Showing posts with label dairy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dairy. Show all posts

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation--Something Completely Different

We had registered Holsteins on our farm, which if I recall meant we had to send in registration papers which included either a sketch of the cow's markings or a photo.  I assume the data included the cow's ancestry.  And the vet who did the artificial insemination would discuss with dad which bull's semen to use, which one was popular, etc. etc.  I never really got into this aspect of the business, and it was a business--but I was aware of the strange names of the bulls, which leads to the title of this post.

Anyhow today, via Northview Valley blog, I get to the bull in the title.  He even has his own wikipedia page, although it's flagged as having problems.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Ridiculous II

This article at Modern Farmer shows the extent to which our wealthy society can extend the ridiculous.

I can understand the logic of this dairy farm: maximizing the welfare of dairy cows.  Late breeding, no slaughter--cows dying when they "naturally" would.  It's not 100 percent clear, but apparently they don't send their bull calves to slaughter either.  It all fits the touchy-feely ethos of the food movement, but more so.

I can accept that 100 years from now wealthy nations will get most of their milk and meat from truly industrial process (i.e., bypassing animals altogether).  The remainder of the supply might be subdivided with various approaches, some organic, some slaughter free, etc.

But I won't be around to see it and I'm too much a man of my time and place to find it other than ridiculous.   A quote:
"At $10 per gallon, the price of slaughter-free milk is almost triple the cost of whole milk, which retails for an average of $3.69 per gallon. The price reflects the cost of producing the milk as well as calf care and “retirement” costs for the herd. (The cost of labor isn’t factored into the price because the farmhands are volunteers).
 So the true price is probably closer to $20 per gallon, because the labor is being paid/supported by trust funds, etc.  Might one be able to find suckers customers willing to pay more than three times the price of conventional milk?  Might one be able to find suckers people willing to get up at 4 am to milk the cows for no pay?  Yes, I suppose one might.  I still say ridiculous.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Small Truckers, Small Dairy Farmers

A good piece here on the plight of the small trucker--the owner/operator. It reminds me of Northview Dairy, the owners of which just sold off their cows. 

I suppose conservative economists would point to "creative destruction", the process by which the free market makes everything better and better for everyone, over the long run.  As an ambivalent liberal, I resist that.  Economic change has real costs and hurts real people. When I ask myself would the world be a better place if we froze  things as they were in 1950, or 1900, or 1491, I have to answer "no",  but as the great Heinlein wrote: there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Robot Day: Cows and Grapes

The NY Times has an article on milking robots. 
I'd read about robotic milkers before, perhaps even posted on them, but this is the first report describing units with no human intervention, meaning the cows can determine when they want to be milked!  So the march of technology has the effect of increasing the "agency" of cows, making for more contented cows, I suppose.  (Was it Elsie, the Carnation cow, which keyed their ad campaigns in the 1950's?   NO, my memory is faulty--Elsie was the Borden's cow.  And, coincidentally, one of the dairymen in the article is named Borden, a seventh-generation farmer.)  Will the crunchy food movement celebrate this advance in animal liberation? 

Seriously, this and similar advances elsewhere in farming pose the problem for the farmer: give up, get out, grow up.  You need a bigger operation to make the best use of machines (although apparently California operations are too big) or cope with new regulations, etc.   The other problem is the infrastructure.  If you're depending on a machine to milk your cows, you can't afford power outages (hand-milking even 12 cows when the power goes off is not fun).  And you can't afford malfunctions--I assume the vendors have some support system to provide loaner units with a very short response time, like 1-3 hours.

Elsewhere, Technology Review has a post on agricultural drones. I wonder when FSA will start using them?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dairy and China and the Food Movement

Farm Policy refers to a WSJ article on a project in Brittany, France doing a dairy plant for China.  This follows an LA Times article on exporting dairy to China.

It's an intriguing subject because I keep thinking lactose -intolerance, but turns out it's mostly adults and Chinese parents, who dote on their children, don't trust Chinese baby formula.  They do trust US and apparently French dairy standards.

It's an occasion for me to give a compliment to the food movement, at least the historical food movement.  I tend to mock and denigrate the current one, but I recognize that some of the same motives of the current movement also caused the establishing of  high standards for dairy products in past decades, the same high standards which now enable us to export to China.

(Of course, I have yet to see China importing product made from raw milk. :-)

[Updated--Agweb post on the subject.]

Monday, February 17, 2014

Incredible Cows

From Wonkblog something I find incredible:
"There doesn't appear to be a cap yet on the projections," says Nigel Cook, a dairy expert at the University of Wisconsin's School of Veterinary Medicine. Even though cows are producing 23,000 pounds per year on average, some herds produce more than 30,000 per head -- and he's found exceptional animals that can produce between 45,000 and 50,000. If more cows can be brought up to that level, the line could keep moving upward for a good while yet. Unlike poultry, for example, the state of dairy science isn't anywhere near maturity.
 We were doing well to produce more than 10,000 lbs per year.  

Friday, January 10, 2014

Those Rich Farmers--Some Aren't

The least wealthy member of Congress:
"On the opposite side of the spectrum is Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., the least wealthy member of Congress. He had an average net worth of negative $12.1 million in 2012, due to loans for his family's dairy farm."
He's in partnership with his brothers.  I'm not sure how the net worth works, though.  Surely any commercial lender would ensure the partnership had assets to balance the loans--like $13 million worth of cows and barns and milking equipment and land?  So he might have a zero net worth, but not negative?  Something's going on here that's not explained.

Farm Exports Include Pregnant Cows

From James Fallows on Eastport, ME:

"The city has been lobbying hard for state and federal help in restoring the rail link that connected Eastport with the Maine Central Railroad until it was abandoned in 1978. But even without a rail connection, it has steadily increased its shipments by sea. One of its specialties is container ships full of (live) pregnant cows, bound for Turkey.
Pregnant cows? European beef and dairy herds, reduced by mad cow disease and other factors, are now being rebuilt, largely with American stock. When cows make the sea voyage while pregnant, their calves can be born on European soil and have the advantages of native-born treatment. To put it in American terms, the mother cows would not be eligible to run for president, but the calves would. A company called Sexing Technologies, based in Navasota, Texas, has devised a sperm-sorting system to ensure that nearly all those calves will be female, a plus for dairy herds. Chris Gardner convinced Sexing Technologies that Eastport would be an ideal transit point, and since 2010 some 40,000 cattle have been loaded aboard ships there."
Now if I could only stand the winters, Fallows makes it sound inviting.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Returns on Cows and Buffalos

Brad DeLong notes a study on the returns to owning cows and buffaloes in India.  Bottom line is--it's not profitable in an economic sense.  The speculation is that the labor of women has no value, economically, so there's no cost for women or children to tend cattle.  Or, the return on formal savings instruments (i.e., savings accounts) is low and uncertain so there's a cultural preference to owning cattle. (I gather that while cows are sacred to Hindus, buffaloes aren't so the study treats them as almost interchangeable.)

Here's the NBER url.  Strikes me that the economists don't devote enough attention to the calves  The survey asked the people to estimate the value of a calf, which I assume meant guessing what the calf could be sold for on the open market.  Now in economic theory I guess the price should reflect the value of retaining the calf. But maybe it doesn't--if the family has sufficient grazing land then the marginal cost of rearing a calf to maturity is relatively small--the labor cost of tending multiple animals instead of a single is almost zero.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Did ARS Sponsor This Cutting-Edge Research?

(The answer is "no", but I need a title.)

What's the research?

"The probability prize was awarded to animal scientists at Scotland's Rural College for making two related discoveries. "First, that the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up," read their citation. "And second, that once a cow stands up, you cannot easily predict how soon that cow will lie down again."

From the Ig Nobel Awards, via University Diary.

Monday, August 12, 2013

New York Dairy, Greeks, and Immigrants

Chris Clayton at DTN has a long piece about New York dairymen's need for immigrants.  They're expanding production to supply the desire for Greek yogurt.  A quote:
"Emerling Farms is a 1,200-head operation run by John and his son, Mike. The Emerlings have 20 full-time employees, and like a growing number of larger dairies, most of those workers are immigrants. John Emerling said he realizes some people don't understand the need for immigrant labor, particularly when unemployment remains high. "But it wouldn't matter what we paid. People just wouldn't answer."
 So that's roughly 60 cows per person.  That's not all that different than back when I was growing up, though these cows probably produce 20,000+ lbs per year, while the average back then was about 1/3 of that.  (We did good with 10-11,000.)

Dairy isn't an easy life.  (IMHO only those farmers who have to feed their livestock and milk them twice or thrice a day merit the name of true "farmers", but I won't push that.  One advantage of the dairy/poultry life is you get checks coming in throughout the year; you don't have one harvest and one big check which has to be budgeted to last.)

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Statistics and the "Midpoint": the Case of Dairy

Long long ago I used to be good in math.  No more, but I'm still intrigued by statistics.  A recent ERS study on the consolidation of farms introduced me to a new measure.

We all know the "mean", and some of us know the "mode" and the "median".  The ERS people are using the "midpoint", specifically for cropland.  It's defined (my words) as the number of acres of cropland on a farm such that half the cropland in the country is in farms larger than that, and half is on farms smaller than that.  Because the distribution of acreage among farms is so skewed, with many farms being very small, and a few farms being very large, they argue it gives a better picture of what's happened over the last 25 years.

Using the same concept for livestock, they say:
"In 1987, the midpoint dairy herd size was 80 cows; by 2007, it was 570 cows. The change in hogs was even more striking, from 1,200 hogs removed in a year to 30,000. But consolidation was widespread: midpoint head sold for fed cattle doubled between 1987 and 2007, while those for broilers and cow-calf operations (cattle, less than 500 pounds) more than double"
80 to 570 cows is jawdropping.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

The Joys of Dairying

Threecollie at Northview Dairy reminds me of one of the joys which I really, really miss--milking a wet cow.  

It's one of things aspiring farmers should experience before investing too much of their hopes and money into a dairyman's life.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Should the White House Garden Be Quarantined?

That's the suggestion Chris Clayton makes (tongue in cheek) at his Progressive Farmer blog, referring to the GMO wheat found in Oregon.:

For conservatives, the wheat controversy could lead to "Roundup-gate," but because of USDA's handling of the situation. No, this scandal goes straight to the White House. You see, First Lady Michelle Obama planted wheat in her garden this year. We were told in April by White House policy advisor on nutrition, Sam Kass, that the wheat came from Oregon or Washington and was an "experimental variety." However, the White House assured blogger Eddie Gehman Kohan of Obama Foodorama that there was no reason to believe the wheat is genetically engineered.…
A good patriot would call for the White House garden to be sealed off, sprayed with glyphosate and tested. Perhaps the House Government Oversight Committee also needs to investigate the source of the seeds.
Two themes run through the lives of my relatives and ancestors: teaching/preaching and science.  So both lead me to endorse Mr. Clayton's position and disdain Japan's, S. Korea, EU etc.  And his position on raw milk is pretty good, too.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Idyllic and the Real--Horses and Farming

The Times runs an article today: Farm Equipment That Runs on Oats.

It's about a farm in Vermont, associated with a co-housing collective, doing the locavore/sustainable farming life.  The farmer uses horses for most chores, saving the tractor for "heavy soil".  He and the writer celebrate the emotions of feeling at one with the team, understanding their personalities and ways, etc etc. You may observe from the title and the "etc.s" that the story struck a nerve.

These give the idea:
“People are attracted to the way of working with animals, of being back in touch with nature, of regaining a kind of rhythmic elegance to our lives.”....
Still, this elaborate routine provides the sort of connection to living things that Mr. Leslie believes people today are longing for — and it is why he is convinced that farming with horses will have a real renaissance.
“I think people are hungering for a kind of unplugged reality,” he said. “That leads to a deeper self-understanding.”
It's all fine and dandy for those who want this sort of life, but we had horses for about the first 10 years of my life.  From that jaundiced perspective I'd offer a few observations:
  •  The Amish have a sustainable life, but not this family. The farmer and partner have only one child, a girl about 6.  If you're going to have a sustainable way of living you need to have some more children, so at least one will stay on the land.  
  • If you're living a locavore life, you don't need much cash, meaning you aren't depositing much into Social Security and Medicare.  So having adult children to support your old age is important.
  • One of the downsides of this farming can be observed in the Amish: it tends not to support the ideals of women's liberation.  Because field work is usually more strenuous, the males tend to get stuck with that (in the article it sounds as if the man does communing with the horses though my mother did enjoy driving a team) meaning the females get stuck with the house work. The internal combustion engine and electric motor did much to free women.
  • It's dangerous.  Farming is dangerous whatever motive power is used, but I suspect the accident rate was higher in 1930 when horses were predominant than today.  To their credit, the article's author notes a very bad accident with the horses early in the farmer's career which broke both legs of his partner.  It doesn't say how they managed in the months before she was able to do resume her work.
For anyone interested, here's a link to a 1921 Cornell extension study on tractors versus horses.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Crunch[ie] Dairy the Demeter Way

This article at Treehugger describes a German dairy farm (mostly) which adheres to Demeter standards.  Amusing throughout, particularly this bit:
Our guide explains that the hollow horns remaining after a cow's passing are filled with manure, and buried underground through the winter. The composting manure gathers cosmic rays in the cold season, and in spring the mixture is dug up and the manure crumbled into the mixing tanks.A special process of mixing creates a vortex that distributes the cosmic energy in the correct manner (the view from the platform is reported to put the mixer in the right mindset during the hour-long mixing process, but more importantly the elevation obviates the need for pumps, which might disturb the cosmic energy)
 And here I always thought my German relatives/ancestors were practical, hard-headed types.

An oddity: it sounds as if the cows are never slaughtered, but yet they raise chickens for eggs and meat.

Monday, April 01, 2013

History Repeats: Kenya, Cellphones and I-Cow

Been doing some reading (and a little writing) in the history of USDA, extension, etc.  The theme I see there is that USDA worked for the most literate, most progressive farmers.  That's why I'm struck by this article in CSMonitor on I-Cow in Kenya; an app helps Kenyan dairy farmers manage their herds. 
Kahumbu’s iCow may not be the latest sensation on Wall Street, but experts say it is just the latest example of an innovative high-tech entrepreneurial culture that has started to take hold in Kenya. Following in the footsteps of major commercial successes such as MPESA – a mobile-phone banking application that now rivals Western Union – other Kenyan software developers are setting up shop in Nairobi, creating high-tech solutions for an African market that has long been ignored; universities and private companies are setting up labs and business incubators; and government officials are plotting strategies to transform Kenya into a high-tech hub for the continent.
I'd like to celebrate the progress being made, but we should also have a thought for those who will be left behind in the race to the top, to modernity.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Modern Face of Dairy

$170,000 for a 3-year old Jersey cow.  The "Winner-take-all" society expands its reach to the world of dairy.  And as a footnote, the owners used to farm a 900 acre farm in upstate New York.  Guess it was too small to survive. Hat Tip Northview Dairy, who recently visited NYC. (and didn't like it).

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fenceless Cattle?

Atlantic has a post on this:
"A relatively straightforward technological innovation -- GPS-equipped free-range cows that can be nudged back within virtual bounds by ear-mounted stimulus-delivery devices -- could profoundly reshape our relationships with domesticated animals, the landscape, and each other."
 As someone who remembers his time fixing fence, a springtime routine on a dairy farm, and the occasional adrenaline-filled times when one or more cows got through a fence and started roaming the neighborhood, the idea sounds good to me.  

Now that we have electronic chips which can connect to a human nervous system, the next step will be to implant such chips into cows so you don't have to go get the cows and bring them into the barn for milking.  (Sorry--I forgot dairies are feeding operations these days)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why Milk Prices Shouldn't Rise: Break the Law

Usually bureaucrats think the law is sacrosanct, it's what we do.  But the dirty reality is laws aren't self-executing; there's lots of provisions enacted into law which become a dead letter.  The price of milk in 2013 should be one of them.

Without a new farm bill, the provisions of old law come into effect. That means for milk the government is supposed to support the price at a level which means $8 a gallon.  But suppose USDA doesn't do so?  Theoretically some group, presumably milk co-ops, could haul out their lawyers and file suit in federal court to force USDA's hand.  My theory is, by the time the suit is written and filed, and DOJ works with OGC to come up with a reply, new law will have superseded the old law, and Congressional attorneys will have put in a provision which essentially nullifies the suit.  Net effect: consumers don't see a rise in milk prices.

[Update:  This is an example of why there are dead letter provisions: if the bureaucracy doesn't act on its own to implement a provision of law, there needs to be someone who can take USDA to court and/or with enough PR clout to raise a stink about it.  In many cases there's neither.]