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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care May 2006

Hi Folks,

For those of you who were not there, I thought I would give a brief summary of the recent USDA National Organic Standards Board Meeting in State College, PA. First, some materials were voted on to either be allowed for another 5 years or to be removed from the National List. Remember that most of the livestock materials I am talking about are to be used only during an emergency and not for routine use. Non-organic milk replacers were voted to not be renewed (they will "sunset" in October 2007). Hydrated lime, chlorinated materials, oxytocin and ivermectin were voted to be renewed. However, there was much discussion about oxytocin administration since it is a hormone (though all mammals produce it naturally) and organic consumers have an expectation that no hormones are given to cows that produce organic milk. Ivermectin was a very close vote maybe since moxidectin may become allowed (moxidectin, Cydectin®, is NOT yet allowed!). Unfortunately, both ivermectin and moxidectin are technically classified (on paper only) as belonging to an obscure group of antibiotics. The long and short of it is that oxytocin and ivermectin, while continued to be allowed for emergency use, will be reviewed in the very near future and may be strictly limited to be administered only by a veterinarian in a true emergency.

On other business applicable to organic dairy farmers, there was a pasture education session for about 8 hours with five panels composed of: 2 animal scientists and 2 veterinarians, 4 agronomists/ nutritionists, 7 farmers, 3 certifiers, and 2 marketing experts. Each panel person was given a few questions by the USDA to consider and discuss during their presentation. Then the USDA National Organic Program and the National Organic Standards Board could ask questions of the panelists. This was to gain further information and clarification towards crafting language in order to create a new, enforceable law that will require that organic livestock graze pasture during the growing season and that lactating cows are not exempt from grazing. Most everyone in the industry agrees that 120 days minimum time that cows graze growing pasture is achievable. And while there are many voices and groups strongly emphasizing that the 120 days should be coupled to a 30% dry matter intake from the pasture being grazed, I did not get the sense that the 30% dry matter requirement will necessarily be included. This is in part due to the 3 certifier panelists stating that it would be difficult to verify and correctly record by the farmer. Other options that were mentioned include 3 cows per acre, 8 hours per day, a certain percent biomass to confirm pasture nutrition quality, etc. An idea presented to me previously is that perhaps there could be options to choose from i.e. pick 2 or 3 of the 5 factors just listed and that would OK. We really don't know what the USDA will decide. What everyone agrees on is that there needs to be clear language for a minimum requirement and that the rule must be easily enforceable.

So let's keep talking about pasture at the farm level. I think we can all agree that cows and other ruminants were created to eat fresh grass and other forages as their primary feed source. It is unfortunate that modern dairy farming constantly tries to divorce this most basic concept by keeping cows confined inside as much as possible and feeding relatively grain-rich rations that push high milk production with the unfortunate potential side effect of rumen acidosis. However, even in pasture feeding systems, rumen acidosis is possible if only feeding lush pasture, slugs of grain during milking time and ensiled forages. I have seen it on a few farms. Simply put, try to get dry grass hay into your animals about ½ hour prior to sending out. If they refuse to eat hay, add molasses on top of it to make it more inviting. The molasses and hay are very beneficial to a grazing animal in that the molasses will add energy to their diet and improve the internal carbon to nitrogen ratio. Excess soluble protein in the rumen is converted into urea by the liver but results in high blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and milk urea nitrogen (MUN). Blood urea nitrogen can be turned into urine and excreted while high MUN is excreted in the milk. But this excess protein nitrogen being converted to urea to be eventually excreted costs the animal biological energy (real energy that takes away from milk production). High levels of BUN, most easily reflected by evaluating levels of MUN in the milk during DHIA test day can also sometimes interfere with reproduction. Additionally, when the carbon to nitrogen ratio is too low (meaning too much nitrogen from protein) cows tend to get skinny. That is why I like to see decent body condition on cows coming out of the winter months heading into the new pasture season - because they will likely lose condition due to the excess protein from pasture in relation to energy. That's the biology of the situation but to fine tune your cows' ration to keep enough energy in it, please talk to your nutritionist. The dry grass hay serves two purposes - to keep pasture bloat from occurring and to slow down the passage of ingested feed through the animal. If your grazing cows pass manure with ease like a garden hose that just got turned on, then they are not absorbing as much of their feed as could be. Western "candy" hay (pure alfalfa) will not help slow down the rate of passage as there often is shatter with the cows only eating the leaf and not the stalks, therefore not deriving any fiber benefit from that hay. In addition, western "candy" hay has too much protein to be feeding it at this time of year.

A healthy grazing animal that has a balanced ration is not skinny and shooting manure out the back end but rather is a sleek and fit athlete with a glossy coat and somewhat loose manure. If you are doing artificial insemination, you may want to keep feeding corn silage throughout the grazing season (no more than 15-20 pounds per day) to keep condition on the cows so they show a decent heat on which to breed. Bulls will breed animals that won't show good heats as they can sense and detect (via scent) a cow in heat a million times better than we can. And remember that the bull doesn't wait 12 hours until after standing heat to breed a cow! If doing AI, always breed as soon as possible to mimic nature.

OK - let's start to talk about calves on pasture and continue in next month's newsletter. First, always try to have calves on clean pasture. Clean means that adult cows haven't been on it for a couple years, and neither have other calves. This is very difficult to do in practice. Therefore, at least do not follow adult cows immediately with younger animals - this can not only increase parasite pressure on the youngstock but also increase likelihood of Johnes transmission to the youngstock. Many people will clip pastures in order to splatter out manure pies so the parasites dry up in the sun and wind (as well as to give a uniform re-growth of the paddock). If you do not like to clip pasture, then I would suggest that you have poultry and hogs out to root around the manure pies, which they will do. You could also follow with other ruminants, as most internal parasites are species specific - but that will not destroy the existing cow pies like clipping or having poultry or hogs rooting through them.

Lastly, keep in mind that adult cows do not need worming in order to remain healthy. They have antibodies to keep worms to an absolute minimum, this is biological fact. So if some salesman tells you that you should be deworming your cows (with whatever product), tell them to prove it. Have your vet take samples (as a neutral third party) and base your worming decision on the lab results. I predict that your adult cows will not need a wormer. Calves are a different matter entirely with preventive management and treatment to be discussed in the next newsletter.

REMINDER - if you use a sickle bar mower, please keep your dog tied at the farm when mowing hay or pasture to avoid having a dog's leg be amputated and becoming three-legged.

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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