How can we better support our dairy farmers?

I used to hear about the old days. I never really understood that, but I’m starting to now. I saw my grandparents operate a dairy farm by growing their hay and silage, by milking and breeding their cows, and by selling their milk. Although I don’t remember when my grandparents pasteurized their own milk, I do remember going up north and getting pasteurized, but not homogenized, milk from Shetler’s Dairy. The milk from Shetler’s Dairy came in glass bottles and was not homogenized; meaning, the cream rose to the top of the bottle creating two inches of cream on top of the milk.

Dairy farming is labor intensive and hard work. The work is hard but you know your animals and they know you. It has become increasingly difficult to find quality, dedicated, and willing workers to work on a dairy farm.  In addition, fewer people are willing to do the kind of hard work dairy farming requires.

Shetler’s Dairy Farm closed in August. Nationwide in 2018 more than 2,700 dairy farms have closed across the country. Michigan has 1500 dairy farms, 97 percent being family owned.  Only 1.7 percent of the U. S. population produces the food for our world. What does this mean for Michigan dairy farmers?

I am concerned about the future of dairy farming and the future of our dairy food supply.  What will we do when our dairy farms are few in number? What will happen to the iconic farms we as a community are used to seeing in our rural landscape? What will happen to the fabric of our rural communities as our small farms, often the backbone of their communities, diminish in number? How do we continue to generate demand for the nutrient rich white milk only dairy cows can provide?  What will we have to pay for milk? Will we have enough milk to meet society’s demand?  Will we end up being forced to drink white vegetable juice someone wants us to believe is an acceptable alternative to real dairy milk, which contains nine essential nutrients?   As the number of dairy producers decrease, how is our production going to be maintained?

Jonathan Sayles

Query:  How can we better support dairy farmers in their businesses, how do we attract employees for dairy farms, and how do we maintain supply of such a basic staple of our nutritional needs?  What do you think? I think I am concerned and I am missing the good old days already.

Safety Tips for the Fair

Growing up I couldn’t wait until the week of fair. I had been working with my fair calf since January and I was ready to take him to fair. I couldn’t wait to cheer on my friends with their animals, inhale fair food between showing classes, ride the roller coasters, play fair games, look at all the venders merchandise, and assess all the crafts the other 4-H and FFA members made.

While I am looking forward to all the fun, I also know that with the hundreds of people flooding the grounds for the fair and the animals traveling from all over the county being placed under the same roof, safety becomes of the utmost importance.  As such, I would like to share some simple tips for staying safe at the county fair this summer while interacting with all the livestock exhibits.

First, ask before touching. The exhibitors know their animal best. I have had animals that everyone could pet, and they wouldn’t care. I also had animals that didn’t adjust well to being at the fair and I didn’t want to make the animal feel unsafe or in danger. FFA members and 4-H kids have been working with their livestock for as little as a month to as long as several years. We know when they are having a bad day and when they feel good. We don’t want our animals to feel threatened or endangered. It is safest for the animal, the handler, other animals and yourself if you ask before touching.

Never approach the rear of an animal. Livestock animals have eyes in the side of their heads with 180° degrees of vision. They can’t see you when you approach from behind. Something as little as brushing up against them can spook them. When spooked they could be injured, injury a bystander, harm their handler or hurt another animal. For the safety of the animal, handler, bystanders including yourself and other animals please don’t approach an animal from behind.

Please do not feed the animals. What can seem like a harmless prank or inquisitive observation can be deadly for an animal. They have special feed that delivers 100 percent of their daily needs. Animals have different types of digestive systems and cannot process food like humans.  If a station at the fair is offering an option to purchase feed to feed an animal, it is ok to feed that specific feed to the animal as it is designed with the animal in mind. For the health of the animals, please don’t share your food with them.

Please do not release an animal. The pens they are in are designed according to livestock standards and laws and help the animal feel safe and protected. If you are concerned the animal is not able to get enough exercise please know that before the fair opens 4-H and FFA members walk and care for their animals. Most larger livestock species are untied and walked at least once every two hours for exercise and a drink of water. A loose animal can seriously injure or kill an innocent bystander, injure themselves, or hurt another animal. Although they are trained, animals that are scared resort to their fight or flight instinct. For the safety of all fair goers and animals, please don’t release an animal.

Remember to wash your hands after touching animals. Animals at the fair are required to be vaccinated for specific diseases before being brought to the fair, however just like humans, diseases and illness can still occur. Sometimes a disease is zoonotic and can spread from one species to another. Even if an animal is vaccinated against a zoonotic disease, the animal can still be a carrier of that disease. Touching an animal that is carrying a zoonotic disease can result in you or an immunocompromised (young kids and the elderly) family member to contract the disease. For the health and safety of other animals and people, please wash your hands after touching an animal.

To protect the health and wellness of the animals, yourself, the 4-H and FFA members caring for the animals and other people at the fair, please keep in mind these safety tips while attending the county fair. I hope you have a great and safe fair experience!

 

 

-Elyze Zimmerlee

Aspiring to be a Dairy Farmer

Working on a family dairy farm, I saw firsthand that dairy farmers are amazing caretakers of the cows that provide fresh wholesome milk for all to enjoy. Dairy farmers are also community volunteers, crop farmers, mechanics, accountants,  and family members.

 

When I think about a dairy farmer, I think about a person who is caring and loving, but is also able to dig in deep and fight for the things they care about so passionately. Taking care of their cows is the number one mission for dairy framers. I love the way they will work from sun up to sun down and are there at all hours of the night just to be sure that their animals are okay.

 

It truly takes a lot of heart to be a dairy farmer. They care so much and try so hard for something that does not always have a desirable outcome. When things get hard, they do everything that they can to make things work while their love and care for their cows never wavers. For example, they have barns to house their cattle and put in fans and curtains to keep the cows content in all weather conditions. Farmers are also dialed in closely on a cow’s diet to make sure she is getting the nutrients she needs to make wholesome milk. Out of all the things a farmer does, I think the most important is that they are literally always there for their cows no matter the time of day. If something goes wrong, the farmer is there to help.

 

There are a lot of things that go on in a day at the farm from fieldwork to feeding the cows to administration, but from my personal experiences of working on a family dairy farm, I learned that cows always come first, no matter what else is going on around the farm. Nothing makes me happier than working alongside people that have the same care and compassion as I do for these amazing animals.

 

Dairy farmers are extraordinary men and women of all ages, cultures and backgrounds. So many people have assumptions about farmers, but I’m not sure we are really letting the words sink in. The life of a dairy farmer is not just a pastime. It is a timeless livelihood. One of the biggest misconceptions that I had before I started working at a farm is the amount of time and hard work it takes to be a dairy farmer. Now I know first-hand that it takes countless hours, blood, sweat and tears to make a farm run and operate smoothly.

 

When I was young I was never sure what I wanted to be “when I got older,” but now I know with both my love for cattle and having dairy farmers as role models whom I look up to, that one day I aspire to be just like them. I do not just aspire to one day have the same title as a dairy farmer, but I hope to have the same work ethic, knowledge and compassion for the work I do, no matter where I am employed.

Makin’ Hay While the Sun Shines

May through August is a very busy time for dairy farmers in the state of Michigan. Ask any dairy farmer what they like to do when the sun shines, and I bet they’ll tell you with a grin, “Make hay” and that’s just what dairy farmers do — they make hay to feed their cows.

 

A typical day of “making hay” on a dairy farm may look different depending on the size of the farm and management styles. No way is right or wrong, and all have one end goal in sight: Feed our dairy cows a nutritious and balanced diet so they produce high quality, wholesome milk that can be poured into a glass on someone’s dinner table, or made into cheese, butter, yogurt or ice cream.

 

Growing up on a dairy farm, I was very involved in making hay with my family. On our farm when we make hay, we do it two different ways. We either chop it or we make it into bales.

 

This is the process when we chop hay:

 

  1. Cutting hay is somewhat like cutting the grass in your yard.  We cut it with a haybine, which could almost be called a glorified lawnmower, and then let it dry for a short amount of time before we take the next steps.
  2. Merging hay is taking one or two rows and combining it into an even larger row called a windrow. This is one of my favorite jobs on the farm.
  3. After the hay is merged, my Dad will chop the hay with the chopper into little pieces. When the hay is chopped, is still has a good deal of moisture in it. It is similar to when humans canning our food. This process is amazing to me, and I still get goosebumps whenever I see the chopper pull into the field (farming nerd, I know).
  4. The chopped hay goes right from the chopper into trucks or wagons pulled by tractors. The trucks will then haul the chopped hay — or haylage — back to the farm where it will be dumped onto the cement pad and packed into the haylage pile. The haylage is packed tightly to remove the air and keep it fresh for us to feed our cows over the next year. Some farms also store haylage in giant bags, like big food-saver bags that we use in our kitchens.

 

The hay that isn’t chopped is made into dry hay, or bales. Baling dry hay is a comparison to humans dehydrating their food.To make hay bales, we:

 

  1. Cut the hay, the same way we cut it for making haylage.
  2. We ted the hay after we cut it. Tedding hay is spreading out the hay so it can lay flat on the ground to dry. This is one of my jobs when we make dry hay. This allows it to dry nicely before we rake it and then eventually bale it.

 

  1. After we ted the hay, we go to the field with different machinery and rake the hay after it’s had plenty of time to dry in the sun. After it is raked, two rows are often merged into windrows using a large rake.
  2. Finally, my dad goes into the field and bales the hay.

 

The type of hay determines if we’ll chop it or bale it.  Typically, we will chop alfalfa, to use as cow feed.  We will chop grass hay for heifer feed, and then bale the remainder of the grass hay or grass and alfalfa mixtures.  Whether we chop or bale the hay  also depends on whether it is first, second or third cutting. A “cutting” of hay is the number of times the farmer re-cuts the hay for the summer. In northern Michigan, we typically only get three cuttings from each field. In many parts of mid to southern Michigan, they average around four to five cuttings. The weather can also play a role in what we chop or bale. Because we need the hay to dry for long periods of time before we bale it, we will chop the hay if it gets rained on more than once.

 

As you can see, there are no wrong or right ways to make hay. Every farm is different. The important thing is that everyone has the best interest of providing their cows safe, nutritious food throughout the year. We are all aiming to make feed for our cattle that helps them produce high quality, wholesome milk!

 

-Leta

 

Dairy Farms May Look Different, but They Share One Goal

All dairy farms, even though they may look vastly different, strive for the same common goals: Having healthy and happy animals, making safe milk, caring for the environment, providing food for everyone to enjoy and promoting a safe workplace for employees. One type of dairy farm is a rotational grazing dairy farm, which is the type I grew up on and am most familiar with.

 

Things on a rotational grazing dairy farm run differently than on other farms; each farm is unique like each family is unique. On our family farm we have around 200 acres of pasture, which is sectioned off into smaller areas for the cows to graze at different times during the day. The younger animals also spend as much time as possible on pasture. Every day I am lucky to see our cows right from our house windows.

 

When our cows come into the barn to be milked twice a day, they get a TMR (total mixed ration) which is a complete meal with all the nutrients they need to make milk, in addition to the grass they graze on all day. We also have barns with sand stalls where the cows can comfortably lay down. During the winter months, the younger animals are in barns and we feed them a TMR.

 

A grazing dairy farm has different tasks compared to farms that have their cows housed year-round in freestall barns. One type of farm isn’t better than the other — they are just different. Some days I spend more time on a quad, or four-wheeler, checking fence and cattle than I spend on my feet. Regular visits and calls from our neighbors are cause for alarm, as it usually means the cows are out again. At the end of each day, my family’s goals are the same as our dairy peers: To raise healthy cows who give us high-quality milk.

-Miriam Cook

Miriam Cook will be a senior in the fall of 2018 at Pewamo-Westphalia High School. She lives and works on her family’s grazing dairy farm year-round. Her passion for agriculture started with the family farm and has expanded through her involvement in 4-H and FFA. Not only does she have a strong passion for dairy, but she loves to work with her Nigerian dwarf goats, horses, steers, ducks and, at times, pigs. She hopes to continue to gain knowledge on all things agriculture through an agriculture degree in college. With her increased knowledge, she plans to continue to teach others and maybe one day come back to the family farm to help feed the population. Miriam is participating in the Michigan Dairy Ambassador program.

The Life of a Farmer’s Daughter at College: Bringing the Farm to School

I had the best childhood growing up on my family’s 600-head dairy farm in the thumb of Michigan. There were always people around and things to do. At any point in the day, I could go outside and find a number of my family members. However, I never truly realized the impact that the farm had on my life until I moved away for college two years ago. Once I was away, I missed the farm more than I ever imagined.

I am a business student at Central Michigan University (CMU) in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. While I am lucky to drive by a few cornfields on my way to school, Mt. Pleasant is nothing like the farm. I am no longer surrounded by the cows or my family. I can no longer smell the aromas from the farm, like the feed we give our cows or the sawdust (or straw) they lie in. For the first two years of my college career, I jumped on every opportunity to go back to the farm while I looked for ways to bring the farm to school with me. My school does not have any agricultural majors and transferring to a school that did was not a practical option.

 

Half way through my sophomore year, I finally figured out how to incorporate the farm life into my studies. As a member of the Honors Program at CMU, I am required to complete a capstone research project graduate. While there are specific requirements for the project, we are given a lot of freedom to choose a topic that interests us.

For the last 10 months I have been working on my capstone project which researches the effects of social media marketing on the dairy industry. This allow me to remain involved in the dairy industry while I am away at school, share my dairy story with a new community and make a contribution to the industry that has made me who I am today.

My overall goal with this project is to determine current consumer perceptions of the dairy industry and how social media marketing affects those perceptions. I will use those findings to create a social media guidebook to help dairy producers create and build their own social media platforms to share stories and facts about the dairy industry to consumers. The project should be complete and guidebooks ready for distribution this time next year!

It has been so exciting to find a place for my passion while at CMU. I hope to educate those lead astray by anti-dairy social media campaigns and reassure those with questions that we take care of our cows and provide safe, wholesome dairy foods. I am extremely blessed to have spent my childhood growing up on a dairy farm and I want to share that experience and passion with as many people as I can. Everyone deserves to experience the dedication and care of the dairy community and I hope that my capstone project can help make that happen in some way.

 

-Lindsey

Great Lakes Dairy Exchange – New This Year

Kreeger Associates LLC in conjunction with the Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference will be hosting the Great Lakes Dairy Exchange on Thursday Feb. 7 and 8 at the Bavarian Inn and Conference Center.

There are fresh heifers and cows and  bred and open heifers available. There will be a variety of Holsteins and Jerseys available.

  • You do not need to be present to bid, you can call your bids in ahead of time to any member of the team or you can request to be called by the team during the sessions. If you are the conference and can not attend one of the sessions you can turn in a bid sheet with one of the sale staff at any time and they will execute the order at the specified time and price you request.
  • Each lot will have an asking bid.
  • The asking bid may move up or down based on the volume of bidding on each lot.
  • When the asking bid is achieved for a lot then the auction for that particular lot is over and that lot is sold.
  • During each session anyone can place a bid on any lot in the sale.
  • All cattle are housed on sellers farms and sold in group lots. Delivery will occur after the sale and details are between the buyer and the seller.
  • Price updates will be posted at the conference and on www.kreegerdairy.com after each session.

The Exchange Times are:

  • Thursday Session #1: 12:30 -1 p.m.
  • Thursday Session #2: 3 -3:30 p.m.
  • Thursday Session #3: 5:30 -6 p.m.
  • Overnight Session: 9-9:30 p.m.
  • Friday Session #1: 10-10:30 a.m.
  • Friday Session #2: 12:30 – 1 p.m.

For more information contact Chad Kreeger at 517-294-3484.

Michigan Dairy Ambassador Program Application due date extended to Jan. 27, 2019

Students interested in applying for the 2019 Michigan Dairy Ambassador Scholarship and Leadership Program can download an application here.  or contact Megghan Honke Seidel at 517-884-7089. Applications must be submitted electronically to 1glrdc@gmail.com and will be accepted until Jan. 27, 2019.

This year’s event will take place in Frankenmuth, Michigan on February 7 – 9, 2019. For the conference schedule and registration information, visit www.glrdc.org or contact Megghan Honke Seidel.

17th annual Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference to help dairy producers weather the tough agriculture economy

The 17th annual Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference will offer new tools and strategies to help dairy producers stay afloat in these tough economic times. The conference will be held Feb. 7-9, 2019, at the Bavarian Inn and Conference Center in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

The United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) will host an informal preconference session on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. to provide an overview of the organization’s dairy promotion activities and answer attendees’ questions about UDIM programs. The meeting is free and open to people who aren’t registered for the whole conference.

Conference Sessions

The opening session on Thursday, Feb. 7, will feature Michigan State University Extension experts sharing techniques for helping farm employees become more engaged, productive and self-directed.

Next, producers will hear from Tom Vilsack, CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and former U.S. Agriculture Secretary, who will share his outlook on U.S. trade relations for agriculture in general and the dairy industry specifically. Vilsack will discuss the current state of trade relations, where trade is headed and what it all means for the agriculture and dairy industries.

After lunch, Rob Rettig, a partner at New Vision Farms in northwest Ohio, will provide an overview of the operation’s unique approach to using partnerships to succeed now and as the agriculture landscape changes in the future. In a later breakout session, Rettig will share more in-depth information and answer producer questions. In addition to Rettig, producers can choose to hear from John Blanchfield on how to shockproof their farms for leaner times ahead and how to communicate better with their bankers or learn from Ev Thomas of Oakpoint Agronomics about predicting forage quality to improve their operations’ bottom line.

The afternoon will wrap up with an inside look at a Texas dairy in the producer perspective session. Donald DeJong, owner and CEO of AgriVision Farm Management LLC and co-owner and chief operating officer of Natural Prairie Dairy, will share an overview of his operation, which is one of the largest family-owned organic dairy farms in the U.S. He’ll also discuss how AgriVision Farm Management, a collaboration of family-owned and -operated businesses, works to enhance the dairy industry.

The evening will feature a reception, an exhibitor showcase and the Great Lakes Commercial Heifer Extravaganza XIV Sale.

The conference continues Friday morning, Feb. 8, with Ross Veltema of Top Grade Aggregates and Allen Bonthuis of AIS Equipment. The pair will offer a brief look at how agricultural producers can adapt waste reduction strategies from the aggregate industry to expand profit margins and improve bottom lines.

Next Kevin Dhuyvetter, a dairy technical consultant with Elanco Animal Health, will discuss the economic “macro-micro conundrum” – when economic conditions that are advantageous for the dairy industry as a whole may not be for individual producers, and vice versa. Dhuyvetter will also explain the economics of marginal milk.

Then producers will hear about current and emerging precision dairy technologies and how they relate to management, herd health and estrus from Elizabeth Eckelkamp, dairy Extension specialist and assistant professor at the University of Tennessee. Eckelkamp will highlight the economic impact of precision technologies and point out what producers need to know to make wise technology decisions for their dairies.

Drew Vermeire, president and consulting nutritionist with Nouriche Nutrition Ltd., will discuss economic strategies for raising the healthy, productive calves that are the future of dairy operations.

The morning will wrap up with a session focused on rediscovering how to thrive in tough times. If there’s one thing Mark Jewell is intimately familiar with, it’s living in survival mode. During his childhood, Jewell’s family was touched by events ranging from parental illness to fallout from animal activism. Jewell’s takeaway from these experiences is that we can learn to thrive even in the worst situations. He’ll share his “surviving to thriving” stories and uncover the ways we all can find light in the darkest of times.

Friday afternoon, attendees can choose to attend one of three educational workshops:

  • Dairy Research at MSU: Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture Projects – Adam Lock, Associate Professor, MSU Department of Animal Science

Since 2015, the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture, or M-AAA, has supported research and Extension projects that aim to enhance the animal agriculture economy of Michigan. Attendees will learn about the results of projects funded by the M-AAA program on topics such as dairy cow nutrition, health, welfare, and reproduction; dairy farm management; and workforce development.

  • Learn From the Aggregate Industry to Expand Your Margins –Ross Veltema, Top Grade Aggregates, and Allen Bonthuis, AIS Equipment

In this follow-up to their earlier presentation, Veltema and Bonthuis will discuss how economic analysis and waste trimming strategies from the aggregate industry translate to agriculture. Attendees will have a chance to ask questions and learn key strategies to expand their margins.

  • Economic Considerations for Raising and Culling Dairy Replacement Heifers –Michael Overton, Advisor on Dairy Informatics, Elanco Animal Health

Explore the estimated cost of raising dairy replacement heifers from birth through calving, including the impact of mortality and elective culling. Michael Overton, D.V.M., will review an economic model that includes the contrasting effects of herd size, liquid diet and housing type. He will also provide an economic evaluation of a heifer culling strategy that includes both the extra cost and potential increase in value.

The final day of the conference (Saturday, Feb. 9) will feature the annual meetings of the Michigan Jersey and Michigan Holstein Associations, starting at 9 a.m.

Registration

Adult, student and farm registration options are available. Register by Jan. 25, 2019, to receive a discount of up to $25 a day. Online registration closes at midnight on Feb. 3, 2019. On-site registration is subject to availability.

For more information about the conference or to register online visit www.glrdc.org. To register by phone, call 517-884-7089.