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Washington State University Dairy News

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.

March 2019 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Working together to build a Dairy Safety Network

Dairy cows standing in hay.
We have exciting news to share! The Washington State Dairy Federation, University of Washington’s Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center, and WSU’s Dairy Cattle Behavior and Welfare program (Dr Adams Progar) are collaborating to make safety training materials more accessible and effective for dairies. Our project has three parts: 1) develop an online interactive safety training toolkit; 2) offer in-person workshops to teach dairy owners and managers how to use the safety training toolkit materials; and 3) create an interactive train-the-trainer program that focuses on teaching employees how to minimize risks associated with cattle-related injuries.

Dairy Safety Training Toolkit

Where do you look for safety training materials? Do you ever struggle to find materials on a specific safety topic? Our online safety training toolkit will hopefully become your go-to for all dairy-related safety topics. One of the best features of this resource is that you will be able to interact with the toolkit moderators and other toolkit users. This system will allow you to provide instant feedback on how the materials can be improved and allows you to incorporate tips from other toolkit users. We are currently working on developing the toolkit and are looking for beta testers. Please let us know if you are interested in helping us out as a beta tester.

In-person Workshops

We held our first workshop at the Agriculture Safety Day on February 5th, 2019. Our topics included on-farm communication, effectiveness of different employee training methods, and farm-to-farm networking to improve safety training materials. If you have any topic suggestions for next year’s Agriculture Safety Day, please let us know.

Train-the-Trainer Program

Several dairy cattle handling training programs are available to you and your employees. Most programs focus on training your employees to safely move cattle. The Train-the-Trainer program we are developing is focused on injury prevention. Our goal is to identify the most common employee injuries that are cattle-related on dairies and design a training that specifically targets how to minimize the risks associated with those injuries. We will train dairy managers/safety coordinators so that they have the tools they need to provide this training to the employees on their dairies. This safety training will be offered in each region of Washington State later this year, so please stay tuned for more information.

Update on Struvite as a Phosphorus Source for Modern Alfalfa Systems

The WSU Livestock Nutrient Management program has teamed up with WSU’s forage specialist Dr. Steve Norberg, and two Washington alfalfa growers to demonstrate struvite’s performance as a recycled phosphorus source for alfalfa. Struvite (6-29-0), also known as magnesium ammonium phosphate, is a medium-release rate fertilizer that is recovered from liquid manure or wastewater. Ongoing research in eastern Washington with 2 field demonstrations and multiple plot studies confirm the findings of previous studies’  that alfalfa fertilized with Struvite has comparable yields and quality to alfalfa fertilized with MAP (11-52-0). We paid close attention to the first cutting’s response to Struvite to see if its lower solubility affected its ability to meet alfalfa’s early growth requirements.

The field demonstrations were on 60-80 acre fields in Moses Lake and Kittitas where we compared Struvite and a Struvite-MAP mixture (70%-30% of P, respectively) to MAP. Struvite alone was applied before a new seeding of alfalfa on Farm 1, while the Struvite-MAP mixture was surface applied to an established stand on Farm 2. Data was gathered from 2 of 3 cuttings at Farm 1 and 4 cuttings at Farm 2 in the first year. Results showed Struvite produced similar alfalfa yields, phosphorus uptake, and quality as MAP (Table 1).

Table 1. Alfalfa hay yields, P uptake, and relative feed value (RFV) from 2018
Yield (tons/acre) Average Tissue P (%)
Farm Fertilizer Total 1st Cut Season 1st Cut Avg. RFV*
*The Relative Feed Value reflects the digestibility and intake potential of feeds, where greater numbers mean better quality.
1 MAP 7.3 2.0 0.28 0.25 181
Struvite 7.3 2.3 0.28 0.24 168
2 MAP 7.5 2.4 0.27 0.26 155
Struvite + MAP 7.1 2.2 0.27 0.28 165

Two simultaneous plot studies (< 1 acre each) were conducted by Dr. Norberg in Prosser to compare agronomic performance of different combinations of Struvite and MAP mixtures on fall and spring planted alfalfa. Plots were randomly fertilized at a constant rate with one of 7 different mixtures of MAP:Struvite (100:0, 75:25, 50:50, 37.5:62.5, 25:75, 12.5: 87.5, 0:100) just before planting, or left as an unfertilized check. The fall-planted alfalfa was cut 5 times in 2018, while spring-planted was only cut 3 times. The source of P, whether MAP or Struvite, did not have a significant effect on yield or P uptake in the first cutting and season-wide, regardless of planting time (Figures 1 and 2).

In short, what we’ve learned so far from the field demonstrations with the supporting data of the plotwork is that Struvite can provide enough P in the first year after fertilization to reach comparable yields and P uptake as MAP. Furthermore, the similarity in the first cutting after a new seeding in both studies has shown Struvite is available to meet the immediate needs for early establishment of alfalfa. This ongoing research will continue for a second harvest season this summer to compare the long-term performance of the two fertilizers.

Line graph showing Total Dry Matter Yield First Year (tons/acre) vs. MAP: Struvide Fertilizer Ratio Applied Prior to Planting for Fall- and Spring-Planted Alfalfa
Figure 1. 2018 Accumulative Dry Matter Yield and Average Phosphorus Content in 2018 of Fall* and Spring** Planted Alfalfa Fertilized with MAP and Struvite-MAP mixtures [*Fall planted data shown above is across 5 cuttings for dry matter yield, and 4 cuttings for P concentration.] [**Spring planted data shown above is across 3 cuttings for both DM yield and P concentration]
Line graph showing Total Dry Matter Yield 1st Cut (tons/acre) vs. MAP: Struvite Fertilizer Ratio Applied Prior to Planting for Fall- and Spring-Planted Alfalfa
Figure 2. Dry Matter Yield and Average Phosphorus Content at First Cutting in 2018 of Fall and Spring Planted Alfalfa Fertilized with MAP and Struvite-MAP mixtures.

Pest Bird Management Workshops

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

Pest Bird Management Workshops

Includes on-farm falconry and drone demonstrations.

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

For more information:
Amber Adams Progar

December 2018 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Dairy Program Weekend at WSU

January 24 and 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Please direct questions to Joe Harrison.

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

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

  1. Number of birds on dairies

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

  2. Birds that cause the most damage

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

  3. Popular bird deterrence methods

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

  4. Alternative bird deterrence methods

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

  5. Johne’s disease and Salmonella

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

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

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

  7. Cow aggression at the feed bunk

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

  8. Economics of feed loss due to bird depredation

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

  9. Washington’s gross domestic product (GDP)

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

  10. Birds deplete nutrients in cattle feed

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

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

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

Register to Attend the 2019 Western Dairy Management Conference!

Monday, February 25 – Thursday, February 28, 2019

Peppermill Casino Resort Spa – Reno, NV

WDMC Early Bird Registration Deadline

February 1, 2019

Hotel Room Reservation Deadline

February 3, 2019

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

September 2018 WSU Dairy Newsletter

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

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

  1. Body temperature

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

  2. Growth

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

  3. Behavior

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

  4. Health

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

  5. Age and health

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

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

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

  7. Housing conditions (hutches) and the environment

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

  8. Housing conditions (hutches) and lying behavior

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

  9. Housing conditions (hutches) and body temperature

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

  10. Calf jacket tips

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

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

2019 Cooperative Dairy Students (CUDS) Reunion

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

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

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


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

Dairy Genomics Workshop

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

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

Looking forward to seeing a lot of you there!

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

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

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

WSU is an EO/AA Educator and Employer.

June 2018 WSU Dairy Newsletter

2019 Cooperative Dairy Students (CUDS) Reunion

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

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

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


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

New Publication Tackles Approaches to Nutrient Recovery from Dairy Manure

Interested in learning more about emerging technologies for separating nutrients from dairy manure? WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources has a new publication that summarizes the various approaches being explored for nutrient recovery on dairies – and what we know about the current costs and performance that are associated with each strategy. The publication, Approaches to Nutrient Recovery from Dairy Manure, was a long term effort by Craig Frear (formerly of WSU CSANR), Jingwei Ma (a WSU graduate student), and Georgine Yorgey (WSU CSANR). This publication is a companion to The Rationale for Recovery of Phosphorus and Nitrogen from Dairy Manure.

WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources has worked on various aspects of anaerobic digestion and nutrient recovery for a number of years. Please visit our Anaerobic Digestion topic page for additional publications, videos, and resources, including links to our Anaerobic Digestion Systems Extension Publication Series.

Hoof Care: Beware Too Much of a Good Thing

Hoard’s Dairyman hosted a webinar called “Supervise Hoof Health with a No Lameness Tolerance Policy” on June 11, 2018. The presenter was Karl Burgi, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and Program Director at the Dairyland Hoof Care Institute, Inc. This article will be a synopsis of the portion of that webinar related to hoof trimming; readers are encouraged to view the entire archived webinar at Photos used here are from that webinar and used with permission.

Rates of lameness in cows producing over 90# milk/day on U.S. dairies ranges from 13.2 to 54.8%, with a mean of 25%. This huge variation is due to differences in management and factors affecting cow comfort on different farms, of course, but also attitudes about lameness. Some managers react to individual lameness cases; others recognize the effects of lameness on production and animal comfort and devote resources to prevention measures.

A 2017 study calculated the per-case cost of lameness at $527 per cow, which also includes pro-rated death and culling losses. A study of digital dermatitis (DD, a.k.a. hairy heel warts) in heifers revealed affected animals averaged 750 fewer pounds of milk over their first lactation and were open 28 more days than unaffected heifers. Lameness is also responsible for a 20% increase in premature culling and 2% death rate.

Lameness in early lactation is particularly costly because it affects peak lactation and lactation curves. Plus, if a cow becomes lame, the risk of recurrence is increased in subsequent lactations. This is because lameness and its predisposing factors can cause permanent changes to the skin, fat pad, ligaments, and bones of the foot. Therefore, a lameness management program should emphasize prevention for greatest success.

Lameness can be assessed on dairies by hoof lesion scores, locomotion scores (3-, 4-, and 5-point scale systems are available), management software, and/or hoof health analysis. The main foot lesions are DD, sole ulcers, white line disease, thin soles/toe ulcers, and foot rot. If DD is reduced, all other types of lesions will be reduced as well. The presentation includes recommendations for DD treatment and control not discussed here.

There are two types of hoof trimming: functional (routine to deal with hoof growth and maintain proper weight-bearing angles and surfaces) and therapeutic (treatment of issues causing lameness). Mr. Burgi states when it comes to functional trimming, “less is more” but “more is better” for therapeutic trimming. Ironically, hoof trimming may be a causative lameness factor if lameness cases persist in spite of addressing the following issues successfully:

  1. Cows are handled properly by crowd gates and humans (i.e., not rushed).
  2. Cow comfort is addressed and cows spend at least 12 hours lying down daily.
  3. Effective hoof baths are installed, used, and maintained properly (see webinar).
  4. Cows have secure footing on floors.
  5. Heat abatement measures are taken when needed to encourage lying time.
  6. Cows spend less than 2.5 hours/day out of pens (3× milking).

For each animal, assess the need for hoof trimming 3 to 8 weeks pre-calving and 1 to 3 times during lactation, or more often depending on the environment and an animal’s history. Routinely check first-calf heifers by 4 months into lactation. Note problem animals requiring more frequent monitoring in a computer management or other record-keeping system.

Pastured springing heifers should be brought in from pasture about 2 months before calving to give them time to develop protective fat pads in their feet and adjust to concrete. Their feet should be examined and trimmed at this time. Springing heifers stand significantly more time than cows. Standing on overgrown or improperly trimmed hooves will result in inflammation, which can predispose heifers to sole ulcers and a shortened productive life. Inflammation appears as redness in the sole (Photos 1 and 4); redness also means there is no overlying protective sole in that area.

Hoof trimming should not cause lameness, reduce cow welfare, or prevent lame cows recovering from their initial problem. Hoof trimming mistakes include:

  1. Trimming hooves too short. Normal claws should be 3” long with about ¼” sole thickness.
  2. Over-trimming heels, which changes (lowers) the angle where toes meet the ground (Photo 1); sole ulcers and white line disease can result.
  3. Grinding or otherwise over-trimming claw walls (Photo 2). The wall is weight bearing; grinding removes the wall and permanent P3 (coffin bone) remodeling and loss will follow. Never remove the wall unless the animal is lame and the wall is involved—in such a case, apply a hoof block after trimming.
  4. The sole is ground down excessively (Photos 3 and 4). Less than ¼” sole thickness causes inflammation resulting in sole ulcers and lameness. Soles can be ground away during excessive hoof trimming or by harmful environmental conditions (coarse sand, poor grooving, and exposed cement aggregate).
  5. Leaving claws unbalanced.
  6. Sole is not left flat.
Cow hoof displaying over-trimming on the heel (left) vs a well trimmed hoof (right).
Photo 1. Left photo shows over-trimmed heels causing undesirable low angle at toe, which changed the angle of weight bearing (dashed black line). Right photo shows targeted trimming preserving heel depth, which maintained proper toe angle. This resulted in good weight bearing through the entire foot bone structure with even weight distribution throughout the claw. Note how sole was pared away on right claw to remove weight-bearing surface over an inflamed area (yellow arrow) so this area can heal, similar to applying a block to the good claw. The green arrow and line denote where pressure is born on the sole: concentrated on the left photo due to low toe angle, which predisposes to sole ulcer and lameness; well distributed over the entire sole on the right.
Cow hoof displaying excessive trimming to the claw walls.
Photo 2. A “pretty hoof” post-trimming, but excessive wall was needlessly ground away, reducing the proper and normal weight-bearing tissue for this animal.
Cow hoof displaying excessive removal across the entire hoof, bleeding at toe.
Photo 3. Another “pretty foot” post-trimming where too much emphasis was placed on making a level weight-bearing surface. Note results of excessive grinding: so much protective sole has been removed that blood was drawn at toe; in that area, human interference has remove all the sole. A toe ulcer and lameness will follow. Weight-bearing wall tissue was also ground away needlessly.

Inflammation occurs before lameness. Some factors increasing the risk of inflammation include:

  • Calving—stressful time for all cows and heifers; any pre-calving foot issues are exacerbated after calving
  • Excessive standing—reduces hoof circulation, which affects hoof health; secondary to overcrowding, too much time in head catches or holding pens, heat stress, or uncomfortable beds
  • Delayed treatment—lets DD become chronic, facilitates secondary ulcers and foot rot
  • Lack of trimming—causes trauma from abnormal forces on hoof structures
  • Improper trimming—removes protective tissues, damages healthy tissues, leaves imbalance causing abnormal weight-bearing forces
  • Lack of blocking of ulcers—affected tissues do not have time to heal and inflammation continues. Blocks take pressure off painful tissues and increase oxygen contact with hoof tissues, which can kill some hoof disease bacteria.

Hoof inflammation can be prevented or reduced by providing an adequate number of comfortable stalls; using heat abatement measures to keep cows comfortable while lying; investigating all lameness cases within 24 hours; and using anti-inflammatory medications based on veterinary recommendations. Also, hooves should be trimmed 3 to 8 weeks before calving so all close-up animals have proper hoof anatomy and function. Close-up and fresh cows should have excellent cow comfort, including no overcrowding. Lameness in close-up, calving, and fresh animals should be avoided at all costs due to the major negative effects on milk production and animal welfare.

Cow hooves show displaying ulcers in the toe area.
Photo 4. Toe ulcers secondary to thin soles. Thin soles are caused by over-trimming (especially grinding), rough floors, coarse sand, and too much time standing.

Due to their associated costs, long-term implications, and effects on animal well-being, lameness cases need to be investigated and addressed promptly. Few conditions causing lameness improve on their own and many can progress to career-ending ulcers, abscesses, or bone/joint infections in otherwise productive cows. Having a well-defined lameness program with designated trained people responsible for lameness detection and prompt treatment is essential, as is a record-keeping system to flag and record actions.


March 2018 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Your Voice Should be Heard: Dairy Worker Safety Survey

What are your thoughts on dairy worker safety? As you may already know, employee injuries on Washington dairy farms are often related to cattle handling or slips, trips, and falls. These injuries are often preventable. In addition to reducing the rate of injury occurrences, effective safety training programs can help reduce costs to you as an employer.

On behalf of the WSU Animal Sciences/Extension program and the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health (PNASH) center, we are asking for your help in completing a 10-minute survey on worker safety practices. Questions included will pertain to the current safety practices and training needs of your farm. Focusing on dairies in the Pacific Northwest, our goals include identifying and understanding what dairy owners like yourself want and need to promote safety on your farm. With the information provided to us in this survey, our partnership can do a better job of providing services and research that directly benefit dairy owners and their employees. Please visit the survey at

Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Thank you.

Results of 2017 WSU-Mount Vernon Grain Pea Trial


Livestock producers such as dairy farmers feed their animals complex rations, usually on a least-cost nutrient basis. This means they meet animals’ nutritional requirements using the most cost-efficient feeds they can obtain. This addresses two aspects of farm sustainability: animal welfare (meeting animals’ nutritional needs) and financial success (reducing expenses to increase profitability). Livestock nutritionists are constantly adjusting the rations their clients feed based on the cost and availability of ingredients; farmers make recommended ration changes gradually to not upset critical populations of intestinal digestive microbes.

Table 1. Comparison of chemical analysis results: 2017 pea variety trial and canola meal values.
Variety TDN % (1) LCP % (2) NDF % (3) ADF % (4) Fat % Starch %
(1) TDN = total digestible nutrients; an overall measure of energy contained in a feedstuff.
(2) LCP = crude protein.
(3) NDF = neutral detergent fiber; low number desirable and associated with greater feed intake by livestock.
(4) ADF = acid detergent fiber; low number desirable and associated with higher feed (fiber) digestibility.
(5) Provided for comparison to peas. Nutritional content depends on process used to extract oil. Sources: Neibergs et al., 2016 and Canola Council of Canada, 2015.
Fava 78 30 19.0 10.0  4.5 36.0
Flex 78 22 19.0  9.0  4.0 39.0
Admiral 79 22 13.0  8.6  4.0 39.0
Dundee 78 25 21.0 11.0  3.5 35.0
(canola meal) (5) 72 – 75 28 – 42 12.9 – 25.4  9.7 – 16.2  2.0 – 19.5  5.1

A Little about Peas

Dry peas (a.k.a. field peas, Photo 1) are a cool season annual crop well suited to northwestern WA. They can be seeded directly into previous crop residue in mid-March to mid-May or whenever soil temperature is over 40°F (O’Neal, 2017). Cold-tolerant varieties can be planted in the fall as a cover crop or to produce dry peas for livestock or humans. In areas with dry summers, fall planting can result in higher yields due to earlier spring growth, earlier bloom, and earlier harvest; there will be more nitrogen fixation, as well (O’Neal, 2017).

In Washington State, 90,000 acres of dry edible peas were planted in 2016. They yielded an average of $12.30/cwt, and were valued at $317 per harvested acre (Mertz, 2017).

Close-up of dry peas.
Photo 1. Dry peas immediately after harvest and shelling.

Benefits of Peas

Peas have the potential to be a beneficial rotational crop for many reasons:

  • They are an alternative to summer fallow and another option for crop rotation
  • Peas can be inter-seeded with corn, oats, barley, or other crops to boost protein content of hay and haylage
  • They are a legume and will fix atmospheric nitrogen to improve soil fertility
  • Peas have a taproot that can help reduce soil compaction and improve water and nutrient movement
  • They can mature by mid-August so a fall crop or cover crop can still be planted
  • Peas can be combined to save harvesting labor; equipment is available locally
  • Post-harvest aftermath can be baled, tilled in, or grazed
  • The low moisture of dry peas facilitates long-term storage as a feed commodity

Are Peas the Answer?

Hoping for a high-protein feedstuff they could grow locally for more control over price and availability, dairy producers in northwestern WA wondered about the suitability of dry peas. Peas were grown in northwestern WA for decades until local processing ceased around 2010. Nevertheless, pea planting and harvesting equipment is still available in the area, as are growers with experience in and historical knowledge of pea production. Could these resources support a mini-resurgence of the northwestern WA pea industry as a source of high protein livestock feed?

WSU-NWREC 2017 Pea Variety Trial

Faculty at the WSU-Northwestern Research and Extension Center (NWREC) conducted a dry (grain) pea variety trial in 2017 with three pea varieties and one bean variety. Funding was provide by the Northwest Agricultural Research Foundation ($2,037). Seed was provided by John De Vlieger (Fava and Dundee varieties), Skagit Farmers Supply (Flex), and Albert Lea Seed (Admiral). Pre-planting and post-harvest soil data is available for those interested. Pre-emergent herbicides treflon (1 pint/acre) and dual magnum (1.5 pint/acre) were incorporated pre-planting. Fertilization was 18 lbs of nitrogen per acre and 60 lbs of phosphorus per acre at the time of planting. Production data are presented in Table 2; chemical analysis by variety is contained in Table 1.

Table 2. WSU-NWREC 2017 pea variety test plot details.
Variety Planting rate Planting date Harvest date Precipitation over growing season Production (tons/acre)
Admiral 200 lbs/acre 05/10/2017 08/18/2017 2.45” 2.5
Dundee 200 lbs/acre 05/10/2017 08/18/2017 2.45” 1.5
Flex 200 lbs/acre 05/10/2017 08/25/2017 2.45” 1.9
Fava 180 lbs/acre 05/10/2017 09/15/2017 2.73” 2.4

Growing Season Observations and Comments

All seed varieties emerged and grew well. They thrived in the 2.9% organic matter, 6.8 pH soil with less than 3” of rainfall throughout the growth period. Chemical analysis content provided in Table 1 shows all pea varieties compared favorably with canola meal with respect to energy content, crude protein, and fiber digestibility.

Black aphids attacked the fava beans, but it was unknown if this affected productivity. The major challenge, however, was Canada geese: they moved through the fields in an orderly fashion from east to west, devouring all peas they encountered. Fortunately, data could be collected from the western side of each plot because these areas had not yet experienced any goose damage (Photo 2). Fava beans matured later than peas. The literature suggests pea production may be improved by planting a mixture of varieties; that was not done in this trial.


With their high protein content and positive environmental effects, peas are once again a crop worth considering for northwestern WA, this time as a locally-produced livestock feed. To increase the likelihood of success, growers will need to conduct soil tests and probably raise soil pH (peas do not perform well in acidic soils) and have a plan to mitigate effects of grazing geese. Additional studies of how grain peas could contribute to high-value crop disease control, soil quality, nutrient cycling, reduction of livestock feed costs, and a myriad of other factors would be excellent candidates for SARE on-farm research project funding.

Field of pea plants.
Photo 2. WSU-NWREC field pea trial, Aug. 17, 2017.

References and Resources

December 2017 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Considerations for Bucket Feeding Pre-weaned Calves

Is it better to offer milk/milk replacer in buckets or bottles for preweaned calves? This is a common debate within the dairy industry. Feeding milk in bottles allows calves to exhibit suckling behavior, which minimizes the occurrences of non-nutritive sucking behavior. Buckets are easier to clean and sanitize, which minimizes calf exposure to potentially harmful pathogens. We understand the obvious advantages and disadvantages of both feeding systems; however, we often overlook an important aspect, labor. Drinking out of buckets is not intuitive for calves so additional labor is needed to train them. How long does it take to train calves to drink from buckets? Well, that is exactly what researchers at Washington State University wanted to determine. Cameron Mandel, Amber Adams Progar, Bill Sischo, and Dale Moore recently published a study in the Journal of Dairy Science that monitored 1,235 bucket-fed calves. Below I will highlight some important results from this study. Please consider these results if your dairy uses, or is contemplating switching to a bucket feeding system:

  1. Use of a bucket vs. bottle feeding

    According to the USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System, dairies in the United States fed milk or milk replacer to 59% of preweaned heifer dairy calves using buckets, with 38% more calves in the East than the West fed with buckets. In comparison, a study concluded that about 92% of dairy farms in Quebec fed heifers with buckets.

  2. Heifer vs. bull

    After 3 days of age, heifer calves were 1.5 times less likely to require assistance compared with bull calves.

  3. Twins

    Twins had almost twice the odds of requiring assistance after 3 days of age than singletons.

  4. Calf position at birth

    A calf born facing forward was less likely to require assistance with drinking after 3 days of age, when compared to a calf born backwards. Sixteen percent more of the calves born backwards needed assistance drinking than calves born forwards.

  5. Dam

    About 4% more calves born to heifers tended to require assistance longer than calves born to cows.

  6. Calving score

    The level of difficulty during calving (calving score) did not appear to affect the amount of time a calf required for training. Calving score was assigned as a 1 (normal delivery), 2 (some assistance), or 3 (difficult birth).

  7. Average training requirement

    The average time required for training was 3.4 days. After 3 days of age, almost 60% of calves consumed the entire morning milk allotment without assistance.

  8. Time of year

    Calves were enrolled onto the study between the beginning of May and the end of July. A calf born after June 8th was 2-5 times less likely to need assistance after 3 days of age than calves born during the first week of the study.

  9. Calf behavior – depressed vs. alert

    Depressed (slow to respond to the environment) calves were four times more likely to be assisted than alert calves.

  10. Calf behavior – sternal vs. standing

    Alert, sternal (lying down) calves were 2.4 times more likely to require assistance than alert, standing calves.

Article citation: Mandel, C., A. Adams-Progar, W. M. Sischo, and D. A. Moore. 2017. Short communication: Predictors of time to dairy calf bucket training. Journal of Dairy Science 100:9769-9774.

Calf sticks head through enclosure gate next to feeding bucket.
How long does it take to train a dairy calf to drink milk from a bucket?

Cooperative University Dairy Students Annual Industry Review (January 25 – 26, 2018) & Dairy Club Banquet (January 25, 2018)

The Cooperative University Dairy Students are busy working on projects and preparing for the annual CUDS Review. Recently, CUDS recruited new members, and starting in January 2018, there will be 12 new members. CUDS has recently installed an inline sampler so they measure their components. Currently, the CUDS herd is producing an average of 82.5bs/head/day with 47,000 SCC, 3.38% milk protein, and 4.36% butterfat.

Every year a panel of invited reviewers consisting of industry professionals from Washington, travel to Pullman to hear presentations from CUDS members. Each student in CUDS develops goals and projects for their chair position (nutrition, herd health, finances, etc.) and works towards accomplishing these throughout the year. The annual CUDS Review will be held January 25-26, 2018 this year.

On Thursday night, January 25, the WSU’s Dairy Club will be hosting a banquet as a way to fundraise for the club. Social hour begins at 6:00 and dinner begins at 6:30. A note from the club’s event chair:

“WSU Dairy Club is a student-led organization that encourages its members to participate in leadership and community outreach projects. The club is centered on educating the community, as well as providing educational opportunities for our members to learn more about the dairy industry. A few of our main events of the year include various guest speakers, Dairy Olympics, American Dairy Science Association regional and national meetings, and Cougar Youth Weekend.

We invite you and your colleagues to join us for good food and good fun. Tickets are available for $15 at the door or $10 if you RSVP in advance. Drink tickets for alcoholic beverages can be purchased for an additional $5. Please RVSP by emailing Chris Mandella (”

Grateful for Dairy Manure Derived Struvite in Our Stockings this Holiday Season

The mobile cone unit moved from Snohomish County to Whatcom County this month to continue to remove phosphorus from manure in the form of Struvite. The mobile nutrient removal technology also stirred some interest while sitting outside the Yakima Convention Center at the annual dairy meeting a few weeks ago (pictures below).

We are planning field days on the eastern and western sides of the state to get an up close look at the nutrient removal system. Stay tuned for announcement of those dates. Also, if you are interested in being a collaborator farm by having this technology demonstrated at your farm, please fill out this WSU short info form, or email / call Liz Whitefield (, 253-445-4562).

Happiest of holidays to you and your loved ones this season from the WSU Livestock Nutrient Management Program.

Western Washington and Oregon Pasture Management Calendar Debuts

A new Extension publication, “The Western Oregon and Washington Pasture Calendar (PMW699),” was created to provide pasture managers and their advisors with a scientific basis for pasture management decisions and the timing of critical actions. A team of Extension educators and NRCS staff recently conducted a series of train-the-trainer workshops throughout western Oregon and Washington to teach fellow professionals and livestock managers how to use this new educational tool. Publication of the Calendar and support for the workshop series were provided by a western regional USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant.

Pasture Calendar Contents

The Pasture Calendar starts with the basics: grass terminology, factors controlling perennial forage growth, and plant growth cycles. Maps of Forage Management Zones are included (Fig. 1).

Color-coded map of western Washington counties.
Figure 1. Map Western Washington of Forage Management Zones.

The western Oregon and Washington calendars are divided into 24 management periods consisting of the first and second half of each month (Fig. 2). For each management zone or resource area, a color-coded table indicates what typically happens with grasses during a certain period. These plant growth periods include:

  • Semi-dormancy
  • Steady regrowth
  • Declining regrowth
  • Very slow growth
  • Increasing growth
  • Rapid growth—cool soils
  • Rapid growth—warming soils
  • Slowing growth
  • Steady growth
  • Slow growth
  • Dormancy
Chart of periods for forage growth.
Figure 2. Western Washington Pasture Calendar with descriptions of grass growth periods.

The Pasture Calendar includes extensive appendices and references. Appendices are:

  • How Pasture Plants Grow
  • Pasture Clipping
  • Sacrifice Areas
  • Buffer Strips
  • Irrigation
  • Laminitis
  • The Nitrogen Cycle
  • Nitrates in Forages
  • Nutrient Excesses/Deficiencies
  • Alternative Forage Crops
  • Endophyte Toxins in Forage

Calendar Highlights

The Pasture Calendar emphasizes and explains critical pasture management practices, such as:

  • Performing soil tests and addressing fertility issues
  • Selecting a forage species and variety well suited to local growing conditions
  • Leaving at least three inches of grass stubble at all times
  • Rotating pastures to let them rest and regrow to grazing height (> eight inches) before regrazing
  • Grazing or mowing grasses to keep them in vegetative phase and vigorous
  • Monitoring livestock body condition
  • Establishing sacrifice areas for livestock confinement during critical periods.

Fall Is All!

The vital importance of fall pasture management is stressed throughout the Pasture Calendar. In early fall (typically September), grass plants generate new roots to replace the ones shed during the “summer slump.” It takes energy for plants to generate these roots, and roots in turn are needed for plants to obtain water and nutrients from soil. Most importantly, next season’s growing points are being established—overgrazing during this period will cause delayed and reduced pasture growth the following spring.

Protect the Lower 3”

Grasses store their sugar for regrowth in the lowest three inches of above-ground growth, not in their roots as previously believed. This means anytime pasture grasses or grass hayfields are grazed or mowed to less than three inches tall, the plants lose their energy reserves and regrowth will be delayed by up to six weeks (Fig. 3). If this mismanagement occurs month after month, plant vigor is affected and desirable pasture plants die; bare soil and weed incursions result. Expensive pasture renovation is then needed but will be pointless unless pasture management practices are changed.

Man raises sample of grass from an overgrazed pasture.
Figure 3. Dr. Steve Fransen demonstrating root health of simulated healthy fall pasture grass (lower hand) vs. simulated overgrazed pasture (upper hand).

Sacrifice Areas Save Plants

Anytime livestock have the potential to graze pastures below three inches, they should be removed from pastures, confined to a sacrifice area, and fed stored forage such as hay or haylage. The need for a sacrifice area could arise during muddy winter months, the pasture summer slump, or if there is not enough pasture for the livestock under management. Conservation District funding may be available to help develop sacrifice areas, which also help protect soil and water quality.

Where to Get the Pasture Calendar

This 50-page, full color publication will soon be available for free downloading at (search for PNW699).

September 2017 WSU Dairy Newsletter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  4. Transition period. Social stability during the transition period

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

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

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

  6. Transition period. Cow management

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

  7. Transportation. Improve truck design and driver training

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

  8. Transportation. Mobile slaughterhouse

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

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

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

  10. Anthropomorphism

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

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

Gathering Excess Phosphorus for Recycle

Drone flies over spreader applying struvite to a field.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cow Comfort: How Do Your Cows Spend Their Time?

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

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

Resting Associated with Rumen Health

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

Cows Have Daily Time Budgets

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

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

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

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

Stall Comfort and Feed Availability Effects

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

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

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

Stocking Density, Parity, and Dominance Issues

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

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

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

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

Heat Stress Effects on Cow Comfort and Rumination

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


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

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