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WSU Dairy Programming Update

Volume 5 Issue 12

Dr. Susan Kerr, WSU Regional Livestock and Dairy Extension Specialist

On Dec. 7, five WSU faculty and two program partners gathered at the WSU-Northwestern Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon to give program updates to dairy producers. Here is a brief summary of each presenter’s presentation.

Dr. Shannon Neibergs, WSU Extension Economist


Dr. Neibergs attended a training in NM focused on financial analysis and economic issues in the U.S. dairy industry. The trainers are re-evaluating some traditional economic principles such as maximize equity and minimize debt; use profitability to accelerate debt pay down and grow working capital; lower debt to lower bankruptcy risk and improve cash flow; and improve credit worthiness to borrow in times of need. New trends in dairy financial management include maximize growth; minimize income taxes; leverage debt to get “too big to fail;” use debt to purchase springer heifers; maximize depreciation expenses; write off as capital losses on un-reproductive breed backs; use Base Value accounting for raised replacements; and use profit losses to develop loss carryover to minimize taxes. These are the tends for large commercial herds, but these approaches will not sit well with everyone.

Dr. Neibergs also commented on how the evolving milk market changes risk. It is harder for milk price to recover because the market is over-supplied; this is causing increased financial stress for producers. There is intense economic pressure to be a high-efficiency, low-cost producer. Global economic conditions and trade have increasing impact on the U.S. industry. There is concern about who is at risk regarding supply adjustment as low profitability continues.

Regarding risk management, the Dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP) has not triggered payments as it was intended to. This is because of the bias in the MPP feed cost formula. The feed cost per cwt. of milk formula is:

  1. Corn $/bushel X 1.0728; plus
  2. Soybean meal $/ton times 0.00735, plus
  3. Alfalfa hay price per ton times 0.0137

Dr. Neibergs is conducting work on statistical model of hay price and hay quality, which has a very high correlation with milk price. He is also working on a financial model to better represent WA actual feed costs and a financial model to better evaluate financial performance.

In related work, Dr. Neibergs is updating a spreadsheet financial model that meets Farm Financial Standards Council accounting guidelines. He is developing a feed/ration cost worksheet to best model feed costs integrated with herd inventories. He is also looking into economic costs of dairy heifer infertility while at contracted heifer growing facilitates.

Dr. Neibergs has developed an anaerobic digester model to evaluate nutrient co-digestion loadings; energy potential of co-digestion products; tipping fee relative to energy and nutrient production; and engineering constraints. He is also looking at the expected impacts of the Electronic Logging Data Rule. This 11-hour driving time restriction has the potential to greatly disrupt cattle market plans, so efforts are underway to get exemptions for livestock hauling.

Dr. Amber Adams Progar, WSU Dairy Management Specialist


Dr. Adams Progar’s current research topics include identifying behavioral indicators of the onset of dairy calf and cow illnesses; implementing new technologies to monitor behavior and well-being of dairy calves and cows; testing effectiveness of dairy management practices; and measuring effectiveness of employee training programs. She is investigating the effects of stress on immunity, specifically improper handling, extreme weather effects, and social interactions. She is measuring cow/calf behavior, health, and production and looking for relationships between these measures to develop management guidelines for use on dairies.

In a hoof health and behavior study, Dr. Adams Progar and others will investigate if dairy cow behavioral patterns and milk production change as hairy hoof warts increase in size. They will test a new footbath product and follow lagoon copper concentrations.

Two studies are related to environmental stress in calves: Monitoring Cold Stress in Jersey Calves and Monitoring Heat Stress in Holstein Calves. Questions being investigated are:

  • Do calf jackets improve Jersey calf growth, health, and welfare?
  • Are iButtons useful tools to monitor calf temperatures?
  • What behavioral indicators of the onset of illness may exist in Jersey calves?
  • How does hot weather affect calf behavior, growth, and body temperature?
  • Which housing system minimizes the effects of heat stress on calves?

Dr. Adams Progar is a partner on a Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health grant that will investigate the best method to teach safe, efficient dairy cattle handling training to dairy employees. Also, along with Karen Steensma, Stephanie Shwiff and Susan Kerr, Dr. Adams Progar is part of a USDA SARE-funded grant to measure the economic impact of pest birds on WA dairies and test the effectiveness of various bird deterrence methods.

Dr. Joe Harrison, Animal Scientist and Extension Specialist


Dr. Harrison has free Nutrient Management Record Keeping Calendar to give to any dairy producer who would like one.

Dr. Harrison presented information on his work with phosphorus loading of dairy farms. Dairies are net importers of phosphorus, meaning more accumulates on dairies than is needed for crop and livestock production. If dairy producers were able to extract phosphorus from manure, they would not over-apply it to land and would even have a valuable product to sell and export from the farm. Dr. Harrison has co-developed a farm-based system to remove excess phosphorus from livestock wastewater through the production of struvite crystals. He has a grant to conduct on-farm testing of this apparatus at no cost to participating farms. Producers who would like to participate in this opportunity should contact him directly.

Dr. Mark Kirkpatrick, Managing Veterinarian, Zoetis Dairy Technical Services

Dr. Kirkpatrick from Zoetis introduced their Clarified® product, which is a genetic testing tool. He explained the various traits and indexes assessed for each animal. For example, Net Merit is an index that predicts expected lifetime profit compared to the breed base. The traits and their respective emphasis for this index are Protein 20%, Fat 22%, Milk -1%, Productive life 19%, Somatic Cell Score 7%, Udder 8%, Feet/legs 3%, Body size 5%, Daughter pregnancy rate 7%, Heifer conception rate 1%, and Calving ability 5%. Trait groupings include production traits, milk protein components, health and reproductive traits, wellness traits and indexes, type traits and indexes, parentage and inbreeding info, specific recessive genes, and six composite indexes.

The Wellness traits index and its selection emphasis are Displaced Abomasum 6%, Ketosis 1%, Lameness 27%, Mastitis 41%, Metritis 19%, and Retained Placenta 6%. This is an economic index so result are reported in dollars. Emphasis is applied to each trait is determined by the importance of that trait in overall profitability.

The Dairy wellness profit index is a comprehensive selection index involving production, reproduction, health, type, wellness and polledness. It is an economic index describing differences in lifetime profitability. Emphases for this index are Production 34%, Fertility 7%, Wellness 30%, Health and calving 19%, and Type 10%.

Dr. Kirkpatrick explained how Clarified test results could be used to determine which heifers to develop and which to sell or cull. For dairies with limited space and excess heifers coming up, this tool could help identify those individuals with the genetics most likely to pay off for the farm.

Dr. Craig McConnel WSU Veterinary Clinical Sciences Assistant Professor


Dr. McConnel is the new WSU Dairy Extension veterinarian in Pullman. He was hired very recently and gave an overview of dairy programming efforts currently underway by WSU Veterinary Extension.

Dairy genomics workshops were held in 2016. Innovative Breeding Schemes (sexed semen, beef semen, genomics) will be presented at the Western Dairy Management Conference in Reno, NV Feb. 28 – March 2, 2017.

WSU Veterinary Extension has a large USDA grant focusing on “Framework for Decisions” on farms. A goal is to understand and describe why (motivation) calf care decisions for health and treatment are made. Also, a “feedback and feedforward” study will identify parturition-related risk factors for calf health events and researchers will develop a system to provide this information to calf care workers to inform treatment decisions. Yet another study will evaluate the effectiveness in dairy calves of a non-antibiotic product to prevent disease, reduce antibiotic use, and lower prevalence of antibiotic resistant organisms and traits.

A Calf Care Audit webinar was presented on Dec. 14. The webinar highlighted the tools and methods for evaluating critical control points in calf rearing. The webinar was recorded and is available here.

Dr. McConnel’s past work has focused on issues related to livestock death and time lost to disease. He developed a Certificate of Death for animals that used a final mortality code, which is useful in record analysis and tracking data trends. He is working to develop an accurate way to measure the effectiveness of dairy health systems including trustworthy assessments of disease, mortalities, and removals. He wants to focus on the right kind of animal health actions to reduce preventable deaths and diseases, thereby addressing costs as well as animal welfare.

Dr. Amber Itle WSDA Regional Field Veterinarian


Dr. Itle introduced (in absentia) the new State Veterinarian (Dr. Brian Joseph) and Assistant State Veterinarian (Dr. Scott Haskell). Both are located in Olympia.

TB has been identified in Canadian cattle. Six cattle from one herd tested positive; 22,000 cattle in 18 herds in Alberta and Saskatchewan were affected by the investigation. It is anticipated 10,000 cattle will be slaughtered. Indemnity for registered animals is up to $10,000 and $4,500 for commercial animals. There are no international trade implications

Brucellosis has been found in MT again, this time in two bulls on a Beaverhead County ranch. Both were euthanized and the rest of the herd tested negative. The bulls were in the Designated Surveillance Zone near Yellowstone National Park, where Brucellosis is transmitted between cattle and elk

A multi-drug resistant Salmonella enterica serotype Heidelberg infection affected 21 people in eight states. Those affected had direct contact with dairy bulls or 4-H projects. The likely source was a Wisconsin livestock market.

Finally, Dr. Itle reminded attendees the Veterinary Feed Directive will take full effect on Jan. 1, 2017. All medically important (i.e. used in human medicine) antibiotics to be used in feed or water for food animal species will require a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) or a prescription. If you have any questions about this new regulation, contact your veterinarian.

Dr. Susan Kerr, Regional Livestock and Dairy Extension Specialist


Responding to dairy producers’ feedback saying “We need more forage options,” Dr. Kerr has been conducting forage trials at the WSU Northwestern Research and Extension Center (NWREC) in Mount Vernon. Given the wet and heavy soils of the area, Dr. Kerr decided to plant 100% timothy, 50-50 timothy-birdsfoot trefoil (BFT), and 100% BFT in a field at the NWREC. The 100% timothy plot was “grazed” (mowed) at 3”, 6”, and 12” to mimic and demonstrate the long-term effects of overgrazing, proper grazing, and undergrazing. BFT was planted because it is a non-bloating legume that can be grazed fresh; it also contains condensed tannins purported to assist with internal parasite control. Results so far show BFT is tolerant of heavy clay and wet soils; slow spring emergence was seen with fall planting; 5+ cuttings were possible; forage was highly palatable fresh but not when mature BFT was made into hay; forage production averaged 4T/mo. (DM); crude protein was high (18.3% DMB), fiber content was low (ADF 33%, NDF 40.3%), and relative feed values was 146.1%. These results indicate BFT holds promise for western WA as a direct-grazed high-quality forage with best application for dairy heifers, organic dairy cows, and small ruminants.

A BFT variety trial in 2015-2016 showed the Witt variety outperformed the other varieties at all stages. A spring planting in 2016 emerged very quickly and is being monitored; severe weed pressure has affected stand establishment. Also planted in spring 2016 were Italian ryegrass, Teff, and Sudangrass. The teff and Sudangrass did very poorly in the test plot but very well elsewhere at the NWREC as cover crops. The Italian ryegrass was very successful. It is an annual ryegrass that needs to vernalize before it can set seed, so it won’t become an annual weed pest if mowed/grazed strategically.

We conducted a corn silage variety trial with Blue River Hybrids Organic Seed of Ames, IA. At least four varieties show promise for our area. Results are included in the quarterly Extension Dairy News at

Dr. Kerr worked with Dr. Amber Itle to collect data for the National Animal Health Monitoring System’s dairy study in 2014-2015. Three workshops were conducted to share results with dairy producers and veterinarians. After data analysis, publications are being/will be developed to share recommended best practices with producers.

As mentioned above, Dr. Kerr is part of the SARE nuisance birds on dairies study. Producers who haven’t yet given feedback on how nuisance birds affect their farms are encouraged to do so here.

Dr. Kerr is engaged with a 5-year national grant focusing on biosecurity. Dr. Kerr’s team is developing an interactive youth curriculum that will be available online.

Dr. Kerr’s other educational outreach pertaining to the dairy industry involves engaging with WA Ag in the Classroom; summarizing Skagit County dairy statistics for the annual Skagit County Ag Stats publication; writing articles for the quarterly WSU-Puyallup Extension Dairy News e-newsletter; writing articles for and publishing the periodic WSU Dairy Extension News newsletter mailed to licensed dairy farms in NW WA; conducting educational tours of dairies; presenting at Whatcom County Conservation District’s Dairy Speaker series; and presenting at 4-H club and FFA chapter meetings.