cows in field

Recent Odairy Discussion, September 2009

SCC limits, crossbreeding, loss of family farms ... and the role of women on farms

By Liz Bawden, NODPA Rep and Newsletter Co-Editor

Added September 14, 2009. Milk quality was discussed on various threads over the last month. The legal limit for SCC on conventional milk production remains at 750,000, and one post suggested that it should be lowered incrementally to about 400,000. Most organic producers would probably agree, since the SCC limits are much lower. It is generally held to be true that a lower SCC results in longer shelf-life of fluid milk and better cheese yield; there are no known human health issues. As for the cow, her SCC count is a direct reflection of her udder health. One producer shared a chart comparing somatic cell count with reduced milk yield: at 200,000, milk is reduced by 2%, at 600,000 milk is reduced by 10%, and at one million, it is reduced by 18%. His point was that by working to reduce SCC in your herd, you will not only be working to gain quality premiums, but it will increase your volume at the same time. Other producers who had experience with soaring SCC due to tingle voltage problems talked of their efforts to resolve these issues with the utilities. Another producer told of his experience with PI counts. He had three different people take 14 samples within a two-hour period and sent them out to several different labs. The counts came back with numbers from 1,000 to 1,000,000.

Several producers discussed the directions they are going with cross-breeding. They felt that to characterize herds with crossbred animals as a “don’t care” approach was false. These producers are genuinely breeding for a new type of cow -- selecting for shorter, barrel-chested body type, good feet and legs, good udders, cows that will do well on grass. And these producers are selecting for these traits to be reproducible. As one farmer said, “We are essentially creating a new breed over time”.

A newspaper article was posted on ODairy that featured the story of a family farm being sold after six generations in the same family. The story hit a nerve for many people. One farmer assumed that mismanagement had to be at fault. Others questioned why we feel that there cannot be “life after farming” --- after all, when is it ever OK to call it quits, and move on to do something else? One insightful post asked why, as farmers, we believe that “losing the farm” is the primary measure of personal failure. It is a terrible burden we place on ourselves and our families. Sometimes an auction is not the result of personal failure. Sometimes it is a well thought out step forward. The producer also touched on the subject of keeping choices available for our young people on the farm. Not everyone is suited to the same occupation as their parents.

The thread moved to discussing the roles of women on the farm. Women are perhaps more visible these days (look around you at the NODPA Field Days or other meetings), but the old stereotypes still exist. Farmers complained that the calls from the machinery dealers or Farm Credit ask for the male member of the family every time. Recent statistics tallied by the USDA report that the numbers of women operators and owners is growing; 30% of operators on farms in the US are women. The dramatic increase has much to do with the fact that women operators were never counted before.

The last thread started with a forwarded article about Cheez Whiz. Probably it is not a staple in your kitchen, but consider it for the laundry room. Apparently, the enzymes in the product make a great stain remover for grease-based stains!