Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Large-herd conference focuses on industry’s big issues

PD Editor Walt Cooley Published on 10 April 2013

More attendees came to the biennial Western Dairy Management Conference in Reno, Nevada, than did in 2011. They heard topics that emphasized feed management, heifer-rearing, labor management and animal care, reproduction efficiency and facility design.

What follows is a recap of some of the most interesting findings presented during the conference. As is the case with scientific research, some findings were preliminary and more research is needed to confirm conclusions.



Mycoplasma mastitis
Larry Fox from Washington State University shared new information his laboratory has recently gathered about Mycoplasma-related mastitis outbreaks.

He believes he’s discovered how they also lie dormant after an outbreak. During his talk, he described his theory for how Mycoplasma mastitis follows a “bloom to blossom to seed” theory for transmission.

“Cows you may bring into your herd may be asymptomatically carrying Mycoplasma,” he said. These “seed” carriers may be the genesis of an outbreak when a future stress event occurs. They may also be passing along the Mycoplasma “seeds” to other animals, especially offspring, by nose-to-nose contact.

“With mastitis, it’s all about knowing where the reservoir of the pathogen is,” Fox said. “In the case of Mycoplasma, the animal itself may be the reservoir and not just the udder.”

Fox reviewed potential containment strategies for when an outbreak has begun, including culling and isolation in a hospital pen. His research showed, in one herd, that isolation in a hospital pen actually increased the likelihood of an outbreak.


“A cow that went into a hospital pen with a Mycoplasma outbreak in the herd we intensely studied was 100 times more likely to get Mycoplasma mastitis,” Fox said.

In other herd investigations his research group found that animals that survive an outbreak became either asymptomatic shedders of the “seeds” of that outbreak, flying under the radar and passing them along to other animals, or conversely that their immune response in recovering from the disease genetically altered the DNA of the pathogen itself, perhaps to the point that the mutation may not be a threat to cause disease over time.

Which “seed” these outbreak survivors carry could indicate how effective culling might be as a strategy during an outbreak. More research is required to investigate this theory.

Fox suggested the primary methods of Mycoplasma disease control should focus on overall cattle health and reducing exposure to new Mycoplasma strains through “careful selection of how and when cattle are imported into a herd.”

• When looking for Mycoplasma mastitis cases, fresh samples are best, Fox said. Freezing samples for up to four weeks showed a 50 percent decrease in the ability to detect Mycoplasma in lab testing.

Fox suggested samples should be refrigerated no longer than five days prior to being tested. More than a week of refrigeration will diminish a lab’s ability to detect the pathogen.


Euthanasia of cattle
Dr. Jan Shearer of Iowa State University shared with attendees how to ensure current methods for euthanasia are effective. Shearer explained new AVMA guidelines on how to position a penetrating captive bolt gun or when aiming a firearm for euthanasia.

That target should now be the intersection of the imaginary lines drawn between the rear of the eyes and the base of the opposite horn. This positions the targeted area for euthanasia slightly higher on the head than previous guidelines.

• For most effective use, captive bolt guns should be cleaned after each use and stored in a clean, dry area.

Shearer suggested that for firearm euthanasia of a cow to be effective, the proper caliber ammunition must be used (i.e. for handguns, .32 to .45 caliber; for rifles, .22 magnum or greater; for shotguns, 12-gauge, 16-gauge or 20-gauge with number 6 or lower birdshot or shotgun slugs). Solid-point bullets are recommended over hollow-point ammunition, he said.

Whenever possible firearms firearms should be discharged at close range (2 to 3 feet away from the intended target) to assure accuracy in hitting the intended target site. Never hold the muzzle of a firearm flush with the skull since this may cause injury from possible explosion of the barrel, he said.

Improving lameness
Nigel Cook of the University of Wisconsin – Madison shared research findings about how to improve herd lameness. Cook suggested data still suggests that sand is best for improving lameness.

He believes this is not because of the difference in lying time between sand systems and others, but rather because of the number of lying bouts sand produces.

“Sand promotes normalized resting periods,” Cook said. In addition to comfort while lying down, cows are also concerned about stability when trying to stand up in a stall.

“It remains to be seen if newer gel mats provide the cushion and support cows seek while standing up,” Cook said.

When it comes to footbaths, Cook suggested a longer footbath is better. He said filling it with copper sulfate works a bit better than formalin, and that these products together perform better than many of the other products.

• Cook discouraged the use of a pre-rinse footbath and said it would be more effective to alternate between the use of the footbath for cleaning and treating on different days, rather than together every day.

Globalization and U.S. dairy competitiveness
Torsten Hemme of the International Farm Comparison Network suggested U.S. dairymen begin to benchmark their production costs against those of dairymen in other countries.

He said the world will need an additional 20 million tons of milk per year to keep up with dairy demand for the next 20 years. This is the equivalent of adding the equivalent in new milk production of that from California or New Zealand each year.

Where will that milk be produced? Hemme suggested that an increasing market share of the world’s milk production will go to countries that can produce the most milk at a cost between $18 and $19, or even lower.

Hemme predicted that we are at the beginning of a new run-up in milk prices that would be followed by equally as low milk prices or more during the next three to four years.

Other tidbits
• In a discussion about antibiotic residues in the environment, Joe Harrison of Washington State University reported that monensin has been shown to persist in the environment.

He said the industry needs to understand more about the factors that cause antibiotics to persist in the environment so that we can develop management strategies to minimize their environmental impact.

• Steve Reynolds of Colorado State University indicated dairy workers have a higher injury claim rate (8.6 per 200,000 work hours) than the national average (6.2 for the same amount of work hours). He also said that new evidence suggests new, inexperienced workers are “at a greater risk for lung disease, just as they are for injuries.”

• Mike Gamroth of Oregon State University explained the differences between four of the national animal care certification programs available to producers.

Most interesting was his comment that the Validus certification program has the highest number of observation areas of any third-party verification program and that it weights observations more heavily toward high-risk cattle groups, including transition cows and hospital cows.

After-hours fun
Evenings at Western Dairy Management Conference are a marketer’s dream.


This year’s events included a March Madness tournament-themed reception from Mycogen Seeds, a new product launch party from Soy Best with a pearl necklace give-away worth $1,000, and a Saturday Night Live-themed reception by Zoetis with a guest appearance from San Francisco 49er quarterback Collin Kapernick.

Dairymen stood in line for up to an hour to have their pictures taken with and a photo frame signed by the Super Bowl starting quarterback Kapernick at a Zoetis reception.

The pharmaceutical company invited Kapernick because of his former days with University of Nevada’s football team and because his father works for Hilmar Cheese in Hilmar, California.

“When we booked him, he had not even been named a starter,” said Noel Ledermann, a senior area business manager with Zoetis. “All the rest of it was icing on the cake.” PD

Photo by PD staff.


Walt Cooley
Progressive Dairyman