By Diane Schivera, M.A.T.
The Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA) Field Days, held in Mansfield, Penn., in September, featured talks on innovative ideas, current research and practical strategies for enhancing the health, productivity and profitability of organic dairy farms. Here are some tips from that event.
Fodder from Sprouted Grain
John Stoltzfus of Be-A-Blessing Organic Dairy near Whitesville, New York, feeds sprouts grown from 3 pounds of dry barley seeds per cow per day. He believes 20 pounds of sprouted barley fodder equals 10 pounds of dairy grain in nutrient value. Six pounds of barley seed, sprouted in seven days, grows 20 pounds of fodder. Sufficient ventilation is very important during sprouting to prevent mold, he said. Use a lab to test mold levels of the fodder.
The root mass is the major part of the sprouted feed. Sprouted barley has 22 percent dry matter, 16 percent protein, 0.74 Mcal NEL (Net Energy of Lactation – the amount of energy in a feed that is available for milk production), 720 Mcal RFV (Relative Feed Value – a value based on estimated intake and digestibility of feed) and is, on average, high in vitamins and enzymes. Calcium supplementation is needed, but little supplementation with others minerals is needed because the sprouted grain fodder has greater mineral availability than hay grain.
Stoltzfus has observed that his own herd and those of other farmers feeding sprouted grain fodder produce more milk, with more butterfat and reduced somatic cell content.
Stoltzfus said it is important to purchase seed by spring; otherwise you’ll get old seed. Seed must be at least 50 pounds per bushel test weight for good germination.
Triticale is also good for sprouted grain fodder, but Stoltzfus said oats don’t work.
Quiz the Vets
Susan Beal, D.V.M., of Pittsburgh, an agriculture advisor for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, and A.J. Luft, D.V.M., of Chickasaw, Ohio, did a “Quiz the Vet” session. Here are some of the topics covered.
Hairy hoof warts reflect conditions three to eight months ago and, from a homeopathic point of view, indicate that the animal is being pushed to extremes. Clean the area and dress the warts with copper sulfate and an essential oil.
For abscesses on feet, use hoof blocks rather than bandages so that the abscess will drain.
For a retained placenta, mix 1 ounce of calendula tincture in 1 gallon of water to flush the uterus.
For dystocia (disrupted difficult labor), arnica is recommended. If the animal is not too sick or shows a stinky discharge, use homeopathic pulsatilla. If the cow has a history of retained placenta, use cohosh late in pregnancy and raspberry leaves for grazing.
If the cow is not suffering from dystocia, then crowding, inadequate feed or inadequate selenium levels may be causing the stress resulting in a retained placenta. Treatment options in this case include intravenous calcium; infusing the uterus with iodine or dextrose (the latter is less irritating); using an iodine bolus instead of a more expensive liquid aloe; or using 60 cc of calcium solution with 1 tablespoon of garlic mash or garlic tincture as an infusion. Hypertonic saline draws out the placenta but is irritating. Be sure the animal is well hydrated.
Pulling the placenta to remove it is not recommended, but if you must, do so gently.
Using acupuncture below the stifle (the joint just above the hock in the hind leg) on the outside of the leg can encourage cleaning or calving.
When cows are not breeding back, something is missing that needs to be corrected. Cows may need more energy in the diet, or the diet may have excess protein, so the animal is using up energy to metabolize the protein. The dietary balance of carbohydrates and protein is good when the MUN (Milk Urea Nitrogen) is 10-12 mg/dl.
Be sure you are feeding a good mineral mix. If the minerals are supplied in your grain mix, check with the mill to see what the concentrations are. You might need to ask for additional minerals.
Having a bull around the farm can stimulate cows to cycle.
To treat mastitis, supplement the diet with vitamins A, D and E and multi-minerals and strip the affected quarter frequently. In addition to bacteria, the milking machine or stray voltage may contribute to mastitis. If the animal is grouchy and has a hot, hard quarter and a fever, use homeopathic belladonna. If the milk is thin and grey with little clumps and the animal is timid and wasp-waisted with poor hoof health, use homeopathic silica. If the animal has stringy, bloody milk, a swollen groin and a hard quarter that is not hot, use homeopathic phytolacca. If the milk is yellow to green and the animal desires fresh air, use homeopathic pulsatilla.
Cows sensing the farmer’s stress can have a higher SCC (somatic cell count), indicating mastitis.
Multi-Species Cover Cropping
Dave Wilson of King’s AgriSeeds in Ronks, Penn., Jeff Moyer, farm director of the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Penn., and Charlie White, sustainable agriculture extension associate from Penn State Cooperative Extension, presented a workshop on multi-species cover cropping.
Canola as a cover crop makes more biomass and results in less nitrogen leaching through the soil than many other plants, because canola is an effective nitrogen scavenger – so much so that you have to be careful about nitrate poisoning in animals eating it.
The cover crop that you use depends on what you plan to plant next and what was on the field previously. I have some great articles written by each of the presenters on cover crop management; contact me if you would like copies, and then contact MOFGA’s organic crop specialist, Eric Sideman, or MOFGA’s agricultural services director, Dave Colson, for further information about growing cover crops.
The Northeast Pasture Consortium annual meeting took place in February 2013. More complete reports from the conference are posted at http://grazingguide.net/. Here are a few tips I picked up.
Irregular topography presents many challenges for farmers and advisors creating or updating a pasture plan. To prepare for a farm visit with farmers and consultants, collect aerial photos, soil type descriptions, numbers of livestock and estimated historical dry matter yields for individual fields. This information will improve the value of the visit.
Deciding on the intensity of pasture management will depend on the farm goal and the farmer’s available time. The ultimate goal on all farms should be to maximize forage dry matter intake though a systems approach to forage production that includes water, fencing and laneways. The more intense the rotation, the greater the production!
When using water lines to supply the pasture, it is better to run them on the surface of the ground than to bury them, because you can see breaks in the lines. Use metal sleeves under gates to protect the lines. Run the pipes (160 psi pipe is effective) under fence lines to reduce the chance that cows will step on them.
A worksheet on “Carrying Capacity of Pastures” is in “Animal Production Systems for Pasture-Based Livestock Production,” edited by Edward B. Rayburn and available from the Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service of Cornell University (NRAES-171, at http://host31.spidergraphics.com/nra/doc/Fair%20Use%20Web%20PDFs/NRAES-171_Web.pdf). I have a copy of this series of books. Contact me if you are interested in borrowing them – or you can order your own. This is a valuable collection of information for folks raising livestock on pasture.
A farm or pasture plan is a dynamic document. To follow up the support from your advisor or of your actions, evaluate production on the ground and monitor your pasture continually.
Mixed species fencing (fencing intended to hold mixed species of animals) is the most difficult to construct. The primary goal of all fencing is to eliminate predators, if the feed is sufficient in the paddocks.
Good grazing management offers potential for greater forage production.
Animal mobbing attractants, such as mineral feeders, waterers, shade and a windy knoll, result in manure concentration, flies and soil compaction. Move water and minerals to reduce mobbing. The maximum distance animals should have to travel to water and minerals is 800 feet. Construct your system to be able to move water tubes between paddocks. And remember that small troughs will require frequent refills.
Sid Bosworth from UVM and Richard Kersbergen from UMaine Cooperative Extension say that perennial ryegrass is one of the most digestible pasture plants. It is higher than other grasses, such as orchard grass, reed canary grass and timothy, in energy content, TNC (total nonstructural carbohydrates) and alpha linolenic acids. With new, more winter hardy varieties available that germinate quickly, perennial ryegrass is easy to establish. A good pasture mix would include 80 percent perennial rye and 20 percent ‘Alice’ white clover. (I have planted ‘Tivoli’ perennial rye with good success in my pasture.)
Grazing dairies are more sensitive than confined dairies to weather and climate changes, such as drought.
Hue Karreman spoke about CowSignals at the pasture consortium meeting and at the 2012 Common Ground Country Fair. This method of animal observation and management originated in The Netherlands and includes the six “freedoms of the pasture”: water, air, feed, space, light and rest.
When observing cattle, rumen fill (in front of the left hip) shows the current day’s eating, while belly fill (a nice curve of the bottom line of the belly) shows eating for the last week. If a cow, observed from the rear, looks like an apple on the left and a pear on the right, this shape indicates a well-fed cow.
Use body condition scores (a numerical scoring that compares different places on the animal’s body to a standard) to determine the previous month’s nutritional level. A deep danger triangle (the area between the end of the rib cage and the pin bones of the hip) shows low rumen fill, which will seriously reduce the cow’s milk production.
On average an inch of pasture over an acre provides 250 pounds of dry matter feed equivalent.
Regarding sprouting grains, Karreman said to use a soak water with cider vinegar, with a pH of 6.8, to help reduce contamination and mold formation. Be especially careful not to feed moldy sprouts to chickens!
Never feed dry grain when the cows come directly off pasture, as that will increase the incidence of acidosis. Yellow manure on the pasture indicates rumen acidosis.
Karreman also noted that a cow chews 50 to 75 times with each cud that it raises; that animals have their maximum feed intake and highest fertility of females when daylight is 16 to 18 hours long; and that cows lie down for an average of 14 hour each day. With every extra hour of lying down, their milk production will increase by 2 pounds, so milking fresh or lame cows first will enable them to get to the feed first and lie down first.
Diane Schivera is MOFGA’s organic livestock specialist. You can reach her at 568-4142 or firstname.lastname@example.org.