Making the most of MUN data

Jason Wolfe came to Dairy One in 2015. He grew up on a farm and has a passion for agriculture. Paired with a love of data and technology, this makes him a great fit for his role as the director of field staff training and lead field staff support. Jason prepares new Dairy One DHI technicians for the field. He also guides others who play a role in training our field staff to best serve their farms. Additionally, Jason is responsible for organizing continuing education and training for all DHI field staff throughout the year.

Jason Wolfe

By making sure DHI field staff are properly trained with the tools they need to do their jobs, Jason ensures farms get the most out of their test day data. “I try to keep everyone’s training consistent with an emphasis on the importance of accuracy, efficiency, and building relationships with our farms,” Jason explains. “Whether it’s a 50 cow farm in Maine, or a 1,500 cow farm in Pennsylvania, everyone is trained to use the same method of sample taking. This helps to deliver consistent and accurate results.”

As part of this training, Jason also keeps DHI field staff up to date on the latest technology, software updates, equipment changes, and analyses. “We want everyone to have the tools to provide farms with the best possible service,” says Jason. When Dairy One introduces a new product or service, Jason is the one to help field staff understand the value it brings to farms.

MUN Refresh

Jason’s focus recently has been on the updates to Dairy One’s MUN (milk urea nitrogen) program. MUN plays a valuable role in measuring how effectively the cow is using the protein in her diet. The ideal range for MUN is 8-14 mg/dl. MUN below that range suggests a diet lacking in protein and energy. This could indicate a production opportunity. MUN above that range suggests there’s more protein in the diet than the cow needs.

With current feed costs, knowing if you are under or over-feeding protein is especially valuable. Certainly an important feed management tool, MUN can also be a helpful metric when managing production and reproduction.

As of June 1, 2021, every farm on DHI test with Dairy One is enrolled in the MUN Alert program. For no additional cost, the farm will be directly emailed a Feed Management Diagnostic report when one of two things occurs:

  • More than 50% of a group, pen, or lactation state is outside the desirable MUN range of 8-14
  • A specific segment of the herd has an average MUN outside of the desirable MUN range of 8-14

For just $0.08 per sample, the farm can choose to sign up for the Standard MUN program and receive:

  • Individual cow MUN results for each test
  • Feed Management Diagnostic report for each test
  • Individual cow MUN results downloaded to DairyComp or PCDART

Jason has spent the last few months assisting with the refresh of this program. He has also worked to prepare DHI field staff to talk to farms about the value of the information they get when enrolled in the Standard MUN program. “I’ve always felt that $0.15 per sample (the previous cost) was a steal. Now that we’ve nearly halved the cost of that information, farms are really missing out on a great opportunity for better management if they aren’t enrolled,” says Jason.

Putting MUN to Work

Information is critical for making good decisions. With the change in how we deliver MUN results, Jason sees real opportunity for our farms. “My grandfather started getting MUN data on his herd when the analysis first came out around 1995. Growing up on a dairy, my dad milked about 50 cows and always paid for MUN. Now my uncle has expanded the herd to 400 cows. He doesn’t even blink an eye at the extra few cents per sample for that data,” says Jason. “It’s always paid dividends for our family when it came to better managing the cows. It was always been more than worth it.”

Many farms are familiar with looking at bulk tank MUN. While not an invaluable metric, it’s not nearly as insightful as looking at MUN by group or individual cows. “A herd might have an average MUN of 12, which is right in that range we like to see,” says Jason. “However, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s not an opportunity to be had. That 12 is just an average and could mean that half of the herd has a MUN of 8, while the other half has a MUN of 16. Every individual cow could be out of range, but the average wouldn’t indicate any issues.”

Looking at MUN on a group or pen basis is especially important if different diets are being fed to different groups. The MUN alert program sends every farm a Feed Management Diagnostic report when more than 50% of a group or segment is outside the 8-14 range. The report breaks down MUN by groups, stage of lactation, and pens.

However, if only 48% of that segment is out of range, the alert isn’t triggered. “There’s an opportunity there that the farm can’t take advantage of unless they’re paying the $0.08 per sample to get the report,” says Jason. “That’s the real value of the Standard MUN program.”

MUN data is always valuable, but especially when any part of the herd is experiencing changes in the diet. “We typically see a lot of herds outside the desired MUN range in the spring when grazing herds get back out on the grass. We also see a lot in the fall when the last year’s silage runs out and farms start feeding unfermented silage,” says Jason.

With the current price of feed, Jason says that there have been a few uncharacteristically low MUN values come through as farms try to cut back on protein in the diet. “The Feed Management Diagnostic report is a really great tool for farms to share with their nutritionist when they’re managing any sort of feed change while maintaining production.”

A Vial to Feed the World

For Jason, MUN analysis is just one example of the ways the agriculture industry continues to improve. “That little milk vial is a vial of information,” he says. “It’s amazing how much we can learn from a milk sample. A person looking at the sample from outside of agriculture might say ‘that’s just milk’. But we know how much information is there and how valuable the results of that sample can be.”

That’s what makes Jason excited about the future of agriculture. “For 2% of the population to feed the other 98% is pretty cool,” he says. “Farmers continue to be able to feed more and more people every year. We continue to find ways to grow food in the most innovative and efficient ways. I’m just excited to be a part of that. Finding the next great thing to feed the world. How can you not believe in something that feeds the world?”

To sign up for the Standard MUN program and receive the Feed Management Diagnostic report every test day, contact your Dairy One DHI technician or email [email protected]. For more information on MUN, check out Why you should be looking at individual MUN.

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