Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New potential problem with cows?

What happens when people have to pay to have cows rendered? There's a new FDA regulation that's called the "enhanced feed ban regulation." This means that cows over 30 months of age won't be able to be rendered without removing the brain and spinal cord. These dead animals typically were rendered and included in meant and bone meal.

The impact of this ban is discussed by Jim Dickrell of Dairy Today in a recent Dairy Talk Blog posting. Leslie Reed of the Omaha World-Hearld discusses this impact for both dairy and beef cattle in a recent article. Instead of being paid for the cows, dairy producers will have to pay to have the cows removed from their farm. This cost will likely be $100-$200 per cow. An alternative is to compost the cow, and many states extension services are organizing composting workshops for dairy producers. The University of Maryland Extension folks are organizing this now, for example.

There is a lesson here that can be learned from horse owners. Ever since slaughterhouses for horses were banned in the US, there was no economic incentive to have old or unwanted horses killed. All the emotional discussion about eating horses needs to be put aside, because not only does much of the world eat horse meat but we need to examine what happens to the horses when there is no economic incentive for the horse owner to get rid of the horse.

Horses end up being abandoned, neglected and often not fed properly. MJ Clark in a recent article in the Wyoming Business Journal described the situation of a horse rescue farm that would be over whelmed if they took donations. Helen Boreczky runs the horse rescue farm, and is quoted in the article as saying:

“I’d say the abuse has increased because people aren’t selling them to slaughter.”

As dairy producers don't have an outlet for downer, sick or dead cows, they will tend to leave the cows suffer longer before they die. I'm afraid that this will end up being a cruel fact of dairy farming in the future, and it will only open the industry up to further criticism. That's criticism that the industry doesn't need at this point in time.

Please do what you can as dairy advisers to prevent this problem.

Hope that helps.


Has history repeated itself?

Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) is a large nationally-based farmer-owned milk marketing and dairy product manufacturing cooperative with headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. Recently, DFA announced that they had reached a settlement with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission along with two former leaders of DFA. The monetary penalty was $12 million US Dollars. This settlement didn't generate a large 'news' presence, with an Associated Press news item circulated in some dairy and local publications in dairy-rich regions of the US and with an article in a Kansas City newspaper.

A US Mid-Atlantic regional publication, Lancaster Farming, had a recent front page article about this settlement and the reaction of their dairy community to the settlement. This article describes the essence of the charge as:

The core of complaints against DFA and the two executives was that they essentially traded against the interests of their own member farmers on the CME, betting on and profiting from declines in prices of dairy commodities traded on the exchange floor."

A little more reading in the article mentions the executives by name and one of those is Gary Hanman, of DFA, who I remember my father mentioning. Please pardon a little bit of history, but I remember my father, Kenny, mentioning Mr. Hanman. My father is a part of this blog's goal.

DFA's history is that it was formed in 1998 by merging four large dairy cooperatives. My father was associated with Mid-American Dairymen (MidAm) which was one of the four cooperatives, and I remember him mentioning political contributions. Another of the four was Associated Milk Producers Inc (AMPI) which gained much noteriety in the 1970's for
contributing money to the campaign fund of President Richard Nixon. The government then changed their stand on milk price supports and the price of milk increased substantially.

Still reading? Here's where history may have repeated itself. You can easily look up recent contributions to political campaigns on the Huffington Post website. If you do a search for Gary Hanman, you find that in the last quarter of '07 and the first quarter of '08, Mr. Hanman made contributions of over $4,000 to prominent Republican campaign organizations.

The article in Lancaster Farming states that the "...
U.S. Justice Department probe of DFA and other players in the U.S. dairy industry that has dragged on for years and apparently been kept bottled up by Bush administration political operatives at the highest levels at Justice. "

I don't know if they are related or not, and I'm not implying that there is a cause and effect. I just find it ironic that once again, former leaders of dairy industry organizations are making political contributions and that a reporter is once again connecting favorable treatment by government officials with a dairy leader who made contributions to the political party in power at the time.

Can't we learn from our mistakes?

Hope that helps.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Feedstuff's Editor Misses the Boat

Sarah Muirhead is Editor and Publisher of Feedstuffs, a weekly hardcopy and for-fee Internet publication that focuses on the animal agriculture business, especially feeding those animals. An article by Ms. Muirhead was recently published in Farm Futures, a "sister" publication to Feedstuffs. The article is entitled "Higher Costs Unfold as Dairy Tech is Removed", and Ms. Muirhead says the following:

"Options for increasing total milk production for safe, wholesome, nutritious diets are to either (1) increase the number of cows milked, or (2) improve productivity through technology."

Ms. Muirhead says in effect that the recent decline in overall milk production was due in large part to dairy producers not using the bST product, Posilac. Well, some producers have used less Posilac, but your ways to increase milk production misses one key option. That option is the opposite of what is historically done when feed prices get high.

The third option is that dairy farmers can feed more concentrate and milk production will go up. This isn't a new concept. The relationship between feed prices and total milk production is strong and negative. As prices of concentrate feeds rise, and they certainly did that in 2008, dairy farmers don't feed their cows as much. Anybody associated with the industry knew that.

If you don't feed cows as much protein and energy concentrate feeds, like corn grain and soybean meal, then then don't milk as much. Everybody associated with the industry knows that.

Ms. Muirhead, I'm sorry, but with the focus of your publication being feeding animals and with your role as Editor and Publisher you should have not missed this direct cause and effect relationship.

Hope that helps


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Clever idea for dairy advisers from Australia

There's times when we observe or hear about clever ideas from other locations, even different continents. I read about one today in the Weekly Times Now published in Australia. Their article describes a service that dairy producers can register to get an e-mail message whenever the combination of heat and humidity gets high enough to limit milk production.

The Cool Cows website is part of the Grains2Milk project in Australia. There's a number of publications written for the Australian conditions, and the part where you can register to get a warning e-mail.

This would be something that any US public or private dairy adviser could put together for the dairy producers is her/his area. The temperature and humidity combination's that limit milk production are well known. An adviser could then create a program by establishing a web-page with links to publications and other resources. A warning e-mail could then be sent to dairy producers when those conditions arise.

Examples of good publications include one from DAIReXNET in eXtension that describes the evaluation and selection of cooling equipment for different locations. The folks from Kansas State University Extension also have some good publications on this issue.

It's cold here in North America at the moment, but there's time for someone to get this program established and promoted before the weather gets hot.

Hope that helps.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lessons from the Chinese Dairy Scandal

Travelling in Russia, as I am now, has given me the opportunity to reflect on some of the lessons that the US dairy industry might learn from the recent Chinese dairy scandal that I continue to update on in my blog posting. 

Bruce McLaughlan is a columnist in the Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch, and he has a business consultancy based in China. He recently wrote:

"Adverts in China give us the image that China's dairy giants control huge green fields full of happy, healthy cows, which troop into gleaming dairies where their milk is efficiently turned into yoghurt, ice cream or formula. The reality is somewhat different. While each of the big-name dairies has its own model farm with a few thousand cows, these account for a tiny proportion of the milk used by these firms."

The US dairy industry has this same kind of image of "happy, healthy cows, which troop in gleaming dairies" that's used in promotion. The California dairy industry uses precisely this kind of false vision in their "Happy California Cows" television ads, most of which can be found on YouTube.

We all know that the cows in California are not managed in this fashion, so when the reality is brought out, as in a PETA video and PR blitz, the industry takes another black eye.

How long does the dairy industry wish to willingly put itself into a postion of accepting black-eyes?

Just a thought, and I hope that helps.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Russian Dairy Products

A wide variety of dairy products are now available in Russia. Most are produced locally, some with major international labels. Photos to follow.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Unusual 'Cow in the News' Story

I know it's not Friday, which is going to be my usual day for a 'funny cow post' in Dairy Adviser's Coffeeshop, but dairy advisers often get asked about the validity of news items. There was a recent news item distributed by UPI that is quoted below:

"Farmer Graham Vallis said by conducting a meditative mooing session with his cows for five minutes before each milking session, he has been able to increase the amount of milk he gets from them, The Sun reported Saturday."

The Sun
is a reputable newspaper in the UK, and UPI news items are often used on the local radio stations that dairy producers and advisers listen to.

If you get asked about this, look back on this post and I'll try to upda
te the post with research-based support that I find on the topic. This photo is from the Wisconsin Historical Society and has a interesting story behind it.

A recent Hoard's Dairyman article (November 10, 2005; page 757) by Mary Beth de Ondarza discusses if cows are psychologically comfortable, and this may be the key to the success of the UK farmer's mooing. Hoard's is available on-line, but requires a subscription to access archive articles.

One recent research article on a related topic is at:

Title of Journal:  Applied animal behaviour science.

Vol/Iss/Month: 53/June
Date: 1997
Page(s): 175-182.
Title of article(s): Effect of music on voluntary approach of dairy
cows to an automatic milking system.
Author(s) of article: Uetake,-K.; Hurnik,-J.F.; Johnson,-L.

This is from a search of the Dairy-L archives.
If you're not a part of the
Dairy-L discussion group, check it out.

Hope that helps.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"The Churning Point"

Today's Washington Post Food Section had an article by Jane Black entitled "The Churning Point." Ms. Black writes:

"Bobby Prigel seems like a poster child for the local-food movement. A fourth-generation dairy farmer, he wants to build a creamery to make organic butter, yogurt, cheese and ice cream. He wants to sell those products to consumers in nearby Baltimore instead of shipping his milk out of state. He wants to make enough money to pass on the farm to a fifth generation."

This article describes the problems faced by a Maryland dairy producer as he tries to establish a new niche marketing alternative for products from his newly-certified organic dairy farm. This farm is just outside of Baltimore and is surrounded by 'city and suburban-types' who bought land and were a part of the 'white-flight' out of Baltimore. The Prigel's are surrounded by neighbors with influence upon governing systems, and they are organized in the Long Green Valley Conservancy. It pits neighbor against neighbor.

The local county Board of Appeals has yet to rule on the zoning request. The Baltimore Sun has an article on the issue also, and that article was in a recent ChickenFlicker blog post.

Most of the legal argument revolves around whether churning butter, pasteurizing/homogenizing milk and making ice cream or yogurt is an agricultural enterprise. The Prigel family sold their farm's development rights to the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation over a decade ago, so the farm can't be developed. Agricultural enterprises are allowed, however, and as the phrase goes 'therein lies the rub.'

Many people across the US and around the world will face similar issues as urbanization increases. It's just that we're facing them sooner in the urban Mid-Atlantic region. If you're ever faced with giving advice to a farmer, a good resource is New Jersey's "Farmer-to-Farmer Advice for Avoiding Conflicts With Neighbors and Towns."

In the interest of full disclosure, I've known the Prigel family for decades, and have enjoyed meals in the family home. I have not, however, been an adviser to the family on this current project, nor have I visited Bellevale Farm for some years.

Hope that helps


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

China Milk Scandal: Updated - 8 October 2008

For those who are interested in the dairy industry, there is a lesson to be learned from the milk scandal that was finally brought under control in China. For those who have had their head under a rock for the last few days, more than 10,000 children had to be hospitalized across China after consuming formula or dairy products contaminated with melamine, a cheap industrial chemical. The latest estimates have over 90,000 children sickened by the melamine-tainted milk.

To quote from a recent International Hearld and Tribune article:

"China has brought under control a tainted milk scandal in which thousands of children fell ill with kidney stones, a senior official said Wednesday, as Prime Minister Wen Jiabao vowed tougher monitoring.Beijing is battling public alarm and international dismay after close to 13,000 Chinese children crowded hospitals, ill from infant milk formula tainted with melamine, a cheap industrial chemical that can be used to cheat quality checks."

Reaction by Chinese dairy farmers was summarized in a recent news article. A description of the situation and the regulatory approach for the Chinese dairy industry has been published. Additional problems with milk powder continue to be found, even in October, 2008. Of course, the problems are found with milk powder, which has a long storage life and is made when there is excess fresh milk.

The background on why it happened is below, but the lesson to be learned is the same lesson we've learned over and over again. When a problem is found, be proactive about it. Inform people and correct the problem as soon as possible. When Johnson & Johnson found problems with Tylenol, they operated what has become the textbook case of doing it right.

What happened in China is that it appears that there was heavy pressure to not have any bad news before or during the recent Olympic Games. The Chinese milk companies knew of problems and people becoming sick when they asked the Chinese government to help them manage the media during the Olympics.. Outside investors encouraged the individuals to recall products, but it was not done. This may become instead, the textbook case of doing it wrong.

Melamine when added to milk or other food-like products 'tricks' the chemical tests on the product into appearing to have higher levels of protein. Protein is often the most costly ingredient in something like pet food, so the melamine was added to pet food ingredients exported from China in 2007, and ended up poisoning dogs and cats in many countries.

With milk, melamine was added in China during 2008, and possibly before, to boost protein content after adding water to milk. Evidently milk freezing point was not evaluated as it is in the US to check for addition of water to milk. A Chinese feed mill operator was quoted by Reuters as saying that addition of melamine to milk "was rampant" for two reasons. The first was water dilution, but the second was more subtle. Protein levels in milk can decline when cows are feed very low quality feed. Farmers would have their milk rejected if milk protein levels were low, so melamine was added so that milk companies would accept their milk. Chinese dairy farmers now view themselves as victims. The Chinese government has announced toughened rules for the dairy industry.

New Zealand seems to have taken the lead in testing for melamine, perhaps due to the connection between and investment from a New Zealand dairy company, Fonterra, in the leading Chinese dairy company. High levels of melamine have now been found in candy imported from China. This is likely from milk being used in the candy manufacturing process.

Now, there is increased call for testing in Europe of cookies, chocolates or toffees where the level of milk powder used in manufacture is more than 15%.

Other countries are now following suit and expanding the number of products that are being tested for melamine. Descriptions of some of the various products have been published.

Adding water to milk to boost milk volume is nothing new. Dairy farmers are often paid according to the volume of milk delivered, and everyone knows water is cheaper and easier to obtain than milk. I'm sure it's tempting, and I remember being a young boy and asking my dad why people didn't add water to milk. He told me "Adding water would be cheating, and cheaters always get caught."

In retrospect, he's right. They get caught, but sometimes after tragic damage. Let's hope this never happens to the US dairy industry! An interesting post by Chris Galen discusses why he thinks we have the precautions in place in the US to prevent it from happening here.

Hope that helps.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Passing of Individuals Marks Passing of an Era

Update on 8/28/08: Lee Majeskie's obituary and a slideshow of pictures can be found on our department's website.

I just distributed the following to the virtual community of dairy professionals we call "Dairy-L."

"Dear Friends,

"It is my sad duty to share with you the news that Dr. J. Lee Majeskie died of a heart attack on Friday night, 22 August 2008. He had retired recently and held the rank of Associate Professor Emeritus and Extension Specialist in the Department of Animal & Avian Sciences at the University of Maryland at the time of his death.

"Lee was born and raised on a dairy farm near Pewaukee, WI and he received his BS and MS degrees from the University of Wisconsin. He received his Ph.D. degree in animal genetics from Kansas State University in 1970. Lee served as Director of Program Development for the Brown Swiss Cattle Breeders Association until 1975, when he joined the faculty in the Department of Dairy Science at the University of Maryland. Lee worked with the DHI program statewide, regionally and nationally and aided in a number of youth 4-H programs.

"Accomplishments include coaching the Maryland 4-H dairy cattle judging team for 25 years, placing in the top three nationally 18 times during those 25 years and winning the contest five times. Living in a small state with increasing urbanization, Dr. Majeskie initiated a dairy leasing program that allowed non-farm 4-H youth to lease a dairy animal and participate in dairy projects, including showing. This leasing program celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2008. Dr. Majeskie also taught courses on campus and was the faculty adviser for the Animal Husbandry Club for a number of years. The Club hosts dairy/swine/beef/sheep shows that form the foundation of a college-wide 'county-fair like event' each April that was called Ag Day, allowing dozens of undergraduates to gain meaningful large-animal handling experience annually. Ag Day has evolved into a campus-wide event called Maryland Day, which attracts over 50,000 people to campus each year.

"Dr. Majeskie received two prestigious awards recently. He received the American Dairy Science Ass'n Award of Honor at their annual meeting this summer, and he was inducted to the Maryland Dairy Shrine this spring. He has also received numerous honors and awards over the years from 4-H and various dairy cattle organizations.

"Details of memorial services are not available to me at this time, and interested individuals can contact me privately. Cards of condolences can go to Lee's widow at the address below.

[contact me privately at mavarner@gmail.com to get the widow's contact info}

"Sorry to be the bearer of sad tidings this day. Kindest regards to each of you."

I worked with Lee for about 25 years in the Department, and we traveled together in-state often. There was a time when animal/dairy science departments in Land-Grant universities all had tenure-track faculty members who were responsible for and took active participation in 4-H youth programs. While there are a few people left around the US in those positions, most academic departments are not hiring people in tenure-track roles to fill these service roles.

Whether that's right or wrong is a story for another date/time. Let's just say that Lee's death has symbolic significance besides loss for his widow and son.

Hope that helps.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Posilac sold to Lilly's Elanco Animal Health Unit: Updated 10/08

AgWeb.com reports that this sale has been finalized.

The Dow Jones Newswire reports that Monsanto is selling the Posilac product (sometribove) that includes the rights to the product and plant to produce the product to Eli Lilly & Co's Elanco Animal Health unit in a posting today. The Lilly press release is also available today.

Elanco has marketed the product outside of the US for some time, so this change makes some sense. The company's press release indicates that the sales force will be merged into the "Elanco business."

Many of the critics of rbST were focused on the 'Monsanto boogeyman' that included genetically modified organizisms. With this split of rbST being sold by one company and Monsanto continuing to sell genetically modified seeds for crops, it will be interesting to watch the critics and see if having multiple targets makes their attacks less visible in the press.

Recently England's royal buffoon, Prince Charles, said in an interview with the UK's Daily Telegraph that increased use of genetically modified organisms to solve the world's food shortage crisis would lead to environmental disaster. Informed members of Parliment called him a "Luddite".

It should be noted that many critics of genetically modified foods, including Prince Charles, have a financial interest in products that compete with conventionally produced food.

Hope that helps


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Monsanto's Posilac to be sold

The Wall Street Journal MarketWatch and Feedstuffs reports today (6 August 2008) that Monsanto is selling its Posilac product. No additional details were reported, but the press release is available. The Feedstuffs article was very similar to the text in the WSJ MarketWatch article.

The MarketWatch article quotes Carl Casale, Monsanto's Executive Vice-President of Strategy and Operations.The Posilac product was cited as the "... leading dairy animal supplement." Monsanto will focus on its agronomic seed products, like 'Roundup Ready Soybeans'.

The articles and press releases indicate that the plans are to have the buyer for the Posilac product to continue to market the product so "that loyal dairy farmers continue to receive the value of POSILAC in their operations." An authoritative summary concerning the safety of rbST for both humans and cattle is available for those interested.

It's unclear how and even if this is related to the efforts to have a marketing niche for rbST-free milk, which was discussed in a previous blog posting here in the Dairy Farm Adviser's Coffeeshop. The New York Times had an article on 7 August 2008, quoting representatives of various groups essentially claiming victory by forcing Monsanto out of the market. Monsanto released this press release on the same day that they announced their 4th quarter dividend of 24 cents per share. It should also be noted that late in July of 2008, Monsanto was recommended as a "Powerful Buy" stock by Zacks, reputed to be an industry leader in independent research for stock evaluation.

Interesting stuff! Hope that helps.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Why people want labels on milk

As a dairy scientist with a Minnesota farm background, I'm often asked why people pay more for milk labeled according to the way it's produced. One example is the recent controversy over labelling milk from cows not supplemented with rbST.

I've observed that it's not really about any differences in the milk. When I speak with consumers who pay more for milk that is labeled as rbST free or organic, I've found that they do really know that there is no difference in the milk. These are casual conversations, and not a part of a scientific study.

These people are willing to pay more because they think that dairy farmers who don't use rbST or who produce organic milk are somehow better for the ecosystem or environment as a whole, and they often say that they are willing to pay more to help support those farmers. Of course, farmers who choose not to use rbST receive only a very small fraction of the price difference.

It's ironic that the recently published research study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences clearly demonstrates that rbST-supplemented cows are more 'environmentally friendly.' Cows supplemented with rbST have a smaller 'carbon footprint' than do those raised under conventional management.

An authoritative article about the safety of rbST supplementation for both cattle and humans is available for those interested.

In the interest of full disclosure (very important these days) I have no financial connection with Monsanto.

Hope that helps.


High Feed Cost Webinar

Update: The webinar went off very successfully and was archived. You can review the archive online.

There will be a 'webinar' focused on high feed costs on 18 August 2008 at 8:00 PM EDT. That's midnight GMT. The topics are listed below. Each will have an internationally recognized expert give a 10 minute presentation, including Powerpoint slides, and then the presentation will be followed by a question and answer period.

  • Strategies to Lock in Milk and Feed Prices—Dave Byers, VA veterinarian/nutritional consultant
  • Feeding Strategies with $7, $8, or $9 Corn – Mike Hutjens, Univ IL Professor
  • Alternative Feedstuffs for Corn and Soybean Meal – Randy Shaver- Univ WI Professor
You need a computer with speakers and an Internet connection. You will type in your questions in a box in the webpage, and the expert will answer them.

You can download a copy of the presentations from Slideshare.

This webinar is a part of the DAIReXNET Project in the new US eXtension effort that utilizes the latest in Web 2.0 technologies to provide objective, research-based and credible information on timely and important topics.

Hope that helps.


Monday, June 30, 2008

Coffeeshop Goal

My father, Kenny, was a dairy farmer in Minnesota. He loved to go to the coffeeshop in town, and that was long before Starbucks was even a twinkle in the eye of Seattle's Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegel and Gordon Bowker. Kenny would talk with the patrons about farming, trade fishing stories and in general "solve all the problems of the world." I got to go along once in a while on rainy days, and it's in the spirit of that Waverly, Minnesota coffeeshop that I've created this blog.

This blog is for and about dairy-farm advisers. Some advisers are supported by the government or taxpayers, and you can call the 'public-sector' advisers. Some are supported by companies and others work on their own. These can be called 'private-sector' advisers. No matter which you are, this blog is about you and for you. Some postings will be about the new things I've discovered on the Internet. Other postings will be about ways that we can work together, and make our time spent with the Internet even more effective.

I want to cover new resources available to you in our 'Internet-connected' world. Some of these resources are static, or unchanging resources that are published on the Internet. Others are more exciting, and will change the way we do our work. It's exciting to be working in this field and be a part of the change. My goal for this blog is to not only to be a form to describe how this change occurs, but also to play some small part in helping the change occur. I've had the privilege of playing a part in creating the concept of 'virtual on-line communities' in agriculture, and I hope that I can have a similar privilege with what's going to happen over the next couple of years.

First Resource
The national Cooperative Extension Service system has organized a new effort to utilize the latest Web 2.0 technologies and allow Extension professionals to work across state and county boundaries more easily. This new system is call eXtension, and the national launch was in March of 2008. The focus is on delivering objective, research-based and credible information to the public and stakeholder groups. DAIReXNET was one of the first 'communities' established in eXtension, and that section was launched at World Dairy Expo in 2007. I'm one of the management team for DAIReXNET, so check out the resources that are there, and let me know what you think.

A Bit About Dairy Science Mark
I'm a college professor at the University of Maryland, and one of my responsibilities is to be a technical specialist for dairy farm advisers. I work in one of the 'top-ten' departments in the United States, and you can find out more about the Department or about me at our departmental website. I teach all or most of six courses and I'm also the Undergraduate Coordinator for the Department. We're proud to send over 80% of our undergraduate applicants to AVMA-accredited veterinary schools, which is their goal. Many of them now consider large-animal veterinary medicine as a career due to our program. I was the co-creator of Dairy-L, the first successful Internet-based virtual community in agriculture.