Archive for November, 2008

Tough times in 2009 for dairy

By Susan Harlow, editor, Northeast DairyBusiness

     The next year will bring hard times for U.S. dairy producers, said Scott Brown of the University of Missouri’s Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, during DAIReXNET’s webinar Nov. 10. “The first six to nine months of 2009 could be some of the toughest of the decade for dairy producers,” he said, forecasting a $17.10 all-milk price for 2009.
     Keep an eye on these indicators: 2009 corn plantings, oil prices and the general economy, to get a read on how the year will go, Brown said.
Domestic demand is weakening, especially with negative income growth projected for the United States through the third quarter of 2009. Brown also said exports will weaken in 2009, with Class III prices driving Class I prices for much of the year.
    If milk prices fall substantially in  the first half of 2009, the all-milk price could sink below $15.50 cwt. That would signal a faster turnaround for the better in the second half of the year. But if prices level out at $17 per cwt., “the pain will go on a lot longer,” he said.
    That would be devastating, given production costs. Although corn prices have dropped from their highs of $7.50 per bushel last summer, that probably won’t last, Brown said, and prices are still above historic averages. Next spring’s corn plantings will foretell where feed prices will trend. Higher prices “will put the brakes on the supply side in this industry and keep milk prices from becoming too low,” he said.
    We’re in the unprecedented fourth consecutive year of 4-billion-pound annual increases, Brown said. Numbers of milk cows haven’t seen much decline over the last decade, but he expects that to change in 2009. 
    The next CWT buyout will lure better bids and remove more cows. “That could help us remove supplies more quickly,” he said. CWT has enough money to act rapidly and forcefully to maximize its effects, which he projected would add 71 cents per cwt. to the milk price.
    With a feed adjuster now part of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, “we certainly could be at a point where we would trigger an MILC payment in the next few months,” he said.



Be prepared for a bio-emergency

    If foot-and-mouth disease were to show up in the United States today, would you be prepared?
     Prepare to Survive a Bio-disaster, a three-part workshop on dealing with bio-disasters, will be presented by
University of Vermont Extension. The program is for dairy producers and other cattle owners, milk and cattle haulers, feed dealers and service providers.
The first set of workshops,
Into the Valleys of Death and Emergency Biosecurity,  is scheduled for  Nov. 12, 13 and 14. It will heighten awareness of dangers of being unprepared, and how diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease can spread. Presenters will be veterinarian Steve Van Wie, a veterinarian who spent seven months in the United Kingdom during the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, and Julie Smith, UVM dairy Extension specialist.
The workshop will be held at the following locations, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.:

• Nov. 12 – Middlebury American Legion

• Nov. 13 – Fairfield Town Hall

• Nov. 14 – Irasburg Town Hall

Coffee and light lunch will be provided.
Please RSVP by Nov. 7  to 802- 656-2070 or email

Other workshops, to be held at locations decided later, are:
Week of Jan. 12, 2009: Risk management and assessment
Week of Feb. 2, 2009: Community-based emergency management.
     The meeting is sponsored by University of Vermont Extension with support
from the Northeast Center for Risk Management Education and USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service.


Dairy veterinarians highlight need for improved methods of detecting mastitis

Ability to detect mastitis at subclinical level and in early lactation would benefit producers

 Current methods for detecting and diagnosing mastitis in dairy cows are not serving the needs of dairy producers well, according to a survey of leading dairy veterinarians conducted at the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners in Charlotte, NC.  The veterinarians surveyed are responsible for nearly 2 million cows in the United States. 

Survey respondents rated current detection methods only an average of 5.2 on a 10-point scale for their ability to meet producers’ needs.  In addition, veterinarians overwhelming supported the importance of detecting mastitis at the subclinical level and in early lactation period for freshened cows.  Mastitis, an infection in milk-producing glands in dairy cows, results in a $2 billion loss in the $25 billion U.S. milk production industry each year. 

“The survey results highlight the need for earlier, quicker and more accurate detection of mastitis,” said Rudy Rodriguez, president and chief technology officer, Advanced Animal Diagnostics (AAD).  “Technology developed by AAD will allow simple and accurate analysis of differential inflammatory cell counts in addition to the traditional somatic cell count to diagnose mastitis.”

Introduced in the 1960s, somatic cell count method measures the total number of leukocytes (white blood cells) in a milk sample.  Proprietary AAD technology allows the detection of three different types of leukocytes — lymphocytes, neutrophils and macrophages — which provides the ability to detect mastitis at a subclinical level, much earlier than by measuring somatic cell counts. 

Of survey respondents, 94% said that differential counts are more effective than traditional measures of detecting mastitis.  In addition, veterinarians rated the importance of detecting mastitis at a subclinical level at an 8.7 on a 10-point scale. 

“The bottom line is delivering an easy-to-use technology that will help dairy producers increase profits by detecting and treating mastitis at an earlier, subclinical level,” said Rodriguez.  “Producers will be able to treat infected cows earlier, reducing loss of milk production and risk of infection to other cows in the herd.”

Veterinarians overwhelmingly stated that it is important to detect mastitis at freshening, rating it at 8.9 on a 10-point scale.  Incidence of mastitis is highest shortly after calving, with 35% of all infections starting in early lactation.  Current methods do not allow practical testing of all cows following calving, however measurement of differential inflammatory cell counts with new technology from AAD allows detection of mastitis in colostrum at the quarter level.

 Source: Advanced Animal Diagnostics (AAD) was founded in 2001 to commercialize exclusively licensed proprietary technology for the diagnosis of farm-animal diseases, beginning with those that affect milk and milk products. Visit

Prepare dairy calves for cool-weather stress

Cooler weather could put a chill on dairy producers’ bottom lines if they aren’t prepared for the threat of pneumonia and bovine respiratory disease (BRD). Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison state that early BRD illness can affect a producer’s bottom line due to production losses later in the cow’s life — that is, if a calf isn’t lost to a chronic illness at a young age.

“Cool-weather months in late fall, winter and early spring are a peak threat for BRD and pneumonia,” said Dr. Bruce Nosky, manager, Veterinary Services, Merial. “The disease is costly initially due to treatment, veterinary and labor costs, but it also takes its toll over time by negatively influencing a calf’s potential to be a productive and profitable member of the herd.”

A 2002 study showed that body weight of BRD-affected heifers was estimated to be reduced by 22 pounds at 3 months old, and up to 63 pounds from heifers 14 months old. It also found that first lactation was reduced and first calving age was delayed by half a month. This can mean delayed and reduced production for the producer.

“When calves get sick, not only will their production suffer due to initial losses, but just as importantly, they may never catch up in weight and production to other calves that do not have the disease,” Nosky said. “The producer is then paying for treatment as well as the lost productivity down the road in areas that have a direct relationship with the cow’s profitability.”

Prevention of BRD includes breaking the disease cycle through proper management practices and increasing herd immunity with a vaccination program, Nosky said. The two bacteria often associated with BRD are Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida. These bacteria inhabit the upper respiratory tract of normal, healthy calves causing no problems, but when calves are put under stress, such as fluctuating colder temperatures, Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida can migrate to the lungs and pneumonia can occur. Nosky said the stress from factors like weaning, cold weather, crowding or transport can be the final additive factor that completes the disease complex — resulting in BRD.

“With cold weather on its way, protecting against Pasteurella with a vaccination program and proper management practices can help dramatically cut down on sickness in young calves and help prevent possible productivity losses after the season,” Dr. Nosky said.

To help avoid BRD and other diseases this winter, Nosky recommends the following when caring for young calves:

  1. Utilize an immunization program to vaccinate against bacterial pneumonia caused by Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida, and to help keep herds healthy and productive.
  2. Vaccinate prior to stress, such as weaning or transporting.
  3. Provide proper housing and ventilation to help prevent diseases from spreading. Individual calf hutches or box pens that prevent nose-to-nose contact should be used to avoid outbreaks.
  4. Supply proper nutrition and hydration to keep calves healthy and disease-free.
  5. Feed an adequate amount of colostrum to newborn calves within 12 hours of birth.

“Healthy calves grow up to be productive cows,” Nosky said. “By using proper management practices and a vaccination program that includes a Pasteurella vaccine that helps aid in the prevention against both Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida, producers can help improve the health and efficiency of their calves — helping to ensure they will be more productive cows.”

Merial provides a comprehensive range of products to enhance the health, well-being and performance of a wide range of animals. Merial employs approximately 5,000 people and operates in more than 150 countries worldwide. Its 2007 sales were nearly $2.5 billion. Merial Limited is a joint venture between Merck & Co., Inc. and sanofi-aventis. For more information, please see

Mastitis control: Think positive

The dairy industry’s most costly health issue is well known to every producer: mastitis. This topic was discussed at length at the recent 47th annual meeting of the National Mastitis Council, where one point resonated loud and clear: The vast majority of subclinical intramammary infections are caused by gram-positive bacteria. 

Armed with this knowledge, dairy producers can save significant money and milk by altering their treatment protocols to combat the problem more selectively and more effectively.

In a three-year U.S./Canadian study conducted by the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin and Ontario’s University of Guelph, researchers evaluated 4,044 quarters from 1,028 fresh cows in 11 distinct herds. Of the intramammary infections (IMI) detected, a striking 91% were shown to be caused by gram-positive pathogens.  Furthermore, of the relatively small number of infections caused by gram-negative bacteria, most self-cure without treatment. 

The most important conclusion producers can take from these findings is the value of aggressively treating gram-positive infections with proven antibiotics, while leaving gram-negative infections to self-cure under observation.

The facts support “positive thinking.”

  • Gram-positive pathogens accounted for 91% of subclinical IMI in a recent study. 
  • Gram-negative pathogens accounted for less than 9% of subclinical IMI. 
  • Persistent subclinical infections are usually established by gram-positive pathogens. 
  • Two to three weeks after calving, many subclinical, gram-positive IMI are still present in the udder. Such persistence may require antibiotic treatment.
  • One persistent gram-positive pathogen, Coagulase-negative Staphylococcus spp., was found to be prevalent in 51% of infected animals.
  • E. coli, the study’s most common gram-negative pathogen, turned up in just 5% of such cases. 1



For gram-negative pathogens, no treatment may be the best treatment.

  • Infections caused by gram-negative bacteria tend to be mild to moderate in nature, and frequently require no treatment at all. 
  • Within 24 hours, most gram-negative infections have been shown to spontaneously resolve themselves –- without treatment. This finding comes from a Michigan State University study of 3,200 cows.
  • Another study found 90% of subclinical, environmental streptococcal and coliform IMI were eliminated without antibiotics by two to three weeks after calving. (Staph. spp. and Staph. aureus, on the other hand, persisted at least two to three weeks in more than 60% of cases.) 


Producers save milk and money through selective, gram-positive protocols

  • Administering antibiotic treatment on a broad scale for all cows with IMI can lead to longer-than-necessary periods of unsalable milk.
  • Selectively treating only those cows with gram-positive infections can significantly reduce antibiotic costs, reduce the number of treatments and reduce milk discard. 
  • Antibiotics have been shown to be highly effective in treating gram-positive infections.

Staph. aureus – positively a major concern

  • Staph. aureus is a contagious, gram-positive bacterium that continues to be a problem for many dairies. 
  • A 2007 survey revealed Staph. aureus makes up 43% of contagious mastitis organisms. 1
  • One leading researcher described Staph. aureus as “a highly successful mastitis pathogen in that it has evolved to produce infections of long duration with limited clinical signs.”
  • This bacterium was found in 30% to 40% of bulk tank milk samples in one university study.

New mastitis study shows the importance of treating gram-positive infections

Dairy Producers Can Increase Milk Production While Reducing Mastitis, Number of Treatments, Antibiotic Costs and Milk Discard
Mastitis treatment protocols are supported by results of a new three-year, multi-university study, which showed a striking 91% of detected intramammary infections (IMI) were caused by gram-positive pathogens, including both environmental and contagious organisms. A small number of IMI infections were caused by gram-negative pathogens, including E. coli.

The findings, presented at this year’s National Mastitis Council annual meeting, bring new clarity to the value of aggressively treating gram-positive infections with proven antibiotics, while leaving gram-negative infections to self-cure without treatment.

“Mastitis remains the most costly disease and the most common reason antibiotics are used on U.S. dairy farms,” says Dave Juda, director of marketing – livestock and equine, Fort Dodge Animal Health. “Early intervention strategies focused on gram-positive infections can provide significant savings to dairy producers by reducing antibiotic costs, reducing the number of mastitis treatments and reducing milk discard.”

Clinical and subclinical IMI infections can be effectively treated with a broad-spectrum antibiotic with high efficacy against gram-positive pathogens, such as Fort Dodge Animal Health’s ToDAY® (cephapirin sodium) and ToMORROW® (cephapirin benzathine). 

ToDAY provides a bacteriological cure rate of more than 80%, at the labeled dose for gram-positive infections with just one day of treatment. Unlike many other antibiotics, ToDAY and ToMORROW are labeled to control penicillin-resistant strains of Staph. Aureus, which comprises 43% of contagious mastitis pathogens. The OPTI-SERT partial insertion tip has been shown to reduce new mastitis infections by up to 50%.
Fort Dodge Animal Health is a leading global manufacturer and marketer of animal health products for dairy, beef, swine, ovine, poultry, equine and companion animal industries. Key dairy products include ToDAY, ToMORROW, Dry-Clox® (cloxacillin benzathine), Triangle® Vaccines, PYRAMID® Vaccines, Presponse® Vaccines, Cydectin® Pour-On and Cydectin® Injectable.


Compost barns: Success takes work

Reproductive performance, foot health and culling rates appear to be the biggest winners for dairies that converted to ‘compost’ barns, but the facilities require good management to overcome other challenges.

by Susan Harlow

Whether a larger producer seeking more comfortable special needs housing, or a smaller dairy wishing to expand or upgrade cattle housing, a compost bedded pack dairy barn may be an alternative. University of Minnesota dairy scientists warn, however, that this isn’t loose housing from days gone by –- good management is necessary to make the system work.
Marcia Endres, with the University of Minnesota’s department of animal science, and her graduate student Abby Barberg studied 12 compost pack barns. The herds averaged 74 cows, and all except one herd previously housed cattle in tiestalls.
Dairies showed benefits from the change, including higher milk production, better foot and leg health, more freedom of movement for cows, and, possibly, better herd social interaction. But sawdust bedding –- cost and availability –- was a big concern.
Endres’ research found:
• Milk production increased substantially in the new barns, an average of 2,105 lbs. per cow per year, although other factors may have contributed. Milk yields were higher than in the tie-stall arrangements, but not necessarily higher than they would have been in comfortable, sand-bedded freestalls.
• Hygiene and body condition were similar to that of cows in other types of barns.
• More than half of the dairies –- 57% –- showed an increase in heat detection rates.
• 71% of dairies increased pregnancy rates, improving from an average of 13.2%, to an average of 16.5%.
• Average herd turnover rates dropped from 25.4% to 20.9%.
• SCC averaged 325,000, about the same as Minnesota’s statewide average. About 67% of the dairies reduced mastitis infection rates in the compost barns, but only 43% showed a significant drop in bulk tank SCC, which averaged 261,000.
• Foot and leg health was good. Nearly 8% of cows were clinically lame, compared to about 25% reported in freestall barns and 19.6% in tiestalls. About 75% of cows had no hock lesions.
• Pneumonia and eye irritation were sometimes problems, caused by dust when too much sawdust bedding was added at one time.

General construction
Most barns in the study were constructed like three-row barns, with concrete feed alleys. Bedded packs were built on clay bases surrounded by 4-foot perimeter walls. The walls between the feed alley and pack had two or more walkways for cows and equipment to pass through.
To remove heat and maintain a dry bedding surface, excellent ventilation is a must. Sidewall height is recommended to be higher than that for a freestall barn to accommodate the lost space of the sidewall opening due to the manure pack walls. Half of the barns studied had 14-foot sidewalls, and the other half had 16-foot sidewalls. Some with the 14-foot sidewalls said they would go to 16-foot sidewalls for their next barn to provide better access for bedding trucks.
The barns had 3-foot eave overhangs to minimize roof runoff and rain being blown onto the bedded pack.
Open ridges ranged from 1 to 3 inches per 10 feet of building width. Mixing fans are important to blow air downward toward the middle of the composting bedded pack. They need to be hung high enough to provide room for stirring equipment at the maximum bedded pack height.
Waterers located in the feed alley must be separated by distance or a wall from the composting bedded pack to minimize wetting the pack and keep waterers cleaner.

Managing the pack
Producers started out with a clean pack in the fall, bedded about 1 foot deep with dry shavings or sawdust. The bedded pack is actively managed to rapidly compost the manure and urine. Microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi, break down organic matter into simpler substances.
The effectiveness of the composting process depends on environmental conditions present within the pack, including oxygen, moisture, temperature, amount of organic matter and the size and activity of microbial populations. Essential elements include carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and moisture. If any of these elements are lacking, or if they are not provided in the proper proportion, microbial activity will be hindered, and the compost will not generate adequate heat.
Achieving high temperatures within the pack is important to killing pathogens and keeping the pack surface dry. Temperature is directly proportional to the biological activity within the composting bedded pack. As the metabolic rate of the microbes accelerate, the temperature within the bedded pack increases. Maintaining a temperature of 130 F or more for three to four days favors the destruction of weed seeds, fly larvae and pathogens, and conversion of odor- and pathogen-free organic matter into compost.
Herds in Endres’ study added a load of sawdust every two to five weeks. The packs were aerated to a depth of 8 to 10 inches when cows were being milked, a job that took about five to ten minutes. Producers used chisel plows, aerators or roto-tillers to turn the compost, drying it out and creating a fluffy surface. “That made the system work,” Endres said.
Endres recommends 80 to 85 square feet of space per cow for Holsteins, and 60 to 65 square feet for Jerseys in the bedded pack area.

Bedding costs higher
Bedding costs averaged about 60¢-80¢ per day, three to eight times more than it costs to bed freestalls, Endres said.
Some material was removed in the spring; all of it was taken out in the fall and spread on fields or sold as compost. But temperatures in the pack weren’t high enough to get rid of pathogens sufficiently for good compost, Endres said. The bedding would have to be finished off at higher temperatures first.
Udder health and milk quality are still question marks, Endres said. Although bacteria counts in the bedding material were high, udder health and milk quality weren’t necessarily compromised. “We found a lot of mastitis pathogens in the bedding –- a lot of exposure –- but not necessarily infections,” she said.
Dairies must have excellent milking preparation procedures and healthy teat ends to make the compost pack barn work.

Table 1.
Analysis of bedding samples in compost barn study
Average         Range                 for compost
Temperature, F                   108              76-138                  130-150
Moisture, %                        54.4             28-78.9                   50-60
pH                                      8.5              6.5-9.9                    6.5-8
Nitrogen, %                       2.54              0.57-4.22                   NA
Phosphorus, ppm             3,247            378-6,668                  NA
Potassium, ppm             15,270          2,568-29,570                NA
Carbon:Nitrogen ratio    19.5:1             10.9-87.5               25:1-30:

■ Marcia Endres is an animal scientist at the University of Minnesota. Contact her via e-mail: miendres@, phone: 612-624-5391, or visit

■ The University of Minnesota Extension dairy team publishes a quarterly Compost Dairy Barn Newsletter. To view archived copies, visit www.