cows in field

Recent Odairy Discussion, June, 2011

Robust and practical discussions about winter teat dips; somatic cell counts; and planting brassicas and other annuals for grazing.

By Liz Bawden, NODPA Producer Representative and Newsletter Co-Editor

Added June 6, 2011. Winter teat dips were a topic of discussion last month. Generally, a farmer with concerns about winter chapping while using an iodine-based dip will turn to a chlorhexadine dip. The NOP rules state that chlorhexadine may be used when other germicidal agents are not effective. So a producer must try other dips first, and document their effectiveness before they can turn to a chlorhexadine dip if the other products fail to be effective.

A producer shared his recipe for an effective winter dip he has used for about a year: He starts with about 7 1/2 gallons of a .5% iodine teat dip (the high emollient type), then add to this 1/2 gallon Dr Bronner's peppermint soap, 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide, then fill up the rest of the 15 gallon barrel with water. He feels it is more effective, and not as harsh as the iodine dips, both on his hands and on the cows.

Another recipe was shared for a homemade teat dip: to 4 liters of water, add 5cc lavender essential oil, 5cc pine essential oil, 2cc eucalyptus essential oil, 12 cc cotton seed oil, and 5cc methylene blue. This udder wash recipe was also shared: to 13 liters of water, add 1 drop of pine essential oil, one capful of hydrogen peroxide (likely 35%), and one ounce of clay.

Several producers weighed in on the subject of dipping cows in winter conditions. One farmer started using chlorhexadine during the winter to prevent the spread of herpes mammilitis. Another producer does not post dip at all, making sure the teats are dry before the cows go outside. Another farmer has good luck with a homemade udder balm applied after milking. She shared her recipe: Combine 6 cups olive oil with 3/4 cup each of dried comfrey leaves, plantain leaves, and comfrey flowers and leaves (grind the plant material to a fine powder before measuring -- a coffee grinder works well). Add 1 to 2 cups beeswax, 2 sticks cocoa butter, 1/2 cup glycerin, 1/2 cup Vitamin E oil, 1/2 cup cod liver oil, 125 drops lemon essential oil, 125 drops peppermint essential oil, 75 drops cedarwood essential oil, 150 tea tree essential oil, and 75 drops rosemary essential oil. Soak the dried plant material in olive oil for 24 hours, then heat on low heat for 2 to 4 hours, then strain oil and add other ingredients.

A discussion about somatic cell counts raised some important points from a variety of producers. Stray voltage stresses animals, and can lead to increased SCC; a farmer suggested that we go through our electrical systems, and "open every box, tighten every connection and screw, retighten every wire nut and get rid of all split bolts". Another producer reminded us that stray voltage can occur even on farms without electricity if the conditions are right. Another suggested testing silages since mycotoxins in the feed suppress a cow's immune system, raising somatic cell counts. Several producers rely on monthly DHI testing, then follow up on problem cows with the CMT paddle daily. Several added that they like the convenience of a quarter milker to keep milk from affected quarters out of the bulk tank.

With an eye looking toward spring planting, there was a discussion about planting brassicas and other annuals for grazing. Producers seemed to agree that if you have good perennial pasture near the barn, it does not pay to tear that up and plant it to kale and turnips. But in a crop rotation, a year or more in annual grazing crops is worth a look. A mixture of oats and triticale was suggested as a low-risk crop for grazing; winter small grains with winter peas was also suggested; turnips and oats have worked well for some producers; a researcher shared that the newer varieties of leafy brassicas bred for grazing performed better in his trials than the standard varieties bred more for their roots. A producer likes to plant winter rye in September for spring grazing. Farmers tended to report weak results when brassicas were used as a nurse crop for a new seeding. The lack of organic seed is an issue one producer mentioned.

There was a long, serious discussion on the merits and consequences of supplementing organic milk with the different formulations of DHA, to fortify milk with this omega-3 fatty acid. Likely, it is for the NOP to decide if organic foods should be fortified with processed additives. Basically, we remove the fat because consumers want low-fat milk, then have to add back in a "good" fat to make it healthier!

Animal welfare concerns at the time of de-horning/disbudding calves were discussed. Many vets generally agree that 3-6 weeks is the optimal time to disbud calves. The horn buds are detectable, and the calf has a good start. But several producers routinely disbud much earlier, one says on the day of birth, right after the colostrum is fed. Another producer said the advantage of disbudding on the day of birth is that there is no handling stress, so no cortisol rise as in older calves. Farmers discussed the use of lidocaine, now becoming the most common tool for pain control during this procedure. Aloe pellets and aspirin were also used for pain relief. One producer used Crystal Creek Wound Spray and Prism as a follow-up pain reliever after de-horning older heifers.