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The management team at Rosy-Lane Holsteins LLC in Watertown, Wisconsin set out with a goal in 2012: Achieve 1.7 pounds of milk per pound of dry matter fed.

In reaching for that goal, they achieved quite a bit more in cow health, longevity and performance. Perhaps most notably, for the last five years, no cows have been treated with antibiotics.

During his presentation during the Vita Plus Dairy Summit, Jordan Matthews, an owner and manager at Rosy-Lane, highlighted three keys to healthy, longer-living cows:

  • Fertility and transition cow health
  • Udder health
  • Lameness prevention

Transition cow health

One of Rosy-Lane's strategies is a “don’t-touch approach” to calving. The farm practices just-in-time calving. The close-up pen is walked every 15 minutes and a cow is moved into the calving pen when feet are presented. She is given an hour there without any interruption. If the calf’s presentation needs to be corrected, the goal is to do it early. If it’s correct, the rule is to let the cow go for eight hours before intervening.

Matthews said training staff on this process was a challenge as they were naturally inclined to intervene after a short amount of time. He said an animal almost never goes for eight hours, but they needed to set a limit and stick to it. Cameras on the calving pen allow staff to monitor the cow without disturbing her.  his reduces cow stress and calving issues.

Rosy-Lane maintains an 85-percent stocking rate for pre- and post-fresh groups. Two-year-old heifers and dry cows are kept together. The healthiest cows are moved from the post-fresh group between 15 and 21 days in milk (DIM). 

The goal is to achieve 90 pounds of milk from cows and 75 pounds from heifers. To prevent ketosis, cows and heifers receive a low-energy prefresh diet, and feed is always available.

Matthews provided a before-and-after comparison of fresh cow health events in 2012 and 2018 after these new strategies were implemented:

  • Displaced abomasums dropped from 1.8 to 0.2 percent
  • Retained placentas dropped from 16 to 1.5 percent
  • Culls less than 60 DIM dropped from 8.2 to 2.4 percent

Udder health

Improved air quality has improved udder health. An eight-row cross-ventilated barn houses 500 cows. Cooling pads on the side of the barn were installed to help cool cows. However, the water-saturated cells also increased barn humidity. By removing the cooling pads, the air dried and so did the sand, reducing mastitis incidence.

Managers also realized milking procedures could improve. They installed car wash lights under the manure decks in the parlor. These lights are waterproof, can withstand cleaning chemicals, and help milkers see and clean teats much more effectively. 

Conductivity readings on milk meters show if a cow may be mounting a mastitis infection. Matthews has an extensive treatment program for these animals that delivers yeast, water, and electrolytes via drench or IV. Matthews said he doesn’t mind that this process takes more than 30 minutes because he only has to do it about once a month.

He said 75 percent of animals recover. If a cow does not recover after two days, she is culled on day three so that she doesn’t have to be treated and the farm can avoid withholding any milk.

Foot health

Rosy-Lane has its own hoof-trimming chute, which has greatly promoted foot health. If an employee notices any foot-related issues, it can be addressed immediately. All animals are trimmed at 90 DIM and dry-off. 

Alleys are scraped every day and the lactating group pens are scraped every milking.  Cows go through a copper-sulfate footbath once a week and a soap-chlorine footbath twice a week.

Matthews said genetics is the long-term solution for lameness prevention, citing University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine research that shows farms should select for a moderate heel depth and slightly spread toe.

Rosy-Lane is breeding for other longevity traits as well, including productive life, daughter pregnancy rate and mastitis resistance.

Results are 'phenomenal'

The combined results of these strategies have been phenomenal, Matthews said. The farm no longer uses BST as it did in 2008.

However, through improved management strategies in the last 10 years, Rosy-Lane has achieved more pounds of milk and components, lower veterinary and breeding costs, and more pounds of milk per pound of feed. It has also dropped the percentage of the milking herd treated from 0.9 percent to no antibiotics used in the last five years.

Matthews emphasized that no one solution was the silver bullet. Rather, it was a combination of strategies to boost whole herd health.

“A total management program needs to create wealth,” Matthews said.  “One practice must integrate and complement other practices.”

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