Gina Pighetti's Blog Site
August 17
Dairy farming - an amazing way of life...

I had the opportunity to go home for a long weekend in PA last weekend. Although we don't have dairy cows anymore, I can't help remembering the hard work, family, and funPap neff milk barn 1961.jpg we had. Producing milk to feed others was simply aside benefit that I really did not appreciate when I was younger. I also didn't realize all the skills I learned growing up that helped me in every day life: hard work, critical thinking and ingenuity, teamwork, and last but not least having fun. 

Hard work - caring for a large number of animals requires a lot of hard work -- I often joke, that this is the real reason my parents had five children - more to share the work load!  Not only do you feed the animals, but you grow most of that feed as well.  Monitor their health and treat them when required.  "Cleaning" their living areas.  I much preferred cleaning the multiple stalls and pens then my own room - much to the frustration of my dad and mom!  That is a sampling.  Definitely longer then a 40 hr work week that covered 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  But as I progressed through my career, this ability to focus and work hard has been critical for me. 

But we balanced this with FUN too - games of kickball, rope climbing, making tunnels through the hay (not a good idea - it can come crashing down...), king of the mountain (snow, dirt, hay, corn fodder, didn't matter...) fishing, swimming and tubing down the creek (pronounced 'crick' in central PA)... 

Teamwork - my siblings, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends would work together to care for the animals and do all the fieldwork.  We needed it, you couldn't stop feeding or milking, just because its time to cut and bale hay.  This took good communication, dependability, and showing appreciation for that help.  Usually with a good cookout when the day was done.  

Critical thinking and ingenuity.  You didn't always have what you needed, so you had to figure out how to make things work with what you had -- I definitely am a firm believer in and practice 'redneck' engineering to this day.  Yes, duck tape and baler twine can go far :-)  I didn't give up because something broke or I didn't have all the resources.  

At the time, I thought of all this as fun... little did I know that I was building skill sets that would help me succeed in life.  Despite all the hard work, I wouldn't have traded that life for anything.

August 03
Identifying genes associated with risk of mastitis

DNA, we all have slight differences in our DNA that help make us who we are. For example, tall... my 6 ft brothers versus me at a whopping 5 foot three. I still remember how Skip, my younger brother by a year, lifted me to his eye level... and I could see the top of the refrigerator!  Normally, for me out of sight, out of mind at how dusty that can get!  But I digress. 

Understanding how cow genetics contributes to mastitis susceptibility is Lydia parlor SQMI web.jpganother one of my passions.  Identifying the specific DNA location associated with disease can allow us to test the DNA and genetically select animals more resistant to infection.  But the part I really get into, is what might that DNA region be telling us about controlling disease.  That was the focus of a recent study here at UT. Lydia Siebert, who completed her PhD with me at UT before joining Zoetis as a scientist, evaluated what regions of the bovine DNA were associated with inflammation following infection with a common mastitis-causing bug, Streptococcus uberis.

One of the cool things we were able to do, was identify genes related to how quickly cows cured themselves of Strep uberis infection and the gland returned to a healthy state.  Some cows did this 3x faster than others!  These genes, and those associated with the strength and duration of inflammation, were linked to 1) how a cell signals after contact with bacteria or inflammatory proteins, 2) movement of immune cells to the site of infection, and 3) apoptosis or controlled death of infected or damaged cells. Some of the genes, we expected - others are new. Our next steps.... Dig into those genes, identify their contributions to disease resistance, and ultimately with a lot of hard work, patience, and a little luck use them to help cows prevent or fight off infections. 

The link below will take you to the published paper:

Siebert et al., 2018. Genome-wide association study identifies loci associated with milk leukocyte phenotypes following experimental challenge with Streptococcus uberis. Immunogenetics.

July 27
Testing nutritional supplements to reduce mastitis risk during dry period

The risk of a dairy cow contracting a new case of mastitis increases when we "dry off" the gland during the last ​Kody_ITS.jpgtwo months of gestation to minimize stress on the cow during late gestation and give the mammary gland time to relax and regenerate (=dry period). We dry off the gland by not milking the cow. This allows milk to temporarily build up and the teat canal remains a bit more 'open', allowing bacteria to enter. Also, since she is not being milked, we do not sanitize the teat 2-3 times per day prior to milking - allowing bacteria to build up on the teat surface.

Kody's (his hands are pictured to the right) research project is evaluating the ability of a nutritional supplement to reduce the risk of new intramammary infections during the dry period when used in combination with an internal teat sealant (ITS; also pictured) that prevents bacterial entry into the gland. Any quarters that have an infection prior to 'dry off' will be treated with antibiotics directly in the gland. Kody also will test if the nutritional supplement helps clear existing infections.

We are in the early stages of this research, so stay tuned to see how it turns out!

July 19
Dairy cows love crabgrass...

Cairy cows grazing crabgrass pasturesUs not so much. For those that love a well-manicured lawn, the appearance of crabgrass can have you running for your favorite means of obliterating it as quickly as possible. But to cows, crabgrass is a tasty and nutritious grass that loves the summer heat – critical when cooler season grasses such as ryegrass don't. This summer we are working with organic dairy farmers in the hot and humid southeast to evaluate how well dairy cows perform on a mixture of summer-loving grasses – including – you guessed it – crabgrass! Yesterday, I (Gina Pighetti) had the pleasure of working with two of our Animal Science undergraduate students (Cassie and Natalie) and three of our graduate students (Tori, Hannah, and Clay) to collect samples at two of our participating farms. We will measure the nutritional quality of the pasture – which is mostly crabgrass during the summer months, in combination with how efficiently the cow uses different forage mixtures to make milk and how well she maintains her body condition and health. To learn more about using crabgrass in combination with cooler season forages check out this recent Extension publication put together by members of our Southeast Organic Dairy project team: Pasture Forage Species SP802 (http://utbeef.com/…/Forages/Forage%2…/Publications/SP802.pdf) #USDA_NIFA #UTDairy #UTAnimalScience


 About this blog

Hi everyone!  I love all things dairy – especially cows, ice cream, cheese, and chocolate milk!  I grew up on a small Holstein dairy farm in central PA and through hard work, the support and challenges by family, friends, and mentors I 'grew up' into a dairy cow scientist.  Now, in the Department of Animal Science, I have a career that gives me the opportunity to impact the world in multiple ways. I help dairy cows with research that seeks to enhance their immune system.  I help mentor young adults to succeed while sharing my passion for dairy cows and research.  I help dairy producers regarding new technologies and strategies to improve dairy cow health and efficiency. Last but not least, I help anyone who wants to better understand the world of dairy cows.​