More Than Farming — Managing a Dairy Herd

By Jean Clavelle, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

MorethanFarmingAgriculture is much more than farming. It’s a diverse community of people who work closely with and support those farmers who grow our food, and without this supporting network, farming would not be what and where it is today.

This month, RealDirt spoke with Morgan Hobin who is the Manager at the Rayner Dairy Research and Teaching Unit at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. The Center boasts one voluntary milking system (robotic) and a parlour (or conventional milking system), and is currently milking 104 cows with an additional 150 calves and cows that are not producing milk.

Hobin explains that although they are a commercial facility, they are not a conventional dairy. Among the requirements to produce milk that you will buy in the grocery store, they have extra space to allow for teaching dairy production to students and have two different milking systems which allows for different kinds of research.  “We also have the interactive cow walk suspended above the dairy so consumers, farmers and anyone, really, can observe the cows in their day-to-day life and to see where their milk comes from. And the other unique thing is that we are a commercial dairy in the city, which is quite rare.”

Morgan acts as the liaison between the barn operations, the research faculty (from the department of Animal and Poultry Science and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine) and the public and teaches dairy management labs to Animal Science students.

“It’s a very quiet and calm environment and you don’t hear banging or yelling or animals in distress. The animals get to take their time. It’s a pretty relaxed place.”

RealDirt: What do you feel are your most important responsibilities?

morgan-hobin-dairy-manager-1Morgan: My number one most important responsibility is taking care of the cows. This includes making sure the staff is on board for the day’s activities and goals for the week. I make sure the cows are fed the right diets, calves are taken care of, and cow’s reproductive systems stay healthy. We are a commercial facility but we have research responsibilities on top of the general day to day management so all of the team needs to be on the same page.

The second is to make sure that the research that is being done is high quality resulting in publishable data. And under that scope the most important thing goes back to the cows being taken care of. Our ultimate goal is that the research that happens here directly transfers and is practical for Saskatchewan farmers and their animals.

RealDirt: What does a typical day entail?

Morgan: I get to the barn around 7:45 am and I do my rounds. I see how much feed is left over in the bunks, and then I make adjustments for that day’s feeding schedule based on how much is left over from the day before. I look at the cows and the manure (which is important because manure tells you if they are healthy or not) and make sure that all of the cows are doing well. A healthy manure patty has good consistency, piles firmly and is a brownish colour. Manure that is too runny, too firm, has gas bubbles or grain in it, indicates a problem! Then I check the notebook – these are the notes that tell us if there were any issues from the night shift (we have people here from four in the morning until 11 at night) and deal with anything that has come up. This is followed by a team meeting so everyone can get up to speed about what is happening in the barn that day and if anything out of the ordinary is happening like a tour, or a special research project that might be starting. Then it’s all up in the air from there! I usually have a plan but every day is different.

There are a lot of tasks that happen on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. An important one is to make sure to look at our computer programs which provide specific info about each animal from the day before and a snapshot of the previous week which is another indicator of how the cows are doing and their health and well being. I look at animals that are due to calve and determine if any cow needs special attention or if we need to bring them in if they are getting close to  their due date.

And then there are all of the regular dairy farm duties. I need to pay bills, order feed, make feed sheets based on the morning bunk checks and check the bulk tank (the stored milk that will eventually go to the grocery store) to make sure we are on track for our quota (the amount of milk expected to be produced each month). And of course there’s scheduling all of the workers (we have six full-time, five casual employees, and four students).

In the afternoon, I often have meetings with faculty and researchers to hash out and schedule upcoming research projects. I also go to check on the calves in the calf barn and on the heifers and the rest of the animals outside, to see if they are doing well, body condition wise. Every second week we have “herd health” where the vet and several fourth year vet students come to check for pregnancies and do general post-calving checks on each cow to make sure they are all healthy. And, because we are a teaching centre, I teach dairy management to Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine students.

RealDirt: What do you love most about your job?

I love the fact that when I come to work I know that every day is going to be different. I love the combination of office work and caring for the animals and getting to be a part of the neat research we do.

RealDirt: What is the most challenging part?

Finding the sweet spot between meeting the demands of research and teaching while still being a productive and profitable herd.

RealDirt: What has changed since you started doing your job?

I’ve been here for two years and in that time, we’ve seen an increase in the technology that is available to help us on a cow-by-cow basis and for overall herd management. Everything is constantly evolving and improving.

RealDirt: What kind of training and education do you have to do this job?

I have a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and a Master of Science in dairy nutrition from the University of Saskatchewan. To do this job, I think it is important to have practical experience. I went to Australia and milked cows there for a year, so I understand and can work better with the team that’s out in the barn because I understand what they are doing. And having management experience definitely helps.

RealDirt: How do you interact with farmers?

Our researchers work with the provincial dairy industry so we can link the research with industry priorities which is the ultimate goal. Often farmers will stop by to view our facilities or they might have a guided tour. Farmers want to know the research that’s happening here so they can understand what’s new and what they may be changing in the future. They also want to see how our facilities work and often compare their own to ours.

RealDirt: What is the biggest misconception you encounter in your job?

I think it’s just general animal care and how cows are housed. I think visitors’ minds change when they tour our facility. For example, we have brushes in each pen, that lets the cows brush themselves and you can see how happy the cows look while getting scratched. I think visitors are surprised at how easily cows come to see you when you are on the floor which is a clear indicator to me that they aren’t scared or being mistreated – they want nothing more than to lick you. Plus we milk three times a day and people can come in (most of the time without us even knowing they are there) and see us moving the cows. It’s a very quiet and calm environment and you don’t hear banging or yelling or animals in distress. The animals get to take their time. It’s a pretty relaxed place.

RealDirt: What do you wish consumers knew about the dairy industry?

I guess I wish consumers knew producers respect the animals and the consumers. It takes commitment and attention to detail to make sure that there’s a high quality product coming out of the farm. And we wouldn’t pay attention to detail and try to constantly improve if we didn’t care. We want to make sure the consumers are getting a high quality, safe product because we care about them.

RealDirt: What do you think surprises visitors the most when they come to visit the Rayner dairy facility?

The biggest thing is that most people are surprised how much cows produce in a day: our cows produce about 40 kg of milk per day.  That’s the “holy cow” moment. There is a lot of work behind milk production like this and we need to pay attention to every detail of the cow’s life to help them be this productive. Stressed, sick, or unhappy cows do not produce milk like that. We also like showing people the robotic milker. A voluntary milking system is a great tool because you can have a 400 cow dairy and seven milking stations and it can be managed by one person. Voluntary systems are also good for animal welfare because cows can choose to be milked three or four a times day if they want, while others may choose not to be milked more than twice, so it gives them an option.

Robots can improve welfare for the animal and improve welfare for the farmer, too. These days in the dairy industry we work hard to find staff that we can trust our animals with. People ask me do you have kids? And I say “yes, 250 of them”. I can’t trust their health and comfort to just anyone. So having robots lets farmers provide great care to the cows and allows the farmer to have a quality of life too.

RealDirt: Is there a way for interested readers to connect with you (blog, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)?

Visitors are welcome at the barn between 12:30 pm and 4:30 pm,  seven days a week, or you can contact the Dean’s office to arrange a personalized tour at 1-306.966.4058

We’re blogging about Canadians working in agriculture. Each month, we’ll feature someone different on www.realdirtblog.ca to show how diverse our Canadian agriculture industry is! Know someone that we should feature? Send us a note at info@farmfoodcare.org.

 

 

Where’s the science?

By Micah Shearer-Kudel, Environmental Coordinator, Farm & Food Care

November 13, 2014 – A day that could mark a return to the ‘dark ages’ for Europe. Sweeping the headlines of the international scientific community is the announcement of the European Commission’s decision to not renew the role of Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA). This news comes on the heels of increased pressure from Greenpeace (backed by a long list of similar-minded NGOs) to have the role terminated and to have a “”…a variety of independent, multi-disciplinary sources, with a focus on the public interest” advise European politicians about scientific evidence, or lack thereof. The safety of the public is why bodies such as the European Commission exist. The decision to sack Anne Glover, now former CSA, is why the international scientific community, particularly in Europe, is up-in-arms. Continue reading

A neonic ban not supported by science, and would make things worse

By Terry DaynardFlower

Some environmental groups have called, in an October 9 Guelph Mercury column, for a ban on use of neonicotinoid insecticides. They support this with dubious information and claims. This column provides an alternative perspective.

Neonic insecticides do kill insects, including bees if not used carefully. In some situations, with certain dust-emitting corn planters, there can be deaths at seeding time in spring. Farmers, seed and equipment suppliers, and governments have moved quickly to reduce this risk. Preliminary statistics from Health Canada indicate springtime bee deaths were down significantly in 2014. Continue reading

Changing the way we approach cover crops

By Micah Shearer-Kudel

Mapleton, Ontario – Sam Bradshaw, Environmental Specialist with Ontario Pork is working with Jake Kraayenbrink, an Arthur area farmer to determine if planting cover crop seeds into growing corn and wheat will improve the establishment of cover crops and protect soil from erosion and nutrient loss during winter months. Greg Stewart, OMAFRA Corn Specialist and Anne Verhallen, OMAFRA Soil Specialist are also involved in the new project.

Ontario’s late fall leaves little or no growing season to establish a cover crop post-harvest. The objective of the Ontario Pork project is to explore cover crop planting techniques into growing crops before they are harvested, so the cover crop is firmly established before winter.

This project is one of 28 Water Adaptation Management and Quality Initiative (WAMQI) projects improving water use of agricultural water resources and to improve management of nutrients.

The project consists of planting cover crops seeds (clover, alfalfa, rye) into growing crops (wheat and corn). The project compares three different seeding patterns using a small air-seeder mounted on a modified manure applicator. Seed is planted as manure is being applied and is broadcast, ahead of a manure tanker, behind it, or directly into the manure application trench. The project will determine the success of these methods in establishing a cover crop. It is expected that by combining cover crop planting with nutrient application to the host crop, that cover crop adoption may become more widespread in corn production as a practical strategy to control erosion and build soil structure.

Cover crops protect soil from winter erosion by wind and water and reduce the potential for runoff of nutrients such as phosphorous. Erosion and nutrient runoff cost farmers money, and farmers are continually working to reduce the potential for these issues to occur.

“We are trying to establish three crops in wheat and four in corn‎ – clover, crimson, red clover, alfalfa, plus rye in corn. We believe planting them with manure will help get them established,” explains Sam Bradshaw. Sam adds, “Cover crops historically have been difficult to establish. We are trying to get them started earlier in the season by planting them in living crops along with manure.” More cover crops on the soil surface will reduce the potential for runoff events to carry nutrients from the field and for the soil to be eroded by water and wind. The approach is unique, but if successful, it may change the way farmers look at cover crops.

The technology available to farmers allows them to do things that previous generations were unable to do. “We are using two pieces of equipment, a German designed disk applicator in wheat and a Nuhn injector in corn” Sam explains of the technology used for the project. Kraayenbrink has been on the forefront of emerging manure application and soil compaction reduction technologies and hopes that the practical use of cover crops will assist him with his objectives of improved soil health and fertility.

WAMQI is administered by Farm & Food Care with funding provided under Growing Forward 2.

For more information on any of the 28 WAMQI projects visit: www.farmfoodcare.org and click on the Environment button.

Some good news on animal welfare

Jean L Clavelle

Lately my professional world seems to be focusing on the negative – on everything that’s not happening, how agriculture seems to be under constant attack, what we are not doing that we should. Today, I’ve decided to focus on the positive. I wanted to share some of the great work that our local and North American livestock ag community is doing for animal welfare.

To start, the 4th Annual International Beef Welfare Symposium is set to be held July 16 to 18 at Iowa State University (www.cpm.iastate.edu/beefwelfare) This conference was designed to offer producers, processors, retailers, government officials, NGOs, animal scientists, veterinarians and students the opportunity to discuss, debate and learn about the current and emerging welfare issues that face the beef cattle industry. Renowned beef cattle experts, bovine practitioners, philosophers and animal scientists will offer their insight and perspective and discuss the latest research findings during the invited presentations and poster session. Something that will benefit everyone involved in livestock agriculture and help to spread a positive message on the importance of animal welfare. Continue reading

Denmark shows effect of banning growth promoting antimicrobial use in cattle

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of the Beef Cattle Research Council. To see the full article and others go to BeefResearch.ca

Jean L Clavelle

 

Denmark shows effect of banning growth promoting antimicrobial use in cattle

Antimicrobial resistance has become a highly charged issue.  Headlines appear in the news on a regular basis suggesting that antibiotics are becoming less effective in humans and farmers are to blame.

Some concerns have been raised that antimicrobial use in livestock leads to antimicrobial resistance and that some of the products used in food animals are closely related to antimicrobials that are important in human health. It’s also been questioned whether antimicrobial resistance can be transferred among bacteria, which may reduce effectiveness of drugs used in human medicine.

Of course the Canadian beef industry is also concerned about antimicrobial resistance.  Cattlemen depend on the effectiveness of animal health products, and on consumers’ confidence in how beef is raised and the safety of the beef they consume.  And just like the rest of the society, farmers need human drugs to be effective too.

We’re all in agreement on the seriousness of antimicrobial use and resistance.

Several nations around the world have surveillance programs in place to monitor trends in antimicrobial use and resistance.  In Canada, this is led by the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS). In the United States, surveillance is conducted by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS).  These programs test for antimicrobial resistance in healthy animals arriving at slaughter plants as well as retail meat samples. In addition, various groups including the Beef Cattle Research Council and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada collect more detailed antimicrobial use and resistance information in a broader range of microbes and locations (e.g. feedlots, manure, soil, water).

To date, scientific surveillance has indicated that:graph 1 antibiotic resistance PIC

  • Resistance to antimicrobials that are most important in human health is extremely uncommon in healthy North American cattle and beef.
  • Multi-drug resistance is similarly low, and is not increasing.
  • In cattle, the vast majority of antimicrobials used are not used in human health at all.

Let’s look more closely at the last point. The vast majority of antimicrobials used in cattle are ionophores.   Ionophores act on rumen microbes; they selectively inhibit methanogenic bacteria and allow beneficial rumen bacteria to make more feed energy available to the animal, thereby improving feed efficiency and weight gain.  Ionophores also prevent diseases like coccidiosis.

Ionophores have no benefit to, nor are they licensed for use in humans. Even if microbes developed resistance to ionophores, this would not make them resistant to classes of antimicrobials that are used in human medicine.

Eliminating antimicrobial growth promotants, including ionophores, in cattle production would substantially reduce the overall use of antimicrobials, but would that reduce concerns about antimicrobial resistance?

Denmark phased out the use of those products in livestock production between 1994 and 1999.  Since 2001, we can see a clear trend of increased use of prescribed veterinary antimicrobials. The decrease in antimicrobial use has happened in the “medium importance” category, antimicrobials rarely used in human medicine anymore.  Without the use of growth promoting antimicrobials, the need for antimicrobials that are important to human health increased. In addition, there has been no clear trend towards decreased antimicrobial resistance in Danish cattle or beef.

Canadian research has repeatedly shown that antimicrobials are used responsibly by Canadian beef producers, and resistance to the most important classes of antibiotics in human medicine remains extremely rare in beef cattle. Antimicrobial resistance will continue to be a research priority in Canada’s beef industry to maintain or improve current prudence.

Continued use of antimicrobials of no importance to human health in Canadian beef production will be critical to the future competitiveness of and reduced environmental impacts by Canada’s beef sector due to improved feed efficiency and reduced animal disease.  Furthermore, the consequences of a ban on ionophores in Denmark suggest that discontinuing the use of such products would not lead to lower antimicrobial resistance, and may increase the use of antimicrobials that are important in human medicine.

To learn more about antimicrobial use and resistance in Canadian cattle and beef, visit http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/antimicrobial-resistance-11

28 Applied Research Projects funded under WAMQI

April 8, 2014 (Guelph) – A total of 28 projects have been selected by a review committee from 43 eligible applications for funding of approximately $1.5 million from the Water Adaptation Management and Quality Initiative (WAMQI) over the coming year.

Funding is provided through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The program is administered by Farm & Food Care Ontario.

This applied research and demonstration program will encourage demonstration and pilot projects that showcase innovative technologies and solutions for agricultural water conservation and efficiency. The initiative will also support projects that demonstrate efficient use of nutrients and nutrient management related to water quality. Projects have been chosen that support farm water quality and water quantity objectives and that will benefit Ontario agricultural producers and organizations.

Bruce Kelly, Environmental Program Lead at Farm & Food Care Ontario said that he was pleased with the scope and diversity of the applications submitted this year. Said Kelly, “WAMQI builds on the successful Water Resource Adaptation and Management Initiative last year and will further our efforts to improve agricultural water use efficiency and better our understanding of managing agricultural nutrients.”

Successful WAMQI applicants and projects approved for funding can be found at http://www.farmfoodcare.org/images/pdfs/WAMQI%20eng.pdf

Whip up your understanding of plant biotechnology

Canadian consumers enjoy variety in their diets and this sometimes takes the form of a simple change in the foods we regularly consume, like choosing orange cauliflower or purple potatoes in the place of the typical off-white variety.

These colourful alternatives are widely available thanks to plant breeding, a technique that involves crossing plant varieties over many years until the desired colour is achieved.

Janice Tranberg

Plant biotechnology, an extension of plant breeding, offers its own variety of benefits such as healthier foods and increased yields. But consumers are sometimes hesitant to accept plant biotechnology, which is a bit perplexing given their acceptance of traditional plant breeding techniques.

Janice Tranberg, who leads the Council for Biotechnology Information in Canada, helps put consumers at ease by explaining plant biotechnology’s relationship to plant breeding with an interesting comparison – whipped cream. “There are a number of ways to turn liquid cream into its whipped counterpart,” says Tranberg. “You can use electric beaters, a hand held whisk and in a pinch, a fork can also do the trick. All three tools produce the same thing; they incorporate air into cream. The main difference is how long it takes to achieve the desired result.

Compared to plant breeding, plant biotechnology is in a faster way for scientists and breeders to achieve a desired characteristic.”

Tranberg is quick to point out that the use of the term ‘faster’ is relative. Products of plant biotechnology take years and years to come to market because of the rigorous testing they are put through to ensure their safety. Also of note is that scientists are currently using plant biotechnology to develop strawberries with improved shelf-life, texture and flavour, something that Tranberg thinks will go very well with whipped cream.

Innovation drives success of family fruit business

Phil Tregunno and his son Jourdan are shown in their fruit orchard in Niagara

By Lilian Schaer

(Niagara-on-the-Lake) – Family tradition is an important part of Ontario’s farming culture. Innovation and new technology, however, are what helps keep that family tradition going for the future generations.

Fruit grower Phil Tregunno is proud of being the fourth generation of his family to farm in the Niagara Region – and with his two sons and a daughter-in-law working alongside him and his wife Lorna, the fifth generation is also firmly entrenched in the family business.

The Tregunnos’ main crop on their 700 acre farm is peaches, but they also grow nectarines and plums as well as table and wine grapes. Their tender fruit is sold through the Vineland Growers’ Co-operative in Jordan, which distributes it to Canada’s major retail chains, and their wine grapes, including pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, merlot and cabernet, are contracted to different wineries in the region. Continue reading

Bridging the great divide

by Jean L Clavelle

There are some statistics being tossed around these days on social media – only 3% of the population is involved in food production agriculture.  Of those involved in primary production, 98% are family owned and operated.  Interesting as it seems this has set up our culture to be an “us against them” scenario in terms of food production and the general public.

It has been my experience that people in animal agriculture are passionate about raising their animals.  This isn’t a job, it’s a way of life.  Most of my colleagues feel the same way, and primary producers (those directly involved with on-farm production) that I’ve had the pleasure of working with here in western Canada exemplify this statement.  They want to produce a safe product, they want their animals to have a satisfying life and they want to have enough income to provide for their families and continue on with this lifestyle.

Sure there are some bad eggs (sorry for the bad pun) and those that don’t make the right choices.  This happens in every walk of life, every profession, every business however it is not the norm and it is certainly not the norm (or considered acceptable) in animal agriculture.

Sadly animal rights groups and some media presentations like those we saw in the recent W5 report do their best to highlight the small percentage that do not represent what conventional agriculture really is.  And instead of highlighting positive practices, sensationalized media coverage takes small snippets of unacceptable episodes and position them as being the norm.  Let’s be clear, animal rights groups do not want us to use animals in any way shape or form.  They do not believe we should eat meat or any animal by-product.  And unfortunately this message is lost for the average consumer. Continue reading