by George Looby, DVM
The 2018 Connecticut Dairy Seminar was held at the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon, CT on March 19. The conference was sponsored by the Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance together with the Extension and Animal Science Dept. of the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. Dr. Sheila Andrew, a Professor in the Dept. of Animal Science has organized this meeting for many years and it was she who opened the conference.
The kick off speaker was Dr. Rick Grant of the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute in Chazy, NY. The focus of Rick’s presentation was cow comfort and how it relates directly to profitability on the farm. Some of the observations made are so self apparent that one is inclined to completely overlook them unless reminded or prodded. For example, overcrowding. It was pointed out that when overcrowding reaches in the neighborhood of 120 percent, profitability per stall begins to decline sharply. Overcrowding can and does result in several predictable changes in cow behavior. Competition for bunk space increases with the dominant cows displacing the more timid herdmates. More time is spent per cow standing in the alley waiting for available bunk space, time that would be better spent resting or eating and these are usually the cows lower on the social scale. Less time resting translates into less time ruminating which results in lower production.
The question of feed availability in the bunk is of great importance, to maximize production feed should always be available in the bunk. One study that reinforced this idea was when a comparison was made where feed was available in the bunk vs. no feed for a six hour period (midnight to 6 a.m.) there was a 7.9 lb. per increase in milk production, 1.8 more time spent resting in a stall, 2 times greater time spent feeding at the bunk and cows were less restless.
A topic that surfaced during the discussion was that of de novo fatty acid synthesis to increase milk fat and protein yields on commercial dairy farms. This term is of somewhat recent origin when applied to dairy cattle nutrition but de novo is a Latin phrase which when loosely interpreted may be taken to mean, “from scratch” or “from the beginning”. De novo fatty acids are those that arise from fiber fermentation in the rumen, namely acetate and butyrate, and the more of these that are produced the greater will be the amount of milk fat and protein produced. This in turn should result in greater profitability. Thus all management practices that can be introduced to foster this type of rumen activity should be encouraged and put into practice. Milk FA analysis to monitor feeding and management on the farm is becoming more common.
High de novo herds (HDN) have a lower stocking density where cows have more space at the bunk, more available stall space and are fed more frequently. Those who have carefully observed cow behavior have come up with some interesting numbers that break down the time per day that cows spend in their various activities. The typical cow will spend 5 hours a day eating, 12-14 hours lying or resting, 2-3 hours standing, walking, grooming, 30 minutes per day drinking and 2.5-3.5 hours waiting to be or actually being milked. Resting time is a factor that is easily lost in an overview of many operations, it has been lost when asked to evaluate all of the components that make up a cows working day. Cows prefer to ruminate while lying down and 90 percent of that activity should occur while resting. These observations suggest that a cow will rest in favor of eating which is to be avoided at all costs.
Heifers are the low animals on the social scale in so far as cows are concerned, they are bullied, threatened and often relegated to the leavings as far as feed is concerned. This predictable behavior makes a strong case for providing a separate area for first calf heifers until they have had an opportunity to acclimate to the totally new environment into which they have been placed.
One of the most important factors in the entire scheme of things is the human-cow interaction. Milking is an extremely repetitious, activity and not everyone is well suited to do this, the most important job on the farm. Those who are best suited have been characterized as confident introverts, those who are gentle, calm handling and quiet. Not always an easy type to find among those seeking employment on a farm.
Dr. Amy Vasquez is currently a PhD candidate at Cornell with major emphasis on mastitis treatment and control. She spoke to the group about some of the issues relating to her current work. Among the concepts that she advocates is that not every case of mastitis needs to be treated. She is fortunate to have access to a diagnostic lab that provides her with a 24-hour turn around which allows her to make some presumptive diagnoses that save time and money for the dairyman. Dr. Vasquez has developed a pathogen based approach where Gram positive organisms are more often treated as the probable outcome is more favorable in that group. For decades dry cow treatment has been viewed as the appropriate thing to do when drying off cows at the end of lactation. This is no longer viewed as something that needs to done routinely to every cow. One of the issues is that in some instances the individual infusing the quarters may, through lack of proper training or attitude, introduce potential pathogens at the time the procedure is being done. Another issue is the increased concern regarding the use of antibiotics in food producing animals.
Mr. Bob Wellington, Sr. V.P. of Agrimark gave the audience an update on the economic condition of the dairy industry which in his estimation is getting somewhat better. Encouraging words from one who has his finger on the pulse of the dairy market on a daily basis. The price of cheese is going up and butter is holding steady. Whey seems to be the product that is responsible for the greatest drag on the market with both the E.U. and Mexico having much in storage. Currently the Chinese market is down but they continue to prefer our dairy products. The New England market is fairly good and Land O Lakes is building a new milk powder facility in the Springfield area.
Mr. Joe Bonelli, Associate Extension Educator at UConn gave an update on some of the support programs available and talked about the one on one programs available covering a wide variety of topics where farmers can sit down and talk about issues with a recognized expert in a particular field.
Joe Lawrence serves as a Dairy Forage Systems Specialist with the Cornell University PRO-Dairy team. Joe is a strong advocate of maximizing the use of forages as the basis for any good feeding program. High quality forage should form the basis for any feeding program. Additional grain can never make up for poor quality forage. One of the keys to achieving harvesting forage of the highest possible quality is timing and here management plays a key role. Harvesting must be done on time. The time of first cutting sets the stage for all other cuttings remembering that grass NDF runs about 25 points ahead of alfalfa NDF at the same time. The time between first and second cuttings should fall between 28 to 35 days. The time to third cutting is not as critical. Corn should be the component of the diet that supplies the energy in the total ration and the grass/alfalfa combination should supply the protein.
In considering factors that make up a successful harvest and storage program none is more important than taking every step possible to insure that every step possible is taken to insure that every employee returns home safely at the end of the day. Good management will insure that harvesting is done at the correct stage of maturity and moisture. Measures are taken to insure the retention of dry matter, proper siting and construction of the storage area. Segregate feed (if possible) by quality and intended use.
The meeting concluded with a dairymen’s panel featuring John Hoffman, Jim Jaquier and Paul Knox. One of the features that was emphasized is employee education. Less emphasis is apparently being placed on alfalfa as compared to grass and no-till has replaced traditional tillage in most of the cropping programs. In at least one operation covering the bunk has been made into something of a sporting event making it less of a drudgery. Trucking silage over rather long distance has an impact but trailer units make it somewhat less of an issue.
Everyone took home some information from this meeting that will help better their operation.