Archive for August, 2010

Conversations: Ask your nutritionist about transition cow nutrition and management

Managing the transition period through proven nutritional avenues is the first step to ensuring your cows successfully join the milking herd. As producers and their advisors meet in the conference room (or kitchen), transition management continues to receive great attention because this period – three weeks prepartum to three weeks after calving – has the greatest and most clearly defined impact on cow performance and health.

By Elliot Block

Better understanding and proper formulation of the ration throughout the transition period can help you keep cows eating, healthy and performing optimally when joining the milking string.

1) What behavioral changes take place during the transition period?

Dry matter intake (DMI) decreases significantly seven to 10 days before calving. In addition, nutrient requirements, hormone levels and rumen function shift dramatically. Due to these physiological and biological changes, it is imperative that the transition ration delivers adequate energy as DMI declines, helping cows reach a positive energy balance as quickly as possible after calving.

Proactively monitor behavioral changes to help identify cows going off feed or that are getting sick. Talk with your nutritionist about how to deliver optimal energy levels in the transition cow diet.

2) How can other ration changes prepare transition cows for the upcoming lactation?

An effective nutrition program can help counteract the multitude of changes that occur during the transition period. Balancing rations for dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD), feeding an effective energy source and offering high-quality protein by delivering the optimal amino acid profile are all proven practices for helping the transition cow successfully join the milking string. When the nutritional needs of the transition period are managed effectively, cows have the ability to remain healthy, productive and profitable.

Discuss the ration with your nutritionist and why each piece is important to the transition cow diet.

3) What role does DCAD balancing play in the transition period?

The DCAD equation measures the levels of four macrominerals in the diet: potassium and sodium, positively charged cations, and chloride and sulfur, negatively charged anions. Research confirms lowering DCAD prepartum to -8 to -12 meq/100g ration dry matter helps maintain DMI and prepare the rumen for the upcoming lactation, helping to dramatically reduce the risk of metabolic disorders and increase peak milk yields. Postpartum DCAD levels should be raised to +35 to +45 meq/100g dry matter to increase DMI and reach milk and component production potential.

Ask your nutritionist about DCAD balancing and its benefits for your herd. If your rations are not currently balanced for DCAD, a forage test can help determine current levels of the four macrominerals in the DCAD equation to help you make educated decisions about DCAD balancing.

4) Beyond my nutrition program what management factors lead to a successful transition group?

Minimizing stress throughout the transition period is critical. Focusing on the following management areas can help keep cows comfortable and eating throughout the transition:

• Maximize cow comfort to encourage lying down, minimizing time spent standing and walking.

• Provide clean, dry and comfortable beds, lots or corrals.

• Minimize stressors by moderating pen densities and implementing heat-stress abatement practices.

• Monitor urine pH and DMI as two of the best indicators of transition cow problems.

Ask your veterinarian and nutritionist to help custom design fresh cow monitoring and treatment programs.


• Elliot Block is Senior Manager, Technology, Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition. Contact him via phone: 609-279-7517; e-mail:; or website:

• Access Arm & Hammer’s online

U.S. robotic pioneers

Editor’s note: Central Ag Supply Inc. and Knigge Farms LLC, will host an open house on Sept. 14. Ten years ago, the Knigge farm became the first robotic milking farm in the United States. On May 25, the Knigge’s replaced their original Lely Astronaut equipment with Lely’s latest technology, the Lely Astronaut A3 Next.

What: Knigge Farms and Central Ag Supply Inc. Open House

When: Sept. 14, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Where: 4577 Poygan Avenue, Omro, WI, 54963

Directions: Knigge Farms is located 20 miles west of Oshkosh off Highway 21 (3 miles west of Omro). Go north on Poygan Ave. Knigge Farms is the second farm on the west side of the road.

Information: Contact Central Ag Supply (920-386-2611) or Knigge Farms (920-685-5531)

Wisconsin’s Knigges enter ‘next’ generation

By Dave Natzke

Ten years ago, Knigge Farms LLC, Omro, Wis. became the first U.S. family dairy farm to install robotic milkers. This summer, they replaced those original units with a new generation of dairy robots.

Three generations of Knigges – Pete and Theo, their son Charlie, and his 7-year-old Jacob – can smile about dairy chores at Knigge Farms LLC, Omro, Wis., in part due to robotic milkers. (Photo by Neil Newman)

The farm is owned by Pete, his wife Theo, and Charlie, 34. Charlie has a 7-year-old son, Jacob. The operation includes about 125 cows, 145 head of young stock and 25 feeder steers. The Knigges grow about 600 acres of corn, beans, alfalfa and wheat, and do some custom planting/harvesting. Pete is the herd manager, does most of the AI, and serves as the dairy’s primary general manager; Charlie takes care of nutrition, cropping and maintenance. Theo’s responsibilities include calf care and cleaning the robot rooms.

(Two of Pete and Theo’s daughters have off-farm jobs, but still remain linked to the farm. Krista works for Charleston-Orwig, a communications agency primarily working with ag clients. Mary, who previously worked with the National Milk Producers Federation, became a staff member for the U.S. House Ag Committee last spring.)

Eastern DairyBusiness recently talked with Pete and Charlie, shortly after the 10-year anniversary of the installation of their first robotic milkers and the installation of two new units.

Eastern DairyBusiness: Ten years ago you became the first U.S. dairy to install a robotic milking system. Talk about that experience.

Pete: There’s a fine line between being a pioneer and a lightning rod. There was lots of publicity when we first did it, and there was extra pressure to make it work. Most days we would do the same thing again.

Early on, installing the first robots in the United States, we had to get approvals at many federal and state levels. Regulators didn’t have experience with robots, so it was a challenge. We worked through the process, and there has been a lot of progress on regulatory issues now.

When we see low mik prices, it’s not fun for dairy producers no matter what kind of situation or facilities they have. It’s the nature of our business, but the bottom line is producing the most milk per cow at the lowest cost, and we found the robots helped us keep feed costs down and get more milk from the cows.

It has worked for our goals and situation. One of the things I tell dairy producers who are interested in robotics to go and spend part of a day at a robotic farm, see the routine and talk to the farmers with robotic experience.

EDB: What was the hardest transition to robotic milkers?

Charlie: The biggest challenge was getting the entire herd of cows trained to the robots; it probably took about a month. That was a real chore. Now, it takes about a week to get a fresh heifer trained to enter the robot on her own.

Pete: Feeding – getting the ration right – was also an early challenge. We feed a protein pellet in the robot to entice cow to come in, so we’re pulling some protein out of the TMR. Getting the right balance and protein mixture created lots of challenges.

EDB: The old units lasted 10 years. What led to your decision to install new robots?

Charlie: They’re designed to last longer, but the old ones were starting to show their age. Service and maintenance became an issue, and that was the driving force behind installing new units. Maintenance and technical support are geared toward newer models.

Pete Knigge, with Lely Astronaut robotic milker, in 2000. As a member of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection educational mission trip, Pete Knigge traveled to The Netherlands on an educational mission trip in 1999, focusing on manure regulations and environmental stewardship. He came home with an interest in robotic milkers. Knigge Farms LLC, near Omro, Wis., installed two Lely Astronaut robotic milking units in 2000. Even though Europeans began using robotic milkers nearly a decade earlier, it was the first robotic installation in the United States. (Photo by JoDee Sattler)

EDB: How has cow handling and traffic changed?

Pete: We have a traditional 4-row freestall barn with drive-through feeding, alley scrapers, with one robot on each side of the barn. We have a small holding area where we can put cows and heifers in for training.

We started out with forced cow traffic, which was a mistake, because it limited feed intake too much. Some of the new recommendations are completely  “free” cow traffic, with no holding areas. With the increase in the number of robotic milkers on farms, there are more designs as more farmers try different things. There are completely new concepts in barn designs.

In our layout, cows can only go to one side. One of the things we would change if we could do it again would be to have both robots available to the entire herd, so if you’re doing routine maintenance or repairs on one, cows still have the other stall to go to. Nobody thought of that 10 years ago when we were designing layout.

EDB: How was cow throughput?

Pete: Probably the highest throughput we ever achieved was 110 cows through two units, three times a day. That was really maxing them out. The biggest change we’ve seen in the new units is speed of attachment, udder preparation and detecting location of teats. The new units should have more capacity than the old ones.

EDB: How have robotic milkers impacted other aspects of your dairy’s management? Start with herd health.

Charlie: Herd health management software and record-keeping improved herd health management. It was a big step up from having (paper) records for individual cows. The robots and software monitors milk conductivity and color, helping identify cows with mastitis. Pedometers help monitor cow activity and identify cows in natural heat, which should help reduce reliance on synchronization programs. It’s important to learn how to interpret the data.

Pete: You still need good husbandry skills to spot cows, but you’re not physically handing the cows or udders, so you have to learn to interpret the reports you receive daily, sometimes hourly. The robot also weighs the cows, and they’ll be flagged if their losing weight too fast. If a cow’s milk production is down from the norm, she’s flagged. The computer gives you a lot of data, and you have to be able to analyze it. Record-keeping capability has improved with the new robots. Lely also has regular webinars, where we can talk to technical people, to learn about what’s all available.

Charlie Knigge, with the Lely Astronaut A3 Next robotic milker, installed in 2010. Central Ag Supply Inc. and Knigge Farms will host an open house on Sept. 14. (Photo by Neil Newman)

EDB: How about genetic selection?

Pete: Good feet and legs and good udders are important. We’ve always stressed selecting bulls that are plus a point in foot and legs and plus a point  in udders. We’ve had a cow or two where the back teats are too close together, and the robot will have trouble with those, but that’s been rare. A more common problem is cows with deep udders or teats spread out to the sides, but there aren’t any dairymen who want to milk those cows, whether your milking by hand, in a parlor, or in a robot.

As we breed for more milk production, we get some deep-uddered cows. That can mean culling older cows with deep udders, because the robot will only go so low.

Hoof heath is also more important in a robotic system, because a cow with sore feet won’t go to the milker. You have to make sure you have a good hoof maintenance and trimming program.

The average age for the herd is 3 years, 3 months, according to the last report.

EDB: Describe milk quality and udder health management?

Pete: Milk quality has been a challenge this summer, with the heat and humidity and switching robots, but it’s been a challenge for everybody. We had a Staph. aureous outbreak, but we now have a handle on that. Some robotic herds have done considerably better than we have – it’s a challenge we’re working on.

The good aspect of the new robots is they do a more complete cycle in udder preparation, going through two wash cycles and actually dries the teats somewhat.

Charlie: When a cow freshens, you’ll enter the date, her number and name, and it will automatically separate her milk for three days, everytime she comes into the robot. When you treat a cow, you identify the type of mastitis, the antibiotics and the treatment period. Anytime you treat or do health work a cow, you have to go immediately to the computer so the milk is separated. Then, we test a cow before she goes back in the tank.

Pete: Early on, regulatory people questioned our ability to enter the data or separate cows. We have a lot invested here, and you have been diligent about it. It works very well.

EDB: Describe cow housing and comfort?

Charlie: Freestalls have mats covered by a rubber pad, bedded with wheat straw we produce on the farm. There are some robotic dairies that use sand bedding, but it increases maintenance and service contracts.

Pete: We have fans and sprinklers. When it’s hot and humid, feed intakes and milk production go down, just like everybody else. But one of the benefits is we don’t have cows in big groups in a holding area. Our milkman says we don’t go down in milk production as much as everybody, and we come back faster, because cows are comfortable and not crowded.

EDB: Discuss the influence of robots on feeding management?

Charlie: Getting a handle on protein – taking some components out of the TMR – was a challenge. But our nutritionist says we now have one of the lowest-cost rations for a herd our size, because we can take some of the protein out of the TMR and topdress it to the cows who need it, so we’re not over-feeding protein to the low-producing cows.

EDB: How have robots impacted your labor needs?

Pete: Hired labor is nearly nonexistent, and we usually include a summer intern and occasional seasonal cropping help.

When we first considered robots 10 years ago, the availability of Hispanic labor was not widespread here, and labor was a tremendous issue. We’re happy with the system, because we’re not worrying about finding quality people showing up to milk cows. The robots milk the cows, seven days a week, three times a day.

A dairymen visited recently who’s annual labor bill was $150,000. Obviously, that would go a long way to buying a new robot. As labor costs increase, attracting quality labor is a challenge. The robots have eliminated that problem.

EDB: How has maintenance changed?

Charlie: It’s come a long way in 10 years. Everything is spelled out regarding maintenance schedules. The company has made great advances in getting a dealer network in the Upper Midwest, and making sure people are here for regular maintenance.

Pete: There’s also 10 years of technology built into robotic units. The units are simpler, cleaner, faster and give us more information.

The box is the same size, but the arm is smaller and cleaner. Hoses are inside the arm; in the old one, exposed hoses made it easy for a cow catch one with her foot and cut a hose or pull off a teat cup. There’s also a simpler milk separation system that lets us collect colostrum from fresh cows or milk from treated cows.

EDB: What are the biggest personal benefits to a robotic system?

Pete: Lifestyle is the biggest benefit. Your life doesn’t revolve around 5:30 a.m./5:30 p.m. milking. It’s a completely different lifestyle.

Charlie: You’re not tied to the clock, with more flexibility for family events or cropping. And, it provides a set routine for the cows. They’re milked the same everytime. It’s a nice way to handle cattle.

Pete: Cows are quieter; you’re not herding cows around. it’s a quiet, relaxed situation in the barn, and cows set their own schedule.

EDB: Are there any drawbacks?

Pete: When we installed the first robots, we expanded and built a new barn. As any dairy producer knows, an expansion is expensive. So the drawback is the capital costs; technology is expensive. But we justified that against labor.

With more robots around the country, lenders seem to be more receptive, since they have more data to work with. If farmers show good cash flow and profitability and have some equity, banks have been relatively favorable. Lely also does some financing.

EDB: Anything you would do differently?

Pete: We have a discussion similar to those for all expanding dairies: 4-row or 6-row barn? A 4-row barn probably ventilates better, has more neck rail or headlock space, but a 6-row barn would be cheaper to build, and cows would be a little closer to the robot. You have that discussion, whether it’s a parlor or robots.

EDB: Due to robot throughput, you must be limited on herd expansion. What’s ahead for Knigge Farms LLC.

Charlie: If we would decide to expand, the barn is set up so two additional robots can be added at the end of the barn. We’re pretty comfortable at our current size, based on current barn capacity and acreage. We should be able to boost the milking herd because of greater capacity of the new robots. We want to increase production and quality – keep doing more of the same of what we’re doing.

Pete: I’m 64, Charlie is 34. If there’s an expansion, it will be up to his generation to decide. Jacob is 7, and loves cows. If he wants to dairy, it will be his option.

EDB: I noticed you use social media, like Facebook. Why?

Charlie: We use a Facebook page to inform people about our dairy and the dairy industry. It helps us stay connected to the people who tour the dairy, and provide information on activities and events on the farm. People who visit want to stay connected.

Pete: Tours are conducted almost weekly. We think that’s vital to the industry, because people are getting so far removed the dairy business and farms in general. It’s important for the dairy industry to tell its story, because there are so many competing interests out there.


• Follow Knigge Farms LLC on their Facebook page: or contact them via e-mail: The farm is located 20 miles west of Oshkosh, Wis. off Highway 21, at 4577 Poygan Ave., Omro, WI, 54963.

• More information about the Lely Astronaut A3 Next robotic milking system is available at or Facebook (

Partnerships add 1 billion lbs. dairy sales

Your Dairy Checkoff At Work

By Tom Gallagher

Starting in 2005, dairy producer promotion leaders from across the country moved the national dairy checkoff program in a new direction: grow sales by working with and through the industry to provide consumers with the products THEY want – when and where they want them. Over the past five years, national and local checkoff staffs have worked hard to establish and grow marketing partnerships that have resulted in real sales growth over both the short and long term.

Here is a list of what those marketing partners must be committed to do:

• Grow sustainable sales throughout an entire category, rather than benefit only a specific brand or company.

• Build upon producer investments by dedicating their own resources (e.g., millions of marketing dollars) to programs that are aligned with our goals to grow sales.

• Break through the clutter in an increasingly competitive marketplace to persuade consumers to keep dairy top of mind when buying and consuming.

Moving 1 billion extra lbs. of milk

Over the past 12 months, our key marketing partners have sold more than more than 1 billion additional pounds of milk, helping to meet unmet consumer demand.

• Cheese used for pizzas required an additional 640 million pounds of milk through the introduction of the cheese-friendly Domino’s Pizza® American Legends™ and other major pizza chains.

• Milk-based coffee beverages that were introduced through the popular McCafe® line with McDonald’s have required an additional 40 million pounds of milk.

• Cheeseburgers at foodservice have required an additional 322 million pounds of milk due, in large part, to the introduction of the Angus Third Pounder “mega-burger” offered at McDonald’s.

• Lactose-free milk sales have seen annualized growth of 47 million pounds, driven by the checkoff’s partnership with Lactaid®.

In addition to the sales increases, these partners also bring major resources to the table to grow those sales. For every $1 that dairy producers contribute, our partners contribute more than $6. These contributions include: investments in equipment at restaurants to accommodate new specialty beverages; marketing and public relations campaigns to raise consumer awareness; and dedicated dairy-specific menu development and innovation efforts.


The nation’s largest restaurant chain continues to become a “dairy destination” for millions of Americans, as part of a multi-year partnership with the dairy checkoff. Here are some of the new menu offerings:

• Frappés, made of up to 50% milk, are now in 80% of McDonald’s 14,000 restaurants, and will be available nationwide later this year. The products, offered in mocha and caramel flavors, will require an additional 100 million pounds of milk annually.

• Real Fruit Smoothies, which use low-fat yogurt and are available in strawberry banana and wild berry flavors, will launch nationally next month. They will require an additional 23 million pounds of milk annually.

• McCafé specialty coffees, which use up to 80% milk, have been available nationwide for more than a year now. They require an additional 300 million pounds of milk annually.

• Improved shakes, including a new formulation that includes real whipped cream and new plastic cup packaging. These new products will require an additional 320 million pounds of milk annually.

• Angus burgers, originally introduced as a limited-time only menu item in 2009, performed so well that these burgers – which use two slices of cheese per sandwich – will now become a permanent menu item. This will require an additional 60 million pounds of milk annually. For those customers wanting a snack-sized option, later this year the chain will introduce Angus Snack Wraps, which use one slice of cheese.

Pizza cheese

To help the pizza category and grow cheese sales, dairy producers have partnered with leading pizza chains to make cheese their core ingredient in new and enhanced menu items. Market research indicates that pizza servings increased 2% across all restaurant chains (through April 2010), compared to a year ago. Major pizza chains, led by Domino’s Pizza® (and its partnerships with dairy producers through the checkoff), have improved their pizza quality – including increases in the amount of cheese used on their pizzas – and have reduced prices to drive traffic. This means more cheese sold on pizzas.

Specific to Domino’s, in addition to the six specialty pizzas introduced by the chain in early 2009,  a new Domino’s American Legends pizza is scheduled to launch in October with 80% more cheese than a large one-topping pizza. Domino’s also has scheduled in October a continuation of last year’s pizza discount item for carryout pizzas to drive additional sales.

The dairy checkoff is also working with Pizza Hut to grow cheese sales. Throughout the summer, the chain continues its “Any Pizza $10!” promotion. This has helped drive pizza sales throughout the summer. During the promotion’s first 16 weeks, sales increased more than 20%.

Lactose-free dairy

To bring new consumers to the milk category, and help build fluid sales among those who no longer drink milk due to real or perceived lactose intolerance, dairy producers have partnered with the HP Hood and its Lactaid® brand, which has more than 80 percent of all lactose-free dairy sales.

To help meet unmet consumer demand, Lactaid recently introduced 12-ounce, single-serve lactose-free milk offerings, along with a 32-ounce offering of lactose-free half-and-half.

This is a tremendous opportunity to grow additional milk sales by more than 2 billion pounds per year, because more than 14 million adults currently identify themselves as lactose intolerant, and avoid dairy as a result.

The dairy checkoff’s role includes product innovation, along with consumer and health professional awareness and education efforts.

In summary, these strategic partnerships are critical to our future dairy sales. Your dairy promotion program is working to lead the industry in a new direction of sustained, category-wide sales that can benefit all producers.


■  Tom Gallagher  is chief executive officer of Dairy Management Inc.™ (DMI), the domestic and international planning and management organization that works to increase sales of and demand for U.S.-produced dairy products and ingredients on behalf of America’s dairy producers. For more information on dairy checkoff programs, visit

Study finds little dairy antibiotic risk to groundwater

In the first large study to track the fate of antibiotics used to treat dairy cows, University of California-Davis scientists found the drugs may end up on the ground and in manure lagoons, but are mostly broken down before they reach groundwater. The findings should help alleviate longstanding fears that dairy farms, and the fields fertilized with their waste, might lead to large-scale groundwater contamination.

Researchers Mike Mata of UC-Davis (left) and Brian Bergamaschi of the U.S Geological Survey drill core samples from the ground under a dairy freestall. (UC Davis photo by Thomas Harter)

“What we found is that antibiotics can frequently be found at the manure-affected surfaces of the dairy operation (such as corrals and manure flush lanes), but generally degrade in the top 12 inches of soil,” said Thomas Harter, an expert on the effects of agriculture on groundwater quality and chair for Water Management and Policy at UC-Davis. “A very small amount of certain antibiotics do travel into shallow groundwater. Our next task is to determine whether these particular antibiotics are further degraded before reaching domestic and public water wells.”

Harter said the study findings should be particularly useful to people who get drinking water from wells (such as water companies and homeowners), dairy producers and policymakers. It provides the first comprehensive data set to assess and compare potential local impacts to groundwater from the wide variety of antibiotics in use on “freestall” dairy farms, where cows are free to enter and leave resting cubicles rather than being confined in stanchions or pens.

California is the nation’s largest milk producer producer, with 1.8 million milking cows. More than 90% of those are housed in freestall operations.

Health officials are concerned that antibiotics could travel from cows’ urine and feces into the groundwater that supplies drinking water to people and livestock, potentially fostering antibiotic resistance in disease-causing bacteria.

Harter said that the health effects of antibiotics in drinking water at the low levels he detected are not known.

The new UC-Davis study looked at two large freestall operations in the San Joaquin Valley, in a region with highly vulnerable groundwater due to its shallow depth and sandy soils. The two dairies had a total of more than 2,700 milking cows and 2,500 heifers.

Soil and water samples were collected from the ground surface under the animals; surfaces such as flush lanes, which carry waste; manure lagoons, where feces and urine are collected; farm fields where lagoon contents were spread for fertilizer; the first 12 inches of soil immediately below the surface of various sections in the dairy operation; and from groundwater 10 to 30 feet beneath the animal areas, adjacent to the lagoons, and beneath the manured fields.

(The study did not test surface water, such as creeks. Dairies are not permitted to discharge waste-containing runoff to surface water.)

Harter and colleagues from UC-Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Science Center in California conducted the field work in 2006-2008, with analytical support from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Science Center in Kansas. The research was funded with $568,000 from the CALFED Bay-Delta Authority Drinking Water Program, which is administered by the California State Water Resources Control Board, and $65,000 from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, using funds collected from dairy producers to support research and marketing.

The study was published in the online version of Environmental Science & Technology, a journal of the American Chemical Society.

EBS: Empty bunk syndrome

The health of dairy cows depends on a properly functioning rumen. The ration you feed should focus on providing adequate fiber, energy and protein to feed the rumen microorganisms.

Fortunately the combination of ingredients available to California dairies provides great opportunities to balance these nutrient requirements with economical byproduct feeds. The digestibilities (i.e., extent and rate of digestion in the rumen) of almond hulls, cull fruits, carrots, alfalfa hay, cottonseed, and countless other byproducts, can be combined to create rations that are ideal for rumen fermentation. But the ingredient and nutrient profile of the ration are just the first piece of puzzle that is the feeding of the rumen.

Another piece to a healthy cow is feed management. The difficulties that the dairy industry has faced in the past 18 months have forced changes in feed management practices. While some have been good for your operation, some have not been. The impact of the sum of these changes has the potential to be very costly. To minimize those extra costs, the following three points should be reviewed on your dairy:

1. Are TMRs being sorted?

This is most evident in rations that are relatively drier. Dairies using liquid whey, wet citrus pulps, and/or water have an advantage in this regard. However rations that are high in silages and/or haylage also have advantages.

2. Have you cut back on equipment service?

Over time the cutting knives on feed wagons get dull and eventually wear out. Our observation is that over the past year regular rotation and replacing of the knives have been put off to another day on many dairies. While this may initially save several thousand dollars over a couple of months, an inconsistent TMR for even a few days will be more costly.

3. Do you have Empty Bunk Syndrome (EBS)?

Sometimes EBS is easy to diagnose.  For example, are the cows returning from the milking parlor to empty feed bunks? However, EBS also happens at other times. For example a dairy which was “doing well” with production, but suffering from depressed milk fat %, was visited by one of our consultants one evening who found that about half of the pens were out of feed. He kept this to himself, as he was certain it had to be a rare occurrence, but the next night he observed the same problem. These empty bunks meant that the following morning the cows would “slug feed”, which results in a rapid decline in rumen pH, and fermentation of fiber in the rumen. Although this was probably not the only issue impacting fat test on the dairy, it was certainly a contributing factor.

The challenges of the past 14 months have forced us to be innovative and think outside the box. These two clichés, while overused, are very fitting when discussing rations formulated when high feed costs and low milk price exist. Even though we have tried different approaches to creating rations, the old rules of feed management still apply, and EBS is a good example.

The specific reasons why milk cows have been without feed, especially when returning from the parlor, are not as important as understanding how this impacts rumen function. The semi-continuous fermentation which occurs in the rumen is periodically interrupted by the cow consuming a meal, which causes a decline in rumen pH. Cud chewing, buffers, yeast products, and bunk management are all important factors that moderate this drop but, it is important to keep in mind that this pH decline is going to happen, at least to some extent,  regardless of feed management and additives fed. Your goal should be to make the pH decline as small as possible and for as short a period of time as possible.

Altered rumen fermentation happens due to any stress that causes a change in the rumen environment. Feed quality issues, such as mycotoxins, molds and sorting of TMR may contribute to altered rumen function. All too often, investigations into low milk fat test focus on the technical causes. However, the practical causes are much more likely to be the culprit. For example, why is it that some feed additives known to help moderate the decline in rumen pH fail? Are there other contributing factors which have a much larger impact on the fluctuations in rumen pH? Our feed management audits indicate that EBS is happening far too frequently on dairies and, while the impact of EBS may not be apparent from milk production alone, low milk fat % seems to be the most common affect of an undesirable change in rumen fermentation.

The following is not meant to be interpreted as a “cause and effect relationship,” because milk fat is a blend of more than 20 major fatty acids (the components of milk fat) – so putting too much emphasis on any one fatty acid is risky. However the following discussion is another tool to use when investigating a low fat % situation. Ed DePeters and Peter Robinson (Department of Animal Science, UC Davis), in cooperation with a few nutrition consultants, investigated herds having a fat test persistently below 3.3%, and the results are very interesting. The approach used was to measure the fatty acid composition of milk fat in bulk tank milk samples.

First, a brief review of terminology. Saturated fatty acids have no double bonds between the carbons that make up the chain while unsaturated fatty acids have one (monounsaturated), or more (polyunsaturated), double bonds connecting the carbons in the chain. The position(s) of the double bonds is very important, as will become evident shortly. Another term to know is biohydrogenation, as rumen “microbes” are very good at converting the unsaturated fatty acids to saturated ones (biohydrogenating them) by adding a hydrogen to the carbon at the double bond to remove the double bond.  So:

• Saturated fatty acids, of the form C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C, are chains of carbons with no double bonds. For example, a fatty acid with 16 carbons and no double bonds would be written as: C16:0.

• Monounsaturated fatty acids, of the form C-C=C-C-C-C, are chains of carbons with one double bond. For example, a fatty acid with 16 carbons and one double bond would be written as: C16:1.

• Polyunsaturated fatty acids, of the form C-C-C=C-C=C-C-C, are chains of carbons with two or more double bonds. For example, a fatty acid with 16 carbons and two double bonds would be written as: C16:2.

The investigation by UC Davis examined the fatty acid profile of milk fat from herds with the lower than desirable fat tests. In all cases where fat test was low they found an elevated concentration of a fatty acid called trans-10 C18:1, where the ‘trans-10’ designates the position of the double bond after the tenth carbon in the chain from the carboxyl end and that it has a trans spin orientation (bonds can be either cis or trans). This particular isomer may inhibit fat synthesis and it can be found in milk if rumen function is altered (Figure 1). The pathway for formation of this fatty acid occurs when rumen function is undesirably changed, notably by conditions such as EBS, although dietary factors and feed management that result in low pH in the rumen can result in shifts in populations of rumen “microbes,” which can undesirably alter the biohydrogenation pathway.

The end result may be the same during the biohydrogenation process which produces stearic acid (C18:0; 18 carbons with no double bonds). However, with the altered pathway it is the production of the trans-10, cis-12 fatty acid which is the problem as this fatty acid, even in very small quantities, may substantially lower milk fat production and milk fat %. There are three potential ways in which trans-10, cis-12 C18:2 can become elevated. The easiest to follow is simply ration ingredients. In this case, high levels of free vegetable oils (which are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids) in the ration may simply exceed the ability of the rumen microbes to fully biohydrogenate the unsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids. However, if the rumen environment is such that there is a slowing of the rate of biohydrogenation through the normal pathway, then there may be a shift to the altered pathway. The third likely scenario is the reason for this article. If feed management disrupts the rumen, it can cause a shift in the rumen microbial population. Our feed management audits offer some insight into the impact that feed management is having on rumen function.


The value of these big picture items is improved feed efficiency for each extra pound of feed consumed. Here is some easy math to demonstrate the point.

If you have cows producing 80 lbs of energy corrected milk (ECM) per day at $13.00 per 100 lbs being fed 52 lbs of dry matter per day of a ration which costs $5.50 per cow daily, then each pound of dry matter costs 10.6¢ and income over feed cost is $4.90. However if, due to improved feeding management, you get the cows to eat one additional pound of feed, then this pound raises your feed cost to $5.61 per cow daily. However the additional pound of feed will allow the cows to produce about 2 extra lbs of milk moving your income over feed cost to $5.05. This one pound of feed provides you a good economic return based upon milk alone, and does not consider the improved health of the cow.

Feeding management is one area that has great potential to improve your bottom line, without requiring a high investment.


■  Contact Jim Tully at 209-535-5814.

■  Contact Peter Robinson at 530-754-7565.

■  Contact Ed DePeters at 530-752-1263.

California ‘floor price’ petition denied

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) denied a request for an emergency public hearing on a proposal to set a floor price of $14.50/cwt. for California dairy farmers.

In a letter to John Rossi, of the California Floor Price Committee, Kevin Masuhara, director of CDFA’s Division of Marketing Services, said the proposal’s request for a two-year floor price of $14.50/cwt. “would result in prices that are not in a reasonable and sound economic relationship with the national value of manufactured milk products,” as required by the state’s Food and Agricultural Code.

California Floor Price Committee petitioned CDFA on Aug. 13, requesting the emergency hearing on a proposal to set a floor price on milk components used in determining minimum monthly milk prices. Those changes would have resulted in a California order minimum milk floor price of $14.50/cwt. The California Floor Price Committee proposed a minimum two-year duration for implementation, giving the state’s dairy producers time to recover equity lost during the past two years.

According to USDA, California farmers received an “all milk” price of about $11.50/cwt in 2009. Through the first seven months of 2010, the California price has averaged about $14.14/cwt.

The California Floor Price Committee previously submitted a similar request on June 29. However, CDFA said that request was invalid because it lacked appropriate supporting language and relevant data.

The Aug. 13 request also proposed consideration of a “Compensatory Payment Program” – essentially an import tariff – which would require milk and milk products produced outside California to be sold at a price at least equal to prices paid to California dairy producers. In his letter, Masuhara said CDFA had no authority to implement such a program.

The petition and response, as well as related information and producer letters, can be found at

‘Fuel Up to Play 60’ program begins second year

Program Kicks Off with Contest for Producers to “Show Your Pride”

about Dairy Farming and Favorite NFL Team

ROSEMONT, Ill. – America’s dairy producers, through their investment in the dairy checkoff, are kicking off the second year of Fuel Up to Play 60, an in-school nutrition and physical activity campaign launched by the National Dairy Council® (NDC), the nutrition research and education arm of the dairy checkoff, and the National Football League® (NFL).

Fuel Up to Play 60 encourages the consumption and availability of nutrient-rich foods, including low-fat and fat-free dairy, along with 60 minutes of daily physical activity. The program will be implemented in more than 60,000 schools across the United States during the 2010-11 school year, reaching 36 million students.

To jump start this year’s program, participating Fuel Up to Play 60 schools are encouraged to help the NFL celebrate the beginning of its new season during a Back to Football Friday event on Sept. 10. Thirty-four schools across the nation have an opportunity to be awarded a $10,000 grant to support new physical education equipment and resources, as well as a visit from an NFL player.

The NFL also is asking sponsors and partners such as NDC to build excitement through its Show Your Pridephoto contest. Dairy producers are encouraged to submit photos displaying their NFL and dairy passion for an opportunity to host an NFL player at their farm, among other prizes.

“We want our dairy farm families to put their creativity on full display with this contest,” said Paul Rovey, Arizona dairy producer and chair, Dairy Management Inc.™, which manages the national checkoff program. “We want to show the NFL that we are a very engaged and enthusiastic partner, and to share our pride in and enthusiasm for dairy farming.”

Another element new to Fuel Up to Play 60 is the “How to Build a Healthy Kid” back-to-school guidebook that was developed and produced by Newsweek at no additional cost to dairy producers. Multiple copies of the guidebook are included in kits that will be distributed to the 60,000 participating Fuel Up to Play 60 schools. The remaining copies of the guidebook will be used by national and local dairy checkoff organizations to distribute when speaking with health professionals, local school officials and organizations, community leaders, and as a tool to help secure additional partners and resources.

FUTP60 is heavily emphasized in the guidebook that includes messages of support from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former Surgeon General David Satcher.

Fuel Up to Play 60, which has support from several leading health organizations and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, empowers youth to take action for their health by employing long-term, positive changes for themselves and their schools. It builds upon dairy producers’ long-term commitment to children’s health and nutrition since the formation of NDC in 1915. Dairy producers, through their checkoff, are making an annual commitment of $50 million over five years to support the program.

Fuel Up to Play 60 proved its success in its first year,” Rovey said.  “As a dairy producer, I’m excited about the opportunity to positively impact health and wellness changes in schools across the country. We need to do our part to promote a healthy lifestyle and dairy experience for them today so they can become lifelong dairy consumers.”

To learn more about the Show Your Pride contest for dairy producers, visit; to learn more about Fuel Up to Play 60 visit For more information on the dairy checkoff,

USDA issues final rule amending federal order fluid milk definition

USDA issued a final rule amending the definition of Class I fluid milk products in all federal milk marketing orders, effective Jan. 1, 2011.

These amendments, which were approved by producers, maintain the current 6.5% nonfat milk solid standard and incorporates an alternative 2.25% true milk protein criterion to determine whether a product meets the compositional standard for fluid milk products.

This rule also amends the fluid milk product definition to provide exemptions for drinkable yogurt products containing at least 20% yogurt (by weight), kefir, and products intended to be meal replacements. The decision clarifies how milk and milk-derived ingredients should be priced under all Federal milk marketing orders when used in fluid milk products.

The final rule appears in the Aug. 24 Federal Register and becomes effective Jan. 1, 2011. For additional information about the decision contact:

Northeast: Erik F. Rasmussen

USDA/AMS/Dairy Programs

P.O. Box 51478, Boston, MA 02205-1478

Tel. (617) 737-7199; email:

Appalachian: Harold H. Friedly, Jr.

USDA/AMS/Dairy Programs

P.O. Box 91528, Louisville, KY 40291-0528

Tel. (502) 499-0040; email:

Florida and Southeast: Sue L. Mosley

USDA/AMS/Dairy Programs

1550 North Brown Road, Suite 120, Lawrenceville, GA 30043

Tel. (770) 682-2501; email:

Upper Midwest: H. Paul Kyburz

USDA/AMS/Dairy Programs

1600 West 82nd Street, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55431-1420

Tel. (952) 831-5292; email:

Central: David C. Stukenberg

USDA/AMS/Dairy Programs

P.O. Box 14650, Shawnee Mission, KS 66285-4650

Tel. (913) 495-9300; email:

Mideast: Paul A. Huber

USDA/AMS/Dairy Programs

P.O. Box 5102, Brunswick, OH 44212

Tel. (330) 225-4758; email:

Pacific Northwest and Arizona: James R. Daugherty

USDA/AMS/Dairy Programs

1930-220th St., SE., Suite 102 Bothell, WA 98021-8471

Tel. (425) 487-6009; email:

Southwest: Cary Hunter

USDA/AMS/Dairy Programs

P.O. Box 110939, Carrollton, TX 75011-0939

Tel. (972) 245-6060; email:

New third grade program to build lifelong health skills

Program designed to increase value for milk and milk products as nutritional staples throughout life

Dairy Council of California

By Peggy Biltz

California third graders will learn the value of milk and milk products when they head back to school this fall with a new nutrition education program designed to improve health and change eating habits for life.

Through Dairy Council of California’s new program, called Shaping Up My Choices, students will expand their nutritional knowledge while they learn a myriad of skills such as how to use the MyPyramid Food Group system, the importance of eating a healthy breakfast and how to choose healthy snacks and beverages that include milk and milk products.

The new program focuses on building skills to improve eating habits, and ultimately becoming a part of the solution to the overweight and obesity epidemic.  Program lessons also cover the importance of individual nutrients like calcium and protein, the need to eat foods from each food group, serving size identification, food label reading and ways to get more exercise – all skills that will help build a strong foundation for lifelong wellness.

Preliminary testing positive

With Shaping Up My Choices we have incorporated the most effective features of all of our other classroom programs into a bright, colorful and engaging package that students will enjoy and teachers will find easy to teach.

Charged with reaching up to 200,000 California third graders in the program’s debut year, early teacher responses have been positive.  Teachers tell us their students are talking about what they learned outside the classroom, like analyzing the foods they eat at lunch in the cafeteria.  Getting kids to talk about their food in the context of good health is a huge step in the right direction.

Our preliminary testing also shows teachers like the program because it helps improve the health of their students, and because it is also efficient and respects the limited time available in classrooms. Shaping Up My Choices, offered in both Spanish and English, meets educational requirements by aligning with California state math, language arts, science and health standards and the lessons even include a take-home family homework component to engage parents in the learning process.

Keep on track

Shaping Up My Choices joins our family of nutrition education programs targeting children and adults.  Each of our programs are extensively tested in the development stage and evaluated later on to validate effectiveness and behavior change.

Previously, third grade students were included with fourth and fifth grades in our upper elementary Nutrition Pathfinders, a computer–based program that relies on technology for much of the teaching.  However, Dairy Council’s research revealed that third graders have not gained as much knowledge from Nutrition Pathfinders as the older students. Developmentally, third graders are much closer to second graders than fourth and fifth graders, who can better grasp and use technology-based teaching. The new program will get third graders to eat healthier diets by using traditional methods to teach an innovative curriculum that actually helps third graders learn faster and retain more knowledge.  We will continue to formally evaluate the program this fall when it begins to hit California classrooms.

With the right educational approach and commitment to building a healthier generation, Shaping Up My Choices – and all of our programs supported by the dairy industry – will translate to increased value for milk and milk products as nutritional staples throughout life.


■ Peggy Biltz is chief executive officer of the Dairy Council of California.

■ For more information on the Dairy Council of California’s mission and nutrition education programs, go to: www.dairycouncilof, or e-mail:

California/Arizona DairyBusiness

Education: UC, Fresno State to host short course Oct. 14

FRESNO – A Dairy Cattle Reproductive Short Course will be held Thursday, Oct. 14 at California State University, Fresno from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The sessions will be held in the Center for Irrigation Technology conference room, Chestnut and Barstow avenues on the Fresno State campus.

This one day course is designed for dairy employees that are currently active in the reproductive program on dairies, said Gerald Higginbotham, dairy farm advisor, University of California Cooperative Extension, a co-sponsor of the event along with Fresno State.

Program instructors include John Lee, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health; Rob Moeller, DVM, veterinary pathologist, California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System; Neal Spiro, DVM, Department of Animal Science, California State University, Fresno; and Jon Robison, Department of Animal Science, CSUF.

Sessions and instructors will include: review of reproductive hormones, Jon Robison; synchronization programs, Jon Robison; abortion diseases and diagnosis, Rob Moeller; treatment of reproductive problems, Neal Spiro; using records in analyzing reproductive programs, John Lee; reproductive programs for fresh cows, Neal Spiro; review of AI techniques, Jon Robison and Neal Spiro; and AI refresher laboratory.

Cost for the course is $80 per person. Registration includes course materials and refreshments.

Simultaneous translation for Spanish speaking individuals will be provided during the short course. For more information on the course, or to register on-line and pay by credit card, visit:

If you have questions concerning the program, call Gerald Higginbotham at 559-456-7285.

Third annual Cal Poly Fall Dairy Producer
Symposium features first Cal Poly event sale

SAN LUIS OBISPO – The Cal Poly Dairy Science Department and Cal Poly Dairy Farm Advisory Team invites dairy producer families to the Third Annual Cal Poly Fall Dairy Producer Symposium, “Future of Milk Price,” and the first Cal Poly Symposium Sale.

The symposium and sale will be held at California Polytechnic State University and the Embassy Suites Hotel in San Luis Obispo, Oct. 15-16.

“You will be in for an outstanding world-class program of information and opportunities that are essential for all dairy producers,” declared Bruce Golden, head of the dairy science department at Cal Poly.

Symposium speakers will include: Doug Maddox, past president, Holstein USA; Dan Basse, president, Ag Resource Co.; Jerry Kozak, president, National Milk Producers Federation; Rob Vandenheuvel, general manager, Milk Producers Council; Congressman Jim Costa (invited); and Chuck Nicholson, assistant professor, agribusiness, Cal Poly.

This year the program will focus on milk pricing issues including information about:

• H.R 5288, the bill being considered in congress that would, if passed into law, mean a significant change in payments dairymen receive.

• Learn more about the National Milk Producer’s Federation “Foundation for the Future” program.

• Hear from industry and academic experts on how milk price became so volitle and what is being proposed to fix this difficult problem.

• Get the most recent information and have your voice heard in a dynamic panel question and answer session with our speakers and lawmakers.

• Have the opportunity to bid on world class seedstock from Cal Poly’s dairy herd and other producers in our first annual combined Symposium and Sale.

• Network with other industry professionals and leaders at the Friday evening, Oct. 15 BBQ and learn about the academic and research programs in the Cal Poly Dairy Science Department.

Families who are considering Cal Poly College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science can signup to spend the Friday at Fall Preview.

For more information on the symposium and sale, go to the following website:

For reservations at Embassy Suites Hotel San Luis Obispo, call 805-549-0800

Research: Milk processing lab being built at UC Davis

Hilmar Cheese Company, a leader in the California dairy industry, has stepped forward with a $250,000 commitment to support construction of the new August A. Busch III Brewing and Food Science Laboratory at UC Davis.

The new laboratory, part of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science (RMI), includes milk processing facilities for scientific research, student training, and industry collaboration. Constructed entirely through private donations, the facilities are scheduled for completion this summer and occupancy in fall.

“Innovations in dairy products and processing are critical to meet the needs of customers worldwide and to keep the United States competitive,” said John Jeter, Hilmar Cheese Company chief executive officer and president.  “The research and teaching excellence at UC Davis is crucial to our continued growth and development. We encourage the industry to join us in supporting new dairy research at the August A. Busch III Brewing and Food Science Laboratory.”

“We are very grateful to Hilmar Cheese Company for its demonstration of support for this essential project,” said Neal Van Alfen, dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “Research and training at UC Davis helped transform California’s dairy industry into the nation’s leader. This gift not only validates our past accomplishments but reaffirms the desire for continued improvements in quality, nutritional value, and farm-level productivity.”

Features of the milk processing laboratory include dairy-grade floor, walls, and ceilings; eight utility stations with chilled and hot water, culinary steam, and broad electrical capability; an advanced air filtering system; and isolated drainage. Planned or proposed equipment include raw milk cooling tank, milk separator, milk pasteurizer, milk homogenizer, ultraclean milk filler, and a membrane separation system.

Examples of areas of research include separation of milk components into functional ingredients, processing feed-modified milk, and processing of milk from genetically selected cows. The laboratory will also be very useful for providing hands-on student learning.

“Our strength at UC Davis is research and helping keep the dairy industry on the cutting edge technologically,” said James Seiber, chair of the Department of Food Science and Technology.

Newsmakers: Pine Creek Nutrition of Turlock names Rainey

TURLOCK, Calif. – Pine Creek Nutrition Service, Inc (PCNS) has hired Brian Rainey as a consulting animal nutritionist based out of Visalia.

Rainey spent the last 5 years working with dairy producers nationwide. His role with PCNS will include but not be limited to monthly nutrition visits,  production and record analyses, cost analyses, herd health overview, goal setting with specific targets and objectives, developing follow-through, problem solving, feed sampling, TMR feed audits and employee training schools.

PCNS founder, Dennis Daugherty, says Brian brings fresh ideas to our organization and our clients. His reputation fits well with our mission, to provide service promptly, with honesty and integrity to our clients. Brian has a unique blend of science and business education and industry experience from the animal health segment.”

Today, PCNS services dairy and calf ranch clients offering a nutrition and management consulting team that has more than 75 years of dairy consulting and large dairy herd management experience.

“PCNS is a tremendous opportunity for me to join a great team that has been in the dairy nutrition consulting business for 25 years,” Rainey said.

He moved to California in 2005 when he went to work for Allflex, USA, Inc. “I promoted RFID systems thanks to my experiences tracing livestock during graduate school. Allflex provided me the opportunity to work with dairy producers and industry supporters nationwide,” he said.

Most recently, Rainey was territory manager with Novartis Animal Health. He is a graduate of Kansas State University with a major in animal science. His master’s in ruminant nutrition and MBA are from Montana State University and Fresno State University.

Brian resides in Visalia with his wife Katrina and their son, Rhett, who was born July 13, 2010 weighing 8 lbs. 12 oz.