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0609 PD: WMDC presenters address hot-button issues with research

Published on 09 April 2009

Producers who made the trip to the bi-annual Western Dairy Management Conference in Reno, Nevada, last month had two things on their minds – depressed milk prices and how long they would last. More than 25 presenters addressed visitors during the three-day conference, and in one way or another, each spoke to producers’ economic concerns during presentations or after while fielding their questions.

On the first day, dairy market analyst Mary Ledman told producers that the squeeze on profitability caused by this current downturn is due to feed prices, which have remained high.

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“The Midwest guy has an advantage in the era of high feed prices that we’re in,” she said.

After her noontime presentation, a producer announced that Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) had just announced it had obtained two-year participation commitments from more than 67 percent of its members. Throughout the conference, producers talked about options to rein in, and even control, milk supply.

Albert DeVries of the University of Florida presented analysis on the current and future national heifer supply. He told producers that in 2009 about 63,000 extra heifers conceived from sexed semen will be entering milking herds. According to his data, near the end of 2008 between 35 to 40 percent of new pregnancies in heifers were conceptions with sexed semen. DeVries said that means by the end of 2010 there could be 161,000 more heifers ready to enter the milking string.

During a pre-conference seminar on BMR corn silage, researchers and consultants discussed new developments in how to feed the forage and minimize silage losses overall.

“Intake drives milk production,” said Limin Kung of the University of Delaware. “Right now you cannot afford to feed poor-quality forage that is going to stuff the rumen.”

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Kung recommended ways to secure silage covering, how to keep air out of silage to prevent spoilage and how to minimize exposure to air during feedout. He told how a hole the size of a pencil eraser in one of his research facility’s silage bags caused spoilage the entire depth of the 9-foot bag for 4 feet on either side of the hole.

“If you see mold, at some point your silage was exposed to air,” Kung said.

Face management on silage piles is critical, he said. Air from the face can penetrate into a pile as far as 3 feet. So even if a dairy removes 6 inches per day, silage in a pile could be exposed to air for up to a week before being fed.

Several presenters addressed animal welfare, including how scientific research is impacting the issue. Jim Reynolds of the University of California said the welfare topics at the forefront for cows are handling of down animals, euthanasia, transportation, tail-docking, branding and slaughter. For calves, Reynolds said colostrum feeding, castration, separation from dam and calf housing are hot-button issues.

“Animal welfare is not a size issue. It is dependent on the owner’s values and attitudes,” Reynolds said.

Marina von Keyserlingk described how research can provide science-based answers to address animal welfare concerns and cattle preferences. She also described research that shows cows prefer to lie in deeply bedded stalls.

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“For every inch decline in bedding, lying time was decreased by 30 minutes,” Keyserlingk said.

Her university’s research also showed an improvement in clinically lame cows that were given access to pasture. The same result could be achieved in a freestall barn by changing the position of neckrails, she said.

“If you are in a situation where you have cows that have high genetic merit and production that are going lame, maybe you can find a corner of the barn and take the neckrail away to give her a chance to recover,” Keyserlingk said.

Research shows that cows given this opportunity will stand in the bedded stall. The drier, softer stall is more similar to standing on pasture, Keyserlingk explained. PD

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