Archive for September, 2010

NMPF endorses legislation to help dairy farmers with workforce needs

Senate Bill Would Give Dairy Operators Opportunity to Use H-2A Visa Program

ARLINGTON, VA – Dairy farmers across the country will be able to use a federal visa program to access immigrant workers under new legislation introduced this week in the Senate. The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) “supports this approach to helping farmers ensure that their workforce needs are met,” said Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of NMPF.

Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Charles Schumer (D-NY) have introduced the H-2A Improvement Act, which will authorize foreign dairy workers, sheep herders, and goat herders to remain in the U.S. for an initial period of three years, and gives the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services the authority to approve a worker for an additional three-year period.

Kozak said that NMPF continues to support comprehensive efforts to reform the nation’s immigration policies, including the AgJOBS bill being sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). The new H-2A visa legislation “won’t resolve all of the labor challenges facing our dairy sector, but it does close the existing loophole allowing other farm employers to use the H-2A program, while denying that opportunity to dairy owners.”

The Senate legislation has been introduced in part because the U.S. Department of Labor announced last February that it has “no legal authority” to include the dairy industry in the H-2A visa program. The legislation will rectify that situation, according to NMPF. Under present law, farms that hire seasonal workers to harvest fruits and vegetables can utilize the H-2A visa program. Dairy farms are not included because milk production is not considered seasonal work.

A survey released in 2009 of the labor and hiring practices of U.S. dairy operations found that many farms are heavily dependent on foreign laborers, and that the dairy sector would be crippled if it had no access to immigrant workers. That survey is available on the NMPF website.

The National Milk Producers Federation, based in Arlington, VA, develops and carries out policies that advance the well being of dairy producers and the cooperatives they own. The members of NMPF’s 31 cooperatives produce the majority of the U.S. milk supply, making NMPF the voice of more than 40,000 dairy producers on Capitol Hill and with government agencies. For more on NMPF’s activities, visit our website at

IDFA opposes higher fluid ‘solids’ effort

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) submitted a letter to USDA Dairy Industry Advisory Committee (DIAC), urging rejection of and proposals to implement higher national mandatory milk solids content in fluid milk, similar to those already in place in California.

IDFA submitted the letter to DIAC chair Andy Novakovic, outlining what it said were the negative impacts a proposal mandating the addition of higher milk solids to all U.S. milk would have on consumers and the dairy industry.

The letter referenced a report released in August by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI). According to the report, IDFA said, the standards would raise retail milk prices, increase the costs of federal nutrition programs and reduce dairy exports. IDFA also pointed to evidence showing that requiring higher standards for nonfat solids in milk could hurt consumption and would increase the calories per serving of milk.
Bob Yonkers, IDFA vice president and chief economist, covered the FAPRI report in this month’s Dairy Market Update. He also was one of five dairy experts and economists invited to participate as a panelist at the committee meeting to have a dialogue with committee members and answer their questions about dairy policy reform.

The committee is charged with reviewing farm milk price volatility, as well as dairy farmer profitability and consolidation. It will recommend ways that the USDA can address the needs of the dairy industry.

The full report:

The IDFA letter to DIAC:

Lower national SCC standard sought

Speaking at the 9th annual ”New York Farm Day,” U.S. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish an emergency rule change to reduce the U.S. regulatory on somatic cell count (SCC) to preserve the European Union (EU) export market for U.S. dairy farmers. Gillibrand also introduced legislation that would lower the legal SCC in fluid milk from 750,000 cells per milliliter (c/ml) to 400,000 c/ml.

According to Gillibrand, the European Union (EU) announced that it would no longer accept dairy exports from the U.S. unless they adopt a national standard somatic cell count of 400,000 c/ml or less, starting in December. She said the EU ban would have disastrous consequences for U.S. cheese and whey products.

Senator Gillibrand called on FDA to make an emergency rule change to preserve this export market for U.S. dairy farmers. She also introduced legislation that would lower the legal somatic cell count (SCC) in fluid milk from 750,000 c/ml to 400,000 cells/milliliter. This legislation would also change the method of calculation to update U.S. milk quality standards and bring them in line with those of our major dairy trading partners and competitors, including Canada, the EU, and New Zealand.

In 2008, the average SCC in the U.S. was 262,000 cells/ml, which is far below the legal limit of 750,000 cells/ml.

Lowering the SCC legal limit will have potential benefits for both producers and consumers, Gillibrand said. Milk with low SCC has a longer shelf life, better taste and greater cheese yield.  Studies have shown that for every doubling of somatic cell counts in a herd, milk production drops by 400 lbs. per cow per lactation. Many cooperatives already provide incentives for farmers to produce milk under the legal SCC limit, and for the last 7 years the national average SCC count has declined.

Alltech acquires algae facility

Alltech, a global leader in natural animal nutrition, announced it has acquired a state-of-the-art algae fermentation facility in Winchester, Kentucky from Martek Bioscience Corp. Alltech, which purchased the facility and 23-acre site for about $14 million, expects to start an expansion phase on the facility within the next 18 months.

“For Alltech, algae fermentation presents our latest technological platform from which we expect incredible opportunities in the areas of food, feed and fuel to arise,” said founder and president of Alltech, Dr. Pearse Lyons. “We have worked in this area for several years and see it playing a major role in both human and animal health and nutrition as one of the world’s more renewable food and energy sources.”

Algae are some of the fastest growing plants in nature and have the ability to convert large amounts of carbon dioxide into oxygen.

“Alltech is actively developing processes that are derived from a variety of different algae types,” said Becky Timmons, Alltech’s director of applications and quality assurance.  “Algae are one of the most diverse organisms in the world and their potential for product development is tremendously exciting for us.  Alltech currently has the largest carbon dioxide sequestering algae pilot plant system in the state of Kentucky and this new acquisition will allow us to move our research yet further towards true implementation,” she continued.

The facility will allow for continued work with Alltech’s carbon dioxide sequestering algae strains, as well as strains that are grown with other carbon sources.  The algae will then be used for value-added feed products, algae derived bio-fuel, and the production of ethanol.

The laboratory and pilot plant fermentation facilities in the acquisition are of particular interest as they will allow for quick product and process development.  The automated control and monitoring systems on the fermenters will allow Alltech to make advances in new and current fermentation processes.  One of the main focuses of the facility will be the development of products derived from algae.

Autotrophic algae require CO2, water, nutrients and sunlight during biomass growth. Each 100 tons of algal biomass fixes about 183 tons of CO2.  Heterotrophic algae, which cannot use photosynthesis to generate its own food, can be grown in large closed tank systems present in the Winchester facility.

Algae biomass is mainly composed of lipids, proteins and starches. The composition is dependent on the strain as well as growth conditions and can vary greatly.  Fat content can range from 2% to as high as 84%. Protein content can range from 5%-70% and starch from 5%-50%.

Alltech’s core competence lies in researching, developing and marketing natural products that are scientifically proven to enhance animal health and performance.  The company is the largest producer of protected organic minerals in the world and primary in yeast, algae, and solid state fermentation systems. For further information, visit

Hubbard Feeds launches new dairy calf feeding programs

Hubbard Feeds introduced two new dairy calf feeding programs designed to fit the needs of the individual calf raiser and to simplify calf management. The new programs work in tandem with Hubbard’s Opticare® animal health product line, which includes a new colostrum replacer called PrimeDefense™, provide calf raisers with solutions to early calf nutrition.

The newly created dairy calf feeding programs are the result of an ongoing research partnership with the University of Minnesota to improve nutrition and management of calves through six months of age. Hubbard has combined the research findings with field surveys in key dairy calf markets to develop new products and feeding programs.

• The Foundation® Calf Program includes Calf Beginner and 4th Day® milk replacers, featuring key minerals and vitamins for growth and health. Calf Krunch 18% texturized starter contains high-density energy to support growth and early rumen development.

• The Intensive Calf Program is designed for producers looking for bigger, more developed replacement heifers at weaning. The program’s milk replacer, Mother’s Pride®, contains a 28% protein/18% fat ratio, ideal for growth of lean tissue in calves. Mother’s Pride is also now supplemented with NeoTec4, a research proven blend of specific fatty acids that strengthen the immune system, support intestinal health and help optimize calf performance. The high-protein milk replacer coupled with the higher protein Super Krunch 22% starter results in rapid early growth and long-term returns.

New PrimeDefense colostrum replacer, in the Opticare line of animal health products, provides 150 grams of globulin protein for use in situations where maternal colostrum is unavailable or is of unknown quantity or quality. PrimeDefense can also be utilized as a colostrum supplement.

PrimeDefense will be the featured topic in the October edition of The Hub™, an exclusive podcast from Hubbard Feeds. Dairy producers, nutritionists and veterinarians can sign up for a free subscription at The Hub audio feeds are e-mailed automatically each month, and listeners will have an opportunity to provide feedback and respond to polls on topics of interest to the dairy industry. A transcript of The Hub audio feeds is also available for download.

Arm & Hammer DCAD Calculator helps balance rations

Translating calculations into ration formulation can be challenging, and a new tool from Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition is taking the guessing game out of Dietary Cation-Anion Difference (DCAD) balancing. The DCAD calculator—a Web-based tool hosted on—is helping nutritionists and producers translate their feed and forage analyses into useable, on-farm knowledge.

“While the actual DCAD equation can be easy to solve, taking the information and putting it into practice can be more difficult for dairy nutritionists and their producer clients,” explains Senior Manager, Technology, Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition, Dr. Elliot Block. “The new DCAD calculator helps to turn a feed analysis into applicable information to help make accurate ration formulation decisions.”

The DCAD calculator allows users to input the levels of four macrominerals—sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur—which are commonly found in feeds and used to calculate ration DCAD.

“The purpose of the DCAD calculator is to help identify current ration DCAD levels and provide a better understanding of why certain levels are critical during each stage of lactation,” explains Dr. Block. “Since the nutrients of feeds and forages can change from one load of feed to the next, routinely calculating ration DCAD can help ensure cows remain healthy and perform to their potential.”

The practice of balancing rations for DCAD is backed by extensive university trials and on-farm research1. Feeding BIO-CHLOR® Rumen Fermentation Enhancer to safely lower DCAD levels to -8 to -12 meq/100g ration dry matter prior to calving can help maintain dry matter intake, reduce metabolic disorders and boost early lactation milk production. Once a cow calves, boosting DCAD levels with DCAD Plus® Feed Grade Potassium Carbonate to +35 to +45 meq/100g ration dry matter helps to increase intake, leading to greater milk and component production.

To utilize the DCAD calculator and learn more about the importance of balancing rations for DCAD, visit

Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition, with headquarters in Princeton, N.J., is a North American leader in offering a complete family of innovative, research-proven dairy feed ingredients to improve producer profitability. To learn more about Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition, visit

Cropping/Forages: From A to Z (and from seed to feedbunk)

Whether you grow it or buy it, feed represents the largest cost item for a dairy. From seed to the feedbunk, each step requires management – from A to Z.

By Dave Natzke

Alfalfa. About 75 members of Congress  urged USDA to allow limited planting of Roundup Ready® alfalfa. The bipartisan group supports action  to allow farmers to plant seed that’s being held in inventory while USDA completes an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) related to the product. The letter came on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling that found a lower court was in error when it placed a nationwide ban on the planting of genetically engineered alfalfa seeds.

Baleage. Dairy producers large and small are expressing more interest in baleage, said Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois Extension dairy specialist. Producing baleage does provide challenges, however. Harvest moisture level is critical, with 40%-50% dry matter “a magic spot.”  Wetter silage can lead to moisture in the bale’s base and development of butyric acid. But going too dry can also lead to problems – less fermentation and compaction, increasing mold risk and resulting in less stable silage. He recommends using an effective inoculant.

Costs. Having access to a quick and easy method of evaluating dairy feed cost can help dairy producers make decisions, according to Ken Bolton, University of Wisconsin-Extension dairy agent. A five-sheet Excel program, “Estimating Dairy Cow Feed Consumption and Cost” strives to address these issues. The spreadsheet titled “Feed$Cow” allows a quick look at daily feed cost/cwt. of milk produced based on the mature cow herd (lactating and dry) for both default and user inputted feed values.  A similar approach is utilized on the “Feed$Heifer” spreadsheet to produce feed cost values for the raised replacement enterprise. These spreadsheets are combined on the spreadsheet “Feed$Herd.” The “Feed$Budgets” spreadsheet guides users towards realistic feed usage levels for the lactating cow, replacement heifer and combined whole herd enterprises.

The free spreadsheet is available from the UW-Extension, Center for Dairy Profitability, “Decision Making Tools” website at Making Tools.htm and from the UW-Extension, “Dairy Cattle Nutrition” website at

Distiller’s dried grains with solubles. A Purdue University researcher found a way to predict the nutrient content in DDGS, which often have varying fiber, protein, sugar and amino acid levels, making many livestock nutritionists and producers wary of purchasing them. Klein Ileleji found the solution lies in the balance of the liquid and solids used to create the finished DDGS product. For instance, increasing the syrup leads to a decrease in fiber and protein, but an increase in residual sugars. Ileleji is creating a model to allow ethanol producers to blend DDGS to give specific nutrient profiles.

Equipment (see New Products)

Fall assessment. Fall is the best time to assess whether want to keep an alfalfa crop for the following year, noted Leo Brown, livestock information manager for Pioneer.

Look at the health of the stand and how it’s doing in the fall, and you’ll have a good idea of what will happen the following spring (although winterkill and icing could change things).

Look at how many plants and, even more important, how many stems are in a per-acre area.

If you’re going to keep their alfalfa crop for another year, what type of nutrients should be applied during the fall. Look at university and supplier recommendations for potash and potassium, based on your yield goals.

If it’s time to rotate that crop out, killing it with herbicides will also take care of all the other weeds, making it easier to work the field up next spring.

Determine the soil pH. There are soluble limes you can spray across the top that will trickle down and get into the upper layers of the soil, but that’s a lot more expensive than doing it right when you first establish the alfalfa stand.

Grass. It may come as a surprise, but grass is the most common crop ensiled in the world, followed by corn and alfalfa, according to Jerry and Debbie Cherney, with Cornell University.

In some cases, cropland soils may be better suited for perennial grasses. Grasses also have advantages when it comes to nutrient management, with a greater response to manure applied multiple times during the season. Grasses use large quantities of nutrients, minimizing the risk of nutrient leaching or runoff. They can remove over twice the nitrogen per acre compared to corn.

Improved management for high quality, advances in equipment, and innovations related to bale silage and other storage options, have made grass silage an attractive option. Wide swathing gives the potential to mow and chop haylage in a day.

While species and variety selection and  fertilization are important, harvest management will determine the success or failure of grass silage as a high-producing dairy cow forage.

Grass species and variety evaluation should be focused on maximum yield at optimum silage quality. Any grass stand can be specifically managed to produce low potassium forage for non-lactating cows.

New tall fescue varieties should be seriously considered for dairy systems in the northern USA, particularly those that combine grazing with silage options. Alfalfa/perennial grasses mixtures should lead to a better balance of ration ingredients to maximize total intake. A proper balance of grass and non-fibrous carbohydrates in the diet should increase intake and maximize milk production.

Hay sources. If you can’t grow it, you might have to buy it. There are a number of Internet-based hay lists – private and public – so check with your state Extension service or hay association. One of the more extensive private lists is It has hay sales listings for all 50 states, including the type of hay, quantity available, bale type, delivery availability, asking price and the seller’s area code, with registration required contact information. It also allows those seeking hay to post their needs and contact information.

Inoculants. There are a variety of inoculants used on forage crops, depending on your needs and the potential benefits of each inoculant. Silage inoculants are used for two primary reasons:

1) as fermentation aids, to stimulate or ensure a rapid fermentation. They generally contain efficient (homofermentative) lactic-acid-producing bacteria (LAB), and are mainly used on low dry matter forage crops with low concentrations of fermentable carbohydrates and high buffering capacity.

2) as  spoilage inhibitors, to reduce aerobic spoilage. They include propionic acid, specific LAB, and propionic-acid-producing bacteria, and are designed for use on materials more prone to aerobic spoilage, such as drier haylages (> 35% DM), corn and cereal silages, high moisture corn and cereal grains, baleage and dry/baled hay. For more information, visit

Judge and jury. When it comes to crop  and feed quality, it’s the cows.

Kura clover. Craig Sheaffer, University of Minnesota forage agronomist, and Philippe Seguin, McGill, University, Quebec, Canada studied drought response of Kura clover, alfalfa, red clover and birdsfoot trefoil. They found Kura clover was the most persistent legume under drought and non-moisture limiting conditions, with the highest forage quality in both environments. However, it was also among the lowest yielding legumes, with mid-summer drought reducing Kura clover’s yield more than for the other legumes. Thus, Kura clover has great potential as a persistent pasture legume, but it will not provide significant amounts of forage during summer drought.

Land values and rental rates in major dairy states. (See October 2010 issue of Eastern DairyBusiness.)

Molds & mycotoxins. Whether you are  a producer, nutritionist or veterinarian, being aware and understanding the threat posed by molds and mycotoxins will ultimately have an impact on your herd’s health and your bottom line. A website ( can help increase your knowledge on mycotoxins, how they are produced, their impact on dairy cows and heifers, issues with feed sampling, and possible strategies to maintain your herd’s health and performance.

NDF digestibility. University of Wisconsin-Madison dairy nutritionists addressed neutral detergent fiber (NDF) in a Focus on Forage article, discussing how crop maturity affects NDF digestibility, and how forage NDF digestibility can best be managed.

One of the factors influencing NDF digestibility is the maturity stage at which grasses, legumes, corn silage and small grain forages are harvested. The rate of NDF digestibility decline is different between forage types, with the decline in grasses and small grain silages particularly dramatic.

With advancing maturity, the combined effect of physiological changes results in plant cell walls which are more difficult for rumen bacteria to attach to and to digest. As forages mature, they accumulate more NDF, decreasing forage energy content.

There’s really nothing new as to how to manage forages to optimize NDF digestibility.  Forages should still be harvested at their traditional stages of maturity (grasses = boot, legumes = bud, corn silage = ½ milk line) to maximize both yield and quality.  Understanding the decline in NDF digestibility places a double emphasis on harvesting forages at their proper maturity.

Organic. In a recent University of Vermont study, organic dairy producers in that state spent nearly $1,200 per cow per year on purchased feed (Parsons et al., 2009). Ninety-two percent of those purchases were for grain concentrates to increase the nutrient density of rations and improve milk production. Whether it is pasture during the grazing season or stored forages for winter months, forage quality determines what other feeds must be fed. Quality forages provide a nutritional base that maintains digestive function, improves animal health and provides nutrients to the cow in a cost-effective manner. For a list of articles related to organic dairying and forage production, visit

Porosity. Silage compaction guidelines have focused on silage dry matter (DM) density.  However, DM density does not account for porosity – the voids between solid particles of a material. These voids can be filled fluids or gases, and sets the rate at which air moves into the silage. This subsequently impacts the amount of spoilage and/or aerobic stability in ensiled feeds.

Brian Holmes, University of Wisconsin-Madison dairy engineer, modified equations available from composting research and related them to silage porosity in terms of both DM and silage bulk density (as fed density). Bulk density is affected by the same management practices as DM density, such as tractor weight, packing time per ton, layer thickness and height of the storage structure.  However, while DM density may increase with advancing DM of the feed, bulk density decreases. In other words, as forage becomes drier, the porosity increases across similar DM densities.

Porosity is difficult to measure in the laboratory and probably impossible to measure in the field. However, because porosity is relatively constant for a given bulk density, and because bulk density is more readily measured than porosity, it may be better to recommend a minimum bulk density.

The UW researchers recommend silage producers strive for <40% porosity.  A minimum bulk density of 44 lbs. AF/ft3 keeps porosity below 40% within the recommended range of DM content.

Forage at 30% DM can be packed to 15 lbs. DM/ft3 to give the desired bulk density. Dryer material (40% DM) must be packed to 20 lbs. DM/ft3 – a much more difficult task. In both cases, the porosity is close to 30%.

Resources for estimating silage densities based on your conditions and packing practices are the Bunker Silo Density Calculator and the Silage Pile Density Calculator. These are Excel spreadsheets available from the UW Team Forage Harvesting and Storage website: storage.htm. For a link to Holmes’ work, visit

Quality tests for forages. Forage

quality information is important for formulating nutritionally balanced rations, developing and allocating forage inventories, evaluating forage management practices  and marketing and pricing forages. The University of Minnesota recommends tests for determining dry matter (DM), crude protein (CP), acid detergent fiber (ADF), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), calcium (Ca), and phosphorus (P). Energy values (TDN or net energy) and relative feed values (RFV) can be calculated from these core analyses. Additional macro and micro mineral analyses are suggested.

Rumen acidosis. Today’s rations are

designed to maximize energy for milk production. While effective, they can also have an adverse effect on the rumen and induce acidosis. Typical acidosis causes include diets too high in fermentable carbohydrates, low fiber content, diets composed of very wet and highly fermented feeds or too finely chopped forage.

Acidosis symptoms may include low milk fat test; < 3.0%-3.3% or 1% below the herd average, sore hooves or laminitis, low rumen pH (< 5.8) in 30%-50% of animals tested and limited cud chewing.

To reduce risk of rumen acidosis, ensure sufficient long fiber in the diet to promote adequate cudding and saliva production to buffer rumen pH; ensure good cow comfort; avoid feeding excess amounts of rapidly fermentable carbohydrates; and offer a well managed TMR to minimize sorting of feed components. You may need to feed a probiotic to stimulate microbe production in the rumen.

Sieves. The Miner Institute presented a

paper titled  “Modification of the Penn State Particle Separator (PSPS) with 3.18- or 4.76-mm perforated steel sieves to measure physically effective fiber (pef) at the recent American Dairy Science Association meeting. They replaced the original 1.18 mm wire mesh screen with either 3.18 mm or 4.76 mm perforated steel sieve used in the Z-Box pef system. They shook a number of samples with both 3.18 and 4.76 sieves. The PSPS pef values were compared to pef value obtained with the standard dry sieve vertical shake RoTap method.

Overall, the results are promising, according to Kurt Cotanch ( The 3.18 screen tends to over-predict pef, while the 4.76 screen tends to under-predict pef. Individually, corn silage and TMR samples worked well; however, the HCS was less predictable. Results of the research will be presented at October’s Cornell Nutrition Conference.

Taking manure samples. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it, and according to the University of Wisconsin’s Discovery Farms program, there are specific techniques to ensure accurate results. Find information on liquid manure sampling systems at:

Recommended Methods for Manure Analysis:

Recommended Methods for Manure Analysis:

How to Sample Manure for Nutrient Analysis:

U.S. Dairy Forage Research

Center. The center is a cooperative effort between USDA, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other land grant universities. It focuses on problems that are national in scope and that limit effective and efficient use of forage for milk production. It coordinates multidisciplinary research involving engineers, microbiologists, chemists and plant and animal scientists in five states. The research is directed toward increasing yields and quality of forage grown and harvested, reducing losses associated with harvesting, storage and feeding, and maximizing use of forage nutrients by the dairy cow for milk production. Visit

Variety trials. (See list below.)

Weeds. Penn State’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences posts annual field crop herbicide evaluation trials on corn, soybeans, forages and small grains at

eXtension. Looking for crop-related information and resources from public institutions? eXtension is an interactive learning environment delivering research from land-grant university minds across America. Visit

Yields. USDA’s September 2010 Crop Production report estimated the 2010 U.S. corn crop to yield an average of 162.5 bushels/acre 81.0 million acres, for a record harvest of 13.2 billion bushels. Soybean yields were projected a record 44.7 bushels/acre on 78.0 million acres, for a record-high U.S. harvest of 3.48 billion bushels.

Z index. The Moisture Stress Index for corn and soybean crops is a measure of the effects of drought and catastrophic wetness on national crop yield. It is calculated through the use of a drought index (the Palmer Z Index) and annual average crop productivity values within each U.S. climate division. It’s monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Really.

Variety Trials

Crop variety selection is about much more than just yield, notes Jim Rouse, Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University. Growers need to evaluate the various combinations of maturities, defensive traits and herbicide traits. Among those that meet your desired criteria, how do you choose those with the greatest yield potential? Predictive information for yield potential should come from multi-environment trial averages. If your favorite data report does not include district or regional yield averages, you should not use it to make selection decisions. A number of state universities collect crop variety field trials. Check these websites for specific results.

















New York:

North Carolina:

North Dakota:



South Carolina:

South Dakota:






U.S. corn:

U.S. soybeans:

Conversations: Ask your agronomist about alfalfa seed selection

Considering the economic importance of forages, alfalfa seed decisions should be looked at differently. As producers and their advisors meet in the conference room (or kitchen), the conversation should explore side-by-side comparisons and stress income per acre.

By Chad Staudinger

The economic impact of alfalfa seed decisions is overlooked, as the focus continually leads to corn variety selection. Alfalfa seed decisions should be looked at differently, especially when a large variation in product price and performance exists. This large variation in performance may present a considerable opportunity to increase income per acre for dairy operations. Here are some questions to discuss with your agronomist to ensure these opportunities are being explored.

1) How do I know if alfalfa yield differences exist on my farm?

Differences in the genetic yield potential of alfalfa varieties are sometimes overlooked because, unlike corn, they often cannot be visually observed in the field. The only method to truly measure alfalfa yield performance is to weigh the harvested material coming from each field. Side-by-side comparisons are also great, but do require measuring the weight of each variety and accounting for moisture differences to get an accurate record of the dry matter harvested per acre.

Ask your agronomist if you should be doing a side-by-side comparison on your farm.

2) How much yield variation exists between alfalfa varieties?

When looking at the largest datasets available from Dairyland Seed, leading varieties from various companies with more than 70 reps of data can vary by more than 12% in forage yield. When looking at the difference between the best and worst variety in one field, however, the differences can be much greater. Using four years of data from the University of Wisconsin alfalfa variety trials, the average annual difference in yield between the best and worst variety was 21.2% for full production years. Considering an average on farm yield of 5 dry tons/acre in full production years, this amounts to a yield difference of 1.06 dry tons/acre per year.

Ask your agronomist to review university or third-party data from your area.

3) What does a yield difference of 1 dry ton/acre mean economically?

In order to apply economics to this concept, you must be aware of the alfalfa market in your area. Let’s consider the value of alfalfa to be $100/dry ton. This means a yield difference of 1 ton equals $100 annually. If a stand lasts 3 or 4 years, this adds up to an impressive $300 to $400/acre over the life of the stand. If a bag of alfalfa seed can plant 2.5 acres, this adds up to $750 to $1,000/bag of alfalfa seed. Even a 5% increase in yield, or .25 tons/year, can increase your return by $100/acre, or $250/seed bag in 4 years.

Ask your agronomist about the economic impact of varietal decisions.

4) Other than yield, what factors should help me decide which variety is right for my operation?

• Disease Resistance. Look for a DRI (Disease Resistance Index) score close to 30. Make sure the variety shows resistance to all major diseases in your area. Common diseases in the Midwest include Anthracnose, Aphanomyces, Bacterial Wilt, Fusarium Wilt, Phytophthora Root Rot, and Verticillium Wilt.

• Persistence and Winter Survival. Look for varieties that excel in wheel traffic tolerance, spring green-up, recovery after cutting, and drought stress. If you are in the northern U.S., pay particular attention to winter survival ratings and choose a variety with a WS rating of 2 or under.

• Forage Quality. Choose varieties that produce dense, fine stemmed alfalfa stands. This will help ensure your variety has high potential for producing quality forage. The best way to control the quality of your alfalfa forage is to know the maturity of your variety and to intensively manage your cutting schedule around it.

• Value-Added Technology and Traits. Look for options that can increase income per acre in your operation. Choose technology that increases yield, such as hybrid alfalfa or traits that might help protect yield, such as herbicide resistance or pest resistance. Quality traits are in the pipeline such as low-lignin and increased tannin expression that may have a significant impact on forage quality in the future.

Ask your agronomist about the potential for technology or traits in alfalfa to increase your profitability.

5) What about price?

Alfalfa seed prices typically range from $2.00/lb to $7.50/lb. Considering this price range and a seeding rate of 20 lbs/acre, your seed input cost per acre can range from $40.00 to $150.00. However, when comparing the $2.00/lb to the $7.50/lb alfalfa, if the higher priced alfalfa yields 1 ton more per acre, the extra cost of the seed is recovered in the first full production year. Remember that your decision will affect you for 3 to 4 years.

Discuss the importance of value and price with your agronomist before making your alfalfa seed decision.


Chad Staudinger is Forage Product Manager, Dairyland Seed Company Inc. Contact him via phone: 608-220-9249; or e-mail:

People Power: How do I motivate Joe?

By Robert Milligan

The most frequent question I’m asked is, “How do I motivate Joe (or Emily or Bill or Betsy)? The simple answer is: You don’t. Joe must motivate Joe.

However, the explanation of that simple answer is difficult. Let’s begin with an illustration from Daniel Pink’s excellent new book, DRiVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

Imagine it is 1995, and you must choose which of the following two encyclopedias will be more successful in 15 years:

Encyclopedia A –  Microsoft will hire experts, professional writers and editors to develop an encyclopedia to be sold as CD-ROMs and online.

Encyclopedia B will be written by thousands of volunteers with no particular expertise and for no monetary reward. It will be online and free.

If you were successful in imagining it is 1995, the answer would be obvious – Encyclopedia A. Microsoft and its experts have great incentive to produce a successful encyclopedia. What incentive do those providing their free time have?

We now know that your 1995 prediction was wrong. Microsoft pulled the plug on their encyclopedia in October 2009. Encyclopedia B – Wikipedia – is thriving with its 13 million article resource, one of the most used websites on the Internet.

To better understand this result, we must contrast extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation, which has served as the basis for motivation theory, holds that people respond to externally provided forces. The way to motivate people is to reward the good and punish the bad.

Intrinsic motivation comes from inside us. In the words of motivation researcher Edward Deci, human beings have an “inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capacities, to explore and to learn.” He adds, however, that this tendency is fragile and requires the right environment to survive.

There is an impressive body of research supporting the importance of intrinsic motivation, especially for the types of complex, high-responsibility jobs common in today’s economy. I am certain you are thinking your dairy does not have these jobs. That is often correct, and is why we need not debate the supremacy of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. Rather, the question is how we can capitalize on both.

First, a slight side trip. Most of you know that I am a “mission” freak. I have spent most of my career recommending its development to dairy farm owners and my students and clients.

Let’s think about “mission” in terms of intrinsic motivation. The more we and our employees understand and are committed to the mission of our dairy, the more likely intrinsic motivation will kick in. The importance of intrinsic motivation adds yet another reason for spending the necessary time to articulate our dairy business mission and engage our workforce in its fulfillment.

Let’s touch on three topics as we try to understand the role of intrinsic motivation:

1) A review of Herzberg.

Herzberg’s “Two-Factor Theory” is a staple of motivation theory. He argues “hygiene factors” provide for the employee’s basic needs. They include economic factors (wages, housing and a variety of other fringe benefits); security needs (grievance procedures, seniority privileges, fair work rules and company policy and discipline); social needs (opportunities to mix with one’s peers); working conditions and status (privileges, job titles and other symbols of rank and position).

They do not necessarily create a motivated work force. Rather, a lack of them causes dissatisfaction among employees. These are clearly extrinsic motivators that do not likely provide any intrinsic motivation.

He argues “motivation factors” – challenging work; feelings of personal accomplishment; recognition for achievement; achievement of increasing responsibility; a sense of importance to the organization; access to information; and involvement in decision making – when provided in the proper quantity and quality, satisfy the employee’s needs and create an increased commitment of time and energy to the job, increasing motivation. These clearly are more likely to appeal to the individual’s intrinsic motivation.

2) An intrinsic motivation system now in use.

A Results Only Work Environment  (ROWE, developed by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson) has shown impressive increases in productivity and job satisfaction at Best Buy and other companies. In a ROWE, employees are judged only on their results – getting their work done. They do not have supervisor-prescribed schedules, although they or their team may need to set schedules to get the work done. They are judged on results: How, when and where they do the work is up to the employee and/or their team.

I actually don’t think the key is the lack of a supervisor-prescribed schedule, as most of the jobs on dairies do require a schedule. The key is the intrinsic motivation that comes from controlling how one gets results.

3) What intrinsic motivation can do in your business.

Returning to where we started, only Joe can motivate Joe. We, however, have tremendous opportunities as leaders and managers to create an environment where Joe (and everyone else) chooses to be motivated. As you create that environment in your dairy business, keep in mind anything that can be done to create on-the-job intrinsic motivation will lead to increased productivity and greater job satisfaction.


Robert Milligan, senior consultant with Dairy Strategies LLC, can be reached via phone: 888-249-3244, ext. 255, e-mail:, or website:

Herd Health: Consistent protocols help keep herd health program on course

Customized protocols help this New York dairy herd stay healthy, productive.

By Susan Harlow

Protocols for treatment of sick cattle, lameness, and herd health have helped Walker Farm of Wayland, N.Y., with consistent performance. That’s been especially important as the herd has grown from 200 to 700 head, and employees have grown to 13, over the last 10 years, said Doug Walker, who owns the dairy with his father, Don.

Protocols are good for uniformity, and they’re especially helpful for training new employees, Walker said. With protocols, you know you’re doing what your veterinarian wants done, he said. If you do that, you’re much closer to finding a solution, and quicker.

Dr. Mike Capel of the Perry Veterinary Clinic, Perry, N.Y., urged the Walkers to develop – and helped design – protocols about three years ago. With the protocols in place, the goal is to have employees respond to health problems earlier and have a higher treatment success rate, Capel said.

Capel also helped develop an ongoing list of cows in the hospital group, with daily computer printouts. The list helps employees provide the right therapy for the cows under a treatment plan. It’s also printed out for Capel’s weekly vet check.

One of Walker Farms two herdsmen, Alex Nisbet, said the protocols are used constantly. Drug dosages can be easily accessed, Nisbet said. The protocols are also useful when employees run into unfamiliar health problems, such as nervous ketosis.

A low incidence of disease is one good measure of how the protocols work, Doug Walker said. “For instance, we have very low DAs (displaced abomasums), 3% to 4%. So we know our fresh cow protocol works well and that sick cows are being taken care of quickly.”

The Walkers also designed a way to track individual cows that might have problems. A cow health sheet is started on any cow looked at through the day, either visually or on a printout, such as those with (milk) deviations, Nisbet said.

Any cow checked on the sheet will be entered into the computer (Walker Farm uses DairyComp 305), so they can go back and check on her later. It’s useful to follow individual cows and, if there’s a string with the same problem, it becomes clearly evident.

Capel developed a stock template for protocols, covering between 20 and 25 common diseases, explaining how to diagnose each disease and how to devise a treatment plan. Adapted to any dairy, protocols can be tailored to individual dairy’s restraint facilities and the expertise of its employees.

“It’s what is easy and best for them. Are they good at giving oral fluids; at giving IV’s?” Capel said. “The better their diagnostic ability, the more specific the protocol can be.  Accurate diagnoses are critical to using protocols.”

Most of the dairies Capel works with have a set of health protocols. “They’re great for residue avoidance, drug inventory and consistency, which is critical,” Capel said. “It takes the musical chairs approach out of it.”

As dairies get bigger and more people are involved, the protocol system becomes even more important. But protocols are only as good as the people who put them into practice. Capel works with dairy employees, showing them how to diagnose diseases first, and then to understand the treatment. Can they diagnose the disease accurately? If not, he works on their physical exam skills, he said.

Capel, a certified veterinarian for New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program (NYSCHAP), advocates for dairies to participate. “It’s a nice yearly check of practices and procedures that are in place,” he said.


■ The New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program, sponsored by the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, is a disease prevention program that pays for herd veterinarians to work with producers in developing herd health plans. For more information, contact your herd veterinarian or regional veterinarian to enroll in NYSCHAP. You can also go to