27 Sep

Seasonal Production Fluctuations

The last dandelions and fresh grass

Cows like Dixie are on their final days this season consuming a 100% live grass diet, and with this come seasonal production fluctuations. Within weeks, we will be feeding hay and haylage. The bees on that dandelion know the days are numbered also and are busy gathering their last before winter.

Dixie in the Fall

As we go into fall, production drops since the cows do not produce as much milk in the winter as they do during the summer on fresh grass.

Therefore you may be having a harder time getting your hands on Guernsey Goodness.

Cows get vacation

Other types of seasonal production fluctuations are caused by who is calving, who is on vacation, and how long it has been since a cow calved.

We also have three cows currently on pre-calving vacation – due in October, and we had one cow calve three weeks ago but get super sick days before calving and her hormones went loopy. As a result, she is now super healthy but is producing practically no milk.

Calves drink a lot

In the meantime, her little girl, Venice, is consuming 4 half gallon bottles per day, and the calves altogether consume about 29 bottles per day. They drink the very same milk you do since we do not use milk replacer on our farm. We also have no set weaning schedule so we can maximize growth to get them to breeding age sooner. Typically, the calves self-wean sometime between 6 and 8 months, and we taper them off toward that goal, but let them decide when they’re done. We have one heifer right now who is 9 months old still getting a bottle a day, but she is an outlier. I personally feed her and kind of enjoy it, but she and I both know the days are numbered…

Expansion plans

To help with seasonal production fluctuations and increasing demand, we could buy more cows, but that’s an exercise in and of itself, and right now we’re upgrading our milking parlor and expanding the holding area to be able to double the herd size. Then, we need to expand cow barns and add a commodity (feed and equipment) barn. Since we have all that to do, we are limiting the growth to just the heifers we produce. This year, only three added to the herd. Next year, it will be five, and the following year at least 8.

All this information is so you can understand where we are and where we are going. If you have a hard time getting hands on milk, know that won’t always be the case.

Rinse your bottles please

A final note: The hardest part of the operation is bottle washing. It’s a very easy job if every bottle was rinsed by customers, but that’s not the case. In fact, there are a significant number of customers who seemingly are not acquainted with the concept of rinsing bottles. When bottles come to use not rinsed very well, they require significantly more work reconditioning for re-use, and the labor is manual. The bottle wash machine is not able to compensate for dereliction of customer duty. If you take an unrinsed bottle to a store, and the store clerk gives you a refund, know that you just stole money right out of the pocket of that store. We do take those bottles back, but we don’t pay for them since they require more labor. Therefore, the store gets stiffed $3.75.

Do the store and us a favor and rinse those bottles before you return them, or buy your milk in plastic and leave the glass-bottled milk for others 🙂

10 Jun

Small Dairy Management

This year has presented many challenges for our small dairy management, and over the years, we have seen at least two other dairies, who were in fact slightly bigger than us, go out of business suddenly and after only a few short years because of the challenges presented for direct-to-consumer dairies of our size.

Some of the management challenges we’ve faced in the last 18 months are below.

Drought and Feed Challenges

The biggest thing that has impacted our dairy business was the drought that took hold in spring 2021 and lasted through the 2021 hay growing season, only to abate with at or above normal rainfall since the start of August of that summer.

To feed our growing herd, we require at least 300 of our own 600 pound round bales of grass/clover hay or haylage from our certified organic fields, and then we would purchase a semi load of large square bales of organic second cut alfalfa/orchard grass hay. Hay season 2021 only afforded us a production of about 25 percent of normal production. This caused us to have to buy two and a half semi loads of hay at inflated prices. We were fortunate to have found good hay though, and had the means to bring it in from eastern Oregon.

This meant during the winter feeding season, hay consumed a bit over 25 percent of our monthly revenues, with labor consuming more than another 25 percent (more on this further in this post) of our monthly revenues.

Watching and maintaining operating margin when faced with such challenges is key to successful small dairy management.

Bottling Supplies and Management of the Supply Chain

Then there are all the other expenses of operating a small dairy. You should see the supplies we have to stay on top of, especially since we do our own bottling. We have all your normal dairy supplies and feed supplements, then for the bottle wash operation, we have automated brush heads that need frequent replacing, pre-wash detergent, wash detergent, and the bottles themselves, plus caps. The bottles are returnable glass bottles, but the return rate tends to run an industry average of 80 percent. So, for every hundred bottles shipped per day, 20 never come back.

Bottle screen printing lead times have nearly doubled as of this spring, and shipping has nearly tripled in cost, and shipping time is about tripled to quadrupled over what it used to be (bottles come from Ontario, Canada). This has led to logistical challenges managing inventory and lead times, and we have had to raise our bottle deposit twice to cover the cost of the bottles. Our goal is not to make profit on bottles, just to cover replacement costs.

We recently did a paid social media post encouraging bottle returns. With more and more milk heading out the door, we were finding returns weren’t even meeting the usual 78 to 80 percent return rate.

Shipping companies seem to be having a hard time getting good help. Yesterday, a new load of bottles arrived and it was clear there was a spill-over of one tall pallet of glass bottles and breakage had occurred. We have to be diligent in receiving because the shipper certainly doesn’t tell you this happened. We found 22 bottles of the 792 on the pallet were missing. We are careful to note this on the signed bill of lading and immediately report it to our bottle manufacturer for a credit against the outstanding invoice.

Missing bottles
Missing bottles

Today, we received notice that our load of bottle wash detergent set to arrive next week somehow got destroyed in transit. It is considered a hazardous material because it is very basic. On the pH scale, it is 13 to 14. I’m sure this made a nice mess in a trailer or warehouse somewhere, just like the broken bottles did.

Cow Health and Reproductivity

Being a dairy and working with live animals, the number one thing that affects productivity of the cows is keeping them “fresh”, which means healthy and calving on regular intervals (12 to 14 months being ideal),.

All our breeding is done with Artificial Insemination (AI). I am the guy who does the AI on the cows. We did a number of things last year that significantly improved our AI performance.

First, I chose to add more bulls into the lineup. For a milking herd of about 22 cows, I decided having at least 5 bulls in the (liquid nitrogen) tank was a minimum acceptable number. Second, I went and refurbished my skills by spending a day at a huge dairy (10,000 cows) in Sunnyside, Washington, training alongside the Select Sires (https://www.allwestselectsires.com/) technician who services that dairy. This was very kind of Select Sires to have allowed me to do that. Since I did that day, my skill has greatly improved, and we have finally achieved a very satisfying conception rate.

However, a lot of dairy cow fertility trouble isn’t a conception issue, but is more of a retention of the embryo issue. We actually find the biggest problem we have when cows come back into “heat” is that they conceived and dropped the embryo, called early embryonic death, or EED. We confirm all cows between day 28 and 30 post-breeding with a blood test called Biopryn (https://www.biotracking.com/about-biopryn/). When cows come back into heat within days of a blood test confirmation of pregnancy, or many times just after the second missed heat, it is because of early embryonic death. Some of the strategies we use to deal with EED are: multimin 90 injection to up critical minerals for embryo retention, switching the bull we use on that cow, addressing possible other nutrient or energy deficiencies, and ensuring the cow is in fact “clean” (ready to host her next embryo in the uterine environment). This latter point is sometimes self-resolving with the repeated heats continuing to clean them out. Sometimes we help them along by inducing ovulation with Lutalyse.

Inflation

Another challenge to small dairy management has been inflation. I’ve already mentioned shipping costs massively increasing on bottles, but increased shipping cost and limited material availability has increased prices on most of the items we use in the business. Doing an across-the-item-list examination of our supplies and inventory, we see the average cost of everything has gone up.

To keep our employees happy, we have given two significant pay increases in the last 12 months.

To protect our minimum profit margin, we have increased our wholesale price on the products 3 times in the last 12 months, resulting in a wholesale price increase of 23 percent.

Growth

This past 12 months has seen us purchase 6 new Guernseys, all in milk at the time of purchase, and has also seen us calve in (freshen) 3 of our own heifers. This growth has caused us to hit record production and sales numbers, especially in the last several months. However, this necessitates really tightening down on quality control, supply chain management, and adjusting practices. For example, when we order glass bottles, or caps, even not considering the increased lead times and costs, we find we must order more just to keep up with the large increase in daily bottles going out the door.

As well, it has required us to more carefully manage stocking of our pasture sections and requires us to plan for the future more aggressively. A cow barn expansion is in the plans for summer 2023, and a commodity barn will absolutely be a necessity for the near future with all the stored feed, bedding, and equipment we now have.

The Numbers are Key to Small Dairy Management

Ultimately, small dairy management comes down to successful management of the numbers. There are a lot of numbers to manage.

There are the profit and loss numbers.

There are the payroll numbers.

There are the cow statistics numbers: days open, days in milk, average AI tries, pregnancy count per bull, average days lactation, average production in pounds per day per cow, number of half gallons and quarts going out the door every day. Lead times and burn rates on bottles, caps, detergent, nitrile gloves, baking soda, salt, minerals, certified organic grain (fed in the milking parlor), hay bale inventory, bottle inventory, cap inventory, semen inventory (which also has a long lead time), and the list goes on.

Each subheading topic could be covered in much more detail and maybe I’ll do each in a future post.

One thing I have learned, not doing this for 11 years, I and my wife and family are all well-suited for the job. We thank the Lord every day for the opportunity to do this together, and to be successful.

We thank you for reading and being interested in this journey. If you know of anyone else who would be interested in our content, please share with them and encourage them to subscribe to receive these posts via email. Subscribing may be done here: http://pleasantmeadowcreamery.com/subscribe/

02 Aug

Deregulation

Governor Brad Little, so he could claim bragging rights about being the “least regulated state” in the nation, ordered all departments within Idaho to do “zero-based” rule re-writing this past spring. The goal was to reduce words: hence regulation. We would call this “deregulation”.

Raw milk was always legal in Idaho without statute or rules.

In 2010, a new statute was passed titled “Acquisition of Raw Milk”. It only covered herd shares in detail and left the rest of the details to the rule-making process.

By 2013, Idaho had promulgated a reasonable administrative rule to govern raw milk sales in Idaho. It’s basic tenets included:

  1. Small herds that were 3 cows, or 7 goats or sheep, and less could get a small herd permit and not have to be inspected.
  2. Herds larger than this had to be inspected quarterly by Idaho State Department of Agriculture dairy inspectors and meet the “Pasteurized Milk Ordinance” sanitation standards. These standards are a federal standard for facilities and cleanliness that apply to all grade A dairies in Idaho. The standards include things like: floors have to slope to drain, milking areas have to have concrete floors in good repair, manure must be handled per a “Nutrient Management Plan” which considers the environment and soil’s ability to absorb nutrients, etc.
  3. All herds had to have samples of their products collected monthly by a state inspector and tested by the state dairy lab for total bacteria (known as SPC or PAC), somatic cell count (SCC, and coliform bacteria. Standards were set that were admittedly arbitrary, but now are proven to be good indicators of overall cleanliness. If a dairy could not meet the standards, they could not sell raw milk until the next test was passed. There was allowance for variance. A minimum of 3 out of every 5 tests had to be passed.
  4. Herds were to be tested for tuberculosis annually.
  5. The state would test for brucellosis at least annually, and for larger dairies, the state collected and tested water samples biannually.

At Pleasant Meadow Creamery, we are generally free-market and against regulation, but given that dairy has long been a regulated industry, and given that disease outbreak would not be good for our niche industry, and given that the standards were reasonable and made sense, we supported them. Our facility is built and was inspected to grade A/PMO standards, and we have tested every month for all the years since we started and have never had to not sell milk due to failure. In fact, our lab results are generally quite excellent.

During the process of re-writing the rule, we were very pro-testing and inspection both in written comments and in attending meetings. We are very disappointed in the end result of having a “wild West” of raw milk in Idaho, because we do not feel it is going to serve Idahoans who want raw milk in the long term well. The new rule is the very definition of deregulation compared to what we had last month and all the years since we formed our dairy in 2011.

The new rule requires the producer do their own TB and brucellosis annual testing, and otherwise, the only real requirement is we have to put a warning on our label that essentially warns the consumer that consuming this product may in fact “kill them”… or something to this effect. The real wording on the label could actually apply to all food products in the grocery store.

Being what we think is reasonably intelligent and somewhat scientifically-minded, we find the new rule somewhat abhorrent. However, producers were given very little voice in the deregulation process. We were largely ignored, though invited, except the few who love the idea of deregulation (these were the same dairies that were having a hard time passing the testing).

We are going to choose a course right now that ensures our product meets the minimum acceptable standards even if the state won’t be involved.

Today, I had a conversation with Raw Milk Institute’s (https://www.rawmilkinstitute.org/) Mark McAfee and Sarah Smith via Zoom. Pleasant Meadow Creamery, as of last month, has applied to be a listed farmer with “RAWMI” in order to assure our present and future customers that our milk meets the highest possible standards, even in a deregulated state environment.

By being RAWMI-listed, our monthly testing, which we will be doing through a private lab (not a new thing to us as we used to supplement state testing with private testing), will be available to you – our consumer. In addition to testing for total bacteria and coliforms, we will also be doing random testing for specific pathogens.

As well, we will have our quality plans, standard operating procedures, and other plans reviewed by our peers and posted on the RAWMI website for you to be able to see what we do to make sure you get milk that is far better in quality than if we did none of these things.

We want you to feel comfortable, that in spite of the CDC warnings about raw milk, and in spite of the very warning that will be forced to be on our bottle, we do everything scientifically possible to ensure you always get a safe, nutritious, and delicious dairy product from us. While we generally support “deregulation”, we do not support it so much in dairy. Or more accurately, maybe you could describe us as being on the fence – waiting to see just what our peers will do and how good or bad this could turn out to be for Idaho raw milk consumers. In the meantime, we are going to regulate ourselves to the highest standards possible.

03 May

Dairy Cow Pneumonia

I had to eat a big bite of humble pie this spring in regards to bovines, and specifically to dairy cow pneumonia. Normally, I wouldn’t post about such a topic – the hard lessons of livestock farming – except in this case I feel it could be instructive for someone else who might land on this post as a result of a search.

So, that said, the humble pie has to do with this: we have certified organic fields and I firmly believe that certified organic practices are the best way to farm land. The principle is that we’re not so much focusing on plant health as we are soil health. Healthy soil produces healthy plants and biodiversity. Weeds aren’t something to eradicate, but rather they are messengers of what is happening with the ecosystem.

It works, and it works well.

With that in mind, I had made the decision that it was only natural to want to certify as organic the cow herd, and thus the milk and other products. I have a mere 10 years of experience now with dairy cows, and I have solidly studied organic treatments and have had quite a bit of success. I have good books on the topic, by excellent organic DVM teachers, including guys like Dr. Paul Dettloff. We also use another doc in Wisconsin name Doc Tom Roskos. Both are fine fellows who provide great advice.

Our concepts and principles were put to the test in these recent weeks and I learned a hard lesson, and experience is a difficult teacher.

It started about 4 weeks ago, while were having fine spring weather. The days were sunny. We are in a bit of a drought. The grass was getting green, and the cows seemed “happy”. Production was starting to come up. Suddenly, our oldest and top cow presented in an afternoon not having much of an appetite. I noticed it because I was doing a Facebook live video and she was not present at the feeders and I even commented on it.

That night, she had low milk production and showed a fever of about 104. It was baffling because she otherwise looked good and lungs sounded clear (I own a stethoscope). We immediately began an organic protocol. She received numerous products including wellness tonics, garlic and other tinctures, etc.

That was a Monday. On Tuesday, her production was definitely down and, while she was eating, her eating was clearly not quite what it should be. She was still running a higher temp, despite our using tinctures to help lower that.

On Wednesday morning, another cow presented with exactly the same situation.

I won’t go into all the detail of the protocols we employed, or the exact timeline, but suffice to say that this second cow rapidly deteriorated and a scary pace. I was completely taken aback never having seen this before. We have had mildly sick calves way back, particularly when we had several shipped very young from back east, but we had never really had any major troubles in the adult population outside of calving difficulties, for which I am reasonably well-practiced.

By Saturday, it was clear cow 2 was going to die, and cow 1 was only getting by.

I’ll fast forward to the following Tuesday. I was doing a post-mortem on a dead cow and was flabbergasted at what I found and it led to numerous insights. Very fortunately, I summoned our local vet, who I really appreciate for his knowledge. He showed up after I had the whole body opened up. What shocked me was we had a thoroughly clean abdomen and digestive system and uterus (this was a 60 day pregnant cow). There was also a thoroughly clean mammary. All the trouble was in the thoracic cavity, and it was bad. We did not have a systemic issue. We had a classic dairy cow pneumonia, also known as shipping fever because often succumb during the stress of shipment.

There was endocarditis and there was serious pus and congestion within the lungs, but what was most shocking of all was the fibrin development that forms and fuses the lungs to the thoracic cavity including the diaphragm.

I had no idea that could happen so quickly.

Our local vet, Dr. Roland Hall of Bonners Ferry Veterinary Clinic, told me this type of degredation can happen in 24 hours or less. Post-mortem lab analysis revealed the primary bacteria to be Mannheimia haemolytica, with a lesser presence of Pasteurella multicida.

PCR assay for viruses found no viruses.

These bacteria are common in a cow environment and can even be found in the upper respiratory tract in a healthy cow. When a stress is put on the cow, suppressing her immune system, this is when the bacteria move to the lower respiratory tract and do their very fast and deadly work.

There are a number of good antibiotics on the market that work to deal with these bacteria while the cow’s immune system is busy trying to muster a response. Being certified organic in the U.S., or in organic transition as we were, one cannot use antibiotics in the cow, or shall I say one must use antibiotics to save the life of the cow, but once done, the cow must be removed from the organic herd never to be certified organic again.

The problem is this – the bacteria can do their deadly work so quickly that organic treatments don’t have time to function. Whereas, an immediate antibiotic application can do amazing things to save the cow. The difference in timing is this: if a cow presents now symptomatic, immediate application of a good antibiotic formulated for the likely pathogen, and a dose of flunixin meglumine to boot, will work wonders and probably will turn things around in the next 24 hours. Delaying antibiotic and flunixin meglumine even 12 hours (e.g. if she presents at night and you call the vet the next morning) can mean you are too late for the antibiotic to do its work and you end up losing the cow. In other words, early detection of the problem and application of the correct solution are critical to saving the cow and ensuring she has no permanent damage if she does live.

The reason we had Dr. Hall come assist with the post-mortem on dead cow was because we had victim number 3 present that morning. While I was cutting up dead cow, milking guy texted me and stated cow 3 low production, temp 105, didn’t eat all her grain. I immediately Dr. Hall, who, I am grateful to say, immediately left his busy small animal practice and headed to the farm call. Before examining victim 3, he wanted to see the post-mortem. He immediately exclaimed that it was a classic pneumonia and even had an idea that it was Mannheimia haemolytica because he had just post-mortemed 4 calves who had died of it on another farm. The lab results from them had just come back.

So, we prepped a bunch of lab samples, and then he went to see his new patient. The first thing he said when he saw her was that she didn’t even look sick. Our detection had been that early. She dropped milk production suddenly, and milking guy instantly took her temp. Her respirations and pulse were normal, and there was not much sound in the lungs yet to suggest a major problem was about to arise.

Dr. Hall immediately administered Banamine (actually the generic flunixin meglumine – which is given in the jugular vein), and gave Excede antibiotic, which is given in the subcutaneous space behind the ear where the ear attaches to the head.

Cow number 3 headed out to pasture that afternoon and ate and drank well. She had a very good appetite at the feeders, and over the next three milkings, was down around 20 percent. By the 3rd day, or when we were going to follow up with temp taking 48 hours after flunixin administration, she came back up to normal production and another vet, Dr. Gentle, who was there for TB testing, had a listen to her lungs and said that while they sounded a little rough, there was no wheezing or crackling. I concurred, having given them a listen myself.

So, here is where I had learned the big lesson. We have some nasty cow diseases in this world, and if you are going to be certified organic as a dairy, you better have antibiotics on hand, give them to the cow, and ship her next door immediately to the conventional dairy, where she can continue her career. In the U.S., once you’ve gotten an antibiotic, you’re done, but you don’t want to wait on the antibiotic either. It must be given quickly, for it to have a chance to do its quick work.

I had a chance, nearly two weeks later, to put this all into practice when victim #4 presented this past Saturday evening. Milking guy texted us after 11pm and told us Pippin had just shown up to milking with very low production compared to the morning, and had a temp of 104. He had released her to the pack bedding. I found her there laying down, and tried to get her up. She was weak and couldn’t even get up. It was working that quickly. I immediately went and got 20cc of flunixine, with a 1.5 inch 16 gage needle, and I got 19 cc of Excede, with a 1 inch 16 gage needle.

I watched a quick review video on where to give the Excede, and then headed out.

Pippin was laying there and made a good patient without me having to tie her off anywhere. First, I gave her the Excede, and then, once again without even having to tie her or have a second person pull her head around, I put the needle into the jugular vein and gave the flunixine meglumine.

Pippin stayed down the following morning, which was Sunday. She could not get up. However, we cleared out the pack, made it her hospital pen, and pumped 5 gallons of electrolyte water into her, and gave her lots of food and vitamin b plus probiotics. She did not have a high temperature and was ravenous with her appetite. This is why the Banamine is so important in this treatment protocol.

That afternoon, we put the sling on Pippin, after she had been down almost 15 hours and clearly was not going to be able to get herself up. Any time I lift a cow who has been down for any amount of time, getting them to take weight on the rear is a bit of work. With Pippin, it took 5 minutes, and I had to set her down at least two or three times, but she finally activated all of her legs, and took her own weight and tried to walk off while she is still attached to the tractor (I use a Gradall forklift to lift because I can extend out to the cow without even having to drive into the barn).

We did not milk her at all on Sunday, but we ensured she drank at least 10 more gallons of water on top of the 5 I had pumped into her, and we made sure she ate a lot and was on the comfortable pack. She spent 6 hours on her feet, and laid down. At 11:30 PM, I checked on her and saw her try to rise, but she wasn’t quite capable.

On Monday, I went to her at 0545 to raise her and saw her try to rise, but fail. As I was extending the forks to her, she decided she wasn’t going to be an invalid who needed tractor assistance and managed to get herself up. I was very glad to see that.

She stayed up for 4 hours, sling on, but joining the herd in the field. They came back and laid down before milking, and we held Pippin back from the parlor so she could rest more. I saw her get herself up and immediately took her to the parlor for milking. Our protocol is – if you can get yourself up multiple times in a row, we take the sling off. So, I did so.

As I write this, she is out with the herd grazing the green grass, and there is even rain falling. Hurray. I can see them all well from my office window.

The lesson here: dairy cow pneumonia is deadly serious. As such, it needs to be dealt with swiftly, and preferably with a conventional treatment specifically targeted to the bacteria that is going to do the real damage (even if initial onset is viral). Flunixine meglumine is also very important because it helps alleviate fever and inflammation (protecting the lungs from damage) and keeping the cow feeling better and eating.

Every dairy cow owner should have appropriate antibiotics on hand and know how to administer them. Having your cow present Saturday night, and calling the vet Sunday afternoon, or worse, Monday, is likely going to end up in a bovine fatality.

Final note: What was the stressor that caused all these cows to get sick? I had no idea pneumonia could be so common in a beautiful and even rain-less spring, but as it turns out, a rainless spring probably had a lot to do with it. The days have been sunny and warm – like 70 degrees warm. This led to the cows shedding their winter coats. The clear nights however, at our northern latitude, and being rural, have significant cooling. In the past weeks, we have had 70 degree days and 23 degree nights. That is a huge fluctuation for any being that lives outside to deal with, and that causes stress on the animal. Add to this the changing diet as they go back to grass and come up in production, and we had a real-life epidemic on our hand.

I am hoping nobody else presents in the coming weeks, and we are watching them closely. However, at least we are ready.

I recommend anyone who owns cows to not only have the appropriate medicines on hand and know how to administer them, but also have a thermometer, a stethoscope, and know some basic diagnostic skills. What would be really nice to have would also be the sling shown in the photo below on Pippin, a tractor to pick her up with, a soft bedding to put a down cow on, and a cattle pump system for giving fluids. The reason why we like having a sling is that when a big animal is down, they develop issues from the compression that occurs from their own weight compressing their muscles and nerves. Pretty soon, you may solve the issue that initially put them down, but then you aren’t able to get her back up because she is physically damaged from being down. This can lead to fatality. The cattle pump system is important because when cows are sick, they typically don’t drink enough. In warm weather, a dairy cow needs 10 percent of her body weight in water intake daily. For Pippin, that is slightly over 15 gallons. Being able to pump that in ensures she gets what she needs and doesn’t develop the myriad of problems that dehydration will cause. Of course, if you cow is drinking significant quantities, there is no need to pump, which is why we only pumped once in Pippin’s situation, and we mostly did this so we could give her electrolytes as well. Pippin will not voluntarily drink water with electrolytes in it.

Victim #4 – Pippin
16 Feb

Protocols

Running a raw milk dairy, we have numerous protocols. There are numerous definitions for that word: protocols. In medicine, it can mean a procedure for carrying out a scientific experiment or a course of medical treatment. In politics, it can mean the official procedure or system of rules governing affairs of state or diplomatic occasions.

I like the word, but another appropriate word is practices.

We have three main types of cows on a dairy farm: lactating, dry, and heifer. The lactating cows are the ones making the money. The dry cows are the ones on vacation – having finished one lactation, and now finishing a calf before they start another lactation. Finally, there are the heifers – the really young ones to the breeding age to the pregnant ones.

Each of the three types has different physical needs, specifically in regards to feed and mineral supplement. For example, a dry cow needs less calcium intake, but much more vitamin E and other vitamins to prepare for “freshening” (having a calf).

How do we know when a lactating cow is supposed to go on vacation? We know based on breeding date. We have a protocol for how we breed, how we verify pregnancy, and how we calculate dry off date.

Recently, because a cow showed not one, but two strong “heats” after a breeding, I did not bother to preg check right away and went ahead and bred said cow again. I then marked her breeding date as the later date, not the earlier. The marked date as opposed to the actual date were more than 30 days apart. As a result, said cow was coming up on dry off but suddenly showing udder growth. We immediately stopped milking. and she calved a short two weeks later.

Ouch. I totally botched the management on that one. She had the wrong diet heading to calving because she was still lactating. Also, her udder did not rest long enough.

As a result, of blowing the management side, I am changing several protocols:

  1. I am visiting a 10,000 cow dairy multiple times over the next several months to work on “arming” cows to get better at my AI and placement. By doing this, I also hope to get better at assessing true heat and possible pregnancy cow-side.
  2. I am running blood test preg check on any cow who shows a heat that I find suspicious. This way, while I might end up breeding the “heat”, I also will have quick feedback as to whether she has pregnancy specific protein b (PSPB) and is in fact pregnant. This will help me avoid recording wrong breeding date, and overcomes my failed attempt to detect pregnancy by palpation. Our prior protocol on pregnancy mostly involved 3 missed heats, but with the herd growing, a cow can show heat and not be in heat if her mates are in heat. Cows are like any group housing of girls – they tend to bunch up on their cycles.
  3. I am changing our mineral supplementation program to make sure I specifically address the needs of the three cow groups to avoid health issues. The goal on this is to minimize edema and retained placentas, two issues we have seen that I feel are higher percentage than I would like to have in the herd (zero percent would be great, albeit is not realistic).
  4. We are going to start giving nosodes to our cows and calves to prep their immune systems for any number of viral disorders. The nosode we will specifically add to our program is called “10 way”. Essentially, they are sugar pills that go into the water that cows drink that have been exposed to the “frequency” of the 10 way vaccine. Cows will get the nosode twice a year.

There are so many other protocols and practices we have that we have developed over time that may be subject to change if I look at stats and numbers and realize they are not totally working. In the meantime, we carry on and take detailed notes on outcome to see what change we can effect!

Heifers
Heifers of different ages

I leave you with this image of heifers on this fine winter block. In the front, we have 10 or 11 week old Danica, on her left is 3 week old Luci, and behind them is nearly 1 year old Anaya.

We are back on Facebook by the way – since it does serve as a good platform for putting out quick snippets of information relative to our activities and what is happening in the market. For example, with yesterday’s snow and very slick roads, the south delivery was postponed until today. Useful information to have, but this is not worthy of a blog post.

We encourage you to “Like” our facebook page. There is a link below or in the sidebar, or you can click here to visit the page: https://facebook.com/GuernseyGoodness

12 Jan

Hazard Tree Removal

Having a large ponderosa pine tree growing right next to the cow barn, on the north side in fact, and with north winds seemingly getting stronger in the last several years, it was time for a hazard tree removal.

The Hazard Tree
Another view of hazard tree
Hazard tree is directly north of cow barn

Years ago, this property was entirely a dense forest with large trees. Within that forest was this large ponderosa pine tree. Its age is at least 100 years old, and it was healthy, but with an interesting looking “crook” or bend about 30 feet up that caused it to lean slightly south. Also, there was a larger branch load on the south, and further up the tree, the tree split into two different tops.

I liked the tree because it served as a great perching point for many birds, including herons occasionally landing there.

When I removed the forest, and in fact after I had built most of that cow barn, which at the time was intended to be hay storage, I left the ponderosa there. I reasoned that it was exceedingly well-rooted, and did not have any obvious defects.

Also, even using a 55,000 pound excavator to push it over requires digging a decent-sized hole on three sides of it, and still takes effort. Ponderosas can be just exactly that well-rooted, especially in a clay soil. Furthermore, at the time, I did not have a use for lumber from it. So, I left it there (this was in 2014).

Since that time, with still a few trees left here and there to provide shade for animals and perching spots for birds, we have been finding that north winds seem to be more fierce than they used to be, particularly after removing the surrounding forest. In the past several years, we have had numerous trees go down, mostly in the bull pen and in the forest line between our north field and the south 20.

Watching the wind blow and really tweak on this tree, I realized that this tree is quite hazardous, and based on watching old ponderosas topple in many locations, especially in the last two years, root balls and all, it became obvious this tree is a danger to the building. Particularly, this tree was dangerous because cows will likely be sheltering in the building when the tree goes down. No tree is important enough to risk building and especially cows. The potential loss is just too great.

So, it became my commitment as of early fall 2020 to remove the tree. Usually, I do these things myself, but with the branch load, the slight lean, and the proximity to the building and potential loss should things go wrong, I decided this was a job for a large machine or professional.

Since I have no plans to rent a large machine soon, I called an excavating company I have had do a couple of jobs for me. He told me he would drop by and give me an estimate at the end of October or early November. He never showed.

Then I forgot about it for a bit, but it was still in the back of my mind. I needed a hazard tree removal! As we headed toward the end of the year, I tried contacting a local tree service. He was very courteous to call me back on a Sunday and promised to drop by within a few days, but he never did. I called him again a week later, and he promised the same, and never came.

So, I contacted a second tree service. I got the same result.

This week, I took a look at that tree and thought – it has to be gone before the next arctic front comes. I texted one of my clients, who owns a logging company. She called her husband, and he came out yesterday afternoon within three hours of me contacting her.

He assessed the tree and said, yep it should be taken out. We decided on a falling direction and a strategy and I asked him when he wanted to do it. His reply, “I have my chainsaw right now!”

Okay. So, we had decided I would also push on the tree with my Gradall, just slightly, in order to act as our insurance policy in case anything went wrong.

While he got suited up in safety gear, I fired up the Gradall and quickly knocked over two birch trees that were dead and in the falling patch of the ponderosa. Then, I put a meal out for the heifer group so they wouldn’t approach the fall line while Alex (Barnhart) got to work.

He made his notch while I lined up the Gradall and then he made his back cut and put wedges in etc. I pushed slightly on the tree and he finished the backcut.

The tree came crashing down perfectly in the fall line. According to my daughters, who were in the house several feet away, it made enough of a thundering sound on impact with the ground that the cats laying around all started.

Alex, with some help from me, quickly delimbed it and cut it into 20 foot logs, and then I thanked him and he left. I finished the job by using the Gradall to push all the slash into a pile, and deck the logs for a future trip through my Woodmizer. Mostly likely, this hazardous tree removal will result in great green pine siding for my future commodity barn at the front of the farm.

All in all, the total job took from about 3 pm to 5:30 pm by the time the logs were decked and the slash piled. We made sure to pile high so the heifers and steers don’t stand around munching too many pine needles – since those aren’t generally good for them and can especially be abortifacent for cows in their third trimester of pregnancy, though there are none in that group currently.

Alex was an awesome guy to do that for me! It took a bit of stress off me. I told him I get very nervous falling tall trees like that around buildings, though generally I have been very accurate. He said he feels the same way, though generally (he did not say this but I know it to be true), he is exceedingly accurate.

Trees are great, just not when they could potentially destroy a building. Do you know exactly how dense and heavy a ponderosa pine tree is? Very. Had it ever fallen on the barn, it would have been very devastating in its effect. I am very pleased to see it no longer in the sky line.

09 Dec

Constant Pressure Pump

We have a constant pressure pump system serving our dairy. I spent the afternoon pulling the deep well pump and correcting a wire problem.

Background: Pump is a 3hp motor connected to a 1.5 hp pump end on a 2 inch drop hose. Constant pressure controller is basically a variable speed controller. The brand of controller we had was AY McDonald Pressure Master (Subdrive 30).

Two weeks ago, after being in service for 18 months, the controller burned up – literally. In a path along the heat sink, there was massive heat damage. Leads blown off their surface mount pads. Resistors blown apart. Surface mount transistors blown apart. That sort of thing.

Cause – unknown.

$1600 later, I had a new Pentek controller as a replacement. It worked great for 4 days, then gave a Low Amps warning and shut ‘er down. Broke out the multimeter and found significant resistance on the yellow wire at the controller, and then at the well head. Not good.

To troubleshoot further, one must pull the pump. The bottom of the pump sits at 300 feet down the well (the true water formation is from 300 feet to the depth of the well at 320. The last 10 feet are screen.

Well capacity is about 150 gallons per minute. Pump capacity is 35 gpm. Static water level is 55 feet. I could have gone much shallower on the pump set, but I’m always trying to project worse case scenario, and set deep if I can afford it (cost is wire and drop hose), which I could at the time.

So, I pulled the pump today, and lo and behold, the yellow wire seems to have done some rubbing. It had a spot rubbed flat on it’s insulation jacket and the wire as of today was non-existent across that gap. Obviously there was a gradual corrosion occurring. This wire seems to be a 12 gage stranded copper. Not my favorite. The drop wire itself is solid copper 10 gage. The black wire splice also has a spot rubbed flat and was on its way to dying the death.

Wire problem
Wire Problem

Lesson: I shortened the wires at that depth so there is no slack and they won’t rub. I am suspecting they were rubbing against the well casing anytime the pump kicked up some torque and possibly had light movement. Just guessing.

I replaced all the splices and found another area on the wires where there were flat spots and put another set of splices there (this is where I did the actual shortening of the wires). Thanks to our exceedingly short days, I ran out of daylight and will drop this pump back in tomorrow and give it a whirl and see if all is well with the new Pentek controller.

In the meantime, being a dairy, we have a backup – our original 14 foot dug well (this well uses a submersible 3/4 hp pump and runs on an old-fashioned pressure switch). Switching from one to another is as simple as turning off one breaker, turning on another, shutting off one valve and opening another.

Lifting the pump
Lifting the pump

05 Nov

Family-Scale Farms are Wildlife habitat

One of the sad things of losing the farmland of the Rathdrum Prairie (or anywhere), and specifically family-scale farms, to housing development, is the loss of wildlife habitat.

Our farm, located in Bonner County, Idaho, is habitat for an amazing list of critters. Since we moved onto the land in 2006, we have seen the list and quantity of critters grow.

Dairy farms make great habitat.

These photos show a Northern Pygmy Owl. What you may not realize is this is a small bird – maybe 6 inches, and one of its favorite meals is songbirds. Their defense against it is they mob it. It has fake “eyes” on the back of its head, as shown in one of the shots. Experts think this is a defensive mechanism to make it look like it is watching a predator even when turned the other way.

Our farm makes great bird habitat because of all the bugs and other critters that take up residence here thanks to the increased nutrients made available by cows. We help them by providing habitat, and they help us by eating bugs and other things. We strategically left trees mixed with the southern end pastures not watered by wheel line so the birds would have roosting and nesting opportunities.

When you support family-scale, and especially organic, farming, you are supporting a healthy environment for all of God’s creatures. Remember, family-scale farms are wildlife habitat!

Northern Pygmy-Owl
Northern Pygmy-Owl at Pleasant Meadow Creamery
"Eyes" on the back of head
Fake Eyes

More information on Northern Pygmy-Owls can be found at one of our favorite websites: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Pygmy-Owl/overview

15 Oct

New Cows

Last Friday, 10/09, we received two new cows from Iowa. They were purchased from Knapp Guernseys, very near Wisconsin.

The reason for the purchase is that demand is outstripping supply, and right at the time of year that grass-fed cows naturally begin to produce less milk. Also, we have three good cows on pre-calving vacation.

I was in one of our retail partners yesterday and there was just one milk left on the shelf in natural. That was a Wednesday. We had just stocked the store Tuesday, and will not be back until Saturday. Yikes!

We do our best to meet the demand, but we’re working with seasons and live animals, and with grass. If we were a conventional dairy, we could double the output of these ladies, no problem. However, it would not be by feeding them the long-stemmed organic forage that they do get. We would be feeding corn silage, sorghum, alfalfa, and a whole lot of each, and who knows what else.

Instead, we are striving to produce the most healthful product possible from A2A2 Guernsey cows on grass and grass hay/haylage. When it comes to production, we get what we get. During the late spring, entire summer, and early fall, we have great per cow daily average production, but nowhere near what we would get in a conventional operation.

During the true fall and most of winter, our numbers drop considerably – just as the days really shorten, and there is literally nothing we can do about it. It’s just the natural cycle. We still think it’s good production, but the industry certainly wouldn’t think so. We have been doing it long enough and keep detailed daily records, and our production is entirely predictable, and that’s all we’re looking to do – meet the predicted numbers. If we don’t, then for sure, something is wrong.

So back to the new cows: meet Tingle and Lovestruck. They’re helping us put more milk in the tank now, but they have to learn to graze and be organic cows like the rest of their co-workers who have 4 legs up on them, many having been born here.

Lovestruck
Lovestruck
Tingle
Tingle

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10 Sep

Wade Rain Wheel Line

At Pleasant Meadow Creamery, being in a western state, we learned long ago that a Wade Rain Wheel line is absolutely necessary to have green grazing 5 or six months per year.

Prior to getting wheel lines, we would have the fields dry out in early August, and our solo cow would already be looking for hay.

We therefore sought to install an irrigation system. It involved building a dam on the creek and irrigating from the creek. This worked to water one pasture, with one wheel line, but only barely because we would draw the creek down after just two or three hours irrigating and we would have to shut down for ten hours to recharge.

Finally, we sunk real money into putting in an irrigation well. To drill and develop the well (which we developed ourselves) cost over $24,000. It was worth it though, as we now have an irrigation system that can water 45 acres and run 24 hours per day 7 days per week week in and week out.

In a normal year, the system runs either 44 or 55 days, depending on whether we do five runs across the fields or four. This summer is a four pass summer thanks to rains as late as July 8. It has been dry dry dry since then, but not on our fields. Every 11 days, we put down about 2.5 inches of water.

We chose to buy a Wade Rain wheel line because for our pastures, the coverage is excellent, based on shape and size, and they were very affordable versus overhead pivots. Furthermore, Wade Rain parts are readily available and are manufactured in the United States. In fact, there is a company in Spokane, WA that makes many of the components for the wheel line.

We buy our replacement parts through Ragan Equipment in Coeur D Alene – http://raganequipment.com. They have lately become quite the small property tractor store, but formerly were very involved with larger equipment and irrigation systems. Now, they call those smaller tractors “boomers” because of the people who buy them, but that is for another blog post.