Use Your 5 Senses When Walking Cattle

Use Your 5 Senses When Walking Cattle

Cattle can’t tell you what is going on with them. As you walk the pen use your 5 senses to identify any animals that might not be feeling well, find those that are in heat, and observe how the pen interacts as a group.



Cattle are prey animals and will do their best to cover up any sickness or weakness they may have, so my observations often begin by sight 1 or 2 pens away from the group I want to observe. I am on the lookout for any animal that is off by itself, animals that are refusing to eat, and animals that might be lame.

As I get closer to the pen, but not in it yet, one very important thing I evaluate is cud chewing. The best time to observe cud chews is a few hours after feeding when all the cattle are resting. Ideally, we want over 60% of the group to be chewing their cud.

After entering the pen, I begin looking at manure, body condition score, and for any cattle with labored breathing.



Next time you walk cattle, close your eyes and listen for the quiet. Quiet means animals are happy and resting. Loud sounds such as balling, or a lot of movement mean the animals may be hungry or stressed.



Believe it or not, there are a lot of things you can assess by feel when you walk cattle. Feel the ground, is it hard, wet, or dirty? If so, cattle may be expending more energy than they should standing or trying to keep warm. Soft, dry bedding allows for cow comfort and will make them more apt to rest and be more efficient in feed conversion.

Feel the feed. Does the chop length look right? How’s the moisture? Are there any foreign objects? All things to consider.

Feel the air. Is it hot, cold, humid? Is there enough ventilation? Is there too much of a draft, could cattle benefit from a wind break? All these factors could impact performance.



“Smells like money”, is what I like to say when someone comments on how cattle smell! But in all seriousness, the different smells associated with an operation can tell you a lot about what is going on and maybe even a little bit about how the money was spent.

On a calf operation, smell of the manure can tell you a lot about the health of the animal. When walking older animals, the smell of the manure may not tell us as much, but there are other smells that can.

Smell of the feed. Did the silages ferment well? Is the feed in the bunk heating?  How about the grain? Any smutty, foul, sour, or moldy smells may give us hints to feed quality and hopefully help us prevent problems with the animals when they are fed.



Okay, I will be honest, this is not one sense that I use much when walking cattle, but I know many people that do. Often, I will see farmers test the kernels in corn silage with their teeth, and taste to test the sweetness. Others may like to try additives, starters, electrolytes, etc. before letting their cattle eat them.

Use all your 5 senses to come up with your own subjective judgement on how the pen is doing as a whole.


Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.

Cost of Dairy Disease

Cost of Dairy Disease

Although income over feed costs is a very important number in evaluating herd profitability, it is not the only measure of profitability that producers, nutritionists, and veterinarians should be evaluating. Health issues have a huge impact on cow performance, which affects current profits and the future value of the cow. Disease influences profitability both directly and indirectly.

A farm-level economic model created by the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Kentucky gives us a greater understanding of those costs associated with disease.


Common Dairy Diseases

Mastitis: commonly caused by pathogenic bacteria invading and multiplying within the mammary gland.

Lameness: foot or leg condition caused by various factors.

Retained Placenta: presence of fetal membranes 24 hours or later after calving, or fetal membranes retained for more than 6 hours. Widely considered a predisposing factor for metritis.

Metritis: inflammation of the uterus due to bacterial invasion.

Left-displaced abomasum: the abomasum is filled with gas and becomes trapped by the descending rumen to the left side of the abdominal cavity.

Ketosis: negative energy balance.

Hypocalcemia (Milk Fever): low plasma calcium levels following calving.


Disease Cost

Herd performance and market conditions are extremely influential in determining the cost of disease. These values of course change over time and from farm to farm, however, using the economic model given by University of Kentucky, we gain an idea of the general cost for each dairy disease.

Economic costs considered by the model include:

Veterinary and Treatment


Discarded Milk

Decreased Milk Production


Extended Days Open

Death Loss


Lactation 2+ $246.23
Lactation 1 $77.00
Lactation 2+ $180.91
Lactation 1 $185.10
Lactation 2+ $333.17
Lactation 1 $432.48
Lactation 2+ $639.51
Lactation 1 $325.76
Lactation 2+ $426.50
Lactation 1 $171.69
Lactation 2+ $262.65
Lactation 1 $150.41
Lactation 2+ $313.49


Keep in mind all these costs were adjusted for the year of 2015.

Practical Application

Knowing the cost of disease on your farm is an important part of evaluating true farm profitability. Keeping accurate records is important in determining if any management changes or improvements need to be made. There are many computer software programs available to make record keeping easier.

Many of these may even help you to figure out how much the cost of disease is on your farm. In my neck of the woods DHI-Plus is a common dairy record keeping program. One helpful feature is a report folder called, What’s it’s Cost. The reports found in this folder are a simulation of the lost production that each individual disease may result in on a particular farm.  If you have DHI Plus and you would like to look at this report, it can be found in the Report List of the Cohort Group Analysis.


Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.


Source: Estimating US dairy clinical disease costs with a stochastic simulation model – Journal of Dairy Science

Not all Direct Fed Microbials are Created Equal

Not all Direct Fed Microbials are Created Equal

Cow Biology is COMPLEX. A SYMBIOTIC blend of additives is Paramount. The importance of the symbiotic relationship between the digestive system and the immune system cannot be overstated! As the largest immune organ in the body, the gut plays a major role in whole body immunity. Therefore, establishing a healthy gut translates to increased immunity. IMMUNOMETABOLISM is how the immune system regulates ALLOCATING NUTRIENTS between growth and survival.


Direct Fed Microbials

In an attempt to optimize rumen health direct fed microbials (DFM), including yeast, enzymes and probiotics, are often added to a diet to improve feed intake, feed efficiency, fiber fermentation, microbial protein synthesis, milk yield, rumen pH, and digestion.


Achieve Trial Results

study was conducted in 2014 with the University of California, Davis, CA. Experts evaluated 2 different yeast-based products and their influence on both post rumen effects and performance of high producing Holstein cattle.

Yeast-based products used were a Competitor Product and Achieve from MicroBasics. Post rumen effects included superior plasma levels of both total essential amino acids (EAA) and total nonessential amino acids (NEAA) for those cattle consuming Achieve.

Performance effects resulted in increased milk flow from cattle consuming Achieve. This increase in milk production resulted in a greater amount of total fat and protein produced.


Why is this important?

Better feed ASSIMILATION- intake, digestion and absorption. Dry Matter Intake and Milk Production were highest in the Achieve groups however there was no difference in digestibility in any of the three treatments.

Due to the increased absorption efficiency and increased production exhibited by the cattle fed Achieve we can conclude that the digestive process was enhanced from the inclusion of Achieve in the diet.

Enhancement of the digestive process fuels growth of new intestinal cells and absorption of more nutrients that can be utilized by the animal. In addition to greater amounts of overall essential and non-essential amino acids cattle fed, Achieve had significantly higher levels of plasma threonine, tryptophan, glycine, and asparagine. These amino acids play important roles in the animal.

Threonine: an essential amino acid utilized by the gut to create a protective mucus barrier, used to make T-lymphocytes that work to fight off infections, regulates fat metabolism and prevents fatty liver.

Tryptophan: an essential amino acid that may play a role in the regulation of appetite and feed intake. Tryptophan is a precursor to Melatonin which may serve as a signal for the synchronization of the feeding and digestion processes.

Glycine: a non-essential amino acid that is one of the most common amino acids in the body, promotes muscle growth, hormone production and regulation, and is a building block of tissue in the digestive tract.

Asparagine: a non-essential amino acid that optimizes brain and nerve cell function.


Further research will tell us more about how post rumen effects are influenced by DFM’s. For now, our takeaway shall be that not all yeast-based products are created equal. Achieve combines three strains of live yeast with a highly concentrated yeast culture, a proprietary blend of probiotic cultures, several broad-spectrum digestive enzymes, yeast cell wall, yucca schidigera, and IPS (Immune Positioning System) a unique blend of biologically active polysaccharides and polypeptides. Consult with you nutritionist to determine if Achieve might be a good fit for your feeding program.

Interactive Brochure

Learn More


Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.

Early Life Microbial Colonization and Effects on Immunity

Early Life Microbial Colonization and Effects on Immunity

In the calf world we talk a lot about average daily gain and the effects that better gains early on in life have on lifetime production. Although gains early on in life are important and do affect productivity, much of the growth and development affecting lifetime productivity may be taking place in utero, even before the calf is even born.


In Utero

Fetal growth and development are profoundly influenced by the in-utero environment. In humans approximately 20% of stunting has in-utero origins. Growth deficits in-utero are associated with maternal or placental inflammation and infection. This suggests that there may be a role that the microbiome plays in fetal growth and development. It is also very likely that these same mechanisms come into play when we talk about neonatal calf growth and development.

In the United States, and likely many other countries, poor intrauterine environments may occur due to: 1) malnutrition, 2) insufficient energy supply, 3) heat stress or other stressors, 4) overweight mother cows. Each of these stressors influences the nutritional status of the dam as well as her microbial population. In turn affecting the growth and development of the fetus.

A poor uterine environment during the first trimester can have significant impacts on the development of the mammary gland, ovaries, and development of homeostatic mechanisms in the liver and pancreas. Proper development of these organs is critical for future lifetime milk production, heart, lung, pancreatic, kidney, and placental health. Other performance outcomes influenced by intrauterine growth are the development of the small intestine and muscle, weaning weight, and reproductive performance.


Establishment of Gut Microbiota

Vaginal delivery plays a key role in colonizing the calf with beneficial microbiota at birth. Typically, vaginal microbiota is dominated by one of four Lactobacillus species. These bacteria are swallowed by calf and colonization of the digestive tract begins. Other bacteria are also ingested by the calf as it enters a new environment. These bacteria are not always helpful. It is important to provide the calf with a clean area to be born so that harmful bacteria do not outcompete the beneficial ones during colonization of the digestive tract.

Colostrum is important not just for passive transfer of IgG, but also for the colonization of the gut. Bacterial composition of colostrum can be highly important for microbial colonization as fresh colostrum contains Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Escherichia, Staphylococcus, Coliforms, and Streptococcus. Additionally, colostrum contains certain oligosaccharides that serve as substances for growth of the establishing bacterial community and for preventing pathogens from binding to the intestinal epithelial cells.

As the calf continues to grow and transition to dry feed the composition of gut microbiota continues to shift until the calf becomes a fully functioning ruminant.  Although the rumen provides a home for a diversity of bacteria, the lower digestive tract still proves to be a very important player in digestion and the immune system.



Early development of gut microbiota is thought to be very important for the proper development of the immune system. Dynamic interactions between gut microbes and the innate and adaptive immune systems of the calf play vital roles in promoting intestinal homeostasis and inhibiting inflammation.

Gut microbiotas metabolize proteins and complex carbohydrates, synthesize vitamins, and produce a large amount of metabolic products that mediate communication between the gut epithelial and immune cells. Gut dysbiosis can also dysregulate immune responses, cause inflammation, and oxidative stress.


Management Factors Influencing Gut Colonization

We have come to know so much about the effects that gut microbiota have on the immune system. There is still much to learn, but here are some key takeaways that you can easily apply on your farm today.

1. Manage stress and inflammation in pregnant and transition cows. Provide proper nutrition and modulate the gut environment and the immune system with a direct fed microbial. (Achieve)

2. Not every calving is perfect. Calves experiencing a difficult birth, or that did not get adequate colostrum are good candidates to receive supplemented levels of lactobacillus. (Sync)

3. Every calf gets adequate amounts of high-quality colostrum and transition milk if possible.

4. Clean calving pen to prevent inoculation of harmful bacteria.

5. Avoid using oral antibiotics if possible. Turn to products that bind and remove pathogens instead. (Surveillance)

6. Provide the calf with appropriate starter feed and fresh water.



Hang BPT, Wredle E, Dicksved J. Analysis of the developing gut microbiota in young dairy calves-impact of colostrum microbiota and gut disturbances. Trop Anim Health Prod. 2020 Dec 28;53(1):50. doi: 10.1007/s11250-020-02535-9. PMID: 33369699; PMCID: PMC7769786.

Malmuthuge, N. Effect of Early-Life Microbial Interventions on Health and Immunity. Lethbridge Research and Development Centre, 2018.

Schoonmaker, J. Effect of Maternal Nutrition on Calf Health and Growth. Purdue University, 2013.

(PDF) Effect of maternal nutrition on calf health and growth (


Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.

Welcome to the Team – Lauren Woloohojian

Welcome to the Team – Lauren Woloohojian

MicroBasics has a new team member! We are excited to welcome Lauren Woloohojian to our team! Lauren’s work experience includes ranch management, producer relations for Danone NA, and technical sales. She will be serving dairy and beef customers in the Pacific Northwest. Here is a little more about her.

Q. Lauren, where are you from?
A. I am originally from Rhode Island, but we moved to Bridport, VT where my family owns a small herd of Guernsey cattle and focuses on genetics and continual improvement of the Guernsey breed. I got involved in agriculture through 4-H, which provided myself and my family the opportunity to “dive head-first” into both raising and showing a variety of livestock.

Q. Where did you go to school?
A. I did my undergraduate at Virginia Tech University and received a B.S. in Dairy Science. I then went on to Graduate school at Texas A&M and earned a M.S. in Agronomy.

Q. What are some of your interests and hobbies?
A. I really enjoy being outdoors and I try to spend most of my free time outside. I have horses and dogs, so if I’m not working with them, I like to hike, bike, fish and workout!

Q. What you are most excited about with your new position with MicroBasics?
A. The enthusiasm behind the entire MicroBasics team is contagious and I am so excited to be part of that. We have some of the most incredibly innovative and beneficial products on the market! I am excited to bring them to dairy and beef producers in the Pacific Northwest.

Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.

Yeast and Yeast Derivatives – What’s the difference?

Yeast and Yeast Derivatives – What’s the difference?

Yeast and yeast derivatives have been demonstrated to have a wide range of immune enhancing benefits. It can be confusing trying to differentiate what kind of yeast is included in a feed product and understanding what it does. Let’s discuss this a little further in depth!

Whole-Live Yeast: 
single celled fungi.

Improved oxygen utilization in the rumen: live yeast use up the oxygen in the rumen and promote the growth of very important anaerobic bacteria and ciliate protozoa.

Improved fiber digestion: the yeast activates helpful bacteria that digest hemicellulose and cellulose.

Stabilized rumen pH: yeast stimulate the growth of lactate consuming bacteria. These bacteria use up the lactic acid in the rumen which helps to stabilize the pH at 6.2 or higher.

Improved gains and feed conversion efficiency: result of improved rumen environment, nutrient availability, and improved digestion.


Mannan Oligosaccharide (MOS): glucomannan protein complex on the outermost part of the cell wall.

Binds pathogens: mannose molecules act as binding site for pathogens.


Yeast Cell Wall: gives the yeast cell shape, composed of beta-glucan, mannoprotein, and chitin.

Binding pathogens: MOS portion of the cell wall works by binding pathogens on mannose molecules.

Activation of white blood cells: provides nutrients to increase efficiency of white blood cells.

Mitigation of negative effects of stress: pathogen binding and improved gut environment make the animal less likely to be negatively affected by stress.

Improved feed intake: result of improved gut environment and mitigated stress responses.


Yeast Extract: soluble portion of yeast cell, that provides additional nutrients to the animal.

Improved nervous system function

Improved metabolism

Production of red blood cells


Each yeast component contributes to cattle health and performance in different ways. Benefits can be claimed by feeding any one component separately or in combination with each other. Be sure to read feed labels when comparing products, and consult with your nutritionist to determine which components will have the most benefit in your feeding program!

Here at MicroBasics we utilize yeast and yeast components in our products!


Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.

Farm to Table- Ray Robinson (High Desert Milk)

Farm to Table- Ray Robinson (High Desert Milk)

Recently, as input costs have skyrocketed, more and more producers are turning to marketing their own product to consumers. While marketing a consumable product is not feasible for everyone, it can be an opportunity for some.

This week we will get to hear a few words of wisdom from Ray Robinson, as he shares some of his experiences of maximizing opportunities for growth as they come, and how he and some of his neighbors came to found High Desert Milk.



I built my first dairy myself and milked about 250 cows. I had one hired milker, and I fed and did all the other work.

In 1998 we started Moo Mountain Milk and built the first barn there.  A couple years later we built a second barn and purchased the Butte Feedlot. Then a year or 2 later we bought East Ridge over towards Jackson. And then a couple years later we bought South Ridge over towards Golden Valley.  About that time, we also took over the heifer yard over near East Ridge.

Presently, we have crossbred calves in the Harris Fed Yard, dairy heifers in the Simplot Feed Yard out to Malta and we also run an Organic Dairy (Nature Ridge) out in Raft River. All together totaling about 23,000 milking cows.

Some of our cattle are milked twice a day and some of them three times a day.  We also farm a good amount of land. I oversee 10,000 acres of farm ground, and we farm considerably more. I never ever thought we would get this big.

In 2008 we started building High Desert Milk and in 2009 we started running it.  As opportunities come, we just take them on keep moving forward.



We came up with the idea just through different conversations we had with each other about what opportunities we could see were out there. Originally, there was 10 of us that sat down at the table to hash it all out. We all knew one another, but only 6 of us stayed to see it through, the other 4 got up and left that first meeting.



Getting everyone on the board to agree with how to do it and what to do, was the hardest. At first, we would meet every week, now we meet about once per month, unless there is a pressing need.

Three different individuals owned the property that High Desert Milk sits on, we bought it, and construction began.

We started out making just a non-fat 34 powder. Today we also produce butter and MPC 70. We are looking at adding on again to do some other products that would fall in the class 4 market.



It is an advantage, but also a disadvantage. We all bought quota in the plant, so we must stay within 10% of our quota, but it is nice to always have a home for our milk.

In the beginning our goal was to achieve an income equal to Class III. Sometimes we make a little extra money and sometimes we lose a little, but over the years I feel like we have averaged about that Class III price.

One thing that is nice when you are tied to a plant is that the people at the plant help you to know a little more of what the current market is doing.



Our product is marketed all around the world. To date, we have sold product in 49 different countries. Some is sold in the U.S.A., but the majority is export.

Originally, we started out just making one-pound cubes of butter, but as time went on, we started packaging our own quarter pound bars as well as picking up some contracts to manufacture for a few other brands. High Desert Milk Butter is sold locally in Ridley’s, Stoke’s, and WalMart stores in the “Idaho Products Section”

Recently our non-fat and buttermilk powder has become available on Amazon in 1-pound pouches.



When you first start, nothing will go like you think it will. It will all go backwards, but you have to prove to the public that you can make a quality product and do the things you say you will do. If you are going to do it as a group, make sure that you can all get along together.


Thank you, Ray, for sharing some of your insights regarding growth and milk marketing with us! We appreciate your knowledge and your commitment to provide quality milk products to the public.


Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.

Fresh Cow Health

Fresh Cow Health

Calving is a stressful event for both the cow and the calf. Management practices that minimize stress and support immune function are crucial during this event. The first few days postpartum are the most critical days in the life of a dairy cow. Proper nutrition and management during this time is important to maintain immunity, prevent metabolic disorders, and achieve high milk production throughout lactation.


Metabolic Disorders

A metabolic disorder is a result of a disruption in the cow’s internal biochemical processes. These disorders are often caused by an imbalance of minerals in the blood or improper rumen pH. Cows that experience a metabolic disorder are less productive and more likely to encounter a secondary disorder such as; ketosis, mastitis, retained placenta and uterine prolapse.


Rumen Acidosis

Cause: Acidosis is caused by a drop of pH in the rumen. Signs of rumen acidosis include; going off feed, slug feeding, depressed milk fat, diarrhea, laminitis, and a high incidence of displaced abomasum. Acidosis is often caused by poor bunk management or low-quality ration forage.

Low rumen pH is often common in fresh cows as their intakes increase or decrease dramatically, or as they change to a new ration higher in fermentable carbohydrate. This low rumen pH makes the fresh cow more likely to experience acidosis than cows later in lactation.

Prevention: Properly balance diets for energy, and provide smooth transitions from the close-up ration, to the fresh cow ration, and on to the high cow ration. It is also a good idea to offer rumen buffers free choice and/or in the ration.


Milk Fever

Cause: Milk Fever is a result of hypocalcemia (low blood calcium). Typically, cows will experience hypocalcemia post calving because of increased demand for calcium as the cow produces more milk. In some cases, the change is more drastic and hypocalcemia is severe enough to lead to clinical milk fever.

This sudden demand for calcium must be accommodated by absorption from the gut or resorption (mobilization) from bone. When calcium supplied from both gut absorption and bone mobilization is not adequate, then milk fever is the result.

Prevention: Consider feeding a negative DCAD diet in the close-up period, and ensure the fresh cow diet is properly balanced. It is also common to supply the cow with an oral calcium supplement at calving as a preventative measure.


Displaced Abomasum

Cause: A displaced abomasum (DA) usually occurs within the first month after calving,

and may be a primary or secondary condition. The abomasum migrates to the left or right side, and the gut may become twisted and create a partial blockage of the digestive tract. Fresh cows with low dry matter intake, or those whose ration is changed abruptly are more at risk of a DA.

Prevention: Maintain adequate daily dry matter intake, and blood acid-base balance. Watch for any symptoms of milk fever and promptly treat with intravenous calcium if needed.



Cause: Ketosis occurs when the cow experiences a negative energy balance and the body mobilizes large amounts of adipose (fat) tissue. Fat mobilization is accompanied by high blood serum concentrations of non-esterified fatty acids (NEFAs), a large portion of which are directed to ketone synthesis in the liver. Resulting in high concentrations of NEFAs and ketones, and low concentrations of glucose in the cow.

Prevention: Manage body condition in late lactation, heavy cows are more likely to experience ketosis at freshening. Encourage DMI during the close-up and fresh cow periods, and balance rations for both adequate energy and fiber to promote rumen health. Consider including supplements such as; niacin, calcium propionate, sodium propionate, propylene glycol, and rumen-protected choline, during the close-up period as they may help prevent and manage ketosis.


There are many different metabolic diseases that fresh cows are at risk for. One thing that they all have in common is that to prevent them from occurring cows need properly balanced rations and we have to keep the cow eating! If the close-up ration is adequately balanced and the fresh cow ration mirrors the high cow ration, fresh cows should experience a relatively smooth transition.

However, there are additional supplements to consider when promoting gut health to keep cows eating and also to support to the immune system through transition. Yeast, probiotics, and chelated minerals have all been shown to promote optimum rumen function and improve overall cow health. One supplement that has all the bases covered is Achieve.

Achieve contains:

  • Multiple strains of live yeast that provide a rich nutrient source for rumen microbes.
  • Viable lactobacillus probiotics aid in stabilizing rumen pH and helping to prevent acidosis.
  • Bacillus subtilis to produce large quantities of digestive enzymes and compete with pathogenic bacteria.
  • Digestive enzymes that stimulate fiber-digestion, stabilize rumen pH, and reduce heat stress.
  • Mannan-oligosaccharide prevents pathogenic colonization in the GI tract.
  • Yucca schidigera modifies ruminal fermentation by altering select microorganism ratios. Resulting in reduction of rumen ammonia and high blood urea levels. Which in turn has been show to improve milk production and conception rates in dairy cattle.
  • Immune Positioning System (IPS) a blend of biologically active polysaccharides and polypeptides. IPS nutritionally assists cows in balancing cellular function, reducing gut inflammation, and supporting the immune system.

Visit with your veterinarian and nutritionist about any management improvements, or ration adjusts that may aid in reducing metabolic disease in your transition cows.


Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.