Thursday, February 25, 2010

Milk Price Venting...

I haven't blogged for awhile and I was struggling for topics to talk about, since the farm has been pretty silent, other than finishing our taxes. Then, I checked the futures prices for milk on the CME website. I am frustrated. Latest market news about better than expected stocks of dry milk, butter, and cheese in addition to a slowly improving world economy has eroded our once optimistic 2010 milk prices. As dairy farmers we are constantly at the mercy of market conditions, world economies, consumer demand, and the weather. At the end of 2009, I know I was looking forward to the more optimistic 2010 futures prices. Industry leaders were forecasting $15/100 pounds of milk for 2010, but now 2010 looks more like 2009. Today the posted markets will give us about $12.90/100 pounds of milk instead of $15. Last year we averaged $12.65, and lost money 8 months out of 12 in 2009. Needless to say, it's going to be a tough spring trying to make ends meet with these prices.

As dairy farmers we have only a handful of options. We can either lower expenses or increase milk pounds to increase income. At Orange Patch Dairy, we will mostly likely do a little of both. Thanks to 2009, we have many practices at work already. We closely monitor our feeds to make sure that we are feeding our cows EXACTLY what they need, and that we don't feed excess nutrients which will pass into the manure. We try to keep our cows in top physical condition, as we know that sick cows cost money. As we work to keep our cows healthy we also reap the advantage of increased milk production. We know that healthy cows are happy cows, and productive cows.

The only other thing I can do is ask all people, young or old, big or make sure that they balance their diets with 3 servings EACH day of dairy products for healthy living and healthy futures.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mourning the loss of a special cow...

Orange Patch Maxie Discovery #604
November 7, 2004-February 18, 2010
Discovery passed away on February 18, 2010, after a hard fought battle against an infection, but ultimately suffered heart failure. Discovery was born at Orange Patch Dairy on November 7th, 2004. She earned her namesake after birth, when she ran away from her mother to the newly constructed barn on Orange Patch Dairy-making her the 1st animal to spend a night in there. Discovery was found the morning after her birth (my birthday). Discovery lived a full life. She enjoyed eating, like no other. She spent her days relaxing with friends (the herd) and her owners (us) and producing a wholesome nutritious product for growing children and moms. She also spent countless hours teaching preschoolers about milk production and dairy farming. Discovery is survived by her mother #332; 3 daughters: Dimples, Dominique, & Dasher; 1 son; 2 granddaughters: Danica & Diva; 1 grandson; 2 sisters: Flurries & Slipknot; and 1 niece: Snow Flakes. Discovery will be remembered for her bright eyes, calm personality, and her morning greetings-where she had to have her head scratched. Discovery's friends will remember her leadership to the parlor and her kindness to others. Rest in Peace Discovery-you will NOT be forgotten, and you will ALWAYS be loved.

Today was a difficult and sad day at Orange Patch Dairy. We lost a very special cow, one that will never be forgotten, therefore I thought I would blog about her. She was the first cow to greet me each morning, when I brought cows into the barn. She was always looking for a good head scratching, and we always gave in. Discovery also served as an ambassador for our farm on our annual preschool visits. She loved the extra attention the kids gave her in the parlor. Her bright eyes never dimmed, until she passed away. That made it all the more difficult to say good bye. We do our BEST every day to keep our cows healthy, but sometimes, in rare events, the environment wins. No matter how hard we work to treat and care for a sick cow, sometimes its just their time to go to "Cow Heaven". I prayed all week for a quick recovery, but Discovery was not able to pull through. Today I cried for a good 20 minutes after she passed and teared up as I erased her name from our roster....I still feel so sad about her leaving us. I look forward to the futures that her daughters and granddaughters will have in our herd...and hope that we can continue to IMPROVE our farming practices to even further reduce the number of days like today. I just hate watching cows suffer illnesses.

Rest in Peace Discovery, I will miss you every morning I go to bring in cows :(

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Happy Birthday Barn!

Today, we celebrate the 5th Birthday of our Dairy Barn! On February 17th, 2005 we milked the first cows in our new barn. We had so much help from neighbors, friends, and contractors that built the barn. It was amazing to watch the first group of cows calmly walk into their new barn and get milked in record time. By adding a parlor and a pack barn, we were able to decrease the time it took to milk cows allowing us MORE time to care for cows. We are also able to care for more cows, over 180 are housed in our barn right now.
Our Parlor (where we milk our cows)
We started with a simple parlor in 2005. We had 12 cows on each side of the parlor, for a total of 24 cows. We were able to milk 12 cows at a time with a pipeline that ran overhead, this photo is our 2007 renovation/upgrade. We can now milk 24 cows at a time in our parlor, running milk into the pipeline below the cows.
Our Barn (where we house and milk our cows)
Our farm looks like a "factory farm" from the road, but if by "factory farm" you mean a place that abuses animals-you would be wrong. We are a "factory farm" that uses industrialization to increase the time we have available to care for our cows in the best way possible. We are also a family owned farm, much like the other 99% of farms in the USA.
Adding this barn has brought its share of growing pains. We have experienced some of the best and worst years in the dairy industry-in only 5 years. $20 milk to $10's been a challenge to say the least. When we started milking we had about 74 pounds/cow per day. We had some struggles learning how to feed and grow feed for our cows in 2005-and had lower milk production. I think we bottomed out at 59 pounds/cow per day, but now we enjoy 85-90 pounds per day! Such a great change, all because we were able to care for our cows even better than before. We love the environment that our cows live in though, and we wouldn't have changed that for the world. Our cows live a comfortable life where they have fresh feed and water every day, and only have to work for about an hour each day. The remaining hours of the day, they get to eat, drink, sleep and socialize...yep our cows love to socialize with other cows and with people as well. Being able to give our cows the best care possible brings us great pride.
Happy Birthday Dairy Barn!

Family Comes First

So sorry that I haven't been blogging much lately. I have been dealing with some family issues. My mother had surgery this week, nothing major, but she needed some help with dinners and household chores and then we have a close relative that is ill. So our minds and our hearts are with those that we love that are hopefully healing and getting better.

Other than that, it is business as usual at the farm. We only have one cow due to calve this week, so it's a breath of fresh air. We have blowing and drifting snow, which is getting old FAST! I am so tired of shoveling out calf huts, all I can think about is spring, flowers, and hay season. I can't wait for corn to be planted and alfalfa to be I am leaving with some positive thoughts and a great picture of things to come =)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Why do you take the calves from their mothers?

I had a comment on one of my earlier posts where a concerned vegan had an issue with dairy farmers removing calves from their mothers. I thought about this practice and how misunderstood it actually is. So, since we had a brand new baby heifer calf born Sunday morning (which made us late for church-it was a good excuse) I thought it was a perfect example of this practice.

#663, otherwise known as Ruth Anne gave birth early Sunday morning (at about 5 am, when we weren't at the farm) to a little heifer calf, who is #814 in our records, but Ruthie to me. When we arrived at the farm for morning chores, I headed immediately to the dry cow pen, where I found Ruthie running around the pen and Ruth Anne keeping a watchful eye on her. Ruthie was making friends with the other dry cows, and needed to be moved. Healthy calves are able to stand and run at an hour old! Ruthie was loaded up in the wheel barrow and brought inside the calf barn, or nursery. Here Ruthie received an oral vaccination for scours, her navel was clipped and dipped with iodine. All 3 of these steps are done to assure that each calf born has a good start. Ruthie was placed in a freshly bedding stall, where she could be clean and free of pathogens. Just like babies born at a hospital and placed in a nursery. After making sure Ruthie was nested in, we headed outside to walk Ruth Anne to the milking barn. We walk our cows, it's the simplest way and the calmest method to move cows. Ruth Anne is a 2nd lactation cow, so she knew where she was headed. We ran Ruth Anne into the parlor and milked her. Ruth Anne then headed out to our fresh cow pen where she had free choice fresh warm water and all the nutritionally formulated feed she could eat.

Here Ruth Anne gets time to focus on taking care of herself, instead of worrying about her calf. Fresh cows require a lot of special attention. In the barn we check a variety of things every morning for ALL fresh cows, for their first 20 days. We check their temperatures (checking for infections), their rumen fill (how full their stomachs are), their ketosis level (liver health), and their bright eyes (overall health). If any of these items are off, we immediately work further to treat our cows, most of the time without antibiotics, but with probiotics. But enough about cows....back to Ruthie....

After milking Ruth Anne, we haul a pail of fresh colostrum (mother's first milk) back to the calf barn. We only feed colostrum from animals that we know are healthy and free of disease, if the mother is not free of disease we have frozen colostrum from healthy cows available to feed. Ruthie got fed over a gallon of colostrum, within hours of birth. In nature this is not always the case. Calves struggle to find their mother's milk and may not get the right amount, right quality or a timely feeding. Colostrum fed early in life increases passive immunity. Mothers pass immunity onto their calves through colostrum, but the calf is best able to receive this immunity during the early hours of life versus the later hours of life. Within 24 hours, on our farm, a calf will drink about 1.5-2 gallons of colostrum.

Another issue with letting calves suckle their mothers is an increased chance of infection in the calf and the cow. The calf can receive pathogens from the teats on the cow, since the teats are not properly cleaned. The cow can receive pathogens from the calf's mouth since it is also not clean. By using clean and sanitized equipment to collect colostrum and a clean and sanitized bottle to feed the calf we prevent pathogens from transferring, but still get the advantages of passive transfer immunity.

Other possible issues with leaving the calf with the cow are abandonment and injury. Sometimes there are mothers that are not good mothers. It doesn't come naturally. First calf heifers are some of the best examples of this. Once they deliver a calf, they may walk away, never lick off the calf and move to the feed bunk. The calf would be left to die, cold and wet. Sometimes cows, especially other cows, can hit or push around the newborn calf. They can even step on the calf. I have seen this happen, just after birth a fresh cow got up and swung around and stepped on her calf's leg. Luckily the calf wasn't injured badly.

Farmers care for their calves and fresh cows. Calves are the future of our herds-we want them to have an excellent start in life and cows are our present, and we want them to also have an excellent start. Removing calves from cows is not cruel, its actually in the best interest of both animals, both receive the best care possible. Because our cows always come first!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Awesome Fruit Dip for Super Bowl Weekend!

Just came upon an awesome Fruit Dip for Super Bowl weekend. It's very simple, but uses great ingredients that are healthy and add the fruit for a snack that beats potato chips any day!

Fruit Dip
1-8 ounce package of fat free cream cheese
1-6-8 ounce cup of fat free plain yogurt
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix softened cream cheese with yogurt. Stir in sugar and vanilla. Chill for at least one hour and serve with your favorite fruits (strawberries and apples are my favorites!)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Quality Comes First!

Last week, when we received our monthly advance check (about 1/3 of our monthly milk sales) from our cooperative, we also received a letter from the general manager of our creamery. Upon reading this letter, I was even more confident in our choice to sell our milk to our creamery. We ship our milk to First District Association, Litchfield MN. FDA makes so many great products. Cheese is their primary product, but FDA also ships numerous pounds of dry milk and milk protein products. We have great pride in FDA products and what FDA does for their patrons (us). Because FDA markets these products, some of which are exported, we are held to higher standards of quality. The letter I read re-enforced this concept, in addition to encouraging further improvements in quality.

Quality in milk is measured by using a couple different counts. One count is a common bacteria count which tells us how clean the milk is, and the equipment that the milk flows through. The lower the count, the better the milk and the higher level of cleanliness of the equipment that handles the milk. 100,000 is the Federal limit for this count, over that number and you cannot sell your milk for consumption. At Orange Patch Dairy, we commonly have bacteria counts at about 5,000. This is a very low number, and we are very proud to be able to maintain that. It means that our cows are healthy and our equipment is clean.

We also use SCC (somatic cell count) as a measure of quality and cow health. SCC is a measurement of the number of white blood cells that are in milk. Because milk is made in a mammal, it is normal to have some white blood cells, however higher levels of SCC indicate cow health issues. The federal government regulates this measure as well. SCC's over 750,000 make milk illegal for comsumption. At Orange Patch Dairy, we strive to keep our SCC below 200,000 everyday. For the month of January, we averaged about 145,000. We use procedures while milking to insure healthy udders, maintain our equipment, and house our cows in a clean environment.

Our cooperative, FDA, rewards us for good quality milk by paying us a premium. The letter we received announced that FDA will further reward dairy farmers that strive to increase the quality of the milk that they produced. FDA also announced that they put into place penalties (financial fines) for dairy farmers that do not comply with the new regulations. Penalties for milk start at 300,000 SCC, a level much lower than the federal level, but a level that is more acceptable to the customers that FDA exports to. We support this decision to increase milk quality, consumers demand it and it's a change that's worth making.

Healthy and happy cows make safe wholesome, and nutritious milk, and that's a concept we can all support!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Laura R Dairy Princess Video

Meet Laura R, our local dairy princess, as she shows you her family's free stall barn, home to 150 Holstein cows.

Cow Comfort Comes First