The Dairyland Initiative, based out of the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, offers producers information that will help them through the decision-making process when updating or building new facilities.
The program, which launched in October of 2010, continues to provide unique learning opportunities and tools to producers.
Dr. Rebecca Brotzman, associate outreach specialist for the Food Animal Production Medicine (FAPM) section at the UW – Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, explains that the Dairyland Initiative program took a few years to come to fruition.
Brotzman is responsible for building, updating and maintaining the website, as well as working on plan consultations and housing questions that come in to the FAPM section of the website, in collaboration with Dr. Nigel Cook and Dr. Ken Nordlund.
Cook and Nordlund, professors in the Department of Medical Sciences at the UW – Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, were the people behind the idea of the Dairyland Initiative. “They were the ones that dreamed up this program,” Brotzman says.
One of the first stages in the program’s development was to acquire funds to get the website and program off the ground. Cook and Nordlund applied for and were awarded the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment in the summer of 2010.
The purpose of this endowment is to get the knowledge and ideas generated at the university out to the people in the state of Wisconsin and beyond, Brotzman explains.
The endowment became the primary funding driver for the program for the first three years. “Additionally, we have private sponsors that have committed to two-year sponsorships at a time, which will be a large part of the decision behind how things keep going into the future,” she says.
The need for this type of program was based on two main factors – a lack of standard building guidelines in relation to a cow’s needs and changing the public’s perception of animal agriculture.
“We have all sorts of guidelines for snow loads, roof slopes and how trusses are built, but there have not been any standards for the place where the cows actually live, breathe and produce milk,” she says.
After reviewing the topics related to dairy facility design, the next step was providing a centralized location for the materials within each standard. The online format of the Dairyland Initiative made this an ideal location.
Brotzman states that public perception of the food animal industry has also played a role in the passing of legislation governing how animals should be handled and housed. She comments that although some legislation was based on science, much was based on the perception of animal agriculture from a public relatively removed from agriculture.
“On the dairy side, we want to show the public we are proactive with giving our cows the best possible life we can,” Brotzman says. “We’re fortunate with dairy cattle that when we provide these welfare-friendly concepts of housing and cow comfort, we oftentimes have production and cost benefits.”
The website was initially composed of previously written materials based on the research Cook and Nordlund conducted on cow behavior and lameness. This then grew to encompass heat stress conditions and feeding behavior as well as the impact of environment and management systems on the production of transition cows.
In addition to Cook and Nordlund’s research, the Dairyland Initiative currently also cites research from sources such as the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, the University of British Columbia and Kansas State University.
The website is currently laid out in tabbed sections including Blueprint, Virtual Tours, Construction, Lenders, Consultants, Supporters, Risk Assessment and Tools. The Blueprint page features two decision trees for adult cow housing and replacement housing. These decision trees are composed of common questions within each specific topic.
Scott Flory, a dairy producer from Virginia and current subscriber to the Dairyland Initiative, explains that the decision trees provided a great starting point in his search for information. Flory and his family own and operate Hillside Farm, a 110-cow dairy in Dublin, Virginia. He plans to update his facilities, particularly his freestall barn, in the future.
“The decision trees go through a list of specific questions, such as ‘How are you going to handle manure?’” he says. Flory states that this question is one of the first to consider when laying out plans for a barn.
He says the program then guides you through a series of steps that cover many different facility design factors like concrete grooving, water space and feed barriers.
Brotzman states that while the “Blueprint page” does not have actual blueprints in the sense of a building plan, it does contain pieces of information that are the building blocks of a blueprint like sizes, scales and dimensions.
“The website helps you make decisions by laying down facts and explaining different options to see what’s going to fit your operation the best,” Flory says.
The “Virtual Tours” tab lists several barns of varying shapes, sizes and functions. Layouts and sketches of the existing barn and photographs collected from specific areas of each barn are also included.
Videos are also available which pan through the barn. This allows subscribers to see the barn from within with the cows inside moving around.
“We also have a video interview with each of the producers that have built those barns and their opinions in how things are going,” Brotzman says. “They are really candid interviews; I simply set up the camera and let them talk about their barn as if another farmer is asking them questions about it.”
The “Construction tab” has a directory of construction companies from engineers and designers to the actual builders and suppliers of materials. Brotzman explains that the companies listed have all either registered to the website or are at least aware of the site and have the capability to use it to help build dairy facilities.
The “Lenders page” contains a directory of lenders using the site to help their clients make decisions or become aware of the site. The “Consultants page” includes links to UW-affiliated staff or extension personnel.
A unique section of the site, the Tools tab, consists of four interactive spreadsheets for the producer to use when planning around certain areas on the dairy. One of these spreadsheets is a partial budget calculator that helps compare sand and mattress bedding surfaces.
Another calculator helps you determine how many heifers to plan within each age group on a dairy, which depends on your herd size and other management factors.
“These spreadsheets are useful tools we are going to continue to create and make available on the site,” Brotzman says.
She also explains that any producer concerned about his facilities and its impact on their dairy cows will benefit from the site, regardless of the size or type of their operation. The site contains materials related to tiestall barns, freestall barns, barns for nursing calves, heifer barns and facilities for transition cows and adult cows.
“Although the website may look like it’s only for larger farms, in reality cows are still cows and the ideas in larger facilities do apply to smaller operations,” Brotzman says.
Producers can access the website at http://thedairylandinitiative.vetmed.wisc.edu/
There is a two-year subscription fee of $100, which gives subscribers access to all of the available materials online. Brotzman points out that this fee is comparable to the price of facility design and planning books currently available, but the website offers the availability to be updated more frequently.
Additionally, complimentary subscriptions are currently available to Wisconsin dairy producers. They can either log in with the first six digits of their dairy license number or register for a free login ID on the website.
“Right now this is still a start-up program so we are catering to the people of Wisconsin first, but we also want to make this available to anyone that could possibly use it,” she says.
The funds generated from subscriptions and the consultation work performed by Brotzman, Cook and Nordlund as a result of the program will be used to help maintain and continue building the site.
“I would encourage people to subscribe,” Flory says. “As a non-Wisconsin producer, I think $100 for the two-year subscription is well worth it.”
Engineering and construction professionals and all agriculture lenders are able to also register for a free two-year subscription through this summer.
In early January, free access to the website was granted to veterinarians worldwide due to a sponsorship from Pfizer Animal Health. Veterinarians can contact their Pfizer Animal Health representative to obtain the login code.
The website has now been online for over a year now and currently has several goals ahead of it. “Being a website, we don’t have to wait for a new edition of a book to come out,” Brotzman says. “The website is constantly updated.”
Flory has been using the site for several months now to help in his planning for upcoming barn renovations. He agrees that the addition of new materials to the website is a clear benefit. “It’s a pretty useful tool, and I like the way the website works right now,” he says. “As long as they keep updating and adding to the site, that will be the best help.”
Most recently, Flory searched the site for additional information and advice on how to improve the feeding area of his transition cows, including bunk area improvements and feeding space.
“Any tool like this that comes from researching what cows want or prefer, how to improve their lying time and how to improve housing is very useful,” Flory says. “Our goal as dairy producers is to help make animals more comfortable in their housing, because that’s where we are going to get a great return from them.”
In addition to the information offered online, the Dairyland Initiative now also offers workshops covering topics such as positive pressure ventilation systems for calf barns and transition cow facility planning. These workshops are presented in an interactive format consisting of lectures, discussion and problem- solving exercises. PD
The website helps you make decisions by laying down facts and explaining different options to see what’s going to fit your operation best. Photo courtesy of The Dairyland Initiative.