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5 Simple Dairy Practices that Pay
Surviving in a challenging dairy marketplace has meant that producers have given a new meaning to the term “push the pencil” when it comes to managing a dairy. Yet, a dairy does not survive alone on simply putting numbers down on a balance sheet. It’s the day-to-day operations, often extremely repetitive, that done efficiently and effectively can make a difference.
“It’s often the little things that can get overlooked,” explains Daryl Kleinschmit, Dairy Research Nutritionist for Zinpro Corporation. “But some management practices can have a significant impact on the bottom line. And the kicker is these practices do not require a significant investment in time or money. It can simply be a focus on the details to ensure the practice is done correctly and to the benefit of the herd.”
Kleinschmit outlines five dairy practices that can provide immediate payback to the producer.
1. Get the feed in front of the cow.
Performance in the dairy starts with the basics, and one of the most important basics is always keeping feed in front of your cows to help ensure top milk production and quality.
“Cows cannot eat what they cannot reach. Feed accessibility stimulates dry matter intake and milk production. So, pushing feed up to the bunk is key and should be completed several times per day,” Kleinschmit says.
Evidence also suggests improved claw formation in young heifers when they do not need to reach for feed.
“If young heifers reach for feed excessively for a prolonged period, they put excess pressure on their front claws which can lead to medial claw rotation which presents itself at corkscrew claws as the animal matures,” Kleinschmit says.
In severe cases, this rotation can result in lame cows. Considering that each case of lameness can exceed $300, there is a return on doing this small practice several times throughout the day for young animals, too.
2. Clean waterers.
Water is the second-most important nutrient for livestock behind oxygen. “Animals need a plentiful supply of good, clean water for normal digestion and metabolism, proper flow of feed through the intestinal tract, proper nutrient absorption, normal blood volume, and tissue requirements,” Kleinschmit says.
When water becomes dirty, stale tasting or contaminated, livestock water usage and feed intake decrease, negatively affecting growth, production and reproduction performance. So it is important to make sure the water supply is clean and fresh on a regular basis.
Kleinschmit offers these tips for keeping a water trough clean:
• Clean water troughs often. Clean troughs about once a week by emptying all water from the tank and scrubbing it clean, making sure to scrape off any dirt, debris or algae. Then rinse the trough with a 10% bleach solution and rinse twice more with regular water.
• Control algae growth. For every 50 gallons of water capacity, add 2 to 3 ounces of regular household bleach every week. Wait at least an hour before you let animals drink from the trough to allow the chlorine time to dissipate.
• Cover or shade your water trough. This will reduce the water’s exposure to light, slowing algae growth as well as minimizing the amount of dirt and debris that gets into the water.
3. Manage the silage face.
Poorly managed silage bunkers can impact feed quality and consistency. It’s important to properly manage the silage face daily to minimize the surface area exposed to air.
“As silage is exposed to air, the yeast that may have survived the ensiling process can begin to grow and cause spoilage. Over time this spoilage can lead to significant dry matter losses,” Kleinschmit says.
The rule of thumb is to remove at least 6 inches of feed a day off the face and increase up to 12 inches in the summer due to heat and humidity.
“It’s a delicate balance as producers need to size their bunkers and silage piles accordingly. No matter the size of the bunker, remove moldy or spoiled silage. Feeding spoiled silage can result in production losses for the herd and even negative impacts on health in extreme cases,” he says.
4. Be mindful of footbath design and maintenance.
Each case of digital dermatitis and foot rot costs approximately $133 and $120 per case, respectively. A footbath system is a simple way to quickly and effectively disinfect large numbers of cattle with a footbath solution and lower the incidence of these lesions, no matter the type of operation. A footbath system that isn’t properly built and managed can do more harm than good. Maximizing the effectiveness of a footbath program hinges on three key factors:
• Proper length and/or width of footbath. In general, footbaths should be 10 feet to 12 feet long to ensure each foot gets at least two immersions in footbath solution. However, you don’t need to tear the barn apart to improve your foot bath. “If you are using a footbath that is too short, buy another portable footbath to place next to the current footbath to ensure at least two immersions in footbath solution is achieved,” Kleinschmit says.
• Proper maintenance. Solution that is allowed to get dirty or is not the correct composition or concentration can dramatically decrease its effectiveness. The common industry standard is to change the footbath solution after every 100 to 300 cows. However, frequency will vary depending upon cow cleanliness, type of disinfectant or chemical concentration used, size of the footbath, and weather conditions.
• Consistency. Always have experienced employees or even the same person in charge of managing footbaths for consistent mixing and maintenance that maximize cost-effectiveness.
5. Give colostrum upon birth.
Soon after calves are born, it is vital to make sure they receive high-quality, clean colostrum. “The quicker calves are fed colostrum, and the more immunoglobulins (IgG) they are fed, the better the transfer of immunity to the calf. Newborn calves should be fed a minimum of 10% of their body weight of high-quality colostrum in the first 24 hours following birth,” Kleinschmit says.
Feeding calves more high-quality colostrum also can help improve the lifetime performance of the calf. Research has shown that feeding calves 4 liters vs. 2 liters of colostrum within two hours of birth increased first lactation milk production by approximately 2,000 pounds and second lactation milk production by about 3,600 pounds.
“Not all colostrum is created equal. High-quality colostrum means free from bacterial contamination and contains at least 50g/L immunoglobulins (IgG),” Kleinschmit says.