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Our 2014 research year in review

Marcia Endres
Dairy Extension Scientist
January 17, 2015

When you read this article it will be 2015 already. Hard to believe! Last year went by so fast. This article summarizes a few of the 2014 research findings/reports from my dairy management and welfare research group at the University of Minnesota. First of all I want to acknowledge that the work would not be possible without the help of graduate students that I advise or co-advise, research scientists and undergraduate students in my lab, and collaboration from colleagues in Veterinary Medicine, Animal Science, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, Extension, Animal Welfare (Canada) and Applied Economics. Since there is no space in the article to write a summary of all projects, first is a list of research areas we worked on in 2014. Feel free to contact me at if you have any questions or comments about any of these topics:

Using automated calf feeder systems in the upper Midwest

This is a three-year study with the goal of developing best management practices for using automated calf feeders. There was a large variation in calf health among farms. On the 10 farms with the best health scores, an average of 9.9% of animals displayed abnormal scores for attitude, 3.4% for ears, 14.9% for nose, 7.8% for eyes, and 27.4% for cleanliness (an indicator of scours); whereas, on the 10 farms with the worst health scores, averages were 23.7%, 14.5%, 32.6%, 31.6%, and 57.0%, respectively. This variation indicates that different factors in machine use, barn design and farm/calf management are affecting the success of these systems. Standard plate count in feeder tube samples of milk was correlated with calf cleanliness scores. Results indicate that the cleanliness of the machine and the bacterial load in the milk diet may influence calf health; further data analysis will provide a more complete understanding of major risk factors affecting calf health and mortality. This project is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Graduate student and research scientist working on this project: Matt Jorgensen and Amber Adams-Progar, respectively.

Effect of close-up dry cow stocking density on behavior and health

Increasing average daily stocking density by 20 percentage units (from 80 to 100%) affected social, feeding and lying behavior of close-up cows and heifers. However, changes in behavior associated with elevated stocking density had no impact on metabolic status or health, or reproductive and productive parameters in this study (Jersey cows, weekly entrance of groups of animals in the close-up pen to maintain stocking density, and separation between close-up heifers and 2nd and greater lactation cows). We still are supporting a recommendation of less than 100% stocking density in the close-up pen to avoid potentially overcrowding this group of animals during periods of the year when larger numbers are calving and the stocking density could then go higher than 100%. Graduate students working on this project: Karen Lobeck-Luchterhand and Paula Basso Silva.

Management practices and animal welfare in large dairy operations in the upper Midwest

The objectives of this study were to characterize management practices, animal welfare, and economics on dairy operations with more than 2,500 cows in the Upper Midwest. We used data collected from a case study of 15 farms. Average herd size was 4,972 cows (range 2,606 to 13,266). Daily energy-corrected milk production per cow based on milk sold was 70.5 lb with fat content of 3.85% and protein content of 3.15%. Bulk tank somatic cell count was 190,250 cells/ml. Lameness prevalence was 16.7% and severe lameness prevalence was 5.1% which was lower than previously reported in a number of surveys of freestall based systems. Farms with a trained on-farm hoof trimmer had lower lameness prevalence (11.3%) than those farms that hired an outside hoof trimmer (16.0%). Hock lesion prevalence was 22.8% and severe hock lesion prevalence was 2.3% which was less than previously reported in other studies (42% to 81% hock lesion). It is important to note that 14 of the 15 farms in the study utilized deep beds with either sand or manure solids, which has been shown to be associated with reduced lameness and hock lesion prevalence. Feed, labor and replacements are generally regarded as the three greatest costs on a dairy farm, and this was observed, for the most part, in the study. However, interest and depreciation expenses were also quite high, and high capital recovery costs suggest costly initial investments in the dairy operation. Graduate student working on this project: Tyler Evink.

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