Yesterday we went to the headquarters for the farm division of Junlebao. This company has around 100,000 dairy cows total. They also are one of the largest dairy processors in China. The headquarters for the farm division has an operating dairy of about 5000 cows. It is also an education center with a learning center with a variety of displays, children’s play area with a petting zoo, a calving barn display, and an observation deck in the milking parlor. It looks to me like it was patterned after the Fair Oaks center in Indiana. Here are some views:
I was here to give a presentation to a group of animal health managers. The selected topic was selective dry cow therapy. In many developed countries dairy cows are often treated with an intramammary antibiotic at the end of the lactating period to hopefully cure any existing bacterial infections in the udder and also to prevent new infections during the roughly 60 day period when the cow is not lactating, or “dry”. This is referred to as blanket dry cow therapy. It is been a common practice in the US since the 1950s or 1960s. Dry cow therapy has been an important tool to help improve milk quality and animal welfare. Indeed many measures of US milk quality show tremendous improvement since dry cow therapy became common. However, antibiotic use in food producing animals has come under great scrutiny in the US and other countries in recent years, and the industry is responding by re-examining current practices in light of these concerns. Dry cow therapy represents a significant number of antibiotic treatments, although the doses used are very low since they are infused directly into the udder (versus administered parenterally), so the practice of blanket dry cow therapy is under more scrutiny. In some countries selective dry cow therapy is practiced, where only higher risk cows are treated. These are cows more likely to be infected or to become infected. (By the way, anytime an antibiotic is used in a dairy cow, milk must be discarded until the antibiotic has cleared from the milk. Any animal going to slaughter must be held until the specified post treatment withdrawal period for meat is observed. Every load of milk is tested for antibiotics in the US, and positive loads must be discarded. A minuscule number of loads are discarded every year due to excellent risk management.)
So my presentation was supposed to be an hour or so about selective dry cow therapy. When I received the request to prepare it I thought it a bit odd, since cows on many dairy farms in China may still be infected with contagious (to other cows) pathogens that have either eliminated or significantly reduced on US farms, and one of the main reasons for blanket dry cow therapy is to reduce the incidence of these contagious bugs. Thus I did not really think selective dry cow therapy would be on the top of the list of farmers’ concerns here, but I did what I was told and prepared it anyway. It turned out I was right, because during a break one of my hosts told me that “they really aren’t interested in this…can you talk about something else?” So went about 20 hours of preparation time down the drain…
Anyway it was still really a lot of fun, and the farm manager had some concerns about mastitis on this dairy, so we were able to tour some parts of the facility so I could offer some advice. The milking cows here are bedded with recycled manure solids. This is the output of the anaerobic manure digestor. The digestor produces methane, and the by product is a semi-dry, brown powdery product that can be put back into the stalls. The digestion process should reduce the bacteria levels drastically, but the material is still organic, so organisms will grow in it if given the opportunity. So even though the cows were pretty clean, there is still increased risk for mastitis as compared to cows bedding with sand, which is inorganic. Thus I wanted to spend some time in the parlor to see how effective the technicians were at cleaning, drying and disinfecting the teat skin before milking. As is often the case, wiping the teat ends with a white towel after the teat preparation found that the teat ends were not as clean as they should be, and were not dry. I have never done a parlor evaluation with a couple of hundred people watching thought the glass before though. I wonder what they think about some guy in bright white paper coveralls, and white disposable booties, a face mask, and a hair net over a baseball cap, with latex gloves walking around grabbing teats. Who knows.
Farmers might wonder about the big white fans in one of the pictures above. Cross – ventilated dairy barns use a whole bunch of giant fans in one side wall of the barn. The other sidewall is opened to let in air at high speed to cool cows. These barns had cooling pads on the inlet walls. These look like giant humidifier pads, and water is introduced over the surface. As the air comes through it picks up the water; the water then evaporates, cooling the air. In dry climates cross ventilated barns can be 20 degrees cooler than outside on warm days. On this farm cows have reportedly struggled with heat stress in the summers. They told me it was too humid here for the cooling pads to work effectively, so they added a bunch of these fans on the leeward side of each baffle. It is a LOT of fans. The electrical supply is not yet hooked up, so they have not turned them on. I have some concerns about this plan, which I will not bore you with today, but when I look at this picture it reminds me of a rocket booster, and I keep getting visions in my brainn of this barn taking right off and hovering above the ground like a spaceship. I would really love to be here the day they fire all of these things up.