As a part of the Animal Welfare and Herd Health Standard Operating Procedures grant, Pennsylvania’s Center for Dairy Excellence (CDE) utilized farm press and other media avenues to encourage Pennsylvania dairy farmers to apply for a $1,000 grant that would help them to address a dairy cow care area for improvement on their farm. The end result of this project would provide case studies for the entire industry to reference in pursuing optimal dairy animal care and welfare.

There were 13 applications received from dairy farms throughout Pennsylvania. After careful consideration by the CDE staff and the Penn State Extension Veterinarian team, nine farms with the most pertinent dairy animal care enhancement opportunities were selected to create “Herd Health and Cow Care (HHCC)” teams. The participating farms were notified that they had been selected as an HHCC team with further details of the project that would accompany after herd veterinarians were formally contacted to discuss the project.

Communication with the individual herd veterinarians was completed through a series of conference calls to convey the overall objectives and the expected involvement of both the farm and the herd veterinarian in the project. All calls to herd veterinarians included a CDE staff member and the PSU Extension Veterinarian team.

Each farm and veterinarian received a packet of information further outlining the objectives, goals and expectations. Within this packet of information, standard forms were developed, to be completed during the initial herd visit. The on-farm evaluation team included the farm owner or manager, the herd veterinarian and a PSU Extension Veterinarian. These forms outline the identified bottleneck, dairy animal care areas to address and the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) the farm and herd veterinarian will implement on the farm in the future to address the bottleneck.

After farm visits, CDE staff compiled the information and begun to develop case study formats for each farm. The SOPs developed from these visits are those that can be referenced by the greater industry from this project. During the initial farm visits, the group identified the bottleneck, and then further determined the three key more specific areas of focus. From these areas, the unit of professionals then developed a list of SOPs and the steps needed to complete each individual SOP.

The herd veterinarians monitored progress of the SOPs and the farm provided measurable progress and outcomes. Participating farms and herd veterinarians provided a full synopsis of procedures implemented, measurable indicators of improvement in the area of animal welfare, along with any costs associated with addressing the area of animal welfare.

Within these case studies are the SOPs developed for each of the nine participating farms in relation to their animal welfare bottleneck.

In conclusion, these farms have improved animal care and subsequent welfare in their operations by creating and implementing these SOPs. These nine farms will now serve as case studies for the dairy industry to study and replicate. Improving dairy animal care and welfare will support the ongoing goals of optimal animal care and stewardship already in place within the industry. Improving cow comfort and animal health is an area on the farm where hidden profits can be realized. Therefore, the improved profitability of these farms will allow them to be sustainable over time.

Secondly, improved on farm animal welfare will help to further demonstrate the commitment of the Pennsylvania dairy industry to consumer groups largely unfamiliar with modern practices on dairy farms. This cow care and herd health case study project has and will continue to help dairy farmers to make necessary improvements regarding herd health and cow comfort in order to remain a part of a long term viable industry. 

Case Study: Rick and Dana Empet

Bottleneck: The herd has had continued issues with fresh cows and transition cow health at the time of calving.

Goal: Improve the overall health and longevity of this herd demographic and reduce the incidence of metabolic disease.

SOPs that will address the Cow Care and Herd Health Bottleneck:

1. Monitor Ketosis after freshening

  a. Test each cow every day for 7 days after calving for Ketosis

  b. Use urine keto-stix for diagnosis

  c. Record findings on all fresh cows


2. Monitor temperatures after freshening

  a. Record daily temperatures every morning-milking

  b. Give appropriate treatment to any cow with a temperature over 103 degrees Fahrenheit


3. Record daily milk weights of cows after 4th milking

  a. Monitor daily milk weight for fresh cows at each milking


4. Any cow that has a milk yield reduction greater than 20% will be monitored through a physical examination and treatment protocol determined


5. Analyze fresh cow data at monthly herd check

  a. Examine peak/summit milk for entire lactating herd


6. Analyze any metabolic disease occurrence for that particular month and determine trends


SOP Implementation Impact Summary:

1. Adjusted dry cow grain in ration

  a. Reduced the number of incidences of metabolic diseases


2. Tested any suspect animals for metabolic diseases

  a. Previously, most cows were calving in with ketosis and underlying milk fever


3. Awareness of protocols for transition animals heightened

  a. Started doing preventative measures earlier and monitoring becoming routine


4. Followed milk production changes closely

  a. Visual and physical exams done on any suspect animals


5. Displaced abomasums were reduced