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Washington State University Dairy News

December 2021 Dairy Newsletter

Letter from the Editor

I hope this newsletter finds you excited for the holidays and hopeful for the New Year. This past year was an unprecedented one full of historical moments, some we cherish and some we hope to forget. In spite of the challenges we faced this year, the strength of the Washington State dairy industry never waned. In fact, some of my favorite moments from this year occurred at the Annual Washington State Dairy Conference this month. Watching everyone enjoy each other’s company and exchange a bit of banter was priceless. Witnessing how the Washington dairy industry family pulled together to help each other during the latest flood disaster reminded me why I enjoy my job so much. The people in our industry bring joy to my work.

This joy was similar to the joy our WSU Animal Sciences students experienced when they returned to campus for in-person classes this semester. As you know firsthand, skills in Animal Sciences are best taught hands-on. Teaching a student how to milk a cow just isn’t the same when you are trying to explain it over a video conference. We are so grateful we were able to offer our classes the way they were intended to be offered, in-person and hands-on. The semester has now come to a close and the campus is once again quiet. I am hopeful that the new semester will open new doors for our students, including opportunities to meet you and learn about your experiences.

Time is invaluable. Thank you for setting aside time to read our newsletter. We hope you enjoy the articles and find the information to be helpful. If you have any suggestions for future article topics, please send them to me at Happy Holidays!

Amber Adams Progar, Associate Professor and Dairy Management Specialist

Cooperative University Dairy Students enjoying the 2021 Washington Dairy Conference

A Note from the Animal Sciences Chair

At last, this December there was an opportunity to meet in person with members of the WA Dairy Federation during the annual meeting at Wolf Creek Lodge, Grand Mound, WA. Having served as Chair of Animal Sciences at WSU for slightly over a year now, this was my first opportunity to attend this event and meet the great people. While the devastating impacts of the recent floods were certainly a topic of conversation and concern, there was also plenty of optimism, progressive ideas and shared wisdom. For me personally, I experienced great enthusiasm for the proposed efforts with respect to sustainability initiatives, carbon credits and market growth. WSU Animal Sciences intends on contributing to these efforts and advancements as an important component of our land-grant mission. I was overwhelmed by the welcome and support by members; as so many approached and introduced themselves and importantly expressed their willingness to work with WSU. We have a vision to upgrade our Knott Dairy Center, provide more internships for our undergraduate COUGS, grow our graduate program and maximize our research. It is important that WSU Animal Sciences and our dairy industry partners strategize on where we can proceed as a unified team, vested in the sustainable dairy industry. Thank you all, for your hospitality, I look forward to learning from each of you and building upon our long-standing commitments to one another. Happy holidays, and best wishes for an exceptional 2022.

Gordon K. Murdoch, Professor & Chair WSU Animal Sciences


Estrus detection: an overview of technologies used in dairy farms and their effects on productivity and profitability

Marcos I Marcondes1, Erollykens F. Santos2, and Lucilaine M. Veline2

1Department of Animal Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA

2Department of Animal Science, Federal University of Vicosa, Vicosa-MG, Brazil

The constant search for improving technical and economic indexes in dairy farms leads us to understand how crucial reproductive efficiency is and how it impacts profitability. Heat detection is associated with total milk production and is the main trigger to the entire reproductive process. Thus, the objective was to evaluate the productive and reproductive impact of using three different types of estrus detection techniques: visual estrus identification, rump detectors (ink or tapes), and electronic detectors (collars or pedometers) on dairy farms.

Visual estrus observation was the most used for years (Marques et al., 2020). In addition to being a traditional and widespread method among producers, it does not require an initial investment for application. However, with visual observation, even with an experienced observer, it is challenging to achieve service rates above 80%, even if the observation is carried out three times a day and for at least 30 minutes (Hansen, 2002). For this reason, it is necessary to associate visual observation with more effective technologies of heat detection. For example, in studies carried out by Mayo et al. (2019), the percentage of identification of visual estrus was 54%, while the percentage of identification through electronic markers was 79%. In general, an increase in service rate is noted when any heat detection technology is employed compared to visual detection.

However, the adoption of detection technologies initially increases property costs. Thus, a careful economic analysis should be carried out before implementing new technologies on the farm. Therefore, we performed a simulation of comparing visual detection, rump detectors, and electronic detectors in a stabilized herd of 200 cows after ten years of using the technology. According to the analyses carried out in this simulation, the visual observation of estrus has zero cost and an estimated service rate of 54% for cows (Mayo et al., 2019). In contrast, the rump detector has a cost per breeding animal of US$ 0.075/day and an estimated service rate of 64% and finally, the cost with electronic detectors was US$ 0.15 per breeding animal/day with an estimated service rate of 79% for cows (Holman et al., 2011; Mayo et al., 2019). Furthermore, a similar labor cost was considered for all scenarios since, in all technologies, we will need an employee to perform tasks related to heat identification, or to carry out a daily round of visual heat identification, or to put on, take off and monitor the use of the collars, and to make markings and maintenance of the marker sticks/inks. The analysis was performed based on a stabilized herd, and the results for the tenth year are presented.

Electronic detectors promoted a higher average milk production per cow (Table 1), a greater number of lactating cows, and a consequent increase in the daily milk production on the farm compared to the method of visual estrus detection. On the other hand, rump detectors had intermediate results. Consequently, although there was an increase in costs with breeding animals, the use of technologies improved the profit/cow and reduced the operational milk costs compared with visual observations.

In summary, heat detection directly affects farm profitability, so the adoption of new technologies has been associated with improvements in production per cow and total milk, pregnancy rate, number of lactating cows, profit per cow, and farm profit. The electronic detector showed the best results in the long-term, followed by the rump detector. Visual observation had the worst performance, which is justified by its limitations for efficient heat detection.

Table 1: Results of 10-year simulation (year 10) of three estrus detection technologies on dairy farms

Items Visual Rump Electronic
Farm indexes
   Milk yield, L/day) 5,508.46 5,904.13 6,359.78
   Milk yield per lactating cow, L/day 33.69 34.86 35.98
   Milking cows 163.53 169.39 176.78
   Conception rate, % 27% 27% 27%
   Pregnancy rate, % 15% 17% 22%
   Breeding cows, # 30.63 35.20 40.15
Economic records
   Expenditures with heat detection, $/yr 0.00 2,046.99 3,811.64
   Milk operational cost, $/cwt 10.28 10.29 10.26
   Profit, $/yr 179,163.14 194,665.41 213,632.56
   Profit/cow, $/cow/yr 876.48 939.88 998.57


Hansen, P.J. 2002. Embryonic mortality in cattle from the embryo’s perspective. J. Anim. Sci. 80:E33–E44. doi:10.2527/animalsci2002.80E-Suppl_2E33x.

Holman, A., J. Thompson, J.E. Routly, J. Cameron, D.N. Jones, D. Grove-White, R.F. Smith, and H. Dobson. 2011. Comparison of oestrus detection methods in dairy cattle. Vet. Rec. 169:47–47. doi:10.1136/vr.d2344.

Marques, L.R., J.V.N. Almeida, T.C. Marques, K.C. Guimarães, T. do P. Paim, and K.M. Leão. 2020. Estrus detection and reproductive performance of dairy cows: Review. Res. Soc. Dev. 9:e243974063. doi:10.33448/rsd-v9i7.4063.

Mayo, L.M., W.J. Silvia, D.L. Ray, B.W. Jones, A.E. Stone, I.C. Tsai, J.D. Clark, J.M. Bewley, and G. Heersche. 2019. Automated estrous detection using multiple commercial precision dairy monitoring technologies in synchronized dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 102:2645–2656. doi:10.3168/jds.2018-14738.


What’s New in Dairy Science Research?

Research in dairy sciences conducted at universities and research centers doesn’t always make its way to dairy farmers.  I am here to help bridge the gap between research and on-farm practice.  The goal of this article is to inform you of new technologies and ideas that can help improve the welfare and production of your cows.  I hope you enjoy my selection of articles for the December newsletter!

Is Pasture or Confinement-Based Management Better for Welfare?

As agricultural practices intensify, we move farther away from the idyllic, “natural” farming of the past, but is that always a bad thing?  Let’s look at an example of incidence of disease and malnutrition between the two systems in a review by Mee and Boyle from 2020.  Cows in pasture-based systems have a lower incidence of mastitis and lameness than those in confinement because of a greater ability to lie in clean spaces and walk on softer surfaces.  However, in the summer, cows on pasture are more likely to be affected by disease-carrying insects and parasites, and less likely to receive regular hoof care.  Cows on pasture tend to have lower body condition scores and higher incidences of negative energy balance than those in confinement, but these differences can be alleviated by providing supplemental TMR.  So which system is better?  The answer comes down to management.  Either system can provide a high level of welfare to your cows if you ensure they have adequate food and water, a dry and comfortable place to lie down, a regularly cleaned environment, and interactions with other cows.  Management is key to overall welfare!

Does Mastitis Cause Reduced Fertility?

A study published in the Journal of Dairy Science (Dalaneni et al., 2020) found differences in reproductive performance between cows that had been diagnosed with clinical mastitis and those that had not.  There were also differences based on the type of bacteria causing the mastitis.  Major pathogens (cause more symptoms and more severe symptoms of disease) like streptococcus and E. coli had greater consequences on reproductive performance than minor pathogens like CNS spp. (coagulase negative staph.) After analyzing 2,519 milk samples from 833 Holsteins across five herds, the researchers found that when infected with a major pathogen, cows had a lower pregnancy rate at first AI, greater pregnancy losses, and more days open than cows without an infection.  Those infected with minor pathogens had intermediate consequences to reproductive performance.  Knowing the pathogens present on your farm and working to control them can improve the health and welfare of your herd and increase their reproductive potential.

Can Drinking Behavior Alert you to Heat Stress?

Most of us dealt with an extreme heat wave over the summer and knowing when your cows begin to develop heat stress can allow you to intervene before welfare and production are compromised. Researchers in Taiwan (Tsai et al., 2020) tried using cameras with temperature and humidity detectors at waterers to monitor drinking behavior across seasons.  Not surprisingly, cows drank more often and for longer bouts when temperatures were high.  Having information on your cows normal drinking behavior throughout the year can allow you to see when abnormal intakes of water occur.  If your cows suddenly begin drinking more often and for longer bouts than normal, you know it is time to provide them with alternative means to cool down such as misters and fans.


Mee, J.F. and L.A. Boyle. 2020. Assessing whether dairy cow welfare is “better” in pasture-based than in confinement-based management systems. N.Z. Vet. J. 68(3):168-177.

Dalanezi, F.M., S.F. Joaquim, F.F. Guimarães, S.T. Guerra, B.C. Lopes, E.M.S. Schmidt, R.L.A. Cerri, and H. Langoni. 2020. Influence of pathogens causing clinical mastitis on reproductive variables of dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 103(4):3648-3655.

Tsai, Y., J. Hsu, S. Ding, D.J.A Rustia, and T. Lin. 2020. Assessment of dairy cow heat stress by monitoring drinking behavior using an embedded imaging system. Biosyst. Eng. 199(2020):97-108.

Callan Lichtenwalter, Ph.D. student, WSU Animal Sciences


Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Impact of Environment on Cow Behavior and Well-being

Dairy cattle across Washington State are exposed to a wide variety of environmental conditions, including wildfires, floods, and blizzards. With the recent flooding that affected many of our dairies, I felt compelled to search for as much scientific information as possible on the impacts of flooding on short-term and long-term cattle well-being. I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that very little research has been conducted on the impacts of flooding on cattle well-being. The good news is that some scientific data related to flooding on dairies is available, as well as articles related to the impacts of wildfires and environmental stress on cattle. Below is a summary of these articles. I hope this information is useful as we cope with our current weather conditions (the snow is falling as I write this article) and prepare for future environmental challenges.

  1. Distress and immunosuppression

As you may recall from previous newsletter articles, distress triggers cortisol production, which negatively influences an animal’s immune system, referred to as immunosuppression. While the direct effects of environmental conditions on cattle are usually obvious, the indirect effects are less obvious. For example, alterations in the environment’s water cycle and atmospheric CO2 changes plant composition and feed quality. Poor feed quality further challenges an animal’s ability to maintain a strong immune system (as reviewed by Filipe et al., 2020).

  1. Mastitis cases associated with flooding events

Incidences of mastitis cases in dairy cattle can be 1.5 times higher one year post-flooding when compared to pre-flooding incidence rates (as reviewed by Gaviglio et al., 2021).

  1. Lameness cases associated with flooding events

Incidences of lameness cases in dairy cattle can be 1.3 times higher one year post-flooding when compared to pre-flooding incidence rates (as reviewed by Gaviglio et al., 2021).

  1. Relationship between wildfires and milk quality

Wildfires contribute to higher concentrations of air pollutants, including fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Decreases in milk yield and increases in milk somatic cell counts have been associated with higher concentrations of PM2.5 (Beaupied et al., 2021).

  1. Milk production affected by wildfires

A preliminary survey of livestock producers in California, Oregon, and Nevada revealed that 13% of the surveyed dairy producers reported losses in milk production during wildfire events (O’Hara et al., 2021).

  1. Feed intake and feed efficiency during hot weather

When the temperature-humidity index (THI) increased in the United Kingdom, Holstein Friesian cows decreased their dry matter intake by 12%, but their feed efficiency (converting feed to milk) increased (Hill and Wall, 2017). Researchers are investigating this phenomenon to determine how genetics may play a role in feed efficiency during hot weather.

  1. Winter housing and mastitis cases

Cows on an organic dairy in Minnesota housed in a three-sided compost-bedded pack barn (indoors) had more clinical mastitis cases than cows housed outdoors on a straw pack during winter (indoors: 27% of cows and outdoors: 15% of cows; Sjostrom et al., 2019).

  1. Use of outdoor pack during summer and winter

Freestall-housed cows offered access to an outdoor deep-bedded open pack spent 25% of the time outside during summer and only 1.8% of the time outside during winter. When the cows used the outdoor space during the summer, it was mostly during the night (Smid et al., 2019). 

  1. Lying behavior and milk yield

During hot weather in Italy, late lactation (> 100 days in milk) cows spent more time lying when THI was the lowest. For every hour of lying time, cows in this study produced almost six additional pounds of milk (Lovarelli et al., 2020).

  1. Hot weather and competition

Once THI reached 65 units, the number of competitive replacements (one cow pushing another cow out of the way) that occurred at the waterer increased. Eighty-five percent more replacements occurred when THI was about 80 units compared to a THI of less than 60 units. Replacements at the waterer during hot weather can cause additional distress for subordinate cows (McDonald et al., 2020).

Amber Adams Progar, Dairy Management Specialist