Nutritional research project helps Wisconsin dairies improve cow health
A research project conducted on 427 dairies throughout the U.S., including more than 30 in Wisconsin, has confirmed the importance of a well-functioning immune system to support dairy cattle health and milk production.
The project, known as the Immunity Challenge, enables dairy owners, veterinarians and nutritionists to evaluate the benefits of including an immune-supporting nutritional supplement in dry and lactating cow diets.
Ted Boyle, a Phibro Dairy Technical Specialist serving Wisconsin, notes that dairy cows face multiple sources of year-round stress that can weaken their immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases and infections.
Stress factors, he says, can include the demands of pregnancy and calving, the onset of lactation, rapid weather changes, unexpected feed quality problems, cow comfort issues and potential pathogen challenges.
The Immunity Challenge involves adding Phibro’s nutritional product, OmniGen-AF®, to cow diets for 90 days, then measuring changes in their health and milk production as compared with the 90-day period prior to the start of the study. Nationally, the research project has included herd sizes ranging from 38 to 6,700 milking cows, totaling nearly 274,000 cows.
Mighty grand dairy: Striving for high performance
Mighty Grand Dairy, located in Union Grove, in Kenosha County, decided to participate in the research program last year, even though its operation was already experiencing good herd health and productivity.
“We wanted to see if we could push our herd to the next level of health and performance,” explains dairy owner, Dave Daniels. “We strive for high production, and feel that supporting immune function will help our herd combat health challenges they might experience.”
Mighty Grand Dairy started the Immunity Challenge in June 2013, and, after 90 days, its 500-cow herd showed improvement in several key health categories.
Somatic cell count, which rises in response to dairy cow infections and is used as a measurement of milk quality, decreased from
The multi-year study has been conducted by Illinois-based Phibro Animal Health Coporation, which produces nutritional products for dairy cattle and other production animals.
166,000 to 141,000 cells per milliliter. Both figures are well below the U.S. legal limit of 750,000 cell per milliliter for raw milk, although there have been efforts within the dairy industry to lower that limit to 400,000.
Mastitis cases dropped from 24 to 20 percent. Mastitis, an inflammation of the udder, can reduce milk quality.
Displaced abomasums declined from 6 to 3 percent. This disorder can result in the loss of appetite and lower milk production, among other health problems.
Mighty Grand Dairy also was able to maintain its high level of milk production, despite extremely hot summer weather in Wisconsin and much of the nation’s mid-section, which Phibro’s Ted Boyle says illustrates another benefit of a healthy immune system, helping to protect dairy cows against heat stress which can negatively impact their health and productivity.
After completing the research program, Mighty Grand Dairy decided to continue feeding the immune-supporting nutritional diet year-round.
In addition to good nutrition, the dairy emphasizes other management practices that help minimize cow stress and promote good health, including sand bedding in freestall barns to promote cow comfort.
To support good foot health, Daniels says the dairy also applies an anti-bacterial spray in the milking parlor, uses walk-through foot baths as cows exit the parlor and trims their hooves twice a year.
Immunity challenge national results
On a national level, dairies participating in the Immunity Challenge experienced even more pronounced health improvements than Mighty Grand Dairy, given its extremely low incidence of health problems at the start.
Combined results from all 427 dairies from 2007 through 2012 showed nearly 14 percent fewer mastitis cases per month, a 20 percent reduction in retained fetal membrane cases, almost 23 percent fewer metritis cases as a percentage of fresh cows, a nearly 17 percent decline in the number of cows delivered to the hospital pen and a 23 percent reduction in total herd death loss.
Nearly three-fourths of the herds summarized reported a drop in bulk tank SCC of just more than 50,000. The majority were 300,000 somatic cell count or under prior to starting the program.
“Proper management combined with good nutrition can play a vital role in supporting a cow’s natural immune system, which in turn can reduce the occurrence of disease and improve milk quality and milk production,” says Boyle.