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10 Must-Dos for Transition Cows

The transition period will make or break a lactation and quite possibly the entire productive life of a dairy cow.

Do it right, and cows are primed for healthy, productive lactations. Do it wrong, and cows languish in the hospital pen and become early cull candidates.

“Shift your mindset from the transition cow as a disease opportunity to the transition cow as a production and reproduction opportunity. Begin with the end in mind,” says Tom Overton, a dairy management specialist with Cornell University.

The goals should be to optimize milk production, maintain or minimize the loss of body condition score, metabolic disease and immunocompetence, control days to first ovulation and birth healthy calves. “Our high performing dairies do all of these,” says Overton.

To achieve these goals, Overton has a top 10 list of feeding and management strategies:

1. Manage macromineral/DCAD of dry cows, especially in the last two to three weeks before calving. Feed low potassium and sodium forages, along with anionic supplementation. The amount of anionic supplement will depend on the calculated DCAD content of the ration. Also supplement with magnesium and calcium as needed.

2. Control energy intake in both far-off and close-up diets. Too little can be as bad as too much.

3. Supply enough metabolizable protein before calving. The emphasis should be on bypass protein sources and amino acids.

4. Get the feeding management right—every day. Minimize sorting. The longest straw or hay particles should be less than 1.5”. The dry matter content of the TMR should be 46% to 48%. Add water if necessary.

5. Provide clean, comfortable housing and fresh water. Large, well-groomed stalls or clean, dry bedded packs are essential to cow comfort.

6. Manage social interactions and group hierarchy. Stocking densities of less than 100% are recommended with plenty of bunk space. Also avoid commingling first-calf heifers with older cows, and minimize group changes as much as possible.

7. Manage heat stress. Heat stress during the dry period can result in decreased birth weight of calves, greater incidence of passive immunity transfer failure, poorer immune function of both dam and calf, poorer feed efficiency and decreased milk production during first lactation.

8. Offer high quality forage and fermentable diets to fresh cows. High levels of undigestible forage neutral detergent fiber limits how much a cow can eat, reducing rate of passage and feed intake.

9. Strategically use feed additives and specific nutrients. Choline helps the liver export fat and improve performance. Amino acids improve performance and immunity. Chromium-propionate helps energy metabolism, immune function, dry matter intake and performance. Additives such as monensin can improve energy metabolism and post-partum dry matter intake. Yeast products can improve rumen function, dry matter intake and performance.

 

10.  Implement cow- and herd-level monitoring programs. Cow-level monitoring seeks to make diagnosis and treatment decisions on individual animals. Weekly herd level monitoring, such as urine pH or ketone testing, helps indicate when changes are needed in feed or management.

 

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Perennial Weed Control in Grass Hay and Pasture

At the recent Ag Progress Days in Pennsylvania one of the most common questions asked involved perennial weed control in grass hay and pasture. While we still have nice warm days, it is good time to scout pasture and hay fields for the presence of perennial weeds. As you hopefully have heard before, late summer and fall is the best time to control most perennials with a systemic herbicide because herbicides are moved into the root systems allowing more permanent control. With the autumn weather, these plants more actively transport carbohydrates and sugars to underground storage structures such as rhizomes, tubers, and roots to enable them to survive the winter and to provide the necessary energy to begin the next cycle of growth in the spring. Mowing the pasture and hay fields in mid-summer or several weeks before the herbicide application to prevent seed production and to promote healthy new leaf tissue that can intercept the herbicide is also important. In general, the application window runs from early September through October depending on where you are in the state and what weeds you are targeting. For the warmer season perennials like johnsongrass, horsenettle, groundcherry, wirestem muhly, Japanese knotweed and poison ivy, herbicide application between September 1 and 15 is generally ideal. For weeds like hemp dogbane and bindweed, make applications before October 1, and for quackgrass, other cool season grasses, and Canada thistle, try to make applications by October 15. These suggested dates target central PA, so adjust by a week or so forward or backward if you are south or north. Here is a list of the most common herbicides labeled for grass pasture and hay and some of their strengths/precautions.

  • 2,4-D is marketed by various companies with various trade names. Rates generally range from 1 to 2 quarts per acre. Refer to the label provided with the product for specific recommendations and restrictions as formulations vary. 2,4-D provides postemergence control several annual, biennial, and perennial broadleaf weeds. Ester formulations are slightly more effective (more leaf-absorbed) than amine formulations, but also slightly more volatile so greater care must be taken when making applications next to sensitive species such as grapes. Interval between application and grazing is 0 to 7 days depending on type of animal and is 30 days for haying. 2,4-D is often tank-mixed with dicamba as a general broadspectrum broadleaf herbicide.
  • Dicamba – Banvel (DMA), Clarity (DGA), Engenia (BAPMA), Fexapan (DGA + VG Tech), and Xtendimax (DGA+VG Tech) provide postemergence control and less than 1 month of soil residual control of a relatively broad spectrum of annual, biennial, and perennial broadleaf weeds. Rates vary by formulation but generally can be applied at up to 1 lb ae per acre to established grasses. Interval between application and grazing ranges from 0 to 40 days and 0 to 70 days for haying depending on rate of application and type of animal. Dicamba is often tank-mixed with 2,4-D as a general broadspectrum broadleaf herbicide.
  • Crossbow – contains a mixture of 2,4-D ester and triclopyr ester. Generally applied at 1 to 3 quarts per acre. Commonly used for brush control and effective for control of a number of problem weeds including smooth bedstraw. Grazing restrictions range from 0 days up to the next season (for lactating dairy) depending on animal type and 14 days for haying.
  • GrazonNext HL – contains aminopyralid + 2,4-D amine. This product was formerly marketed as ForeFront HL in our region and Milestone herbicide contains the single active ingredient aminopyralid. GrazonNext provides postemergence control and 2 to 3 months of soil residual control of many annual, biennial, and perennial weed species in permanent grass pasture. GrazonNext is particularly effective on thistles, horsenettle, and smooth bedstraw. The GrazonNext label has restrictions concerning the use and management of plant residues (hay, straw, mulch, compost) and manure that may contain aminopyralid residues. These include important restrictions concerning the movement and sale of hay products treated with aminopyralid. Be certain you understand and are able to follow these label restrictions before using this product. Interval for application and grazing is 0 days and 7 days for haying.
  • Metsulfuron 60DF – Metsulfuron provides both postemergence control and 2 to 3 months of soil residual control of many annual, biennial, and perennial weed species, and suppression of blackberry and multiflora rose in permanent grass pasture. Metsulfuron is also effective on seedling spiny amaranth. Special precautions are provided on the label for applications to fescue or timothy. Do not use metsulfuron on Italian (annual) or perennial ryegrass, or severe injury will occur. Cimarron Max is a co-pack that contains the active ingredients of metsulfuron and 2,4-D plus dicamba. Cimarron Plus is a premix with the active ingredients metsulfuron and chlorsulfuron (Glean or Telar). Interval for application and grazing and haying is 0 days, however allow time for the herbicide to work before harvesting for hay.
  • Overdrive 70WDG – contains dicamba (Na-Salt) + diflufenzopyr. Overdrive is applied at up to 8oz per acre and provides postemergence control and less than 1 month of soil residual control of several annual, biennial, and perennial broadleaf weeds. Interval for application and grazing and haying is 0 days, however allow time for the herbicide to work before harvesting for hay.
  • PastureGard contains triclopyr ester + fluroxypyr and provides postemergence control and 1 to 2 months of soil residual control of many annual, biennial, and perennial weeds as well as many woody plants. Interval for application and grazing and haying is 0 days, however allow time for the herbicide to work before harvesting for hay.
  • Remedy Ultra 4L contains triclopyr ester and provides postemergence control and 1 to 2 months of soil residual control of many annual, biennial, and perennial weeds as well as many woody plants. Interval for application and grazing and haying is 0 days, however allow time for the herbicide to work before harvesting for hay.
  • Stinger 3S contains clopyralid and provides postemergence control and 1 to 3 months of soil residual control of some annual, biennial, and perennial broadleaf weeds, but it is primarily used for Canada thistle control. Interval for application and grazing and haying is 0 days, however allow time for the herbicide to work before harvesting for hay.
  • Weedmaster 3.87L contains dicamba DMA + 2,4-D amine and provides postemergence control and less than 1 month of soil residual control of many annual, biennial, and perennial broadleaf weeds. Interval between application and grazing ranges from 0 to 7 days depending on type of animal and 37 days for haying.
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LEADelaware accepting applications for next class

LEADelaware designed to help build the next generation of leaders within food, fiber sectors

LEADelaware, the state’s agriculture and natural resources leadership program, is now accepting applications for its fifth fellowship class, which will run for two years starting in January 2018. (Delaware Department of Agriculture)

DOVER, Del. — LEADelaware, the state’s agriculture and natural resources leadership program, is now accepting applications for its fifth fellowship class, which will run for two years starting in January 2018. Applications must be received by Oct. 27; applicants will be notified of their selection in early December.

LEADelaware is designed to help build the next generation of leaders within the food and fiber sectors that influence our food system, our economy and our environment.

“The development of leaders in today’s agricultural and natural resources fields is more important than ever,” said Michael Scuse, Secretary at the Delaware Department of Agriculture, which is a lead partner in the program. “Delaware farmers must have the skills to discuss critical issues with public and policy makers at the local, state and even national levels.”

The program consists of 10 sessions throughout Delaware and Washington, as well as an international agricultural visit. Fellows will learn about agriculture, food systems, policymaking and hands-on leadership skills.

Candidates must be a resident of Delaware or work in Delaware agriculture or natural resources for at least two years. This includes farmers, growers, industry suppliers, agribusiness employees and government agency professionals. Applications are available at http://sites.udel.edu/leadelaware or by contacting Grace Wisser at the University of Delaware at gwisser@udel.edu or 302-831-4722.

LEADelaware is a partnership between University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Delaware Department of Agriculture, as well as sponsors including MidAtlantic Farm Credit, Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. and the Delaware Soybean Board. For more information on the program, visit http://sites.udel.edu/leadelaware.

Delaware Department of Agriculture

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Bargain Hay is No Bargain if it is Poor Quality

Bargain, poor quality hay may actually be more expensive when you factor in waste, lower intake, and nutrient deficiencies that require higher supplementation.

Everyone likes a good bargain, but when it comes to hay, low price often equates to poorer quality. Because hay is often sold by the bale, the amount of savings from the “good bargain” can be reduced substantially if there is a negative impact on herd nutrition. So what constitutes “poor quality hay?”  It is hay that limits how much a cow will eat, has a low energy value, low protein content, and as a result requires a large amount of supplemental feed to support cow performance. Poor quality hay generally results from inadequately fertilized fields and/or harvesting more mature plants to increase yield per acre. This combination of sub-optimal forage management leads to increased plant fiber content, lower digestibility and ultimately lower nutritional value.

How increased fiber impacts hay quality:

Intake is reduced as fiber content increases. Mature or “rank” hay reduces the total amount cows willingly consume each day.   It hurts both their appetite and the amount their rumen can physically hold.  Likewise, the increased fiber content decreases the digestibility of the hay, which also contributes to the gut fill limitation imposed by poor quality hay. Cow intake requirements change throughout the production cycle, but increased intake requirements do not equate to greater intake when the quality is poor.  Just because she needs more nutrients does not mean she will eat more.

Energy limitations result from increased fiber content which decreases the digestibility of the hay. The more mature the hay the less energy that is available from each mouthful. Coupling limited energy availability and reduced intake negatively impacts cow performance. Compounding the nutritional issue is that prior to calving and during lactation cow energy requirements increase and reach their peak. Therefore, poor quality hay reduces cow performance expressed as milk production and reproduction.

Higher fiber content also limits the digestibility and availability of the protein in the hay. Hay quality compromised by low fertility, causes protein content of the forage to be reduced.  Low protein diets from poor quality hay also limits intake of forage because of the deficient nitrogen and protein supply for the rumen microbes, which are actually digesting the forage. Limitations on the protein concentration ultimately limits cow productivity.

Impacts of Poor Quality Hay on Body Condition:

So let’s consider all the characteristics that are limiting in poor quality hay. The hay that limits cow hay intake and nutrient intake lead to the cow mobilizing body tissue to meet nutrient deficiencies.  There is a limited amount of body fat and muscle that a cow can mobilize to support her production.  Mobilization of body fat and muscle over time leads to decreased cow body condition score (BCS). Decreased cow body condition score below the pivotal BCS of 5 leads to decreased cow productivity and decreased cow reproductive performance.

The figures below demonstrate the effect of different hay qualities on estimated cow dry matter intake potential, TDN/energy intake, and crude protein intake relative to what a 1200 lb, average milk potential cow requires during the critical months leading up to calving and after calving. As you can see, hays frequently produced and purchased in the Southeast are quite limiting for cow intake, energy supply, and protein supply.

Bale 1 does an adequate job of maintaining a cow, bale 2 a fair job, but bale 3 and 4 leave much to be desired. The limited intake and energy supply in the hays result in body condition score loss from 5 to 4 by the cows in as few as 25 days for Bale 4 one month before calving, to as long as 217 days after calving for Bale 1 . The conclusion here is that bad hay results in rapid cow body condition score loss at critical times in the production cycle.

Summary:

The direct cost of bargain hay is only known if you have results of a forage test, know the true quality of the hay is, and decide to fix the problem by purchasing supplements to fill the nutrient deficiencies. Supplemental feeds can improve intake limitations and fill any energy and protein deficiencies. The cost to fix the hay is determined by how large the intake, energy, and protein deficiencies are that need to be fixed, and the cost of the supplements considered. The indirect cost of bargain hay results in decreased cow performance that is manifest as decreased pregnancy rate and weaning weights of calves.

Limitations on hay intake and the deficiencies in energy and protein from the hay lead to increased costs associated with hay feeding. Coupling the cost of the hay, hay waste as result of poor quality hay, and additional supplementation cost all adds up, and eat into enterprise profitability. Bargain hay ultimately costs you twice, first when you purchase the hay and next when you feed it.

To have your hay tested for quality, contact your local Extension agent.  For more information related to this subject, use the following links:

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Acute Bloat Syndrome Dairy Calves

Bloat is a common disorder seen in ruminants, such as cattle. However, bloat observed in young calves is very different from bloat seen in cows. According to Smith (2010), bloat in cows is a result of free gas building up in the rumen (the first component of the bovine’s stomach) and causes distention, or enlargement, of the rumen. This distention of the rumen can impair breathing and result in suffocation of the animal. In contrast, bloat in young calves results from gas build-up in the abomasum, the last of the four compartments of the bovine’s stomach (Smith, 2010). The abomasal bloat observed in young dairy calves is often referred to as Acute Bloat Syndrome (ABS). In a survey conducted by Shoemaker et al. (2007), 276 veterinarians across the country reported ABS to occur on a median of four farms per practitioner. ABS is becoming a widely occurring syndrome, and it is important that dairy farmers are aware of this disorder and remain updated on current research. In order to better understand ABS, it is necessary to know which cattle can be affected, the symptoms associated with the syndrome, the potential causes, the treatments, and the preventative measures for ABS.

Acute bloat syndrome occurs in calves. In most cases, calves are usually 4 to 21 days of age (Shoemaker et al., 2007). According to Marshall (2009), ABS occurs sporadically in dairy calves. Some farms will have multiple cases of ABS at one time. Not only is it a good idea to know when calves are susceptible to ABS, but it is also important to recognize the symptoms.

Understanding the symptoms of ABS is critical because calves that develop the syndrome often die within 6 to 48 hours. According to Van Metre and Callan (2006), the case fatality rate is a very steep 75 to 100%. Although the likelihood of saving the calf is low, it is only possible if symptoms are recognized early. Symptoms of ABS include abdominal distension, depression, colic signs, grinding of teeth and salivation, anorexia, fluid slosh in the abdomen, and dehydration. Less common symptoms include diarrhea and high temperature (Shoemaker et al., 2007). According to Panciera et al. (2007), after experimental induction of ABS in calves, the necropsy showed distention, hemorrhage (internal bleeding), inflammation, mucosal necrosis, and mural emphysema (air build-up in the wall of the stomach). The symptoms of ABS usually include a rapid onset and sometimes are not even observed before death occurs. Calves will eventually die from shock or compromised respiration due to the enlarged stomach, according to Van Metre (2017).

The causes of ABS are not well understood; however, experimental induction of ABS in calves led researchers to believe that the cause of ABS is large quantities of highly fermentable carbohydrates and high concentrations of bacteria containing enzymes capable of fermenting the substrate (Panciera et al., 2007). As a result of these two factors, high levels of gases are produced in the abomasum, causing distention. Although researchers are not certain which exact species of bacteria cause ABS, Clostridium perfringens, Sarcina spp, Streptococcal spp, Escherichia. coli, and Salmonella typhimurium have been identified in the abomasum of affected calves. Further research must be done in order to determine the specific role these bacteria play in ABS. Other factors that can contribute to ABS are related to nutrition and include high volumes of milk replacer, cold milk, high osmolality of milk, high protein  and fat contents in milk, high-energy oral electrolyte solutions, and inconsistent feedings. All of these can cause a slower emptying rate of the abomasum. According to Burgstaller et al. (2017), feeding practices that significantly prolong abomasal emptying can increase rates of gastrointestinal diseases in calves.  This is because the bacteria have more time to ferment the feedstuff, thus producing more gas in the abdomen. Familiarity with these causes of ABS will aid in proper decision-making regarding treatment and prevention of the disorder.

Measures for controlling ABS mainly involve dietary management in lieu of medications or procedures (Marshall, 2009). There are no reliable data on whether or not conventional vaccines are helpful. It is thought that vaccines containing inactivated toxins given to pregnant cows will produce antibodies in the colostrum and help protect the calf (Van Metre, 2017). Antibiotics, such as penicillin or oral Beta-lactam which would target Clostridium spp, can be used, but these are not the best treatment option because the species of the ABS-causing bacteria may be different. Other medications that can be given include rumen tonics and anti-inflammatories (Shoemaker et al., 2007). Bloat-relieving procedures, such as placing a stomach tube or puncturing the abomasum to release air, are not necessarily effective treatment options. Since a stomach tube cannot reach the abomasum, the calf’s front end must be elevated in order to allow the gas to pass to the rumen and out the tube (Van Metre, 2017). Puncturing the abomasum must be done while the calf is dorsally recumbent (lying on its back) because there is a high risk of leakage of abomasal contents into the abdomen (Marshall, 2009). For these reasons, procedures and medications are usually not the best treatment options. Dietary management strategies are the preferred ways to prevent ABS. These include feeding the calves multiple, small meals on a consistent basis, mixing the milk replacer correctly according to manufacturer’s instructions in order to lower osmolality, feeding warm milk, and providing adequate amounts of water (Smith, 2010). These dietary management strategies are easy to apply and will increase the passage of feed through the abomasum to the small intestine. Although these are good treatment options and preventative strategies, farms that were rated good to excellent, based on their management practices, still struggled with ABS.

ABS is a spontaneous and puzzling disease that affects many dairy farms. The calves at risk for ABS, associated symptoms of ABS, the potential causes of ABS, and the treatment and prevention of ABS are important factors that must be studied and understood. Unfortunately, there are still many uncertainties and unknowns about this disorder, and further research is needed in order to learn more about the syndrome and the specific species of bacteria that cause it.

Works Cited

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Workshop on WFRP slated for Tuesday

GEORGETOWN, Del. — Whole Farm Revenue Protection is now available in Delaware and nationwide. Some Delaware producers are already taking advantage of this emerging income insurance product to ensure operational cash flow. University of Delaware Cooperative Extension and the USDA Risk Management Agency are now offering a chance for Delaware producers to get a better understanding of this beneficial program

On Aug. 22, there will be an informational meeting at the Carvel Education Center, 16483 County Seat Highway, Georgetown, Delaware 19947 starting at 8:30 a.m. Speakers will include:

  • DDA Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse
  • DDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kenny Bounds
  • Ben Thiel (Risk Management Agency, Spokane, WA)
  • Dr. Jarrod Miller (University of Maryland, Extension Ag Educator)
  • Don Clifton (Farmers First Services, Inc.)

WFRP topics will be covered during the workshop, including eligibility, basic coverage criteria, how commodities are counted, allowable revenue/expenses, and loss/claim information. After attending this workshop producers should be able to contact their crop insurance agents already knowing some of the basics of WFRP.

Whole-Farm Revenue Protection provides a risk management safety net for all commodities on the farm under one insurance policy. This insurance plan is tailored for any farm with up to $8.5 million in insured revenue, including farms with specialty or organic commodities (both crops and livestock), or those marketing to local, regional, farm-identity preserved, specialty or direct markets.

WFRP may be described as an umbrella policy covering a wide array of farm production, both insurable commodities and those for which insurance is not currently available. Many crops which are non-insurable individually are high revenue, high input ventures, involving relatively higher risk. Such crops can often represent a higher percentage of farm revenue than proportionate acreage.

Although WFRP is especially effective coverage for diversified operations with multiple crops and/or livestock, attractive coverage may be available for qualifying operations producing a single commodity.

WFRP protects your farm against the loss of farm revenue that you earn or expect to earn from:

  • Commodities you produce during the insurance period, whether they are sold or not;
  • Commodities you buy for resale during the insurance period; and
  • All commodities on the farm except timber, forest, forest products, and animals for sport, show or pets.

WFRP provides farm growth provisions. Operations that have been expanding over time may be allowed to increase their approved revenue amount based on an indexing procedure or, if you can show that your operation has physically expanded (land, animals, facilities, or production capacity) so it has the potential to produce up to 35 percent more revenue than the historic average, your insurance company may approve your operation as an expanding operation to reflect that growth in the insurance guarantee.

Nutrient manangement credits will be available to attendees. Register at decrophelp@gmail.com, 302-831-2538 or 302-242-8806.

University of Delaware

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Dairy MPP Sign-up Delayed

Dairy MPP Sign-up Delayed

USDA has delayed sign-up for the 2018 Dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP) until Sept. 1.

“Delaying signup until Sept. 1, 2017, will allow County Offices to concentrate on national acreage reporting, emergency grazing requests and LFP applications,” notes Kathy Sayers, acting administrator of Farm Programs.

In the past, the enrollment officially ended Sept. 30. But the deadline has typically been extended into December to encourage more sign-up. No word in the current announcement when enrollment for 2018 will close.

The notice has a dateline of July 3, 2017, but it was buried at the bottom of the Dairy MPP web page.

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‘Soy Milk’ or ‘Bean Slurry?’

|  By: Jim Dickrell

The Good Foods Institute (GFI) submitted a letter to the Food and Drug Administration today, arguing soy-based beverages should be allowed to be labeled as milk. The reasoning: Consumers know and refer to it as milk.

“Consumers refer to soy milk as soy milk. The term clearly communicates that soy milk is a form of milk that is made of soy. Likewise, rice noodles are noodles made of rice, and gluten-free bread is a form of bread that does not contain gluten. FDA should provide clarity that such straightforward terms are acceptable,” argues Jessica Almy, GFI Policy Director.

The circular logic grew immediate response from Jim Mulhern, President and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation: “Ironically, in GFI’s first request to FDA in March, the organization admitted that in China – supposedly the original source of ‘soy milk’ – the more common term used in Mandarin for soy beverages is ‘dòu jiāng,’ which translates to bean slurry. At least that is a more accurate and legally compliant product description.”

Mulhern adds: “The efforts of GFI and other groups to alter food standards that have been in place for decades – allowing manufacturers of imitation dairy foods to append a plant name like almond, soy, hemp or quinoa in front of legally defined dairy terms such as milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream – falsely suggests that the products are nutritionally equivalent. They are not. This is a transparent attempt to profit from milk’s good name by emulating the wording, but not the superior nutrition, of our products. It is misleading and deceptive to allow these nutritionally inferior imitators to use our hard-won reputation to their advantage.”

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9 Tips to Achieve High Quality Corn Silage

Corn silage is the foundation of many winter feeding programs. It provides an excellent source of energy that can reduce the costs of providing energy in a cow’s diet while also serving as a digestible fiber source. The details outlined below can help ensure that high quality feed is preserved.

1. Spend time getting equipment ready before harvest

General maintenance, such as greasing equipment and sharpening knives, needs to be done well in advance of the anticipated chopping date. Advance planning is important for a timely harvest at the proper moisture content.

2. Harvest timing

Harvesting at the correct moisture promotes favorable fermentation in the silage crop and decreases storage losses, so moisture content should be the determining factor for when to harvest. For bunkers, silage should contain between 30% to 35% dry matter (65% to 70% moisture). Upright silos and bags should contain 35% to 40% dry matter (60% to 65% moisture).

3. Correct length of chop:

Silage needs to be chopped finely enough for good packing to quickly eliminate oxygen and establish a good fermentation process. The chop length needs to be long enough to promote cud chewing. Thus, the recommended theoretic length of chop (TLC) is a compromise between these two factors.

Alfalfa haylage or silage = 3/16″

Unprocessed corn silage = 3/8″ to 1/2″

Processed (kernel processor) corn silage = 3/4″.

4. Adjusting silage choppers with on-line kernel processors

The optimum moisture content of silage harvested with a chopper containing a kernel processor is 62% to 65% (35% to 38% dry matter) to capture additional starch accumulation in the corn kernels. Most of the corn kernels should be pulverized to a similar size. To optimize starch digestion and provide adequate effective fiber, the recommendation is to cut to .75″ theoretical length with an initial roller clearance of 0.12″.

5. Keep knives sharp and properly adjusted throughout the filling process

Sharp knives prevent the shredding of silage, resulting in a more uniform chop. This allows for maximum forage compaction, good fermentation and sufficient particle size to prevent health problems in the cow.

6. Fill silos rapidly

Silos should be filled quickly to help eliminate air from the feed. Silos should be filled within a week to prevent dark brown and black bands within the silo. Fill bunkers from the back to the front, adding forage on a wedge and not from the bottom to the top in layers.

7. Pack, pack, and pack some more

Tightly-packed silage ferments more quickly and contains fewer yeasts and molds than loosely packed silage. Packing silage helps decrease the size of oxygen pockets, resulting in fermentation end products the cow can use better to make milk.

8. Cover silos immediately after filing

Bunkers or piles of silage need to be covered with 6 mil plastic tarps and weighted with tires (tires should touch each other) immediately after filling. The sides of bunkers also should be lined with plastic. Upright silos should be leveled and capped with a silo cap immediately after completion of filling.

9. Let silage ferment 3 to 4 weeks before feeding

Unfermented feed is higher in fermentable sugars and can cause cows to go off-feed. Gradually transitioning cows over seven to 10 days to newly-fermented silage is recommended. Data suggests that fermentation and maximum percentage of available starch may not be achieved until four months after ensiling.

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Is There a Genetic Limit to Milk Production?

Cow comfort and herd management, not genetics, is limiting production in most herds, say these geneticists.

With herd averages approaching 40,000 lb of milk per cow and the single lactation record nearly double that, it begs the question: Are we approaching the genetic limits of milk production.

In a word: No, say Kent Weigel, a geneticist with the University of Wisconsin and Chad Dechow, a geneticist with Pennsylvania State University.

“We really aren’t,” says Weigel. The same question was asked 40 years ago when Beecher Arlinda Ellen produced 55,561 lb of milk in a 365-day lactation. That record wasn’t broken for 19 years. But then, the record toppled—again and again and again. Last year, Ever-Green-View My Gold-ET, set a new single lactation milk production record with 77,480 lb in 365 days. In percentage terms, My Gold out-did Ellen by nearly 40%!

“I think we have a little way to go before we reach the limit,” says Dechow. “If you look at the Predicted Transmitting Ability for milk on these record cows, they’re just slightly above average.”

The other way to look at, says Weigel, is to consider feed intake as a multiple of the maintenance requirement. In the 1980 and 1990s, top cows were producing maybe five times their body maintenance levels. “We didn’t have any cows at 6 or 7X maintenance; now we do,” he says.

“So there’s no evidence we’re hitting a limit, but at some time, we might simply reach the physical capacity of the udder, I guess.”

At what cost?

“To me, it more a question of cost,” says Weigel. “Is the extra pound of milk worth the cost of producing it, and is it my best strategy for profitability? If I have to spend 99¢ to get $1 back, is it worth it? Is increasing production per cow the lowest hanging fruit on my farm?”

Selecting for larger cows, with bigger frames and more rumen capacity, is not the answer, say both Weigel and Dechow. “Larger is not more efficient; larger is actually less efficient,” says Dechow. “We actually need smaller cows to be more efficient at current levels of milk production.”

Look at Jerseys. Some Jerseys are making 40,000 lb of milk, and they don’t have nearly the size and scale of Holsteins.

Health traits are becoming a larger proportion of selection indexes, which is a good thing. Unhealthy cows simply burn through calories to power their immune system. “Healthy cows produce more,” says Weigel

A bigger issue might be that farmers are placing less urgency on reproduction than they were a decade ago, says Dechow. Many herds are now reliant on reproductive hormone protocols to get cows bred. But if those tools are ever lost, it could become a problem.

Inbreeding is also a concern, and it continues to increase. Bull studs are doing a good job of weeding out detrimental genetic recessives. The real issue, says Dechow, is that the industry is likely weeding out just the worst recessive genes with obvious problems. “The ones that we don’t see as major recessives may be causing more subtle problems,” he says.

Still, both Weigel and Dechow say industry selection indexes do a pretty good job of balancing production, health traits and conformation. While every herd doesn’t need a customized index, the geneticists say each dairy owner should think about what he or she is trying to accomplish with the genetics they buy. “If there are a diversity of goals, there will be diversity of selection and inbreeding won’t be as big of a concern,” says Weigel.

Genetics isn’t really the issue limiting production and efficiency, he says. “The limiting factors in most herds are cow comfort and herd management.

“Most herds are doing 70% to 80% of things right, and are getting good production. But if they can get 99% right, wow! That’s when you see production jump.”

 

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