Highlights of the 2016 Western Canadian Dairy Seminar
I had the opportunity to attend and present at the 2016 Western Canadian Dairy Seminar in Red Deer, Alberta in March 2016. This was the fourth time I’ve attended this event, and I always come home impressed by the excellent program and great audience. There were 897 registrants this year and at least half of the attendees were dairy producers. Attendees are engaged and ask excellent questions; lots of networking and discussions take place during breaks and meals and at the end of the day. In this article I highlight a few of the topics included on the program this year.
Many presentations focused on the transition cow. We have improved transition cow management and nutrition in recent years, but it is still the most critical time in the life of a dairy cow. Various topics related to nutrition were discussed:
- What is the ideal carbohydrate mix for fresh cows? Heather Dann, Miner Institute, told the audience that a fresh cow needs an appropriate balance of fermentable carbohydrates - starch, sugar and fiber - that provide the energy she needs and maintain rumen health. Higher starch diets in the fresh period increase risk for ruminal acidosis and chronic inflammation. If a cow stays too long in the fresh pen being fed a less fermentable diet, she can't eat enough because of gut fill and is at risk for ketosis. It is important to use highly digestible fiber sources when lower starch diets are fed.
- Rumination in dairy cows. Trevor DeVries, University of Guelph, pointed out many aspects of rumination in dairy cows. Cows ruminate about 8 hours per day and produce about 25 gallons of saliva a day. He suggested that monitoring daily rumination time can help us identify cows at risk for transition disorders and predict calving time. This can be more easily and accurately done today because commercial rumination monitors are available.
- What about glucose in early lactation? Matthew Lucy, University of Missouri, reminded us of how much glucose a fresh cow needs (8 to 16 pounds for milk production alone!) and pointed out that providing glucose precursors such as propylene glycol to ketotic cows will help improve their reproductive performance.
- What is the ideal body condition score (BCS) at calving? Jim Drackley, University of Illinois, suggests that high producing Holstein cows should have a BCS at calving not greater than 3. This results in less body condition loss at freshening. High BCS at calving can actually exacerbate negative energy balance in early lactation rather than preventing it. From the standpoint of management, a fat cow is a greater welfare risk than a thinner cow.
- What is the protein requirement of the close-up dry cow? Robert Van Saun, Penn State University, suggested feeding 90 to 100 grams of metabolizable protein (MP) per kilogram of dry matter so that each cow in a group gets at least 1100 grams of MP per day. Recent research indicates that supplementing methionine in late gestation can help improve health and immune status.
In the area of precision dairy farming, Ben Smink, Lely, gave the attendees a list of 7 steps of a management circle to optimize the use of robotic milking systems: vision, design, goal, observe, analyze, adjust, and evaluate. Then go back to step 3 and continuously improve. Require advisors to provide a scenario rather than just single step advice. With Lely systems, free cow traffic resulted in 2.2 pounds more milk per cow per day than guided traffic. Pens with more than one robot produced 130 pounds more milk per robot per day than pens with just one robot.
My message to the attendees about being successful with automated calf feeders was to have excellent colostrum management, maintain small group sizes, design pens with good ventilation and no drafts, feed at least 8 liters of high quality milk daily (as peak amount), provide clean and comfortable bedding, clean and calibrate automated feeder regularly, clean/replace nipples and hoses regularly (daily and every other day, respectively) and overall keys to success: clean, clean, clean.
On the topic of digital dermatitis, Dorte Dopfer, University of Wisconsin, indicated that chronic digital dermatitis is for life. Cows will cycle between stages of the disease. We need to recognize early and treat promptly! The first sign of success is to observe less proliferative digital dermatitis. Karin Orsei, University of Calgary, reiterated the need for ideal footbath design (longer than 10 feet, so cows can immerse each hoof more than once) to help us reduce lameness caused by infectious diseases such as digital dermatitis.
Other topics were also covered during the event. Proceedings will be available online sometime in the near future at www.wcds.ca.