Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Washington State University Dairy News

September 2016 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Got Phosphorus? Want to Get Rid of Some?

Hands holding a small pile of struvite.
Figure 1. Struvite produced from the liquid dairy manure.

In the September 2004 WSU Dairy Newsletter we reported that we had received our first research funding to study the capture of excess phosphorus (P) from liquid dairy manure in the form of struvite (magnesium-ammonium-phosphate) (see figure 1). Since that time we have refined the technology to efficiently extract P from raw manure and anaerobically digested manure, as well as evaluated ways to make the process less expensive. The fluidized bed technology is being adopted by both the dairy industry as well as waste water treatment facilities across the US.

We are happy to report that we have been granted a USDA NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant to build and operate a mobile struvite system in Washington State during the next two years. Funding from NRCS of $461,000 has been matched by the Washington Dairy Industry with an additional $150,000.

Struvite can be used effectively as a fertilizer and pure struvite has a fertilizer formula of 6 29 0 + 16% Mg. The release of P from struvite is slow to moderate and thus makes it a desirable source of P. We plan to collaborate with crop producers in WA to evaluate the use of struvite as a source of fertilizer as part of the project.

In the coming months we will be looking for dairies across WA who are interested in cooperating with us to extract P in the form of struvite from liquid manure. Feel free to make contact of your interest.

Precision Nutrient Management: Who’s Doing It?

Dairy producers in WA are adopting practices to make more effective use of nutrients in dairy manure for crop production. Among these practices are: no till seeding, flow meters on manure lines, lots of manure testing, double cropping, and use of nutrient management consultants,

Jason Sheehan enlists the help of agronomic professionals to precisely manage nutrients on his dairy farm in Sunnyside, WA. He is able to track how much nitrogen is applied to his fields through regular sample analysis and with use of flow meters which record the manure volume. His fields are mapped into zones based on differences in nutrient status in addition to yield records from previous years. This technology allows Jason and his team to work together to efficiently manage farm nutrients saving both time and money.

The following video gives an overview of the efforts at J & K Dairy in Sunnyside, WA.

Cooperative University Dairy Students (CUDS): A New Generation

With the retirement of Dr. John McNamara this past year, CUDS enters into a new era. Cooperative University Dairy Students currently has 11 members and a new advising team. The new advising team started in May with Hannah Chiapetta as the new day-to-day advisor with support from Dr. Amber Adams-Progar, Dr. Joseph Harrison, and Mr. John Swain. Currently, Hannah is working towards her PhD at WSU with Dr. Harrison. She grew up in Northern California on a 150-cow dairy for 10 years. In May of 2015, she graduated with a BS in Animal Science from Oklahoma State University.

At the end of August, CUDS members returned to begin a new school year. As students returned, CUDS members began the process of updating/evaluating all their protocols and standard operating procedures. During the first weekend of the semester, Dr. Martin Maquivar led a herd audit workshop at the Knott Dairy Center. CUDS members evaluated the history of each cow’s current lactation to evaluate each cow’s performance and health. We are in the process of scheduling more workshops based on CUDS members’ suggestions during the Welcome Back interviews.

The CUDS members are dedicated to ensure the CUDS animals receive great care. Current members are: Marcy Bartelheimer (Sire Selection), Dakota Cameron (Reproduction), Elise Chalcraft (Milk Quality and Udder Health), Shelby Felder (Nutrition), Karena Gutierrez (Herd Health), Adriana Lopez Ayala (Drugs and Supplies), Grace Montgomery (Reproduction), Lindsey Richmond (President), Rafael (Alex) Soria (Public Relations and Records), Stephanie VanVolkenburg (Herd Health), and Heather Young (Calves, Heifers, and Dry Cows and Cow Comfort). We are looking forward to a fun and educational year!

Members of CUDS

Hannah Chiapetta, CUDS Advisor,

WSU Partners with Washington Dairy Producers to Address Pest-Bird Management Issues

A new Washington State University research project will soon be starting, with a focus on pest-bird management on dairy farms. The project aims to determine how the presence of pest-birds (such as starlings) affect dairy cattle well-being and economic losses on dairies. Alternative bird deterrence methods, such as exclusionary netting, will also be tested to determine which methods are economically feasible and effective. The research team is looking for Washington dairy farms that are willing to assist with this project. If you would like to participate in the study, or if you have any questions about the study, please contact Amber Adams-Progar ( or 509-335-0673), Susan Kerr (, or Karen Steensma at (

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Technology for the cows (and calves)

Precision dairy technology is increasingly gaining attention on dairy farms across the world. This new technology aims to improve dairy cattle care and well-being, in addition to the dairy producer’s quality of life. Currently, the technologies range from automatic milking systems to calving alerts that send you text messages. Yes, you did read that correctly, your cow can send you a text message to let you know that she has calved or will calve soon. The possibilities of these amazing inventions are awe-inspiring and exciting; however, we must remember to proceed cautiously. New technology requires an investment of our time and cannot replace best management practices.

Let’s take a look at ten of the precision dairy technology tools currently available for dairy producers:

  1. Automated Calf Feeders – Automated calf feeders used for starter grain are available, but milk/milk replacer feeders are most common. Each calf is individually identified, offered a pre-programmed amount of milk, and monitored by the machine. If a producer sets “drinking speed” as one of the behaviors to be monitored, calf mortality rates could drop by up to 4%.
  2. Automatic Milking System – Cows with higher milking frequencies in automatic milking systems tend to have lower somatic cell counts. If the pulsation ratio for the milking apparatus is changed from the standard setting to 70:30, the peak flow for milk per cow increases by 4%; whereas, a 75:25 setting results in an 8% increase in peak flow. This improves milking efficiency.
  3. Heat Detection – A wide variety of heat detection technologies exist, with many of them offering either an ear tag or neck collar sensor system. Producers have noticed an 18% decrease in time to pregnancy for their cows monitored by these systems. Be mindful of false positives, though.
  4. Calving Alerts – A small device attached to a cow’s tail monitors contractions and alerts the producer, via a text message, that the cow is close to calving. The accuracy for most of these devices range from 82% to 100%.
  5. Activity/Rumination Monitors – These monitors can provide information on how much time per day a cow is spending lying, eating, standing, and ruminating. Cows spend 4% less time ruminating during hot weather.
  6. Non-contact Temperature Readers – Besides using infrared temperature readers to check body temperatures, these readers can also be used to examine other health parameters. Infrared thermography has detected a 15° temperature increase in hooves of cows with impaired mobility, compared to cows with normal mobility.
  7. Mastitis Detection – Somatic cell counts and electrical conductivity tests have been used to detect mastitis; however, measuring protease activity may become an option soon. Researchers noticed a 95% increase in protease activity in milk samples from mastitic cows than non-mastitic cows.
  8. Environmental Enhancement – The inclusion of mechanical brushes in pens to encourage grooming behaviors is gaining popularity. Cows close to calving tend to increase their brush use by 77%.
  9. Automated Feed Mixers and Distributors – One robot has the ability to mix, distribute, and push-up feed all by itself. The timing of feed delivery is crucial, though. Delivering fresh feed to cows between milkings, as opposed to during milkings, causes a 10% reduction in dry matter intake.
  10. Body Condition Scoring – Recording body condition scores helps dairy producers analyze their nutrition programs, but it is time-consuming and may not be consistent between different scorers. Specially-designed cameras can automatically provide body condition scores that typically fall within a 2% range of manual body condition scores.

Preliminary Results of WSU NWREC Forage Trials

In response to dairy producers’ pleas for more forage options in western Washington, several forage trials are underway at the Northwestern Research and Extension Center (NWREC) in Mount Vernon, WA. This article will share preliminary results of these demonstrations and variety trials. Tours of the plots can be conducted for interested persons, contact Susan Kerr at 360-848-6151 or for arrangements.

Birdsfoot trefoil (BFT) is a non-bloating legume, meaning it is a high protein forage that can be grazed fresh without the risk of bloat associated with alfalfa and some other legumes. It also has condensed tannins that are purported to help control internal parasites in livestock. Producers could consider it for grazing heifers; organic producers could use it to meet their 120 grazing day requirement without sacrificing the nutritional content of alfalfa, but without the risk of bloat. It may be suitable for hoy or haylage as well. It has the potential to become an invasive weedy species in some areas.

Flooded field of Birdsfoot trefoil (BFT).
Fall planted birdsfoot trefoil underwater on January 7, 2015 in Mount Vernon.

Demonstration plantings (100% BFT and 50% BFT – 50% Timothy) in September 2014 were underwater in January 2015 (Photo 1, with annual ryegrass weed incursion), but ready for a first cutting in April. This apparent tolerance to waterlogged soil is a definite advantage for western WA production. BFT was seeded at 20# per acre and 1/4″ deep. Pre-planting fertilizer and BFT-specific inoculum were included. Five cuttings were made that year with production averaging 4.5 tons/acre. Results of the fresh forage chemical analysis on the 8/19/15 are included in Table 1.

Component As Fed Dry Matter Basis
Water, %  78.2   0.0
Dry matter, %  21.8 100.0
Crude protein, %   4.0  18.3
Acid detergent fiber, %   7.2  33.0
Neutral detergent fiber, %   8.8  40.3
Nonstructural carbohydrates, %   6.6  30.3
Total digestible nutrients, %  13.4  61.6
Net energy of lactation, mcal/lb   0.1   0.6
Estimated net energy, mcal/lb   0.1   0.5
Relative feed value  31.8 146.1
Calcium, %   0.2   0.9
Phosphorous, %   0.1   0.2
Magnesium, %   0.1   0.2
Potassium, %   0.6   2.7
Table 1. Chemical analysis of fresh birdsfoot trefoil cut 8/19/2015.

A BFT variety trial was planted on 9/17/15. Weeds were to be controlled with tillage and mowing, but the plot experienced severe weed pressure and chemical herbicide was applied in mid-June. The three varieties included:

  1. Norcen from Stock Seed Farms, Murdock, Nebraska
  2. Pardee from Allied Seed, Nampa ID
  3. Witt from Allied Seed, Nampa ID

The Witt variety out-performed the other two throughout all growth stages at the NWREC variety plot.

Regrowth of birdsfoot trefoil (BFT) is measured following previous harvest.
Photo 2. BFT regrowth assessed on July 22, 2016.

BFT is reputed to be “difficult to establish”, but experience at the NWREC BFT fall-planted plots tend toward concluding it is just slow to emerge, especially in cold, wet soils. Patience is rewarded, however, with vigorous and hardy plants that regrow well after harvest (Photo 2). Indeed, there are reports of > 40-year-old BFT plants in Whatcom County that originated in conservation plantings. To see what difference in stand establishment and vigor might be seen with a spring planting, a small plot was seeded at the NWREC on June 7, 2016. The plants emerged much more quickly than in fall plantings and have done well.

BFT’s use may be as part of a grazing program. BFT hay made at the NWREC in August was unpalatable to horses and goats and ignored by steers on pasture. Due to unavoidable delays in harvesting, this hay was made from overmature BFT so its innate tannin content may have been too high for good palatability. Thanks to the recent acquisition of some haying equipment by the NWREC, hay can be made at more appropriate maturity levels in the future (weather depending) and palatability re-assessed.

Summer 2016 Forages

Plot space became available for more demonstrations in early summer of 2016, so teff, Italian ryegrass, and a sorghum-sudangrass hybrid were seeded in the first two weeks of June. Teff and sudangrass are warm season C4 plants, meaning they thrive in hot summer months. Having alternative forages come on when C3 cool-season grasses are going into their summer slump would extend grazing options and even provide some forage for haying. Also, these annual grasses would provide another option in crop rotation systems. Teff is gaining popularity as horse hay due to its low nonstructural carbohydrate (sugar) content, which is highly desired by some horse owners, so this crop could become its own profit center for farms capable of making small bales. Teff is also being used as an income-producing crop as ground is transitioning from one crop use to another.

Field of Italian rygrass vs Teff (on left).
Photo 3. Five-week-old Italian ryegrass stand. Teff is on the left.

Teff established and grew well in the demonstration plot was hampered by extreme weed pressure. It was planted elsewhere at the NWREC as a cover crop and soil stabilizer and has done well. The plot was mowed in mid-August and has responded well with regrowth; we hope for a second cutting. Hay from the first cutting was too weedy to feed; chemical analysis is pending.

A sorghum-sudangrass hybrid grew very poorly in the demonstration site, but very well elsewhere at the NWREC as a cover crop. Sudangrass must be fed carefully due to the possibility of prussic acid (cyanide) poisoning. The precursor compound is present in higher levels in young plants and plants affected by drought, wilting, freezing, trampling, and/or high fertilization rates. Risk is greatly lower in sudangrass hay and silage. Sudangrasses are also often plowed under as a green manure crop.

The Italian ryegrass plot was very successful (Photo 3). It established quickly and shaded out weeds, so it had much less weed pressure than the other forage plots. It grew back very well after mowing. The biennial cool season grass will not go to seed unless it goes through a winter, meaning it stays vegetative the entire first year of planting, producing an impressive quantity of high-quality forage. It can be planted in the spring for multiple harvests that year (winterkill likely) or planted in late summer for fall and spring grazing or harvest (winterkill less likely). Italian ryegrass dries poorly so it is difficult to make into hay. It is best suited for grazing, greenchop, haylage, or baleage. It can fit into a farm’s forage plans as a rotational crop (not after corn, though) or emergency feed. It has the potential to become and invasive weed species in some areas.

Additional Forage Work

  • Rows of corn growing in the field.
    Photo 4. Blue River Hybrids corn silage variety trial at NWREC in Mount Vernon, August 22, 2016.

    We currently have a corn silage variety trial sponsored by Blue River Hybrids (Photo 4). Samples will be collected and data analyzed at the end of September; results will be made available to producers through various venues and on request.

  • We are in Year Two of a simulated grazing impact trial on timothy. A stand planted in 2014 has been divided into three areas and “grazed” (mowed) at 3”, 6”, or 12” repeatedly. The middle height is thriving, but both the over- and under-grazed stands are struggling. The purpose of this demonstration is to show the effects of repeated abuse on pasture grasses and motivate managers to follow best pasture management and grazing practices. These include never grazing or mowing below 6” and keeping plants vegetative and growing vigorously.
  • Pumpkin silage mixed with straw.
    Photo 5. Pumpkins and straw ensiled 100 days.

    Pumpkins were ensiled in five-gallon buckets with and without straw last fall (Photo 5). Straw was included as a variable in the study to see if and how pumpkins could help upgrade the nutritional value of this low-value fiber source (straw) while expanding the volume of pumpkin silage, without excessive dilution of the nutritional value of pumpkins. Chemical analysis results are in Table 2. Palatability factors are unknown because the microbial content of this ensiled material could not be guaranteed as safe so it was not fed to livestock.

Component Whole pumpkins Pumpkin silage Pumpkin/straw silage Straw
As fed DMB* As fed DMB As fed DMB As fed DMB
% Dry matter  12.56 100.0  13.03 100.0  14.83 100.0  89.34 100.0
% Water  87.44   0.00  86.97   0.00  85.17   0.00  10.66   0.00
% Crude protein   1.41  11.23   2.37  18.19   2.24  15.1   2.81   3.15
% Protein solubility   7.44  59.24 n/a n/a  19.14  21.42
% ADF   1.83  14.57   2.68  20.57   3.89  26.23  53.96  60.40
% NDF   2.46  19.59   3.19  24.48   4.45  30.01  76.06  85.14
% TDN   9.62  76.59   9.72  74.60  10.79  72.76  38.89  43.53
NEL Mcal/lb   0.10   0.80   0.10   0.77   0.11   0.74   0.38   0.43
ENE Mcal/lb   0.09   0.72   0.09   0.69   0.10   0.67   0.23   0.26
RFV  46.25 368.23  36.12 277.21  31.44 212.0  40.85  45.72
% Ash   1.08   8.60   1.35  10.36   1.47   9.91   5.20   5.82
% Calcium   0.03   0.24   0.04   0.31   0.05   0.34   0.21   0.24
% Phosphorous   0.03   0.24   0.07   0.54   0.07   0.47   0.04   0.04
% Magnesium   0.03   0.24   0.05   0.38   0.05   0.34   0.05   0.06
% Potassium   0.46   3.66   0.48   3.68   0.52   3.51   1.05   1.18
% Sodium   0.06   0.48   0.00   0.00   0.00   0.00   0.02   0.02
Copper ppm   0.72   5.73   1.28   9.82   1.21   8.16   2.56   2.87
Iron ppm   1.40  11.15  14.70 112.82  52.54 354.28 162.0 181.33
Zinc ppm   3.15  25.08   6.15  47.20   7.30  49.22  4.45  4.98
Manganese ppm   1.00   7.96   2.38  18.27   3.42  23.06  11.17  12.50
% Chloride   0.05   0.40 n/a n/a n/a
pH n/a   4.15 n/a   4.13 n/a n/a
Table 2. Nutritional content of pumpkins, pumpkin silage, pumpkin/straw silage, and straw from this study.

Future Forage Work

Additional forages to be studied in the future at the NWREC include sainfoin and festolium. Sainfoin is another non-bloating legume with high condensed tannin content; it is also naturally somewhat resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. It is better suited to dryland production and may not do well in western Washington’s wet clay soils. Plots will also be established in Centerville and San Juan County; it will be interesting to compare performance among these various soil types and precipitation zones. Festolium (a fescue-ryegrass hybrid) is purported to have more of the best traits and fewer of the undesirable traits of both ryegrass and fescue, meaning higher palatability, good persistence, good regrowth, better disease resistance, and higher winter hardiness.

We need to control weeds more aggressively in the variety trial and demonstration plots because weed growth is confounding some of the results. We also need to continue to build our haying capacity at the NWREC so we can harvest when needed and be independent of haying contractors’ schedules. Donations of haying equipment that fit into our long-term Research and Extension plans would be greatly appreciated.

Related Reading

  • Condensed tannins: C.L. Marley, R. Cook, R. Keatinge, J. Barrett, and N.H. Lampkin. 2003. The effect of birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) and chicory (Cichorium intybus) on parasite intensities and performance of lambs naturally infected with helminth parasites. Veterinary Parasitology, 112:147–155. doi: 10.1016/S0304-4017(02)00412-0
  • Birdsfoot trefoil
  • Italian ryegrass (pdf)
  • Festolium
  • Sainfoin (pdf)
  • Timothy
  • Teff
  • Sudangrass