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Washington State University Dairy News

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.

March 2017 WSU Dairy Newsletter

COMING SOON: Pest Bird Management Survey

A flock of birds is silhouetted above a dairy lot at sunset.

As we watch the snow melt and the grass grow green, you may notice a remnant from the colder weather lingering in your barns. This past fall, researchers from Washington State University and Trinity Western University recorded pest bird numbers on eleven Washington dairies. The number of pest birds (primarily European starlings) on these farms increased as temperatures dropped. The highest average number of birds recorded at any given time was almost 5,000 birds, with 92% of those birds being starlings.

Although temperatures are now rising, these large numbers of birds are expected to linger in dairy barns until mid-April to early May. Perhaps the number of birds we found on dairies surprised you but, according to a small survey of Washington dairy producers a couple of years ago, the pest bird problem seems to be a big problem for many dairies. Producers have self-reported losses from bird damage that range from $1,000 to $200,000 per year per farm. These losses, of course, cause concern. With this concern in mind, an interdisciplinary research team comprised of dairy producers, animal scientists, wildlife biologists, veterinarians, and agriculture economists. Our goal is to understand how the presence of pest birds on Washington dairies affects dairy cow welfare (including nutrition and health) and farm profitability.

Within the next month, our research team will release a wide-spread survey for all Washington dairies. Although this survey is thorough, it should only require minutes of your time to complete and your identity will be anonymous. This survey is your opportunity to share how pest birds impact your farm. Please help our team help you.

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

Pest Bird Management on Dairies

Amber Adams-Progar, Karen Steensma, Susan Kerr & Stephanie Shwiff

1. Washington dairy farmers said…

  • Pest birds cause $1,000 – $200,000 in damage every year on our farms.
  • Common bird deterrence methods are not effective.

3. What we plan to do…

  • Measure economic impact of pest birds in Washington dairies.
  • Test efficacy of alternative bird deterrence methods.

2. We responded by…

  • Establishing a research team to address these problems.
  • Obtained a $238,105 Western SARE grant for research and education.

4. What we expect to find…

  • Presence of pest birds negatively impacts dairy cow well-being and production.
  • Alternative deterrence methods may be more economically feasible and effective than traditional methods.

WSU Cooperative Dairy Students (CUDS) Update

CUDS is having an exciting spring semester in Pullman. We currently have 15 members, with 10 of them being new to CUDS. Our main focus is on training the new members to take shifts as well as take care of their newly appointed chair positions. Each member is assigned a chair position that is dedicated to improving an aspect of the herd.


Marcy Bartelheimer

Calves, Heifers, and Dry Cows

Brianna Parmentier and Adriana Lopez

Cow Comfort

Taylor Swick

Drugs and Supplies

Mica Jones


Marcy Bartelheimer and Caroline Vadino

Herd Health

Shelby Felder and Chris Mandella

Milk Quality and Udder Health

Tomoe Matsumoto-Hervol


Nathaniel Herrera and Heather Young

Records and Public Relations

Melissa Rauch

Reproduction and Sire Selection

Alecia Fox and Morgan Hawley

Lindsey Richmond, our President Emeritus, will be graduating in May. CUDS will greatly miss everything Lindsey has contributed to the group but we wish her the best in her future endeavors and know that she will serve the dairy industry well.

This group of students is excited to continue learning about the dairy industry. CUDS will have a booth at the National Holstein Association Convention in Bellevue, WA from June 28 – July 1, 2017. Please stop by and let us know if you have any questions.

Practical Biosecurity Recommendations for Dairy Farm Tours

Most Americans are now at least three generations removed from direct farming experience. This lack of knowledge and experience can manifest itself in consumers as misconceptions about modern farming practices; susceptibility to agenda-driven social media messages; and decisions based on inaccurate information. Farm tours can educate the public about best agricultural practices, strengthen connections between farmers and consumers, dispel misinformation, and cultivate the next generation of farmers.

Tour members in the foreground look down a long aisle as cows are milked on either side.
Farm tours such as this can educate the public about the facts of modern dairy farm operations, for example, and help dispel misperceptions, confusion, and incorrect beliefs perpetuated through inaccurate sources. Photographer: Dorothy Elsner.

If you choose to allow farm tours on your dairy as a way to increase agricultural literacy, seriously consider the steps needed to reduce any risks such tours could pose to your farm, cattle, employees, and tour guests. Sponsoring educational events can be very rewarding, but it is no reason to lower disease-prevention standards. For more information about diseases of concern, contact local veterinarians and/or public health officials.

Why Care about Biosecurity?

Animal disease outbreaks have varying degrees of ripple effects on animal welfare and well-being, farm profitability, workload, product quantity and quality, ability to transport and/or sell animals, veterinary and medication costs, and human health. Incursions of new diseases onto formerly negative premises can result in the loss of added value of breeding animals that were previously disease-negative, as well. Education about the need for disease prevention should help moderate participants’ feelings of inconvenience regarding farm biosecurity requirements.

Biosecurity Strategies

  1. Assess Risk

    Biosecurity risk ranges from low to high. For farm tours, factors that increase risk include the number of different premises visited, degree of visitor contact with animals and/or manure, and the presence of contagious diseases in the area. The complexity of an event’s biosecurity plan depends on the specific pathogen(s) of concern and the desired degree of risk containment.

  2. Communicate with Participants before the Event

    Participants should pre-register so biosecurity expectations and other program details can be shared with them. Instruct participants to be punctual so access to the farm can be monitored. Explain what ages of children are allowed, if any. Do not allow visitors to bring dogs or other animals. Also, inform anyone who has travelled internationally within a week they will not be able to visit the farm.

  3. Park Visitors Away from Livestock

    Do not let participants drive their vehicles through your farm gate and onto your property where you drive your vehicles. Contaminated tires and overlap of farm and off-farm traffic is an important means by which some diseases are spread. Designate a location near the farm where people can park safely and walk onto the farm with clean rubber boots. If such a site is not possible nearby, consider running a shuttle service from a more distant site to the farm. Optimal parking sites are on paved areas that can be disinfected and where livestock are excluded. If pastures must be used for parking, livestock should be excluded from the area for several weeks.

  4. Display Clear Signage

    Post large, legible, waterproof signs that instruct participants where to park, where to go, and what to do. REGISTRATION, PARKING, THIS WAY, and EXIT are just a few suggestions that will help direct and control traffic and behavior. A WELCOME sign would help set a friendly tone for the event.

  5. Insist on Clean Footwear and Clothing

    It is critical for farm tour participants to wear clean clothing and disinfected footwear, especially if they live on a farm themselves. Anyone with soiled clothing or footwear should not be allowed access to the premises. The farm footwear and clothing policies should be shared during the pre-registration process and in all event promotional materials.

    Varying levels of restriction are possible, depending on host farm risk tolerance and ease of implementation:

    • Farm hosts could require participants to change out of street shoes and into clean rubber boots at the car parking area; participants might need to bring their own clean boots or the farm host might provide them.
    • A boot washing and disinfecting area may be established at the car parking area for people to use before they enter the farm property. Washing boots thoroughly with soap and water to remove all visible debris before stepping in a disinfecting footbath will extend the effective life the disinfectant in the bath. Provide an appropriate disinfectant and long-handled boot brushes. If a disinfectant footbath is used, it should be monitored so the solution can be changed before it becomes visibly soiled and inactivated. Tour participants should wash and disinfect their boots again when they leave.
    • The farm may provide heavy-duty plastic overshoes to be worn throughout the event and discarded at the parking area before participants go home. The rustling noise created by plastic boots in motion can disturb some animals, though, and a lot of plastic waste can be generated. Also, these boots can develop holes that render them ineffective.
    • Additional boot washes may be required before entering cattle housing areas.
    • For added biosecurity, some farms supply clean cloth or disposable coveralls for participants to wear during tours.Consult with your veterinarian regarding the most effective disinfectant to use. Follow label directions regarding proper storage, dilution rates, and disposal methods. Ensure disinfectant efficacy by changing footbaths before they become visibly soiled and inactivated. It is pointless to use disinfectants if adequate contact time is not allowed.
  6. Control Entry and Foot Traffic

    Establish a single entrance for visitors. This will ease communication, information sharing, and monitoring of compliance with biosecurity protocols. After a reasonable arrival time has been allowed for the event, lock the gate and post a phone number latecomers can use to contact the host to request entry to the event. Unmonitored entry of latecomers will not ensure compliance with biosecurity protocols.

    Farm visitors do not need to access all your property. Use gates—even temporary ones—to control access and foot traffic. Permanent locking gates in key areas help with overall farm security and are a good investment that helps prevent theft and damage.

  7. Have a Greeting Area

    Visitors should be funneled to a registration table or greeting area where they can meet the tour host, get a schedule, learn the locations of bathrooms and hand washing stations, and sign in. Visitor logs with accurate contact information are very important in case a human or animal disease outbreak necessitates follow-up contact after the event. This is a good time to welcome everyone, share your farm mission, and preview what will be shared during the tour. Be sure to review biosecurity expectations and see if participants have complied thus far with disinfected boots, clean clothing, and other guidelines. Use this time to ask participants to wash their hands, address any biosecurity deficiencies, and/or dismiss non-compliant visitors.

  8. Keep Visitors Safe

    A man crouches in front of a robotic milking machine. Yellow striped warning tape on floor delineates danger area from machine motion.
    Thanks to close supervision and clear delineation of danger area, this robotic dairy tour attendee can get a close look at the system without risk from cattle or equipment. Farm tours such as this can educate the public about the facts of modern dairy farm operations, for example, and help dispel misperceptions, confusion, and incorrect beliefs perpetuated through inaccurate sources. Photographer: Dorothy Elsner.

    Do not permit visitors access to high-risk areas with working machinery, bulls, cows with calves, guard dogs, barbed or electric wire, grain bins, manure lagoons, gravel pits, etc. Do not allow strollers, pacifiers, eating, smoking, or drinking in livestock areas. If children are allowed on the tour, be sure parents supervise them at all times—this may require handholding.

    Have hand-washing stations available for use after livestock area tours, at rest rooms, food service areas, entrances, and exits. Remind participants to wash hands after contact with animals, using the bathroom, and before eating or smoking. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not very effective if hands are dirty or greasy; such hands should be washed with soap and water. Hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol can be quite effective on visibly clean or lightly soiled hands.

    Any food and beverage provided should be served in compliance with standard food safety practices: keep cold foods below 40°F and hot foods above 140°F, protect all food from insects, and use only potable water for beverages.

  9. Control the Flow

    Have a plan for the day with an established route and approximate amount of time needed at each station. Ensure there is enough room for all to see and hear what is being presented—this may necessitate dividing visitors into groups and using PA systems. Additional farm staff or volunteers may be needed to keep all participants in view at all times. Provide seating if needed for those who need to sit. Keep foot traffic away from cattle feed and feeding areas, manure, and carcasses. Visit young animals before mature animals. Keep visitors away from intake fans that bring air in from outside, past visitors, and onto cattle.

  10. Limit Direct Contact with Livestock

    Prevent needless contact with cattle—participants with limited previous livestock contact are at higher risk of contracting common but relatively innocuous conditions such as ringworm and sore mouth; this is particularly true for children. People who do contact livestock directly should be advised to wash contacted skin with soap and water promptly. Better yet, provide disposable gloves to those who might be learning hands-on skills.

  11. Just Say No

    Do not allow participants to bring dogs with them. In addition to disease transmission, injury to animals or people is possible if strange dogs are allowed on the farm premise. Also, unpleasant interactions are likely to occur between resident farm dogs and visiting dogs.

    It is difficult to disinfect baby strollers, chairs, and wheelchairs properly, so discourage their use. Young children should walk, be carried, or left home. Farm-origin vehicles such as four-wheelers or golf carts can transport those who need assistance. Provide chairs, lawn area, or bedding bales for sitting.

  12. Keep It Clean

    Avoid conducting farm tours during rainy/muddy weather if possible. Situate garbage cans and paper towels throughout the tour. Give each participant a garbage bag to take to their vehicle for dirty boots and/or clothing to take home for laundering, disinfecting, or discarding.

  13. Use the Right Disinfectant

    A wide array of products is available to inactivate pathogens on farm equipment, tools, boots, livestock facilities, footbaths, and other surfaces. Disinfectants are not a shortcut to biosecurity and are just one aspect of disease control. Your veterinarian can suggest the most appropriate disinfectant to use. To increase the likelihood of disinfectant effectiveness and safe use, follow these recommendations:

    • Clean surfaces before using a disinfectant. Surfaces must be cleaned with soap and water and thoroughly rinsed or disinfectants may be inactivated by organic material present.
    • Read the label! Use a product with documented effectiveness against pathogens of concern under typical farm conditions of use.
    • Follow mixing instructions on the label and abide by safety warnings and recommendations for personal protective equipment use. Do not mix different types of disinfectants unless specifically indicated on their labels to do so.
    • Determine if farm water hardness or other factors will effect successful product use.
    • Store concentrated and diluted disinfectant as indicated on the label; create fresh solutions before each use of short-stability preparations.
    • Allow recommended contact time to ensure maximum kill of pathogens.
    • Do not let disinfectants contact livestock unless specifically stated on the label as safe and allowable.
    • If disinfectants are used on feeding surfaces or other livestock contact areas, rinse them off after the required disinfectant kill time and before animals contact the disinfected surfaces.
    • Dispose of used or non-storable chemicals as instructed on the label, paying close attention to personal and environmental safety.

Costs vs. Benefits

The biosecurity steps responsible for the greatest reduction of risk for the least cost are:

  • Changing clothing for employees who leave and return to a farm on the same day.
  • Establishing requirements before a vehicle can enter a premise.
  • Establishing parking areas away from dairy barns.
  • Preventing access to restricted areas if visitors have been in contact with cattle.
  • Providing plastic booties for visitors.
  • Installing signage advising visitors without authorization to stay off the farm.

Special Considerations for Certified Organic Livestock Production Systems

Organic livestock producers and processers must abide by the USDA’s National Organic Program regulations when using sanitizing agents that will contact organically certified crops, livestock, or food products (milk, eggs, and meat). Products not on the national list of approved substances might be allowed on a case-by-case basis by the organic program certifier if contacted in advance of the event and a determination of non-contamination is made. For example, a chemical not on the USDA’s National Organic Program list could be approved for use in a foot bath or boot wash if there is a safe place for legal disposal of the chemical residue off the organic property where it will not contact organic crops or livestock. Organic producers should always contact their certifier if they have any questions about products they would like to use for biosecurity purposes on a certified organic farm.


Although highly educational and enjoyable, farm tours come with certain risks. These risks include introducing new diseases or pathogen strains to host farm or participants’ animals as well as zoonotic (animal-to-people) disease risks to participants. Such risks can be mitigated through careful pre-event planning and protocol development. Transparent education about biosecurity concerns can add to the value of the event for prospective dairy cattle owners in attendance as well as keep the event enjoyable and safe. Each farm host will have to weigh the potential risks of hosting an event with potential benefits. If an event for the public will be held, following the above-mentioned suggestions should help reduce risks significantly. Consult your veterinarian for information about diseases of concern, appropriate disinfectants, and designing your biosecurity plan.

More Resources

December 2016 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Are Robotic Milkers a Technology for Your Farm? Finances and Returns for Robotic Dairies

Dr. Jim Salfer from the University of Minnesota will be presenting information about robotic milkers at Snipes in Sunnyside on Thursday, January 19, from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM.

Light refreshments and beverages will be provided.

“If it ain’t broke…don’t fix it!”

I inherited this philosophy from my father who lived through the Great Depression.

For a time I worked with him in his small construction business. He never threw anything away nor did he buy any new tool to replace an old one unless we had fixed it multiple times and there was just no hope of saving it again. He also struggled with adopting to new or better ways to improve productivity. The way he had always done it was the best way.

Unfortunately, this thinking did not always work to our advantage. Dad’s construction business might have been a little more profitable had we invested in some new tools and new technologies to make the business more profitable. “Broken” can mean several things. For example…

Everyone agrees that heat stress is a critical concern in animal production. For animals that are housed indoors, a properly designed and operating ventilation system is critical to the farms economic performance. A ventilation fan that does not rotate is clearly “broken” and must be fixed. But what about a barn ventilation system that was designed for the climate and animal genetics in 1996? Even if everything is operational, the system might still be considered “broken” if it is not getting the job done.

Clearly, animal heat stress results in production losses. A simple “return on investment” calculation would be ideal to determine “broken.” You know, calculate the economic loss from a heat stress event and determine how many heat stress events per year. Then, compare those economic losses to the investment in some new ventilation system or cooling technology. The final decision is the lower of the two costs over some period of time.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Questions like the number, intensity, and duration of heat events per year is hard to quantify as are questions related to the temperatures prior to and after those heat events. Also, what is the economic and productivity impact from these different heat event scenarios? What is the expected benefit from the proposed ventilation or cooling system?

And now, add one more thing: Climate Change. How is climate in your region changing? Will there be more heat events in the future or less? Will there be more variability? Will the timing of heat events change (e.g. early spring heat vents). Considering all this, how do we make that investment calculation?

A new USDA publication called “Adaptation Resources for Agriculture: Responding to Climate Variability and Change in the Midwest and Northeast” walks users through some planning steps for making climate based decisions. Adapting to a Changing Climate: A Planning Guide is another resource developed by this project.

Unfortunately, neither of these guides will provide a simple answer to this problem. There are no shortcuts nor is there a “right” answer. It is a matter of making the best decision we can with the information available.

Bottom line: “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it…but be careful how you define “broken.”

Always Considering Climate—David

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Dairy Cattle Handling

Dairy employees with excellent stockmanship skills are true assets. Few employees enter the dairy industry with these skills, but effective dairy cattle handling training can greatly improve employee safety, animal safety, and your dairy’s finances. Because this training is so important, I partnered with the University of Washington’s Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center to help you determine the best dairy cattle handling training model for your dairy. We are currently looking for Washington dairies that are willing to work with us on this study. If you are interested, please contact me at As you consider this opportunity, let’s take a look at the many aspects of dairy cattle handling.

Here’s the latest information about dairy cattle handling:

  1. Headlock Stocking Rates. Providing enough headlocks to allow every cow in a group to lock-up at the same time is important for handling efficiency. When designing a new handling facility for your dairy,
  2. Potentially Dangerous Incidents. The number of potentially dangerous incidents (handler is kicked, head-butted, pushed, or run over by cows) are higher when moving cows to the hoof trimming area than moving cows to the milking parlor. Employees should be trained to move cows from a safe distance, especially when moving them towards a less-familiar area, such as the hoof trimming area.
  3. Heart Rate. A 91% greater increase in cow heart rates (an indication of stress) occurs when handlers move them to hoof trimming rather than milking. Ensure your cattle experience as little stress as possible near the milking parlor, which may mean you need to move your hoof trimming away from the parlor.
  4. Tactile vs. Auditory. Moving cows by pulling on their head collars or neck straps leads to increases in head-butts from cows; whereas, shouting leads to increases in kicking behavior.
  5. Milk Production. Dairies that have employees trained in stockmanship have an average of 243 lbs. more of milk production/lactation/cow than dairies that do not have employees trained in stockmanship.
  6. Insurance Premiums. An average of 73% of dairy employee injuries are due to cattle, leading to insurance premium increases, especially over the last five years.
  7. Milking Parlor. Dairy employee injuries commonly occur in the milking parlor area. These injuries can typically be attributed to employees not paying attention to the cows and/or employees not having adequate cattle handling skills.
  8. Calf Handling. Calves negatively-handled (rough handling and shouting) experience higher heart rates and respiratory rates after disbudding than calves gently-handled.
  9. Tactile vs. Visual. Cattle have a higher reactivity to a tactile stimulus than a visual stimulus. Using visual stimuli rather than tactile stimuli to move cows to the parlor will minimize the amount of stress they experience prior to milking.
  10. Behavior and Performance. Gentle handling has been shown to improve cow flow through the parlor by 39% and decrease defecations in the parlor by 84%, when compared to rough handling of cows.

Results of WSU-NWREC Corn Silage Variety Trial

In the summer of 2016, a corn silage variety trial was conducted at the Washington State University Northwestern Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon, WA. The trial was sponsored by Blue River Hybrids Organic Seed of Ames, IA (

Eight varieties of organic hybrid seed were planted on May 16 into non-organic soil in four repetitions. Samples were harvested on Sept. 26-27, 133 days after planting. According to WSU Ag Weather Net, that 133-day growing season provided 1499 Growing Degree Days (GDD). The number of GDDs was the lowest in four years but 80 GDDs higher than the previous eight-year average. The area Ag Weather Net station on the WSU-NWREC recorded 8.7 inches of rain during this time.

Ideally, harvest would have been conducted one or two weeks later but this harvest date was the only one that fit Blue River staff’s multi-state travel schedule. Derek Johnson, the Western Region Assistant Sales Manager for Blue River Hybrids, said “The corn was a little bit wetter than [we would have liked]. Overall, we were we pleased with the tonnage we got in this trial. In most of the hybrids, it equaled or exceeded our results in Wisconsin.”

Reviewing the analysis data in Table 1 provided by Blue River Hybrids, four of the eight varieties were outstanding in at least two analyzed criteria; two of these top four were arguably the top performers, depending on which criteria are most highly valued by a producer. Variety 27B16 was the clear winner for harvested tons per acre, tons per acre adjusted for 70% moisture, acid detergent fiber (ADF, a measure of fiber digestibility), milk production per acre of corn silage, and as a percentage of the average of all varieties’ milk per acre. However, variety 06B21 had the lowest days to maturity (a very important factor in the PNW with low heat units and GDDs) and therefore the lowest percent moisture (highest percent dry matter). It also had the lowest neutral detergent fiber (a measure of intake), highest starch content (an energy measure), highest starch per acre, and highest percentage of the average of all varieties’ starch pounds per acre. On the other hand, variety 09R19 had the highest milk per ton of silage and percentage of the average of all varieties’ milk per ton of silage.

Table 1. Results of 2016 Corn Silage Variety Trial at WSU-NWREC. Most desirable results for each characteristic are in bold font. Statistical data analysis to determine if there are significant differences between varieties has yet to be conducted.
Hybrid RM* Harvest Pop Harvest Tons/A Harvest % Moist Tons/A 70% ADF % (%DM) NDFD30 (%NDF) Starch % DM Starch lbs/A Starch lbs % of Ave. 7 Hr Star Digest Milk/ Ton Milk/Ton % of Ave. Milk/A Milk/A % of Ave.
06B21 76 32,250 23.60 68.5% 24.12 25.50% 57.8% 29.1% 4,327 134.0% 68.0% 3,437 106.9% 25,551 108.9%
09R19 79 32,250 19.50 70.0% 19.50 26.60% 62.2% 25.5% 2,984 92.4% 68.0% 3,455 107.4% 20,212 86.1%
14A91 82 37,000 27.20 72.7% 26.19 28.60% 58.5% 21.8% 3,238 100.3% 68.7% 3,232 100.5% 24,000 102.3%
21A10 85 36,000 26.60 70.6% 26.37 28.10% 58.4% 22.6% 3,535 109.5% 68.5% 3,279 102.0% 25,643 109.3%
21L90 85 34,750 24.90 71.1% 24.51 29.40% 58.9% 17.5% 2,519 78.0% 67.4% 3,032 94.3% 21,819 93.0%
27B16 88 32,750 28.40 71.3% 27.88 24.80% 62.3% 25.5% 4,157 128.8% 68.1% 3,382 105.2% 27,566 117.5%
26A17 88 35,500 25.50 72.1% 24.76 29.00% 59.0% 19.3% 2,746 85.1% 68.5% 3,019 93.9% 21,479 91.5%
33L90 93 34,250 25.70 71.1% 25.30 29.70% 59.2% 15.6% 2,317 71.8% 65.4% 2,890 89.9% 21,465 91.5%

Photos from various stages of the trial are below. We plan to conduct another corn silage variety trial in 2017 and encourage those interested to inquire about touring the trial at their convenience next summer—just call Susan Kerr ahead of time at 360-848-6151 to arrange a tour.

September 2016 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Got Phosphorus? Want to Get Rid of Some?

Hands holding a small pile of struvite.
Figure 1. Struvite produced from the liquid dairy manure.

In the September 2004 WSU Dairy Newsletter we reported that we had received our first research funding to study the capture of excess phosphorus (P) from liquid dairy manure in the form of struvite (magnesium-ammonium-phosphate) (see figure 1). Since that time we have refined the technology to efficiently extract P from raw manure and anaerobically digested manure, as well as evaluated ways to make the process less expensive. The fluidized bed technology is being adopted by both the dairy industry as well as waste water treatment facilities across the US.

We are happy to report that we have been granted a USDA NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant to build and operate a mobile struvite system in Washington State during the next two years. Funding from NRCS of $461,000 has been matched by the Washington Dairy Industry with an additional $150,000.

Struvite can be used effectively as a fertilizer and pure struvite has a fertilizer formula of 6 29 0 + 16% Mg. The release of P from struvite is slow to moderate and thus makes it a desirable source of P. We plan to collaborate with crop producers in WA to evaluate the use of struvite as a source of fertilizer as part of the project.

In the coming months we will be looking for dairies across WA who are interested in cooperating with us to extract P in the form of struvite from liquid manure. Feel free to make contact of your interest.

Precision Nutrient Management: Who’s Doing It?

Dairy producers in WA are adopting practices to make more effective use of nutrients in dairy manure for crop production. Among these practices are: no till seeding, flow meters on manure lines, lots of manure testing, double cropping, and use of nutrient management consultants,

Jason Sheehan enlists the help of agronomic professionals to precisely manage nutrients on his dairy farm in Sunnyside, WA. He is able to track how much nitrogen is applied to his fields through regular sample analysis and with use of flow meters which record the manure volume. His fields are mapped into zones based on differences in nutrient status in addition to yield records from previous years. This technology allows Jason and his team to work together to efficiently manage farm nutrients saving both time and money.

The following video gives an overview of the efforts at J & K Dairy in Sunnyside, WA.

Cooperative University Dairy Students (CUDS): A New Generation

With the retirement of Dr. John McNamara this past year, CUDS enters into a new era. Cooperative University Dairy Students currently has 11 members and a new advising team. The new advising team started in May with Hannah Chiapetta as the new day-to-day advisor with support from Dr. Amber Adams-Progar, Dr. Joseph Harrison, and Mr. John Swain. Currently, Hannah is working towards her PhD at WSU with Dr. Harrison. She grew up in Northern California on a 150-cow dairy for 10 years. In May of 2015, she graduated with a BS in Animal Science from Oklahoma State University.

At the end of August, CUDS members returned to begin a new school year. As students returned, CUDS members began the process of updating/evaluating all their protocols and standard operating procedures. During the first weekend of the semester, Dr. Martin Maquivar led a herd audit workshop at the Knott Dairy Center. CUDS members evaluated the history of each cow’s current lactation to evaluate each cow’s performance and health. We are in the process of scheduling more workshops based on CUDS members’ suggestions during the Welcome Back interviews.

The CUDS members are dedicated to ensure the CUDS animals receive great care. Current members are: Marcy Bartelheimer (Sire Selection), Dakota Cameron (Reproduction), Elise Chalcraft (Milk Quality and Udder Health), Shelby Felder (Nutrition), Karena Gutierrez (Herd Health), Adriana Lopez Ayala (Drugs and Supplies), Grace Montgomery (Reproduction), Lindsey Richmond (President), Rafael (Alex) Soria (Public Relations and Records), Stephanie VanVolkenburg (Herd Health), and Heather Young (Calves, Heifers, and Dry Cows and Cow Comfort). We are looking forward to a fun and educational year!

Members of CUDS

Hannah Chiapetta, CUDS Advisor,

WSU Partners with Washington Dairy Producers to Address Pest-Bird Management Issues

A new Washington State University research project will soon be starting, with a focus on pest-bird management on dairy farms. The project aims to determine how the presence of pest-birds (such as starlings) affect dairy cattle well-being and economic losses on dairies. Alternative bird deterrence methods, such as exclusionary netting, will also be tested to determine which methods are economically feasible and effective. The research team is looking for Washington dairy farms that are willing to assist with this project. If you would like to participate in the study, or if you have any questions about the study, please contact Amber Adams-Progar ( or 509-335-0673), Susan Kerr (, or Karen Steensma at (

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Technology for the cows (and calves)

Precision dairy technology is increasingly gaining attention on dairy farms across the world. This new technology aims to improve dairy cattle care and well-being, in addition to the dairy producer’s quality of life. Currently, the technologies range from automatic milking systems to calving alerts that send you text messages. Yes, you did read that correctly, your cow can send you a text message to let you know that she has calved or will calve soon. The possibilities of these amazing inventions are awe-inspiring and exciting; however, we must remember to proceed cautiously. New technology requires an investment of our time and cannot replace best management practices.

Let’s take a look at ten of the precision dairy technology tools currently available for dairy producers:

  1. Automated Calf Feeders – Automated calf feeders used for starter grain are available, but milk/milk replacer feeders are most common. Each calf is individually identified, offered a pre-programmed amount of milk, and monitored by the machine. If a producer sets “drinking speed” as one of the behaviors to be monitored, calf mortality rates could drop by up to 4%.
  2. Automatic Milking System – Cows with higher milking frequencies in automatic milking systems tend to have lower somatic cell counts. If the pulsation ratio for the milking apparatus is changed from the standard setting to 70:30, the peak flow for milk per cow increases by 4%; whereas, a 75:25 setting results in an 8% increase in peak flow. This improves milking efficiency.
  3. Heat Detection – A wide variety of heat detection technologies exist, with many of them offering either an ear tag or neck collar sensor system. Producers have noticed an 18% decrease in time to pregnancy for their cows monitored by these systems. Be mindful of false positives, though.
  4. Calving Alerts – A small device attached to a cow’s tail monitors contractions and alerts the producer, via a text message, that the cow is close to calving. The accuracy for most of these devices range from 82% to 100%.
  5. Activity/Rumination Monitors – These monitors can provide information on how much time per day a cow is spending lying, eating, standing, and ruminating. Cows spend 4% less time ruminating during hot weather.
  6. Non-contact Temperature Readers – Besides using infrared temperature readers to check body temperatures, these readers can also be used to examine other health parameters. Infrared thermography has detected a 15° temperature increase in hooves of cows with impaired mobility, compared to cows with normal mobility.
  7. Mastitis Detection – Somatic cell counts and electrical conductivity tests have been used to detect mastitis; however, measuring protease activity may become an option soon. Researchers noticed a 95% increase in protease activity in milk samples from mastitic cows than non-mastitic cows.
  8. Environmental Enhancement – The inclusion of mechanical brushes in pens to encourage grooming behaviors is gaining popularity. Cows close to calving tend to increase their brush use by 77%.
  9. Automated Feed Mixers and Distributors – One robot has the ability to mix, distribute, and push-up feed all by itself. The timing of feed delivery is crucial, though. Delivering fresh feed to cows between milkings, as opposed to during milkings, causes a 10% reduction in dry matter intake.
  10. Body Condition Scoring – Recording body condition scores helps dairy producers analyze their nutrition programs, but it is time-consuming and may not be consistent between different scorers. Specially-designed cameras can automatically provide body condition scores that typically fall within a 2% range of manual body condition scores.

Preliminary Results of WSU NWREC Forage Trials

In response to dairy producers’ pleas for more forage options in western Washington, several forage trials are underway at the Northwestern Research and Extension Center (NWREC) in Mount Vernon, WA. This article will share preliminary results of these demonstrations and variety trials. Tours of the plots can be conducted for interested persons, contact Susan Kerr at 360-848-6151 or for arrangements.

Birdsfoot trefoil (BFT) is a non-bloating legume, meaning it is a high protein forage that can be grazed fresh without the risk of bloat associated with alfalfa and some other legumes. It also has condensed tannins that are purported to help control internal parasites in livestock. Producers could consider it for grazing heifers; organic producers could use it to meet their 120 grazing day requirement without sacrificing the nutritional content of alfalfa, but without the risk of bloat. It may be suitable for hoy or haylage as well. It has the potential to become an invasive weedy species in some areas.

Flooded field of Birdsfoot trefoil (BFT).
Fall planted birdsfoot trefoil underwater on January 7, 2015 in Mount Vernon.

Demonstration plantings (100% BFT and 50% BFT – 50% Timothy) in September 2014 were underwater in January 2015 (Photo 1, with annual ryegrass weed incursion), but ready for a first cutting in April. This apparent tolerance to waterlogged soil is a definite advantage for western WA production. BFT was seeded at 20# per acre and 1/4″ deep. Pre-planting fertilizer and BFT-specific inoculum were included. Five cuttings were made that year with production averaging 4.5 tons/acre. Results of the fresh forage chemical analysis on the 8/19/15 are included in Table 1.

Component As Fed Dry Matter Basis
Water, %  78.2   0.0
Dry matter, %  21.8 100.0
Crude protein, %   4.0  18.3
Acid detergent fiber, %   7.2  33.0
Neutral detergent fiber, %   8.8  40.3
Nonstructural carbohydrates, %   6.6  30.3
Total digestible nutrients, %  13.4  61.6
Net energy of lactation, mcal/lb   0.1   0.6
Estimated net energy, mcal/lb   0.1   0.5
Relative feed value  31.8 146.1
Calcium, %   0.2   0.9
Phosphorous, %   0.1   0.2
Magnesium, %   0.1   0.2
Potassium, %   0.6   2.7
Table 1. Chemical analysis of fresh birdsfoot trefoil cut 8/19/2015.

A BFT variety trial was planted on 9/17/15. Weeds were to be controlled with tillage and mowing, but the plot experienced severe weed pressure and chemical herbicide was applied in mid-June. The three varieties included:

  1. Norcen from Stock Seed Farms, Murdock, Nebraska
  2. Pardee from Allied Seed, Nampa ID
  3. Witt from Allied Seed, Nampa ID

The Witt variety out-performed the other two throughout all growth stages at the NWREC variety plot.

Regrowth of birdsfoot trefoil (BFT) is measured following previous harvest.
Photo 2. BFT regrowth assessed on July 22, 2016.

BFT is reputed to be “difficult to establish”, but experience at the NWREC BFT fall-planted plots tend toward concluding it is just slow to emerge, especially in cold, wet soils. Patience is rewarded, however, with vigorous and hardy plants that regrow well after harvest (Photo 2). Indeed, there are reports of > 40-year-old BFT plants in Whatcom County that originated in conservation plantings. To see what difference in stand establishment and vigor might be seen with a spring planting, a small plot was seeded at the NWREC on June 7, 2016. The plants emerged much more quickly than in fall plantings and have done well.

BFT’s use may be as part of a grazing program. BFT hay made at the NWREC in August was unpalatable to horses and goats and ignored by steers on pasture. Due to unavoidable delays in harvesting, this hay was made from overmature BFT so its innate tannin content may have been too high for good palatability. Thanks to the recent acquisition of some haying equipment by the NWREC, hay can be made at more appropriate maturity levels in the future (weather depending) and palatability re-assessed.

Summer 2016 Forages

Plot space became available for more demonstrations in early summer of 2016, so teff, Italian ryegrass, and a sorghum-sudangrass hybrid were seeded in the first two weeks of June. Teff and sudangrass are warm season C4 plants, meaning they thrive in hot summer months. Having alternative forages come on when C3 cool-season grasses are going into their summer slump would extend grazing options and even provide some forage for haying. Also, these annual grasses would provide another option in crop rotation systems. Teff is gaining popularity as horse hay due to its low nonstructural carbohydrate (sugar) content, which is highly desired by some horse owners, so this crop could become its own profit center for farms capable of making small bales. Teff is also being used as an income-producing crop as ground is transitioning from one crop use to another.

Field of Italian rygrass vs Teff (on left).
Photo 3. Five-week-old Italian ryegrass stand. Teff is on the left.

Teff established and grew well in the demonstration plot was hampered by extreme weed pressure. It was planted elsewhere at the NWREC as a cover crop and soil stabilizer and has done well. The plot was mowed in mid-August and has responded well with regrowth; we hope for a second cutting. Hay from the first cutting was too weedy to feed; chemical analysis is pending.

A sorghum-sudangrass hybrid grew very poorly in the demonstration site, but very well elsewhere at the NWREC as a cover crop. Sudangrass must be fed carefully due to the possibility of prussic acid (cyanide) poisoning. The precursor compound is present in higher levels in young plants and plants affected by drought, wilting, freezing, trampling, and/or high fertilization rates. Risk is greatly lower in sudangrass hay and silage. Sudangrasses are also often plowed under as a green manure crop.

The Italian ryegrass plot was very successful (Photo 3). It established quickly and shaded out weeds, so it had much less weed pressure than the other forage plots. It grew back very well after mowing. The biennial cool season grass will not go to seed unless it goes through a winter, meaning it stays vegetative the entire first year of planting, producing an impressive quantity of high-quality forage. It can be planted in the spring for multiple harvests that year (winterkill likely) or planted in late summer for fall and spring grazing or harvest (winterkill less likely). Italian ryegrass dries poorly so it is difficult to make into hay. It is best suited for grazing, greenchop, haylage, or baleage. It can fit into a farm’s forage plans as a rotational crop (not after corn, though) or emergency feed. It has the potential to become and invasive weed species in some areas.

Additional Forage Work

  • Rows of corn growing in the field.
    Photo 4. Blue River Hybrids corn silage variety trial at NWREC in Mount Vernon, August 22, 2016.

    We currently have a corn silage variety trial sponsored by Blue River Hybrids (Photo 4). Samples will be collected and data analyzed at the end of September; results will be made available to producers through various venues and on request.

  • We are in Year Two of a simulated grazing impact trial on timothy. A stand planted in 2014 has been divided into three areas and “grazed” (mowed) at 3”, 6”, or 12” repeatedly. The middle height is thriving, but both the over- and under-grazed stands are struggling. The purpose of this demonstration is to show the effects of repeated abuse on pasture grasses and motivate managers to follow best pasture management and grazing practices. These include never grazing or mowing below 6” and keeping plants vegetative and growing vigorously.
  • Pumpkin silage mixed with straw.
    Photo 5. Pumpkins and straw ensiled 100 days.

    Pumpkins were ensiled in five-gallon buckets with and without straw last fall (Photo 5). Straw was included as a variable in the study to see if and how pumpkins could help upgrade the nutritional value of this low-value fiber source (straw) while expanding the volume of pumpkin silage, without excessive dilution of the nutritional value of pumpkins. Chemical analysis results are in Table 2. Palatability factors are unknown because the microbial content of this ensiled material could not be guaranteed as safe so it was not fed to livestock.

Component Whole pumpkins Pumpkin silage Pumpkin/straw silage Straw
As fed DMB* As fed DMB As fed DMB As fed DMB
% Dry matter  12.56 100.0  13.03 100.0  14.83 100.0  89.34 100.0
% Water  87.44   0.00  86.97   0.00  85.17   0.00  10.66   0.00
% Crude protein   1.41  11.23   2.37  18.19   2.24  15.1   2.81   3.15
% Protein solubility   7.44  59.24 n/a n/a  19.14  21.42
% ADF   1.83  14.57   2.68  20.57   3.89  26.23  53.96  60.40
% NDF   2.46  19.59   3.19  24.48   4.45  30.01  76.06  85.14
% TDN   9.62  76.59   9.72  74.60  10.79  72.76  38.89  43.53
NEL Mcal/lb   0.10   0.80   0.10   0.77   0.11   0.74   0.38   0.43
ENE Mcal/lb   0.09   0.72   0.09   0.69   0.10   0.67   0.23   0.26
RFV  46.25 368.23  36.12 277.21  31.44 212.0  40.85  45.72
% Ash   1.08   8.60   1.35  10.36   1.47   9.91   5.20   5.82
% Calcium   0.03   0.24   0.04   0.31   0.05   0.34   0.21   0.24
% Phosphorous   0.03   0.24   0.07   0.54   0.07   0.47   0.04   0.04
% Magnesium   0.03   0.24   0.05   0.38   0.05   0.34   0.05   0.06
% Potassium   0.46   3.66   0.48   3.68   0.52   3.51   1.05   1.18
% Sodium   0.06   0.48   0.00   0.00   0.00   0.00   0.02   0.02
Copper ppm   0.72   5.73   1.28   9.82   1.21   8.16   2.56   2.87
Iron ppm   1.40  11.15  14.70 112.82  52.54 354.28 162.0 181.33
Zinc ppm   3.15  25.08   6.15  47.20   7.30  49.22  4.45  4.98
Manganese ppm   1.00   7.96   2.38  18.27   3.42  23.06  11.17  12.50
% Chloride   0.05   0.40 n/a n/a n/a
pH n/a   4.15 n/a   4.13 n/a n/a
Table 2. Nutritional content of pumpkins, pumpkin silage, pumpkin/straw silage, and straw from this study.

Future Forage Work

Additional forages to be studied in the future at the NWREC include sainfoin and festolium. Sainfoin is another non-bloating legume with high condensed tannin content; it is also naturally somewhat resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. It is better suited to dryland production and may not do well in western Washington’s wet clay soils. Plots will also be established in Centerville and San Juan County; it will be interesting to compare performance among these various soil types and precipitation zones. Festolium (a fescue-ryegrass hybrid) is purported to have more of the best traits and fewer of the undesirable traits of both ryegrass and fescue, meaning higher palatability, good persistence, good regrowth, better disease resistance, and higher winter hardiness.

We need to control weeds more aggressively in the variety trial and demonstration plots because weed growth is confounding some of the results. We also need to continue to build our haying capacity at the NWREC so we can harvest when needed and be independent of haying contractors’ schedules. Donations of haying equipment that fit into our long-term Research and Extension plans would be greatly appreciated.

Related Reading

  • Condensed tannins: C.L. Marley, R. Cook, R. Keatinge, J. Barrett, and N.H. Lampkin. 2003. The effect of birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) and chicory (Cichorium intybus) on parasite intensities and performance of lambs naturally infected with helminth parasites. Veterinary Parasitology, 112:147–155. doi: 10.1016/S0304-4017(02)00412-0
  • Birdsfoot trefoil
  • Italian ryegrass (pdf)
  • Festolium
  • Sainfoin (pdf)
  • Timothy
  • Teff
  • Sudangrass

June 2016 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Understanding Dairy FARM Evaluations

Approximately 90% of the milk supply in the United States currently participates in the National F.A.R.M. (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program. Since its inception in 2009, the program’s participation has grown to include 82 co-ops and processors from across the nation. With the program’s increase in popularity, you most likely have already participated in an on-farm evaluation. I hope the information below will help you prepare for your next evaluation and encourage you to use some of the techniques below to monitor animal well-being on your dairy.

Last month, I completed the training to become a FARM Program on-farm evaluator. As I learned more about the program, I gained a deeper appreciation for how the program aims to emphasize “Animal Care is Everyone’s Responsibility”. Is the program perfect? No, but it is an honest attempt at uniting dairy industry stakeholders to achieve a common goal: provide the best care possible to dairy animals. These days, we need to unite as an industry in order to address the challenges that lie ahead.

Let’s take a closer look at the on-farm evaluation process and techniques evaluators use to monitor animal well-being:

  1. Importance of On-farm Evaluations

    Why do we conduct on-farm evaluations? What is the purpose? The basis of these evaluations is to assure consumers that dairy producers are providing optimal care to their animals and provide producers with resources to continually improve animal care.

  2. Second-party Evaluation

    These evaluations are conducted by certified evaluators like me that completed the FARM Program evaluator training. The process for these evaluations will be explained in-depth below. Over 33,000 second-party evaluations have been conducted.

  3. Entrance Meeting

    At the beginning of each second-party evaluation, the evaluator will ask you a series of questions about your farm. This is a perfect time for you to ask questions about the FARM program. Once the meeting concludes, the evaluator will proceed to the cow housing facilities to collect cow observation data.

  4. Hygiene Scores

    Cows are scored on a scale of 1 – 4, with a 1 representing a clean cow and a 4 representing a cow that has manure on her udder/belly and up towards her back. The goal is to have at least 90% of observed animals with a score of 2 or lower.

  5. Locomotion Scores

    The locomotion scoring system is on a scale of 1 – 3, with a 1 representing a cow sound on all four legs and a 3 representing a severely lame cow. The goal is to have at least 95% of observed animals with a score of 2 or lower.

  6. Body Condition Scores

    Body condition is analyzed by using a scale of 1 – 5, with a 1 representing a cow with no fat cover over her tail head, short ribs, hooks or pins and a 5 representing an obese cow. The goal is to have at least 99% of observed animals with a score of 2 or higher.

  7. Hock and Knee Lesion Scores

    Hock and knee lesion scores are evaluated on a scale of 1 – 3, with a 1 representing a cow that has hair loss less than the size of a quarter with no swelling and a 3 representing a cow with severe swelling and/or an abrasion. The goal is to have at least 95% of observed cows with a score of 2 or lower.

  8. Closing Meeting

    After the evaluator completes his/her animal observations, the evaluation will conclude with a closing meeting. The evaluator will discuss the observations with you, share any recommended areas for improvement, and, if needed, develop a corrective plan with you. Once again, consider this meeting to be an excellent opportunity to ask questions.

  9. Third-party Verification

    To maintain the integrity of the FARM program, a third-party (in this case, a company called Validus) selects a random sample of evaluated farms to verify each year. The objective is to test whether the third-party evaluators reach the same conclusions as the second-party evaluators. Approximately 750 third-party verifications have been completed.

  10. Effectiveness of the Program

    A 3% improvement in cow hygiene cores occurred from 2014 to 2015, in addition to a 2% improvement in locomotion scores and a 4% improvement in hock and knee lesions.

For more information (including charts on scoring hygiene, locomotion, and body condition) visit

Hock lesions scored from 1 (left) to 3 (right).
Hock and knee lesion scores

Interested about the future of water in the PNW?

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Join us for the Climate Impacts to Water Conference: Managing the Uncertainties of Water Supply and Quality in the PNW

The PNW’s $21.8 billion agricultural sector ($13.2 billion for crops and $8.6 billion for animals; USDA-NASS, 2013) is vulnerable to risks associated with climate change, especially, increased pressures on water resources in arid environments because of its reliance on regional climatic factors. Severe droughts are projected in semiarid regions of the U.S. during the upcoming century (Ault et al., 2014; Steinemann, 2014). Annual average temperatures in the PNW are projected to increase by 3.3 to 9.7° F by the end of the century and availability and timing of precipitation is also expected to shift (Mote et al., 2014). Excessive spring precipitation, longer freeze-free seasons, decreases in mountain snowpack, and reduced stream flow could also reduce available water, and further stress agricultural production and management (Mote et al., 2014; Abatzoglou et al., 2014; DOE, 2011).

In the PNW, seasonal variations in water supply and demand of the Columbia River Basin have resulted in localized water shortages that are expected to increase with competing demands for fresh water resources into the future (DOE, 2011). To reduce negative economic, social and environmental consequences associated with drought, agricultural producers, advisors and managers must be better informed about regional climate projections (immediate and long-term), on-farm water management, and conservation opportunities. There is a two day upcoming regional conference—Climate Impacts to Water: Managing the Uncertainties of Water Supply and Quality—occurring on January 25-26 at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, WA. Regional agricultural producers, agriculture professionals, consultants, educators and specialists, NRCS, local and state employees and others interested in the topic are invited to more about the consequences and management of water in the PNW. Because agricultural advisors and similar stakeholders serve as key resources to producers for information about risks and management, increasing awareness and accessibility to relevant resources through this PNW Climate Impacts to Water conference will improve abilities to address concerns about sustainable water management, and risks to production systems and local environments.

The objectives of this conference are to:

  • Improve your understanding about projected climate impacts on water accessibility in the PNW, and learn about sustainable management decisions.
  • Create awareness of resources for adopting strategies that will make farming operations more resilient to climate change, while minimizing impact.
  • Build on the regional network of advisors and educators and take the knowledge gained at the conference and encourage adoption in the field

The areas of emphasis are:

  • Regional projections of climate and water supply
  • Multiple facets of water management, including agricultural and stormwater
  • Water conservation practices
  • Water policy, regulations and rights
  • Water quality
  • Social science communication concerning water

Registration and abstract information will be announced by July, 2016. To learn more about this regional effort, please contact Liz Whitefield or visit:

Cited Resources

  • Abatzoglou, J.T., D.E. Rupp and P.W. Mote. 2014. Seasonal climate variability and change in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Journal of Climate. 27:2125-2142. doi:10.1175/JCLI-K-13-00218.1.
  • Ault, T.R., J.E. Cole, J.T. Overpeck, G.T. Pederson and D.M. Meko. 2014. Assessing the risk of persistent drought using climate model simulations and paleoclimate date. Journal of Climate. doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00282.1. In press.
  • Department of Ecology (DOE). 2011. Columbia River Basin: Long-term water supply and demand forecast. Washington State Legislative Report 11-12-011. [Online]. Available at:
  • Mote, P., A.K., Snover, S. Capalbo, S.D. Eigenbrode, P. Glick, J. Littell, R. Raymondi and S. Reeder. 2014. Ch. 21: Northwest. Climate change impacts in the United States: The third national climate assessment. J.M. Melillo, Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and G.W. Yohe (Eds.).U.S. Global change Research Program:487-513. doi:10.7930/J04Q7RWX. [Online]. Available at: Accessed: 2014, October 9.
  • United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS). 2013. State agriculture overview (WA, OR and ID). [Online]. Available at:
  • Steinemann, A. 2014. Drought information for improving preparedness in the western states. American Meteorological Society Bulletin:843-847. doi:10.1175/BAMS-D-13-00067.1

Logos for WSU Extension, Regional Approaches to Climate Change, Climate Impacts Research Consortium, State of Washington Water Research Center, Western Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education, and the Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural Resources

Celebrating—and Learning—during Dairy Month

On June 16-17, 2016, 96 Anacortes Junior High School students, teachers, and chaperones visited the Vander Kooy Harmony Farm #2 in Mount Vernon, WA. This visit was coordinated by WSU Skagit County Extension and included 4-H staff, a Master Gardener volunteer, and WSU faculty. Representatives of the Washington State Dairy Ambassador program also participated.

Each tour day featured one busload of students in the morning and another in the afternoon; many special needs students participated. Each group of students was divided into four sub-groups that rotated between four learning stations:

Station 1: Crops and soils discussion and demonstration.

WSU Skagit County Extension Director Don McMoran taught students about soil types, soil health, typical local crops, and how manure can benefit soil fertility and health. He sent each group home with a canning jar of soil suspended in water and instructed them to set it in their classroom and watch what happens as the particles settle. The students were eager to do this.

Station 2: Insect demonstration.

WSU Master Gardener Virgene Link brought an impressive array of preserved insect specimens to share with the students. She highlighted how most insects are non-problematic or even beneficial and we should not just reach for the “bug spray” when we see an insect. Students enjoyed looking at insects under a microscope and with magnifying glasses.

Station 3: Tools of the trade.

With assistance from advisor Annie Lohman, 2016-17 Skagit County Dairy Ambassador Juliana LeClair and Alternate Dairy Ambassador Leanna DeVries engaged students with a selection of the tools and used on a dairy farm. Students were introduced to water floats, moisture meters, A.I. straws, pH meters, esophageal feeders, OB chains, and balling guns to name just a few.

Station 4: Dairy cow milking, feeding, and welfare.

WSU Livestock and Dairy Extension Specialist Susan Kerr explained modern milking practices while students watched the process in the milking parlor. They learned about milk’s journey from cow to table, steps to insure milk safety and quality, and a cow’s lifecycle of production. They watched cows willingly enter the parlor and stand quietly for milking. Next they went to the freestall housing area and watched cows eat their TMR, relax, interact, ruminate, and make milk. Ways farmers keep cows comfortable, clean, healthy, and productive were highlighted.

Some questions, comments, or myths addressed during the tour included: “I heard boy calves are killed at birth;” “My mother says things are added to milk to make it taste unnatural;” “I heard that pasteurization destroys the nutrition in milk;” “Cows only have molar teeth;” and a favorite, “Is it true that a cow could eat a human?”

Tour participants left the farm knowing where dairy products come from, what it takes to make milk, and how much producers care about cow comfort and welfare. They saw firsthand how technology and mechanization have made farms more efficient and productive, keeping food prices low. Students learned how American dairy farmers feed the U.S. and the world.

Although time consuming and a bit of an inconvenience on a working farm, such educational tours can go a long way toward dispelling common myths and misunderstandings about dairy production. If you are interested in partnering with a school in your area to host such an event and need some assistance, please contact Susan Kerr at 360-848-6151 or

Thank you, Vander Kooy family!

Tour group viewing milking parlour.
Anacortes Jr. High School students learn how cows are milked at the Vander Kooy Harmony Farm #2 in Mount Vernon.

March 2016 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Beat the Heat and Save Money Doing It; Make a Plan Now to Avoid Heat Stress

It’s never too early to start thinking about management strategies to minimize the impact of summer heat on cows. It just takes one real hot period of heat to put a big dent in milk production and reproductive performance. Last summer in 2015, Sunnyside, WA saw 45 days above 90°F, and 10 days above 100°F (NOAA). Sunnyside, WA normally sees approximately 38 days above 90°F (period of 1895 to 2013; NOAA). The highest temperature last summer reached 108°F on June 28, 2015. That record hot day wasn’t in late July or early August, as normally expected, but was in June, and was also part of a 9 day stretch of high temps above 99°F degrees.

In addition to extreme heat waves, warming temperatures associated with climate change will enhance the negative impact to milk production; considering dairy cattle are extremely vulnerable to extreme high temperatures and humidity. A study investigating the impact of climate change on milk production found that concentrated dairy farming areas that are currently experiencing the greatest heat related impacts (e.g., Arizona, Florida) are also predicted to experience the greatest additional losses with climate change (Mauger, et. al., 2014). Figure 1 (below) demonstrates the loss of milk production on an annual scale comparing the historical temperature humidity index (THI) to the THI projected in 2050 with climate projections for selected concentrated dairy farming regions in the U.S. In the next 30 years, the Yakima region would expect an impact of approximately 13 lb (6kg) of milk loss/cow/day.

Adapting to hotter periods of heat, and more frequent periods of heat during the summer months is a critical reality to avoid economic losses. The USDA Economic Research Service (Key, et. al., 2014) found in 2010, that the impact of heat stress caused the average US dairy about $39,000. Climate models project that heat stress will “cause production loss to almost all US dairies, with 4 to 18 percent of dairies experiencing a loss greater than 2%” (Key, et. al., 2014). Figure 2 (below) shows a visual scale of projected temperature change for each season (Implications of Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest, Island Press, 2013). It is clear that summer will become the critical season for dairies to build resiliency on their operation, and beat heat stress.

Adapting to extreme periods of heat will prove to be the key piece to avoid harsh economic losses in a changing climate (Mauger, et. al, 2013; Key, et. al., 2014). Cooling methods such as shades, fans, ventilation and easy access to fresh water are essential to cooling cows, but the industry is seeing more and more producers adopt evaporative cooling systems to cope through the high temperatures. Some examples of evaporative cooling systems on dairies are soakers, misters, foggers, cooling stall pads and cooling barn walls. Evaporative cooling occurs when water is evaporated, and the energy (heat) used to evaporate the water cools the evaporative source (skin or the air, depending on the method). Farmers that have invested in heat stress abatement strategies say the initial investment is well worth the money, and pays for itself quickly. Take a few minutes to see how J &K Dairy farm in Sunnyside, WA made the decision to invest in soaker cooling technology by clicking on the link below.

With the periods of heat increasing, and arriving earlier in the summer and later into the fall, it is necessary that dairies are prepared to cool their cows effectively and efficiently to maintain healthy cows and keep profit margins. In the video link below, Joe Harrison (Washington State University), Jay Gordon (WA State Dairy Federation) Guillaume Mauger (University of Washington), and Jason Sheehan (J&K Dairy, LLC) are interviewed to provide information and education on the topic of climate change impacting dairy production and how producers are successfully adapting to the heat.

An adaptation guide planning workbook specifically designed for animal agriculture is available online to assist in identifying farm vulnerabilities to climate associated risks. This workbook is available to help producers, consultants and advisors make decisions to build resiliency on an individual livestock operation.

For more on animal agriculture and climate change, visit

Graphs for historical and projected milk loss in 10 locations.
Figure 1. The annual cycle of milk loss (kg/day) for selected counties for the historical period (1950-1999) and projections for the 2050s. Black lines show the cycle of loss computed from S. Pierre, Cobanov and Schnitkey (2003; Equaltion 2), gray lines show the results of the linear loss relationship by Hayhoe et al. (2004; 1.15 kg/°C loss after temperature exceeds thresholds of 25°C and 32°C respectively). Figure and figure description taken directly from Mauger, 2013.
Maps represent temperature change by season in the Pacific Northwest.
Figure 2. A visual scale of projected temperature change for each season in the Pacific Northwest (Dalton, eds., 2013- Implications of Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest, Island Press). The North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program (NARCCAP) is a program comprised of various institutions simulating global and regional climate assessment models.


  1. Dalton, M., P.W. Mote, and A.K. Snover, eds., 2013: Climate Change in the Northwest: Implications for Our Landscapes, Waters, and Communities. Pg. 36. Island Press.
  2. Key, Nigel, Stacy Sneeringer, and David Marquardt. Climate Change, Heat Stress, and U.S. Dairy Production, ERR-175, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, September 2014.
  3. Mauger, G.S., Bauman, Y., T. Nennich and E.P. Salathe’. 2014. Impacts of climate change on milk production. Professional Geographer, doi:10.1080/00330124.2014.921017
  4. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Sunnyside Station (GHCND: USC 00458211) Record of Climatological Observations, National Center for Environmental Information, 151 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

Results of the 2014 NAHMS Dairy Study

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is responsible for the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS). Each year, NAMHS focuses on a different aspect of the livestock industry to study. The dairy industry was studied in 1992, 1996, 2002, 2007, and 2014. A calf component was added to the 2014 study; data collection lasted from 2014-2015 and these results will be shared in a future article.

Objectives for the 2014 study were determined with input from consultants, producers, veterinarians, Extension educators, and university faculty. The selected objectives were:

  1. Describe trends in dairy cattle health and management practices.
  2. Describe management practices and production measures related to animal welfare.
  3. Estimate within-herd prevalence of lameness and evaluate housing and management factors associated with lameness.
  4. Evaluate heifer calf health from birth to weaning.
  5. Describe antimicrobial use and residue prevention methods used to ensure milk and meat quality.
  6. Estimate the prevalence and antimicrobial resistance patterns of select foodborne pathogens.

To kick off the 2014 Dairy Study, an extensive questionnaire was completed by participating producers, then an additional in depth, on-farm survey was conducted; this survey focused on farm usage of veterinarians and antimicrobials, among other topics. Trained NAHMS representatives also conducted on-farm cow evaluations (lameness scores, hock scores, and body condition scores) and collected samples (composite fecals, bulk tank samples, and milk filters) for testing.

Data was collected from 17 of the major U.S. dairy states and represent 77% of dairy farms and 80% of dairy cows. In Washington, 110 dairy farms were invited to complete the questionnaire, which 41 completed. Eleven farms participated in the on-farm survey, cow evaluation, and sample collection.

Dr. Jason Lombard of USDA APHIS led the dairy study and is overseeing data analysis and publications. “Dairy Cattle Management Practices in the United States, 2014” (pdf) is the first publication produced by NAHMS using the study data. The selected graphics below are excerpted from that publication. Data are reported according to production system (conventional, grazing, combination, or organic) and farm size (very small, small, medium, large). Some comparisons are made between eastern and western U.S. herds.

Table 1. NAHMS Study Herds Descriptions. Operation average RHA milk production (lb/cow) by operation type and by herd size: (original table)
Operation type Operation Average RHA Milk Production (lb/cow)
Herd Size (number of cows)
Very small
(< 30)
All operations
lb/cow Std. error lb/cow Std. error lb/cow Std. error lb/cow Std. error lb/cow Std. error
Conventional 20,340 (1,337) 20,254 (313) 22,624 (276) 25,493 (150) 21,862 (188)
Grazing 9,677 (1,289) 16,450 (1,058) 17,265 (1,964) 21,971 (2,187) 14,513 (983)
Combination of conventional and grazing/other 15,768 (821) 18,155 (430) 19,655 (488) 22,990 (1,349) 17,815 (351)
Organic 10,357 (1,245) 14,889 (812) 16,691 (1,102) 20,015 (1,137) 14,758 (709)
All operations (792) 15,405 18,990 (248) 21,706 (247) 25,273 (153) 19,932 (183)

Operation Average Percent Cows

Table 2. Operation average within-herd prevalence of cows by locomotion score, hock score and low body condition score and by herd size. Locomotion Scores (lameness) according to housing type. LS1 = lameness score 1 (no lameness); LS2 = lameness score 2 (mild/moderate lameness); LS3 = lameness score 3 (severe lameness).
Evaluation ParameterHerd Size (number of cows)Region
(500 or more)
WestEastAll Operations
Pct.Std. errorPct.Std. errorPct.Std. errorPct.Std. errorPct.Std. errorPct.Std. error
Locomotion score
Sound (LS=1)90-1.589.5-1.592.2-0.792.3-1.189.9-190.2-0.9
Mild/moderately lame (LS=2)7.7-1.47.3-0.96-0.56.3-17.4-0.87.2-0.7
Severely lame (LS=3)2.3-0.53.3-0.71.9-0.31.4-0.32.7-0.42.6-0.3
Lame (LS>1)10-1.510.5-1.57.8-0.77.7-1.110.1-19.8-0.9
Hock score
No lesions (HS=1)73.5-4.689.9-1.793.6-1.193.2-1.881.4-2.682.8-2.3
Mild/moderate lesions (HS=2)20.7-3.58.3-1.45.3-16.4-1.714.6-2.113.6-1.8
Severe lesions (HS=3)5.8-1.31.8-0.41.1-0.20.5-0.24-0.73.6-0.6
Hock lesions (HS>1)26.5-4.610.1-1.76.4-1.16.8-1.818.6-2.617.2-2.3
Body condition score
Thin (BCS<2.25)9.7-32.8-0.62.3-0.41.8-0.46.5-1.76-1.5
Bar graph of hock score by housing type.
Figure 2. Hock scores according to housing type. HS1 = hock score 1 (no lesion); HS2 = hock score 2 (mild lesion with hair loss but no swelling); HS3 = hock score 3 (severe lesion with swelling and/or ulceration).
Bar graph of percentage of thin cows by housing type.
Figure 3. Percent of thin cows (body condition score of 2.25 or less) according to housing type.

To address the study’s objective of estimating the prevalence of selected foodborne pathogens (Salmonella, Campylobacter), fecal samples were collected from various sites on participating dairies. Percent of various sized farms with at least one positive test for these pathogens are depicted in Figure 4.

Bar graph of fecal pathogen positives by size of operation.
Figure 4. Percent of various sized farms with at least one positive test Salmonella or Campylobacter.

Bulk tank and milk filter samples were collected to estimate the prevalence selected foodborne pathogens (Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella dublin). Percent of various sized farms with at least one positive test for these pathogens are depicted in Figure 5.

Bar graph of percentage of operations of various sizes with a milk pathogen detected.
Figure 5. Percent of various sized farms with at least one positive test for Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria or Salmonella dublin.

More results will be shared in future articles. Those interested in complete results from the 2014 Dairy Study can access publications when posted on

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Feeding Forages to Pre-weaned Calves

Did you know that about 50% of dairy producers surveyed in 1992 offered hay to calves within the first 14 days of life? In 2014, only 20-30% of producers reported offering hay to pre-weaned calves and the first offering typically didn’t occur until calves were 30-58 days old. What happened? What caused the dairy industry to reconsider feeding forages to pre-weaned calves? I recently presented a talk in Lynden, WA, on these very topics.

One producer applied the information he/she learned during my talk and began offering hay to calves at seven days of age. Previously, the producer waited to offer hay until calves reached 40 days of age (calves are weaned at 80 days of age on this particular dairy). The results this producer noticed were encouraging and he/she contacted me to share the news. Not only were the calves eating more starter grain than usual, but they were also starting to eat grain at an earlier age. On top of that, calves were consuming more water than usual. We are all curious to see how these calves look a couple of months from now. Will they wean at a heavier weight? Are there long-lasting effects of feeding hay at a younger age? For now, we will just have to wait and see.

I summarized my talk into the ten tips listed below, but you may also access the video of my talk at I hope you find this information to be useful as you contemplate whether feeding forages to your pre-weaned calves would be a good fit for your dairy.

What you need to know about the advantages and disadvantages of feeding forages to pre-weaned calves:

  1. Energy and Digestion.

    Starches are known to provide more energy per unit and are more quickly digested than forages. This is one reason why starter intake has been preferred over forage intake for pre-weaned calves.

  2. Rumen Development.

    Another reason starter grains have been preferred over forages is because volatile fatty acids (VFAs) from forages may negatively impact rumen development. A 1962 study found that pre-weaned calves fed hay developed 63-67% fewer papillae in their rumens. The papillae, as we know, play a key role in the absorption of nutrients in the rumen.

  3. Appetite.

    Consuming forages may lead to “gut fill”, where the forages suppress a calf’s appetite and less starter feed is consumed by the calf.

  4. Dry Matter Intake.

    The consumption of hay during the pre-weaning period may actually lead to increases in pre-weaning (up to 15% increase) and post-weaning (up to 38% increase) dry matter intake.

  5. Body Weight.

    Forage feeding in pre-weaned calves has been associated with heavier weaning weights (increases up to 9%), but not all studies support this claim. No differences in body weight have also been documented.

  6. Average Daily Gain.

    A 36% increase in average daily gain was reported in calves fed alfalfa hay during the pre-weaning period.

  7. Feed Efficiency.

    Offering forages to pre-weaned calves does not appear to influence feed efficiency.

  8. Heart Girth.

    Calves fed hay during the pre-weaning period had slightly larger heart girths (a 2% increase).

  9. Abdominal Girth.

    The addition of hay to pre-weaned calf diets has resulted in larger abdominal girths (a 6% increase).

  10. Future Performance.

    Few studies have evaluated the long-term effects of feeding forages to pre-weaned calves. Our understanding, thus far, is that this diet does not impact a calf’s future performance (reproductive success or future milk yield).

December 2015 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Ammonia Emissions Below Levels of Concern for Human Health

A question was recently posed to WSU faculty in regard to the concentration of ammonia that might be in dairy barns and if it would present a problem for human health. The short answer is no. A national monitoring study funded by the EPA looked at ammonia emissions in dairy barns across the US. One of the locations studied was in eastern Washington.

Average concentrations of ammonia in the barn ranged between 0.16 to 2.88 pm. These concentrations are significantly below the 50 ppm (averaged over an 8-h shift) permissible exposure limit (PEL) set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the 25 ppm 8-h shift-averaged National Institute for Occupational Safety Health recommended exposure limit (REL) (NIOSH, 2011). The concentrations in the barns also were considerably lower than the NIOSH 15-min REL of 35 ppm. These data indicate that even in the rare event that a farm worker is in the barn for an entire 8-h shift, there should be little safety or health concern from exposure to ammonia.

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Understanding Group Housing in Calves

Have you considered transitioning your current calf management practices towards a group housing system? I would not be surprised if the thought has crossed your mind at least once. Dairies throughout the country have recently paid more attention to the concept, and why wouldn’t they? With the prospects of reductions in labor expenses and improved animal welfare, this type of system sounds appealing; however, group housing presents its own challenges for successful calf rearing. For now, let’s put aside the financial aspects of group housing and focus on how pair or group housing systems impact calf behavior, health, and growth. The next time group housing crosses your mind, please take the following tips into consideration.

What you need to know about the advantages and disadvantages of pair/group housing in pre-weaned calves:

  1. Social Interactions

    Upon introduction into larger post-weaning groups, pair-housed calves exhibit more (up to 71%) social behavior than calves housed individually.

  2. Aggression Behavior

    In social environments (such as post-weaning groups), calves housed in pairs and groups are 32-60% less aggressive towards other calves than calves housed individually.

  3. Acceptance of Novel Foods

    Group-housed calves are, on average, 50% more likely to begin eating novel foods before individually-housed calves. Why does this matter? Dairies adjust their rations throughout the year (possibly including the addition of unique feedstuffs), in which cows must adapt to diet changes.

  4. Time Spent at Feeder

    Pair-housed calves spend 26-59% more time at the feeder than individually-housed calves.

  5. Visits to the Feeder

    Upon introduction into larger post-weaning groups, pair-housed calves are 42-82% more likely to attend the feed bunk before individually-housed calves.

  6. Heart Rate

    A lower (about 13%) heart rate was measured in pair-housed than individually-housed calves when they were exposed to a novel environment. Why does this matter? An increased heart rate is associated with the physiological stress response, leading to potential detrimental impacts on cow health and production.

  7. Respiratory Disease

    Individually-housed calves are 57-71% less likely to develop respiratory disease than group-housed calves, in general (this is highly dependent on the size of groups).

  8. Antibiotic Resistance

    The odds for antibiotic resistance in E.coli is 50% lower for calves housed individually than calves housed in groups.

  9. Starter Feed Intake

    Pre-weaning starter feed intake is typically higher (about 37%) in pair-housed calves than individually-housed calves. Post-weaning intake also tends to be higher (about 18%) in pair- or group-housed calves.

  10. Average Daily Gain –

    Improved average daily gains have been noticed in pair-housed (14% increase) and group-housed (16% increase) calves over individually-housed calves.

Four calves laying in a group pen.

Let’s Keep It Clean, Folks

Iatrogenic, (eye-AT-ro-JEN-ick), adjective. “Of or relating to illness caused by medical examination or treatment” (The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English, 2009).

Are your medication handling and storage protocols a source of iatrogenic illness on your dairy? With so many uncontrollable factors dairy farmers have to deal with (fuel prices, weather, feed availability, etc.), it may be comforting to learn that a few simple practices can greatly reduce the likelihood of problems resulting from contaminated medications.

The photos used in this article are NOT from Washington State dairies and some are not even from the U.S. Nevertheless, they illustrate breaches in sanitation that can happen anywhere if shortcuts in best practices are taken due to haste, lack of training, or lack of concern about routine preventative measures.

Photo 1a shows an unsurprising source of medication contamination: manure. Controlling external contamination of medications with manure is a good practice for at least two reasons: it reduces the likelihood of transferring fecal organisms into the medication itself (Photo 1b) or other surfaces. Other surfaces include human hands (then water faucets, handles, countertops, etc.), thus putting human health at risk. It is easy to become complacent about surface contamination on dairies—note the coffee mug in Photo 1a—but small actions to improve sanitation may prevent large health problems with animals down the line.

Problem: Medication contamination with manure.

Solution: For medications commonly used cow-side that can be kept at environmental temperatures, consider keeping them in a washable plastic flip-top cooler to keep them clean.

Storing medications according to the manufacturer’s label instructions is critical. Upon arrival or purchase of any medications or vaccines, storage instructions on the label should be followed immediately. Only draw up or mix enough vaccine that can be administered within 30 minutes; remaining vaccine and/or un-mixed components should be kept according to label instructions (usually cool) until use. Keep thermometers in medication storage areas and monitor storage temperatures regularly; do not purchase vaccines over-the-counter if the business’s refrigerator temperature is not within vaccine label parameters (Troxel et al. 2009).The vaccines in Photo 2 were left at room temperature overnight, rendering them useless and a waste of money.

Two vaccine vials sitting on a counter with syringes piercing the cap.
Photo 2. Vaccines left at room temperature. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anita Varga.

Problem: Improper vaccine storage temperature.

Solution: Unless using them within 30 minutes, keep vaccines stored as instructed on the manufacturer’s label.

Photo 3 depicts medications kept in a refrigerator—they have been protected from dirt and manure (yay!) but the refrigerator was not working (boo!). Photos 2 and 3 also illustrate another all-too-common sanitation no-no: leaving a needle and syringe inserted into a medication bottle top for a prolonged time. Dust and other debris can enter the syringe chamber and contaminate it. Also, the rubber stopper top is not able to “repair” itself from the needle’s insertion. Many individual needle insertions can weaken a rubber stopper, leave large holes that can permit contamination, and even send small rubber fragments into the medication. Using a “nurse needle” (see below) is a practical way to protect the integrity of a rubber stopper medication top and address sanitation concerns.

Several bottles of medications stored with syringes piercing their caps.
Photo 3. Leaving needle and syringe inserted into medication. Photo courtesy of Dr. Paul Biagiotti.

Problem: Leaving needle and syringe inserted into medication bottle for prolonged periods.

Solution: use a nurse needle for each session of medication use and never leave needles in bottle top rubber stoppers for prolonged times.

Steps to Keep New Medications Sterile

  1. Flip metal, plastic or foil cover up but do not detach.
  2. Clean top of rubber stopper with alcohol.
  3. Crack open and insert a new nurse needle into medication top, retaining plastic cap (Photos 4a, 4b, 4c); do not remove the nurse needle from the rubber stopper top until the last dose is drawn up for a group of similar treatments of the same medication or vaccine.
  4. Attach a new syringe to the nurse needle and draw up the required dose of medication or vaccine.
  5. Detach filled syringe from nurse needle and leave nurse needle in top of bottle.
  6. Cover nurse needle hub with the plastic cap while injecting cattle.
  7. Use a new needle for each individual animal.
  8. When it is time to refill the syringe, use the nurse needle still in the medication top: attach same syringe to nurse needle, draw up dose(s), detach syringe from nurse needle, leave nurse needle in medication top, attach new needle to syringe, inject next animal, repeat.
  9. The nurse needle can be used for an individual animal injection after the last syringeful of medication or vaccine has been drawn into the syringe.
  10. If possible, fold metal, plastic or foil cover down to original position to protect medication bottle’s rubber stopper until next use. A protective cap of aluminum foil or plastic wrap could also be applied and rubber-banded in place.

Save the plastic hub after opening needle and use it to cover nurse needle while not in use.

Not everyone who works on a dairy farm has previous experience with livestock medications, including proper care, handling, and storage (Photo 5). Correct use of medications should be part of all new worker training and presented by someone fully aware of all aspects of sanitation and correct use. Through effective training and modeling of correct behavior, sanitation practices can easily become habits for new workers.

Photo 5. Lack of attention to the importance of proper medication handling and storage. Photo courtesy of Dr. Terry Wollen.

Problem: Lack of attention to medicines and their importance, handling, and storage.

Solution: teach employees about the crucial role medications play in animal health and train them about proper medication handling and storage.

Proper medication handling, storage, and use will save money, reduce product contamination, increase the likelihood of treatment success, and reduce iatrogenic illnesses. Dairy farms are busy enough without having to treat problems that could have been prevented through simple sanitation practices.


  • Troxel, T.R., and B.L. Barham. 2009. Case Study: The Temperature Variability of Refrigerators Storing Animal Health Products. Professional Animal Scientist 25:202-206.

September 2015 WSU Dairy News

Check Your Forage for Nitrates

The recent heavy rains that have followed a summer of record heat have created a situation where we could see high nitrates in forages harvested in late August and early September.

The dry July and August likely resulted in soil that was low in moisture and did not allow soil microbes to effectively convert manure nitrogen into nitrate for uptake by forages.

Now that we have seen record rainfalls in recent weeks, the soil microbes have the moisture they need and are likely active again and converting organic nitrogen into nitrate.

If your forage is high in nitrate, it is possible for as much as 50 % of it will get converted to ammonia when in the silo. While this reduces the risk of nitrate on the animal, the silage will likely have high levels of soluble nitrogen. The higher level of soluble nitrogen in the diet can be a challenge for ration formulation.

Consider sending samples of the fresh cut forage for a nitrate test, and if high, be ready to have the silage tested for nitrates and soluble nitrogen prior to feeding.

Table 1. Guidelines for using Feeds of Known Nitrate Content.
Original Source: Hoards’s Dairyman August 25, 1970.

Some laboratories report nitrate analysis as percent or PPM (parts per million) of KNO3 or NO3-N. To use the above explanation tables, multiply % or PPM of KNO3 by 0.61, or the % or PPM of NO3-N by 4.4 to get the comparable % or PPM of NO3.

%NO3 on 100 % DM Basis Comment
Less than 0.44% (4400 PPM) Safe
0.44 to 0.88% (4400 to 8800 PPM) Generally safe when fed balanced rations. Best to limit it to half of the total dry ration for pregnant animals and also be sure water is low in nitrate.
0.88 to 1.5% (8800 to 15,000 PPM) Limit amount to less than half of total dry ration. Be sure ration is well fortified with energy, minerals and vitamin A.
Over 1.5 % (15,000 PPM) Potentially toxic—do not feed.

CUDS Update – WSU Cooperative University Dairy Students

The cooperative University Dairy Students are going strong with 13 new and continuing members. The herd continues to improve its productivity, reproductive performance and milk quality. They averaged between 87 to 90 lbs/d all summer and maintained over a fat test of over 3.6 and protein over 3.1. The SCC is routinely under 100,000.

Their attention to reproduction has been so diligent that they are now milking 12 fourth and fifth lactation cows out of a herd of 40! The pregnancy rate is consistently over 20%. They have one 90+ excellent Holstein, one 86 VG heifer and several animals classified over 85.

Current members are: Marcy Bartelheimer, Emily Beebe, Joe Britt, Chandler Byington (President), Parker Byington, Jennifer Callanan, Megan Chihak, Teresa Erwin, Kevin Gavin, Landon Macy, Dana McCurdy, Grace Montgomery, Maite Muse, Meghan Nyquist, Shane Reed, Conrad Reisenhauer, Lindsey Richmond, Kelby Stadt, Stephanie Van Volkenburg, Mark Vetter, Gavin Voelkers, and Kristen Wedam. The CUDS faculty advisor is John McNamara.

The undergraduate dairy program at WSU is going strong!

No Longer on the Horns of a Dilemma

Dairy producers know dehorning or disbudding of dairy cattle is a long-established best practice that benefits human and animal safety and welfare. With a growing research base supporting the need for and effectiveness of pain control during these routine practices, progressive producers are wondering if and how they should change their horn removal protocols.

Destroying horn buds by either caustic paste, burning, or gouging have long been the primary means of disbudding calves. Within the past decade, many studies have shown the use of local anesthetic and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are inexpensive and effective ways to control disbudding-related pain in calves. The use of a sedative has the added benefit of reducing the stress calves experience when handled for disbudding.

Day-old calves are not yet very active and usually unable to scratch their head with a hind foot. They are also often placed in single-calf housing. Both these factors help make disbudding with caustic paste on Day 1 of life safer because risk to non-target tissues of the calf or other animals is minimal.

A protocol to consider, developed after a discussion with beef and dairy veterinarians:

  1. Make sure the day-old calf has a good meal before starting. Your veterinarian may recommend adding a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to the bottle.
  2. Sedate the calf (ask veterinarian about medication and dosage).
  3. Block nerves with local anesthetic (again, consult veterinarian). Allow adequate time to pass before completing procedure.
  4. Clip hair around horn bud. A very close clip with clippers will allow use of less paste or burning time and less unnecessary tissue death will occur.
  5. If disbudding via gouging, switch to caustic paste or burning because these methods have fewer complications.
  6. If disbudding via burning, burn until a ring of tissue around the bud base has turned a uniform copper color; burn the bud itself as well.
  7. If using caustic paste, create an outer ring of petroleum jelly to confine paste to horn bud area. Use a designated syringe to apply a thin dime-sized amount of paste to the entire horn bud and base if hair has been clipped close; a thicker and larger area of paste may be needed if hair has not been clipped close. Scratch the horn bud and its base with the tip of the syringe to roughen up the targeted tissue a bit.
  8. Administer anti-inflammatory if not done before the procedure.

If caustic paste is used, some veterinarians recommend wiping it off with gauze after 1 hour, others say after 24 hours. The paste should have done its work after just a few hours and removal will reduce the risk of damage to non-target tissue. Also, if calves nurse from dams instead of a bottle, do the procedure after the evening meal and separate the cow and calf; remove paste before returning the calf to its mother.

Consult with your veterinarian for more information about medications that can reduce calfhood stress and pain related to disbudding, including medication names, dosages, routes of administration, and any withdrawal times.

A few added suggestions:

  • Protect calf from precipitation after paste application so paste doesn’t run down into eyes
  • Cover paste with duct tape if calves are in groups or if there is anything they could rub paste on and contact with another part of their body
  • Always use gloves when using caustic paste and avoid contact with human skin and non-target animal tissues; wash off promptly if paste contacts non-target tissue.
  • If inexperienced about disbudding, learn from someone who is experienced and effective
  • If disbudding with cautery, the key to success is to keep the iron HOT, HOT, HOT.

Try to prioritize disbudding at an early age by making it a routine part of neonatal calf processing. Disbudding calves at 1 to 2 days of age gets this important task accomplished and out of the way so calves can get on with the business of eating, growing, and staying healthy.

A bi-lingual publication that describes another disbudding protocol is available from Oregon State University Extension.

Whatcom County Dairy Education Opportunities

If you have free time between 2:00 and 3:00 pm on November 15 and will be in the Lynden area, drop in at the Fairway Café for a no-host pie, coffee, and chat session with other producers and regional Extension Specialist Susan Kerr. No reservation needed. Among other things, we’ll set the date for future such gatherings.

  • November 16, 2015 Meet, Greet and Eat, Fairway Café, Lynden, 2:00 PM
  • January 20, 2016 Dairy Producer College, Lynden, Mt. Baker Rotary Building

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Managing Cold Stress in Calves

Now that we made it through one of our hottest summers on record, it’s time for us to turn our attention towards the cold weather that lies ahead. The average mortality rate of heifer calves is approximately 8% on dairies in the United States. Of course, higher incidences of calf morbidity and mortality occur during cold weather conditions when calves expend additional energy to regulate their body temperature, which leads to less energy available for health and growth functions. Take a look at the following tips on calf management during cold weather and consider them as you prepare for the upcoming winter.

What you need to know about cold stress in dairy calves:

  1. Calf Jackets

    Using calf jackets or blankets during a calf’s first two weeks of life increases the calf’s insulation by 52% and may increase average daily gain by up to 0.2 lbs./day.

  2. Thermoneutral Zone

    A calf’s thermoneutral zone is the range of environmental temperatures in which a calf does not need to use additional energy to maintain its body temperature. The thermoneutral zone is 50 – 78 °F for calves less than one month old and 32 – 78 °F for calves more than one month old.

  3. Nesting Scores

    Calf lying in hutch. A thick bed of straw completely covers the anima's legs.
    Nesting score 3; calf’s legs are completely covered with bedding.
    To conserve body heat, calves will burrow their bodies into their bedding (nesting behavior). The ability for calves to exhibit this behavior is scored according to a three-point scale. A nesting score of one means that the calf’s legs are completely visible when the calf lies down; whereas a score of two implies that the calf’s legs are partially visible. Ideally, each calf should receive a score of three so that the calf’s legs are completely covered with bedding.
  4. Water Intake

    Calves need access to at least one to two gallons of clean water every day and offering warm water at least twice a day during cold weather may help calves maintain their internal body temperatures. Restricted water access may decrease weight gain by 38%.

  5. Milk Feedings

    Increasing the number of milk feedings to three times per day or increasing the amount of milk offered by 30% will help ensure that calves have the energy they need when they need it.

  6. Fat Supplementation

    Adding supplemental fat to calf diets during cold weather conditions have been linked to increases in calf growth during the first three weeks of life.

  7. Housing

    Calves need to be sheltered from wet and windy conditions, but adequate airflow is still necessary to minimize ammonia build-up. Ammonia concentrations should be less than 10 ppm (parts per million).

  8. Physiology

    Winter calves have respiration rates and heart rates higher (8.8% and 4.4%, respectively) than calves born in the summer.

  9. Behavior

    Lying behavior decreases by up to 37% when calves are provided wet bedding versus dry bedding. This information encourages us to keep the bedding deep and dry.

  10. Hypothermia

    Shivering and blood shunting (diverting blood flow from the calf’s extremities) are two mechanisms a calf’s body uses to increase muscle heat production and reduce heat loss during cold weather. Early signs of blood shunting in a calf include a cold nose and cold hooves.

July 2015 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Best to be Ready for an Early Corn Silage Harvest This Year

There is no question that this year has been warmer than normal for a majority of locations within the Pacific Northwest. As a result of the increased mean daily temperatures, we are also seeing a rapid increase in the amount of accumulated heat (growing degree day units – GDUs) required for corn maturation. It is only July, but it is time to be thinking about corn silage harvest. Since 2015 has proved to be one of the hottest years on record, temperatures from Snohomish, Lynden, and Sunnyside were assessed to determine the rate of GDU accumulation for 2015 compared to a “historical” period of 2008-2014.

We utilized data what we called historical data for the time period of 2008 to 20014, and compared that to data through July 9th of 2015. The data shown in figures 1, 2, and 3 show that the accumulative GDU by July 9 of this year was at 163%, 165%, and 157% of the 2008 to 2014 average for Snohomish, Lynden, and Sunnyside, respectively.

Corn silage should be harvested according to stage of maturity as judged by milk line development and moisture content of the plants. Getting out in the field early and monitoring the stage of maturity of corn silage will be important to ensure that harvesting is done at the correct time. Walk out in the field and look at a few ears to see what the maturity is now. Get your harvest equipment ready or be in touch with your custom harvester to make sure they are prepared for an earlier harvest.