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February 2014 Archive for Dairy Today Healthline

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Dairy Today Healthline

Managing Three Top Sources of Dairy Cow Stress

Feb 28, 2014

You might think a cow’s immune system functions at a near-constant level throughout the year, but it doesn't. These strategies will help you manage those fluctuations.

Troy Wistuba   CopyBy Troy Wistuba, Prince Agri Products

Dairy cow health issues, such as mastitis, metritis and elevated somatic cell counts, often result from the stress that dairy cattle experience. To best manage the health of your dairy herds, it’s important to understand the physiological factors of stress and the detrimental impact it has on the health, performance and profitability.

There are numerous sources of stress throughout the lactation cycle of the cow. In most cases, these stressful events are associated with the release of cortisol, an adrenal hormone, known to have negative effects on the immune system’s activity. Oftentimes, dairy producers and nutritionists assume that the cow’s immune system is functioning at a near constant level throughout the year. However, in reality the immune system has numerous fluctuations in functionality depending on exposure to stressful events such as calving, weather changes, feed quality, overcrowding and pathogens. Three stressors in particular known to cause immune system dysfunction are calving, excessive heat and mycotoxin ingestion.

Stressor #1 – Calving

Parturition, or calving, although a one-time-a-year event, can generate immunological stress on multiple levels ranging from pen movements and ration changes to the influence of hormones at calving and the nutrient demands of lactation. Strategies that reduce stress around the time of calving should optimize the chance for success. The goal for a successful calving program should be to reduce the number of metabolic, psychological and pathogenic stresses during the transition period. Our focus should be to reduce the amount of stress through adaptive nutrition (close-up diets) and behavioral management (protected calving pens) prior to calving.

Prince graph 2 28 14

Hypothetically, the immune status of dairy cows is constant during the lactation cycle. But because of many sources of stress – such as calving, feed quality and heat stress – there is actually a lot of variance of the dairy cow immune system. (Source: James D. Chapman, Ph.D., PAS, 2013)

Stressor #2 – Heat Stress

It’s well understood that heat-stressed cows have lower feed intakes and, as a result, lower milk production. In addition, heat-stressed cows also suffer from lower immune function, which can lead to increased mastitis, higher somatic cell counts, lower fertility, etc. The effects of heat stress can be minimized through alternative management practices and nutritional strategies. If cows reduce their intake during heat stress, more nutrients need to be packed into a smaller volume of feed.

Consider these heat stress management tips:

1) Work with your nutritionist to adjust dairy cow rations, considering decreased feed intake.
2) Increase the amount of available water.
3) Increase air flow (be certain air moves freely in all sections of the barn).
4) Use misters in targeted areas.

Stressor #3 – Molds and mycotoxins

Molds and mycotoxins are typically found in dairy cattle feed and disrupt normal rumen digestion. This reduces feed intakes and milk production, but, more importantly, stresses the immune system, increasing the likelihood for disease, culling and, in certain cases, death. Stress, physiological state, nutritional standing and disease status will independently and collectively determine the response of a given animal to a specific mycotoxin level or complex of mycotoxins.

To reduce the effects of mycotoxins on dairy cattle health, consider the following:

• Replace the ration and/or remove moldy feeds from the ration.
• Use inorganic binders to bind mycotoxins and prevent them from being absorbed by the animal.
• Increase nutrients such as protein, energy (fats and carbohydrates) and vitamins in the diet.
• Add a nutritional supplement to the ration to help support the cow’s natural immune system.

Cows experience immunosuppression throughout the year, and the solution is complex and multifaceted. The best strategy to avoid metabolic insults to the immune system is to provide a highly nutritional diet to maximize dairy cow health and help support the immune system. In addition to sound nutritional management, best management practices to maximize hygiene and minimize stressors throughout the year are crucial to helping prevent immunosuppression.

Troy Wistuba, Ph.D., PAS, is a dairy technology manager for Prince Agri Products, Inc. He’s a former animal science professor and specializes in working with producers, nutritionists and veterinarians to meet the nutritional needs of dairy cattle. He can be contacted at

Remove the Dust from Old Protocols

Feb 27, 2014

Make establishing an effective herd-health protocol more interesting to employees with these tips.

Jorge Delgado   AlltechBy Jorge Delgado, Alltech On-Farm Support Manager

When I visit dairies to review some of their protocols for managing herd health, I find that most of them are not translated correctly. Some protocols are simply a piece of paper hanging on the wall, while others appear not updated or too complicated.

When was the last time you reviewed your existing protocols with your veterinarian and employees and made sure everyone was on the same page? The most important part of a good protocol plan is to include employees in the decisions of what goes into making these protocols and then explain to them the WHY of these best practice tips. For example, employees need to know why the dairy uses chosen medications, when the most important withdrawal times are and what the symptoms of sickness are and the economical effects of these on the operation.

Here are some tips for establishing an effective protocol:

1. Ask your veterinarian to create a protocol for your dairy.

2. Translate the procedures listed in the protocol for Spanish speakers.

3. Illustrate the protocol through a presentation to the employees.

4. Use pictures for every topic in the protocol (i.e. a cow with pneumonia for pneumonia treatments, etc). Pictures will make the protocol easier to follow and relate to for employees.

5. Include a description of the common symptoms for every disease identified in your protocol.

6. Take a picture of all medications (vaccines, bottles, mastitis tubes, pills, etc.) and make a copy of the labels including these with the descriptions above.

7. Make sure there is a note of the site of injection for every treatment or event.

8. When taking the photographs, have one of your employees model the task (e.g.: mixing a vaccine, injecting a cow, etc.) so they feel they are part of the process.

9. Share the costs of treatments so employees can understand how much the medicine and the treatment cost per cow/calf. During meetings, discuss budgets for medicine, using efficacy and inventory.

10. Laminate the protocols so everyone can review them or refer to them when they are working with animals.

11. Review your protocols with your employees and your veterinarian every six months.

Alltech photo 1aAt left is an example of one of the pages of a protocol for fresh cows. It is translated and has a picture of a cow with a retained placenta as well as pictures of the medicine selected to treat this event.

Also for practices like tagging, mixing vaccinations, dipping navals, etc., you can add pictures to your protocols to make sure the way it is done is the correct way followed by the right training.

Below are some examples of a calf ranch protocol including some of the practices they follow with pictures and correct steps of the process for feeding a calf as well as mixing a vaccine:

Alltech photo 2

Alltech photo 3









All you need to make a protocol more interesting to your employees is a camera and a computer. Once you are done, you can print them, laminate them, put them in a folder or even make a poster.  

Jorge Delgado is a third-generation dairy farmer from Ecuador. He is in integral part of Alltech’s on-farm support team. Delgado provides assistance in improving labor management, milk quality and trains Spanish-speaking workers on dairy farms in areas such as calving, milking, fresh cow management, and herd health. Contact Delgado at or 605-692-5310.
Learn more at

Get the Basics Right Before Fine-Tuning Rations

Feb 14, 2014

Even the best rations can be undermined by management issues and unknown or unaccounted-for herd dynamics.

Elliot Block RGBBy Dr. Elliot Block, Research Fellow, Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition

Nutrition tweaks and adjustments are a necessary part of good ration management, and the right decisions made at the right time can pay big dividends. However, it’s not unusual for field assessments to find that for these ration tweaks to be effective, any underlying herd challenges must be identified and resolved first or the ration adjustment can be an expensive exercise in futility.

Even the best rations can be undermined by management issues and unknown or unaccounted-for herd dynamics.

The first step
First and foremost, a herd monitoring system must be in place to accurately and consistently identify key data—like individual health incidents, milk and component production, and reproductive events—as well as incidence trends. This system must track realistic numbers and offer more information than just total milk shipped.

Take the time to define which data to collect and how the information will be entered into your management software. Producers, their management team and key consultants must be confident that 10 cases of ketosis are 10 accurate cases, and not one cow entered into the system 10 times or 10 different ways before using that data to make any management changes.

If necessary, revisit herd protocols and provide employee training on protocol compliance to ensure policies are being followed and information is recorded appropriately.

Monitor parameters
Once proper monitoring is in place, producers and their team can then address performance bottlenecks holding the herd back and focus on solutions that aid in success.

Use the data gained through accurate monitoring to assess herd performance. Key metrics to evaluate include:
• Milk production parameters like production per cow per day, milk component production and milk production trends.
• Reproduction parameters like 21-day pregnancy rate, conception rate and days to first insemination.
• Herd health incidents and total incidence for transition diseases like metritis, ketosis and milk fever.

Utilize expert advice
Bring in outside expertise when appropriate to offer a fresh perspective on the information. Then use the data and advice to make management decisions and/or needed changes. These analyses should be done on dairies of all sizes on a regular basis to reach optimum performance.

Case study
A high-producing Midwestern dairy was recently looking to balance its lactating ration for amino acids. Before reformulating the ration, the dairy decided to bring a team in to evaluate herd performance to determine if there were areas to improve beforehand that would not allow the benefits of amino acid balancing to be fully realized.

Six basic data points were used as a jumping-off point for the herd’s performance assessments and ensuing herd investigation:
• 21-day Pregnancy Rate
• Conception Rate
• Days to First Insemination
• Dry Period Length
• First Test Day Milk and Component Production
• Peak Milk and Component Production

While these parameters are not direct measurements of the herd’s nutrition program, they all are impacted by nutrition programs and demonstrate how most issues require a multidisciplinary approach.

Somewhat surprisingly, there were a number of bottlenecks lurking below the surface. Based on the six parameters, herd investigators concluded the following:
• Production. First test day butterfat tests showed 35% of the lactating herd with butterfat levels greater than 4.5% and many were above 5%. This indicated a potentially serious incidence of clinical/subclincal ketosis within the herd.
• Dry period. More than 60% of the herd had dry periods longer than the target of 50 to 60 days, with the average being 66 days dry. The extended dry periods put cows at risk for metabolic disorders during transition and are a potential cause for high incidence of ketosis.
• Days to insemination. While the herd’s annual pregnancy rate was 16%, that performance was somewhat misleading because of the time it took to get cows into the breeding program. Instead of the goal of nearly 100% of cows inseminated by 85 days in milk, only 75% of cows were inseminated by that timeframe.
• Delayed breedings. This meant that instead of greater than 50% of cows pregnant by 100 days in milk, it took until 125 days in milk for that percentage of cows to reach the goal. Conception rates also did not meet goals.

As a result, the assessment provided the following areas for improvement:
1. Reproduction. Due to the dairy’s inconsistent reproduction program, cows had long days in milk before dry-off, as well as longer than desired dry periods. This most likely resulted in higher body condition scores. In addition, heat detection needed to be addressed by the dairy.
2. Transition. The herd’s high incidence of ketosis had lasting impacts, meaning transition management needed to be targeted.

Prior to the investigation, this well-managed, high-producing herd seemed to have everything right and be at a point where fine-tuning the ration was appropriate. However, bigger gains could be seen when underlying issues were fixed first. The dairy quickly modified a few key practices and improvements were seen in a very short time. Only then was it appropriate to fine-tune the herd’s amino acid nutrition to realize the full economic benefits of this technology.

Bottoms Up: Tips to Prevent Lameness

Feb 03, 2014

Economic data clearly show that financial losses from hoof disease far exceed the costs of prevention.

Jessica Light Zoetis By Jessica Light, DVM, MA, Dairy Technical Services, Zoetis

Today, there are 36 million hooves making their imprint on U.S. dairy farms. With that many hooves on dairies, hoof health becomes an important factor in maintaining cow care and overall Dairy Wellness.

Clinical lameness is pervasive, found on about 31% of California dairies and 55% of dairies in the Northeast, according to the University of British Columbia’s Animal Welfare Program, which partnered on research with key dairy industry players in the United States and Canada.1 According to other studies, the vast majority of lameness cases are caused by diseases of the foot.2

Economic data clearly show that financial losses from hoof disease far exceed the costs of prevention. Decreased milk production, weight loss, premature death and culling, decreased reproductive performance and treatment expenses are the most recognized financial costs of allowing cows to succumb to lameness.3

Preventive measures to help minimize lameness include hoof trimming at least once per lactation. Hoof trimming provides claw soundness and also can help uncover potential hoof problems such as ulcers. Another important preventive measure for lameness is early detection of disease. Incentivizing cow pushers and milkers to identify lame cows early and to take action for diagnosis and treatment can have a positive impact on reducing herd lameness.

Proper nutrition management also can help lower the number of foot problems in the dairy herd. Changes in feeding can have a tremendous impact on claw health. Laminitis has many contributing factors, but a good nutrition program will go a long way to reduce the impact of laminitis.

In cases of foot rot, prompt treatment is critical. A single case is estimated to cost up to $446 per cow, and it increases the risk of culling, especially during the first half of lactation.4 But extended antibiotic therapy with EXCEDE® (ceftiofur crystalline free acid) Sterile Suspension can help reduce labor costs, hospital pen exposure and performance losses because cows remain in the milking string. EXCENEL® RTU EZ (ceftiofur hydrochloride) Sterile Suspension also is a powerful choice for treatment of foot rot.5

The Dairyland Initiative from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, examines the impact of the housing environment on dairy cattle well-being. It notes that footbath protocols are an important part of hoof health. Maintaining a clean and dry foot environment and regular footbaths create an effective management protocol. The objective of footbathing is to remove erosive material from the hoof and to disinfect the skin above the hooves.

Best management practices for successful footbaths endorsed by The Dairyland Initiative and other hoof experts are:

• Placing footbaths in a well-lit and ventilated area
• Using footbaths that are easy to clean and refill
• Situating footbaths in lanes so they don’t disrupt cow flow, especially out of the parlor
• Setting up footbaths on nonslip surfaces
• Keeping the footbath free of debris and at an effective pH level

For producers looking to reduce copper sulfate use in footbaths, the state-of-the-art formulation of HOOF-TEC™ footbath products allows them to run more efficient footbaths by reducing copper sulfate use by up to 40%.* With fewer footbaths and better pH management, producers can achieve Dairy Wellness from the ground up.

Producers should work with their veterinarian to create a great hoof care program and do their part to keep those 36 million hooves healthy and strong. Visit for more tips and tools to manage animal health and productivity.

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION for EXCEDE: People with known hypersensitivity to penicillin or cephalosporins should avoid exposure to EXCEDE. EXCEDE is contraindicated in animals with known allergy to ceftiofur or to the ß-lactam group (penicillins and cephalosporins) of antimicrobials. Inadvertent intra-arterial injection is possible and fatal. Do not use in calves to be processed for veal. Pre-slaughter withdrawal time is 13 days following the last dose. See full Prescribing Information here

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION for EXCENEL RTU EZ: People with known hypersensitivity to penicillin or cephalosporins should avoid exposure to EXCENEL RTU EZ. Do not use in animals found to be hypersensitive to the product. Do not slaughter cattle for 4 days following last treatment. Do not use in calves to be processed for veal. See full Prescribing Information here

1 The University of British Columbia Dairy Education and Research Centre. Lameness on BC and US dairy farms. Available at: Accessed January 8, 2014.
2 Warnick LD, Janssen D, Guard CL, Gröhn YT. The effect of lameness on milk production in dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 2001;84(9):1988-1997.
3 Weaver AD. Economic importance of digital diseases in cattle. Bov Pract 1984;19:223-225.
4 Booth CJ, Warnick LD, Gröhn YT, Maizon DO, Guard CL, Janssen D. Effect of lameness on culling in dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 2004;87(12):4115-4122.
5 Van Donkersgoed J, Dussault M, Knight P, Byers L. Clinical efficacy of a single injection of ceftiofur crystalline free acid sterile injectable suspension versus three daily injections of ceftiofur sodium sterile powder for the treatment of footrot in feedlot cattle. Vet Ther 2008;9(2):157-162.

* Based on traditional copper sulfate dosage rate of 5% of footbath volume. Copper sulfate dosage with HOOF-TEC™ 1000 Footbath Concentrate is reduced to a rate of 3% of footbath volume. The change in dosage results in a 40% reduction of copper sulfate use.

You can reach Dr. Light at All trademarks are the property of Zoetis Inc., its affiliates and/or its licensors. ©2014 Zoetis Inc. All rights reserved. HFT14011 

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