Buckeye Dairy News: VOLUME 26: ISSUE 2

  1. New Factsheet: Avian Influenza Detected in Dairy Cattle

    A new factsheet on “Avian Influenza Detected in Dairy Cattle” has been developed and posted on the front page of our web site:  https://dairy.osu.edu/

  2. Current Dairy Industry Outlook and Dairy Margin Coverage Sign-Up

    Jason Hartschuh, Extension Field Specialist, Dairy Management and Precision Livestock, Ohio State University Extension

    Dairy margin coverage (DMC) sign-up is currently underway at your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office through April 29th. The DMC program provided about $2.80/cwt of support in 2023 for the first 5 million pounds of milk production history if producers enrolled at the $9.50/cwt margin level. Farms received 2 months of catastrophic payments when the margin fell below $4/cwt. Figure 1 shows the actual program margin from January 2021 through January 2024 with the projection for 2024. Over the past 3 years, the DMC program when enrolled at a $9.50/cwt margin more than covered the total program premium. All current indications are for stronger milk prices in 2024 and lower feed costs; however, risk management is still critical. For tier-one coverage, there is currently a guaranteed margin payout for January and February totaling almost 60% of the program premium. While March and the rest of 2024 is projected to have margins above the $9.50/cwt level, many different domestic or international events could affect this projection by either increasing feed costs or lowering milk price. As a risk management strategy against either one of these two events, the DMC program is a very useful tool for producers. Also during the 2024 sign up, producers have the option to make a one-time adjustment to their established production to include the supplement coverage they may have had based on their 2019 production history. A graph with red line and yellow lineDescription automatically generatedFigure 1. Actual and forecasted dairy margin coverage.

    In March, USDA raised the 2024 all-milk price forecast to $21.25/cwt with a reduced domestic supply and continued strong domestic demand. Butter prices are staying strong and cheddar cheese prices have had gains recently with a 2 cents yearly price projection increase. The current 2024 Class IV price forecast is $20.10/cwt. Class IV milk prices decreased recently due to a lower nonfat dry milk price forecast with weaker international demand, even though butter prices have increased. The Class III milk price forecast has increased to $17.15/cwt on stronger cheddar cheese prices, even though the whey price forecast has been lowered with weaker international demand.

    The US dairy herd continued to shrink in January of 2024 by about 23,000 head compared to December 2023 or 76,000 head less than the year prior in January of 2023. Heifer inventories do not show a rapid recovery in cow numbers in 2024, but a slow recovery my begin late in 2024. Monthly milk production fluctuates in a cycle each year with January production increasing over December production and setting the production trend for the year as season herds and the spring flush begins. The January 2024 milk production was 7 lb/hd head lower than January 2023, leading to a projected lower yearly production per cow. Milk solids concentrations have been steadily increasing as shown in Figure 2. Milk fat percentage has increased 0.35% in January since 2018 when the average was 4% and in 2024 was 4.35%. The higher concentration of milk solids (fat, protein, lactose and minerals) increases processor efficiency by decreasing the amount of raw milk needed. Thus, milk with higher components is more valuable per cwt.  Figure 2. Percentages of milk fat and solids from 2018 to 2024.

    U.S. milk prices are being supported by strong domestic demand; however, our dairy products are less competitive on the international market. Our strong domestic demand for butter products lead to a 68 million pound import increase in January 2024 over January 2023. While we are also still exporting milk fat products, the 2024 export volume is projected to be 11.1 billion pounds on a milk fat basis, which is lower than 2023 exports. US dairy products are projected to lack price competitiveness in 2024 on the international market. The international market is also projected to continue to have weaker demand. These two factors will weigh on US milk prices throughout 2024.

    With the first quarter of 2024 coming to a close, hopefully you have reviewed your entire 2023 cost of product to look for areas to improve cost control. Now is also a good time to review your cost of production for 2024 and improve your cost controls as you can begin to project home-grown feed costs for the year. As you look over your farm’s data, be sure to evaluate if your milk solids are keeping up with national trends of more dense milk. If your milk fat and non-milk fat solids have not increased from 2018 levels, it is time to investigate why. There are many reasons why milk fat may not be increasing, including nutrition, genetics, or even facilities. Reviewing your production and economic data at least quarterly can improve farm profitability for 2024.

  3. Assessing Forage Stands and Winter Damage

    Jason Hartschuh, Extension Field Specialist, Dairy Management and Precision Livestock, Ohio State University Extension

    Spring is here and now is a great time to walk fields and note how the forages faired. Winter damage is difficult to predict and the variability of temperatures this past winter across the state can present some difficult conditions for forages. Depending on the location and what type of forage field, winter damage may be a major concern, particularly for forages with taproots like alfalfa. Stands should be assessed carefully during spring green-up for concerns, such as heaving and crown and root diseases. A thorough and timely assessment will allow for planning any necessary adjustments for the 2024 season.


    When making a stand assessment, it is important to not only make aboveground observations by way of a stem count but to also dig up plant samples and assess the below-ground biomass. To make an aboveground assessment, select a random one square foot in the field and count the number of living stems within that square foot area. Repeat that random selection and counting of stems, 4-5 times for an area of 20-25 acres. When scouting, the more samples or locations assessed the more accurate the estimate will be. The average stem density of a field can be a useful tool to gauge the yield potential for the coming year. For alfalfa stand assessments, the University of Wisconsin Extension has a useful publication; “Alfalfa Stand Assessment: Is this stand good enough to keep?”, in which they provide the following table as a reference for stand assessment and decision making.

    Number of Stems/ Square Foot

    Expected Result or Action

    Over 55

    Stem density is not yield-limiting


    Some yield reduction is expected

    39 or less

    Consider stand replacement

    While assessing the stem density of a forage stand, take note of where on the plant shoot growth is active. Healthy plants will have numerous shoots growing evenly around the crown. A damaged plant will have a lower number of total shoots and often have more or all stems on one side of the crown. Damaged plants will be lower yielding and have a lower survivability for the following winter.


    With temperature variability and freeze-thaw cycles, heaving is a common form of winter damage seen in the field. This is a more common problem in heavier clay soils and poorly draining soils. Warmer temperatures occurring sporadically in February and March, followed by short freezes, similar to what we have seen this year, can heave and expose the root system to a severe enough level that plants may not survive into May. Plants that experience heaving and survive are more susceptible to disease and the stress of heaving accumulates over the lifespan of the crop, lowering the yield potential and life expectancy of the stand. If significant heaving is observed but crown health is minimally affected, adjustments to harvest practices prior to the first cutting may be necessary. Cutting too low at any point during the year on heaved crowns can not only damage the crown and slow regrowth but can also damage the root system, often causing immediate death and no additional cuttings. Making obvious notes in the mower tractor or flagging the field entrance can help you remember throughout the year that mower adjustments need made to not damage the stand. A stand with increased heaving may be limped through this year by managing cutting but will usually need to be rotated to another crop next year.

    Stem and Root Concerns

    Even if no heaving is observed, it is important to dig up plant samples and observe crown and root health. Similar to assessing stem density, select multiple random plants and split the crown and root. The table below can help you rate crowns. A healthy stand will have less than 30% of crowns rating 3 or 4 and no crowns in the count rating 5, which are dead plants.






    Once a stand assessment is completed, if renovations are needed there are a couple of options. Stands can be improved with grasses and clover to extend the production of the forage for a few years. Another option is terminating after a first cutting and plant silage corn or possibly a warm season forage, such as sorghum, sudangrass, or sorghum-sudan as a high-yielding alternative to meet forage production needs. Based on your operation practices, options such as Teff grass, Italian ryegrass, or Berseem clover are good options for dry hay.  Summer annual cereal grain forage such as oats, spring triticale, or spring barley could be made as dry hay but may be easier to harvest as silage or baleage. To fulfill forage needs, spring seeding alfalfa is an option and planted with a companion crop can provide forage this year and set up a stand ready for maximum yield next year.


  4. Spring Forage Establishment

    Jason Hartschuh, Extension Field Specialist, Dairy Management and Precision Livestock, Ohio State University Extension

    As soil temperatures rise and the chances of a morning frost decline, the window to spring-establish forages is open. In the spring, the combination of weather and plenty to do make planting opportunities scarce. To take advantage of those short planting windows, the following are items to consider to improve chances for a successful forage establishment this spring.

    1. Soil Fertility and pH: Set up your forages with the best starting conditions you can by providing sufficient available nutrients and a soil pH that allows for those nutrients to be taken up. Follow the Tri-state Soil Fertility Recommendations (https://forages.osu.edu/forage-management/soil-fertility-forages). Phosphorus levels for grass are optimal in the 20-40 ppm range, while the range for legumes is 30-50 ppm. When it comes to potassium, the optimal range is 100-130 ppm for sandy soils with a cation exchange capacity (CEC) less than 5; for loam and clay soils with a CEC greater than 5, the range is 120-170 ppm. No matter the nutrients in the soil, if pH isn’t taken care of the forage will not be as productive. Most forages are productive at a pH above 6.0, but for alfalfa, a pH of 6.5-6.8 is necessary, and if the pH is below that, it is worth considering pushing alfalfa establishment to the late summer planting window and applying lime and maybe planting an annual grass for forage in the interim. As for nitrogen fertilization, an application of 30 lb/acre of starter nitrogen for pure cool-season grass stands or 10-20 lb/acre for grass-legume mixes can help with seedling vigor in low-nitrogen soils.
    1. Weed Control: Prior to forage establishment, weed control is important to lower potential competition throughout the lifespan of a stand. Weeds can choke out and limit forage establishment, and once a forage is established, the option to control weeds is reduced. Decisions can be made in the selection of the field for establishment to avoid areas where there are known weed problems. Chemical control can be used to manage a variety of weeds, but be sure to take extra caution to follow replant intervals. Another option for weed control and a good practice for particularly competitive perennial weeds is a tillage pass. 
    1. Prepared Seedbed: Planting into a well-prepared seedbed improves seedling germination and uniformity. For conventional systems, an ideal seedbed is firm, smooth, clod-free, and weed-free. As soon as soils are fit, prepare seedbeds for plants, but be careful to not overwork soils depleting soil moisture and increasing the risk of soil crusting following a rain event. When seeding in a tilled seed bed, drills with press wheels are best to ensure good seed-to-soil contact. Excellent tools to firm soil to improve seed-to-soil contact are cultipackers and cultimulchers. Where erosion is a concern in no-till systems, or if there is residue over 35%, the use of a no-till drill is recommended. No-till forage establishment is most successful in silt loam soils and soils that are well-draining. Timing for seedbed prep should be based more on conditions than the calendar, so be sure tillage equipment is ready to go early.  
    2. Seed Selection: Select a high-quality and reputable seed variety. Be sure that the seed used has good germination for a relatively recent germination test and that the variety is well suited to our region. The forage stand is a multiyear crop, so planting “common” seed (variety not stated) usually proves to be a very poor investment, yielding less even in the first or second year and having shorter stand life.
    1. Companion Crops: Select forages and forage mixes that will meet desired production. Direct seedings without a companion crop will allow for 2-3 high-quality harvests in a successfully established seeding year. If looking to increase forage tonnage in the first year of a forage crop, a small grain companion crop can be successful. Companion crops have the added benefits of erosion protection and weed competition in susceptible fields. Important considerations with companion crops to not out-compete the perennial forage are: (i) select an early maturing, stiff strawed variety so other forages are not smothered, (ii) plant companion small grains at 1.5-2.0 bu/acre, (iii) remove companion crop as pasture or silage in the early boot stage to limit competition, and (iv) do not apply additional nitrogen to the companion crop.  
    2. Timing of Planting: The recommended spring planting window for forages in Ohio is mid-March to mid to late April for southern Ohio and late March to early May for northern Ohio. Warm-season forages and annual forages can effectively be established later in the growing season (reference the Ohio Agronomy Guide for species-specific planting windows). Timely planting allows for forages to be established before the environmental stresses of summer and allows forages to better compete with weeds. Later forage planting can struggle to establish lowering the potential yield and lowering quality due to a large presence of weeds. If spring planting is delayed, consider planting a summer annual and waiting to establish a perennial forage in August.  With the warmer than normal February and March we had this year, soil temperatures and spring green up are nearly two weeks ahead of schedule, which means weed germination is also, and we should plan accordingly, as May 1 might be too late this year.
    3. Seeding Rate: Forage seeds can vary in size, shape, and whether or not they are coated. Getting an accurate seeding rate can be difficult, particularly with mixes. Take the time to calibrate seeders ahead of time. The seeding rate is important to establish a uniform stand that is productive and competitive with weeds. An excellent resource for calibration is the video “Drill Calibration” at https://forages.osu.edu/video/.  If mixing grass seed with alfalfa seed, have it professionally blended by the seed supplier if possible, and ask them for any information they may have on drill settings, and seeding rates.  If you cannot have it pre-blended, consider planting it separately to ensure the accuracy of seeding rate.  If you do plan to drop mixed seed through a drill, calibration is a must and will vary so plan accordingly and be sure to test your drop rate.
    4. Seeding Depth: Forages are small-seeded crops, so plant depth is very important for uniform establishment. A seeding depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep with good seed-to-soil contact is optimal for most forage species and soil types. In sandy soils, a depth of 1/2 to 3/4 inch may be appropriate. Be sure to check the actual planting depth when first planting and if any field conditions change. Take particular note in no-till fields and with no-till drills to ensure seeding depth accuracy. In our experience, visibility of up to 25% of the seed on the surface, or in the seed slot but uncovered behind the drill indicates that most seeds are at the proper depth.  Tender legume seedlings will have a very hard time reaching the soil surface if they germinate too deep, especially on heavier soils where any amount of crusting may take place following planting. 
    1. Post Planting Scouting: The first 2 months of a newly established forage are critical for the longevity and long-term production of a stand. Early weed competition is most detrimental to an establishing forage stand. When looking to control a weed problem, for post-emergence application, be sure to double-check the label to not harm forage seedlings. A similar concern is present with insect pests like potato leafhopper damaging legumes as soon as late May to early June. Even in established forages, it is best to scout for pests yearly when each pest is seasonally present.
    2. Harvest Management: Unless there is weed or pest pressure, it is ideal to delay the first harvest of a new seeding until early flowering for legumes. For first harvest of pure grass stands, harvest depends on stand vigor and weather conditions; grasses for the most part establish slower than legumes and 70 days after planting is generally the timing for the first harvest. If the harvest method is grazing, take extra precautions to limit trampling damage. If there is a weed problem, clipping may be necessary to prevent weed seed production.
  5. Milk Prices, Costs of Nutrients, Margins, and Comparison of Feedstuffs Prices

    April F. White, Graduate Research Associate, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University

    Milk Prices

    In the January issue, the Class III milk future for March was $16.33/cwt. Class III milk closing price for February was $16.08/cwt, with protein and butterfat prices at $1.23/lb and $3.10/lb, respectively. The rising price of milk fat continues to negatively impact protein price. For this issue, the Class III future for April is $15.72/cwt, returning in May to $16.35/cwt.

    Nutrient Prices

    It can be helpful to compare the prices in Table 1 to the 5-year averages. With some lower reported feed prices since the January issue, the cost of net energy for lactation (NEL) has decreased by more than 50%. The cost of NEL is about 55% lower than the 5-year average ($0.09/MCal). However, the cost of metabolizable (MP) has increased since the January issue. It remains higher than the 5-year average ($0.44/lb) by about 40%. These changes can be largely attributed to a lower reported cost of feeds providing primarily energy to the ration.

    To estimate profitability at these nutrient prices, the Cow-Jones Index was used for average US cows weighing 1500 lb and producing milk with 3.9% fat and 3.2% protein. For the March 2024 issue, the income over nutrient cost (IONC) for cows milking 70 and 85 lb/day is about $10.19 and $10.61/cwt, respectively. Both values are higher than the January estimates and are expected to be profitable. As a word of caution, these estimates of IONC do not account for the cost of replacements or dry cows, or for profitability changes related to culling cows.

    Table 1. Prices of dairy nutrients for Ohio dairy farms, March 15, 2024.

    Economic Value of Feeds

    Results of the SESAME™ analysis for central Ohio on March 15, 2024 are presented in Table 2. Detailed results for all 26 feed commodities are reported. The lower and upper limits mark the 75% confidence range for the predicted (break-even) prices. Feeds in the “Appraisal Set” were those for which we didn’t have a local price or were adjusted to reflect their true (“Corrected”) value in a lactating diet. One must remember that SESAME™ compares all commodities at one specific point in time. Thus, the results do not imply that the bargain feeds are cheap on a historical basis. Feeds for which a price was not reported were added to the appraisal set for this issue.

    Table 2. Actual, breakeven (predicted) and 75% confidence limits of 26 feed commodities used on Ohio dairy farms, March 15, 2024.

    For convenience, Table 3 summarizes the economic classification of feeds according to their outcome in the SESAME™ analysis. Feedstuffs that have gone up in price based on current nutrient values, or in other words moved a column to the right since the last issue, are in oversized text. Conversely, feedstuffs that have moved to the left (i.e., decreased in value) are undersized text. These shifts (i.e., feeds moving columns to the left or right) in price are only temporary changes relative to other feedstuffs within the last two months and do not reflect historical prices. Feeds added to the appraisal set were removed from this table.

    Table 3. Partitioning of feedstuffs in Ohio, March 15, 2024. 

    Bargains At Breakeven Overpriced
        41% Cottonseed meal
    Corn silage Whole cottonseed Blood meal
    Distillers dried grains

    Corn, ground, dry

    Mechanically extracted canola meal
    Gluten meal Soybean hulls Solvent extracted canola meal
    Gluten feed 48% Soybean meal 44% Soybean meal
    Meat meal Soybean meal - expeller Whole, roasted soybeans
    Hominy Alfalfa hay - 40% NDF Tallow
    Wheat middlings Feather meal  

    As coined by Dr. St-Pierre, I must remind the readers that these results do not mean that you can formulate a balanced diet using only feeds in the “bargains” column. Feeds in the “bargains” column offer a savings opportunity, and their usage should be maximized within the limits of a properly balanced diet. In addition, prices within a commodity type can vary considerably because of quality differences, as well as non-nutritional value added by some suppliers in the form of nutritional services, blending, terms of credit, etc. Also, there are reasons that a feed might be a very good fit in your feeding program while not appearing in the “bargains” column. For example, your nutritionist might be using some molasses in your rations for reasons other than its NEL and MP contents.


    For those of you who use the 5-nutrient group values (i.e., replace metabolizable protein by rumen degradable protein and digestible rumen undegradable protein), see Table 4.

    Table 4. Prices of dairy nutrients using the 5-nutrient solution for Ohio dairy farms, March 15, 2024.
    A table with numbers and textDescription automatically generated with medium confidence

  6. US Dairy Herds and Policy and the 2022 Census of Agriculture

    Dr. Carl Zulauf, Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics, The Ohio State University and Dr. Gary Schnitkey, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois1

    The exit of dairy operations since 2017 has attracted considerable attention (see, for example, MacDonald, J. M., J. Law, and R. Mosheim, July 2020). The 2022 Census of Agriculture confirms a profound decline, even within the context of the long-standing decline in dairy herds. The economic pressure for fewer dairy herds is abating but remains notable.  An important question is, “What role did current dairy policy play in the post-2017 consolidation?”

    Dairy Farms:  According to the 2022 Census, 24,094 US farms sold milk during 2022 (see Figure 1).  The largest number of dairy farms with milk sales had 50-99 cows. 

    Another 11,942 farms had milk cows on December 31, 2022 but had not sold any milk during 2022.  Of these farms, 97% had less than 10 cows. 
    Milk Sales: In 2022, the 2,013 farms with 1,000 or more cows accounted for 66% of all US milk sales (see Figures 1 and 2). The comparable share was 57% in 2017.
    Dairy Farm Transition, 2017-2022: Fewer US farms sold milk in 2022 than 2017 at all herd sizes except those with 2,500 or more cows (see Figure 3). The latter increased from 714 to 834 farms.  Herds of 20-49 cows declined the most on a percentage basis, followed by herds of 50-99, 10-19, and 10-199. In total, 39% fewer US farms sold milk in 2022 than 2017.  
    Dairy Farm Transition, Historical Perspective: The -39% decline in all US farms that sold milk between the 2017 and 2022 Census of Agriculture was the largest decline between adjacent Census dating back to the 1982 Census (see Figure 4). The next largest declines were -27% between the 2007 and 2012 Census and -26% between the 1992 and 1997 Census.  Large percentage declines in US dairy farms have been an on-going story, but the most recent decline stands out.
    A question that emerges from Figure 4 is, “What caused higher exits from dairy farming during 2017-2022?” One factor was huge losses occurring over an extended period of time.  Since the decision to exit (and enter) dairy farming is a strategic investment decision, a 10-year sum was calculated of the net return above the economic cost of producing milk as computed by USDA, ERS (US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service). The 10-year sum starts with 1989 because 1980 was the first year USDA, ERS published the cost of producing milk.  An economic cost includes a cost assigned to unpaid labor and farm-produced feeds.

    The cumulative 10 year net return to economic cost has been less than -$10/cwt since 1998 and less than -$30/cwt from 2009 through 2018 (see Figure 5). The largest 10-year losses were -$37/cwt in 2013 and -$36/cwt in 2015.  Since 2015, 10-year losses have declined almost 50%, equaling -$19/cwt in 2022.
    Additional perspective is gained when Figure 4 is combined with the large economies of size that exist in US milk production (see Figure 6).  Economies of size are much greater for non-feed than feed cost.  Over 2016-2022, highest and lowest feed cost differ by $2.50/cwt ($12.87 - $10.37) but by $19.59 for non-feed cost ($27.96 - $8.37).  The large economies of size mean financial pressure from low returns to producing milk is much more acute for smaller herds, as the larger percent decline in smaller dairy herds between 2017 and 2022 illustrate (see Figure 3).  An interesting feature of the economies of size relationship is that non-feed exceed feed cost for herds of less than 1000 cows while the opposite is observed for herds of more than 1000 cows and especially herds of more than 2000 cows.

    The large difference in the relative roles of feed and non-feed cost across herd size is consistent with the large difference in feed cost’s role in year-to-year changes in total cost across herd size. The difference between year-to-year change in feed cost and total cost per cwt has been minimal for herds of 2000 or more cows since 2015 (see Figure 7). In other words, feed cost accounted for most of the year-to-year change in total cost for the herds. As herd size declines, the difference between the average year-to-year change in feed and total cost becomes larger, implying that the year-to-year change in feed cost explain less of the year-to-year change in total cost. It is important to note that considerable variation exists across years in the relationship between year-to-year changes in feed cost and total cost for a given herd size.

    The relationship between feed cost and total cost has policy significance. The 2014 farm bill authorized a Dairy Margin Protection Program that made payments when the margin difference between the US average all milk price received by farms and the cost of feeds (corn, soybean meal, and alfalfa) was below a specified value. The 2018 farm bill renamed the program, Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC). Many payment parameters and calculations used in the formula were modified, but the basic policy design was retained. For a brief but longer history of US dairy policy, see the discussion in the farmdoc daily of November 22, 2021.


    Even relative to the notable historical decline in US dairy herds over the last 50 years, the decline between the 2017 and 2022 Census of Agriculture was large. 

    A likely important factor underpinning the sizable decline between 2017 and 2022 is US dairy sector financial stress that dates to the turn of the 21st Century. Dairy sector financial stress is likely abating but still remains notable.

    Another likely important factor is the sizeable economies of size that exist in producing milk. They exacerbate sector financial stress for all but the largest dairy herds. 

    The sizeable economies of size are largely due to non-feed cost per cwt of milk produced. Given the large difference in non-feed cost per cwt across dairy herds, it is not surprising that changes in feed cost per cwt have a much larger role in changes in total cost per cwt for larger dairy farms. 

    The preceding point suggests a program that bases dairy policy payments on the milk price-feed cost margin, such as the current DMC program, is likely to provide the most protection against lower milk profitability for the largest dairy farms, although it is important to note that quantity of milk that can receive a DMC payment is capped.

    If policy deliberations come to the conclusion that dairy policy should be more attentive to the financial stress on smaller dairy farms, policy options include the following:

    1. Scale DMC payments by the ratio of non-feed costs to feed costs for a given size dairy herd. In essence, DMC payment per cwt could be higher than 100% for smaller dairy herds.
    2. Create a new payment program based on non-feed cost per cwt.
    3. Make a per cow payment for a limited number of cows per dairy operation. Because implementing payment limits of any type is difficult since farms rearrange their operation to qualify for payments, a payment per cow could be made to all dairy farms up to the given number of cows. Smaller dairy farms would however receive the most benefit since a larger share of their cows would qualify for a payment.

    None of these policy options would change current DMC payment calculations.

    1This article was reprinted from: Zulauf, C. and G. Schnitkey. "US Dairy Herds and Policy and the 2022 Census of Agriculturefarmdoc daily (14):38, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, February 23, 2024.


    MacDonald, J.M., J. Law, and R. Mosheim. July 2020. Consolidation in U.S. Dairy Farming. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service ERR-274.

    The National Agricultural Law Center. February 2024. United States Farm Bills.  https://nationalaglawcenter.org/farmbills/

    US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.  February 2024.  Commodity Costs and Returns.  October.  https://www.ers.U.S.da.gov/data-products/commodity-costs-and-returns.aspx

    Zulauf, C., G. Schnitkey, K. Swanson, and N. Paulson.  November 22, 2021.  US Dairy Market and Policy Overview.  farmdoc daily (11):158.  Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  November 22, 2021.  http://www.farmdoc.illinois.edu/

  7. Dairy Sustainability – The Jargon, the Dairy Story, and the Opportunity (Part I)

    Dr. Kirby Krogstad, Assistant Professor, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University and Dr. Joanne Knapp, Fox Hollow Consulting, LLC

    Everyone wants to talk about carbon, but who is going to do anything about it? Dairy farmers and allied dairy industry partners are stepping up to the plate! They’ve been investing in and researching new strategies that will shrink our greenhouse gas footprint while also returning value to the farm-gate. This article series aims to get us on the same page about the dairy system and its sources of greenhouse gas emission, about the emerging technologies that will enable us to reduce enteric methane emissions from cattle, and discuss what carbon credits are, how they are being bought and sold, and what that means for the dairy farms and the dairy industry.

    First, we need to get some context on the dairy carbon story and the current dairy carbon emissions picture.

    How Much Carbon Does the U.S. Dairy Industry Emit?

    “Carbon” is actually carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e). Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are the three major contributors of CO2e. In total, its estimated that man-made activities in the US emit about 6,300 million metric tons of CO2e each year. Of that, dairy production accounts for 139 million metric tons, or about 2% of the total emission (Figure 1). Although we’re a relatively small emitter relative to other US sectors, if the US dairy sector were its own country, it would rank in the top 1/3 of all countries on a total emission basis. We mustn’t shirk our responsibility – and we’re not!

    Figure 1. United States Greenhouse Gas inventory. Dairy cattle comprise 2% of total USA emissions. Data from epa.gov.

    The Dairy Industry’s Commitment: What Does “Net-zero” Mean?

    Companies, organizations, and governments are making sustainability commitments left and right; The US dairy industry is no different. The Innovation Center for US dairy has committed to achieving “greenhouse gas neutrality” by 2050 – what does that mean?

    Being greenhouse neutral, as US Dairy has committed itself, is defined as the point where anthropogenic (from human activity) emissions are balanced by anthropogenic removal. This is a very difficult mark to achieve, but a worthy task nonetheless. Another common benchmark is climate neutrality; climate neutral means that human activities have no net-effect on the climate system; some have described this as being equivalent to “warming neutral” or not adding to warming of the globe.  Fortunately, the dairy industry is within striking distance of climate neutrality. Place et al. (2022) determined that a 23% reduction in farm-gate emissions for US dairy farms will mean that dairy farms no longer add to the warming of the climate. If we go beyond 23% reduction means we’re really part of the solution!

    Reaching greenhouse gas neutrality may prove to be more difficult and will most certainly require soil carbon sequestration or alternative methods of atmospheric carbon removal. One way to inch toward this goal of greenhouse gas neutrality is the use of methane mitigating feed additives. Incentives are coming into view for such a practice to have an economic return, but we will cover both methane mitigating feed additives and the carbon markets associated with them over the next couple of articles.

    The Dairy Story: What are the Sources of Emissions on a Dairy Farm?

    So where do dairy farm emissions come from? The major sources of greenhouse gas emissions on most dairy farms are manure methane and nitrous oxide emissions (33%), enteric methane emissions (35%), feed production (26%), and energy use (6%; Figure 2). Of course, this can vary tremendously from farm to farm. A farm’s greenhouse gas footprint is especially dependent on the manure management practices and feed efficiency of the whole herd. For example, capturing methane from manure using anaerobic digestion reduces the greenhouse gas emissions from manure by 50%. Solid separation technologies can also reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from manure by 20% (Aguirre-Villegas et al., 2014).

    Figure 2. Greenhouse gas emission sources for U.S. dairy farms. Adapted from usdairy.com.

    Opportunities: What Do These Sustainability Initiatives Mean for the Future (or the present)?

    Sustainability commitments and initiatives are here to stay. Fortunately, the dairy industry has an encouraging story to tell. Some dairy farms are already using manure methane to fuel cars and power buildings. Some electric cars are even being juiced up on dairy cow manure! Reduced and no-till cropping practices have improved soil carbon sequestration. Over the past two decades, genetic selection for yield of milk components, along with supporting approaches in forage selection and harvesting, herd health, parlor technologies, and feeding management, have reduced emissions intensity. Combined, these strategies reduced the carbon footprint of milk by 19% from 2007 to 2017 (Capper and Cady, 2019).

    The emerging opportunity for dairy farms to continue enhancing their sustainability is through the use of enteric methane reducing feed additives. There’s plenty of promise along with challenges – we’ll chat about those next time….


    Aguirre-Villegas, H. A., R. Larson, and D. J. Reinemann. 2014. From waste-to-worth: energy, emissions, and nutrient implications of manure processing pathways. Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining 8(6):770-793. https://doi.org/10.1002/bbb.1496

    Capper, J. L., and R. A. Cady. 2019. The effects of improved performance in the U.S. dairy cattle industry on environmental impacts between 2007 and 2017. J. Anim. Sci. 98(1). https://doi.org/10.1093/jas/skz291

    Place, S. E., C. J. McCabe, and F. M. Mitloehner. 2022. Symposium review:Defining a pathway to climate neutrality for US dairy cattle production. J. Dairy Sci. 105(10):8558-8568. 10.3168/jds.2021-21413.

  8. Why Do Cows Bunch?

    Dr. Dwight Roseler, Adjunct Professor, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University

    The dairy farmer will look over the cow pen and notice the cows are bunched up and huddled into a big group. The farmer scratches his head and asks, “Why do cows congregate into a group?” They were not like that before. Unsure of what to do, he gets in the pen and separates the cows, only to find the same group of cows a couple hours later all bunched up again.  

    I know dairy farmers that have a “cow whisperer” ability. They observe cows keenly and can tell what their cows are thinking! In my many years of dairy consulting, I have observed some unusual bunching behavior of dairy cows in well managed and comfortable barns. I enjoy watching cows and have learned to be a keen observer of dairy cows. My teachers of cow behavior have been my livestock and my “cow whisperer” farmer clients. 

    A first question to ask is, “Why does it matter that cows bunch together?” When cows bunch together, it compromises production, health, and welfare of the animals. Bunching increases heat stress of the affected cows, increases standing, splashes manure on the udder, and elevates stress hormones. These changes increase risk of lameness, reduces ruminations and feed intake, and results in subsequent loss in milk production that is lower in milk fat. 

    Dairy farmers provide their cows with quality feed, housing, stalls, and environment. The cows are their livelihood, and their best care is top priority. They remove stressors, and cows then perform to their genetic potential. Cows under stress do not perform well. Bunching of cows is an indicator of some external stressor not initiated or solicitated by the farmer. Why do cow’s bunch in well managed and comfortable barns?

    Cow Behavior 

    Cows were created with a four chambered stomach to consume grass and bunch together as a herd. Herd animals stay together as a group with a social dominance structure.  The dominant “boss cow” will direct the herd with subordinate followers. Cows, sheep, and wild animals, including deer, zebra, and a favorite, the wildebeest, are ruminant prey animals. Prey animals are a source of food for predator animals, like lions and cheetahs. Prey animals will congregate together in herds or bunches for protection and survival. In the wild, the wildebeest grazing on the African safari grass will bunch together as a predator cheetah approaches the herd.  This is a truly amazing nature sight to behold in person. The catch is exhilarating to watch, but not for the prey. We don’t have cheetahs in our dairy barns as a threat to our cows, but the response to stress is similar – bunch together! Cows will bunch together when under stress because of their God designed instincts. 

    Bunching can occur in well managed barns as a result of stress of social interactions, environmental stress, flies, electrical stimuli like stray voltage, or limited access to feed or water. A brief review of these factors that cause cows to bunch and possible solutions will follow. Read along and learn.  

    Social Interactions     

    Cows reside in herds where a unique social dominance hierarchy exists in each herd. The “boss cow” is the one that gets her way with whatever she desires. First in the parlor, first to the feed bunk, the clean free stall, and she will dictate her preferences with head butting, ear twitching, and tail movement responses. The lower social order cows are typically the first calf heifer that recently calved. Social stress will cause cows to retreat and bunch up. Research has proven that first calf heifers when housed in a separate pen from older cows will perform better. This is partly due to less social distress. If your facilities allow, a separate first calf heifer group is beneficial. Social hierarchy and conflict are most significant in pens of milking cows of all ages when the pen size is 150 cows or less. Automated milking dairy farms with all cows in same pen will observe more social dominant stressors and potential bunching. As a farm manager, do not overcrowd pens, especially with automated milking systems. 

    Environmental Temperature 

    Cow bunching can start with as few as three to five cows that are initially stressed, and as environmental temperatures increase, more cows are affected and the bunching group grows in size. Research and time-lapse camera observations would indicate that the most frequent time to observe bunching is 3:00 to 8:00 pm. The initial bunching can start when temperatures are at 68 degrees F or higher. This often can occur in May in the US eastern corn belt. Walk your barns during late afternoon each day and be a “cow whisperer”. What are your cows telling you? If they are standing more and bunching even in small groups or standing near a waterer or drinker, then evaluate the factors that impact bunching. Ask a qualified ventilation technician or cow comfort specialist to conduct an air flow and cow comfort audit to identify areas of each barn that are not properly ventilated or designed. Intervene as soon as bunching occurs, as once cows start to bunch, it is difficult to untrain them.


    The external perimeter of the barn can also impact the internal barn environment. A California dairy study from 20 large dairy farms indicated that crops grown adjacent to free stall barns can elevate potential for cow bunching. Trim weeds and brush growing near free stall barns and do not plant corn crops close to free stall barns. Researchers speculated that internal barn airflow is modified when crops or tall weeds were near the barns. Even when fans are present in barns, restrictions to outside airflow can create a micro-environment in pens that initiate cow bunching. High stocking density can compound cow bunching during hot weather. Do not overcrowd, as individual cows in groups are exposed to hotter individual temperatures in the inner circle of the cow’s groups.

    On pasture cattle, the reason why cattle may bunch in the warm conditions is not well understood, but one possibility is that bunching may occur around shaded areas as a strategy to reduce heat load. In free stall-housed cattle, they are blocked from direct sunlight during midday. However, radiant direct sun into barns will occur in the US eastern corn belt in the early morning or late afternoon. Sun rays that enter a barn and expose cows to direct sunlight will stratify cows and cause bunching when cows are exposed to direct sun rays.

    Cow bunching will be more common in hot summer months. A barn orientation where direct sunlight enters the sides, high producing cows, long day length, and uneven air flow within the barn are all possible causes of cow bunching. Prepare for summer heat by cleaning fan blades and housing mesh. Dirty fans move less air and will create areas of the barn that do not offer airflow. Remove pen pack manure as extra heat and potential for flies is generated from these systems.  

    Electromagnetic Fields 

    Farmers have perceived magnetic fields from high voltage lines, automated milking systems, or solar panels as possible causes of bunching behavior in their cows. Housed dairy cows are a greater risk for stray voltage than pastured animals due to the exposure of fans, parlor, automatic milking, and electric panels in housed barns. Dairy cow sensory stimuli start at a much lower voltage than humans. A Danish study evaluated 60 dairy farms and identified bunching on several farms. The risk factors were newly constructed barns, measured stray voltage, and presence of fans in barns. The presence of fans in the barn as a factor for bunching is difficult to speculate the cause, but the observations and research would support that cows standing in front of fans would indicate they locate in front of fans to avoid hot spots in other areas of the barn. Cows will bunch in areas of good airflow to avoid flies, similar to pasture cows that stand in the mud. Fans are electronic devices that can cause stray voltage when in use, and if not properly grounded, they can create stress and cows will bunch. One research study indicated that the noise from fans can initiate a stress response in cows and initiate bunching.  


    Stable flies are blood seeking flies that bite the legs of cattle. A California study of 20 commercial free stall herds measured fly counts on cows using traps and observations. Trap counts as few as 50 flies per trap per pen or just 1 fly per leg will cause cows to bunch in free stall pens. The stress of the fly bites causes cows to stand in a tight group with their heads to the center of the group and their tails to the outside to protect themselves against the stable fly attack. Dairy cows are known to have thinner hides than beef cattle, and thus, dairy cows are more susceptible to biting flies. Fly repellent behaviors include tail flicking, foot stomping, head tossing, skin twitching, and ear trembling to reduce the fly attack. An effective fly control program must include a combination of cleanliness, larval control through feed, regular sprays, ear tags and parasitic wasps. Fly control must start early (April / May) to prevent mid to late summer fly issues.

    Feed and Water

    Cattle will increase drinking in hot temperatures, and they will often bunch around drinkers in hot temperatures. When cows congregate and bunch around drinkers or empty feed bunks, it is a response to stress which can begin a bunching response. Provide extra waterers during the summer. Drinkers should provide a minimum of 25 linear water distance per 100 cows.  Water capacity as measured by flow rate is also important that the drinkers are not empty. TMR feed bunks must provide continuous access to fresh feed. A mold inhibitor added to the TMR will maintain freshness and stability of the ration during hot summer months. Provide a minimum of 200 feet of bunk length per 100 cows or 24 inches per cow. Overcrowded pens or limited bunk space with limited feed availability can create opportunities for cows to bunch up, especially during hot weather. 


    Dairy farmers provide quality care for their cows by providing proper feed, water, comfort, ventilation, and housing. As a result of quality care, cows respond by providing consumers with high quality, nutritious milk we can all enjoy.  As a dairy farmer, take time now to get the barns in order for summer time. Keep the predators of stress away with proper prevention. Areas to manage to prevent bunching this summer include effective cleaning of fans, proper fly control, trim grass and weeds around barns, and check for stray voltage, especially from fans and drinkers. Most of all, monitor the barns each afternoon to observe and head off any potential stressors that may cause cows to bunch up.  

  9. Using Dairy Manure with Newly Planted Corn and Soybeans

    Glen Arnold, Extension Field Specialist for Manure Nutrient Management, The Ohio State University

    In recent years, dairy farmers and commercial manure applicators have been moving towards applying dairy manure to newly planted corn and soybeans.

    Applying dairy manure to fields after crops are planted in the spring offers some advantages over applying manure before crops are planted. One advantage is corn or soybean planting not being delayed by the added moisture from the liquid manure. This delay can be costly if wet weather further delays spring planting. The second advantage is the liquid manure adding moisture to the soil that can enhance crop germination and emergence, especially if the weather turns off dry.

    As soon as a field is planted, the manure can be applied. This is true for both corn and soybeans. The seed is protected by an inch or more of soil. In university research, the application of 10,000 gallons per acre of dairy manure has not negatively impacted crop germination and emergence on corn or soybeans. If the crops are emerging, manure can still be applied to corn but not soybeans. Newly emerging soybeans can easily be killed by the application of liquid manure. Corn can tolerate the drag hose through the V3 stage of growth without an issue.

    The nitrogen in the dairy manure will be a boost to the emerging crop. It is difficult to know how much of the ammonium nitrogen in the dairy manure will be available to the crop. The organic nitrogen portion will be a slow release over several years. The ammonium nitrogen in the dairy manure can be lost to volatilization and possibly leaching. In university trials of surface applied dairy manure, only about half the ammonium nitrogen applied seemed to be available for crop growth.

    When a drag hose is utilized, the drag hose applicator commonly applies the manure at an angle across the field. The field needs to be firm enough to support the drag hose to avoid scouring the soil surface and burying small corn plants or further burying seeds. Fields that are spring tilled are not good candidates for a drag hose. No-till fields, stale seed beds, fields with dead or alive cover crops, and tilled fields that have been packed with heavy spring rain are usually good fields for a drag hose.

    Additional on-farm manure side-dress plot results can be obtained by clicking on the On-farm Research link on the OSU Extension Agronomics Crops team website at http://agcrops.osu.edu/ or E-fields at https://digitalag.osu.edu/efields or follow OSU Extension’s manure research on Facebook at: Ohio State Extension Environmental and Manure Management.

    Ohio State University Agronomics Crops Team Youtube channel is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0nhw3GG6Q8&t=1s

  10. Disease Prevention: Making the Most of Your Spring (and every day) Cleaning Practices

    Drs. Samantha Locke, Alex Fonseca-Martinez, and Greg Habing, Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, The Ohio State University

    Cleaning and disinfection (C&D) practices are often laborious and time-consuming, but successful C&D is critical to reducing cattle exposure to pathogens, even if you don't see an immediate response. Many factors can influence the effectiveness of your cleaning and disinfection practices on any given day. Some things are difficult to control, for example, temperature and relative humidity can impact the success of your hygiene practices. However, there are strategies you can implement to make the most out of your C&D (Figure 1).

    The Basics  

    • Plan your C&D. Organize your C&D in a way that would minimize the impact of pathogen spread. For example, when possible, clean and disinfect starting with the youngest animals moving to the oldest. In lactating barns, scrape beds before flushing alleyways. After flushing, scrub water troughs.   
    • Don't forget the cleaning in cleaning and disinfection! Organic material, such as manure or feed residue, that are left on surfaces can interact with disinfectants and reduce their effectiveness. Rinsing or sweeping away any visible contamination from surfaces is the first step to successful C&D.
    • Include a washing step. Washing equipment or surfaces with soap or detergent can remove residue that was left behind after rinsing/sweeping an area – some soaps can even eliminate certain microorganisms. Scrubbing can also help remove strongly adhered residues or biofilms that would interfere with disinfectants. Just make sure to rinse away any product used, as disinfectants can be inactivated by soap. Note: it can be tempting to use pressure washers to efficiently clean heavily soiled areas; however, these should be used with caution. Some pathogens, like Salmonella, can be spread further with pressure washing and can cause animal and human health concerns.
    • Let areas/equipment dry before disinfection. Extra water can dilute disinfectants, reducing their working concentration and effectiveness. If allowing an area to dry completely is not possible, try to allow at least 5 to 10 minutes before applying a disinfectant.
    • Have a plan for cold weather C&D. Cold temperatures can negatively impact disinfectants. If temperatures are predicted to rise throughout the day, consider moving your C&D to whenever the warmest temperatures will be reached. Alternatively, some disinfectant companies have instructions on how to add antifreeze to their products to preserve their effectiveness in winter conditions.

    How Much C&D is Enough?

    If you want your C&D to be successful, routine is important, but it can be difficult to identify how often different areas or equipment should be cleaned. Supplies like calf bottles, esophageal tubers, and calving chains should be cleaned after each use. Daily cleaning of animal housing areas is often not considered feasible from a time and labor standpoint. Intermittent cleaning (for example, weekly or monthly) allows bacteria to establish biofilms. Biofilms are communities of microorganisms that attach to a surface and produce a protective “slime". They are extremely resistant to disinfection and can persist in environments for a long time, consistently causing contamination issues with farm equipment. Biofilms can even result in animal infections. Porous surfaces and areas with lots of cracks, crevices, and hard to reach corners are difficult to clean, and provide lots of opportunities for biofilm formation. In laboratory settings, Salmonella can form biofilms within 48 hours. Currently, very few disinfectants have been tested to determine their effectiveness against biofilms. If C&D of animal housing can't be completed daily, consider adopting a more rigorous protocol in order to disrupt biofilm formation and make sure that your efforts are having an impact.

    What is the Best Disinfectant?

    Disinfectant choice is specific to your facility and which pathogens you are most concerned with. Discuss with your veterinarian what disinfectants and C&D protocols may work best for your herd. However, here are some tips to make sure the disinfectant you choose will give you the most bang for your buck.

    • Check the label. Companies often list the organisms that a disinfectant has been tested against in the lab and found effective. Double check to make sure the microorganisms that cause the most problems in your herd are covered.
    • Actively manage your disinfectants. Some products - like bleach - can lose strength over time. Test strips are available for most disinfectants to ensure that: 1) Concentration of your stock is known and 2) Disinfectants are mixed appropriately when diluted. Disinfectants applied at lower concentrations than instructed on the label are usually ineffective.
    • Follow the contact times listed. The ability of disinfectants to inactivate or kill microorganisms is a function of concentration and contact time. Failing to follow label guidelines regarding concentration and contact times will negatively impact C&D.

    Unfortunately, there is no perfect cleaning and disinfection protocol available. However, if you keep in mind the information provided above, you can avoid common mistakes that reduce the effectiveness of C&D protocols.

    If you’re interested in learning more about cleaning and disinfection and how to develop your C&D program, check out https://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/infection-control/disinfection/.