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NAHMS study shows dairy trends

Jim Salfer

The National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) conducts surveys of dairy producers in the major dairy states on a regular basis. Results of the 2014 NAHMS survey were recently released. The survey includes 17 states, including Minnesota. In 2007 a similar survey with the same states was conducted. The U.S. is split into Eastern and Western regions. The Eastern region includes Minnesota and 10 other states, mostly in the Midwest and Northeast U.S. Below are some the results and a comparison between the 2007 and 2014 surveys.

The percent of conventional operations (not grazing) actually decreased from 63.9% to 58.8% of all operations surveyed. This was due to a relatively large increase in the percent of organic farms. In 2014, 7.4% of operations were identified as organic, an increase from only 1.7% of farms in 2007. Not surprisingly this varied by herd size. Eight and a half percent of all herds under 100 cows were organic in 2014. This allows these smaller farms to capture the higher margins associated with the higher organic milk price. The percent that just grazed (not organic) or used both grazing and conventional has decreased. When asked about planned herd size change in the next five years, owners of all herd sizes were planning on increasing cow numbers.

Not surprisingly the percent of farms that are using computerized record keeping systems has increased dramatically since 2007. In 2007 only 24.3% of all farms had computerized record keeping systems. This increased to 42.6% by 2014. This growth was mostly due to an increase among herds smaller than 500 cows. Most large herds had computerized systems in 2007. In 2014, 12.7% of all farms used smartphones to access or enter information into their herd management software. This wasn’t even asked in the 2007 survey.

Holsteins continued to be the predominant breed, with 89.6% of all operations having Holsteins. Since 2007 there has been a dramatic increase in the percent of herds that have multiple breeds, primarily Jersey cows. In 2007 only 18.1% of herds had at least one Jersey. This increased to 28.2% in 2014 and the percent of all cows that are Jerseys was 7.8% in 2014, up from 5.3% in 2007. Holsteins were 86% of cows. Twenty-two percent of herds had "other" (mostly crossbreds) cows and these represented 4.9% of all cows. All other dairy breeds were less than 1% of the cows.

There continues to be an increase in the number of farms and cows that are milking in some type of milking parlor. Back in 2007 over 60% of all farms had a tie stall milking facility. This decreased to 52.6% by the 2014 survey. This practice varied greatly by herd size. Over 70% of all herds below 100 cows milked in tie stall barns. Because nearly all large herds use parlors, 87% of all cows were being milked in parlors. The percent of farms that milked in the “other” category was 1.6%. Most of these are robotic milking systems.

Likely due to the fact that some cooperatives and/or processors have restricted the use of recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST), its use has decreased since 2007. In 2007, 15.7% of farms and 17.2% of cows were receiving rbST. In 2014 this was down slightly to 9.7% of farms and 14.7% of cows receiving rbST.

About 76% of all farms had fans in their facilities and 20% of farms were using tunnel ventilation. There is a difference between the Eastern and Western regions. Seventy seven percent of the Eastern region used fans compared to 59% in the Western region. But only 21% of farms in the Eastern region used sprinklers or misters compared to 65% in the Western region.

Dairy farmers have improved their animal care since 2007. Baby calf stillbirths (born dead or dead within 48 hours) have decreased. In 2007, 6.5% of calves were stillborn. By 2014 this had decreased nearly 13%, down to 5.6%. Dairy cow mortality has also decreased about 16% since 2007. In 2007 the cow death rate was 5.7% and this decreased to 4.8% by 2014. This survey shows a lower death rate than some other research.

A calf feeding trend that mimics what I see in calf liquid feeding programs in Minnesota is a decrease in the percent of farms feeding milk replacer and an increase in feeding whole milk. In 2007 nearly 60% of farms fed some milk replacer. By 2014 this had decreased to 50%. Farms with less than 500 cows were more likely to feed milk replacer than farms over 500 cows.

These survey results show that dairy producers are improving the care of their cows. Death loss of cows and calves continued to drop slightly. There is also the continuing trend of herds being housed in loose housing and being milked in parlors or robots.

April 2016

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