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

December 2022 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Note from the Editor

By Amber Adams Progar, Associate Professor and Dairy Management Specialist

The holidays are upon us, and so is the frigid weather. As I compile this newsletter, it is a refreshing 1°F outside. On days like today, I am especially grateful to all the hard-working dairy farmers and workers that bundle up and head outside every day, regardless of the nasty weather, to provide quality care for their animals. Thank you! As you head out the door, though, can you do me a favor? I know a lot of your focus is on keeping the animals warm and safe, but please take a few minutes to make sure you are warm and safe as well. Frost bite can be prevented with safety precautions. It always surprises me when I look at the National Weather Service chart on frost bite. When it is 0°F with a 15 mph wind (which is definitely not unheard of in parts of Washington), you can start developing frost bite after a mere 33 minutes outside. Please take care of yourselves. On a lighter note, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season full of joy and good company. I look forward to catching up with you in 2023. Happy Holidays!


Cooperative University Dairy Students gain Off-campus Experiences

By Holly Guest, CUDS Public Relations Chair

As the year comes to an end, we would like to use this newsletter as an opportunity to review the latest updates and events that happened over the last few months for the Cooperative University Dairy Students. It has been a busy Fall season for CUDS, filled with team bonding, exciting field trips, a growing herd, and a successful end to our recruitment process.

The Cooperative University Dairy     Students would like to officially welcome thirteen new members to our program. We look forward to working alongside each and every one of you in the upcoming year. The opportunity to share the knowledge we have gained through our experiences in CUDS is a very rewarding one. The members of CUDS are excited to pass the torch to these capable individuals and see what they achieve for our herd and our organization in the future.

One of the highlights from this fall season was the chance for CUDS members to travel to the West side of Washington on an overnight field trip. Members had the opportunity to learn about all things dairy from a variety of well-respected industry professionals. A special thank you to the Steensma family for hosting us as well as showing us around their dairy farm and thank you to both the Edaleen dairy and Werkhoven dairy who also welcomed students onto their farms for great tours. The off-campus learning opportunities within CUDS give us students the chance to learn more about the dairy industry, network with well-respected farmers in our state, and also gain perspective and inspire new goals that we want to one day see in place at our own dairy.

This month, CUDS had the wonderful privilege to attend the Washington State Dairy Conference. At the conference, our members were given the chance to showcase what we have been learning over the past year. This was another fantastic opportunity for our students to meet with other farmers in the same industry and get great feedback to take back to our own operation. Getting the chance to show all of our hard work was a highlight for many of our members, and the conference was a wonderful chance to not only show what we have been doing but also learn more about current events in the industry. Furthermore, we are pleased to announce that the Cooperative University Dairy Students earned the 2022 Progressive Genetics Herd Award for the 23rd year! This award is a recognition of our achievement of high standards in our breeding practices for Registered Holstein cattle. One goal that CUDS continues to work towards is breed improvement of Holstein cattle through cooperation with other breeders, so we are incredibly proud and appreciative to receive this acknowledgement.

Beyond the daily management of our herd and dairy operation, the members of CUDS have participated in team bonding events such as a team dinner, game night, and impromptu study sessions. This has not only helped unify our members and given us a better sense of community, but it also helped members decompress from the stress of work, school, and finals.

Finally, I would like to take a moment to show our appreciation and acknowledge Dr. Joe Hillers and everyone else who has gone above and beyond to support our program this year. On behalf of the Cooperative University Students, thank you to all these generous supporters, the CUDS program is profoundly grateful for the time and funding you have dedicated to our proud cooperative.


How are WA dairy farmers reducing their environmental footprint on air emissions?

By Jera Monaghan, WSU Animal Sciences M.S. student

Dairy producers across the nation are tasked with decreasing their environmental footprint. The US Dairy industry has created the following goals: achieve carbon neutrality, recycle water on farms, and preserve surface and ground water quality. Dairy producers have been implementing technology for years on recycling water and reducing run off, thus the current focus has pivoted toward reducing carbon emissions. Sources of carbon emissions on dairies are from enteric fermentation (35%), manure (33%), feed (26%), and energy (6%), and targeted efforts are looking to reduce emissions in all areas (US Dairy, 2022).

Currently, private and public entities are researching and developing technologies that can be used by producers to reduce their carbon footprint. Of the technologies, the most notable and common are anaerobic digesters, lagoon covers, manure separation technology, precision land application, and diet adjustment. Additionally, these new technologies have the potential to decrease the amount of other air pollutants: particulate matter, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other volatile organic compounds. While these technologies exist, the dairy industry has been slow to adopt due to the cost of implementation and maintenance and education about what system is the most sustainable option for their operation.

WA dairy farmers have been taking the initiative to implement new technologies to control air pollutants on their dairies. The most common technology on dairies across the state is some degree of separation technology for their manure systems. Manure separation technology can include settling lanes and mechanical presses, in which both reduce the solid load in their lagoon that has the potential to react with microbial activity to releases gas emissions. Reduction in solids can decrease the amount of ammonia and greenhouse gas emissions (Aguirre-Villegas et al., 2017). Producers are composting those solids and pen scrapings, which create a carbon dense soil amendment to improve soil carbon retention and a secondary revenue stream (Aguirre-Villegas et al., 2017). Producers also use precision manure application techniques such as annual soil testing and injection and incorporation of dairy manure, which allows producers to titrate their applications to crop demands. Finally, producers have begun to add carbon and nutrient capture technology through digester development, centrifuges, and denitrification and nitrification systems. Developing these technologies can also have second-hand effects of improving water quality by removing excess nitrogen and phosphorus that can be leached or volatized off the farm (Frear et al., 2018).

To increase adoption prevalence in the dairy industry, government and private industries are going to need to incentive the opportunities. Types of assistance include incentive opportunities to make the technology more lucrative, market development to sell carbon captured products, and educational events to help producers make informed decisions. WA State officials are planning to implement the Climate Commitment Act that may include voluntary programs for producers to get involved in carbon trading. WA State also has a number of public focused projects that help producers make environmentally conscious programs such as the Dairy Nutrient Management Program, Sustainable Farms and Fields, Soil Health Initiative, and local funding opportunities at county conservation districts.  The next decade is going to be an exciting time for producers to get involved in reducing their carbon footprint to propell the industry toward neutrality while maintaining the production of nutrient-dense products for society.

 Aguirre-Villegas, H.A., and R.A. Larson. 2017. Evaluating Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Dairy Manure Management Practices using Survey Data and Lifecycle Tools. Journal of Cleaner Production 143: 169-179.

Aguirre-Villegas, Horacio, Larson, A. Rebecca, and Ruark, D. Matthew. 2017. “Solid-Liquid Separation of Manure and Effects on Greenhouse Gas and Ammonia Emissions” Sustainable Dairy Fact Sheets. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI

Frear, Craig, Ma, Jingweim and Yorgey, Gerogine. 2018. APPROACHES TO NUTRIENT RECOVERY FROM DAIRY MANURE.  Washington State University. Pullman, WA

US Dairy “U.S. Dairy Net Zero Initiative” Undeniably Dairy. Aug 2022,


What’s New in Dairy Science Research?

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

It is hard to believe it is already December and time for the last newsletter of the year. Please enjoy my selection of new articles on dairy science research for the winter newsletter, have a wonderful holiday season, and I will see you in the new year with another round of new research articles!

Dam Choline Supplementation and Calf Immunity [1]

Researchers from the University of Florida wanted to test if choline supplementation of a dam in late gestation would improve the immune function of her calf.  Choline is a vitamin-like nutrient that you may have heard of as rumen-protected choline (RPC).  RPC has been shown to help transition cows adjust to the high energy demands of lactation and prevent ketosis and liver problems.  To see if RPC supplementation could also improve calf health, researchers randomly supplemented half of their cows with RPC three weeks before their expected calving day.  Of the calves born from those two groups, half were randomly assigned to receive colostrum from supplemented dams and half received colostrum from non-supplemented dams.  Calves that received colostrum from RPC-supplemented cows had a 17.4% increase in antibody absorption regardless if their dam was supplemented.  Calves born from supplemented dams had fewer fevers and they had fewer blood markers of inflammation when their immune system was challenged.  Although more research is needed to work out the fine details of choline supplementation, it is something that should be on your radar as a multipurpose supplement that can help improve both calf and transition cow health.

Positive Welfare with a Farmer’s Perspective [2]

Most, if not all, dairy farmers are familiar with the traditional ideas of animal welfare, which emphasize reducing or eliminating negative experiences for cows.  A new area of study in welfare, positive welfare, explores not only how negative experiences can be reduced but also how positive experiences can be increased.  Many dairy farmers already implement and value positive welfare on their farms, as shown in a recent study of dairy farmers in the United Kingdom.  Researchers asked farmers why they valued positive welfare, what positive welfare practices they had already implemented, and how grants from the government might help them implement further positive welfare schemes on their farms.  Farmers valued positive welfare for a variety of reasons including pride in their operation, productivity and comfort of their cows, and consumer perceptions.  Several farmers in the study had already enacted positive welfare practices, and those that had not were able to see realistic goals to aim for in the future.  Farmers were also more likely to enact positive welfare practices on their farms with financial support from the government, likely because cost was listed as one of the main barriers to achieving positive welfare.  If you would like to know more about positive welfare or how to apply it on your farm, please reach out to an Extension agent, and keep up the good work caring for your cows.

Selenium Deficiencies, Inflammation, and Mastitis [3]

Selenium is an important mineral that can help reduce inflammation and support a healthy immune system.  Researchers from an agricultural university in China wanted to see if a selenium deficiency in dairy cattle would increase the likelihood of a cow getting mastitis.  To test this, they compared cows eating a normal ration to cows that had a selenium deficient ration.  They found that when cows had a systemic selenium deficiency, there was less selenium found in the mammary tissue.  Because of this reduction in mammary tissue selenium, there was an increase in inflammatory molecules in both the udder and in the blood of selenium deficient cows.  Mammary cells that were selenium deficient also showed signs of structural damage.  Altogether, this research demonstrates the importance of maintaining proper selenium concentrations in the dairy cow ration so that the cells in her udder can remain healthy and be more likely to resist microbial infection.  Selenium is deficient in the soil in many parts of the United States, so make sure to regularly test your hay and feeds to ensure a balanced ration.

[1] Zenobi, M.G., J.M. Bollatti, A.M. Lopez, B.A. Barton, C.L. Hixon, F.P. Mausnell, W.W. Thatcher, K. Miller-Cushon, J.E.P. Santos, C.R. Staples, and C.D. Nelson. 2022. Effects of maternal choline supplementation on performance and immunity of progeny from birth to weaning. J. Dairy Sci. 105(12):9896-9916.

[2] Stokes, J.E., E. Rowe, S. Mullan, J.C. Pritchard, R. Horler, M.J. Haskell, C.M. Dwyer, and D.C.J. Main. 2022. A “good life” for dairy cattle: Developing and piloting a framework for assessing positive welfare opportunities based on scientific evidence and farmer expertise. Anim. 12(2540):1-26.

[3] Zhang, Y., Y. Xu, B. Chen, B. Zhao, X. Gao. 2021. Selenium deficiency promotes oxidative stress-induced mastitis via activating the NF-κB and MAPK pathways in dairy cows. Biol. Trace Elem. Res. 200:2716-2726.


Image Source:


Identifying genetic regions associated with Bovine Respiratory Disease using farm records

By Allison Herrick, WSU Animal Sciences Ph.D. student

Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) is one of the costliest diseases within the cattle industry, costing the beef and dairy industries over 3 billion dollars every year. Cattle with BRD are impacted with acute and long-term effects on production and fertility. BRD is a multifactorial and multi-pathogen disease, making it difficult to fully prevent and control with vaccination and good husbandry practices. Infection incidence is influenced by the cattle’s genetics and identifying genomic regions associated with BRD can be used with genomic selection to produce healthier, more BRD-resistant animals.

We performed a study to identify genomic regions associated with susceptibility to BRD among pre-weaned dairy calves on three commercial dairies in Washington that were part of a genomic selection study sponsored by the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. The study consisted of 482 animals (61 calves with BRD and 421 healthy controls). Farm records were used to identify Holstein calves that were diagnosed or treated for BRD prior to weaning. Calves were genotyped and an analysis was performed to determine if a genomic region was associated with BRD. The regions identified as associated with BRD were compared to results from previous studies, that used stricter BRD diagnostic criteria to identify animals that had BRD.

After the analysis was performed, 25 genomic regions on 13 different chromosomes were associated with BRD susceptibility. Many of these regions contained genes that are known to be important in the immune response and lung function which could provide insight into the progression of disease for calves with BRD. When comparing our results to regions identified previously with a different diagnostic criteria for animals with BRD, there was only one region that was shared. This research will be continued with a larger set of individuals from farms in other locations throughout the United States, with the goal of identifying genomic regions that are consistent across many different studies. The use of these validated genomic regions will be used to create selection tools for producers to reduce the incidence of BRD.


Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Observing behavior to detect disease

By Amber Adams Progar, Associate Professor and Dairy Management Specialist

As you may know, my research team studies cattle behavior. When I made the decision to pursue a career in animal behavior, most of my family and friends did not know what that meant. Are you going to be a psychologist or therapist for cows? Will you be like Dr. Doolittle? What happened to your dream of becoming a veterinarian? All these questions came up as everyone attempted to wrap their minds around animal behavior as a career choice. The farmers I grew up around understood nutrition, reproduction, economics, and animal health but behavior seemed foreign to them. When you stop to think about it, though, you use behavior observations every day on the farm. We use behavior for detecting heat, monitoring feed intake and quality, handling cattle safely, and identifying sick animals. One of my lab’s goals is to determine how we can evaluate changes in behavior to detect disease earlier, allowing farmers and veterinarians to provide treatment sooner. While our lab is still working on this topic, I found several studies published this year that highlight how behavior can be used to detect disease in cattle.

Below are some highlights from these studies:

  1. Subclinical Mastitis

Noseband sensors recorded rumination behavior in healthy cows and cows with subclinical mastitis in a study out of Lithuania. Cows with subclinical mastitis had a 61% decrease in rumination time and a 48% decrease in drinking time starting 4 days prior to diagnosis (Antanaitis et al., 2022a).

  1. Diseases in Calves

Researchers in Canada collected drinking behavior data from automated milk feeders. Milk consumption and drinking speed data detected disease 5 to 4 days before disease was detected by the farmer (Morrison et al., 2022).

  1. Neonatal Calf Diarrhea

Automated milk feeder behavior data were also collected by researchers in Canada to compare behavior between calves diagnosed with neonatal calf diarrhea and healthy calves. Prior to diagnosis, calves with diarrhea had fewer rewarded visits to the feeder than healthy calves (Conboy et al., 2022).

  1. Foot and Mouth Disease

Crossbred calves with foot and mouth disease spent less time eating (32 min/day vs. 56 min/day) and standing (70 min/day vs. 105 min/day) than healthy calves (Somagond et al., 2022).

  1. Bovine Respiratory Disease

In Kentucky, calves wore pedometers and researchers collected behavior data from automated milk feeders. Calves diagnosed with bovine respiratory disease drank 9% less milk, consumed less starter grain, and took fewer steps (428 steps vs. 646 steps; Cantor and Costa, 2022).

  1. Recovery vs. Relapse in Calves

Similar to #5 above, researchers compared automated milk feeder data and followed calves with bovine respiratory disease. However, comparisons were made between calves that recovered from bovine respiratory disease and calves that relapsed. Calves that relapsed consumed 63% less starter grain, drank 21% less milk per minute, spent almost 60 minutes more time lying, and took 41% fewer steps than calves that recovered (Cantor et al., 2022).

  1. Anaplasmosis

Heifer calves exposed to anaplasmosis were monitored using activity and rumination collars. Anaplasmosis reduced heifer rumination by 34% and activity by 11%. The behavior data accurately predicted anaplasmosis sickness up to 3 days prior to a clinical diagnosis (Teixeira et al., 2022).

  1. Automated Body Condition Scores

Although not a behavior, automated body condition scores were 5% higher in cows with mastitis than healthy cows in Lithuania (Antanaitis et al., 2022).

  1. Detection of Bovine Respiratory Disease

Based on data from ear tag activity monitoring devices, rumination time did not differ between calves with bovine respiratory disease and healthy calves. However, calves with bovine respiratory disease showed more inactive behavior. Differences between the two groups could be detected up to 4 days prior to diagnosis (Gardaloud et al., 2022).

  1. Healthy vs. Sick Cows

When comparing activity and rumination behavior in sick and healthy cows, researchers noticed that sick cows experienced a 45.53-minute drop in average time spent ruminating one day before diagnosis (Zhou et al., 2022).

Observing behavior plays an important role in animal care and well-being. I cannot wait to share results from our current behavior research with you soon. If you get the urge to chat with someone about cattle behavior, please reach out to me. I love a great conversation!


Thanks for reading our December 2022 edition of the WSU Dairy Newsletter! Our next newsletter will be available in March 2023. Happy Holidays!