USDA's NAHMS dairy study shows calf care could improve

The USDA released its 2014 Dairy Study, conducted by the agency's National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS).

NAHMS conducts these studies roughly every five years, beginning in 2002, to track health and production parameters in the nation's dairy herds. The 2014 study contains few surprises but can be used to identify potential areas to improve management.

For example, the 2014 study found that colostrum feeding of new born calves is deficient on many dairies. Universities recommend 1 gallon of colostrum be fed within an hour of birth. But the NAHMS study found the average time to first feeding of colostrum is 3.6 hours, and a majority of herds still only feed two quarts at first feeding.

Additionally, only half of the operations surveyed vaccinate pre-weaned calves and only 74% vaccinate adult cows for any disease.

The 2014 study, roughly 250 pages in length, surveyed 1,261 dairy operations in California, Colorado, Idaho, Texas, Washington and the 17 states located primarily in the northeast quadrant of the U.S. The survey was conducted in 2013.

Of the herds surveyed, 59% were defined as "conventional," housing cows in confinement with no access to pasture. These herds averaged 21,862 lb. of milk per cow. Twenty seven percent of the surveyed herds housed cows in confinement but did some grazing and averaged 17,862 lb. of milk per cow.

Another 6.7% of herds were defined as grazing herds, relying primarily on pasture for feed and averaged 14,513 lb. of milk per cow. Organic herds made up 7.4% of the surveyed herds and averaged 14,748 lb. of milk per cow.

Just 9.7% of the herds reported using recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), but these were larger herds with 14.7% of cows in the study receiving rBST in their more recent lactation.

If you're interested in learning more, the entire study is available online at:

Note: This story appeared in the April issue of Dairy Herd Management