A Holstein calf lies in a calf pen with some loose manure in the corner.
A Holstein calf lies in a calf pen with some loose manure in the corner.

Diarrhea, or scours, kills too many calves. For those heifers that fall ill and don’t die, they tend to experience reduced growth, higher age at first calving, and lower first-lactation milk production. Prevention is always our best bet for managing animal health.

We have learned a lot about how the gut microbiome (all the microbes living in the digestive tract) functions and interacts with its host (here, the calf). Several types of bacteria, when prevalent in feces, have been associated with increased weight gain and lower incidence of diarrhea: good gut bugs! We know early colostrum feeding has many positive benefits; one of them is helping to establish the population of good bacteria. (Feeding waste milk containing residual antibiotics seems to be associated with more frequent imbalances in the gut microbiome.)

Is there something else we can feed calves to help establish/maintain/enhance the gut microbiome? Maybe so? Probiotics are live strains of particular microorganisms (specific fungal or bacterial strains). There have been a fair number of studies that have examined the effects of giving calves probiotic supplementation. These are briefly summarized in the table below.

Table 1. Common probiotics and summarized effects on preweaned calves from a review of scientific studies.

type of probioticeffects on growth & performanceeffects on health
yeast (various forms of product)> positive or no effect on growth (may depend on yeast product, health status of animal, whether delivered via milk or starter)> reduced incidence and severity of diarrhea
> reduced mortality rate
bacterial-based products (genera include Lactobacillus,
Bifidobacterium, Bacillus, Enterococcus)
> positive or no effect on growth (may depend on health status of animal)> reduced risk of diarrhea (especially for calves fed whole milk rather than replacer)
> faster recovery from diarrhea when given a multispecies bolus

Probiotic supplementation seems to work best during periods of high stress, such as the first two weeks of life or when there is a “bad bug” known to be present in the calf facility. There may be also be some interaction between a particular probiotic product (which microbial species are present) and the “typical” calf gut environment on a particular farm. If you decide to try feeding probiotics to your calves, keep good records! Track individual calf health and the supplementation regimen so you’ll know whether a specific product—and the way you’re using it—is making a difference.

For a deeper dive into the topic, see this review paper by Cangiano et al. 2020 (Applied Animal Science 36:P630-651):  https://www.appliedanimalscience.org/article/S2590-2865(20)30135-X/fulltext?dgcid=raven_jbs_etoc_email

A cattle artificial insemination school will be offered at Oregon State University in Corvallis in December. Topics will include sire selection, basic reproductive anatomy and physiology, estrus synchronization, along with training in artificial insemination technique.

When: December 7-9, 2021

Where: Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon

Cost: $500

Contact for more information and to register: Kathryn.Younger@oregonstate.edu

Many evacuated livestock have fortunately returned home.

If you’re caring for livestock that were exposed to days of wildfire smoke, keep them quiet. That is, limit exertion, even for several weeks after the air quality has improved. Be extra sure to keep fresh water always available. For more information, see https://extension.oregonstate.edu/animals-livestock/beef/animal-exposure-wildfire-smoke.
See also https://www.oregon.gov/oda/shared/Documents/Publications/AnimalHealth/CaringforLivestockAfterWildfire.pdf

If you lost hay or pasture in the wildfires or are feeding displaced animals that don’t belong to you, OSU Ag Extension is coordinating a statewide hay donation and distribution program to those in need over the next 3 months.  Three regional locations are being set up for receiving hay donations and distribution, in Aurora, Roseburg, and Central Point.  If you need hay due to wildfire loss or to housing extra, unexpected mouths to feed, please fill out this form: https://oregonstate.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_b8BCqXt7sgbM113

Some livestock have not returned home.

For livestock that may have gone missing, Oregon Department of Agriculture has established an animal tracking website with a database of “found” animals and a way to submit information on animals with unknown owners that you may be tending. https://data.oda.state.or.us/fmi/webd/AH_AnimalTrack?homeurl=https://data.oda.state.or.us/ah.html

For those with livestock that perished in the wildfires, there is the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) from USDA Farm Service Agency. General information about the program can be found here: https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/disaster-assistance-program/livestock-indemnity/index
An Oregon wildfire-specific fact sheet on the LIP is here:

We hope everyone stays safe through this wildfire emergency.

Here are several websites providing information (with maps) on specific wildfires and air quality.

Here’s an article on Wildfires, Smoke and Livestock http://cecentralsierra.ucanr.edu/files/220420.pdf The short summary is: minimize animals’ exertion when the air quality is poor and for 4-6 weeks after. There’s additional information about caring for fire-injured livestock.

Australian dairy farmers know about wildfire preparation: https://www.dairyaustralia.com.au/farm/land-water-carbon/extreme-weather/preparing-for-bushfire

Options for evacuating livestock:

Benton County: Fairgrounds (110 SW 53rd Street, Corvallis) — Evacuated Livestock and RV campers are being accepted. Call 541-243-2491. See https://www.bceventcentercorvallis.net/events/2020/benton-county-evacuation-information

Clackamas County: Fairgrounds is no longer an option. See alternatives here https://www.clackamas.us/wildfires/animals (some noted here). See also https://www.facebook.com/crisisresponse/773709353364775/?alias=773709353364775&source=search

Clatsop County: Fairgrounds (92937 Walluski Loop, Astoria) has space. Call 503-717-3824 to check; https://www.facebook.com/clatsopcountyfair/.

Columbia County: Fairgrounds (58892 Saulser Rd, St Helens) has space. Call 541-357-2899 to check.

Crook County: Fairgrounds (1280 S. Main Street, Prineville) has space. Call 541-419-6706 to check.

Douglas County: Fairgrounds (2110 SW Frear Street, Roseburg) has space for smaller livestock; call 541- 440-4394 to check availability. For large livestock (cattle, horses), contact Douglas County Parks Department at 541-440-6040. https://www.flashalert.net/news.html?id=5204

Hood River County: Fairgrounds (3020 Wyeast Road, Hood River) has space. Call 541-354-2865 or 541-490-2985 to check. https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Fairground/Hood-River-County-Fairgrounds-168670806623958/

Jackson & Josephine Counties: Southern Oregon Emergency Aid (for animal evacuations), call 541-226-1124.

Marion County: Oregon State Fairgrounds (enter at 2400 Silverton Road NE, Salem) has space. St. Paul Rodeo Grounds is almost at capacity; contact Cindy Schonholtz at 719-440-7255 for availability; https://www.facebook.com/StPaulRodeo. West Hills Stables (West Salem); call 503-851-2214 to confirm availability. 

Lane County: Events Center (796 W. 13th, Eugene) has space for livestock. Contact at 541-285-8227 before arriving to confirm space availability; https://www.facebook.com/LaneEventsCenter. See also https://www.lanecounty.org/cms/one.aspx?pageId=17035134 under Pet and Large Animal Resources tab.

Linn County: Fairgrounds (3700 Knox Butte Road E, Albany) is full. See other options at https://www.facebook.com/groups/linncountylivestock

Lincoln County: Livestock County Commons (633 NE 3rd Street, Newport). Call 541-265-4961. https://www.co.lincoln.or.us/emergencymanagement/page/seasonal-hazards-wildfire

Polk County: Fairgrounds (520 S Pacific Hwy West, Rickreall) has room. Call ahead at 503-623-3048 to let them know what kind of animal and how many; https://www.facebook.com/Polk-County-Oregon-Fair-199482210083788.

Tillamook County: Fairgrounds (4603 3rd Street, Tillamook) has space. Contact Hayden at 503-812-6189; https://www.tillamookfair.com/p/about/fire-evacuee-information.

Washington County: Westside Commons (801 NE 34th Avenue, Hillsboro), formerly known as the Fair Complex, has space; call 503-314-3433 to check; https://www.co.washington.or.us/News/fire-evacuations.cfm.

Yamhill County: Fairgrounds (2070 NE Lafayette Avenue, McMinnville) still has room. Check https://www.facebook.com/YamhillCountyFairRodeo/

For assistance with livestock transportation/housing or to offer assistance, see https://pnwfireanimalrescue.org/

Oregon Department of Agriculture has set up an animal reunification website: https://data.oda.state.or.us/fmi/webd/AH_AnimalTrack?homeurl=https%3A%2F%2Fdata.oda.state.or.us%2Fah.html&fbclid=IwAR1-CFxfYUlW5UP0KbRKbdQg0Em-mnfBTBP3iVBsFWuQ4oz8bf-uhewew1I.

Interpreting economic assistance programs–especially when they’re coming fast and furious–is challenging. Perhaps you have questions about labor and responsibilities to employees. Maybe you’re considering entering a lease (as lessee or lessor; bonus points if you can remember which of those does what in the arrangement!). To help orient you, answer general questions, or take a deeper dive, there are some good online ag law resources available.

One good resource is Farm Commons. https://farmcommons.org/

Farm Commons receives public funding (largely through USDA) and provides extensive written and video resources on legal aspects of business structures, employment, land matters, contracts, and insurance, among others. They’ve also been churning out resources specific to COVID-19 (example archived webinar title: Labor in the Time of Corona: Understanding Oregon Farm Employment Law During COVID-19). To download certain resources, you will need to create an account (yeah, another password to generate and remember), but it’s probably worth it.

Another good resource is The National Agricultural Law Center. https://nationalaglawcenter.org/

The National Agricultural Law Center is also publicly funded (again, through USDA) and is housed at the University of Arkansas. The website includes such resources as individual state law compilations, “reading rooms” on different topics (like Agritourism, Water Law, etc.), recent ag law and food news, and a COVID-10 resource library. Note that, while the Center’s website does have an extensive glossary, there’s plenty of legalese here. This is an excellent resource if you want well-organized links to federal or state statutes of interest.

This is not a fun topic. Normally, we are trying to maximize milk production while maintaining good animal welfare. However, in these unprecedented times (thanks COVID-19), one may need to limit or reduce the volume of milk leaving the farm. The Penn State Extension, Cornell PRO-DAIRY, and University of Wisconsin Extension teams have discussed options for moderating milk production. These are summarized below.

Reduce animal numbers – heifers

While this wouldn’t have an impact on milk production, it would reduce costs. How many heifers do you really need? If your reproductive management is good, the heifer herd size can be at 7 per 10 head in the milking/dry herd. Don’t pour resources into calves that had respiratory issues; cull them early before they cost you any more money. Calves with lower genetic potential would also be candidates for leaving the farm as calves.

Reduce animal numbers – cows

What cows are good candidates for culling? Chronic mastitis cases, those with more than three services, poor first-lactation performers (How likely, really, are they to get better?), and lame cows (if low body condition, let them put on some weight) should be on the list.

Reduce milk production – dry off cows early

Identify pregnant cows with higher cell counts. Keep and feed separately early-dried off cows from closer-up cows in order to control body condition. Be sure there’s space for them, maybe summer pasture?

Reduce milk production – switch from 3x to 2x milking

Start this process with later-lactation and pre-peak (<30d) cows. Try not to mess with cows at peak production.

Reduce milk production – diet changes

Increase forage component of the diet (dictated in part by forage inventory). Decrease starch to <20% for later-lactation cows (keep peak- and early-lactation cows steady).

Limit feeding is another potential option where one feeds 5-10% less dry matter per day. Research from Europe suggests it will reduce milk volume but increase milk fat, protein, and lactose percentages, although there is not much data for this approach in cows. Feed efficiency increases, but there must be adequate bunk space for everyone because they will clean it out. Again, this is a better option for post-peak rather than peak cows. Consult with the nutritionist.

Alternative milk use – feed calves more milk, longer

Replace milk replacer use and replace (a lot of, all?) starter with whole milk, up to 10-12 qts/day. Be sure to provide some hay or (good) silage for rumen development. Consider including a milk fortifier with a coccidiostat and trace minerals. Wean by 12-14 weeks so they don’t get fat and adversely affect mammary development. Watch out for cross-sucking, and put weaners in noses as needed. They may need more of a gradual transition at weaning.

Alternative milk use – feed heifers

This is best done (if it’s possible at all) in a TMR; be sure to keep the TMR >40% dry matter. Make sure to have a break in milk feeding (that is, wean calves, then add milk back to diet after a while). An advantage is eliminating grain costs for heifers.

Alternative milk use – feed cows

Milk can go into the diet at up to 10-20 lbs (1.3-2.6 lbs DM) per day, but the TMR DM needs to stay >40%. Milk can replace some protein supplement (useful if distillers grain supply has disappeared), along with energy. Of course, consult the nutritionist. There are disadvantages. In warmer weather especially (smell, flies!), bunk clean-up frequency will need to increase, and refusals may not work as heifer or dry cow feed. There is risk of disease transmission, particularly Salmonella but also mastitis agents Staph. aureus and Mycoplasma. Pasteurization would mitigate those problems, but the volume in question could prove challenging. Always prioritize pasteurization of milk for calves. Bulk tank testing would be informative.

Alternative milk use – disposal

Milk as nutrients for soil instead of as nutrients for people is disheartening to be sure. If it comes to this, make sure any land application is in accordance with your animal waste management plan.

Overriding points to remember: determine your financial status (debt load per cow and cost of production) so you know your reference points, and when reducing milk production, think about minimizing long-term impacts. The goals are to reduce losses or penalties while keeping cows healthy and efficient.

For more reading/viewing/listening on the topic:


article Diet and Management Considerations for Emergencies: Reducing Milk Flow Without Harming Cows and Threatening Future Production

Penn State Extension Dairy

webinar Weighing Your Options through Milk Supply Management

University of Wisconsin Extension Dairy Team

article Strategies to Reduce Milk Production with Limited Impacts on Future Production

article Considerations when landspreading milk or manure/milk mixtures

In these tumultuous times, both personal and economic, Penn State Extension is offering a webinar on “how the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions in our dairy economy, and how farms can best respond”. They will also explore options for reducing production.

The webinar is Tuesday, April 28, 6:00-7:00 a.m. PDT.

Pre-registration is required, by Monday, April 27.

Here is the link to the full description and registration: https://www.cvent.com/events/weighing-your-options-through-milk-supply-management/event-summary-b4b192c9b6ac4d0383b4b5fc1868ea46.aspx?i=a2ff6efa-bfd2-42a4-83d3-0db67cc12a2b&fbclid=IwAR1FKTvqPzlvEEgiAztcRSg4EEVG1qV15gtt0IRlxDMCU8iseew6XAtXuGI

While we all learn to deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, the following resources might be of use. Please note that circumstances are changing breathtakingly fast; this information is current as of the date above.

Cornell University ProDairy did a webinar on March 20 (2020) about COVID-19 and Your Dairy. The webinar recording goes an hour and 15 minutes; they have also provided a pdf with the slides if you’d prefer to just scan through those. While the New York-specific information may not be so relevant, see the sections with federal policies, advisory information, and suggestions for on-dairy adjustments to operations.

This University of Maine Extension bulletin offers some useful guidance as well, including a prioritized farm chore checklist.

Oregon Department of Agriculture COVID-19 Resources provide details on changes to ODA’s operations (dairy inspections to continue as usual; CAFO inspections to proceed as long as social/physical distancing can be maintained) and other useful information.

Oregon Dairy Farmers Association COVID-19 Resources include links to description of changes to federal leave requirements, dairy-specific resources, and templates of “travel-to-work letters” (should they at some point be needed). Note: there is currently no requirement to provide documentation for employees in essential industries, per the Oregon State Police.

A coronavirus (in cross-section) for comparison. This one caused MERS.
image: CDC/ Cynthia Goldsmith; Azaibi Tamin, Ph.D. (2013)
A coronavirus (in cross-section, via electron microscopy) for comparison. This one causes MERS.
image: CDC/ Cynthia Goldsmith; Azaibi Tamin, Ph.D. (2013)
Solar eclipse (1981) showing sun's corona. A view that inspired the name of the virus that has upended everything at the current moment. image: Ray Thomas, http://brisray.com/
Solar eclipse showing sun’s corona. A view that inspired the name of the type of virus that has upended everything at the current moment.
image: Ray Thomas, http://brisray.com/ (1981)
Photo shows  milker washing cow udder in parlor.

It’s impossible to keep much sterile on a dairy, but could clean udder cloths be transmitting mastitis-causing bacteria in the milking parlor? A recent study of 67 U.S. dairies in ten states investigated whether there is an association between the bacteria levels in (clean) cloth towels and the health of the udders those towels were used on. The authors measured bacteria on clean towels and in milk samples. They also looked at towel use and laundering practices.

What did they discover?

  • ~20% of udder quarters were infected
    • 10% non-aureus Staphylococcus species
    • 4% Staphylococcus aureus
    • 5% Streptococcus or Strep-like organisms
    • 4% other gram-positive bacteria
    • 2% gram-negative bacteria (includes coliforms)
  • No towels were free of bacteria. The mean overall bacterial count was 3.77 log10 cfu/cm2 (cfu=colony forming units).
  • Bacillus species were the most commonly found (95% of cloths). Approximately half the towels contained Staph and/or Strep species.
  • Only Staphylococcus species and Streptococcus species counts on towels were associated with mammary infection rate.
  • No towels laundered off-site by a service had high coliform counts. Also, undried towels had higher coliform counts.

Now, the study authors note that they have not demonstrated that new infections are necessarily being introduced from bacteria on clean towels, just that they found a positive association between Staph and Strep infections and the presence of those organisms on clean towels. However, given their findings, they suggest getting clean towels tested and then working to get those bacteria levels to essentially undetectable for Staph, Strep, and coliform species. Changes in laundering or storage practices could help. (When was the last time the clean towel bin was washed?)

The bottom line: Dry udder cloth towels after washing. Get clean towels tested periodically to see if they may be carrying mastitis-causing bacteria.

The paper:

Rowe et al. Cross-sectional study of the relationship between cloth udder towel management, towel bacteria counts, and intramammary infection in late-lactation dairy cows. Journal of Dairy Science, December 2019, 102:11401-11413. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2019-17075

This is a three-day course that will cover basic reproductive anatomy and physiology, sire selection, estrus synchronization, as well as training in artificial insemination on live cattle.

  • When: December 16 and 17 9:00am-5:00pm and December 18 9:00am-12 noon
  • Where: Oregon State University, Corvallis
  • How much: $500
  • Food provided: light breakfast, snacks, drinks, and lunch on Monday and Tuesday
  • Questions or to register: Kathryn.Younger@oregonstate.edu