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No-Grain, Fodder-Fed Organic Dairy
John Stoltzfus, ‘Outstanding in his fall field’ of summer annuals.
By Lisa McCrory, NODPA News Editor
Added July 29, 2013.
John and Tammy Stoltzfus own and operate B-A-Blessing Farm, and farm with their 3 sons in Whitesville, NY. They own 500 acres of which 300 are tillable and 200 are managed as rotationally grazed pasture. Their career in dairy farming began on a farm in Huntington Co, PA in 1989. After a few years there, they made their way to Whitesville, NY, in Allegany County. They milk about 80 cows with an average production of 15,500 pounds per cow. Milk quality and components at last test were 219,000 SCC, 4.0% Butterfat, and 3.2% Protein.
A lot of positive change has been taking place at B-A-Blessing farm - especially in the past few years. Family members are returning to the farm, and they have been fine-tuning a new feeding system that is proving to keep their cows in excellent health and body condition, rewarding them with reduced feed costs, and earning them a much needed (and deserved) farm profit. They have been feeding their cows sprouted grains (barley fodder) and, in the interest of helping others, they are actively sharing their system through numerous channels including publishing a booklet, ‘Our Journey Into The Land Of Fodder’; creating an eOganic webinar on feeding fodder to organic dairy cattle**; speaking at conferences/workshops; and organizing open-house events at their farm. “If we can help other farmers to better themselves and stay in the farming business, we will feel like we have accomplished a great deal and will have gained much joy and satisfaction from it,” say John and Tammy.
Farming was not always smooth for John and Tammy; almost 20 years ago they were truly struggling to get by and could not afford the commercial fertilizers and other inputs for their (then) conventional dairy farm. It was at this point in their dairy career that they started to look into organic dairy production; they really had no other option. Their milk handler didn’t think that organic dairy farming was going to work for John and Tammy, as their somatic cell counts were often high. But they found that the longer that they stayed organic, their milk quality improved. Some of this could be the result of solving some stray voltage issues, but other reasons can be attributed to the fact that they were no longer pushing their cows for production, which reduced the stress that can often lead to mastitis, reproductive issues and more. Instead of antibiotics and reproductive hormones, they also turned to natural and organically approved approaches including a homeopathic remedy called Mastoblast, and garlic. Dr Edgar Sheaffer, a homeopathic veterinarian in Pennsylvania was a great resource for them – especially in those early years.
The Stoltzfus’ grandchildren feeding a calf barley fodder.
Cows on B-A-Blessing farm have few health issues and tend to stick around for a while. Normally they raise more than enough replacements for their farm, but recently two of John and Tammy’s sons have been purchasing additional livestock; they are increasing the herd size to support not one family, but 3 families. Their two older sons, Jonathan and Joel, are currently working on the farm, and their third son, Jerry, is hoping to return to the farm as well. The level of employment on the farm for each son is relative to the number of cows they own. Jonathan is employed full-time and Joel is working part time, bbut will be full-time once he owns enough cows in the milking string.
The cows on B-A-Blessing farm are a mix of breeds; half of the herd is Holstein, ¼ of them are Hostein/Brown Swiss, and another ¼ of the herd is Hostein/Jersey. They breed with bulls and this year everything on the farm is getting bred to Brown Swiss. John has found a good source of Holstein and Brown Swiss bulls from a couple good farms in New York and Ohio. He sources his bulls from registered herds who feed only a little grain, have good milk production.
For John and his family, using DHIA’s services has been a tremendous savings towards monitoring milk quality, components, production and fertility. They are now preg-checking their cows through their DHIA milk sampling. The test is 98% accurate at 45-50 days, and the cost is just $4.50 per sample. For a veterinarian to come to their farm and preg-check their cows, they would be paying a $75 stop charge plus the cost for services. For a herd this size, the additional services from DHIA has saved provided them a tremendous savings.
The cows are milked in a tie stall barn and winter housing consists of an outdoor bedded pack along the woods with the trees providing a decent amount of shelter. This year they are working with Farm Tek in designing and building a coverall bedded pack barn that will be large enough to house the milking cows, dry cows, and heifers. They hope to have this construction completed before this winter.
B-A-Blessing Farm has been a no-grain dairy for over 4 years. Milk cows get fresh pasture every 12 hours and the bred heifers and dry cows are moved every 4-5 days depending on where they are grazing. Smaller calves are moved every other day onto fresh grass. The current summer ration for the milk cows is 2 lbs of dry hay, 5-7 lbs of Barley fodder (fed in the morning), and pasture. Dry cows and heifers get dry hay and pasture, plus a free choice minerals, kelp and salt. In the winter, the milkers receive baleage, dry hay and 5-7 # of fodder. Average milk production per cow right is 50# and John feels that if he increases his fodder from 7# to 20# that he will see his average milk production increase to 60# per cow per day. Dry cows and heifers are not fed any fodder, but they hope to make enough to feed all the animals in the near future.
John used to offer free-choice minerals to his milk cows, but since he has been feeding them barley fodder, the cows are no longer interested in eating them. Since he doesn’t feed any grain, he doesn’t have a way to get the minerals into them. Finding a way to provide minerals to his cows is a puzzle that John is currently working on.
To extend the grazing season in the spring and fall, John plants some annual crops: 20 acres of Spring triticale (available to graze by early July), 20 acres of Sorghum, planted for August grazing, and 20 acres of Fall triticale for late fall and spring grazing. This system adds a total of 2 extra months of grazing on their farm and also provides the cows with some high quality and high energy feed at times of the year when forages are just getting started, forages are slowing down due to hot/dry conditions, or the grazing season is starting to wind down for the year.
A new seeding of perennial pasture is planted following the annual crops. John likes the native plant varieties for his cows; he makes sure to have Orchard Grass, Timothy and Red Clover in his pasture mixes.
John was first introduced to the concept of feeding sprouted grains about 5 years ago when he was at one of Jerry Brunetti’s talks (www.Agri-Dynamics.com). Once the concept of sprouted grains was planted in his mind, John was on a mission to learn more about the system and find out how to make it work on his farm. After a lot of research, a lot of trial and error, and some determination, John and his family developed a fodder system that works well for them.
John’s first approach was to feed sprouted grains to his cattle – which entailed soaking his grains for 24 hours and then feeding it to his cows. As he researched fodder systems in other countries, John started to learn that sprouting the grains for 6-7 days would be better than just soaking them. Barley fodder is highly digestible and provides more natural proteins, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and omega 3’s than what the cow could get from consuming grain alone. One pound of grain turns into 7 pounds of sprouted feed, making purchased grains go a long way. How much does it cost to feed fodder? If purchasing barley seed for $500/ton. One pound of seed provides about 7 lbs of fodder, which comes to $.25 per cow for every 7 lbs of fodder fed. Investments in the system, plus the added labor would warrant additional costs. The water that is used in sprouting the seed, is fed to the calves and they have noted an improvement in calf health and vigor since they started doing this.
They have also experimented with sprouting a number of different grains including oats, rye, barley, wheat, and triticale. The seed that works the best for them is Spring Barley, which also tends to be a popular variety used for malting. Finding a clean, high quality source of seed with a high germination is also important. John is currently purchasing his spring barley from the Main Seed Company. Their price is reasonable, and the quality of the seed is excellent. While the average analysis for Spring Barley seed comes in at around 48 lbs per bushel, the Maine Seed Company has been supplying John with Barley seed that is 52-54 lbs per bushel with a 95% germination rate. The company, as a result of the growing demand for organic spring barley, has recently transitioned another 5000 acres to organic production.
At B-A-Blessing Farm, construction is under way to put in a whole new sprouting room that will be 3 times larger than their current system (a 16 x 22 ft room). This additional space will allow for some additional growth down the line. They hope to double the amount of fodder they are currently feeding their cows and would like to feed it to their calves and heifers as well.
Adding Barley Fodder (sprouted grains) to the cows’ diet has changed the health and body condition of their cows in a positive direction. After a recent Organic Valley Animal Welfare visit, John was told that his cows looked very nice – especially for a grain-free herd.
Remedies and nutritional supplements that they like to have on hand include calcium supplements, dextrose, udder liniment, and coconut oil, which has now become their new favorite treatment for udder edema, mastitis, and sun burns/skin irritation.
For calf scours, they learned a trick from Dr. Guy Jodarski; put a couple of their own farm pasture-raised eggs in the milk at feeding time. The raw eggs from your own farm have the antibodies to fight the bugs specific to your farm. John and Tammy have been happy with the results.
Over the past couple years, John has given presentations to groups of farmers and resource individuals ranging from 50-150 in size and at each event, he goes away with a sense that a large percentage of the producers in the audience have plans to adopt fodder feeding on their farm.
John and Tammy have also published a booklet titled ‘Our Journey Into the Land of Fodder’. In this publication, they cover all the details in building their fodder system; from ventilation, to controlling mold, seed quality, how much space you will need, feed analyses of a few different sprouted grains, and more. They are in the process reprinting and updating their book, and hope to have it completed soon. (Please go to the end of this article for ordering details).
John has recently started working with Farm Tek as a consultant for their fodder feeding systems. He is just a phone call away when the company is looking for feedback on technical aspects of the system, and John is also available to answer questions from farmers or demonstrate how his system works.
John and Tammy have been active NODPA members since it’s early beginnings. They have made it to all of the NODPA Field Days events, and John has been a NODPA (NY) Representative since the summer of 2001. They love to learn and share and make a point of attending Organic Valley’s Herd Health Days, NODPA’s Annual Field Days, and local pasture walks. This gives them opportunities to learn from their fellow farmers, network, and stay in touch with friends near and far.
When they go to conferences and pasture walks, they notice that it is usually the same people showing up each time – and that these regulars are only a small percentage of the farming community. “How do you get those who stay home to come to these events? We need their input”, says John. “We could learn from them.”
**Webinar: ‘Barley Fodder Feeding for Organic Dairies’ – Website Address: (http://www.extension.org/pages/65651/barley-fodder-feeding-for-organic-dairies-webinar)
**Booklet: ‘Our Journey Into The Land Of Fodder’, by John and Tammy Stoltzfus. To order, contact John or Tammy at: Home phone: 607-356-3272, Cell phone: 585-610-7420, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org