cows in field

Recent Odairy Discussion, August 2010

Pasture rule questions on the 30% DMI rule, the minimum of 120 days as the grazing season, and the amount of record keeping. The use of nurse cows. What about cows who refuse their high-energy, low-protein grains?

By Liz Bawden, NODPA Rep and Newsletter Co-Editor

Added August 11, 2010.

My apologies for a rather significant error in the last NODPA News
[May 2010, Vol 10, Issue 3]. In discussing treating a cow for potassium deficiency, it was printed that a Fleet enema should be given in a bottle of dextrose or saline. The use of a Fleet enema IV is for PHOSPHOROUS, not potassium deficiency.

Last month began with a discussion about the use of nurse cows.
One farmer shared some of his method -- he selected easy milkers as nurse cows, put three to four calves on each one, and allowed time for them to bond. Then he put them out in their own pasture with other nurse cows with calves of the same age. He suggested that a farm with a wide calving window would need multiple pastures, since older calves are more aggressive and will go to the new nurse cows, depriving the younger calves of milk.

Another farmer shared her strategies -- she runs the nurse cows with the milking herd, then separates the nurse cows out at milking time into pens where the calves are waiting. She felt that this helped weaning time to be less stressful. Another farmer agreed that the calves look great raised in this system, but added that it was important for nurse cows (generally high somatic cows) to be tested for Johnnes’ disease. A helpful vet suggested that you can use cows with contagious mastitis (Strep ag or Staph aureus) as nurse cows since these pathogens are not transmitted by ingestion. It takes a cow out of the milking string, but still allows her to be productive. Several producers said they have tried, or are thinking of trying, a nurse cow system for calf raising to avoid problems with scours. It was recommended that the vaccine ‘Scourguard 4 KC’ be given a week before dry-off, and then again 2 to 4 weeks before freshening the first year, after that just annually before dry-off.

A farmer asked for insight into the behavior of his cows as they refuse their high-energy (low-protein) grain when they are on high protein, lush pasture. We have probably all scratched our heads over this --- for if cows can balance what they need, why don’t they crave the extra energy in a low protein grain mix? It was suggested by several producers that it’s the lack of fiber that we need to address -- so offer dry hay. One producer suggested pouring some molasses on the hay as an energy supplement at the same time. One researcher summed it up as combination of factors at this time of year: they like pasture best, they would like some hay, they are really full, they may not feel like they need the energy. But this will pass, and they will eventually want the grain.

As producers examine the new pasture rule as it applies to their operation, it was clear to many that they did not “get pasture without the paperwork”. The new record-keeping requirements took many
by surprise. Some certifiers shared their ideas of getting the forms and paperwork to be complete and thorough, but not burdensome for producers. Some certifiers have been gathering this data on their farms already, so it won’t be so much of a change; other certifiers have not been requiring the dry matter calculations, so this will be a new part of the inspections this year.

There was a long thread of discussion around the inconsistency in allowing substances for organic use, especially where the OMRI list fits in. A producer may generally feel safe using a product listed on the OMRI list; although there are many allowable products that are not included on the list because their company has not paid the fee to have them listed. Those products must be reviewed by the certifier.

There were many long and interesting posts about the history of the OMRI list and the review process. But most of the posts returned to the same frustrating point that allowable products vary from one certifier to another, and that we must call to ask if a product can be used, since lists may not be published by the certifier or the NOP. A frustrating thing with a sick animal late at
night when no one is there to answer the phone ...

A farmer asked for input from anyone using a good teat dip made with hydrogen peroxide. A producer responded with this pre-dip recipe, which he has used for 4 years with good success: 2 oz peroxide and 2 oz glycerin to one gallon of water. He uses an iodine-based product with lanolin for a post-dip.

Many producers were seeking clarification around the 30% DMI rule in the new pasture policy. Some farmers questioned the 30% number - it is meant to be the average over the grazing season
(not on a daily basis). So if your cows eat more supplemented feed during dry spells or at the beginning or end of the season, just keep records so you can calculate the average.

Other producers are seeking clarification on the minimum of 120 days as the grazing season. The length of the grazing season is based on climate and geography -- 120 days was set for the
northern reaches of Minnesota and Maine, most of New York and Vermont are around 150, southern Pennsylvania at about 180 days. Farmers will be required to average 30% DMI over the length of their farm's grazing season. It was pointed out that the grazing season may or may not be continuous. For parts of the country that have very wet or very dry seasons, the grazing season may be split.