Everything Old Is New Again

Published on Thu, 06/09/2022 - 11:16am

Everything Old Is New Again.

 By Jesse McCoy, CWS – Business Unit Specialist, Water Treatment, Neogen.

Everything Old is New Again is an adage so old, using it alone sounds ‘en vogue’ in 2022 where information comes immediately to a device in our hands and any question can be answered by asking a smart device the question and an algorithm gives you the most suitable answers.  It wasn’t long ago that technology was the size of a room, then it shrank to the size of a few pizza boxes stacked up, and now it’s a tiny chip that fits in our pocket and wins Jeopardy matches against real humans.  What has not changed, however, are the fundamentals of husbandry in the dairy industry – Feed, Light, Air, and Water.  Cows haven’t shrunk in size, dairy operations rarely get smaller, and the amount of water in a gallon of fluid milk has stayed the same.

That said, technology is changing how we operate dairies and how the consumer views the industry.  By adapting the technology available to us, operations are now light years ahead of the previous generations in efficiency, welfare, and precision agriculture.  Feeding is now automated, along with building the rations.  Lighting is not only more efficient and economical because of gains in technology, but we understand its benefits to animals.  Ventilation used to be curtains at best, and now we are measuring wind speed and humidity because we understand how it effects the animals.  Water, however, has dragged behind the rest.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s the dairy industry performed research on water quality and availability to show just how important it is to a dairy operation, and then as an industry we moved on.  Certainly, the industry still understood its importance, especially when an inspector wanted a water sample from the source, but that was about it.  Now that we’re moving into more technologically advanced times, it’s time for water quality improvements to come with us.  

Welfare has always been of utmost importance to a dairy producer, and water quality plays a large part in that.  Not only does water make up the majority of the mass of that cow on the hoof, it’s part of the overall health of that animal by impacting everything from hydration to nutrient uptake to cooling.  In the age where a smartphone can as easily make an operation infamous as famous, it’s paramount that we reduce disease vectors to keep our animals healthy.  There’s no larger oral input into that cow than water.  Inspiring that cow to drink more water by improving taste and odor has been shown to increase production in the animals.

Keeping pathogens out of the water, or killing those already in it, also has been shown to benefit the animals.  If a pathogen exists in the water, and since all life on earth depends on water, essentially all pathogens can be found in water, disinfecting the water prior to the cow drinking it is the easiest way to keep a cow from getting a disease.  Not only can this improve the quality of the milk from the cow, but it also can aid in disinfection of the facility, as the disinfectants used don’t have to disinfect the water prior to disinfecting the surface they’re applied on.  If a producer is paid bonuses on milk quality, this can improve a paycheck to the producer as much as the reduction in treatment cost for a cow that does not get sick.  But, the pathogens we now deal with on an operation are not the same as they were generations ago, so as we deal with novel pathogens we often have to use novel chemistries to accomplish proper disinfection.  The days of running some bleach in the water or dropping some pellets down a well head are long gone (at least if your expectation is actual disinfection).  

Because these novel pathogens exist, and very little dairy water quality data exists, it can be a daunting task for a producer to sit down and actually achieve their goals in water quality.  The first step is to identify what makes that operation money and to set the treatment goals around a return on investment.  Once these are identified, a water sample of the source can shed light on what it would take to accomplish those goals and if they are realistic.  Then a sample should be taken from where the cows are actively drinking.  This is an often skipped, but extremely important step.  Not only does this tell the producer what’s happening in the water lines that they can’t see, but it shows them what the cows are dealing with day in and day out.  Rarely are these two samples as similar as one would expect.

With this information in hand, a producer can then access the resources in the industry, veterinarians, nutritionist, manufacturers, and specialists to create a plan to address their expectations and needs.  One large benefit of the technology boom is the reduction in cost to a producer proper and effective treatment of water has enjoyed from the days of initial implementation.  This process also helps the producer understand the system, and make it much less of an enigma and more of another process to improve their herd.  And since the products produced by dairy operations and more than 75% water, improvements in water quality have a tremendous impact on the economic health of the herd as well.