Observations of a Reactionary Nature

Discussion in 'Cattle' started by Haggis, Feb 9, 2005.

  1. Haggis

    Haggis MacCurmudgeon

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    House cows were not fed expensive dairy feed just a few generations ago; why is it so important now?

    House cows can exist, do well, and produce milk on just good grass and hay; at what point of production does graining the house cow become economically profitable for the small holder producing milk for their family?

    If, for instance, a house cow averaged 5 gallons a-day milk over a 305 day period with the addition of expensive dairy feed, but the same house cow could produce an average of 2 ½ gallons a-day over 180 day period fed only grass and hay, would it not be advantageous to the small holder to kept a second cow bred to freshen as the first cows’ milk failed? Considering 5 gallons of milk per day far more than most families can use, the hay for the second cow would cost less than the dairy feed for the first, and there would be an additional calf to sell yearly.


    As it is, here at Wolf Cairn Moor, the milk we sell from one cow more than pays for the grain needed for six head of cattle, so our costs are not out of pocket, but one never knows what the future will bring, and not everyone out there is in our fortunate situation. Besides the subject seems a good opinion generator.
     
  2. dosthouhavemilk

    dosthouhavemilk Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I think a good deal of it has to do with genetics. It depends on what type of cow you have for a house cow. Some cows have been bred to depend more on grain than pasture to produce in the end.
    If your cow can stay healthy on pasture and no grain, then I don't see why it would be a big deal.
    I think it also has to do with how much feed and variety you have available to an animal. If you have only a small piece of land you can help supplement with grain and keep a good conditioned animal on a smaller piece of land.

    The only thing I can come close to comparing it to would be our goats. Until this year they were left to raise their kids and we sold the wethers at the end of the year. They only produced enough for their kids and only until their kids were weaned. This year I am milking about three to five of them (waiting for the other two to kid to decide how many I will be milking this year). We have always offered some grain to them right before breeding, during their pregnancies and when they are nursing, along with good hay and browse. With me milking some they are getting a much larger amount of grain because I am asking them to produce more.
    They could live on just browse and hay alone, but the grain helps to keep them friendly and trains them to return to their pen when I call them. It has also improved their over conditioning. They tend to do better when tehy have a little bit of grain to eat.

    But what do I know? :confused:
     

  3. mpillow

    mpillow Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I do believe it is the old game of supply and demand....and the large dairy farms want to milk them for all they are worth so they can justify all the heavy equipment they own.
    I have a goat that will produce over 1 gallon of milk a day on hay and forage when her babies are on her (the first few days I wean/milk her this is how much I get while milking her over grain) then she slackens right off to 1/2 gal on the grain...because she hates being milked I swear! She is a witchy woman!
    I'd love to have a milk cow someday and I would have to adjust the supply and demand thing. Not wanting to sell much milk...
     
  4. Jena

    Jena Well-Known Member

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    Cows will use the nutrients available for the following purposes, in the following order. Maintenance, Growth, Lactation, Reproduction.

    If their nutritional needs aren't being met, the first thing to suffer is reproduction...harder time breeding back and/or problems with the fetus. If their needs still aren't being met, then lactation will suffer.

    So what's a suffering lactation? If the cow can be pushed to 5 pounds a day, but is only making 2, is that an indication that the nutritional needs are being compromised to the point that reproduction will become a problem? I have no idea, but it's something to consider.

    Jena
     
  5. farmerdan

    farmerdan Well-Known Member

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    Some people believe that a cow was never meant to eat grain. If you are around big dairies where they are fed mass amounts of grain, you'll more than likely find a lot of laminitis and the need for trimming hooves. IMO the more you push a cow to produce, the quicker she gets burned out. Check around and see how long cows last in the milking line on big farms. Not very long. We use have cows 10-12 years old milking now they are lucky to be around for 4 lactations. Check out the manure of a grain fed cow and see how much of that grain passes through her system. If your hay is high enough in protein, you don't need grain. The farmers who graze their cattle are producing milk and their cows are living longer too. I admit that I grain my cows but only when it's bitterly cold or when they are uddering up before freshening. And then it's only 3-4 lbs. a day after they've eaten dry hay. A lot of DA's happen from too much grain and not enough hay.

    Dan
     
  6. Horace Baker

    Horace Baker Well-Known Member

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    I have been milking "house cows" for many years on grass and hay only. No real problems with reproduction. No mastitis. The problem is the production expectations that come from grain feeding as a norm. During the growing season, on well managed rotationally grazed pasture, numbers are good. A cow lactating all winter on hay only can't come close to those numbers. To me, a cow giving a gallon to a gallon and a half of milk a day (1x milking, in winter), while producing a good calf every year is doing her job. Most people won't accept a number that low.
     
  7. Terri

    Terri Singletree & Weight Loss & Permaculture Moderator Staff Member Supporter

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    I took a class on dairy science many years ago.

    According to the instructor, SOME of the better-bred cows would continue putting out large quantities of milk even if they were loosing too much weight. They would CONTINUE to produce too much milk until they were thin enough to risk getting sick. The owner could only pour the feed on in an attempt to keep the cow healthy: the amount of milk produced would stay pretty much the same until the cow got very much too thin.

    With THOSE cattle, they would only stay healthy if they were given the best of feed. And, traditional commercial dairies pretty much only feed very high-quality feed.

    He also said that commercial dairies did well with these cattle but that a family milk cow should not be one of those high-powered cows. A family milk cow ought to be a cow that can prosper on home-raised feed and be physically very sound.

    Mind, I am only repeating what the teacher said, but it seems logical to me.
     
  8. spring77

    spring77 Well-Known Member

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    Haggis,
    I think your idea is very correct with regards to a homestead/house cow. The problem as Roseanna and others indicated is genetics. I think the vast majority of people who end up with their own "house cow" end up with a Jersey. Most of these jerseys probably are retired dairy cows or the daughters of retired commercial dairy cows. So they have a preponderance of commercial dairy type genetics. In a Jersey to my amatuers view this seems to predispose them to being very thin angular delicate animals that milk like crazy. A lot of them need grain to stay healthy and keep from milking all the flesh off of them. They also seem to have a very strong susceptibility to milk fever.
    It would be wonderful if as homesteaders we could have access to a "breed" that was lower production, lower maintenance, had good grazing type genetics, would raise her own calf and still let down for a milker, etc. I don't think all of these traits exist in one breed, I'm still interested in jersey/beef crossbreds as possible solution. Maybe as grass based dairying becomes more prevalent a source of grazing cattle genetics will be more available to us as homesteaders.
     
  9. milkstoolcowboy

    milkstoolcowboy Farmer

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    Haggis, A family cow kept for table milk vs. dairying for profit are two completely distinct operations. Most people keeping a cow for milk aren't concerned with the economic profitability of keeping her. If profits aren't a concern, there is no reason to optimize the ration.

    With that said, much of the existing evidence shows that (at least at current prices), feeding grain and concentrate is profitable, in that the increased production more than offsets the higher input costs of feeding grain. I read recently that Purdue did some studies that found that feeding grain resulted in production increases as high as 40%+. Look at the prices of corn and soybean meal for the relative feed value. It's also a bit of a myth to assume that dairymen did not used to feed grain and concentrate (it was usually tankage back then)

    The all-forage diets do not result in enough dry matter intake to realize higher production levels, and the protein in forages has a relatively low bypass value (it's mostly digested in the rumen), so you don't get any pass-through. Feeding grain in a well-balanced ration allows cows to ramp up milk production more rapidly in early lactation and also to achieve better persistency throughout the lactation.

    The problems with laminitis and DAs are not caused by feeding grain in and of itself but by feeding a ration that is not properly balanced. A ration with too much grain (unstructured carbs) and not enough neutral detergent fiber will result in rumen acidosis, which can cause laminitis, mastitis, reproductive difficulties and lower longevity.

    Genetics are the single largest factor in determining both production and longevity. The straw man in these arguments is always the large parlor operations, which do have much higher cull rates, which is due more to environment and management than feeding grain. There are a large number of dairy herds that are not these huge parlor operations, especially in the Upper Midwest. I currently have 12 of my 48 cows over the age of 12, and 11 of these 12 have given over 300,000 lbs of milk lifetime. Breeding for traits such as depth of heel and proper set to hind legs, use of exercise lots and feeding well-balanced rations (including dry-cow rations) are all important to longevity.

    Some breeds have been developed over time for grazing, such as Milking Shorthorns, Normandes, Norwegian Reds, Dutch Belts and even Guernseys. I would suppose people would make these arguments for Devons and Dexters as well.

    I would be reluctant to dismiss the Jersey as a good family cow, however. Jerseys are more efficient in converting feed to milk than are the other traditional dairy breeds, have high butterfat, and are actually quite hardy. They are more susceptible to milk fever, but you can manage their dry cow ration to avoid this. A dairy animal will be angular and will work hard to produce milk. An over-conditioned animal will have many more health problems at calving and afterward.
     
  10. Paula

    Paula Well-Known Member

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    Lots of Jerseys will "milk off their back" if pushed for maximum production without a good amount of grain in their diet. They can be managed without grain and not lose weight if they aren't pushed so hard. Even "well-bred" cows milk production is a supply/demand thing. Don't take all the milk and they will slow down. It does take a little while longer after freshening with really dairy type animals to slow them down, but it can always be done.
     
  11. Valmai

    Valmai Well-Known Member

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    I know absolutley nothing about the genetics of US dairy cows, so I could be totally wrong, but I feel that the claim that cows over there cannot survive without grain is wrong. I think it is more a case of 'they cannot produce as much milk as we demand without a grain supplement. ' Here, we keep our cows on grass all year round, supplementing with hay & silage when the grass stops growing, and I have never met a poor dairy farmer.


    "How can a red cow eat green grass and give white milk?" :D --- a song title.
     
  12. dosthouhavemilk

    dosthouhavemilk Well-Known Member Supporter

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    It really does depend on the genetics. I don't think anyone is claiming they can't survive, it is more they won't be nearly as healthy producing what their bodies ask them to produce without supplementation. They have been bred to produce more, more and more.

    Our cows are pastured as long as we can and in the winter they get hay and grain. They are also supplemented with some grain when out on pasture but a different feed than they get in the winter.

    Many of the bulls genetics from over there are being sought by farmers here who are pasture based, because of the genetics that make them do better with pasture rather than relying on grain for their main source. Those farmers are also seeing improvements in their outputs as well.

    I'm sure our girls could survive without grain but they aren't going to produce nearly as much and they certainly would not be happy with us taking away their grain. :haha:
     
  13. Haggis

    Haggis MacCurmudgeon

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    As I was reading all of these great comments something our friend from the Land of the Long White Cloud said rang a bell. The fellow who sold me my two Jersey milk cows and my young Jersey heifer told me in passing that he had been using semen from New Zealand Jersey bulls for many years.

    The best I can tell, without prying, is that he makes his living milking about 12 Jersey cows and selling the odd older cow and the yearly crop of offspring. He doesn’t feed “dairy concentrates” but rather gives a rasher of barley to his lactating cows morning and evening, and he gives them very good rotational pasture in season, as well as, very good hay from his own land.

    I can understand genetics playing a major role in the production and health of the house cow, but how many of us truly know the genetics of our cows?

    If, as in the case of my Wisconsin friend, some dairy farmers are using semen from other countries where farming philosophies and practices are at odds with our own, but we continue to treat our animals as if they were bred up from animals with local genetics, are we not missing a real opportunity to adjust our own farming philosophies and practices?

    If, for instance, my Jerseys descend from a gene pool not requiring grain for long life, health, or production, but I insist on feeding them even modest amounts grain they don’t need, could it be that I am inadvertently shortening their lives, harming their health, and gaining nothing in production?
     
  14. evermoor

    evermoor Well-Known Member

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    There are many reasons people are graining their cows. Genetics has a huge role. Through genetic selections people have shaped their animals into the form that economics and propaganda says are "ideal". This often is drasticly different than the natural form of an animal. Emphisis is placed on Dairy character (skinny) and rear udder height and width (High and Wide). This is for the commercial push for production enviroment. A smaller round shoulder, with width in the chest floor type of cow will hopefully take care of herself in lesser than ideal situtions. More commercial operation are starting to recognize these advantages. My other personal opinion is overkindness in general. Grain is cheap; all animals love grain ,and it make the owners feel good. People that keep a cow for milk are generally not doing for the money. Trust me it is far easier and cheaper to go to the store than take care of Betsy 365 days a year. So you do what makes you feel special, secure, and doing the right thing. Just my two cents worth. P.S. I over grain my babies.
     
  15. petefarms

    petefarms Well-Known Member

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    even a holstein cow will not overproduce feeding hay and grain, at most 2lbs of grain a day. her calf can suck her out daily and i only keep the calf off if I want a couple of gallons twice a week for family. my two milk cows will let their milk down with no problem and i leave milk in the udder for the calf to finish up.no problem with mastitis and the animals condition is very good. the rest of my 1st calf heiffers and calves get the same dairy ration, and the calves keep their moms nursed out. one milk cow is jersey and one holstein. I live in upstate ny, and we just finished up with a week of subzero weather. it is not a temperate climate. i am trying to build a dairy slowly without going into debt and will take some time and as finances dictate. this is just another way of doing things.
     
  16. JeffNY

    JeffNY Seeking Type

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    Haggis,



    Keep in mind everyone has their own beleifs, and views, however genetics I think is a big part of an animals production, and other traits. Afterall, breeding better and better gets those 90+ classed animals, they didn't just appear. Now as far as grain and production.



    From what I have gathered from grain producers, and anyone else experienced with milking. Grain makes up for what is lacking in their feed, and yes it does increase milk production. However! Let's say you have hay that is 18%, your grain output would not be as great. However if it is 12% for the hay, you would increase grain output to make up for the feed. Think of it this way, say your feeding 50-60lbs a day in feed. Now say its 10lbs of grain on that. That grain isn't much compared to the feed. 50lbs next to 10lbs is quite a difference. Now the grain producers did not say, you can cut grain out entirely, they basically said the amount fed can be reduced if your feed is good.

    We bought a nutrition book to read about certain things. Now in this book it shows the needs for lactating animals, heifers and the like. After comparing that to my forage analysis, I lacked a little in some things, while others I exceeded the needs. So that alone is where grain comes in, it would be used to make up those things lacking. Now yes, you need grain regardless, however you won't need tons of it per animal (tons shouldn't be taken literally) if your feed is good. Now as a general view of an animal.


    We don't feed that much grain to our animals, they aren't milking as some are herefords, and the others are too young. The difference between heavily grained and not grained is noticeable, the heavily grained animal seems fat, too fat. While the animal raised on grass hay has nice muscle tone, not as fat and seems to be very fertile. All of our animals that are bred by the bull, take on the first time 99% of the time. The other 1% is rare, and I saw it once in the years we have used a bull. That is due to their nutrition, their needs are met and fertility is affected by feed as well. Now an animals weight will do that too, an animal too fat won't take, because there is too much fat around their ovaries. It also is interesting to note, an animal that can run in a pasture, or atleast be able to run outside, and gets sun seems to be healthier, stronger and their coat seems to shine vs dull and dirty. So a lot of the factors with an animal is due to their feed.

    There are other things that can affect milk production besides feed, and that is comfort and stress. If an animal is stressed it won't produce as much as an animal that is relaxed. The other part is comfort, if an animal is lying down on cement, or in a dirty stall it won't produce as much as an animal in a comfortable stall. If the stall is easy on their hooves, their legs, their hocks and knees. That will also help. If their lunge room is sufficent (about 2'), that helps. If the animal has easy access to water, doesn't have to reach for food, that helps. Those things can be beneficial to milk production. Farms that have installed mattresses have seen an increase in production, and reduced if not eliminated the problems they had with cement. For example, this one farm was getting 71lbs average. They installed mats, and jumped to about 82 or so lbs a day. It is interesting what a clean, comfortable, stress free enviornment can do. This goes for anything, whether it is beef, or dairy.


    Now for some interesting info I was told. Back in the 1970's, a friend of mine had an uncle. He died while milking, however he used to get 50lbs average. He fed all hay, with little grain. I found that interesting, for a couple reasons. The genetics in the 70's likely weren't as good as they are now, his animals might not of had excellent genetics either. His operation was small as well. Now another interesting tid bit, any farmer I have talked with all said, they would love to feed mostly hay. But they can't because they don't have the help. One of these farms, a 1500 cow dairy would love to be able to pasture their animals and feed more hay. But they can't due to the number of animals. It is easier to chop, over baleing. Even if it is large square or round bales. So even the big farms would like to feed mostly hay, and pasture animals. One of the farms we visited grazes their animals for the most part. Their Jerseys are bred for grazing, so there are Jerseys that are grazers. In fact, they graze almost all of their land, so obviously grazing must make a big difference for them, and I think she said it does make a difference. One of those grain producers I mentioned said a customer of his grazes their animals. Their grain bill is minimal, they apparently get a good production due to the grazing.


    So it all comes down to personal experience, or even going with the books. I myself will be observing the difference when we get our Jersey bred, and calves around November of 05. I will conduct my own test, I will grain as normal. I will then mix corn meal with haylage, feed 30lbs of that, and 20lbs of hay. Or 30lbs of hay, and 20lbs of haylage, depends what she eats. If I see a good 10lb difference between grain and not grained, then that puts a nail in the coffin for that theory. However if it is only a few lbs over not grained, then it shows good feed makes a big difference. But with dry matter? Hay is mostly dry matter. Our hay this past year was sampled, and it has 90% dry matter. The range is 83-90% for us. The haylage is 35% or so. So you can get your dry matter intake with hay, grain is mostly the extra nutrients. It really comes down to your needs, and if all your doing is feeding your family. I can't see why a lot of grain is necessary. I would feed some, but we did stick two Jerseys on a hereford. She fed both, and had extra. She was producing about 3 gallons, and her diet was mostly hay, she got maybe 3-5lbs of grain a day. This is of course a hereford, but the majority of her diet was hay. We gave her good 2nd cut hay, some alfalfa and she did well. This is a beef animal, so it's not exactly a good example, but the comparison is feed. Perhaps the feed quality made the difference. But I doubt the grain made much of a difference with her milk production. But you did bring up an interesting subject.


    Jeff
     
  17. Wanda

    Wanda Well-Known Member

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    From reading these posts it leaves a question that has not being answered, what is everyone calling ''grain''? Jeff talks about the local ''grain'' farmer, and others are talking about a dairy''ration'' these are not even on the same page in the book. Throwing some corn in the feed pan is not going to do much for the overall nutrition needs of a lactating dairy cow :no: Protien and fat are probably the most comon things added and most ''grain'' can not come close to even average legume hay in protien content!
    Mr Wanda
    Mike
     
  18. willow_girl

    willow_girl Very Dairy

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    I agree. Here, it is because Christine won't shut up 'til she gets her ration! And she has taught the steer to beller right along with her! :rolleyes: :haha:
     
  19. Haggis

    Haggis MacCurmudgeon

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    I dried off our Dorsey so now she stands outside the milk room 2 feet from me and gives the look that says, "You "borrowed on the rent" so now it's payback time; I want my concentrates sweetheart."

    I can't milk Lucy with Dorsey staring at me with "THE LOOK" so she gets her concentrates.

    Whether she needs them or not, I was the one who started giving them to her, and now she has to have them, or thinks she does.
     
  20. willow_girl

    willow_girl Very Dairy

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    Just don't let her get fat, Haggis, as that can spell trouble when she next freshens.

    Slightly off-topic, but have you noticed how some cows are noiser than others?! On the farm where I work, there are a couple cows that always beller when I go to round them up at milking time. They don't want to get up outta their beds, and they let me know it!

    Here at home, Christine is about as noisy as a cow can be. She bellers when she sees people. She bellers when she can't figure out how to bust out of her pen. The steer she raised shows every inclination of following in her footsteps. :rolleyes:

    Now, Twist is very quiet -- about the only time I've heard her beller is when Teeny gets out and takes the calves with her. Twist isn't brave enough to venture out, but she doesn't like being left behind, either!

    And I don't think I've ever heard Libby-Belle make a sound! :confused: