Archive for October, 2008

Help find genetic defect in calves

    Holstein Association and the National Association of Animal Breeders say they urgently need help in identifying calves that appear to be affected by brachyspina syndrome, a genetic defect.  They are asking dairy producers, AI companies and veterinarians to contact the Holstein Association or Dr. David Steffen at the Veterinary Diagnostics Center, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL),  before destroying the calf.
      Brachyspina syndrome was first described in 2006 by Danish researchers at the University of Copenhagen. It’s a genetic defect in cattle that causes abortion in .16% of pregnant cattle. In rare cases, gestation length is normal, but the calf is stillborn.  Those calves have physical defects like a shortened spinal cord, long legs and abnormal organs.
    Brachyspina syndrome is reported to share similarities with CVM (complex vertebral malformation) but does not share the gene mutation associated with CVM.  Calves affected with brachyspina syndrome differ from CVM as follows:

     • Their body weight is smaller 23 pounds (10.3 kg) compared to 55 pounds (25 kg) for CVM0-affected calves.
 • Vertebral lesions/malformations are more widespread and severe resulting in an overall reduction in spine length.
•  Renal dysplasia is present in brachyspina syndrome but not in CVM cases.
• There may be a slightly longer gestation period with brachyspina syndrome.
• Different common ancestor.
Researchers are working to identify the gene/mutation associated with the defect. To contact Steffen, call 402-472-1434. For genetic  research purposes, the entire calf, along with a blood sample from the dam of the affected calf, should be sent to the UNL Veterinary Diagnostic Center.

For more information contact:

 Holstein Association USA, Inc.

P.O. Box 808,  1 Holstein Place
 Brattleboro, VT 05302-0808
800-952-5200 ext.4225                                


National Association of Animal Breeders
P. O. Box 1033
Columbia, MO 65205




Several factors affect abortion frequency in U.S. dairy herds

Using Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) data, USDA Animal Improvement Programs Laboratory (AIPL) researchers examined factors affecting the frequency of dairy cattle abortions. In research just released from AIPL, these researchers used data submitted with DHI termination codes of “8,” and pregnant more than 152 days. The DHI data set AIPL used contained 28,272 herds and nearly 3 million lactations.
The abortion rate was highest at 152-175 days of pregnancy. Overall, the abortion frequency was 1.51% for the data analyzed. Estimated average abortion differences across lactation declined by 0.57% from first calf heifers to eighth or greater lactation cows. Research has indicated the likelihood that abortion declines with advancing lactations. Younger cows’ higher abortion rates may be due to less acquired immunity to infectious agents. The average abortion rate was highest in the earliest stages of pregnancy and lowest for cows pregnant 224-250 days.
Abortion rates also followed seasonal patterns, with July as the highest month and December the lowest month for reported percent abortions. The six-month period of February through August saw the highest abortion rates and the six-month period of September through January saw a lower rate. Spring and summer may favor the spread of infectious agents that cause abortion in dairy cattle.
Higher milk production cattle groups experienced higher abortion rates across all breeds. While small, researchers noted breed differences. Holsteins’ abortion rate was 0.19% higher than other breeds. Increase in herd size seemed to favor an increase in abortion frequency as indicated in Figure 1. It was estimated that small herds (50-99 cows) had nearly 1% fewer abortions compared to herds with 700-799 cows.
When looking at geographic differences, AIPL researchers found that California had the highest cattle abortion rate and North Dakota had the lowest. California’s abortion rate was 2.2% more than North Dakota’s, across all lactations.
From other studies using ultrasound during early pregnancy, it appears that losses may be even larger prior to 152 days (minimum recorded in DHI). Thus, documentation of abortions from DHI recordings are likely underreported and may warrant development of an additional coding system to pick up the early ones, because they obviously have big economic consequences.
National Dairy Herd Information Association, a trade association for the dairy records industry, serves the best interests of its members and the dairy industry by maintaining the integrity of dairy records and advancing dairy information systems.

Jan Wright
USDA AIPL dairy scientist

JoDee Sattler

National DHIA communications manager

608-848-6455, ext. 112

$15 milk?

By Susan Harlow, editor, Northeast DairyBusiness

Predicting dairy prices is like “Lewis and Clark trying to figure out the west of the Mississippi by looking at a map of Pennsylvania,” said Bob Wellington, senior economist for dairy cooperative Agri-Mark Inc., Methuen, Mass.  But despite the difficulty of projecting in a volatile market, Wellington said producers are likely to see $15 per cwt. milk next spring and winter, with a 2009 average no higher than $17. 
“There’s no great recovery, given what we know now,” he told the Northeast Dairy Leadership Team, at its meeting Oct. 7 in Binghamton, N.Y.
    Blame it on supply and demand that are out of whack. Strong 2007 milk prices “smothered” demand for dairy products, Wellington said. There’s also the strengthening U.S. dollar, China’s melamine scandal, and more milk produced by Australia and New Zealand, which are emerging from a drought.
     Wellington said he advises producers to know their production costs in order to help them get through 2009. Dropping feed costs are another factor to consider. Any Milk Income Loss Contract payments will be calculated with the new feed adjuster;  lower feed costs won’t help boost the payment.
   “A year ago we were as close to a competitive advantage over the West as we’ve ever been,” Wellington said. High fuel costs and homegrown forages gave the Northeast that edge, but the advantage is shifting back to the West now, Wellington said. 


People Power: Employees are assets, not costs

By Bob Milligan

For at least two decades, we have heard the phrase: “Employees are assets not costs.”  The phrase represents a major shift in how employees are managed by world-class businesses, including dairy farms.  In this column we will explore this phrase and the shift in how employees are managed.

For costs (feed, fertilizer, medicines, etc.), we seek to determine the optimum amount, always keeping in mind good cost control.  For assets (investments  such as land, machinery and cows), we try to determine how to use that asset to get the greatest return.  A tractor, for example, does no us no good until we use it.  It must be maintained and repaired to maximize the return on the investment. How we manage the investment in the tractor has a great impact on the return from our investment.

Employees are very different than other assets. They can think, have feelings and multiple talents.  We must still consider what it takes to get the greatest return from this asset.
How we manage employees (partners and family members, as well) has a great impact on employee productivity and job satisfaction.

Gaining this great return in employee productivity and satisfaction starts with our attitude toward employees and permeates how we manage employees.

Let me begin this discussion with a story:

Several years ago after a presentation at a nursery and greenhouse conference, “George” approached me and told me his story.  He indicated he had worked for a small landscape business for 23 years.  In looking back, he concluded he was a terrible employee.  He took all of his vacation and all of his sick leave — whether he was sick or not.  He did the minimum.  His justification was that everyone did the same, because the owner/supervisor provided no clarity or feedback.

When his employment at that business ended, he found a job with another small landscape business. The owner/supervisor provided clarity of expectations, feedback and, generally, encouragement and support.  George indicated he now works hard, enjoys what he is doing, and believes he is an excellent employee.

George’s productivity and job satisfaction were dramatically different in working for the two similar businesses. “What was the difference?”

Obviously, George was older. However, few of us change our values, personality or motivation sufficiently to explain the difference.  The difference was the owner/supervisor.  The first owner/supervisor did little to manage his asset –- George –- and received little in return.  The second owner/supervisor worked to manage, supervise and coach George, and his efforts were rewarded with an excellent employee.

This story and the phrase “employees are assets not costs” reflect a great change in recommended practices for supervising and coaching employees.  I call the old approach that viewed employees as costs the “control focused” school of supervision.  The newer approach (emanating from the quality movement and excellent research on supervision) I call the “quality focused” school of supervision.

The following table compares the two approaches:

Control focused                                       Quality focused
Employees are                                   A cost                                                     An asset

Role of supervisor             Tells employees what to do                 Ensures employees succeed

Core value                              Based on compliance                              Based on fairness

Supervisor activities                 Training, directing,                               Training, directing,                                                                  reprimanding, discharging                    reprimanding, discharging                                                                                                           coaching,  mentoring,                                                                                                          encouraging, rewarding,                                                                                                            empowering, redirecting,                                                                                                                 holding accountable

Informal name for supervisor                     boss                                             coach

I believe essentially every business, including a dairy farm, is in the process of moving from “control focused” to “quality focused.” It is a difficult, but rewarding journey.  The rewards are personal and financial for both the owners/supervisors and the employees.

Four pillars of quality-focused programs

The following are the four pillars of a world class “quality-focused” human resource program:
1) The recruitment and selection program attracts workforce members (owner, family and employees) with the competencies –- knowledge, skills, experience, attitudes and behaviors — to succeed.
2) Workforce members are selected, oriented, developed and given responsibilities/expectations that utilize and build on each workforce member’s unique competencies, strengths and potential to grow and develop.
3) The work environment provided by the owner/leader/managers inspires and motivates each workforce member to contribute to the success of the farm.
4) Each workforce members is provided the tools -– training, quality assurance, coaching and feedback –- that enable them to succeed.

The four are not independent; however, they all are dependent upon the third pillar.  The owners, leaders and managers of your dairy farm or other business are responsible for developing an environment that inspires and motivates every member of the workforce and leads to superior productivity and extraordinary job satisfaction.
Establishing these four pillars in a dairy farm or other business is not easy.  You may need help just as you do with nutrition, herd health, machinery repair, etc.  We will investigate each of these pillars in upcoming columns.

• Robert Milligan is senior consultant, Dairy Strategies LLC, and professor emeritus, Cornell University. He can be reached at 888-249-3244, ext. 255, e-mail:, or log on to

Marketing: Setting up a hedge line of credit

By Matt Mattke

Q:  I’m interested in setting up a hedge line of credit with my bank for milk marketing, but I’m not sure how much to request.  Any suggestions?

A: Setting up a hedge line of credit with your bank is an important step toward successful milk marketing. Here is why.

When money must be pulled from cash flow to meet marketing expenses, it can burden producers financially in the short run, because that is money that needs to be used to fund the day-to-day operational expenses of your dairy.  If cash flow is tight, there is the tendency to implement the risk management strategies that are the “cheapest.”  This means that, rather than implementing the best position that provides you the best floor, you’re getting mediocre price protection with a subpar position.

Also, frequently having to write out personal checks to fund your hedge positions can have a negative psychological impact, and lead to irrational marketing decisions fueled by emotion.  Often, producers that fund their marketing expenses from cash flow reach a threshold –- either cash flow-wise or psychologically — where they cannot stand to write out another check to fund their hedge positions, and instead request that all hedge positions be lifted.  This usually occurs right before the bottom falls out of the market, and the producer is left 100% exposed to the totality of the price drop.  A hedge line of credit helps to mitigate the cash flow and psychological impact on the producer, and provides greater longevity to hold hedge positions until their expiration.

The amount to budget for marketing expenses is not what it was two or three years ago.  Prior to 2007, a producer could easily budget 50¢/cwt. for a hedge line of credit.  The tremendous increase in milk price volatility over the last two years has made 50¢/cwt. an insufficient amount to budget in order to maintain hedge positions through large price swings.  In order to have enough cushion, a producer should budget about $1.75/cwt. for their hedge line of credit.  The average daily price swing is about three to four times what it was back in 2006.

The majority of banks are more than willing to extend credit to dairy producers to fund their milk marketing, especially in the extremely volatile environment we find ourselves in today.  Implementing risk management strategies “can” remove volatility from your future revenue stream, provide more revenue certainty, lock in positive cash flow, and aid in budget development.   A sufficient hedge line of credit, established to back up your hedge positions, will allow you to see them through to expiry and help to make your milk marketing more successful.

■ To have your marketing questions answered in this column, contact Matt Mattke, Market360® adviser at Stewart-Peterson. Contact him via e-mail:, phone: 800-334-9779 or visit

Manure on Cropland is Good for More than Nutrients

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Manure provides nutrients for farm fields and
improves soil quality and tilth, but there are other implications to
its use.

Mark Risse, University of Georgia professor, will give an overview of
the science of manure to lead off the free monthly manure management
Webcast from eXtension Oct. 17.

Risse is one of three university specialists who will discuss the
impacts of manure application on runoff and soil erosion, water
holding capacity of soils and the need for irrigation during the Web-
based seminar that is open to the public.

They will discuss manure from an organic farm systems perspective and
discuss compost effects on soil quality. They also will discuss the
liming effect of some manures including poultry litter,
mineralization rates including carbon mineralization and salt

Washington State University researchers Craig Cogger and Ann-Marie
Fortuna will join Risse. Cogger is a soil scientist who has extensive
experience with compost methods and using biosolids. His current
research is on organic and sustainable cropping systems.

Fortuna is a faculty member in soil biology. Her research emphasis is
to determine the role of organisms in plant nutrient acquisition and
health and trace the fate of pathogens and beneficial organisms in
the environment.

The Friday, Oct. 17 session begins at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight
Time. The Webcasts are hosted by the Livestock and Poultry
Environmental (LPE) Learning Center, an information resource
developed by more than 150 experts from land-grant universities,
agencies and other organizations. The center is part of the national
eXtension interactive Web resource customized with links to local
Cooperative Extension Web sites. Kansas State University Research and
Extension is part of eXtension.

The Webcast meeting room opens 15 minutes before the start time. Go
to to view.

Elanco finalizes acquisition of Posilac Dairy Business

Elanco, a division of Eli Lilly and Company, announced it has finalized the purchase of Posilac® (sometribove), a supplement for dairy cows, from Monsanto. The acquisition includes complete worldwide rights, a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Augusta, Ga., and product-support operations. This move underscores Elanco’s commitment to helping farmers produce an abundant supply of safe, nutritious, affordable food.

“Our entire Elanco dairy team is thrilled to be the steward of this vital technology, and already is hard at work to make this business transition seamless for the dairy producers who use Posilac,” said Roy Riggs, director of Elanco’s dairy business unit. “Importantly, with this acquisition, Elanco is strongly committed to collaborating with and providing choice to the total dairy food chain.”

Producers can continue to work directly with their Posilac representatives for product support and inquiries. The same convenient toll-free number — (800) 233-2999 — will remain available for placing orders and asking additional questions. Producers using other Elanco products in their herd-health programs may continue to buy those items from their current animal-health suppliers.

The integration of Posilac into Elanco’s dairy business also will bring together a team of professionals who specialize in improving production efficiencies.

“We’re combining Elanco’s experience in productivity-enhancing products — including sometribove in other countries — with the expertise of the U.S. Posilac team,” said Riggs. “Elanco now will have more employees to help farmers integrate these technologies successfully into their dairy operations.”

While planning the full integration of Posilac into Elanco’s dairy business, company leaders also have been talking with producers, dairy cooperatives and others throughout the dairy food chain.

“From past experience working with dairy industry stakeholders, we have learned about the importance of providing consumers worldwide with affordable food choices, and the need to produce more food using fewer natural resources,” said Riggs. “In the months and years to come, we will continue this dialog to further explore ways Elanco’s products can benefit the entire dairy food chain.”

Today’s announcement follows Elanco’s Aug. 20 statement of intent to acquire the Posilac business. This is an important part of the company’s commitment to address the growing need for safe, affordable food, as well as to provide choices for consumers, retailers and producers.

About Posilac
Posilac (rbST) is approved by numerous regulatory authorities worldwide to help dairy farmers improve milk productivity. BST (bovine somatotropin) is a naturally occurring protein in all cattle, helping cows produce milk. Milk from cows receiving Posilac is the same as milk produced by cows not receiving this supplement.

Since receiving U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in 1994, Posilac has become a leading dairy animal supplement in the United States and many other countries. Supplementing dairy cows with Posilac enhances milk production, and serves as an important tool to help dairy producers improve the efficiency of their operations and produce more milk more sustainably.

About Elanco
Elanco is a global innovation-driven company that develops and markets products to improve animal health and food animal production in more than 100 countries. Elanco employs more than 2,000 people worldwide, with offices in more than 30 countries, and is a division of Eli Lilly and Company, a leading global pharmaceutical corporation. Additional information about Elanco is available at