Bedded Pack Barn

Mastitis (inflammation of the mammary gland) is the most costly health problem among dairy cattle, reducing milk quality and yield.  Preventing and controlling it can be a special challenge for organic dairy farms, and there is a team of researchers from UVM Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Plant & Soil Science and the Center for Sustainable Agriculture working to understand and address it.

Reducing mastitis is an opportunity for increased profitability for organic dairy farmers, healthier animals, improved animal welfare, and a better product for consumers.  Bedding and housing management can impact mastitis risk, although the extent of the impact is poorly understood -- especially on organic dairy farms.

The team is seeking to hear from organic dairy farms using a variety of types of housing for their cows with a very quick (5-minute!) survey.

About the Research

dairy cows out to pasture in front of their bedded pack barn

The specific goals of this research project are to identify economically sustainable bedding management strategies that reduce mastitis risk and promote udder health and milk quality on organic dairy farms, and to develop best management practice recommendations addressing udder health microbiological risks and benefits of common winter housing strategies, with a focus on "bedded-pack" loose-housing systems.

The Research Team will survey the organic dairy industry across Vermont to assess current practices for bedding management, mastitis incidence, and animal lameness among others. Detailed samples will be collected monthly at participating farms that practice: 1. free-stall, 2. tie stall or 3. deep bedded packs.

Selected producers participating on this project will receive an end of the year outlining: cow quarter measures SCC and microbiome community analysis in milk and on teat skin, economic analysis, mammary milk and teat skin, udder and flank hygiene scores, and prevalence of lameness parameters (including BCS, estimates of scc, and a stipend for participation ($200 for participation in interview survey and farm visits for sample collection).

This research will include the following goals.

  1. Assess current bedding management practices, mastitis management, animal health, and milk quality on Vermont dairies;
  2. Understand mastitis epidemiology, bedding microbiology and characteristics, and bedding, and
  3. Explore microbial community function of the intra-mammary gland and how it impacts susceptibility to mastitis infection.

    Trade-offs in economics and environmental impacts of the pack and manure management will be assessed, and the results compiled in a management guide of best practices to reduce mastitis risk on organic dairy farms.

The team is excited to learn and share the effect of bedding management on mastitis risk and milk quality. Our approach combines novel molecular genetic tools with in-depth producer interviews and traditional microbiological methods to test the possibility that organic farmers can optimize bedding strategies to prevent mastitis and develop healthy microbiomes in their animals and barns.

Project Team

Juan Alvez, Ph.D.
Extenstion Research Associate
Center for Sustainable Agriculture,
University of Vermont Extension
juan.alvez@uvm.edu

Tucker Andrews, M.S.
Department of Plant & Soil Science
University of Vermont
tucker.andrews@uvm.edu

Jennifer Colby, M.S.
Pasture Program Coordinator
Center for Sustainable Agriculture
University of Vermont
jcolby@uvm.edu

Thomas Weicht, M.S.
Plant & Soil Science
University of Vermont
thomas.weicht@uvm.edu

Consultants and Advisors:

Pamela R. F. Adkins, DVM, PhD, DACVIM
Food Animal Medicine & Surgery
University of Missouri - Columbia
adkinsp@missouri.edu

Annie Claghorn
foxclag@gmavt.net

John Cleary
Organic Valley Cooperative
john.cleary@organicvalley.coop

Noah Fierer, Ph.D.
Professor of Environmental Microbiology
University of Colorado - Boulder
noah.fierer@colorado.edu

Sarah Flack, M.S.
Organic Dairy Consultant
sarahflackconsulting@gmail.com 

Rachel Gilker, Ph.D.
rachel.gilker@gmail.com

Sandra Godden, Ph.D., Professor
Dairy Population Medicine
University of Minnesota
godde002@umn.edu

Myles and Ronda Goodrich
mollybrookfarm@gmail.com

Brian Jerose
Agrilab Technologies Inc.
brian@agrilabtech.com

Tyler Webb, M.S.
stonypondfarm@surfglobal.net

Project Goals

The project goals are to:

  1. Identify economically sustainable bedding management strategies that reduce mastitis risk and promote udder health and milk quality on organic dairy farms
  2. Develop best management practice recommendations addressing udder health microbiological risks and benefits of common winter housing strategies.

We specifically test "bedded pack" winter housing systems. These systems are becoming popular to promote animal health, cow comfort, improve manure management, and meet consumer perceptions of animal welfare and well-being.

We address a knowledge gap of the effect of bedding management on mastitis risk and milk quality. Our approach combines novel molecular genetic tools with in-depth producer interviews and traditional microbiological methods to test the possibility that organic farmers can use bedding strategy to prevent mastitis and develop healthy microbiomes in their animals and barns. Our outreach program is driven by sustained stakeholder engagement and feedback to increase usefulness and facilitate implementation.

Extension and industry team members are integral to the construction of a best management practice recommendations document addressing udder health microbiological risks and relative benefits of winter housing strategies.

By working with organic dairy farms in Vermont, we hope to advance  understanding of the effect of bedding management on mastitis risk, and to provide knowledge and tools for farmers and farm advisors to develop best practices for winter housing and bedding management on organic dairy farms in northern temperate climate zones.

 

Interested in knowing more about the Center's work or do you have a question we haven't answered here?  Contact us via email cheryl.herrick@uvm.edu or  802-656-5459 and we'll do our best to help.

Woodcut of a farm with people gathering produce and cows grazing

Contact

Project Directors:

  • John Barlow, Ph.D. DMV
    Project Director
    Associate Professor, Animal and Veterinary Sciences
    University of Vermont
    john.barlow@uvm.edu

     
  • Deborah Neher, Ph.D.
    Co-Project Director
    Professor, Department of  Plant and Soil Science
    University of Vermont
    deborah.neher@uvm.edu

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The study was awarded by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, and is supported by USDA’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI, proposal award: 2018-02835).

 

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