April 23, 2016 - 12:09am -- foxx.2

Dairy Herd Health Protocols

Last week I participated in a Dairy Herd Health and Responsible Antibiotic Use workshop taught by Gustavo Schuenemann, Ohio State University Extension Dairy Veterinarian.  The take home message to those dairy producers in attendance was this:  develop herd health management protocols.  Protocols can be defined as standard operating procedures.  They include a series of steps that define how the health of dairy animals will be monitored, how a health issue or disease will be identified, and what treatment procedure will be followed for animals identified as sick or having a health problem.  The protocol should state who will perform specific tasks.  As protocols are developed and revised, areas for improvement are identified, training needs are identified and skills and knowledge should increase.  Gustavo said that currently many large dairy farms have begun developing or already have extensive written health management protocols.  Often smaller dairy farms may have informal protocols but they are unwritten, existing in the farm manager’s or farm owner’s head.  Any size operation will benefit from writing down protocols.  A written plan allows the farm to see where gaps may be and what needs to be improved.  It also will provide a way to communicate more clearly with family members and/or farm employees.

As agriculture increasingly falls under public scrutiny and consumer demand exerts more influence upon livestock management practices, it will become more important for farms to have written health management protocols.  Gustavo said that there are 3 basic protocols that every dairy farm must have and those are protocols that deal with euthanasia, pain management (especially for castration and de-horning) and downer cows.  During the workshop, Gustavo spent the majority of time on fresh cow health management protocols, concentrating on the first 20 days in milk when a majority of health issues can occur. 

Fresh cow assessment involves visual observations daily that monitor cow appearance from the front, side and rear.  The eyes, ears, nose, attitude and appetite of the cow provide visual clues as to how that animal is feeling.  Looking at the side of the cow can give clues as to whether the rumen is functioning normally and if the animal is hydrated or dehydrated.  Looking at the rear of the cow can be used to help assess body condition, whether the udder is appropriately full (depending upon the relationship to the next milking) and whether there are any discharges that could indicate possible metritis.  If there are symptoms that the animal is not feeling well then temperature should be monitored, the producer should listen for normal rumen sounds and possibly a gloved check of the uterine cavity should be performed.

Calves should be on a regular health monitoring protocol.  The top three diseases of pre-weaned calves are: septicemia, diarrhea, and pneumonia.    Septicemia can result when producers have good intentions to get colostrum into calves but may have a break down in sanitation of tubes or bottles that allow bacteria to multiply.   Those instruments end up providing the calf not only with colostrum but also a high dose of bacteria that end up killing the calf 2 to 3 days later.  Gustavo provided workshop participants with examples of scoring charts that could be used as part of a health management protocol to diagnose diarrhea and pneumonia.   The first 60 days of a calf’s life is critical to milk production in that calf’s first lactation.  Gustavo said that every day a calf is sick will result in 300 pounds less milk produced during that first lactation.   As he concluded, Gustavo encouraged workshop participants to work with their veterinarian to develop standard operating procedures and health management protocols.

Vertical Tillage and Herbicide Applications

Vertical tillage has become a popular tillage option.  In a recent newsletter article Mark Loux, OSU Extension Weed Specialist, addressed the question of the when should vertical tillage occur in relationship to herbicide application in the spring.  Here is his reply:

“Two general principles guide our thinking on this issue: 1) if possible, foliar burndown herbicides should be applied to undisturbed weeds that are not partially or fully covered with soil; and 2) residual herbicides should left on the surface undisturbed by tillage (allowing rain to move herbicide into the soil) following application unless that tillage will uniformly mix herbicide with the upper couple inches of soil.

Burndown herbicides can be applied prior to the tillage, followed by residual herbicide application after the tillage. Sounds like extra work and expense for sure. Aside from this, our best assessment where everything needs to happen within a short period of time prior to planting, is that the vertical tillage should occur first, followed by the burndown/residual herbicide application. There may be a benefit to delaying the herbicide application for a while if possible, to allow weeds disturbed by the tillage to recover somewhat.

Where the order of operations is reversed, the best-case situation would probably be to apply residual herbicides far enough in advance of tillage that substantial rain occurs. The rain can move herbicide into the soil profile, which may reduce the negative effect of vertical tillage on herbicide distribution, compared to when all of the herbicide is still sitting on the soil surface.”

Rory Lewandowski is an OSU Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.