Information transfer between progressive farmers has also been facilitated by organizations like the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin Extension, Wisconsin Dairy Business Association and commercial companies.
In October 1999, we launched the Dairyland Initiative, a web-based program (http://thedairylandinitiativevetmed. wisc.edu/ ), where farmers can access all the information they need to build better facilities for their cows. To date, we have over 1,400 users, and the program continues to grow both in-state and beyond.
The question we wanted to ask is has all this information and collaboration with our dairy industry in Wisconsin made any difference? How do our best herds in Wisconsin compare with other dairy regions in North America and around the world, where lameness in particular appears to getting worse? Are Wisconsin dairy farmers having their cake and eating it, too?
To answer the question our team at the University of Wisconsin, which included veterinarians Dörte Döpfer, Ken Nordlund and Becky Brotzman and summer students Justin Hess and Megan Foy, performed a cluster analysis of 557 dairy herds with more than 200 cows per herd using freestall housing in Wisconsin.
The analysis categorized farms using 16 different DHIA monitors of herd performance and we set out to visit a sampling of the higher production herds and record lameness and injuries in the high group mature cow pens on these farms.
The study is not yet complete, but the early results from the first 66 herds visited suggest that these farmers are indeed enjoying their cake!
Seventy percent of the 66 herds visited have deep beds — most with sand. The remaining 30 percent use a mattress- type product. Overall, lameness prevalence (3, 4 and 5 on a 5-point scale) was 13.1 percent, with only 2.5 percent severely lame (4 and 5), with the lowest rates of lameness in herds using sand. These are excellent numbers, comparable with surveys completed in grazing herds, and about half of the prevalence we found in our first lameness survey in Wisconsin back in 2000.
Seventy percent of the herds used stalls at least 48 inches wide, so the message about larger more spacious stalls is getting out there. The news isn’t all good, however. Hock injuries are still more common than we would like to see with 12.2 percent cows showing evidence of some kind of open sore or swelling. Predictably, it was the mattress herds with the worst scores compared to the deep-bedded stall herds.