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Some food for thought from the 2017 ADSA meetings

Marcia Endres

The annual meeting of the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) was held in late June and for the first time since the late 90’s, the meeting was not held in conjunction with the American Society of Animal Science. The attendance reached nearly 2,000 people. Attendees came from 46 U.S. states and 43 countries around the world. There were various interesting symposia during the week, and I will include highlights for two of them in this article.

One of the symposia was titled “The Future of the Dairy Sector Toward 2030”. Dr. Bruckmaier (Switzerland) indicated that there is no limit of the mammary gland for achieving higher milk production, but there are limitations at the animal level, such as the need for fiber in the diet (cattle are ruminants), limitations on providing bypass nutrients, and incidence of cattle disease. High quality local forage is a key for high milk production. Concern about industry practices by consumers is a growing challenge. Social housing for calves will be expected in 2030. What about rearing with the dam?

Dr. de Koning (Netherlands) showed a Dutch vision on system aspects of dairy farming towards 2030. Aspects of animal welfare, biodiversity, and environment need to be considered. He suggested a model for potential specialization with regional feed centers, focus on innovation, smart barns, robotic milking. He also showed a short animation video to demonstrate a concept called ‘Amazing Grazing’ which could include mobile milking on pasture, feeding machines, and solar panels used for energy generation and shade for the cows. He challenged the audience to use our imagination on what could be done in the future.

Dr. Ruegg (Wisconsin) pointed out to three major areas that will further impact the dairy industry in the future: export markets, globalization which can influence milk price volatility, and the changes in social contract which will influence market access. She suggested that the next market access issue will be pain management during dehorning in dairy calves. Growth and globalization will greatly influence management practices on dairy farms and more rigorous milk quality standards will also be enforced in the future. Use of antibiotics and hormones will be increasingly restricted. These changes will require innovation to help reduce infectious disease incidence in all age groups of dairy cattle.

Dr. Lock (Michigan) shared his thoughts on the future of milk products and human health. He expects that more milk fractionation products that have human health application will be developed increasing dairy market share. Dairy products will continue to be an important dietary source of essential nutrients and bioactive components. New research has shed a new light on the relationship between milk fat and human health.

On the last day there was a symposium titled Allowing for Natural Behavior in Dairy Cattle. Social science studies have indicated that consumers are most concerned about the ‘naturalness’ of dairy production, therefore more research and discussion in this area is needed which probably prompted this particular symposium.

Dr. von Keyserlingk (British Columbia) emphasized aspects that are important to consumers when they think of dairy cows having a good life, i.e. good welfare. One of their studies showed that participants on the survey liked to see good cattle care at their freestall facility but were very concerned about calf and cow separation and the lack of pasture/outdoor access. Animal welfare definition is difficult because people have different values and care about different things. A nipple feeding study from 1939 showed the benefits of this practice, but many farms still use bucket feeding for their calves. Pasture access is expected by consumers, but what about the cow? Their research comparing freestall barn and pasture preference showed that the cows prefer pasture about 50% of the time, but especially at night. She indicated that although science plays an important role in developing guidelines for production practices, societal values will most likely prevail and define market access.

Dr. Johnsen (Norway) discussed natural behavior of calves. She suggested that welfare should focus both on minimizing negative experiences and providing opportunity for positive experiences. How can we promote natural calf behavior in the modern dairy? She showed a prototype barn design where calves would be group housed in a creep area and fed with automated milk feeders during the day then be allowed to join their dams during the night in the barn. Research has shown that social learning is important for calf cognition development and stimulation of starter intake. Some of her recent research also showed that allowing cow and calf to interact reduced the risk for mastitis in cows, and for scours in calves. More contact is needed during the first 2 weeks of life.

Drs. Proudfoot (Ohio) and Krawczel (Tennessee) focused on the design of maternity pens to allow for natural maternal behavior in dairy cattle. Research has shown that cows prefer a secluded area to calve. Their preliminary results showed that heifers and cows responded differently in terms of their preference for the barn or the pasture. In mixed groups, heifers went to the pasture, but in heifer-only groups, they stayed in the barn to calve. Other studies showed that cows preferred to use a sheltered area in the barn during the day but not during the night. Stocking density in group maternity pens will most likely influence this response.

Dr. Bewley (Kentucky) focused his talk on natural housing but indicated that system success depends on management and producer preference. He listed some challenges with the 2017 sand-based freestall systems: lameness prevalence, time on concrete, manure handling costs, public perception, and natural behavior limitations (certain lying positions are not possible). He shared that since their research herd moved from a freestall barn to a compost bedded pack barn, yearly milk production has increased 3,000 pounds per cow. However, bedding management and availability are limitations of the bedded pack system. Can we think of alternatives? He showed a Dutch concept of a large pack area with a drainable artificial surface and a robotic vacuum system to remove solid manure.

What is the dairy industry going to look like in 10 to 30 years? These researchers suggested that we open our minds to new possibilities and management practices.


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