Archive for July, 2009

The Manager: To contract or not

There’s no crystal ball to help make foolproof decisions on contracting feed. But there are tools that help improve decision making 


By Tom Overton and Larry Chase

The stakes are high for dairy producers to make sound decisions on buying commodities and to use effectively such risk management tools as forward contracts. There may have been a time when it was OK to let guesswork and instinct drive these decisions. But volatile feed markets have raised the ante. 

    What can you do? Use web-based tools available to you and your nutritionists that take some of the guesswork out of commodity buying and contracting decisions. With these tools you can objectively evaluate the value of various feedstuffs.


     However, the tools should not solely dictate which ingredients to feed and how much of each. A dairy buying only the “best value” ingredients isn’t likely to end up with the most profitable nutritional outcome. But the tools are useful to help identify opportunities available for ration formulation. 

    Some nutritionists try to use ration balancing programs and optimizers to determine the prices at which to add or remove feeds from rations. Although these ration balancing programs can be helpful, all of them – yes, even our own Cornell model – have their biases in terms of which nutrients they key in on. That, in turn, influences the outcomes.  


Two tools

    FeedVal and SESAME are the two highly useful and readily available programs to help evaluate the value of feedstuffs. 

    1. FeedVal, developed by Terry Howard and Randy Shaver at the University of Wisconsin, works by using a set of “referee feeds.” These include blood meal, tallow, urea, shelled corn, limestone and dicalcium phosphate. 

    These feeds are used to calculate the value of energy, rumen degradable protein (RDP), rumen undegradable protein (RUP), fat, calcium and phosphorus. The program then calculates the values for the rest of the feeds in the marketplace based upon their content of these nutrients.  

    FeedVal is simple, fast and free for download. But it has two major disadvantages: It doesn’t put value on the fiber component in forages. And it can overvalue protein feeds that have high rumen undegradable protein value but distinct limitations in certain amino acids. For example, distillers grains are very low in lysine, which can limit milk and milk protein yields if fed in excess.


    2. SESAME, developed by Normand St. Pierre at The Ohio State University, is a sophisticated program similar in concept to FeedVal. But it has some major differences. For one, it uses all of the available feedstuffs in the marketplace in its calculations of nutrient value. Also with SESAME there’s the opportunity to use a comprehensive and nutritionally relevant array of nutrients. It predicts values for net energy lactation (NEL) (NRC, 2001), metabolizable protein (NRC, 2001), effective neutral detergent fiber (NDF), noneffective NDF, RDP, digestible RUP, methionine and lysine, among others.  

    Based upon the high degree of nutritional relevance, SESAME will be more accurate than FeedVal in most situations. But it’s also more complicated to use and has a $99 licensing fee.  


Worth using

    Dairy producers, in general, tend to be conservative about acting on opportunities to lock in prices for commodities. What if a better deal comes along? We’ve all heard of dairies that end up paying more for forward-contracted ingredients because market prices drop. For example, in the fall of 2008 many western U.S. dairies contracted their corn at $300 per ton or more. They’re paying for that decision now.  

     Believe us, there are many, many more examples of dairies that have made profitable contracting decisions. We know of one New York dairy that contracted canola meal for the year at $144 per ton in September 2007. At the time, the dairy’s owner worried that his contract was wrong. In hindsight, we know it was a tremendous buy. 

    There is more opportunity for dairy producers and their advisers to use programs like FeedVal and SESAME to take some of the guesswork out of feed contracting decisions. At the least, the programs allow you to determine what impact price changes of key commodities, such as corn and soybean meal, will have on the value of other feeds in the marketplace. The programs also give you a way to assess decisions about shifting crop acreage into growing grain corn, soybeans or other concentrates.  

     Don’t forget the importance of plugging the value of forages into any calculations on feed purchases and contracts. Given the price volatility of feedstuffs, it’s all the more important for a dairy to feed more homegrown forages. That’s the most profitable decision.



Tom Overton is associate professor of animal science at Cornell University and associate director of PRO-DAIRY. Reach him at 607.255.2878. Email:

Larry Chase is an animal scientist at Cornell. Reach him at 607.255-2169. Email:

Find FeedVal at this website: 

Find SESAME at

The Manager: Welcome to the wild world of sourcing feed

How dairy producers tackle decisions on whether to buy or grow commodity feeds has changed a lot in the last decade


By Tom Overton and Larry Chase


When it comes to making decisions about buying corn and soybeans, things have changed dramatically over the past eight to 10 years in the dairy industry. Those changes, in turn, have huge implications for overall feed costs and net milk income over feed cost.  

Think back 10 years. Both corn and soybean prices were low and stable, at least by today’s standards. Back then, we actively steered dairy producers away from growing their own corn for corn meal or high-moisture shelled and ear corn. They seldom thought about growing their own soybeans. And we rarely, if ever, had conversations with dairy farmers about contracting feed commodities. 

In most cases it was cheaper for dairies to buy soybean and corn products on the commodity market. Plus, by buying commodities dairies could hopefully avoid inconsistent quality that was a common problem with homegrown feeds. These factors led to dairies shifting acres almost exclusively toward forage production.

Sweeping changes

What a difference a few years make. Now, feed contracting decisions are a key part of overall feed cost management and a dairy’s ability to maximize net milk income over feed cost. 

  Also, there have been cash flow benefits over the past few months for dairies that have shifted some of their acreage into corn or soybean production. Others have benefited financially by improving their harvest management of “extra” corn to produce quality corn meal or high-moisture corn.

   Data from the 2002 Cornell Dairy Farm Business Summary and Analysis program show that the top 10% of producers for feed and crop expenses averaged $3.63 per cwt., compared to the bottom 10% of producers at $6.38 per cwt. Compare that to 2008: The top 10% and bottom 10% producers averaged $5.61 and $8.94, respectively. These differences are huge as they relate to the total cost of producing milk.

Decision making

More than anything, changes in commodity costs have made it critical for producers to be strategic about their feed input decisions. They must spend more time asking the “what if” and “how much” questions.  

What if I could buy additional forage from the neighbor down the road? How much should I pay? Or how much is too much? 

What if I could contract certain ingredients?  How much seems reasonable to pay?  

What if I could get a byproduct ingredient at a low price?  Is it really a good buy?  

In this month’s The Manager by Cornell’s PRO-DAIRY program, we will take some of the confusion out of sourcing feedstuffs, helping you to make better strategic decisions for your feeding programs.



Tom Overton is an animal scientist at Cornell University and associate director of PRO-DAIRY. Reach him at 607.255.2878. Email:

Larry Chase is an animal scientist at Cornell. Reach him at 607.255-2169. Email:

Herd Health — The Dairy Economy: Impacts on herd health management

By Dave Natzke


In preparation for the August 2009 edition of Eastern DairyBusiness, DairyBusiness Communications’ editors conducted an e-mail reader survey, asking producers several questions related to herd health management. Given the health of the dairy economy, we wondered what impact it was having on management decisions. According to the survey results:

1) The four biggest herd health challenges are similar to surveys conducted in the past, led by: lameness – 41%; clinical mastitis – 40%; fresh cow problems – 33%; and reproductive problems related to disease/health issues – 28%. Others included: respiratory problems – 13%; metabolic disorders and Johne’s disease – each 9%; and “other” – 6%. While “fresh cow problems” and metabolic disorders are closely linked, producer responses noted differences in management concerns.

2) When it comes to disease control, the biggest health challenges are with: calves – 50%; and lactating cows – 44%. Heifers and dry cows each came in at about 9%.

3) The dairy economy is having an impact, with 50% of respondents saying their financial condition is directly impacting herd health management procedures/protocol decisions, and another 29% indicating an indirect impact. Just 21% said the economy has no impact on herd health management decisions.

About 13% said they are cutting back on herd health testing; and 7% said they are reducing vaccination programs. About 43% said a cow’s age, production and health history are bigger factors in treatment decisions than in the past. About 40% said they are culling sooner to reduce herd health spending.

4) Finally, about 35% said herd health problems are linked to inadequate housing/facilities; 33% cited a lapse in protocols and procedures; and 25% said the dairy economy is to blame. Others included: feed/forage quality – 17%; bringing new animals into the herd – 17%; and equipment/parlor problems – 8%.

Thanks to all producers who participated in the survey. Joe Bonlender, Clover Hill Dairy, Campbellsport, Wis. was drawn as the winner of the $100 VISA gift card from those completing the survey.


Eastern DairyBusiness reader surveys are conducted monthly to gain producer insights on dairy management topics. To participate in monthly surveys, and be eligible for a $100 VISA gift card drawing, send your name, address, e-mail address, and number of cows/young stock, to



Animal well-being program review panel


The Professional Animal Auditors Certification Organization (PAACO) created a three-person independent review panel to evaluate dairy animal well-being programs to determine if they are consistent with the principles and guidelines of the National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative.

The panel includes: Marcia Endres, DVM, University of Minnesota; Ernest Hovingh, DVM, Penn State University; and Terry Lehenbauer, DVM, University of California-Davis.

They will review programs submitted by producer groups, national associations and private companies. Those interested in having a dairy well-being program review should contact PAACO executive director Mike Simpson via phone: 402-403-0104; or e-mail: at


Vaccine selection, protocols important


A well-designed vaccination program includes proper identification of the specific disease and management risks faced by your dairy herd, said Douglas Braun, DVM, senior veterinarian for Pfizer Animal Health. Risk and risk management are fundamentally different based on region of the country, as well as variation in management.

Tactical implementation requires consideration of many factors: age, housing, grouping and stage of gestation. 

Braun also recommends veterinarians and producers read label claims approved by USDA’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service Center for Veterinary Biologicals to make vaccine purchase decisions. They include:

1. Prevention of infection: Prevents colonization or replication of challenge organism.

2. Prevention of disease: Highly effective in preventing clinical disease.

3. Aid in disease prevention: Aids in preventing disease by a clinically significant amount.

4. Aid in disease control: Aids in reduction of disease severity, duration or onset.

5. Other claims: Products with beneficial effects other than direct disease control.

Beyond label claim, Braun recommends getting more information about the vaccine’s duration of immunity (DOI). This data – gathered when trials are conducted looking at the product efficacy – can tell a producer how a vaccine should work on their farm. For more information, go to

Editor’s Update: Branded, naturally

By Dave Natzke


Publicity surrounding Dean Foods’ launch of a new, mid-priced product category – “natural” dairy – as an alternative to “organic” has created a stir. Based on news accounts, the selected products will be “naturally produced without added growth hormones, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives and no high fructose corn syrup.”

According to published summaries of a study by the Shelton Group, consumers are confused about what’s “green,” and don’t know who to trust. More people (31%) trusted labels stating the product was “100% natural” over labels stating the product was “100% organic,” at 14%. 

The organic industry is up in arms, because the “natural” (organic lite) category will undoubtedly eat into organic markets as confused consumers – told that “conventional” dairy is bad for them by the organic industry – “try to do the right thing” while managing food budgets in a down economy.

And, companies going the “organic lite” route gain an economic advantage by purchasing milk produced from cows not supplemented with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) or under the strictest organic standards – at a price close to, if not the same as conventional milk, while gaining the “organic lite/rbST-free” market premium.

To offer your own opinion or response, e-mail Dave Natzke, national editorial director, DairyBusiness Communications, e-mail: or post comments at and click on “Reader’s Forum.”

To offer your own opinion or response, e-mail Dave Natzke, national editorial director, DairyBusiness Communications, e-mail: or post comments at and click on “Reader’s Forum.”

How much is that premium? According to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s quarterly Marketbasket Survey, shoppers in 33 states reported paying the following average prices for milk in half-gallon containers in the second quarter of 2009:

regular: $1.92, down 24¢ from the prior quarter and down 20% compared to the same quarter a year earlier.

“rbST-free”: $3.18, down 1¢ from the prior quarter and about 5% less than the second quarter of 2008 (65% more than regular milk).

organic: $3.63, down 8¢ compared to the first quarter, but 1% more than the second quarter of 2008 (90% more than regular).

According to my analysis on the back of a recycled envelope, one half-gallon of milk = about 4.3 lbs. = 23.25 half-gallons per cwt. At second-quarter 2009 retail prices (one-half gallon), regular milk generated $44.64/cwt. The gross income on “rbST-free” milk ($3.18/half-gallon X 23.25) = $73.94/cwt. 

DairyBusiness Communications was at the forefront when the whole “rbST-free” labeling debate escalated a couple of years ago, accurately warning dairy producers could lose an approved technology, while gaining none of the economic benefits of “organic lite” premiums. For everybody who jumped on the bandwagon supporting “rbST-free” labels as being about the “consumer’s right to know” and “free speech,” get out your calculator. The retail markup on “rbST-free” milk = $1.26/half-gallon X 23.25 half-gallons/cwt. = $29.30/cwt., of which dairy producers get little, if any. “Free” speech indeed.

With the kinds of market premiums seen for “rbST-free” milk, it’s no wonder food companies are essentially “branding” terms that play on the wants – or fears – of consumers, such as “natural,” “sustainable” and “green.” That trend creates challenges for dairy.

“After years of concentrating on ‘brands,’ many dairy companies are shifting focus to generic positioning about consumer concerns, such as eating a healthy balanced diet and the issue of climate change,” noted Kevin Bellamy, Global Dairy Platform (GDP) executive director, in the July 2009 GDP newsletter. 

Due to confusion and misinformation, “dairy” is often the first item removed from the shopping list for many consumers looking to improve their diet and save the environment, Bellamy wrote.

If “dairy” is to continue to expect to receive “a license to operate” from consumers and governments, he added, then the industry must do two things: 

1) show that the industry is taking the problems of climate change seriously, examining farm systems, transport, energy use,  and packaging to create efficiencies that will not only reduce carbon emissions, but in many cases lead to cost efficiencies

2) justify the residual and necessary environmental impact against the role which dairy plays in providing social, economic and especially nutrition benefits.

As shown with retail prices of “rbST-free” milk, trying to cover the costs of retaining “a license to operate” is a far cry from producers receiving any of the economic benefits from the marketplace. Organic dairy producers benefitted for a while, but even they are suffering in the current dairy economy. Efforts to differentiate safety and quality and build a premium for “rbST-free” milk have helped create the environment for “organic lite.” 

Meanwhile, dairy organization leaders who said rbST wasn’t the bridge they were willing to defend received pennies of the $29.30/cwt. markup for their producer members.

Another interesting economy-driven trend is occurring in the grocery store. Consumer polling data from GfK Custom Research North America reveals as U.S. consumers tighten their food budgets, more than 30% have turned to less-expensive store brands compared to a year ago. And, a consumer survey conducted by ICOM, a division of Epsilon Targeting, said frugal Americans are jilting their favorite national brands for store brands. The study noted food and household products ranked highest (69%) among six product areas where consumers were switching to less expensive store brands.

It’s no wonder, then, that if national name brands are less effective in attracting customers, “branding” terms that play to the wants – and fears – of consumers is a way to win them back. 

Activity in the next “branded” area is already escalating, and it’s an area where I believe dairy is moving extremely slow. DairyBusiness Communications editors receive press releases almost weekly from organizations – usually related to animal welfare groups – who certify “humane treatment” of animals raised for food production. Food companies who buy products from these certified farms are allowed to label their products as such.

Dairy/livestock producer organizations have been working on animal well-being standards and certification programs for years, but animal welfare groups are winning in the race to promote their “brand” of humane standards to consumers. As shown in California’s Proposition 2, they can then define those livestock production standards.

If anyone has the right to “brand” terms such as “natural” or “humanely raised,” it’s the overwhelming majority of U.S. dairy farmers. Somehow, however, a “license to operate” also warrants some of the premiums in the marketplace – now, more than ever.

Sexed semen is the latest innovation cited as a pox on the dairy industry. It joins an illustrious group leading to the eventual “demise” of producers: automated milkers, silage, milking parlors, AI, rbST, immigrant workers and synchronized breeding.

A correction: DairyBusiness Communication’s Dairy Statistics & Trends, printed in the June 2009 issue of Eastern DairyBusiness, contained an error. The chart, “Per Capita Milk Production,” indicates New Hampshire produces the third most milk per capita. It should be Vermont, of course.

Calf Connection: Weaning calves

By Dr. Sam Leadley

Is there an ideal time to wean calves off of milk on to a solid-feed ration? Yes!  The calf is ready when:

• the calf’s rumen is sufficiently mature to absorb the nutrients that come from digesting solid feeds and, 

• she is eating enough calf starter grain to provide for maintenance and growth.

Unfortunately, looking at the outside of a calf will not reveal her level of rumen maturity. Maturity has to be estimated by observation. Specifically, keeping track of when calves begin to regularly eat calf starter grain. A practical way to do this is to only feed about one handful of grain a day starting on day two of age. Replace the grain each day. When the grain is all gone for three or more days in a row this equals “regularly eating grain.” 

Most of my calves started eating calf starter grain within a three-to-five day window. To keep things simple, I just kept track of the calves that did not start eating grain in that narrow window. Since this was usually about 10% of the calves, it was fairly easy. And, as often as I could remember, I hand-fed grain to these laggards or tossed a little grain in their milk pail.

Three weeks later, assuming she continues to eat grain regularly, the papillae that line the inside of the rumen will be sufficiently mature to absorb the nutrients released from rumen fermentation. So, depending on your milk feeding program and how aggressively you coaxed calves to eat grain, somewhere around four to six weeks of age this three-week interval ends.

About this time, begin watching closely how much calf starter grain calves eat each day. When this consumption gets up to about one quart (assumes one quart of starter equals about one pound) of starter per day for several days in a row begin the weaning process. The calf’s rumen is now ready to absorb nutrients and she is eating enough grain to significantly supplement her milk ration.

If you cannot be bothered with all this detail, another approach is to start the weaning process when it most likely that all the calves are ready. You wait until eight to ten weeks. Then begin the weaning process. This method is less profitable than the “three-weeks-of-grain” method described above. I do not recommend abrupt “cold-turkey” weaning even for these calves. 

How to cut back on milk/milk replacer? The most rapid increase in starter grain intake will come from reducing the milk volume. Labor savings are greatest by adopting a once-a-day feeding program. Continue feeding the same product (whole milk/milk replacer) at the same rate per feeding and drop one feeding. 

This method is in contrast to the “dilution” and “gradual-cutback” methods. The dilution method keeps the volume constant and waters down either the milk or milk replacer. The gradual-cutback method keeps two feedings and reduces the volume fed at each feeding. Both of these methods work. Neither of these methods will make calves sick, nor keep them from increasing their grain intake. The point is that the once-a-day method cutting back to one-half milk volume has the advantage of driving grain intake up more quickly than the other two, as well as reducing labor costs.

The calves on once-a-day feeding will increase their time with their noses in the grain buckets. Within three to five days, grain consumption should at least double. That is, go from about 1.5 to 3 three quarts a day. Expect water intake to go up, also. Be sure they do not run out of either grain or water. In hot weather you might have to add an extra feeding of water.

During the week when I fed once-a-day it was necessary to watch grain intake carefully. If the occasional calf did not come up on grain as expected she needed to be tagged for extended milk feeding. Most farms stop feeding milk entirely five to seven days after starting the once-a-day feeding. 

Many farms at this point stop milk feeding and continue free-choice starter grain feeding leaving the calves in hutch or pen housing. After one more week in individual housing the calves are moved to group pens. Some calf raisers will start adding a handful of hay in the top of the grain pail each day to condition the rumen to a forage ration. Others begin to feed a blend of starter and grower pelleted grain to shift calves to the transition pen ration.

By the way, an essential element in rumen development is feeding free-choice water. I prefer to feed warm water (80° summer, 100° cold weather) to young calves to promote higher intakes. This includes below-freezing weather when water feeding may have to be limited to once a day.


 Sam Leadley is a replacement consultant with Attica Veterinary Associates, Attica, N.Y. Contact him via e-mail:; phone:585-591-2660; or visit

People Power: Anger — Emotion or Behavior?

By Robert Milligan


Have you experienced the following reaction recently: “Wow! I never saw that person so angry?” 

A “yes” answer would not surprise me.  With the challenges facing both agriculture and our economy, anger is a common response:

  • Anger is a known stage in our response as humans to loss (the “grief cycle”). Any change we view as loss – personal, family, employment, business, workplace, community – initiates this pattern.  The intensity and duration of the time in each stage – including anger – varies dramatically by an individual’s perceived degree of loss.  Frustration, anxiety, irritation, even shame or embarrassment, is normal.  Two dangers must be addressed – becoming “stuck” in this stage and allowing the anger to elicit unacceptable behaviors.
  • Anger is a typical and very human response to anything that we perceive as being unfair.  This includes treatment by friends, family members, colleagues, customers or anyone else. Decisions, trends or outcomes that we experience at work or at home may also create an anger response.  


As is indicated in the discussion above, the answer to the question in the title is that emotion is both an emotion and a behavior.  Understanding and reacting appropriately and thoughtfully to the differences is crucial to our response to anger.  Let’s start by looking at each:


Anger as emotion:

  • The emotion and its effects are internal to oneself — it is very personal.
  • The impacts of the emotion are primarily on oneself.
  • The emotional reactions affect how we view things and can cloud our ability to think clearly.


Anger as behavior:

  • The emotions produce responses that lead to behaviors – the behavior part of the emotion.
  • The affect of the behaviors is primarily external to ourselves.
  • The affect of these behaviors is primarily on others.


All emotions – including anger – are experienced and acted on.  The experienced part is anger as emotion and is a normal part of being a human.  The acted upon part is the behavior part of anger.  The latter is the focus of the remainder of this article because each of us makes decisions about our behavior when we are angry.  Decisions we make will determine both the consequences of our anger and our continuing emotional responses.


In general we have two choices when we are angry:

  • Instinctual behavior: We can just react and, thus, ignore the decision opportunity by expressing or acting on the anger emotional experience.
  • Thoughtful behavior: We can think and, thus, take the decision opportunity and proactively discover the root causes that made us angry.


Although often difficult with emotions running high, we should always choose the thoughtful response.  This involves carefully discovering the real or root cause of our anger.  This is not always easy as what we often experience is the anger behavior.  The issue or problem – root cause — is typically hidden or at least less obvious.  For example, you may recall a time when you were growing angry at a friend, co-worker or employee for a particular behavior you experienced while interacting with them.  However, later you discovered – the analysis – that their behavior was understandable because the anger actually originated from another event in their life.  As a result of this discovery, your anger with the person disappeared.  In this example, your instinctual response was misplaced anger; your thoughtful response was to question your assumption about the anger behavior.


Once you understand the real cause of your anger, you again face a fork in the road.  The question now is whether the real cause of your anger is within your influence – do you have sufficient control to make changes that will reduce or eliminate the cause of your anger.  I often use the example of a supervisor growing increasingly angry with two employees who disagree and argue every time work assignments are made.  Upon some questioning – the analysis – he discovers the problem has nothing to do with work assignments.  Rather these two employees have a personal issue resulting from a non-work dispute.   This is a situation where he has control – he is their supervisor.  He can make it clear that this behavior is unacceptable.  If it continues, he can decide upon and implement appropriate consequences.  Assuming that this works, the results are much better than had he reacted without thinking and fired them. 


In many situations, especially today, we do not have control over the real causes of the anger – the weather, low prices, low profits, etc.    The first opportunity is to refocus our energies into what we can control.  We cannot control the weather, but we can manage the situation with better planning, etc.  We cannot control prices but we can refocus our energies on doing everything we can to minimize losses given the low prices.  


Remember we make decisions about our behavior when we are angry.  The quality of those decisions will have tremendous impact on our interpersonal relationships and our success in life.

Robert Milligan 
Senior consultant,
Dairy Strategies LLC

Phone: 888-249-3244, ext. 255
Web site:

DairyLine asks: Do you favor a national supply management program?

According to a poll currently being conducted by DairyLine Radio, 51% of respondents favor a national milk supply management program; 37% do not; and 12% are undecided. For survey updates and comments, visit


Some comments posted in response to the survey follow:


Yes we need to control the oversupply of milk to take the volatility out of the market and a supply management system could help. The biggest advantage I see with supply management in the Canadian markets is the control over the processors. You see records earning by processors when producers are losing money. A better way to control milk would be to address quality issues…lower the SCC to 400,000 and enforce it. In addition, cull Johne’s positive cows and compensate with an indemnity payment. Cull cows with lameness score of 4 and 5 to improve animal welfare. This improves the dairy industries image, milk quality and a method to control milk volume independent of size.

Doug Waterman



The dairy industry needs a goverment support price based on production cost with a better pricing structure and the dairy industry needs to take care of supply management on its own with more industry participation. CWT has worked and with 70% support. I would rather have that than the goverment any time. CWT has helped retired dairymen and those that want to exit the business. CWT today is easing the pain, and helping producers go out of business that realy would rather stay in business or are being forced out by their bank. CWT needs some new creative ideas on how to reduce milk without forcing dairyman out of bussiness unless that is the choice the producer wants. There are producers that own more than one dairy farm or are willing to reduce output and participate. I dont think continuing to squeese dairymen out of bussiness in the US is good idea. I am in favor of the support price as a safty net, however today its a little to low. After $20 milk I never thought the price could go back to support. That demostrates that with out a support price processors would just let the market go as low as it wants to go and in the long run the whole dairy industry looses. The goverment won’t loose on support, they need products for their programs and move product back in the market when demand comes back. As long as support is not to high and based on some kind of industry cost of production. It needs to be a safty net that does not guarentee profit. Dairymen should not have to bear a $5.00 lose to hit it either. Industry needs stability with risk and competition.

Eddie Schaap



I have a supply management plan that our industry would be wise to follow. Lower SCC to 400,000, and actually enforce it. That would put our products on a more level playing field in the world markets. Cull all Johne’s cows. No link has yet been established to human disease, but if one ever is we will see a backlash from the public that will make our current situation look like a cake walk. Lastly, and my personal favorite, we need to do a better job at enhancing our public image. Organizations like PETA and HSUS are doing everything in their power to paint all livestock industries in a bad light. We all need to start actively taking steps to counter their negative impacts, or we risk losing more consumers of our products. This means treating animals humanely, no tail docking, increased use of polled genetics or nerve blockers for dehorning, enforcing a strict milk quality program, and a move towards more moderately sized farms. Quota systems around the world are not working and people are trying to figure out how to get out of them, yet individuals in our industry are blindly leading us towards that system. It will result in fewer young people being able to participate in our profession, reduced value of our cattle, less participation in the international market (who was complaining about that when we saw $25 mailbox prices, they were a result of our ability to market to increased demand), and a drive towards larger facilities (after all bigger facilities would start with more quota and soon have equity to buy out smaller producers as they leave). We have seen low prices before and common wisdom says we will see them again. We need to learn to tighten our belts and deal with it.



To have a quota system you need to make a few assumptions. You must assume that the government being more involved will help the dairy farmer. It will not, what the government will do is drain even more money from us with their bureaucracy and regulations. And regional quotas will be set using politics and lobbyists, not what is good for the farmer or consumer. Another assumption is that it will increase the quality of life for the farmer like in Canada. Too late for that. The results of a quota system will not be like it is in Canada. We already have large super-sized dairies and they will get all the quota. In less than five years the small farms will be all squeezed out, and do not assume they will be paid for their quota. If milk cooperatives will increase in size and will not be bothered with you small farmers. I do not know what will be considered small, 50 cows, 100, 200, only time will tell. The only winners will be the super-sized dairies and board of directors like NMPF, DFA, etc. This crisis is hurting the large leveraged dairies more than the small farmers with their monthly MILC payments. So go ahead boys, cut your own throats to save them. After all, I am sure they felt bad when they were gobbling up thousand of small farmers to build their leveraged monstrosities during the last few decades. Instead we must end the use of MPCs and break a few monopolies that control the sale milk in certain sections of the country. Too bad NMPF does not support either idea. That should tell you whose payroll they are.

Ken Barniak



I still think a quota system of our own,whether it be regional or otherwise would benifit us. Certainly a quota itself can become very expensive, however look at Canada amd other countries with similar systems in place.They live a better quality of life with less cows.This country was founded on the family farm and not the factory farm…




I do not support a supply management system. We need to take a counter cyclical approach to managing are business. Expand in downturns = smaller loans = lower cost of production which leads to profit taking in upturns in the market. Pay the income taxes rather than buy more equipment at the end of the year, that just drives up cost of production. Also, better financing options. Instead of straightline pay back on our loans, how about an accelerated/decelerated model that is tied to milk price?




CWT has been successful but we need 100% participation.Then build in control factors within CWT that would regulate production. We need to come to grips with the process of other industries and produce less than is needed in order to demand a price that works.

Charles Untz



I do not support a government administered supply management program. Do we really think that a board could effectively manage the national herd? Once we allow our herd production to be managed by the USDA then they will soon be taking more liberties from our management control. I would like to see changes made in milk pricing. There are so few buyers trading cheese on the CME that they can manipulate the market too easily. I would also like to see higher milk quality standards. If processors would enforce the 750,000 scc limit we would immediately see almost 1% of the cows sent to slaughter.

Greg Andersen



CWT is okay. It is industry run. Any supply management program would need to be industry owned and operated. If we allow the government to manage, own or operate a supply management program, we will all suffer. The Government is only good at creating problems. The government has never fixed anything. But what do we do restrict sexed semen? Cap herd size? Ban rBST? It all smacks of big brother, not the America I was brought up in. Capitalism can hurt, but I like it better than anything else I’ve seen.

David Callister




80% of the U.S. milk comes from 20% of the farms. This is not good or bad, just a fact of life. It is much easier to expand cow numbers on larger farms because the numbers of replacement heifers born is huge compared to smaller operations. I would prefer to see dairy used to fight world hunger than mandatory curtailment of production. However we cannot sit by and watch all our good dairymen go broke which is taking place under current conditions. I can tolerate the concept of supply management so long as policies written governing it are flexible and quickly responsive to market needs.

Paul Dersam



I am not interested in any supply management program that uses past production as a base. This only rewards those that have expanded prodution in the past.

David Hallberg



I am fully convinced supply is not the problem. Our government and milk cooperatives are not doing the job marketing milk products within and especially out of our country. Millions of people in other countries could use US dairy products if a way was found to market to them and if we could compete more strongly with other countries. Additionally, milk product is coming into THIS country in various forms, particulary dried powders, in the name of free trade. It is interesting how our government and cooperatives work so hard allowing our foreign friends to make money while our local producers struggle to survive. Restricting supply is another way to cripple any producer working hard on his own operation to either more efficiently increace milk production or increase herd numbers. There are plenty of places and ways to increase milk marketing. It is time for the cooperatives and government to get it done.

Andrew Reed




One alternative is to eliminate Johne’s infected cows, which addresses two important issues: surplus milk and milk quality.

Mike Hutjens



People, there is too much cheese and butter in inventory. That has to go down for milk price to go up. To do that production has to go down by cows sold or farms sold out. Cost of production pricing or higher support pricing will only slow the rate the supply drops and end up keeping milk price low longer.

John V



It is 30 years too late for supply management. Lower the SCC limit to 250,000.

Miles A. Conklin




Ag labor: Productivity, excellence and giftedness

By Gregorio Billikopf, University of California


Gregorio Billikopf, Farm Advisor, Labor Management

Gregorio Billikopf, Farm Advisor, Labor Management

Over the last week I have had a very stimulating conversation with a renowned physician and pathologist, Oliver Stanton, and Anders Ericsson, author of the Harvard Business Review  (HBR) paper, “The making of an Expert.”1 The HBR article centers on the old question, “Are gifted people—or those who succeed in a field—born or made?” This has been the question that farm employers have asked over the years. “Can I,” they ask. “Train my weaker employees by putting them alongside the best to bring them up to the level of these outstanding employees?” Anders Ericsson et al suggest that indeed there are differences in giftedness, but that for the most part experts and gifted performers are made, not born. In their paper they introduce three concepts that I wish to share here: 1) the importance of deliberate practice, 2) the avoidance of creeping intuition and 3) the value of providing excellent coaches.


Anders has found that behind excellence there is almost always a lot of practice. He uses the expression deliberate practice because it is one thing to rehearse what one has already conquered, but deliberate practice involves working on those areas that do not come so effortlessly. For those truly seeking to excel, the paper recommends two hours per day of such focused practice. Many incorrectly come to think that these gifts just fall on people’s laps. One sportsman explained that people perceive him as a natural golfer, but what they do not see are the endless hours of practice that often yielded bloody hands. Many interesting examples are given from the fields of sport, literature, music and chess. Practice is especially productive under the eyes of the right coach, they argue persuasively. I would add that deliberate practice through introspection and self-learning is an important complement to having an excellent coach.  

The second concept, creeping intuition, is the refusal of those who excel to automatically classify new information as something they have already seen before. Individuals who avoid the creeping intuition trap do not allow themselves to think they have already learned what there is to learn. Such successful individuals are constantly trying to improve and think of new possibilities. They do not fall into a rut.  

Let us return to the question, “Are gifted people born or made? Is it enough for farm workers—and others in agriculture—to get the right training? Without a doubt, better and more focused training will be of great help. Three decades ago I worked with a number of Junior Colleges and helped them introduce welding and mechanics training for farm workers. We used an individualized training method which permitted participants to learn and progress at their own pace and become so outstanding—despite their limited formal education—that one of the long time college instructors declared that these workers as a whole had outperformed his previous students. I have been conducting quality control studies along with a number of colleagues in Chile. The results will permit us to help individuals to focus, through deliberate practice, on the type of plant or fruit defects that are difficult to identify—at both the group and individual level. These same principles may be applied in dairy and other animal operations. In addition, I have been conducting other studies on perfecting piece-rate pay for crew workers, so they will be motivated to perform to their maximum capabilities.   

My own perspective on the topic of giftedness, productivity and excellence goes along these lines: There are great differences in individual productivity at the farm and these follow a normal distribution curve. My studies show that the best crew worker is typically capable of working 4 to 8 times faster than the worst in the same crew. Oliver Stanton shared data with me from his own pathology lab that confirms these numbers outside of agriculture. Differences in capability and productivity include ability to discern issues of quality, not just faster work. I am a great believer in job sample tests for all applicants, from veterinarians, to nutritionists, from farm managers to crew leaders, from irrigators to farm workers. Each one of these jobs requires a different subset of skills which can be tested before the individuals are hired or placed into a particular position.

The S Curve is often used to explain how people learn. The beginning of the S is flat, followed by a steep line and culminating once again with a flat line. At first the learning is slow, then it accelerates, and finally the learning tapers off again. It is helpful to think of a number of connected S Curves, one on top of another. A breakthrough is another word for saying that a person moved from one S Curve to the next. Some breakthroughs are so creative that once we have been shown the way, we may easily follow down that path. I suspect that the people who break through to some of these higher levels have avoided the creeping intuition syndrome that Anders Ericsson speaks about. Years ago I read about a young man who took temporary employment. His boss had him remove cement from pipes in order to reuse them. The youth knew he was falling way behind and would not do well in this arduous and time consuming task. Suddenly, instead of hitting the concrete on the pipe, he felt inspired to hit the pipe itself. This job was transformed from a formidable challenge to an easy one. The pipes started flying and he was soon done. When his boss returned and saw him sitting, he assumed this was one more youth who had not stuck it out and had quit. Instead, he found the young man had completed the whole task in one morning. This is certainly a breakthrough that permitted the young man to greatly succeed, and one that others could also imitate and learn from.

Some tasks are simple enough that the basic S Curve may take a few minutes to conquer. Farm foremen tell me, that for the most part, three days are sufficient to see if inexperienced pickers and pruners will master these skill and work above a set standard. This is not to say they stop learning after three days. One gifted worker explained that while he is pruning a vine he already is making pruning decisions for the next. There are other agricultural jobs that require months, years or decades to truly master. Many jobs, such as learning to be a truly effective manager, are complex enough that a lifetime is not sufficient to master the necessary skills. The art of dressage (equestrian sport) is conquered by very few people—even with the help of Olympic level riders and coaches.

I like the formula: Productivity = Ability x Motivation

By productivity (or excellence) I mean a combination of speed, quality, and discernment. Ability is what a person can do. Motivation is what a person will do. If either ability or motivation comes close to zero, then productivity will be near a flat line. If motivation is very low, it matters little how much potential a person may have. You probably know people who have extraordinary aptitude but their lives have not amounted to much (in terms of developing these talents). If talent in an area is very low, it also matters little how much motivation and desire to improve a person may have. I like to use myself as an example here. I would love to be able to sing well but I joke that I got rich because people paid me not to sing.

I have come to the conclusion that each one of us is born with specific inherent potential gifts. In order for these gifts to flourish we must be exposed to the appropriate activity. I hate to think of what would have happened if Johann Sebastian Bach had not been born to the home and epoch that he was born to. I wonder how many people have hidden talents that are just as powerful but go undiscovered or, worse, do not surface from lack of deliberate practice. Some may give up too soon, supposing that if they were really good at something success would be quickly manifested. Other factors also come into play, of course, such as availability of an appropriate coach or limited time to spend on developing talents. I suspect that lack of deliberate practice is a much more serious setback than a lack of inherent gifts. Relatively few people seem committed enough to wish to tackle learning that requires extensive dedication. Once we choose an area or field to improve in, however, I feel each one of us has a different inherent potential in terms of how far we can succeed.

Many skills, abilities and gifts can be measured over time and have been shown to be quite a constant. This is true of IQ tests and it is also true of pruning tests. I have given brief pruning tests (46 minutes) to farm workers at the beginning of the season. Then, I have compared the test results to their on-the-job performance and obtained very high correlation coefficients (thus showing that the test was predictive of on-the-job performance). I would expect that for tasks that require a relatively short learning curve, each person has a very real upper potential limit to contend with. Once a person reaches close to their top performance, additional improvement requires much more effort. Olympic 100 meter runners spend years training to shave of a few seconds from their best times. A fraction of a second normally makes the difference between a gold and silver medalist—or not medaling at all.

Theoretical upper limits exist for almost any activity we are interested in perfecting. I say theoretical, as some activities or jobs—such as a farm manager—would require more than a lifetime to perfect. These upper limits are more artificial and self imposed. As a result we are nowhere close to hitting our potential upper limit. We can easily continue to make huge improvements throughout our lives, regardless of our inherent management abilities. Of course, someone with more inherent management skills, who is also willing to dedicate the necessary effort, will simply improve faster. We cannot downplay the role of inherent ability, however. 

Farm employers often tell me, “Give me someone with the right attitude over someone with a lot of skill.” I contend that this is not an either / or proposition. I say, “Give me a person with the right attitude—a passion for learning—who also has inherent talent.”  

Yes, providing the gifted and outstanding pruner to coach his or her co-workers has the potential to help the rest of the crew. Even with the best help, if the crew workers are paid using a properly designed piece-rate pay, the worst pruner is unlikely to ever prune half the speed of the fastest one. A validated job sample test is an excellent investment because it helps us detect and hire people who are good for the job and reject those who would have failed at the same. True, even a valid test is not perfect—although it beats the interview any day—in that 1) a few will excel on the test yet do poorly on the job, and 2) a few that failed the test would have excelled on the job. So for me, the answer to the question, “Are gifted people born or made?” has to be a resounding, it takes both.

Now it is your turn to give me your opinions.



Gregorio Billikopf

Farm Advisor, Labor Management

(209) 525-6800


1 Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely, July-August 2007. Ericsson is also the editor of the book Development of Professional Expertise: Toward Measurement of Expert Performance and Design of Optimal Learning Environments (Cambridge University Press, 576 pp, 2009). 

Use caution when spreading manure in summer

By Tony Smith, Resource Conservationist, Manitowoc County SWCD

The alfalfa is in the bunker, the sun is shining, the ground is dry – should you start hauling liquid manure?


Summer hauling liquid manure on just harvested alfalfa fields in East Wisconsin is considered by many dairy farm operators as a way to fertilize and reduce the fall workload. No doubt there are benefits.  Alfalfa and grass respond to the addition of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium,  and a little moisture.  There are some pitfalls that all farms should be aware of before hauling on hard dry soils.

Tile drained fields.  Most liquid manure is 95% water or more.  Processed manures are more watery, 98% or more.   Field tile lines are designed to move water.  In local fine texture soils, soil cracks develop  immediately above tile lines.  It seems the dryer the weather, the deeper and wider the cracks.  Often, cracks, worm holes and root channels will extend down to the tile line.  The result is liquid manure can move almost unimpaired into tile drainage systems.  Most tile drain systems empty to streams and ditches.    It doesn’t take a tile blowout to get manure water into the line.

Tile drain location. Of course, tile lines usually are in the lowest portion of the landscape within a crop field.  They are designed to move water away from wet areas.   Any manure liquid that pools, even for a short while, may be immediately over tile lines and may move into the tile system.

Bedrock?  Is your alfalfa over a bedrock area with shallow soil?  Keep in mind that if manure passes through soil cracks to the bedrock below, there is little or no filtering beyond that.

Slopes.  Freshly harvested alfalfas leaves a field that is low in residue, and are relatively smooth.  When soil becomes so dry, it functions similarly to pavement.  Rapid additions of liquid to sloped areas can quickly begin flowing, resulting in pooling at the base of slopes, or runoff.  Remember, tile lines are in the low areas.  7,000 gal/ac is roughly equal to ¼ inch of water added to land.  ¼ inch applied within seconds is a very rapid rate, and is sometimes too fast for soil to absorb without runoff occurring.

Warm hot summer is a time of low water flow and high stress in area streams in lakes.  Even small spills or runoff can kill a stream.

Are you getting your fertilizer bang for the buck?  Alfalfa needs no added nitrogen and will make its own nitrogen fertilizer if it needs it.  Extra nitrogen from manure will be used by alfalfa, but it will not stay in the soil for later.   Check your soil test and your alfalfa stands to determine if Phosphorus and Potassium are needed.  If you grow corn you may be money ahead if you save your manure to fertilize next years corn crop.  Your corn crop will use nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.  Is your manure more valuable as fertilizer, or ¼ inch of water?


Minimize impact of summer manure applications on water resources.

•      Apply at light rates.

•        Scout your tile drained crop field for  surface inlets and blowouts. Setback applications 300 feet upslope from surface inlets.

•        Set back applications 300 feet from streams, and 50 feet from other channels.  Setback 1000 feet from lakes.

•       Do not over apply. Heavy applications of manure liquid in summer can burn out the alfalfa.  Applications after regrowth begins can also damage the stand by burning, smothering or wheel traffic.

•       If soil cracks are present, monitor tile outlets.  If runoff occurs, take action to collect the runoff.

•        Fields with heavy residue such as winter wheat stubble resist runoff and encourage infiltration of manure liquids.

Dairy CARES: Dairy’s shrinking carbon footprint

All but unnoticed to the general public a few years ago, the topic of climate change 

and the now-familiar terms that go with it – carbon footprint, global warming and 

greenhouse gases –  are common parts of the national discussion. That trend continued 

this month, as Congress enacted new legislation to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases 

in hopes of slowing the effects of climate change.  


The vast majority of greenhouse gases are produced by burning fossil fuel: coal, oil, 

and natural gas. But some attention has also been focused on the role livestock animals 

play in the overall “budget” of greenhouse gas emissions. While the contribution of 

livestock is small compared to fossil fuels combustion, it is nevertheless important on a 

global scale. 


How important? In the United States, animal agriculture is responsible for less than 3 

percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection 

Agency’s 2008 inventory of such emissions. That’s all of animal agriculture, of course, 

so the share of dairy farms is smaller, about 0.7 percent, again according to U.S. EPA. 


Despite this relatively small share of the overall picture, there have been suggestions 

from some quarters (to be fair, most often from those who are not big fans of eating meat 

for other reasons) that consumers should consider reducing their consumption of meat 

and dairy products as a step toward saving the earth.  


Before consumers set aside their cheeseburgers or yogurt, however, there are a few 

facts they should know. Much of the media “hype” about the contribution of cattle to 

climate change can be traced to a 2006 report from United Nations Food and Agriculture 

Organization, titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow.” The report suggested that worldwide, 

livestock farming contributes as much as 18 percent of emissions of greenhouse gases. 

But why is the share of livestock emissions on a global basis six times higher than in 

the U.S. (even though Americans produce and consume far more meat and dairy products 

than most other countries)? The answer breaks down to a single word: efficiency. 


Fully half of the greenhouse gas emissions identified in the United Nations report 

were attributed to deforestation. Unfortunately, as many developing nations attempt to 

increase their agricultural production to feed growing populations, they are doing so by 

clearing forests – not only does this release carbon to the atmosphere, but destroying 

forests costs us an effective mitigation method for greenhouse gases, “sequestering” 

carbon by pulling it out of the atmosphere and locking it inside the wood of trees and 

other plants. Importantly, deforestation is not an issue in the United States, where 

forest acreage has actually increased in recent years. 


Even more important is the superior efficiency of livestock farming in the United 

States, which leads to a much smaller carbon footprint for meat and dairy products 

produced. Due to improvements in animal nutrition, breeding, animal health and cow 

comfort, milk production has steadily increased in the United States for the past six 



In 1944, there were 25.6 million dairy cows in the United States, and they 

produced 117 billion pounds of milk 


In 2007, there were 9.2 million dairy cows in the U.S., and they produced 186 

billion pounds of milk (Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics 



That’s correct. Today with 16 million fewer cows than in 1944, American dairy 

farmers are producing nearly 70 billion pounds more milk. What’s more, the overall 

carbon footprint of a glass of milk is two-thirds smaller than it was 60 years ago. 

Summed up, the carbon footprint of U.S. dairy products has been shrinking 

dramatically for decades and is much smaller than the world average. What’s more, as 

dairy farmers embrace improvements in efficiency, that carbon footprint will shrink even 

more. In fact, the national dairy industry earlier this year adopted a goal of further 

reducing its carbon footprint by 25 percent by 2020. 


And California dairies can be particularly proud – for years, California dairy farmers 

have led the nation in production efficiency, and today are responsible for about one-fifth 

of the nation’s milk supply.  


It’s time for all Americans to do their part to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel and 

reduce the impacts of climate change. Americans also deserve a wide variety of nutritious 

foods – including dairy products – that are produced responsibly and sustainably.  

The moral of this story for consumers: there’s no need to avoid dairy or meat, but it 

makes sense to be sure they were produced here in the U.S. by an environmentally 

efficient farmer (or at least someone who is meeting the high standards of U.S. farming 

practices). Dairy Cares members remain committed to assuring consumers that they can 

choose California-produced dairy products with confidence, knowing that they are 

produced close to home and unsurpassed for quality and environmental sustainability.  


Dairy Cares is a statewide coalition supporting economic and environmental sustainability for California’s dairy 

industry. Our members include the Alliance of Western Milk Producers, Bank of the West, Bar 20 Dairy Farms, 

California Dairies Inc., California Dairy Campaign, California Farm Bureau Federation, Dairy Farmers of 

America-California, Dairy Institute of California, Hilmar Cheese Co., HP Hood, Joseph Gallo Farms, Land O’ 

Lakes, Milk Producers Council, Turlock Dairy & Refrigeration, Western United Dairymen, and others. For 

information about Dairy Cares, visit our web site at, write or call 916-