Archive for June, 2009

Heifer performance, economic results seen in repro research


Milk yield, reproduction performance of first lactation Holstein cows closely related to age, weight at first calving.

Milk yield, reproduction performance of first lactation Holstein cows closely related to age, weight at first calving.

By Joseph Dalton, Ricardo Chebel and J.L. Stevenson 


CALDWELL, Idaho – Milk yield and reproductive performance of first lactation Holstein cows is closely related to age at first calving and weight after calving. 

According to records processed at DHI Provo, the average age at first calving is greater than 25 months for Holstein herds in the western United States. In fact, less than 3% of U.S. dairy producers achieve the recommended target of ≤ 24 months of age at first calving and ≥ 1,230 lb (live weight) after calving. Increased age at first calving results in increased costs due to additional rearing expense, and lost income opportunity from not having milk in the tank earlier in the animal’s life.

 The most common reproductive protocol for dairy heifers is insemination following detection of spontaneous heat. The proportion of heifers pregnant (formerly known as conception rate) following insemination after detection of heat usually ranges from 50 to 76%. Artificial insemination following detection of heat, however, requires daily observation for signs of heat and may result in an extended interval from puberty to pregnancy depending on heat detection efficiency and accuracy.

 Other reproductive protocols used in heifers include the use of: 1) prostaglandin (PG), 2) an intravaginal progesterone insert (CIDR) and PG, and 3) timed AI (TAI). With good management, treatment of heifers with PG ensures greater heat detection and AI labor efficiency with no detriment to fertility when compared with heifers inseminated upon detection of spontaneous heat. The use of a CIDR and PG generally results in tighter heat synchrony compared with heifers synchronized with 1 injection of PG alone. Fertility of heifers synchronized with a CIDR and PG (and receiving AI after heat detection) is comparable to heifers that receive AI after PG-induced or spontaneous heat.

 Unfortunately, heifers inseminated at a fixed time after the completion of Ovsynch have reduced fertility compared with those inseminated after heat detection. The disappointing results following TAI in heifers may be related to the increased number of follicular waves in heifers as compared to cows, leading to difficulty in achieving ovulation following the first GnRH injection of Ovsynch. In lactating cows, for example, it is clear that the proportion of cows that become pregnant after Ovsynch is dependent on the proportion of cows that ovulate in response to the first GnRH injection.

 (Figure 1) Holstein heifers approximately 13 months old were assigned to one of four protocols.

(Figure 1) Holstein heifers approximately 13 months old were assigned to one of four protocols.

 Recent research at the University of Idaho investigated four different reproductive protocols at a large Idaho dairy.  Holstein heifers approximately 13 months old were assigned to one of four protocols (Figure 1). Heifers in the control group received daily tail paint and AI on detection of spontaneous heat. Heifers in the PG group received one injection of PG at enrollment and AI on detected heat, whereas those not inseminated received a second PG injection 14 days later and AI on detected heat. Heifers in the CIDR group received a CIDR insert for 7 days, a PG injection at CIDR removal, and AI on detection of heat during 3 days after CIDR removal. Heifers not inseminated by 72 hours after CIDR removal received TAI + GnRH injection. The last group was the TAI group and the protocol was as follows: GnRH injection, 6 days later insertion of CIDR and injections of PG and GnRH, 7 days later CIDR removal and PG injection, and TAI + GnRH injection 48 hours after CIDR removal. 

The first GnRH injection was intended to presynchronize heifers so that maximum ovulation to the GnRH given 6 days later would be achieved. The PG injection given at the time of CIDR insertion was intended to cause regression of CL, reduce the progesterone concentration, and improve synchronization of ovulation at the time of TAI. 

Table 1.

Table 1.

Results are shown in Table 1. Proportion of heifers pregnant 32 ± 3 days after AI was greater for control and PG heifers compared with CIDR and TAI heifers. The interval from enrollment to pregnancy among heifers that became pregnant was also affected by treatment (Table 1). Heifers in the PG and CIDR groups had the shortest interval, whereas TAI heifers had the longest. The 28-day pregnancy rate (the proportion of heifers pregnant at the end of the 28-day breeding program, as determined by the formula: number pregnant/total number of eligible heifers) was smallest for the heifers in the TAI group as compared to heifers in the PG and control groups.

Data used for evaluation of economic outcomes were based on actual data from the dairy. The reproductive protocol costs were calculated based on costs of drugs, labor costs for treatment of animals, and labor costs for heat detection. The rearing cost was calculated based on daily maintenance cost per heifer multiplied by the number of days from enrollment in the study to pregnancy or to the end of the study period for heifers that did not become pregnant. The breeding program costs (Table 2) were calculated by adding the reproductive protocol cost and the rearing cost. Breeding program cost was lowest for control and PG groups, whereas heifers in the CIDR group had an intermediate breeding program cost, and TAI heifers had the highest breeding program cost (Table 2).

 (Table 2)

(Table 2)

The mean cost per pregnancy generated (Table 2) for each treatment was also calculated.  (More detailed information on the economic analyses can be found at: Stevenson et al., 2008. J. Dairy Sci. 91:3124-3438). Heifers in the PG and control treatments had the lowest cost per pregnancy followed by heifers in the CIDR and TAI treatments, respectively (Table 2).

The TAI protocol used in this study resulted in an extended interval from enrollment to AI and conception, lower pregnancy per AI, and a smaller proportion of heifers pregnant at the end of the 28-day breeding program. Consequently, heifers in the TAI group had a greater cost per pregnancy generated. In contrast, the control and PG protocols, which were based on detection of spontaneous or PG-induced heat and subsequent AI, resulted in reduced reproductive protocol costs and rearing costs, respectively. Consequently, heifers in the control and PG groups had the lowest breeding program cost and cost per pregnancy generated. Ultimately, treatment of heifers with PG every 14 days until insemination and pregnancy resulted in the best economic outcomes.

Efficient and accurate heat detection is necessary for successful reproductive management in non-TAI protocols. Consequently, in a situation where AI technicians struggle with heat detection efficiency and accuracy, the control and PG protocols could result in decreased pregnancy rates, which could affect the economic outcomes. Nevertheless, the results shown here provide evidence that simple reproductive protocols, based on detection of spontaneous or PG-induced heat, can result in high reproductive efficiency and be economically viable. 



  To contact Dr. Joseph Dalton, e-mail him at:

Milk Matters: Bovine genome provides tools for unraveling the secret of milk’s nutrition

Joseph O’Donnell

Joseph O’Donnell

By Joseph O’Donnell


When did you first hear the term, deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA? I don’t remember hearing the phrase until I was well into my college years, and I majored in Biochemistry! Scientists James Watson and Francis Crick defined the structure of DNA in 1953, and went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1962. James Watson (American) reputedly boasted, “We have found the secret of life.” More than a half a century later we are still grappling with this “secret” and how we can use it to improve human health.  


What’s the genome?

Today, we do know that DNA is organized into units called genes. When you put all the genes from one living thing together you get what’s called the genome of that plant or animal or bacteria.

Trying to figure out the “secrets” hiding in these genomes is not for the faint of heart. Since DNA was discovered an entire field of science developed – with corresponding fancy equipment and specialized skills. What used to take painstaking weeks or months experimenting in test tubes today is done in a matter of hours automatically by a machine that never stops. It’s reached the point where big genomes like mammals can be chemically defined or “sequenced” in a few years rather than a few decades. 


A puzzle in a box

Once genomes are sequenced it’s like having a big jigsaw puzzle in a box. From there you have to sort out the pieces to understand what each represents; and there are billions of them. For example, will you have blue eyes or brown eyes? Will you be tall or short? Have curly hair or straight? All the genetic information that makes you you is in that box waiting for scientists to make sense of it. The race is on and the priorities will likely relate to health, one of our most pressing issues.

The release of the human genome in 2003 opened a new area of discovery and the field exploded with scientists throughout the world eager to apply this knowledge to other species – including the bovine. After all, human civilization is closely linked to the humble cow. It is used around the world to supply draft labor, meat and milk and has been an essential part of our survival since we first domesticated cattle more than 9000 years ago.  


Bovine follows human mapping

The same year the human genome was unveiled, a global effort involving 300 scientists around the world and more than $50 million was launched to map the bovine. This important project, however, was lacking in one fundamental area – looking closely at bovine lactation genes. It took the support of California dairy producers and an alert scientific community (primarily at UC Davis) to generate information essential to the heart of the dairy industry – what genes are responsible for the nutritional package that is milk? 

The Bovine Genome work was published in the highly regarded journal, Science in April. On the same day, a related paper addressing the lactation component of the bovine genome was published in the online journal, Genome Biology. Since then, the coverage has been terrific – and no wonder.


Getting to the good stuff

With the individual puzzle pieces of the cow in our box, we can now get to the good stuff. With these basics in place, scientists around the world can and will accelerate their work on animal health, muscle development, milk production (quantity and composition), reproduction, efficiency of conversion of forage to milk and meat, reduction of greenhouse gas production – the list is infinite. 

The real bottom line in all of this is creating a healthier world as the products from our cows deliver unmatched nutrition to a global population. U.S. dairy cows will become more efficient, more sustainable, more environmentally friendly and healthier and the products, especially milk, they produce will be tailored to deliver specific benefits to human consumers. All food producers use breeding techniques to try to build health advantages to the humans who consume their products. 


Milk’s distinct advantage

Milk enjoys the distinct advantage of an ancient association with humans and a common physiological process, lactation. Sorting out the means to convert bovine milk to be more human-like is not insurmountable. This strategy will occupy scientists’ attention for many years to come. All the while consumers will realize the increased value of milk.

Much of this information can be found on the International Milk Genomics Consortium (IMGC) Web Portal: This site contains the references to all the papers listed above as well as deep insights into where this field is taking us as an industry and as consumers. 


All dairy benefits

All dairy products can benefit from milk genomics. Whether it is making tastier cheese or delivering health benefits such as satiety, relief from gastrointestinal distress, improved immune responses or more – the world will continue to become a better and healthier place through the partnership of humans and bovines.



  Dr. Joseph O’Donnell is executive director of the California Dairy Research Foundation. He can be reached at 530-753-0681. Information on the California Dairy Research Foundation can be obtained from the organization’s web site at

Heat stress impacts repro & production

By Todd Bilby


STEPHENVILLE, Texas – Heat stress (HS) negatively impacts all aspects of dairy cattle production. Milk production decline and reproduction losses during the summer substantially impact the economic potential of dairy farms.

The annual economic impact of HS on American animal agriculture has been estimated at $2 billion, with the dairy industry alone accounting for $900 million of this loss.  Heat stress occurs over a wide combination of solar radiation levels, ambient temperatures, and relative humidity. This is further aggravated by metabolic heat production (generated by the cow herself).


Metabolic heat 

Generally, it is assumed that a cow becomes more sensitive to HS as milk production increases due to elevated metabolic heat production. The dairy industry continues to focus on selecting for production traits which, in turn, may increase the dairy cow’s susceptibility to HS, further intensifying the summer decline in milk production and reproduction.

In addition, selecting for milk yield reduces the thermoregulatory range of the dairy cow (Berman et al., 1985). 

Breeds predominantly used in the U.S. dairy industry were developed in temperate climates, and are most productive between the temperatures of 41 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Cows experience a loss in production when temperatures increase from 59 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit (Hahn, 1985). 

However, dramatic reductions are observed when the temperature exceeds 77 degrees F. Consequently, strategies should be initiated to lessen the severity of HS on both reproduction and milk production to improve cow performance and farm profitability

Traditionally, dry pregnant cows are provided little protection from HS because they are not lactating and it is incorrectly assumed they are less prone to HS. Additional stressors are imposed during this period due to abrupt physiological, nutritional, and environmental changes. These changes can increase the cows’ susceptibility to HS and have a critical influence on postpartum cow health, milk production and reproduction. 

The dry period is particularly crucial since it involves mammary gland involution and subsequent development, rapid fetal growth, and induction of lactation. Heat stress during this time period can affect endocrine responses that may increase fetal abortions, shorten the gestation length, lower calf birth weight, and reduce follicle and oocyte maturation associated with the postpartum reproductive cycle.

Many studies reporting subtle effects of HS on subsequent fertility were published more than 20 years ago when the average milk yield was much less than it is today. 

In addition, our cooling systems and knowledge of proper cooling (when, where, and to what extent) to reduce HS has increased substantially. 

A study conducted in Saudi Arabia on three different farms observed an improvement in peak milk production (90.9 vs. 87.2 lbs), decreased services per conception (3.1 vs. 3.7 services), and reduced culling for reproductive failure (7.7% vs. 19%) for dry cows evaporatively cooled vs. shade only (Wiersma and Armstrong, 1988)

More recently, Avendano-Reyes et al. (2006) concluded that cooling dry cows with shades, fans, and water spray vs. cows with only shade decreased services per conception and days open, and increased milk yield during the postpartum period.  

In 2006, Urdaz et al. observed that dry cows with feed line sprinklers, fans and shade compared to cows with only feed line sprinklers had an increased 60 d milk yield with no difference in body condition score (BCS) changes, incidence of postparturient disorders, or serum nonesterified fatty acid concentrations. In this study, reproductive parameters were not measured; however, cooling dry cows with shades, fans, and sprinklers compared with only sprinklers improved total 60 d milk production by 185.5 lb/cow, and increased estimated annual profits by $2,131/cow (based on milk only). 

The problem of carryover effects from summer HS to fall fertility may be accentuated due to HS during the dry period. It is well known that a period of approximately 2 months is needed for low autumn fertility to be restored to the level prevailing in the winter. It takes approximately 40-50 days for antral follicles to develop into large dominant follicles and ovulate (Roth et al., 2001). If HS occurs during this time period both the follicle and oocyte inside the follicle become damaged. Once ovulation occurs, the damaged oocyte has reduced chances of fertilizing and developing into a viable embryo. 

Cooling dry cows may reduce HS effects on the antral follicle destined to ovulate 40-50 d later, which coincides with the start of most breeding periods, and possibly increases first service conception rates.

The greatest opportunity to reduce the negative effects of HS during both the pre- and postpartum periods is through cooling. As mentioned above, cooling dry cows with feed line sprinklers, fans and shades proved to be beneficial for reducing services per conception, reproductive culls, days open, and increasing milk yield with a significant return on investment compared to cows with either shades alone or feed line sprinklers alone. (Wiersma and Armstrong, 1988; Avendano-Reyes et al., 2006; Urdaz et al., 2006). 

In addition to proper cooling, changing management decisions may help reduce the severity of HS in areas of intermittent heat waves. For instance, at dry-off, many cows receive vaccines that can cause a fever spike which, when coupled with HS, can cause body temperature to rise above normal (101.3-102.8 degrees F). 

In the 2006 California heat wave, many cows died (not only in the fresh pen as expected) within the first few days of dry off (personal unpublished observations). Possibly, during severe heat waves it would prove beneficial to delay vaccinations at dry-off if the dry pen does not contain adequate cooling.



  To contact Dr. Todd Bilby, e-mail him at or call 254-968-4144.

Uriel Ramirez has come a long way

By Lindsay Reyes


SPRING LAKE, Texas –  You would never know by talking with Uriel Ramirez, manager of VB Ranch and White River Ranch Dairies, that there was a point in his life when he didn’t know how to speak English. 

Ramirez began working for Neil Visser of Bakersfield, Calif. when he was 19 years old.

“ I started as a cow pusher and didn’t speak a word of English,” Ramirez said. He pushed cows for about 8 months and when my first child, Stephanie was born, Visser moved him to a milkers job. 

After milking cows for three years, Uriel started feeding the cows. “I was very scared about feeding cows and I didn’t know if I was going to make it,” he explained. 

“I was able to help Uriel with feeding cows, he was mostly afraid of the math, so I created a spreadsheet to help him out,” said his wife Griecelda. “We went through different scenarios of this is what you would put on if you dumped this amount on the wagon.”  This helped Uriel through feeding for three years until he was asked by Visser to breed cows.

At this point, Uriel began to learn English from spending time with his boss. While breeding cows, Neil and Uriel would have small conversations where Uriel could answer either “yes” or “no” because that was basically all the English he knew. 

“It was hard for me to breed cows because I was having a hard time communicating with Neil. This is when Neil kind of ‘spanked’ me to motivate me to speak more English,” laughs Ramirez.

With a lot encouragement from Neil and Griecelda, Uriel started speaking some English. “He was giving up and Neil kept telling him ‘you can do it,’” said Griecelda. “Uriel would ask me, ‘Neil said this, what does that mean?’” 

After breeding, Neil moved Uriel to the hospital barn and made him a herdsman. At this point, Uriel knew a lot more English. 

“I forced myself to learn more because I had to call and order parts, and call people around the dairy for certain things,” said Ramirez, who was also learning about fresh cows, pulling and cleaning cows. 

“I will never forget the first time I had to stick my arm in a cow and Neil warned me about a few things. He told me not to pull my arm out, but I did it anyway and the cow slimed,” recalled Uriel.

It wasn’t long before an opportunity came up for a management position on the dairy while they were still in California. “K&M Dairy was built by Keith Visser and they needed a manager on his place,” explained Ramirez. He took the position and continued learning more about managing a dairy and people. “Neil taught me never to scream at an employee and never disrespect an employee,”  he said.

In 2004, they asked Ramirez if they were to build a dairy in Texas would he move out there to manage it? That decision hinged on whether Uriel was willing to relocate. If he was not willing to move, they would remain on their California dairy. 

It was during that time, the nearby city was starting to surround the dairy. McDonalds was their neighbor across the street. 

Also, in 2004 Neil was in the process of building White River Ranch near Hart, Texas.  He was planning to move all his cows from his two Roswell, NM dairies.

 Uriel did decide to move with the dairy to Spring Lake, Texas where VB Ranch was built and owned by Jess Visser. 

In September 2006 Uriel and his family moved to Texas and in October of that year they began milking cows at VB Ranch Dairy. White River Ranch had already been up and going for about three years. Ramirez was a herdsman and at both dairies while managing VB Ranch.

When Neil and Jess Visser saw how well VB Ranch was doing compared to White River Ranch, they asked Ramirez to also manage White River. 

“I was a herdsman and manager at both places for awhile and I had a breaking point and just could not do it all and needed to loosen the work load,” declared Ramirez. “We promoted two employees – who had been training under my supervision – to replace me as herdsman at each dairy so I could just manage both.”  

Uriel keeps busy managing VB Ranch that milks 2,900 cows and White River Ranch that milks 4,950. 

It’s obvious Ramirez loves what he does and that Neil is very proud of the manager that Uriel has become.

It’s your money: Now may be perfect time for a GRAT


Verlyn De Wit

Verlyn De Wit

By Verlyn De Wit


Some estate planning techniques thrive in difficult times.  

Today’s idea has been around for years. But rarely hast it been more effective in reducing a taxable estate than today because of two reasons:

• Dairy values are currently depressed.

• These low values can be further discounted because of historic lows in federal interest rates which are used to calculate the gift value.


Tax moves in order

You may want to transfer assets to your children to minimize the 45% estate tax. But who likes to part with cash? Or maybe more to the point, who has cash to give away?

However, this gift technique may have little effect on cash flow for a long time, and yet produce dramatic estate tax relief. I call it giving your cake away, and eating it too. The Internal Revenue Service calls it a GRAT.

Here are the basics. A parent establishes a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT), and then transfers ownership of the dairy to the GRAT. The dairy continues to operate in the trust, but is obligated to make annual payments to the grantor – $650,000 per year in our example in the chart to the right. The trust must borrow money to make the annual payments if diary income alone is not sufficient.


Remaining property to kids

When the GRAT ends, the property remaining in the trust belongs to the parent’s child or children. The following diagram assumes the parent wishes to retain an income stream for 15 years. Other time periods can be chosen, but they will yield a taxable gift result different than the one shown above.


What have we accomplished?

• The parent continues to receive $650,000 per year income from the GRAT for 15 years.

• Since the children have to wait 15 years for the gift, Internal Revenue Service tables conclude that they are receiving a gift of only $2,010,990 in our example. This gift can nearly be entirely offset by each parent’s $1,000,000 lifetime gift tax credit.

• In 15 years, the dairy’s value could increase to $12 million or more, yet we have passed it on to the children for a gift value of just over $2 million.


What are some possible pitfalls? 

• If the parent’s death occurs before the 15 years have expired, some or all of the trust assets will be included in his/her estate. While no insurance or securities have to be purchased in conjunction with a GRAT, it might be wise to procure a 15-year term insurance plan on the parent’s life to pay for the taxes due in the event of a premature death.  

• Watch out for tricky community property laws. Also pay careful attention to cash flows and income tax liabilities. Hire qualified tax and legal advisors to help you establish your GRAT.

It’s Your Money, guard it like a fox!



  Verlyn De Wit helps successful dairy producers make smart decisions about their money.  He can be reached toll at 888-468-1728 by e-mail at

  Neither Western DairyBusiness nor Verlyn De Wit is qualified to offer legal or tax advice. Consult your attorney and/or tax professional for a qualified opinion regarding your personal situation.

OSU studies how to make cows happy, hike milk

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If you want a dairy cow to produce as much milk as possible, one of the things you need to do is make sure she spends enough time each day just lying down, content and at ease. But to be happy, she’s got to be comfortable in her pen or wherever she is.

Wanting to help dairy farmers learn more about this to maximize their milk production, Oregon State University has launched research to study the factors that influence dairy cows’ comfort level. To do this, the OSU dairy center is using an Israeli-made ankle bracelet that senses when a cow is lying down by determining the angle of her leg to the ground. When a cow lies down, the blood flow to her udder increases, which produces more milk.

“This device is a way for the cows to tell us things,” said Aurora Villarroel, an OSU Extension veterinarian in the College of Veterinary Medicine who is conducting the research. “It’s a way for us to interpret what they’re doing without being there 24-7 or filming them.”

Villarroel and her team attached the device, which is orange and about the size of a deck of playing cards, to about 100 cows earlier this year and began gathering baseline data. Now she’s asking dairy farmers what factors they’d like OSU to test. She’s encouraging dairies to contact her at 541-737-5853 with their ideas or questions. She aims to start testing some of their suggestions this summer.

The factors can vary from environmental to nutritional. For example, researchers may see if straw bedding makes a cow lie down more than sand or if separating Jerseys from Holsteins instead of having mixed herds affects their time on the ground, Villarroel said. Or perhaps they’ll tweak the size of the freestalls or the number of cows in a pen and see what happens, she added. Additional factors might be drastic weather changes, what the cows eat, and times of milking, she said.

Whatever the factors might be that influence the amount of time a cow rests, the bottom line is that more time on the ground equals more milk, according to research. A study by the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute in New York looked at how much milk was produced by cows that rested between seven hours and 17 hours a day. 

“We found a positive correlation between those two variables,” said Peter Krawczel, a research assistant at the institute. “The result was that we predict that for each additional hour of rest, there would be a gain of 3.7 pounds of milk.” 

For example, he said, if a cow normally rests for seven hours a day, but increases her rest to eight hours, then her milk production would increase 3.7 pounds that day. If she rested for nine hours, she would produce 7.4 more pounds that day, he said.

Those extra pounds mean extra cash for dairies. In Oregon, dairy farmers grossed $500 million in milk sales in 2008, according to a preliminary report by the OSU Extension Service. In terms of farmgate sales, milk was Oregon’s third largest commodity group after cattle and nursery crops, the report said.

OSU isn’t just using the ankle bracelets to record cows’ resting habits though. The device, which is made by SAE Afikim, also works as a pedometer, counting how many steps a cow takes each day. This helps dairies know when a cow is ready to be bred because cows’ activity levels increase when they’re in heat. 

Once the cows are in the milking parlor, a sensor transmits the data in their ankle bracelets to a computer where it can be analyzed. Custom reports can then be made for herds and individual cows. 

Although using pedometers to detect heat in U.S. cows isn’t new, OSU is the only facility in the country that is using ones that sense if cows are lying down, said Udi Golan, a products manager for Afikim who talked about the device during an open house at the dairy center this month. He said Afikim plans to start selling pedometers with this tilt-detecting sensor in the United States in a few months. Dairy equipment provider DeLaval will distribute them.

Also at the open house, Ben Krahn, the manager of the center, explained how he and his crew are using other technology that is new to the center, which is run by the animal sciences department in the College of Agricultural Sciences. A few weeks ago, they began using radio frequency identification tags on the cows’ ears that function as barcodes. 

Cow handlers wave a wand next to them and the cow’s personal medical record immediately appears on a handheld computer. Data include the cow’s birthdate, when she was bred, who her parents are, when a veterinarian last examined her, and how much milk she has produced. Examiners can also input data into the handheld device, which is about the size of a small paperback book. 

Having a computer at a cow’s side means that examiners don’t have to run back to an office computer and look up data or possibly make mistakes while jotting it down on a clipboard, said David Nansel, an account manager for Utah-based DHI-Provo, which makes the software.

DHI-Provo asked OSU to test it out so the company can fine tune it for the industry, Nansel said. 

Pfizer Animal Health series: Dairying in today’s economy

Low milk prices and high input costs are affecting everyone. The experts at Pfizer Animal Health – who work directly with dairy producers across the country and care about the welfare of the industry – have written a series of articles containing unique insights and describing cost-saving opportunities for dairy producers.

To check out the series, click on the links below.


Part 1

Riding the milk price roller coaster

Examine existing protocols to maximize return on investment

Sidebar: The ‘top 10’ marginal milk quick tips

By John Lee, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health


Part 2

Treat smarter, not harder

Current economic conditions have producers considering how to get the most bang for their buck

Sidebar: If cows aren’t producing up to par, maybe they need a career change

By Mark Kirkpatrick, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health

 Part 3

Remain vigilant when assessing feed and vaccination protocols

In tough economic times don’t do anything that harms production

By Jerry Olson, DVM, MS, Pfizer Animal Health


Part 4

In tough economic times, don’t let mastitis become a leaky furnace

Reviewing your mastitis protocol is important and could save you money, while cutbacks could end up costing you big in the long run

By Kevin Zieser, Quality Milk Manager, Pfizer Animal Health

In tough economic times, don’t let mastitis become a leaky furnace

Reviewing your mastitis protocol is important and could save you money, while cutbacks could end up costing you big in the long run.


(Part 4 in a series from Pfizer Animal Health)


By Kevin Zieser, Quality Milk Manager, Pfizer Animal Health


You never know how much a leaky furnace will cost you until a very large utility bill arrives in the mailbox. Even though fixing the furnace would take an investment, the return of efficiency would be worth the cost in the long term. 

At a time when income from milk is potentially below production costs, some dairy producers may ponder the idea of cutting back on their mastitis treatment, prevention and testing efforts. But much like that leaky furnace, not fixing a mastitis problem may end up costing you more in the long run. 

In fact, an evaluation of mastitis procedures could put money in your pocket. I believe producers can potentially earn additional income per cow as a result of putting more milk in the tank, getting higher premiums from their processors, increasing the cow’s lifetime value and improving reproductive success. Here’s how a mastitis protocol can benefit your bottom line:


1. More milk in the tank

Subclinical mastitis could be stealing your herd’s production because infections are without symptoms. Keep in mind that for every case of clinical mastitis, the National Mastitis Council says there are 15 to 40 cases of subclinical mastitis in the herd.1 Therefore, prevention and early treatment methods can go a long way in curtailing the damage. Effectively treating subclinical mastitis could put an additional 200 to 400 pounds of milk in the tank during a cow’s lactation.2  


2. Receive higher premiums

Milk quality premiums offer a great motivation for reducing SCCs and producing a higher quality product to earn those premiums. Processors are willing to pay more for quality and producers can often get premiums paid for high milk quality, especially in the Midwest. Currently, there is more milk being produced than processing capacity and some producers may lose a home for their milk. Several processors are currently ranking producers based on milk quality and cheese yield. Those producers with poor milk quality or components will be the first ones to be let go.


3. Increased lifetime value of the animal 

Producers may want to consider if they are treating mastitis long enough to get a cure or simply clearing up clinical signs. Failing to fully treat mastitis could lead to a chronic condition that lasts throughout the cow’s lifetime. The result will be less lifetime production, more likelihood the cow will be culled early, additional treatment costs and less money in your pocket.


4. Cut down culls and increase shipping profit

If the size of your dairy exceeds capacity, you may need to move some cows to prevent overcrowding. Healthy, high-producing cows can bring in higher income versus a potential cull cow. If a producer has valuable heifers and can sell them for $1,500, while a cull generates roughly $500, the producer is potentially earning $1,000. If a producer can sell high-quality dairy cows and keep his genetics and young heifers on farm and earn additional income, it’s a good thing.


5. Improved reproductive success

The other thing that occurs with clinical mastitis is a reduction in reproductive success. I have observed that cows with mastitis usually see a median difference of about 20 days open, and can reach as high as 50 days open, when compared to cows without incidence. With a cost of up to $2 per cow for every day open, mastitis takes its toll.3  

Reviewing your mastitis protocol is important and could end up saving you money while cutbacks could end up costing you big in the long run. The bottom line is, do not let mastitis become a leaky furnace – be proactive and treat smarter. Talk with your veterinarian and ask how to best treat cows for success.



• The Pfizer Animal Health Dairy Wellness Plan is a 365-day approach to managing your dairy operation that focuses on the health of the dairy animal, the economic health of the dairy and the proper use of animal health products leading to a safe and healthy food supply. Pfizer Inc. is the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company, is a world leader in discovering and developing innovative animal vaccines and prescription medicines. Pfizer Animal Health is dedicated to improving the safety, quality and productivity of the world’s food supply by enhancing the health of livestock and poultry; and in helping companion animals live longer and healthier lives. For additional information on Pfizer’s portfolio of animal products, visit




Remain vigilant when assessing feed and vaccination protocols

In tough economic times don’t do anything that harms production.

(Part 3 in a series from Pfizer Animal Health)


By Jerry Olson, DVM, MS, Pfizer Animal Health


Producers can’t change the price of milk, but they can examine ways to make their operations more efficient in good times or bad. When dairies are making money, it is easy to forget the details, but in tough times, reexamining current feed and vaccination protocols can ensure maximum production. 

Jerry Olson, DVM, MS, Pfizer Animal Health

Jerry Olson, DVM, MS, Pfizer Animal Health

With all the possible feed and vaccine changes, producers should never fall to the temptation of doing something drastic. Producers might think that if they feed a less expensive ingredient or cut certain areas of their vaccination protocol, they’re saving money – but they also might do some serious damage to milk production.


Cost savings opportunities

On most dairies, feed constitutes the single biggest cost producers face. Examining current feed protocols may potentially increase efficiency. Overfeeding is a serious problem, and producers should really make sure that feed is not unnecessarily wasted. Reviewing the current daily total mixed ration (TMR) to determine if it is being built meticulously with everything measured out could prove beneficial. If producers can save even a tenth of a point with a little fine tuning, they can save some money. 

Working to feed for fewer refusals is another way to cut on wastes and save money. Most producers feed for a 5% refusal rate. Can they work to take that down to a 1% refusal rate? 

Examining cows on an individual basis and keeping in mind what stage of lactation they are in also can help ensure precise feeding. Cows further out in lactation may not need as much protein in the ration because they are producing less milk, so those rations become less expensive per pound of dry matter. It may be better to target milking herds with multiple, precise rations, rather than one ration fits all. 

Be careful in making decisions like cutting trace mineral and vitamin packs. The effect of cutting trace mineral and vitamin packs may not have immediate effects but may compromise health of cows in the future. It is appropriate to review the formulation of trace mineral and vitamin supplement packs but don’t be penny wise and dollar foolish. I have seen producers try to get by with just hay and corn silage. That’s guaranteed less milk.


Vaccination protocols

Reexamining the current vaccine protocol is never a bad idea. The latest vaccines provide both the thorough protection and scheduling convenience that successful producers need, easing labor costs and enhancing management decisions. 

Remember, animal health costs account for less than 5% of producer’s expenses so there is not a lot gained by cutting back in this area. Potentiality, a producer could get away with not vaccinating but the repercussions could be devastating if BVD or Lepto hardjo-bovis entered the herd. Vaccines help ensure a cow’s health and can actually reduce the costs of producing milk. 

Given the importance of animal health on production, it only makes sense to cover everything by helping prevent harmful diseases through regular vaccination. Any change will become a very expensive decision if it lowers milk production or harms the health of the animal. Producers should remain vigilant and speak with a nutritionist and veterinarian before making any changes to existing protocols. 



• The Pfizer Animal Health Dairy Wellness Plan is a 365-day approach to managing your dairy operation that focuses on the health of the dairy animal, the economic health of the dairy and the proper use of animal health products leading to a safe and healthy food supply. Pfizer Inc. is the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company, is a world leader in discovering and developing innovative animal vaccines and prescription medicines. Pfizer Animal Health is dedicated to improving the safety, quality and productivity of the world’s food supply by enhancing the health of livestock and poultry; and in helping companion animals live longer and healthier lives. For additional information on Pfizer’s portfolio of animal products, visit



Treat smarter, not harder

Current economic conditions have producers considering how to get the most bang for their buck.

(Part 2 in a series from Pfizer Animal Health)


By Mark Kirkpatrick, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health


One thing you can do to limit costs and maximize milk production is to carefully examine your current mastitis protocols. From my experience, in the average herd, the mastitis incidence rate runs about 20 percent. Dr. Pamela Ruegg, University of Wisconsin, suggests that up to 25 percent of the identified cases will be grade 3 (cases that have abnormal milk, a swollen quarter and a sick cow).(1)


Mark Kirkpatrick, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health

Mark Kirkpatrick, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health

If a significant amount of my cases are above that 25 percent benchmark for grade 3 then I as a producer may well be missing or ignoring the grade 1 and 2 clinical cases. Ignoring clinical mastitis doesn’t make it go away. Involve your veterinarian in conducting a review of your current mastitis identification and treatment program to better understand your current program. 

Early and effective mastitis identification and treatment improves the chances for a positive outcome and limits infection of additional herdmates. As you move forward with your treatment program there are some “rules of the road” that you, your veterinarian and treatment crew need to agree on. Establishing the rules allows the farm to create treatment protocols. It is absolutely critical for treatment success to follow the protocol in terms of dose and duration of treatment. Dr. Alfonso Lago, University of Minnesota, in an evaluation of clinical mastitis cases suggested some rules for consideration. (2)


If you have monthly somatic cell count testing, was she above or below 200,000 cell count prior to her mastitis case?

If she was below a 200,000 cell count, you have a reasonable chance at having a successful outcome. The only exception is a cow that has had mastitis two times already; the success rate drops by half for the third time though. If a cow is greater than 200,000 cell count prior to her current clinical case, the following rules come into play.


What lactation is the cow in? 

Lactation 1 and early Lactation 2 individuals potentially have a greater opportunity for treatment success. If it is a later lactation animal, think about current number of times of mastitis, milk production, value of the cow, etc. If the cow’s milk production is worth the investment, you, with your veterinarian’s advice, might want to consider extended therapy to improve the chances for a bacteriological cure. Alternatively, the animal may be a cull.


Consider how many days in milk the cow is

If the cow is 150 days or fewer in milk, treatment should be considered because there is a lot of lactation left. If the cow is late in lactation, consider alternates such as possibly drying her up early. 


Know the number of times the cow has been treated previously

If the cow has been treated two or more times during a single lactation, she should be considered a poor treatment risk. You might consider alternatives such as not administering additional treatment, kill a quarter or dry up early.


Other factors to consider before treating

If the cow has a low relative herd value and is constantly producing below-average milk or has other strikes against her, a producer might want to consider other options, including culling.

Effective herd management of mastitis is a constant ongoing battle that is subject to weather, immune system status, organism type and infective status of the herd. Take the herd off auto-pilot. Get your herd veterinarian involved with your program and review where you are at. Define the “rules of the road” that will allow you to treat smarter not harder. It pays dividends in higher milk yield and reduced somatic cell counts; both being assets that keep you in the game during these difficult economic times.


1Ruegg, Pam. On farm culturing for better milk quality, in Proceedings. 9th Western Dairy Management Conference March 12, 2009;149-159.

2Lago, A., Rhoda, D., Cook, N.B. Clinical mastitis treatment decisions and cure monitoring using DHIA SCC data, in Proceedings. 37th Annu Conv Am Assoc Bovine Pract 2004;187.  




If cows aren’t producing up to par,
maybe they need a career change


By Mark Kirkpatrick, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health 


High costs and low milk prices have dairy producers examining the efficiency of their operations. By increasing the emphasis on an individual cow’s production rather than the herd as a whole, producers can cut wasteful spending and make better-informed management decisions, including whether a cow should be culled. 

Understanding the value of each cow helps determine which animals are not profitable when compared to the majority of the herd. It’s important to keep all the stalls filled with productive cows. By refining individual measurement, it can be determined if a particular stall is better filled with a replacement heifer rather than a low performing mature cow. 

One way value can be determined is through a record system that ranks each cow. Inputting certain parameters, such as heat detection rate, the average value of a heifer, the value of a cull and milk production, will lead to a calculated value for every cow being assessed. If a baseline number can be decided, it’s easier to figure out which individuals are not producing and what measures need to be taken to reach profitability. A producer may find that they are better served to part ways with a particular animal.

Ranking individual cows can be achieved through one of several record systems available to dairy producers. The software uses different criteria such as marginal feed costs, conception rate, heat detection rate, voluntary wait period, value of milk, heifer cost, cull value and cull rates to assign a relative value, value of a pregnancy and break-even milk for each cow in the operation. Astute producers use this system often, constantly updating the inputs to determine the value of each cow weekly.

Determining if particular cows need a career change may provide an additional benefit. In recent years, there has been a push to produce as much milk as possible out of a dairy unit, which has resulted in overstocked operations. Overcrowding actually hurts a herd’s overall milk production. As individuals are removed and operations move closer to proper stocking density, operations have even improved unit milk production and saved feed costs from fewer mouths to feed.



• The Pfizer Animal Health Dairy Wellness Plan is a 365-day approach to managing your dairy operation that focuses on the health of the dairy animal, the economic health of the dairy and the proper use of animal health products leading to a safe and healthy food supply. Pfizer Inc. is the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company, is a world leader in discovering and developing innovative animal vaccines and prescription medicines. Pfizer Animal Health is dedicated to improving the safety, quality and productivity of the world’s food supply by enhancing the health of livestock and poultry; and in helping companion animals live longer and healthier lives. For additional information on Pfizer’s portfolio of animal products, visit