Sep 21, 2014
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Dairy Today Healthline

Using Ultrasound to Assess Calf Health

Sep 15, 2014

The tool can help monitor problems such as pneumonia, which can set a calf back on her growth as she battles the disease and lungs heal.

By Dr. Liz Adams, Technical Service Veterinarian, Merck Animal Health

Ever have a non-ag person ask you why a dairy cow is so skinny? My answer is that she is not skinny; she has the body of an Olympic athlete. Then I ask the person to think about the body of a long- distance runner. That is the body of a dairy cow. We require our cows to perform like Olympic athletes.

To perform this well, we need the cow to be in her top condition and this begins when she is a calf. The rate-limiting organ in a calf the first year of life is her lung. This means that if she doesn’t have full use of her lung volume, such as what happens with pneumonia, then she will not grow or perform as well compared to her herd mates with healthy lungs.

Compared to a horse, an adult resting dairy cow has 30 percent of the physical lung volume but uses 250 percent more oxygen. Just ruminating and making milk requires a great deal of energy, and a cow will maximize lung capacity even though she is not running in a race. A cow does not have any reserve lung capacity to spare. If we want her to perform at her peak, then we need to ensure that she has the best feed and water, the necessary rest and the lung volume capacity to do the job.

This is where calf lung ultrasound has become a great tool for veterinarians and producers. With an ultrasound, you are able to visualize the lungs and any damage from pneumonia in real time, on-farm and in a live animal. With the same probe that is used for transrectal pregnancy diagnosis and fetal sexing, the lungs can be visualized.

Diseased lung from current or previous pneumonia can be easily distinguished from healthy lung. The ultrasound eliminates guesswork for veterinarians and producers when they need an accurate snapshot of what the state of respiratory disease is on their farm.

Questions that can potentially be answered are:
• How well is my calf doctor diagnosing pneumonia?
• How well are treatments working?
• How well is my transition program working?
• How well are my vaccines and prevention programs working?

The ultrasound can be applied to an individual animal or a group animal setting. On an individual animal, we want to know if more should be invested in treatment for the animal or if she is suited to stay in the herd. On a group basis, animals can be scanned after a period of stress or transition to monitor respiratory health based on objective ultrasound images, as opposed to treatment records that can be subjective or entirely missing.

For the busy veterinarian, lung ultrasound allows him or her to gain knowledge of the respiratory state of an operation in one visit. With ultrasound, the veterinarian can monitor the prevalence and incidence of calf pneumonia on an operation to make a final diagnosis. Both sides of the thorax are scanned, and the lung, from in front of the heart back to the diaphragm, can be visualized. Free fluid or effusion, fibrin and abscesses also can be seen with the ultrasound. After some practice, an entire exam can be performed in two minutes per calf.

Remember that adult cows are top-notch athletes and we expect them to perform at peak levels for at least 10 months of the year. We expect the same thing in our calves, as we want them to grow, come into puberty and never get sick.

Calfhood pneumonia can set a calf back on her growth as she battles the disease and lungs heal. Worst-case scenario is that the lungs never heal completely and she is later a fresh heifer with pneumonia that never makes it into the milking string. With the added tool of lung ultrasound, veterinarians and producers can work together to determine where the challenges are in an operation and monitor improvements and minimize procedural drift.

Dr. Liz Adams is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Adams is known for her work in using ultrasound technology to assess lung damage that heifers may have experience from early bouts of pneumonia, as well as evaluate bovine pregnancies and fetal sexing. She also specializes in the use of microbiology diagnostics to evaluate milk quality. Learn more at

Aligning Genomic Data with Actual Herd Performance

Sep 08, 2014

Genomic tests correlate well with heifers’ milk production

By Cheryl Marti, senior marketing manager, U.S. Dairy Genetics and Reproductives, Zoetis

The availability of commercial genomics testing came just at the right time for Larson Acres, Inc., of Evansville, Wis. "We doubled our herd size about three years ago to 2,800 cows," said Mike Larson, general manager. "Most of that growth came from purchased heifers, and we didn’t have a lot of genetic information on them. Testing all of the heifer calves born to those purchased replacements allowed us to get a handle on their genetic status."

Heifer inventory analyzed

The results of that first round of testing showed that the purchased replacements did not match the genetic caliber of the Larsons’ home-bred replacements. "In a way, I was glad to see that," said Larson. "We’ve invested a lot in our breeding program over the years, and I would have been disappointed if our own animals hadn’t outperformed the purchased ones."

Today, Larson Acres continues to use genomic testing to strategically manage its replacement heifer inventory. Here’s how:

  • All heifer calves born on the dairy are tested at two months of age.
  • The lowest 10 percent are culled from the herd at four to five months of age.
  • The top 10 percent become embryo transplant (ET) candidates.
  • The remaining 80 percent are stratified as recipients of sexed semen, conventional semen, beef semen or donor embryos.

With about 20 percent registered animals in the herd, Larson said genomic information has helped them manage that segment of animals more effectively. "We do a lot more ET work now because we have much more complete and reliable information on our registered females, and which ones will have the most marketable offspring," said Larson.

Reliable results, outstanding service

Now that the Larsons’ earliest genomic-tested animals have entered the milking herd, Larson is impressed with the correlation between genomic data and actual performance of those heifers. "When this technology first became available, the jury was still out as to whether the results would be evident in actual animal performance," he said. "I’m pleased to say that they are. Especially in milk production, they correlate very closely. It’s amazing and extremely helpful that we can evaluate calves at just a few months old and predict their future value to the herd."

To his fellow dairy producers who may be interested in adopting genomic testing, Larson advises a team approach for implementing genomic results. Members of that team may include the herd veterinarian, genetic advisor, nutritionist and a Zoetis representative. "Develop a plan ahead of time for how you’re going to use the data," he said. "If you don’t have a plan in place, it’s not worth spending the money on the testing."

Larson said he values the advice and support he receives from the Zoetis team. They have developed a custom index of traits specific to Larson Acres’ genetic goals, which can be easily adapted if those goals change over time. Zoetis representatives also visit the farm regularly to share additional information, such as how genomic results would correlate with parent averages.

"The CLARIFIDE® results give us so much more information, and it is considerably more reliable than the limited data we previously had available," said Larson. "We are going to be able to increase the genetic value of our herd quite rapidly now."

Learn more about genomic testing and hear from more dairy producers who are using it to maximize herd performance at

All trademarks are the property of Zoetis Inc., its affiliates and/or licensors. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. ©2014 Zoetis Inc. All rights reserved. CLR_00018

Dairy Cows Do Not Have a Crude Protein Requirement

Aug 28, 2014

Focus your attention on metabolizable protein for more accurate results and improved nitrogen utilization.

Elliot Block RGB

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

Dairy cow feedstuffs contain many different proteins at various levels and quality. For years crude protein content was used for formulating dairy diets as one way to overcome this variability.

But crude protein has no relation to what is supplied to the animal that is useful for productive functions. Crude protein values only measure the nitrogen content of a feedstuff, which is the building block of proteins. It does not indicate if the nitrogen is an amino acid, non-protein nitrogen, the bioavailability or degradability of the nitrogen in the rumen, how much of the nitrogen escapes the rumen or if it is bound-nitrogen.1

In short, there is no dietary requirement for crude protein, yet this value still plays a significant role in dairy ration ingredient use and purchase decisions.

Crude protein is worth monitoring for a number of reasons, but it should no longer be the target value for ration balancing.

It is what’s in the protein and its impact on the cow, rumen and/or bacterial output performance that really matters.

Protein Breakdown

A combination of rumen bypass protein, endogenous protein and bacterial protein reaches the intestine and is available for absorption. This is metabolizable protein—it is what the animal needs, and should be the protein basis used to formulate rations.

Metabolizable protein supplies the amino acids the cows need for growth, to maintain body condition, produce milk and support fetal growth. Metabolizable protein is defined as the true protein that is digested postruminally, along with its amino acid components that are absorbed by the small intestine. Absorbed amino acids are used for the synthesis of proteins, which are essential for an animal’s growth, reproduction and milk production.

The Dairy National Research Council (2001) has suggested moving to a metabolizable protein system to better define and refine protein formulation and utilization, says Dr. Larry Chase, extension dairy nutrition specialist at Cornell University. "This system fits with the biology of the cow," he adds.

Stop Overfeeding Protein

Of utmost concern to dairy producers should be that when they base diets on crude protein, they are likely over- or underfeeding protein to cows. Either way, cows do not receive what they need.

For example, a ration may meet a cow’s metabolizable protein needs at varying crude protein levels—you can meet needs at 15% crude protein and/or 18% crude protein depending on the ration and feedstuffs included.

Plus overfeeding protein results in cows excreting excessive nitrogen. This has environmental impacts for dairies in regard to the release of nitrogen and ammonia emissions—both of which are under increasing scrutiny.

Furthermore, when buying feedstuffs based on crude protein, producers are not being efficient with their feed dollars, as shown by the chart below.

As you can see, rations with similar crude protein levels can deliver vastly different metabolizable protein levels. Note that the values shown here are based on the increase in metabolizable protein predicted in CPM Dairy (v5.0) by adding one pound of each supplement to a high-producing cow’s diet. Furthermore, it was assumed that the price per ton of soybean meal, FERMENTEN™, blood meal and canola were $500, $650, $1,000 and $375, respectively.

What’s Stopping You?

Balancing rations based on metabolizable protein is increasing in the dairy industry, but not everyone is doing so yet.

The challenge is that this system is not as simple as it is with crude protein, and requires the use of ration balancing programs to calculate both metabolizable protein requirements and the metabolizable protein supplied by feeds and microbial protein synthesized in the rumen, explains Chase. Still, he says, the industry is changing to a metabolizable protein approach.

Successful implementation will require working more closely with nutritionists and other nutritional partners to determine the metabolizable protein value of feedstuffs under consideration for ration inclusion. It also means working with these partners during purchase decisions to help producers make the most economical decisions when determining which feed ingredients to buy.

Don’t let this change in this relationship throw you. "This system should provide an opportunity to improve the efficiency of protein use in dairy cattle," Chase concludes. That improvement can have long-lasting impacts on your dairy’s productivity and profitability.

1 Varga G. Why Use Metabolizable Protein for Ration Balancing. Available at: Accessed November 17, 2013.

Success of Stall Measured in Inches, Not Feet

Aug 07, 2014

When was the last time you really looked to see if your cows have enough space in their freestalls?

By Tom Lorenzen, Alltech Dairy Specialist

Stop, look and listen to your cows. When was the last time you spent some time observing your herd in their freestalls? What did you hear and see?

Cows don’t lie when it comes to how they prefer to lie down. Cows lying backwards are often turning away from stall features they dislike and pointing to open space needed for freedom of normal motion.

Cows lie in the stall in one of four normal resting positions: wide, narrow, short and long. The short resting position is where the cow can place her head next to her body. She can also groom herself while lying down. It’s natural behavior to see a cow in the wide position, sunning herself in the pasture. In the freestall, the cow will rest more on her side with the rear legs extended. In the long position, the cow rests with her head extended forward.

No matter what position the cow chooses, the freestall needs to provide the cow the freedom to rest with her legs, udder and tail on the platform. Every dairy needs to provide a clean, dry and comfortable stall so that cows can lie down 10 to 14 hours per day.

One dairy I recently visited had many rough and bruised top lines on its cows. More than 33%  of the cows perched in their stalls.

We made spacers to raise the neck rail up from 42 inches to 50 and perching went down 20%. It is important to remember the neck rail positions the cow to stand up so that she can defecate in the alley.

The dairy also removed the concrete and 2x8 brisket boards. They used sand in the front of the stalls as brisket locators and perching went down another 2%. Milk production increased by 4 lb. per cow and the dairy also noticed a decrease in lameness.

Without a brisket locator, a cow will lie too far forward so when she gets up she will disrupt three other cows lying down. We can reduce these events with a deterrent strap.

A deterrent strap must not interfere with the upward bobbing of the head. A suggested placemat
is 0.7 x rump height above stall surface (cow’s feet). A deterrent strap, not a steel cable, will reduce the number of cows walking through the stalls.

Also, if there is not enough sand in the front of the stall to act as the "‘brisket locator’" to position the cow, then she tends to lay too far forward in the stall and then crawls backward to get up to avoid pain from the neck rail.

Once sand is added, the dairy should use a tool to level out the stalls so that the cows have a nice, soft, even bed to lie down in. What causes cows to lie diagonally in their stall? The answer is inadequate lunge space and too short of a resting space.

We also need to remember the dry/transition cows when it comes to space. We need to provide a minimum of 150 square feet per cow and 30 to 36 inches of bunk space. We also need to ensure we are providing enough water space for these cows. A dry cow has 45 to 60 days to re-charge her battery for the next lactation. Are we providing enough feed bunk space and water space for these cows?

According to Dr. Neil Anderson, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, there are six cow freedoms to consider in stall design:

1. Freedom to stretch their front legs forward
2. Freedom to lie on their sides with unobstructed space for their neck and head
3. Freedom to rest their heads against their sides without hindrance from a partition
4. Freedom to rest with their legs, udder and tails on the platform
5. Freedom to stand or lie without fear or pain from neck rails, partitions or supports
6. Freedom to rest on a clean, dry and soft bed

In conclusion, it’s important to remember a cow’s stall is designed to allow the cow to get up straight in the stall without pain or injury. The success of the stall is measured in inches, not feet. Always do what is best for your cow and provide continuous training for parlor efficiency.

Tom Lorenzen is an Alltech On-Farm Support Manager in Juneau, Wis. Prior to joining Alltech, Lorenzen spent 10 years with a feed ingredient company looking for non-nutritional bottlenecks that affect quality milk production and performance. His interest in the dairy industry led him to develop the Udder Health and Sanitation program for a major milking equipment company. His focus with Alltech is on three areas: dairy audits, education through milking technician schools, and education through milk quality presentations to the dairy industry. He has spoken at the World Dairy Expo in China, the Cigal Dairy Show in Mexico, and the National Mastitis Council Meeting in the U.S. Contact him at

Refugia 101: Dilution Is the Solution

Aug 04, 2014

"If parasites are such a health threat to my cattle, why not deworm all of them?" Here’s why you shouldn’t.

Van Dyke 20small[1]

By Tom Van Dyke, Merial Veterinary Services

If parasites are such a health threat to my cattle, then why wouldn’t I want to deworm all of them? This is a logical and typical follow-up question by producers learning about the concept of refugia. Now, instead of eliminating all internal parasites, maintaining refugia means intentionally allowing some worms to survive.1,2,3

Internal parasites have long been recognized as one of the most costly health challenges in the livestock industries.3,4,5 Dairy calves and replacement heifers on grass are at greatest risk from the costly negative effects of internal parasites.6,7 Parasitism reduces weight gains in dairy calves and yearlings, affects body condition scores, delays time to first breeding and impairs milk production during first lactation.6,7

Dewormers, or anthelmintics, have been recognized as one of the most cost-effective pharmaceutical technologies.5 Anthelmintics have improved in spectrum and efficacy over time.3 There is a growing concern that repeated use of products from the available dewormer classes may lead to widespread parasite resistance.1,2,4,5,8

Resistance means that an increasing percentage of parasites in a population survive treatment with a dewormer that has been effective in the past. With each successive treatment, a few resistant parasites may survive to pass on their genetics to the next generation. After repeated treatments, the percentage of resistant parasites on a farm may outnumber the more susceptible ones, and then the dewormer loses effectiveness.1,3,4,8

Refugia is being advocated as an important tool to slow the progress of resistance and maintain effectiveness of the dewormers currently available.1,2,3,4 Refugia is the part of the total parasite population which is not exposed to the antiparasitic drug being used. The worms, and their genes, in "refuge" could hide out in non-treated animals, eggs and larvae on the pasture or parasite stages not reached by a specific dewormer.1,2,4 If there is sufficient refugia and if a very effective dewormer is used, then the proportion of resistant genes in the population can be kept low.1,9 The resistant parasites are diluted by susceptible parasites. Animals will more likely be re-infected with susceptible parasites and continue to shed more eggs from susceptible worms back to the pasture. The dewormer remains effective.1,9

Studies and computer models where 10% of the sheep in a herd were left untreated indicated that a significant delay in resistance development can be accomplished.9 Refugia in herds of sheep can also be maintained by using a method to detect and treat only the severely infected animals.1 But cattle are not sheep, and the primary parasites of concern are different between the species.

Management practices used to minimize the effect of parasites and resistance may be similar, but don’t translate exactly from sheep to cattle.10

Unfortunately, there is not a total consensus among the parasitology experts regarding the best practices to forestall anthelmintic resistance.1,3,4,8,9,10,11

So what does all this mean to the producer who wants optimal health and production for all cattle while seeking to maintain efficacy of the dewormers? "How many untreated animals are needed for refugia? Which class of animal needs treatment the least? On which class of animal does treatment have the biggest impact? Which class is the cheapest to treat? Which is the easiest to treat?"

These are all questions South Dakota State University’s Dr. Mike Hildreth suggests will need to be answered at the individual farm level.11

Merial is a world-leading, innovation-driven animal health company, providing a comprehensive range of products to enhance the health, well-being and performance of a wide range of animals. Merial employs approximately 6,200 people and operates in more than 150 countries worldwide with close to €2 billion of sales in 2013. Merial is a Sanofi company. For more information, please see

1 Antiparasitic Resistance in Cattle and Small Ruminants in the United States: How to Detect It and What to Do About It. Helpful Information for Veterinarians. Available at Accessed January 39, 2014.
2 Beef + Lamb New Zealand. Worms in refugia as a tool to delay drench resistance. Beef + Lamb New Zealand R & D Brief; Number 130: August 2007. Available at . Accessed June 11, 2014.
3 Wolfgang D. Can Parasite Control be More Effective and Reduce Resistance at the Same
Time? Penn State Extension. April 24, 2013. Available at Accessed June 11, 2014.
4 Navarre CB. Best Management Practices: Internal Parasite Control in Louisiana Beef Cattle. June 2013. Available at Accessed June 11, 2014.
5 Lawrence JD, Ibarburu MA. Economic analysis of pharmaceutical technologies in modern beef production in a bioeconomy era. 2007. Iowa State University. Available at Accessed June 11, 2014.
6 Elsener J, Villeneuve A, DesCoteaux L. Evaluation of a strategic deworming program
in dairy heifers in Quebec based on the use of moxidectin, an endectocide with
a long persistency. Can Vet J 2001;42;38-44.
7 Boyles S, Johnson LJ, Slanger WD, Dreft BJ, Kirsch JD. Effect of Deworming Heifers on Gain and Reproduction. NDSU Institutional Repository. Farm Research: Vol. 49, No.6(Winter 1992-1993)
8 Cima G. Worms’ adaptation a critical problem. JAVMA news, May 01, 2013. Available at c. Accessed June 11, 2014.
9 Leathwick DM, Waghorn TS, Miller CM, Candy PM, Oliver MB. Managing anthelmintic resistance - Use of a combination anthelmintic and leaving some lambs untreated to slow the development of resistance to ivermectin. Vet Parasitol. 2012;187:285-294.
10 Maday J. Parasitologist Gasbarre response to FDA report. Drovers CattleNetwork. April 29, 2013. Available at Accessed January 30, 2014.
11 Hildreth M. Trichostrongyle Parasite Management in Cows, Calves and Stockers from the Northern Great Plains. Presented Merial Veterinary Symposium; Sioux Falls, South Dakota. January 24, 2014.

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