Archive for July, 2008

Cow management style has little impact on milk composition

By Dave Natzke

Despite marketing claims, analysis of more than 300 milk samples showed dairy cow management style had little to no impact on milk composition, nor increased the risk of consuming antibiotics or hormones. In addition, higher retail prices for milk with absence claims –- either labeled or implied as such –- which lead to decreased milk consumption could add to human health risks.
Results of the study, “Survey of Retail Milk Composition as Affected by Label Claims Regarding Farm-Management Practices,” (Vicini et al.)  were published in the July 2008 Journal of the American Dietetic Association, a peer-reviewed journal.
Current dairy marketing trends are creating three distinct categories of milk, based on management styles on the dairy farm:
1) conventional: milk from farms without any claims about recombinant bovine somatotropin ( rbST) supplementation or organic production practices.
2) “rbST-free”: milk labeled with a processor claim that cows were not supplemented with rbST .
3) organic: milk from farms that were certified to meet USDA  organic standards.
Common absence label claims on “rbST-free” and organic milk include: “antibiotic-free”; “hormone-free” and or “rbST-free”.
A survey study was conducted to compare retail milk for quality (antibiotics and bacterial counts), nutritional value (fat, protein and solids-not-fat) and hormonal composition (somatotropin, insulin-like growth factor-1 [or IGF-1], estradiol and progesterone). Milk was purchased from retail outlets throughout the United States during three weeks in October and November 2006. All samples were tested for antibiotics, bacteria counts and nutrients at Dairy One Cooperative,  Ithaca, N.Y.  Samples were tested for progesterone and estradiol at the University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.
The study of 334 whole milk samples found few and minor compositional differences  for conventional, “rbST-free” and organic milk labels, including:
•  antibiotics: None of the milk samples had any detectable antibiotics. Milk containing antibiotics are not permitted to enter the food system, and bulk milk tankers testing positive are rejected for human consumption.
• bacteria: Bacterial count differences between label types were not biologically significant. Counts were the least for conventional milk, greatest for milk labeled as “rbST-free” and intermediate for organic milk.
• nutrients: There were no differences in milk fat, lactose or solids among the three label types. Protein from organic milk (3.22%) was slightly greater than for “rbST-free” milk (3.15%) or conventional milk (3.14%) .
•  hormones: Concentrations of IGF-1 –  a protein degraded in the human digestive tract and not absorbed intact – were lowest in organic milk; IGF-1 concentrations in conventionally labeled milk and milk labeled as rbST-free were not significantly different.
Conventionally labeled milk had significantly less estradiol (estrogen) and progesterone than organic milk. Milk labeled rbST-free had similar concentrations of progesterone vs. conventional milk, and similar concentrations of estradiol vs. organic milk.
Concentrations of bST -– a naturally occurring hormone in milk –- were very low in all samples, with no differences regardless of label type.
Researchers concluded the three cow management systems were not related to any meaningful differences in milk composition for the variables measured,  and that all milk is wholesome.

Price is major difference
One difference that is affected by the management system identified on the milk label is retail price. Retail milk prices for samples in this study found milk labeled “rbST-free” or organic was up to $1.00 or $4.00/gallon more than conventional milk, respectively.
A recent quarterly American Farm Bureau Federation “Marketbasket Survey showed the U.S. average price of one-half gallon of conventional milk was $2.38, compared to $3.34 for a half-gallon of “rbST-free” milk, and $3.67 per half-gallon of organic milk.
Researchers cited several studies documenting the human health benefits of milk consumption, including bone health, weight management, type 2 diabetes and blood pressure. Further, the researchers said reducing availability of  conventional milk from the marketplace either forced consumers to pay a higher retail price for milk or, in the case of low-income consumers, could make milk less affordable and reduce overall consumption.
“It is important for food and nutrition professionals to know that conventional, ‘rbST-free’ and organic milk are compositionally similar, so they can serve as a key resource to consumers who are making milk purchase (and consumption) decisions in a marketplace where there are misleading milk label claims,” the summary said.  “Consumer knowledge also is important so that they can make informed purchase decisions about milk based on science, not marketing label claims.”
Funding for the study was provided by Monsanto Co., manufacturer of Posilac, the only commercially approved rbST.

• A summary of the study is coauthored by Dr. Terry Etherton, professor of Animal Nutrition and head of the Department of Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State University. Etherton maintains a blog site discussing dairy and technology issues. For more information, visit

Dairy industry launches ‘Innovation Center’

Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), the organization that manages the national dairy checkoff program, announced creation of a new Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy to help dairy producers, processors and manufacturers work together to accelerate industry innovation throughout the supply chain to increase dairy product sales.
Larry Jensen, president of Denver-based Leprino Foods, will serve as board chair. Other members of the executive committee are: vice chair – Richard Clauss, Hilmar Cheese, Hilmar, Calif.; treasurer – Clyde Rutherford, Dairylea Cooperative, East Syracuse, N.Y.; secretary – Miriam Erickson Brown, Anderson Erickson Dairy, Des Moines, Iowa; and at-large members – Chris Policinski, Land O’ Lakes, St. Paul, Minn., and Rick Smith, Dairy Farmers of America, Kansas City, Mo.
DMI CEO Tom Gallagher is Innovation Center CEO, and DMI will support and staff the Innovation Center.
According to DMI, six priorities of the Innovation Center include: sustainability; health and wellness; product development; information and communications; regulatory issues (excludes pricing); consumer confidence; and globalization.

Make feed savings a habit

Home-grown grain and a separate accounting enterprise for crops save this New York dairy plenty.

Antimicrobial susceptibility testing plays role in mastitis treatment By Ruben Gonzalez

Since the discovery of antibiotics during the first half of the 20th century, precise bacterial diagnosis has become important as a way to test the susceptibility of pathogens to available antimicrobial drugs. Rational antibiotic treatment is essential: Animal well-being and prolonged usefulness of antibiotics depend upon it.

Antibiotic treatment of mastitis is often started empirically, based on a herd manager’s or veterinarian’s judgment on the most likely bacterium involved. The outcome of treatment in lactating animals depends on several factors: the cow, bacteria, herd management, antibiotic choice and treatment regimen.

Antibiotic susceptibility testing results, provided by a diagnostic laboratory, may serve two purposes: 

To confirm the efficacy of the antibiotic being administered. 

Or to modify therapy if results demonstrate the antibiotic failed against a pathogen.

Antibiotic susceptibility testing results provided before starting treatment may help dairies institute a more judicious therapy, especially for subclinical mastitis.


The disc-diffusion method is the most commonly used procedure to test for a pathogen’s antibiotic susceptibility. It was developed about 40 years ago for use on bacterial isolates from human patients. In the United States, the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI) has established guidelines to standardize the method.

The disc-diffusion method follows these steps:

1. Culture a milk sample obtained aseptically from a mastitic quarter on blood agar. (Figure 1)

2. Standardize the concentration of the inoculum.

3. Spread the pure culture on a specific agar medium (Mueller-Hinton).

4. Apply filter paper discs containing standardized quantities of antimicrobial drug onto the agar surface. (Figure 2)

5. Incubate the culture for approximately 18 hours at 35º C. The concentration of antibiotic in the disc varies from drug to drug and, with the exception of ceftiofur, pirlamycin and penicillin-novobiocin, is based on levels attained in human serum following treatment.

6. Measure the zone of inhibition – the area where there is an absence of any visible bacterial growth around each disc. (Figure 3)

By referring the measurement to a chart, the organism is classified into three categories: susceptible (S), intermediate sensitive (I) or resistant (R) to the antimicrobial drug.

The inhibition zone size is drug-specific due to differing diffusion rates of the antibiotics in the agar. This method is used mainly for tests on rapid-growing bacteria such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus and coliform bacteria. It cannot be used for testing slow-growing organisms such as Arcanobacterium pyogenes.

Value on-farm

No single antimicrobial drug is appropriate for every mastitis-causing organism. Thus, when selecting antibiotics for treatment, it’s important to understand how the results obtained in the laboratory (in vitro) can be used to treat a cow (in vivo) with mastitis.

Two measures are used to determine the efficacy of an antibiotic:

1. Its minimum inhibitory concentration. The MIC is the lowest concentration of an antimicrobial required to inhibit visible growth of bacteria in vitro.

2. Susceptibility breakpoint. This is the concentration of an antimicrobial slightly greater than that required to kill sensitive bacteria.

At this time for mastitis treatment, three antibiotics – ceftiofur, pirlimycin, penicillin-novobiocin – have veterinaryvalidated breakpoints by the Veterinary Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing Subcommittee of the CLSI. These breakpoints can be applied only for the pathogens included on the label.

For other antibiotics, such as amoxicillin, erythromycin, penicillin G, and tetracycline, results are reported based on breakpoints that CLSI has adapted from human medicine. The validity of using antimicrobial susceptibility breakpoints derived from humans to the treatment of mastitis has not been established.

Antimicrobial therapy aims to achieve drug levels in excess of the known in vitro MIC for the target organism at the site of infection and maintain an effective concentration for sufficient time to kill or inhibit the organism. If a laboratory test indicates that an organism is resistant in vitro to a particular antibiotic, that drug must not be used to treat the affected cow because it’s very likely to fail.

On the other hand, if an organism is susceptible in vitro to a particular antibiotic, that drug can be used to treat an affected cow.

However, there’s no guarantee the therapy with that drug will be successful. The clinical outcome depends on a wide range of factors: susceptibility of the pathogen, mechanism of action of the drug, distribution in tissues and milk, physiological barriers such as microabscesses or necrotic tissue, the route, frequency of administration and the duration of treatment.

Antibiotic susceptibility testing data should be used in conjunction with clinical experience, published efficacy data and, where possible, on-farm trials to determine appropriate antibiotics for treatment of mastitis in a given herd.

Although more commonly used for clinical mastitis, testing of isolates from subclinical infections due to Staphylococcus aureus and some Streptococcus species during lactation might help select antimicrobial agents, including those for dry cow therapy, in a mastitis control program.

To be effective, an antibiotic must be present at the site of the infection in sufficient concentration and for sufficient time to kill or inhibit the invading organisms. The final elimination of the infection from the mammary gland depends not only on antibiotic action but also on the activity of the cow’s own defenses and the removal of organisms by milking.

LGM-Dairy now available

LGM-Dairy now available Livestock gross margin insurance for dairy (LGM-Dairy) will be available beginning with the 2009 reinsurance year, said USDA’s Risk Management Agency.

LGM Dairy protects producers against the loss of gross margin – or the market value of milk minus feed costs – on milk they produce. The indemnity at the end of the 11-month insurance period is the difference between the gross margin guarantee and the actual gross margin, if it’s positive.

Because LGM-Dairy covers the cost of both milk and feed, it’s different from traditional options. The policy uses futures prices and state basis for corn and milk to determine expected and actual gross margin.

It may be tailored to any size farming operation. The producer supplies the mix of target milk marketings per dairy cow and target feed rations. That allows the producer to choose feed rations and production levels that best reflect actual production situations.

LGM-Dairy does not insure against dairy cattle death loss, unexpected decreases in milk production or unexpected increases in feed use.

Producers may sign up 12 times per year and insure up to 240,000 hundredweight per year. It will be sold on the third to last business day of each month.

Producers must supply the total number of tons of corn or equivalent and and protein meal or equivalent they expect to feed for each month in which they insure their milk.

Producers in the Northeast states of Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia are eligible, as well as those in some other states in the Midwest and West.

For more information, go to

DAIRY FINANCIAL TIMES BY PAUL ANEMA – Learning to cope with change

2007 was a year like no other for dairy farmers. Dairymen saw record high milk and feed prices, increased regulation, and for many producers a creamery-imposed production cap in place or in the works. 

While no one is complaining about the record high milk prices, the higher feed prices and increased regulation by government agencies has by no means gone unnoticed. As with every era of change we are left with two options: 1.) Get mad, get organized and complain until it changes, or 2.) Adapt. 

Option One: Complain. There is certainly some level of merit to this chain of thought. Whether we like the program or not, Cooperatives Working Together, has shown that dairymen can unify and mobilize in an unprecedented fashion to facilitate change. Perhaps by working together dairymen could exert enough political clout to encourage legislators to enact policies that would encourage, rather than prevent, the construction of new milk processing facilities. It is no secret how most dairymen feel about Ethanol and its affect on our feed prices; if the dairy lobby was as well funded and organized as that of the environmental groups, it might have more success. This type of organized effort is needed, but a significant amount of resources and time is being spent longing for the days of cheap feed, limitless production, and growth that was constrained only by the amount of money the bank would lend us. Those days are gone. As a result, the industry’s best course of action is…

Option Two: Adapt. The dairy industry 24 Western DairyBusiness July 2008 is still a frontier with great potential and opportunity but in moving forward, those opportunities will not follow the same patterns as years past. While most dairymen have always been open to ideas that will make them more efficient, the preferred model for increased growth in profits has typically been add cows, add more cows, and then add some more cows. Because of creamery imposed production limits and increased restrictions from air and water quality boards, this option is off the table for now. So what can be done?

Learn from friends

Once upon a time, almond farmers had a difficult time getting rid of the almond hulls they now sell for $200 a ton. What resources are dairymen missing out on? With the increased cost of energy and increased pressure for new energy sources is it too far fetched to believe that dairies can capitalize on methane digesters? While there are questions about the reliability of the technology, and few would want to be the first to try it, dairy farmers would be wise to keep their eyes and ears open for new developments and creative financing that will likely come in the form of government grants and industry incentives.

Don’t Leave Money On The Table

I can’t tell you how many dairymen are losing out by not taking advantage of bonus programs with their creameries. These bonuses can amount to as a much as $.45 per cwt. On a 1,000 cow dairy this can easily amount to $10,000 plus per month. On the extreme end of the quality spectrum dairymen with substandard quality can get charged penalties that are even more costly than forgone bonuses. Even if you have to spend some money to clean up the milk barn or replace old equipment, these upgrades will often pay for themselves’ within a year if it lowers contaminants. Beyond the immediate benefits of quality bonuses dairymen must think about protecting their investment. If a dairyman loses his contract as a result of poor quality milk it will be difficult to sell that facility and tremendous value will be lost.

A Case For Crossbreds?

The argument in favor of crossbreds or seems stronger than ever. With limitations on production the two most obvious ways to increase revenue on the same base of milk production are buying quota (in those states where it is available) or increasing components. For those dairymen who do not wish to venture into the world of crossbreds consider tweaking your ration to take advantage of the high milk prices. For example: If you take a 1,000-cow herd in the month of March with daily production of 70 lbs. per head, each tenth of a percentage in butterfat and solids would increase the milk price by 2 to 3%.

While dairymen must be vocal to protect the industry as a whole, they must also be diligent in staying ahead of the curve and finding new opportunities for efficiencies. Even if the good ol’ days do return, imagine how much more profitable the industry could be if we learn to be efficient in the current environment.

FYI Paul Anema is a certified public accountant and partner with Genske, Mulder & Co., LLP: Modesto, Calif. He can be reached at 209-523-3573 or e-mail him at paul@

FINANCE – Does insurance address higher feed values?

Make sure your insurance policy covers the higher value of stored feeds.

“This year it’s especially important for farm operators to have an insurance review,” according to Gary Douglas, president of Nationwide Agribusiness Insurance Co. “Unprecedented grain price fluctuations and much higher values are having a significant impact on insurance coverage needs.” 

In January 2006, No. 2 yellow corn was averaging about $2/bushel. Today, corn prices are more than $5/bushel. If you haven’t adjusted your insurance values to reflect these differences, you could face a significant financial loss. A farmer with two, 10,000-bushel bins of stored grain, valued at a 2006 level, could be underinsured by as much as $60,000 if the bins were destroyed in a covered loss today.

Farm policies have a provision called “coinsurance.” It requires that property be insured to a minimum value (typically 80% of its actual value). If the coinsurance requirement has not been met, the insurance policy provides for only partial payment on the amount of a loss.

In today’s volatile markets, ask your insurance agent to review the insurance values on your inventory to be sure they are accurate and adequate.

Management – Stillbirths disastrous for dairy profitability

The loss of a calf is only the beginning of the negative impacts of stillbirths, Michael O’Connor noted in Penn State’s Dairy Digest. Longer-term consequences include increased incidence of postpartum disorders, including prolapsed uterus, uterine infection and displaced abomasum. These events result in prolonged days to conception and increased cull rate.

Cows that had stillbirths were 41% more likely to be culled, according to 2007 Cornell University research, which studied 13,608 calvings on seven dairy herds. The research also found cows with stillbirths had a 24% lower rate of becoming pregnant, and a difference in mean days open of +26 days compared to cows giving birth to live calves.

If there was just an occasional stillbirth, the problem might not cause such concern. But a 2000 Iowa State study including data from 666,341 births on U.S. farms found 7% of Holstein calves die within 48 hours of birth, O’Connor wrote.

The Cornell and Iowa State research identified parity and calving ease as major risk factors for stillbirths. In the Cornell study, the incidence of stillbirths on seven dairies was 6.6%, ranging from 4.1% to 10%. Stillbirths among first-parity cows was 10.7%, compared to 3.6%, 5% and 4.2% for second, third and fourth parities, respectively.

The rate of stillbirths by calving ease ranged from 3.6% to 60.1% in the Cornell study. The odds of stillbirths were 88% lower for unassisted calvings compared to assisted calvings.

“Since calving ease score is significantly related to stillbirth, any management intervention to reduce the incidence of difficult births should reduce the incidence of stillbirth,” O’Connor said. Use sire and daughter calving ease information when selecting sires to breed heifers to reduce the risk of dystocia.

Other tips include: 

• Review calving procedures to ensure proper timing and calving assistance techniques are used.

• Post standard operating procedures for calving.

• Evaluate feeding management so heifers and cows are in the best condition possible at calving.

• Provide enough space and clean, dry bedding to minimizes stress.





New test to calculate N needs

The Illinois Soil Nitrogen Test (ISNT), a new tool to help farmers measure how much soil nitrogen (N) is available to corn, can now be purchased commercially.
    Cornell University is working with northern New York producers to calibrate and evaluate the test for New York conditions. The test identifies readily mineralizable soil organic N, organic matter and ammonium-N to predict if extra N is needed.
     Joe Lawrence, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Lewis County field crops educator, says the test can help farmers use manure better and keep from using too much fertilizer.
    The ISNT works better than the Pre-Sidedress Nitrogen Test (PSNT), Cornell says, because the results remain stable for two to three years, samples can be taken at a shallower depth and timing for taking samples isn’t as restrictive as for the PSNT.
     But Lawrence said producers need to know how soil samples are taken in order to use the ISNT and Cornell guidelines effectively.

Find more information in the Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program fact sheets on the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website. Go to the Crops section at <> .

•Agronomy Fact Sheet #35 Nitrogen Guidelines for Corn explains how N recommendations are derived.

• Agronomy Fact Sheet #36 Illinois Soil Nitrogen Test for Corn provides details on how to use the ISNT.

• Agronomy Fact Sheet #4 Nitrogen Credits from Manure details how to deduct manure N credits from the N application recommendations.

Find other resources through the Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program website at

 Find forms for to submit samples for ISNT evaluation at Testing costs $15 per sample for ISNT and Loss-on-Ignition (LOI) organic matter testing; $10 when the ISNT is added as an extra test to the standard soil fertility testing package. 

Where’s that milk processed?

     The New York Organic Dairy Initiative has developed a postcard to educate consumers on reading the product code on milk cartons. The code tells where the milk was processed.
      The project, called Project 36 (for New York’s processing code), is intended to help consumers find milk processed in New York on store shelves, in light of competition from milk being imported over long distances. But you can find a list of all state processing codes, as well as the postcard, at this website: