Heat stress causes losses in several areas on dairy farms across the country during the summer months – in addition to milk production losses. In order to help producers mitigate the negative effects of heat stress on dairy cattle, the Dairy Heat Stress Road Show program was created well in advance of 2012’s summer months. The road show took place in four locations throughout the southern U.S. and one location in Puerto Rico, making its debut last December in Florida. The remaining three stops of the road show took place in early April, with the last stop taking place in Tulare, California, on April 6.
Todd Bilby, associate professor and extension dairy specialist with Texas AgriLife Research and Extension , explains that a $1 million grant was obtained in order to make this program possible. A portion of the five-year grant went toward researching strategies to help improve fertility during summer months.
Another portion was then used to share ongoing research and findings with producers in a road show setup.
“We received the grant a couple years ago,” says Bilby, who is also the chairperson of the road show committee. “We wanted to take this program on the road and try to hit several locations across the U.S. in order to get as much information out there about ways producers can help alleviate heat stress on their dairy farms.”
The program was funded by an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) competitive grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Stipulations within the grant required that the program be an integrated multidisciplinary multi-university collaborative effort.
Texas AgriLife Research and Extension, the University of Florida, New Mexico State University, the University of California – Davis and the University of Puerto Rico were among those that helped in obtaining the grant, conducting research as well as planning and making the road show possible.
Bilby explains that the University of Puerto Rico was a minority-serving institution that agreed to host the road show. “We had some contacts there, and they were also currently conducting some related embryo research, so we decided to team up,” Bilby says.
In choosing locations to host the road show, Bilby says the locations where the road show made stops were areas that are hit hard with heat stress during the summertime.
“Puerto Rico is home to close to 300 dairy producers that account for 100,000 dairy cows that undergo heat stress conditions almost year-round,” he says.
The show was divided into morning and afternoon sessions with two presentations per session. A catered lunch was provided for all attendees. A discussion and wrap-up session followed the last presentation in the afternoon.
Bilby points out that the discussion session allowed producers to share the strategies they were using on their farms that were successful as well as the struggles they might be facing, allowing producers to learn from one another.
Additionally, a survey was conducted in order to help gauge how well the program met the needs of the producers that attended. “The general purpose was to educate producers and see if we were hitting on the topics that would help them on their farms,” Bilby says.
Because the grant is focused on overcoming the effects of heat stress on fertility in dairy cattle, reproduction was pinpointed as one of the topics to be discussed in the program.
“Although we lose 10, 15, up to 20 percent in milk production during the summer, we will easily lose 50 percent of our reproduction,” Bilby says.
In addition to Bilby, the other dairy road show presenters were professors Pete Hansen, Jose Santos and Albert DeVries from the University of Florida. “Each presenter traveled to the five different locations to present on their topics,” Bilby says.
The presenters spoke on the topics of cow cooling, improving reproduction during summer, nutrition programs for heat-stressed herds and the economic implications due to heat stress.
If you were unable to attend this series of road shows, Bilby explains that there are additional resources available.
A series of webinars were recorded based on the presentations given at the road show and are currently available on the national dairy extension website. Click here for more information. The proceedings from the presentations are also available under the reproduction subject area on the site.
The Dairy Road Show team is also currently working to develop additional tools for producers who want to maximize cow comfort, increase summer fertility and improve milk production all in a way that maximizes profitability.
“I’m in the process of developing a tool through the research side of the program that will allow producers to enter information from their dairy farm to calculate a summer-to-winter production ratio,” Bilby says. “They’ll be able to see how much they lose from summer to winter and also be able to compare their dairy to other dairies in their area.”
He explains that a new calculator is also currently being devised by Albert DeVries. The tool will help producers determine the cost benefits of employing different reproductive strategies on their farms, such as utilizing embryo transfers in the summer instead of artificial insemination.
The calculator will look at specific factors such as the cost of an embryo and how much higher the pregnancy rates would need to be in order to justify the cost of making this switch. “He’s putting together this economic tool so producers and consultants will be able to use it when making economic decisions,” Bilby says.
Bilby also points out that for those unable to attend the heat stress road show in December or April, there will be a similar opportunity in the future.
“Because the grant is a five-year grant, in a year or two we plan to do this again,” Bilby says. “We plan to take new findings and new information in general and develop another road show similar to this one but with different topics.” PD
TOP RIGHT: Road show chairman Todd Bilby discussed summer reproduction strategies.
MIDDLE RIGHT: In total, 260 participants attended the road show.
BOTTOM RIGHT: University of Florida professors Jose Santos (left), Albert DeVries (center-right) and Pete Hansen (right) presented on heat stress topics along with Todd Bilby. Photos courtesy of Todd Bilby.