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Tips for Calf Feeding

During a recent Calf and Heifer VIP event hosted by Purina at the company’s Animal Nutrition Center in Gray Summit, Mo., calf experts offered advice on calf feeding:

  • It takes 85% less time for a calf to get 2 quarts of milk from a bucket compared to straight off the cow. It is 35% quicker on a nipple bottle versus off the cow
  • Feeding through a bottle with a nipple will help slow down the passage rate and increase salvia. Having saliva adds more enzymes that promote protein and fat digestion
  • Slowing down milk intake helps move digestion from the small intestine into the abomasum where nutrients will more readily be picked up
  • The hole in a nipple should not be too large in diameter. If it is too large it defeats the purpose of feeding with a nipple. This might require replacing nipples regularly when holes become too wide
  • If the nipple leaks milk when you turn it upside down, get a new nipple
  • “Full bucket syndrome” tends to happen with calves when there is more grain in the bucket than needed. For instance, a newborn or week-old calf isn’t going to eat much feed so there should be none to very little grain available starting out
  • A starter bucket that is shallow might be a better fit for younger calves to reduce feed waste or overfeeding. It also helps encourage calves to eat because they aren’t sticking their heads down where they can’t see
  • “Empty bucket syndrome” is another problem seen on dairies for older calves. Not having enough feed regularly to calves throughout the day can lead to calves eating too fast when they are fed causing digestive upsets or bloat
  • Use bright colored water buckets to help feeders see what is at the bottom of the bucket. Dark or black colored buckets are harder to see at the bottom if dirt or debris is present
  • Put a physical divider like plywood or plastic between the water and feed buckets
  • A trial from Purina showed that separating the feed and water with a divider increased average daily gain by 0.3 lb.
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Sorting Profits: Cows are Picky Eaters

Dairy cows selectively consume their rations, generally sorting longer particles in favor of finer particles. Feed sorting decreases fiber intake while increasing the consumption of grains and co-products. It also creates instances where cows eat different rations throughout the day.

Are Your Cows Sorting?

In 2010, researchers from University of Minnesota evaluated ration change over time in 50 Minnesota freestall barns. At each farm, samples were collected from rations fed to high-producing cows. One sample was collected immediately after the TMR was delivered, three additional samples were collected every two to three hours after feed delivery, and the last sample was taken from the accumulated weigh-backs.

Researchers evaluated particle size in the TMR samples using a threesieve Penn State Particle Separator. On average, the researchers found a noticeable change in the percentage of material retained in the top screen from the initial TMR to the weigh-backs showing cows were selecting against long particle size. In addition, fiber content—percent of neutral detergent fiber (NDF)— of the TMR increased throughout the day.

Similar results were obtained in a Canadian survey including 22 freestall herds. On average, the refused ration was higher in the percentage of long particles recovered in the top screen (19.8% versus 33.1%) and physically effective NDF (17% versus 24.5% dry matter) than the average offered ration.

Effects of Sorting on Milk Components

Feed sorting causes fluctuations in rumen fermentation patterns, and can result in reduced ruminal pH and episodes of subclinical ruminal acidosis. A recent study showed the association between sorting behavior and milk production. The researchers evaluated feeding behavior in 28 lactating Holstein cows individually housed in a tiestall barn at the University of Guelph.

Cows sorted against long particles and in favor of short and fine particles. On average, intake of the longest particles was 78%. Milk production of the group was 90.6 lb. per day with 3.81% and 3.30% protein. The authors found negative associations between feed sorting and milk composition. For every 10% increase in sorting against long particles:

  • Milk fat content decreased by 0.10 percentage units
  • Milk protein content dropped 0.04 percentage units

Because the average sorting against long particles in the group was 22%, milk fat was reduced by 0.22 percentage units or 0.2 lb. per cow per day due to sorting. Similarly, milk protein was reduced by 0.09 percentage units or 0.08 lb. per cow per day. Using values from September FMMO Advanced Component prices (fat $3.03 per pound and protein $1.54 per pound), the economic impact of sorting in this research herd was 72¢ per cow per day or $263 per year.

In conclusion, feed sorting is a common behavior of dairy cows that could produce health issues and economic losses in the herd.

Fernando Diaz, DVM, Ph.D. is a dairy nutrition and management consultant with Rosecrans Dairy Consulting LLC. You can reach him at

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Forage Analysis: What Numbers Do I Need

One the more common questions I receive with regard to analytical testing of forages and other feedstuffs is, “I have the sample, now what do I test for or what analysis package should I select?”

The basic components that nutritionists need to evaluate a feedstuff or develop a ration are dry matter or moisture, crude protein, an estimate of the energy content of the feedstuff — Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN), Net Energy for Maintenance (NEm), Net Energy for gain (NEg), and the macro minerals, Calcium and Phosphorous. These are the most basic numbers that are required but including some additional analyses in the report can give us additional insight into the quality of the feedstuff or improve our ability to predict animal performance, which is the primary reason we analyze feedstuffs.

I recommend that the report include acid detergent fiber (ADF) and neutral detergent fiber (NDF).  The amount of NDF in forage reflects the amount of cell wall contents (hemicellulose, cellulose, and lignin) within the sample. The NDF fraction is often associated with the respective bulkiness of forage and is correlated with dry matter intake of the forage or feedstuff. Therefore, the amount of NDF may be used to estimate the expected dry matter intake associated with the forage.  The ADF number represents the amount cellulose and lignin within the forage and is correlated with the respective digestibility of the forage.  In general, a higher ADF value is associated with forage that has a greater proportion cellulose and lignin and would likely be a more mature. Additionally, the ADF fraction is used to calculate the energy estimates TDN, NEm, and NEg that appear on the report. There are a number of different mathematical equations that the testing laboratory may use to calculate these numbers, based on the type of sample (corn silage, alfalfa, grass hay, etc.). If the ADF is included in the report, the nutritionist can adjust or recalculate the energy estimates if necessary.

If the forage will be fed in combination with a byproduct feed such as wet distiller’s grain, including an analysis for sulfur can be beneficial if the forage will be used in a growing or feedlot ration.  Additionally, if the forage is a known nitrate accumulator (forage sorghums, sudangrass) or may have been stressed due to drought, including a nitrate analysis should always be considered, especially if the forage will be fed to pregnant cows.

Most analytical laboratories have a number of different analysis packages which encompass the most common procedures or numbers that a nutritionist or producer needs to know about their feeds. These packages will typically include the basic procedures (DM, CP, TDN) and then add on specific analyses such NDF, or the Macrominerals (Ca,P, Mg, K, Na, Cl, S). Some laboratories may group analysis packages by the type of sample (Forage, vs. mixed ration) or production purposes (dairy vs. beef).

The objective of analytical testing of forages and feedstuffs is to improve our ability to meet the animal’s nutrient requirements and ultimately predict animal performance. The unequivocal best method of evaluating the quality of a feedstuff is feeding the feedstuff to an animal and evaluating performance over a set period of time, under a specific set of conditions. Since that would not be cost effective or timely, analytically evaluating feedstuffs in a laboratory is the next best the thing and although it is not perfect, it is unequivocally better than the “this looks like really good stuff” method of evaluating feedstuffs.

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A Whole Lot of Water Goes Into That Milk

Water is important for most species’ survival. Dairy cows, in particular, require large quantities to produce the creamy white liquid for which they are famous. It is important for dairy producers to provide plenty of water within a convenient location to keep their herd well hydrated.

“Cows need to consume between 30 and 50 gallons of water per day,” said Donna Amaral-Phillips, extension dairy specialist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “That’s more than 415 pounds of water every day.”

That number may sound extremely high until the consumer realizes it takes up to 4.5 pounds of water to make just 1 pound of milk, and cows produce, on average, 70 pounds, or 8 gallons of milk each day, which is equal to about 128 glasses.

Milk is 87 percent water, and without sufficient water intake, a cow’s milk yield will suffer.

Dairy cows rely on saliva and other fluids to assist them in digesting feedstuffs. If they don’t get enough water it starts a chain reaction—digestion, feed intake and energy decrease.

“Managing water on a per-cow basis in a dairy herd can be quite difficult for any producer,” said Jeffrey Bewley, UK associate extension professor. “For this reason, dairy producers have to make decisions that benefit the entire herd. That’s why we allow the cows ample access to water at the UK Dairy—so they can drink as much as they want.”

Dairy managers have to make sure cows have access to water in the barn at a centrally located trough. Ideally, the trough will be near a feed bunk so it’s easy for cows to drink after eating. Cows usually drink the most after eating and after being milked.

“It’s important for the water trough to have enough space for multiple cows to drink at the same time,” he said. “Three to 5 inches of water space per cow is usually adequate, and the height of the trough should be 2 to 3 feet from the ground.”

One waterer per 20 cows will help ensure cows stay hydrated. The waterers should hold at least 5 gallons at time, with a refill rate of at least 2.5 gallons per minute to keep the fresh, clean water flowing. So while it may be hard to monitor each cow’s water intake, providing enough fresh water and space for the entire herd usually gets the job done.

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Prussic Acid and Nitrate Poisoning are Concerns After a Light Frost

Although late October has been very warm and “summer-like”, the average first frost date for much of the Southern Plains is here.  Soon a cold front will bring near-freezing to sub-freezing nighttime temperatures

It was discovered in the early 1900s that under certain conditions sorghums are capable of releasing hydrocyanic acid or commonly called prussic acid.  Prussic acid when ingested by cattle, is quickly absorbed into the blood stream, and blocks the animal’s cells from utilizing oxygen.  Thus the animal dies from asphyxiation at the cellular level.  Animals affected by prussic acid poisoning exhibit a characteristic bright red blood just prior to and during death.  Lush young regrowth of sorghum-family plants are prone to accumulate prussic acid especially when the plants are stressed such as drought or freeze damage.  Light frosts, that stress the plant but do not kill it, are often associated with prussic acid poisonings.

Producers should avoid grazing fields with sorghum type plants following a light frost.  The risk of prussic acid poisoning will be reduced, if grazing is delayed until at least one week after a “killing freeze”.  As the plants die and the cell walls rupture, the hydrocyanic acid is released as a gas, and the amount is greatly reduced in the plants.  One can never be absolutely certain that a field of forage sorghum is 100% safe to graze.

Cattle that must be grazed on forage sorghum pastures during this time of year should be fed another type of hay before turning in on the field, and should be watched closely for the first few hours after turn in.  If signs of labored breathing, such as would be found in asphyxiation, are noted, cattle should be removed immediately.  Call your local veterinarian for immediate help for those animals that are affected.  Be certain to read OSU Fact Sheet PSS-2904 “Prussic Acid Poisoning” before turning cattle to potentially dangerous fields.

Frosts also stress the plant before a hard freeze kills it.  Plant stress from frosts will impair the normal metabolism of the plant.  Therefore the plant continues to take up nitrates from the soil but is inefficient at converting the nitrates to protein.  Therefore nitrate accumulations may reach dangerous levels.  Testing the forage before grazing or cutting for hay will provide important knowledge about the safety or danger in the forage.  Visit with an OSU County Extension office about testing procedures and read OSU Fact Sheet PSS-2903 “Nitrate Toxicity in Livestock”.

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Five Colostrum Storage Tips

Maintaining colostrum quality should be a huge priority on the dairy. The quantity of colostrum a calf receives does not matter if the colostrum is junk. Here are five tips to ensure you’re storing and handling colostrum properly.

1. Don’t pool raw colostrum. Even if the colostrum is going straight into storage it should never be pooled, according to Kimberley Morrill, PhD regional dairy specialist Cornell Cooperative Extension.

2. Feed or refrigerate colostrum within one hour of collection. Colostrum can be stored in the fridge or the freezer. According to research from the National Animal Health Monitoring System of the dairy producers who store colostrum, 21% store it in the fridge and 73% of producers store colostrum in the freezer.

3. If storing in the fridge, only keep colostrum for one week. After that, Bethany Lovaas, DVM University of Minnesota, says quality declines. “If you refrigerate colostrum, be sure that the refrigerator is cold (33 – 35 degree F) to reduce the onset of bacterial growth,” she says.

4. Keep frozen colostrum for six months or less. While not everyone agrees on how long frozen colostrum can be stored without damage to the antibodies, Faith Cullens of Michigan State University Extension says most researchers agree the six month mark is safe.

5. Thaw frozen colostrum with warm water or a microwave. “The main concern regarding thawing frozen colostrum is to thaw the ice without degrading the immune proteins,” says Lovaas. She adds colostrum is best thawed with warm (not hot) water. Add more water to the bath as the frozen colostrum cools down the water. Alternately, Lovaas says colostrum can be thawed in a microwave oven with little damage to the Ig. “It is important to microwave the colostrum for short periods on low power,” she says.


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Baleage is Different Than All Other Forage Making Practices

Baleage is made in round-bale and big-square hay packages so some people assume it is very similar to making dry hay. Others assume because the end product of baleage is a fermented wet silage that it is just like making haylage. According to Dr. Wayne Coblentz, from the USDA Dairy Forage Research Center in Marshfield, Wisconsin, making baleage is different in some significant ways than other forage harvesting practices and farmers need to understand those differences if they are to make better quality forage from baleage.

Coblentz spoke in August at the Michigan State University’s Ag Innovation Day in Lake City, Michigan. He highlighted the great advantages of making baleage which include: fewer weather delays, less wilting time required, reduced respiration of plant sugars resulting in better feed quality, reduced dry matter losses in the field compared to dry hay, less storage loss and oftentimes reduced feeding losses compared to hay. Also he added that baleage requires less expensive equipment and offers more flexibility for feeding than does a traditional haylage system. However, he also explained that there are some major differences that forage producers need to understand about baleage to be more successful in making it.

These differences include:

  • Baleage takes longer to ferment than chopped haylage. One reason for this is that the long plant stems in baleage do not release plant sugars as quickly to fuel fermentation as shorter, chopped haylage particles.
  • Baleage usually is not packed as tightly as haylage. This permits more oxygen to be trapped within the bale, allowing extended respiration that further slows fermentation.
  • Baleage is usually drier than chopped silages, which inherently restricts fermentation. Normally, the production of fermentation acids increases with higher forage moisture.

For these and other reasons, baleage goes through a slower and more incomplete fermentation than most chopped silages. This slower process usually allows the forage to remain above a pH of 5.0, and shifts even more emphasis towards maintaining anaerobic (oxygen free) conditions in order to preserve the silage. Air exclusion is then the key to making stable baleage and it is accomplished by wrapping the bales in air tight plastic. This is especially important with drier baled silages (less than 40 percent moisture) that are more permeable to air and are at risk for spoilage should holes in the plastic wrap occur during storage. Baleage that is too wet (greater than 60 percent moisture) can undergo a secondary fermentation that produces butyric acid and ammonia, which can cause depressed animal feed consumption. These clostridial-type of fermentations are more likely to occur in difficult to ensile crops, such as alfalfa, that have high buffering capacity and have very limited amounts of sugar. Cool-season grasses are usually more forgiving in this respect.

To make the highest quality baleage, and to avoid the feeding of a lower quality product Coblentz recommends the following:

  • Make baleage from forages that are harvested at the proper stage of maturity and are of good quality. Do not assume that baled silage techniques will magically improve poor-quality forage.
  • Harvest baleage in the moisture range of 45 – 55 percent. The bales will be lighter to handle, will optimize intake and performance, and will prohibit clostridial activity during fermentation and storage.
  • Make bales that are packed tightly with high density. Excluding as much air as possible from the bale is important. Maximize revolutions within the baler for each bale by slowing ground speed, maintaining appropriate engine rpm, and by baling only moderately sized windrows.
  • Wrap bales with six or more layers of plastic as soon as possible after baling; significant damage may occur after 24-hour or longer delays. Consider using a lactic-acid producing inoculant from a reputable manufacturer anytime conditions are less than optimum.

The key to making high quality baleage is to make a bale within the recommended moisture range that is as dense as possible (> 10 lbs DM/ft3), and wrap it in plastic as quickly as possible. This will allow oxygen depletion to occur rapidly inside the plastic. Once oxygen depletion is complete, fermentation will occur, but because of the slow and limited fermentation within baled silages, maintaining anaerobic conditions is absolutely critical. As such, plastic should be monitored closely for damage, and patched promptly when holes or leaks are discovered.

Some farms are successfully baling very dry silages (25 – 40 percent moisture), and preserving the forage in plastic. Coblentz says these bales typically will not ferment aggressively, and preservation is largely achieved by limiting air access. However, in the absence of air, preservation can be accomplished, provided the producers are diligent about maintaining the integrity of the silage plastic. As forages become drier, there may be increased risk of internal puncturing of the plastic as these drier plant stems become more rigid. This often occurs along the junction of the flat and circumferential sides of the round bale. A small investment in additional plastic layers may be appropriate for these very dry silages.

Baleage has many advantages and continues to grow in popularity. When done right it can make high quality forage that can optimize animal performance.

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Maintain Your TMR Mixer

Mixer Wagon Maintenance

Want to get the most life out of your mixer while maintaining a high quality mix? Maintenance is the answer. Mixer maintenance, beyond greasing, is often overlooked but Mike Everson, a field support representative with Kuhn North America says taking the time to do it is crucial.

“We like to take care of our cattle, mixers need to be maintained on a weekly and monthly basis also,” he says. “We look at the outside on a daily basis but very seldom do farmers look inside.”

Everson recommends farmers take a look inside their mixer at the knives, scrapers and shoes every 90 days. Knives should be sharp. If your mixer wagon’s knifes are beginning to look like butter knives, it’s time to replace them.

“Sometimes a small investment in new knives or scrapers can make a world of difference,” he says.

Also look at the “shoe” at the base of the auger. According to Everson, this is a very inexpensive part, but one that is worn is often the cause of poor mix quality.

“The shoe is the lifeblood of a vertical mixer,” he says.

Everson’s biggest advice? Dig your operating manual, see what the manufacturer recommended for maintenance intervals and then actually follow their guide.

“Maintaining your mixer will insure good mixing quality for the lifetime of the mixer,” he says.

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Fall Noxious Weed Control

This fall most areas are good for fall weed control, but there will also be some areas that it may not be the best.

Fall weed control can give the best weed control but it also can be a poor time. If the noxious weeds were sprayed or clipped earlier this summer and there is good weed growth now, this would be a good time to spray these weeds and get a good kill. However, if the weeds were not controlled early and now are tall, very mature and do not have a lot of regrowth you may not even want to make an effort because it will not do any good.

The questionable area is where the weeds were maybe clipped earlier and there is regrowth or the regrowth is starting to dry up because of the dry conditions and is not growing well. These areas then become questionable to spray. If you want to spray these areas make sure that you use a spray that has residual effect so when the plant starts growing again after a rain, it will be killed then.

Lastly, even though we have not had a freeze we are in September and the perennials have started to prepare for winter by sending nutrients down to the roots to help the plant make it through the cold winter months.

If you have fall spraying for leafy spurge, Canada thistle, sow thistle, wormwood sage, and musk thistle to do now is the time, not when you get busy with harvest in the next few weeks.

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Plan for Winter Dairy Udder Health Now

Sudden shifts in the weather are a stark reminder that dairy producers need to plan ahead to maintain udder health during the winter, says J.W. Schroeder, North Dakota State University Extension Service dairy specialist.

“Winter teat-end lesions are easily triggered when the temperature drops 20 degrees,” he adds. “With inevitable cold winter weather on its way, the advent of teat-end lesions is likely to predispose cows to mastitis.”

Wind chills and temperature changes are the major factors leading to winter teat challenges. Schroeder says the dairy manager’s objectives should be to:

  • Control exposure to weather factors as much as possible.
  • Minimize other teat stressors that exacerbate the problem if cracking or freezing occurs.
  • Keep the teat disinfected, healthy and soft as much as possible through proper milking procedures.
  • Minimize secondary bacterial infections through proper milking practices and environmental sanitation.

“We can’t control the weather, but we can control factors that will ensure cow comfort and the cows’ udder health in the coming weeks,” he says.

Here are ways he suggests producers accomplish those objectives:

  • Control cold temperature exposure by providing windbreaks if animals have to go outside, feeding and housing cows indoors during cold weather when possible, avoiding drafts in buildings by keeping ventilation and openings controlled properly, and avoiding putting animals directly into extreme wind chills post-milking.
  • Control stall/bedding environment by having comfortable, dry areas for animals, providing dry bedding, and maintaining and changing bedding at appropriate intervals. Recent research in Minnesota showed that bedding maintenance is critical to reducing bacterial exposure.
  • Maintain milking equipment by checking vacuum and milk line hoses, pulsators, inflations and vacuum level; keeping pulsators clean; and changing inflations on schedule.
  • Ensure pre-milking sanitation by using procedures that maximize teat disinfection and skin conditioning while minimizing irritation or trauma. Also pre-dip with a good germicidal dip with skin conditioner, blot teats dry instead of rubbing to minimize irritation on problem teats, and use milking hygiene practices like those used to control contagious mastitis (clean hands, gloves and individual towels). Cloth towels are best because they dry teats more thoroughly with less abrasion than other types of towels.
  • Review people/milking machine/time interactions because using proper techniques is imperative to maximize unit performance (maximum flow/unit time) and minimize teat stress (extended milking due to low flow rates or gross overmilking).

“Remember that teat-end changes can occur rapidly in winter with dehydration and cracking, and at other times with acute machine problems,” Schroeder says.

“Minimizing the weather effects through proper facilities and environments is job one. Some practices may need to be altered or adapted during cold weather (dipping, blotting, etc.), and the advantages and disadvantages should be carefully examined when evaluating using new technologies or products such as teat dips.”

To date, researchers have found no protocol that stops cracked teats completely during the winter.

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