Learning in the CLA school of hard knocks

‘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

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

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”

Small farm stands tall

Belleville, Wisconsin — I spend most of my time writing about graziers with “all-grass” mindsets who want to milk scores of cows through swing parlors and the like.

But I must admit that if I had a Top 10 list of most admired dairy graziers, on it would be a guy with 72 tillable/grazing acres, a five-year cropping rotation and fewer than 30 cows.

Between 1993 (when he stopped green chopping and started grazing) and 2001, Tim Pauli averaged net income of $1,408 per cow including interest and depreciation costs, but not unpaid labor or return to capital. For 2002, a horrible year for so many dairy farmers, early figuring indicated a per-cow net of $1,424 without Uncle Sam’s MILC payments, and $1,603 with them. This was accomplished by shipping 15,893 lbs./cow priced at $11.80/cwt. from an average of 26.2 Holsteins in an operation that required 2,400 to 2,500 labor hours last year. Continue reading “Small farm stands tall”

One-shot rations come north

Glenn Moyer finds high-fiber feed aids milk production, profits and labor efficiency

Mercersburg, Pennsylvania — Profits, both per-cow and total farm, are way up at Cove Mountain Farm, the American Farmland Trust’s dairy grazing showcase for the Northeast. Per-cow milk production in the seasonally calved herd peaked 11 pounds higher this spring compared to a year earlier, and production was holding at a much higher plane this summer despite a long stretch of hot weather. Cow body condition is much better, and conception rates have improved markedly compared to those of a couple of years ago. The amount of labor required to produce 100 pounds of milk has substantially declined.

And Glenn Moyer, who has run Cove Mountain’s dairy on a lease basis since the operation’s beginnings nearly six years ago, is very happy these days. Continue reading “One-shot rations come north”

You, too, can have a parlor

He’s planned them. He’s built them. He’s milked in them. Vance Haugen thinks you should consider a low-cost milking parlor.

By Vance Haugen, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin — Whether you manage 20 cows or 200 – and whether you graze your cows or not – New Zealand-style “swing” parlors are certainly worth considering. These parlors offer a lot of milking efficiency at a relatively low cost and with less physical labor than milking in stanchions, which fits well with the grazier mentality. I’ve seen some brand-new swing parlors that do a wonderful job of milking a lot of cows at far lower costs than conventional American “low-line” facilities.

But what really intrigues me is the idea of putting such a parlor in an existing building — usually a stall barn. There are tremendous savings to be found in using existing walls, current milking equipment and “pre-owned” iron. Continue reading “You, too, can have a parlor”