Dairy farmers have the opportunity to compare the health and production performance of their herd with other herds around the country through a recent research project from the University of Wisconsin Dairy Science Department.
Approximately 200 organic and 100 size-matched conventional dairy farms across the U.S. were recruited to participate in a recent study examining the impact of organic management on animal health and well-being. Dr. Pamela Ruegg, dairy science professor and Extension milk quality specialist, and her research team visited each farm to collect herd health records, milk samples, body condition scores, disease treatments, usage of veterinarians, livestock housing, feed, and routine milking procedures.
Researchers selected indicators of animal health, such as somatic cell counts, and identified the management practices of the participating farms that were most closely associated with better herd health. The project team created individualized benchmark reports for each farm based on their scores. These reports collectively became the database for a new suite of interactive herd performance tools available online to all dairy farmers.
The online tools compare: somatic cell counts, milk production, percentages of milk fat and protein, clinical mastitis in the herd and culling rates. Any dairy farmer can use these tools and select a variety of management practices, herd characteristics and other farm criteria of which to compare his or her herd.
Farmers have the option of storing their herd's information into the system. As more and more farmers do so, the database will dynamically grow from the original 300 dairy farms—continuously providing the most up-to-date results.
Creating a forum for dairy farmers to compare the performance of their herd to other herds is empowering since herd health can influence overall farm income. The peer benchmarking approach helps farmers identify areas of strength and weakness on their individual farms and set performance goals for their herd, such as improved diagnosis of future health-related problems and increased milk production.
The herd performance tools are featured on the UW Milk Quality website. UW Milk Quality is an online collaboration between Dr. Pamela Ruegg and Dr. Doug Reinemann, professor and director of the UW Milking Research and Instruction Lab, geared toward helping dairy producers best manage herd health and milking systems.