cows in field

Recent ODairy Discussions - March, 2023

By Liz Bawden, NODPA Board Co-President

Methane reduction was a topic for thought last month. Although the research is still contradictory, there is lots of interest in feeding red seaweed to cows to curb methane production. A few producers weighed in on this, pointing out that although seaweed or kelp can be very beneficial for improved animal health, the red seaweed needed for methane reduction simply isn’t available on any kind of scale available to farmers. And the price would be prohibitive at this point. Another producer suggested that if we focused on cow longevity, farms would not require as many replacements; and fewer young cattle on farms would mean less methane. Another farmer shared an article that shone a light on manure management as a large methane source: “Larger farms are less likely to graze their cattle, instead relying on purchased feed – the single largest source of greenhouse gases from industrialized agriculture. In addition, factory farms store manure in liquid form which encourages the release of methane – unlike field cattle whose manure decomposes with minimal emissions.”

An organic inspector asked the group why it is rare to see organic farms milking 3x per day. Several producers gave reasons why this practice isn’t chosen often (at least on these farms in the Northeast). On smaller farms, farmer burnout seemed to be the larger issue; the 10 to 20% milk increase isn’t enough to pay for extra help, so the family’s quality of life deteriorates. On larger farms, it may pay to keep the milking parlor humming with an extra shift of hired workers, but during the grazing season, it is much more difficult to optimize grazing and is more stressful for the cows. According to one vet, it is biologically better for cows to be milked more often; a calf will nurse from a cow 8-12 times per day. Another producer quoted a study that showed a “strong link between over-2X milking with poor condition, early burn-out, infertility, culling and poor longevity”. Several farmers suggested that robots may be the best answer as long as pasture requirements can be met.

A producer wanted to simplify his buffet-style mineral feeding. After feeding 15 to 20 separate minerals, he wants to change the system to include different mineral mixes and was looking for suggestions. A nutritionist suggested that for his forages, grass and legume mixed hay and baleage, a 1.5 to 1 would be best, and he offered these tips about magnesium and sulfur: “Look at the magnesium level in the mineral. Considering dry cows and springing heifers you want close to a 10% magnesium level. Magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) is my choice. Magnesium oxide is quite a bit cheaper. But it doesn’t absorb well. Most of the Mag Ox falls out the back end of the cow. Most of our cattle diets are short on sulfur. The sulfate minerals supply some of the sulfur deficiency we see in the diets.” Another vet on the list suggested that he offer a 1:1 mix and a 2:1 mix free choice and let the cows sort it out. She also suggested that he offer the magnesium free choice along with phosphorous as late lactation and dry cows have a higher need for that mineral as the calf gets bigger.

A home-scale farmer brought in a dry cow that was showing blood in her urine and was straining and uncomfortable. She was eating well and drinking. Several producers suggested that this may be a urinary tract infection (UTI). As a first course of action, two vets suggested homeopathic Lycopodium 2 to 3 times a day. Most recommended that a rectal exam be performed to rule out problems with bladder, ureters and kidneys. Other suggestions for supportive care included: lots of clean water (can improve intake by offering warm water with a bit of molasses), make sure salt is available, 2 to 3 oz apple cider vinegar, immune system support with probiotics, kelp, garlic tincture or “Get Well” tincture, and very clean bedding.