In these monthly columns, hear from dairy veterinarians who share their insight on best practices for animal care on your dairy operation. Dr. Charlie Gardner and Dr. Brian Reed, who both serve as consultants with the Center and have years of veterinary experience, contribute these columns to Lancaster Farming each month.

Find a topic that interests you and read the full column.

Herd Management

Are You and Your Livestock Ready for the Summer by Dr. Brian Reed

The recent rains, wind and increasing day lengths appear to have put winter into the rear-view mirror for southeastern Pennsylvania. As I write this, all the signs of spring have arrived and, as we await a few degrees of temperature, summer won’t be far behind. It’s time to consider what you need to do now to make sure you are prepared on your dairy farm for the things that come along with summer. It is better to be prepared ahead of time than try to scramble to meet summer’s challenges when they hit. The health, comfort and productivity of your animals depend on it. Read the full column.

Every Sick Cow Needs a Complete Examination by Dr. Brian Reed

“Hey Doc, I have a cow not eating this morning. I checked her for a twist, but didn’t hear anything.  What do you think is wrong with her?”  I’ve had this, or similarly worded phone calls, many times over the years. I usually start this guessing game by engaging my client with some questions about the cow, the extent and findings of the examination that she has been given, and recent events taking place on the farm. If these questions don’t lead to any obvious conclusions, we generally end up at the usual place: this cow needs a complete examination by somebody experienced in doing so. Without a good examination, we are just guessing what is wrong with her. Read the full column.

What to Know About Abortion by Dr. Charlie Gardner

“Doc, you have to be a little more careful when checking pregnancies. Two cows that you called pregnant last month came back in heat since then.” These words came from Ernest, one of my dairy clients from years ago. He was only half serious, because I had done his reproduction exams for a long time without incident. But, of course, he was concerned. There are major economic losses when pregnant cows become non-pregnant. Besides obvious pregnancy losses, where a cow diagnosed pregnant comes back into estrus, or a visible fetus is found, there are also early embryonic deaths, where cows conceive but lose the embryo before pregnancy is confirmed. Read the full column.

Take the Time to Observe by Dr. Charlie Gardner

Most of us are not naturally observant. Certainly not me. For many of us, we need to be very intentional to note all the conditions on a farm. As we walk past animals, we should be making a mental note of them and their environment. At times, we should stop and just look for a minute or two. How are their hair coats? Do we hear any coughing? Are they in proper body condition? Are they clean, dry, and comfortable? Do they have enough feed and enough bunk space? How is the air quality? What about the water supply? Read the full column.

‘Tis the Season… for Reflection and Planning by Dr. Brian Reed

My mind wanders both back in reflection and forward into the unknown, as I write this month’s animal care column sandwiched between the thankfulness of Thanksgiving and the wonder and joy of Christmas – soon followed by new possibilities of the yet unwritten 2024. I always enjoy this time of the year, looking back on the challenges, accomplishments, mistakes and people both coming into and leaving my life. It is important to look forward and try to plan ways in which we can improve our situation in the coming year, even though we know our plans may not work out exactly as we would want them to. This mindset can be used on your dairy farm to help you both evaluate the past year and then use the insight gained to help plan for improvements in your situation for 2024. This can relate to animal care, animal welfare, animal productivity or farm profitability perspectives. Read the full column.

Using All the Brains in the Room by Dr. Brian Reed

Returning from Milwaukee, Wisconsin after attending this year’s annual conference of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), my thoughts are related to a quote attributed to President Woodrow Wilson. President Wilson had to deal with many decisions regarding World War I during his presidency and was quoted as saying. “I not only use all the brains that I have, but all I can borrow.” So why am I telling you these things? I actually have a couple of reasons that relate to the animal care, dairy farm management and decision-making on your farm. Read the full column.

Asking Questions Like a Three-Year-Old by Dr. Brian Reed

Many of you can relate to the experience of a child or a grandchild asking “Why?” over and over again about something they have seen or heard. You may also recall ending the questioning by answering “because that’s just the way it is” or “go ask your mother” when you are at a lack of a good answer or just losing your patience. Children of this age are learning to ask questions to gain a deeper and deeper understanding of the world around them, learning about cause and effect and asking probing questions about rules and limitations. Those who ask good questions and receive valuable answers achieve a deeper understanding of their world. You may be asking yourself “what does this have to do with animal care, Doc?” The concept of digging deeper and deeper by asking searching questions to understand animal health issues on your farm has everything to do with animal care. Read the full column.

Are There Poisons on Your Farm? by Dr. Charlie Gardner

Do you have poisons on your farm? The answer is almost certainly “yes.” During my years in practice, I saw many cases of dairy animals being poisoned by a wide variety of substances. One of the most common offenders was urea.  You may have urea on your farm as a feed additive, and it is also present in fertilizer and some ice melting products. Dairy animals seem to like the taste of it, and they will quickly eat fatal amounts. I saw cases of urea poisoning when cows got into the feed mixing room, when a fertilizer spreader was left in a field with heifers, and when a “lick tank” was put into a group of dry cows. Read the full column.

Don’t Just Do Something – Stand There by Dr. Brian Reed

“Doc, I have a cow that just pushed out her uterus while I was treating her for milk fever. I still have her head tied back to her leg. Should I just push it back in?” These were the first words I heard a few weeks ago at the start of a busy day. I assured my client I would leave shortly to attend to his cow, but also explained to him a few tips to help him correct the situation safely and effectively. While preparing to leave home, my mind flashed back several decades to a lesson taught to me by one of my professors at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. Read the full column.

What to Do While Waiting for the Vet by Dr. Charlie Gardner

Dr. Reed mentioned some strategies you can take to help things to go well in the case of a prolapsed uterus. This month I will follow up on that theme with some other situations. All of them follow his primary point: take a minute or two to think things through, and then take whatever action makes sense. Read the full column.

It Takes Time to Recover From Heat Stress by Dr. Charlie Gardner

As you read this, we may still be having some hot days, with a little relief at night. But we know
that cooler weather is not far away. Unfortunately, the negative effects of heat stress linger on
for at least two months after the temperatures drop. I can recall many of my clients being
concerned that production and reproduction were below expectations well into November and
December. Read the full column.

Common Toxins for Dairy Animals and How to Take Precautions by Dr. Charlie Gardner

There are few things on a dairy farm as shocking, and as discouraging, as seeing a group of animals suddenly become ill and then start dying right in front of your eyes. This scenario can and does happen when animals are exposed to certain toxins. You should know the common poisons that are often present on dairy farms and take extra care that your cows and youngstock do not have access to them. Read the full column.

Calf Care

Are You Ready for Winter? by Dr. Charlie Gardner

“These two calves seemed just fine this morning. They jumped up and drank all their milk as soon as I fed them. I was shocked to come out just after noon and find them dead. What could have happened to them?” These words came from one of my clients following three days of extremely cold weather. I performed autopsies on both calves, and found they were extremely thin, with no fat reserves.  Their thick haircoat concealed this from casual observation. They drank their milk eagerly, desperate for some energy. Because of their small size, young calves lose body heat much faster than larger animals. Read the full column.

Fresh Cow Health

Aspirin Use in Fresh Cows by Caroline Arrowsmith

Coming from a small dairy farm, fresh cow management is not a major daily task. However, last
summer during my time as an on-farm intern at Pine Tree Dairy in Marshallville, OH, I learned
the true importance of closely managing your fresh cows. Properly caring for your fresh cows
sets them up for successful and profitable lactations. On the other hand, diminishing the
importance of fresh cow care can lead to milk loss, increased incidence of disease, and possibly
culling. Read the full column.

Monitoring Fresh Cow Health by Dr. Charlie Gardner

One of the most crucial aspects of dairy herd management is fresh cow health. Cows that get off to a
good start produce more, need less care and medication, and are much less likely to be culled
prematurely. Yet I find that many dairy producers do not monitor the level of fresh cow problems.
There is a saying that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” How about the measurements in
your herd? Do you know how many of your fresh cows suffer from milk fever, ketosis, retained placenta,
metritis, or mastitis? It is quite easy to track these numbers, with or without a computer. Read the full column.


Dealing with the Frustration of Back Orders by Dr. Brian Reed

There are many different causes and strategies to consider when building a prevention and control program for your herd. Vaccination programs are a part of the reproductive management strategies on most dairy farms. Hopefully these programs are developed with the help of a veterinarian who is knowledgeable of the situations that are present on your farm to make them effective for your operation. The problem comes when you try to purchase the vaccines needed in your program from whatever outlet you generally purchase them from. Over the last couple of years, the response is often that they do not have the product you want. Worse yet, they can’t even tell you when they will be expecting more product to come in because the manufacturer doesn’t have an expected availability date. What do you do now? Click here to read the full column.

Vaccinations Require Attention to Detail by Dr. Charlie Gardner

“I don’t understand how this happened. I vaccinated the entire herd last fall. How can I have all these
cows sick with Bovine Virus Diarrhea. I know that was included in the vaccine.” I can vividly recall
hearing this from a producer whose dairy herd had been devastated by a disease outbreak.
Unfortunately, she had not carefully read the instructions that came with the vaccine. It was a killed
virus product, which means animals needed a second dose a few weeks after the first one to be
protected. Click here to read the full column.

Nutrition and Digestion

Get the Fiber Into the Ration by Dr. Charlie Gardner

“I don’t get it. For years I’ve been told to make better forages, and now I am told to put straw in the
ration. That makes no sense!” I got this comment from a dairy farmer many years ago. I could
understand his frustration, but I also knew why his nutritionist was suggesting the straw. Sometimes we
make our forages “too good,” and we end up short on effective fiber. A small amount of straw can
provide the fix. Click here to read the full column.

Check Out the Manure: It’s a Report Card on Digestion by Dr. Charlie Gardner

In ruminants, digestion of feed occurs primarily in the rumen, with some additional digestion proceeding
in the abomasum, small intestine and large intestine. Manure consists primarily of feed particles that
have resisted degradation throughout the entire digestive tract, and which has been expelled back into
the environment. Examination of manure can provide evidence of how effective the digestive process
has been, and may provide clues of opportunities to improve digestion. With dairy cows, this can lead
to increased efficiency of converting feed into milk, raising total milk production and improving profit. Click here to read the full column.

Housing Decisions

Should You Raise Your Replacement Animals? by Dr. Charlie Gardner

Have you ever stood looking at a group of young calves and observed their living conditions? Over the years, I have visited farms where the calves were very thin with rough haircoats. Manure was caked over much of their bodies. There was no clean or dry place for them to lay down. Some poor-looking hay was the only feed available. Older calves and heifers were in similar conditions. In a lot of these cases, the dairy farmers who own these calves have good intentions about the environment they are creating for their animals, but they are totally overwhelmed with trying to care for their herd. Click here to read the full column.

A Three-Prong Formula for Success: Clean, Dry and Comfortable by Dr. Charlie Gardner

The late Doctor Jim Jarret was a mentor to me during my early years in practice. It was from
him that I first heard the phrase, “clean, dry, and comfortable” to describe how every animal on
a dairy farm should be treated. There are three important reasons for dairy producers to make
this happen on their farms. Click here to read the full column.

Be Careful with Overcrowding by Dr. Charlie Gardner

One of the dilemmas that many dairy managers must consider is how many animals
can be put into a given facility. Many operations have found that expansion can be done
by overcrowding their lactating barns until new facilities can be built. That way, they
have animals available to begin filling the new building. What is the problem with this
plan? Read the full column.