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Cow health and happiness delivered through the Internet

October 20, 2010

Can Web-based resources have a positive impact on a cow’s life?

Nigel Cook and Ken Nordlund, veterinarians in the Food Animal Production Medicine (FAPM) group of the School of Veterinary Medicine, are banking on it. The pair was recently awarded funding through the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment at UW–Madison.

Their idea? The Dairyland Initiative, a Web-based information resource to assist in the construction of new dairy cattle housing in the state of Wisconsin and beyond.

The new site brings together the producer, the builder and the lender with one common purpose: to make the Wisconsin dairy industry No. 1 in the world for performance and animal well-being.

The best thing of all? The information and access is free to any Wisconsin dairy producer who can use their six-digit dairy producer license number. Out-of-state farmers and consultants can access the site for a $100 subscription fee, which lasts for two years.

Cook and Nordlund have spent countless hours researching herd health issues, such as lameness and mastitis. By conducting field investigations and on-farm clinical trials, Cook and Nordlund were able to show farmers how simple changes can make a big difference.

“In the beginning there were a group of farmers that took a leap of faith,” says Cook. “They were spending their money and trusted us. Now there are enough farmers using our recommendations that other farmers can visit improved barns. We can do a lot with a little and farmers can see what we’re talking about.”

Their progress and reputation in herd health has brought them around the world, speaking to many dairy professionals on how best to construct dairy cattle facilities.

“We’ve done a fair amount of investigations of herd problems,” adds Nordlund. “We’ve used clinical situations and designed research trials and now have the authority to make a case for farmers to make corrections. It is one thing to point out errors, but a completely different game when a dairy client says, ‘Okay, you don’t like that. How should it be done?’”

The Web site contains barn planning tools such as a transition barn planner. This utilizes historical calving information to help determine the number of stalls and bunk space required in each pen. It also contains virtual tours of new facilities built using our ideas, with pictures, floor plans, streaming video and interviews with the farmers.

Through the Web site, builders will have access to the latest design standards that promote health, well being and productivity. Lenders will have access to the building guidelines and tools that will improve partial budgeting.

FAPM will monitor the performance of the barns built to the standards laid out in the initiative, and over time create better economic tools for farmers and lenders to use. And, the dairy producers will have access to all the resources they need to make good decisions when embarking on a new building project for adult cattle, heifers and calf housing.