Plugin by Social Author Bio



Dairy farming is not what it used to be.  DUH. The only way to get paid for your milk is to provide it to people who want it in the way that they want it.  We are so convinced of this at “Specialty Milk Equals Money Everyday” looked at processors and consumers and the products that they want and will pay for. Successfully reaching this evolving market might require that as dairy producers, you have to change your mind about some aspects of getting the milk that you produce to the marketplace. Having said that, you may read this and rank yourself with those who are convinced that there is no need for you personally to change. Even faced with the incontrovertible facts of today’s overproducing, underpaying, profit losing dairy industry, we say, “I’m not changing.  My mind is made up!”

To date, your view of the world has provided you with a certain amount of dairy-producing success! In the past, there have been times when your view of the world was very different from the actual world, and you held firm to your course and made it through. You are crossing your fingers that holding on this time will work again.  However, past and present are no longer in step with success.  “The past foretells the future” only works when there is money in the bank, healthy animals on the farm and an ability to ignore all signs of desperation and disregard for the agitated voices at the farm gate who are calling to you to listen to them!

Choosing Friends Over Facts

Regardless of what side of the farm gate you identify with, we dairy farmers, like the dairy animals in our pastures are herd animals. We are happiest in a non-threatening and bonding environment. We do not want to be cast out or separated from the herd. Where the herd goes, we go.  If the herd says, “farmers are producing unhealthy products”.  We agree.  If the herd says, “The government will save our farms because we are an iconic part of our country’s history.” We sit.  And wait. We don’t believe these statements because they are correct.  We believe them because doing so makes us part of the group and we want to look good to that group. The statements are factually false, but socially accurate. When having to choose between the two, we often select friends and family over facts.

Friend Or Foe.  Who Do You Know? Whose Side Are You On?

There are so many truths in the food industry.  Milk is bad. (Lactose intolerance is real.) Farm factories are bad.  Small farms are good.  (Dairy intolerance is growing.) Pet owners love cows.  Dairy farmers mistreat cows. (Dairy farmer mistrust is on the rise.) While seeking, truth, we all strive to be on the blameless higher ground and, at the same time, to be connected with like-minded friends.  However, when opposing alignments regarding issues of health and family are affected, our openness becomes inflexible, and we dig into our protectionist position.

People who align themselves against what they call factory farms or what they see as animal mistreatment or what they perceive as destructive environmental practices, do so because they feel it keeps them belonging to their chosen group. 

The best way to change their mind is to sit down at a meal together.  Something about handing bowls of food around or even asking a stranger to pass the milk pitcher draws us closer than the usual divisive influences of where we live, how we speak, and what we wear.

Repetition Is The Law

The number of people who believe an idea is directly proportional to the number of times it has been repeated during the last year—even if the idea is false. For this reason, we need to learn not to keep attacking every piece of misinformation or unsupported fear-mongering. In frenemy situations, time is better spent championing good ideas than tearing down bad ones. There is no point in endlessly explaining why bad ideas are bad.  You are merely flamming the flame.  Feed the good ideas and let the bad ideas die of starvation.

“I Can’t Let These Idiots Get Away with This”

If the goal is actually to change minds, then I don’t believe criticizing the other side is the best approach. Like it or not, we are the voice of dairy farming.  Is it confrontational?  Is it huffily arrogant? Are we running for cover?? Must we win at all costs? OR. Are we as producers willing to not win in order to keep the conversation going? It isn’t simply in social settings.  The conversations need to open up with processors too. And with nutritionists and veterinarians.  In fact, with everyone we work with in the line from dairy stable to table

“I Want What You’ve Got!”

With so many hands lining up at the farm gate, we may perceive that we all have different interest. As stated, these competing interests involve feed suppliers, nutritionists, and veterinarians, to name a few. Even dairy associations join the us versus them, national versus state or provincial, battles.  We get so wrapped up in gaining an advantage that both parties lose focus and fail to provide the needed services that make the dairy industry relevant in the modern marketplace. In-fighting over shares of the pie is irrelevant if nobody in the marketplace wants the pie. 

Who’s Your Frenemy Today?

As the industry is challenged, organizational factors create new bands of frenemies around leadership, management and even core values.  Furthermore, something as simple as scarcity of resources can trigger new alignments and new conflicts.  A better solution would be to work together to find a replacement product or to prioritize the areas with the most urgent need.

In Dairy Wars There Are No Winners

It is ironic that a quick look at potential conflicts within the dairy industry can be quite extensive:

  • Breeds vs Milk Recording
  • Milk Recording vs Cloud Software
  • Scientists vs Breeder Cow Knowledge
  • Traditional dairy bull breeders vs AI
  • Small vs Large Dairy Farms
  • Nutritionists vs Vets
  • Show Breeders vs Production Breeders
  • Animal rights vs Dairy Farm animal management

We are so caught up in winning that we forget about connecting.  It’s easy to spend energy, labelling people rather than working with them. Our inter-industry fighting distracts from the biggest threat to the entire industry, which is out there and growing exponentially:

Milk vs Milk Alternatives

Is Milk A Healthy Diet Friend Or A Dangerous Health Enemy?

This is the core question that the dairy industry needs to address.  Articles such as the one by NBC News Health Editor, Madelyn Fernstrom, (July 26, 2018) “Is milk really good for you? “is a good starting point for fact-based discussions of the issues surrounding milk as a nutritious food source.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The very fact that we are producing a food product means that we directly impact the personal health, family health and social lives of our customers. We don’t want to win a conversation. We don’t want them to change their minds about liking farmers or disliking modern farming.  We want consumers to enjoy delicious healthy food. We need to establish trust. If we can manage to be kind first and be right later, we can make good progress at turning frenemies at the farm gate into friends in the food aisle.




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.





ROBOTS are READY…. Not Too Big. Not Too Small. Just Right.

“We farmed before the invention of electricity, tractors and silos and never dreamed that a time would come where we could be watching live weather forecasting, while we worked the farm fields in air-conditioned comfort.” My father, George Heatherington, 1999.

This opening quote may not include the modern technology that you now take for granted, but the point is that not so long ago, automation had not yet made it to the farm. However, as each new invention came along, it prompted new ways of working.  Then, as a result, specialization of animal genetics and crop production started to evolve. The chain from farm gate to consumer also expanded. It quickly grew to include refrigerated transportation, advanced processing plants, focused milk marketing and giant retail grocery chains.  Even as this was happening, those moving off the farm began to romanticize, “the way it was.”.

“Big or Small … Food Production is the Goal”

Everyone chimes in on what size farms should be.  Sometimes it is a contentious issue. Having even a distant connection to the farm tends to make us want the small, gentle and familiar ways to remain.  But that is unrealistic. The only real goal is that there must be enough healthy food for the consumer. The UN estimates that the world population will rise to 9.7 billion in the next thirty years.  Old ways aren’t fast enough, big enough or safe enough to meet those needs. One of the noticeable differences is that we are going to lose the heritage farm scenes that fed small numbers. But that doesn’t mean that modern farmers are going to stop putting generations of homespun passion into dairy production.  The systems must change. Evolving with the times has always been part of dairy farming history, but human farmers and dairy cattle are still the driving forces behind milk production even as it responds to the necessity of going high tech.

“Here Come the Robots!”

Technology is in our cars, our schools and our churches. In our lifetimes, everyone reading this article has witnessed science fiction technology move from books and movies and into our everyday life.  Robots in the house clean carpets and floors and manage heat, lights and appliances. We have smartphones in our hands wherever we go. Robots are on the farm, increasing production yields. Drones are overhead.  Tractors are managed by remote control.  Robotic arms are in the milking parlor.  Innovative applications are being created and are quickly evolving as new ideas propel new inventions, and the old ones become obsolete.

“It’s Your Turn. Turn to Robots.  Turn A Profit”.

Using economies of scale, large dairy farms are turning to robots. In 2017 Whitney Davis writing for Dairy Business News wrote, “At present, there are approximately 40 herds of over 500 cows or more in North America now using robots.” Just one year later Doug Reinemann reported in Wisconsin Farmer that “the latest statistics indicate that a total of more than 200 dairy farms in Wisconsin and Minnesota and more than 300 in the United States, and upwards of 500 in Canada are equipped with robot milking units.” This is exciting news, and from my des, I found myself asking the question, “Faced with closing their doors, what is stopping the smaller dairy herd from using robots?” The answer is a game changer.  First, answer money.  And if you don’t have it in your current milk situation, how could you even think of going to robots?  Many desk-dream ideas come to mind. Milk fewer cows. Get higher production.  Convince financial and herd consultants to find the most profitable way to introduce robots to your herd. Robots are leading the way to the future.  Financial support, rules and regulations and all the details that make this change feel like running-in-cement, make it not feasible for the dairy farm that is already bogged down.

Larry Tranel at IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY Extension and Outreach is a great resource for up-to-date information on Milking Robots.  There you can expand on the following points.

What’s UP with Robots?

  • Reliability, consistency and efficiency.
  • Volumes of herd management and analysis information (100 measurements/milking).
  • Cows eat more meals.
  • Higher production per cow (from 10% to 30%).
  • Pregnancy Rates go up.
  • Milk quality payments go up because of reduced Somatic Cell Count.
  • Cow longevity increases.
  • Return on Investment.
  • Cows thrive on consistency and predictability.

What’s Down with Robots?

  • Total Milking Labour – 75% decrease.
  • Hours spent on Heat Detection – 70% decrease.
  • Hiring, training, and overseeing employees – decreased 37 minutes per day.
  • Labour savings valued at $44,030 per year.
  • Lameness is decreased.
  • Cows are down …. They are resting more.
  • Less Illness.

Adding up all these positives that are potentially available, it is more than worth the effort to find the way to make robotic milking possible.  No robot can find the most workable solution for your situation.  But you can. Everyone on the dairy team has to be open to all “what if” scenarios.  Of course, turning to robots involves risk.  And yes, doing nothing is definite.  Definite failure.

“Change the Dairy Tale”

Everyone loves a good story.  Dairy farmers often regale friends and family with their passion for the dairy lifestyle.  Lifestyle is great, but it costs money.  And then there’s the other side of the story. Too often, dairy consumers are telling the tale about factory farms taking over America’s pastured past.  In 2019 we need to move beyond Old McDonald’s farm.  Today’s fairy tale is more relatable to those ones where the wolf is at the door. We need to think of the clever turnabout where Red Riding Robot saves the day!  Wouldn’t it be ironic if all the technology that got us to this dangerous precipice turns from villain to hero by saving the dairy industry?  It isn’t technology that is to blame for where we are.  It is whether we use it effectively or not. A story won’t make or break your dairy operation.  The story of what you do will. Kids in our public schools are making APPS.  Some are constructing 3D printers.  If children can rewrite the story.  So can dairy farmers.  Not too big.  Not too small.  Just right.

“Don’t Fight Change. Fight for the Future”

So you’re not a factory farm.  You don’t milk 500 cows.  What is your niche? You need one.  Whatever you do best, you need to make that your place in the dairy industry. Can you and a neighbour join forces the way corporations do to make your dairy production viable?  By harnessing the strengths of two smaller but convenient (to each other) operations, perhaps you can produce more efficiently to a specific demand of your local processor or local consumers, as Bullvine author Murray Hunt wrote in, “Specialty Milk EQUALS Money Everyday”.

“Robots Beyond the Farm Gate”

While we are growing accustomed to robots working beside us on the farm, we need to encourage the same creativity and invention beyond the farm gate. For instance, warehousing and shipping are two places that also need to evolve. Most often, these areas trend toward larger is better.  We need to creatively seek ways to ship our dairy products in more specialized and smaller, faster more accessible ways.  Small shipments could mean more specialization and also that dairy aisles don’t have those empty shelves that are part of the empty pockets of milk producers at the front lines of milk production.  We are not being loud enough in demanding research that improves the ways we get our product to our customers. Huge savings in manpower are needed in the processing and delivery of milk products.  If dairy farms are robot ready and the linking dairy service industries are not, it is literally counterproductive for everybody.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is always the option of doing things the way they have always been done.  Unfortunately, profits aren’t showing up with that same repetitive frequency.  It’s time for dairy producers to open their gates, minds and dairies to change. Whether it’s mechanization or clever partnerships with neighbours, or creative financing or robotics, those who understand and want to remain in the modern dairy economy must eagerly find workable solutions to labour and production issues.  Regardless of size, those dairies who are ready to change and evolve are the dairies that will remain and prosper.




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.





Is it Time to Quit Dairy Farming?

You make entirely different decisions, once you have answered the question posed in the title of this article. Have you failed or are you simply frozen in indecision? Are you facing bankruptcy, or is there a chance for recovery?  Have you nowhere to turn and nothing you can do?  Are you in the race? Or have you been eliminated?

“It’s only a matter of time before there’s nothing left.” 

With heart pounding certainty never before have dairy owners faced so many years of devastating downturns. Caught in the crosshairs of an economic and political climate that could continue indefinitely, even the most persistent are finding it difficult to find ways to keep their farm solvent. There are major debt loads. Personal guarantees are due. Family members and even young children are being negatively affected as they see that their family’s hopes and dreams disappearing. There are many who, finding themselves in this situation, would throw their hands up in despair. 

“Postpone The Pity Party”

I say this with no intention of minimizing the seriousness of the situation your farm is in. -I am not mocking it either. It is almost a given that rejection, failure and unfairness are a part of today’s dairy business life.  For years, one crisis after another has not only chipped away at producer income it has chipped away at producer confidence.  We can’t change what we have no control over, but we can control how we react to it.  No matter how tough or unjust the circumstances, there is always some positive forward action to be taken.

“Who Are You Going to Call?”

When self-esteem is at an all-time low, no one feels like making any call and talking about it their troubles.  So do it anyway. You have nothing left to lose. Make those hard calls.  Talk to creditors, bankers, family and counsellors. When you are down and feeling desperate, you need to look for that needle in a haystack piece of information that could make a difference. Suffering in silence is just as demeaning as blaming everyone and everything else. There is absolutely no room to continue with the romantic notion that dairy farming is going to magically right itself in time to save you, small dairies, your county or, depending on where you live, your country. The dairy industry is big business. If that is something you can accept as part of your dairy reality, then there are a few more things you can consider, when attempting to change the downward slide.

“Talk to the Leading Edge Not the Bleeding Edge”

Fifty years before you started farming, what did dairy farming look like?  How has your dairy changed during your tenure?  Are you expecting or hoping that change will stop now?

For a moment, ask yourself where the industry is currently succeeding.  What size is the most successful?  What size is unsuccessful? What business decisions are producing profits? What three things distinguish leading edge dairies from those who are bleeding money? Seek out ways to meet with, connect with or, at the very least, read about those who are rising to the top. Get the details on cash flow, mechanization, using new technology, nutrition and genetics and robotics. Are any of these relevant to your family dairy situation?

“Talk to the Family On the Front Line”

Having an open discussion with family members about the severity of the situation is probably the hardest conversation you will ever initiate.  As much as we would like to spare loved ones or protect them from stress and worry, this isn’t a decision from which they can be excluded. You may even be surprised at how aware everyone is.  Do your best to provide a clear explanation, providing numbers and dates and other relevant information that is true right now.  Don’t cite the past.  Don’t fear the future.  By stepping outside your comfort zone, show those you love that the best way to conquer fear is to face it head-on.  Allow them the time to ask questions, show fear and lay blame.  When everyone is on the same page, you will have an idea of what the next priorities should be.

  • Keep running the business. If you do decide to sell, don’t showcase that you have quit.
  • Get your paperwork in order. In one place.   Do it now!
  • Get rid of everything that isn’t working. These things not only slow you down, but they also bring you to a complete stop. Think broken equipment. Or it could be cows with more sentimental value than production value. Sick animals that are taking your time away from your priority producers.
  • Don’t spend money on new field equipment or on maintaining and repairing your own. Work with a custom operator to evaluate what can be sold and how your land and crops can be part of a business arrangement. Focus on efficiency. Crops or milk? What are you better at? Producing crops or managing cows?
  • If you decide to focus on your milk-producing cows, get the most from the best and sell the rest.

Once you give this area your focus, you will find more ways to put your money where the money is!

“Money Talks!”

Money is the beginning of your recovery. Talk to everyone who is on your money list

  • Those who want your money.
  • Those who have money.
  • Those who owe you money.

If possible, call together your lenders.  Have the same honesty and transparency with them that you and your family have gone through.  Don’t stop at the status quo.  Come up with at least one alternative.  Every person or business with a hand reaching into your pockets would also have the willingness to provide advice, information or even capital based on what they have learned from their connections to dairy businesses today. The goal is to seek a win-win for all parties.  Of course, in any new restructuring of the business relationship, there are risks.  The reward is to come up with strategic decisions that make the future viable.

“But Can You Bank on It?”  

Many dairies are well beyond a simple cash crunch.  Realistically more credit is not the answer for either side.  Have discussions about what options there are before foreclosure.

Financial businesses have issues with profitability too. They can’t simply cut off clients. Work with them from the idea that nobody wins when a dairy must close.  Be open and honest. Don’t simply fold. Discuss which is worse — write off or write down or is there a workable plan that can be put in place.  It goes without saying that those who owe you money must pay up. Now.

“Givers. Takers.  What Do Your Suppliers Do Best?”

Take a hard look at those people, companies and teams that you do business with.  If they submit invoices to your dairy, can you equate that expense with the value added that they provide? Suppliers are part of your team, and this is a time to expect more from everyone on that team.  Once again, off-farm businesses like these suppliers could offer a different perspective on your situation that might be helpful. You recognize that you can’t stand still.  It is time for all your health, nutritionists, equipment and feed suppliers to step up too!  Expand your discussions.  Nutritionists may have a business idea.  Veterinarians may suggest different animal housing management. Expect more or part ways. Ending one of these relationships may seem har, but how committed are they to your success?  What role do they play, or want to play, or should they play in your future?

“All I Ever Wanted….”

Facing your dairy crisis will make you repeat this mantra often, “All ever wanted to do was to milk cows!” Today you are milking all right, but you are about to lose it all if you don’t change something? Are you frozen and unable to do anything because of things you will not do?

In other businesses who (like small agriculture) have been squeezed out by economies of scale, it is common for the management and staff to be hired by the new ownership team.  However, in dairy, this type of takeover has been deemed distasteful and gets rejected for not being a viable solution. Before walking away, ask yourself where you will find the best place to use the skills you have spent your working life developing.  Can you afford to be unemployed? Where can you cash in on the abilities you already have? You are your own best asset.

“Seller Beware! Buyer Be Informed”

If you come to the decision to sell, don’t let the decision break the spirit that has brought you this far.  Your mental and physical well-being stands well above everything else you face.

You have come to where you are by doing your best. The optimism of dairy farmers is part of your character, but there comes a time when enough is enough.  In facing accountability, there is much that has been beyond your control.

  • Dairy market turmoil
  • Natural disasters
  • Sustained low commodity prices
  • Droughts.
  • Seasons (such as the current one0 where the planting window may close entirely
  • Unrelenting mental stresses leading to depression and health issues
  • Political talk is cheap. Political help isn’t enough.
  • The Opioid crisis.

You alone cannot turn any one of these around. Nor should you try.

At this point, your best step forward may be to take a step back and decide to take care of yourself. You are worth it.  You are needed for who you are as a person, not only as a dairy farmer.  Seek advice. Get spiritual support. Do what is best for your good health.


Regardless of where you are, focus on today.  Focus on what you can START.  Start something new.  Start a new change. START OVER.  Remember how many times you have heard, “Life isn’t a sprint. It is a marathon.” We can look at dairy and say, “Dairy isn’t a mad dash.  It is a long distance relay.” Love your team.  Love yourself!




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.





Everybody’s Kicking The Milk Bucket

There is a growing urban-rural divide. Somehow being a dairy farmer —in the public eye — is much harder than we thought.  From the public side, the reported news, alleged abuse and videos are the information sources that are galvanizing activists and inciting angry mobs.

THERE IS A NEW URBAN PASTIME- It’s called, ‘Finding Fault with Farmers’
THERE IS A NEW RURAL PASTIME-  It’s called, ‘Finding Fault with the Consumer.’

Did you ever notice how everyone has a family roots story about their loved farming grandparents from long ago?  But somehow today having smelly noisy animals next door and equipment running while you are enjoying sitting outside in your yard … is annoying.

Did you ever notice what saints farmers are when they are hauling something for the school, or church or sports team …but, as a group, those same appreciative people feel farmers are trying to rip them off with their farm practices – pesticides — and rising prices in the grocery aisle?

Every one of us is a saint in isolation. However, when our particular group, urban or rural, gets targeted in the news, that’s when our real weaknesses, flaws and shortcomings are exposed. Of course, we in agriculture have no reason to find fault with those who consume the food we produce. Because if we did, we would by guilty of the pot calling the kettle black.  Blanket assertions that all consumers are misinformed is offensive too.  Both sides share responsibility and accountability for actions taken.


When we look at the day to day exchange between dairy producers and dairy consumers, we seem to be offering fresh milk, cheese, butter and dairy products to a more and more alarmed consumer. The days are gone when people were more hands-on in their own food preparation and trusted those who were in the business of growing the products they needed.  Consumers back then recognized that no one farm could do it all. 

Today, from the business side of dairying, it is easy to resort to a broad scale negative branding of all consumers.  The condescending observation that “Consumers don’t produce anything but criticism.” ignores the positive impact resulting from push back from the consumer. These advancements include banned tail docking, new dehorning protocols and strict regulation of antibiotics and change for the better that have happened in part because of pressure from activists and/or consumer demand.


Shocking daily headlines bombard the consumer with a growing list of offences from food waste, to hunger and include video evidence of inhumane livestock conditions. As a result, farmers are compiling a growing list of offences committed against them. These now include verbal harassment, trespassing, intimidation and even death threats.

Does spending money automatically give the non-producing consumer the right to criticize producers? Certainly!  However, from the rural side of the fence, constructive criticism appears to be turning into bullying power.


It is easy to become cynical and decide that the consumer’s opinion of farmers is irrevocably damaged. “People don’t believe what farmers tell them.” because “farmers benefit from doing it wrong!” Consumers always seem to believe what is shown to them on video news, especially when it declares that agriculture has been caught in the act. It is easier to believe news even when it comes from what a friend of a friend reports as real, then to let their own reasoning ask the second question, “What is the big picture here?  What is at the root of the problem? Who stands to gain from this situation?”  

On the positive side, real conversations and opportunities for actual on-farm experiences are helping consumers make sense of the science of food production.  Will this do anything to dispel the urban legends about farming that are so easily recited?

For example, mention methane and somebody will inform you that cows are the problem.  In fact, when it comes to livestock, cows are the primary methane offenders. Each animal releases 30 to 50 gallons a day on average.  But cows are not the main offenders in methane production.  Most methane emissions come, directly or indirectly from humans.

  1. Decay in landfills.
  2. From plastic bags that when heated by sunlight or soaked in seawater emit methane.
  3. Leakage from the oil and gas industry (1/3 of all methane emissions).


When I was growing up, there was a common proverb, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.”. The idea is that by remaining ignorant or uninformed about something, it allows you not to have the sense of responsibility to worry or think about it. 

Imagine overhearing this conversation; “How much did your dairy lose last month? Or “Did your milk processor raise their prices this month?” Or “Is producing milk harmful to animals or people?” What about “Can consumers afford to drink milk?”  “Are the stories about animal abuse real or faked?”  If the answers are always a version of “Don’t even ask – what you don’t know won’t hurt you!”, then it is time to move beyond being uninformed.  Whether it is in the grocery aisle or the milking parlor, what you don’t know can and will hurt you!


There are those who feel strongly that dairy publications should refuse to produce, share or report the negative news such as the horrendous video shared on social media and alleging that animal abuse was carried out at Fair Oaks Farm in Indiana. The reasoning is that news reports such as this are so extreme and incendiary that they destroy any hope for maintaining the credibility of dairy food producers. Having said that, I believe anyone contributing to cruelty – animal or human –should be prosecuted. When does seeking justice cross the line to seeking vengeance?


Because these “groundbreaking investigations” by such groups as Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) are only shared on social media, how do they represent justice? Is the ending of abuse to animals really the goal?  The headlines shout of farm owner deception driven by profit-seeking.  Who profits when sensational videos convince consumers to give up animal products?


Reality says that we need dairy producers to produce and consumers to consume. Jumping on the bandwagon of criticism isn’t working for anybody. On the one side, there is the urban bus rolling by the fields and passengers pronouncing indignantly against what they can only partially see.  From field level, the farmer managing machines, milking cows and raising calves knows that it isn’t as simple as it looks from a drive-by viewing.

It is easy to find fault.  It is hard to provide food. Today Canadian farmers feed 120 and supply products to 150 other countries.  US farmers feed 155. Food production has big needs.  Food production cannot be met using past measurements and romanticized visions of family farms. Will consumers ever understand the enormity of that problem, or will they continue to turn their support toward sensational headlines and away from the food producers?


We pay lip service to the idea of dialogue. If we, as farmers, don’t allow consumer dialogue are we guilty of assuming that all our current practices are above reproach and need no alteration? This is an unrealistic conclusion, no matter what business you are in. There is always room for improvement. This leads us to the question, “If consumers don’t trust farmers who will they trust to provide them with food?”

Is food provision the only problem farming causes?

Having raised that question around the family table the other day, a non-farming relative asked, “How much carbon does a farm return to the environment? Shouldn’t farmers get a carbon rebate, if the rest of us are paying a carbon tax?  Another time, a frustrated farmer at a social event stopped a conversation cold with the observation, “If we can’t do anything right, why have farmers at all?” We need conversations.  We need answers.   We need farmers.


It is often hard for those digging themselves into a rut to dig themselves out. First, we have to recognize the fruitlessness of some of our actions. What is the point in resorting to what is negative, when there is no balancing appreciation for the ultimate goal, which is to produce healthy food? Both sides can agree on that.

Healthy food production needs an inspection of soil, crops, water, pests, waste management, harvest and storage methods, energy, labor and sales supervision.  Oversight by governments, federal and local, needs to be relevant, responsible and accountable.  Having said that, we cannot legislate our way to a healthier greener food system. 


Farmers and consumers need to recognize their need for one another.  Open communication is not about embarrassing each other.  It is about empowerment. Of both sides.




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Are Dairy Boards ‘Closed’ to Women?

Dairy farming is not a career for the faint of heart.  Whether your focus is on the cows in the barn or delivering products or services to those who work with cows in the barn, you face many challenges.  If, in addition, you are female, you also face being sidelined or ignored when it comes to leading boards of directors or being selected to join those making decisions for the dairy industry. In agriculture, we like to see ourselves as immune to the faults of Fortune 500 businesses. However, when it comes to combating gender stereotypes and championing the cause of women in leadership, dairy has its problems with putting ladies on the ladder to success and welcoming them to the board room table


In 2019 there are still far fewer female dairy farm owners than men.  Most veterinary, financial, suppliers and dairy support businesses reflect this same inequity of gender in their managers and leaders.  Not only do ag women earn less on average than ag men, but there is also an added economic punishment for being the only sex that can bear children. This is not new. Woman multi-task and we do it well.  What is new is that woman are asking to be recognized for their abilities not punished for their gender differences. Women want their leadership voices to be heard.

Dairywomen take ourselves seriously, and it is time that our industry did that as well.  We are professional, efficient and effective in the dairy world. Let’s be recognized for that.  We know how to mentor and be mentored by those who are successful. Oh – and when we do represent our business in the public eye let’s find a way to brand ourselves – not as company men in pants and shirts – but in professional attire that is appropriate to the work being presented. Too often, the company dress code requires women to look – uncomfortably — like men. Company colors, yes!  Company clones no!  Celebrate the uniqueness that makes a difference to success!


The mothers who raised farm daughters in the past emulated their mothers and added their experience to the teaching.  We all have stories of female farmers who handled the bookwork for the family-run businesses.  Their meticulous records of inventory, purchasing, banking and employees were a model of management for any successful business. Learning from their office style desk was a good start for career management. Women learned their passion for dairying in the barn, in the fields and in the office.  When it came to careers, the expectation was to continue to take a role in making effective changes wherever they were needed.

Universities report rising numbers of women in agricultural courses.  In some, women outnumber the male students.  This is encouraging when there are many problems facing all sectors of the agricultural industry. Economics, animal genetics, political and human sciences and technology need to have strong leadership if dairy is to be relevant in the future.

However, when it comes to the business world and companies that lead the way in agriculture, the gap is once more a wide one between the genders.

So, what options do today’s dairy girls have? Do they ‘man up’ and become ‘one of the boys’ in the background or accepting lower levels of decision making or do they turn their years of experience on the farm and their passion for dairying into an ownership and management career?



Where is a woman’s place?  Why are there boundaries?  We spend much time applauding women who step into managing the family farm, but recently the question has turned to “Why are there so few women in the boardroom?” of dairy associations, boards and councils?

Unfortunately, we live in a world where having just one woman on the board or senior management team of an ag company is seen as “progress”.  Sadly, it is also true that some companies have yet to appoint even one woman to their board.  Statistically, we know that for every 100 men promoted to manager positions, only 77 women are promoted and that women are more likely to take a top spot in a revolving door capacity, filling positions previously held by a woman. Is this happening in the business you work with and support?  Issues such as compensation and placement in the boardroom still have some way to go before equality is reached. Does it happen on your dairy board or farm-related business?


  1. Women are not embarrassed to be females in agriculture. They’re empowered.
  2. They don’t see their position as a women’s position but as a dairy position.
  3. No matter where their dairy job takes them, they always study to learn how to do it efficiently, effectively and economically.
  4. Flex time is prioritized according to the goals of the organization.
  5. They care more about leading than about being liked.

You probably have all kinds of questions arising from these five statements.  Of course, any one of them could be a source of conflict.  The team that is involved can make an enormous difference in the ability of both men and women to succeed. The entire team has to buy into finding solutions. The dairy industry is facing challenges on all sides and maintaining a viable dairy or service company is becoming more and more difficult. It is a huge learning curve for everyone – male or female – who is motivated by a desire to do what is best for dairy.

Woman face a double-edged sword. Being a woman in a male-dominated environment offers an effortless point of difference.  Woman and men are not exactly the same. We can be fearless.  We can charge on. Or we can be left alone in the spotlight that seeks out and highlights every weakness and blames it on gender.


Perhaps, like me, you have been encouraged by the progress women are making in all aspects of the dairy business? As an industry, we are recognizing that we can’t afford to overlook half of the people that could be involved on the basis of gender alone.  We love stories of women having success in turning things around.  That is all good.  However, these are not the easiest of times to take a leadership role in managing a dairy or a dairy business.  What if things not only don’t change but what if they fail entirely?  Reasoning says that either outcome is possible in today’s problem-ridden climate.  However, there is a new term that is being used when this happens to a woman. It is called the Glass Cliff.

The metaphor of the glass cliff evokes the idea of women who have risen higher are now in a precarious position.  They are teetering on the edge, and their fall might be imminent. It has been suggested that women are being set up to fail. They earn leadership positions at the time when conditions are at there worst. Are they victorious, or will they be victims? When they fail is the too often voiced opinion for the outcome, “Women can’t lead.”


We are always more comfortable when we feel we are in the right place at the right time and doing the right job. Such serenity is hard to come by in this age of instant pictures, news and studies that have the purpose of moving us to an uncomfortable place where we will buy, sell or change something and, in so doing, benefit the company that has raised our needy awareness. 

In the case of gender stereotyping, we are quick to recognize when it applies to our own gender. In my case, wife, mother, grandmother, being around men much of the time, I can’t help but question if they recognize their own stereotyping issues as well. 

Male Stereotypes:

  1. The Dad at Home
  2. The Dad at the Playground
  3. The Dad in the Kitchen.

I’m sure you can add more to this list if you think of those groups that have an unconscious bias against men. It shouldn’t be about gender, should it?

At the end of the day, it boils down to what we receive credit for.  We seek to please.  Sometimes I wonder why men get an “Atta Boy” for babysitting on the weekends. Old boy’s clubs are renowned for glad-handing and back-slapping when a project is successful. Why is that an exclusive club? It shouldn’t be about gender equality. It should be about ability.


We can’t say we have looked at gender stereotyping from all angles until we consider today’s technology.  A UN report has said that virtual assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant reinforce gender stereotypes by portraying women as “subservient”, by relying on female voices. As in anything, you can criticize until the cows come home, but what can you actually do about it?

Here are some practical strategies to talk about in your dairy workplace.

  1. Vary between ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ skills sets or attributes as needed on the Board.
  2. Focus on the positive elements of the Board goals instead of dwelling on the negative.
  3. Speak up about discriminatory selection or promotion practices
  4. Call for Board recruiting practices that actively encourage women to apply
  5. Support fellow women in leadership in the workplace.


We seem to be in a bit of a time warp. It is encouraging to see the steps that have put a million little cracks in Ag Leadership glass ceilings in the last 20 years. I’m grateful for women who run their own dairies, cooperatives, supply businesses and veterinary and health services.  My hope is that as the next generation of women can continue their dairy passions and have careers that will see them soar to unlimited possibilities. The doors are open.  To everyone.




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Hey Dairy Industry: Are We Making Progress or Are We Just Circling the Wagons?

In the first quarter of each new year, one of the highlights we enjoy is the opportunity to take part in seminars, conferences and annual meetings that focus on the future of our dairy industry.

Murray and I had the opportunity to attend NDHIA Conference where I knew we would get to meet committed dairy people from all sectors of the industry. Recently, Murray has also enjoyed speaking at several meetings, and The Bullvine and Milk House platforms are filled with lively discussions of what is good, bad and ugly about the future. Canadian Dairy Expo is another source of information and inspiration.

NDHIA Repeats the Mantra – Connect. Collaborate. Be Credible.

At the National Dairy Herd Improvement Association AGM, Jay Mattison caught everyone’s attention with an oft-repeated mantra:   Connect!  Collaborate!  Be Credible!

We circled back to those words several times in meetings, hallways and conversations.

Murray spoke on “Leadership and Vision” in Mission Valley, San Diego and reframed and reiterated points from a Canadian presentation, “Another speaker who works providing services to dairy farmers showed statistics and examples and then said, “It’s not what a service is intended for, it is the on-farm results that matter.” That makes perfect sense.  If our dairy future is to sustainable, it has to achieve improvement.

Are we dawdling or doing?

 The very word “improvement” is a difficult concept for us.  We think we need to achieve perfect results in order to improve the dairy industry.  But perfection is not the problem.  What we really need to change is how to make the move from thinking about the many actions we take, to actually producing those results by taking action.

Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.  For instance, treating all sick calves …doesn’t deal with what is causing the calves to be sick.  Likewise, spending the time needed to document and treat that struggling pen of low producing cows, while it may earn a checkmark on a daily to-do list, more time and money will be spent as that pen fills again. Again focusing on the low end steals time and attention away from multiplying the positive inputs of healthy animals. We all recognize repetitive stress.  It is the repetitive part that needs to be dealt with and, hopefully, removed.  

Can you list a recurring incident of management, environment or genetics that is causing this kind of problem in your herd? Margins are too narrow for dawdling.

From Recording Symptoms to Addressing Causes

Dairy success has to concentrate on moving away from dealing with treating the symptoms to addressing the causes. It makes no sense to restrict success to one scenario when there are many paths to dairy success.  

Three recognized options are

  1. Selling surplus animals or product
  2. Selling zero profit animals
  3. Outsourcing services
  4. Forming new partnerships that are a win-win-win for all sides
  5. Seek out agri-tourism that is based on skills that are already available. (tours; baking; seminars;)

Progress is about progression.  Logical forward growth. We have to move from symptoms to solutions. 

The UP and Down Trajectory.  Which are you following?

Regardless of where you fit in the big picture of North American Dairy farming, there is one thing we can all agree 100% upon.  Dairy Data needs to find a new upward trajectory.

However, this rising line can’t be drawn, if the data points are not recorded.  We can no longer wait for data points with too much time lapsing in between. Is the goal a single report of 100% or a continuous upward trajectory of improved results recorded in real daily working time?

If you want to predict where your dairy will end up, all you have to do is follow the curve of tiny gains and losses.  See how your daily choices compound down the line.

2020 Vision

Twelve months from now we will succeed or fail based on what steps we actually took based on our 2019 visioning. The dairy industry is changing – farm to farm, family to family, organization to organization … It’s not changing month to month but day to day. As meetings, reports, slides and statistics are highlighting reports of farm sales, severe depression, and regrettably rising numbers of mental and physical health issues. There is no single right way that will be effective. It could be that your dairy is trying to change – health, money productivity, relationships or all of them. Not all at once. Not 100%. One step at a time.

It’s Better to be Slow than to be Stopped

Accomplishing one extra task is a small feat on any given day. Repeating and adding to it on a daily basis adds up to a significant change when accumulated over a dairy year. Small changes don’t appear to make any, or enough difference until you cross a critical threshold and unlock a new level of performance.

In the early stages of change, you expect to make progress ina linear fashion, and it’s frustrating how ineffective changes seem to be during the first few days, week and even months.  It doesn’t feel like you are going anywhere.  But gradually you cross a critical threshold and unlock a new level of performance.  Improvement is achieved!

Unfortunately, the early temptation is to slip back into the crowd. There seems to be temporary security in numbers.  But change doesn’t wait to be put on our agenda.  Change can’t be bullied into moving at a pace that we find acceptable.

We become experts at managing the status quo.

Unfortunately, there are at least three things that go wrong when you stay stuck:

  1. Decisions take longer to make and are no long guided by reality. As your company grows you strive to have staff carry out increasingly specialized tasks, but, if they must run everything by you as they did in the past, it drags out decision-making and leads to missed opportunities that require swift action.
  2. Risk and investment are avoided, stifling growth. Your dairy is probably long past the new business stage. If you maintain the same cash-obsessed, risk-averse, reactive mindset that helped you get started, you probably won’t invest time and resources in dairy endeavours that will yield a return down the road.
  3. Innovation becomes impossible when you approach decision-making with a “this is the way we’ve always done it” attitude. When you don’t allow yourself or your staff to experiment with new ideas, your dairy stagnates, making it harder to keep up with the competition or to adapt to new dairy market challenges.

Change doesn’t wait to be put on our agenda.  Change can’t be bullied or managed into moving at a pace that we find acceptable.

Take Advantage of the Resources Around You

Whenever you’re in meeting rooms, there are tremendous to tap into to make dairy improvement happen in the real world of 2019.  It takes questioning, listening and a willingness to entertain new and different approaches. So much potential to be unlocked. Choose! Don’t snooze or you’ll lose. While science supports genetics, genomics and nutrition, ultimately success can only come through the day to day actions and choices made on each dairy operation. We can pare back.  We can eliminate.  But there inevitably comes a time when that is no longer possible. At some point, we have to increase the profitability.  Not higher numbers of cattle.  But more efficiently productive cattle.


It starts with understanding the changes that are needed, investing in them and, most important of all, taking action. The fields represented have been around for many years. What is needed is a synthesis of the best ideas, successful dairy farmers, scientists and associations figured out a long time ago … combined with the compelling discoveries being made recently. 

When you repeatedly solve problems by targeting maintenance of your current levels, you can only solve the problem caused by your current system. There is no forward progress.

We need to get all of the inputs – nutrition, genetics, feed, environment- pulling together in the same direction so that the outputs provide solutions.

Same Old. Same Old. Yeah BUT.

Many times we keep talking about the same scenarios: “If you lose 300$ on each calf, you raise – you are fighting a war with yourself.  Your decisions are your own worst enemy.  You have seen slide after slide showing the statistics. You have watched and listened as the current reality was spoken. If the current trajectory is maintained the end is approaching.

I wondered to myself, how many others were having my “yeah but” moment.  “Yeah what he or she says is true for some, BUT I am not in the group” because I don’t do genomics. I love the lifestyle. Or I just bought a ticket to win the lottery.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no end day when everything will return to the way it was once before.

There is no end day when we can stop working hard. 

The target isn’t about achieving a final end game. It is about initiating the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. 

From where I sit, DHIA President George Cudoc sums it up best.  I agree with his thinking that it isn’t the writers, the speakers, the slides, the awards and the statistics that make the difference.  Any one or all of these may give you a reason to be inspired or overwhelmed and decide to keep your own counsel.  It’s just words and information. There isn’t any impact until that information finds it’s way into the action plan of your workday.

Countless moderators, managers, mentors and dairy peers are encouraging everyone to take that information forward.  Use it.  Don’t keep circling the wagons.  Move forward.  Collect!  Collaborate. Be Incredible!




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Top 10 Editor’s Choice Articles of 2018

“Dairy changed in 2018! How did we deal with it?”

Happy New Year!  Traditionally The Bullvine enjoys an annual ritual of reviewing and sharing the Top Editor’s Choice articles.  It won’t be news to any dairy folks, that 2018 was unique.

Of course, the dialogue with readers of The Bullvine continues to be a highlight of our dairy activities.  However, 2018 stands out more for its difficulties, dangers and damages than for it’s delights. This is a watershed year.  Things aren’t going to get better.  We can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. That is the definition of insanity.  We will always celebrate this industry we are passionate about, but 2018 has taught us that now is the time to start DEALING with CHANGE. Thus our New Year’s Day pick of the TOP 10. Hope you enjoy this review.  Let’s discover what’s not working? What is working? What’s missing? What’s emerging.  We hope you will take a look to see if you are changing with the industry.

#10 Dairy Breeders – Stop the Insanity

Looking at 2018 let’s start with how we market ourselves?  Have we adapted to new sources? Or are we doing the same old things, while expecting different results?  Whose hands are dipping into dairy breeder’s profits. There are too many forks in the pie. It’s time to admit that there isn’t any money to waste being ineffective. Print is expensive inflexible, tough to track the effectiveness of and doesn’t attract breeders under 40. Marketers must adapt to change.  There are more dairy breeders on Facebook than read all the dairy print publications combines. Go where the market is going! If we’re going to make a difference, we have to start being the difference!

#9 NAFTA Trade Talks: Whose Glass Is Half Full?  Whose is Half Empty?

Another place where 2018 presented a large dose of reality came with the honest facts regarding the consumption of dairy products. While it would be more comfortable to consider only those things that happen to our product before it leaves the farm, reality says that we not only have to provide what the consumer wants but we need to consider the picture in our states and provinces and even beyond our borders. We all rally for our own side and our particular dairy interests.  But as one analyst said, “It’s fiendishly complicated.” When the final negotiations go into action, who will be toasting dairy success?  Who will be toast?

#8 Milk Battles: The Red, White and Blues Continues and Dairy Farmers’ Message to Donald Trump

Looking back at 2018, the dairy industry was never very far from making political headlines. That may be a good result if you are newspapers, magazines or political activists but dairy breeders and the dairy industry need to make profits.  Nobody wins if the dairy industry closes up shop. “Over production is the biggest threat to the dairy industry.” This isn’t fake news or a dramatic sound bite. “The current overproduction is a race to the bottom.” No business survives if it irresponsibly produces more than the market is prepared to consume. Success for US and Canadian dairy producers will come when progressive, dynamic producers support and lead the necessary changes to have milk supply match the demand. Producer-leaders will need to be visionary and able to bring groups with diverse positions to a mutual benefit.” We need to change our strategy before the consumer changes to the competition.

#7 STOP Limiting Dairy Progress- START Looking After Heifer Data

“Somewhere back in time the dairy farming industry decided that cows and their information was important but that dairy heifers were not important.” Extensive data for all dairy heifer traits and characteristics are needed from conception all the way to herd removal. The average female spends sixty months in a herd.  Data for twenty months or 33% of an animal’s lifetime, is being ignored. This can’t help but have an effect on animal longevity and productivity, but also on dairy profitability and longevity. Change is going to happen no matter how much we fight, protest or procrastinate but it’s our own fault if we choose to ignore decision making information.

#6 Dairy Cattle Genetics: Are We Breeding Cows for the Correct Environment?

Are today’s dairy genetics suited for heat, new bugs and grazing?  Eventually the decision will come down to economics.  Where can cows be expected to produce milk the most efficiently and the most economically?  What is the long-term viability of competing with climate change, land use and exponentially growing populations of people, bugs and diseases?  We cannot keep postponing the development of genetics that produce cows that can be productive on grazing systems and live in warmer and warmer climates. The time for effective breeding in the right location is now.

#5 The Future Value of Genomic Testing

Before the days of the information explosion through digital access, it may have seemed that there was time to think about trends and changes before they needed a “yes” or “no” answer on your particular dairy operation.  Those times are gone.  If you are still postponing decisions in 2019, your next planning session will be an exit strategy. In this article, The Bullvine looked at both sides of the decision to choose or reject Genomic Testing. If you plan to be here, genomic testing needs to be viewed as an investment rather than a cost.

#4 Dairy Love: Long-Term Plans or One Night Stands?

The Bullvine takes our role as information providers very seriously. We recognize that everyone has different breeding strategies, so we try to make the research and data accessible and actionable for our readers. We can’t be so focused on this particular moment in time that we don’t prepare for the future that is coming headlong down each dairy farm lane. This article draws on the depth of experience of Jack Britt, PhD, Professor and Associate Dean Emeritus from North Carolina State University. His vision is bold. “Dairy farmers in 2066 will meet the world’s need for essential nutrients by adopting technologies and practices that provide improved cow health and longevity, profitable dairy farms, and sustainable agriculture” says Britt.  Furthermore, “larger dairy farms will continue to make greater use of automation to reduce costs.  Improvements in genetic selection will lead to dairy cattle lines that re healthier, produce milk more efficiently, and are more disease and heat-resistant.” New market demands can’t be postponed.  Real world challenges mean real time changes in the way we manage.

The Top Three Editor’s Choices of 2018!

As you can see, questions kept coming at the dairy industry in 2018.  The most asked questions about responsibility, new consumer choices and new methods, inspired our 2018 selection of the top three editor’s choice articles.

#3 Bottom Line: Who is Responsible for this Mess?

We have often written about and criticized the blame game.  Sometimes it’s big government. Sometimes it’s big business.  Sometimes it’s big consumers and their influence on the industry.  In this article, we brought accepting responsibility right back to each dairy farm.  We faced up to the fact that successful dairies don’t make excuses, they make changes.  Furthermore, motivation starts at the top and it needs to be positively shared on both good days and bad.  Too often responsibility can become one side versus the other.  Whether you are management or staff, it is essential to recognize that there is nothing to be gained by falling into a pattern of blame and shame.  When everyone learns how to accept responsibility and is willing to be held accountable, the operation has found the two building blocks that are the foundation of a successful dairy.

#2 Should Farms Be Shipping 4.5% Fat Milk?

And so we come to the top two Editor’s Choice picks.  They aren’t about successes.  They aren’t about wins at shows or international trade deals.  They both come right down to day to day decision making.  Number two tells us that the future isn’t built on what if’s and pie-in-the-sky We must deal with changed consumers’ choices and a changing global marketplace. Producers need to think about the proportions of components in the milk they ship off-farm. “Forward-looking breeders will need to use sires that give high % fat improvement, minimal % protein improvement”.  In this often read and discussed article, charts and bull lists wrestle with the reality of a do-it-sooner-not-later breeding problem.

#1 Why is Inbreeding a Good Thing?

And so we come full circle. If we are going to “Stop the Insanity”, we need to be ready to change.  The changes we make need to be significant ones.  We took your feedback and input and looked at ways to implement breakthrough new approaches. This article challenged everyone. “Even though our industry has traditionally thought of inbreeding in negative terms – there are positives in using inbreeding to fix the desired genes in our dairy cattle. Inbreeding is a good thing if it is actively used as a tool “to eliminate the undesired gene and have only the desired gene in our cattle.”  If we are to survive into the future, this type of breeding change must go beyond a someday hoped for improvement to today’s necessity

The Bullvine Bottom Line – You are the Difference!

The very nature of working passionately in a 24/7 industry means that there will always be controversy, challenges and concerns. The silver lining for us at The Bullvine is that once again in 2018 our readers continued to debate with us and with each other…and then they implemented actions that will move, not just their own farms, but the entire dairy industry forward!  

We are so proud of you for facing each rising crisis and finding ways to turn them into an opportunity! The Bullvine wishes you and yours all the best in 2019. You don’t just make a difference … you are the difference!

Does Your Dairy Barn Have A Glass Ceiling?

Glass ceilings for women in business can be a sensitive topic.  That it is a topic at all is the biggest confirmation that gender bias exists. When I approached the idea of glass ceilings in the dairy barn, I had to be prepared to discern what is historical, what is 2018 trendy and what, if anything is true? The biggest problem, as I see it, is that in today’s instant social media world, Information is making headlines that may have little or nothing to do with real life situations. How many of the self-proclaimed authorities on women in agriculture have actual personal experience to back up their rants. How does gender bias limit dairy success? Who is responsible? Where does gender bias begin?

“What is Blatant Gender Bias? What is Unconscious Gender Bias?”

Blatant Gender Bias occurs when there is no attempt to be politically correct. Unconscious Gender Bias puts up many of the same hurdles, however it refers to the stereotypes, both negative and positive, that exist in our subconscious and affect our behavior, without us being fully aware of it.

Here are 4 examples:

  • Blatant: “Men should make all the decisions on the dairy farm.” Unconscious: “Farm women are better suited for desk work. Women are also good at looking after calves.”
  • Blatant: “Farming is a man’s world. Women haven’t got what it takes to handle cows.” Unconscious: “Dairy jobs have nothing to do with bias. They arise from safety issues.”
  • Blatant: “Women today are constantly shaking up the status quo. What’s next? Will they demand pink tractors and trucks?” Unconscious Bias: “The 24/7 nature of dairy decision making, is too dirty and too stressful for women.”
  • Blatant: “Women are not welcome in the rough world of dairy farming. I shouldn’t be forced to tone it down just because women are present.”             Unconscious Bias: “The hearty backslapping and banter that are normal among men on the farm are not suitable for women.”

“Dairy Wives Are Dairy Partners”

That phrase sounds empowering at face value. Furthermore, it’s fair to say that most 24/7 dairy managers, when asked if women can do the same jobs that men do would quickly answer, “Absolutely!” However, when I posed that question to my partner at The Bullvine his answer was. “Well, behind the scenes, the answer might be closer to, ‘No’.” I huffed, “Seriously? On any given day what jobs on a dairy farm can’t a woman do?” Then began the explanations. “I know where you’re coming from but you can’t change people overnight!” Apparently fifty years won’t change some people either. Please note that every time I typed farmer in this article, it had to be changed because it only referenced men!! It’s quite likely that stereotypes go both ways.

“Is the Dairy Door Closed to Women?”

When a new consultant, veterinarian or cold calling ag supplier comes to the door it’s not likely that you hear, “Hi. I’m here to speak to your wife.” When you ask “Why?” do they reply, “I’m looking to talk with the decision maker.” With the wife changed to husband and “Hello” to “Goodbye” this is a regular door-closing experience at some stuck-in-the- past dairy business exchanges. Phone calling is even worse? When I try to answer problems, I am often not even trusted to deliver a message.  Questioners that don’t recognize teamwork, partnerships or, at the very least, gatekeepers don’t get the opportunity to join the team, make a sale or share a business relationship. 

“It’s Time for a Gender Reality Check”

Having a good working staff is key to dairy profitability. In actual fact, gender doesn’t influence the ability to do good work.  Three people doing the same job may have distinctly different outcomes. Not all of them will share the same level of success. This could be due to training, work ethic, decision-making or time management. It’s the input that determines success.  Bad outcomes and poor decisions can happen, regardless of gender.

“Does Gender Progress Mean Makeover Or Takeover?”

It’s undeniable that the size, management and future viability of North American dairy farms is being challenged and many may not make a successful transition into the future.  To do so will require that we keep open minds when it comes to technology, genetics, nutrition and, yes, leadership.  There isn’t any room for fear of change based on stereotypical male-female roles. A look at progressive and thriving dairy operations is a clear way to observe that university graduates are still passionate about farming and still coming home after their exposure to modern farm education.  From where I sit right now, the dairy operation next door is growing and thriving under the management of one of the sisters. What was once an unusual choice, is easily recognized as the one that works. Next generation farming can’t afford to bypass 50% of the farm-raised gene pool. Our biases need a makeover to recognize that it’s more important that farmers are focused on the challenging and engaging nature of the work.  Dedication to production will take any dairy much further than passive-aggressive gender discrimination can.

“Male-Female Progress Also Needs Technology-Automation Progress”

If we are talking about biases we can’t ignore the public bias against larger farms, dairy technology and 21st century animal breeding practices. Once again, the shrinking demographic of farmers is being affected by the biases of a consuming public that is two or more generations from an actual connection to the farm.  It seems ironic that the farmers who are idolized in historical reference and romantic family memories are the same ones who are vilified for working to provide food. The contradiction of wanting to avoid “large” and at the same time “provide enough” is not seen as the challenge it really is. Being met with consumers who doubt and challenge can be crushing and it too rises from biases.  The farmer doesn’t “take a husband” in the nursery rhymes and Old Macdonald didn’t have robotic milkers.

“What Does Gender Equality Look Like?”

Nothing is either black or white.  There is no prescription for dairying that makes decision-making clear cut.  It doesn’t only change from year to year it changes on a daily basis. Having said that, there are many out-of-date discriminatory practices that are holding farm success back. How many of these questions get a “Yes!” on your progressive dairy operation?

  1. Are women in the family expected to do work for free doing what would be a paid position for a hired man?
  2. Is there quid pro quo? If there is a crisis in the daycare side of the dairy, does the husband pitch in indoors?
  3. If there are free tickets to a seminar, symposium or training session, is it always the man who goes?
    For many families in the dairy business, it is not simply finances and cattle rearing at stake.  It is the livelihood and legacy of the family.  The industry has changed.  Social interaction has changed.  However mutual respect and planning for the future demands equality in more than name only.
  4. Is your answer “Yes! That’s how we operate!”

“Name Calling.  How Important is it on Dairy Farms?”

In business, we learn much about the respect for the position from the name that it is given. “The wife” dishonors all the contributions made in the same way that “the girl” does, when applied to office workers.  When did you last hear an office authority figure say, “I’ll get my boy to look after that for you~? And, when some farm service, supply or consultant vehicle drives in the farm lane have you ever remarked, “Oh.  He has a girl with him.”  It’s a judgment made solely on gender. Whether it’s an office in a high rise, or a team in the milk house, it’s always better to have the best people doing their best work.  This goes beyond gender. After all, an all-male team can be overwhelmed by bad weather, health issues or equipment breakdowns and we don’t resort to,” I knew a man couldn’t handle that.”

“Women’s Days Are Numbered”

A simple way to know if there is a glass ceiling in the dairy barn is just to do a headcount.  Dairy farmers are quite comfortable working with an all-woman bovine production crew.  But when it comes to female team members the numbers are still counted on one or two hands.  We have one female dairy nutritionist.  Our A.I. company has two women.  We have a female breed association President.  Now what are the male numbers associated with those positions?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Glass ceilings whether they are in the barn, the business or the board room automatically limit the full potential for success.  No one is perfect because of their gender.  No one fails for that reason either. There is no doubt that we rise by lifting others and when we work together, we get the best of both worlds. We should always inspire the best to rise to the top. 




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Milk Producers Want To Know: “What Drives People To Drink?”

There was a time when milk producers confidently positioned themselves as producers of the healthiest beverage on the planet. Milk producers didn’t fight battles defending the production or the breakdown of components. However, today, trends in fat consumption and diet fads have significantly impacted consumer choices. Today the fight is on to determine what motivates people to quench their thirst.

The battle for The Beverage Bottle

A recent article discussed the idea that water has now become milk’s biggest competitor. Michael Dykes, CEO of International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), reported water consumption as follows: “The North American bottled water market was expected to reach 391 billion litres by 2017” To put that into perspective, consider that, in 2007, single-serve water consumption was recorded at 212 billion litres. As these numbers became a reality, it has also become common to see people with bottled water in hand everywhere you go. Public speakers, church pastors, business leaders and club members have water within reach at all times.  Although many of our food choices are driven by price, the beverage industry points out that consumers are choosing the expensive bottled water over the water they could drink directly from the taps in their homes: “It is calculated by drinking two litres a day from the tap would cost $1.50 a year compared to more than $2800 to do the same with single-served bottle water.”

Conscientious Consumers Are Drinking to Their Health

Whether it’s water, milk or the latest speciality drink, there is probably a health component that is luring consumers to choose one over the other.  Flip through a magazine or recall the latest TV commercial and you can probably repeat the “punch line” or picture that celebrates milk products that now contain a health-desired ingredient.  New market demographics are being reached by milk products that promote ultra-filtered milk that has extra protein. That is the case with Fairlife (a product marketed through Coke Cola partnership) in the USA. 

Where Does Milk Fit into The Beverage Game Of Choice?

Dairy producers work hard 24/7 to produce healthy nutritious dairy foods.  Having said that, once milk leaves the farm, the beverage industry takes over, and milk becomes just one of many players competing in the high stakes game of consumer choices.

Before you read any further, get yourself something to drink. What did you choose?  What options are in your refrigerator? In your pantry? Besides your favourite chair? How many of us are holding milk or a dairy drink in our hands?

How Old Are Milk Drinkers?

There was a time when milk drinkers were automatically categorized as predominantly babies and growing children. Now there are target markets in all age groups.  One of the largest group is the Millennials, who are seen as the functional food group consumers. Athletes and exercisers are also finding that milk is the new sports drink. The massive market of Baby Boomers who have entered the Seniors category is being encouraged to look to milk for their health and wellness needs. Depending on the demographic, there has been massive growth in energy drinks and ready to drink beverages. For Millennials the energy sector has seen 56% growth between 2009 and 2014and the ready to drink market has had an astounding 166% growth since 2009. 

A Day in the Life of Millennials and Milk

As a Baby Boomer, I have a fascination with labels put on the generations that precede and follow my own.  Currently, Millennials are often profiled by groups whom we seek to understand them better for consumer, political or employability reasons.  In the area of beverage consumption, statistics show that Millennials are a drinking crowd. They choose beverages for managing stress, combating fatigue, and for improving weight loss. Given their extreme use of digital tools they also look to beverages to assist in maintaining eye health. Savvy milk marketers promote the strong nutritional profiles of milk beverages as a way for Millennials to meet these goals. Milk energy drinks and milk-enhanced smoothies are becoming a well-recognized way to start a nutritious day. We have also learned from Millennials that the right beverage can help us to survive that mid-afternoon slump or a long night of computer research and study.

Milk Moves into First Place In Thirst Quenching

A study from August 2011 suggested that milk is superior to water and sports drinks at replenishing fluids following exercise. The study author was, Dr Brian Timmons, an assistant professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario Canada.

“Milk is better than either a sports drink or water because it is a source of high-quality protein, carbohydrates, calcium and electrolytes,” He explained, “Milk has a high salt concentration which helps the body retain fluid better and replaces sodium that’s lost through sweating.” Results of the peer-reviewed findings were presented in Cornwall England at a conference on children and exercise. A simplified summary of the methodology explains, “McMaster researchers had 14 eight to 10-year-olds exercise on a stationary bike for 40 minutes, then gave them either skim milk, water, or a sports drink to measure hydration. After a two-hour recovery period, 75 per cent of the skim milk was retained in the milk drinkers, compared with 60 per cent from the sports drink, and 50 per cent from the water. Water drinkers also produced twice as much urine than milk drinkers.”

Packaging Also Impacts Consumer Choices

There are many considerations affecting consumer choices.  On the one hand, the science proving health benefits reaches more audiences but, at the most basic level, clever advertising also has an impact. Probably the most significant change in the beverage marketing relates to how beverages are packaged.  There are many new and innovative ways to drink milk.  Wax milk cartons and the iconic Canadian bags of milk are now sharing shelf space with square bottles, round bottles, bottles with flip lids and containers with screw lids. Large and small bottles are competing to be seen as the handy and convenient option for consumers on the go who are looking for a quick meal replacement or satisfying hunger or thirst.

Is the Milk Industry Finding Ways to Be in The Right Place at The Right Time?

While it helps to educate the consumer about milk benefits, at the end of the day, the challenge boils down to making sure that milk beverages are available in the places where people are most likely consuming them. Milk marketers need to get milk into school lunch programs and office building lunchrooms. Milk needs to be at sporting events.  Milk needs to sponsor health programs, senior’s activities and other public events for which milk benefits are recognized. The celebrity aspect of drinking milk is also a way to raise milk’s beverage profile.  I read recently that the day could be coming soon when sports events, such as baseball and football, end their biggest finals at the end of the year by dumping a few gallons of milk on the coach!

Move Milk from The BUCKET LIST to The MILK-IT List

Perhaps it’s time to get milk moments onto our Dairy Bucket List? At the very least, we need to promote the MILK-IT list. We need to be able to talk fluently about the benefits of milk in today’s meal planning. Once we are comfortable sharing the benefits, we need to work socially, politically and on the home front to make sure milk is part of sports, social and business venues. We also can raise the profile of milk as part of a contribution to world economies and for those populations who face poor health due to environmental, economic or political issues.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Whether you do your own personal household beverage survey, or you do research on the Beverage Industry in your province or state, the fact remains that today we have many more choices than ever before, when it comes to what we drink. If our dairy industry is to remain viable, we must take an active and involved interest. What drives you to drink milk?



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Dairy Love: Long-Term Plans Or One Night Stands?

Remember when you were considered forward thinking if you could verbalize your 5-year plan in 5 minutes or less? At a milk board meeting? Well, those days are long gone. Today, dairy strategists are urging passionate dairy business owners to plan using two-time frames at once.  First.  Set up a short-term plan to deal with actionable goals to be completed in three years or less.  Second.  Keep your eye on the long-term plan by knowing how you fit into a 50-year dairy cycle.

Don’t Be Backward About Looking Forward 50 Years

A colleague recently said to me, “If you don’t have a plan for where you are going, you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t get there!”  Without strategic planning, a modern dairy farm manager is left with two options—reaction or randomness.  Reaction is rarely a path to success and is usually expensive.  Randomness, or considering everything and moving in all directions hoping something will stick, is time-consuming and resource wasting. Of course, the best case scenario is to have access to someone with vision, experience and dairy knowledge that could look ahead and, with supported reasoning, provide us with a glimpse into the future of dairying.

Jack Britt, PhD, Professor and Associate Dean Emeritus from North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA is exactly such a person.   His recent publications in the Journal of Dairy Science take the long-term view of 50 years, which from his starting point, refers to 2066 (Journal of Dairy Science Britt et al, 2018). One of the notable forecasts refers to the number of herds and their size. “My projections along with those from other dairy specialists, indicate the number of cows and herds in the U.S. will decline sharply by 2066. The U.S. Census projects a population of 410 million people by 2066.  If milk consumption is similar to today’s per capita or per person consumption, we will need around 5 million cows to produce the milk, depending on actual yield per cow.  At 3,500 cows per herd, that means that we could produce the country’s milk with 1,300 to 1,900 herds, depending on the actual production level per cow.” Nineteen hundred herds.  Thirty-five hundred cows per herd. Picture that!

Is Strategic Planning A Waste Of Time? Or A Money Maker?

Having read Dr Britt’s forecast on herd numbers and cow production numbers, you could decide to dismiss it as not relevant to your situation.  However, the clearer the picture we have of the future, the more likely it will be that we can make decisions now that will move us in that direction. To determine if this is possible means taking a second look and considering the changes in the dairy industry in the future as foreseen by the nutritionists, geneticists, veterinarians, reproduction specialists and dairy farmers who joined with Britt in considering the longer view.  

“Dairy farmers in 2066 will meet the world’s needs for essential nutrients by adopting technologies and practices that provide improved cow health and longevity, profitable dairy farms, and sustainable agriculture, “says Jack Britt.

Furthermore, Britte et al. forecasts “that larger dairy farms will continue to make greater use of automation to reduce costs. Improvements in genetic selection will lead to dairy cattle lines that are healthier, produce milk more efficiently, and are more disease and heat-resistant.”

Is Your Planning Strategic Or Standing Still?

Strategic planning, especially long-term strategic planning, is absolutely necessary in a fast-changing dairy industry. There are many records showing that the root cause of many dairy disasters can be attributed to pursuing short-term goals ahead of long-term ones. Unfortunately, too often many dairy operations, especially those with considerable investments or those with generations behind them, are tempted to consider that the process that leads to an annual budget can be a substitute for strategic planning.  The once a year dreaded exercise of preparing a detailed budget is indeed great for clarifying the reality of financial dependencies of the dairy, but it is not a strategy.  Instead, the effective dairy strategist determines what future success looks like, which problems to face head-on, which size and production milestones to target along the way, and where to allocate resources. Financial numbers are part of the process but not the only determining factor.  

Prepare A Quick Response Action Strategy

With long-term understanding and goals identified, it’s time for short-range innovation strategy to make sure that your dairy operation is profitable and sustainable. Looking back fifty years and saying, “Well. We’re still here!” is no guarantee that the same will be true in 2066. Where is your farm relative to automation? What progress has your herd made regarding feed inputs and milk production outputs?  It isn’t always the lowest cost that results in the best production.  What management strengths will keep your herd viable?

The science behind determining the future of dairying may provide good signposts for decision making, but like any forward planning, the critical part is the action plan that gets you there. 

Many of us have been motivated by five-year-plans and are fans of the 50-page strategic outline and marathon team building exercises.   But just like longer hours don’t automatically mean that you have done better work, longer business plans don’t necessarily mean better ones. We need to carry out long-term plans without being distracted by every dire prediction that comes our way.  At the same time, we need the short term consistency that builds efficiency. We need to plan ahead, start today and be flexible when things don’t work out as expected.

New Frontiers – “Dairy Cows Will Be Gene Based Rather Than Breed Based”

If we are to keep the dairy industry moving into a future defined by sustainable success, we need to have a clearer understanding of the way in which dairy breeding could be carried out in the future. Brett paints an interesting picture. “By 2066, the dairy cow will be decidedly different from today’s average bovine. Almost everyone predicts cows of the future will comprise genes from several breeds.  In addition, much of the crossbreeding between and among breeds may occur in the test tube where desirable genes from one breed will be moved into another breed via gene editing.  This reproductive and genetic philosophy essentially represents controlled crossbreeding.  It would be a much more efficient strategy to move desirable genes from one breed into another breed. It differs from conventional genetic engineering because the genes are being moved within species and maybe even within a breed. For example, a gene that codes for improved resistance to a particular disease within a breed might be moved into male embryos being used to produce bulls for A.I. or into embryos for sale.” If we resist these types of changes, are we fighting progress? What alternatives do you see happening in the next decades? Is staying the same an option?

Do You See Your Cows Clearly Or Is Blind Optimism Preventing Progress?

Expecting the banks and consumer to suddenly “see it our way” is not strategy, it is unsupported blind optimism. You may not be able to control the future, but strategic planning can create a direction for your dairy.  Without strategy, you will likely take action only to address immediate problems—a kind of crisis management approach. Strategic planning gives you the structure to make day-to-day decisions that follow a larger vision.  For instance, let’s look at the 57,000 pound figure forecast by Jack Britt. He gives us his reasoning.” This 57,000 pound figure represents a tremendous amount of milk per cow.  However, it stands below top records that individual cows have produced over the last five decades in the U.S. About four decades ago, the record Holstein produced 55,000 pounds of milk in one year, and since then, records have climbed to nearly 75,000 pounds as of December 2015.” He continues putting it in perspective. “An average cow today produces 2.65 times as much milk annually as an average cow did 50 years ago.  If we take today’s average and multiply it by 2.65, we project 59,341 pounds per cow, so our forecasters seem to be right on target and maybe a bit low…” Something to think about.  How does it apply to your dairy operation? Your cows?

New Market Demands. Real World Challenges.

There are several long-term challenges beyond the farm gate that face agriculture over the next 50 years.  One of the most threatening is the growing negative perception that consumer’s have toward modern agricultural practices. They take for granted that modern agriculture has a negative environmental impact.  These handed down stories from the mid-1900s are used as proof.  The facts that are rarely getting headlines actually are much different. “Virtually all agricultural practices have decreased their environmental footprint on a per product basis.  The US beef industry in 2007 used 70% of animals, 82% of feed, 88% of water and 67% of the land than what was used to produce the same amount of product in 1977 (Capper, J.L Journal of Animal Science, 2011). Unfortunately, these statistics are not receiving the proactive dissemination that will lead the millennial generation to believe in the benefits of progressive agriculture. How does this fit into our forward planning?

THE BULLVINE BOTTOM LINE … Big Picture Action Or Passive Dreamer?

We all love dairying, but we must commit our strategic planning away from annual one night stands to proactive long-term commitment. Like most things in life, it comes down to facing your fears.  If you can muster the courage to address the challenges head-on, you can reap the rewards. Whether you agree or disagree with the ideas discussed here, we hope that you have an idea of how you will move with or ahead of change. This applies whether we are dairying today or dairying fifty-years from today.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




SHOW AND TELL. It Takes Both at Riverdown Holsteins

Passionate dairy breeders can quickly supply the names of the top show cattle.  But, if your dairy business stops at show ring success, you are leaving dollars on the table.  The Bullvine recently had the opportunity to talk to Justin Velthuis about Riverdown Holsteins and the show ring and barn successes that they have targeted.

“The Riverdown Story is Upbeat”

“I am the third generation dairy farmer at our current location which is a half hour South of downtown Ottawa, “says Justin. Riverdown is truly a family farm operation he explains. “I farm with my parents and grandparents and have no employees outside of family labour.” The farm is comprised of 650 acres of which 550 are owned. “We milk 110 cows in a new robotic dairy barn with 2 Lely Astronaut A4 robots.” The robotic change is recent for the Velthuis family. “We moved in just over one year ago. All animals except the show heifers and calves on milk are housed in the new barn.”

The statistics on this Master Breeder Herd tell a growing story of success:

Herd:              27 Excellent.  76 Very Good.  23 Good Plus

Robotic:         Averaging 40 kg on 2.8 visits

The RIVERDOWN Show and Tell Story Has a Good Foundation

Earning a Master Breeder Shield doesn’t happen overnight. This is the part of the Riverdown story that Justin enjoys telling. “My parents and even my grandparents always had a nice herd of cows. “Riverdown won a Master Breeder shield in the late 90’s. “My dad bought half of BVK Dundee Delores Ex 91 2E 8* with his brothers at Velthuis farms in 2006. Her dam is Adeen and half our Riverdown herd traces back to this Dundee.”

The Riverdown Velthuis family has longstanding pride in their herd genetics.  This focus provided a natural and complimentary link with cattle showing where Justin says, “The 4H program has played a big part in developing my love for showing and genetics.” That said, Justin points out that nothing is overlooked at Riverdown where the Velthuis family work hard to make sure that their dairy ring stars are also dairy performers.

“Let’s Look at the 3rd Generation Beginning.”

Kingsway Tenacious Rochelle, 8th place Junior Two Year Old 2013 for Kingsway and Riverdown

Business Schools will tell you that managing generational shifts in a family business is an important and delicate process. The advice is to start planning early.  At Riverdown Holsteins the progression was one that all three generations foresaw as expected and natural. As for starting early, Jason started young following in the footsteps of those before him.

“I made two purchases at the age of 16 from Kingsway farms. The first being in March 2013. I was working their tag sale and picked out Cherrycrest That’s Neat Ex 91 (94 MS) as a three-month-old calf, not a show heifer by any means but a correct heifer from a good pedigree and was a red carrier. I called home and convinced my parents to go half with me on Neat. She has been a tremendous cow for us and put two bulls in AI: Incredibull at Semex and Unstopabull at Blondin sires. She is currently on a flush program and has made 35 embryos on her last two flushes.”

“The second animal I bought that year was Kingsway Tenacious Rochelle Ex 94. I was helping Kingsway at summer show, and this fresh junior 2-year-old really caught my eye. She stood 2nd that day, and I bought part of her. She would continue to develop in the excellent care of the McMillan family, and we sold her to Milk Source at the Royal Winter Fair as a Junior 3, where she stood 4th and was nominated All-Canadian. She has many impressive Goldwyn daughters in both herds from the one flush we did on her.

“Riverdown Jiggalea Is The Star of the Story”

1st place Junior Calf
2015 Royal Winter Fair

The highlight of our breeding program would be Riverdown Atwood Jiggalea. She is one of four Atwoods from Riverdown Redesign Jiggle Ex 92 that have been nominated in some form. Jiggalea is the most special though. She won the March class in 2015 at the Royal and was All-Canadian March calf open and 4H in 2015. Then as a junior yearling, she won all year including 1st and Honourable Mention for me at the Classic. She then stood third at the Royal behind the Junior Champion and Reserve Junior Champion. Picking up the Honour of All-Canadian 4H Junior Yearling and Honourable Mention Junior Yearling. Jiggalea is just fresh for the second time and scored 86 2yr.

“Other Family Success Stories Are Also Inspirational”

One of the best ways to create a sustainable multigenerational family dairy business is to anchor each succeeding generation in the story of the business.  Justin feels strongly about the impact his own and other dairy families have had on him, “I have been fortunate to have connected with some of the top people in the industry in my short time.

He looks back fondly, “I did a coop in high school at La Ferme Gillette and learned a lot and have so much respect for the Patenaude family.” Then Justin continues the list, “My first two purchases and several more have come from or been with Kingsway. Not only are they great breeders, but they’re also great people. Jiggalea would not have done what she did without the help of Rob Heffernan. Rob has housed a couple of heifers for me and sure taught me a lot about show heifers. He is flat out the best at heifers.

Despite his youth, Justin recognizes the value in understanding both old and new perspectives on cattle breeding. “More recently I have invested in genomic type and have learned a lot from Dann Brady and have partnered with Blondin on a type heifer, Kawartha Armani Memory, nominated All-Canadian Jr.2 and sold in a Blondin recent sale as well as a high genomic type heifer Creekside Callen May. Dann, Simon and the rest of the Blondin team have been very good to me. These mentors have shared their understanding of what it takes to remain competitive, and it bodes well for Justin as the third generation that he recognizes the value of the hands-on experience he gained at home. “My most important mentors have been my parents for the opportunity I have.” Justin pinpoints how the experience and talents of his parents, Karen and John Velthuis, have inspired his dairy passion. “My parents are the perfect combo. Mom has the same passion for showing as I do and dad is an excellent manager and an outstanding dollar and cents guy.” The dialogue between the two generations provides both sides with real-world prioritizing of dairy breeding goals and relevant discussions on the current marketplace that they are all interested in.

“Little Details Make a Big Difference When You’re Pursuing Dreams.”

Justin with parner and mentor Dann Brady of Blondin Sires and Ferme Blondin

Justin is inspired to be the best but recognizes that success starts in all the small details. “I have a lot of goals. Show ring success or another AI bull or a chart topper are all something I hope for, but my main goal is to keep growing the farm and improve little things all the time.” Continually improving the little things can be expected to provide a corresponding increase in the day to day dairy efficiency. Three generations of the family have paid this kind of attention knowing it would pay off in achieving their goals in milk production, dairy breeding and cattle showing.

“Know Your Strengths and Then Find Great Mentors”

When it comes to focus, it’s understood that you can’t be everything to everybody.  Dairying is such a huge investment it’s important to find out what works for your dairy strengths. Justin knows this. “The advice I would give someone looking at investing in genetics is to “decide what type of cattle (Holstein, Jersey, index, polled, show, etc.) works best for you and your operation and then learn from the best in that segment.”

“Consumers Come First”

Regardless of personal goals, the dairy industry must always listen to the customer.  Justin recognizes how important that can be as the dairy industry looks toward a sustainable future. “As an industry, we must deal with consumers. This includes facing criticism and demands while producing a wholesome product for them.” No matter how much we learn about cows, dairy facilities and genetics, the customer needs to be there with positive support, or we won’t be.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Justin is enthusiastic about continuing to maintain and develop a profitable and robust dairy operation.  He knows that it will be a big job. We at THE BULLVINE and our readers wish Justin all the best in using the family mix of skills, talents and genetics to carry “RIVERDOWN” successfully into the future.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




NAFTA TRADE TALKS: Whose is Glass Half Full? Whose is Half Empty?

Successful trade talks and glasses of milk.  Can they be compared? Is it all merely political rhetoric?  Perhaps both will end up going down the drain. Does it matter?

While logic says there is more at stake than a glass of milk, NAFTA trade talks certainly stir up endless arguments regarding the state of dairying in the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations.

Is It Clear What We Are Arguing About?

The optimist says the glass is half full and there is hope for expanded dairy market opportunities. The pessimist says the glass is half empty and regulations must prevent countries, such as Canada, from reducing what is available for others. The pessimist says the glass is twice as big as it needs to be and that dairy markets need to cut production. The realist says the glass contains half the required amount of liquid for it to overflow and says until supply and demand in the entire dairy market is analyzed, the resulting decisions will fail to achieve profitable results.

What Does Class 7 Pricing Mean at the Farm Gate?

Canada’s Class 7 pricing program has hit the headlines and, of course, depending which side of the argument you fall on it seems to inspire this half-full, half-empty debate. As of May 9th, the NAFTA discussions have not mentioned dairy issues. However, USA industry leaders are confident Class 7 will be addressed before the deal is done. Michael Dykes, CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association feels that dairy will probably be one of the last things discussed. He says, “I remain optimistic we’ll get something done on Class 7.” This stems from his feeling that the Trump Administration understands both the short and long-term impacts that Class 7 has on American dairy farms. The example is given of the way Trump defended Wisconsin dairy farmers early in his administration (Trump Fabricates False Dairy war with Canada). Once again, the side you choose depends on where your farm-gate profits are made.  Your perspective changes as your real profits change. 

If Markets Improve for One Side, Is it Always Bad News for Everyone Else?

From the Canadian side of the market, there are signs that things are looking brighter for Canadian farmers.  Of course, you must remember the relative size of the two marketplaces.  The entire Canadian dairy is only one-tenth of the size of the US market.  I recently heard the comparison that, “All of the Canadian dairy is the same as the state of Wisconsin and the Chicago market.” However, it is perceived as threatening, when simple percentages are quoted which note that Canadian milk production is expected to increase this year by 4% to 21.6 billion pounds.  When that statistic follows three consecutive years of growth in Canadian milk production this summation of Canada having its cake and eating it too, is supported with more statistics: “Since 2014 Canada’s milk production has grown by more than 16%”. This is undoubtedly a glass-half-full analysis that might inspire a cynical look at Canadian competition. Is there any value in wanting all layers of the market to operate at a profit? 

Red Flags.  Milk Powder. Lost markets.

It would be so simple if the dairy market dealt with fluid milk only.  But it doesn’t.  The vast majority of milk is consumed in solid form. Furthermore, the principal point of comparison is now becoming concerns over the exporting of skim milk powder. Globally dairy farmers may be partly to blame for the oversupply of solid milk products.  Now that butterfat has a renewed life with support for the idea that fat does not cause heart disease and fat gives dairy product their taste. The US is almost balanced on fat produced and consumed.  However, the fact remains that there is too much powder.  IfIf the components of the milk produced were 4.5% Fat and 3.0% Protein, instead of the current 3.8% Fat and 3.0% Protein, there would be proportionately less powder.  Of course, that assumes that less milk would be shipped.  An added benefit of more concentrated milk would be less transport costs per unit of solid.  Demanding less milk volume but the current level of solid would be a three-way winner: less stress on the cow; less fossil fuel used and less environmental impact.

It’s Not Fair! What is the Measure of Fairness?

Both the amount of the Canadian exports and the cost-of-production concern Mr Dykes who notes that Canada has “gone from [exporting] about 20,000 MT to last year they did 70,000 MT of skim milk powder.” From his perspective “It defies logic when the highest cost milk producer in the world can land skim milk powder in Mexico three cents cheaper than we can in the U.S. Skim milk powder is a thinly traded product, even a one cent difference can mean the loss of a sale.” When it comes to competition for non-fluid milk products, lawmakers urge Lighthizer to press for elimination of Canada’s Class 7 pricing program. 

What’s the Point of It All?

There are points to be made on the plus and minus sides for all parties involved in the dairy negotiations.  It is probably redundant to consider that the point of trade agreements is to reach an agreement…. Something that works for all the parties involved.  There is an assumption that there will be give and take.  However, especially in the news headlines, dairy producers want to see themselves aligned with the government that provides them with more “take” than “give”. 

To Deal? Or Not to Deal?  That is the Question

Canada gave up 3% of its production in the CETA (Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement) negotiations between Canada and the EU.  In the twelve countries TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), the Trump administration pulled out of TPP in January 2017.  The US would have had the opportunity to compete in the Canadian market if it had stayed in TPP. The remaining eleven countries have signed the TPP, now known as CPTTP.  So the 3% share of the Canadian market is open to countries like New Zealand and Australia.  Obviously, with multiple trade deals being considered simultaneously, the issues are not simple to resolve.

Not all Production is as Simple as Produce a Product and Then Sell it. 

There are many layers in between the farm field and the grocery store shelves.  Processors play a crucial role in dairying.  Their profits change the playing field every day. “Processors never ship at a loss.” This is a key factor that, long before trade negotiations, has a significant impact on US producers’ bottom lines.  Canada’s supply management is intended to avoid the problems of over-supply — but it’s not seen as the answer to problems facing small to medium sized US milk producers. Additionally, NFU (National Farmers Union) in the US recently reported that dairy farmers receive 20% less of the retail food dollar compared to 2014. The dairy industry needs to find out and take action in dealing with the root cause of this decline.

The NAFTA agreement has much to work out.

There are thirty-two identified chapters to be negotiated in the NAFTA agreement.  At the end of April 2018, only six were concluded.  If trading parties can’t effectively negotiate to open markets between themselves, they will be forced to look at the even bigger world market, which also has its own what’s-in-it-for-me perspective on dairy trading. All countries get wrapped up in the blame game, but when you’re dairying 24-7, the real discussion always comes down too how to effectively sustain a profitable dairy industry. The glass half full or half empty is only relevant as long as the milk producers remain relevant.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Let’s hope that throughout the bombardment of upcoming headlines, the milk consumer opportunist says, “Thanks, folks! While you are debating whether the glass is half full or half empty, I drank it!”




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.





BEYOND COLOSTRUM! “Winning the Race to the Milking Line”

It might seem obvious to veteran dairy owners to say that the first feeding of colostrum has an enormous impact on calf health.  However, modern calf managers need to go beyond simple transfer of antibodies and learn ways to manage all aspects of calf immunity, health, and nutrition.  If colostrum is seen as the starting line … then the milking line is the finish line.

Expand Your Viewpoint: “There’s More to Colostrum Than Antibodies”

If workers asked you, curious neighbors or investigating journalists what answer would you give to the question, “Why is the transfer of colostrum from cow to calf important?”  We can quickly give the rote answer, “Colostrum supports immune function and disease resistance by providing antibodies.” What we may not be unintentionally overlooking are the studies out of places like Texas Tech University, where associate professor nutritional immunology, Michael Ballou, feels that we need to be looking beyond antibodies. Farmers have been largely focused on calf health. Research is reporting that there is an expanded role for colostrum that relates to nutrition.

Feed Calves for Success: “Nutrition Impacts GI Maturation”

In presenting research updates at a Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products Calf Summit in 2016 Ballou elaborated, “GI maturation stars in first trimester in utero, but some components of the GI immune system only develop after birth.” Researchers are reporting that actions taken to improve calf health are much more available to the calf if it is assisted in rapid GI system maturation.  Ballou explains: “Rapid GI system maturation helps break down feed ingredients into nutrients available to the calf and closes the open doors to the harmful micro-organisms that carry the potential for calfhood disease.”

Ballou feels the GI maturation is important to calf health and is affected by colostrum management.  He says, “Many compounds in colostrum and transition milk are involved in post-natal development of the GI system.  Improved calf health through colostrum management should also focus on improving GI maturation.”

Learn from New Research: “Expand Your Protocols for Early Calf Management”

Sometimes it seems that there are too many issues fighting for the attention of the dairy farm owner-manager.  We think it should be as simple as raising, feeding and milking animals.  Collect the milk.  Accept the paycheck.  That line from dairy calf to dairy check is no longer as straightforward or as profitable as it has been in the past.  Growing evidence says that it is costly to ignore all the issues that impact starting dairy calves off on in a way that will allow them to be productive cows in the future. It’s time to manage beyond simple colostrum antibody transfer.

Four areas with potential for positive impact include, but are not limited to:

  1. Raise the level of early nutrition
  2. Prebiotics
  3. Probiotics
  4. Hyperimmunized egg proteins to improve intestinal health

Granted a list of four items is not threatening because of length, however, like any other opportunity, understanding all four and putting them into action could be.  The challenge for dairy owners and calf managers is to get the advice, training, and support that enables them to put improved protocols into place. Let’s look at each one of these individually.

  1. Better fluid Better disease resistance and growth.
    Sometimes what is in front of us every day is the hardest area to single out for change.  Feeding calves seems simple enough.  Unfortunately, the negative results are hard to spot until diseases challenges arrive later in life.  Daryl Nydam, an associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, performed an intensive calf study designed to evaluate the impact of nutrition on disease resistance.  Nydam and his calf team researched groups of calves fed commercially available milk replacers and challenged with Cryptosporidium and other pathogens. Results from the trial showed that “calves fed a Conventional milk replacer diet outlined under the National Research Council (NRC) 2001 recommendations (20 percent fat a 1 pound of dry matter per day) was not enough to meet the calves’ maintenance requirements, provide disease resistance and supply adequate mega calories for growth.
    Dairy managers are being urged to reduce the risk of disease through nutrition management because of the effectiveness of “supplying things directly where they are needed.” explains Ballou. Nydham makes other clarifying points. “With Cryptosporidium being prevalent on every dairy of any size, every pre-weaned calf faces disease challenges.” And furthermore, he adds, “The likelihood is that disease-causing pathogens will never be completely eradicated from a calf’s environment.” With this in mind, Nydham researched how nutrition can impact the health and performance of pre-weaned calves. He is excited about extending that research through the life of the heifer, through her first lactation and beyond. The takeaway for those working on the front lines is that nutritional inputs need to be elevated in two steps: the first two weeks of life and then management of the next period that calves are fed fluid.
  2. Use Prebiotics as a Feed Additive
    Prebiotics are dietary components that are not digested by the calf but are used by bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract to improve their growth. Prebiotics mainly used in calves feeding have carbohydrate as the main nutrient which produces volatile fatty acids, which further may increase nutrient digestibility and subsequently increase feed efficiency. As better data on structure to function information accrues as well as individual metabolic profiles of target bacteria are compiled, it may be easier to select prebiotics for specific purposes. Good management practices to optimize nutrition, immune status, and decrease the risk of disease are vital. The use of prebiotics may be a viable option to increase the proliferation of commensal bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, modulate feeding behavior, and increase immune function to optimize calf health. It falls to calf managers to responsibly solicit the help of your nutritionist or veterinarian in choosing a science-based research proven product.
  3. Feed probiotics to manage a healthy population of gut microbes.
    One non-antibiotic approach to improving preweaned calf health is to add probiotics – or “good” gut bacteria – to milk or milk replacer to protect the intestinal tract from disease-causing bacteria and keep calves healthy. In an issue of Calf Notes, Dr. Jim Quigley, with Provimi North America, reviewed the results of an evaluation of dozens of studies that looked at the effects of probiotics on calf growth and reached these observations:

    1. Using probiotics during the first 60 days of life can improve growth and feed efficiency in calves fed milk replacer.
    2. Those same benefits were not realized in calves fed whole milk.
    3. The response to probiotics was more apparent earlier in life.
    4. Probiotics had less impact as calves began to consume more dry feed.
    5. A simple, one-strain probiotic was just as effective as products containing multiple bacterial strains.
      (See the full text of Jim Quigley’s “Calf Note 178” at Calf
  4. Add Hyperimmunized egg proteins to improve calf intestinal health
    Another area of study that is producing encouraging results relates to hyperimmunized egg proteins. They report. “At birth, calves can be fed low levels (1 to 3 grams) of these egg products to introduce these antibodies to the calf in combination with the colostrum to begin building a defense system against many common pathogens. The antibodies from the eggs work at the epithelial level of the calf’s intestine in several ways. They identify and bind specific pathogenic bacteria, rendering them inactive. They also “bundle” these bound, inactivated bacteria together (agglutination) for secretion via feces. They recognize the processes of specific viruses so these viruses are neutralized and cannot enter the cells. A critical factor in the effectiveness in the egg antibodies is the affinity the antibody has for the specific antigen.”

Give Your Calves the Best Start!  Give Your Dairy Herd a Better Future!

There are approximately 670 to 770 days between birth of a dairy calf and the first day in the milking line. Each dairy calf must make progress from the starting line of its birth to the milking line.  How that progress is managed will determine the success of the dairy’s bottom line. An added bonus is that maternal nutrition affects the next generation. Races can be won or lost at the starting line.  Proper investments of time and effort pay off in the long run. Attention to detail in raising healthy calves will ensure quality replacement heifers for the next generation.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

First colostrum feeding protocols have enjoyed the attention they deserve but it is now time to dig deeper and recognize the opportunities that are available for taking the next step in early calf health and immunity management. Until calves grow and enter the milking line with the ability to perform the full expression of their genetic potential, there is still more to be done.




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.





Bottom Line: Who Is Responsible For This Mess?

How often do dairy managers stand in their offices and, with some kind of report in hand, deliver this frustrating news to their staff? Once is too often, if it’s your bottom line that is headed south. No one needs a winter vacation from financial success.

“Successful Dairies Don’t Make Excuses! They Make Changes!”

“It’s not my fault.” “It’s the economy.” “It’s the weather.” “It’s the government.”

Any or all of these might used to shift blame.  What does this mean?  No one really cares.  No one accepts responsibility.  The owner is the only one asking, “Who is responsible for this mess? When push comes to shove, messes are only eliminated when changes are initiated.

“What Does Accountability Look Like?”

It isn’t simply a case of taking the blame when the you-know-what hits the fan.  It’s not about who is guilty.  Being accountable means delivering on a commitment.  Milk production.   It is about being responsible to the targeted outcome, not just the daily routine of completing a set of tasks.  You can’t sit in an office and know what is working in the barn. You can’t hide in the barn and have any idea what is happening in the office. It is about initiative, action, and follow-through.

“Motivation Starts at the Top …. And After That… We all Know What Runs Downhill!”

When life throws a curveball, we are tempted to assign blame. We all know the routine.  Bad news is received at the top.  And bad news like it’s pungent neighbor in the manure pit runs downhill.  Soon there is a sh*t storm brewing that is delivered to the all within earshot.  Some listen stoically.  Others run for cover.  Then what?  Life goes on the same as before until the next bad news day.

WAIT!! Turnarounds mean you don’t talk AT staff.   You talk WITH staff.

Getting angry when people fall short is not productive. It simply reduces motivation and performance.  Success is about finding alternatives that change a negative into a positive.

  • Good managers know how to get a two-way conversation going. Employees need to feel
  • comfortable speaking up about their side of the situation. They shouldn’t be afraid to claim a
  • role in the problem for fear of even more criticism raining down on them.

Talk Up the Positive Too!  Who Is Responsible When Everything Goes Right?

Face to face conversation may not be the only way of communicating, but it is the best way. Both sides must participate and be understood. And then move on.  But don’t forget to share the good news too.  Does your team know enough about your dairy’s successes?  Big or small, knowing what’s going well on the dairy can make a big difference in preventing problems and learning how to deal with issues.  If the boss claims all the successes and staff bears the burden of problems, it kills motivation. Honest recognition motivates.  

Too Often It Becomes One Side VERSUS the Other Side. 

Here are five ways dairy operations dissolve into a tug and pull and what to do about it. 

  1. “It is Obvious What is Required” versus “It’s not obvious from where I see it.”
    Because you, as owner or manager, have benchmarks to reach, bills to pay and animals to raise, you may be very clear, in your own mind, about what needs to be done. To the person further away from the center of things it’s likely that it isn’t clear why things need to be done or even how they need to be done. Dairy staff may perform completing repetitive tasks without knowing how it affects the outcome.  If the job is not only repetitive but boring shortcuts or changes may creep in that negatively affect the outcome. How do you measure success? How do the workers measure success?  There needs to be alignment between the two. Some of the best modifications and improvements can come from skilled people who feel the work they do is worthwhile, the opinions and suggestions they have are heard and appreciated. If you don’t want lowest common denominator results don’t treat the working staff like they don’t count.
  2. “It’s Not Rocket Science” versus “I’m Not Paid to be A Brain Surgeon”
    New science, new economics, and a continually shrinking work face have resulted in the loss of people with skills. Has brought in new unskilled labor.  Has necessitated upgrading of skills. New equipment.    Digital inputs and monitoring. All of these could mean that the person doing the jobs needs training to be able to meet the rising expectations.  Are you ready and able to provide the skilled training?  Do you know where to get skilled instructions?  You must realize that if your staff doesn’t know how to do what they are being asked, then you are setting them – and yourself — up for failure.
  3. “Your Success is Tied to Results” versus “Results Don’t Mean Anything to Me!”
    When the milk check arrives or payment checks are sent, owner-managers have readable feedback and exact numbers on how successful the dairy operation is. When there is a sudden fall in production and or payments, it should not come as a surprise to anyone who is paying attention to the day to day operation. Sometimes problems seem sudden when, in reality, it is the result of lack of communication. Someone is afraid to ask for help. There isn’t any buy in to the necessity of reaching measurable Any movement in a negative direction needs instant attention.  In modern dairying, it is counterproductive to wait until the month end, year end annual review. What can be done now? How can it be fixed today?  What new and improved schedule do we need to put in place? A slip off track can become a major detour if it isn’t dealt with promptly.
  4. “You Didn’t Do What Was Asked” versus “So What? Not my stink. Not my ”
    This is the second time in the management staff dialogue where there is a disconnect between the reasons for the rules or operational procedures and the lack of incentive felt by staff to carry them out. Even when expectations are clear and proper training has been provided, it’s possible that the level of buy-in remains low or is even declining. A turnaround could be as simple as a regular positive acknowledgment.  An open dialogue about how routines are either well done or not working also raises the level of buy-in. Provided success is recognized.
  5. “There Isn’t Any Room for Your Mistakes” versus “Accidents happen. Live with it!” Even when you have a good idea, a well-formulated plan, and a willing team, there are enough variables on a dairy farm that things can go wrong. Somehow, a feed formula is incorrectly mixed. Medication is forgotten. Scheduling of follow-up is overlooked. A staff member misses the training session and, unwittingly changes things back. Anyone of these and many more can be the reason for problems. Once again it isn’t who is blame but who can fix it that is important. The only wrong answer is the one that says maintaining the status quo is okay.

The Bullvine Bottom Line – From Mess to Success in Two Steps!

Whether you are management or staff, it is essential to recognize that there is no gain in falling into a pattern of blame and shame. When everyone learns how to accept responsibility and is willing to be held accountable, the operation has found the two building blocks that are the foundation of a successful dairy.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.






Master Breeder Dominique Savary: An Eye for Good Cattle. “On the farm. In the Show Ring. Through the Camera Lens.”

It is the dream of every passionate dairy breeder to achieve recognition. This can be done in many ways, from success in the show ring to earning Master Breeder status. Dominique Savary of Grand-Clos Holstein in Switzerland has earned both those benchmarks. However, he has not stopped there and is continuing to gain recognition for his skill in taking great photographs of the cattle, people and dairy industry that he is so passionate about. The Bullvine recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dominique and discussing his experiences as dairy breeder, showman and photographer.

“My father was one of the first who went to Canada and the US to search for Holstein genetics.”

Childhood influences have shaped Dominique’s success as an adult. “In my childhood, many people involved in breeding passed through our home. They came to talk to my father, Jean, about the arrival of the Holstein in Switzerland.  The first imports of Holstein semen from Canada were made when I was five years old.  My father was very active in carrying out this import project.  All my youth was bathed in the fighting so that the Holstein breed would find a real place in Switzerland. I think that is what gave me the biggest motivation to get involved in breeding.”

“North American dairy breeding has always fascinated me”

Dominique is proud of the pioneering dairy work carried out by his father Jean in the 1970s. “My father was the best role model for my future.  From my childhood, I said, “I’m going to go to North America.  I want to learn.  I want to understand.’ I traveled there for the first time when I was twenty-two years old and have been there more than 25 times since.”

“Everything that revolves around breeding has always been a driving force for me.”

Dominique’s family history with dairy is relatively recent. “I am only the second generation involved in breeding.  My paternal grandfather was the head of a small railway station.  In fact, it was my father who gave the taste for breeding and milk production.  He started his career with nothing. He fought for Holsteins to have a place in the Swiss landscape of the day.  Switzerland, was almost entirely populated by Brown Swiss, Simmental, Swissfleckvieh and some Black Spotted.  The dairy leaders in our country did not welcome the arrival of Holsteins into Switzerland.” Inspired by his father’s passion, Dominique “did a complete agricultural training and took over the paternal farm in 1994.” He proudly explains, “The milk produced on my farm is intended for cheese making “Le Gruyère AOP”.”

Dominique leads in the dairy industry through the Holstein Switzerland Association and Swissgenetics.

“Early on, I got involved in breeding and genetics organizations. Breeding, genetic selection and Breeding organizations have always fascinated me.” He is actively involved in leadership of the Holstein industry in Switzerland. “By presiding over the Holstein Switzerland association for eleven years and now Swissgenetics for three years, I have had the immense opportunity of getting to know many fascinating people in the world of Swiss and world breeding.  The fact of having also chaired the Holstein Genetic Commission of Swissgenetics for many years has also allowed me to travel around the world for the selection of bulls.

Dominique and Grand-Clos Holstein received the title of Master Breeder in 2015

Dominique states quite simply that “receiving the title of Master Breeder in 2015 was a great moment of my breeding career.  I am very grateful to the people who have trusted and supported me and feel lucky to have achieved all of this.”

“When I started photography again, it was to photograph cows.”

Sometimes hobby, career and passion all come together at the right time. Dominique started using his photography skills to photograph cows in the selection rounds for Swissgenetics. “I was taking pictures of the test daughters in North America to show them to our Swiss breeders.  Then I went to take pictures in some exhibitions.” Dominique’s passion goes beyond the simple cataloguing of conformation. “I really like to photograph cows at work in the grasslands when they are grazing.  In Switzerland, we have a lot of cattle grazing on the mountain pastures during the summer season. It is a pleasure to make images of cows or heifers in mountain scenery.”

“I really want to do more studying of the technical side of photography.” 

As with everything he undertakes, Dominique applies himself to doing the very best that he can. In talking about his interest in photography he provides some background.  “I always did a little photography but I really started seriously five years ago.” He feels he had good grounding in his understanding of the creative aspects. “I felt the artistic side in my eye, but I had a big gap in the technical side. I am an autodidact.  I have never taken a photography class.  I read a lot and watch videos on YouTube.  Gradually the technical aspects of adjustments and post-processing became clearer for me.” He sums up. “I still have a lot to learn. I wish I could spend a few days with a professional who could help me really master the technique to learn more.”

“I like to bring emotion into my images. Whether in nature or in the show ring.”

Dominique is very clear in describing what inspires the photos he takes. “I am sensitive. I like to bring emotion into my images. Whether in nature or in an exhibition ring, I want to bring a different look by trying to give a little emotion to my photos.  Posing cows as we see them in bull catalogs does not interest me.  I am an ambient photographer.”

Dominique’s favorite photos. “The right time. The right light. The right composition.”

Dominique has a growing reputation for capturing the candid and emotional side of his subjects. He doesn’t want to be confined in his approach. “What I prefer is freedom of action. Power without pressure.” He continues his explanation by saying. “I want to free my mind to take pictures. I like having carte blanche and being able to make my inspiration work.” Dominique gives specific examples. “This year there were two places where I loved taking photos.  One was at the Royal Winter Fair, where Holstein Canada gave me permission to enter the ring.  The second was at the Samsales Desalp, where I had fun as a child and was now taking pictures of the cows with flowers and the people who accompanied them.” His assessment of the year. “It has been a pleasure!”

Dominique’s favorite places. “The Royal Winter Fair” “World Dairy Expo” “Quebec landscapes”

“I am lucky to have my son Grégoire who made the agricultural agro-technician school. He is currently working 100% on our farm. He and my wife Christiane get involved on the farm and it gives me more time to do other projects like photography”.  Dominique enjoys the great showcases of the world’s top dairy cattle, “It would be great to go back to the Royal Winter Fair and World Dairy Expo in Madison to take pictures of the atmosphere.” But, he doesn’t limit himself to the show ring only. “For landscapes, I would like to take winter pictures in Quebec.”  He also goes beyond the subject of cattle and is attracted to the people side of photography. “I would also like to accompany artisans who work with their hands.” He goes on to describe another growing passion. “I really like the traditions that are at home or elsewhere. Photographing traditions with costumes and customs is something that I like very much. “

The future. “I would like more time to do photography.”

As more and more people have the opportunity to see Dominique’s work, he is growing a following. “I started posting my photos on Facebook a few years ago and had a lot of feedback encouraging me to publish more.  I also posted a portfolio (  Many people are interested in my images.  Little my little, orders came in for me to make enlargements, to illustrate websites or magazines. I was very proud when one day a multimedia company contacted me to buy photos.” No wonder he sums up by saying, “I would like more time to do photography.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Dominique loves capturing the emotional connection to cows, people and traditions. He has used his knowledge of cows and his skill as a photographer to provide something unique. “My clients want emotion and my goal is to do something different.”  The Bullvine joins with our readers in congratulating Dominique for turning his hobby and his passion for dairy cattle into a product that is an inspiration to dairy enthusiasts everywhere. 

Top 7 Editor’s Choice Articles from The Bullvine 2017

“New insights.  Best practices. Getting Ready for the Future!”

As 2017 draws to a close, we at The Bullvine enjoy the opportunity to put together an Editor’s Choice List. Throughout the year we are able to delve into all aspects of the dairy industry to find articles that will serve the goals of our readers. This year we are choosing seven articles that we think were the most informative and essential to our readers in the dairy community.  We hope you will take a look to see if any of your favorites made the list.

Let’s get this countdown started.

#7 Use of Activity Monitoring for Identification of Dairy Cows with Health Disorders

Because this is a relatively short list, it was obvious to start with articles that relate to the industry’s primary producer – the cow.  The Bullvine always encourages dairy breeders to look at the dairy cow from new perspectives.  This popular webinar-video gives dairy breeders the opportunity to benefit from change-making information. The analysis of rumination and activity monitoring as a means to identify health issues delivered a pro-active point of view and provided breeders with valuable insight and information in taking every opportunity to improve their profit margins.

#6 Are You Breeding for the Correct Conformation to Produce the Greatest Lifetime Profit?

Here at The Bullvine we are in the privileged position of being able to take part in ongoing discussions of the problems and issues facing the dairy industry. We receive questions from our readers and sometime we are in the position of posing questions that we think our readers should consider.  Such is the case with our sixth place Editor’s Choice.

This article displays ideal cow models from Canada and USA and discusses the relationships between body parts and longevity. Three well-respected commercial dairy breeders explain what they see as classification standards that need to be applied in the future.

#5 SHOWMANSHIP JUDGING VIDEO – Your Guide to Judging Dairy Showmanship

The Editor’s Choice for 2017 continues to branch out beyond the written word.  Videos, live interviews and webinars have become very popular with industry followers who many not have time to attend events and seminars or spend time reading multiple articles at a time. This showmanship video provides in-depth and valuable training children, judges and others who connect with the show ring.  This is a one-stop opportunity to learn from the live discussion and actual footage of what to look for.  The judge talks about what is happening and what he’s looking for.  He explains his thought processes. Entering the Ring. Stop and Start.  Technical analysis and Pulling into line.

#4 GENETIC EVALUATION REVIEWS: Timely and Informative Analysis

Proof release articles published by The Bullvine are the best ones to read If you’re looking to be part of dairy genetic advancements. Successful dairy breeders understand the importance of keeping in touch with the way ever-advancing genetics is affecting production and profitability.  The Bullvine evaluation review articles are published to coincide in a timely way with Proof Releases in April, August and December. The Bullvine cover everything you need to know with the right amount of detail to make it comprehensible without being overwhelming.  The carefully considered analysis offers actionable insights and what to watch for with each bull that is being discussed.  The Bullvine Genetic Evaluation Reviews are a go-to for breeders looking to deepen their knowledge and find ways to integrate top genetics into their own breeding programs. Here is a one stop year end listing for you to review with the improved clarity provided by passage of time.  Be sure to check out sire proof central for all the timely and imofrative analysis.

#3 10 Ways to Cope with the Stress of Dairy Farming

At first glance this article on coping with stress may seem to be an over-simplified listing but the real value lies in the fact that the insights and suggestions were provided by members of The Milkhouse. With ten actual examples the contributors encourage keeping friends close, regularly looking for and expressing gratitude and finding ways to channel anxiety. This articles recognizes that nothing goes forward if stress gains the upper hand.  As dairy farm families face the emotional and financial stress of modern dairy farming, it is important to find positive ways to deal with the grim realities of the situation.  It can’t be denied that some think about ending it all.  Doing nothing can also be fatal to the business. Coping can start with these ten tested and shared methods.

#2 Epigenetics will be a Driver for Future Successful Dairying

The Bullvine always works with the goal of providing real value for our readers.  Epigenetics, robotic milking and advancements in health and nutrition have all sparked reader interest in 2017.  This article on epigenetics is an insightful and clearly explained discussion of the science behind epigenetics and what it will mean for the dairy industry.  Articles like this one don’t only discuss what is current but they provide a forecast for several years ahead. 

#1 Pat “Cowboy” Conroy – Shooting Straight and Straight Shooting

An easy choice for us to place in the number one position are those that provide insights. The industry is focused on cows but people make the difference. Readers of The Bullvine look forward to gaining valuable knowledge from professionals such as Pat Conroy – world respected Judge from Indiana USA.  This article was authored by Australian Dianna Malcolm for her publication Crazy Cow. Readers enjoyed the open sharing by Judge Conroy regarding his thoughts, opinions and concerns about the future of the dairy show ring.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

At The Bullvine we take pride in our work and enjoy discussing all of the different topics that shape the dairy industry.  Thanks for joining us in looking at our top seven choices from 2017.  We look forward to continuing to make connections with you in the coming year. All the best to you and yours as we do our best to ensure that you find it all at The Bullvine in 2018.


What to Know About The 5 Ways You Are Being Upsold

Upselling is defined as “a sales technique whereby a seller induces the customer to purchase more expensive items, upgrades, or other add-ons in an attempt to make a more profitable sale.” If there is any industry that has been exposed to the full range of upselling, it has to be dairy farming. 

The Good the Bad and the Upsell!!

Having access to the right products is good.  Wasting time searching for the right match is bad.  Spending beyond your means can signal an upsell.  You don’t want to finish a transaction and discover that you have just purchased something you either didn’t really need or don’t know how to use.  Especially annoying is realizing that the salesperson driving out your lane feels great about discovering a vein of gold on your operation or at least some silver to mine. Meanwhile, you may feel used or, at the very least, somewhat tarnished by a transaction that ended in an upsell.

“FACT:  If you are in the business of running a dairy operation, you very likely have been upsold at one time or another.”

Everyone connected to milk production wants to dip into your pot of money. Equipment. Semen. Feed. Ration Formulation. Health services. You feel constantly pressured by those whose input or product is necessary for your business.  You need them.  However, every supplier takes some of your time and a lot of decision making and, at the end of the day, you may not be fully convinced that you are getting the best value for the money.  For instance:  where was the value in all that time taken to listen?

The litmus test for every purchase should be based on results.  Increased income or reduced costs must be assessed from a measured-results perspective. Perhaps two pieces of equipment save operator time or do multiple tasks but what impact do those features have on your primary dairy operation goals? Is it better for the cows or for the ego?

Upselling works best when it provides a win for both parties

Regardless of the product or service that you need, you should always look for ways to get the best value out of a purchase. You should look for ways to go beyond the simple exchange of money paid for a service or product.  Find an option that meets specific needs. For example, it is a definite plus if smaller dairy manager can benefit from the hands-on experience of larger operations.  If that information can impact change in a positive – and measurable – way, that’s great upselling. If it merely makes you spend beyond your limit…it’s bad upselling!

How Well-Trained Are Your Up Sellers?

If the salespeople coming unto your farm are well-trained by their companies, they know the art of upselling.  That’s their job.  Should you automatically resist and fight for a lower price?

Not always! Instead, see if these four conditions are present. 1. They want your money. 2.  They want your business. 3.  They care about your cows. 4. They care about your business.

These are four facts that must be present for you to interact well with sellers. There is no value to you of the person is only looking out for their own numbers exclusively and isn’t interested in what’s best for your dairy operation. Although financial stability is the goal of every dairy operator, dealing with sales pressure goes beyond fighting against upselling.  It’s all about better results.

Here are five upsells and what they mean to dairy owners and managers.  

  1. “Would You Like Fries with That?”
    One of the most common forms of upselling are the six words, “Would you like fries with that?” We recognize it and often say “Yes!” while in the drive through, but it is also happening in our dairy operations.  Representatives of vet services, nutrition and feed suppliers and equipment salespeople offer their version. “Would you like more semen?” “More tonnage?” “More horsepower? This a classic upsell. The most common reaction is “sure,” and bingo, you’ve just added an extra cost to the bill. Money has changed hands but are the results better?
  2. Go ahead. “Take if for a Test Drive.” OR “Try Before You Buy.”
    Personally speaking, this is the upsell method that often works to get me to spend.  The value of seeing how the product works converts most skeptics to supporters – providing that the product does what it claims. It’s natural when faced with spending a lot of money that there can be a reluctance to get off the fence too quickly.  The opportunity to use the product can often result in them selling themselves. The further effect of this is that the person who has taken the test drive or used the product becomes part of the company sales team because of their endorsement of the product.
  3. “For a Limited Time, we have This Offer JUST FOR YOU!” 
    We all love to be appreciated. To be appreciated with a gift is especially rewarding. LOL. How do you respond when you hear, “This month’s order comes with a windbreaker?” If you’re like me, you quickly feel that jacket cutting the early morning chill.” Some folks are most susceptible to a new cap! Who among us would turn down a pass or trip to World Dairy Expo or the Royal Winter Fair? At first, it sounds like an irresistible freebie. After all, you have to wear the proper clothing. Why not make a fashion statement? If one of your favorite dairy getaways in Dairy Expo or the Royal, why not accept a pass or invitation that comes with a purchase that you’re going to make anyway? Provided you were going to make it anyway.  And provided there are no other strings attached such as sponsorships or donations or endorsements?  Darn.  It is always best to ask those pesky second questions.
  4. Work with us. We know how to WALK THE TALK.”
    Glib buzz words must include action. Some salespeople do all their talking on the phone.  Others stand in your doorway or barn alley and expect to close the sale without looking closely at your operation.   Look for the salesperson, vet or nutritionist that wants to see their product in the setting it will work in.  These people make recommendations based on your specific needs.  They don’t read them from an instruction manual or sales pamphlet or product brochure. A bad upsell turns into a good upsell when the person you’re working with is committed to matching what works best for dairy and for the cows. 
    How refreshing would it be to have someone who is willing to walk the cows? A person who provides a knowledgeable second pair of eyes from a vantage point that is closer than the farm lane or telephone?  A great second question to ask anyone selling to your farm is, “Do you see what I see?” Sometimes familiarity blinds us to gradual changes. An objective viewpoint an be very valuable. They may catch BCS as being too low or too high.  Or they could spot impending herd lameness. Or see that there is not enough sand in the free stalls.
    Don’t look at too narrow a window, whether it’s yours or a salesperson’s.  You have to go beyond simply adding to inventory, or tools or equipment.  There is a temptation to make a purely monetary exchange and ask the seller to beat the competition on price only.  This is a short-term gain.  But, in the long term, neither side wins.
  5. “Let’s talk about VALUE ADDED.” “For EVERYBODY.”
    Offering and receiving value added is part of upselling. The key here is that both the buyer and the seller must understand exactly what value is being provided. A vague promise of future benefits is not a real value-added proposition. Although the idea of a quick fix is appealing, the very nature of operating a dairy business means that the simple answer could in itself be a problem. Value turns on ability. Sustainability. Profitability.  Dependability.

There are many ways to add value.  

Great companies know how to provide value.  They work the numbers. They provide formulas.  They provide logistics. They can demonstrate with examples. They are willing and able to set up training that helps staff in responding to a variety of situations, “If this happens … do this.”  Value-added must clearly demonstrate how slightly added cost or changed protocols will provide measurable improvement.

Seek out a vet, supplier or sales rep that has a meaningful story of what the product could do for the operation. Be open to new information. Training and follow up is invaluable. It’s not upselling if you have been shown respect for your goals and the time and effort it takes to achieve them. The right person is not afraid of investing their time and effort into achieving a good outcome. This will build a relationship that goes beneath the surface transaction. That is why these sellers are not afraid to ask for a decision. They know how to interpret trends. Is it a downturn? Or an opportunity? Or is the product or procedure outdated? When you find the person that fits all these requirements…there is nothing to fear in being upsold!”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

“The thing about dealing with salespeople is that the minute someone gets on the phone or walks in the door, you are in danger of being upsold. Squeezing clients for short-term profits from upselling is not just bad for customers. It’s bad for business. When it’s done right, a good upsell leaves both sides—customer and seller—feeling like they’ve won. High five!!




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.





What Separates an All-Star Dairy Team from an Also-Ran Dairy Team?

We love identifying winners. Dairy winning includes identifiable achievements such as winning showmanship at a regional 4H show, Grand at WDE, Junior All-American in milking form, top gTPI Heifer for the month or having a young bull that enters AI with over-the- top health and fertility indexes.  These are all about standing in the winning limelight of our dairy world. However, winning in the show ring or on financial, health or genetic records, always comes back to the human team as the foundation.  A-Team scrutiny raises key questions. How was is it selected? Where was the talent found?  How were the all-star bits and pieces managed into becoming an all-star dairy team?

Drafting and Managing an All-Star Dairy Team

I love this time of year in North America.  Sports lovers are inundated with the two extremes of playoffs and new seasons occurring simultaneously.  Baseball. Football. Soccer. Basketball. On the field and in the headlines, every sport has one goal.  Winning. Whether the season is ending or just beginning, winning depends on picking the best and then managing a Team of All-Stars.

Just like sports managers do, successful dairy managers must form teams that can win. The team must work to carry out their most important initiatives.  It isn’t unheard of to build dairy teams from whoever is available.  However, the most successful dairies consistently select their very best talent, to tackle the dairy’s highest priority issues: monitoring health, ration balancing, feed mixing and heat detection.  The list can seem endless but basing team choices only on availability can result in enormous missed opportunities. Using well-selected teams can make a measurable difference in achieving goals.  It can be even more significant if this is an under-achieving area of the operation.

Know Your Best Talent.  Put them in the Most Effective Position.

Perhaps everyone on your dairy team knows all the basic skills of the operation. But that is very seldom the case, unless the size of your team is less than three individuals. What separates an all-star from the also-rans, is knowing who has a special talent for specific assignments.  Who has the patience to manage difficult calvings without resorting to pulling too soon?  Who has the eye to recognize changes in eating behavior, resting or mobility patterns and cares enough to learn how to respond effectively? Who walks the animals and pays attention to the manure? Who has the interest in tracking data that may impact the discovery of weaknesses in your breeding program? Who can use a cell phone to capture and transmit herd events? You may know that some of your team have better skills but you may not fully recognize just how much better they are because day-to-day logistics are done pretty much the same way all the time.  

When it comes to daily routine the aim is for everyone to perform at a high level.  This is achieved if each team member is committed to performing the tasks with consistency and care.  That works for the repeatable, routine tasks. However, for creative or highly unstructured work, like bunk management or delivering first calf heifers or using observation to discover issues, the best team members can be many times more effective than the average. It isn’t about carrying out the routine.  It is about responding to the exceptional issues, including animals under stress.  The best do more and do it better.

How Many “Bests” are on Your High Priority Teams?

Dairy team managers make a great start when they accurately identify the strengths of each dairy team member.  Teaming great talent together multiplies the force and exponentially multiplies productivity and effectiveness.  After all, two heads are almost always better than one.  But with star talent, this relationship becomes more extreme.  Imagine putting your best heifer handler together with your best nutrition manager and then bring them under the direction of your best logistics person.  A three-member team, comprised entirely of A-players, can produce much more output than an average team. They set new protocols.  Achieve new benchmarks.  And look for “better” all the time!

How Many Jobs?  How Many Teams?

A milking-pit crew can be compared to NASCAR pit crews.  There are many jobs and many ways to get the best flow-through, while not sacrificing the priority goals – speed (in racing) or production (in milking). 

One of my vicarious enjoyments is watching pit crews in NASCAR races. Their performance can be objectively measured. Research tells me that a standard pit in a NASCAR race involves more than 70 separate tasks, such as refueling and changing all four tires. The best complete a standard pit in just 12.12 seconds. It’s remarkable to watch!   Now ask yourself what would happen if one of those all-star, year round trained members was to be replaced with an average tire changer.  You would still have strength on the team but with each average replacement, the productivity of the entire team declines.

Saving half an hour in milking time will reduce the cost for milkers or allow workers to use the saved half hour to conduct herd walks to find animals off-feed or not going to the manager to eat.  A players provide invaluable flexibility to adapt to change and resolve potential issues.

You have a great team.  Do you have a great manager?

Working under great leaders or managers further magnifies the production of extraordinary teams. Not all dairy team leaders are alike – in the same way that not all coaches are alike.  Great coaches get better performance out of their teams than mediocre ones do.  They are effective because they are better at encouraging each member of the team to play up to his or her full potential.

Economic studies have found that leaders that rank in the top 10% of their industry can affect the productivity of an average team. If they only do that by about 10%, on a nine-member team that would be equal to adding another team member.  It seems to be born out that they can raise the output of an all-star team as well, even though that all-star team was already significantly higher to begin with.

Great sports managers and great team leaders are able to improve the performance of whatever team they are working with —regardless of whether it’s average or all-star.

On a dairy farm, having nine highly effective workers, instead of ten to eleven average workers, provides a top manager with the ability to remunerate the nine at a higher rate and still have savings. Proper remuneration is not only a motivator but it also is part of the A-team philosophy of recognizing the value of always targeting improvement and achieving dairy goals.

Five Actions to Bring out The All-Star Qualities of Your Dairy Team

  1. Identify star talent

Identifying and managing extraordinary teams offers the potential for exceptional dairy productivity and performance.  Unfortunately, too many dairies fail to realize this hidden potential. You may have done a good job of setting up protocols and following them.  Is there a method of feedback for finding people who care about making a good method better and better achievement the best?

  1. Assemble all-star teams

Putting together scarce star talent can’t be done if it is reduced to an afterthought that happens by lucky accident. Real winners know that finding the A dairy team goes beyond identifying exceptional abilities. It means putting them together to raise the bar on the results being targeted. If the measure of success is accepted as daily average achievement, you will only find average performers.  Seek out those who have a willingness to go beyond what is expected.

  1. Target three priorities as all-star initiatives

If you are more interested in statistics — bank numbers, production numbers or herd size numbers, your dairy will likely become a statistic and not necessarily an exceptional one. There is a very real danger at both ends of the number game.  You either target too many priorities or you are using too narrow a focus.  Instead, start with three areas where you will assemble your all-star talent.  Three examples might be feeding, breeding and milking.  Don’t expect everyone on the team to star at all three.  Find the best.  Give them the training, tools, and empowerment. Let them show what they can do. Quite often the recognition of individual talents inspires whole teams to raise their level of effectiveness. Another area that might gain from A-team input is the need to analyze and improve calf management.

  1. You can’t rest on last year’s record.

Don’t underestimate the competition. Don’t underestimate the impact of changing conditions. Nothing surprises leaders and managers more than being surprised by failure. Exceptional achievement doesn’t mean doing everything the same as you did it, when you won last time.  It means being effective today.  Winning isn’t a static formula.  It’s an attitude. It’s not the system that is to be relied upon.  It’s the winning attitude. Every day.  Every way.

  1. Manage team member egos

Perhaps the biggest limiting factor from that works against having an all-star dairy team is the fear that, by seeking out and using all-stars, it will mean that personal egos will get in the way of team effectiveness.  The 24/7 nature of dairy managing would seem to be best served when the drama of competition and recognition are reduced to the lowest common denominator.  But, unless all members are inspired by personal contribution to the team goals, the effectiveness of the team will also slide toward that “lowest common denominator”.   

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Too often dairy managers follow outmoded practices for assembling their feeding, breeding and milking teams. They are then easily outperformed by All-Star managers, who aren’t afraid to identify, assemble and manage all star dairy teams.  Go ahead. Put together an A-team and then make sure that they are given A-team remuneration! What will happen? Without a doubt, your dairy team will have a winning season!!  


How Much Ag Education Is Too Much?

These early days of September see many students starting back to classes.  Parents, teachers and the students themselves are focused on making sure that the education they are receiving is the one that will best prepare them for a life career that is rewarding.

Every industry requires a specialized set of skills — and the dairy industry is no exception.

Recently on The Milk House, Thomas Lilley had questions about Ag education as it applied to his current goals and life plan. 

The first question was put this way. “Hey guys, I am just wondering, at what stage does a university graduate become “over educated” to be employable as a farm hand?”

Thomas Lilley, then narrowed down to, “I’m wondering as I’m currently finishing my third year studying at University and I could graduate with a degree in Agriculture, or could return for a fourth year and graduate with a degree in Agricultural Sciences with or without honors, both with a focus on Animal Science and Genetics.”

The third part dealt with seeking further guidance, as the questioner zeroed in on mentorship advice, “I was just wondering your opinions as employers and in terms of possibly obtaining financial backing to purchase my own farm someday.”

When Does Enough Education Become Too Much?

Calling someone overeducated is often meant as an insult or used without justification by people of less education, simply as a means of tearing down someone’s accomplishments when you don’t like them. The education in question may actually be perfectly suited to the task at hand. However, since we don’t walk around wearing our degrees, the evidence of our education should be in the work completed not in the statement that we have it.

Advice from Those Who are Willing to Share.

The discussion on the Milk House was good. One member encouraged Lilley to “Finish your education. You never know where you might be in the future. If something happens down the road that you aren’t working on farm or owning your own farm, you will need a degree most likely to work in industry. You don’t want to lose out on a good job because you didn’t finish your degree. ” Another member, Emily Hill, summed up a great answer by saying” If you won’t be bored, finish now.  Even if you go on for another eight years, you will not be “annoying” to an employer or co-workers if you are humble, respectful, hard-working and patient. In farm work, everyone is busting their ass. The annoyance comes when you act like you’re somehow better. That’s NOT just in farm work. That’s just good life advice. ”

Making the Best Educational Choices

Getting an education that will prepare you for a career in agriculture starts with the two-pronged decision of where you will study and what your education will focus on.  It isn’t unusual for young students to be confused about the vast number of choices they’re facing.  It is, therefore, wise to seek input and mentoring.  Keeping an open mind and not settling for “easy” or “fast” are part of the first steps to consider.

Students are faced with a full spectrum of career studies. They vary enormously and include everything from genetics, engineering, science, finance and general labor. In addition to the hard skills learned in formal studies, employers today recognize that it is important to grow the soft skills that will make it possible for you to stand out in a competitive agricultural work environment.  Competition is the modern reality. Indeed, competition continues beyond classroom test results, is highlighted throughout job interviews and then is a driving force of achieving goals and priorities in the workplace.

Is Agriculture Facing Degrees of Ineffectiveness?

The more people that have the extra degrees, the more companies will expect them as standard. This becomes the new normal.  The bachelor’s degree is already a standard prerequisite. Some employers insist on a Master’s Degree, or Ph.D. Education has become a commodity, and further education has moved from furthering knowledge to a check-off for being employable. It is important not to lose the effectiveness of education.  A wall of framed certificates is useless if it doesn’t contribute to Ag business outcomes.

AgBackground and Work Experience Are Cumulative Assets

Although it’s rare, it’s not impossible, for someone outside of agriculture to be interested in seeking an agricultural career.  In the case of the young person seeking advice on the Milk House, there already was a connection to dairying. “I have been raised on a dairy farm, and have worked on other dairy farms for the past five years.” This can certainly be an asset but, having said that, it’s never too late to start to build or continue building a resume of experience that supports success in the ag industry.

Four Skills to Develop in Tandem with Education

Education doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Everything you are exposed to can add to your education and prepare you for success in the dairy industry.  Four that are often identified by employers, consultants, and financial planners are:

  1. Adaptability
  2. Interpersonal communication skills
  3. Time management and organization
  4. Tech Savvy


Being able to adapt to changing situations is important to most careers in agriculture.  Whether you are on the farm or consulting or supplying the industry, the very nature of agriculture means that there are constant seasonal and economic changes to respond to. It is exciting, when studying, to be exposed to the leading edge of science and technology relating to the industry.  Then it is absolutely vital to be able to adapt what you learned in the classroom to develop a solution and come up with a plan for situations faced on the farm or in an ag job. Being able to do so, could mean the difference between the success or failure of the farm operation.

Ag business also benefits when adaptability is a polished skill. Ag professionals need to learn to adapt quickly to meet changing consumer demands, not just as a group but from farm to farm. New challenges are always presenting themselves. Not only must ag professionals respond to arising challenges, but they will also be expected to have skill in predicting what new challenges lie ahead.

Interpersonal Communication skills

For agriculture professionals, interpersonal skills are incredibly important.  They are required to interact with farmers, other industry professionals and with labs and production sites producing materials for use on the farm. This requires an understanding of the communication styles of a wide range of individuals.  It also depends on clearly communicating the assessments and possible solutions that will work best to resolve problems and move the business forward. Effective professionals must be able to listen to the needs of their suppliers and consumers.  The goal is to ensure all needs and targets are met while developing good business relationships that contribute to longevity. Finally, strong interpersonal skills are necessary for those involved in public relations, sales, advertising or any area of expertise that relies heavily upon effective, strategic communication.

Time management and organization skills

Quite often the development of strong time management and organization skills is a byproduct of extended educational studies. These skills are a tremendous asset when breaking into the agriculture industry. It goes without saying, that agriculture professionals working in logistics must have effective organizational abilities. Many agricultural professionals not only work with a variety of products but they also interact with a variety of farmers and numerous clients.  Time management and organization are also important to laborers, farms and machine operators.  With the constant variables of weather, seasonal price fluctuations and workforce supply and demand, it can be a challenge to maintain schedules and consumer and client demands.


Technology is a leading change producer in all areas of agriculture.  Knowledge of where it is going is incredibly important to anyone desiring to work effectively in the industry. It is absolutely necessary to maintain competence in computer skills, including using a company or farm specific software and interpreting data. Technology is always evolving and will require a selective focus on things ranging from genetics to nutrition to health advances.  Technology is there to assist in improving methods and techniques of breeding, data collection, finances and feed harvest, storage, and transport.

Agriculture professionals need to embrace technological development.  Professionals, particularly farming owners and operators, should always be aware of what new technologies may offer and determine whether adopting new techniques, instruments and advancements are beneficial to their dairy venture.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

When it comes to getting an agricultural education, it is not about learning a set of skills and then being “prepared” for life.  It’s about learning to continuously learn over the course of your whole career.  Progressive employers, farm owners, and farm managers look for lifelong learners. They never say, “Stop! That’s too much!”



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.







Milk Production by The California Numbers – 20% of the nation’s milk supply!

Remember in the 50’s when Paint by Number sets allowed anyone to produce recognizable scenes using oil and brushes?  It smelled like art.  It used artist’s tools.  But, unfortunately, just simply following the numbers did not make the best artists?

In a different way, the dairy industry loves reducing our industry to numbers!  Statistics.  Data.  Every day a new analysis listing percentages and totals flashes across the screens and headlines in front of us. If not, we can seek them out ourselves.  Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that seeing and hearing the numbers … even daily…will turn us into better milk producers any more than painting by numbers will turn us into great artists.

California Top Numbers

For example, recent headlines focused on California milk production reported all those statistical numbers that grab our attention. “59 counties produce 50%” “13 counties account for 25%” and “California continues to produce roughly 20% of the nation’s milk supply.”  The final statement by numbers reported, “USDA’s analysis shows that 826 counties increased milk production in December 2016 compared to the previous December. One thousand thirteen counties decreased production in that same period. Most of the reduced production came in the central and southeast regions of the country.”

This is all well and good.  I like knowing what 25% are doing?  But beyond that, I ask, “Are the other 75% doing something different? Or is 25% a large number in this context?”

Living for almost fifty years with a master of statistics, I am trained to ask the second question,
“What do the numbers mean for what I am doing?  Should I or could I do something different?”

“Dairy Farming is the Leading Cause of Statistics.”

That subhead may seem to emphasize humor. In fact, there are numerous mathematical ways to look at the dairy industry. When you reduce U.S. milk production to numbers, you learn that milk production is highly concentrated. The USDA reports that 50% of California and Federal Milk Marketing Order production is found in just 59 counties. Looking closer at those 59 counties, you learn that they are just 3.6% of the 1,632 counties that produce milk in California and the Federal order system.  Further analysis, reveals that 13 counties account for 25% of that milk production and 7 of them are in California.  Those 7 California dairies account for nearly 18% of milk production.  And one county – Tulare County in California’s Central Valley, accounts for nearly 6% of all milk produced in California and the Federal Order system.

Some Dairy Numbers Cause Excitement. Some Dairy Numbers Cause Exits.

Depending on where you farm, you must determine what it means to the success of your dairy operation.  Should you move?  Is it better to be outside the main concentration area? Should you consider becoming pro-active for increased federal support? At the day-to-day operations level, do the statistics inspire you to seek out suppliers and dairy support teams who can provide input on increased milk production or better profit margins based on your logistics?

Where you fall in the statistical analysis is important but even more important is knowing how to use the statistics to meet your business goals. Does the size of leading national producers affect my operation?  Perhaps the biggest question revolves around the scale of the consumer base that directly affects my dairy operation.

“Are we using statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts for support rather than illumination.”

If the only use we make of statistical analysis is to prove that what we are currently doing is right, eventually the dairy industry will move on and leave us behind.  Dairy managers must always make pro-active decisions every day.  The hardest of those decisions will involve determining what numbers are most relevant.  It is absolutely vital to know your own numbers and how they compare to your local, state and national peers in the dairy community. Here are six that you can’t afford to overlook.

  1. Weight of milk
  2. Weight of animals
  3. Ration numbers
  4. Comparison by age group
  5. Comparison by period
  6. Geographic impact. What effect does your location have on all the above?

First, you must collect all the data, and then you should be creative in using it to make informed decisions. 


Sustainable success is measured by numbers up, down and location east versus west


USDA’s analysis shows that 826 counties increased milk production in December 2016 compared to the previous December.


One thousand thirteen counties decreased production in that same 2016 period. Most of the reduced production came in the central and southeast regions of the country. During the same time, there has been a drop off in production in California due to the pressures relating to drought and low milk prices. Three California cooperatives have petitioned USDA to join the Federal Order system, with a vote expected later this year.

West is Best:

Twelve of the top 13 counties are in the West. Others on the list include Yakima, Wash., Weld, Colo., Pinal, Ariz., and Chaves, N.M. When all the numbers are totaled, California continues to produce approximately 20% of the United States milk supply. 

East is Least:

Lancaster Pennsylvania is the only county east of the Missouri River to make the top 13 counties list

The Bullvine Bottom Line

What do the CALIFORNIA NUMBERS mean to you? Is it entirely geographical or is there a logistical component? Simply knowing the numbers, will not ensure dairy success. However, we can learn from looking at the big picture they provide. Then we must decide how to turn the numerical science into dairy profitability.  That’s the art of using numbers!



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.








Some might say that artist Andrea Jorgensen, of Webberville Michigan, is an overnight success.  You might agree, especially after hearing her say, “I didn’t start painting until the fall of 2015.” Since that time her paintings are drawing considerable attention and have given her the opportunity to build a career from commissioned pieces. The Bullvine recently had the privilege of interviewing Andrea and finding out about the evolving story behind her art.

Everyday Objects Are Given New Life

All good success stories must look back to the earliest beginnings. “I have always been artistic starting from a very young age,” says Andrea as she looks back to pastimes where creativity sprang from whatever was close at hand. “I can remember constantly creating random DIY projects with trash around the house, building nonsense wood pieces in my grandpa’s workshop, sewing anything I could think of with my grandma’s scrap fabric, and always drawing.” It is obvious that Andrea’s loving family surroundings impacted her artistic talents.

Studying Art Has Always Been a Happy Choice for Andrea

As a child growing up in Williamston Michigan, Andrea was drawn to the creative subjects at each different level of the school curriculum.” I took almost every art class possible all the way through high school. That was my time to really be myself and to create and to learn art with different mediums.” From the beginning, Andrea knew she had found something she enjoyed and excelled at. She recalls, “I mainly leaned towards drawing with a pencil because it came easiest for me. Even through college, I took art classes because it was fun and exciting.”

Through the Eyes of an Artist

Andrea Jorgensen now living and loving life on Ri-Val-Re Farm in Webberville, Michigan unexpectedly declares that her journey to becoming a bovine artist wasn’t the usual one of lifelong familiarity with cows. “I wasn’t raised on a farm, so the whole dairy industry has really opened my eyes.”   Andrea’s eye-opening experience has art also opened the eyes of dairy art lovers. Those familiar with her art, admire her eye for dairy anatomy and the way her paintings capture the nuances of the different personalities or her subjects.  From a single painting or a hanging of several pieces, it is easy to see what set’s Andrea’s work apart. Her unique, ultra-colorful paintings, are comprised of layers of bright acrylics that enhance and expand our usual perception of the black, white and brown dairy cows that dairy folk love to admire. (Read more: BREEDING RI-VAL-RE: Where Looking Good in the Stall Is Just As Important As Looking Good On Paper)



Andrea Began by Using Her Gift as A Gift

So, let’s return to consideration of the relatively short amount of time that Andrea has been painting. “I didn’t start painting until fall of 2015.” says Andrea giving the time and then goes on to explain the reason, “My husband, Jerry, had gone on a hunting trip and I had an urge to surprise him with a painting of one of his donor heifers, Hope. Plus, we had moved into our farm house earlier that Spring and I wanted a cow portrait in our living room. Next thing I knew I was painting a 4 x 6 ft. portrait of my husband’s beloved cow, Redwing.” She might just as well say the rest was history, because she explains, “After that Jerry really encouraged me to continue painting cows and that’s when I created Artwork by APJ.”

From One Love-Inspired Gift to Creator of Many Gifted Paintings

You might say that Andrea was inspired by a favorite from her husband Jerry’s stable and, as a result, Andrea has created a stable of painted favorites to send out into the world. Much of Andrea’s painting has been done on commission and frequently the products of her talent, like the gift she painted for her husband, become gifts given and shared between other dairy admirers.

“The World is My Inspiration!”

When asked who has been the biggest influence on Andrea, her answer is as unique as the pieces that she produces. “Art wise, I can’t really think of anything or anyone particular that has had a significant influence on me,” she says and then expands dramatically. “The world, in general, is my inspiration and influencer.” She shows her artistic awareness when she analyzes how that inspiration affects her work. “I can look at a bowl of strawberries and automatically get inspired to do a red scheme background.” I think having that perspective has really helped me find my known style.”

Andrea Paints Bold, Colorful Bovines

Andrea’s artwork is a bright representation of her subjects, and she doesn’t aim to be low key.  “Bold and colorful! The more colors, the better. My style also involves visible brush strokes with every layer I paint.” It is unique and immediately evokes a response.  For more of her work visit her website. Scrolling through Andrea’s canvases, photographs and projects will quickly highlight and showcases her love of animals, nature, family, home, and farming.

Love Inspires the Artist’s Journey

As we get to meet this artist, we are in the fortunate position of being able to use hindsight to discern what events were responsible for getting Andrea’s artistic career started.  Andrea gives credit for her introduction to dairy to one her husband Jerry Jorgensen, known to many as a successful dairy breeder and recognized dairy judge. “I probably wouldn’t be painting at all if it wasn’t for him. Not just because of the support and encouragement but because of the family dairy farm. I wasn’t raised on a farm, so the whole dairy industry has really opened my eyes. I always thought cows were dumb, stinky creatures before I met Jerry.” It is an understatement to say that he changed her initial perceptions of cattle, “Yes, they can still come off (as smelly) but I have a different respect for their beauty now.” 




Andrea Reveals Love That Goes Beyond Cows

At this point, I must make sure that my reporting does not limit Andrea’s artistic talent to cow portraits only.  As much as this is what drives The Bullvine, it isn’t fair to this gifted artist to limit the reporting of her talents to dairy only. Indeed, when asked to list her favorite works to date, Andrea responds the same way that dairy breeders, cattle judges and show string historians do, by first proclaiming what a difficult question that is. “It’s so hard to choose one! I have an attachment with all my paintings! There’s a top 5 favorites list which is constantly changing as I do more paintings.” Her diversity shows in the list she provided us with, which included what is hanging in her own home.” Right now, I would say my top 5 favorites are (in no particular order): Burt & Ernie (a painting of 2 pigs that is hanging in our living room), Antoine (a ram), Gizzard (a longhorn), Alfred (a rooster that is hanging in our kitchen), & Gatsby (a custom Jersey).

Andreas Goes Beyond an Exact Likeness to Painted Poetry

If, until now, you’ve never seen Andrea Jorgensen’s work, you are in for a treat. In a world of photographic realism and real-time animal videos, it is especially refreshing to find a talented artist who uses deft strokes to create unique portraiture.  She doesn’t target a perfect likeness. Her clients already know what the subject looks like.  What makes Andrea’s work unique is that it goes beyond the restrictions of a portrait or video frame to a composition that skillfully reveals a deeper understanding of her subjects. Which inspires the question, “How do you decide what to paint?” Andrea gives us a look behind the scene with her answer. “Ninety-five percent of my paintings are commissioned, so I work with the customer to get a good reference photo before I start painting. Otherwise, I will randomly find a picture on Facebook or Instagram that really catches my eye.” Andrea’s business portfolio “Artwork by APJ” continues to grow at the pace of her enthusiasm and growing recognition.

Andrea’s Advice

Whenever you see someone doing a successful job of using their talents to build a career, it is human nature to want to understand how they have managed to do it. As a successfully productive artist, Andrea is in the position of not only growing from her own life choices but also being able to help others who wish to start their artistic journey.  Her suggestions, like her art, are bold, forthright and forward looking. Here are the three that she urges others to use.

  1. DO NOT compare your work to other artists.
  2. Find your style
  3. Don’t be afraid to push your comfort zone

It seems obvious that artist Andrea also has talents to share as a mentor.

The Artist.  The Mother.

Now that we have glimpsed what goes on in Andrea’s studio, our natural curiosity leads us to find out more about Andrea herself.  Readers of The Bullvine can all relate to the fact that there are times in life when our passion for our work inspires our daily lives and prepares us for new pathways. This is true for the Jorgensen’s too as we learn from Andrea’s update. “By the time you read this, I’ll be working on something different. I have a few custom pieces I’m finishing before I have to take a pause, we are expecting, a little girl the first part of August. I’m also getting things organized for my dream-come-true-booth at World Dairy Expo.” We all look forward to seeing her at Dairy Expo, but her other life benchmark also has us applauding.

Congratulations to the Jorgensen Family

We are thrilled to join with friends, family and Bullvine readers in congratulating Andrea and Jerry on the arrival of their baby girl. Izadore Irvette Jorgensen was born on August 1st.  We wish you all the best as you hold this work of art in your arms and create a beautiful family together.  

Hand in Hand.  Romance.  Cows and Art.

Andrea concludes our interview with a special thank you for those who have helped her get this far in her career. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it wasn’t for my husband. He has encouraged me from day one.” It takes special support to pursue art the way Andrea has, and she is grateful. “A huge thanks to everyone that follows me on social media and those who have commissioned or bought a painting. Their support keeps me motivated to continue creating new pieces of art. It means more than they will ever know!” As a result, Andrea has built on this exceptional support, to grow an impressive following in just two years. She is justifiably enthusiastic about the future. ‘My goal is to keep creating colorful pieces of art for other people to enjoy. I hope to keep growing and evolving with all of life’s changes being thrown at me. I could not be more excited.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The Bullvine wishes Andrea Jorgensen all the best with her growing business and growing family.  We enthusiastically hope that she will continue to open her gallery doors and continue painting until the cows come home.




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.







Is Milk’s Healthy Halo Trendy or Tarnished?

Canadians have long looked with jealousy, envy and/or admiration at the school milk program in the USA.  We think what a huge difference that could make to national production requirements.

In the US that is 50 million milk drinkers. It often appears to us that this is a subsidy that isn’t acknowledged front and center like the backlash we get for having a quota system.  Having said that, it is a long-term marketing plan that could keep the dairy market growing.

“A positive experience with school milk can build lifelong consumers.”
Tom Gallagher is Chief Executive Officer of Dairy Management Inc.™, 

It is logical for the dairy industry to consider positive ways to keep milk consumption rising and discovering new ways to attract new consumers.  That’s the only way to sustain the dairy industry. Regardless of what support the industry receives, long term industry success will depend on the consumers’ opinion of milk as their choice of beverage.

This has had me tuning in more carefully to the way we make our beverage choices.  I haven’t yet heard myself, or any other social hosts, restaurants or meeting organizers say, “What would you like to drink? I have soda, beer, wine and ice cold, delicious whole milk!”

If we are looking for the long term survival of the dairy industry, we must consider the future consumer and how they will make their choices. I did a super mini survey among my eight grandchildren – five of whom have free milk at school.  We are fortunate that none of them are lactose intolerant, but it is interesting to note that it isn’t whether it’s free or good for you that is driving their selection processes.

Kids Interest in Beverages is Learned from What They See!

I sometimes ask myself if milk should be restricted to certain age groups.  Can you imagine a child reaching the age of consent and looking with delight to having their first glass of milk?  Would milk bashes become the new drive-your-parents’-crazy party gathering? Of course, I’ve wandered far from the (beaten) path. My point, such as it is, is that we don’t do enough to promote the product (from which we earn our living).

Probably I spend too much time at the refrigerator door, replenishing my glass of milk.  Having said that, I am delighted to see the modern trend toward smoothies.  Here is a yummy place for milk, cream, yogurt, and cheese to add new dairy product consumers.  Granted there are non-milk milks that are used here such as soy and almond milks but, in general, this is a growing potential market. Even the beverage leading coffee chains are expanding their brands with new lattes and cream flavors.

Learn from Other Beverage Industries

More attention is being placed on the benefits of healthy eating.  Whole industries from bottled water to micro-brewers to winemakers and specialty coffee shops are cashing in on the healthy and tasty ways their beverages provide what the consumer is looking for.

Beverage Industry Trends

That isn’t to say that there aren’t trends that are changing the beverage industry.  In January of last year, the Business Insider reported, “The beverage industry is experiencing some major changes heading into the new year. ” The article went on to point out health and wellness trends such as “all-natural, energy-boosting, relaxation and fortification.” Concerns are rising in the beverage industry. “As the demonization of sugar increasingly paints big beverage companies as the enemy, the industry is eager to humanize itself.”

Does Providing Good Food Translate into Doing Good Business?

Are we teaching kids to drink milk? Schools represent more than 50 million current and future consumers who have the option to consume milk and other dairy foods at least 180 days a year. Tom Gallagher, Chief Executive Officer, Dairy Management Inc. sees this as an opportunity to affect the health of young consumers. “Youth wellness is a longstanding priority for dairy farm families. In the USA the dairy checkoff is seen as a way carrying out this commitment as part of its daily mission.”

In Canada, there is no government involvement, but John Leveris, Dairy Farmers’ of Canada assistant director for market development, speaking for the not-for-profit initiative ESMP (Elementary School Milk Program) says

Typically the milk is sold to the schools at prevailing market prices. Schools then determine a ‘fundraising’ profit (generally $0.05 to $0.10), after which families pay approximately $0.65 per carton.”

It’s a significant discount from what one would pay for a 250mL carton of milk at a restaurant or convenience store,” he adds.

Is Milk’s better-for-you health halo Trendy? Tired? Or Tarnished?

As an industry, we must not just maintain but grow consumer support.  Our future depends on it.  Is our long-held image of milk and milk products a product of seeing our industry through rose colored glasses?  As long as we receive our producer’s checks, do we need to worry about what beverages are the most popular?  Maybe milk isn’t even in the top 10.  What is the beverage consumers are sipping?  Is the dairy industry slipping?

Does the next Generation of consumers care about what is “Good for you?”

A little carton of milk may seem like a minor thing, but it can have far reaching benefits for both the producing and consuming sides of the dairy industry. Statistical analysis has important considerations. “There are approximately 200 days in the school year which means there are 200 lunches, or in other words, 200 opportunities for children to make healthy food choices.” Although the intentions are good, it may be a bit presumptuous to assume that merely being presented with a nutritious beverage will tip students choices toward milk now or in the future.

As Food Producers Are We Required to Set an Example by Consuming Our Product?

If you work for a car company, you drive the company car.  If you produce computers, you use the company brand.  Many companies require that employees wear company uniforms, colors or logo.  It’s considered part of the job to promote and support the product produced. Is there a similar requirement for milk producers? Is there a line in the sand between producing milk and drinking it and serving milk products?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The dairy industry is at a turning point as it responds to the continuous changes that keep the beverage industry evolving.  There is much to learn, and it’s no time to distance ourselves with the excuse that passion for our industry is the only branding producers need to be involved in. There is a need for all milk stakeholders to be much more aware of the many forces that impact the milk consumer.




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.






Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation: The Sire That Took the Dairy Breeding Industry to New Heights – Bullvine Legend Series

Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation

Breeding a legendary dairy sire isn’t automatic. It is not as simple as crossing the right sire with the right dam. However, although it isn’t easy, it does happen.

In one of the most famous cases of all, that of Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation, it is somewhat surprising that the tremendous impact that was to become legendary was not immediately obvious.

It took a little time for the world to recognise his greatness. But, in the end, Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation changed  an entire breed and the dairy industry.

The Breeding of Elevation was Far from a Sure Thing

It would take time for the world to recognize the presence of greatness. Elevation was the product of a great mother, Eve, and a questionable father, Tidy Burke. As it happens, Elevation brought together the best from the Burkes, Rag Apples, Triunes and Winterthur bloodlines.  That is one of the reasons why Elevation would never have been totally missed.  Furthermore, Elevation did many important things well.  There are five that stand out: 1. Production 2. Udders 3. Mobility 4. Fertility and 5. Longevity. Measuring any one or all of these traits shows you what made Elevation special, for these are just a few of the characteristics that contributed to his popularity.  However, Elevation went way beyond mere popularity.  This legendary bull made a tremendous impact on the genetics of the Holstein Breed. He changed dairy organizations.  He affected dairy breeding around the world. The fact that Elevation has 10,000 registered sons in the United States alone speaks volume to both his acceptance and impact.

Was Elevation a Product of Genomics or Ahead of Genomic Times?

Today Elevation would have had hair pulled and submitted to DNA testing.  But in the 1960’s, if you can imagine it, here was a bull entering a sampling program from a slow maturing mother and a never classified father. A father who physically significantly lacked both size and mobility.

George Miller

The mating that resulted in Elevation used the combined knowledge and ‘go for it’ attitude of two men: breeder, Ron Hope from Virginia and his advisor, George Miller.  These two were first cousins, and they started three generations back to produce Elevation.  That is the way it was done in those days.  To arrive at Elevation’s dam, Eve, Hope and Miller stacked three sires: Ivanhoe, Gaiety and General.

By the way, in her early life, Eve carried more condition than normal. This is something that is also seen in Elevation daughters.

It is not any wonder, therefore, that Elevation passed on good fertility, given what we know today about the positive correlation between fertility and body condition score.

After completing a Master of Science degree at Virginia Tech, George Miller spent his career in A.I. starting at the field level, then as a state A.I. manager and eventually as Director of Marketing and Development at Select Sires.  George knew Holsteins, and he had access to bull performance information.  There must have been many interesting discussions between these first cousins about who would be the best mate for Eve, in order to produce a son that could enter A.I.

As mentioned previously, Tidy Burke Elevation, Elevation’s sire, was an ugly duckling but he did produce outstanding daughters.  Four of those daughters earned Honorable Mention All-American Get of Sire.  Today, it is evident that an artful breeder and a top notch A.I. man were indeed able to find the best sire available for Eve.  Remember that these men were making their decisions before the world had ever thought of using DNA information to aid in mating.

Elevation Made an Impact on Organisations

Charlie Will, who is the Holstein Sire Program Manager at Select Sires, gives perspective to the impact that Elevation has had on the company that originally purchased him. “Elevation put Select Sires on the map.  He was so far ahead of all other bulls for his time.  He had exceptional production and amazing type at the same time.” He explains what that meant over time, from the beginning and up to and including the present time. “Elevation made it possible for Select sires to grow as a new company.  Today Elevation still ranks #1 at Holstein USA for the most genes in common among today’s active proven sires (14.5%).  His impact continues 52 years after his birth.”

The WOW Factor of Elevation.

It’s easy to reiterate what set Elevation apart from the competition. Charlie keeps it simple. “Elevation had extraordinary type and production in one package.”  He sees this combination as almost miraculous.  “he dominated the mating no matter what kind of cow you used him on.  He could make a Great Cow from a Poor dam.  This is why he could have a huge impact in a single generation.”

Elevation Didn’t Just INFLUENCE the Future, He MADE the Future!

Breeders always pay attention to cow families.  But in order to influence an entire population, you must go beyond sires and look at their descendants.  Elevation influenced one generation after another: his kids, his kid’s kids, his kid’s kid’s kids.  This is what made Elevation’s influence stellar.

Facts Alone Don’t Spark Legends.  Results Do.

In any business, repeatable results are the only true measure of legendary success.  Popularity and memories fade.  In dairy cattle breeding, generations of descendants tell the real story. 

Charlie Will
Holstein Sire Program Manager
Select Sires

In describing Elevation daughters, Charlie Will starts with a somewhat modest description.  “His daughters had great legs and feet.  A straighter leg but with healthy hocks and strong loins.” Warming to the topic, Charlie adds “Elevation daughters are tall enough, but not extreme, with ideal dairy strength and proportional width for the stature.”  He concludes with what made the difference. “The typical Elevation daughters were short headed heifers but, when they were called into line, their exceptional udders, high and wide Rear Udder, and the great shape and symmetry of their udders, quickly made a breeder proud to own her.”

The first appearance was not always the final answer with Elevation daughters that became long- lived high production cows.

Once proven, everyone recognized that Elevation would continue stamping out great daughters, as he moved the Holstein breed to new heights.

Elevation’s Legacy Lives on Through His Sons and Daughters

Since almost all sires active in the breed today trace back to Elevation, Charlie Will finds it hard to pick from a list where the greats are almost too numerous to mention.  For him, Elevation’s most impact sons include, “Bova, Starbuck, Pete, Mars Tony, Sexation, and Lime Hollow Mars.”

On the daughter side, Charlie lists many attributes. “Elevation has had many class winning daughters, including at World Dairy Expo and the Royal Winter. Elevation also led the list, at one time, for the number of Excellent daughters and also for the number of daughters who scored 95, 96 and 97.” His daughter list reads like an all-star lineup, from EX97 All-Time All-American’s Ella and Twinkie to EX-GMD Cora and Lindy, the dams of Carnation Counselor and Townson Lindy, respectively.

Elevation Surpasses All Heights

When we recognize a dairy legend, it is great to hear some stories from behind the scenes.  Charlie tells one about the time that Elevation was classified 96. “Jim Patterson was head of the Holstein USA classification program at the time that Elevation was raised from 95 to 96.  Later, after he retired, he told me that he only made one mistake, in all the years that he classified. He wished that he would have made Elevation 97 instead of 96!” (Learn more: CHARLIE WILL “A CAREER WITH IMPACT” – SELECT SIRES 50TH ANNIVERSARY)

Northcroft Ella Elevation EX-97-4E
1980 – Grand/Supreme Champion – WDE
1981 – Grand Champion – RAWF
1977, 1980, 1981, 1982 – All-American

Elevation’s Impact is Felt

With the perfect vision accorded to us by hindsight, we can clearly see that Elevation didn’t only influence genetics. Elevation has also had a tremendous impact on sales, new research and the success of countless breeders and organisations. Dairy strategy and development have also felt his influence. And, ultimately, the dairy show ring was also impacted by Elevation.

The World Wide Elevation Influence

Elevation, often known as RORAE, made friends for United States Holsteins around the world.  Therein lies the engine that drives the legend.  Fundamentally, around the world, one bull, through his progeny, significantly changed the profitability of the Holstein cow.  But the measure of Elevation goes beyond mere financial success.  Elevation made many dairymen into successful dairy breeders.  How did he do it? Elevation stamped out daughters that provided what dairymen needed. Production. Longevity. Fertility. Mobility. Functional mammary systems. These are the characteristics passed on by a one-of-a-kind, legendary bull.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Elevation forever lifted the worldwide dairy breeding industry to a new level.

Greatness can have many definitions, but in Holstein breeding, it can be said using a single name, Round Oak Rag Apple ELEVATION.




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.





HEAT STRESS – The Hot Topic That Turns Dairies into Meltdown Mode

I am really excited because you are actually starting to read this article on Heat Stress. At The Bullvine, we know that the frequency of Heat Stress articles might work against your decision to read one more.  The normal reaction would be to say, “Oh yeah.  I know Heat Stress like the back of my hand.”  The problem is we have all heard about it. We agree with the idea of dealing with it.  But, have we eliminated the effects of heat stress from our dairy herds? No.

The facts tell different, but likewise oft repeated, stories of failure.   Reduced feed intake. Less milk production. Lower butterfat percent. And, topping the list, poor or even stopped reproductive performance!

Knowing heat stress is not so much about learning to know it like the back of your hand. It’s more like fighting to keep it from slipping to the back of your mind.

We all know what it’s like to try to work in extreme conditions. Or do we?  Recently a friend was called for Jury Duty.  No problem.  Well, no problem until the AC in the courthouse failed, and everyone there spent the morning with no relief from the rising heat or the increasing stress.  Long story short. Later that night, there was an emergency trip to ER and much concern about heart, lungs and respiration. The verdict.  Don’t ignore the signs of heat stress.

If You’ve GOT HEAT, you’ve GOT STRESS!

Coming from Ontario, Canada or areas of the Midwestern USA, we might have only six or seven days of excessively high heat occurring one or two times during the summer season.  But, even if it isn’t extended as it is in many southern states, it is important to remember that cows start to be stressed at sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit or 18 degrees centigrade. When the outdoor temperature is above 80 degrees (27 degrees Centigrade) for extended periods, problems turn into high-risk situations.  This is where the good managers are separated from everyone else.  They don’t settle for losses.  They don’t aim for mediocre.

Do You Know the EARLY Signs of Heat Stress?

Of course, if cows are panting rapidly or going down, you can be sure they are at risk.  But long before the obvious signs of crisis, cattle are beginning to suffer from heat stress.  Continuous hot days and nights don’t provide any break in the cycle of high temperatures and cows quickly stop eating in an effort to reduce the heat coming from rumen fermentation. One thing leads to another.  Less feed in the rumen means less fermentation.  Along with less volatile fatty acid production, there is a reduction in rumen microbes and metabolizable protein.  This reduction in feed intake reduces milk production by more than 10% or down as much as a gallon or more per cow per day. Heat stress also reduces the butterfat level (0.2-0.3%). These conditions now open the door to other health issues, including reduced reproductive performance. 

Reproduction Declines as Heat Stress Rises

There is a direct correlation between heat stress and fertility. A three-year US trial reported on the winter to summer drop in confirmed pregnancies.  In winter 30% were confirmed, results dropped to 10 to 15% in summer.

Be Alert to the Ongoing Heat Stress Effects

As mentioned, reduction of feed intake is an automatic response by cows suffering from heat stress. Several points should be noted about the effects that this produces:

  • Digestion of forages causes more heat accumulation than the digestion of grains.
  • Animals on a higher forage ration are more inclined to heat stress than animals on higher grain
  • Cows will sort vigorously to eat more grain than forage.
  • Early lactation and higher yielding cows are the first to be affected.

It is good management to be alert to these signs when they occur in the cattle we care for. Careful observation of the condition of the feed in the feed bunk is an absolute must do.

Once into a cycle of hot days and nights, cows experiencing severe heat stress, produce less milk.  In extreme cases, death from heat stress can occur.

What Can Be Done?  What Must Be Done?

There are three main areas to consider when trying to relieve bovine heat stress.  First look at the exterior sources of heat.  Then consider what can be done to affect heat producing digestion. Finally, look for opportunities to provide direct and indirect cooling of the cows.

  • Under the Sun: It seems almost too obvious to say that we must be aware of direct solar radiation from the sun.  Whether your cows are on pasture or in the barn, it is important to do what you can to moderate exposure to extremely high temperatures. Many dairy cattle are dark colored and this too raises their susceptibility to heat stress. Out of doors make sure that cattle have access to shade and fresh feed and water.  Watch out for wet conditions that can add high humidity to the risks coming from high temperatures.  If the outdoors isn’t an effective solution, keep cows in the barn.
  • Inside the Barn: Getting proper air flow around the cattle in the barn will make a huge difference in cow comfort during excruciating weather conditions. Set up the maximum natural ventilation, preferably cross ventilation, and use fans to effectively increase air flow.
    With the air moving then turn your attention to ways to use water to cool the air and the cows. A fine mist will work to cool the air and thus make it easier for cattle to breathe.  In addition, it might be necessary to provide direct wetting of the cows.  This will enhance evaporative cooling on the skin surface of the cows.  Once again, too much wetting is not necessarily better. You don’t want to have so much water that it washes off the teat dip, wets the bedding or raises the humidity to unacceptable levels. It is especially important to avoid overcrowding!  A reduction in cows could have a positive effect on the production of the remaining cows.  This solution could offset the losses in milk production caused by overcrowded, heat-stressed
  • At the Feed Trough: Work with your feeding team and nutrition consultants to provide a ration that include high quality, highly digestible forage. Feed your highest producing cows the best quality feed. Consider formulations that involve using fat to maintain energy intake during declining feed intake.
  • In the Milk Line: Little adjustments in all areas of the dairy cow day have the potential to reduce heat stress. If it is an option, increasing milking frequency might be one way to moderate heat stress. 3x milking means less heat stress, particularly on heavily producing cows.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Managing heat stress in cows is up to you. Don’t procrastinate. Reduce exposure to the environment.  Take direct steps to keep cattle feeling cool.  Use ration formulations that reduce as much as possible heat from metabolization. Don’t accept meltdown. Keep good records.  Keep your cool.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.






We had an enlightening moment recently when my Michigan Granddaughter who is studying American History thought it would be fun to Play Canadian History trivial pursuit.  Her mother and father did extremely well (both Canadians), but she was disappointed in the gaps in her knowledge.  In true Canadian fashion, we apologized for the one-sided viewpoint of this Canadian game and urged her to seek historical bridges between the two countries. We found it.  It is in our agricultural roots as descendants from farmers. However, it didn’t take much reminiscing until we came to this conclusion.

Farmers — on both sides of the border —
have a lot in common with each other.
And there is a lot that isn’t in common with anyone else!

Farmers are Odd

It seems that any time we look into our farmer past; we always land on one of those one-of-a-kind memories. The phrase “hard to believe” is the golden grail of family farmer stories and it seems that every generation has many to draw on. We love to see the looks of disbelief, when a story starts out with,” There was a farmer…” As I seek to polish my farmer’s wife role in tandem with writing for The Bullvine, I have a growing file on the oddities of the dairy farmer. Some of them are scientifically proven, others go beyond science to the undeniable truth which is found, of course, through four decades of marriage to a farmer.

Even Oddities Can Be Measured

Today everyone wants proof. Thankfully some farmer oddities can easily be monitored by the speed at which they occur. When it comes to walking, farmers are faster.  When it comes to talking, farmers are slower.  I haven’t had the opportunity to simultaneously test the two, but we all know that, when something unexpected is happening two fields away, the farmer is off and speed walking to the rescue. After the emergency is taken care of, the final five-word assessment of the successful outcome almost always seems to take longer to say than it took him to get to the scene. “She wasn’t due until tomorrow!” Apparently, the slowness of the delivery adds to the significance of the pronouncement.

Farmers Have an Odd Sense of Hearing

When I got the opportunity to join a farm family, I was mightily impressed by the attention they gave to listening.  Coming from the fast forward of a house construction family, it was delightful to be heard at the board room table, which like farmers was also the kitchen table.  However, not only do farmers listen better, farmers think about what you say.  If I was prone to wild pronouncements in my early farm days like “that looks easy” or “I could do that,” it would quickly earn me the privilege of becoming more farmer-like myself.  To this day, handy experiences magically appear to prove whether I actually have managed to fit in with these odd folks. You see, real farmers are not only hands-on, but they are also hands in.  Most things non-mechanical will only get you dirty or smelly but it’s a fact that farmers get the oddest satisfaction from going beyond hands on to get up to their elbows in mud, dust, manure or baby calf deliveries. I’ve done most of the dirty jobs, but I usually try to have water, rags, and soap on hand for the inevitable clean-up. 

Odd Sense of Smell

Which brings me to the biggest oddity that sets farmers apart — their smell.  No.  I don’t mean their sense of smell.  It goes beyond that. You too probably know one of those odd farmer dudes who is absolutely convinced that he is still huggable even when he is covered head to foot in manure, and other unidentifiable ride longs gathered on his around-the-farm journey. That charm can only go so far.  However, it also makes him a prime candidate for diaper changing, should the opportunity arise.  But first, you have to convince him that he notices it.  Remember farmers are odd.  They love those dairy airs perhaps a little more than smells coming from their dairy heirs. Truth be told, I have learned to accept that oddity, until or unless it invades my car or suddenly wafts down to where I’m sitting in the church choir.  “What is that smell?” remains a subject of investigation, but somehow or another folks are learning to check out that guy up there in the men’s section.  You know the one with a little bit of something on his shoe.  As for the car, I must be a real farmer.  The other day, the neighbor surreptitiously put the window down when I was driving her to a card party. Farmers are odd!

Farmers Are the Oddest Volunteers

Although hubby’s family have lived on this farm for 101 years, there seem to be less and less farmers in the surrounding community every year.  Having said that, if you want to test how many farmers belong to the group you’re volunteering for, whether it’s Lions Club, community theater or any other group that needs a big effort, just call a work bee, and the conversation you hear will quickly tell you where the odd farmers are. 

Farmers cannot get together – ever – and not have their conversation start somewhat harmlessly with the weather and then turn to a variety of farm related experiences that most of the neighbors wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

Of course, I have proof. Recently, when setting up tables for the Annual Ladies Salad Luncheon, I clearly overheard two of these odd fellows as their conversation moved easily from broken water mains to mastitis.  They didn’t have any concern that their heartfelt problem solving might not be entirely appropriate to the rest of the team who was preparing for white tablecloths and teaspoons. If this occasionally happens to you, remember farmers are a declining breed. It is best to make sure your normality meter can handle a conversation that is as free-wheeling and organic as the food they produce. 

Dairy Farmers Produce Experiments

When I am spending time with my city friends, that’s when I notice that they are oblivious to the excitement that being married to a dairy farmer can entail.  Although I don’t think my hubby actually plans to scare me, nevertheless I sometimes feel that he ponders the deep question of, “Let’s see if this will go through the washing machine!” more frequently than his innocent expression is intended to display. Although the quantity of rattles and bangs has started to decline, I still experience the mystery of discovering everything from binder twine to invoices in the washer. This recurring problem would be eliminated if the machines didn’t get turned on without inspection.  But remember farmers are hands on.  They are not hands- emptying-the-pockets-first on! Then, of course, there is stage two. “If it makes it through the wash, let’s try drying it.” Ear tags, cotter pins and anything else that can be zipped into a pocket to keep it safe will eventually send you running to the crash banging of the clothes dryer.  “Well it may not be safe anymore, but it sure is dry!” (This is delivered slowly and with an eye on the nearest exit). Odd indeed!

Farmers Remember Differently

I have learned from being married to a farmer, that there is satisfaction in repairing and maintaining the family homestead.  In the past 100 plus years, there are unique stores of items all over the farm that can be used for landscaping.  Family history wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t join around the fire pit to hear the tales of days gone by.  So, when I needed some especially flat stones for edging, I was told to drive the front end loader to the rock ridge.  Well, folks.  After one hundred years, the rock ridge is no longer rocky or a ridge. Thanks to erosion, tree harvesting, and rock picking, it is currently only slightly more than a rise in the rolling terrain. However, if you have to ask for more defined directions, the ensuing argument ranks right up there with trying to create a mountain out of an old hill. 

Likewise, when you think it’s time to replace a split rail fence that has seen better days, you better get approval from any guys still living that had a hand in building it.  “Dad and I built that when I was fifteen.  We hauled all those rails from the bush to the barnyard.  It is not only beautiful, but it’s also part of our history!” Yup.  Farmers remember things differently. They’re odd. 

The Bullvine Bottom Line

As the sun sets each day beyond the now empty milkhouse, I often reflect on the myriad of ways that the man I married is different from the men and women I meet in corner offices.  Although he is comfortable there too, he really shines when he takes a farm project into his own two hands.  Today that might have more to do with writing and consulting, but he always comes home to the farm and delves into the next ‘real’ work that needs doing. He’s there when the neighbors need help training calves. He’s there to build tree houses and forts with his grandchildren. He works hard.  He sometimes smells funny.  He loves the land and his long, long days almost as much as he loves passing on his long, long history to the next generations of his family.

You might call that odd. I think it’s inspiring!!



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.





It’s Time to Look at Dairy Bills from Both Sides Now!

We all want to pay our bills. After all, most people don’t get a great feeling watching debts accumulate. But things happen unexpectedly and, suddenly, you can’t make payments for everything on time.  Although you need to correct things quickly, making an ill-considered decision may mean wasted speed and wasted money!

When milk prices decline, the quickest response is to immediately cut an expense! 

Most often, somebody else’s bill becomes the first target: vet; nutritionist; feed supplier. What may be overlooked in this quick decision, are the positive ways these providers and consultants can contribute with solutions for the tight cash flow problem. It is short sighted to think that changing nutrition or health from monitored and managed to least cost or elimination will be the best decision. It is in everyone’s interest to work together to make the dairy profitable.

“My Business is the First Priority.”

Take note the important word is “business” not “bottom line.” Although the two may seem inseparable, a well-run, well-planned dairy business always comes ahead of dollar based decisions only.  Focusing on how you run the dairy will absolutely pay off to the bottom line.  Focusing on the bottom line could mean a savings today that is irreparably costly tomorrow. If you choose to cut something out of the chain, you may also be cutting profits due to losses from sick or dying animals and the resulting lost production and expensive solutions.

Everyone in the barn lane …. better be prepared!

This is not to say, that everyone in the dairy lane should be kept on your team. You want your cows to produce.  Your consultants and suppliers should contribute to that goal too. Let’s look at bills from both sides now:

The Nutrition Bill:

Engage a nutrition company that is willing to work with you not simply there to sell you product.  Make sure the nutrition company has a proven track record with dairies your size. The biggest is not always the one interested in solving your problems.  Find a nutrition company who has a person willing to check every cow – in the pen – from input to output, including manure.  You want to be presented with choices that have actual measurable outcomes, beyond the quick, “our price is lower!” answer.

The Vet Bill:

On the one hand, if the bill hasn’t changed much it may seem to be the easiest to complain about and then the easiest not to pay!

On the other hand, if the vet bill is actually higher than it’s been before, finding the reason is crucial, or you could be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  It’s one thing if a business is solving its own cash flow crisis by charging higher rates, but if there are rising health issues or ongoing medication or medical emergencies, these need to be identified with both action and financial planning. Sometimes it’s a talk about brand versus generic medicines. Perhaps it’s as simple as reducing the age at first calving.  An example recently cited a dairy farm where age at first calving was 28 months.  The suggestion given by the vet was that lowering that number to 23 months would pay the vet bill for an entire year. What can you do better?

Are you Saving Money to Lose Money?

Perhaps you haven’t cut out the expertise on your team, maybe you have inserted your own.  When saving money, sometimes it seems that I did it myself is a good solution.  Some dairies mix own detergents, teat tip, pipeline cleaner.  Great!  If it works!  However, if the SCC raises the dominoes mentioned earlier start falling: SCC rises and you don’t get premiums

Don’t Get Caught up in the least Cost Solutions

Don’t get caught up in finding least cost solutions: whether they are yours or someone else’s. You decide to make little changes … cut back a couple of steps in corn growing schedule … less yield.  Lower quality corn silage …. Once again the dominoes start falling as a monetary cut back in the spring could cause significant financial losses during the winter.

What Effect is Loyalty Having on Your Bottom Line?

Every dairy farm has loyalties.  Those include a best friend, twenty years or more of service, a hunting buddy or a next door neighbor.  These can all be rewarding but let’s look through the lens of business. It all comes down to cash flow and the bottom line.  Goods and services are on the expense side of the ledger, and every manager must determine if loyalty is maximizing or draining this return over cost.

A sound financial plan will identify both sides of this relationship: “whom do you need the most?” and “Who needs you the most?” Write each supplier line down and assign a priority: labor, vet, nutritionist, feed supplier, equipment supplier.  Which ones are first and last on the list of improvements you a targeting to improve your bottom line.  Do you have every latest product line or piece of equipment from the supplier you’re loyal to?  What does it cost you?  Is there a way to balance what you are buying with the effect it has on making you more efficient or productive?  When was the last time that a consultant suggested modifying or cutting back to get through a downturn? Again… these must be measurable results, not just heartfelt feelings.

Whom are you Going to Cull? Do you keep Unproductive Cows Too?

It is perhaps easier to cull people sending bills to your inbox than it is to cull cows in the milking line. However, both are an important part of your cash flow (story).  Herd turnover and the milk quality produced not only affects the price received for the milk you send out, it financially impacts every step from calf to the milking line. How much money are you spending on raising calves that will never produce?  Consider all your options from breeding programs and sexed semen to setting up defined culling strategies.  Put your money where the milk is long before the animal is in the milking line.

All cows are not created equally profitable! All numbers are not created equal.

Don’t live or die, meaning kill your business, by blinding maintaining some magic number of total cows on your farm. Are you keeping everything to maintain a number that you consider ideal?  A pen of sick or low producing animals is costly.  Not only because of the effect on the net return over feed per day but also because of the potential for sharing their diseases.  Furthermore, the time and attention and FEED took away from better-producing animals is money and time wasted.

Planning for the Future means Planning to Survive.

In every business success hinges on finances.  You may be willing to have a less flashy lifestyle, but you must always pay the bills.  How can you generate more income?  How can you hold costs under control?  Revenue maximization is a planned response to both rising or falling milk prices.  It is a major challenge. The up and down cycle of change occurs every two or three years.  Producing a product that garners a premium is one of the few ways a producer can affect the milk price received.  Having a plan in place for both events is the only way to manage this volatile business.  Following a plan, will make surviving any crisis more likely.

The Bullvine Bottom Line:

Suppliers, vets, and consultants have bills to pay as well. Nothing in the dairy industry happens in a vacuum. If everyone reduces feed supplies, stops vet visits and decides to put the cows on a “recession diet,” the domino effect will go into play.  Soon there are expensive health, feed, and sourcing problems, that are even more costly than the initial lower milk price or cash flow crisis that prompted the short-sighted response. Everyone in the dairy chain benefits from looking at diary bills from both sides now!




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.





I didn’t see all the rounds of voting for the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, but my ears did ring to attention when the subject of supply management was discussed by the election night panel.  “It affects only 11%.”  That phrase and the notion that it was too small a portion of the electorate to be an election game changer went by very quickly. I remember thinking. “Yes, it’s a small group.  But there are so many others affected by that small group. 

Food Chain Lingo Should Not Be Disparaged

“From Farm to Fork” and “From Stable to Table” are popular lingo used in support of the good chain. When analysts decide the group is too small to have national, or political, significance they are writing off a much larger group than just the primary providers. From the stable to the table applies to all the suppliers, consultants, financial institutions, truckers and grocery stores that make a portion of their living from the sustainability of the dairy industry.  And that’s not to mention consumers.  Too often that silent majority also gets overlooked in the hoopla of election forecasting and numbers analysis.

Who is Andrew Scheer?  Why Does He Care About Supply Management?

On May 27th, Andrew Scheer, Regina-Qu’Appelle MP, became the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. He pulled ahead of Maxime Bernier to win.  Once again, the modern day election results of “By a slim margin” came into play. A CBC article quoted Franck Groeneweg, a grain farmer from Edgeley, Saskatchewan as saying “It was a nail-biter to the end.”  Hindsight being 20/20 political pundits are now saying that Scheer seemed to have the support of many (dairy) producers” and that made the difference.

 The Rural Vote Rallied Around Scheer

Election platforms come and go and sometimes the ones that win never get put into action, but Andrew Scheer voiced support for supply management and for abolishing Prime Minister Trudeau’s carbon tax.  Rural voters took notice of what he claimed and also were not as supportive of Maxime Bernier’s statements that he wanted to abolish supply management.  Thus the expected winner became the election-night loser.

Who Likes Him Now?

The Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) also proclaimed its support for the new leader in a congratulatory post.

“Dairy Farmers of Canada would like to congratulate Andrew Scheer on his win in the Conservative leadership race,” says the DFC post.  “Mr. Scheer was supportive of supply management as a Member of Parliament, and has continued to be supportive throughout this leadership campaign; on behalf of all Canadian dairy farmers – thank you!”

Farming Is a New Political Game Changer

It hasn’t been that long since we wrote about the turmoil, rural interests are causing for US President Trump (Read more: Trump Fabricates False Dairy War with Canada – US Dairy Farmers Stuck Paying the Price). Whenever two or more people gather together to solve the problems of the world, you can be sure that Trump’s position on NAFTA, supply management and Canadian impact on Wisconsin dairy farmers, will be a hot topic. It isn’t surprising then that the Conservative Party had to choose who they felt was ready for that challenge on top of putting their agenda in the forefront of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

The Winner Had a Farm Strategy

Over the coming months, there may be many who try to determine how someone from a smaller province like Saskatchewan can rise to political prominence or even become Prime Minister.  As Scheer himself put it in an interview, “John Diefenbaker did it.” and he obviously has his eye on the prize. Ag supporters noted that, throughout the campaign, he valued the needs of farmers.  He campaigned in Quebec where he met directly with dairy farmers and earned the support of many of them. His strategy worked, and now he will be using those insights to power his opposition in Parliament.

So Who’s TOO SMALL Now?

We all love to read statistics that confirm that our position – political or otherwise – is the most popular.  I know I’m not the only one who is wondering why election polls seem to be missing the mark more and more often these days.

I think pollsters are asking the wrong questions of the wrong people.  They are so immersed in the take and take of traditional politics that they are missing the shifting mood of the times.  No one would ever call election campaigning and international politics as “normal, ” but we keep trying to look at modern issues through the distortion of the past.  Bluster, bravado, and name-calling have risen to new heights.  In the real world, there are many who don’t conduct themselves this way.  Nevertheless, they want their position to be acknowledged on the world stage.  That’s when what they would do themselves is sublimated, and they vote for the candidate who can get the job done.  If they think it takes bluster, they mark the “X” for that manner of candidate. If they are against smooth, big money politics, they put their vote where the candidate doesn’t spout those values. It doesn’t make a huge number to make the winning difference in an election. Twenty-five percent of the population is a landslide in most modern elections. Winning agricultural support is not often considered a mainstream election platform. Yet it is a good strategy when it brings out the passionate group who is ready to challenge mass production, mass advertising and mass conformance to money issues. The average voter – him or her— are ready to take the unlikely route when choosing who best represents what satisfies their average needs. That’s where majority wins are made.

Speak Up and Stand Up for Agriculture

There are so many times when headlines regarding agriculture broadcast the negative (Read more: Country vs. City – Bullying, Rejection, and a Total Lack of Understanding). It is refreshing to see a high-profile opportunity to celebrate the positive values of producing healthy food products. The challenge for Andrew Scheer will be where he goes with this foundation of support.  He saw the sector and recognized that they wanted their voice heard.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It wasn’t a landslide victory for Andrew Scheer, but many analysts feel his insight into supply management did make a difference!  Now let’s see if he will continue to do so on Parliament Hill.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Country vs City – Bullying, Rejection, and a Total Lack of Understanding

From Hamilton, New Zealand to Grand Rapids, Michigan there appears to be an unsettling addition to the growing disconnect between the realities of farm life and city sensibilities. Headlines proclaim bullying, rejection from stores and verbal abuse as the new normal for city-country relations.

Who Is the Bully? Who is Being Bullied?

Regardless of when it happens, we are always dismayed to hear about bullying.  When this headline “Dairy Farmers’ Children Bullied” came out of New Zealand, it struck a chord within the agricultural community.

Comments from DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle were reported in NZ Farmer. DairyNZ is the industry organization that represents all New Zealand dairy farmers. At a speech given at the organization’s Farmers Forum near Hamilton, Mackle said there had been “two or three incidents” of children who were being singled out in school because their parents were dairy farmers. He referred to it as: “The saddest story I’ve heard.”  He concluded that the behavior was an indication of the negative treatment “many felt the industry was receiving from the media.” He added. “It’s fair to say that across the country, dairy farmers are feeling a bit beaten up right now and that’s been going on for the last 18 months.”

Halfway around the world in Grand Rapids Michigan dairy farmer, Leslie Van Houten Parrish, went to Facebook in outrage over her son being kicked out of a Lush Store. Here are the highlights from her post that has since gone viral.

“Her teen son was shopping for a gift for his girlfriend when an employee allegedly asked him to leave the high-end beauty retailer known for its “100 percent vegetarian” products.  The 17-year-old, who was wearing clothes that indicated he worked on a dairy farm, was told the beauty retailer “didn’t support farmers and stood against cruelty to animals and refused to sell to him,” Van Houten Parrish said her son explained how his family’s farm goes “above and beyond to care and nurture our animals. “When the Lush employee refused to relent, Van Houten Parrish says her son said “I farm you eat!” before leaving. The angry mom says she will never shop at Lush again, and unleashed her fury on what she sees as the ignorance about the connection between farms and food.

Is ignorance the problem?

We tend to brush off the occasional bad urban-rural interaction as ignorance.  We glibly use the words that “They don’t know enough!” If that was the case, all we would have to do is inform critics loudly, clearly and often. The thing is ignorance is not really the problem between country and city.  With the world of communication being what it is today, it isn’t that we don’t know about differences in our respective jobs and locations.  The real problem is that city, and country lifestyles are so disconnected that too many think of all farmers … as dirty, poor people. Rather than an understanding of the nature of animal-based food production, our interactions are reduced to a quick judgment. It’s bad enough when it’s all in the mind, but in many cases, it’s all in the nose!  “What’s that smell?” is the new country nose rage offense. Unfortunately, no concession is given to extenuating circumstances that might have brought the farmer to the store, bank or pharmacy before showering and changing from work clothes into shopping wear.

We don’t need to inform each other. We need to engage each other.

Although headlines grab attention, we need to recognize that the priority isn’t that we need to expose our sight and smell differences. It’s that we need to communicate our shared goals. The angry Mom in Michigan tried very passionately to state the farmer side of the issue.  Her post said, “Maybe you don’t realize that the ingredients YOU USE (soy yogurt and soy milk) in your products are available because of FARMERS!!!*** I supported your business because you didn’t test on animals. We treat our animals with love and respect. But I refuse to support you when you can’t support those who help make your business profitable.  This world needs farmers more than it needs bath bombs.” Mrs. Parrish later followed up after talking to the store’s manager. “At first he thought it was a miscommunication. But after telling him, it clearly wasn’t when the clerk made a statement to him ‘how would you like to be chained up most of your life?’ He was caught a little off guard. This was not what was told to him by the employees working that night. I am continuing to work with them to educate their staff.”.

Bully, Bullied or Bystanders.

Clearly in both instances described here, feeling “in the right” doesn’t make the inflicted adverse actions any more justifiable. In these instances and many more, disconnectedness causes and, unfortunately, encourages bullying of a targeted group. In this case, it’s farmers. We especially feel for the one being bullied. Even more so, because we too are part of that shrinking group. I always encourage reasonable people to ask the second question. “Are we willing to do anything about it or are we okay with remaining bystanders?”  Do we or should we bully back? After all, it’s not hard to find instances of poor hygiene or fashion flops in city crowds.  Or do we become enablers, simply standing by and bemoaning the ways of the world?

Disconnection Is Fertile Ground for Growing Lack of Trust

The most dangerous outcome of not trying to meet on common ground is that a lack of trust develops on both sides.  In the Lush Store headline, the issue went beyond smell detection to blaming the identified farmer as an animal abuser. This radical leap is made too quickly by those who are at best three generations from the farm. On the farmer side of the equation, we are too quickly taking the position, which everyone on the “other” side is misjudging and abusing us! Neither position benefits consumers or animal agriculture.

Many farmers feel a great sense of frustration that people don’t understand how life, in general, is connected to life in the soil and life on the land.

Having said that, if something as simple as the smell can trigger abuse and rejection, the issues have gotten further than the mere excuse of not knowing where your food comes from. It isn’t lack of understanding.  It is a lack of respect.  Even worse, it’s the idea that expressing that respect in word or action is entirely acceptable.

What does it matter if people don’t understand where their food comes from?

I must admit there are many other occupations that I don’t understand.  I drive a car.  I live in a house. I read and work extensively on the Internet.  Certainly, problems arise.  However, I don’t believe it would serve my needs to attack all providers and malign them as a group. I don’t believe that, but I do acknowledge that seeds of dissension are happening much more often in today’s society. In politics, communities, schools and sports we first react with outrage and division.  That is at the core of what is happening between consumers and farmers.

Conflict, frustration, depression, anger, and other miseries in life are but a symptom of our disconnectedness. It’s one thing when it’s just a headline that you’re reading.  It’s another when it happens to someone you care about.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

No matter which category you fall into, bully, bullied or bystander, this response to city-country life comes at a high price.  Not only does it point out a growing disconnection between food providers and consumers, but there is an increasing disconnection between two vital parts of the community. City-country cruelty hurts everybody!



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



The Quest to Eradicate Mastitis!

If there is one long lived, rarely defeated dragon in dairying, it is Mastitis.  Despite heroic efforts, many a knight in shining armor (aka vets, farmers, researchers) has tried to save fair damsels (aka cows) and lost. Furthermore, the dragon Mastitis has grown ever more powerful and costs the dairy industry $2 billion dollars annually because of treatment costs, discarded milk, lost milk production, vet services, lost premiums and reduced cull values. And the list keeps growing!

When a quest takes place in a movie or fairy tale, there are tests and challenging obstacles to overcome.  In the dairy quest for Freedom from Mastitis, there have been countless very real challenges to overcome.  Here are five outcomes of some of these battles and forecasts of more to come:

  1. In 1986, compliance with the federal bulk tank somatic cell count (SCC) standard of 750,000cells per milliliter (cell/mL) was instituted.
  2. The limit could be lowered again to 400,000 cell/mL in the near future.
  3. There is the ongoing challenge of being profitable in a market of ever-volatile input and milk prices.
  4. The mounting concern about antibiotic resistance in human medicine is causing antibiotic mastitis therapy to be looked at more critically.
  5. Because the goal is to seek to prevent mastitis infections from happening at all, the quest is changing from defense to complete elimination

From Defense to Elimination

Eliminating mastitis is indeed a quest of very large proportions as explained by Lorraine Sordillo, a mastitis researcher at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “When I began researching mastitis 30 years ago, we concentrated heavily on epidemiology and microbiology. Now we are placing much greater emphasis on immunology and enhancing the cow’s natural defenses to minimize mastitis infections.”

Sordillo expresses that progress in managing mastitis owes a lot to adherence to the “5-Point Plan for Mastitis Management,” issued decades ago by the National Mastitis Council.

The hallmarks of the 5-Point Plan are (1) teat disinfection; (2) dry-cow antibiotic therapy; (3) use of functionally adequate milking machines; (4) antibiotic therapy for clinical mastitis infections, and (5) culling of chronic cows.  Steve Nickerson, University of Georgia Professor of Animal and Dairy Science suggests nine more ways of reducing mastitis prevalence and SCC levels:

  1. herd surveillance and
  2. recordkeeping,
  3. environmental sanitation,
  4. strategic culling,
  5. vaccination,
  6. teat sealants,
  7. herd biosecurity,
  8. dietary supplementation and
  9. mastitis control in bred heifers.

Now the Quest is for Immunity

A quest always has to be larger than life. When you take into account that 137 organisms cause mastitis (Watts 1988), trying to develop vaccines for all of them certainly qualifies as a huge undertaking. Even though that quest is unlikely to be entirely won, Sordillo, nevertheless, has positive expectations about the prospects for mastitis vaccine technology. “The mammary gland is unique in that you can vaccinate it separately, targeting individual cell populations to trigger an immune response,” she said and goes on to explain, “Sub-unit vaccines, which target specific peptides that contribute to disease progression, are the focus of current research.” Sordillo calls for “fresh thinking in development of the adjuvants that serve as the carrier for vaccine delivery.”

In the fight against invasive pathogens, the ultimate goal is to enhance cows’ immune system so that they can ward them off.  There are commercially available mastitis vaccines called bacterins.  This means that because they help the cow’s immune system recognize the core structure of the target bacteria, they are more effective at helping cows fight new infections rather than preventing them.

Immunity Through Nutrition and Supplementation

Another option is to enhance immunity through nutrition.  Today this is Sordillo’s primary area of research. The concept is that immunity is affected by all health events.  If there is a challenge in one area – such as uterine infection, metritis or another condition — the immune system is busy healing in the challenged area and, as Sordillo notes, “It lets down its guard in other areas.” The goal is optimal immunity being derived from optimal nutrition. Both Sordillo and Nickerson feel that nutritional supplements have the potential for supporting immunity. “Dietary supplements with trace minerals and vitamins can have immune-modulatory effects on the mammary system.” Nickerson foresees that supplement uses will expand. “We believe supplemental yeast acts as a probiotic, supporting rumen microflora and digestion, particularly in early lactation,” he said.

Using Genomics to Breed for Disease Resistance

Genomics is another area that holds promise, but it is clear that progress in this area could be a long way off. “It is important to recognize that in trying to zero in on mastitis immunity with genomic selection, there is the risk of an adverse impact on other immune channels.  This is an evolving area of genetic selection and more data, research and trials are needed to keep the forward momentum.  Optimizing host defenses especially during times such as dry-off would have a tremendously positive impact.

The Role of Antibiotics Has Dramatically Changed

Researchers agree antibiotic therapy always will be part of the mastitis offense; many feel that its role will change. “Through regulation and our own proactive efforts, I think we will be seeing increased veterinary involvement, and more emphasis on susceptibility testing in the future,” Sordillo said. “Prophylactic antibiotic use, such as whole-herd dry-cow therapy, probably will not continue as we know it today.”

Immune-stimulating additives explored

The bigger the challenge, the more opportunities there are for exploring new frontiers.  Feed additives that can support the immune system are attempting to do that. The goal is to develop the ability of the animal’s body to discern between its own naturally occurring molecules and substances that are foreign. Supplements that can achieve this without risk of toxicity of tissue damage are being developed.

Micronutrient Supplementation

Researchers such as Sordillo and Streicher (2002) target development of micronutrient supplements while keeping main priorities: 

  1. increasing effective and sustained immunity
  2. without adding risks of toxicity of tissue damage.

Georgia Trial with 40 Prefresh Heifers

It is informative to review the results of a commercially available additive that was evaluated by researchers at the University of Georgia.

Overview of the Trial:  A dietary supplement containing B-complex vitamins and yeast extract was fed daily to 40 prefresh heifers from five months of age until calving. Using a control group of 40 untreated heifers, researchers compared the health and milk production of the two groups.

Summary of the Research Findings:

  • From 5 to 20 months of age, supplemented heifers had higher systemic levels of the molecule L-selectin, which is a measure of the ability of white blood cells to be mobilized from the blood stream and attack invasive organisms.
  • After 30 days of feeding the supplement: White blood cells collected from heifers in the treatment group were more active in engulfing two important mastitis-causing bacteria, E. coli, and Staph. Aureus.
  • At Day 3 of lactation:          
    Mastitis incidence for the supplemented group was 11%,
    Mastitis incidence for the untreated controls was 20%
  • Three days Post-Freshening:
    Somatic cell count (SCC) was 221,000 cells/mL for treated group
    Somatic cell count (SCC) was 535,000 cells/mL for control group
  • Milk production at freshening:
    Not significantly different between the two groups,
    Production advantage for supplemented heifers as lactation progressed.
  • By five weeks in milk: Treated group produced 7.0 pounds per day more than untreated controls.

(For further information check these sources: Journal of Animal Science Vol. 90, Suppl. Three/ and Journal of Dairy Science. Vol. 95, Suppl. 2, Abstract 220)

Research Conclusions:

Researchers concluded that `dietary supplementation with immune-supporting additives shows promise in preventing mastitis infections and promoting udder health and milk production. With more research and product development, immune-supporting additives may become a standard recommendation in dairy nutrition.

Nickerson says, “If we can reduce new mastitis infections, and successfully equip the cow to use her own defenses to manage those that do occur, it’s a victory for animal welfare, drug residue risk, milk quality, production and profitability and consumer confidence.” 

The Bullvine Bottom Line

We may be without the fairy tale ending, but we are moving the quest to eradicate mastitis a little closer to reality. 



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Do Your Calves Fulfill All Their Promise in the First 100 days?

The President of the United States benchmarked 100 days on Saturday, April 29th. Throughout the weekend, there was a flurry of analysis, assessment, and judgemental summations.  The hope is to clarify what the future holds and if it will be productive.

Although we can easily get wrapped up in the drama of a new presidency, it is important that our dairy livelihood takes a serious opportunity with each calf to set the stage for a lifetime of production. While a President may recover from setbacks or early missteps taken in his administration, the future health and productivity of your dairy cows depends on what happens to your calves during those first three months. There are no referendums, replays or recalls in calf rearing.

It’s Okay to be Unique.  But Protocols Must Be in Place.

Every successful dairy sets up protocols.  To have every opportunity for success, you must have a standard to compare to. The ideal is that calf protocols are not only posted but that there are regular training and review sessions for all those involved in this role. We have all heard those directions many times. The difference between success and slipping into failure is that successful dairies have a “NO Tolerance” for less than perfect compliance.

Don’t Let a Difficult Calving Dictate the Whole 100 Days and the Future!

Every dairy operation has had to deal with an unusually difficult calving. Sometimes unforeseen environmental challenges before, during and after calving have an impact. The calving itself may result in malformations. Any or all of these can all negatively affect the vigor and progress during the first few days of the calf’s life. Proper observation and care protocols must be in place in order to survive the uphill battle of getting the calf off to the best start.  This is no place for a survival of the fittest attitude.  Use every intervention available to overcome these initial hurdles. For just two examples, every calf handler should be aware that calves are often prone to diarrhea and navel infection during this period.  The calf should receive every possible attention to treat these challenges during first days of life.

Don’t Accept Less than Perfect

If you’re willing to accept less tan the best, in the beginning, be prepared to end with less profit too!  For example, where calf protocol says, “move to a clean and comfortably bedded hutch” …. a hutch that has not been completely cleaned … with bleach … after the last occupant is NOT the place where a newborn calf should be placed.  In the first twelve hours of life, a new calf needs two bottles of high-quality colostrum (the sooner, the better), proper vaccinations and placement in a clean, comfortably bedded hutch with access to fresh feed and water.  Providing one or two of these, will not get your calves off to a start that will positively impact the future of your dairy herd.

No Tolerance for “the Easier way.”

In the first days of calf rearing, familiarity can gradually backslide into slipshod attention to detail.  Providing fresh water, calf starter and one bottle of milk twice daily is an absolute that cannot be done to the highest level of timing and cleanliness.  It is crucial that careful inspections of the eyes, nose, ears and manure are done every morning.  Skipping any of these steps is not optional. It is dangerous to think that a routine overview will catch problems.  Without the certainty that the procedures and inspections can be 100% relied upon, there is no way to make an informed decision, if a problem does arise.  The easier way may seem to help staff but, eventually, there will be longer hours dealing with more difficult problems.

Time, Space and Repetition

I am not going to print a list of calf rearing protocols.  I am not raising calves. I am (maybe) raising awareness.  My excuses of time, different goals, and space are the ones that are holding me back. What holds you back from having a fully operational calf rearing protocol that is posted in your barn and adhered to every day? Excuses don’t fill milk buckets.  Poor calf rearing protocols can actually empty them!  

You Must Put it in Writing

As each step of the plan is noted, posted and carried out the beginning of each stage is the most crucial.  With every change in routine, the observation of calf responses is key to ensuring that the transition is smooth and healthy.  Once again steps ensuring cleanliness of hutches must be scrupulously adhered to.

What Impact do Proper Calf Protocols Produce in the First 100 days and Beyond?

  • Increased growth in calves. Growth rates during the first 60 days of life determine the future production potential of a dairy cow. A slow growth during these first 60 days of life cannot be compensated by speeding up the growth later in life.
  • Healthy calves equal Healthy cows: Well-grown dairy cows produce high quantities of high-quality milk. It’s too late to question calf rearing protocols when the cows are in the dairy line, and you see less than expected
  • Early Treatment and Prevention are the goals: Worse than poor production is having to face health issues. A serious episode of, for example, scours may kill the calf, but even if it survives, the chances it will meet expectations with regard to future milk production are slim.

Where Would You Start, If You Were Going to Do It Wrong?

The 24/7 nature of dairying sometimes puts you in a position where repetition makes it hard to see what it is that is preventing success. We can all analyze political gaffes and missteps because our spectator viewpoint gives us a different perspective.  Try distancing yourself from your own calf-rearing operation.  What would a reporter, interviewer or competitive peer point out as being “wrong” if they inspected your calf operation?

Are any of these “Don’t Do’s” present in your calf operation?

Temperature Stress: Too cold or too Hot.

Wet:    Wet calves. Wet bedding

Poor hygiene: Fecal or other contamination of milk, feed or water

Non-existent or poor air flow: Are calves exposed to draftiness or poor ventilation.

Lack of attention to detail: No posted protocols.  No recorded observations.  

Exposure to germs and bacteria: irregular or haphazard cleaning. Exposure to other sick animals or by feeding or handling of young calves after older animals

Mishandling of unhealthy calves: Not isolating calves that show any sign of disease.

Are You Making Your Young Calves Sick?

Even with the best intentions, you could be setting yourself up for failure by the way you carry out your calf care.

Here are five things you don’t want to make part of your calf raising routine.

  1. Feeding older calves before feeding and handling the youngest calves. This could spread infections from the one group to the other.
  2. Feeding unpasteurized milk and waste milk containing antibiotics
  3. Allowing calves to drink milk in an incorrect position. Calves drink best by sucking from a bottle where the milk is placed higher than the teat so the calf sucks more naturally.
  4. Rapid changes of milk type and concentration of milk replacer
  5. Using milk replacer not adapted for young calves

These two steps could make a tremendous difference in your calf-rearing success.

  1. Check calf health at least twice daily and re- cord, inform and act immediately on issues
  2. House sick or weak calves separately until they have recovered and are vigorous

A Calf’s First Weeks Shape the Cow’s Future

The first 100 days is where even the most seasoned dairy managers -and Presidents – make a lot of critical missteps. It’s too easy to manage by getting the job done rather than by managing the results. When you catch the signals as early as possible, there is a chance to make corrections so that the future isn’t compromised.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Make sure that your first 100 dairy days don’t close opportunities. Whether you’re presidential or not, it is much more than simply fulfilling promises. It is all about fulfilling potential.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Emily Goins: Focused on the Heart of the Showring

“I am still feeling the spirit of the New Year because it’s a time when change and renewal fills the air, and we celebrate the bright new beginnings taking place as we begin 2017.” New faces. New headlines. Here at The Bullvine, we are right on trend as we look to expand our team and our coverage of the dairy industry. We don’t have a crystal ball to forecast the unknown, but we do know that we will be providing many more real-time pictures! And that means introducing you to our new intern, Emily Goins of Kentucky.  This 20-year-old is eager to make dairy photographer a big part of her plans for the future.

Cowtographer Emily “The Thrill is in Capturing the Special Moments.”

Even though Emily is not yet a seasoned pro, she already identifies with the thrill of creating images that capture unique moments in the dairy ring. “I absolutely love getting to capture special moments for people to save and look back on. I really enjoy being behind the scenes of events. There is so much more than just pointing a lens and pushing the shutter button. I love how much detail and effort is put into getting a great photo.

Emily Goins: “Getting Up Close to Cows Inspired This Photographers Passion.”

Passion for the dairy showring is often a spark that is passed from generation to generation and, occasionally, ignites what will become a different but related version of the flame. “My dad and granddad (names if Emily would like) showed Ayrshires when they were young. So it was expected that when I was old enough to join 4-H, I was next up in the family to show Ayrshires. When I turned 9, I got my first 4-H calf and began the journey. I absolutely hated showing at first, but I pushed through and started to enjoy it. I showed Ayrshires for nine years before I switched over to Jerseys. Valentines Day 2015, my boyfriend Logan bought me my first Jersey cow from Keightly and Core Jerseys here in Kentucky. I’m glad that I stuck through all of the many, many 4-H meetings in my nine years because I wouldn’t have had the incredible opportunities that I have had and I wouldn’t have gotten to meet some of the greatest people. I’m looking forward to next show season which will be my last time in the ring as a junior.” For Emily, there is always a new beginning just beyond each ending.

Emily Goins: “It only takes a spark to get an album growing.”

At the same time, as she had her first 4H calf, she also was introduced to cameras. “I got started in photography when I was nine years old and joined 4-H. I was in my county’s 4-H photography program for one year but then decided to stop the classes and experiment on my own. I got my first camera when I was about seven years old and it was a tiny, hot pink, Sony digital camera, I thought I was all that and a box of crackers. I got out of taking pictures for a while, then when I saw photos from the Bullvine, it sparked the passion again, and I had to get back behind the camera, so for my 18th birthday I got my first DSLR, a Canon EOS Rebel t5.”

Emily Goins: “Emily is on the Hunt for Photographic Skills.”

There are many opportunities to be inspired in this modern age of technology, with its access to worldwide communication twenty-four hours a day.  Sometimes a seemingly small moment can have a significant impact on our career choices.  Emily explains how this connection happened for her.  “Andrew Hunt has helped me develop my passion for photography. I fell in love with his photos when I discovered him on Facebook just a few years ago. I love the new idea of the lower shots that he introduced to the show photography world. I was super anxious to meet him in person; he is a superstar in my eyes! Andrew is very, very helpful with any questions I have or if I need advice. I really enjoy getting to work for him.” It is great to see Emily setting out on her own adventure.

“Emily’s Career Time Frame is Clicking Along “

There can be many reasons for what makes a picture great. In Emily’s case, it doesn’t have to do with setting, lighting or camera angle. Her choice isn’t about the picture itself, but it’s about the feeling that is captured.  She explains, “My favorite photos are the ones that really show the emotion between the cow and the lead person.” For Emily, the story of photographic success in the show ring isn’t about reproducing a true-type-model moment.  For her, it is about telling the story of success so that everyone looking at the photograph feels connected to the moment and the people and animals that moment represents. “I’m in love with getting what once was “the slap, ” but I reckon now it’s “the handshake” pictures. I was thankful enough that my first time taking photos was at Expo and I was able to really improved my timing to get a great handshake shot in the first few days of shooting. I also really like taking pictures of my dog Lulu. He’s very photogenic.”

“Emily is Keeping Her Focus While Studying and Hoping for Big Picture Opportunities.”

“I am majoring in Photojournalism and minoring in Agriculture at Western Kentucky University. I hope to improve my photography skills majorly and also take a few writing classes while I am there. I would love to continue working for The Bullvine because it has absolutely been a dream come true getting to shoot for my favorite photographer. I hope to have my own photography business covering dairy shows and other events such as beef shows, rodeos, and weddings later in life.” It’s a big undertaking, but this young photographer is glad she can take the first steps. “

I just want to thank Andrew for his help and support with starting this new photography adventure. I really appreciate getting to learn from the best in the business.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Emily Goins photography journey, like the beginning of each new year, is a story waiting to be told.  No doubt her story will continue to be recorded in pictures that shoot for the heart of the dairy showring.  We encourage her to keep on shooting.  Like her, we are committed to our dream by providing expanded coverage for our passionate dairy followers. “Good luck Emily.  You inspire the dairy dreamer inside all of us to keep on growing.”



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Why Are Dairy Farmers Afraid to Ask for Help?

Dairy producers are the first to acknowledge that proper functioning farm equipment is critical if they are to run a dairy farm successfully.  Robots, tractors, harvest equipment and milking parlors are kept in top condition to produce the healthy milk that sustains our business. The same is true of our own equipment – also known as mind and body.  Like our dairy equipment, as we age, some parts, for us our mind and body, start to wear out. It is unfortunate when we accept this as something we can do nothing about. 

One particular ailment – namely Alzheimer’s – is not only overlooked it is often underdiagnosed and dangerously ignored. 

There are many of us in agriculture, who have watched memory loss or dementia gradually take its toll on a family member, farm worker, supplier or consultant. The loss is personally devastating, but we put our heads down and continue on.

Show Me the Numbers

In dairying, we live by numbers: the number of cattle, the production numbers… You name it numbers are important.  When it comes to health issues, numbers have a lot to say about where we find ourselves. In 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease facts and figures reported, “An estimated 5.3 million Americans have AD; 5.1 million are age 65+ years, and approximately 200,000 are age <65 years and have younger-onset AD. By mid-century, the number of people living with AD in the United States is projected to grow by nearly 10 million, fueled in large part by the aging Baby Boom generation.”

Two major fears. Fear of stopping dairying.  Fear of asking for help.

Because of lifelong dairy connections, farmers could end up in a double bind if they begin to have problems relating to mental health. Traditionally farmers continue working long after usual retirement age. On the one hand, problems like dementia can become particularly acute for farms in terms of operating and managing both the business and physical sides of the operation. As well, fear of negatively affecting the dairy business, farmers are even more reluctant to ask for help.

What is Dementia? 

Dementia is characterized by a decline in memory, language, problem-solving abilities, and other cognitive skills that affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is the number one cause of dementia, and an estimated 5.4 million Americans had Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.

The Farm and Rural Connection

As we become more knowledgeable about things that impact the environment we live in, studies are beginning to suggest possible links that are associated with agriculture.  The following statistics were reported in Iowa Farmer Today in August of 2013. There might be a connection to farming and rural livelihoods. Although the causes of Alzheimer’s have not been fully determined, there is scientific evidence growing up in a rural area may double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

A meta-analysis of how growing up in rural and urban areas affects the development of Alzheimer’s, published by University of Edinburgh and London researchers in 2012, indicated nonurban people had twice the chance of incurring Alzheimer’s later in life. The researchers theorized access to healthcare, socioeconomic well-being and exposure to unknown substances could be contributing factors.

The impact of Insecticide Exposure

Here are some updates on research in the area of insecticide exposure.

“A review of 2.6 million death certificates by Dr. Robert Park of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health indicated a greater risk for degenerative brain diseases, especially Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, among farmers and persons in several other occupations where chemical exposures were likely to occur.” (for more see ‘Five Occupations Linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s).

“Other studies of farmers, in particular, have suggested exposures to commonly used agricultural insecticides in the organophosphate and chlorinated pesticide families and certain fumigants are well known to contribute to the onset of Parkinson’s and may be precipitants to Alzheimer’s.

Not enough research has been conducted to adequately sort out the relationships, but a body of confirmatory research findings is developing.”

Research is Growing a Worldwide Data Base

There are several studies underway which are adding valuable data regarding dementia. One such study is underway at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom. They found that memory loss can be especially destructive to farmers and their families.

Another study is underway in Canada. Professor Andria Jones-Bitton, Department of Population Medicine at the University of Guelph, analyzed more than 1,100 responses nationwide to an online stress and resilience survey, conducted on agriculture producers from September 2015 to January 2016. Early findings report that stress, anxiety, depression, emotional exhaustion, and burnout are all higher among farmers than among other groups.

Dementia Can Be Dangerous on the Dairy Farm

A serious concern is especially relevant relating to farmers who contract Alzheimer’s or Dementia and present a danger to themselves and others as they attempt to continue working with animals and large equipment. Adding to the problems, are the additional stresses of trying to care for someone with dementia.

Farmers in Jeopardy Because of Isolation (of mental health issues)

Farmers may be especially susceptible to escalating mental health issues because they tend to be reluctant to ask for help. Here are some reasons that farmers acknowledge have delayed proactive progress when farmers face Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

  • Stigma
    It is difficult to open up about their symptoms or need for therapy.
  • Severity
    Waiting too long to seek help, means that the issues are deeply entrenched.
  • Getting Started
    Many are unsure of how or where to start.
  • Time and Energy
    It takes time and energy to deal with treatment options. Both are hard to find after the full days put in on farm operations.
  • Money
    Therapy can be costly, and options and accessibility may not be widely known in rural communities.

There can be other reasons to avoid treatment, and any or several of them can lead to isolation and hiding problems from the outside world.

Medical Disclosure Practices Could be Adding to the Problem

There are times when the health care system and patients are at odds with each other – perhaps unintentionally. Research reports that “Among people with a diagnosis of AD or another dementia, fewer than half report having been told of the diagnosis by their health care provider. Though the benefits of a prompt, clear and accurate disclosure of an AD diagnosis are recognized by the medical profession, improvements to the disclosure process are needed. These improvements may require stronger support systems for healthcare providers and their patients.”

Need to Ask for Help

The Bullvine encourages anyone dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts to find someone to talk to and to ask for help.  It’s a fact that farmer suicide rates are among the highest of any occupation. (Read more: Thinking about Ending It All).  The most important part of dealing with depression is talk.  Talk removes of smashes apart stigma and brings new ideas, proper advice and sources of help.  Talking about depression in farming at agricultural shows and events also helps.  We know depression affects farmers.  We need to bring the issue into the public as a workplace health concern that is talked about at these venues.  The old saying, “The more you know…” goes a long way in dealing with depression.

We need to ask for help and talk.

Good News

in researching this article for The Bullvine, I fell into a common defensive mode and began looking for some glimmer of light in this bleak forecast.  This led to a reference in Scientific American Mind (June 2016) which reported regarding an article entitled, “Banking Against Alzheimer’s.” Among other things, one part takes a longer view of the disease. “Choices we make throughout life, from learning a second language or studying music in childhood to finding purpose and remaining physically, intellectually and socially active in retirement, can build a cognitive reserve and dramatically reduce the risk of developing dementia.” This is not a cure, but it is something to actively share and discuss with the next generation.

Taking Action

The real key is to take action when and where it is needed in the present. A cure for AD and Dementia will take considerable time, money and research.  In the meantime, understanding and reaching out for proactive resources for dealing with mental health issues is something we can do right now.

One such plan is being undertaken by previously mentioned Prof. Andria Jones-Bitton, a Professor in the Department of Population Medicine. “We are building a team of producers, industry representatives, veterinarians and mental health professionals to create, deliver and evaluate a mental health literacy training program for farms.” She reports that this program is intended to train people to recognize and respond to mental distress and reduce the stigma around mental health issues in Ontario’s agricultural sector. “We need to do something,” she says.  “Farmers want help, and we’re going to find ways for them to receive it.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Our mental health is one of our most precious commodities. It should never be taken for granted. We all recognize farmers as being the first ones we can turn to when we need help.  Now we need also to recognize that keeping our farmers healthy is important for everyone. 



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Why Successful Dairies Have More Pull

There are many half-truths out there about what makes some dairies significantly more successful than others. They range from “they’re lucky” to “they have a lot of money behind them. In our family, we have an old saying we haul out whenever we hear people using these truths.  We say, “Don’t believe everything you hear and only half of what you see.”  What this means is that, there are many ways to be successful and judging others on surface appearances or hearsay isn’t going to provide any insight into ways to move your own dairy forward. In our opinion, action is the ONLY way to forge ahead.  In the same way that exercise builds heart muscle, action builds the dairy success muscle.  Here are three take-action exercises that successful dairies actually use.

  1. They Pull out MORE Data
  2. They Pull for MORE Longevity
  3. They Pull for MORE Profitability

At first glance, those three directives may seem too vague to be of help.  But short and sweet is always easier to remember. If you want longer lists, you might be interested to find out that there are almost 100 measurable variables that contribute to the bottom line on operations.  Or, you could learn from the extensive experience of others. Our source for saying this is an eleven-year study conducted by Zoetis and AgStar of herds ranging from 500 to 4,715 cows, to look at 90 variables in the management and financial records of 90 Midwest herds starting in 2006. The herds are based in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota.

Focus for Success

If you find that you are doing the six main things that separate top herds from their peers, then you will be a believer in the statement that,” Just six factors account for 85% of variation in farm profitability, says Mike Lormore, Director of Cattle Technical Services for Zoetis. “Herds which perform well in these factors are being propelled forward by healthier cows, higher profits and likely greater staying power in the industry.”

Everyone connected to the dairy industry has a vested interest in finding ways for dairy operations to make money.  Consultants, veterinarians, banks and consumers all lose when margins are too narrow to support everyone who draws on dairy success.

Walking into the barn every day with 90 variables on your mind isn’t likely to make your job easier, your herd healthier or your bottom line more profitable.  However, it is somewhat easier to use the idea of looking at the data (pulling out the stats) reducing the problems (pulling out the stops) and always improving (pulling ahead).

You have waited patiently long enough. Here are the six factors that the Zoetis study identified as separating those who perform best.

  1. Somatic Cell Counts
  2. Energy Corrected Milk Per Cow
  3. Death Losses
  4. Net Herd Replacement Costs
  5. Pregnancy Rates
  6. Heifer Survival

So, let’s look at the six factors in terms of our three simplified areas:


Progressive, successful dairy operators know that they are only as good as the data they use for decision making.  For some that may mean the cow-sense they were born with.  That is not a problem, if it’s working.  But how many times, have they called in a consultant or supplier to help them do some problem-solving.  If you’re unwilling to change your approach when results start to slide, you’re not recognizing that the dairy industry is continuing to become more complex in response to the huge number of issues that impact it.  So, keep an open mind and start with data on somatic cell counts and pregnancy rates.

Data on Somatic Cell Counts

You can’t help but love it as strategic dairy managers, when data and research come up with significant findings. In the case of this study, somatic cell scores showed that “for every 100,000 increase in bulk tank somatic cell count, milk yield declines 5.2 lb. per cow per day.” This is 3.9 lb. more than the results of the 1980s work done by George Shook at the University of Wisconsin.

In the 30 years between the two studies, milk production per cow has nearly doubled.  Furthermore, today it is recognized that SCC impacts several other areas, including health, reproduction and culling.  Lorimore makes another important point, “The death rate is much higher in high cell count herds and you get more lifetime milk production with lower cell counts because your cows live longer.”

Data on Pregnancy rates

Limited data in this area affects conclusions, however, preliminary results show higher pregnancy rates drive higher profits to the tune of about $50 dollars per cow per year.

Higher pregnancy rates equate to cows spending less time at lower production at the end of the lactation.  It means less time in the dry pen and older cows producing at a higher level.  This translates into owners being more willing to spend more money on higher merit semen which impacts the success of future generations.


The road to success doesn’t need more “STOP” signs.   As grim as it is, death is definitely a stopping point on the road to dairy success.  Heifer survival, herd replacement costs and death for any reason, are “Stops” that pull down the lifetime longevity of your dairy herd.

Successful Dairies Constantly Strive (and succeed) at Reducing Death Losses

This is another area where you want your numbers to be low.  Your animal health and husbandry skills will decide whether you are in the top one-third of herds or the lowest.

Successful Herds Go Beyond Good Calf Raising to Excellent Heifer Survival

Only 2% points separated the herds in the study, when it came to doing a good job of raising heifers. The highest profit group managed to achieve a score averaging 95%. Low profit herds had an average heifer survival rate of 93%.  Certainly, heifer survival is good but keeping them past their first and second lactation is even more desirable. “By culling cows early, farms are giving up tremendous volumes of milk each and every day.” says Mike Lormore.  Herds with high culling rates often have a higher proportion of first and second lactation animals. Lorimore points out, “These younger cows don’t produce nearly as much milk as mature animals. A second lactation cow will produce 15% more milk than a first lactation heifer, and third lactation cow will produce 10% more milk than a second lactation animal.”

Successful Herds Know Their Net Herd Replacement Cost

Finding effective ways to interpret data means we can find effective ways to take action. In the Zoetis-Ag Star study a formula is used to determine Net Herd Replacement Cost.  NHRC is defined in the study as number of cows removed from the herd times their replacement value minus the salvage value of culled cows (including dead cows) divided by the amount of milk shipped during this time period. As NHRC increases, profits decrease.

As already noted by Mike Lormore, “You’re making a ton more money if you have more aged cows in your herd,” He urges dairy managers to change. “As an industry, we need to move from an average age of 2 ½ lactations in herds to 3 ½ lactations to get to more optimal profitability levels.” It is tempting to get into a debate on this point, especially if cull cow prices are high. Some would reason that it doesn’t cost anything to replace cows because high beef prices offset heifer raising costs. “That’s wrong,” says Lormore. “Every time you cull an aged cow, it costs you a lot of money and time to get her replacement to the same point of production.”


As discussed throughout this article, actions taken are the drivers that put successful dairies out in front of the crowd.  Success needs to translate into profitability and here is what the study found, results that you can actually take to the bank.

Higher Profit from lower SCCs: 

Little things can make a big difference.  In the case of somatic cell scores, there were not big differences between top herds and the lowest herds and yet bulk tank SCCs were shown to be one of the greatest drivers of profitability. The top third profitability herds have bulk tank SCCs that average 196,000 cells/mL while the lowest one-third of profitability herds had SCCs that averaged 239,000 cells/mL. There is a difference of only 19 lbs. “But the high herds average 91 lb/cow/day of energy corrected milk versus 72 lb/cow/day for the low herds.” Here is where the numbers prove the profitability point. “On an annual basis, it translates to $1.14/cwt in more profit, or for the average size herd in the study, $115,000 more net income.”

Higher profit from lower NHRC: 

Once again dollars are available. “The herds with the lowest NHRC were seeing $2.04/cwt more profit than herds with the highest NHRC, or some $60,000 more profit per year. The herds with lowest NHRC were also seeing 10 lb. more milk per cow.”

Higher profit from lower Death Losses

Everyone can acknowledge that death losses have a direct affect on profitability, but perhaps it is surprising at how much this is. The study reports, “The top one-third of herds with the lowest death losses were 86¢/cwt more profitable than the lowest one-third of herds. That translates to $70,000 per year more income.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Use your data.  Don’t settle for roadblocks.  Target continuous improvement. Success isn’t a matter of luck, inheritance or entitlement. You must be willing to take action.  Don’t fear change. Never settle for the status quo.  Do this and you too will take your place with your peers at the top of the dairy industry and that is definitely worth pulling for!!

For a more detailed look at the results read Six Degrees of Separation



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Why is Everyone Crying Over What is Being Called MILK?

When food marketers start fighting with each other, nobody really wins. At best the consumer will become confused.  At worst, the daily headlines will grossly overuse clichés and puns (aka will fight ‘til the cows come home”). If I see “Crying Over Spilled Milk” once more, I am going to start crying for real.

Is Milk Champion Voting for “More” milk or “Less” Milk? Or “More REAL” Milk?

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) has introduced the DAIRY PRIDE ACT bill. It has quite the detailed acronym:  Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, milk, and cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday. If you note the starting letters it may be clearer to you.  Words are a very important component of this bill. The aim is to suppress the use of the word “milk” on non-dairy plant-based beverages such as almond, soy and coconut milk.  If this bill becomes law, all non-dairy items which currently present themselves as milk, would have to undergo name changes.  The goal is that everyone buying milk would be getting real milk and not plant based food and beverages.  However, according to the Executive Director of the Plant Based Foods Association, Michele Simon, “There’s no evidence to show a connection between the rise of plant-based milks and dairy milk’s decline.”

MILK:  You can spill it and You can spell it.  But DON’T Misuse it”

Rightly or wrongly some people are convinced that erroneously non-dairy drinks as milk, has resulted in people choosing beverages for the wrong reason.  Those supporting the DAIRY PRIDE Act are looking to reinvigorate U.S. milk consumption by bringing consumers back to real milk or as they put it, to milk that is only from mammalian secretions. The non-dairy milk market is a $2-billion-dollar market reports Michele Simon. Her argument is that there is much more information beyond the word milk on the containers and that consumers are not confused about what the product actually is.

It isn’t about SPILLED milk, it’s all about DOLLARS DOWN THE DRAIN!   

Sales are the measure of success for every food producer.  Over time, trends develop which contribute to informed decision making.  Since 2015 dairy milk sales have decreased by seven percent. By 2020, forecasts suggest that these numbers could decline by another 11 percent. If you look at your own experiences, it isn’t hard to accept that the past forty years have seen major changes in dairy consumption.  We used to drink nearly 22 gallons of milk per person per year in 1970.  By 2012 that quantity has dropped to 14.5 gallons. For analysts and financial planners, the desire to be able to definitively pinpoint the causes and effects of the decline is driven by the need to have a sustainable dairy industry.

Consumers are Going with the (Milk) flow!

Eating habits shift over time.  In the past 50 years technology and lifestyle changes have impacted milk sales.  The arrival of convenience foods in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, had a major impact on milk consumption. Along with eating out more frequently, consumers shifted their choices to more versatile and convenient alternatives to fluid milk.  There has also been an increase in consumption of such dairy products such as yogurt and cheese.

“If it’s made from Canadian Milk, it’s worth crying over!”

In the midst of all this tugging and pulling, one marketing group has decided to face the tears head on.  A new campaign has been launched by The Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) which is choosing to highlight the value of tears.

“The Dinner Party” is a theatrical promotion which opens on the scene of an elegant tableau frozen in time.  Slowly the camera moves down the beautifully appointed table revealing that each of the party guests have been caught with tragic facial expressions and tears streaming down their cheeks. As the camera reaches the head of the table, the source of the tragedy is revealed. There is a toppled pot of cheese fondue which is about to spill off the edge of the table onto a man’s lap.

“Everyone knows spilled milk isn’t worth crying over, but it’s a whole different story if that milk happens to be Canadian,” says Paul Wallace, Executive Creative Director, DDB Canada Toronto. “In this campaign, we communicate the high quality of Canadian milk by showing different characters crying over spilled dairy products – because losing even a single drop of ice cream made with quality Canadian milk is a real tragedy.”

Name Calling “Milk by Any Other Name”

The drama over the way milk is advertised goes beyond the highlighting of the benefits of milk from dairy cows. One reason for the rise in nondairy plant milks is because of taste. Over the last decade, consumers have been seeking options beyond the traditional whole, low-fat, 2%, or skim milk. Spokesperson Simon highlights that “There are many options to choose from.

While almond, coconut, and soy are among the most popular, there are nondairy milks made from hemp seeds, flax seeds, oats, rice, macadamia nuts, pecans, and cashews.” She summarizes, “They’re all piquing consumer interest.”

For Crying Out Loud Are Milk Drinkers Too Smart? Or Too Stupid?  

We always think laws are good if they keep or put money in our pockets.  However, we aren’t as impressed if the assumption is that we are not smart enough to make good choices or to recognize bad ones.  There is a fair question posed by plant-based food supporters, “Why would a consumer say ‘It’s no longer being called almond milk so I’m going to go back to drinking dairy’?” They also add, “Tell Congress to Dump the “DAIRY PRIDE Act. No one is purchasing plant-based milk, cheese, or yogurt because they’ve been tricked into thinking it’s a cow’s ‘lacteal secretions.’” The precedent for siding against the dairy industry has already been set by a case adjudicated in 2015. a California judge ruled in favor of Trader Joe’s after the grocery chain was sued over the use of the word “milk” on its nondairy soymilk product. “No reasonable consumer” would confuse soy with dairy, cited U.S. district judge Vince Chhabria. The federal standard identity for milk “does not categorically preclude a company from giving any food product a name that includes the word milk,” Judge Chhabria said in his decision.

“OUT of ORDER!” Who Will Get Hammered in Court

Sometimes the issues need to be taken to a higher court. It isn’t the first time that the agri-food industry has appealed for legal support.  In 2014 Unilever was in court on behalf of its mayonnaise brand, Hellmann’s. They felt that the product “Mayo”, an eggless spread, marketed by Hampton Creek Foods, violated FDA definition of mayonnaise because it didn’t use eggs. In the end Unilever dropped the lawsuit and, eventually, launched its own version of eggless mayonnaise.

FDA Expected to Churn Things Up with Milk Rulings!

Both sides of this argument are confident that the FDA will rule in their favor. Accurately defining the word “milk” is one of the expected outcomes.  The recognition of the health benefits of milk are also owned by both sides who claim heart health, strong teeth, weight loss and health benefits for growing children. At the end of the day it isn’t about who’s right or wrong.  Although legislation may temporarily seem to clear up confusion or commercial conflicts, the real drivers of consumer choices are too varied to be reduced to a simple legal decision.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

In a world that is promoting everything “alternative”, it isn’t surprising that the dairy industry is also getting caught up in the turmoil. Regardless of which side of this beverage argument you support, there is only one thing you can be absolutely sure of. “Both sides will be milking it for all it’s worth!”



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




12 Ways Your Efforts Are Actually Making Your Dairy Inefficient!

“NO ONE PLANS TO WASTE RESOURCES.”  A lot of planning and hard work goes into growing, purchasing, and formulating the best feed rations.  But then what do we do with it?  Are we throwing away all that hard work, before it has any opportunity to affect the health and production of our dairy herd?”

“It’s not what a few cows get fairly often, but what the whole herd gets consistently that shapes the success of a milking herd.”

#1 “You forget that the HOW can be as important as the WHAT.”

Simply placing feed in front of the cows and leaving the rest up to them, is a recipe for failure.

This is one of the most important places to use our knowledge of cows’ feeding behavior. We have lots of evidence to build on, using the particular conditions of our own herd.  Have you ever analyzed the difference in the feed from the first cattle to it until the last?

#2 “You’re okay with Survival of the Fittest!”

It could be that the first to the buffet have the pick of everything. The last ones have something quite different. The subordinate cows do not get the same feed. First cows mow down on what’s right in front of them. Like people, cows will eat the stuff they like first.  A knee-jerk solution might be to raise the energy of all rations.  But, once again, you could just be giving more to the boss cows.

#3 “You Don’t MAKE ROOM for ALL your Cows to Reach the Feed!”

Use observation to confirm that the second ones to the feed you are providing have a different selection to choose from.  You will probably be able to confirm that they are getting the sloppy leftovers. If animals are preventing other animals from getting to the best feed, you have to make some changes.  Or not. The goal is to provide enough bunk space to allow all animals to eat simultaneously. You might also decide to add a physical solution such as headlocks or a partition. These steps will limit the number of cows that can eat at one time, but they will also make it harder for one cow to push another one away from feed.

#4 You provide WAITING room, not EATING room!”

It may appear to be normal behavior for cows to be waiting to get to the feed bunk.  The only problem with this assessment of normal is that it is causing abnormal problems in other areas of the daily dairy cow routine.  While waiting, the cows lose resting time and, in turn, this will decrease milk production.

#5 “You WON’T sort the Cows! “

There are many reasons given for not sorting cows.  You can run through them in your head.  In reality, when cows are fed a TMR they have a natural tendency to sort through the feed.  They then toss it forward to where it is no longer in reach. This is the reason that shy cows have to reach and lick even to get “seconds.” This is particularly problematic when feed is delivered via a feed alley.

#6.  “You Let THE COWS SORT the Feed!”

When you are told about the benefits of grouping you prefer to follow a more familiar, but probably less effective, path. There are benefits to creating a first lactation group.  Older cows will not be able to push smaller ones away from the feed bunk. With specific grouping, the ration can be modified for the specific needs of these younger animals.

#7 “To save work, you accept the DOWNSIDE of Less Frequent PUSH UPS.”

When it comes to getting cows to make milk from the feed you put in front of them – it makes sense that the feed must actually get in front of them.  Frequent push ups stimulate cows to eat.  Adding more feed to push ups will attract cows that haven’t had enough feed intake for the day to get up and eat. When feeding dairy cows, it’s good to let push come to shove!

#8 “Your Cows are Lying Down, and Your Infections are Rising”

Okay, we are now behind the #8 ball.  Suffice it to say cows that are laying down are not merely contented especially if it occurs right after they’ve been milked.  Here is what research has proven. “Results suggest that management practices that discourage cows from lying down immediately after milking, such as providing fresh food frequently through the day (near the time of milking) may help decrease the risk of intramammary infection.  For robotic milked cows, which milk frequently throughout the day, ensuring continual access to feed in the bunk via frequent fresh feed delivery as well as feed push-up is important to promote standing time after milking and reduce the risk of intramammary infection (DeVries et al., 2011b).”

#9 “You Mistakenly believe that cows CAN make up for LOST TIME!”

It is important to understand that cows do not make up for lost time.  The idea that they will self-manage by coming back to the feed bunk is….bunk. What actually happens is that cows will eat 25 percent faster and eat larger meals. “This will lead to ruminal acidosis, which happens when the pH of the rumen drops drastically for an extended period of time.  Acidosis in dairy cows can result in lower milk yields, lower milk fat yield, and sole ulcers.”

#10 “Your cows need MORE WATER, and Your PROFITS are DRYING UP TOO! “

Another forgotten nutrient is water. Water is perhaps the most necessary nutrient (NRC, 2001), yet its quality and availability is often overlooked.  Interestingly, in a recent field study of free-stall herds in Eastern Ontario, Sova et al. (2013) found that that milk yield tended to increase by 0.77 kg/d for every 2 cm/cow increase in water trough space available in the study herds.

This result illustrates the importance of water availability for group housed cows and provides further evidence that resource availability has the potential to greatly impact productivity. (Read more: USING KNOWLEDGE OF DAIRY COW BEHAVIOUR TO IMPROVE NUTRITIONAL AND HOUSING MANAGEMENT)

#11 “Increased Frequency is too much for you to consider!”

No doubt you are aware that problems listed here for making better use of your feed dollars are repetitive.  We are aware of that, and we are striving to make the point — over and over again — that dairy cows need to be able to eat frequent, small meals when they want to.  Feed less feed more often.  (Read more: CALF FEEDING FREQUENCY: The more often, the merrier?)

#12 “Small Changes (see #’s 1-11) Make a BIG Difference! Do you care?”

We all would like someone to “Show me the money!” and “Show me the research” question too.  Because nothing will help if you aren’t willing to take action. Here’s some useful facts to start you planning your action strategy. The results are measurable. 

Bach et al. (2008) found in a cross-sectional study of 47 herds, fed the exact same ration, that 56% of the variation in observed milk production was explained by non-dietary factors (i.e. presence or absence of feed refusals, free stall stocking density, and whether feed was pushed up in the feed bunk).

Sova et al. (2013), found in a cross-sectional study of parlour-milked, free-stall herds that every 10 cm/cow increase in feed bunk space was associated with 0.06 percentage point increase in group average milk fat and a 13% decrease in group-average somatic cell count.  

Research suggests that feed push-up does not have the same stimulatory impact on feeding activity as does fresh feed delivery (DeVries et al.,2003); nonetheless, push up does play a vital role in ensuring that feed is accessible when cows want to eat.


Managing a profitable dairy isn’t about what you DON’T do.  It’s time to turn those negatives into positives.

  1. How you feed dairy cows is just as important as WHAT you feed them.
  2. Provide equal opportunity feed access for ALL dairy cows.
  3. Start by making room for ALL cows to reach the feed.
  4. Provide at least the recommended bunks space of 24 inches.
  5. Sort cows. Create a first lactation group.
  6. Find an effective way to prevent feed sorting
  7. Push feed up frequently.
  8. Prevent excessive lying down time right after milking.  Cut down on infections.
  9. Recognize that managing cow behavior also manages your profits.
  10. Provide clean, easily accessible water.
  11. Feeding frequency can positively affect milk production.
  12. Have an action plan so that the small things can actually make a BIG difference.


There are many steps from field to feed bunk.  Each small decision along the way can affect the outcome in the milking line. Profitable dairies don’t squander dairy feed dollars. The future of the herd depends on achieving the best results from all your feed all the time.

“It’s not what a few cows get fairly often, but what the whole herd gets consistently that shapes the success of a milking herd.”



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.





Even in the best of times, small farms struggle to remain profitable. Dairy producers have come through years of pressure from all sides of the industry – economic, political and environmental – to name only a few.  Many, regardless of size, are having serious concerns about the future of their dairy farm.

Before we look at this question, we have to set some parameters. Let’s begin with a look at what defines a small farm. Are we talking the romanticized version of dairy farming which non-dairy perception mostly pegs at 30 milking cows or less? Or are we closer to today’s reality? In the USA small now means herds with fewer than 100 milking cows. In Canada, the cross Canada numbers might peg small at 50 milkers.  

The second major question is, “Do we want small farms to merely survive? Or do we want them to thrive? The global and North American dairy community has been through almost a decade of economic crisis.  If you’re small and still here, you have figured out how to survive?  But is survival a benefit to our families, our communities or the dairy industry?

Popular advice would say that smaller farms should cut back during adverse periods. Others would say, focus on highly specific market segments. Both options assume that small dairy producers are willing to be proactive and aggressive even as the economic returns continue to shrink. At this point, either option seems somewhat ludicrous. 

In the worst of times, when waning consumer demand combined with falling milk prices is hitting their bottom line right beside rising labor and feed costs, small farms face an even steeper climb. Admittedly, some small businesses, usually outside of agriculture, adapt to adversity by turning to new products, services or processes.  Small dairy farms in survival mode are in no position to take these initiatives.  Like deer in the headlights they are almost frozen in place not thinking of aggressive strategies.

Reports to the National Milk Producers Federation recently stated that, “Its far more lucrative to operate large-scale dairy farms with 500 cows or more.”

At the same time that small dairy farms struggle, their larger dairy counterparts who produce larger volumes can take advantage of their greater income to consider automation of their milking operations. This means they have more strategic options despite economic downturns.

Some analysts still say that small farms have the advantage.  While large farms are hampered by their size, small farms can change their plan or tactics much faster. While the larger operations are studying options, small farms can make a quick turnaround.  This looks good in theory, but in actual fact all dairy farms are dealing with live animals, financial constraints, and the immediacy of providing the cash flow necessary for the maintenance of the operation and the day-to-day needs of the people and livestock depending upon it.

Larger farms, and particularly growing ones, are more competitive, invest more, offer better wages and benefits and are more likely to contribute to export markets.  Put simply, growing farms, not small ones, drive economic growth. Governments should want more growth but policies are sending exactly the opposite signal: “Stay small.  Don’t grow.”

Small may be beautiful but not when it gets to the point of recklessness.  We cheer when headlines announce that government plans to give small farms and small business in general a break.  Surely, they deserve special help – in order to survive in a world that is more and more dominated by everything big: big business, big box stores, big, big, big.  Ironically there may be farms that are consciously choosing to remain small to remain eligible for government assistance.

Small may be beautiful, but not if it becomes a roadblock. It’s unfortunate when popular politics doesn’t actually represent what is good for the economy. Handouts and tax breaks may even cause harm by creating a perverse discouragement for growth.  It takes growing companies to drive economic growth. For small farms that means that political and financial policies are sending exactly the opposite message: “Stay small. Don’t grow.”

It’s time for governments and lenders to encourage strategies that encourage growth.

For example, in 2013 the Canadian Federal Finance department pointed out that small businesses, which would include smaller farms, “play an important role in the economy,” and tax breaks help them “retain more of their earnings for investment, expansion and job creation.”  However, there is no evidence to support these objectives and one is left to conclude that the voting block represented by 600,00 voters is more of a political incentive than an economic one.

Will Political Agendas Backfire?  Further along this line of considering how political agendas diverge from farm reality, are the issues of international trade and protectionism.  On the one hand watching government leadership proclaim support for agriculture by making protectionist moves against trade agreements and foreign goods being blocked from competition, seems to support both small and large dairy operations.  In reality, in the US, when such barriers come into play, it merely allows other international competitors to scoop up markets that, before US withdrawal, saw themselves as too small to compete in. While North America goes into “I don’t wanna play in your yard” mode, the rest of the world greedily anticipates cherry picking in their former markets.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

For small dairy farms, these continuing periods of financial turmoil and the competition from more and more large dairy farms, means that they face a unique set of challenges. Selecting a strategy for the future will directly impact whether small dairies thrive, survive or give up.




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Fired! Dismissed! Laid-Off! When It’s Time To Go, It’s Time To Go

Every dairy needs to build a great team.  Building a great dairy team has two parts: making sure you put the right people on it and quickly getting the wrong people out!

Hiring and training are the fun parts of team building. (Read more: Great Dairy Employees Need Great Starts). Getting off to a great start is a necessity, but dairy managers sometimes overlook or downright ignore signs of trouble on their dairy staff (Read more: If You’re Staff is Negative Your Dairy Will Positively Suffer). That’s a problem because, while firing might be uncomfortable, it’s even more important than hiring and it needs to happen at all levels. (Read more: Fire Yourself! 8 Signs that your time has come.)

There are Always More Than Two Sides to Every Firing Story!

Even when you’re talking to your BFF and he’s telling you about a friend who was “let go (from an ag company) for no reason” or, even when you’re listening to a relative who heard from a friend of a friend that “they have unreal job expectations at that dairy operation and then they fire anybody who falls short”. Even then, there’s always another side to the story.

  • From The Employee Side: From the employee side, reasons for leaving a job might have to do with low morale, excessive work or low pay. These are problems which can be solved by open communication between both sides.  However, if an employee is unable to do the job or chooses to do it incorrectly, then it may be time for termination of employment.  It sometimes appears that an employee is, “Asking to be fired!”
  • From the Management Side: From management’s viewpoint, under-performing employees are toxic to your dairy team. Not only do they undermine productivity but, by not doing the job they are supposed to do, it means that others have to work twice as hard to pick up the slack. On top of all this, when the others see that underperforming is acceptable, they lose their motivation. Allowing poor performers to avoid responsibility, only serves to alienate and annoy your best people. Eventually, they will choose to leave, and all you will be left with are the people you shouldn’t have kept in the first place.

10 Telltale Signs That You’ve Reached the Firing Line

Sometimes you may have an employee who is finding that the dairy farm system is no longer a good fit. Times do come when a person’s season of contribution is over.  This can even happen to owners (See Fire Yourself! 8 Signs that your time has come) and it happens with employees.  We make things unpleasant if we do not recognize this time and make a healthy, respectful farewell.  It is important to recognize that there are definitely times when firing is the correct and only option.  Here are ten signs that it’s firing time.

  1. Criminal Acts: It goes without saying that a criminal offence (such as stealing or mistreating humans or animal cruelty) is cause for immediate dismissal.
  2. Job Apathy: Apathy takes many forms including neglect, indifference, and unresponsiveness. It prevents people from doing their own jobs and is quite contagious.
  3. Disappearing Acts: When staff duck out beyond regularly scheduled breaks, it’s a sure sign they feel they’re above and beyond the job. That affects the morale of everyone.
  4. Arguments: When someone frequently argues with you, other management, fellow employees, or clients, it’s definitely a sign that it’s time for that employee to go.
  5. Declining Productivity: If the employee spends more time with their attention in places other than their work, it’s time to bring that employee in for a chat.
  6. Secrets: Deal with huddled employees who scatter when you appear or deal with much more severe problems later.
  7. Pot Stirring: This one of the most damaging behaviors you’ll find on the dairy. Locate the source, or you’ll never calm things down.
  8. Unreasonable Demands: When an employee becomes dissatisfied with either the job or the work environment, they’ll start asking for things that aren’t realistic. They are practically begging for you to let them go. If you find this to be the case, oblige them!
  9. Redundancy: Economics might lead you to the hard decision to reduce staff a bit and rely on a contracted hire, if and when the situation requires it. Technology may also be replacing certain jobs.
  10. Internal affairs: Try to avoid this altogether by creating a strong policy concerning relationships in the workplace. If someone breaks that policy – they have to go.

Don’t  Be Too Slow!

In speaking with employees, it is important to always be honest and open.  It is your job to make sure the employee knows why you are not satisfied with their performance. You do not fire someone for no reason.  Write down the reasons and give the person an opportunity to improve or correct the situation. You might choose to place the employee on paid suspension for a specific amount of time.  This gives them time to look at the situation from a different perspective and perhaps reconsider how they can be part of the team. However, if the employee is not prepared to commit to improvement, terminate employment.

And yet…Don’t Rush to Judgment

Rushing to judgment with farm worker doesn’t help anyone.  It’s up to management to recognize that employees probably needed time to adjust to living and working in a new country or at jobs they hadn’t done before. Furthermore, they may be dealing with the challenges of speaking and learning a new language, which can make it harder to understand what is expected. The dairy operation may be unlike anything they ever knew before.  What experience, if any, did they have with working with animals?  Milking cows? Feeding calves? When you add in making hay and silage, building and mending fences, sowing grass and crops, fixing mechanical equipment, safely and skilfully handling powerful machines, helping cows give birth and much, much more, you may have a little more empathy for the employee that finds it overwhelming.  It requires a lot of hard work, skills, intelligence, and common sense.

Delivering the News to Other Staff

Whenever someone leaves the dairy farm, they remain a part of the system to the extent that their contribution in the past is still having an effect.  One of the unfortunate things we do is to lose sight of what people have contributed.  Although it’s much more enjoyable to celebrate a good work record, this can also happen when someone leaves in a negative way.  Sweeping effects under the rug or otherwise overlooking the impact of a negative dismissal will cause ongoing problems. Misunderstandings or lack of information are to be avoided, while still maintaining a dignified respect for private information. Respect all parties.

You Can Only Move Forward with A Good “End” in Sight

Hiring is only half of building a great team. You also need to have an effective system for getting the wrong people out. You can’t have one without the other. Not knowing how to end the working relationship, has a severe impact on setting goals for all employees

  1. All staff members need to know what is expected and how and when they will be monitored for achievement and what failure to achieve means.
  2. Employees should know whom they answer to and that communication lines are always open. A culture of feedback can prevent problems from getting to a place where there are no options but parting of the way. There should be a trail of paperwork to prove it.
  3. Having said that, when the time has come to an end the working relationship, be firm in your decision making. Never deliver the news of the firing, as if you don’t stand behind it.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It is financially important to have hard working, reliable employees working in a low-stress environment. When the bad outweighs the good and when the employee is causing problems not solving them, continuing to employ that person sends the wrong message to the rest of the team. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Top 12 Editor’s Choice Articles from The Bullvine 2016 “The Year That Offered More”

Every day we are actively researching and creating articles that we believe followers of The Bullvine will benefit from reading. Then, every December, we take an enjoyable look back to see which Bullvine articles were the ones we felt resonated most with our readers.  Here are our top 12 from 2016. They were arrived at with a little bit of head counting but also by including that indefinable something that made 2016 a year we think was best defined by the word “more”. Please enjoy this look back, as you prepare to continue your dairy journey into 2017. We hope you will agree that each one has something more to offer.

#12. Dairy Cattle Show Photographs Are Not Free

Dairy Cattle Show Photographs are NOT Free

When choosing only 12 articles, it’s easiest to start with ones that come instantly to mind.  In this case, let’s start the 2016 selections off with an article that illustrates a little more of the tough love that The Bullvine is known for.  In 2016 we continued to break new ground in providing more and better coverage for the dairy industry and that meant putting great pictures right alongside our interviews, analysis and behind the scenes coverage.  The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” was proven to be true over and over again. At the same time, it was also true that those pictures are not free and having them stolen or misrepresented was something their increasing popularity meant that The Bullvine had to defend against.

#11. The Winds of Change Are Blowing Hard

The Winds of Change Are Blowing…Hard

Death and taxes are often named as the only two things we can be absolutely certain about.  In 2016, political change became such a certainty that it became almost normal to hear on a daily basis about some previously unheard of situation arising as accusations, scandals and upheaval rocked the leadership and elections of more than one country around the world. Although we would sometimes like to run for cover, the dairy industry is not immune to change. In this article, we called for the courage necessary to face change. “Breeders will need state-of-the-art animal and herd improvement services. The vision and actions of breeder and industry leaders are critical. Advancement will occur even if current organizations do not adopt and adapt the future technologies and systems.”

#10. Genetic Evaluation Reviews and Highlights

US – August 2016 Holstein Genetic Evaluations Highlights

Sire Proof Central April 2016

The Busy Dairy Breeder’s Guide to the December 2016 US Genetic Evaluations

The repercussions from the United States election are far from settled.  We are learning far more than we ever thought we needed to know about methods of analysis and how much we can rely on statistics, trends or advertising slogans.  With much less drama and challenge, the dairy industry has been steadily moving forward with regular genetic evaluations and proof reviews.  This type of information service would not usually rank high on an “editor’s choice” list of published articles, but in 2016 they asserted themselves as a worthy tool for making informed decisions and The Bullvine analysis of the highlights are welcomed, discussed and acted upon by breeders seeking to be on the leading edge. Here are two that provided “more” analysis.

#9. Genomic Testing Discovers New Cow Family

Genomic Testing Discovers New Cow Family

Everyone loves to hear success stories.  Even better we love to hear stories that seem to beat the odds in some way.  That is the story of Alexerin Dairy and Oman 993 who can best be described as every breeder’s dream. By using genomic testing, Alexerin Dairy found that they had a breed outlier who’s DGVs exceeded her pedigree index by an astronomical amount. The Bullvine headline read “Genomic Testing Discovers New Cow Family.” The outstanding result was not expected, maybe even unusual. However, getting results from hard work, focused breeding, and a clear vision are the keys to Alexerin’s success. You simply can’t ask for more!

#8. An Open Letter to All Dairy Farmers

An Open Letter to All Dairy Farmers

Sometimes being an industry information provider means taking an unpopular position.  Such is the case with #8 on our Editor’s Choice list. The article was an open letter which began, “To the hard-working dairy farmers who get up before dawn every day so that the rest of us can enjoy wholesome, healthy milk on our cereal and in our morning coffees, “Please sell your cows!”  This call to action arose from simple fact that production is far outstripping consumption, even though the world’s population is growing. Sometimes facing more challenges means being able to say “Goodbye!”

#7.  Gen Com Live Stream and Holstein World Conference Video

Gen-Com: Crown of Roses Sale Results

Why NOT to Crossbreed – 2016 Holstein World Conference Video

Sometimes it’s simply too hard to choose only one representative from many that were presented.  Such is the case when it came to new ways that The Bullvine is expanding beyond the written word. The live streaming of the Gen Com Crown of Roses Sale brought immediacy to Bullvine coverage.  In the same way, when The Bullvine presented real time video of the Holstein World Conference, hosted in Argentina, it marked another step forward in news that was relevant, in real time and accessible to an audience that otherwise would be limited to after the fact, word only reporting.

#6. Stud Wars Episode IV the Force Grows Stronger 

Stud Wars Episode IV: The Force Grows Stronger – 2016

What started as The Battle for A.I. Supremacy back in July 2013, has seen many changes in the power struggle when it comes to sire lineups. Many of the smaller A.I. units have been purchased by larger genetic players, and the rate of change has accelerated considerably. This Bullvine article provided more behind the scenes perspective on who is coming out on top and who is falling behind in the genetics race.

#5 The Subtle Art of Not Caring What Everyone Thinks

The Subtle Art of Not Caring What Everyone Thinks

We all enjoy popularity and The Bullvine is energized whenever those times occur.  The danger is that in seeking more approval we might be losing more relevance.  The goal is to provide what breeders and readers need.  It’s not a popularity contest.  That’s why #5 for 2015 highlights the article Andrew produced about being true to one’s own vision despite resistance or challenges. “Those times I have not given in have made all the difference.  Since starting The Bullvine, I have tested my ability to keep the eye on the ultimate goal and not care what people think about us, but rather understand what we are trying to achieve.  As we enter our fifth year, I am very proud of the work we have done and the actions we have taken, because it has led us to the position we are at today.  A voice for breeders during uncertain times.” Perhaps less comfortable.  Definitely opening The Bullvine to more criticism and controversy.

#4 Introducing The Bullvine All-North American Awards

Introducing The Bullvine All-North American Awards

As we look back we move from not caring what everyone thinks of us to an article that is very concerned about what our readers care about. With a five year developing tradition of not pulling any punches, The Bullvine never shies away from finding ways to put more thought and action into one of the most passionate areas of the dairy industry – namely, the recognition of animals that represent “the best of the best”. In 2016 that meant more innovation from the editor of The Bullvine. In his own words he wrote, “There is no question that North America has some of the greatest show cattle in the world. They have All-Canadian awards and All-American awards, but those are little more than sales tool for two print magazines.  Their nomination processes leave most people scratching their heads and the results are pretty much just a rubber stamp of the results from World Dairy Expo and The Royal.  So, in order truly find out who are the best in North America, the Bullvine is excited to announce the All-North American Awards.” The result was even more than we expected.

#3. More Ways to Communicate and Connect

Throughout the year, we inaugurated new ways to get our stories in front of our dairy industry peers (i.e. Live streaming. See #7). We are convinced that one of the best ways to learn how to improve our herds, dairy operations and the dairy industry happens, when we can learn from those who have found ways to reach the success we are aiming for.  The Bullvine was honored to interview individuals, breeders and companies that are finding more and better ways to move the dairy industry forward. These are the leaders we want to emulate. 

The next two stories brought so much more to all of us than mere words can convey.  These final two selections on our 2015 editor’s choice list rise to first place because they affect us at every level of our passion for dairy cattle.  They are stories about people.  They are stories about courage in the face of adversity.  They are stories about digging deep to set goals, live passionately and achieve dreams.

#2 Inspirational Little Girl and a Medical Miracle

This is a story of heroes, courage and medical miracles. Reese Burdette celebrated her 9th birthday at home after almost two years in Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit where she was recovering from the severe burns she suffered in a fire at her grandparents’ home over Memorial Day weekend in 2014. There will be much to celebrate for the Burdette family and caregivers.  “Reese’s treatment will soon be featured in medical journals. It is discussed already at conferences about the machines that supported her heart and lungs as they healed. She spent longer with ventricular assistance than any other known patient.” Reese loves the farm and her favorite Holstein calf and set an astounding example of giving everything to an almost insurmountable task because of her desire to get back to those places and times. Her dedicated doctors, who joined her extended family, were constantly amazed and reported that. “She persevered and succeeded at everything we asked of her.” May more wonderful benchmarks continue on her journey to health and happiness at home!

Reese Burdette: An Inspirational Little Girl and a Medical Miracle is Going Home

#1 There are MORE IMPORTANT Things in Life Than a Cow Show  

There are more important things in life than a cow show

Take a lesson from Logan Chalack and use your strength to live well and be an inspiration to others. It certainly reminded all of us all that there are more important things in life than a cow show, but also how a cow show can certainly help in the healing process. Logan Chalack passed away on June 28, 2016 at the age of 32 years. As with Reese Burdette, Logan was not defeated by fear of the future but was totally focused on what is possible in the present.

The Bullvine Bottom Line for 2016

More international.  More connected.  More relevant. Here at The Bullvine we have thoroughly enjoyed giving more effort to achieving those goals in 2016.  Please accept our heartfelt thanks to you, our readers, for being with us during another wonderful year.  We are looking forward to 2017 and hope you continue to share our passion for, commitment to and active pursuit of excellence in the dairy industry.  

May your holiday season be filled with more special memories and together let’s continue wanting and achieving “MORE” in the New Year!

Want MORE Milk? Put More Focus on Frequency!

Dairy headlines, scientific data and discussions over the farm fence are piling up data that says the move to robotic milking sees ever higher levels of uptake among dairy operations.  The focus has moved beyond the simple analysis of pros and cons to finding more data on ways to get the most milk production per robot. The simple conclusion is that everything that impacts the cow — before, during and after visits to the robot — could affect her milk production. As complicated as that sounds, it is simply a question of focus.

“Use Both First Hand Experience and Second Hand Information”

There are many ways to learn how others get more milk from their robots.  Robotic milker suppliers can point you to their successful clients.  They will dazzle you with positives. An internet search will give you many more names to consider and perhaps even reach out to. Be prepared to learn that some of these dairy operations have had remarkable accomplishments. No one will direct you to someone who is struggling with an automated milking system.  Nevertheless, you should seek out things that have been proven, how problems have been corrected and, most of all, how to get more production. Regardless of our sources of information, it’s up to you to do your due diligence.

“We Hear About LESS Labor and MORE Milk. Are the Claims True?”

The attraction to robotic milking pulls dairy operations toward making the change with the promise of decreased labor and increased milk production.  These claims are backed up by the majority of research which shows that installing robots and increasing milking frequency from 2 times per day to 2.5 or 3.0 times on average which results in 6 to 10 pounds more milk per cow per day. You will find that any claim beyond that is impacted by factors not directly robot related such as cow comfort, improved reproduction, and superior management. The facts regarding less total labor aren’t as dramatic.  It is different. Start times may be later, and there is definitely  more flexibility. But, to have the best management, you have to be on call at all times.  Finding a positive way through this learning curve is the first challenge faced by both the human and the bovine teams.

“Scientific Studies Draw Conclusions That You Can Act Upon”

We should always acknowledge that we could be taking results out of context.  Furthermore, we tend to judge what we learn based on our experience, and those experiences create bias.  All we can do is make decisions based on the best information available. There are several Canadian studies and also reports from the University of Minnesota and some out of the Netherlands as well.  These are just a few samples of what is available online. They have a lot of information, and they report what strategies have the biggest impact on milk production. Here are six that rise to the top of the lists.


  1. Come again!  And Again! Frequency wins!
    You hear it from every source.  One of the main factors impacting robot milk production is the frequency of visits.  If cows could read, we would post signs encouraging them to “Visit the Robot!  Don’t Stay Long!  Come back often! “It’s simple. If you want more milk, you have to have more frequent milking times. This begs the next questions, “How do you get cows to voluntarily come to the robot more often?” How often is often enough? What is the best? Most experts and studies suggest that the goal should be to average 2.7 to 3 milkings per cow per day.  When dairy operations fail to meet this benchmark, they make it a priority to review robot efficiency, nutrition programming, and pre-and-post robotic farm environment setup.
  2. “Effective Management Makes More Milk”
    Robots require a high level of management to be successful.  You may work less (than in parlor setups), but you must manage more! When you have the cows coming to the robots frequently, you have to stay on top of every detail that can impact the success of those visits.  
    At herd level: Monitor visits per day. Target average milking speeds. Provide sand or water beds for cow comfort. Remove hair from udders and trim tails. These and some tasks, such as treating cows, can take more time than in a parlor setup.
    Around the Barn: Slatted floors, robotic scraping and keeping up with equipment maintenance have proven to increase milk production.
    Genetic Selection: Not all cows are well suited for robotic milking. Sire selection and breeding for cows with easier attachment rates and improved milking speed present new challenges. 
    In the Office: Effective dairy managers take responsibility for the success of the dairy, and a large part of that is effectively managing all the incoming data captured by robotic systems.
  3. “Feed is the MAGNET That Pulls in More Visits!” 
    The single biggest factor affecting voluntary visits is the feed that is fed at the robot.  Typically, cows receive a pelleted feed at the robot: some farms feed ground corn or other grains. If only we could learn from fast food drive through restaurants, we would have the cows lining up at all hours of the day. Since we don’t gain from feeding extra large unnecessary portions that lead to overweight, we will have to settle for the idea of attracting our cow-customers to the robot.
    In contrast to the “junk” food that some humans crave, the feed offered at the robot must be of consistent high quality and palatability or cows will be discouraged from visiting the robot and thereby decrease the number of milkings per cow per day. Feed offered should complement other feeds being fed to the cows at the feed bunk.  It isn’t necessary to feed a full ration at either place.  Ideally, the feedbunk provides a partial mixed ration formulated at a lower energy content. The balance of the energy needs are provided at the robot.  Pellet quality, ingredients, quantity and palatability all play a role in getting the cows to voluntarily return to the robot and, thereby, they help increase (or decrease) milk production.
  4. “Provide More Robot Availability. Avoid Lineups and Crowding”
    Since there isn’t a robot for every cow, any time that there is blocked access to a robot it negatively affects milking efficiency. Blockage may be caused by cows congregating around the entrance either before or after milking. Proper design of robotic milking facilities can prevent some of these blocking events from occurring. If the area in front of the robot is small, locate water sources and cow brushes away from the entrance to the robot so as not to encourage cows to congregate in the area.
    A higher stocking density (cows per robot) can also result in fewer milkings per cow.  A target of 60 cows per robot is typically recommended.  In the study, dairy farms averaged 55 cows per robot. A survey of robotic miking dairy farms in Pennsylvania found an average of 56 cows per robot with a range of 47 to 64 cows per robot.  In general, farms in the Pennsylvania study with fewer cows per robot had greater milking’s per cow per day and greater milk production per cow. The conclusion:  Crowding costs cash!
  5. “Robot Access Means No Obstacles, More Space and Good Footing”
    Cow traffic to and from the robot is a large part of robot success. Easy access to the robot is a significant factor in the frequency of visits per cow per day. Obstacles interfering in the path to the robot as well as difficult entryways can deter cows from milking. Cows also need to have adequate space between the robot and surrounding areas. If holding pens or the area in front of the robot are too small, cows will be discouraged from entering.
    Access to the robot can also be encouraged through proper care and management of your herd’s feet and legs. Cows need to have good locomotion and sound hooves to be comfortable walking back and forth to the robot. Scheduling regular hoof trimmings and providing access to footbaths can prevent issues from developing.
  6. “Yes! More Milking Speed Counts!” 
    You can’t deal effectively with getting cows into and out of the robot, without giving consideration to the actual speed of getting the milk. Slow milking time reduces cow throughput and decreases the amount of milkings achieved each day. Many of the top producing robotics herds measure milk flow as compared to milkings per cow per day. From entry to exit, the milking process should take, on average, seven to eight minutes per cow. It’s recommended that herds should strive for less than seven minutes and start to investigate potential issues when milking length exceeds eight minutes. The actual milking unit attachment can also influence time taken per cow in the robot. Milking units that locate the teats quickly and efficiently will reduce the time per cow spent in the robot, freeing up extra available time for other cows. The more time the robots actually spend with cows who are putting out maximum flow will result in greater production than just counting the number of cows per hour or visits per day.  That is why many top herds allow their top producers to visit more frequently while cows that are later in lactation or lower producers allowed fewer visits.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Robotic dairy operations continually strive to improve efficiency and increase production. The starting point for more milk is more frequency. Work with your whole dairy team – nutrition, environment, herd health and staff – to get their best input on ways to make sure you are doing everything possible to attract cows to visit the robots more often. When you effectively focus on getting more robot visits per cow, you will automatically produce more milk!



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



When Milk Goes Off, Is It Bad Taste? or Bad Marketing? Or Bad Taste in Marketing?

We all prefer to be seen in the best light but, in the case of milk, the very lighting that attracts us to the dairy aisle could be causing problems. At least that’s what the headlines are saying.

The LIGHT that Shines on Milk Could Be Spoiling It!

Bottles, boxes, cartons and bags. There are growing varieties of ways to bring your milk home from the grocery store.  As dairy producers, we would like to think that after milk leaves the farm, it will arrive at the table in the same healthy condition that it left in.  On the contrary, some recent news reports are suggesting that packaging methods may not have a positive effect.  Are we to understand that some packaging causes milk to go bad? Wrong! Well then, is the problem all about light getting to the milk through the packaging? Wrong again! In actual fact, when it comes to milk going off, the contributing factor is the light itself. E

The Latest Bad Milk Buzz Concerns LED Bulbs.

You know of course that LED bulbs are the ones that we all thought were a good thing to support and switch to. Now headlines are suggesting that LED lights ruin milk by making it deteriorate faster. “LED-Exposure causes milk to degrade more quickly.”   (   June 10, 2016).

Are the Headlines True? Do LED Lights Make Milk Go Bad?

To shed more light on this topic, we have to seek out a new study from Cornell ( entitled “Consumers sour on milk exposed to LED light” which states:

 “Cornell researchers in the Department of Food Science found exposure to light-emitting diode (LED) sources for even a few hours degrades the perceived quality of milk more so than the microbial content that naturally accumulates over time. Their study determined milk remained at high-quality for two weeks when shielded from LED exposure, and consumers overwhelmingly preferred the older, shielded milk over fresh milk stored in a typical container that had been exposed to LED light for as little as four hours.”

Attention: Please re-read the previous paragraph and take special note of the words ‘perceived’ and ‘preferred.’

The Cornell Study Confirms Things We Need to Remember

“Exposure of fluid milk to LED light negatively affects consumer perception and alters underlying sensory properties.” Furthermore, it confirms that we have recognized for decades that light affects the flavor of milk.

 “Light-induced flavors in dairy products are in no way an unexpected or novel observation (Browne, 1899). This study differed from earlier work in the use of more modern LED light illumination and the incorporation of a large consumer study with descriptive sensory measures. Light-activated flavors have been shown to produce robust negative consumer response (White and Bulthaus, 1982)…. Producing milk in packaging protected from sunlight has been discussed for almost 100 years.”

We Are Being Told That It’s the Color of the Light That Matters.

“Although the wavelength of LED lights is of lower total power than fluorescent lighting, they emit strongly in the blue spectrum (Heffernan et al., 2007; Narukawa et al., 2010). This isn’t far from the 450nm absorption maximum of riboflavin.  Riboflavin has been found to be the most destructive (by Choe et al. 2005). Thus it may be more effective in degrading riboflavin and releasing energy to the milk.”

Two Things Speed up the LED Reaction: 1. The Color 2. The Brightness

So what?  Well, the data is showing that even a relatively short exposure to LED light (4 hours) will readily induce light-oxidized flavor, thus reducing consumer liking (Hoskin and Dimick 1979.

So next time that “Why Does the Milk Taste Bad?”  conversation comes up, here are four tasteful points that will prove especially enlightening.

“Bad taste.  Bad milk.  That’s NOT the truth. “

  1. The milk is not going bad.

“The whole problem starts with trying to be too bright.”

  1. Light is having an effect on consumer perceptions and taste buds.

“Blue Light May Be COOL Cool, but it is NOT the RIGHT light.”

  1. The real culprit is blue light which is causing the deterioration. LEDs can be mixed to any color temperature, so those making the selection need to turn to “warm white” instead of “cool blue.”

“When good Milk leaves a bad taste, put the BLAME where it belongs.”

  1. Marketing studies proclaim that lighting done right will increase retail sales. Now managers need to combine this art of attraction with results that also prove that milk may need special consideration to prevent the taste going off.

“It’s All in the Eye of the Beholder”

If retail stores remember that the customer is always right, they will accept the “perceived” reality that taste is being affected by the lights and make sure that they don’t try to make milk sales by providing too much bright blue light. If they ignore this, public perception will turn to the reality of deteriorating milk.  I tend to agree with the viewpoint that sums up the situation this way, “This research points the way to home milk delivery, in brown or blue glass bottles, as is used for other beverages whose flavor we care about.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

At the end of the day – or when you’re in the grocery line — it seems that milk producers and consumers are destined to keep getting caught between LEDs and a dark place. Is it too bright?  Or too blue?  Milk’s journey from stable to table has many twists and turns.  The one thing that we want is for it to arrive healthy, fresh and delicious. We can all drink to that!!




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



Send this to a friend