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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.

March 2021 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Dairy Safety Network Available: Let’s Talk Safety

Screenshot of Dairy Safety Network webpage header

Most people don’t consider safety to be an interesting topic. Every time I try to make small talk with the person standing (6 feet) behind me in the checkout line, I lead with a comment about safety. Needless to say, I am often met with looks of distaste. I guess I should just stick with something “safer” like the weather.

Why do so many people shy away from talking about safety? It’s something we all deeply care about, but we just can’t seem to accept it as a centerpiece to our conversations. No one wants to see someone get injured and none of us want to get injured, so it seems like we all have common ground. Talking about safety doesn’t have to be scary and it doesn’t hurt. Nevertheless, not talking about it could hurt. Talking about safety on a farm is especially important. Dairy farmers, managers, and employees need to feel comfortable having frank discussions about safety. This is one reason why I partnered with the Washington State Dairy Federation and the University of Washington to develop an online resource to promote safety on dairies, and to provide you with the tools you need to talk about safety on your farm. The project is funded by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

This new, free online resource is the Dairy Safety Kit. Looking for fresh ideas for your safety meeting? Check the Dairy Safety Kit. Want to offer cattle handling safety training on your dairy? Find a training module in the Dairy Safety Kit. Need to develop an accident prevention plan? Create one in the Dairy Safety Kit. Perhaps most importantly, searching for a network of safety-oriented people to share ideas with and discuss experiences? The Dairy Safety Kit offers a Dairy Safety Network designed for sharing information and learning from one another.

Let’s talk safety. If you are interested in gaining access to the Dairy Safety Kit, please visit us at to request access. If you are interested in learning more about the Dairy Safety Network, including upcoming Leaders Enabling Advanced Dairy Safety (LEADS) animal safety trainings, please contact me. I’d much rather talk about safety than the weather.

Forage Management and Growing Alternative Fodders on Small Acreage

Maynard Mallonee is an organic dairy producer in Curtis, Washington. He is a graduate of WSU and was a member of the Washington State University Cooperative Dairy Students (CUDS). Maynard has a passion to trying new technologies and management techniques. His herd is milked with robots and cows have state of the art animal housing for cow comfort and health. Each year he selects a new forage management practice to evaluate. His overall goal is to produce the most amount of high quality forage at his dairy and minimize purchase of forages off farm. Go to the following link to listen as Maynard shares what forage and root crops are working best for him.

December 2020 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Pacific and Mountain West Nutrient Cycling, Soil Health, and Food Safety Conference a Success

The Pacific and Mountain West Nutrient Cycling, Soil Health, and Food Safety Conference was held virtually via Zoom October 27, 28, and 29, 2020. The conference was funded by Western SARE and hosted by five Northwestern States (WA, OR, ID, MT, and UT). Over 60 oral presentations were made from speakers in the region and across the US. In addition, video case studies were presented on innovative methods of manure management, and cropping and grazing practices.

Session Topics included:

  • Nexus of Soil Quality and Water Quality
  • Pasture and Rangeland
  • Nutrient Recovery Technologies
  • Soil Quality Nutrient Management
  • Compost, Biosolids, and Chars
  • Nutrient Management, Cover Crops and Environmental Monitoring
  • Food Safety

All presentations and case studies were recorded and can be found at

Value of Dairy Manure Highlighted in Case Study Videos

Dairy manure continues to gain popularity as a good source of nutrients as well as for it soil quality improvement qualities. Two case study videos document the developing relationships in Western and Eastern Washington between dairy farmers and vegetable and fruit producers.

The Nutrient Cycling Connection between the Dairy and Berry Farmers in Washington State

Berry growers in Whatcom County are finding that dairy manure is a good source of nutrients for production of raspberries.

Use of dairy compost on Eastern Washington Vegetable and Fruit Crops

Vegetable and fruit producers in Eastern Washington are finding that composted dairy manure is an excellent source of nutrients for their crops.

Washington State Gains a New Dairy Fanatic

Holiday Greetings from the Progar household! It is with much joy that I introduce you to our new family member, Luke Michael. He was born on June 27, 2020 at 9:40 PM. The little guy weighed in at 5 lb. 12 oz. and was 20.5 inches. From my family to yours, Happy Holidays!

Baby wearing Cheesehead shirt

June 2020 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Cooperative University Dairy Students Adapt to Challenge of COVID

CUDS students attend a meeting on Zoom.CUDS (Cooperative University Dairy Students) is a student run group dedicated to running a successful dairy farm while also providing a safe space to teach and learn. “Where the text meets the bucket” is a quote often used to describe the way CUDS members learn. We rely on the community of wonderful staff and faculty at WSU to help guide us on our journey. Anyone who has ever stepped foot on a dairy farm before knows that things change every hour of every day. Simple changes such as fluctuation in milk produced has a domino effect all the way to affecting the amount of money we have to pay our expenses. A very big change that CUDS has had to deal with an along with the rest of the globe is the Covid-19 pandemic. Many parts of society have changed or been shut down due to the pandemic. CUDS was deemed essential by Washington State University administration, meaning we were able to continue working and milking our herd but that does not mean things didn’t change on the dairy. CUDS had to adapt to new rules and regulations set in place by the state and the university in order to stay working and keep everyone safe:


All meeting that were previously held in person were converted to online meeting through While switching to online was a bit of a challenge at first, we quickly figured out how to manage the meetings and hold the same standards that were enforced in our in-person meetings. We never leave a question unanswered or a comment unsaid by working together to make sure that all topics are still discussed as thoroughly as ever before.

Shift caps

Generally, when working a shift, the more members there the better because it got the work done faster and was a great way to bond with the team members. While bonding with team members is more important now than ever before because of the distancing, we decided to limit the number of members on a shift to two people to keep our members safe as well as make it easier to distance ourselves while still being able to work together on a shift. Limiting the number of people on a shift at a time would hypothetically extend shift time but our members really worked together to make sure that they are doing their work both effectively and safely. Shift caps have not stopped our members from bonding and in fact it taught them to work better as a team in order to get work done and keep each other safe

Work parties

Work parties are a very important part of CUDS in which the whole group usually meets on a weekend day at the dairy to clean and do chores that need to be done to keep our herd happy and healthy. Work parties are also a great time for the team to work together, bond, and check-in with one another to stay connected. In response to the pandemic CUDS came up with a way to still get all the work done but without putting the group at risk of spreading or contracting Covid-19. The work party tasks were split into separate time slots throughout the day in which one to two of the members went to the dairy to get the task done. As well as going in smaller groups at different times, CUDS members also had to stay in contact with one another to make sure that the groups were not out at the dairy at the same time and therefore defeating the purpose of social distancing. Also, members had to make sure that at least one member knew how to do the task that they signed up for and how to teach it if necessary. CUDS handled these new challenges with ease and made sure that the dairy was still cleaned and our herd was still cared for just as effectively.

Learning opportunities

CUDS focuses on being an experiential learning environment. This is usually done by having groups meet at the dairy to teach and show the members what to do in many different situations. Since groups are no longer an option, we tried to pair one member with the knowledge with one member that wants to learn and we rotate as much as possible so that each of the members still has the same opportunities to learn. We also usually take field trips to other farms around Washington as a way to learn from others and see other dairy techniques. We gave up our spring trip this year to keep both our team safe, as well as other farmers. We have been very understanding of other dairy farmers keeping their distance at a time like this and look forward to meeting with them as soon as it is safe.

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Impact of heat stress on dairy cattle well-being

It has been an unpredictable year so far, including the weather. Regardless of when the hot weather decides to hit, our best defense is to be prepared. We know that heat stress causes decreases in milk production and alters cow behavioral patterns, but what are some of the less known impacts of heat stress on dairy cattle well-being? Below are some interesting study results you may want to consider when deciding how to manage heat stress on your dairy.

  1. Dry matter intake.

    During a 45 day dry-off period, cows that received cooling measures during the entire dry period had an almost 10% higher dry matter intake than cows that received cooling measures for only the first half of the dry period (Fabris et al., 2019).

  2. Immune system cytokines.

    Cows housed in a heat stress environment (temperature-humidity index > 68) had higher plasma concentrations of some key immune system cytokines. Higher concentrations of these cytokines (IL-1β, IL-6, IFN-ꝩ, and TNF-α) indicate that heat stress causes an inflammatory response in the cow’s body (Chen et al., 2018)

  3. Mucosal defense system.

    Housing cows in a heat stress environment also causes a stress-induced activation of the mucosal defense system in lactating cows (Koch et al., 2019). Of course, the more energy the cow’s system uses to cope with heat stress, the less energy that is available for milk production.

  4. In utero heat stress and calf immunity.

    Calves exposed to in utero heat stress have lower rates of peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) proliferation than calves not exposed to in utero heat stress (Tao et al., 2012). This effect can persist until the calves reach 56 days of age. PBMCs are the cells that make up the immune system, in which a low proliferation rate puts the calf at a health risk.

  5. In utero heat stress and calf growth.

    Newborn calves that experienced in utero heat stress have lower plasma insulin, prolactin, and insulin-like growth factor-I concentrations than calves that did not experience in utero heat stress (Guo et al., 2016). Insulin, prolactin, and insulin-like growth factor-I are key components of calf growth and development.

  6. In utero heat stress and calf health.

    Cows that were cooled during the dry period had heavier calves that also had lower body temperatures at calving than calves from cows housed under heat stress conditions during the dry period. Cooled cows also had calves that were more efficient at absorbing IgG from colostrum and gained 0.44 lb/day more than calves from heat-stressed cows (Laporta et al., 2017).

  7. In utero heat stress and calf IgG absorption.

    Calves born to cows exposed to heat stress during the dry period have lower serum IgG concentrations and higher serum cortisol concentrations than calves born to cows housed in a thermoneutral environment during the dry period (Almoosavi et al., 2020). Remember, cortisol is often referred to as the “stress hormone”.

  8. In utero heat stress affects calf future performance.

    Heifers born to heat-stressed cows produce 16% less milk for the first 35 weeks of their first lactation than heifers born to cooled cows (Monteiro et al., 2016). Almost 20% more heifers from cooled cows reached their first lactation than heifers from heat-stressed cows.

  9. Feed supplements and cow performance.

    Supplements may help cows cope with heat stress. One supplement fed to heat-stressed cows resulted in lower cow rectal temperatures (Fabris et al., 2017). The same supplement fed to cooled cows resulted in 13% higher milk production than heat-stressed cows that were not fed the supplement.

  10. Feed supplements and calf health.

    Feeding the supplement mentioned in #9 to cows during the dry period impacted calf health, depending on whether cooling was provided to the cows (Skibiel et al., 2017). Calf serum amyloid A (protein associated with inflammation) was higher in calves born to heat-stressed cows than cooled cows. Furthermore, neutrophil (a type of immune cell) function at 10 days of age was higher in calves born to cooled cows that received the supplement than cooled cows that did not receive the supplement.

For list of references, please contact Amber

December 2019 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Donations to CUDS Program Leads to Memorable Field Trip

Group of CUDS students standing in aisle at a dairyAt the beginning of 2019, we held our first ever WSU Cooperative University Dairy Students (CUDS) reunion to celebrate the program’s 41 years of excellence. Former CUDS members, family, and friends gathered to reminisce and share stories about how CUDS impacted them. We also began a fundraising drive for CUDS, in which Dr. Joe Hillers announced he would match up to $5,000 in donations. With the generous support of Dr. Hillers and our donors, we reached our fundraising goal.

For most CUDS members, the only dairy experience they have is from working with the cattle at the WSU Knott Dairy Center. This is one reason why we make CUDS field trips a priority. The CUDS motto is “where the text meets the bucket”, and going on field trips is one way our CUDS members learn first-hand how other farmers manage their dairies. The fundraiser earlier this year allowed us to take CUDS members to four dairies in Western Washington last month. CUDS members learned about the cheese making process at Cherry Valley Dairy, witnessed robotic milkers in action at Paradise Jerseys, explored farmland stewardship practices at Steensma Dairy, and business diversification strategies at Hy-Grass Farms. We visited farmers that use cutting-edge technology and farmers that prefer to keep things simple. The diversity of these farms was incredible, we cannot thank them enough for sharing their time and expertise with us.

We would like to send a special thank you to Dr. Hillers and the donors that made this experience possible for the CUDS members. It was truly memorable.

LEADS Graduates Ready to Teach Safety

LEADS graduates pose in ballroom with their certificates.Teaching safety to employees can be difficult. It is even more difficult to make safety training fun and engaging. Graduates from the Leaders Enabling Advanced Dairy Safety (LEADS) program learned how to help their employees learn safe practices and received tools they can use on their dairy to make safety trainings more effective. The LEADS training is one part of a larger effort to build a Dairy Safety Network in Washington State. It is a collaborative effort among the Washington State Dairy Federation, University of Washington, and Washington State University.

We held two LEADS training sessions in 2019 and will offer two sessions in 2020. During this 4-hour training, participants learned how an effective safety training could help reduce the incidences of the most common cattle-related employee injuries on Washington dairies. Participants also completed leadership training that prepared them to become the teacher. It is a train-the-trainer program designed specifically for dairy owners and managers.

Our LEADS graduates reported that 100% of them learned something new from the training. We hope you can join us for one of our upcoming LEADS training sessions. Upcoming locations include Moses Lake and Lynden. Please contact me at or 509-335-0673 for more information about LEADS.

Funding and support for this project has been provided by the State of Washington, Department of Labor & Industries, Safety & Health Investment Projects.

Pest Bird Management Workshops

Class flyer featuring birds covering piles of feed next to cows.

Pest Bird Management Workshops

Includes on-farm falconry and drone demonstrations.

  • March 6, 2019, 10:00 AM to Noon
    Dutch Mothers Restaurant
    405 Front Street, Lynden, WA
  • March 7, 2019, 10:00 AM to Noon
    Snipes Restaurant
    905 Yakima Valley Highway, Sunnyside, WA

For more information:
Amber Adams Progar

December 2018 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Dairy Program Weekend at WSU

January 24 and 25, 2019

Please join us for WSU Dairy Program Weekend In Pullman. All events will be held in the Ensminger Pavilion, 455 Lincoln Dr.

On Friday January 24 and Saturday the 25 the annual CUDS review will occur with selected industry reviewers.

On Friday night, January 24, the WSU Dairy Club will host their annual Dairy Club Banquet (including a silent auction) from 5:30 – 8:00 PM. Please RSVP to for banquet reservations, cash will be accepted at the door.

On Saturday January 25, a CUDS reunion will be held beginning at 3 PM and concluding at 8 PM. Reservations ( are required for the catered meal.

A block of rooms has been reserved at the Residence Inn (reservation link)

Please direct questions to Joe Harrison.

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: What We Learned About Pest Birds On Washington Dairies

Winter is the season for colder temperatures, holiday celebrations, and pest bird problems. Dairy barns attract more pest birds during the colder weather because they offer a warm shelter with plentiful food. The influx of pest birds on dairies results in lost feed from bird depredation, feed spoilage, building depreciation, increased costs for bird deterrence, and potentially negative consequences on cow well-being. Our Pest Bird Management Research Team conducted a survey and on-farm study over the last year to gain insight on the “big picture” of pest bird damage on Washington dairies. Here is a list of 10 things we learned:

  1. Number of birds on dairies

    During the peak of bird presence on dairies, 51% of surveyed farmers reported that 1,000 – 10,000 birds are present per day.

  2. Birds that cause the most damage

    European starlings, pigeons, and sparrows were the top three bird species that farmers identified as causing damage on Eastern Washington dairies. Western Washington dairies reported European starlings, pigeons, and crows were the top three damage-causing birds.

  3. Popular bird deterrence methods

    The three most popular bird deterrence methods used by surveyed farmers were shooting, netting, and trapping. However, 88% of the farmers that used shooting for bird deterrence considered the method to only be somewhat effective.

  4. Alternative bird deterrence methods

    Approximately 10% of surveyed farmers reported that the presence of predator birds (such as hawks and falcons) or the use of predator calls are alternative methods they use on their dairies to deter birds.

  5. Johne’s disease and Salmonella

    Dairies with more than 10,000 birds present per day were more likely to report the presence of Johne’s disease or Salmonella within their herds.

  6. Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Campylobacter in bird feces

    We collected fresh bird feces from the feed bunks of 16 pens (five different dairies) across Washington. Samples were analyzed for Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter. Salmonella was not detected in any samples, but about 39% of the samples were positive for E. coli. Only one sample was positive for Campylobacter jejuni, bacteria linked to abortions in cattle.

  7. Cow aggression at the feed bunk

    We recorded cow and bird behaviors at the feed bunks of 16 pens (5 different dairies). As the number of birds at the feed bunk increased, cows showed more aggression toward the birds. This means that cows were spending more time displaying aggressive behaviors, interrupting their time spent eating.

  8. Economics of feed loss due to bird depredation

    Surveyed farmers reported losing an average of 4.4% of their feed to birds. This adds up to be about $14.7 million/year of losses.

  9. Washington’s gross domestic product (GDP)

    Our models predict that feed loss from bird depredation on dairies will result in a loss of 154 jobs and $12.6 million in Washington’s GDP over five years.

  10. Birds deplete nutrients in cattle feed

    Our team collected fresh feed samples from 19 pens (5 different dairies) to measure the net energy for lactation, total digestible nutrients, fat, crude fiber, ash, dry matter, and protein content. These samples represented the balanced diet formulated for the cows (what the cows were meant to eat). After the delivery of fresh feed, birds were allowed to eat at the feed bunk uninterrupted while the cows were being milked. After 30 minutes, we collected another sample of the feed from an area where birds had been eating. These samples represented the diet that was available to cows after bird depredation (what the cows actually get to eat). Our most shocking result was that farms lost up to 31% of net energy for lactation. This loss occurred after only 30 minutes of bird depredation!

We sure learned a lot over the last year, but we only scratched the surface of the problem. Our next steps are to test some alternative bird deterrence methods to determine which methods may be more economically feasible and long-lasting. Please contact us if you have any questions or ideas on how we can help dairy farmers manage this problem.

This project is funded by the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (Project # SW16-013). Our Pest Bird Management Research Team includes Stephanie Shwiff (USDA-APHIS), Karen Steensma (Trinity Western University), Susan Kerr (WSU), Julie Elser (USDA-APHIS), Tyler Caskin (WSU), and Amber Adams Progar (WSU).

Register to Attend the 2019 Western Dairy Management Conference!

Monday, February 25 – Thursday, February 28, 2019

Peppermill Casino Resort Spa – Reno, NV

WDMC Early Bird Registration Deadline

February 1, 2019

Hotel Room Reservation Deadline

February 3, 2019

Complete Schedules and Registration Information for Meetings (CDBC and WDMC) and Hotel

September 2018 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Calf Jackets and Jersey Calves

Across the United States, calf mortality rates are between 5 and 7%. Changes in weather or environmental conditions are associated with an increased risk for calf illnesses. This is why we see more calf illnesses when the seasons change. Jersey calves, in particular, are susceptible to colder weather because of their small body frame. Using calf jackets is one management practice we use to help calves cope with cold weather conditions. Some farmers have witnessed the benefits of calf jackets firsthand, while others are not convinced that jackets are effective. Scientifically, we have only a handful of research studies that measured the effectiveness of calf jackets and the results are conflicting. During the winter of 2017, the Adams Progar Lab at WSU completed a study on a Washington State dairy to measure how the use of calf jackets in Jersey calves impacts calf health, behavior, and growth during the first two weeks of age. Please consider our key findings below when deciding whether providing calf jackets to your calves would be beneficial and economical.

  1. Body temperature

    Calves that wore jackets and calves that did not wear jackets had similar body temperatures. Body temperatures averaged 101.28 °F throughout the study. Note: a calf’s body will allocate more energy towards maintaining internal body temperature during cold weather, resulting in less energy available for calf health and growth.

  2. Growth

    No difference in growth or average daily gain was found between calves that wore jackets and calves that didn’t wear jackets. Overall, average daily gain from birth to weaning was 1.12 lbs/day, with calves weaning at 129.4 lbs. Note: the American Jersey Cattle Association recommends an average daily gain from birth to first pregnancy of about 1.2 lbs/day.

  3. Behavior

    All calves spent an average of 66% of their first two weeks of life lying down, regardless of whether they wore a jacket. Calves that wore jackets were not more active than calves that did not wear jackets. Note: during the first two weeks of life, calves typically spend the majority (50% or more) of their time each day lying down.

  4. Health

    Calves that wore jackets and calves that did not wear jackets were similar in the number of treatments they received for illnesses. Calves that wore jackets were not healthier than calves that did not wear jackets. Note: this result matches results from previous studies.

  5. Age and health

    Over the course of the study, 98% of health treatments for calf illnesses occurred during when calves were 2 – 3 weeks of age (see Figure 1). Note: diarrhea was the most common symptom documented during this timeframe.

  6. Use of small equipment for on-farm data collection

    We used two types of small devices to collect body temperature data and housing conditions data. For body temperature data, we used temperature recording devices (iButton® DS1922L, Maxim, San Jose, CA) and for housing conditions, we used HOBO® data loggers (ONSET U12-012, Bourne, MA). Note: please contact me if you are interested in learning how to use these inexpensive tools on your farm.

  7. Housing conditions (hutches) and the environment

    For housing conditions, we used ambient temperature and relative humidity to calculate the temperature-humidity index (THI) within each hutch. As the environment, or outdoor weather, decreased by 1°F, the THI within the hutch decreased by 1.8 units. Note: this study did not consider wind speed. It is interesting to point out that the relationship between the environment and hutch THI is very strong.

  8. Housing conditions (hutches) and lying behavior

    As hutch THI decreased by one unit, calf lying behavior increased by about 2%. Note: small changes in lying behavior are not necessarily a bad thing, but if the THI gets low enough, it could greatly affect calf behavior. More lying behavior means calves are not as active, and possibly not eating or drinking as much.

  9. Housing conditions (hutches) and body temperature

    As hutch THI decreased by one unit, calf body temperatures decreased by 0.03°F. Note: The fluctuations in hutch THI can vary greatly throughout the day, potentially causing calf body temperatures to also fluctuate. These fluctuations challenge the calf’s immune system.

  10. Calf jacket tips

    The evidence of whether calf jackets work is not strong; however, if you have a positive experience with jackets, then I encourage you to continue using them. One thing to keep in mind is to check the jacket for sizing/fitting as the calf grows. It is a simple check that can make a world of difference. Many thanks to the American Jersey Cattle Association for providing monetary support for this project.

Bar graph showing number of treatments vs. calf age.
Figure 1. Example of the number of health treatments Jersey calves received during the first two weeks of life. The black bars represent calves with jackets and grey bars represent calves without jackets.

2019 Cooperative Dairy Students (CUDS) Reunion

This year will be the 41st year of the existence of Cooperative University Dairy Students or CUDS. The advisory team would like to invite to a celebration on Saturday January 26, 2019 at the Ensminger Pavilion on the WSU Pullman campus.

We are in the initial planning stages in regard to specific plans and will share more this fall.

Please reply and indicate your interest in attending, and also forward names and e-mail addresses for members that you know so that we can add them to our mailing list.


Joe Harrison, Amber Adams-Progar, and Amber Merk
CUD Advisors

Dairy Genomics Workshop

ashington State University and the University of Idaho are co-sponsoring a dairy genomics workshop in Prosser, WA on October 10, 2018, at the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center from 10 AM to 2:30 PM.

This meeting will bring together faculty from several universities to provide dairy farmers and advisors with the latest on genomic testing and research. More detailed information about the workshop and who to contact for registration ( can be found on the Veterinary Medicine Extension calendar. Lunch will be provided by Zoetis and Neogen.

Looking forward to seeing a lot of you there!

Dairy Farm Operations Manager, WSU Knott Dairy Center (Pullman, WA)

Would you like to be part of the heritage of producing quality milk for the world renowned Cougar Gold Cheese, and the distinguished Cooperative University Dairy Students (CUDS)?

The Department of Animal Sciences within the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University is seeking candidates for a Dairy Farm Operations Manager (Administrative Professional). The Dairy Farm Operations Manager is responsible for the management of the Department of Animal Sciences Dairy teaching and research herd (Knott Dairy Center). Duties include for planning, scheduling, and directing of personnel resources and facilities for the milking cow herd and replacement heifer events (calving, breeding, milking, nutrition and feeding, health care, forage utilization, milk and livestock sales. This position coordinates animal and facility use serves as the central person for communications and organizational issues in coordination of the needs of multiple research, extension, and courses. Additionally, the manager teaches classes and advises students as assigned by the department chair. The Dairy Farm Operations Manager is an important representative of the Department of Animal Sciences, WSU, and the dairy industry. Please see the full position description posting at for more information and to apply.

WSU is an EO/AA Educator and Employer.

September 2017 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Understanding Dairy Cattle Welfare from an International Perspective

What is animal welfare? This is a question I commonly receive from students, farmers, fellow scientists, and the general public. It is this question that sparked much discussion at the 7th International Conference on the Assessment of Animal Welfare at Farm and Group Level earlier this month in Ede, Netherlands. As an attendee and presenter at this conference, I chose to participate in a workshop focused on defining animal welfare. My intent was to finally have a definition of animal welfare that was mutually-agreed-upon by an international group of scientists, government officials, and non-governmental organizations. However, the outcome of the workshop was not what I expected. The take-home message was that everyone views animal welfare differently; therefore, we were not able to agree on a single definition of animal welfare. Although frustrating, it was important for me to hear this message and push myself to better understand the diverse perspectives people bring to the table when discussing animal welfare.

I would like to share these insights with you. Conference attendees that focused on dairy cattle welfare were asked to create a list of the top three current welfare concerns within the dairy industry and then create a list of the top three potential solutions to these concerns. If you were asked this question, how would you answer? The group identified the top three dairy cattle welfare concerns as: 1) cow-calf separation; 2) cow transition period; and 3) transportation. Do you agree? Here are the group’s top suggestions on how to potentially solve these concerns:

  1. Cow-calf separation. Part-time nursing from the cow

    This solution would allow calves to nurse from the cow only during specific times of the day. For example, calves could be separated from the cows during the day and then allowed to nurse at night. Another method would be to house the calves and cows together, but offer a separate area that is only accessible to calves. Could this work? Some European countries allow calves to nurse from cows during the first couple months of life. Average daily gains for these calves are impressive at 1.98 – 3.09 lbs/day.

  2. Cow-calf separation. Educational system for farmers to exchange experiences

    By offering more opportunities for farmers to build educational networks, would ideas be shared and improved? Educational systems like this have been successful in other industries and areas of the world (cotton in Tanzania and rice in Uganda). Sheep and beef farmers in New Zealand viewed the information exchange between farmers as vital to their success.

  3. Cow-calf separation. Timing of cow-calf separation

    Should calves be separated from their dams earlier or later? A survey revealed that 55.1% of US respondents and 68.7% of German respondents favored later separation (days or weeks after birth) over early separation (within first few hours of birth). How to then wean and separate the calves without causing additional distress is still a concern.

  4. Transition period. Social stability during the transition period

    Providing adaptable housing systems for transition cows could decrease the number of times transition cows need to be regrouped. As seen on Canadian farms, every time a regrouping occurs, cow feeding time decreases (15 minutes less on the day of regrouping), lying time decreases (3 hours less the day after regrouping), and 2.5 times more displacements occur at the feedbunk.

  5. Transition period. Tools for the early detection of disease

    The ability to detect or predict the onset of disease in transition cows would help farmers provide treatments earlier. Researchers in Denmark used the GEA® CowView Real-Time-Location-System to monitor cow behavioral patterns and found that a change in behavior (15% or higher) is an indicator of a change in a cow’s health status. Some heat detection technologies already provide behavior data that can be used to identify changes in cow health.

  6. Transition period. Cow management

    Would managing cows to maintain a consistent body condition score throughout the transition period decrease the incidences of disease during this period? Could a shorter dry period or no dry period be considered? A study conducted in the Netherlands noticed that cows provided with no dry period produced about 8 lbs/day less than cows provided with a short dry period (30 days); however, the cows with no dry period had 87% less severe negative energy balance four weeks after calving.

  7. Transportation. Improve truck design and driver training

    The transportation of calves, in particular, was discussed as a concern. In Australia, calves transported in trucks with straw bedding had 10% lower creatine kinase activity (an indicator or physical stress and/or muscle damage) than calves transported with solid steel or steel mesh flooring. Other ideas mentioned were: 1) providing additional handling training for truck drivers; 2) installing equipment to control the climate inside the truck; and 3) installing monitoring systems inside the trucks.

  8. Transportation. Mobile slaughterhouse

    This suggestion is straightforward. Designing a mobile slaughterhouse would eliminate the need to transport cattle to the slaughterhouse, thus eliminating some of the welfare concerns surrounding cattle transportation. It should be noted, though, that this concept could be very difficult to control from a biosecurity standpoint.

  9. Transportation. Determination of a cow’s fitness for transportation

    How would you measure a cow’s fitness for transportation? This is exactly the question Irish veterinarians face when they must decide whether a cow qualifies for a casualty slaughter. Currently, little scientific information is available to help farmers and veterinarians make these very difficult decisions, so we must rely on our best judgment. Perhaps this is an area that requires more attention from scientists?

  10. Anthropomorphism

    Although not a solution to welfare concerns, we, as an industry, need to be selective in the words we choose to describe animals. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human-specific characteristics to nonhuman animals, and occurs commonly in the dairy industry. Participants at the animal welfare workshop were given a situation, had to determine whether it was an animal welfare issue, and provide a reason for the decision. The situation: a cow can’t get pregnant. Is this an animal welfare issue? Why? This may seem like a simple example for you, but the group was divided in half. Some members of the half that said it was an animal welfare issue used the rationale that if a human female found out that she could not get pregnant, then she would be distressed and her welfare would be compromised. This is anthropomorphism. No evidence exists to support the claim that this particular situation is an animal welfare concern. This situation could become an animal welfare concern if, for example, it was known that the cow was experiencing pain.

What are your thoughts on the potential solutions discussed above? Do you agree or disagree with the top three dairy cattle welfare concerns identified by the group? I would enjoy hearing your opinion on these topics. Hope to hear from you soon!

Gathering Excess Phosphorus for Recycle

Drone flies over spreader applying struvite to a field.

The decreasing supply of domestic phosphate fertilizers virtually guarantees that the disruptive price spikes that have embattled agricultural operations over the past decade will become even more frequent. The cost of phosphorus has climbed nearly back to its historic high of 2008, and its price has outpaced that of farm commodity prices nearly two to one in recent years.

At current rates of extraction, the US will completely deplete its phosphate reserves within 30 years, while worldwide demand continues to increase. The shrinking availability of this essential nutrient presents an unprecedented challenge for agricultural producers, and within only a couple of decades the impacts on farm output, food prices, and global security will likely be severe. Competitive advantages will accrue to growers who adopt systems for more efficiently using and recycling phosphorus, reducing their vulnerability to volatile fertilizer markets.

Washington State University is leading the way toward development and adoption of a recycled, locally available phosphate fertilizer that promises Washington hay growers a more economical, reliable nutrient source in future years. Struvite, or magnesium mono-ammonium phosphate, is produced from dairy manure and wastewater treatment facilities in the form of a precipitated crystal. It is nutrient-dense (6-29-0), odorless, lightweight, and totally unlike the biosolids more typically exported from these sources. Extracted from clarified liquid in mineral form, struvite contains no cellulosic material and absorbs no water. Currently its most common use is on commercial golf courses, testifying to its ease of use and minimal environmental foot print.

Struvite dissolves slowly in the soil, releasing nutrients at almost exactly the rate plants need, which reduces the volume of phosphorus that gets lost to erosion and leaching. Agronomists predict struvite may significantly reduce the rate at which farmers apply phosphate to fields, a further environmental and economic benefit of this recycled nutrient. And struvite’s salt index and heavy metal content are significantly lower than all other commercial NPK fertilizers.

The WSU Mobile Nutrient Recovery Project is conducting onsite demonstrations of a technology that extracts phosphorus at Washington dairy operations and produces struvite, which can then be economically shipped to hayfields within the area. Essentially, the process recovers phosphorus where it is in excess, creating threats to local water systems, and makes it available where it is needed in the wider agricultural region.

WSU is supporting this initiative with field plot studies and greenhouse trials that provide growers an ever-growing body of data on how struvite performs in different soil types and with various crops. . Struvite fertilizer applications have been applied to two commercial alfalfa operations in Moses Lake and Kittitas to date. WSU Livestock Nutrient Management Program is currently working with commercial growers to understand better how it is best applied and how to maximize the advantage of its slow-release characteristic.

For more information, or to participate in our ongoing studies, contact Liz Whitefield (, 253-445-4562) or visit

Cow Comfort: How Do Your Cows Spend Their Time?

This article is a synopsis of an excellent research summary paper called “Economic Benefits of Improved Cow Comfort” by Dr. Rick Grant of the Miner Agricultural Research Institute. The entire paper (pdf) is available at

We all realize that for cows to be able to produce milk up to their genetic potential, we need to maximize their dry matter intake (DMI). But did you know we also have to do all we can to help them maximize the time they spend lying down? Lying (resting) time is strongly correlated with milk production, herd longevity, feet/leg health, and DMI. Why? It’s all about rumination.

Resting Associated with Rumen Health

Rumination decreases food particle size and increases the surface area exposed to digestive enzymes; this increases the rate and efficiency of food digestion and transit time. The faster food moves out of the rumen, the sooner there is room for more food to come in. More food coming in more quickly means more milk. Rumination also causes self-buffering of rumen pH through natural bicarbonate in cows’ saliva; more chewing means more saliva and more buffering. Any factor that reduces rumination–lack of effective fiber, stressful environment, lack of resting time, overcrowding, too much time in holding area, too much walking distance, illness, estrus, etc.–can result in rumen acidosis, reduced milk production, reduced milk components, more lameness, and more culling.

Cows Have Daily Time Budgets

Dairy cattle have a daily time budget correlated with optimal health and production (Figure 1). Keeping “time outside the pen” to a minimum is critical because cows will forfeit feeding time to make up for lost resting time. Research has documented that for every three minutes of resting time lost, cows will sacrifice one minute of feeding time. Lack of adequate resting time can cause a five pound drop in milk production the following day. Correspondingly, one additional hour of resting is correlated with two to four more pounds of milk. This concern for adequate resting time is part of a new focus in dairy management called Cow Comfort Economics.

Figure 1. Typical Cow Time Budget, hours/day
(1) Also referred to as “time outside the pen,” which includes anything taking time away from eating, drinking, or resting (milking, walking to milking, time in holding areas, hooftrimming, headlocks for vet checks or breeding, etc.)
Eating 5
Resting/lying down 12 to 14
Walking, grooming, standing, interacting 3 to 2
Drinking 0.5
Total required 20.5 to 21.5
Time available for milking (1) 3.5 to 2.5

“…the cow only has, on average, 2.5 to 3.5 hours per day to spend outside the pen and away from the feed, water and stalls. If we force the cow to spend more than about 3.5 hours per day outside the pen, then she will need to give up something&emdash;typically feeding and/or resting. Every farmer should know how long their cows spend outside the pen.”

— Dr. Rick Grant, “Economic Benefits of Improved Cow Comfort,” 2015, p. 2.

Stall Comfort and Feed Availability Effects

It seems logical that comfortable cows would be more productive, and studies have documented this effect. Bedding factors (type, amount, moisture, maintenance), stall design (width, length, location of neck and brisket rails, etc.), and stocking density all affect resting time. Researchers documented an 11.6 pounds of milk advantage of sand over other bedding types in one study. Cows found the sand stalls more comfortable, rested more, and produced more milk. Costs of renovating stalls to implement recommendations for larger and softer stalls were recouped in an average of 1.9 years in one cow comfort economic study; benefits came from higher milk production, lower SCC, reduced lameness, and less culling.

Feed availability can be considered another aspect of cow comfort. Ensuring feed is always available to cows can result in four to eight more pounds of milk per day. Feeding more than once a day results in greater feed availability, but excessing feeding frequency (>three times in 24 hrs) ironically reduces cow resting time and DMI. Targets for maximizing feed intake include:

  • Empty bunk <3 hours a day (goal: 0 hours empty)
  • 3% feed refusal
  • Understocked bunk capacity (allow 2’ per cow)
  • Feed TMR 2x/day with feed push up every 30 min. for 2 hours after feeding

Stocking Density, Parity, and Dominance Issues

Overstocking is a bad idea for so many reasons, not the least of which is cow comfort (Figure 2). Competition for feed causes cows to eat fewer meals but feed more quickly. In one study, cows in overstocked facilities were observed to eat 25% faster and rumination was reduced by an hour a day; milk fat was reduced, rumen health was compromised, and feed efficiency was reduced.

Figure 2. Effects of Overstocking
Increased Decreased
  • Intercow aggression
  • SCCs
  • Health issues
  • Lameness
  • Feeding rate (slug feeding)
  • Alley standing time
  • Milk production
  • Milk fat
  • Reproductive performance
  • Resting
  • Rumination
  • Feed intake

Lower status animals (first calf heifers, smaller individuals, lame cows) will often choose to forego eating to avoid confrontations with more dominant individuals. When they do have bunk access, they often engage in slug feeding, which can result in chronic sub-acute ruminal acidosis and reduced rumination. Lower milk production, reduced milk fat, and increased lameness risk follow once again. Anything interfering with DMI in first-calf heifers is a concern because these animals still have nutritional growth requirements in addition to maintenance and lactation requirements.

Higher status cows often dominate the most comfortable stalls, too, so in addition to reduced access to feed, lower status animals may experience reduced resting time and therefore reduced rumination. If first calf heifers and other lower status animals can be separated from higher status animals, increased feeding time, meals per day, feed intake, lying time, and milk production should result.

Heat Stress Effects on Cow Comfort and Rumination

Genetic selection for higher-producing dairy cattle has resulted in animals that perceive heat stress at a temperature-humidity index of just 68°F. Management efforts to pro-actively address heat stress can prevent reduction of up to ten pounds of milk per day. Hot cows spend more time standing and less time lying down and resting, too; this is associated with decreased rumination, DMI and production and increased slug feeding and lameness. Actions to help keep cows cool include shade, fans, providing cooled water, periodic large water drops over shoulders in the presence of fans, and feeding 60% of the ration in the evening. Do not overlook addressing dry cow comfort related to heat—it is associated with a better transition period.


Flow chart listing factors impacting cow comfort.
Figure 3. Flow chart on addressing cow comfort.

Figure 3 depicts the ultimate goals and outcomes of addressing cow comfort: increased cow longevity, increased milk quality and quantity, increased revenue, decreased expenses, and greater profitability, mediated through increased resting and rumination time.

June 2017 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Footbaths and Hoof Health

Warmer temperatures contribute to higher incidences of hoof ailments during the summer months. Management practices, including the use of footbaths and routine hoof trimming, are your best allied force against hoof disease. The Adams Progar lab at WSU will wrap-up a two-long study on behavioral indicators of hoof disease by the end of this year. Our study aims to test the effectiveness of an alternative footbath product compared to copper sulfate and identify the impact hoof disease has on cow behavior. In light of the upcoming summer heat, here is a review of information related to hoof health:

  1. Annual estimated costs related to hoof disease

    Mild cases of lesions (any form of lesion) cost an average of $169/affected cow; whereas, severe cases cost an average of $538/affected cow. When comparing incidences of digital dermatitis, sole ulcers, and white line disease, sole ulcers tend to incur the highest cost for treatment, labor, loss of milk, etc.

  2. White line disease

    The highest prevalence of white line disease occurs in older cows (4+ lactations) during late lactation (200+ days in milk). Keep this in mind as you observe your cows for hoof disease.

  3. Digital dermatitis

    The highest prevalence of digital dermatitis occurs in first lactation cows during late lactation (200+ days in milk).

  4. Sole ulcers

    The highest prevalence of sole ulcers occurs in older cows (4+ lactations) during mid-lactation (100-199 days in milk).

  5. Rear feet vs. front feet

    Lesions are 80% more prevalent in a cow’s rear feet than the front feet. This is one reason why at the WSU Knott Dairy Center, we have been working with a hoof specialist to analyze all lactating cows’ rear feet on a monthly basis.

  6. Footbath products

    While copper sulfate and formaldehyde are the most popular footbath products, alternatives (such as organic acids) have been shown to be as effective or slightly (4%) more effective than conventional products.

  7. Hoof trimming

    When comparing whole-herd hoof trims vs. partial-herd hoof trims (specific cows are selected to get hoof trimmed), herds that use partial-herd hoof trims have 40% higher prevalence rates for infectious digital dermatitis than whole-herd hoof trims.

  8. Footbath use

    Using a footbath on a bi-weekly (every two weeks) basis leads to nearly 25% more cows with active digital dermatitis than if a producer uses the footbath on a weekly basis.

  9. Herd-level lying behavior

    The average number of hours cows spend lying in a day (~10 – 12 hours) remains consistent, even if a herd’s lameness prevalence increases.

  10. Cow-level behavior

    First lactation cows spend less time lying for an extended period of time, which means they lie for a short period and then stand again. This improves as they progress through their first lactation. Thanks to Vantage Dairy Supplies, the Adams Progar lab is collecting cow behavior data with the CowManager® system (Figure 1). We hope to better understand how hoof disease impacts other behaviors, such as eating.

Stacked bar graph representing the activities of cows throughout each day.
Figure 1. Example of behavior data collected from CowManager®. This graph shows how much time (as a percentage of the total day) a specific cow spent ruminating, eating, and being active during each day.

Dear Dairy Farmers: Did you complete your Pest Bird Management Survey?

Flock of birds mobbing the roof of a storage building.
Figure 2. Survey reminder postcard.

A couple of weeks ago, you should have received a survey in the US mail or an email from the WSDF with a link to an online survey. Researchers from Washington State University and Trinity Western University are studying pest bird damage and current pest bird management practices used on Washington dairies. Our goal is to determine the true economic impact of pest birds on dairies and identify the most effective methods of pest bird deterrence. This survey is your opportunity to share how pest birds impact your farm. Please help our team help you. The deadline is July 1st.

If you would like more information about this project, please contact Amber Adams-Progar (, 509-335-0673).

Update from WSU Cooperative Dairy Students – CUDS

Since April, there has been a baby boom within the CUDS herd. After five months without heifers, we now have five! During the summer months, members are in and out of Pullman but still working on their projects and goals. Our sire selection and reproduction chairs are diligently working towards incorporating Jerseys into the CUDS herd. Jeff Wendler from Columbia River Dairy is graciously donating ten sexed Jersey embryos with the hopes of getting them implanted by the end of June. The calves, heifers, & dry cows and nutrition chairs are beginning the process of collecting urine pH’s in our close-up cows. The nutrition and herd health chairs are collaborating to test BHBA concentrations of our fresh cows to help detect incidences of subclinical ketosis thanks to a testing kit provided by Church & Dwight. The public relations chair is currently working on her project aiming towards introducing all our current members to the public through Facebook (follow us at CUDS of WSU). Throughout the latter portion of the spring semester and through the beginning of the summer, CUDS members have been meeting with industry professionals to prepare for CUDS Annual Review.

Dairy Nutrient Management Tools Workshops – Two Scheduled in Western Washington

Join us in Lynden on Wednesday August 1 or in Enumclaw Thursday August 2 for a closer look into how you can best manage your dairy farm nutrients with helpful and resourceful tools. Get the inside scoop about relevant state farm issues—nutrient and precision nutrient management, feed management, compost, manure and food safety, and irrigation.

Workshop is free of charge to all. Registration is not necessary, just remember to sign in when you arrive. Lunch and morning snacks will be provided. We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017
Lynden Public Library (Lynden Meeting Room)
10:30 AM to 3:00 PM

Wednesday August 2, 2017
Green River College, Enumclaw Campus (Room 15 upstairs)
10:30 AM to 3:00 PM

Dairy Nutrient Management Tools Workshop Agenda

  • 10:15 AM Registration, Coffee and Morning Sweets
  • 10:30 AM What Goes in Must Come Out. How to Reduce on Farm Feed Imports of Nitrogen and Phosphorus – Joe Harrison
  • 11:00 AM Connecting Feed Decisions with Crop Nutrient Management Plans – Joe Harrison and Liz Whitefield
  • 11:30 AM Tools for Practical Irrigation Scheduling – Troy Peters
  • Noon Lunch (Provided)
  • 12:30 PM Turn your Compost Up a Notch with the Compost Mixing Tool Calculator – Andy Bary
  • 1:00 PM Precision Nutrient Management in Western WA – Doug Collins
  • 1:30 PM Lagoon Liners. Case Studies from Three Dairies – Joe Harrison
  • 2:00 PM Fall Soil Nitrate Testing- Factors Affecting Test Values – Andy Bary
  • 2:30 PM Food Safety Implications with Manure – Andy Bary
  • 3:00 PM Adjourn

Why All the Buzz about Genomics?

The dairy industry has always been on the leading edge of advancements in animal science. Groundbreaking research in nutrition, genetics, technology and reproduction helped develop key management practices underpinning dairy profitability and worldwide competitiveness. The next major game changer is here: genomic testing is now available and affordable at the farm level.

A genome is the entire collection of an individual’s DNA. The bovine genome contains 22,000 to 25,000 genes. There are places on chromosomes where individual animals can differ in their DNA sequence. These markers are called “single nucleotide polymorphisms” (SNPs). SNPs are of great interest to geneticists because they help explain and predict differences between individuals.

Genomics examines how genes interact to influence how an individual develops. A tissue sample (such as an ear snip from a dairy calf) can be analyzed and a mass of data can be obtained about that animal’s genetic merit. It is no longer necessary to breed a bull or cow and keep records on its progeny’s performance to determine the parent’s breeding value, a process that takes years for initial data collection and many years for improved accuracy. Genomic testing now makes it possible to predict the potential performance of individual animals directly, saving time and hastening on-farm genetic progress.

In the early days of genomic testing, a computer chip was developed that could assess 50,000 (50K) SNPs in the genome of a submitted sample. This complete test remains expensive, but research advancements have resulted in chips that test 6K or 7K of SNPs for about $40 a sample and are nearly as accurate measures of genetic breeding value as the 50K test. Custom chips can be developed as well. Genomic results on each animal are submitted to the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding, which calculates the predicted transmitting ability (PTA) of various traits. Producers can use an individual animal’s PTAs with the same confidence as high accuracy data from bull progeny tests.

The major focus of current genomic-based selection is on economically-important traits. For example, net merit dollars (NM$) is an estimate of lifetime profitability of a specific dairy cow compared to a baseline of same breed herdmates. NM$ is a favored indicator for selection because it includes several traits of economic importance, such as milk production, fertility, calving ease, health and longevity.

How can producers use genomic testing to benefit a farm’s bottom line? A group of replacement heifers could be tested and only those with high genetic merit could be selected for development. Those with lower genetic potential could be sold, bred to calving ease beef bulls for higher-value beef crosses, or kept as ET recipients. Sexed semen could be used selectively in high genomic breeding value heifers, justifying the higher cost of such semen.

In the future, producers will increasingly turn to genomic testing to reduce the incidence of involuntary culling factors such as lameness, mastitis and metabolic diseases. Genomic testing will identify animals with higher feed efficiency—another very valuable trait. Look for genomic testing results to start appearing in sale catalogs, too.

Something to keep in mind about all this selection for rapid genetic progress will be if and how management systems will need to change to accommodate these genetically-superior animals. For example, finely-tuned nutrition programs for these high production potential herds will be more critical than ever. Nevertheless, being able to identify and develop a farm’s best heifer prospects through genomic testing should help producers focus limited resources (such as space, feed and labor) on individuals with the greatest likelihood of contributing to farm profitability in the long run. Genomic testing is indeed worthy of the buzz it is receiving.