cows in field

Recent Odairy Discussion, May 2009

By Liz Bawden, NODPA Rep and Newsletter Co-Editor

Added May 7, 2009. Not surprisingly, the current state of supply and demand in organic dairy and worry about how the spring flush will play out were common threads in discussions this month. Farmers aired their solutions, frustrations, and worries as they see our market stability slipping in some areas across the country. As some farmers face terminations of their contracts, others are facing increased pressures over quality issues, and most of us are accepting a lower price this spring and have been asked to reduce production by 10 to 15%.

MILK FEVER: One discussion revisited the common problem of milk fever, and its cause. We were reminded that the familiar malady strikes a fresh cow that is unable to pull enough calcium from her bones quickly enough, and develops low blood calcium. A farmer wondered why one couldn’t simply apply more calcium to the fields, to increase the available calcium in the plants. It was explained that it is not quite as linear as that -- a relationship exists between certain anions and cations in the feed ration called Dietary Cation Anion Difference (DCAD). It involves the balance of potassium (K), sodium (Na), chloride (Cl), and sulphur (S). In the proper proportions, the cow’s calcium level can remain constant, and milk fever is avoided. Other methods to avoid milk fever were also discussed; they included feeding dry cows hay that tests low in potassium, feeding magnesium sulfate prior to calving, vitamin D3 injection, and feeding apple cider vinegar for 2 weeks prior to calving.

DEHORNING PROBLEM: A farmer had to dehorn an adult cow, and the wound at the horn began to smell, indicating an infection. The farmer had tried pouring on hydrogen peroxide, but felt that it was causing pain. Some suggestions from others included: washing off the area well so the peroxide could more effectively get into the area of infection and could have room for the expansion as it bubbles up, using a wound wash solution or calendula solution as an alternate, and homeopathic calendula or arnica given 3 times a day. It was explained that the horn is connected into the sinuses, so the cow may drain out of one nostril.

SICK CALVES: Calves were becoming ill with scours at 5 to 7 days after birth on one farm. They were eating, but weak. Suggestions from other farmers were: feeding oatmeal in the milk (you would have to open up the nipple on the bottle a bit), using Calf Shield (Crystal Creek product), always feeding milk at cow body temperature, or allowing calves to nurse from their mother. One producer suggested that scouring calves that young may indicate a problem with the health of the cow; he suggested feeding extra kelp or other mineral “tonic” to the dry cows.

HIGH PI COUNTS: Some farmers were chasing high PI counts. They were searching in the usual places: checking cooling times in the bulk tank, checking hot water temperatures and recovery time of their water heater, checking gaskets and connections, looking for hidden cleanliness problems, checking for dips in the pipeline. One farmer says his secret to good counts is “Calgon” in his rinse and soap cycle. Another farmer said the temperature in the parlor had to be raised in the cold weather or the wash water was cooled too soon.

FARM RENEWAL: A new farmer received some good advice on bringing back a farm that had been rented out for many years. He suggested that the farmer enlist biology to work for them --- manure, cover crops, compost, and rotation. He reasoned that the farm had been mined of minerals, had a large amount of organic matter in the soil, and the decomposition that should be happening was moving along only very slowly. So by feeding the soil microbes, the soil could start working again. He suggested buckwheat as a crop to get the soil working again; follow that with a spring grain like oats or fall grains like rye, spelt, or triticale. Interplant the grain with clover; as clover has lots of sugar and protein, when it is plowed down, it increases the earthworm population, helping the soil come back to life.

NEW PARLOR PROBLEMS: Things were not quite as perfect as what you see in the glossy brochures advertising new milking parlors on one farm. Having some trouble acclimating her cows to the new parlor, she asked for suggestions. All responses mentioned that time and patience would cure most of the problems, but there were some technical suggestions as well. To fill the first positions, keep the cows moving in quickly. One farmer said he dropped grain in the first four positions to encourage the first cows to go all the way in. Packing the cows tightly was suggested, and the cow’s hindquarters should be in contact with the kick rail.

THE SOMATIC CELL COUNT was jumping around at one farm. The high count he received from the plant was his official test, but was far higher than his DHI test that morning. Some others mentioned that they had noticed that an increased SCC test usually came with a high butterfat test as well. One farmer believed that this was due to the driver failing to agitate the milk before the sample was drawn. Another reason for wild swings in the SCC is a cow with Staph aureus, who will shed intermittently.