The Moos Room™

Isaac Haagen recently joined the University of Minnesota Dairy Team and we are excited to have him on board. We get to know Isaac a little more in this episode and what his research and extension programs will focus on. We are excited to have him back again in the near future! 

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What is The Moos Room™?

Hosted by members of the University of Minnesota Extension Beef and Dairy Teams, The Moos Room discusses relevant topics to help beef and dairy producers be more successful. The information is evidence-based and presented as an informal conversation between the hosts and guests.

[cow mooing]
Dr. Joe: Welcome to The Moos Room everybody. Dr. Joe Armstrong here with Dr. Bradley J. Heins, PhD tenured professor, and we have a guest today. There is no Emily. She's on the road traveling yet again, which is nothing new. We do have Isaac Hagen here with us today, and he has just recently joined the crew on the dairy side of things at the University of Minnesota. We're really excited to have him here. Brad's a little biased because he was on the search committee and got to decide who came, but we're really excited that he's here. We're hoping to get to know him a little better today. How are you doing today, Isaac?
Isaac: I'm all right. I'm here.
Dr. Joe: You're here. How's everything at the university going so far? Are you getting the hang of things?
Isaac: It's a little bit less steer in the headlights than it was a month ago. That's an improvement, at least.
Dr. Joe: Yes, it's always a challenge to get rolling and figure out not just what you're going to do when it comes to research and extension and everything else, but also how everything works. It's a little shocking how big the system is and how much bureaucracy and paperwork there can be. Once you get over that, it does go smooth eventually, I promise.
Dr. Bradley: Yes, especially for Isaac, new assistant professor, just a month on the job, and he's got to start from scratch and make his own research program and extension program. It's a daunting task.
Dr. Joe: Hopefully, you love writing grants, right, Isaac? You just love writing grants, left and right.
Isaac: I will learn to love it at the very least.
Dr. Joe: Absolutely.
Isaac: Convince myself I love it.
Dr. Joe: For sure. Before we get to the super secret questions, Isaac, could you just give us 30 seconds to a minute, the background, where you're from, where you went to school, your interests in general, and then we'll get to our super secret questions.
Isaac: Yes, sure. I grew up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania that had registered Holsteins. Just spent a lot of time doing youth activities in 4-H and through the Junior Holstein Association growing up, and with that, just really couldn't imagine not being in the dairy industry. I did my bachelor's and my PhD at Penn State. My grad work was mainly focused on dairy cattle breeding and genetics.
I was primarily interested in calves and heifers and thinking about how we can breed animals that are healthier during that stage of life, and make them more productive once they get into the milking herd. For the last year, I was actually in Fort Collins doing a postdoc. I switched gears 180 for that, and I was actually working with shrimp for that year. Finally came back to the right side, and now I'm working with dairy cattle again.
Dr. Joe: Shrimp, I totally could see how it relates. It's still production, and there's still a herd health, herd, I don't know what you call a group of shrimp.
Isaac: There's definitely a lot to be said about health and maintenance of that in shrimp and aquaculture in general. It was a really interesting switching into that world and seeing how far we are in the dairy side of things comparatively to some other industries.
Dr. Joe: Traditionally, we always think of the cattle side of things, dairy or beef, as being behind. We're always thinking, we're trying to catch up to pork and poultry when it comes to technology and everything they've got going on, vertical integration, all of that. It's nice to hear that maybe we're ahead of some industries as well, in some ways at least.
Isaac: Yes, absolutely.
Dr. Joe: All right, so before we go on, we have to cover our two super-secret questions, and we'll start on the beef side. What is your favorite breed of beef cattle?
Isaac: Well, I think my answer is going to be Charolais. I have to preface this by saying that I'm choosing my favorite breed of beef cattle based off of what the cross with the Holstein I think is the cutest. I had another grad student in my lab while I was at Penn State that was doing some beef on dairy crosses and I got to go out into the field with her a few times. I think the Charolais and Holstein crosses, they're just cute, furry, gray things so that would be my pick.
Dr. Joe: Can't fault you there and your reasoning it's pretty solid, to be honest, but still disappointing overall but I can't fault you. All right. On the beef side, here's the tally rundown. We haven't done this for a while. Black Angus at 15, Hereford at 10, Black Baldy at 4, Scottish Highlander at 4, Red Angus at 3, Belted Galloway at 2, Shorthorn at 2, and now Charolais at 2. Then all with one, Stabilizer, Gelbvieh, Brahman, Chianina, Simmental, Elora, Jersey, Normande, Belgian Blue, Brangus, Piedmontese, and White Park. All right, you probably know what's coming next. What is your favorite breed of dairy cow?
Isaac: I should preface this by saying that neither of you will probably be happy with what I'm about to say, but I'm going to go with Holstein. I grew up on a registered Holstein farm, participated in a lot of youth activities with Holstein. I have a lot of appreciation for the breed. That being said, I do appreciate Jerseys, but my background is Holstein.
Dr. Joe: Not enough, though. All right. Fine. [crosstalk]
Dr. Bradley: We will accept it today, just because I'm feeling nice.
Dr. Joe: We will work to change your mind and hopefully this vote can come back and be changed one day. All right, running down the dairy side, we got Holstein now at 22, Jersey at 14, Brown Swiss at 8, Montbeliarde at 3, Dutch Belted at 3, Normande at 2, Guernsey named 2 with a special shout out to Taffy, Milking Shorthorn at 1, and Ayrshire at 1. Disappointing overall, but we will figure it out later.
Isaac: Great first impression with my breeds of choice.
Dr. Joe: [laughs] It's okay. You're not alone, clearly, especially on the Holstein side. There's 21 other people that have picked that so far against Brad and I wishes but that's okay. Perfect. We got your background a little bit. The dairy side of things is where you want to live. Calves, I don't think there's a more important topic, especially in the dairy side of things, the beef side of things as well. We struggle a lot keeping calves alive in general on the beef side of things, and a lot of dairies struggle with that too. When you're looking at calf health, what are you looking to further in the industry? There's a lot of things we have figured out, and there's a bunch of things we don't. What in your mind is going to be your focus moving forward when you're looking at calves?
Isaac: I think there's a couple avenues that I'm interested in. I will say that I'm an animal breeder by training. I have an interest in calf health from how can we improve the genetics of an animal to make permanent improvements in calf health. I think there's a lot of opportunity in regards to that. We don't really have a lot of traits for producers to genetically select for in regards to calf health. Then I think that there's a lot to be done in terms of efficiency. When we start talking about sustainability in the dairy systems now, I think we have a lot of room to grow in terms of that on the diary side for efficiency of growth. We talk a lot about average daily gain, but we don't really talk a lot about how efficiently is that animal turning their feed into growth. We just talk how efficiently are they growing.
Dr. Joe: On the beef side of things we measure that with a conversion. Feed to gain. Is that what you�re looking at on the calf side of things on the dairy side because when we're on milk-- I guess my real question is, how are you going to measure it?
Isaac: That's one of the challenges if we get into the production side of things, is that we don't necessarily measure those on individual calves in the production side. We can do that a little bit on the research side. Thinking about feed to gain is one way to think about it. We can also think about it if we're thinking about genetic selection. We can think about it in terms of residual feed intake, which is just, did that animal eat more or less than we predicted it to eat? Those that ate less than we predicted are more efficient, and those that ate more are less efficient.
Dr. Joe: Do you think that we're going to get to a point, like when we look at beef or we look at dairy and we're looking at PTAs or EPDs, are we going to get to a point where we have those numbers for calf growth, just like we do for-- We have some of that starting but we don't have true PTAs or EPDs for calves when we're talking about their efficiency while they're either still on mom on the B side or on milk on the dairy side?
Isaac: I think we're definitely going to get there. I think that we almost have to get there when we start thinking about farm economics and we start realizing how tight things are and how much more we're trying to improve efficiencies to improve profitability. I think it's important from that perspective. It's also really important when we do think about sustainability and our message to consumers in terms of we're taking steps along that entire animal's life to make sure that this animal is using resources efficiently. We can get there. I'm interested in doing that. We've really only started doing that on the cattle side within the last couple of years. I think we're just really moving very quickly when we start thinking about efficiency and sustainability.
Bradley: We always tend to focus on cows because we see those tangible things. We see milk production right away out of those cows and we can measure that and the heifers and calves always seem to be the second thought, or we forget about them a lot. However, they're pretty expensive to raise. We have been having lots of thoughts about that, recently about economics of heifer growing and when a heifer actually is profitable. How many lactations or how many days does it take to work off that $2,000 that it cost to raise her? I think you're in the right ballpark, Isaac. We're trying to figure out this heifer feed, whether it's heifer efficiency, calf efficiency, how do we make those more animals more profitable?
Isaac: We're really just getting started into this question, too. This idea of how do we measure it? I don't even know if we really have a good handle on that yet in calves. The types of data that how we can record that data is even not necessarily well-established in calves. We can keep a traditional setting where it's a bottle or a pail with milk and then also another pail with grain. Well, maybe there are more efficient ways to collect that data with automated systems now and things like that. There's just a lot of questions that we don't have the answers to.
Bradley: Yes, I agree. Trying to measure intake on calves, whether it be grain or milk is challenging. It's even challenging in a research center to do that, to get it accurately. Well, I like your thought, maybe there's some sensors we can use to measure it.
Interviewer: Bradley is all about the sensors. One of the things I saw in your research a lot, Isaac, was the term telomere and telomere length with cattle and associated with production and health, morbidity, all these other things. It's somewhat of a complicated topic. Can we get the shortened version on what you're looking at there?
Isaac: Yes. Essentially, all mammals have telomeres. It's a repetitive sequence that's located on the end of chromosomes. The short answer is that it protects your chromosomes from essentially degrading and dying or cells from dying. They shorten more quickly due to stress and they shorten across time due to age. It's one of these things that some researchers are a little bit excited about in terms of measuring as an overall biomarker of health and well-being and measuring stress across an animal's lifespan. There's research in humans and mice that as stress increases telomeres shorten more quickly and it might be related to health and longevity on an applied scale. That is something that I've been interested in on the cattle side as well. I got interested in that through my advisor at Penn State, Chad Dechow.
Interviewer: I love things in genetics that are something you can measure, which is cool, right? It doesn't happen super often and even when we talk of PTAs, EPDs, they're made-up numbers, to be honest, and then they're relative to each other. We just picked a point to start. With telomeres, it's fun because it's like this is how long it is. It's just measurable and defined, which is really cool, which sometimes doesn't happen with genetics where there's so many variables involved, it's hard to identify those things that you can measure.
Isaac: My excitement with it is just it's really hard to find an objective biomarker of health or well-being of an animal outside of, this animal was diseased or not. I think that there's some potential that it could actually give us a more objective measure of overall well-being.
Interviewer: I'll ask you this, especially with Brad in the room don't feel pressured to answer a certain way. When we talk genetics, the first thing I think a lot of people think of is crossbreeding. Knowing your background from a registered Holstein farm, what's your thoughts on crossbreeding in this place in the industry?
Bradley: You've got tough questions today. You're putting him on the spot. It's like you want to know.
Isaac: Yes. I do come from a registered background, grew up with registered Holsteins, short registered Holsteins, did some crossbreeding research actually in my grad school, and got on to farms that had purebred Holsteins, had some pro crosses, had multiple different breeds. I think one of the things that I gained from all of this is that purebreds work, crossbreds work, it really depends on what you want and how you want to manage your cattle. We can think about things that a producer want to really maximize income that's being generated, maybe some of these crosses aren't going to work for you, or the breeds that you would utilize in a cross aren't going to work for you.
You take Brad's system for instance, which is really low input, maybe they're going to work great if you choose the right breeds. I think that's the other thing that we really have to talk about when we talk about crossbreeding, it's making sure that if you are going to do it, you choose the breeds that make sense for your operation. I think that they can work in tandem together too. Once again I grew up on a registered farm and my parents still have registered Holsteins, they also have some crosses and they work well together. I think that we don't necessarily have to choose one or the other.
Interviewer: I like that. That's perfect. All right. One of the things we've been doing, Isaac, is letting guests just grill us. Turn it back around. Maybe you had a chance to do this when Brad was running interviews and things like that, but if you have questions for us, you want to put us on the spot since I've put you on the spot a little bit today, what questions do you have for us? Brad's always grilling me and trying to put me on the spot with veterinary-related stuff. I didn't know if you would have the same thing going on or not.
Isaac: This is just a question and this might be a better question for next time, too. This is also just a general question. One of the things that I got interested in during grad school was serum total protein that producers are actually measuring. We had a couple of farms that were actually inputting that data into Dairy Com, which, by the way, is super useful and super beneficial if you're actually recording that data in a centralized location, but I think one of these discussions that at least comes up in the research world is that is there ever a point where there's too much of a good thing and is there a way that we can actually determine if there's too much of a good thing? If we think of immunoglobulin absorption of the calf, calves that just have extremely high, can we ever push it too far is my question? That's an abstract question I know.
Interviewer: Yes. I've seen some of the numbers. I've seen some of the crazy high numbers. I think that at some point-- and I don't know where the cutoff is because it's so different for each calf, but at some point, depending on when you're measuring and how high that number gets, I'm convinced those calves are dehydrated. They're not actually that high and those numbers they're false, they're false reading because of how high they are.
I don't think we can get too much colostrum in these calves. I really don't think that's possible because at some point you just shut down the absorption and that colostrum is still beneficial because it binds pathogens in the gut, right? For me, whenever I see a high number, I'm worried about other management issues that probably involve whether or not water is available and how much they're feeding because I think it's a dehydration issue more than it is having too much IgG around. Does that make sense?
I think that's where I would look first, is the environment, the management, lack of water, not feeding enough milk would for me, create that high number and there's not really too much of a good thing in this case because the biology, the physiology of the calf will stop absorption at 24 hours or a little bit after. To me, I don't think you can overdo colostrum unless you're talking economics.
Isaac: Yes. My question stems from the fact of I got interested in this somewhat from a genetic selection standpoint and whether or not we can select calves that actually are better able to absorb the immunoglobulins in colostrum. My question partially stems from, could we potentially select calves who maybe absorption continues beyond 24 hours, or where all of a sudden we're selecting calves that maybe go a little bit beyond the normal physiology.
Joe: I still don't think that would be a bad thing. I think it would change the game a little bit when it comes to vaccine schedules and when passive immunity starts to wane, or maternal immunity starts to wane within the calf. You might even be able to push things a little later than we do right now. At some point, I think we can push the genetics really, really far, but it's going to limit itself in some way from either physiology or just the biology of these animals. A surface area in the gut is a limiting factor. At some point, you just can't absorb more. I think there's things that'll limit it in some way.
Bradley: Oh man, we could debate about colostrum all day. Maybe we have that one episode because I've been on a colostrum kick lately with some of the data that I have that shows, I'm not sure that force-feeding colostrum to calves we need it. The mom provides enough colostrum for the cow and maybe we let the calf suck off the cow and get an adequate colostrum and IgG levels and then they're getting colostrum, [unintelligible 00:21:10] that transition colostrum, all of that. I don't know.
I've been thinking a lot about colostrum lately with some of the calf data that I have here at Morris. There are some calves that probably need some extra colostrum, even if they're drinking off mom, they just don't have adequate IgGs. I think that goes back to Isaac's thought of maybe we need to find calves or select for calves that can absorb longer, or who knows what. There's calves, and no matter if you force colostrum in them or let them get it from mom, there are some that are still low.
On average, I think a calf will and a cow do what nature says it's supposed to do, but I know that's not the popular opinion right now. Some people look at me crazy when I say that, but I don't care. I'm crazy anyways. [laughs] I challenge thoughts a little bit and what we're doing. I've been to some farms, it's like, "Bam, the calf drops." Immediately we got to run over there and grab that calf away from mom and then you give it other colostrum. I just don't know.
Isaac: Even the farms that we were working with, and Brad was on this. I should mention Brad was a co-author on a lot of these papers so Brad does know some of the data I'm talking about. They were doing pooled colostrum. Like a lot of farms, they had minimum cutoffs of colostrum quality going into calves, but there was still a lot of variation in how much those calves were absorbing. There really wasn't a maternal effect either because of the pooled colostrum. Which was another really interesting thing to me from that.
Joe: Well, maybe we do need to have a debate about colostrum. Bradley, I did get that question at a meeting I was just at about whether or not we should allow calves just get their own from mom. We talked a long time about that. Biosecurity being a big issue with [unintelligible 00:23:21] and things that transfer in colostrum, but also it's a different kind of management, depending on your housing situation for calving.
Now if you've got calves in that pen for a longer period of time, do you have them stealing colostrum from other cows? Do you have these other things going on that you have to watch for? Which is something actually we learned a ton about in confinement, cow-calf beef operations. Where we had some failure passive transfer issues, and it's because you've got not only calves stealing from other cows but young heifers, if they're in the same group, stealing colostrum from other cows and trying to find all that stuff.
That's something that we've dealt with on the beef side. There's a lot of management issues there. [laughs] I guess we don't really have time to get into it today. Isaac, any other things you wanted to bring up that you want people to know about you before we have you on again to have all these great debates?
Isaac: I guess I would say that I've only been here for a month but I am enjoying it a lot so far. Started getting out onto some farms and trying to meet some producers. I will say my primary appointment is extension so I'm just really looking forward to meeting more producers, particularly in Minnesota and across the upper Midwest. If anybody listening to this runs into me or sees me out and about, make sure you say hello. Looking forward to creating those long-term relationships with the producers.
Joe: We could talk a lot more and have a lot more debates. Brad tried to bring up vaccines in calves earlier. We don't have time to reopen that can. With that, we're going to wrap it up. Thank you Isaac for being here today. We really appreciate it. We'll have you back. We can all argue some more and then we'll add Emily to the mix to spice things up as well.
If you have comments, questions, scathing rebuttals about this episode, please send those to That's Find us on Twitter @UMNmoosroom and @UMNFarmSafety. Find Bradley on Instagram @umnwcrocdairy. Check us out on the web, That is plenty of plugs. Thank you again, Isaac. We'll catch everybody next week. Bye.
Bradley: Bye.
[cow mooing]
[00:25:51] [END OF AUDIO]