Dairy Channel: What’s hot in Phoenix? Dairy issues

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It hit only 102 degrees in Phoenix last week, or “one-o-two” as the weatherman put it on the evening news. Thursday was a good day to get out of town early as it was supposed to hit “one-ten.”

I don’t care what sun lovers say about “dry heat” versus more humid climes, 100 degrees is hot.

Phoenix hosted the 2003 ADSA/ASAS (American Dairy and Animal Science Associations) annual meetings. They must have gotten a good discount to bring about 1,000 people into the Phoenix area in what has to be the “off season” for tourists.

What else is hot? At these meetings, current research from around the globe is presented both orally and as posters.

Poster presentations summarize a research project and results into a 3-by-4 foot space. Several hundred of these posters are exhibited in a large hall each day for eight hours. Meeting participants can then peruse the posters during breaks in the oral presentations.

This year, 700 oral presentations fell into categories including nutrition, breeding and genetics, production, calves, management, food safety, dairy foods production, and the environment.

No, you don’t sit through 700 presentations, but select one of several sessions on a particular topic that run concurrently throughout the meetings.

Emerging issues. Why should we spend time at such a meeting? This is where technologies and management practices that we will be adopting and adapting on our dairy farms in the next three years are emerging today.

This is where issues that we currently face begin to get science-based answers. This is where the rigor and validity of experiments are held up for peer scrutiny.

While results of any particular experiment, whether it is conducted in a laboratory, on a research farm or in the field on real farms (I’d say for-profit farms, but until the Class III hits $12 that would be a lie) may look really good, how the project is designed and conducted can either support the results or render them essentially worthless.

‘Real’ science. I left the final presentation in a session on induction of lactation shortly after finding out that the scientist lowered the level of milk production used to declare an induced lactation (one that is initiated with hormone therapy rather than a pregnancy and birth of a calf) a success.

While I give him credit for admitting this up front, if they had to drop the level of milk production to show success compared to previous research, then the experiment did not prove that the strategy being tested was worth the extra cost of the additional hormones he was studying compared to not using them. The experiment was funded by the hormone company.

To be considered a valid and repeatable result, an experiment has to be repeated several times, preferably at different institutions, with similar responses. Experiments also have to include enough animals to be able to measure significant differences.

Not cheap. Some types of studies use relatively small numbers of animals due to high costs. Digestion trials where manure and urine are collected are very costly. Trials that also measure gasses emitted from the animal are even more expensive.

Experiments that involve sacrificing animals to analyze tissue composition and change resulting from different treatments are costly.

While experiments involving feed trials or health protocols can also be expensive, they must include larger numbers of animals so that the effects of different treatments can be measured against control animals, or animals that do not receive any of the treatments being tested.

If only a few animals are included in each group, individual animal response (either good or bad) can greatly affect the results showing an impact where there really isn’t one that can be repeated.

Management of dairy cattle changes as we learn more about how to keep them healthy, productive and reproductive.

How do we do a better job managing the herd and producing both milk and meat that are safe and healthful foods for the consumer?

These are the issues addressed in research labs, on research farms and on your farm when you agree to help with on-farm research projects.

The ADSA/ASAS annual meeting and monthly journals are where the rubber of tomorrow hits the road today.

(The author is the northeast Ohio district dairy specialist with OSU Extension. Send comments or questions in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

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