Herd health programs of the top herds


WOOSTER, Ohio – In 1965, there were more than 800,000 dairy operations in the United States.

By 2000, those numbers were down to 70,000, yet at the same time, herd size has increased, according to USDA statistics presented by Mark Armfelt, a technical service veterinarian for Monsanto Dairy Business.

Armfelt was one of the presenters at the 2004 Wayne County Dairy Conference.

In business. “Who is going to be in the business in 10 years,” Armfelt said.

“If a producer has average or below average profitability for their farm, they are going to be out of business by that time.”

Armfelt defined the top herds as those herds with the greatest return on their assets.

Stay competitive. They have also found that by achieving high levels of productivity per cow it is an opportunity for small dairy farms to improve profit and remain competitive.

“Historically, net farm income increases as pounds of milk increase,” he said.

“Higher milk production is almost always associated with increased profits. Milk per cow is related to cost to produce milk and subsequently to profit.”

Management. Armfelt said it was helpful to identify the management practices associated with the top herds.

He noted that dairy farms that used an on-farm computer record keeping system had a rolling herd that was 3,653 pounds higher than those with no computer record keeping system.

The system allows producers to evaluate performance on both cows and people.

Secondly, it allows them to identify bottlenecks and evaluate interventions. It also helps them make good culling and other decisions.

Veterinary costs. Armfelt added that top herds tend to rely on veterinarians, nutritionists and other consultants for assistance and advice to maintain their top production.

Those costs shift from treatment to prevention and result in increased milk production and improved herd health.

Armfelt cited studies that show their vigilance pays off for top herds as they have a decreasing incidence of metabolic diseases, improved reproductive performance, and an increase in milk production because of the use of recommended mastitis control.

They are able to cull cattle for poor performance rather than other problems.

Fresh cows. When it comes managing fresh cows, Armfelt recommends monitoring them closely, feeding them a proper diet of digestible forages, keeping the cows comfortable, providing heat abatement and avoid over-crowding them.

He also recommends keeping them in a separate group from those cows in later stages of lactations and keeping first-calf heifers separate from older fresh cows.

“If you reduce over-crowding, your cows will eat more feed,” he said. “If you separate the heifers from the older cows, it will reduce stress on them.”

Treatment. Armfelt also recommends that producers develop a treatment protocol to handle any health problems effectively and economically.

Reproductive performance can have a dramatic impact on profitability, according to Armfelt, as about half of the animals culled will be leave the herd for low production or reproductive problems.

“Reproduction performance has a huge impact on the value of the animals on the farm,” he said.

“When you increase reproductive performance and lower the number of days in milk, it will improve your profitability.”

Udder health. Armfelt stressed the importance of udder health and low somatic cell counts. He noted that poor udder health costs producers about $100 per case or more.

“This is an opportunity to improve your profits by dealing with a low somatic cell count,” he said. “You can sell more milk and it is also a chance to qualify for a quality bonus. There is money to be made if you lower your somatic cell count.”

Premiums. For example, a 200-cow dairy were to lower their somatic cell count by one score, they would sell an additional 1.5 pounds of milk per cow per day. If an additional premium of 30 cents per hundredweight were available, that would be worth $24,000 to the producer.

He suggested that producers strive for less than two new clinical infections per 100 lactating cows per month, less than 7 percent total new infections per month, and less than 10 percent new infections during the dry period.

Do it right. Producers need to look at the little things like keeping their cows fed and bedded well.

He challenged the producers to be open to change and address issues affecting their herds.

“The secret is to breed your cows, take care of them when they calve, and take care of their calves,” he said.


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!