Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Red Duct Tape and a Story about Milk Quality...

Red Duct Tape: a critical tool in
milk quality!
It's not uncommon for us to frequent area stores to purchase some interesting items to use on our dairy farm.  It's definitely fun to watch the eyes of cashiers as I check out large quantities of bleach, rubbing alcohol, and colored duct duct tape specifically.  This past week was like so many others.  I was on my way to town with my master list of things we needed at the farm and home.  So many errands to run, so little time.  So I scurried through the isles of our local Wal-Mart working my way down my list.  I'm a huge bargain hunter and coupon user, so I'm always distracted.  As I rushed to the check out I greeted my cashier and started unloading my cart.  This shopping trip was like so many others, the cashier's eyes got big as she scanned multiple gallons of bleach, bulk bundles of paper towels, several bottles of rubbing alcohol, and then she couldn't hold it in any longer...she scanned in my roll of red duct tape.
"Well, my goodness!  This is a "colorful" way to keep someone quiet!", she exclaimed.  "Haha! That's not exactly what I had intended for that red duct tape."   And then it hit me....a perfect opportunity to have a quick chat with this lovely lady about the importance of producing quality milk on our farm!!!!  I love it when these opportunities pop up, and I seldom walk away from a good chance for I proceeded.
One strip of duct tape on both rear legs helps us recognize a
"treated cow" in the parlor, making sure our milk
is always perfect!
"You see, I'm a dairy farmer.  And that red duct tape is the perfect tool for marking my cows' legs.  When we have a cow that is sick and needs to be treated with antibiotics we automatically place a strip of this red duct tape on each of her rear legs.  This allows us to see her quickly, recognize her, and make sure that we milk her separately from the other cows.  Antibiotics are not allowed in milk for sale, so we work hard to make sure that our milk is always perfect, and if it's not perfect, we pitch it.  If we "accidentally" get antibiotics in our tank, the consequences are very this red duct tape has a VERY important job on our farm!" 
"Wow, I never knew that dairy farmers had to keep antibiotics out of milk.  I guess I just assumed it was all mixed together!" she shared with me.  How many other consumers shared her thoughts.  No one had ever explained to this kind lady how dairy farmers are tested multiple times each pick for antibiotics.  Food safety comes first, and we take our responsibilities very seriously.  We continued to have a great conversation as the cashier check out the last of my items.  That day I left the store having shared with a nice woman, the importance of milk quality and antibiotics on our dairy farm....and that was time well spent!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Following the Rules.....even though they make no sense

Well this week has been quite a week of roller coaster emotions!  Our week started out with a HUGE downer!  On Monday, Jon attended the County Board of Adjustment meeting, to present our plans for our new construction.  As part of that construction, we were hoping to build a lagoon (large lined storage area for manure) to store about 10 months of manure from our milking and dry cows.  The current county law states that farms (all livestock farms) over 300 Animal Units must have 12 months of manure storage if they choose to build manure storage.  Since we are over 300 Animal Units, we needed to appeal to the Board of Adjustment for a variance to allow us to have a smaller sized lagoon.  The reasons for the smaller size were many, the largest one is the fact that a small dairy of our size has a difficult time affording that much of an investment.  We also thought we could appeal to the board, since 10 months of storage is MORE than what we have currently, and would allow us go from weekly manure application to bi-yearly manure application (spring and fall applications).  Unfortunately, after a valiant fight from Jon, we were defeated, 3 votes to 2 votes.  Completely distraught, Jon called me.  "Now what?!?!" We were in despair!  This project was going to make the lives our cows more comfortable, as well as improving our own.  Now those plans came to a crashing halt!
Jon contacted our County Feedlot Inspector to see if we had indeed run out of options.  SUCCESS!  One small loop-hole was found.  If we agreed to build a lagoon for 12 months of manure storage in the next 3 years the County Planning and Zoning Committee would let us build our barn without the lagoon this fall.  Our manure would need to be hauled out to our fields, according to our manure management plan, on a daily basis.  This alone makes no sense to us.  We would have thought it would be better to have 10 months of manure storage, rather than none at all, but apparently our county's law doesn't read that way.  The reasons the Board of Adjustment gave were valid, but we do believe we addressed them.
The Board's primary concern was making sure to not set a precedent for others to come before the board.  We were the first to try for a variance on this law, and it looks like we might be the last.  The other concerns included hazards from hauling manure on county and township roads in the spring and risks of overflowing the lagoon.  Ironically, even though the Board of Adjustment believed we were a risk; neighbors, friends, fellow dairymen, and our suppliers have all expressed support for our previous plans.  It was really touching to have a visit yesterday with our dairy equipment dealer, who stopped specifically to see if there was anything he could do to help us with our hurdle.
So, for now, we have officially finished the financial paperwork for the project, changed and amended the permit applications, and are patiently waiting for next week and we find out if the County Board of Commissioners will give the "go ahead" in addition to the bankers.  So...we wait, hoping for good news instead of roller coasters!

Monday, September 5, 2011

So what's an Animal Unit???

This awesome cow is actually 1.4 Animal Units!
Read more on how we determine how many
animal units we have on our farm!

  As of recently Jon and I have been working diligently on our farm project.  As part of that project we are also renewing our conditional use permit for our dairy.  A conditional use permit is issued to livestock farms in our county to allow them to have and raise livestock on their property.  Yes, livestock is not a right, it is a privilege.  As part of this process, Jon has been making many visits with the area neighbors to discuss the changes we want to make to our farm and how they might affect the neighbors.  All of our changes are for the good of our neighbors, our farm, and most of all for the well being of our cows.  Also part of the process includes a listing in area newpapers of our application for this permit...and that's where the controversy lies.  We are currently over our previous permit of 299 animal units.  We are applying for a permit for 840 animal units, which is actually for 100+ more cows than we have now, but we are planning for the future, 5 or 10 years down the road.  This number of 840 has a lot of people talking!  So let's start at the beginning....

Wikipedia defines an animal unit (AU) as "a standardized measure of animals used for various agricultural purposes.A 1,000-pound beef cow is the standard measure of an animal unit. The dry matter forage requirement of one animal unit is 26 pounds per day. Animal unit equivalents (AUE) are calculated for various other animals."  At 840 animals, we are calculating each cow to be 1.4 animals units!  That's right, those cows are the largest AUE possible!  Even horses are only 1.3 AUE and beef cattle are only 1 AUE!  Now, if we have 2 herds of cows, one with about 100 and the other with 200...than at my calculation, we have 420 AUE in just the lactating cows!  Now figure that a cow has 1 calf each year, and half of those are usually bull calves, which are sold.....and we are talking at least another 300 head of heifers and calves...also to be included in the final AUE count.  Now, adding calves and heifers, we are almost to 650 AUE.  The extra 200 AUE accounts for any additional cows we add in the years to come.  To see the worksheet we used to do our math, check this out!

Seems scary at first to see such large numbers, but if you take some time to really analyze what these numbers actually stand for, it makes perfect sense!  Hopefully this clears the air on what an "animal unit" actually is!