Sep 22, 2014
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Animal Health & Nutrition

RSS By: Rick Lundquist, Dairy Today

Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. He provides livestock production advice.

Keep Feeders Informed, Involved, Motivated

Aug 28, 2014

They handle millions of dollars in feed, equipment and cattle. Proper training and protocols are imperative.

By Rick Lundquist

Besides my dairy consulting practice, I’m also in the retail ice cream business. Most of our employees are high school and college kids. They are one of our greatest assets.

They can also make or break this business. But if you think about it, unsupervised, it’s like handing a 17-year-old the keys to a Lamborghini.

Your feeders have much more responsibility than an ice cream shop.

Your feeders potentially handle millions of dollars worth of feed, operate equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and influence the health and production of millions of dollars worth of cattle.

Proper training and protocols are imperative. So is measuring job performance. Fortunately, the metrics have been made easier with state-of-the- art feed software programs.

Feed software programs now allow managers and feeders to monitor efficiency and accuracy and provide instant accountability. They measure loading and unloading accuracy and speed for each feeder. They record the amount of time each load was mixed and the time of day each load was fed for each pen and by each feeder. Deviations to protocol are recorded in reports and graphs for easy interpretation.

Feed management software can and should be used as an educational tool for employees – not a policing tool. If you need to police an employee, you probably don’t need that employee on the dairy.

Regular feeder meetings to discuss deviations to feeding protocol are an invaluable tool to increase feeder performance and work satisfaction. Putting a dollar value on deviations really hits home.

Let’s say that a particular feeder was 10% over on a protein/mineral premix over a week period on a 600-cow dairy. If that premix cost’s $500/ton and is supposed to be fed at 5 lb./cow, a 10% deviation cost the dairy $525/week or $27,000/year. That’s just one ingredient.

But inconsistencies in amounts, mixing times and feeding times also contribute to milk loss and health issues. This is by far the most expensive consequence of deviations from protocol. Your nutritionist and veterinarian can help put a dollar value on how these deviations affect production and health. They should be present at feeder meetings.

Feed software helps you measure shrink and inventory control. Your feeder can minimize shrink by pushing spilled feed back in the bin, minimizing wind loss and good silage face management. Again, putting a dollar amount on shrink is an excellent educational tool.

Training and education should be a continuous process, not a crash course when employees are hired. Regular monitoring of feeding protocols using feed management software is an invaluable aid, especially on larger dairies. The impact on the dairy’s bottom line is obvious.

Numerous studies and surveys show that good employees – the ones you want – are motivated by respect, interesting work and recognition for good work.
Ironically, money is rarely at the top of the list for overall job satisfaction. Involve your feeders in the business by measuring their importance and contributions.

Night Feeding During Hot Weather Can Cause Slug Feeding

Jul 24, 2014

A cow’s body clock dictates her milk production, components and how she eats.

I once worked with a dairyman who would force his cows up several times during the day and night to come to the feed bunk and eat. He knew that more feed intake meant more milk.

But cows have daily routines just like we do. Upsetting these routines can have consequences. Cows are influenced by circadian patterns -- body clocks, if you will -- and any disruptions may affect cow health and production.

Cow behavior is influenced by a master clock, which is controlled by day and night -- light and dark. They also have peripheral clocks that are affected by environmental clues and feeding times.

Photoperiod has a huge influence on production. Milk, fat and protein increase with increasing day length. It’s not just the amount of daylight, but the change in day length that affects production. Hence, the spring milk flush as day length rapidly increases.

Dr. Kevin Harvatine of Penn State University has been studying circadian patterns of production in cows. He shows that cows consistently produce more milk from the morning milking than the evening milking. This response is consistent for both 2- and 3-time per-day milkings. The difference between morning and evening can be over 4 lb. per cow per day. Milk composition also varies with time of day. Body temperature also follows circadian rhythms, as does feed intake and rate of feed intake. Even when feeding a TMR, starch intake varies greatly during the day due to intake variability. It’s usually higher in the morning just after milking. Thus, rumen pH can also vary, according to Dr. Harvatine, with daily intake variability.

What does all this have to do with night feeding? Cows like their routines. They like having fresh feed available when they return from the parlor. They like to eat their fill and then lie down and rest and ruminate. When we feed a higher portion of their daily feed at night during hot weather, cows tend to slug feed (a common term for eating a lot of feed quickly). This is evidenced by Kevin’s data showing a high insulin response to a high rate of intake when feed is put out at night. It may be that cows want to eat quickly so they can get back to their routine – resting at night. I’ve always recommended feeding a greater portion of the daily intake at night during the summer. Cows eat more when it’s cooler. Dr. Harvatine’s studies indicate that there is more to it.

We need to keep the cow’s body clock in mind -- maybe a higher forage concentration in the evening TMR to counteract the greater rate of intake and reduce the potential for acidosis.

Do Everything You Can to Reduce Heat Stress

Jun 12, 2014

Why you can’t allow a cow’s body temperature to rise above the critical point at any time of the day or night.

By Rick Lundquist, Ph.D.

My clients have come a long way with heat abatement in recent years. It’s paid dividends in sustained milk production during the summer. I think I can safely say that my Florida clients deal with heat and humidity that will rival anywhere in the world. But we can always do better. Summer milk production has fared better than summer reproduction. We still see summer pregnancy rates in the single digits on some dairies.

Nutritional strategies help combat heat stress (more frequent feedings, high quality forage, higher DCAD, etc). But the best way to reduce the effects of heat stress is to reduce the heat.

I asked Dr. Jose Santos of the University of Florida to visit a few of my clients south of the I-4 corridor last month to address our reproduction and heat abatement issues. South of I-4, which runs between Tampa and Orlando, is where the tropics begin in Florida. Reproduction suffers here in the summer. One comment by Dr. Santos stuck in my mind; at an internal body temperature of 103 degrees F, we are frying embryos. That means when I see a cow with a respiration rate of 80 or more that has recently become pregnant, chances are that embryo is dead.

I visited a dairy in Florida last week that had probably the best heat abatement I’ve seen. There were sprinklers over the feed lanes, fans (all working) over the feed lanes and beds, fans over the holding areas with sprinklers over and under the cows, soakers in the exit lane and rainbirds in the travel lanes. This is how a comprehensive heat abatement system should look in hot, humid climates.

We can’t allow the cow’s body temperature to rise above the critical point at any time of the day or night, or much of our heat abatement could be wasted. Holding pens are critical because body temperature can spike here when cows are crowded.

How long does it take for the internal temperature of a cow to return to normal after she gets hot? That’s a lot of mass to cool down. Research shows that once a cow gets hot (103 F body temperature or more) it takes at least 45 minutes to cool her down if she is under fans and soakers. Damage to the embryo may already be done. Otherwise, it can take 6-8 hours for her body temperature to return to normal at an ambient temperature of 68 degrees.

Hat’s off to Dr. Tom Bailey and the team from Elanco for putting together a comprehensive heat abatement guide. Following the recommendations in this guide will definitely reduce the effects of hot weather on our herds.

Vitamin E: What's the Requirement?

Dec 30, 2013

Inconclusive research leads to expensive guessing.

Vitamin E can be one of the most expensive supplements in our rations, and in my opinion, we don’t know the cow’s requirement.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant and is supplemented to reduce oxidative stress in tissues caused when reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulate. These ROS have been shown to be associated with an increased incidence of retained placenta and metabolic diseases. The National Research Council (NRC) recommends supplementing 1000 IU of vitamin E prepartum and 500 IU postpartum. Researchers at Ohio State have suggested that levels as high as 4,000 IU prepartum may be beneficial.

So, what does this cost the dairy producer? Vitamin E production is controlled by very few players in the world – primarily the Chinese. The market goes up and down as these producers manipulate the market. The approximate cost for 1000 IU of vitamin E, by the time it gets to the farm has varied over the past 6 years from as low as 3¢/cow/day to over 10¢/cow/day. So, 4000 IU could cost as much as 40¢/cow.

There have been no definitive titration studies done with vitamin E under different physiological or environmental conditions to really pinpoint a requirement. We went from 300 IU to 500 to 1000 and then jumped to 4,000 IU as recommended supplemental levels. What if you’re feeding fresh forage, which can be loaded with vitamin E, or only ensiled forages with very little vitamin E?

I recently read a University of Florida study, where the effect of heat stress and vitamin E levels were examined. The hypothesis was that heat stress increased oxidative stress in the animals and vitamin E may help alleviate this. Cows were supplemented with levels from 500 to 3000 IU vitamin E pre and postpartum under cooled or heat stressed conditions.

The results were pretty much inconclusive, although feeding more vitamin E did increase the level of E in the blood. Feeding the high level of vitamin E to mature cows under heat stress increased milk, but first-calf heifers actually produced less milk with higher vitamin E supplementation, whether heat stressed or not. Based on blood NEFA levels, the first-calf heifers were under less metabolic stress than cows. The researchers theorized that supplementing too much vitamin E to the less stressed heifers may have caused greater radical formation which reduced performance. Wow, too much vitamin E?

There’s no question that vitamin E is a required nutrient. Dairy producers spend a lot of money on vitamin E, based on what I consider less than adequate research.
We’ve really dialed in on protein and carbohydrate requirements in recent years. I think we should do the same with vitamin E. Since the U.S. doesn’t produce any, maybe we could make it a national security issue.


Lundquist & Associates, Nutrition Professionals, is based in Duluth, MN. Contact Rick at


A Classic Case of Milk Fat Depression

Oct 28, 2013

Nutritionist Rick Lundquist explains how ration changes lowered this herd’s milk fat numbers before a diet modification restored them.

I was reading a paper about milk fat depression published in the October 2013 Journal of Dairy Science. One of my client’s dairies had just experienced a case of milk fat depression. This rarely occurs, but, when it does, there’s no doubt what’s happening. The timeline on this dairy followed the experimentally induced milk fat depression in this study almost to a "T."

Milk fat depression occurs when all the stars align in the diet and hence, the rumen, even in well formulated diets. High fat (especially unsaturated fat), combined with high starch or low fiber alter the biohydrogenation pathways in the rumen, producing trans fatty acids that inhibit milk fat synthesis in the mammary gland. Rumensin seems to accentuate these changes.

According to the researchers, the timeline for milk fat depression follows dietary induced changes in rumen microbial populations. Unsaturated fatty acids in the ration cause changes in microbial pathways as soon as two to three days after ration changes. But full milk fat depression takes about 14-19 days as microbial shifts are complete. Milk fat can be restored by changing the diet (reducing oil, increasing forage) and the recovery follows a similar pattern, as rumen microbial populations adjust to the new diet.

In our case, butterfat was running about 3.7% prior to the ration changes. We were running low on alfalfa haylage due to a loss of first cutting. Because of this, we had to increase the proportion of corn silage in the diet. Then our whole cottonseed contract ran out, so tallow replaced the fat provided by the cottonseed. We were also feeding about 400 mg of Rumensin. Dietary fiber was similar before and after the changes, although the physically effective fiber had changed due to less haylage and no cottonseed.

Cows were ruminating well and manure looked normal, but butterfat started slipping a few days after cottonseed was replaced with tallow plus additional corn silage and protein. Butterfat was down to less than 3.0% within three weeks.

It was apparent that the combination of more corn silage, lower effective fiber and the tallow had caused a microbial shift that resulted in production of milk fat robbing fatty acids. Corn and corn silage can contribute a lot of unsaturated corn oil.

We brought in some hay, reduced the tallow and replaced it with a rumen inert bypass fat. We also bought some more cottonseed. Butterfat began turning in a few days, with a full recovery in about two weeks.

In retrospect, we should have replaced the whole cottonseed with a rumen inert fat rather than tallow. Even though we may know how to fix milk fat depression, the rumen microbial population is slow to adjust, so two to three weeks of low butterfat can be expected.

Reference: Rico, D. E. and K. J. Harventine. 2013. Induction of and recovery from milk fat depression occurs progressively in dairy cows switched between diets that differ in fiber and oil concentration. J. Dairy Sci. 96:6621-6630.

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