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July 2018. There was a lot of discussion on the realities of organic milk production these days. Farmers shared some of their struggles and frustrations with a pay price that has dropped below many farmers cost of production. Producers expressed fears about losing milk markets, anger towards the very large farms that seem to be skirting the pasture requirements, and concern that the major milk processors may view this level of pay price that is causing financial instability as the “new normal”.
In early June, three cows on a small farm were suffering with what appeared to be laminitis. The cows were being fed pasture, greenchop, corn, soymeal, and minerals. Several producers suggested the cause of the laminitis would be from a lack of fiber in the early, lush pasture and green chop; they all suggested the addition of dry hay. One farmer suggested that the addition of dry hay to their ration at this time of year helps the cow in some other ways. Hay helps to raise milk components, keep body condition, and slows the rate of feed passage through the gut. It was also suggested to count the chews per cud as a measure of proper digestion – a minimum should be 50, but ideal is 60 to 70. Buffering products like sodium bi-carb and Desert Dynamin were also suggested.
At the suggestion of supplementing lush pastures with dry hay, one producer lamented that he cannot get the cows to eat any hay when the pastures are really good. Two other farmers suggested that oat hay is enticing and palatable enough that cows will look forward to it even during great pasture growth. One explained that they plant a forage oat variety that is harvested for hay. It was mentioned that it is the best feed for work horses on their days off in the summer; it has a cooling effect on horses, helping them rest.
Another farmer suggested that these cows were eating pastures that were “too good”. She suggested that the protein was in excess of the cows’ needs. “Farmers with (these) symptoms can try giving all the paddocks more time to rest and recover in between grazing and put the cows into slightly taller grass. This will also grow you more forage. I saw occasional laminitis in my cows for years even on a no grain diet until I raised my grazing heights. Feed quality hay in the meantime. “
It was also suggested that this could be an early stage of fescue toxicity or copper deficiency. And others recommended that the hooves be examined by a vet or a good hoof trimmer to make sure of the diagnosis.
Another farmer offered this strategy for gauging their grazing – they keep dry hay and bi- carb in the bunk at all times. Most of the times, the cows don’t eat it. “If the cows start to eat the baking soda we know we are making them eat too far down the plant (too much protein). When we have got the grazing right they don't eat any hay or baking soda”.