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Progressive Dairyman's Top 25 of 2008

Published on 09 December 2008

More than 28,569 unique visitors read content at in 2008.

The following is a recap of the Top 25 most-read stories that appeared in Progressive Dairyman in 2008 as well as follow-up comments about some of the article topics from the articles' original authors or contributors.



1. Finnish dairy architect thinks outside the barn
36-year-old Jouni (pronounced yo-nee) Pitkaranta’s unique feedbunk/feed delivery system continues to intrigue many dairymen and consultants. He believes this system saves labor, increases biosecurity and simplifies overall dairy design.

Why dairy producers are so interested in learning about alternative barn designs?
Dairy farmers are clever people. They are deeply dedicated to their business, and they try to do things better and better.

Dairy barn development itself has not changed much during the last few decades. Dimensions have changed, the cow’s environment in a freestall has become better, and ventilation has developed a lot. But still basic layout systems in barns have been the same for a long time, especially in feeding.

Farmers recognize some problems in present drive-through feeding systems, when it comes to feed pushing and feed biosecurity. Feeding outside is a new perspective in barn design with opportunities which cannot be achieved with drive-through feeding.

—Jouni Pitkaranta
Dairy Designer/Engineer


2. Which university is best for me? (This article is no longer available online.)
Progressive Dairyman highlighted more than 40 higher education colleges and universities offering a dairy program or dairy emphasis classes.

The same issue also included comments from students who had just completed internships throughout the country. Many said that in addition to college coursework, out-of-the-classroom experience is invaluable today.

“Going into an internship with an open mind, a positive attitude and a desire to learn will help college students to gain confidence, grow as a person and jump-start a successful career in the modern dairy industry.”

— Austin Copenhaver
2008 Threemile Canyon Farms intern

3. World Ag Expo: The World of Agriculture Means Business
With more than 1,700 exhibitors and 100,000 attendees from 67 countries all on 2.6 million square feet of showgrounds, World Ag Expo is the largest ag expo of its kind worldwide. 2008’s show featured online registration, a first-ever live cattle display and a new Dairy Technology Center.

Why do you think dairy producers are very interested in learning about World Ag Expo and its event schedule each year?
World Ag Expo is uniquely positioned to bring the foremost experts in dairy technology and science directly to producers. If you’re looking to see, touch and learn about the latest dairy technologies, animal health products and services offering increased profit, you’ll find it at World Ag Expo. This makes it easy to compare similar products and competitively price your next purchase. If that wasn’t enough, there are three days of dairy-specific seminars from meeting environmental challenges to redirecting your dairy management strategies. Listen to the presentations, ask questions regarding your concerns, and find new answers to your dairy questions. Take some time to check out our new website, and make sure you’re on your way to Tulare, California, in February 2009.


— Steven Knudsen
Communications Director
World Ag Expo

4. Which student is most likely to succeed?
Progressive Dairyman asked readers, educators and allied industry to vote which of three hypothetical students would be most likely to succeed in the dairy industry long-term.

Student 3, the depiction of a student preg checking cows, was the most-chosen response.

What do you think is the most likely successful career path for an aspiring young dairy producer?
Go to college and get a dairy science degree. Take Spanish, and hit economics and nutrition hard. Don’t just show up for class; study like your future depends on it.

Use summers and weekends to gain practical experience on larger dairy operations. Learn the skills and practices that you will eventually ask your employees to excel at. You will never completely understand the challenges they face unless you face them yourself. Go to any dairy conference you can get to and afford. Understand that to compete in the dairy industry you will need to be a capable people manager.

Look for mentors along the way that can help you understand the big picture and the details that make an operation successful.

Don’t rush home after college and try to wrestle the operation away from dad. Find a dairy operation to work at for a couple years and build on your education. You will see what they are doing right and see things you will want to do differently on your own operation.

— Howard Manlove
Dairy Farm Complex Manager
Midwest Dairy Institute

5. Minerals in your water? There’s more than meets the eye
Charlie Elrod described the concept of Strong Ion Difference (SID) in solutions. At its core, the SID concept states that the pH of a solution will be driven by the sum of its cations, positively charged ions like calcium, minus the sum of its anions, negatively charged ions like chloride. Elrod suggested that the SID of water should be considered along with the ration’s DCAD in what he calls the Total Intake Cation Anion Difference (TICAD).

Why do you think dairy producers are very interested in learning about how minerals in their water may be impacting rumen function and metabolism?
For a long time, many producers have struggled with what I have come to call “production malaise.” It’s just less-than-optimal dry matter intakes, lower feed efficiency or other subtle health or production issues that no one can really put a finger on. In the process of troubleshooting, water is often considered and may be analyzed, but the results are often ambiguous at best. As often as not, no single mineral jumps out as being the culprit with effects similar to those observed in the herd.

But, if we consider the impact of those minerals as a whole, and the effect of the cumulative charge of those minerals (the Strong Ion Difference), it can explain much more of the questions about rumen function and production than we’ve been able to do before.

—Charlie Elrod
Springfield Farm Enterprises Inc.

6. Use a fresh cow protocol to monitor disease
Veterinarian Mark Kirkpatrick explained that proper fresh cow monitoring involves a thorough evaluation of all cows in the fresh pen with active involvement of your veterinarian. He says a valuable and efficient system used to monitor fresh cow health is using a two-person team to observe both the front and back of the cow for signs of sickness and take daily temperature checks for 10 days.

From your perspective, what is the greatest challenge to realizing the potential rewards of consistent fresh cow monitoring and treatment?
In a single word it is commitment. A dairy manager needs to make the commitment that fresh cow management is one of the most important processes on the dairy. If I were the dairy manager, I would need to offer my best cow people the opportunity to rise up to a “management” position. We’re not talking about a single position either. I need a group of people that are functional as a team and are cross-trained to perform all positions – reading the cow from the rear, reading her from the front and administering therapy. My commitment needs to be made real by offering the best training that I can find with the goal that the fresh cow personnel are reaching a diagnosis on each treatable individual and allowing them to be undisturbed while they get this task accomplished.

Finally, there has to be a commitment to sit down with the fresh cow management staff and the herd veterinarian to formally state the diagnoses, define the symptoms, specify the treatments and withdrawal times and get it captured on paper. Record systems are sophisticated enough that we can monitor the outcomes on these conditions and determine if we are winning or losing.

—Mark Kirkpatrick

7. Cows and forages vs. corn and soybeans
Nutritionist Curtis Cupp provided a downloadable Excel spreadsheet and explained how to calculate the fair market value of a forage relative to the price of corn and whole soybeans.

8. 2016: Possible production scenarios for the U.S. dairy industry
Consultant Jim Austin said the U.S. dairy industry is facing significant challenges. He proposed four potential scenarios for the dairy industry in the future.

Which of the four scenarios you described earlier this year do you think the dairy industry will be headed toward in 2009?
While no scenario is an exact match – reality is much too complex and always stranger than what we can imagine – we are closest to Scenario A: Dairy Depression.

Rising input costs are reducing dairy profits while declining consumer income is reducing demand relative to other available beverages. The organic niche is under particular pressure.

Still, the longer-term future is infinitely variable and capable producers, those with conservative financial practices, efficient operations and strong alliances to local, regional and national public policy officials, will survive and prosper.

—Jim Austin

9. Lay down your silage
Bob and Nate Kuball in Waterville, Minnesota, are moving away from vertical silage options to horizontal methods of “putting-up” silage. They still use their silos for high-moisture corn, but the rest of their silage is stored in drive-over piles and bunkers.

10. Facebook introduces new possibilities, potential risks for dairy producers
Although this website is not likely to become the homepage for some of the older generation of dairy producers, this article showed how Facebook holds a multitude of opportunities for young producers already interested in the website and its many features.

Why do you think the dairy industry was very interested in learning about and using Facebook this past year?
I think the dairy industry was interested in learning about and using Facebook mainly because it’s a great way to connect with fellow producers. Facebook has paved the way for other social networking sites.

Members of these sites can post videos and photos, request friends and blog about the latest industry hot topic. Facebook has the potential to reach out to consumers. By posting positive images, videos and articles of dairying for our neighbors, classmates and relatives, we can promote our industry with a few clicks of a mouse. We can combat anti-agriculture messages just by being available, albeit electronically, to answer questions and show consumers our industry is progressive, adaptable and integral to their daily lives.

—Emily Caldwell
Ag Business Management Senior
Penn State University

11. Animal Welfare Review 2008
In seven issues of Progressive Dairyman, industry experts reviewed the animal welfare principles as proposed (and now finalized) by the National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative against prominent certification programs being promoted to consumers.

In your opinion, what is the next step individual producers (and the industry as a whole) need to take in animal welfare to maintain a social license to operate?
The industry needs to quickly adopt on-farm animal well-being programs that are consistent with the principles and guidelines of the National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative. Those programs need to be ethically grounded, scientifically verified and economically viable to assure long-term success.

The entire industry needs to support these programs and producers need to adopt them as quickly as possible to maintain the social license to operate. The window of opportunity is narrow, and it’s closing quickly.

—Charlie Arnot
Communications Consultant

12. A second opinion: Are we trimming cows correctly?
Hoof trimmer Ladd Siebert described the history and mechanics of the Kansas hoof trimming method and philosophy. We received vigorous, healthy challenges from some industry professionals who strongly disagree with the Kansas trimming methods, and we believe dairymen were better informed by presenting both methods to them.

Why do you think dairy producers are very interested in learning about the Kansas hoof trimming method?
Lameness is a serious problem on most modern dairies. Hoof trimming is an important part of the solution to this problem. To be most effective the overgrown hoof must be restored to normal structure because this is the strongest state of the bovine hoof. The goal of all hoof trimming methods is to restore the hoof to normal structure. However, to do this accurately requires knowing the answer to two questions: What exactly is normal structure? How do we objectively know when this has been reached during the hoof trimming process?

I think dairy producers are interested in the Kansas method because it clearly and comprehensively defines what normal structure is, and this makes it possible to teach how to objectively trim each toe to the goal of normal structure.

—Ladd Siebert
Kansas-method hoof trimmer

13. A bulkier ration leads to healthier cows
Nutritionist Lawson Spicer’s close-up ration showed his philosophy for feeding for health prior to calving.

“I want the result of this ration to be an animal that is not too heavily conditioned and a foundation of fiber in the rumen so that when the fresh cow is starting to eat more grain she is able to handle it better,” Spicer said.

14. Cottonseed scarcity may cause concerns in 2008
Growers in the Southeast this year chose to convert cotton acres to corn, soybeans and wheat, taking advantage of all-time high prices and avoiding the worldwide glut in cotton production. This resulted in a 60 percent drop in tons of cottonseed available for dairy rations.

Why do you think dairy producers were very interested in following the cottonseed market this past year?
Any time you apply the concept of scarcity to an essential product, that product’s news value escalates. This has been the case for whole cottonseed in 2008. Like all feed commodities, the cottonseed market has been very erratic. Dairy producers showed their true loyalty to cottonseed, buying at prices that were unthinkable just a year ago. Cottonseed prices have remained strong due to a short cotton crop and the prospect for an even smaller crop next year.

How would you rate dairy producer interest in feeding cottonseed in 2009 given its pricing and availability this past year?
Despite a short supply, we’ve seen a lot of interest in continuing to feed cottonseed to high-producing dairy cows. A few years ago, when cottonseed was plentiful and the price was low, lots of dairy producers decided to give it a try. Many have since removed cottonseed from the ration, and they are definitely noticing a drop in their milk check. So producers will keep an eye on cottonseed prices and availability in the hopes of catching a deal. They may be able to book some seed and keep it in the ration, especially for their high-producing string.

— Tom Wedegaertner
Director of Research and Marketing for Cotton Inc.

15. Low costs drive production to large dairy farms
A recent report by the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) documented the industry’s structural changes and identifies their effect on production costs.

The ongoing reorganization of dairy farming increases productivity, meaning more milk can be produced with an equivalent complement of production inputs. This places downward pressure on farm costs and milk prices. It also creates new challenges for dairy and environmental policies, especially regarding manure management.

16. Are ethanol mandates the solution or the goat?
Ethanol is not a long-term energy solution, contributing author Bill Van Dam wrote. Congress has fixed the amount of corn that must be converted to ethanol, creating false demand. Van Dam believes such policies mean literally burning a valuable feed commodity in a futile attempt to achieve energy independence and at the same time create a battle for acreage.

Why do you think dairy producers were very interested in jumping into the discussion about ethanol production and ethanol mandates this year?
Dairy producers, particularly those in the West, firmly grasp the principles of supply and demand and accept the results as part of their business environment. What they object to is a government mandate that literally forces the burning (as ethanol) of as much as 40 percent – each and every year – of the most important feed source available to them.

They also have not missed the dramatic increase in other feed sources because of competition for acres driven by the false fixed demand for corn.

How do you foresee dairy producers reacting to continued ethanol production in 2009?
The facts: President-elect Barack Obama is a strong supporter of the current ethanol program, thus ethanol production will continue. The only relief for the corn market would come when not enough U.S.-produced, corn-based ethanol was available, at which time sugar-based ethanol would be imported. Ethanol plants are losing money which threatens the U.S.-produced supply of ethanol. The price of oil is only one-third of what it was earlier this year. Ethanol is now more expensive than gasoline which threatens the sales of ethanol (in particular the sales of E85 where consumers have a choice).

The result: All this leads to an expectation that Congress will feel compelled to implement new rules and mandates to keep the ethanol program going. The word bailout comes to mind.

The reaction: Dairy producers will join with all other parts of livestock agriculture to fight – and fight hard – against any of these new schemes to protect or bolster ethanol.

—Bill Van Dam
Alliance of Western Milk Producers

17. Five new products to save you time and money
The following five products were chosen by a committee of industry professionals and dairymen as the newest, most innovative dairy products in 2008 and were showcased during World Ag Expo Feb. 12-14 in Tulare, California. They were the Sandtrap, Bella Health Systems, HI 84429, Shifttronic 3-speed gearbox and Multimin Cattle – 70 mg.

18. Growth despite record input costs? It’s possible if you manage volatility
Marketing consultant Scott Stewart described how he accurately predicted corn would go to $7 a year early. He said volatility means that prices for feed inputs, and for milk, will move fast. He predicts the moves are going to be dramatic, but that if producers are on the right side of these moves, they will see record profit margins.

Do you still think $12 corn is a possibility in the near future (3-5 years)?
When I first wrote the report titled “$12 Corn,” my intention was to prepare market participants for the potential of extreme price rallies and, more importantly, to make everyone aware that extreme market volatility was in our future. My first major target for a corn market rally was $8. That has been achieved. More importantly, the forecast of record volatility has more than proved accurate. Do I still believe we can see $12 corn? Yes! In the report, I outlined a combination of demand, market volatility, marketplace disruptions and a drought would likely be required to see $12 corn. Despite everything that has happened with ethanol and a downturn in the economy, I still believe that a drought would lead to a substantial shortfall in supply and that prices could surpass previous highs and hit $12.

—Scott Stewart
CEO of Stewart-Peterson

19. Animal Welfare Review: Housing & Facilities
Producers, processors and industry stakeholders reviewed and commented on the National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative’s animal welfare draft guidelines in 2008. Author Nina von Keyserlingk said one of the major concerns for animal welfare is the high level of mortality and morbidity among young calves.

Why do you think dairy producers are very interested in learning about how housing and facilities impact animal welfare?
Producers see the effects of poor comfort on their cows – cows perching in stalls, cows lying in the alley, and most importantly, the high rates of lameness that plague our industry. New facilities can cost millions of dollars to build, so people want to build these right the first time. Our research helps people make better decisions about how to build and manage their barns

In your opinion, what should producers be talking about in 2009 related to animal welfare issues regarding housing and facilities?
Welfare has always been important in dairying, although we have only recently started to use this word. Dairy producers should be sharing success stories relating to good cow and calf care.

—Nina von Keyserlingk
University of British Columbia researcher

20. Nothing but ‘Clear Skies’ for Scott Brothers
Bruce and Brad Scott of Scott Brothers Dairy located in San Jacinto, California, talked about their big plans this fall. They are in the process of reducing their energy bills, helping the environment, decreasing their carbon footprint and increasing their sustainability marketing to consumers by installing solar panels on their dairy. The $1.7 million project is being constructed by Clear Skies Solar Inc. of Massapequa Park, New York.

21. Women in dairying … stand up and speak out
With more women becoming active in the dairy industry, more support programs are being created to reinforce and encourage the success of women in dairying. For those wanting to become more involved, whether in day-to-day farming or promoting the dairy industry, there are many people and resources to turn to, such as International Forum for Women in Dairying (IFWD) and the dairy ambassador programs.

Why do you think more women in dairying are emerging to stand up and speak out in defense of our industry?
Women have always played a vital role in the dairy industry. Whether they stand proud in the barn or at a company that works with the dairy industry, I believe more and more women are becoming frustrated by the misinformation being fed daily to consumers. Many women are leading the way, showing their passion for their work, trying to take the industry to new heights and standing up with a strong voice to combat the false information.

Recently, a group of dairy women attended the 3rd International Forum for Women in Dairying. They used this forum to share ideas and learn from one another on how to become even stronger contributors to the industry. A survey filled out by participants at the end of the two-day event indicated the need for these types of forums.

I hope that as women in dairy become further empowered with knowledge and confidence, they will place themselves in more proactive, leadership positions. The industry can only benefit by engaging the strength, experience and passion of these motivational women. ­

—Tina McDonald
TVM Marketing

22. State of the Industry 2008
Progressive Dairyman reviewed dairy product consumption, NAHIS data, 2007 milk production data and opinions about the direction of the industry.

All major U.S. dairy breeds also discussed the three foremost challenges and opportunities facing their breeds in the near future.

23. Corn silage: The TMR plant
Corn silage is a very challenging crop to feed, analyze in the laboratory and to sort fact-from-fiction with regards to selecting the best genetics for individual dairy enterprises, author Bill Mahanna said. He said this raises issues ranging from more potential for sub-sampling errors in obtaining representative samples, to the energy availability being highly influenced by the degree of kernel damage.

Why do you think dairy producers are very interested in learning about how to grow and ensile silage?
Corn silage is comprising a higher percentage of the forage in many dairy rations because of the high fiber digestibility (compared to alfalfa) coupled with high starch content, especially during times of high commodity prices. Corn silage is also a relatively consistent feed with high palatability and a forage source that is relatively easy to contract and price for a “win-win” between dairyman and grower.

What was the most common cause of variability in corn silage quality you saw (or anticipate seeing) from this last season?
Growing environments exert a huge effect on the nutritional value of corn silage, however, the largest source of variability not accounted for by routine laboratory analysis are differences in starch digestibility caused by degree of kernel damage and length of time in storage. Old-crop, that has been ensiled for nearly a year, will typically have much higher ruminal starch digestibility than newly-ensiled corn silage. Differences in how the crops were kernel- processed (roller mill gap setting, roller mill differential, length of chop) can also cause tremendous differences in starch digestion kinetics.

—Bill Mahanna
Pioneer Nutritional Sciences Manager

24. Dairy tour creates friendly waves for Wisconsin dairyman
Dan Brick said neighbors judged him and his dairy for its smell and mud on the roads – until he held his first dairy tour. Brick, a fifth-generation dairy farmer from Greenleaf, Wisconsin, said he and his employees have seen the attention they receive flip-flop from negative to positive after the tour. They are getting more friendly waves from the same locals as they drive down the road.

25. Milking water buffalo: Same game, different players
Milking water buffalo isn’t much different from milking a Holstein, related Kent Underwood, who comes from a conventional dairying family and grew up in Arizona. He was featured as one of Progressive Dairyman’s Best of Two Worlds contest winner in 2008. Underwood managed a commercial dairy herd in Wisconsin for three years prior to joining Woodstock Water Buffalo Co. in 2004 and relocating to Woodstock, Vermont. He now works full-time as manager over Woodstock’s 250-milking water buffalo herd and 350 replacements. PD