Diagrams of the silage bunker with the sample locations noted (circles). The half of the bunker with the standard system had only a top later of polyethylene covering. The OB system half also had an oxygen barrier that extended from the top all the way down the side in addition to the top layer of polyethylene. Figure 1 from Lima et al. Journal of Dairy Science 100:4565-4573, June 2017. Note: the figure is not to scale.

For those with bunker silos, there’s a new study that suggests using an oxygen barrier (OB) up the sides and partway across the top will reduce spoilage and waste. Researchers in Brazil captured multiple corn silage samples from eight different silos that were differently covered one side to the other. Half of the filled bunker had a sheet of 45-μm-thick OB film (PE + EVOH) lining the side and folding over the top by approximately 6.5 feet (see figure B). Over the top of the entire bunker was a standard (ST) 180-μm-thick polyethylene (PE) film. Central core silage samples were compared to samples from just below the surface from both the OB and ST sides (see figures A & B).

The quality profiles of the OB samples were very similar to the core samples in terms of pH, TDN (total digestible nutrients), mold concentration, and most other variables. In contrast, the ST samples had significantly higher pH, higher mold and yeast concentrations, and lower starch and TDN compared to the core samples. Silage samples closest to the walls showed the largest effect of the sealing system. Lining the bunker with OB film reduced aerobic spoilage on the shoulders, yielding higher quality feed that resulted in an estimate of 256 pounds more milk per ton of dry matter consumed. The authors recommend overlapping the OB film at least 200 cm (79 inches) on the top of the silage and weighting the top PE film (or tarp) particularly well at the walls.

SAFETY REMINDER:  Silage faces are hazardous. Even a not-too-high, correctly shaved face can still collapse. No one who is not actively unloading from the feedout face should be anywhere in the area. A good rule of thumb is to stay at a distance of three time the height of the face. And don’t fill the bunker higher than the unloader can reach.

the article:

Lima et al. Lining bunker walls with oxygen barrier film reduces nutrient losses in corn silages. Journal of Dairy Science. 100:4565-4573, June 2017.

Other extension resources about silage bunker management:

Managing Forage in Bunker Silos from University of Wisconsin Extension

Kansas State University’s silage page

three line graphs showing normal and abnormal activity levels over a 24-hour day for cows affected by lameness or mastitis or in heat
Average activity levels of healthy, not-in-heat cows (solid lines) and “affected” cows (dashed lines) over the course of a day. Lower activity levels correspond to more resting and higher activity levels to more eating and moving around. Data from 350 cows over 5 months show that circadian patterns differ between “normal” and “affected” cows. Figure is from Veissier et al. 2017 Journal of Dairy Science 100:3969–3974.

Sunrise, sunset. When to eat, when to sleep. Like people and plants (and microbes!), cows have a circadian pattern. Circadian rhythms are the physiological and behavioral changes that follow a predictable pattern over the course of a day.

In a recent study, the exact locations of 350 cows in a free-stall barn on a Danish dairy were tracked each second for 5 months using a real-time positioning system (GEA’s CowView). Cows were classified as resting (in a stall), feeding (at the feed bunk), or in alley (in the milking robot or otherwise not in a stall or eating). Each of these activities was weighted: resting was negative (-0.15), feeding was very positive (+0.34), and in alley was less positive (+0.12). Then these weights were applied to the number of hours each cow spent doing each activity, which resulted in an average activity level across the herd over the day (see solid lines in the figure for “normal” cows).

That cows have circadian rhythms, shaped by light-dark cycles and management activities (like stall cleaning), is no surprise. What is interesting, is that the researchers found that circadian patterns changed when a cow was feeling poorly (lameness or mastitis) or coming into heat (see dashed lines in the figure). Lame cows showed less overall activity level variation over the course of the day. Cows with mastitis showed higher activity during the day but lower activity into the evening.

What’s more interesting is that the shift in circadian pattern occurred 1 to 2 days before the farmer detected the abnormality. These results should be verified in other settings with additional diagnostic tools. However, monitoring circadian patterns of activity may serve as an early warning system for cows that may require additional attention.

Headstone marking the grave of You’ll Do Lobelia, a purebred Jersey cow, 1932-1941
They sure don’t all get this kind of memorial. photo: slgckgc via Flickr

We hate it when it happens, but sometimes cows (and heifers and calves) die on the farm. Along with the economic loss is the hit to morale. Mortality losses average 6-8% in U.S. dairy herds, which is higher than 40 years ago. Systematic collection and analysis of death information may help prevent other deaths in the future and improve overall welfare of the herd.

The Integrated Livestock Management program at Colorado State University’s vet school has a Certificate of Death form for dairy cattle. The purpose is to record detailed information about each animal’s death in order to improve overall health management. The form includes spots for the expected items like id, birth date, calving date, and death date, but also things like body condition score, days in milk, and calving ease score. The section for cause of death doesn’t have just one line, it has space to write in the conditions that led to the cow’s final demise. Did she have a metabolic imbalance? An infection? An injury from a piece of equipment? Identifying the timeline of contributing events allows for an assessment of health risks on the dairy. Causes that appear frequently in death certificates should serve as a call to action. The authors of the form advise using a coding system that allows for a more detailed cause of death to be included in the cow’s individual record.

The folks at Colorado State University have also written a Dairy Cattle Necropsy Manual that includes illustrated, step-by-step directions for conducting an on-farm necropsy. The manual has lots of photos of both normal organs and commonly found abnormalities. There is also guidance for taking tissue samples. When doing a “home” necropsy, take plenty of pictures for the subsequent conversation with your veterinarian.

Completing certificates of death for cows, heifers, and calves provides the necessary information for analyzing health management practices so that improvements can be made and mortality rate decreased. Information may be the only thing of value that comes from an animal’s untimely death. Let’s use it.

If you’re a customer of Portland General Electric or Pacific Power, Energy Trust of Oregon can help out with rebates and other financial incentives when you upgrade or make improvements to equipment.

Eligible items include installing a variable frequency drive on your pump or doing a green rewind on a motor that’s gone kaput rather than replacing it. Upgrading light fixtures and lighting controls, such as replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs, will pay dollars per fixture when replaced. The list is long for irrigation-related improvements: from simple replacement of regulators, sprinklers, or gaskets to going to scientific irrigation scheduling, which uses soil moisture monitors, weather station data, and evapotranspiration rates to apply water only when it’s really needed.

Energy Trust of Oregon is an independent, nonprofit organization whose funding comes from utility customers (that may include you!) via the public purpose charge on their monthly bills.

Researchers from the University of Vermont and their collaborators are collecting (anonymized) information about how health insurance policies and programs affect farmers and their farming operation. If you’d like to increase their sample size and help contribute to the development of policy recommendations and training materials, the survey can be found here. Additional information about the survey, part of a project called Health Insurance, Rural Economic Development and Agriculture, can be found here.

Instruction and hands-on practice in artificial insemination in cattle will be offered in fall and winter. Classes will be held on campus at Oregon State University, with Shelby Filley and Adrienne Lulay as instructors. Indicate your interest in attending by filling out this form for the waiting list. (AI school is popular!) The exact dates are yet to be determined.

About 60 people took part in the clicker survey during the 2017 Oregon Dairy Farmers Association’s Annual Meeting (thank you!). If you’re curious about the results, read on.  (Note that not every person answered every question. Also, the duller demographic results are not shown here.)

With regard to who was in the room and their primary roles on or off the farm, we have these results:

Here we have preferences for learning new information:

For those of you who are interested to see what your fellow ODFA members are interested in learning more about, here are the topics surveyed:



OSU Forage Management Series (Five parts)

Each part consists of an evening classroom presentation at the Oldfield Animal Teaching Facility on the OSU campus, followed by a morning field practical at a local outdoor location.

Class meets Wednesdays (6 – 8:30 pm) and Thursdays (10 – noon). Topics for each month are:

  • April 19 & 20 – Farm and Forage Assessment
  • May 24 & 25 – Harvest Management
  • June 28 & 29 – Irrigation
  • August 16 and 17 – Fertility
  • September 20 and 21 – Renovation Techniques

Pre-registration and a $30 fee per part (or a discounted price of $120 for five) per ranch is required. Registration coming soon at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/linn/. If you do not have Internet access, stop by or call the Linn Co. (541-967-3871) or Benton Co. (541-766-6750)  OSU Extension Offices for instructions.

Speakers will be Shelby Filley, David Hannaway, Serkan Ates, Gene Pirelli, and Troy Downing, plus other OSU faculty and local experts.

This series will focus on a “project ranch” that we work on together, including site visits and on-line document sharing and blog. The project ranch will be the Wilson Farm, the OSU sheep facility with sheep and cattle grazing the pastures. You can also work on your own ranch as a side project if desired. The objective of the series is to improve knowledge about managing forage on properties in the Willamette Valley.

two hornless calves on mowed grass
Hornless calves (named Buri and Spotigy) produced by gene editing. Photo from Carlson et al. 2016 Nature Biotechnology 34:479-481

We know that hornless cattle are safer for people, their herdmates, and themselves. Unfortunately, the combination of polledness and elite genes for other, more critical traits (like milk yield and productive life) don’t often appear in the same animals. We could spend several decades using polled sires to introgress the POLLED allele (allele = version of a gene) into the broader dairy population, but we would sacrifice gains in other traits, because along with the POLLED allele, the calves would get other stretches of less desirable DNA. (However, the nice thing about the POLLED allele is that it’s dominant, meaning that only one POLLED allele is required. At that same location on the other paired chromosome, there can be the horned allele, but we would still have a polled cow.)

You may have heard of gene editing, particularly with a system called CRISPRs. These CRISPR molecules can be introduced into target cells and are capable of recognizing a particular stretch of DNA and cutting at that location. If pieces of DNA containing the desired sequence for that location (e.g., the POLLED sequence) are made available to the cell at the same time, the cell’s DNA repair machinery will use that “new” DNA to repair the break in the chromosome. Voila! That repaired chromosome now contains the DNA sequence we want at that location, instead of the sequence that was originally there.

This type of gene editing has been successfully done in cattle embryos. In this case, the researchers used a more primitive version of CRISPRs called TALENs, but they do the same thing. In embryonic cells from horned cattle, the targeted section of DNA on chromosome 1 was replaced with the POLLED DNA sequence. In this proof-of-concept experiment, clones were created from these cells. And they grew no horns! The rest of the DNA in these animals remained the same as it was in the original genetic source, only the horned/polled location was altered. The two bulls produced (pictured above) will be used in breeding experiments to confirm that their offspring will also be polled.

This precise gene editing technique could be used to introduce polledness into elite dairy sires. In one generation, we could nearly eliminate the need to dehorn/disbud calves. That’s assuming there are no regulatory setbacks regarding the gene editing technology. (Ah, the potential sticking point.)

If you’d like some additional explanation accompanied by video of the polled bulls—currently residing at UC Davis—Science Friday has that here. The paper can be found here on page 479 (Carlson et al. 2016 Nature Biotechnology 34:479-481). I’ve glossed over some of the details, so if you’d like any additional explanation, please post a question via the “Leave a reply” link or email me.