The 13th biennial Western Dairy Management Conference was held Feb. 28 to March 2 in Reno, Nevada. Catch some insights and observations from Progressive Dairyman editors Dave Natzke and Walt Cooley, who attended the event. The interesting facts, lessons and observations they gleaned are highlighted below.

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Editor / Progressive Dairy

New venue, new format and huge crowd

The 2017 event marked a move to a new venue, the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino in Reno, Nevada. More than a dozen times editors heard attendees say the new location was an improvement. With more rooms for lodging, attendance at the conference swelled. More than 1,800 people attended the event. Also new this year were pre-conference sessions featuring more than 20 sponsored presentations covering dairy technology, herd health, cow comfort, robotics, labor, nutrition, reproduction, milk quality and financial management.

2017: The year large dairies adopt milking robots?

During one of the pre-conference presentations, Lely representative Dan Meihak said that by the end of 2017 the number of dairies in the company’s Dairy XL program (robotic milking dairies with more than 500 cows) will have increased by 15 farms. Considering that there were only 21 farms in the program at the end of 2016, that growth represents a 71 percent increase.

Later in the conference, a panel of producers who have all switched to milking robots said that robots add more variety to a dairy job, which is more attractive to domestic laborers (i.e., checking cows, bedding stalls, fixing robots, etc.). Panel participant and dairyman Keith Groshek of Amherst Junction, Wisconsin, said he’s found a “well-rounded employee” works out best for a dairy with milking robots.

Remembering Bill Wailes

Franklyn Garry from Colorado State University delivered the William “Bill” Wailes Memorial Lecture to kick off the formal portion of the conference. Wailes, a longtime dairy specialist with Colorado State University and Extension, died Feb. 26, 2016. Wailes served on the founding committee of the initial Western Large Herd Dairy Management Conference in 1993. During his tenure at CSU, he managed the university’s dairy farm and advised the dairy judging team. He eventually became chairman of CSU’s Department of Animal Science.


Cow death loss on the rise

In his presentation, Garry said the rate of dairy cow death loss has been increasing globally. He urged producers to conduct simple on-farm necropsies to accurately identify and record cow death loss as a means to troubleshoot, manage and limit cow mortality. He also outlined a coding system to quickly and accurately interpret cow death records. That information will assist the herd veterinarian in identifying problems, and can be used to develop training programs for employees. Click here to download the “death certificate” Garry suggested can help determine how a cow died and, where possible, prevent other cows from dying from a similar death.

Environmental litigation may increase if regulations are relaxed

A panel of lawyers discussed environmental laws and litigation facing dairy producers. Panelists included attorneys James Bradbury of Texas, Leah Ziemba of Wisconsin, Karl Czymmek of New York and Lori Terry Gregory of Washington.

The panelists urged dairy producers to follow their nutrient management plans, and stressed documenting all activities related to that plan. Bradbury said documentation should be viewed as an insurance policy to prove the plan’s requirements have been followed in the event of a lawsuit. All panelists said citizen lawsuits are likely to increase if federal regulations are relaxed under the Trump administration.

‘The future is in image analysis’

Jeffery Bewley of the University of Kentucky said the future of dairy cow monitoring is in image capture and analysis technology. Bewley’s talk reviewed the data on wearable cow monitoring technologies that have been tested at his university. He also presented new survey data that showed two-thirds of the time dairy farmers say they ignore or do nothing about monitoring alerts. Bewley surmised from the data that dairies may not yet know how to handle the subclinical conditions the systems may be finding and are thus ignoring them.

Read a recent article about a California dairy that installed image analysis technology.

Remove bottlenecks to achieve excellence

Dairy veterinarian, producer and consultant Dr. Gordie Jones of DePere, Wisconsin, urged producers to look at three specific cycles in a dairy animal’s life to identify potential bottlenecks blocking the dairy operation’s potential to achieve excellence. The cycles included:

  • The daily cycle: Analyze all details in the 24-hour day of a dairy cow, including time spent being milked, standing in the holding pen, in lock-ups for herd health checks or breeding, and feeding time.
  • The annual cycle: This cycle starts in the maternity pen and analyzes her movement through the fresh pen, lactation, breeding, dry period, pen and group changes, feeding and ration changes, and ultimately the return to the maternity pen her next calving.
  • The calf to fresh cycle: This cycle also starts in the maternity pen, but looks at the heifer calf from her birth to her first calving. Analyze colostrum quality and quantity, housing, weaning, grouping, breeding and eventually freshening.

Where to look for water conservation

Joe Harner of Kansas State University urged dairy producers to conserve water within their operations. Common areas where water waste may occur include leaks and poorly adjusted floats on animal watering troughs; plate cooler efficiency and water flow rates; feedline soakers and holding pen sprinkler nozzles; milking center flush systems and use of cow deck washers; leaky pipes in infrastructure; and leaks in evaporative cooling systems. Harner also urged producers to train their employees to be aware of ways to reduce water use and limit waste.

Fresh cow details to monitor

Trevor DeVries, an animal scientist at the University of Guelph, recommended monitoring fresh cow behavior – and the nutritional and housing factors impacting it – to help identify health challenges earlier. Key factors include anything negatively impacting feed access and dry matter intake, rumination, lying times and socializing. Attention to those details will help dairy managers and employees optimize cow health and production.  end mark

Dave Natzke
Walt Cooley

PHOTO: The 13th biennial Western Dairy Management Conference was held Feb. 28 to March 2 in Reno, Nevada. Photo by Walt Cooley.