Archive for September, 2008

Emerging clostridial disease targets calves

Clostridium perfringens Type A continues to garner researchers’ attention as a potential emerging pathogen. It’s often associated with severe calf disease, such as abomasitis, with fatality rates varying from 5% to 50%.

“There are as many questions about this disease syndrome as there are answers,” said David Van Metre, DVM, College of Veterinary Sciences, Colorado State University. “It’s a multifactorial disease. No one has found the complete set of factors that cause it.”

C. perfringens Type A is the most commonly isolated infectious agent in abomasitis cases, according to Van Metre, who presented to attendees during a symposium at the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, Nev.

Abomasitis occurs with an acute onset of gas accumulation in the abomasum. It typically occurs in calves less than two weeks of age. Clinical signs can include rapid progressive bloat and shock, colic, hypersalivation and a distended abdomen. Treatments may include penicillin, antitoxin serum, fluid support, oral adsorbents and oral antibiotics.

“Unfortunately, most calves die acutely,” says Doug Scholz, director of veterinary services for Novartis Animal Health. “Most times, the calf appears fine in the morning. When you come back that evening, you find a dead bloated calf.”

Van Metre recommends focusing prevention measures on enhancing immunity and using feeding practices that inhibit proliferation of C. perfringens in the gut. He recommends:
• Using good colostrum and milk/milk replacer hygiene
• Keeping consistent feeding schedules for dairy calves and maintain consistency in milk/milk replacer composition and temperature
• Avoiding feeding long-stem forage too early
• Whenever possible during severe weather, encourage calves and dams to stand up to limit milk engorgement by the calf after the weather passes
• Making sure animals have adequate copper and selenium status

If you are experiencing significant calf losses, vaccination may be an option to consider. Van Metre shared results of a trial he conducted with Clostridium Perfringens Type A Toxoid in a commercial dairy herd.

The Colorado State University researchers randomly assigned cows and pregnant heifers to a control or vaccinate group. Vaccinates received two doses of Clostridium Perfringens Type A Toxoid in late pregnancy. The study goal was to measure C. perfringens Type A alpha toxin titers in vaccinated dams and the calves fed that colostrum.

“The cows and heifers receiving two doses of the vaccine generated significantly higher antibody titers to alpha toxin one week after the second immunization than did controls,” said Van Metre. “Additionally, the calves ingesting colostrum from vaccinated dams had significantly higher serum neutralizing antibody titers to alpha toxin than calves born to controls.”

Scholz adds that vaccination with Clostridium Perfringens Type A Toxoid is anticipated to work best when you vaccinate the dam and get antibody into the calf through the cow’s colostrum.

“If you are experiencing an outbreak and have significant death loss, you may also want to vaccinate the calf,” advised Scholz. “The important thing is to involve your veterinarian and call as soon as you suspect a problem. If you aren’t tuned in to watch for clinical cases, you will likely be calling for a necropsy rather than a treatment.”

Source: Novartis Animal Health. For more information, visit

Design efficient animal handling facilities

By Ken Bolton, UW-Extension Dairy & Livestock Agent, Jefferson County, Wis

Facilities should be designed to provide cow comfort, worker comfort and labor efficiency. It is very important to check building plans to assure they correctly support the ‘6-flows’: animal flow, people flow, equipment flow, feed flow, manure flow, and air flow. I’ll explore some of the considerations relating to these issues.
One of the main issues in the overall design of a new dairy facility is how milking animals will be sorted, handled and restrained for treatment. Animals need to be examined, vaccinated, artificially inseminated, pregnancy checked, given shots, etc. on a regular basis. The facility design and equipment selection influences work routines, labor requirements and animal stress levels associated with each of these activities. The dairy manager, when making these decisions, is faced with the typical use of capital versus labor trade-off; i.e. “pay me now or pay me later”.
Possible Systems
Most new parlor/freestall operations fall into one of two different types of systems. The “Animal Management Activities” of sorting, restraining and treating are often done in the freestall unit where the animals are housed (home based) or in some special area away from where they are normally housed (treatment area based).
Home based systems utilize self-locking manger stalls where cows lock themselves in place upon returning to a manger full of fresh feed after being milked. The self-locking feature is activated when the animal puts her head in a stanchion to eat. Treatment area based systems use sort gates to separate selected animals from their group as they leave the milking parlor. These sort gates can be manually controlled by the parlor operator or controlled automatically by a computer if animals are identified with electronic identification.
Home based systems
Dairy managers who select the home based system must evaluate the cost of the self-locking manger stall verses the cost of a separate treatment area, plus any labor savings over time. Producers report the following advantages of the home based system:
•    Less traumatic handling of cows since they are treated in familiar surroundings
•    Cows many eat their proper ration while waiting to be treated
•    No time is wasted returning animals to their lot after treatment because they are restrained in their own pen
•    Manger uprights prevent boss-cows from dominating a large section of the feed bunk
•    Large numbers of cows can be automatically restrained saving labor for routine tasks such as tail chalking
•    Manure from restrained animals is handled with normal procedures
•    Locking cows after milking allows teat spincter muscles to close before they lie down, thereby decreasing the possibility of mastitis
•    Parlor efficiency can be improved because flow of animals leaving the parlor does not need to be channeled through a narrow sort lane; and operator time to sort or move animals is avoided.
Among the concerns expressed by some producers is the extra noise generated by some brands of self locking stalls and how to find a specific animal since they are caught and restrained in a random order.

Treatment area based systems
With treatment area based systems, animals are sorted and taken to a special place to be restrained and treated. With this type of system the manager must be concerned with the length of time the animal will be away from its home pen and how it will be returned. Labor requirements, availability of feed and water, the effects of the additional stress placed on animals, plus handling of manure are some of the issues to consider when making this choice.
With treatment area based systems cows are often sorted as they leave the milking parlor. Cows need to be diverted through a narrow alley which allows them to be identified and diverted to a catch lane or catch pen. This animal selection process can be installed anywhere in the path as the animal returns home. If sorting is done manually, it should be done near the rear of the parlor to be easily viewed by the operator, but if automatic sorting is used, it should be located near the end of the return lane to improve cow movement. Producers report the following advantage to the treatment based system:
•    Less traumatic handling of cows since they are treated in a treatment facility versus in areas where the cow should feel most comfortable, i.e. milking, feeding, and resting area.
•    Convenience of having heard health supplies in close proximity to the animals requiring treatment. A herd health facility with attached vet room may also facilitate procedures such as foot trimming and surgery.
•    Only those cows needing attention are restrained versus the entire lot or herd.
•    Lower investment in a head gate and working chute than is required with head locks.

Once cows are sorted, they can be restrained and treated using a chute located in the catch lane, taken to a catch pen containing self-locking stalls or diverted to a palpation station. Palpation stations allow cows to be positioned in a herringbone fashion and restrained as they are given rectal examinations, are bred or given shots. Some producers have installed self-locks in only a portion of each housing area which can be gated off and used to treat groups of animals moved from the sort area. If this technique is used, expect animals to show a preference for eating in the section containing no self-locks.
Another thing to consider with this type of system is that animals returning from the sort areas, after being treated, may use the same traffic lanes as animals being milked. This can cause delays and additional labor to move gates, etc. to prevent mixing of groups.

Knowing how animal management activities will be preformed is very important when designing a parlor/freestall complex. Parlor complexes designed with return lanes on each side of the holding pen work well with home based systems, but not with treatment area based systems because of the need for two sort gates and two catch areas. If a treatment area based system is being designed, it would be wise to consider designing a parlor complex which allowed all animals to return on a single return lane.
Whichever system is selected, it is important to remember that both systems will work, but the effects on management, facility layout, work routines and labor requirements should be taken into consideration. Any additional initial costs should be prorated and added to the on-going labor requirement to arrive at an estimated annual cost of using each system. Putting a value on daily convenience is sometimes difficult, but substantial when considering the building of a structure that will last 10-20 years.
Phone the UW-Extension, Jefferson County Office at 920-674-7196 for more information.

Dairy herd biosecurity teams important

By Ken Bolton, UW-Extension Dairy and Livestock Agent, Jefferson County, Wis

As dairy farms grow, food safety and milk quality has become more of an issue. Concepts of whole herd health are becoming more popular than the approach of treating individual animals. As an alternative, biosecurity plans encompass all areas of milk production directed towards reducing the odds of bringing disease onto the farm as well as minimizing the effects of disease when it does occur.
Carolyn Burns, of Pennsylvania State University, recommends that advisory teams made up of a veterinarian, nutritionist and other dairy advisors help producers define farm goals and develop a biosecurity program. Team members can play a major role in developing good management plans for isolation, traffic control and sanitation. Current farm practices can then be evaluated for weak areas that might pose a problem to biosecurity.
The team will then routinely evaluate records to monitor progress toward achieving farm goals or fine tune areas that need corrective actions. The team should draw a flow chart showing animal movement and identify critical control points for all groups of animals, from the time they arrive on the farm to the time they leave. Precautions need to be established so that all disease hazards posed by adult animals are kept away from newborn calves and young heifers.
Purchased cattle present their own problems when coming onto a farm even with pre-purchase testing. If the farm plans to purchase cows, arrangements for isolation will help protect the new cattle and the established herd from new diseases. The isolation period also allows time to re-test new cows for diseases such as Strep ag., Staph aureus and Mycoplasma mastitis and BVD.
Sanitation is another major area to consider when establishing good management plans. Efforts in keeping housing clean and dry will decrease exposure to organisms that cause disease. Removing sick animals to another pen, separate from fresh cows and other animals, helps to reduce exposure. It is advisable to clean and sanitize these pens after every use. If possible, leave these pens empty for a few days before reusing.
The ideas of biosecurity are fairly simple, but implementing such practices on a routine basis is essential to achieving biosecurity. With the increasing interest in controlling the spread of animal disease, individual farm biosecurity programs are vital to the success of today’s dairy business.
Contact the UW-Extension Jefferson County Office at 920-674-7295 for more information.

Harvest wind-damaged corn for silage

Northern New York producers with corn crops damaged by recent high winds face big harvest challenges, said Mike Hunter, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Jefferson County. Producers reported corn knocked over and flattened by high winds, and some don’t think their equipment can harvest it.
    Hunter estimated about 8,000 acres of corn in Jefferson County were damaged to some degree.
    Rotary corn heads haven’t done a good job of handling lodged corn, especially that which is really flat, Hunter said. Some producers who have installed kits that attach to the head and make harvesting lodged corn easier are pleased with the results. “It has reduced harvest losses and made harvest much easier,” Hunter said.
     Growers should harvest for silage the most damaged corn fields, those with corn stalks broken near the base of the plant, Hunter said. Corn lying close to the ground is in an ideal environment for diseases, especially corn ear molds. The grain would also likely have low test weight if harvested as grain later in the season. 
    Fields with plants leaning or broken off above the ear will still be candidates for grain harvest and can also be harvested for silage.  Monitor these fields closely for dry down and harvest when they reach proper moisture levels.
     The dry-down rate of whole corn plant will be faster than normal, according to Greg Roth, Penn State Extension grain crops specialist. If harvesting corn that is wetter than normal,  store silage in a bunker or plastic silo bag since it may be too wet to store in an upright silo.
      For more information about dealing with wind-damaged corn contact Hunter at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County at 315-788-8450.


10 ways to make the most of your manure

By Karl Czymmek, senior Extension associate, Cornell Pro-Dairy Program, and Quirine Ketterings, associate professor, Cornell’s Nutrient Management SPEAR Program

Whether you have enough manure to fertilize all fields or not, here are some good ideas to consider this fall:   
• Stalk test.  Conduct a corn season post-mortem: Take stalk samples for the late season stalk nitrate test from second or higher year corn fields to assess your nitrogen (N) management this season.

• Soil test.  Take soil samples this fall (before manure application) to see where P and K are needed most. Then, prioritize fields that need N and are low to medium in P, K to take advantage of all three macronutrients in manure.

• pH.  There is still way too much corn grown on low pH soils- don’t use fertilizer to compensate for a poor liming program- lime is cheaper than ever compared to fertilizer!

• ISNT.  When you take soil samples for pH, P and K analyses, also run the Illinois Soil Nitrate Test (ISNT), a great investment at only $10 per sample.  The ISNT will tell if some of your corn fields do not need ANY additional N. Fields with a long-term manure history are potential candidates.   

• Third and fourth year corn.  These fields are most likely to need the highest N rates.  If a soil test tells you that they need P and K too, then they are excellent targets for manure. 

• Plant fall cover crops after corn silage harvest to protect soil and scavenge nutrients.

• Decide which hayfields will be plowed for corn next year. If the stand is healthy and well managed, the first year of corn will not require any N beyond 10 to 30 pounds per acre starter.
•Manure storage.  Storage allows farms to take advantage of the ammonia-N in manure if handled properly.  Spring incorporating or injecting manure before corn planting essentially doubles the N credit to that crop, halving the rate of manure required and allowing you to cover more acres or sell some to a neighbor.  Fall incorporation does not offer this N conservation benefit.
• Manure testing.  Are you making major fertility decisions with only one or two manure samples per year from a manure storage?  Ever wonder if the thicker manure at the bottom of the storage was any different nutrient-wise than that at the top?  Take more samples and build a nutrient analysis database to track what happens from top to bottom and season to season with your manure.  

 • Not convinced? Try some test strips in your fields to see for yourself!

   For more information on these topics, see the Cornell Agronomy Factsheet Series at


Green Meadows Foods & Land O’Lakes Dairy Foods sign milk supply agreement

Green Meadows Foods, LLC and the Dairy Foods-Industrial Division of Land O’Lakes, Inc. have entered into a long-term milk supply agreement, said Sjerp Ysselstein, president of Green Meadows Foods, from the site of
their new manufacturing plant under construction in Hull, Iowa.
“We are excited about our agreement with Land O’Lakes,” said Ysselstein.  This milk will supply our cheese manufacturing capacity set to come online in early November.”
“This agreement affords our dairy cooperative another local outlet for member milk,” said Jim Sleper, director of Milk Supply at Land O’Lakes. “This is a win-win agreement. Green Meadows Foods gains access to a consistent supply of high quality milk, and we gain another market for our dairy members’ milk. This milk supply agreement will primarily affect parts of our current and future milk supply in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota.”
Green Meadows Foods, LLC is a new cheese and fractionated whey product
manufacturing facility with a startup capacity to process 2.5 million pounds of milk per day, which includes a master plan design to accomplish an expansion capability to 5.0 million pounds per day in the near future. Geographically poised to absorb the rapidly increasing milk supply of the southern I-29 milk corridor, Green Meadows is positioned for growth and offers a new milk market for the region’s dairy producers.
Initial production from the plant is scheduled for November 2008, the American and Italian cheese varieties will be marketed to Masters Gallery Foods, Inc. of Plymouth, Wis. and the various whey products will be marketed domestically and internationally. “We have been assembling an efficient, state of the art manufacturing facility and are very fortunate to have assembled a highly skilled leadership team of industry professionals to guide the production of quality products for our customers,” said Tim Czmowski, general manager, Green Meadows Foods.

CWT debate: Genske, Tillison letters

Editor’s note: Below is a letter critical of Cooperatives Working Together (CWT), submitted by Gary Genske, CPA, Genske, Mulder & Co., LLP, and an editorial response from CWT chief operating officer Jim Tillison.

Dairyman wants answers
July 17, 2008

National Milk Producers Federation
2101 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201

ATTN: Jerry Kozak, Jim Tillison and the CWT Committee

RE: Cooperatives Working Together

For two days in a row, I have received bad news for the dairy industry. Yesterday (July 16) the CWT officials announced a 25,474 cow and 358 heifer retirement. Then today (July 17) the class 3 futures continued to decline .10 to .20 cents per hundredweight.
As a current supporter of the CWT program I continually field criticism from numerous dairy clients, who, by the way, produce about 12% of the nation’s milk in 28 states. The 3 dairies of which I am a member, (2 – New Mexico, 1 – Virginia), “invest” $10,000 to $12,000 per month into the CWT program. As an industry, we would like some very specific answers to questions that have been asked but not answered.
There exists a two part program within the CWT: Cattle retirement and Export Assistance. I was told in February this year, that the CWT fund should have approximately $140 million in the bank as of June 30, 2008 from producer investments (10 cents assessment)…I hereby request a full accounting of all sources and uses of funds in the CWT program since the program’s inception.
In February 2008, I questioned the propriety of the export assistance part of the CWT program, reciting my view that we producers realize very little, if any, benefit in subsidizing sale of surplus production. We, as producers, would prefer to not have any surplus by retiring more cattle. In February, I asked for data, which would disclose follow-up sales to those customers who received our subsidized products. We were told that the export assistance sales would lead to new customers, so we ask: How successful has this plan been in attracting new customers worldwide?
I am disturbed that the impact of our meager 26,000 head retirement plan resulted in a decline, not an increase, in the class 3 futures today. As a committee, you are charged with the responsibility to “strengthen and stabilize the national all milk price” (a quote from the CWT press release).
The net prices paid to the average dairy farmer today does not cover the cost to produce milk. So why is so little being done to improve the milk price when this committee has $140 million invested by its underlying producer membership?
It was reported today, that national production is 2.4% ahead of last year. Because of the weak dollar worldwide (not because of our CWT subsidies), our surplus products are being sold to customers outside of this country and not to the U.S. government for $9.90 per hundredweight.
The dollar will regain its strength, (it always has in the past) and when it does, our exports will drop off and we producers will have an enormous milk surplus problem, as we have seen in past years.
Being much more aggressive with cattle retirement is necessary for acceptable producer pay prices short-term and for the future. The CWT’s purchase of 125,000 day-old heifers, ($800 x 125,000 head) would not be enough, we have e3xcess production from nearly 250,000 cows today and in 2-3 years, that cow number will not only be higher, but there will probably be no home for that milk other than the U.S. government warehouses, at $9.90 per hundredweight.
I look forward to your response and more importantly, to the requested accounting.

Gary B. Genske, C.P.A.

CWT Response

Dear CWT Member:

As a result of the just-completed Herd Retirement Program and the recently increased activity under the Export Assistance Program, we have received inquiries from a few producer-members asking about the overall operation of the CWT program.  Rather than respond individually, I felt all CWT members would be interested in the nature of the questions and our responses.

Question: In the most recent herd retirement, CWT selected bids covering 26,000 cows that produced a half billion pounds of milk.  Why weren’t more bids selected?

CWT: With each round of the Herd Retirement Program, CWT’s staff economists conduct a nationwide survey of the cost of replacements cows in the marketplace.  From the data collected, a maximum replacement cow value is established.  Based on this dollar amount, CWT management then determines the maximum bid per 100 pounds of milk that should be accepted in the Program.

This same methodology has been employed by the CWT program since its inception and has served not only to maximize the effectiveness of the available funding, but also to establish a sound basis for acceptance of bids should  CWT be challenged legally by those whose bids were not accepted.

All of the bids selected in this most recent herd retirement were less than or equal to the established maximum bid level and all had consistent milk production on a month-to- month basis indicating that the cows CWT removed had, in fact, produced the milk on which the bid was based.

At a time of relatively high dairy prices, and the large measure of media attention given to rising food prices in general, it would have been imprudent for CWT to overreach in accepting bids that were beyond our well-researched maximum level.  To date, our methodology and strategic initiatives have enabled CWT to avoid any negative media attention during the most recent herd retirement program.

Question: It is my understanding that even after the latest herd retirement CWT has significant funds left.  What will happen to that money?

CWT: In establishing the 2008 budget, the CWT Committee allocated $30 million for the export assistance program and approximately $168 million for herd retirements. After the selected herds have been retired and the farmers reimbursed, we will release information concerning the total expenditure for this recent herd retirement program.
After the selected herds have been retired and the farmers reimbursed, we will release information concerning the total expenditure for this recent herd retirement program.
During the remainder of 2008, CWT will continue to monitor the same dairy  economic factors –- milk prices, cost of production, cow culling rates, etc. — that led to the decision to initiate  a herd retirement round back in June.  Should the farm economics indicate that another round of herd retirements should be initiated again year, CWT will have sufficient funding to conduct another one.

Question: Why not use all the money for herd retirements instead of having an Export Assistance Program? What benefit is an export assistance program to dairy farmers?

CWT: Since its beginning, the CWT Committee, made up primarily of dairy famers, has wanted the CWT program to be multi-dimensional.  That is why CWT operates both the Herd Retirement and Export Assistance Programs.
According to an independent analysis of CWT’s programs, the Export Assistance Program has returned $570 million to dairy farmers through 2007 at a cost of $46.9 million.  In other words, every producer dollar ($1.00) invested in assisting CWT member cooperatives make export sales returned $12.15 to dairy farmers.

Last year approximately 10 percent of U.S. milk production went into exports. This development contributed heavily to overall higher producer milk prices.    Our industry is now in a different paradigm, however, in which loss of export sales could negatively impact producer pay prices.   It is apparent to almost every economic analyst that the export area is critical to producer well-being.

Question: What about repeat business and the long-term business prospects of CWT’s export assistance program?

CWT: Since 2003, the CWT Export Assistance Program has helped CWT member cooperatives to export 10 million pounds of whole milk powder, 29 milk pounds of butteroil, 39 million of cheese and 71 million pounds of butter.  This year alone the milk equivalent of what CWT has helped export is over one billion pounds.  That is equal to the production of 50,000 cows.
And, much of that business is repeat business.  CWT has assisted members to make 44 sales (6.4 million pounds of cheese) to Japan and 161 sales (9 million pounds of cheese) to South Korea.  It has helped them to export repeat sales of butter and butter oil to Mexico (30 sales totaling 19.6 million pounds) and Egypt (20 sales totaling 5.1 million pounds).
This, of course, does not include the tens of millions of pounds of dairy products CWT members were able to export between July 2007 and June 2008 when they needed no CWT export assistance to make sales overseas.  This is the way one CWT member put it:

“CWT initially contributed to our ability to pursue export business when US dairy was not competitive on its own, worldwide.  When we did become competitive, we were able to quickly capitalize on the new environment because of infrastructure, knowledge, and connections that were in place from the CWT program.”

For the long term, the CWT Committee has approved an Export Assistance Strategic Business Plan that was developed in conjunction with the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC).  The purpose of that plan is the development of sustainable export markets for U.S. cheese, butterfat and whole milk powder without CWT Export Assistance.

Question: What are CWT’s plans for the future?

CWT: During August 18th and 19th, three CWT task forces will meet to review past program activities and make recommendations to the CWT Committee for future activities.  The Herd Retirement Task Force is made up solely of dairy farmers, the Export Assistance Task Force includes both dairy farmers and member cooperative staff who work in the international sales arena, and the Strategic Planning Task Force will be looking at what other actions CWT should be taking to carry out its mission of providing price stability and good returns to dairy farmers and cooperative members.
The CWT is governed and administered by the dairy producers and cooperatives that contribute to the program.   The CWT Committee, through its specialized task forces, establishes the rules governing the program and the Committee also  provides advice and counsel to CWT management in executing the individual component programs.   It is the members of CWT that establish the basic precepts by which the program operates –- their overriding mantra from the inception of the CWT program has been
“remove the most amount of milk at the least amount of cost”.
We will continue to operate the CWT program with integrity, credibility and fiscal responsibility because it is our responsibility to utilize producer and coop funds in the most cost effective manner to achieve the desired results.
I hope this helps CWT’s dairy farmer investors gain a better understanding of how and why CWT operates.  I also want to encourage all CWT members to visit the CWT website,, regularly to keep up-to-date on all the things CWT is doing to  achieve its mission.


Jim Tillison
Chief Operating Officer

Leading Off: The Voice of DairyLine

You may not recognize his face, but you probably know his voice. Lee Mielke, who launched DairyLine Radio on Labor Day in 1988, is starting his third decade of bringing dairy news to the nation.

By Dave Natzke

Midwest DairyBusiness (MDB): DairyLine Radio is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Give us some history on how it all started.

Mielke: I helped a new radio station, WISS, in Berlin, Wis. go on the air in 1971. It had a strong farm program, so I learned the power of farm radio there. Several years later I moved to Lynden, Wash., and several years after that I started a local farm show on what was then KLYN.
At the time, Whatcom County was the 17th largest dairy-producing county in the United States, with about 500 dairy farms, plus several hundred more within reach of the station’s 100,000-watt signal.
Lee Mielke launched DairyLine radio in 1988. Today, the program can be heard on 80 radio stations covering the largest dairy markets inthe United States.

A few years after starting the Sunrise Show, two national advertisers discussed the idea of starting a nationally syndicated dairy program. I started with five stations in three states on Labor Day, 1988 and it snowballed from there. Today, DairyLine airs on more than 80 stations.
About a year after I started the broadcast, I started writing a weekly column, and today it is featured in 10 newspapers across the   country.
I am quick to tell people that I had absolutely no background in agriculture. I was born a city slicker and barely knew the difference between a bull and a heifer. If you told me in high school that I would be a syndicated farm broadcaster who specialized in the dairy industry, I would have thought you were smoking something. But, it clearly shows that the Lord has a sense of humor to take someone like me and do what He did.
One of the ways He did it was to bring some very special people into my life, including (in alphabetical order): Jim Barr, who was CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation; Jerry Dryer, dairy consultant and editor of the Dairy & Food Market Analyst; and Steve Kerr, who was an aid to then Vermont Congressman Jim Jeffords. Two other important people in those early days were Gene Meyer and, a few years later, Steve Larson, editors of Hoard’s Dairyman.
Each of those men did a weekly report with me on DairyLine for years, and all of them taught me the ropes of the industry. I will be eternally grateful for the contributions they made to DairyLine’s success.

MDB: How did you come about becoming a part of the DairyBusiness Communications team?
Mielke: My association with DairyBusiness came about after a talk with Joel Hastings at World Dairy Expo, about nine years ago. I was producing DairyLine each day, marketing it and the column to other papers and radio stations. I was still doing the local Sunrise Show on KLYN, and selling farm and non-farm radio advertising. I had way too many balls in the air and couldn’t keep them all going at the same time, so I made the decision to sell DairyLine to Multi Ag Media and quit the radio station.

MDB: You’ve covered a number of dairy issues over the years. Are there any that especially stand out in your memory?
Mielke: The biggest issue I covered and actually got involved with was the USDA dairy buyout program. I had been doing a regular weekly interview with Steve Kerr. He joined Dan Hollingsworth, a California dairyman who developed the herd buyout concept, on my show. They had been in contact with each other long before, but it perhaps helped solidify the concept in Kerr’s and Rep. Jeffords’ minds, and Jeffords became “the father of the dairy buyout” in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The other big issue that I devoted a lot of coverage to, but was not involved with, was the introduction of recombinant bovine somatotropin, which is still in the news today.
There have been many other issues, but my main focus and desire was to cover dairy prices, policy and politics.

MDB: Any particular interviews that are especially memorable?
Mielke: Most memorable were my trips to Washington, D.C. where I met with senators, congressmen, staff aids and dairy leaders. I interviewed two different U.S. ag secretaries.

MDB: The dairy industry has changed, and so has broadcast technology. Describe some of that evolution.
Mielke: One word: Internet. It has expanded DairyLine’s ability to serve the dairy industry and, because radio is so time sensitive, it works very well together. Bill Baker and I update our website three, four, five times a day with the latest dairy news and market information.
The other technology aid, of course, is the computer, especially when it comes to digital editing. For many years I used reel-to-reel tape, razor blades and splicing tape to prepare my interviews, many of which had to be edited down to just 2 minutes to fit the broadcast’s time parameters.

MDB: Broadcast journalists are often called “personalities,” in that listeners invite them into their homes via the radio/television. Have you tried to incorporate your “personality” into your dairy programming?
Mielke: I developed DairyLine’s delivery, not as a “newscast,” but I envisioned it as two neighbors chatting over the fence, with my listeners able to listen in on the conversation. I have never tried to build DairyLine around Lee Mielke. I built it around the people who were the experts.
I had fun with my name, saying I was the “Mielke” and my listeners were the “milkers,” but I regularly reminded myself of my humble beginnings and how, as one of my favorite preachers used to say, “I am a turtle on a fence post. Somebody put me here.”
I have been privileged and honored to meet listeners as I travel across the country, and at some speaking engagements farmers come up to me and introduce themselves and say “I listen to you every morning,” or “I read your column every week.”
I often joked in my speeches that most people, when they meet me say, “You’re Lee Mielke?” almost disappointedly, because I didn’t look like they thought I would. My dad always told me I had a face for radio. But then, he gave it to me.”

MDB: Any other thoughts before signing off?
Mielke: When I was first starting and didn’t know much about the business, I’m sure I asked some real dumb questions. But 99% of the people I interviewed or worked with took me seriously, explained things to me and treated me with respect.
Some had some fun at my expense and that was okay, because I got a good laugh out of it also. A local veterinarian, Vern Pederson, of Kulshan Vet Hospital in Lynden, Wash., would lead me on once in awhile, but I got him back one day when he came in to record our Monday morning “Vet Visit.”
With a totally straight face, I asked, “Vern, what’s the best way to dry off a cow, with a towel or a hair dryer?”
He looked at me so dumbfounded, he wasn’t sure if I was serious or joking, and the look on his face was priceless. It was one of the few times I wished we were on TV.

Lee Mielke

Lee Mielke

Meet Lee Mielke

Lee Mielke was born and raised in Fond du Lac, Wis. and is a graduate of Brown Institute in Minneapolis, Minn. He began his broadcast career in 1971 in Berlin, Wis.
While not raised on a farm, he soon came to appreciate farm radio. A few years after moving to Whatcom County in Washington State, he started “The Sunrise Show,” a local program devoted to the dairy industry.
In September of 1988, Lee began a syndicated radio program called DairyLine, airing on five radio stations in three states. Today, DairyLine is carried more than 80 stations covering 25 states.
For more information, contact Lee Mielke, phone: 360-354-5596; e-mail:; or visit
For additional information on DairyLine Radio, including list of radio stations carrying the program, e-mail Bill Baker at

DairyLine’s weekly lineup


DMI Update

David Pelzer or Joe Bavido, Dairy Management Inc.
Weekly updates on the dairy checkoff and promotion program

“Vet Visit”
Veterinarians from Pfizer Animal Health

Dairy markets

A weekly look at dairy markets, featuring (rotational basis):
• Al Levitt, market analyst and editor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Daily Dairy Report
• Bill Brooks, dairy economist with Downes-O’Neill, a division of FC Stone LLC
• Mary Ledman, Principal of Keough Ledman, & Associates
• Dr. Robert Cropp, professor emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison
•  Dr. Brian Gould, professor, UW-Madison

Udder Health
Dr. Alan Britten, specialist with Udder Health Systems Inc.

Industry update

Featuring representatives of the Internaional Dairy Foods Association and others

Success Strategies

John Ellsworth, Success Strategies, Modesto, Calif.

National Milk Producers Federation report

Chris Galen and other representatives of the National Milk Producers Federation

“Reproductive Moment”

Featuring representatives from Select Sires

Dairy Profit Weekly Update

Dave Natzke, Editor, Dairy Profit Weekly

“Nutrition Update”

Dr. Paul Chandler, Chandler and Associates, Dresden, Tenn.

DairyLine’s Bill Baker provides a weekly recap of the cash dairy markets, plus any other significant dairy news that may have occurred during the week. Bryce Anderson updates the hay and feed situation with the DTN Hay and Feed report.

UW-Madison: ‘Real’ Dairy, ‘Real’ Results

University of Wisconsin-Madison dairy scientists and educators are excited about new dairy research facilities. Dairy producers everywhere should see the benefits.

The research projects that had to wait were nerve-wracking enough. But for University of Wisconsin-Madison dairy scientist Lou Armentano, it was the things that never got done that were truly maddening. When Armentano saw the jockeying that went on among dairy scientists for access to the university’s dairy facilities, he knew something better was needed.

A new $5.1 million, 500-cow dairy research facility was constructed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arlington agricultural research station.

A new $5.1 million, 500-cow dairy research facility was constructed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arlington agricultural research station.

Frustration turned to focus, and the result is a new dairy research facility located at the Arlington agricultural research station. Dedicated and opened in July, the new structure is the product of collaboration between industry and the public sector to expand and modernize the facilities used by UW-Madison dairy researchers.
“We should be able to do a lot more research for about the same amount of money as we were doing with the old facilities,” Armentano said. Some of the gain in efficiency comes from improved use of labor, but there also are efficiencies in research and instruction, yielding results into the future.
With the opening of the new dairy facility, much of the pressure for access to research animals is reduced. The facilities house about 500 dairy cows in two freestall barns.

Research will be conducted in an environment closely matching typical modern dairy operations in Wisconsin. Design was assisted by the Dairy Business Association (DBA) of Wisconsin, under the direction of executive director Laurie Fischer, which created Dairy Building Contractors LLC, hiring DBA member and  dairy producer John Pagel as the lead.

Research will be conducted in an environment closely matching typical modern dairy operations in Wisconsin. Design was assisted by the Dairy Business Association (DBA) of Wisconsin, under the direction of executive director Laurie Fischer, which created Dairy Building Contractors LLC, hiring DBA member and dairy producer John Pagel as the lead.

Research will be conducted in an environment closely matching typical modern dairy operations in Wisconsin. Design was assisted by the Dairy Business Association (DBA) of Wisconsin, under the direction of executive director Laurie Fischer, which created Dairy Building Contractors LLC, hiring DBA member and  dairy producer John Pagel as the lead.
A new, larger milking center connected to the barns offers labor-saving technology. It has the equipment for measuring and monitoring the parameters of the research herd needed for the experiments taking place at the facility.
To  manage cows in groups of eight, the double -16 WestfaliaSurge parallel parlor was split, and is essentially a quadruple-8. It features a new WestfaliaSurge Ear Tag Parlor ID System; Metatron 21 Premium Detacher/Milk Monitoring System; Classic 200 Evolution  milking units, a Vacuum On Demand Frequency Drive System; and a KoolWay 6,400-gallon milk cooling system.
A significant upgrade to capacity is the move to “pen-based” research – a method of managing the research cattle in pens. One of the new barns is fitted with 16 pens, each with the capacity for eight animals. Armentano said the pen system allows researchers to group animals within an experiment in a pen, rather than assign individual animals, increasing control and accuracy of experiments.
“We’ll have the capacity to answer the questions our dairy business community expects us to be able to address,” Armentano said. “We’ll be able to do more with limited resources.”
Ric Grummer, chair of the dairy science department, said the new facility has been designed to mirror conditions of the current dairy industry – and anticipate future changes.
“If you’re looking at what effects a shorter dry period has on a cow it’s not about tie-stalls, freestalls or grazing. The answers are likely to be the same,” said Grummer. “The majority of the hypotheses and objectives of our research are facilities-neutral. But the environment in the new facility is reflective of what the majority of the dairy producers in the state are moving toward.”

(All photos by Wolfgang Hoffmann)

Leaders from the Wisconsin’s dairy industry, state government and the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) toasted the opening of a new 500-cow dairy research facility at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station. Pictured are (left to right): state Representative Al Ott, Assembly ag committee chair; Richard Straub, CALS agricultural research stations director; CALS dean Molly Jahn; Alan Fish, UW-Madison associate vice chancellor, facilities planning and management; John Pagel, project consultant and owner of Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy; Laurie Fischer, executive director, Wisconsin Dairy Business Association; Ric Grummer, UW-Madison department of dairy science chair; and state Rep. Eugene Hahn.

Leaders from the Wisconsin’s dairy industry, state government and the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) toasted the opening of a new 500-cow dairy research facility at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station. Pictured are (left to right): state Representative Al Ott, Assembly ag committee chair; Richard Straub, CALS agricultural research stations director; CALS dean Molly Jahn; Alan Fish, UW-Madison associate vice chancellor, facilities planning and management; John Pagel, project consultant and owner of Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy; Laurie Fischer, executive director, Wisconsin Dairy Business Association; Ric Grummer, UW-Madison department of dairy science chair; and state Rep. Eugene Hahn.

Falling prices: Now what?

Editor’s note: Matt Mattke, Market360® adviser at Stewart-Peterson, is a regular columnist in Midwest DairyBusiness. Contact him via e-mail:, phone: 800-334-9779 or visit www.

Q: Over the last two months, milk futures have experienced a tremendous price drop, with $20/cwt. replaced with $16/cwt. I have no future milk production sold for 2008 or 2009, but I’m very concerned prices could keep falling into territory that is unprofitable for my business. What should I do?

A: 1. Do not panic and make some emotional marketing decisions you will regret later. At the time of writing this article (Aug. 25), milk prices have already fallen 25% (or about $5/cwt.) from their high, in about a two-month time span. After a price drop of this magnitude, a $1-$3/cwt. correction higher is very possible, and you need to prepare to take advantage of such a rally. It is imperative you do not let any $1-$2/cwt. rally go unrewarded in this market.
2. Any immediate downside price protection strategy you implement should be put options only. These put options will provide you the immediate benefit of a price floor in case prices continue dropping, but give you the ability to participate in higher prices. In the event milk prices do make a $1-$2/cwt. correction higher, you can swap out your put options for forward contracts or sold futures. This will allow you to take advantage of the rally, while improving your price floor above the price level the put options would have provided.
3. Sell into each $1/cwt. rally in 25% increments and focus on contracting out 12 to 15 months of milk production. The milk market is likely in a bear market, and lower trending prices could continue through 2009, so establishing longer-term price protection is important.
Unfortunately, there is no profound strategy that can recreate $19-$20/cwt. milk for your operation. The best decisions you can make at this time are to get downside protection in place in a manner that leaves your upside open, and then roll that protection up on a rally. Price corrections higher in an overall down trending market can be quick and sharp, so it is important you get your marketing strategy in place and watch this market extremely close. Opportunities will come and go quickly, and a quick upward correction to $18/cwt. milk could end up lasting only part of a day. If you do not have the time to keep up with this volatile milk market, consider delegating the task either to someone else in your operation or an outside professional.
■ To have your marketing questions answered in this column, contact Matt Mattke, Market360® adviser at Stewart-Peterson. Contact him via e-mail:, phone: 800-334-9779 or visit www.