UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the U.S. dairy industry. At $27 billion annually, its impact on the American economy and diet is immense, and at its core, the sector is completely dependent on the health and productivity of cows.
Americans drink more than 6 billion gallons of milk per year, and another 10 billion gallons are used to produce cheese, not to mention the milk that goes into products such as ice cream and yogurt. Yet, it's safe to say, most consumers take the well-being of dairy cows for granted. But the country's 65,000 dairy farmers don't — they can't afford to.
One of dairy farmers' biggest concerns is the vulnerable and important period for the dairy cow that extends three weeks before and three weeks after calving. Her metabolic needs increase dramatically, and how she copes with this high-energy transition period influences how well she performs during the rest of the lactation.
During this "transition cow" period, diseases can result in milk yield decreases of 5 to 10 pounds per day at peak lactation, a considerable economic loss for the producer. And research has shown that there is a domino effect: when a cow suffers from one transition disease, she is more likely to develop another, such as mastitis, ketosis or postpartum metritis.
Field surveys done by Penn State Extension show that more than 50 percent of cows will experience one or more metabolic or infectious disease following calving.