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Washington State University Dairy News

September 2021 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Welcome to the September 2021 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Author: Dr. Amber Adams Progar, Dairy Management Specialist in Animal Sciences, WSU

I hope your excitement for this newsletter matches the excitement WSU faculty, staff, students, and fans have for the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year! Although the environment around us is constantly changing because of the pandemic, the WSU Department of Animal Sciences continues to meet the needs of our students the animal science industry, and the public through our teaching, research, and Extension efforts. This issue of our newsletter also marks the transfer of the editorial baton.

It is with much honor that I accept the role of editor for this newsletter. I commend and thank Dr. Joe Harrison for his editorial oversight of our WSU Dairy Newsletter over the years. His leadership was vital to the redesign and revival of this newsletter. Thank you, Joe!

Farmers for the future!

Author: Dr. Gordon Murdoch, Chair of Animal Sciences Department, WSU

It is with tremendous optimism with respect to farming and ranching and its future, that I draft this brief article without hesitancy, at the invitation of Dr. Adams-Progar. My unbridled optimism may seem crazy given the pressures our regional dairies are faced with; rising feed costs, increasing labor costs, environmental and legislative requirements, drought, heat waves and cold snaps. However, my optimism is derived from my confidence in the ingenuity, creativeness, resiliency and stewardship that has always resided in our farm communities. “Where there is a will, there is a way”-author unknown, and the will to do things effectively, sustainably and to the highest standards has always resided in our livestock producers. Were I a betting man, I would wager on the long-term success of our farms and dairies and I dare say not in spite of the challenges but perhaps even because of the challenges. Obstacles do not prevent farmers from being successful they force farmers to find the way to be successful, a task they have endured since livestock were domesticated.

I am proud to serve the dairy industry in my capacity as Chair of the Animal Sciences department at the great land-grant, Washington State University. This is where through research, education and Extension the Animal Sciences department at WSU has the privilege to work hand in hand with dairy producers to hypothesize, research and evaluate solutions to address all of the challenges that face our dairy industry. We do not forget past challenges, and experiences, but rather capitalize upon them to attain sustainability through progressive solutions. It would be exceedingly more challenging to envision a successful and sustainable future in our dairy industry were it not true that our dairies produce one of the highest-quality, safe, and nutritious agricultural products for human consumption. Our cows are indeed the stars of the show, with genetics and productivity traits enhanced consistently year after year over the last century; they will continue to produce the milk, milk components and by-products that are unmatched. The advent of modern tools including genetic, nutritional, robotic and computational will provide never previously attainable strategies that will secure the sustainability of our dairies.

There is another invaluable resource that WSU animal sciences gets to work with every day, and that is our energetic youth that commit their educational future to us. They are the future, they are the source of the solutions and they are the stewards of the future animal and land-based resources. WSU Animal Sciences remain committed to our mission to train them effectively, to expose them to the essentials pertaining to nutrition, health, reproduction, physiology, care, selection and improvement so that they can build upon the industry successes of the past and present and create the sustainable dairy of the future.

So, pour yourself a tall glass of milk, buckle up, pay attention and be amazed by the progress and solutions that the dairy industry, WSU and our graduating animal sciences students have instore for the future!


Welcome Dr. Marcos Marcondes!

After pandemic-related delays, Marcos Marcondes finally arrived in Pullman in January 2021 from Brazil as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Sciences. He joins the department’s Ruminant Nutrition Team, specializing in dairy cattle management and nutrition. Marcos began his education in animal sciences in 2001, earning a B.S. from the Federal University of Viçosa in Brazil in 2005. He then earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in animal science from the same university in 2007 and 2010, respectively. After completing his formal education, Marcos joined the Department of Animal Science faculty at the same institution as an assistant professor and was promoted to associate professor in 2018. He built a solid and collaborative dairy science research team that included undergraduate and graduate students, technicians, and other faculty. His team integrated fundamental and applied research techniques with biotechnology, genetics, food sciences, microbiology, and economics to advance dairy science, resulting in nine funded federal grants and more than 140 peer-reviewed publications.

In addition to leading a strong research program, Marcos taught ten different undergraduate and graduate courses, including dairy production courses that focused on managing small and large dairy herds. Recently, Marcos took a sabbatical and served as a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Florida. While there, he integrated his background in ruminant nutrition with dairy economics, learning and implementing modeling tools to evaluate the economic impacts of management decisions on commercial dairy production.

Marcos is excited to be in Pullman! His research program will focus on feed evaluation, dairy calf and heifer nutrition and development, nutrient requirements for optimal mammary gland development, use of beef semen in dairy herds to increase the value of male offspring, and incorporation of alternative feedstuffs and byproduct feeds in dairy cattle diets to reduce feed costs. He is thrilled that the department has a RUSITEC (rumen simulation technique), a semi-continuous in vitro culture method that simulates ruminal fermentation that he can use for the initial evaluation of feedstuff digestibility. He believes that the Department of Animal Science has all the necessary tools to run studies that could lead to creative solutions to the Dairy industry. Marcos is focused on talking to producers, understanding their most current needs, and developing scientific solutions. While working at the Federal University of Viçosa, Marcos participated in extension projects where he had direct contact with more than 100 dairies and mentored students on consulting farms. As the consulting focused on general management of the farms (including nutrition, reproduction, health, and management), he could understand the wide variability within dairy farms and develop solutions for those problems. In this way, Marcos also focused his research on building solutions for dairy farmers. Now, Marcos is excited to outreach and see what the Pacific NorthWest can offer in terms of solutions and challenges to the dairy industry and how he can use his research to solve those problems.


What’s New in Dairy Research?

Author: Callan Lichtenwalter, Ph.D. student in Animal Sciences, WSU

Hi, my name is Callan Lichtenwalter and I am a Ph.D. student in the Animal Science department at WSU.  I am doing research on how pest birds impact dairy behavior and welfare and effective solutions to deter pest birds from dairies.  For each newsletter I will be choosing four recent articles from dairy science to highlight.  I hope you enjoy reading about them!

Beef sires and calf growth. Have you considered using beef sires to increase calf growth for meat production?  A 2020 study out of New Zealand (Martin et al., 2020) investigated whether Estimated Breeding Value (EBV) of sires with at least five progeny could be used to estimate increased growth in calves.  1171 mixed-breed dairy cows were bred with Angus or Hereford bulls, and calf growth was measured from 131 to 800 days.  The sire of a calf greatly impacted calf growth.  The weight differences between calves of the lightest and heaviest sires was 42lb at 131 days and 90 198 at 800 days, and EBV-based predicted weights fit closely with actual live weights.

IgG concentrations in colostrum. Proper absorption of quality colostrum is vital for the health and longevity of a calf because they are born with immature immune systems.  Marseglia and colleagues (2020) collected colostrum and serum samples from 60 cow-calf pairs to measure any potential differences in colostrum quality and absorption.  Cow breed did not impact the concentration of IgG in colostrum, but parity did.  First-parity cows had lower IgG concentrations (75.4 g/L) in their colostrum than older cows (four or more parities; 106.5 g/L).  The greatest number of failed colostrum IgG transfers occurred when feed colostrum from first- and fifth+-parity cows, and the authors speculate that this is due to lower colostrum production in these groups.

Hot weather and mastitis. Heat waves are becoming increasingly common and cause concern for farm-animal health and welfare.  In their 2020 study, Vitali and others investigated how hot weather correlated with the incidence rates of mastitis cases in dairy cows.  Accumulated heat load (AHL; excess heat the body can’t rid itself of) as a measure of heat load index over time (HLI; ambient temperature, relative humidity, solar radiation, and wind speed) the researchers found that the incidence of mastitis and Staph. aureus cases increased as AHL increased.  As milk yield, parity, and days in milk increased, incidences of mastitis when AHL was high also increased.  Further study is needed to understand the threshold AHL at which mastitis incidence rate begins to increase.

Male calf health and sales. Male calves that are to be sent to beef and veal operations often arrive at auction in subprime conditions and will sell for very little, if they sell at all.  To understand this relationship, a study out of Canada by Wilson and colleagues (2020) examined calf health and weight at auction and compared this to the price at which the calf was sold.  Of the 355 calves they examined, 20% had at least one health concern, of which the most common were navel disease and ocular/nasal discharge.  Calf weights ranged from 60 lbs. to 181 lbs. with an average of 104 lbs.  The highest priced calf sold for 370 Canadian dollars, while 10.5% calves sold for less than CAN$10, and almost 3% of calves did not sell at all.  Calves that had depressed attitudes or appeared unwell sold for the least amount.


Marseglia, A., R. Pitino, C. Bresciani, A. Quarantelli, and F. Righi. 2020. Measurement of transfer of colostral passive immunity in dairy calves. Acta Fytotech. Zootech. 23:190-196.

Martin, N., N. Schreurs, S. Morris, N. Lopez-Villalobos, J. McDade, and R. Hickson. 2020. Sire effects on post-weaning growth of beef-cross-dairy cattle: A case study in New Zealand. Anim. 10(2313):1-11.

Napolitano, F., A. Bragaglio, E. Sabia, F. Serrapica, A. Braghieri, and G. De Rosa. 2020. The human-animal relationship in dairy animals. J. Dairy. Res. 87(S1):47-52.

Vitali, A., A. Felici, A. M. Lees, G. Giacinti, C. Maresca, U. Bernabucci, J.B. Gaughan, A. Nardone, and N. Lacetera. 2020. J. Dairy Sci. 103(9):8378-8387.

Wilson, D.J., J. Stojkov, D. L. Renaud, and D. Fraser. 2020. Short communication: Condition of male dairy calves at auction markets. J. Dairy Sci. 103(9):8530-8534.


New Study: Utilizing Genomic Selection as a Risk Management Tool

Authors: Allison Herrick, Ph.D. student in Animal Sciences, WSU

Dr. Holly Neibergs, Professor in Animal Sciences, WSU

The Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (WSARE) program is a competitive research and education program that covers the western United States. Investigators at Washington State University (Holly Neibergs, Shannon Neibergs and Amber Adams-Progar) and the University of Idaho (Joseph Dalton) recently received funding from WSARE to determine if the use of genomic selection improves  the selection of replacement heifers as measured by their first lactation performance and their profitability. The study is being conducted at four Washington and two Idaho dairies, with each dairy providing information and samples on about 200 heifers. The study focuses on the dairy industry because it plays key economic and social roles throughout Washington and Idaho. As dairies have experienced significant financial challenges in recent years, it is imperative to reduce costs and financial risks to achieve the returns needed for producers to support themselves and their families. Genomic selection utilizes genotyping of cattle, which provides an opportunity to raise higher quality replacements, reduce the total number of replacements needed to maintain herd size, and identify the best animals to be used to produce optimal offspring for the next generation. Genotyping is the technology of sampling cattle DNA and using that information to predict how that animal will perform as a lactating adult. By examining the costs surrounding taking and processing the samples and then implementing the results, the cost-effectiveness of the process and the overall benefit for producers will be determined.

The words “genomic selection” or “genomics” have become more commonly mentioned within recent years in the dairy industry. However, many people do not fully understand what this technology does or what it has the potential to provide for them. The education portion of the study facilitates discussion of the opportunities genomic selection can provide. Producer and veterinarian education workshops will be held in Washington and Idaho where attendees can try their hand using genomic selection and selection based on relative or pedigree information to pick the most profitable heifers. Students at WSU will also compare selection strategies using these data. Examples from this project will be used in classes to help them better understand how genomics can increase the accuracy of estimating heifer performance while  reducing financial risk.

The 1200 heifers sampled in the study will be followed through their first lactation and comparisons will be made between their actual production and their predicted performance using the two different approaches. The reduction of financial risk will be measured by comparing the profitability of heifers chosen as replacements  using pedigree information to heifers chosen as replacements  using genomic information. If the use of genomic selection improves the accuracy of choosing heifers that will be profitable in the milking parlor, then genomic selection can be used as a tool to reduce financial risk for dairies. The selection of better heifers will also benefit the dairies in the long-run, as their calves will also carry the genetics to be more profitable leading to increased profitability and sustainability in the future.


Beef semen: A summary of its use on dairy cows

Authors: Jessica Pereira, PhD student in Animal Sciences, WSU

Dr. Marcos I. Marcondes, Assistant Professor in Animal Sciences, WSU

Dr. Fernanda Carolina Ferreira, UCCE Herd Health & Management Economist Specialist, UC Davis

The use of beef semen on dairy cows is increasing in the last years mainly due to the high premium price paid for dairy-beef crossbreds. This strategy is not new, and factors such as: (1) better reproductive performance; (2) high use of sexed semen; (3) milk price variation; (4) low surplus heifers’ price; (5) low dairy male and heifer prices; (6) high cost to raise heifers; and (7) high one-day-old dairy-beef crossbred price, are driving dairy farmers to adopt the use of beef semen on dairy cows.

The use of beef on dairies in Western – US DHIA herds, represented 0.3% of all breedings in 2015, and in 2019, the percentage increased to more than 26% of all breedings (Figure 1). Data from the National Association of Animal Breeders reported an increase in beef semen sales with 4.7 million doses (Angus, Simmental, Limousin, and others) from 2017 to 2020, and a decrease to 4.8 million doses from the sale of dairy semen sales (Holstein, Jersey, Red Holstein, Brow Swiss, and others). Likewise, the heifer calves and bull calves price experienced a reduction from $250 to less than $50 for heifers and from $200 to $15 for bulls from 2015 to 2021, a decline of 80% and 97%, respectively.

Results from a beef semen survey mailed in California (2020), reported that most dairy producers are using beef semen in third and older lactating dairy cows and on their third and higher breedings. Angus semen was the most used, and the Angus-dairy day-old calves had the greatest variation in their market price, from less than $50 to more than $250. Therefore, the beef semen fertility, calf management after birth (providing high-quality colostrum, in a few hours of life, with a good volume and evaluating navel disinfection), and a contract with calf ranch/feedlots, may be important factors to keep the premium price paid for dairy-beef crossbred calves. Also, beef semen use is an opportunity tool to control heifer inventory, improve genetic gain, increase the use of sexed semen in genetically superior heifers and use of beef semen use in repeated breeders and cows genetically inferior. This is especially important in a scenario with low milk and heifer prices. Furthermore, controlling heifer inventory reduces the environmental footprint of dairy production, reducing methane emissions.

There are many strategies that dairy producers can combine to use beef semen to maximize their profits.  Good records (which include mortality, longevity, reproductive performance, heifer raising costs, and the number of replacement heifers) and understanding the market price for surplus heifers, heifers calves, bull calves, and dairy-beef crossbred calves are crucial to make the best decisions for your farm.

Figure 1.  Percentage of beef, conventional dairy and sexed dairy semen used in Holstein dairy herds in Western – US, from 2015 to 2019 (CA, WA, OR, ID and NM).


WSU Dairy Club: Udderly Excited for a New Year and new opportunities!

Author: Kaitlyn Wright, WSU Dairy Club President 

The WSU Dairy Club is a student-run organization that aims to expand the knowledge of the dairy industry and its contribution to the human health and agricultural world. We believe that teaching individuals from any background issues and topics pertaining to the dairy industry generates future scientists, workforce and creates a positive image that can be brought to the community. The members of our club develop a better understanding of the industry through workshops, guest lectures, field trips, and hands-on experiences. Workshops include many things such as discussing marketing strategies, developing a resume and job application profile, working directly with calves and mature cows to provide more animal experience to our students. Members can learn various topics, from reproduction, genetics, health, husbandry to nutrition, to cow-calf care, and milk processing. Members also have the opportunity to develop leadership skills in things such as running for officer positions or planning and leading events. The objective for this year is to reactivate and make a positive contribution to the industry and club through fundraisers, and attending seminars and conferences. These conferences include the Washington Dairy Conference to inform local dairymen/women, business owners, veterinarians, and industry representatives of our club and our activities. The Dairy Club has the honor of hosting annual events such as Cougar Youth Weekend, which allows children K-12 across the country to tour the WSU Dairy and participate in educational workshops, games, and even learning how to fit, show, and halter train calves. Other events such as Dairy Olympics allows for WSU students and the local community to get involved in similar activities and have fun playing games all while learning the positive impact and importance of the industry.

The Dairy Club hopes to see you soon at the 2021 Washington State Dairy Conference!


WSU Cooperative University Dairy Students (CUDS) Ready to Thrive in 2021-2022

Author: Dr. Amber Adams Progar, WSU CUDS Advisor

The 2021-2022 academic year is off to a great start for the WSU CUDS Program. Besides managing the herd, the 13-member co-op is currently focused on scheduling field trips, guest speakers, and team-building events. Recruitment for the next cohort of members has also begun. Applications for CUDS opened on September 13th and will close on October 29th. As part of the recruitment process, CUDS members shared their experiences with fellow students at the WSU Animal Sciences Welcome Back BBQ and the WSU CAHNRS Fall Festival. The group looks forward to all the opportunities Fall 2021 will offer and is excited to welcome new members in January 2022.