Gene-editing: Improved animal welfare and food security?

I recently came across an article from the Progressive Dairyman magazine called Gene-editing tool could improve animal welfare and food security written by Holly Drankhan. I would strongly encourage reading it as it talks about some emerging technology that not only can make great advancements in animal welfare, but also help potentially make cattle more efficient in milk production and rebreeding.

Additionally, CRISPR technology differs from the technology used to created genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and it is important to understand the differences.

As quoted from the article:  “In the same way that spell-check identifies and corrects single-letter errors in a word or grammar errors in a sentence, gene editing can be used to identify and change the letters that make up the genetic code within an individual,” wrote Alison Van Eenennaam, an animal genomics and biotechnology cooperative extension specialist for the University of California – Davis Department of Animal Science, in an eXtension article published in 2015.

One of the major benefits of this CRISPR technology is creating cattle without horns (polled) which greatly increases safety for other animals and people. Check out the video here:

Where else could CRISPR technology be used?

**Note: no compensation was received for this post. I just believe the information was worth sharing.


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Dairy Adventure: Fair Oaks Farms (photo journal)

I recently had the opportunity to visit Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana. Fair Oaks Farm specializes in transparency and is an agrotourism venue highlighting dairy cows and swine. As a guest to Fair Oaks Farms you can choose to do just one adventure or both – this was the option I chose.

Below is a photo diary of my dairy adventure. ** Please note: I am not paid to endorse or promote Fair Oaks Farms, this is just my opinion and experience.

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The entry way into Fair Oaks.
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On the day of my visit there were also several schools visiting. I was a little apprehensive at how busy/noisy it would be. To my relief lines moved quickly and there was plenty of room for all of us.

As soon as I got to Fair Oaks I purchased my tickets for both the dairy and swine adventures. I had a little time to kill before my bus was to depart to go to the dairy facility, which for biosecurity reasons is separate from the main Fair Oaks facility. I spent some time looking around some of the educational displays while I waited…

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There were several cows that had fun facts. It asked the question, when you lifted up the flap it gave you the answer. Great for kids to check out while they waited.
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There were several displays set-up that discussed what the cows ate and how much they eat.
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There was also an interesting video talking about the four compartments of the stomach! The video followed a couple of people through the various parts of the stomach (shown) as well into the mammary glands, talking about the function and sharing some fun facts.

It was time to load the bus and head to the dairy facility…

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We did a drive by viewing of the calves in hutches and the cows in the free-stall barns (hence the blurriness).
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The tour then went into the milking parlor. This is the first time I have ever seen a carousel milker. We were standing at 6 o’clock, the cows enter at 11 o’clock. By the time it makes one rotation the cows have been milked and will exit. The cows put themselves on it and backed themselves off of it, it was very cool. Notice the cow art on the wall? 🙂
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I was surprised at how calm and relaxed the cows were, some were even chewing their cud.
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The pipes carrying the milk ran by our observation room, one pipe was warm (coming from the cows) and the other was cool (getting ready to be put in the tank). All of the milking equipment, pipes, tanks, etc. are cleaned every 24 hours.

When I bought my dairy adventure ticket they told me to keep an eye on the stoplight outside of the dairy barn. If the light was red nothing was happening, if it was yellow feet were out, if it was green there was a delivery in process…

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The light was green… A calf is being born in the barn!
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A cow had just had a calf, another was in the process of calving. While I have seen hundreds of animals born in my life, it is still awesome to watch the miracle of life. An employee was close at hand to make sure the delivery went well and to assist the calf if needed. All mothers and their babies were doing well.
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The calf nursery.

It was time to grab some lunch after the dairy adventure. So I headed to the COWfe!

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I had a grilled cheese and ham sandwich (it was awesome!) and a scoop of strawberry ice cream. Both were amazing.
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Some things I also saw on my dairy adventure were a milk carton climbing wall, which not open on that particular day. A bouncy pod behind the dairy building, the kids who were bouncing were loving it. There was also a Fair Oaks Farms gas station next to the facility.

My dairy adventure at Fair Oaks Farms was great. Even though I was traveling alone on this day there was so much to do and see it kept me fully entertained. I would definitely recommend this stop to anyone – whether you have an ag background (like me) or if you have never been to a dairy before. Stay tuned, I will soon blog about my swine adventure.

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Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

Farm Tours: Another perspective

I can’t believe it is already the middle of August! Where has the summer gone?! I feel like mine was spent dragging a suitcase through an airport, where I got more sleep on an airplane than I did in my own bed. The good news, I have a ton of posts in my head, I just need to get them down here!

One of my job responsibilities is to provide the Saunders County Livestock Association members with an annual agricultural tour. This was their 56th annual! Pretty amazing that there is that much history and tradition within this county based association. It is also tradition for the Extension Educator who does the tour to take them to their “home” area, for me that is Western Nevada and Northern California.

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The annual cap is nearly as important as the annual tour! And the red was a great color choice to find persons in our group when we were in busy public spaces.

I had 43 men sign up for the tour (the women stay home and supposedly have their own vacations while the men are away); good thing I am tough and can handle that much testosterone! Since we were flying, I had planned a six day, five night adventure out into the Wild West. We traveled via planes, boats, and buses 🙂 Below are photos from our recent trip. This was only my second tour to plan, but oh what a learning experience these have been!

You would think that since these guys see and deal with agriculture everyday, they would not want to see more of it when on vacation. But that is further from the truth – they love to see what other farmers and ranchers are doing across the county. I hope you enjoy this recap as much as the guys and I enjoyed participating in the 56th annual trip!

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We flew from Omaha, NE into Reno, NV. In route we saw Lake Mead near Las Vegas. And we saw a great bear mount in Reno.
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Day 1 included a trip to Seven Troughs Whiskey Distillery where we had a great catered lunch consisting of brisket and tri-tip (a west coast meat treat). We also got to see the open air fermentation process they use for their spirits. We toured a beautiful ranch where we saw some great Hereford bulls. And finally, we ended the day with a relaxing dinner cruise on Lake Tahoe. As an extra bonus, two representatives with the Nevada Department of Agriculture joined us. It was a great addition as the tour participants could ask them about all things concerning Nevada agriculture.
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Day 2 included a trip to Jacobs Family Berry Farm where they are growing 27 different varieties of berries to determine which ones grow best in Western Nevada. We also went to Bently Ranch were they are growing their own crops for a whiskey distillery they are building. Additionally, they raise a lot of cattle and have a large human waste composting program. This stop was fun, because the Nebraska corn farmers were thrilled to see and talk corn with the Nevada cowboys. We had the chance to tour the “behind the scenes” of Topaz Lodge Casino (no photos due to sensitivity of the tour). Our last stop was a garlic farm which was in the middle of harvest. It smelled great, and accompanied dinner nicely…
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My parents hosted the group for a Lamb BBQ Dinner. Some in the group were not terribly thrilled about this, as they had experienced mutton before (which is old sheep, and very different than lamb). David, the garlic tour host gave our group an entire burlap bag of garlic, so we cleaned some of it up and threw it on the grill too. I think by time the night was over the group had developed an appreciation for lamb and roasted garlic!
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Day 3 meant heading over the Sierra Nevada Mountain range – which was hard on a few of the guys. Personally, I enjoyed being back in the mountains and enjoyed the scenic beauty. On this day the Sacramento County Farm Bureau hosted us and provided a turkey farm stop, a cutting edge dairy that has an automated calf feeding machine (which provided milk, hay, and grain every couple of hours) and a huge methane digester that we could walk on! We also went to a sturgeon caviar farm and saw the fish in various life stages. The fish also enjoyed our visit and splashed us as they showed off. We topped off the night with barrel smoked steaks at Giusti’s (locally recommended and enjoyed too). On this day my Mom also hopped on the bus with us!
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Day 4 was spent in the Delta, just south of Sacramento, CA. It was a great day to see the diversity of crops grown. It was also pear harvesting season, so we enjoyed fresh pears and pear ice cream! Our Delta tour guide also made the day extra special by finding some fellow Nebraskans (i.e. Huskers) living in the area that hosted us for lunch. Come to find out one of the hosts and one of the tour participants were kin! We finished out the day at an olive tree and oil processing farm, where my tour participants were thrilled to talk wheat farming on California hills with the family! This was an eye opening day to the diversity of agriculture in the area. We also saw first hand and heard about the effects of the drought as well as the fight for water for agriculture. It will be a tough battle for California agriculture, one that we are now more sympathetic too.
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The interesting thing about planning a tour like this is how it changes over the months (I start planning in January, and we leave in August). My original day 5 was much different than the day 5 we got, but it was an excellent day. Day 5 was a day to do and/or see the things in San Fransisco that interested you most. For some that included trolleys over the infamous hills of San Fransisco, the seals, mass at a Catholic church, and more. For me it was taking in a variety of things (and time with my Mom). I was not able to get our group tickets to tour Alcatraz (as I should have booked those in January!), so we did the next best thing – a boat ride around Alcatraz and Angel Islands and under the Golden Gate Bridge. Next a group of us took a tour up to Muir Redwoods. While it was busy, it was beautiful and peaceful. We couldn’t have asked for better weather or scenery that day.
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Day 6 was just a travel delay. We left San Fransisco and headed back to Omaha. The entire experience was great, there was only one bag that got lost coming back to Nebraska. Not too bad for 44 people traveling for six days!!

This tour was especially important to me, as I took everyone “home” to see the area I was born and raised in. It was very interesting to see things through 43 other sets of eyes. These tours are a lot of work, but they are also a lot of reward to see them come together.

I have heard many of the Livestock Association members reference how great the trips were when the other Educators prior to me took the group “home” – so I had big shoes to fill! I think all of the guys really enjoyed it, and it will be one they talk about for years to come. P.S. – my Mom was already invited to hop on the bus again next year!

If you would like more information about any of our tour stops, tips for planning a large tour, or are interested in participating on a farm/ranch tour – please let me know.

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You can also find me on:

– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
– Twitter (agwithdrlindsay)
– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

Heat stress…How cattle are made more comfortable

The heat and humidity of summer are arriving in many parts of Nebraska, as well as the rest of the country. Today I will share with you some of things beef farmers and ranchers do to help make their cattle as comfortable as possible during these weather events.

Heat stress is hard on cattle and other livestock (and people!), especially when combined with high humidity and low wind speeds. Heat stress can reduce an animal’s feed intake, weight gain, reproductive efficiency, and milk production, while increasing their susceptibility to diseases (due to increased stress on their overall body system).

Signs of heat stress can include animals bunching, seeking shade, panting, slobbering or excessive salivation, foaming around the mouth, open mouth breathing, and/or lack of coordination and trembling.

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Cattle heavily panting and salivating during a heat event. Photo source: Dr. Terry Mader.

If beef farmers and ranchers see such symptoms they will assume the animal is suffering from too much heat and immediately try to minimize the stress to the animal, especially by reducing handling or movement of the animal. Additionally, the previous health of individual animals is an important risk factor, as animals with past health problems will be more affected by heat stress than animals with no prior health problems. These animals will generally be the first to exhibit signs of heat stress and be the most severely affected.

The heat index commonly reported by media outlets is a good place to start in understanding animal heat stress.

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Beef farmers and ranchers can use a tool like this to look at temperature and humidity levels to find the heat index – letting them determine a course of action.

If the heat index is above 100 degrees, animals can tolerate it if shade is available and/or wind speed is at least 10 miles per hour. Shade can be provided by trees, buildings or other sunshades. If providing shade is not an option, you may see beef farmers or ranchers move cattle to outside or parameter pens where the airflow is the greatest or to a higher spot where there may be more airflow. If animals are inside a building that is not climate controlled, it is important that airflow through the building is created (opening windows, having fans, open sides,etc). In addition, the temperature can be lowered by spraying cool water on the roof and walls of buildings where the animals are being housed.

If the index gets above 110 degrees, animals will be stressed regardless of wind speed. If possible, market ready animals should have access to shade and airflow. ALL animals should have plenty of access to cool, clean water. Sometimes you may see beef animals standing in water in an attempt to cool down. This can help them stay comfortable, but it can also be risky if they get down in the water and cannot get up. If a heat index above 110 is predicted, livestock that need to be moved or transported should be out of the facilities by early morning but certainly by noon, if possible.

If the heat index is above 115 degrees, market ready animals should not be moved or handled at all!

If the heat index is above 120 degrees, no activity should occur for animals or humans!

During the heat of summer, beef farmers and ranchers may provide: shade (not always an option), ventilation and air flow, plenty of clean and cool water, skin wetting (if possible) with sprinklers and hoses, and cool water drench (if the animal becomes very distressed – a veterinarian may have to assist with this procedure). If used, sunshades would be high enough off the ground (10 feet or more) to allow for adequate air movement.

If animals are wetted down, the droplet size needs to be large enough to wet their skin, not just the hair. A small droplet size will usually just wet the hair creating more humidity for the animal, thus not helping at all.

During these high heat, high humidity events the best time of day to work beef animals is in the very early morning hours when it is still relatively cool. Beef animals will be hot during the day, and will need several hours in the cooler evening temperatures to get their body temperature to a level that is not distressful.

Beef farmers and ranchers do their best to make sure their animals are as comfortable as possible during these high heat, high humidity weather conditions. The best scenario is a nice breeze and cool evenings!

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Cattle seeking shade under trees.

For more information on heat stress check out Feedlot Heat Stress Information and Management Guide, Heat Stress – What You Should Know to Make Livestock Shows a Success, or How to Reduce Heat Stress in Dairy Cattle.

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Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
– Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
– Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

Dairy product consumption…Fun Fact Friday

Did you know the average person consumes 612 pounds of dairy products a year?! The USDA indicates that we consume the most fluid milk/cream and cheese! Dairy products are high in calcium, potassium, and vitamin D. Something I thought was interesting, the consumption for butter and reduced fat ice cream has increased, while fluid milk consumption has decreased.

Just for fun we pulled all the dairy products out of our fridge for a photo – how many products are in your fridge?

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What is your favorite way to consume dairy products?