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Peruse practical information for the dairy producer on essential topics including management, A.I. and breeding, new technology, and feed and nutrition.

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In recent years, unions have increasingly targeted dairies in their organizing efforts. As organized labor searches for ways to avert a decades-long decline in private industry union representation, unions have targeted industries that employ Hispanic workers, and have focused on industries that cannot be “off-shored,” including the hospitality, construction and janitorial industries. The dairy industry fits this profile, and more and more milk producers find themselves confronted by union-organizing campaigns.

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More than any one thing, the amount of milk a dairy cow produces ultimately depends upon the amount of feed she consumes every day. The more feed you can get a cow to eat, in a properly balanced diet of course, the more nutrients there are available for her body to absorb and metabolize – and make milk.

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Milk production and reproduction are two key management areas that are relied upon to maintain and advance profitability on the dairy. Because of their integral role in the dairy’s success, it’s no surprise that recent research conducted in Denmark identified these areas as ones that, when improved, resulted in the greatest increase in gross margins for the dairy operation.

The study, published in the February 2008 issue of the Journal of Dairy Science, concluded that improving the herd-level lactation curve increased gross margins 2.6 times more than an improvement in reproduction. In turn, enhanced reproduction improved gross margins an additional 5.9 times more than management related to heifers, body condition scores, mortality and somatic cell counts. These top-ranked management areas improved profits the most when even small management changes were implemented.

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Typically, in the fall you read articles about increasing the amount of milk replacer to feed to calves. The typical recommendations come from the National Research Council (NRC) predictions for the increased calorie demands for calves under cold stress. While these recommendations are correct, they are also incorrect.

In 2007, a detailed set of research trials were published in the Professional Animal Scientist Journal. In these trials, calves were fed different amounts and types of milk replacers in different trials conducted in the winter months (temperatures shown in Table 1*). The calves were housed in naturally ventilated barns with no added heat. Bedding material was also compared. Calves were deep-bedded with dried hardwood shavings or wheat straw.

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Vic Robinson’s dairy, just outside of Richfield, Idaho, is reminiscent of the small, family dairies that were once the staple of Idaho’s dairy industry. It isn’t much to look at, and it lacks a lot of the modern equipment found in today’s high-tech operations; however, Robinson wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Are you sure I can’t talk you into taking a goose or two?” he says of the 50 or so who honk loudly while waddling out to the nearby field. An array of different animals grace the little dairy; along with the cows, the geese and some horses, a mismatched menagerie of chickens make their home around the barn, and an old farm cat can be seen scurrying by, hoping to score a field mouse or two.

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Despite a general appreciation that a clean, dry, comfortable place to lie down for dairy cows is associated with improved milk production and health, there is reluctance by farmers to remodel existing facilities to achieve this goal. It is very easy to understand why. Industry recommendations for stall design have not been consistent, with much debate among consultants over appropriate dimensions and size over the last few years. Also, the construction of partial budgets has been hampered by a lack of knowledge of the potential financial benefits that might accrue from stall improvements, when compared with quite substantial costs that have been relatively easy to measure.

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