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Washington State University Dairy News

December 2021 Dairy Newsletter

Letter from the Editor

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

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

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

Amber Adams Progar, Associate Professor and Dairy Management Specialist

Cooperative University Dairy Students enjoying the 2021 Washington Dairy Conference

A Note from the Animal Sciences Chair

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

Gordon K. Murdoch, Professor & Chair WSU Animal Sciences


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


What’s New in Dairy Science Research?

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

Is Pasture or Confinement-Based Management Better for Welfare?

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

Does Mastitis Cause Reduced Fertility?

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

Can Drinking Behavior Alert you to Heat Stress?

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

  1. Distress and immunosuppression

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

  1. Mastitis cases associated with flooding events

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

  1. Lameness cases associated with flooding events

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

  1. Relationship between wildfires and milk quality

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

  1. Milk production affected by wildfires

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

  1. Feed intake and feed efficiency during hot weather

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

  1. Winter housing and mastitis cases

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

  1. Use of outdoor pack during summer and winter

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

  1. Lying behavior and milk yield

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

  1. Hot weather and competition

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

Amber Adams Progar, Dairy Management Specialist

September 2021 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Welcome to the September 2021 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Author: Dr. Amber Adams Progar, Dairy Management Specialist in Animal Sciences, WSU

I hope your excitement for this newsletter matches the excitement WSU faculty, staff, students, and fans have for the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year! Although the environment around us is constantly changing because of the pandemic, the WSU Department of Animal Sciences continues to meet the needs of our students the animal science industry, and the public through our teaching, research, and Extension efforts. This issue of our newsletter also marks the transfer of the editorial baton.

It is with much honor that I accept the role of editor for this newsletter. I commend and thank Dr. Joe Harrison for his editorial oversight of our WSU Dairy Newsletter over the years. His leadership was vital to the redesign and revival of this newsletter. Thank you, Joe!

Farmers for the future!

Author: Dr. Gordon Murdoch, Chair of Animal Sciences Department, WSU

It is with tremendous optimism with respect to farming and ranching and its future, that I draft this brief article without hesitancy, at the invitation of Dr. Adams-Progar. My unbridled optimism may seem crazy given the pressures our regional dairies are faced with; rising feed costs, increasing labor costs, environmental and legislative requirements, drought, heat waves and cold snaps. However, my optimism is derived from my confidence in the ingenuity, creativeness, resiliency and stewardship that has always resided in our farm communities. “Where there is a will, there is a way”-author unknown, and the will to do things effectively, sustainably and to the highest standards has always resided in our livestock producers. Were I a betting man, I would wager on the long-term success of our farms and dairies and I dare say not in spite of the challenges but perhaps even because of the challenges. Obstacles do not prevent farmers from being successful they force farmers to find the way to be successful, a task they have endured since livestock were domesticated.

I am proud to serve the dairy industry in my capacity as Chair of the Animal Sciences department at the great land-grant, Washington State University. This is where through research, education and Extension the Animal Sciences department at WSU has the privilege to work hand in hand with dairy producers to hypothesize, research and evaluate solutions to address all of the challenges that face our dairy industry. We do not forget past challenges, and experiences, but rather capitalize upon them to attain sustainability through progressive solutions. It would be exceedingly more challenging to envision a successful and sustainable future in our dairy industry were it not true that our dairies produce one of the highest-quality, safe, and nutritious agricultural products for human consumption. Our cows are indeed the stars of the show, with genetics and productivity traits enhanced consistently year after year over the last century; they will continue to produce the milk, milk components and by-products that are unmatched. The advent of modern tools including genetic, nutritional, robotic and computational will provide never previously attainable strategies that will secure the sustainability of our dairies.

There is another invaluable resource that WSU animal sciences gets to work with every day, and that is our energetic youth that commit their educational future to us. They are the future, they are the source of the solutions and they are the stewards of the future animal and land-based resources. WSU Animal Sciences remain committed to our mission to train them effectively, to expose them to the essentials pertaining to nutrition, health, reproduction, physiology, care, selection and improvement so that they can build upon the industry successes of the past and present and create the sustainable dairy of the future.

So, pour yourself a tall glass of milk, buckle up, pay attention and be amazed by the progress and solutions that the dairy industry, WSU and our graduating animal sciences students have instore for the future!


Welcome Dr. Marcos Marcondes!

After pandemic-related delays, Marcos Marcondes finally arrived in Pullman in January 2021 from Brazil as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Sciences. He joins the department’s Ruminant Nutrition Team, specializing in dairy cattle management and nutrition. Marcos began his education in animal sciences in 2001, earning a B.S. from the Federal University of Viçosa in Brazil in 2005. He then earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in animal science from the same university in 2007 and 2010, respectively. After completing his formal education, Marcos joined the Department of Animal Science faculty at the same institution as an assistant professor and was promoted to associate professor in 2018. He built a solid and collaborative dairy science research team that included undergraduate and graduate students, technicians, and other faculty. His team integrated fundamental and applied research techniques with biotechnology, genetics, food sciences, microbiology, and economics to advance dairy science, resulting in nine funded federal grants and more than 140 peer-reviewed publications.

In addition to leading a strong research program, Marcos taught ten different undergraduate and graduate courses, including dairy production courses that focused on managing small and large dairy herds. Recently, Marcos took a sabbatical and served as a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Florida. While there, he integrated his background in ruminant nutrition with dairy economics, learning and implementing modeling tools to evaluate the economic impacts of management decisions on commercial dairy production.

Marcos is excited to be in Pullman! His research program will focus on feed evaluation, dairy calf and heifer nutrition and development, nutrient requirements for optimal mammary gland development, use of beef semen in dairy herds to increase the value of male offspring, and incorporation of alternative feedstuffs and byproduct feeds in dairy cattle diets to reduce feed costs. He is thrilled that the department has a RUSITEC (rumen simulation technique), a semi-continuous in vitro culture method that simulates ruminal fermentation that he can use for the initial evaluation of feedstuff digestibility. He believes that the Department of Animal Science has all the necessary tools to run studies that could lead to creative solutions to the Dairy industry. Marcos is focused on talking to producers, understanding their most current needs, and developing scientific solutions. While working at the Federal University of Viçosa, Marcos participated in extension projects where he had direct contact with more than 100 dairies and mentored students on consulting farms. As the consulting focused on general management of the farms (including nutrition, reproduction, health, and management), he could understand the wide variability within dairy farms and develop solutions for those problems. In this way, Marcos also focused his research on building solutions for dairy farmers. Now, Marcos is excited to outreach and see what the Pacific NorthWest can offer in terms of solutions and challenges to the dairy industry and how he can use his research to solve those problems.


What’s New in Dairy Research?

Author: Callan Lichtenwalter, Ph.D. student in Animal Sciences, WSU

Hi, my name is Callan Lichtenwalter and I am a Ph.D. student in the Animal Science department at WSU.  I am doing research on how pest birds impact dairy behavior and welfare and effective solutions to deter pest birds from dairies.  For each newsletter I will be choosing four recent articles from dairy science to highlight.  I hope you enjoy reading about them!

Beef sires and calf growth. Have you considered using beef sires to increase calf growth for meat production?  A 2020 study out of New Zealand (Martin et al., 2020) investigated whether Estimated Breeding Value (EBV) of sires with at least five progeny could be used to estimate increased growth in calves.  1171 mixed-breed dairy cows were bred with Angus or Hereford bulls, and calf growth was measured from 131 to 800 days.  The sire of a calf greatly impacted calf growth.  The weight differences between calves of the lightest and heaviest sires was 42lb at 131 days and 90 198 at 800 days, and EBV-based predicted weights fit closely with actual live weights.

IgG concentrations in colostrum. Proper absorption of quality colostrum is vital for the health and longevity of a calf because they are born with immature immune systems.  Marseglia and colleagues (2020) collected colostrum and serum samples from 60 cow-calf pairs to measure any potential differences in colostrum quality and absorption.  Cow breed did not impact the concentration of IgG in colostrum, but parity did.  First-parity cows had lower IgG concentrations (75.4 g/L) in their colostrum than older cows (four or more parities; 106.5 g/L).  The greatest number of failed colostrum IgG transfers occurred when feed colostrum from first- and fifth+-parity cows, and the authors speculate that this is due to lower colostrum production in these groups.

Hot weather and mastitis. Heat waves are becoming increasingly common and cause concern for farm-animal health and welfare.  In their 2020 study, Vitali and others investigated how hot weather correlated with the incidence rates of mastitis cases in dairy cows.  Accumulated heat load (AHL; excess heat the body can’t rid itself of) as a measure of heat load index over time (HLI; ambient temperature, relative humidity, solar radiation, and wind speed) the researchers found that the incidence of mastitis and Staph. aureus cases increased as AHL increased.  As milk yield, parity, and days in milk increased, incidences of mastitis when AHL was high also increased.  Further study is needed to understand the threshold AHL at which mastitis incidence rate begins to increase.

Male calf health and sales. Male calves that are to be sent to beef and veal operations often arrive at auction in subprime conditions and will sell for very little, if they sell at all.  To understand this relationship, a study out of Canada by Wilson and colleagues (2020) examined calf health and weight at auction and compared this to the price at which the calf was sold.  Of the 355 calves they examined, 20% had at least one health concern, of which the most common were navel disease and ocular/nasal discharge.  Calf weights ranged from 60 lbs. to 181 lbs. with an average of 104 lbs.  The highest priced calf sold for 370 Canadian dollars, while 10.5% calves sold for less than CAN$10, and almost 3% of calves did not sell at all.  Calves that had depressed attitudes or appeared unwell sold for the least amount.


Marseglia, A., R. Pitino, C. Bresciani, A. Quarantelli, and F. Righi. 2020. Measurement of transfer of colostral passive immunity in dairy calves. Acta Fytotech. Zootech. 23:190-196.

Martin, N., N. Schreurs, S. Morris, N. Lopez-Villalobos, J. McDade, and R. Hickson. 2020. Sire effects on post-weaning growth of beef-cross-dairy cattle: A case study in New Zealand. Anim. 10(2313):1-11.

Napolitano, F., A. Bragaglio, E. Sabia, F. Serrapica, A. Braghieri, and G. De Rosa. 2020. The human-animal relationship in dairy animals. J. Dairy. Res. 87(S1):47-52.

Vitali, A., A. Felici, A. M. Lees, G. Giacinti, C. Maresca, U. Bernabucci, J.B. Gaughan, A. Nardone, and N. Lacetera. 2020. J. Dairy Sci. 103(9):8378-8387.

Wilson, D.J., J. Stojkov, D. L. Renaud, and D. Fraser. 2020. Short communication: Condition of male dairy calves at auction markets. J. Dairy Sci. 103(9):8530-8534.


New Study: Utilizing Genomic Selection as a Risk Management Tool

Authors: Allison Herrick, Ph.D. student in Animal Sciences, WSU

Dr. Holly Neibergs, Professor in Animal Sciences, WSU

The Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (WSARE) program is a competitive research and education program that covers the western United States. Investigators at Washington State University (Holly Neibergs, Shannon Neibergs and Amber Adams-Progar) and the University of Idaho (Joseph Dalton) recently received funding from WSARE to determine if the use of genomic selection improves  the selection of replacement heifers as measured by their first lactation performance and their profitability. The study is being conducted at four Washington and two Idaho dairies, with each dairy providing information and samples on about 200 heifers. The study focuses on the dairy industry because it plays key economic and social roles throughout Washington and Idaho. As dairies have experienced significant financial challenges in recent years, it is imperative to reduce costs and financial risks to achieve the returns needed for producers to support themselves and their families. Genomic selection utilizes genotyping of cattle, which provides an opportunity to raise higher quality replacements, reduce the total number of replacements needed to maintain herd size, and identify the best animals to be used to produce optimal offspring for the next generation. Genotyping is the technology of sampling cattle DNA and using that information to predict how that animal will perform as a lactating adult. By examining the costs surrounding taking and processing the samples and then implementing the results, the cost-effectiveness of the process and the overall benefit for producers will be determined.

The words “genomic selection” or “genomics” have become more commonly mentioned within recent years in the dairy industry. However, many people do not fully understand what this technology does or what it has the potential to provide for them. The education portion of the study facilitates discussion of the opportunities genomic selection can provide. Producer and veterinarian education workshops will be held in Washington and Idaho where attendees can try their hand using genomic selection and selection based on relative or pedigree information to pick the most profitable heifers. Students at WSU will also compare selection strategies using these data. Examples from this project will be used in classes to help them better understand how genomics can increase the accuracy of estimating heifer performance while  reducing financial risk.

The 1200 heifers sampled in the study will be followed through their first lactation and comparisons will be made between their actual production and their predicted performance using the two different approaches. The reduction of financial risk will be measured by comparing the profitability of heifers chosen as replacements  using pedigree information to heifers chosen as replacements  using genomic information. If the use of genomic selection improves the accuracy of choosing heifers that will be profitable in the milking parlor, then genomic selection can be used as a tool to reduce financial risk for dairies. The selection of better heifers will also benefit the dairies in the long-run, as their calves will also carry the genetics to be more profitable leading to increased profitability and sustainability in the future.


Beef semen: A summary of its use on dairy cows

Authors: Jessica Pereira, PhD student in Animal Sciences, WSU

Dr. Marcos I. Marcondes, Assistant Professor in Animal Sciences, WSU

Dr. Fernanda Carolina Ferreira, UCCE Herd Health & Management Economist Specialist, UC Davis

The use of beef semen on dairy cows is increasing in the last years mainly due to the high premium price paid for dairy-beef crossbreds. This strategy is not new, and factors such as: (1) better reproductive performance; (2) high use of sexed semen; (3) milk price variation; (4) low surplus heifers’ price; (5) low dairy male and heifer prices; (6) high cost to raise heifers; and (7) high one-day-old dairy-beef crossbred price, are driving dairy farmers to adopt the use of beef semen on dairy cows.

The use of beef on dairies in Western – US DHIA herds, represented 0.3% of all breedings in 2015, and in 2019, the percentage increased to more than 26% of all breedings (Figure 1). Data from the National Association of Animal Breeders reported an increase in beef semen sales with 4.7 million doses (Angus, Simmental, Limousin, and others) from 2017 to 2020, and a decrease to 4.8 million doses from the sale of dairy semen sales (Holstein, Jersey, Red Holstein, Brow Swiss, and others). Likewise, the heifer calves and bull calves price experienced a reduction from $250 to less than $50 for heifers and from $200 to $15 for bulls from 2015 to 2021, a decline of 80% and 97%, respectively.

Results from a beef semen survey mailed in California (2020), reported that most dairy producers are using beef semen in third and older lactating dairy cows and on their third and higher breedings. Angus semen was the most used, and the Angus-dairy day-old calves had the greatest variation in their market price, from less than $50 to more than $250. Therefore, the beef semen fertility, calf management after birth (providing high-quality colostrum, in a few hours of life, with a good volume and evaluating navel disinfection), and a contract with calf ranch/feedlots, may be important factors to keep the premium price paid for dairy-beef crossbred calves. Also, beef semen use is an opportunity tool to control heifer inventory, improve genetic gain, increase the use of sexed semen in genetically superior heifers and use of beef semen use in repeated breeders and cows genetically inferior. This is especially important in a scenario with low milk and heifer prices. Furthermore, controlling heifer inventory reduces the environmental footprint of dairy production, reducing methane emissions.

There are many strategies that dairy producers can combine to use beef semen to maximize their profits.  Good records (which include mortality, longevity, reproductive performance, heifer raising costs, and the number of replacement heifers) and understanding the market price for surplus heifers, heifers calves, bull calves, and dairy-beef crossbred calves are crucial to make the best decisions for your farm.

Figure 1.  Percentage of beef, conventional dairy and sexed dairy semen used in Holstein dairy herds in Western – US, from 2015 to 2019 (CA, WA, OR, ID and NM).


WSU Dairy Club: Udderly Excited for a New Year and new opportunities!

Author: Kaitlyn Wright, WSU Dairy Club President 

The WSU Dairy Club is a student-run organization that aims to expand the knowledge of the dairy industry and its contribution to the human health and agricultural world. We believe that teaching individuals from any background issues and topics pertaining to the dairy industry generates future scientists, workforce and creates a positive image that can be brought to the community. The members of our club develop a better understanding of the industry through workshops, guest lectures, field trips, and hands-on experiences. Workshops include many things such as discussing marketing strategies, developing a resume and job application profile, working directly with calves and mature cows to provide more animal experience to our students. Members can learn various topics, from reproduction, genetics, health, husbandry to nutrition, to cow-calf care, and milk processing. Members also have the opportunity to develop leadership skills in things such as running for officer positions or planning and leading events. The objective for this year is to reactivate and make a positive contribution to the industry and club through fundraisers, and attending seminars and conferences. These conferences include the Washington Dairy Conference to inform local dairymen/women, business owners, veterinarians, and industry representatives of our club and our activities. The Dairy Club has the honor of hosting annual events such as Cougar Youth Weekend, which allows children K-12 across the country to tour the WSU Dairy and participate in educational workshops, games, and even learning how to fit, show, and halter train calves. Other events such as Dairy Olympics allows for WSU students and the local community to get involved in similar activities and have fun playing games all while learning the positive impact and importance of the industry.

The Dairy Club hopes to see you soon at the 2021 Washington State Dairy Conference!


WSU Cooperative University Dairy Students (CUDS) Ready to Thrive in 2021-2022

Author: Dr. Amber Adams Progar, WSU CUDS Advisor

The 2021-2022 academic year is off to a great start for the WSU CUDS Program. Besides managing the herd, the 13-member co-op is currently focused on scheduling field trips, guest speakers, and team-building events. Recruitment for the next cohort of members has also begun. Applications for CUDS opened on September 13th and will close on October 29th. As part of the recruitment process, CUDS members shared their experiences with fellow students at the WSU Animal Sciences Welcome Back BBQ and the WSU CAHNRS Fall Festival. The group looks forward to all the opportunities Fall 2021 will offer and is excited to welcome new members in January 2022.

June 2021 WSU Dairy Newsletter

It has Been a Great Ride, Please Stay in Touch

Man crouches near calves in a barn. Feed rail in background.

Today is my last day with WSU before I begin my emeritus (retired status) with WSU. I plan to continue to be a resource upon request to the dairy industry, serve on a graduate guidance committee, and stay involved with the National Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community.

It has been a great ride. I have enjoyed the challenge of a very progressive dairy industry in Washington State with dairy producers that have always been at the forefront of innovation and adoption of new management approaches and technologies.

What has been the most important to me has been the relationships that I developed with dairy producers and allied agriculture industry, and WSU staff, colleagues, graduate students, undergraduate students.

June 1, 1984, 37 years ago I started as an assistant professor with the department of Animal Sciences and located at the Western Washington Research and Extension Center, same place as WSU-Puyallup Research and Extension Center, just a different name.

My position began as a 100 % research appointment, and morphed to a partial extension appointment until ~ 2000 when I officially began a 50:50 research:extension appointment as a livestock nutrient management specialist. In 2017 a teaching responsibility was added with the assignment for being Cooperative University Dairy Students (CUDS) faculty advisor.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out with a question.

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Calves and Heat Stress

Cows line up under shade structures.

Record-breaking hot weather is here. We know that heat stress causes decreases in feed intake, milk production, and reproduction in cows, but how does this hot weather affect your calves? My research team completed a study that aimed to help answer that very question.

We are reminded every day that our calves are the future of our dairy and we do everything we can to ensure they are healthy, especially when environmental conditions pose a challenge to calf well-being. Below are some interesting facts about calves and heat stress. It is a compilation of information from our study (Young et al., 2020), as well as others in this field of science:

  1. Temperature-humidity Index (THI)

    As a reminder, THI is commonly used to gauge the severity of heat stress dairy cows experience under specific environmental conditions (ambient temperature and relative humidity). THI ≥ 68 is categorized as heat stress (Collier et al., 2009). It is important to note that THI guidelines are currently unavailable for calves. If you are interested in calculating the THI on your farm, the equation is pretty simple:

    THI = ambient temperature – [0.55 – (0.55 × relative humidity/100)] × (ambient temperature – 58.8)

    Ambient temperature is recorded in Fahrenheit and relative humidity is recorded as a percentage.

  2. Temperatures within Calf Housing

    We compared the THI inside standard calf hutches placed outdoors against calf stalls located in a three-sided barn during the summer months. During the hottest hours of the day (12 PM – 5 PM), the THI was 74 inside the hutches and 73 within the stalls. Meanwhile, the THI in the ambient environment during the hottest hours was 84 (Young et al., 2020).

  3. Calf Body Temperatures

    Calves housed in hutches during our study had higher body temperatures than calves housed in stalls, with the highest temperature recorded as 104°F. These temperatures were recorded by attaching a temperature-recording device to the underside of each calf’s tail (Young et al., 2020).

  4. Upper Critical Temperatures for Calves

    Newborn calves experience heat stress when environmental temperatures exceed 79°F and one-month-old calves experience heat stress at temperatures above 73°F (Wathes et al., 1983).

  5. Serum Cortisol Concentrations

    When we experience stress, our cortisol concentrations increase. This is also true for calves. Average cortisol concentrations were 17% higher in calves housed in hutches than calves housed in stalls during our study; however, cortisol concentrations were highly variable (Young et al., 2020). This is a good reminder that each calf has a different tolerance level for hot weather, so we need to watch all calves closely.

  6. Shade for Calf Hutches

    Providing a sun shade net over calf hutches during hot weather (101.8°F max temperature) decreased temperatures within the hutches from to 110.7°F to 99.5°F (Kovács et al., 2019).

  7. Salivary Cortisol Concentrations

    Calves housed in non-shaded hutches had salivary cortisol concentrations 47% higher than calves housed in shaded hutches (Kovács et al., 2019).

  8. Calf Hutch Ventilation

    When comparing four different types of hutches during a summer in Texas, one study reported that raising the back of a hutch by 6 inches caused a 4% decrease in THI within the hutch (Reuscher et al., 2019).

  9. Fans to Improve Air Flow

    Installing fans over shaded group pens increased air flow by 94%. Calves housed in pens with fans consumed up to 19% more milk replacer and concentrate, on a dry matter basis, than calves housed in pens without fans (Dado-Senn et al., 2020).

  10. Temperature during Calving and Calf Growth

    Calves born when THI > 75 had pre-weaning gains that were 13% lower than gains in calves born when THI < 70 (López et al., 2018).

I hope this information is helpful as we enter an alarmingly hot summer. Please remember to keep a mindful eye on your cows, employees, and yourself. Stay well!

Waste to Worth 2022—National Conference Hosted by the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community

USA outline wrapped in recycling arrows. "Waste to Worth 2022"You are invited to participate in the 2022 Waste to Worth Conference (W2W2022) and to consider presenting on a topic that is important to sustainability in animal agriculture.

W2W2022 welcomes oral, poster, panel, and workshop presentation proposals focused on applied solutions related to animal manure management and protecting the environment. Graduate students are encouraged to submit and participate in a poster presentation competition.

To submit and abstract click on Submit an Abstract.

March 2021 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Dairy Safety Network Available: Let’s Talk Safety

Screenshot of Dairy Safety Network webpage header

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

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

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

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

Forage Management and Growing Alternative Fodders on Small Acreage

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

December 2020 WSU Dairy Newsletter

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

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

Session Topics included:

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

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

Value of Dairy Manure Highlighted in Case Study Videos

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

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

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

Use of dairy compost on Eastern Washington Vegetable and Fruit Crops

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

Washington State Gains a New Dairy Fanatic

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

Baby wearing Cheesehead shirt

June 2020 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Cooperative University Dairy Students Adapt to Challenge of COVID

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


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

Shift caps

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

Work parties

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

Learning opportunities

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

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

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

  1. Dry matter intake.

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

  2. Immune system cytokines.

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

  3. Mucosal defense system.

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

  4. In utero heat stress and calf immunity.

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

  5. In utero heat stress and calf growth.

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

  6. In utero heat stress and calf health.

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

  7. In utero heat stress and calf IgG absorption.

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

  8. In utero heat stress affects calf future performance.

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

  9. Feed supplements and cow performance.

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

  10. Feed supplements and calf health.

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

For list of references, please contact Amber

April 2020 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Farmer well-being

As I sat down to choose a topic for this article, I couldn’t stop thinking about the difficult times we are currently facing as a society. COVID-19 is affecting all our lives. It pangs me to watch milk being dumped down the drain, while many school-aged children won’t receive milk with their lunch (if they receive a lunch) today because of school closures. It is during times like this that we are pushed to the limits and our well-being is threatened. This is why today’s article will focus on the people that make the dairy industry thrive, YOU. My hope is that the information below will help you realize that you are not alone, your well-being matters, and tools are available to help you improve your well-being.

  1. Prevalence of stress among dairy farmers.

    A survey of 265 Finnish dairy farmers revealed that 42% of the farmers were stressed and 9% of them experienced severe burnout (Kallioniemi et al., 2016).

  2. Prevalence of anxiety and depression among dairy farmers.

    Out of 170 Midwestern U.S. dairy farmers surveyed, 71% of them met the criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and 53% of them met the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder. Personal finances and time pressures were listed as the greatest concerns (Rudolphi et al., 2020).

  3. Farmer well-being influences animal well-being.

    Over 900 Norwegian dairy farmers participated in a study in which farmer well-being was compared to animal well-being. Farmers with lower levels of stress and better well-being had animals with better well-being (cow health, longevity, fertility, etc.; Hansen and Østerås, 2019).

  4. Farming pressures.

    In Wales, 582 dairy and beef cattle farmers identified the top five farming pressures as: finances; weather; tuberculosis; paperwork; and farm management. Farmers who identified finances as the key pressure were more likely to have a lower well-being (Crimes and Enticott, 2019).

  5. Importance of social support.

    Among 121 Irish farmers, increases in financial and non-financial stress caused increases in farmer anxiety and depression. However, farmers with strong social support had less non-financial farm stress, as well as fewer cases of anxiety and depression (Furey et al., 2016).

  6. Coping with farming pressures.

    Thirty-two Canadian male farmers participated in intensive interviews, in which all farmers agreed that work breaks and vacations were crucial coping strategies. Time spent with family was listed as particularly powerful a coping strategy (Roy et al., 2017).

  7. Positive impacts on dairy farmer well-being.

    Finnish dairy farmers identified family, working with cattle, healthy farm animals, a reasonable workload, and a sustainable farm economy as factors that have a positive impact on dairy farmer well-being (Kallioniemi et al., 2018).

  8. Relationship between mental health and physical health.

    A survey of 79 Australian dairy farmers showed that farmers with higher levels of exhaustion and stress experienced lower levels of physical and mental health. On the other hand, farmers who practiced mindfulness had better physical and mental health than farmers who didn’t practice mindfulness (Eddy et al., 2019).

  9. Barriers to seeking help.

    A focus group of Australian farmers, farmers’ partners, and general practitioners emphasized that farming is more than just employment, it is a lifestyle. The focus group stated that seeking help requires time away from work, which is a key barrier. Finances may also present a barrier to seeking help (Vayro et al., 2020).

  10. Role of ag professionals.

    Ag professionals (veterinarians, farm consultants, etc.) have established relationships with dairy farmers. They play a key role in identifying, mitigating, and supporting farmers during difficult times (Stanley-Clarke, 2019).

Remember: you are not alone, your well-being matters, and tools are available to help you improve your well-being.


  • Crimes and Enticott. 2019. Assessing the social and psychological impacts of endemic animal disease amongst farmers. Front. Vet. Sci. 6:342.
  • Eddy et al. 2019. Trait mindfulness helps explain the relationships between job stress, physiological reactivity, and self-perceived health. J. Occup. Environ. Med. 61:e12-e18.
  • Furey et al. 2016. The roles of financial threat, social support, work stress, and mental distress in dairy farmers’ expectations of injury. Front. Public Health 4:126.
  • Hansen and Østerås. 2019. Farmer welfare and animal welfare- Exploring the relationship between farmer’s occupational well-being and stress, farm expansion and animal welfare. Prev. Vet. Med. 170: 104741.
  • Kallioniemi et al. 2016. Stress and burnout among Finnish dairy farmers. J. Agromedicine 21 (3): 259-268.
  • Kallioniemi et al. 2018. Job resources and work engagement among Finnish dairy farmers. J. Agromedicine 23:249-261.
  • Roy et al. 2017. “Do it all by myself”: a salutogenic approach of masculine health practice among farming men coping with stress. Am. J. Mens Health 11:1536-1546.
  • Rudolphi et al. 2020. Depression, anxiety and stress among young farmers and ranchers: a pilot study. Community Ment. Health J. 56:126–134.
  • Stanley-Clarke. 2019. The role of agricultural professionals in identifying, mitigating and supporting farming families during times of stress: findings of a qualitative study. Aust. J. Rural Health 27:203–209.
  • Vayro et al. 2020. ‘Farming is not just an occupation [but] a whole lifestyle’: a qualitative examination of lifestyle and cultural factors affecting mental health help-seeking in Australian farmers. Sociol. Rural. 60:151-173.

December 2019 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Donations to CUDS Program Leads to Memorable Field Trip

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

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

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

LEADS Graduates Ready to Teach Safety

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

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

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

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

September 2019 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Cows, Greenhouse Gases, and Nature’s Carbon Cycle

There was an article published in the July 2019 issue of Hoard’s Dairyman entitled “Cattle are part of nature’s carbon cycle”. The title probably didn’t catch your eye, but the content presents a very different picture of the role that dairy cows (and beef cattle) have in regard to greenhouse gases and climate change.

A few excerpts from the paper are:

“…we have seen the media place blame for our changing climate on cattle. For dairy cows in the U.S., this claim cannot be supported by science…”

“Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that along with carbon dioxide nitrous oxide, and some other compounds in the atmosphere create a blanket around our planet.”

“Without this atmospheric blanket, the earth would be too cold for us to survive.”

“The current problem is that concentrations of these gases are rising, which is thickening the blanket. This leads to an elevation in global temperatures and related climate changes.”

“The methane that cows produce is part of a natural carbon cycle that has been happening since the beginning of life on our planet.”

As shown in the figure below, CO2 is fixed via photosynthesis into plant carbohydrates. The plant carbohydrates are fed to animals where some of the plant carbohydrates get converted to methane and end up in the atmosphere. In about a 12 year period of time most of the methane gets converted back to CO2, and the cycle continues.

Cycle of Carbon dioxide to Plant carbohydrates to Feed for cows to Methane

The step that is basically ignored is that methane is changed back to CO2 within a very short period of time compared to CO2 created by burning fossil fuels.

If you consider that we have less dairy cows now than 50 years ago, that cows are now more efficient, this then translates to less of an impact on atmospheric greenhouse gases today than in prior decades.

Does this mean we shouldn’t adopt practices that reduce methane emissions from cows and manure, certainly not. If new management practices and feeding strategies reduce methane emissions, and are profitable, their adoption should be considered.

Dairy can be part of the answer to atmospheric levels of CO2; let’s make sure that the message to the public is that dairy is a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Human-dairy Heifer Interactions

Two dairy calvesOne of the most common causes of employee injuries on dairies is cattle. These injuries are a result of human-dairy cattle interactions that went wrong. Providing dairy cattle handling training is the first step in preventing cattle-related injuries. While many different training formats are available, including videos and lectures, which training improves cattle learning? We often focus on providing the most effective training for employees that we forget that training cattle is also beneficial. Cattle are capable of learning during training. I collaborated with two veterinarians at the University of Pennsylvania (Dr. Michaela Kristula and Dr. Meggan Hain) and an expert handling trainer (Dr. Don Höglund) to conduct a study aimed at determining how weaned heifers respond to training. Our research was published last month in the Journal of Extension. Below are some highlights about what we learned:

  1. Heifers are more difficult to handle.

    Minnesota dairy producers reported in a 2014 survey that two of the most difficult groups of cattle to handle are postpartum heifers and calves (Sorge et al., 2014).

  2. Relationship between heifer walking and slipping behavior.

    We conducted a series of handling tests during our study, in which we herded the heifers from one end of their pen to the opposite end of their pen six consecutive times. Heifers that walked during handling were significantly less likely to slip. This is one reason it is important to move cattle slowly. (Adams Progar et al., 2019)

  3. Facing and approaching the handle.

    Heifers that faced the handler during the tests were more likely to approach the handler. If heifers face the handler, then they are not facing the direction of their destination. Approaching the handler is counterproductive to safely moving cattle, as we rely on an animal’s flight zone to move them safely. (Adams Progar et al., 2019)

  4. Facing and approaching the handler.

    It was interesting to note that when heifers faced the handler, they were significantly less likely to walk during handling. (Adams Progar et al., 2019)

  5. Repeat handling affects heifer walking behavior.

    We conducted handling tests over the course of two days so that all 36 heifers were handled on both days. While only 56% of heifers walked during tests on the first day, 75% of heifers walked during tests on the second day. Repeated handling of weaned heifers may help with their handling ease. (Adams Progar et al., 2019)

  6. Facing the handler behavior affected repeated handling.

    Throughout the first day of training, 44% of heifers faced the handler during tests; whereas, 31% of heifers faced the handler during tests on the second day. Once again, repeated handling of weaned heifers may be beneficial. (Adams Progar et al., 2019)

  7. Time of day affects heifer walking behavior.

    Over the course of both training days, all heifers were handled once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Fifty-four percent of heifers walked during the morning tests, and 78% of heifers walked during the afternoon tests. (Adams Progar et al., 2019).

  8. Fewer occurrences of slipping occurred in afternoon.

    Fourteen percent of heifers slipped during handling in the morning and 4% of heifers slipped during afternoon handling tests. Training heifers during the afternoon may be more effective than training during the morning. (Adams Progar et al., 2019).

  9. Type of handling training affects heifer walking behavior.

    Handlers who received the lecture only training had 34% of heifers walk during tests; however, handlers who received the hands-on workshop in addition to the lecture had 81% of heifers walk. (Adams Progar et al., 2019).

  10. Type of handling training affects the occurrences of slipping during handling.

    Handlers who received only the lecture training had 17% of heifers slip during handling, but handlers who received the hands-on workshop had 5% of heifers slip (Adams Progar et al., 2019).


  • Adams Progar et al. 2019. Dairy cattle handling Extension programs: training workers and cattle. Journal of Extension
  • Sorge et al. 2014. Perception of the importance of human–animal interactions on cattle flow and worker safety on Minnesota dairy farms. Journal of Dairy Science 97:4632–4638.

Do you know a dairy leader interested in a unique training program?

The Leaders Enabling Advanced Dairy Safety (LEADS) program will be offered beginning Fall 2019. LEADS is a train-the-trainer program focused on preventing the most common types of employee injuries caused by cattle on dairies. Participants will complete a 4-hour training that will teach them how to provide an effective cattle handling safety training and prevent cattle-related injuries on their dairies.

Registration will be limited. We are planning to host four training sessions throughout Washington State. More details will be released soon. If you would like more information about this training, please contact Amber Adams Progar at 509-335-0673 or

Coming Soon: LEADS. An animal handling safety training program for dairy leaders.

June 2019 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Cow Behavior and Automated Milking Systems

Interested in automated milking systems? These systems have a lot to offer, but they are not a solution for all dairies. Automated milking systems are an investment. Although several management decisions can determine whether an automated milking system succeeds, understanding cow behavior can also influence a system’s successfulness. Here are some thoughts on how cow behavior may affect the success of an automated milking system:

  1. Stress and milk yield

    When transitioning cows from a conventional system to an automated milking system, milk yield/cow can decrease by 45% during the first 24 hours of the transition, but milk yield should recover within 4 days. Changing a cow’s routine can cause a stress response that suppresses milk letdown. (Jacobs and Siegford, 2012)

  2. Stress-related behaviors during milking

    Vocalization and elimination behaviors occur more frequently when cows are stressed. Although these behaviors increase during milking when cows are transitioning to an automated milking system, vocalizations and eliminations decrease by 84% and 71% within the first 24 hours of the transition. (Jacobs and Siegford, 2012)

  3. Concentrate allocation in automated milking units

    Feeding cows 11 lbs/day versus 1.1 lbs/day of concentrate during milking does not appear to affect the number of voluntary visits to the milking unit. (Paddick et al., 2019)

  4. Automatic feed delivery and cow lying time

    Lying time is important for cows. They will sometimes alter their behavioral patterns by decreasing the amount of time they spend performing other behaviors to allow more time for lying. Feeding cows with an automated feed system 11 times/day versus 6 times/day did not affect the total daily lying time (average of 12 hours/day). (Mattachini et al., 2019)

  5. Use of an automatic herding system

    Engineers from Israel designed an automatic herding system that uses mobile fences to herd cows to the automatic milking unit. This herding system increased milking frequency by 45%, milk yield by 15%, and decreased labor time to fetch cows by 80%. (Drach et al., 2017).

  6. Ratio of cows to automatic milking units

    Milking frequency/cow per day is negatively related to the ratio of cows to automatic milking units. (King et al., 2016)

  7. Feed bunk activity

    With the ability to be milked on their own schedule, cows milked by automatic milking systems typically prefer to eat during the day, avoiding the late evening and early morning hours. It is important to note that environmental stressors, such as heat stress, can affect cow feeding behavior. (Wagner-Storch and Palmer, 2003)

  8. Concentrate content and milking visits

    When compared against a standard concentrate, a barley-oats concentrate fed during milking caused an increase in the number of cow visits to the automated milking unit and a decrease in the number of fetches. (Madsen et al., 2010)

  9. Waiting area

    With the use of control gates, the open waiting area in front of the automated milking unit should be large enough to decrease competition. Dominant cows spend an average of 13 minutes in the waiting area and subordinate cows spend an average of 20 minutes in the waiting area. (Melin et al., 2006)

  10. Automated milking unit exit area

    Cows exiting the automated milking unit require 54% more time to exit the unit if other cows are near the exit gate than if no cows are near the exit gate. (Jacobs et al., 2012)


  • Drach et al. 2017. Automatic herding reduces labour and increases milking frequency in robotic milking. Biosyst. Eng. 155:134-141.
  • Jacobs, J. A., and J. M. Siegford. 2012. Lactating dairy cows adapt quickly to being milked by an automatic milking system. J. Dairy Sci. 95:1575-1584.
  • Jacobs et al. 2012. Dairy cow behavior affects the availability of an automatic milking system. J Dairy Sci. 95:2186-2194.
  • King et al. 2016. Associations of herd-level housing, management, and lameness prevalence with productivity and cow behavior in herds with automated milking systems. J. Dairy Sci. 99:9069–9079.
  • Madsen et al. 2010. Concentrate composition for automatic milking systems-effect on milking frequency. Livest. Sci. 127:45-50.
  • Mattachini et al. 2019. Effects of feeding frequency on the lying behavior of dairy cows in a loose housing with automatic feeding and milking system. Animals 9(121).
  • Melin et al. 2006. Cow traffic in relation to social rank and motivation of cows in an automatic milking system with control gates and an open waiting area. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 96:201-214.
  • Paddick et al. 2019. Effect of the amount of concentrate offered in an automated milking system on dry matter intake, milk yield, milk composition, ruminal digestion, and behavior of primiparous Holstein cows fed isocaloric diets. J. Dairy Sci. 102:2173-2187.
  • Wagner-Storch, A. M. and R. W. Palmer. 2003. Feeding behavior, milking behavior, and milk visits of cows milked in a parlor versus an automatic milking system. J. Dairy Sci. 86:1494-1502.

Nitrate: Know Your Units of Measure

Is it nitrate or is it nitrate-nitrogen? Are the units in percent dry matter (% DM), parts per million (ppm), or milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg)?

Testing for nitrate is common practice by dairy farmers. Soil, crops and water may be tested. The nitrate content in soil is used to estimate the amount of nitrogen that will be available for crop growth. The nitrate content in both forage and drinking water are commonly used to monitor the amount of nitrate-N that cows might consume in order prevent nitrate toxicity.

Nitrate testing can seem straight forward and simple. However, the result might be expressed in different forms, leading to confusion. For instance, let’s start with soil. The recommended soil depth to obtain a sample is 1 foot, or in multiples of 1 foot. It is common for the test result to be reported as nitrate-N and expressed as mg/kg, ppm, or pounds per acre. Most fertilizer guides use nitrate-N as the unit of expression when interpreting soil analyses. What if a test result is expressed as nitrate (NO3) rather than nitrate-N (NO3-N)? If so, a conversion factor is needed.

Table 1. Conversion between nitrate (NO3) and nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N)
To convert To Multiply by
Nitrate (NO3) Nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) 0.22
Nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) Nitrate (NO3) 4.43

The reason for this conversion is that nitrate molecule weighs 62 grams per mole; the nitrogen content of nitrate is 22.5% of the total weight of the molecule. (Source: R. Smith and M. Cahn, July 30, 2012, retrieved from on June 5, 2019).

A value of 6.9 mg/kg of nitrate-N would be 6.9 × 4.43 = 30.6 mg/kg nitrate.

Let’s start with soil. For dairy forage crops, the recommended soil sampling depth is typically one foot. Most commonly, the test result is reported as nitrate-N and expressed as mg/kg. The lab may also convert the result to pounds per acre. Most fertilizer guides use nitrate-N as the unit of expression when interpreting soil analyses.

An example of conversion of soil test nitrate-N is shown below. This example is from a commercial soil test lab that used a conversion factor of 3.5 to convert mg/kg to lbs/acre. The conversion factor of 3.5 assumes that a one acre-foot sample of soil weighs 3.5 million pounds (3.5 lb per acre-foot = 1 ppm). A very common factor to use is 3.5.

Table 2. Concentration of Nitrate-N in Soil
Depth Nitrate-N (mg/kg) Nitrate
inches mg/kg lbs/acre mg/kg lbs/acre
0-12 6.9 24.26 30.6 107

Can a soil sample be taken at a depth of 0 – 6 inches and the results be translated to a depth of 0 – 12 inches or one foot — NO!

The attempt to use a 6 inch soil sample to represent a 1 foot sample will either over or underestimate the corresponding value for the 1 foot sample.

As an example of underestimating the amount of nitrate-N in one ft of soil with a six inch soil sample, if a sample were obtained from the first 6 inches in the fall after it had started raining, the nitrate in soil may have been pushed to the 7 – 12 inch depth and not accounted.

As an example of overestimating the amount of nitrate-N in one foot of soil with a six inch soil sample, if fertilizer had just recently been surface applied and had not been distributed within the top foot of soil, the nitrate in the top six inches would result in an overestimation of nutrients available to the crop.

All Forms of Nitrogen

The other form of nitrogen available for crop growth is organic nitrogen found in soil organic matter. During a growing season, some of the organic nitrogen present in soil organic matter (OM) will become available for plant growth due to the biological activity in the soil. If the top foot of soil weighs approximately 3.5 million pounds, as previously noted, a soil with 5% OM has 175,000 pounds of OM present in the top foot. For soils up to 5% OM, approximately 20 pounds of nitrogen will become available to the crop for each percent OM. Thus a 2% OM soil will provide approximately 40 pounds of plant available nitrogen per acre each year and a 5% OM soil will provide 100# per acre.

Washington’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS WA) has supplements to the national Agricultural Waste Field Management Handbook, or AWFMH, Table 11-9.

The table below, taken from an actual soil test, shows the accounting of nitrogen from three sources, nitrate-N, N from OM, and N from ammonia-N. In this soil sample, there was a total of 67 pounds of tested N with 7 pounds of ammonia-N, and 38 pounds of N in OM (1.9 × 20 = 38) and 22 pounds of nitrate-N.

Table 3. Example Soil Test Report
Ammonium-N mg/kg 2.3 7
Organic Matter W.B. % 1.9 ENR: 38
Depth Nitrate-N Sulfate-S Moisture
inches mg/kg lbs/acre mg/kg inches
0 – 12 6.9 22 9  
Totals 6.9 22 9  
Sum of Tested N: 67 lbs/acre N

Analyzing a forage sample or water sample for nitrate follows the same logic as discussed for soil.

Table 4. Guidelines for Limits of Nitrate in Feeds and Water
Percent (%) NO3 on 100% dry matter (DM) basis Comment
Original Source: Hoard’s Dairyman August 25, 1970.
Less than 0.44% (4,400 ppm) Safe
0.44 to 0.88% (4,400 to 8,800 ppm) Generally safe when fed balanced rations. Best to limit to half of the total dry ration for pregnant animals. In addition, be sure water is low in nitrate.
0.88 to 1.5% (8,800 to 15,000 ppm) Limit amount to less than half of total dry ration. Be sure water is safe. Be sure ration is well fortified with energy, minerals, and vitamin A.
Over 1.5% (15,000 ppm) Potentially Toxic – do not feed
Table 5. Guide of Use of Water with Known Nitrate Content
PPM of NO3 Comment
Original Source: Hoard’s Dairyman August 25, 1970.
Less than 44 Generally regarded as safe for all animals and humans
44 to 88 Questionable or risky for humans, especially children and pregnant women. Safe for livestock unless feed also has high levels.
88 to 176 Considered unsafe for humans. Might cause problems for livestock, especially swine and poultry.
176 to 440 Unsafe for humans and risky for livestock. Be sure feed is low in nitrates and be sure as well balanced ration is fed. Fortify ration with extra vitamin A.
440 to 880 Dangerous and should not be used. General or nonspecific symptoms such as poor appetite are likely to develop. Water apt to be contaminated with other foreign substances. When allowed free-choice to cows on a good ration, acute toxicity not likely.
Over 880 Don’t use. Acute toxicity and some death losses might occur in swine. Probably too much total intake for ruminants on usual feeds.