Producers have close encounter with udder at Dairy Day

Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Veterinarian Dr. Scott Poock dissected an udder for producers at the Monett Dairy Day conference, identifying the mechanics of the organ and problems from illness that could surface. Murray Bishoff/Cassville Democrat

Forecast of new Farm Bill offers new options for dairymen

Dairy producers received three varied ways to look at their operations during the annual Dairy Day conference hosted by the Monett Chamber of Commerce and the University of Missouri Extension Service.

For an unusual hands-on approach, veterinarian Dr. Scott Poock with the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Missouri in Columbia dissected an udder from a recently slaughtered cow. Poock looked for practical issues to discuss as well as probing the half of the udder showing evidence of mastitis, which likely led to why the cow was culled.

An udder, Poock said, can hold from 100 to 400 milliliters of milk. Milk does not flow on command, but only after stimulation. Generally Poock recommended 90 seconds. An initial flow of milk will follow, approximately 12 ounces, then a second flow will generally follow. Early lactation cows require less stimulation. Some cows become conditioned to release milk at the sight of a calf, which is why some dairies have a calf in the milking barn.

Poock advised against milking a cow as long as six or eight minutes to completely drain the udder. The prolonged pull of a vacuum on the nipple can hurt the cow, making it harder for her to give milk subsequently. He recommended a salve to treat the nipple and carotine plug to retard leakage after milking.

Some animal rights advocates, Poock said, have gone so far as to call milk “puss” and unfit for consumption. Poock said that is inaccurate. The average number of white blood cells in Missouri milk is 300,000 cells per milliliter, while human blood has 15-30 times that amount. For every 100,000 cell increase in the somatic cell count, a cow loses 5.5 pounds of milk production and reproductive performance. Producers try to hold the somatic count to 250,000 milliliters The count will jump when the cow deals with infection, like mastitis in the udder.

Looking at the other half of the udder, Poock quickly found lymph glands quite enlarged compared to the first half, indicating a fight with infection. Cutting into the udder found tissue bloodier, firmer and more odor. He said the udder was probably hot, hard and painful. He offered a regimen for treating animals, taking samples from each cow in the herd, as he does at the university's dairy, dating it and freezing it for later comparison.

“Amazingly, a lot of mastitis goes away,” Poock said.

A Staph aureus infection, on the other hand, “can be a bugger,” and when it surfaces, every cow has to be tested. The treatment for Staph aureus is eight consecutive days of treatment with the antibiotic marketed as Pursue. If an older cow, such as a nine-year-old, comes down with Staph aureus, Poock said “it probably doesn't pay to treat it,” and the cow would be culled from the herd.

University dairy specialist Reagan Bluel, host of the conference, offered a primer on how to calculate nutrition needs for lactating cows. Referring to the National Academy Press publication “Nutrient Requirements of Dairy Cattle,” Bluel walked the audience through several formulas, working off the foundation that a 1,000-pound cow needs 21.5 pounds of dry matter per day to eat. Not all food is equally nutritious, so Bluel talked about how to make sure a cow gets 11 pounds of mega calories a day.

Not all food, she stressed, is degradable in a cow's rumen. Bluel urged producers to have their feed tested for nutritional value. After a hot period in 2018 that spikes nitrates in grasses, Bluel especially urged testing to make sure stockpiled hay had no toxic quantity of nitrates.

“The best thing you can do is next spring, harvest the best hay you possibly can,” she said. “That is the competitive edge.”

Looking ahead, economist Dr. Scott Brown, an agricultural and applied economics professor with the University of Missouri, provided an introduction to the dairy portion of the recently passed federal Farm Bill.

“[The bill] is probably not the best thing ever,” Brown said. “We've done a lot of policy things on dairy. Not many have worked. It's hard to write policy to where the cost isn't billions of dollars.”

Price supports, started in the 1980s, resulted in milk prices moving very little for decades. The last vestiges of it did not disappear until the 2014 Farm Bill.

“Fixed costs today are so high producers have to run operations at full boar,” Brown said. “In 2018, we couldn't get the supply side to turn down. I been saying for years, 'The cure for low prices is low prices.'”

The new Farm Bill modifies some older programs that may have had better intentions than they performed. The Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC), passed in the 2002 Farm Bill, Brown noted, was widely disliked because producers could not collect on it no matter how the market turned, though it did pay for short periods.

MILC was replaced by the Margin Protection Program (MPP), which again didn't pay. MPP offered different levels of coverage, figuring producers would pay more for better coverage. Brown said the vast majority signed up for the minimum, leaving too little in premiums to pay. The problem, the local producers confirmed, was in the feed cost adjuster, which did not respond to conditions. Brown said the old feed cost adjuster would have worked better.

“You don't need as much risk management on feed as on milk,” Brown said. “I think you'll get better protection this time.”

MPP worked better in 2018, he noted, because producers were given until June to sign up. With a half year gone, they could calculate how much would be paid out. Several of the local producers took advantage of that and signed up for the higher coverage.

The new bill has Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC), a new version of MPP, though it offers new risk options. Brown projected the sign-up deadline this year would likely be by June. He noted DMC offers a 25 percent discount to producers who sign up for the same rate over all five years of the program. He expected the university would send staff across the state to help producers sign up once the final rules operating the program were announced.

The Dairy Revitalization Act in Missouri provided another source of income, as one producer noted, refunding some of the premiums to the federal program. Brown said that worked well for many who participated. Those who choose to invest their premiums in new coverage will get 100 percent of it back. Those who want cash back will receive 75 percent.

Asked how much coverage to buy, Brown recommended getting 35 percent of production covered at the maximum amount. He considered that an incentive to stay even, and did not think that would encourage creating more milk supplies.

“The porridge can't be too warm or hot,” he said. “You don't want policy that produces too much milk. Now at least we're warm.”

If the formula is “too hot,” Brown warned it likely will remain in place all five years of the bill and producers will “have to live with it.”

At the present time, milk is selling for $15.30 per hundredweight. Brown speculated the price could rise to $18.

“If you look at a 100-cow operation, and you take the $9.50 coverage, you'll roughly get back half of what you lose in market receipts,” he said. “This program helps the smaller operations more. The larger operations have more risk management tools. There's less reason to look at other options if you can cover most of your milk here.”

Brown expressed optimism about the new Dairy Revenue Protection program developed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, available through crop insurance agents.

“I think Dairy RP will be a wonderful tool when we're at record high prices. When we have low Class 3 and 4 [cheese and budder] prices, it's not the best time. I think it has its place. We'll find it.”

One driver Brown identified that may help push prices up comes from international trade, which frankly surprised him. Most of the European Union's stockpile of powdered milk has been sold, perhaps helping powdered prices rise. Liquid milk seems to be driving sales. As long as cheese and budder prices stay fairly close, Brown thinks the current market trend will benefit local producers.

“Budder has been running fairly hot,” Brown continued. “Cheese prices have been sideways. There's no reason [cheese and budder] need to be close in the short run. If they're too far apart in the long run, we'll see processing plants being built to promote one class or the other.

“We have a lot of cheese in storage,” he said. “We keep building those. That's why the industry has done as well as it has. Public demand is high. We don't need production that turn up cow numbers.”

He encouraged producers to contact either himself or other University of Missouri staff with questions about dairy operations or programs.

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