Tag Archives: cattle care

Three Times a Day, You Need a Farmer

I was lucky enough to catch some attention with a post that I wrote that tried to simply answer, “What makes farming worth the heartache?”

While I expanded on idyllic images, (which happen to be my reality), I wrote it in response to many other’s lamentation about the hard times and sadness that often comes along with farming (which is also my reality). Farming must be closely related to Mother Nature – who not once, among the many things she has been called, was ever referred to as “fair.”

There’s not much that is more rewarding than nursing a sick cow or calf back to health; and then to have her live a long, healthy and productive life. But just as easily if not more so, that same animal could be gone in a literal heartbeat.

It certainly makes one appreciate life, and the things in it, that much more.

At the end of the day, this way of life, this collection of extreme ups and extreme downs and whatever comes in between is all done in the name of producing of food. Food that is served at the dinner table or grabbed in a rush. Food that is baked or cooked in your kitchen for those closest to you with love. Food that nourishes our bodies so that we may carry out our string of daily tasks that make up our lives.

“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” –Brenda schoepp

We as dairy farmers take particular pride in producing what’s been described as “nature’s most perfect food.” Milk provides protein, calcium and nine essential vitamins and nutrients in a single serving; ounce for ounce it’s nutrition cannot be matched. So there’s a bit of pride and even more reward had in providing such nourishment for our neighbors, communities and family.

Of course other goodness in dairy products include cheese, yogurt, ice cream, cream, butter, and more.

But our beloved milk has come under attack. Fewer and fewer people are drinking it; fluid milk sales have been trending downward for the past several years. Milk has more competition now from plant-based beverages that have the same look and feel (but not the same nutrition). Various label claims create confusion about everything from hormones, antibiotics, animal care to the environment. All in the name of selling.

The worst part is talking about these issues with dairy farmers who aren’t active on social media and/or who don’t see these claims every day.

The best part is knowing that despite the spin, despite the claims, despite the advertising, there are millions of people – children and adults alike, who depend upon us everyday – even three times a day – for our milk. And we won’t let them down.

At the end of the day, milk is milk, still the nutrient powerhouse and wholesome glass of refreshment produced by farmers who care about taking care or their cows and keeping their farms sustainable for future generations.

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Filed under Dairy Care, Dairy Industry, Milk

[Farm] Size: Does it Matter?

Farm size gets a lot of press these days. Big farms, small farms, micro farms – each operating differently, in ways that make sense to their particular operation. The common denominator among the vast majority despite the size of the farm is a proud, caring farmer or farmers, doing their best to take care of the land and/or animals they rely upon often with future generations in mind. Usually they are carrying on a family tradition or striking out on their own after being inspired to do so.

To illustrate, I reached out to a few fellow dairy farmers to ask their philosophies about animal care. You will find their statements in their own voices first, and then a list of the farm sizes. I won’t tell you who said what, but rather let you guess.

Farmer quotes:

“Animal care is THE most important part of dairy farming. We treat our cows with respect and compassion. We treat our animals well, not because a well-cared for animal is healthy and strong and will produce quality milk in good supply, but because it is the right. thing. to. do. Period.”

“Caring for dairy cattle is in my blood, it is my passion. The most important lesson I have learned is that if you do not treat your animals well, you will not succeed. Dairy cattle are domestic animals and they depend on us for food, shelter and care. I know that as long as I keep working hard to provide my cows with the best care and comfort, they will produce well and our family business will prosper. Happy cows make milk; there is no truer statement.”

“Our philosophy is to provide as comfortable a life as possible to our animals. The more comfortable and healthy we keep our animals the better they are able to produce for us. As farmers we see animals born and we also sometimes have to make the unfortunate choice when they pass on. We don’t want to see animals suffer. Life is fragile and it is our job to make sure that theirs is as comfortable as possible.”

“For us health is the #1 priority. It’s all watched very carefully. We have nutritionists and we test our feed weekly to make adjustments. Our herdsman was a vet and he is always on top of issues. When we treat with antibiotics we have our own hold back chart which is more conservative than the medicine company. We have a hospital pen where the sick and recovering from surgeries are held to protect them. Also, keeping beds clean and dry lend to healthier animals. We work to prevent foot diseases and mastitis. We are pro-active when it comes to health care.”

“On our farm the cows come first. Every decision we make whether it is how to treat a sick cow or a renovation to make, we first think if it will make the cows lives better and more comfortable.”

“I married into farming. I never understood why someone would want to work so hard for so little. Then it happened, I fell in love with cows. Every day you go out and tend to their needs, often before your own. The work is hard, the hours are long but seeing a new life enter the world or having one of your girls give you loves, it makes it all worth it. Animal care is our top priority. In order for us to keep doing what we love which is tending to their needs, they have to be well taken care of. Our job as dairy farmers is to take care of them. Doing the best possible job we can keeps a roof over our heads as well as theirs.”

“Our dairy cows deserve the utmost care and respect, however they are animals not humans. They should get the care that they need to lead a healthy and ‘happy’ life. They are our livelihood, and deserve to be treated that way. But how do you rate the ‘happiness’ of an animal? I know that animals deserve proper nutrition and care, but when it comes down to spending an exorbitant amount of money or putting animals ‘happiness’ in front of human life, I don’t feel that it should be a hard answer. Maybe it is my faith, but God did put humans on this earth to care for it and the animals, but also to ‘rule’ over them.”

“For dairy size and animal care: I think it’s all in the management. We are strictly family run. Most of the animals have names and they are all seen by one of us every day. I think it’s important if you can to manage your animals properly and take the time to see them every day. We have plenty of room in the milking barn and of other barns and pasture for all the animals.”

“Our girls are our livelihood. Without them we have nothing. So it stands to reason that we take all measures to make them happy and healthy, just as most farmers do. On our farm we don’t push our cows to their fullest. I like to compare cows to athletes. Like any athlete when they are pushed they are bound to have maintenance and more likelihood of things that need intervention.”

“On our family farm it’s all about the cows. Our greatest efforts and resources are always devoted to ensuring that our family of cows receives the best care and are provided the greatest comforts. We truly believe that any cow, provided with the right care, can reach her potential which is why we invest the bulk of our time, money and resources into not just maintaining but improving all aspects of their lives- from feed, health & nutrition to housing, comfort & quality of life. Farming is our way of life, it just also happens to be how we make our living.”

Farm sizes and a few other details:admin-ajax

  • 500-cow dairy
  • 115-cow dairy
  • 1200-goat dairy
  • 70-cow dairy transitioning to organic
  • 725-cow dairy
  • 130-cow dairy
  • 1700-cow dairy
  • 200-cow organic dairy
  • 50-cow dairy
  • 270-cow dairy

These statements are all straight from the farmer. Despite the varying sizes and the different ways accomplished, one theme winds through them all: animal care is of utmost importance. There may be folks who still want to debate differences between the sizes of dairy or other farms and what they can or can’t offer, but those discussions should all be held with the knowledge that at the end of the day, animal care is a primary influence on decision making.

Farmers know that if they take care of the animals, the animals will take care of them. And I’m proud to say that I couldn’t agree more.

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The Importance of Feeding Grain

If you had asked me a few years ago why we feed grain to our cattle, I probably would have been stunned by the question. What? What do you mean? What dairy farmer doesn’t feed grain? That’s so weird. How does the cow get enough energy? Enough nutrients? What would you feed? An

d yes, even I tried it myself a very long, long time ago.

I’ll state up front my DF and I think feeding grain is an important part of a balanced diet for our cows.Liddy saying hi! However, our girls (and boys) get out on the pasture just as soon as we can get them there in the spring and they stay out as long as they can in the fall. We have beautiful pastures, abundant with fresh grass – a wonderful resource for our use. It’s good exercise for the cows and I think they enjoy the fresh air perhaps as much as I do on a warm, sunny afternoon.

When they come in the barn to be milked, we feed them a total mixed ration (TMR) that includes grain, grass silage and other minerals. The grain is a mix of ingredients, including corn and soy and others to balance the nutrient needs of the cattle given the other feed they get – like the pasture and grass silage. The grass silage is basically cut grass saved in a big pile in a “bunker silo,” where it is covered and left to cure. They also may get dried hay from time to time. Pasture, grass silage and hay are called forages while the grain and minerals are concentrates. We have a dairy feed nutritionist who helps us determine the right and precise mix of the ingredients to feed. He’s sort of like the cows’ personal dietician.

It so happens that I’ve procrastinated so long on this post from when I started it in September, that it’s now the first of February and we happen to be coming out of a severe cold snap that lasted almost a week. Temperatures here dipped to double digits below zero last week, never mind the wind chill. While we do our best to keep the cows warm, it does still get cold in the barns. One way to get be certain they have the energy they need to stay warm in our lovely winter temps in northern Vermont is to feed grain, specifically corn which is an excellent source of energy. We don’t really think of keeping warm as a body maintenance requirement in the summertime, but it sure is important now!

I asked a few friends from around New England their opinions on feeding grain and here is what they had to say:

From Beth, a dairy farmer in Hinsdale, N.H.: “Dairy cows are the athletes of the farm animal world. A cow uses the amount of energy it would take a human to run two consecutive marathons in one day. Cows need the carbohydrate load just to meet those incredible needs. It’s challenging to make sure cows get a balanced diet to meet those needs. Corn is an excellent source of energy when used as part of a balanced diet.”

From Carrie, a livestock farmer in Shelburne, Mass.: “We feed grain year-round to our sheep, unlike most farmers, because the ‘on & off’ feeding of grain causes weak points in their growing wool-much like when a human diets, you can see the portion of thinner part in the hair follicle. It costs more money, but it a better bet for us so that we know for sure that the wool yarn we sell is of the absolute best quality we can produce.

Our pigs live happy carefree lives in pastures, but are also supplemented with up to five pounds of a non-GMO complete and balanced grain ration, and a few pounds of local corn grown twelve miles away, for extra energy. It supports the local economy, and keeps hundreds of acres of local fields under cultivation.”

From Tiffany, a dairy and beef cattle farmer in western N.H.: “Cows need a complete and balanced diet just like my husband and children do, so adding corn to the grass, oats, and barley they receive makes this happen. The diet changes throughout a steer’s life depending on his age, and cows too have different nutritional requirements depending on their age. We have a nutritionist who helps us balance the diet. A little known fact is that corn is actually a grass, too.”

I’m choosing to not get into the biology behind the plants that we use to feed the animals – biology is not my forte. I will, however, share posts from other farmers who have written about the subject from across the country. These are folks that have different perspectives, farm in different environments, etc., but to whom I look to for advice or insight as well. Specifically, these posts dive into the biology of the feed ingredients and the cow’s digestive system much deeper than I can.

Agriculture Proud, Ryan Goodman, Tennessee – Ask a Farmer: Does feeding corn harm cattle?

Common Sense Agriculture’s Blog, Jeff Fowle, California – It’s More than Corn (series)

Cow Art and More, Kathy Swift, DVM, Florida – What Do Cows Eat and Why? (guest post on Janice Person’s blog)

The bottom line is, there are different options for feeding animals. At a farmers’ market last summer, a person would not purchase beef from me because we do not feed a strictly grass-fed diet. We have very valid reasons why we feed other ingredients as I’ve laid out; the bottom line for us is determining what makes sense for the cows. Unfortunately the customer was a paper order through another vendor at the market so I was not able to explain directly to her why we feed grain. I suppose my chance is here now.

If you reading this post have any other questions about what our cows eat, please leave me a comment below. I will do my best to answer them.

Making hay under watchful Wheeler Mountain

Making hay under watchful Wheeler Mountain

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