Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fat Detective

(In more ways than one)

Corn for us, not the ladies

A little background:

Conventional dairy farmers are paid for their milk based upon the pounds of butterfat and protein they produce, as well as small premiums for quality.

Thus, although you want to make a lot of milk, it must also contain a large percentage of what are called components- your butterfat and protein. 

The boss has bred the herd for high butterfat test since he was a little boy and first got interested in registered Holsteins. In the past when we were able to afford to have the Dairy Herd Improvement Association stop in once a month to take samples from each cow, we often had tests as high as 3.9 or 4.0 butterfat. That would do a Jersey herd proud and we were indeed proud of our girls.

Those days are gone, (Ann and Tim, we miss you) as survival has become the bottom line, but up until quite recently we still maintained a high fat test. (Don't worry about this in terms of what you drink. Studies are showing that full fat dairy products contribute to weight loss more than low fat, but much of the fat is removed before you see the milk any how, even if you drink "whole" milk. This is to standardize what you buy.)

Not too long ago our test plummeted. I can see this both on the milk check (which is painful) and on the cooperative website, where I can look every day to see how every single tank of milk measures up in terms of fat, protein, negative tests for antibiotics, and a number of quality and cleanliness matters.

At first we laid it to early pasture. Much of the percent of protein in milk is decided in the cow's digestive tract. Lush pasture is low in fiber, a big component in butterfat production. Our cows go to grass to harvest their own food as much as possible.

Plus in the spring our too-small pipeline gets flooded by high production and the milk gets churned, kind of like homogenizing it...makes it seem low in fat even if it isn't. 

Normally we would supplement the pasture by feeding long-stemmed, dry hay to enhance fat and help the cows' digestion, but after last year's flood we were out of hay and buying, so we only fed until the boss started chopping and baling. Then they were supplemented with our own feed, but it was still early-cut and lower in fiber.

The commercial grain we feed could be an issue as well. Feed companies are scrambling to keep grain concentrate affordable, with corn supplies short and getting shorter. No way to tell how that will affect the cows.

Making high quality milk is a complex juggling act with lots of factors in play and many ways things can crash.

However, now, herd production has declined a bit, so the line isn't flooding. Grass has matured and the cows are getting chopped first cutting, which is high in fiber, and baled first cutting ditto. The problem should have cleared itself up by now and the cows should be testing at the very least 3.5 to 3.7% butterfat, yet they are way below that.

This brings us to another little issue that shows up in dairying sometimes...suspicious lab results. 

I'm not saying that it's so, but back when we were on DHIA it happened to us. Cows should have been testing great and were doing so in our privately paid for tests, but the correct butterfat test wasn't showing up in the tank or on the milk check. We had an additional independent test run, which showed our true percent of fat, shared the results with the right folks, and magically our "official" results improved dramatically.

Thus, along with tweaking this and that in the ration, we are having a sample on our bulk tank pulled and run to make sure that the problem is here on the farm......

The results might be interesting.


Ruth said...

Good luck. Sometimes its amazing what having an "outside observer" will do to test results....

farmlady said...

This is really interesting. I had no idea that all this was involved in the dairy and milk industry. I
I sure don't like to think that someone is manipulating the test results, but dishonesty is the name of the game these days and it has become hard to trust anyone.

linda/Il said...

We are having problems with high somatic cells. Our DHIA test comes in much lower on the same tank than what the dairy tests. Hmmm. Field rep. took samples yesterday & we sent 4 individual cow samples today. Hopefully we'll get answers.

threecollie said...

Ruth, thanks, we really need to get to the bottom of this, as it is costing us money we really can't afford.

farmlady, sadly it appears to be a pretty common practice, so much so that when we joined one milk market, we were warned by the representative of the company to watch our test and complain if it got lower than we thought it should be. Kind of sickening.

Linda, I hope you have a good rep who will work with you. We used to have SCC troubles, but we were fortunate enough to have a milk inspector who went well beyond what was expected of him to help us fix it. Now we get Super Milk almost every year. Sadly he is no longer with the same company as we are. Hope you get to the bottom of it quickly. I hesitate to recommend a product, as it is pretty expensive, but when we were fighting to lower our count we used Fight Bac as a post dip. It does do what the manufacturers say it does, and also stops spread of organisms from cow to cow. We started using it at the fair so we didn't have to share teat dip with others and ended up using it on the whole herd for years.

Cathy said...

I am amazed and impressed by the science in all this. And then humbled and concerned that so few consumers understand what is involved in the food we consume.

And that business with your concern about the lab messing up . . .

It's all so complicated.

threecollie said...

Cathy, farming simply isn't what it used to be. And compared to most farms we are small and low-tech.