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NODPA’s 9th Annual Field Days: WRAP-UP

Sharad Mathur (DMS), Roman and Lucy Stoltzfoos, and their daughter.

Added September 14, 2009. The 9th Annual NODPA Field Days lived up to the promise of its beautiful location at the Stoltzfoos’ Spring Wood Organic Farm and the theme of “Practical and Efficient Organic Dairy Farming Practices in Hard Economic Times.”

Holding a field day in the summer is always unpredictable, depending so much on the weather and the growing season for both attendance and participant comfort. We lucked out this year with the massive tent that the Stoltzfoos family used for their wedding and family reunion and weather that, while hot and humid, was blessed with enough breeze to be comfortable. Attendance was good on Thursday with about 100 folks and Friday attendance was in excess of 140 which stretched the available food for lunch.

The support of our sponsors, Horizon Organic, Organic Cow, Lakeview Organic Grain, Natural By Nature, Organic Valley, PA Certified Organic, and PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture made it possible to keep costs down for producers, enable NODPA to offer free registration to all producers, whether organic or not, and support NODPA’s year round activities. Our supporters Don Faulkner and Family, Dairy Marketing Services, Agri-Dynamics, LOFCO, Fertrell, NOFA- NY & NOFA-NY Certified Organic, Organic Dairy Farming Cooperative, Udder Comfort, MOFGA, Renaissance Nutrition, Lancaster Ag Products, American Organic Seed, Holistec and Animal Medic, River Valley Fencing, NOFA-Vermont, King’s Agri-Seed, MOSES as always are essential to the success of Field Days with their financial support and product donations.

Roman, Lucy, Dwight and the whole Stoltzfoos family (immediate and extended) were great hosts. They supported us at every juncture: from planning to set up to breaking down the chairs and tables when the event was over.

At various times leading up to Field Days, Roman must have wondered about his sanity in volunteering his farm to host the event. With a large wedding, followed by a family reunion and the normal pressures and responsibilities of farming in these difficult times, Roman and his family were incredibly generous.

On behalf of NODPA and all who attended, we thank Roman, Lucy and and their family for their continued generosity and commitment to organic dairy producers.

And Now For The Wrap-Up ...

The 2009 NODPA Field Days was held at one of the oldest organic dairy farms in Pennsylvania, Spring Wood Organic Farm, and offered many opportunities for practical education and peer learning. Roman and Dwight Stoltzfoos helped us kick off the event with a slightly different format for a farm tour with different stations around the farm highlighting diverse aspects of their operation and organic dairy production. With academic and practitioner experts at all the stations it was judged as a great success by participants and something that can be repeated at future Field Days. Reports from the different stations are summarized later in the newsletter.

NODPA’s annual dinner and meeting was held Thursday evening after an extended time for visiting the tradeshow and networking. The dinner of barbecued chicken was excellent and the company was exceptional enhanced by the bucolic surroundings of Spring Wood Farm. A shortened annual meeting followed with a welcome by NODPA Board President, Henry Perkins, who thanked the generous sponsors and presented awards to Dr. Hubert Karreman and Kevin Englebert in appreciation for their many years of dedication and work on the National Organic Standards Board. Ed Maltby, NODPA Executive Director, gave a short NODPA Annual Report and then asked all non-producers to leave to allow for producers to discuss matters critical to their families and farming. Click here for a report of the producer-only meeting.

Friday morning was bright and beautiful with no forecast of rain and the promise of a great day. Attendance was swelled by many producers that decided to attend just for the day and the workshop sessions started promptly at 9:00 am with interactive question and answer sessions. The intensity and information exchange of these sessions could be two or three separate articles and I wished we had recorded them for future use. Below is a brief summary of what transpired under the excellent moderation and control of Sarah Flack.


Fabulous feast: Steve Morrison and Henry Perkins (past and current NODPA Presidents).

Making Great Rations
The first session was titled Making Great Rations: Economical and Efficient Use of Inputs with Kathy Soder, USDA, ARS and Ken Muckenfuss, KOW Consulting Association, dairy nutrition.

Kathy Soder presented first with some general information on productive pastures and how cows graze with plenty of examples from her research and work with producers.

Questions and answers included:

  • How does an empty stomach impact how the cow is grazing? If hungry, the cow takes the cream of the crop with a wide sweeping bite and a cow with a full stomach will graze deeper into the sward.
  • How much protein supplementation is needed on pasture? Research shows that cows will choose the forage that will balance their protein if it is available. (cows went to the legume pasture – craving more protein when fed a 10% protein grain and went to the grass sward if they are fed 18-20% protein grain).
  • If you want the cows to clean up a particular type of forage how can you manage what you feed in the barn? We need to do more research on the sugar content in the pasture and why feed value varies at different times of the day to supplement the feed accordingly.
  • How to determine when a pasture is ready to graze? General rule of thumb is 6-10 inches tall and leave it when it is 3-4 inches tall to maximize the regrowth potential of the pasture. If we graze it shorter it will deplete the plant’s energy reserve and take longer to recover.

Ken Muckenfuss from KOW Consulting based his presentation on his work at Springwood Farm. Some of the issues on the farm were high SCC and calf health which needed to be solved by looking at nutrition and how to alter production practices to improve the situation.

Questions with answers included:

  • Dry Cow Protein in ration? 12% Protein is ideal at dry off and then by freshening, increase to 16% and then 18% for the early lactation cow.
  • Measuring Milk Urea Nitrogen (MUN)? – use MUN as a marker, but not as a tell-tale
  • Proper MUN? = 12-16 is ideal. It is normal for pastures to have an elevated MUN so a grazing animal needs to get 5-8 lbs of dry hay before going out on good pasture. Baleage is good when grasses start to lignify and hit summer slump.
  • Do you believe in kelp? Yes to some extent… If you are not doing any mineral supplementation, then kelp is a good source.
  • Free choice minerals versus force feeding in a grain mix? Preference would be to force feed 75-100% in a Total Mixed Ration (TMR).
  • Can animals detect deficiency of minerals? Yes (Kathie Soder), research shows that it can take 2-3 years time to learn, but it can be done, and if they can learn from their dam or from their peers, they can learn faster.
  • How many types of rumen bacteria are there? (Kathie Soder) There are million’s of rumen bacteria and these types will shift based upon what the animals are eating. A calf will come in this world with a sterile rumen and its rumen needs to get inoculated with bacteria from its environment. Forages have a higher rumen pH (favoring bacteria that digest cellulose/fiber) vs high grain diet (lower rumen pH).
  • Feeding Yeast? (Ken Muckenfuss)There is a lot of variable research on Yeast in the diet but if you see a response and it works economically, then yes.
  • Molasses supplementation? Corn vs molasses – 1 lb molasses for 3 lbs of corn seems to be the ratio that Ken hears, but depends on your geographical location.

The second session followed a short milk break and was on Animal Health with Hue Karreman and Jeff Mattocks.


Dr. Hubert Karreman with a Barbara Mohr print he received,
along with a plaque expressing NODPA’s appreciation for all his hard work.

Somatic Cell Counts (SCC)

Hue made a short presentation (well, as short as Hue can make anything!) on Somatic Cell Counts and Calves and Internal Parasites which is summarized below.

SCC is the immune system of the cow reacting to something in the udder due to either bacteria or chemical damage. SCC goes up and down normally, going up during the hot summer days and going down when the temperatures are more comfortable. Even if you do nothing, you will see a rise and fall in your SCC numbers. An abnormally high SCC count is usually due to bacteria and you won’t know what kind unless you have your milk tested to identify the bacteria causing the problem. Everybody’s got something that they use to treat for mastitis, but with chronic SCC of 500 K or higher, you probably have Strep ag or Staph aureus. These forms of mastitis are contagious, passed during milking (equipment, hands). Good milking and udder prep can help reduce the incidence of environmental and contagious mastitis.

Calves and Internal Parasites

Calves and internal parasites are probably the weakest link of the organic dairy sector, especially in August and September. Parasites are invisibly jumping off blades of grass into the stomach of your animal, and the calves don’t have immune capability until 12 months to adequately respond.

Symptoms of parasites include pot bellies, scours, rough hair coat and weight loss. Prevention can be achieved by offering calves a good diet and producers should consider keeping calves on milk for at least 3 months, introducing other feeds, and making the weaning process less stressful. Nurse cows can work very well though calves may be a little wild which can be prevented by spending time with cows for human contact. High SCC cows can make good nurse cows and the milk in your bulk tank will be better quality. Be careful about turning cows with contagious mastitis into nurse cows.

Questions on Hue’s presentation included:

  • How do you wean the nurse calves off the cows and introduce new calves to a nurse cow?
  • If you use High SCC for nurse cows are you inoculating your calves with certain bugs keeping those bacteria going?
  • How do you know which cows will take calves?
  • Difference between nurse cows and group fed calves
  • Is their natural resistance to parasites

Jeff Mattocks followed with a presentation on Milk Urea Nitrogen (MUN) and Molds and Micotoxins. Jeff’s presentation highlighted the importance of monitoring and testing for MUN, molds and micotoxin especially this year. He explained that each grain in a forage has bacteria in it and there is beneficial and pathogenic fermentation. Mold toxins aren’t visible so you need to have a mold toxin test done on your forages. To avoid the risk of micotoxins, raise your cutting height as white molds grow at the bottom of the crop when it is stressed.

Questions and answers included:

  • Does roasting cure that vomitoxin? Roasting will blow off the toxin load… but you are only killing the mold and stopping it from producing more toxin.
  • Should I test loads of purchased grain? Yes, once the mold has lived, the toxin remains.
  • Can I get rid of toxin in purchased grain? You can lessen the impact by mixing it with good grain, and you can use mold and vomitoxin binders. You need to identify the toxin in order to know which binder to use.

Landis on Human Resourcefulness & Farm Budgeting

James Landis followed with a highly personal and lively presentation before lunch that sketched out his beliefs and how they drive him in his work. James is an organic enthusiast and loves to work with living things. One of his resource books is the “The Ultimate Resource #2” by Julian Simon, which concludes that there is no physical or economic reason why human resourcefulness cannot solve all the earth’s problems.

James drew attention to the comparative cheapness of the milk but he is not a believer in government intervention and quoted examples of success in New Zealand by being more innovative and producing milk cheaper so that our market can expand. The free market allows for competition and will cut the inefficient guy out of business and James believes that you cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.

As he ended his morning presentation, James reminded producers that the main fuel to speed our progress is our stock of knowledge and the brake is our lack of imagination.

After lunch and the draw for door prizes, James continued his presentation by talking about the practicality of farm budgeting and the afternoon ended with a tour of the Stoltzfoos farm. The tour started looking at the benefits of the milking parlor, a New Zealand Dairy Master 22 swing parlor made in Ireland, which include low cow stress and no requirement to train heifers and cows to tie stalls for milking. James made the point that it is more profitable to have 2 cows milking 10,000lbs/year than an over stressed cow with a shorter life span milking 20,000 lbs/year.

Fly Control

Fly control is always a “hot’ topic in the summer and folks were impressed by the lack of flies on the farm. This can be credited to good production practices, kunifin bran fly parasite and the chickens following behind the cows. Spring Wood farm has been grazing for many years and has experimented with many production practices to improve yields and prolong grazing. The pros and cons of pre-mowing was discussed with higher labor costs but also higher dry matter intake, and better pasture clean up and weed control. The practicality of nurse cows was discussed as they were moved to a new pasture and Roman highlighted the benefits of rejuvenating overused pasture by fallowing it, an essential component in organic production that is often ignored under the pressure of maximizing production from a limited land base. The tour and Field Days ended with everyone wondering why we don’t hold these events more often.