forget that cows are herd animals and they like to do things all at the same time.”  

Design of standing area

Some of their very recent work shows that cows provided with larger stalls also spend less time “perching,” a behavior she described as a cow standing half-in and half-out of the stall. Cows provided 44-inch stalls, perch on average of 90 minutes/day, compared to 70 minutes/day in 48-inch stalls and only 60 minutes/day in 52-inch stalls. “Not surprisingly, freestalls with neck rails placed closer to the curb show more perching behavior whereas those with less restrictive neck rails result in more time standing fully in the stalls” she said.

“Cows that perch have greater risk for lesions on the hind hoofs,” she added. The challenge is to determine if the behavior causes the lesions or does the presence of the lesions cause the behavior.

Lameness is one of the greatest welfare challenges facing the dairy industry. In an experiment designed on coming up with management procedures that could help lame cows recover, this group took 18 groups of lame cows that had an average locomotion score of 3 (clinically lame) and housed 9 of the groups in a conventional freestall and the other 9 groups were housed outside on pasture. “In five weeks those cows provided access to pasture had improved their gait scores by a full point.

“You will, of course, ask what about milk production? Not surprisingly those cows on pasture showed a significant decline in production. However, the question that needs to be asked is what is it about pasture that helps these cows recover?” The researchers looked at the freestall with this question in mind and conducted a similar experiment to the pasture one described above. But rather than put cows on pasture, they provided them with access to freestalls with no neck rails – essentially providing a dry comfortable area for cows to sand. Von Keyserlingk reported a significant improvement in locomotion score when lame cows were given access to stalls without neck rails compared to lame cows housed in freestalls with neck rails.

Also, they reported an increased the number of new cases of lameness and sole lesions in the groups of cows housed with neck rails compared to cows housed without neck rails.

There were zero new cases of mastitis in both treatment groups but the stalls without the neck rails were dirtier. Producers are thus left with a tough decision – remove the neck rail and improve lameness or keep the neck rail and have cleaner stalls.

“We need to go back and rethink about how we design our future barns as we have focused on the stall and the feeding areas but have forgotten about the fact that she needs to stand somewhere. We have more and more evidence indicating that she is looking for a dry comfortable place to stand, and if we are able to provide this we may, in fact, reduce some of the lameness issues,” von Keyserlingk concluded.  

 Design of feeding area

She and her colleagues have done a lot of work in the feeding area related to the cows’ ability to access the feed buck as well as the effects of social hierarchy – and as you change these factors, who benefits and who doesn’t?

“Summarizing a number of experiments involving cows that were milked 2x and fed either 1x, 2x or 4x we can see over a 24-hour period that the biggest driver motivating cows to come to the feed bunk is fresh feed delivery. They really like fresh feed,” she said. “Cows spend an additional 20 minutes feeding per day when fed 2x. We also found that subordinate cows had the greatest benefit in terms of increased feeding time when we went to twice-a-day feeding from once-perday feeding.

“We also looked at forage quality over the course of the day, and how much sorting had taken place. We know that the NDF content changed during the day. Feed had been initially formulated for 50-50 forage/concentrate ratio, and when fed once-per-day was closer to 60% forage by the next morning, while the twice-a-day feeding regime resulted in feed that was still similar to what had originally been formulated. We speculate that the dominant cows come in and start searching and sorting through for concentrate material preventing the subordinate cows from gaining early access to that feed. Thus, by the time she gets there she’s not consuming the ration you actually formulated – this may explain why she’s not milking as well as you predicted she would,” von Keyserlingk said.

Researchers also ran a feeding trial that compared giving cows 20-inchs/cow of feed bunk space vs. 40-inches. With more space per cow, she saw a 60% reduction in aggression and displacements at the feeding area. This reduction in aggressive behavior allowed cows to increase feeding activity by 24% at peak feeding times, an effect that was strongest for subordinate animals.

Competition between cows at the feed bunk reduced dry matter intake during transition, particularly before calving and at high stocking densities, cows spend significantly Cows on Northern California pasture more time waiting to gain access to the feed. The effects of competition were reduced with headlocks and further reduced with feed stalls, especially for the benefit of subordinate cows.

“A less aggressive environment at the feed bunk may also have longer-term health benefits, as cows engaged in aggressive interactions at the feed bunk are at a higher risk for hoof health problems,” she said.  

Take home messages  

• Cows like softer surfaces, for both lying down and for standing upon. Deep-bedded stalls work well for cow comfort, but require maintenance.

• When it comes to the physical structures used to build freestalls: less is more. The hardware we place in the stall is for our benefit and not the cow’s. The more restrictive we design stalls, the less attractive they become for the cow.  

• Use of restrictive stall designs can help keep stalls clean; but to avoid problems with hoof health these designs need to be accompanied by better flooring options, such as softer and drier flooring.  

•The design and management of the feeding area is important. High stocking densities at the feed bunk increase aggressive competition and keep subordinate cows away from feed.      

Beat Mastitis With Records

An Udder Health Management package adds a new tool to help prevent future mastitis infections. By Dave Natzke

Can a DHI report prevent mastitis infections? Ron Curran, AgSource Cooperative Services manager of market development, believes it can.”Typically, most producers use SCC information for treatment and culling,” Curran said. “This is an expensive and ineffective way to fight mastitis problems.”
AgSource’s Udder Health Management (UHM) Package, including a UHM Summary (Figure 1) and UHM Cow Report (Figure 2), provides a new approach to udder health management and mastitis prevention.
“These reports provide a sensitive and accurate tripwire to let you know when and where problems are,” Curran explained. “Combining these reports with milk culturing gives you some powerful tools to prevent future infections.”
By the time a noticeable rise in a herd’s bulk tank SCC is seen, the opportunity for early intervention is missed and an infection can become entrenched. Once established, mastitis is a menacing disease that can take years to bring under control. Preventing infection establishment underscores the value of early detection. Early and accurate signals are equally important for knowing when things are improving. Using the new reports, the dairy management team can determine a herd’s subclinical mastitis profile, trends and the effects of recent management changes.
Throughout the reports, a cow is considered subclinically infected if her SCC is equal to or greater than 200,000 cells/milliliter. Risk groups are color coded throughout both reports to match the Udder Infection Summary areas, making it easy to track problems. The darker blue area represents fresh cow infections (5-40 days in milk, or DIM); the light blue area indicates new infections occurring after the first 40 DIM. The burgundy area quantifies the number of chronic infections (two or more consecutive tests, including the current one, equal or grater than 200,000). The most recent test day is on the right.
For this example herd, the Risk Group Analysis graph (in Figure 1) makes it easy to see infections have dropped over the past year, and new infections have dropped over the past two months.
The new infection rate is the most important number to monitor on the whole report, Curran said. If this number is equal to or greater than 20%, the producer should take immediate action to identify the cause of the new infections.
Previously, AgSource’s udder health management report defined new infection rates by dividing the number of cows having their first SCC test this lactation > 200,000 by the number of cows on test that month. Cows coded as “Condition Affecting Record (CAR)” were not included, even though many of these cows were off their usual production because they were sick, perhaps due to mastitis infections.
The new report does not ignore the dynamics of previously infected cows that later dropped below 200,000 SCC. Consequently, the new report categorizes new infections as any cow equal or greater to 200,000 this test whose previous milking test day SCC was less than 200,000. The denominator reflects an “at risk group,” including only uninfected cows on the previous test day. CAR cows are also included.
Infection rate example
Milking cows on test day 100
Cows with new infections 10*
(have been infected earlier in this lactation)
Cows with new infections 15
(first time this lactation)
Chronically infected cows 30
New infection rate
Using the old/ conventional way 10/100 or 10%
New methodology 25/70 or 36%

* two of these cows were coded as “Condition Affecting Record” or CAR

The report’s New Infection Rate is a better reflection of this herd’s udder infection status. To make the calculation more accurate, if a cow’s first test after calving is equal to or greater than 200,000 SCC, AgSource goes back to the last test of her previous lactation. If she was infected then, she is not a new fresh cow infection; she is a chronic infection. This may help head off wasting time and money trying to correct a fresh cow new infection problem that was actually an incurable chronic mastitis issue.
From herd level to cow level
While the UHM Summary gives an overview of the herd, the UHM Cow Report provides detailed information on individual cows.
“The UHM Summary is a herd or group management tool to identify problems,” Curran explained. “To take problem solving to the next level and identify solutions, you need to get to the cow level.”
Using the same color coding as the UHM Summary, the UHM Cow Report divides all subclinically infected cows into the same groupings.
Producers can then identify the cows contributing to the rise in herd chronic infections. Pat Baier, AgSource vice president of DHI Operations adds, “We removed the ‘Predicted % SCC Contribution to Bulk’ column, what everyone called the ‘Hot Cow List’, and put it on the Chronic Cow List (see Figure 2) to help prevent members from making decisions based on one high SCC test. High SCC values move around a lot, and by putting the ‘% Contribution’ column in the Chronic Cow List, users get more complete information on chronically infected cows.”
The Chronic Cow List provides valuable information to help identify which cows to cull; reproductive status; production ranking in the herd; present production; DIM; and a summary of subclinical infections over the last two lactations. An additional benefit: the UHM Cow List makes it easy to pick the right cows to culture. Cows in the Fresh and Lactating Cow New Infection Lists and Response to New Infection List (see Figure 3) are excellent candidates for culturing for two reasons, Curran said. First, culturing chronic cows provides bacteriological information with lots of lag time; new infection cultures profile the most recent causes of infections. Second, the possibility of using culture results for successful treatment is much higher in new infections compared to chronically infected cows. Culturing information narrows the solutions you need to focus on:
1) If results point predominantly to environmental infections, the goal is to protect the cow’s teat end from being overwhelmed by bacteria and to make sure teat dip covers the entire teat end.
2) If infectious mastitis predominates, have your milking equipment checked by a technician during milking and follow their recommendations. Also, be ready to overhaul your herd‚Äôs milking technique and specifically udder preparation. Again, make sure teat dip covers the entire teat end. Consider culturing all cows with an SCC >200,000 to identify cows infected with these “cow-to-cow” infections and consider grouping them so they are milked last. “After implementing these steps, monitor “New Infection Rates.” If they start dropping, keep doing what you are. If they aren’t, develop and implement a Plan B, Curran advised
Contact Ron Curran, AgSource Cooperative Services’ manager of market development, phone:
608-845-1900 ext. 5219, or e-mail:

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Stillbirths disastrous for dairy profitability

The loss of a calf is only the beginning of the negative impacts of stillbirths, Michael O’Connor noted in Penn State’s Dairy Digest. Longer-term consequences include increased incidence of postpartum disorders, including prolapsed uterus, uterine infection and displaced abomasum. These events result in prolonged days to conception and increased cull rate.
Cows that had stillbirths were 41% more likely to be culled, according to 2007 Cornell University research, which studied 13,608 calvings on seven dairy herds. The research also found cows with stillbirths had a 24% lower rate of becoming pregnant, and a difference in mean days open of +26 days compared to cows giving birth to live calves.
If there was just an occasional stillbirth, the problem might not cause such concern. But a 2000 Iowa State study including data from 666,341 births on U.S. farms found 7% of Holstein calves die within 48 hours of birth, O’Connor wrote.
The Cornell and Iowa State research identified parity and calving ease as major risk factors for stillbirths. In the Cornell study, the incidence of stillbirths on seven dairies was 6.6%, ranging from 4.1% to 10%. Stillbirths among first-parity cows was 10.7%, compared to 3.6%, 5% and 4.2% for second, third and fourth parities, respectively. The rate of stillbirths by calving ease ranged from 3.6% to 60.1% in the Cornell study. The odds of stillbirths were 88% lower for unassisted calvings compared to assisted calvings.
“Since calving ease score is significantly related to stillbirth, any management intervention to reduce the incidence of difficult births should reduce the incidence of stillbirth,” O’Connor said. Use sire and daughter calving ease information when selecting sires to breed heifers to reduce the risk of dystocia.
Other tips include:
• Review calving procedures to ensure proper timing and calving assistance techniques are used.
• Post standard operating procedures for calving.
• Evaluate feeding management so heifers and cows are in the best condition possible at calving.
• Provide enough space and clean, dry bedding to minimizes stress.

Describe lead milker’s job clearly

The lead milker has an important role on your dairy. A clear job description will help him or her take a proactive role in monitoring the performance and output of your milking parlor. David Reid and Mark Walker of BouMatic suggest the following:

1. Check bleed holes for manure plugs.

2. Check short air tubes for cracks/holes.

3. Check liner milk tubes for cracks/holes.

4. Check all liners for proper alignment.

5. Set up milking parlor.

6. Distribute milking parlor supplies.

7. Mark start and stop times for each pen when no meters are installed.

8. Properly mark treated cows.

9. Properly dispose all treated cows’ milk.

10. If using a basement parlor, conduct a walk-through to ensure all equipment is operating properly.

11. Change milk filters according to the dairy’s protocol.

12. Observe milkers to make sure they are performing the proper milking routine.

13. Communicate issues or repair items to the dairy manager or owner.

14. Check the cooler to make sure it is on and cooling properly.

15. Milk cows in an orderly and consistent manner.

16. After milking, make sure all equipment sanitation procedures are followed.

Source: The Udder Quarter, NMC.

Manure handling adds summer safety risks

Summer increases risks for manure storage and handling accidents. A recent report, “Summary of Documented Fatalities in Livestock Manure Storage and Handling Facilities – 1975- 2004,” published in the Journal of Agromedicine, analyzed 77 manure-related fatalities.

The report was authored by Randy Beaver, loss control representative with Nationwide AgriBusiness, West Lafayette, Ind., and William Field, Purdue University professor of ag and biological engineer. It showed more than half of the fatalities involved dairy operations, and 21% involved persons under the age of 16. The largest percentage (34%) of deaths occurred to persons conducting repair or maintenance activities on manure handling equipment, while the second largest group (22%) were attempting to perform a rescue of another person. The most frequently identified cause of death was asphyxiation. The peak period of incidents were during the hottest part of the summer and were often associated with transferring of manure for application to crop ground.

Manure handling safety will be one of the topics addressed at the Great Lakes Manure Handling Expo, July 9, in London, Ohio. For more information, visit, or contact Tami Combs via phone: 614-292-6625, or e-mail: