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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care May 2010

Hi Folks,

We had a very nice April in our local area, lots of sunshine even though it was somewhat cooler temperatures after that first very warm week. While the pastures haven’t necessarily “jumped”, the growth that is there is higher in energy due to lots of photosynthesis. I have heard from various farmers that the cows are making more milk than usual with these conditions.

Have you been keeping track of your cows’ pasture intake? Do you know yet if they are getting 30% dry matter intake on average? Are you even keeping track of such things? Do you have any idea of what your cows are eating in terms of dry matter from all possible sources? If you are certified organic, now is the time to start getting a handle on exactly how much you are feeding your animals. This includes all classes of cattle on your farm. This means keeping track of what you are feeding to your young weaned heifers, bred heifers, lactating cows and dry cows. Why? The new pasture rule is for real now and you really need to get with it if you are to remain certified organic. Keeping track of your feed inventory will help you plan better anyway.

During the training sessions for the new pasture rule, the USDA National Organic Program trainers have been telling attendees (inspectors, certifiers and farmers) that non-compliances should be issued already this year if a farm is not grazing animals 6 months of age and older for an average of 30% dry matter intake from pasture over the grazing season. The NOP wants to make sure that farmers are getting geared to the new law this year since the law itself goes into effect this June. Any farm still transitioning once the law becomes effective this June MUST be grazing to the new requirements. Additionally, I know that Horizon Organic is urging their farmers to be grazing to the new rule already this year so that any changes that need to be made will be in time for next June. Beginning next June, de-certification can occur if farms are grazing less than 30% dry matter intake. The NOP is serious about the 30% dry matter intake on average for the entire grazing season. It’s no longer “let’s hope they change the rule to make pasture part of organics” …. you must comply with the new rules to stay certified organic.

Complying with government rules unfortunately usually means keeping written records to prove that you are doing what you say you are doing. This is definitely the case for the new pasture rule. How much stored feed (on a dry matter basis) have you been feeding your cows prior to turn out this year? How much are you feeding now? If you have very accurate records and also use a TMR mixer (with functioning weigh scale), you can easily write down how much is being fed, and you probably can do a fairly simple “back calculation”. This back calculation assumes the cows are eating in the pasture what you are no longer feeding in the barn (everything figured on a dry matter basis). However, if body condition suffers greatly, there is a real likelihood that the cows may not be meeting their basic dry matter intake for the day (and therefore lose weight). After all, if you are harvesting from them twice a day, they need to be replenished by the right amount of feed (from all sources) to maintain their basic biological needs, to carry a calf, and to make milk.

Right now, you should start to keep very close track of which paddocks your cows, dry cows, bred heifers and weaned heifers are in every single day, for how long, as well as the size and shape of the paddocks. Your certifier could ask you for such basic things at your next inspection.

In our area where livestock density is high and grazing acreage is relatively low, it might
be a good idea to learn how much dry matter per inch is in your pasture. Once you get a feel for how much dry matter exists in your pastures, you can size your individual paddocks appropriately for the amount of cows you plan to put in there for a 12 or 24 hour period. This will help use paddock space the most efficiently as well as make sure you know what your animals are eating in terms of pasture dry matter intake. This is not difficult and I have already been doing this on a few farms. Having this kind of information will help you more predict and then calculate what your cows are taking in from pasture.

You should also want to know how good your pasture is in terms of nutrition for your animals. You most likely already take hay, silage and baleage samples – pasture sampling is also needed. A part of taking samples lately has been to get an immediate Brix readings at the time of sampling. Brix is an estimate of sugars in the plants that your animals will be eating. Basically, the refractometer reading measures dissolved solids in a couple drops of the plant sap. Thus, not only sugars are being measured but also minerals. The higher the number, the better. One study showed that cows making a certain amount of milk, fed a certain amount of grain and grazing a low Brix pasture could be fed much less grain when they were changed to pastures with higher Brix readings. That is money saved in paying out for grain and having healthier animals since they are getting their sugars/carbohydrates in a form which is very bioavailable and friendly to the gut. How do you get higher Brix readings? - mainly by adding the correct forms of calcium, sulfur and boron as well as other minerals that are needed. Having a healthy, balanced soil release minerals into the root zones will create more vigorous growing plants that can deliver more of what your animals will thrive on. Nutrient rich, high forage diets that you grow is smart business.

In summary, I am serious in urging you to start keeping close track of your animals’ dry matter intakes – from stored feeds and from pasture. That is the ONLY way you will be able to prove that they are getting 30% dry matter intake from pasture. If you would like help with figuring dry matter intake in terms of the new pasture requirements, please don’t’ hesitate to call.

NOTE: Roman/Dwight Stoltzfoos/Springwood Dairy. 1143 Gap Rd. Kinzers PA. 717-278-1208
2 organic heifer (Jersey/NZ Friesian cross or straight NZ Friesian) calves now/more coming over the next 3 months. $150-200 depending on the size and breed of the calf + $5/day for each day over 1 week old.   

Midwestern Bio-Ag Offers Free Grazing Workshop June 8, 9, 10 in Lancaster and Franklin Counties, PA. Midwestern Bio-Ag (MBA, Bio-Ag) is a Wisconsin-based, whole-farm biological and organic support/educational/consulting company that has expanded to the Mid-Atlantic Region. Founded in 1984 and headed by Gary Zimmer, MBA operates in 15 states with over 80 consultants on more than 5,000 farms.

Karl Dallefeld is a forage specialist for Barenbrug and MBA, and is a grazier/grass-finisher, and manager of Iowa-based Prairie Creek Seed Company. Karl continually investigates the advantages and disadvantages of grass-based production systems, looking at practical on-farm applications.
In this workshop, Karl will address:
*Managing soil for quality forage
*Grass-based system management & grazing
*Pasture species identification
*Biological and financial benefits of a tight crop/pasture rotation
*How to determine dry matter intake from pasture
Call Rebecca Brown (local MBA consultant) for more information:  1-774-521-6100 


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