cows in field

Recent Odairy Discussion, July 2008

By Liz Bawden, NODPA Rep and Newsletter Co-Editor

Added July 5, 2008. A broad spectrum of topics were discussed over the last month. It began with some concerns about how consumers will change (or not change) their purchasing decisions in the marketplace driven by the tightening economy. On the one side, it is felt that some consumers will eliminate purchasing the more costly organic foods for their cheaper, conventional equivalents. But on the other side, other consumers will cut back their restaurant budget, and eat better at home, thereby increasing their purchasing of groceries, including organic products.

Transition to organic=drop in milk produciton? A farmer asked if there was any research that would support that transition to organic production does not necessarily mean a drop in milk production. Another farmer believed that the drop in production comes from simply cutting back the grain in the diet, or from changes to the ration based on the availability of organic ingredients. Another individual posted a link to a Canadian study that outlines a 35% drop in milk production during the transition year, then regaining some of that production over the next 2 years as certified organic. This study maintained that milk production on organic dairy farms is generally 20% lower than conventional dairies. The study noted that calves are fed milk on organic farms, and fed milk replacer on the conventional farms, and it was unclear in the study if this was part of the 20% difference in production.

The topic of fly control always emerges at this time of year. Soybean oil was mentioned as toxic to flies by itself or in combination with essential oil products like No-Fly. A farmer shared his recipe for fly spray: 1 oz citronella oil, 1 pint water, 1 pint vinegar, 1 oz vegetable oil.

Asking if whole feed corn sold from a feedmill could be sown for a crop, a farmer prompted a discussion on selecting seed from hybridized strains of corn. One helpful farmer suggested that he test for viability of the seed (put 100 seeds between damp paper towels, and see how many sprout). Since feed corn is often dried at high temperatures, the seed may have poor viability. Another issue is that the seed is probably a hybrid, so if it is planted, it will likely not breed true. But it would express the genetic makeup of its “parents”. Seed saving of the best plants, done over many years, was encouraged by a few farmers. After all, this is how our ancestors developed locally-adapted crops!

Asked about the source of the infectious organisms that cause shipping fever, Dr Karreman confirmed that it is brought on by a weakened immune system (through the stresses associated with moving and re-grouping) and contact with other animals that are infected with the PI3 or IBR viruses. These pathogens then gain a foothold in the respiratory tract, allowing bacteria to colonize. If not treated early and aggressively, it can lead to permanent damage or death. Nasal vaccine administered a few days before moving the animals is highly recommended.

A farmer asked about the control of bedstraw. Others added their experiences: it was reported to test at 19% protein; sheep eat it on pasture; one farmer said that after intensively grazing (dairy cattle) for 13 years, they have almost none anymore.

Is it better to compost chicken litter before spreading it on the fields? All agreed that the Carbon/Nitrogen ratio of chicken litter would inhibit composting unless mixed with other materials. Spread on cool, cloudy days to minimize N loss, or incorporate into the soil if this is possible. Spreading with a lime spreader seems to work well for several farmers, just the calibration requires some attention. One farmer brought up the point that litter from layer houses contain quite a lot of calcium (his tested 10%).

An important bit of information to always remember: Bull calves become sexually active at 7 to 8 months of age.