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Washington State University Dairy News

December 2023 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Note from the Editor

By Amber Adams Progar, Associate Professor and Dairy Management Specialist

I hope you are enjoying the holiday season! For me, the holiday season includes time to reflect on the past year. The WSU Animal Sciences Department’s achievements over this past year were plentiful, including several accomplishments directly related to the dairy industry. Faculty obtained external funding to study cow health in organic farm settings, evaluate your return on investment when using genomic selection methods, test feeding and nutrition methods to improve farm sustainability, and identify handling techniques to reduce employee injuries when handling cows. Extension programs this year focused on helping you implement beef-on-dairy practices, develop strong leaders on your farm, increase employee understanding about cow behavior, consider the advantages and disadvantages of genomic selection, and identify alternative methods for pest bird deterrence. Wow! That’s a busy year. We could not have done it without your assistance.


To those whom provided ideas for research projects, submitted letters of support for grant proposals, or volunteered to participate in on-farm research, we thank you. To those whom attended Extension events, shared ideas for educational needs within the industry, and offered advice on how to make our Extension programs more impactful, we thank you. To those whom opened up their farms to provide field trip and work opportunities for our students, we thank you. We appreciate each and every one of you for your support in 2023. We have big plans for 2024 and look forward to working with you to meet our goals next year. Please reach out at any time to share your ideas for 2024. Happy New Year!



Can activity monitoring devices detect the onset of digital dermatitis?

Digital dermatitis is one of the leading causes of lameness in dairy cows. Lameness can negatively affect milk production and cow longevity. Locomotion scoring is a tool we use to identify cows with lameness, but it requires time and can be subjective among employees. I have often pondered . . . can we do better?

Cows are prey animals and as such, try to not show vulnerability. This means that a cow could be suffering from a foot ailment for quite a while before it shows it is in pain by changing its gait. What if technology could detect changes in behavior for individual cows and alert the farmer that the cow needs attention? Some activity monitoring devices currently offer this feature, but not specifically for the detection of digital dermatitis. Several studies have demonstrated that behavioral changes recorded by activity monitoring devices can distinguish a clinically sick (lame) cow from a healthy cow. My colleagues and I wondered whether the technology could actually detect the onset of digital dermatitis. Could subtle changes in cow behavior be associated with the development of digital dermatitis, even before a foot lesion is visible?

For this study, a graduate student directly observed every lactating cow’s rear feet during the morning milking every day for two months. The presence or absence of lesions were noted during each observation. Daily behavior data were collected using activity monitoring devices. Our international colleagues implemented machine learning approaches to test our theory. Behavioral data from the activity monitoring devices could be used to identify cows with digital dermatitis with 79% accuracy. The system identified cows with digital dermatitis 2 days prior to clinical signs (visible lesion) with 64% accuracy. These results show promise! We hope to continue conducting studies in this area. Early detection would allow for earlier treatment, quicker recovery, and better longevity for our cattle. If you are interested in reading more about this study, please visit the following link:



January 30, 2024: Communication workshop for veterinarians, Mt. Vernon

Contact Dr. Craig McConnel ( for more information


January 31, 2024: Communication workshop for veterinarians, Sunnyside

Contact Dr. Craig McConnel ( for more information


March 5, 2024: Genomic selection workshop, Lynden

Contact Dr. Amber Adams Progar ( for more information


March 7, 2024: Genomic selection workshop, Sunnyside

Contact Dr. Amber Adams Progar ( for more information


Thanks for reading our December 2023 issue of the WSU Dairy Newsletter! Our next newsletter will be available in March 2024.