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Winter Dairy Program on Fresh Cow Health: What Attendees Said

Phil Durst
Extension Dairy Educator – Northwest Michigan

The 2010 MSU Winter Dairy Program had a great turnout across the state with over 450 producers and industry representatives attending the nine locations.

This year attendees could use new technology to respond to questions immediately with a hand-held clicker. After each question, the participants’ answers were tallied and displayed so that everyone could see the distribution of responses. Here are the results from all nine sites.

Who Attended?
Among those attending, 47% were the owners or managers of the dairy, 29% were dairy farm employees and 23% were professionals who work with dairy producers. Attendees tended to be younger with 42% of those attending less than 35 years old. Only 16% were 55 or older.

Among dairy farm owners, managers and employees:
•  48% came from herds with fewer than 200 cows.
•  31% came from herds with 200-500 cows.
•  21% of dairy farm participants attending were from herds with greater than 500 cows.

Of agricultural professionals in attendance,
•  43% work with herds totaling less than 5,000 cows;
•  33% with herds totaling 5,000 to 20,000 cows; and,
•  22% work with herds totaling over 20,000 cows.

Attendees also were asked about their use of the Internet. The responses reflect not just those of dairy farm owners, managers and employees but also those of industry representatives in the audience.

•  63% access the Internet several times a week or daily to obtain information for their business.
•  Only 18% never use the Internet or less than once per month accessed it for business information.
•  Yet 78% had not participated in any on-line programs such as Webinars within the past 6 months.

Dairy farm producers use the expertise of others to help them manage their complex businesses.

•  80% said that they used a farm management team that involved professionals from outside the farm.

Animal Well-being
One of the main themes of the program was about good animal care.
•  93% had a better understanding of public perceptions about animal      welfare as a result of attending.
•  Regarding all the attention being given to cow well-being these                 days, 71% understood the need to make it a priority.

Participants were asked to rank their response to animal welfare based on the program. The order of responses, with 1 being the highest rank, was:

1. Those who said that they would work to keep well-informed on               this topic.
2. Those who replied that they understood the issues better.
3. Those who said that they would make management changes to                improve animal welfare on their farms.

In addition,
•  75% said they either definitely or probably would communicate                  more with the public about animal welfare and care of dairy                 animals.

The potential for third party evaluation of farms drew a mixed result, likely because it was unstated who that third party might be, what specifically would be evaluated and how that information would be used or available for others to see.

•  26% said that they understood that cow comfort was important              but didn’t see a need to prove it to anyone else.
•  56% said that they would consider a third party audit of                  animal welfare practices in their farms.
•  89% believe that there are adequate resources available to               help them with an animal welfare audit.

MSU Extension is one resource for information on animal well-being standards and practices. In addition, National Milk Producers Federation has established a National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program to verify on-farm practices. Many dairy cooperatives including those serving Michigan farmers are supportive of this program.

Locomotion scoring, culling and death losses in fresh cows, and bulk tank somatic cell count were presented as ways to measure animal well-being on the farm. MSU Extension Educators described how to do locomotion scoring and then use those scores to evaluate the foot health of the herd. Yet it is a tool that, while not new, has been under-utilized on farms.

•  34% were previously not familiar with locomotion scoring.
•  Only 25% of farm participants had either scored their cows us-               ing locomotion scoring system, or a professional who works with         them had done it.

Nutrition, Feeding, Grouping and Metabolic Health
Participants were asked about current practices in regard to feeding and grouping cows in their herd.

•  57% have more than one dry cow ration
•  50% have a separate fresh cow ration
•  38% feed the same ration to all milking cows.

Whenever there is more than one group for lactating cows, then the question is on what basis are cows moved to a different group. Currently,
•  87% use days in milk (DIM) as their indicator for moving cows out of the fresh group, either as the sole criteria or in combination with other factors.
•  75% who have a high group, move cows out of that group using milk          yield as an indicator, either alone or in combination with DIM or body                condition score.

MSU nutritionists discussed using rumen fill scores as an indicator of when the fresh cow’s rumen is geared up and the cow she is ready to move to another ration. They also recommended body condition score (BCS) as the indicator to move cows from the high group.

•  Two-thirds of producers said that the information presented at these           meetings would influence the way that they group cows.
•  81% of those who have a fresh cow group said they would consider using rumen fill scores as an indicator to move them.
•  79% of those who have a high group and who don’t already use BCS said that they would use it to decide when to move cows out of this group.

Reproductive Health
MSU researchers explained the variation in conception rates that could be related to Sire Conception Rates (SCR) of bulls.

•  29% reported that they already use SCR to choose high fertility bulls.
•  39% of others said that they are seriously considering using SCR to      improve the fertility in their herds.

Programmed breeding protocols including the G6G protocol also were presented.

•  20% of producers already use the G6G program
•  33% of those who do not, are seriously considering using it as a result of what they learned.

Udder Health
In the farewell series of producer meetings for Dr. Phil Sears who retired April 1, 2010, he emphasized themes and recommendations that he has developed over the years. Adoption of some of those recommendations is shown by the fact that:

•  Two-thirds of producers use the California Mastitis Test (CMT) either routinely, on high somatic cell count (HSCC) cows, or fresh cows.
•  28% treat HSCC cows based on culture results.
•  15% of producers do their own milk culturing on-farm.
•  As a result of this program, 35% either would like to do their own culturing or are thinking about it.

Teat-end scoring was presented as a means to evaluate physical factors that contribute to the incidence of contagious mastitis.

•  72% said that they plan to use teat-end scoring in their herd.

Overall
•  96% of attendees found this program to be useful for their dairy business
•  39% rated it as very useful.

The MSU Extension Dairy Team thanks the many sponsors and supporters of the 2010 Winter Dairy Program, “Animal Health: Tools to Navigate the Fresh Cow Storm”. Twenty companies sponsored the meetings. In addition, 11 veterinary practices, one feed cooperative, and Michigan Milk Producers Association provided vouchers to reduce the cost for their clients or members to attend.

MSU Extension seeks input for future educational programs from producers and industry professionals. Your input can be sent to your MSU Extension Dairy Educator or to Phil Durst, MSU Extension Dairy Team Co-chair (contact information is listed on page 3 of this publication).

The author wishes to acknowledge the work of Dr. Kathy Lee, Extension Dairy Educator – Northwest Michigan in summarizing the data from the 2010 MSU Winter Dairy Meetings.

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