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Progressive Dairy's Top 25 of 2021

Published on 24 November 2021

Progressive Dairy staff is pleased to present our top content of the year, according to pageview metrics from Google Analytics, published between Oct. 1, 2020 and Oct. 1, 2021.

When possible, we reached out to the author or source featured for a follow-up question, and we also asked editors to share some “behind-the-scenes” anecdotes from these articles.

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1. The 400,000-mile pickup

Longtime equipment contributor Brad Nelson, based in Washington, penned this tribute to his pickup that, as of December 2020, had 414,000 miles on it and was going strong.

Social media spotlight

With more than 2,000 views, this article resonated with many fellow maintenance-minded truck owners, including Facebook user Andrew Smith, who shared with us a photo of the odometer reading of his beloved truck, ready for more work at 484,000 miles.

Q. Is the truck still running?

“The pickup now has 433,000 miles on the clock. One of the ‘regular’ complaints about pickups with the solid front axle (versus independent front suspension) is the general lack of steering precision – prone to wander following the dips and swales of what should be a uniformly flat road surface.

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“Following the online groups’ discussion of this quirk, it seemed there wasn’t much benefit from throwing money at the problem. I found a front-end alignment guru who had been the head of the alignment group at a big tire dealership for some 20 years. Discussing Old Red’s wandering ways, he mentioned an outfit in Tacoma (Washington) that was rebuilding the original steering gearboxes. He said they would machine the case to replace a bushing with a roller bearing, thus eliminating almost all of the play in the linkage that originated in the steering gearbox itself – said he’d had nothing but rave reviews from owners with the modified box.

“Since driving the pickup on certain roads had become a ‘herding cats’ adventure, I opted for the re-engineered steering gearbox. For way south of half a payment for a newer rig, I was blown away by the difference in steering.

“I’ve made no other changes, and there is nothing available newer I have any interest in (kinda like having the same wife/girlfriend/bunkmate for over 50 years – I’m way too old to start over on anything or anyone different).”

—Brad Nelson, Washington freelance writer

2. Ration similarities in herds averaging over 100 pounds of milk

In this article, the author discusses several factors common among rations to herds averaging over 100 pounds of milk. His 100-pound survey showed that most herds were feeding a highly digestible forage along with a fairly high level of starch, higher levels of LCFAs and higher levels of amino acids, especially methionine and lysine.

Cows at the bunk

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Q. When it comes to producing 100 pounds of milk, what is one piece of advice you can never stress enough?

“Water. Milk is 87 percent water; how important can it be? I use the ‘123 Rule’ when it comes to water. Clean at least once a week, two water sources per pen, 3 liner inches per cow. It is a very common practice among 100-pound herds to have excessive clean, fresh water in the return lanes (2 feet per cow coming out of the parlor); water available 24 hours a day; more than one water source so the boss cow cannot keep those timid cows away and enough space for all the thirsty cows to drink. Producers will argue that just because the water tank has no one drinking, they are good on water availability. Cows are a prey species that are herd animals. One animal drinks and does not get eaten, and the rest know it is safe to drink, so we get slug drinking at times. This is true in tiestall barns, freestall barns, manure pack barns and open lots. On some farms, water flow is just as important as liner space. What good is it if she wants to drink but has to wait on the tank to fill?”

—Steven Massie, head of nutrition, Renaissance Nutrition Inc.

Photo by Mike Dixon.

3. Cattle bunching on dairy farms: Causes and solutions

Cattle bunching

According to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach field ag engineer Brian Dougherty, when groups of cows are bunching together in the barn, it’s a sign that something stressful is going on in their environment. Whether that be heat stress from rising temperatures, a lack of fresh air in the facility, the nuisance of flies or light avoidance behavior, each of these situations can lead to lost production and compromised animal health. In order to prevent bunching, the underlying cause of the stress must first be addressed.

Photo courtesy of the University of Wisconsin – Madison Dairyland Initiative.

4. Hidden cost of raising extra heifers

Raising extra heigers

Social media spotlight

In this article, ABS Global’s Mandy Schmidt analyzes the pitfalls to raising more heifers than your operation needs. This popular article was shared four times from Progressive Dairy’s Facebook page, reached nearly 1,700 people and was posted by a few other industry organizations.

Photo by Mike Dixon.

5. Natural Prairie Dairy Farms converts manure into clean water, organic dry fertilizer

Editor’s notes

“I received a lead from a public relations agency announcing a new manure separation process was now operational on a dairy in Indiana. Our editorial intern at the time, Adriana Toste, was able to interview Donald and Cheri De Jong, owners of Natural Prairie Dairy Farms, to find out how this system works that has been implemented at two of their facilities. This manure system is different to what the industry has seen already, and I’m curious to see what will become of it.”

—PD Editor Karen Lee

6. Build immunity to start calves right

Calves in straw

Newborn calves are highly vulnerable to pathogen challenges in their environment. To protect them, farms should start with proper nutrition for the dam. Once the calf is born, it needs high-quality colostrum and a calf program that focuses on building a healthy gut.

Getty Images.

7. Methane from manure: An income stream to consider

Siblings Danielle and Chase Goodrich

“Nutrition consultant John Hibma offered to write this article for us pre-pandemic. It ended up getting pushed back a little due to travel restrictions from COVID-19, but once he was able to get to the farm to get the story, we were able to share how the Goodrich family partners with Vanguard Renewables to capture methane from the farm’s manure as well as food waste diverted from area landfills. The Goodrich Farm was later named a recipient of a U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award.”

—PD Editor Karen Lee

Photo provided by John Hibma.

8. Myth-busting calf acidosis: 5 misconceptions and the truth behind them

Calf in pen

While acidosis might seem like a fairly common problem, it isn’t as prevalent as one might think. Common myths include: Every calf with a rumen pH below 5.5 has acidosis; acidosis only happens at weaning; starter type can cause acidosis; calves with acidosis may struggle for a day or two, but they’re fine after that; and acidosis always requires treatment.

Photo courtesy of Purina Animal Nutrition.

9. Beef-on-dairy crossbred calves through the supply chain

Crossbred calf

Buyers are becoming increasingly selective about the quality of crossbred calves they bring into the feedlot. To garner the highest value for these calves, create what future buyers are valuing or retain ownership through the supply chain to capture “middleman” money and your initial genetic investment.

Q. The beef x dairy market has caught on quickly and continues to evolve at a fast pace. Since the time this article was written in early 2021, what are two to three major trends you have noticed in this space?

“As more and more beef x dairy crossbred cattle make their way through the supply chain, key players have more frequent opportunities to compare various groups of crossbred cattle performance. They have more information to make predictive decisions about which cattle will be a profitable investment.

“It has become apparent high-ranking, traditional EPD data beef bulls do not mean a successful cross on dairy cattle genetics. Specific beef traits are needed to correctly influence dairy breeds for beef supply chain priority areas such as feed conversion and yield. This is especially important for the back third of the carcass: muscle and ribeye shape.

“Dairies are starting to shift their focus away from ‘just wanting’ the right hair color for crossbred calves. The supply chain is screaming that not every black calf performs the same. Today’s purchasers are valuing calves from the right genetics, not the right color.

“The calf grower stage is being recognized as critical to success later in the supply chain. Nutrition, disease resistance and gut health from calfhood through feedlot are especially important with potential welfare and economic effects. Problems early in life can significantly impact harvest efficiency in the form of liver abscesses and heart damage. Beef x dairy crossbreds can have more days on feed and be more prone to liver lesions and heart damage. This can cause offal loss, trim with resulting yield loss, slowed production line and, possibly, carcass condemnation.

“If you are doing everything right for correct genetic traits, appropriate beef sires for your dairy breed and closely overseeing calfhood health, don’t let your efforts go to waste. Use traceable identification in an industry verification program.”

—Mandy Schmidt, North American dairy genetic services specialist, ABS Global

Staff photo.

10. Texas dairyman has faith for the future with robotics

Adam Wolf

Adam Wolf pioneered the robotic frontier in Texas, as the second dairy in the state to build an automated milking system. The path from milking in a rented barn to building an entirely new facility was one of patience and diligence, as Wolf toured more than 200 barns in his research and learned how to position a new concept to gain favor of his lender. Wolf moved his herd into a tunnel-ventilated, 12-stall robotic dairy barn in October 2020 and has been reaping the benefits of technology-driven dairying ever since.

Photo courtesy of Dairy Max.

11. 5 ways you are creating infertile cows

Fertility is about so much more than shot protocols, according to ABS Global’s Mandy Schmidt. These five other factors are at play in a major way: genetics, maternity pen and reproductive tract health, beef x dairy breeding, body condition and diet, and health and cow comfort.

Q. Speak more into the issue of dairy cow infertility. Do you believe as an industry we are making advances forward or backward in this area?

“It’s hard to run a dairy without pregnancies. Dairies have always needed to prioritize reproduction and regular freshenings for consistent milk flow. However, I believe the dairy industry now knows so much more about how to optimize reproductive results. The added knowledge of timed A.I. protocols and tools, for example genetic traits for fertility or activity monitors, are undoubtedly helping today’s dairies be more successful.

“The dairies [that] are the most effective with their reproductive programs are typically operations that prioritize compliance with team members. As an industry, we better understand why timed A.I. procedure precision is so important. This translates to a bigger emphasis on employee training for tasks such as correct hormone injection sites, ideal timing, reliable brands, semen handling and insemination technique.”

—Mandy Schmidt, North American dairy genetic services specialist, ABS Global

12. From grief to growth: Jamie Pagel Witcpalek, Pagel Family Businesses

Jamie Pagel Witepaleck

Editor’s notes

“Last year’s Women in Dairy issue featured Jamie Pagel Witcpalek of Pagel Family Businesses in Casco, Wisconsin. At the time, it had been about two-and-a-half years since the tragic loss of her husband, Steve Witcpalek; and father, John T. Pagel, in a horrific accident. When I initially reached out, we talked for an hour or so over the phone. I was in tears of sorrow, unable to comprehend the pain she had gone through, but then also tears of pure admiration as we talked about her sheer resilience as a mother of three young children and how she has been involved in reshaping the vision of the family business so that all can grow together. I knew this was a story I had to write because it was one so many others needed to hear, and fully viewed it as an honor and privilege that Jamie trusted me to do so. I hope our readers walked away with true inspiration from the story of a woman who pulled herself up by her bootstraps with both grit and grace.”

—PD Editor Peggy Coffeen

Photo courtesy of Mary Breuer Photos, Priscilla Brock

13. A different look at pregnancy loss: The lost opportunity for pregnancies from technician inefficiency and inaccuracy

Failure to detect heat and errors in heat detection are the two primary causes of poor reproductive performance and low fertility. Research indicates 7% to 20% of cows inseminated are not in heat. Repeated training, performance evaluation and troubleshooting can help a technician become a master at creating pregnancies.

Q. Outside of the technical skills of a successful technician, what are the key traits that top-performing breeders have in common?

“These are the three extra key traits I believe A.I. technicians need to possess to succeed:

• A.I. technicians with greater affective commitment, meaning attachment to the farm and to the herd, have better conception rates than those who are only interested in keeping their jobs.

• A.I. technicians who know more, are more curious, involved, are eager to learn and believe in the technique, either in the estrus detection or timed A.I., normally perform better and have higher results.

• Finally, the most successful A.I. technicians really like what they do. They like to work with cows, they are patient, they know the cows, they are focused, and they are fundamentally concerned about the cows’ well-being.”

—Anibal Ballarotti, consultant, ABS Global Inc.

14. A new approach to managing transition dairy heifers

New approach

Social media spotlight

Canadian dairy nutritionist Daniel Scothorn detailed how he used LinkedIn to request feedback on a pre-calving protocol that had bred heifers on fresh diet three weeks before calving and grouped them exclusively with other bred heifers. The article post on Progressive Dairy’s Facebook page reached more than 4,000 people with 400 engagements. About 40% of the article views came from LinkedIn.

Be sure to follow Scothorn on LinkedIn for updates on the protocol: ca.linkedin.com/in/danielscothorn

15. Growing from a humble beginning: Minglewood Inc. capitalizes on technology

Solum family

Editor’s notes

“Two years in on the addition of an automated milking facility to their existing barn, this article highlights how the Solum family in Wisconsin transitioned with labor and continues to utilize its double-nine parallel parlor.”

—PD Editor Karen Lee

Photos by Brittany Olson.

16. Use of an air fryer to determine dry matter in forage and diets for dairy cattle

Using an air fryer

Today’s technological world isn’t afraid of “radical” ideas and has, instead, embraced them. That’s why more air fryers from the kitchen are showing up on farms to determine dry matter – in rations, in haying and haylage or in silage. The method has shown to be comparable to laboratory analysis and more consistent than the microwave method (with its tedious maneuverings during the testing process). This team of researchers verifies their air fryer test results in this popular article.

Courtesy photo.

17. Calf rumen development: Is roughage beneficial?

Calf rumen development

While it might seem like hay is good for rumen development, research shows otherwise. Instead, farms should feed higher concentrate and low hay levels to maximize weight gain and papillae development.

Photo by Sal Gomez.

18. Milking equipment changes that made an impact on throughput

Equipment

Editor’s notes

“I enjoyed interviewing three dairy producers to find out how the implementation of different equipment to their milking parlors changed their operations. Some equipment I wasn’t quite as familiar with, and another was liked for an unexpected reason. It is always good to hear what is making an impact on farms.”

—PD Editor Karen Lee

Photo courtesy of Benthem Brothers Dairy.

19. Pros and cons of different robot layouts

Robotic milkers

There are many ways to orientate a box robot within a pen. Key factors to consider when designing a barn layout include the following: preferred cow traffic choice (free, guided or semi-guided flow), cow sorting options, footbath placement, secondary group access and potential plans for expansion.

Q. Fast-forward 20 years. Of the six robot barn layout styles mentioned in the article (side, island, tollbooth, crossway, L-shape and 4dBarn herringbone), which do you believe will become the standard for how automated milking system barns are built?

“Of the six robot layouts mentioned, we believe the tollbooth layout will become the standard for how robots are positioned in pens, followed by the herringbone layout, a slight variation to the tollbooth. This is because the tollbooth and herringbone layouts meet four main criteria. They allow cows to be automatically sorted through a footbath, provide 24-7 access for a secondary cow group, separate cows exiting the robot from those waiting to be milked and extend bunk space in front of the robot. The tollbooth is more versatile than the herringbone in that it can be adopted for free, semi and guided-flow traffic systems. And while the other layouts will continue to be implemented, they come with compromises that may not be overcome with management changes.”

—Courtney Halbach, associate instructional specialist, Dairyland Initiative

Staff photo

20. ‘Are they big enough?’: Monitoring dairy heifer growth and development

Monitoring dairy heifer growth

While bigger might seem better, that isn’t always the case. Farms should monitor their heifers regularly to ensure they’re gaining and developing at the proper rate. Body condition scoring can be a helpful tool for accomplishing this.

Photo by Mike Dixon.

21. Eight strategies to reduce dry period mastitis to improve reproductive efficiency

This article outlines eight dry cow prevention strategies to help reduce the risk of new intramammary infections from developing post-calving to help keep milk flowing on the dairy and improve reproductive efficiency. It touches on areas such as teat-end condition, internal teat sealants, dry cow therapy and more.

Q. In addition to the eight strategies you explored in the article, are there any additional keys you believe can reduce dry period mastitis to improve reproductive efficiency?

“Although a dairy cow can develop an intramammary infection (IMI) at any time during her lactational cycle, many dairy producers are surprised to learn cows are most susceptible to new IMIs during the dry period. New IMI infections during the dry period, or infections that fail to cure during this time frame, can result in carryover infections that can have dramatic impacts on the incidence and distribution of mastitis in the lactation that follows. Subsequent mastitis events that occur during the breeding risk period can have a profound negative effect on fertility.

“To help reduce IMI risk in the dry and transition periods, and to improve reproductive efficiency post-calving, work with a mastitis consultant, such as your herd health veterinarian. Strive to implement mastitis prevention and control strategies that minimize bacterial challenges from the environment and maximize herd immune defenses.”

—Brian Miller, cattle technical services veterinarian, Merck Animal Health

22. Three California dairies find more than meets the eye when milking with robots

Milking with robotics

Editor’s notes

“With so many events switching to a virtual format, I was able to attend several new events I couldn’t always travel to in the past. One in particular was the California Dairy Sustainability Summit, where I heard these three dairymen talk about adopting automated milking on their California farms. I enjoyed hearing their perspectives on determining factors, transition methods and performance analysis of milking with robots.”

—PD Editor Karen Lee

Photo by Walt Cooley.

23. Virginia dairy couple ties the knot on family farm

Couple getting married

Editor’s notes

“Katie Hammock of central Virginia reached out shortly after her 2020 wedding to share a couple of gorgeous photos from her husband’s family farm. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about our readers through our Top 25 lists, it’s that you all love a good farm wedding. Stories of love on the farm or how farmers pulled off a beautiful wedding surrounded by the cows are often among our most popular articles. Luckily, Katie and her husband, Isaac, were open to be featured in a full article, written by editorial intern Adriana Toste.

“We’re always open to receiving photos from readers. Email

—PD Editor Emily Gwin

Photo by LaurelLane Photography.

24. Economic feeding strategies: When is milk replacer the right price?

Milk replacer or tank milk? There are many factors that weigh into a farm’s choice to feed either one. When assessing it from an economic standpoint, farms should consider the milk price, the percent solids of the tank milk and the cost of a bag of milk replacer.

25. The first 72 hours foreshadow the rest of lactation

In this article, the author talks about how a dairy cow’s body transitions in 72 hours before calving from maintenance to high performance. He describes this transformation to being similar to a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. In the first 72 hours, a cow’s blood calcium dips slightly in the first 24 hours and quickly rebounds. Kidneys retaining calcium, increased intestinal absorption of calcium, increased intake and bone resorption work together to help this butterfly take off. In addition, every cow is unique in their fingerprint of rumination, but healthy cows have a clear blueprint in the first 72 hours. Some animals will ruminate faster, of course, but if it takes five to six days to reach these goals, it’s likely due to lower intakes. The first 72 hours will tell the story of the rest of the lactation.

Q. What is something that is often overlooked but is essential to understanding cow rumination before calving?

“When rumination drops, think about intake. What are the likely culprits? Yes, heavy cattle and timid 2-year-olds in an overstocked pen are easy answers. Lameness is likely an easy issue to overlook. If she has access to comfortable sand stalls, the lame cow is not as likely to eat as much as she should or might eat larger meals when she does go to eat. Do all the cows come up to eat when feed is laid down? Have all your dry cows been trimmed? The 24-hour guideline applies to dry cows as well; any lame cow should be trimmed within 24 hours of showing lameness.”

— Paul Dyk, consultant, GPS Dairy Consulting LLC end mark

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