BROOKINGS, S.D. – The annual I-29 Moo University Winter Workshop Series was held Jan. 6-10 at five locations throughout the region, including in Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska.
    I-29 Moo University is a consortium of universities from Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. The title of this year’s workshop was “Prosperity of Dairy Calves and Heifers.”
    Dr. Jennifer Van Os, assistant professor and extension specialist of animal welfare at University of Wisconsin-Madison, gave a presentation that explored the topic of why animal welfare is essential.
    “Consumers have more and more questions about where their food comes from,” Van Os said. “The National Milk Producers FARM program has established standards for supplier farms that assures consumers that we have high standards for animal welfare. The dairy industry should maintain a high bar and seek to ensure best practices.”
    Van Os said this does not mean appeasing activists.
    “It isn’t possible to appease animal rights activists who would like to eliminate all forms of animal agriculture,” Van Os said. “But we have a duty to treat our animals as humanely as possible.”
    One major concern for all dairy operators is lameness in cattle.
    “Lameness has high prevalence, can be of long duration and has a negative economic impact,” Van Os said. “It also leaves a negative impression on consumers.”
    Van Os said the threshold for the acceptable prevalence of lameness is 5% or less on dairy operations that participate in the FARM Animal Care program.
    “Animal welfare is farm-size neutral,” Van Os said. “There is no consistent relationship between farm size and animal welfare outcomes. Smaller or larger farms aren’t better or worse, only different. We need to recognize the expectations of our customers and consumers and prove that we are providing our animals with the best care.”
    Patrick Gorden, DVM, is a clinical professor specializing in dairy production medicine in the Department of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine at Iowa State University. Gorden gave a presentation about the new requirements of the FARM Version 4.0 program and pain control management on dairy farms.
    “The standards for the FARM program are not tremendously difficult to meet,” said Gorden, who is an evaluator for the FARM program. “Many of the standards are simply good management practices.”
    Gorden addressed the topic of pain control when dehorning calves.
    “There are no drugs that are approved by the FDA for controlling the pain associated with dehorning or debudding cattle,” Gorden said. “All of the pain control drugs that we use are extra-label. This doesn’t make their use illegal. It means that you will have to be under the guidance of your veterinarian to use them.”
    Lidocaine is the most common local anesthetic that is used to block pain during the dehorning process. Prior to dehorning, the drug is injected into the cornual nerve which is located in the channel beneath the temporal ridge.
    “If the lidocaine is administered properly, the animal will feel little to no discomfort during the dehorning process,” Gorden said. “The animal will be quieter, and you won’t have to wrestle with it as much.”
    Some operators prefer to add xylazine, a general anesthetic, to the lidocaine.
    “The xylazine will cause the calf to fall asleep after about five minutes and remain asleep for about an hour,” Gorden said. “Because calves can’t regulate their body temperature very well when they are anesthetized, you have to take extra precautions during extremely hot or extremely cold conditions.”
    The lidocaine injection will give pain relief for about two hours. Gorden recommends the administration of an NSAID such as Meloxicam for 2-3 days following the dehorning procedure.
    “Just as in humans, high doses of an NSAID can cause gastric bleeding, so you have to watch for that,” Gorden said. “The expenses for providing pain relief during dehorning are minimal. It costs about 10 cents per calf for the lidocaine and about 10 cents per dose for Meloxicam. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian about the use of any drugs on your dairy.”
    Tom Peterson, executive director of South Dakota Dairy Producers, gave an update about dairy promotion efforts.
    “The industry is seeing an increase in the consumption of cheese and butter along with an increase in interest in full-fat milk,” Peterson said. “Consumers’ tastes are changing, and we have to change with them.”
    Peterson cited some bright spots in the export arena.
    “Our international partners are advancing key initiatives,” Peterson said. “For instance, Domino’s in Japan recently rolled out their New York One-Kilo Ultimate Cheese pizza which has over 2 pounds of cheese in each pizza.”
    Another initiative that has proven popular is the South Dakota Dairy Ambassador program.
    “In 2019, our five dairy ambassadors attended 25 fair and non-fair events that were held across the state,” Peterson said. “Altogether, they shared the dairy message with more than 140,000 people.”
    Allen Merrill, a Parker dairyman, briefly addressed the gathering. Merrill is chairman of Midwest Dairy. He also serves on the board of Midwest Dairy South Dakota division and is in a leadership position with United Dairy Industry Association and Dairy Management Inc.
    “We are trying to figure out where the future consumer will be,” Merrill said. “We are looking into our crystal ball and striving to be proactive and not reactive. We dairy farmers need to share with consumers why we are participating in the FARM program. We need to share our story.”
    Jennifer Bentley, dairy specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in northeast Iowa, gave a talk about calf management videos she has made available.
    “These video resources are free for dairy farmers,” Bentley said. “They are available either on flash drives or on DVDs. We have versions that are in English and versions that are in Spanish.”
    The videos, each of which are about five minutes long, cover such topics as newborn calf care, managing automatic calf feeders, proper hygiene in calf feeding and the low-stress handling of calves.
     “Each of the videos can be useful to help with onboarding new employees or simply as a brush-up for dairy operators,” Bentley said.
    To request a copy of the calf care videos, contact Jennifer Bentley at jbentley@iastate.edu, 563-382-2949 or Kim Clark at kimclark@unl.edu, 402-472-6065.