Caring for the Babies

Calf health on the farm is vital to production.

Calf health on the farm is vital to overall production.

As the winter months approach, it’s time for dairy farmers to start thinking of how to keep their baby calves strong and healthy throughout the coming months.  It is imperative for most dairy farmers to take extremely good care of their calves through the winter to ensure that they will have a healthy and vibrant future generation of cows.  Baby calves represent the next generation and in doing so they will eventually be the money makers of the farm business.  Farming is like any business by which the bottom line is efficiency and making a profit.  To do so a farmer must therefore take extra special care and attention to the new calves that are born over the cold and brisk winters here in Canada.  But doing so is not always the easiest task when you have tons of calves to take care of and monitor.

Farmers in Wisconsin have implemented new technologies that have helped decrease labor and death rate in their on site calf facilities.   One farm, 3-D Dairy, has introduced computerized feeders to limit the amount of time and effort spent feeding calves twice a day.  These systems allow the calves to feed freely as they feel like it.  They are monitored by RFID tags that indicate how much each calf is allowed to drink and how much they have drank, this ensures that they are not drinking too much and will not become sick.  Schneider Farms utilizes a nursing barn that is temperature controlled around 7C (45F) and are individually housed to minimize calf to calf disease spreading.  Although a new born baby calf weighs between 70-100lbs they are fragile and can pick of disease very quickly if proper sanitization and care is not taken.  On the same level they are literally born in a barn, which tends not to be the cleanest environment.  Common practical cleaning tips can be extremely useful, your barn does not need to be a clean as a surgical room, but should still provide a clean place where pathogens and disease are not lurking around every corner.

Calf care is something that I take very seriously on my home farm.  Not only do I love spending time and playing with the new babies, but I understand that these little monsters will one day be pumping out milk that generates a profit on our farm.  With more and more technologies available to help the calves along by keeping them fit and healthy, farmers are seeing greater returns in terms of not having to replace heifers that could not make it through the freezing winter months.  I understand that not every farm can afford to have automatic feeders and heated rooms, but you would be surprised how much a calf blanket and clean bedding can do for a calf!  Although good calf care techniques are imperative on the farm, it all comes down to using common sense and creating a comfortable and enjoyable environment for your babies!

Automatic Calf Feeder

Example of Claves using an automatic milk feeder.

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ROM Promotes 100% Canadian

Dairy Farmers of Ontario Board Member Norma Winters teaches Royal Ontario Museum Chef Ted Corrado how to milk a cow

Dairy Farmers of Ontario Board Member Norma Winters teaches Royal Ontario Museum Chef Ted Corrado how to milk a cow

On October 8th the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) exhibited a few new guests in downtown Toronto.  A few black and white beauties strolled into town to help promote Canadian milk and real Canadian ice cream.  Visitors were encouraged to take photo opportunities with the cows, learn where real milk comes from and acknowledge that urban centers like Toronto still rely on rural farms and the food that they supply.  Visitors were also treated to apple pie with Kawartha Dairy ice cream topped with Chateau des Charmes ice wine and St. Albert and Ivanhoe Ontario cheddar cheese, all of which are made with 100% Canadian milk.  The wonderful educational event was sponsored by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO).  Nestle also stepped in and donated Haagen Dazs ice cream that was be distributed to visitors and passersby.

The ROM has adopted the message for consumers to support Canadian farmers as they try to primarily exhibit Canadian grown foods in their two restaurants, c5 Restaurant Lounge and Food Studio.  They were more than willing to work with DFO to educate  Toronto city dwellers.

I cannot express how happy I am to see the DFO continuing to put the word out there and get the message to urbanites that if it doesn’t say Canadian milk than it’s not Canadian milk!  It seems like such a simple message yet it takes a lot of time and effort to educate the public about these pressing issues.  I am a firm believer of reading labels and knowing where your food is grown and comes from, especially in regards to milk and milk products.  With continuing efforts from DFO and farmers our message will indeed be heard and Canadians will soon be purchasing all 100% Canadian milk product.

ABS Claims Supreme Champion Title

On October 2, 2009 at about 5pm thousands of people pilled into the show ring at the World Dairy Expo to watch the crowning of the 2009 Supreme Champion.  This particular event is one of the biggest of all in the dairy show business and this year Foundation Sires Inc was honored at the same time.  Harvue Roy Frosty, the mature holstein claiming the title is sired from the ABS bull Roylane Jordan.

Frosty wrapped up the expo festivities by claiming:

  • 1st Place 5 year old
  • Best Udder
  • Grand and Supreme Champion 2009 World Dairy Expo

It was a fantastic accomplishment for the Hardesty family from Berryville, Virgina.  The family is extremely proud to have raised the 5 year old supreme champion in their herd who has been classified at Excellent with 96 conformation points.  This has not been the Frosty’s first visit to the expo, in 2007 she attended and claimed the title of intermediate and reserve champion.  The family plans to attend the Royal Agriculture Fair in Toronto, Ontario in early November with high hopes of bring home another red ribbon.

To many the dairy showing business is either not relevant to them or non-existent, but I cannot express enough what a flourishing industry it is.  Personally, I love every aspect of showing, from picking out that first calf to walking through the ring.  I find every moment an exhilarating experience that I have learned so much from.  I continue to encourage farm kids and those who have never seen a cow before to get involved in agriculture by signing up to join 4-H for a summer.  I can personally speak from years of experience and have acknowledged that 4-H has helped me become the confident showman that I am today!

Harvue Roy Frosty- World Dairy Expo Supreme Champion 2009

Harvue Roy Frosty- World Dairy Expo Supreme Champion 2009

Marshmallow Mountains Present Problems for Farmers

It’s no secret farms alike have been long asking themselves the question of ‘what to do with the accumulating pile of bale plastic behind the barn?’  It has been approximated that Ontario farmers use about 10 million pounds of bale wrap each year.  Bale wrap is a brilliant solution to preserving ones hay crop over the winter months without the expenses of putting up a new building.  Many farmers have bought into this product because of its effective usage and reliability.  The question is now what are farmers to do with the increasing mountainous piles of plastic?  Blue box programs will not accept it, it costs extra money to bring to a landfill site and burning is illegal.  But for farmers in southwestern Ontario a possible solution exists.  Think Plastics Inc. has approached farmers and set up numerous drop off locations for the collection of the reused round bale plastic.  The company utilizes the material and produces Baleboard, a durable plastic lumber product.

The idea is superb, but like any new company trying to start off they have come across a few bumps in the road.  Problem number one is that presently supply of the bale plastic is much greater than the demand for the product.  Consumers need to be better educated as well, to know that the plastic lumber is just a durable as wood and can be used for barn flooring, horse stables and fencing.  Marketing strategies need to be applied to get the product out onto the market as the new ‘green’ alternative to lumber.

Think Plastics Inc. has put forth a great program and realistic solution to the bale wrap issue.  I was very shocked to read that there has been no interest in research from Canadian companies or universities into possible alternative uses for recycled bale plastic.  Personally I think that since the University of Guelph is know for it’s extensive research in agriculture, they would have hopped on the wagon and been at the fore front of this situation!  Society seems to be constantly moving to a more ‘green’ and sustainable attitude towards everything from toilet paper to cars.  Developing new products from recycled bale plastic capitalizes on a what I would see to be an up and coming niche market.

Questionable Dairy Genomics

For this weeks post I have decided to take some bits and pieces of a speech that I have written for class and post it as my blog topic for the week.  Enjoy!

I’m sure that from time to time you have all sat down and pondered about the future of agriculture.  Advancements in technology will be changing the industry of agriculture as we know it.  Recent advancements in the gene sector of the dairy industry has been brought to producers’ attention.  Genomics has personally struck my attention as being the next booming technology in the dairy industry and coming from a dairy farming background it has raised some important questions on my home farm.

For those who don’t know or who are unaware the overall goal of dairy cattle genomics is to select desirable traits between a sire and a dam so that when their offspring is born it will express all of those qualities that were sought after.  Basically what scientists have been able to accomplish is to correctly identify where these key traits lie within the animal’s genome.  Now being able to detect the animals who possess and will pass on those elite genes to their future offspring gives farmers a competitive edge when considering their breeding programs.

I believe that one of the main concerns of incorporating genomics into our dairy herds is the potential risk of depleting future genetic diversity.

So why the concern with genetic diversity then?  The problem arises because of the new genomic technology.  As we learned earlier, you can select elite genes between a male and a female cow to produce an improved offspring.  As a society and in farming as well, we strive for bigger and better all of the time.  The problem arises that with the majority of the industry utilizing this technology the pool of genetic diversity will begin to deplete.  Eventually farmers will be breeding the best of the best to the best of the best and we all know that inbreeding is an enormous hazard to animal health.  We cannot fault our farmers for simply wanting the best, the real question is, are they prepared to sacrifice a flourishing industry to one that may end up much like the inbreed thoroughbred racing industry?  All in all, genomics can be very useful tool, but the right procedures and protocols need to be put into place to maintain the genetic diversity of the dairy industry.

I am personally not opposed to the incorporation of genomic technology on our dairy farms, as it can prove to be quite valuable.  I am trying to make the point that we need to think about the ramifications of this new technology and what it may impact in terms of cattle health by reducing our genetic pool.  With more and more cows being genomicly assessed every day, it is clear that genomic technology is a tool that many dairy farmers will begin to integrate into their breeding programs.  All in all genomics is at the center of dairy cattle genetics today, never before have farmers been able to attain such valuable information about how to enhance and improve their herds all over the world.

Genomics in dairy cattle is becoming a heated issue

Genomics in dairy cattle is becoming a heated issue