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The challenges of being a dairy producer

Marcia Endres

Published in Dairy Star April 30, 2010

What else does a dairy producer need to do? Milk prices have not yet recovered to anywhere near 2007 and 2008 levels. Futures in the months ahead do look better than last year. But, they are not even close to $20 per cwt., which would be tremendously helpful!

Two other issues of concern dairy producers are facing are some new requirements coming down the line. Beginning October 1, 2010, any dairy processor that exports to the European Union will have to guarantee that each dairy has a somatic cell count below 400,000. Milk quality will sure count. Many dairies will not have much difficulty achieving this goal, but for some it will require a bigger effort. It could mean better cow preparation for milking, more and/or cleaner bedding, better cow handling, etc. In the end, it will be better for the cows and consumers, but for some dairies, it will certainly be a concern. The other issue is one discussed in a recent Dairy Herd Management update that summarized a study done in California. This study found that the gases emitted during silage fermentation are to blame for the increase in ozone levels rather than the manure lagoons. So what is the dairy producer supposed to do? Cows need to eat. One suggestion was that silage be stored in bags rather than piles. However, more studies are needed to confirm these findings, so no need to worry yet. These issues are just two examples of recent developments among many other current requirements that dairy producers have in order to operate their businesses.

The National FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Dairy Well-Being program from the National Milk Producers Federation and Dairy Management Inc. launched in fall 2009 appears to be a much easier task. One of the main goals of this program is to document for retailers and consumers what most dairy producers are already doing in relation to animal care. The program includes three stages: 1) education and self-assessment, 2) evaluation, and 3) third-party verification. Educational workshops will be offered in Minnesota later this year with the goal of informing dairy producers, veterinarians, and other dairy professionals about the FARM program and some of the areas that will be evaluated on the farm. The workshops will help producers and their advisors conduct a self-assessment of their dairy. For the second stage, each farm will be evaluated once every three years by a second party evaluator, who could be the herd veterinarian or milk coop field personnel or other professionals familiar with the dairy. A statistical sample of all dairy farms on the program will be selected every year, starting in late 2011 or 2012, to have third-party verification by a representative who is not involved with the dairy. All the information collected from each farm remains confidential and only overall summaries will be available publicly.

Areas assessed in the FARM program include standard operating procedures, training and record keeping, calf care, animal health, nutrition, environment and facilities, handling, movement and transportation, special needs animals, and dairy beef. The recommended best practices or guidelines are summarized in the Quick Reference User Guide, and more detail is provided in the animal care manual, both available at the FARM website. Keep in mind that some of the numbers suggested in the guide for outcome-based measurements (such as locomotion, hock lesion and hygiene scores) are only guidelines and not standards.

Most producers are already addressing the areas to be evaluated in the program. For example, one of the checklist items is ‘calves receive colostrum or colostrum replacement soon after birth’. This is already being done because all producers want healthy, productive calves. ✓ Check. Another item is ‘the dairy has a Veterinarian/Client/Patient relationship’. I don’t know of many dairies in Minnesota not working with a veterinarian and not having a health plan for their animals. ✓ Check. ‘Rations should provide the required nutrients for maintenance, growth, and lactation’. Again, that is good for the cow and for the business. ✓ Check. The list goes on. When producers do the self-assessment or have the evaluation by the second party, there might be some practices that are not being done on the dairy. This provides an opportunity to further improve animal care. In the end everyone wins – the cow, the producer, and the consumer (who wants to be assured good care is the standard on farms).

I really appreciate your resiliency, commitment to produce a high-quality, nutritious and wholesome product, and amazing upbeat attitude in these tough times. Thank you very much for all you do!

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