by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
How well are you managing your dairy?
In 2-day sessions, updated, best dairy management practices were discussed by ProDairy teams across New York State, with additional on-farm tours giving attendees an opportunity to learn first-hand how other dairies are implementing these practices to be successful.
In one Central NY session, Dairy Specialist Betsy Hicks and Dairy Management Specialist, Dr. Jerry Bertoldo, DVM led a group of producers through a classroom question-and-answer training session. This session included information shared by David Brandstadt, DVM, of Midstate Veterinarian Services, Cortland, NY, and was followed by a tour of Riverside Dairy in Cincinnatus, NY, where farm Manager Bob Eichorst explained farm procedures and protocol.
Consumer concern and perception is a topic that affects all farming procedures at this time, and was considered throughout the training session.
“We have a lot of things that are being taken away from us as an industry,” said Hicks during a presentation concerning antibiotic stewardship and protocols. “We need to have access to antibiotics to be able to treat animals. Consumers don’t understand. There’s a lot of misconceptions and there’s a lot of misinformation.”
Keeping good records for use of antibiotics is a must in today’s industry.
Are your health plan records traceable? Do they include dates and treatments and reasons for treatment? Dosages need to be documented along with duration of treatment. Was your veterinarian involved in the treatment?
Bob-veal calves are high on the list for testing positive for residues.
“Why? Poor record keeping,” said Hicks. Even when they are not labeled for human consumption, inspectors may sample the carcass for drug residue.
Recommended sample treatment record sheets were distributed to attendees.
Money lost when sending culled cows is another reason it’s important to consider antibiotics, as residues do create a serious loss of value.
Dr. Bertoldo addressed the issue of decreased value in culled cow beef due to location of injections.
“Meat processors have had to deal with a good deal of trimmed away muscle tissue from dairy cattle over the years,” Bertoldo explained. “Much of this has been from the injection of antibiotics and vaccines in the hind quarters. Even injectable products with fairly low irritating potential can cause some scarring and blemishes that must be trimmed away in order for the meat to be approved by federal inspection. Since the quantity and quality of hind quarter cuts far exceeds that of the neck area, producers have been encouraged for many years now to inject pharmaceuticals and medications in the muscle of the neck.”
Body scoring posters were also distributed to attendees, and Hicks advised culling cows before they drain your finances. “Before she loses condition,” noted Hicks.
Dr. Brandstadt noted that herd veterinarians can be of assistance when making decisions about culling cows. “We know the pulse of the farm,” commented Brandstadt. “What works on one farm may not work on another.”
He also advised on regulatory compliance, stating that antibiotic residue is a huge issue being scrutinized by the FDA.
Brandstadt emphasized that maintaining daily herd health records should be protocol on every farm.
“Everything you can do, do correctly. Keep daily records,” he advised. “That is really important.”
It was reported that “disgruntled employees” have caused terrible problems on some farms by purposely injecting antibiotics into cows.
“Lock up all drugs,” advised Hicks.
Installing security cameras may also work on your farm.
Bob Eichorst described protocols he has in place at Riverside Dairy, where more than 1,200 cows are milked, at about an 80 pound average.
“I really think as an industry we should strive to be as organic as we can on antibiotic use,” Eichorst said. “At this dairy we really focus on management other than over treating. Treat them if they need to be treated, if they don’t need to be treated, they get monitored.”
Eichorst says he believes many times cows will come around without treatment.
“I think a lot of times a cow can eat herself through a lot of things especially if you don’t stress her out more than she already is. Maybe she needs a little extra care. Maybe she needs to go to the hospital pen for a week… If you don’t look at them, you never know. You can’t get that all from a computer. You’ve got to walk the pens every day.”
Although he has a large crew, Eichorst walks the pens himself every day assessing the herd.
“That’s how we manage cows. We keep our vet costs low. Last year my vet cost per cow was $44. I still treat dry cows to make sure they’re clean coming back in.”
Culling practices are cut and dry.
“Managing this number of cows, you’ve got to know when that cow is worth saving or when that cow is just a beef cow. If you’ve got to put money into her, she’s just a beef cow. That’s something I’ve learned… I didn’t start off knowing that. That’s where management has changed a lot, especially on this dairy in the last 3 or 4 years. If I can save that money and get her out of here, then I’ve actually made money. I’m pretty proud of $44 a cow and having healthy cows.” That number includes heifer vaccines.
Eichorst advocates keeping stringent computer records and written records.
“Match them up,” he said. “Keep them for 3 years.”
A mix-up by an employee in feeding bull calves co-habited with heifers resulted in a tough experience for Eichorst when a bull calf sold for veal was found with antibiotic residue.
“The FDA comes down fast and hard!” Eichorst said the FDA likes written records. Both must correlate. “It’s important, it’s got to get done. Work with your vet and get a binder started.”
Riverside uses Dairy Comp and a notebook binder, keeping one for each group of animals, including each calf. All bull calves are now ID’d and tagged.
Eichorst also documents each animal sold and why they were sold.
Hicks said human resources and managing employees, “creating a culture for your dairy and getting everyone on the team to work towards farm goals,” is a big step in the right direction, and Eichorst also emphasizes ongoing training for employees. Meetings with employees, listening to what they have to say and answering their questions, are an important part of the farm’s team success.
Hicks says a take home message from the ProDairy Herd Management Training is to “focus on keeping your herd healthy and productive — minimizing time away from pen, maximizing dry matter intake, grouping socially to minimize stress and keeping stalls comfortable.”
“Focusing on judicious use of antibiotics and looking at pathogen based treatments for mastitis instead of blanket treatments will pay off if done correctly.”
Research by Dr. Nydam, Cornell, shows three more days of saleable milk and decreased drug costs with no decline in animal performance, using this method.
“Raise the right heifers — which isn’t all of them,” Hicks advises. “Producers pay a cost for raising heifers that isn’t always readily seen. Costs for raising heifers are over $2000. When we overcrowd facilities, our heifers don’t grow as well. My opinion is to selectively raise heifers from our genetically best cows.”
This includes virgin heifers, first lactation cows and only older cows performed well and have desirable genetics. “Selectively raising those heifers fast-tracks our genetics.”
Hicks recommends focusing on forage quality, especially timing of first cutting. “It’s half the hay crop for the coming year, and can set them up for producing milk far more efficiently than if they delay in harvesting late.”