Tips for getting cows bred for a tight window

Farmer with cows

By Dan and Ruth Vosberg, South Wayne, Wisconsin — If the only information you’ve heard about dairy farming the last few years came from mainstream farm publications, you’d think that all dairy farmers need estrus synchronization hormones to get their cows bred. Indeed, one of these magazines recently highlighted some of the top reproduction herds in the country. All but one farm used hormones, and those that used them stated that these products were key to their success.

Also, in looking at the average pregnancy rates published, you’d believe that it’s impossible to have a seasonally bred herd. A 60% first-service conception rate (which I consider necessary to be seasonal) isn’t even considered an attainable goal for most dairy farmers. Continue reading “Tips for getting cows bred for a tight window”

No-grain dairy: potential benefits, but handle with care

Dairy cow on pasture

By Karen Hoffman, Norwich, NY — Over the past two years, I have given at least 30 presentations on feeding pastured dairy cows. In many of those presentations, the question has been raised about feeding no grain to lactating animals.

I realize the concept of not feeding grain has been popularized across the country due to interest in increasing the CLA content of grass-based milk. Most of the research has shown that grain feeding reduces the amount of CLA in both meat and milk. For those looking to capitalize on potential markets for high-CLA, grass-fed products, grain is almost a taboo thought. Continue reading “No-grain dairy: potential benefits, but handle with care”

A start-up dairy model for the future

Farmers with cows

With an innovative approach, extension agent walks his talk

Kieler, Wisconsin—There are lots of people within the grazing community who talk about the need to help young people get into the game. Larry Tranel happens to be one of those who matched that talk with his own money, and his own sweat.

Tranel, dairy field specialist for Iowa State University Extension, has employed a series of innovative ideas in converting 70 acres of good Southwest Wisconsin prairie ground into a productive starter grass dairy. Last year Eric and Amanda Gaul, both in their 20s, registered more than $90,000 in net farm income and $83,000 in returns to labor – along with an eye-popping 51% return on assets. (As renters, they had just $1,593/cow in assets, including an average of $1,100 in each cow.) Continue reading “A start-up dairy model for the future”

Learning in the CLA school of hard knocks

Cheese package

‘Grass-fed’ cooperative finds both promise and problems in developing market

Seymour, Wisconsin —Five years ago, Valerie Dantoin-Adamski was reading reports that milk and meat from grazed cattle consuming little or no grain had exceptionally high levels of congugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega-3 fatty acids, both shown in animal trials to prevent cancer and other health problems. Valerie says the news was exciting to her, because producing quality food had long been a cornerstone principle at Full Circle Farm, which she operates with her husband, Rick.

“As farmers we have a responsibility to provide people with the most nutritious food we can produce,” Valerie explains. Continue reading “Learning in the CLA school of hard knocks”

It all comes down to flavor

Man with cheese

Grazier/cheese champ Mike Gingrich sees big market potential for the unique taste of grass-fed cheese

Dodgeville, Wisconsin —Three years after making his first vat of “grass-fed” cheese for commercial sale, Mike Gingrich has garnered two major, national “best of show” awards. His laboriously crafted French cave cheese sells for about $20 per pound retail. This year Mike will pay himself close to $20 an hour for a full-time job of making, aging and marketing 30,000 pounds of his “Pleasant Ridge Reserve” cheese.

Once in a while, someone will pay all of Mike’s expenses to jet to an exotic place and talk up the merits of farmstead cheese. At age 63, he has found new friends, and in the main greatly enjoys his life as a full-time cheese maker and marketer. Mike strongly believes that other graziers can capitalize on the unique flavor properties of grass-fed dairy products, and develop markets that will pay them organic-type premiums. He says there are plenty of opportunities for farmstead dairy operators to make cheese from the milk of their grazed cows, sell it for premium prices, and add profit to their farms. Continue reading “It all comes down to flavor”

One way to maximize dry matter intake

Farmer with cows

By Dan Vosberg, South Wayne, Wisconsin — One of the biggest mistakes many beginning graziers make is to leave their cows a little hungry. The cows aren’t accustomed to grazing, and the pastures are usually not up to speed. I’ve also seen some cases where the stored or purchased feed is of poor quality. This leaves the cows with no incentive to fill up – a critical mistake when it comes to milk cows. At the very least you’ll sacrifice some production. If the problem is more severe, cow health, reproduction, milk solids, and cow longevity can suffer. With tight margins, filling your cows up can make the difference between staying in business, or going out.

But what about experienced graziers? Are we really getting the job done when it comes to filling up our cows? Five years ago, I thought we were doing an adequate job of this on our farm. Yes, I knew that if we moved the wire, the cows would start eating again. But how many times does a person want to move a wire in a day? Continue reading “One way to maximize dry matter intake”