Dairy Bias Is Not Always BLACK and WHITE

We live in a time where pretty much anything can be seen and heard in real-time. With instant messaging and 24/7 news updates, it is easier than ever for the dairy industry to fall into making stereotypical assumptions based on a person’s gender, culture, religion, or physical attributes. The global dairy business has never been so in-the-screen-faces of their dairy consumers and their own competitors.  When the supply chain is disrupted, you know it. You see the empty food shelves?  You see the protests. When animals are mistreated, it is shown in shocking close-ups. Gender equality is instantly highlighted in the news. Instant data inspires instant analysis.  But to be fair, instant analysis can also be instantly misleading. 

Dairy Miss-Information Versus Historical His-Information

Dairying is not a male or female thing.  Everyone reading this article can point to numerous recent Blogs, Seminars, Magazine articles and Research papers to support their position. I bring this up because of the “rock and hard place” situation many of us find causing division in our own workplace.  His-story versus Her-story.  Must the work of dairying be one gender or the other? Although it is easy to acknowledge the progress of positive examples, it is impossible to eradicate bias completely.  We have all been raised with some form of gender bias. If we must play the gender card, we have already fallen into the gender trap. We either “act” like a boss knocking at the door or is the door being opened to all. Is there a welcome mat or a doormat?


Throwing out the Ladies and the Boys’ Club with the Bathwater

Sometimes the easy question asked by women is, “Are we are own problem?” The easier answer is: “We are all part of the problem.”  Female decision-makers are just as biased as men. It follows then that we are all part of the solution. Men are in positions of power where they can (and do) help the women in their organizations rise to the top. Helping anyone rise isn’t measured by a pat on the back or a verbal, “way to go!” Sometimes the most help is a informative analysis of the job requirements accompanied by the strengths and weaknesses of the person.  This opens the opportunity to improve and grow in the position. Clarity isn’t just positive, sometimes it requires recognition of what may hold the person back. Regardless of gender, workers need to be clear about qualifications, on job training, reimbursement, and incentives. The real pros and cons are not pro gender or con gender. The more we can work together to create positive change, the faster that change will happen. 


We all have been conditioned to jobs that are Ma’am power or man-power. When you see a dairy job discussed, do you have an automatic gender response?           

  • Calving
  • Bookkeeping
  • Team boss
  • Board representative
  • Expert nutritionist
  • Genetic Advisor
  • Dairy Cow Vet

Beyond the Glass Half Full

There was a time when we didn’t talk frequently about Glass Ceilings in the workplace.  Now we have added the Glass Cliff. Glass Cliff refers to the phenomenon of women in leadership roles, such as business executives in the corporate world and female candidates for political office, being more likely than men to be promoted to leadership roles during periods of crisis or downturn, when the chance of failure is highest.

We might live happily with the “Glass Half Full” but now we have “Glass Walls” and “Glass Elevators” which refer to institutional barriers that isolate some employees — traditionally women and minorities — into jobs that don’t lead to executive advancement within a business.


Headlines about the success of dairy women are nice to see and I must admit that seeing the listing of female judges at cattle shows was partially responsible for the writing of this article.  The announcement noted that “An all-female line-up of Judges from the US, UK and Canada will judge his year’s UK Dairy Expo!” For those of you who follow The Milkhouse, you may have seen the comments by a reader who noted, “A good judge is a good judge. Why are we discussing a M vs F as some difference? Kinda sad. These women are no better or worse than anyone else. They can handle the task obviously so let them and let’s stop putting them in a box.” Dairy recognizes ability … in the barn, in the board room and in the show ring.


Does your dairy put employees into silos?  What about other on or off-farm dairy interactions which you keep in their individual silos.  Now you have silo disadvantages such as: 

  • There is limited interaction with people outside of the silo.
  • Silos can lead to resistance to change.
  • People within silos may avoid cross-department collaboration.
  • Information silos, which exist when information isn’t shared between the barn, board rooms, and suppliers, can hamper dairy growth and efficiency.
  • Think of support staff like veterinary, nutrition and feed suppliers. Silos in these areas can cause duplication of effort, lack of synergy and missed opportunities.
  • Women are the best advocates for the dairy industry. Is this progress or another silo?

Silos can turn into a big problem for dairy workplace cohesion and employee engagement. They can result in weakened trust in the company’s leadership and deaden motivation for employees who end up feeling incapable of changing the culture and are left wanting more.


The salaries of women who own dairies has been reported to be 80% of the salary of male dairy farm owners.  So let’s ask the second question.  “Do male dairy farmers make more or less than the salaries of owners in non-agricultural businesses?”  It was not easy to find a statistic to answer this question. Is this bias as well or something more?


We think we know the solution to getting the best work done in the dairy industry. Clearly, it all boils down to “more”. But what are we adding up to get the success sum? More money on each dairy barn or business bottom line? More money from the government?  More perc money, trips or gifts from suppliers or customers? To remain more relevant more money is definitely a priority.

But what must happen BEFORE more money?

In dialogue with THE BULLVINE readers and our networks of dairy farmers and dairy research and business connections, we are hearing that, while the above list of things is nice, more is actually referring to three things: more workers – more workers and -more workers.  Every sector needs to have proactive productive staff ahead of everything else!


It’s simply undeniable that in virtually every hiring decision, discrimination is still quite common. There are simply too many studies out there on virtually every type of decision — hiring, housing, loan approvals, etc. showing that, if the person making the decision knows the gender or the race of the person applying, the likelihood of discrimination goes up, even when the applications are identical in every relevant way.  That is largely because of our implicit biases, something that even the most enlightened among us can easily fall into without even realizing we’re doing it.


Before we wrap this article up, it might be useful to take note of other sources that are discussing this topic:


While looking for the correct solution, you might think that technology is a non-gender answer.  But that may not be factually true either. Who takes up new technology faster?  Men or woman?  Where’s the proof of that?  If technology has a huge effect on money-making, there might be a corresponding shift in who manages it or who is allowed to manage it. The competition for productive effective labour is intensifying. It encompasses many gender issues such as:

  • Gender-neutral parental leave.
  • Access to training
  • Paid time for training.
  • Diversity hiring applied to actions.

These things are becoming true success differentiators.


We now have increasingly capable robots and artificial intelligence (AI) systems that can take on tasks that were previously only done by humans. This leaves employers with some key questions: how do we find the balance between intelligent machines and human intelligence? What roles should be given over to machines? Which roles are best suited to humans? There’s no doubt that automation will affect every industry, so dairy leaders must prepare the people and technological environments in their dairies and dairy support organizations for the changing nature of work. Change is here.  What do you fear? 

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There will always be reasons to be afraid. You could find yourself paralyzed with fear because you think your business is on the line, or you could be afraid of making a mistake and feeling ridiculed, disliked, misunderstood or just plain stupid. These fears, while normal and understandable, can also be quite destructive to growing your dairy business. Some of the most inventive and game-changing ideas have been born out of errors. Original ideas come to life when you dare to be different, keep an open mind, and have no fear of crashing and burning. This is true regardless of the gender of your team.




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The Top 10 Editor’s Choice Articles of 2021

Entering a New Year gives The Bullvine two good reasons to review the year just past. The obvious first look allows us to (ascertain) whether goals were achieved. Secondly, this look back reveals what challenges remain. Of course, everyone reading this did not face the same choices in 2021.

The right choice for a dairy breeder might be less than perfect or even unnecessary for a dairy scientist or the milk marketing department in your area. Relevant action is different for a dairy veterinarian than it is for a supplier of genetic or nutrition services.

Every year we enjoy this process and are pleased to invite you to join us in reviewing 2021 from your dairy point of view.


Dairy problem solving and dairy decision-making belong together. Nevertheless, before dairy breeders can use current and future genetic indexes to breed problem-free dairy cows, they must identify what problem they are targeting.

This article starts with identification and then provides 5 steps to undertake. From the outset, the writer makes it clear that “Dairy farmers and their advisors must be open-minded in sire selection and include traits that will reduce animals with problems.” In 2021 being open-minded was intended to allow breeders to approach their herd genetics problems and find new strategies. (Read more: How Milk Producers can Breed Problem Free Dairy Cows)


Dairy breeding would be much simpler if we only had ourselves to please but producing what buyers need and will pay for cannot be overlooked. In prioritizing dairy managers are aware that feed costs are seventy percent of the variable on-farm costs. As a result, income over feed costs (IOFC) is being more closely monitored and used by dairy farmers and their advisors. Feed efficiency indexes are a new tool in the genetic toolbox. Many feed efficiency indexes are published for breeders to use and other countries, primarily from western Europe, are developing more. Five International indexes are pointed out in this article. (Read more: Feed Efficiency Indexes – Which One Will You Use?)


There is a momentary temptation to substitute “high-ranking politicians” for “high-ranking sires” when looking back at this article.  Is it too much of a reach to recognize that politics has an impact on dairy farming?  Having said that no matter what you choose you will face limiting factors.  In 2021, The Bullvine encouraged all dairy cattle breeders to expand their use of genetic indexes. “As sires account for over 90% of a herd’s genetic improvement, refining and focusing sire selection to include more economically important traits will be a wise business decision.” (Read more: Today’s High-Ranking Sires Are Not All Equal)


Dairy farms in the US are consolidating at a faster rate today than any other agricultural commodity. Depending on your personal situation that can mark new beginnings or a fast ending. We realize that consolidation does not boil down to a simple “either” “or” decision. In simplest actual fact terms, less than 6% of dairy farms are milking almost 60% of the total number of cows. At the top end of the scale, the average herd size is more than 3,000 cows. The total number of cattle is not getting smaller even as the total number of farms is dropping dramatically but this article notes, “It is all too easy to get mired in milk, money and politics.” (Read more: The Future of Dairy Consolidation)

#6. STUD WARS MAY ’21 Attack of the Clones

Modern society seems to be driven by competition.  Having said that, we need to take a moment to acknowledge that progress is never made by simply standing still. As in the national dairy herd, national AI organizations are consolidating. In this article, which is graphically supported by colorful pie charts, dairy breeders are given numerical percentages that show who is winning the Stud wars — based on the selected criteria that drives decision making. More than 10 lists are analyzed including TPI; NM$; PTAT PROVEN; PTAT GENOMIC; POLLED; RED and WHITE; PROVEN SIRE LINEUP; GENOMIC SIRE LINE-UP and TOP PROVEN SIRE LINEUP. (Read more: Stud Wars May ’21 Attack of the Clones)

#5. LEARN FROM THE BEST HERDS – A Canadian Perspective

We are midway through our Top 10 and we are looking back nine months to present another dairy perspective. Dairy Farmers gauge their practices and performance by comparing their herds to those of fellow farmers.  In Canada, one way to compare dairy herds that participate in Lactanet’s recording, testing and management services is the annual Herd Management Score Report. The Bullvine thanks Harley Nicholson for his generous time and commitment in conducting the survey. Special thanks go to the 12 progress dairy farmers who have achieved superior performance and willingly shared their vision for their farms and herds. (Read more: Learn from the Best Herds)


At this time one year ago, we probably thought we were nearing the end of the Coronovirus, however, dairying worldwide continues, at this very moment “in the continuing shadow of Covid”. Re-reading this article, we see how even as everything remains the same, there is much that is changing. Were we ready for the challenge?  Did we meet it?  Are we better prepared to move forward now? (Read More: Dairy Farming in the Continuing Shadow of Covid)


When this video was presented we urged everyone to “get inspired by the mega-successful Master Breeder Marc Comtois and his son Steve as they present this inside look at Comestar with their move to DeLaval robots.”  We also extended thanks to the Semex Alliance and DeLaval for presenting this great session.

Certainly, 2021 was a year where unusual connections and improved alliances were the order of the day.  Dairy Breeders are justifiably proud of progressive breeding, ideas, and management.  There is much to learn from this video produced by Comestar, Semex Alliance, DeLaval. (Read more: Robots at Comestar Holsteins – Video Tour)


Despite lockdowns and cancellations, THE BULLVINE once again rose to the challenge of providing their loyal audience with interactive competition.  Many in the dairy industry see themselves as amateur geneticists and enjoy the thrill of the hunt for first place.  Sometimes there are those who reach for the golden ticket by picking the wild card. Whether visiting barn stalls, show rings or browsing through online pictures and videos, dairy amateurs turn into dairy professionals in no time at all.  The Breeders Choice Awards, like this annual Bullvine review, offers the added stimulation of competition.  The prize and bragging rights are keenly sought after. (Read more: Breeders Choice Awards) 


It is appropriate that our look back at 2021 climaxes with an article that wraps up the best parts of everything we value in the story of Erbacres Snapple Shakira – The New International Superstar.  Here we find a great story, exceptional breeding, hard work and vision, interweaving in the best of all possible ways! The people are passionate.  The love of this very special queen of the showring is heartwarming. “With so many facts already recorded in the historically exceptional story of Shakira, the question becomes, “Where will Shakira go from here?” Each person who has known her best answers from a different perspective, but they all share the same confidence, “Whatever happens next, Shakira, will continue to set new records and leave outstanding genetics.” And so we wrap up an exceptional year with an exceptional dairy cow who epitomizes the mantra, “On with the Dairy Show!”  (Read more: Erbacres Snapple Shakira – The New International Superstar)


As we at The Bullvine wish you “Happy New Year”, we extend sincere thanks for the hard work, discipline, and determination of readers, dairy breeders, photographers, videographers, writers, and dairy industry businesses that accepted new responsibilities during these sometimes strange and often difficult times. 2021 taught us that dairy must continue to have an agile, flexible culture and be willing to adapt to changes as fast as possible. It is a privilege for The Bullvine to journey beside you into 2022 in search of the best that dairying has to offer.




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Dairy farms in the US are consolidating at a faster rate today than any other agricultural commodity. And it isn’t only happening on the farm itself. A recent BULLVINE article addressed consolidations in dairy sire lineups. “Many of the smaller A.I. units have been purchased by larger genetic players and the rate of change has accelerated considerably. (see Stud Wars May ’21 – Attack of the Clones). Obviously consolidation is not a new phenomenon in a single aspect of the dairy industry. But, in the interest of what is most desirable, let’s look at dairy farms from the perspective of size. 


There are many ways to gather actual statistics about the current size of dairy farms and how many cattle each herd sector is milking. These statistics have been reported by USDA 2019?

  • In 1987 the average US herd size was 80 milk cows.
  • In 2017 the midpoint in herd size had reached 1300 cows
  • Currently US herds of 1000 and more cows represent 58% of US dairy cows
  • US herds 1000+ cows produce 62% of total national production.
  • Between 2002 and 2019 more than half the licensed US dairy herds exited the industry.
  • Herds over 2000 milk cows have the highest on average net returns

In simplest terms, less than 6% of dairy farms are milking almost 60% of the total number of cows. At the top end of the scale, the average herd size is more than 3,000 cows. The total number of cattle is not getting smaller even as the total number of farms is dropping dramatically.


What is large? What is small?  Grandma’s small dairy farm worked sunrise to sunset providing for a specific group of people … the farm family.  Today’s dairy farm with the goal of supporting a family also works 24/7 but now must provide money for food, clothing, school fees, sports fees not only for the immediate family but also to provide milk products for 100 people. No matter what they physical size of the dairy is cash flow must be found for feed, labor, housing and replacements. Even beyond size, location and infrastructure could also be a limiting factor. When deciding whether to sell or consolidate, real estate values could be a major determining factor. Are generations of investment going to be reduced to nothing through mortgage payments or will it be cashed in for retirement? What door closes first?  Labor? Cash flow?  Feed? Animal health?


Wherever you are reading this from, you can most likely point to trends which are defined by fewer dairy farms of larger sizes.  Even in North America it is unrealistic to say that one situation applies in exactly the same way to the USA, Canada and Mexico.  South America, Asia and Europe are going through the same reshaping process.  The basic point is that dairy industry consolidation is global and complicated.  Causes, effects, sizes and methods cannot be simplified into one easily explained phenomenon such as milk prices or national supply and demand.


We are aware of the discussions about differences between historically revered family farms and factory farms which are reviled by many.  Are the two mutually exclusive?

We could dismiss those who uphold historical family farms because we recognize that their position is driven by handed down memories and not actual facts or experience. We all value our historical roots.  What is becoming a hurdle is that there are new perspectives on the value of “large”.  If everything large is put into one basket, we find large entertainment, large populations and large politics all jostling together and impacting our positive or negative experience of our life choices. Large farms gather from the negative


Can we factually determine at what size a family farm becomes a factory farm? If large families require larger dairy operations, does the term family farm not apply?  If the owners of a large dairy do not have multiple family generations sharing management is that dairy, regardless of size, a factory farm?

Modern dairy provides the opportunity to move beyond labels and stories.  The challenge is to move toward well-considered value-added food production while avoiding misguided milk production massing.


When considering the pros and cons of dairy consolidation there is not a clear winner. The oft repeated conclusion is that successful large, consolidated farms will be more efficient in terms of producing milks solids. They will achieve this by carefully incorporating generations of dairy knowledge, by themselves or others, into active present-day decision making. Is dairy muscle memory an absolute requirement for dairy success?

You might ask, “Does every consolidated dairy farm have more than one generation of farming experience?  Do any have five generations?”  These are interesting questions, but the answers don’t, by themselves, impact the success or failure of consolidated dairy farms. Mutual respect, teamwork and diversity of generations and workers does make a difference. New players have the opportunity to access and enact successful processes. Most important is knowing on a dairy farm to dairy farm basis what the limiting factors are.


When small farms give in or give up, what drives the final decision?  In many cases, it comes down to people – specifically the people needed to do the work. Dairy isn’t alone in facing the devastating impact that happens when it is impossible to find accessible and effective labour. Choices between the family business and the future success of the next generation are difficult if not impossible to choose between. Demanding work schedules and physically demanding jobs mean that fewer people are choosing dairy work.  Add to this that there is limited access to educational opportunities for farm workers.  At a basic level, it may come down to individual preferences for living near larger urban communities with greater access to infrastructure such as Internet access, health services, entertainment, schools, and shopping.

However, jumping to farm consolidation does not automatically provide the solution to labor problems. Housing, health care, education and transportation problems continue to loom large. Additionally, are the problems of local and federal regulations regarding immigration and, as the pandemic has highlighted, no dairy farm can operate in isolation from the health and welfare of the local community.


 Problems of law, labor, land, water, and energy can be foreseen, negotiated, and planned for. However, unforeseen forces also can impact consolidation plans.  Something as simple as the price of lumber, which has been rising exponentially, has an effect on implementing or maintaining consolidation effectiveness. Also largely unforeseen are the extreme disruptions from freezing, floods, drought and fires. The dairy industry has daily reliance on nature and environment in order to meet the demands of consumers and to improve sustainability of its production ecosystems. No matter what size your dairy operation is, you must be able to produce 24/7.


And so, we realize that consolidation does not boil down to a simple “either” “or” decision.  It is all to easy to get mired in milk, money and politics.  When does the cash cow of dairying become the barn lane cash out?  If only it was as easy as the slogan, “Buy American.” Unfortunately, dairying like thousands of other industries, does not exist in a vacuum.  Until every single product, nutrient, health product or piece of equipment is produced in the US. there is need for three things: global partnerships; consumers and money.

Even imagining a perfect world where these inputs are being handled, the cash implications of dairy overproduction are very real right now and must also be addressed.  Too much milk affects every producer.  Even in countries with supply management, the political ramifications in trade discussions, consumer rights and agricultural negotiations changes money margins on the farm and can be used as a political pawn. For example, it is recognized that supply management protects producers. What isn’t often talked about is the way supply management may protect exit from the dairy industry, but also the way it inhibits entry. Politically decision makers also walk a fine line between determining dairy industry relevance based on too big, too small, or too independent. While focused on elections and re-elections an entire industry could evolve into shrinking relevance.


Regardless of the size of the dairy operation, effective production relies on veterinarians, nutritionists, and agronomists to name just three sources outside the on-farm team.   Today we need developers of digital applications to integrate data points. Effective dairy management absolutely requires the ability to visualize the best way to improve decision making.  Without new applications, dairies face years of in-fighting over the same problems.  The opportunity provided by digital applications is that of creating outstanding dairy solutions to what have been oft-repeated problems. Will we fight for the status quo until the last puff of paper and pencil files spell “Closed”?  At some point, the larger dairies begin to question why they must carry all the technology and research and development. Is there mutual benefit?  Regardless of size is it possible to navigate change faster, while being more inclusive


Effective is possible in many sizes.  But the key to effectiveness does not rely on size alone. An informed consumer has been shown to be able to make food choices outside of personal experience with the production process. Growth industries built on an intimate purchasing experience such as is found within focused sales locations selling predominantly one beverage – think coffee or smoothies – highlights that the product not the size of the company, can be embraced by the consumer.  The question is, “Why do consumers feel they know how the dairy industry should be run. Their long past memories influence what they think it should look like. And driving all of these is the question of “What convinces people to make a beverage choice?”

COMMUNICATIONS & MEDIA – “Look who’s Talking”

We are well beyond the time or place where a simple answer can be summed up in a few words.  But open conversations will get us to a new dairy future. And this brings us to dairy communications and the media. We need ag communicators to reach out and make real connections with the new generation of consumers. Continued viability means that the dairy industry needs robust support from consumers and, therefore, dairy must tell the dairy product story with provable facts and transparency. Consumers need information which is based on integrity and real industry skill and development. We cannot stay locked in dated dairy – whether it is our own dairy or wrapped up in consumer long-ago memories.  Equally worrisome is the danger of simply changing everything to something new and different.  Designer Dairy may be successful, but it must be built on healthy, competitive, and sustainable products.

BULLVINE BOTTOM LINE – Where does it end?

The dairy industry of the future will not succeed if decisions are solely based on size.  The dairy industry of the future will not succeed, if decisions are based solely on sentimentality. In dairy consolidation, the whole is greater than the sum of its many dairy parts. A relevant dairy farm must be actively engaged with suppliers, professionals, local communities and consumers.  It is time to decide if dairy industry totals are temporarily readjusting or being permanently left behind.




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Dairy Farming in the Continuing Shadow of Covid

“Healthy milk products in a safe and profitable marketplace.” That is the goal of every dairy producer. “Yes! There are a wide range of issues.  Recently solutions have had to solve a wide range of challenges and some fairly severe crisis situations.” Thankfully, the modern dairy industry has a long and positive history of finding ways to cope with virus outbreaks and the resulting disruptions.

When the COVID-19 virus was first identified fourteen months ago, there was a swift investigation to confirm that cattle themselves would not be spreaders. Very quickly the next question was, “Is Covid going to have immediate, short-term and long lasting effects on production of healthy dairy products?” As you read this, how close has the crisis of COVID 19 come to your dairy farm? Were you prepared 12 months ago? Are you more prepared today?


The Covid Pandemic is not the first force to drive changes in the world that dairy farmers do business in.  Here are six examples that previous generations faced, worked through and continued beyond. 

  1. Our grandparents did not see people with handheld computers. We didn’t expect our herds to be analysed by computer cameras. “What will our dairying grandchildren see?”
  2. Our grandparents didn’t imagine cows at robotic feeders. Our grandchildren may see robotic work crews. “Will future housing facilities take robotics even further?”
  3. Our grandparents did not see rotating milking parlours. Our grandchildren may develop drive through pick up of small loads of milk for targeted delivery. “How would these innovations affect your dairy future?”
  4. Our grandparents did not see large numbers of immigrant workers.Our grandchildren may draw from international teams of dairy farm workers. “Is finding labourers a hurdle or an opportunity?”
  5. Dairy farms have handled their own clean-up teams to sanitize housing, store rooms, small handheld equipment and large motorized vehicles. “Is your dairy team, prepared and trained to handle evolving virus situations?”
  6. Modern dairies have benefited from the dairy innovators who came before them. “Who will invent, produce and mentor for the next dairy generation?” 


It isn’t hard to find opinions about what should, would or could be done to make lives better.  News, television, radio and local gathering places, pile up what is patriotic, what is political and what is just plain confusing. Where do dairy decision makers get their information?  Located in Canada but with a large US readership, it is a daily challenge for THE BULLVINE to find balanced and confirmable facts. We often ask after news event that affects dairying or agriculture, “What just happened?”

In the overriding politics of division, we read diametrically opposing reports of who has been given money.  Has help reached your dairy?  How much research does it take until someone says, “Small farmers are getting a meagre share of Coronavirus relief.” And someone else declares, “Some farmers are getting too much money.”

It is tempting to claim the high ground in discussions involving the problems that have appeared in the 2020 to 2021 dairy industry.  The truth is that, at the same time, similar problems have arisen, not only in Canada and the US, but around the world.  Politics has become more polarizing and, like the Covid virus that has become a pandemic, no country or political party is immune to it.


If dairying in states, provinces, tribes and territories is seen like a herd … with different ages, stages and needs … it is easier to understand why one action cannot and should not be applied identically in every situation. Having said that, is the political assistance that is often touted in news headlines actually helping? Every day every news source has their own version of statistics.  What is real?  What is actual?  Do we really understand what the statistic includes or does not include?

Here are statistics that are researchable:

  • S.A. 76% of farmers are white; 17% are Latino; 3.5% are Black.
  • White dairy men earn $30,000 White dairy women $27,000 Black $ 27,000.

Here are statistics that vary so much that a definitive answer is just a number.

  • Where is the concentration of agriculture debt? Dairy producer debt?
  • What is the effect of changing land values on dairying? Changing land zoning?
  • By how much has the supply chain disruption, affected dairy industry profits?
  • In the long term, how much will the widening economic divide between rich and poor, affect the consuming of dairy products? How will that affect dairy profitability?


We started out with a celebration of the history of dairy creativity and adaptability. To be realistic, we must realize that people, facilities and cows didn’t achieve this progress due to some magical process.  Under ongoing stress, there has to be effective decision making, management plans and investment all wrapped up in a vision of where to find the opportunities and solutions.

The dairy landscape of 2020 and 2021 has so far seen monumental shifts. Climate change brought fires to the west coast, drought to some states, flooding in other areas and an unusual number of severe storms on the east coast and dramatic winter weather in places where prolonged snow had never been experienced before. Sometimes multiple events closely followed each other. This meant no water for drinking and many homes and barns experienced dangers to humans and animals because of lack of heat and the resulting frostbite, burst pipes and hypothermia. Can this be foreseen and prepared for?


Once again the problems don’t arrive in exactly the same way and so too the solutions must adapt to particular situations. Food and safety for people first.  Then finding ways to keep animals safe and well-fed despite disruptions. It would be wonderful if the overproduction in one area could provide for the lack in another. Disruption prevents this.  Slow moving requests for help.  Lagging ability to respond where it is most urgently needed. Even the natural ability of dairy generations to solve their own problems without asking for assistance is, in itself, part of the problem.

The human factor complicates the outlook because there are people on the farm, off the farm, at lending institutions and other suppliers that are making decisions based on their perspective on the impact of Covid 19. Who decides where your dairy’s growth point is now?  Nutritionist? Vet? Crop additive supplier?  Different opinions are healthy.  Different facts are destructive. Goals and action plans for your dairy need to be aligned.


Dairy farmers don’t run from hard questions. Finding answers is not simple and boils down to working either independently or through collaboration with those who also share long term goals for dairy sustainability. 

The answers driving dairy success stem from four basic questions:

  1. What is actually working?
  2. What is not moving forward?
  3. What is needed now?
  4. Is reaching consensus more important than taking individual corrective action?

These difficult big picture questions need answers:

  • Who is responsible for the problems of methane, milk prices or land use? Is cleaning up the climate more or less expensive than cleaning up the aftermath of climate destruction?
  • Who defines the costs of action? Who defines the costs of inaction? Who pays?
  • How much do you depend on a free trade oriented global market?                                 
  • How much do you depend on local markets and government subsidies?
  • Who is coping best with changing milk prices, international competition and global market conditions?


Ongoing healthy dairy farm management means not throwing out the scientific facts with the milkhouse wash water. Conditions change.  Responses can too. Even as you read this article, numbers are changing. Conditions are changing. Deadline dates, figures, dollars and legislation are all dynamic. We know we can’t hold back change but, at the same time, experience tells us to recognize that quickly enacted decisions can have long term effects.  Losing hard won gains in genetics, nutrition and management may take years to regain. We love the ringside and industry wide recognition of dairy leaders, but getting to that level is not a spectator sport. It means hard work, daily decisions and effective personal and dairy team decisions. However, simply managing what receives attention does not mean that your dairy will automatically be successful.


We are impressed and justifiably proud of those who have success in the show ring or on the national awards scene. But receiving awards and applause does not mean that there were no difficulties. Success is hard work and despite the look of ease, successful operations are built on the way hard decisions are made and how difficult challenges are met. Ironically, successful dairies also know what to do when things are going well. A good question that dynamic dairy managers can answer is, “What did you do with the money you made in good years?” They don’t stop with a shelf of trophies. They don’t stop with the last pedigree.  They don’t limit their goals. Dairy operations that do well are equally proficient in milk production, herd health and financial decision making. A fine example of this kind of continuing success is “ERBACRES SNAPPLE SHAKIRA The New International Superstar”.


Coping is what dairies do.  There is so much information overload, crisscross and misinformation that it can adversely affect your bottom line.  Each dairy manager must take responsibility for keeping up on subsidies, refunds, tax relief, and any COVID related financial support. With the disconnection between federal, state/provincial and local governments, some money could fall through the cracks.  That hurts a lot when it’s your money.

As margins have tightened, there has been a year over year decline in licensed dairy farms in the US. In Canada imported cheese volumes rose through the first half of 2020 due to consumer demand and producer organizations expanding quota levels and due to trade agreements. It is tempting to focus on the profit and loss statement and see that there is a profit for dairies in both countries.  But what is that money being used for?  Is money gradually declining in order to keep refinancing real estate costs or other debt?  When does the line of profit come face to face with nothing left? The bills, on and off the dairy, must always be paid. 


The current Pandemic is not the same as the Great Recession.  Dairy managers and their business situations are also not the same.  Previous generations met and surpassed their dairy challenges. Post Covid 19 is not just about human health but also about dairy competitiveness in a world where many layers of dairy production and dairy product consumption have been disrupted.  Geography, environment and politics are throwing new curves. Safety, health and consumer buying patterns are the signposts to follow. As we’ve learned from conversations with readers of The Bullvine, there are three steps needed if we are to build and strengthen the dairy industry we are so passionate about.  First: Remember our dairy legacy.  Second: Respond to current dairy challenges. Third: Take effective forward actions, with renewed dairy passion.




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Erbacres Snapple Shakira – The New International Superstar

No, we are not talking about the Colombian singer and songwriter who has sold over 80 million records which have made her the best-selling female Latin artist of all time.  We are talking about Erbacres Snapple Shakira the EX-95 2020 Breeder’s Choice Grand Champion. Her story is not a rag to riches story.  It is a story of some of the most talented breeders from around the world coming together to breed and develop an international superstar.


KHW Regiment Apple-Red-ET
Excellent-96 4E DOM 28*
4-01 2x 365d 35,750 4.7 1682 3.7 1314
9-01 2x 365d 36,750 4.3 1582 3.3 1211
Lifetime: 240,640 4.7 11394 3.6
Her accomplishments could fill a book, but a few of the highlights include:
• Grand Champion International Red & White Show 2011
• Unanimous All-American Junior Two-Year-Old 2006
• All-American Red & White 125,000 lb. Cow 2013
• All-American Red & White Aged Cow 2011
• World Champion Red & White Cow 2010 & 2014
• Reserve Grand Champion International Red & White Show 2013
• Reserve Grand Champion Royal Winter Fair Red & White Show 2009
• Premier Breeder International Red & White Show 2017 & 2019

We begin our story with a very passionate breeder who came to America with a passion and a dream.  Francisco Rodriguez came to USA for work but wanted to live out a dream and so he set out to find partners to make that happen. (Read more: FRANCISCO RODGRIGUEZ: Passion with a Purpose). Dairy dreams often start with star breeding the best to the best.  For Shakira that starts with her dam, Snapple-Red. Snapple is from the great Apple-Red (Read more: KHW Regiment Apple-Red-Et – Everything and more and KHW Regiment Apple-Red – Beauty, performance, and even more record accomplishments). For Francisco the pedigree was what dreams are made of. So, when John Erbsen came to him about Snapple, who at the time was 6 months of age, there was no question that he wanted to own her. However, having just moved to the US and being heavily invested in flushing the Apple-1, a clone of Apple, that he had purchased earlier, financing was limited. He also needed to get access to pedigree potential genetics and to build a team.  It was this outstanding pedigree combination that had the passionate team interested. Nevertheless, passion does not pay bills so, for Francisco, partners were needed.  His search did not take long. He already had worked with John with Apple-2 and knew the great care and knowledge that he brought to the table.  He also had a long history of working with fellow Colombian, Juan Pablo Muriel and knew of his interest in partnering and the business acumen he brought with him. With that the team was formed that would possess the vital skills needed to produce an international superstar.  They purchased Snapple at 6 months of age.

MISS APPLE SNAPPLE-RED-ET (REDBURST) Grand Champion- North American Open Red & White Show 2020 MILKSOURCE, WI

Under the outstanding care of John Erbsen, Snapple continued to develop.  After flushing her twice, he says, “We exported embryos to Central America and Germany.  One of Snapple-Red’s mates was O’Kaliber.” O’Kaliber is the son of the famous European show cow Decrausaz Iron O’Kalibra and KHW Elm-Park Acme, a half-brother to Apple. The next star, ET Shakira, would be born before Snapple-Red calved as a 2-year-old.

Snapple would go on to be Grand Champion, Midwest National Red & White Spring Show, 2019, Unanimous All-American R&W Four-Year-Old, 2017 and Reserve All-Canadian R&W Senior Cow, 2019. Snapple was shown in heifer form by Junior Holstein Member, Connor Erbsen, and, since World Dairy Expo 2017, has been owned by Milksource Genetics. 


When naming calves there are many decisions to be made.  Francisco points out that since John had done such great work caring for and developing Snapple and now Shakira it was only natural to use John’s Erbacres prefix.  When it came her name, all team members worked together and Francisco suggested the name Shakira, and the partners all agreed.  “I always wanted a cow with the name of the famous Colombian singer so, as soon as she was born, that was it”  The story continues from the personal heart of Francisco. “I have always been a party guy.  I told my wife Sofia that when our Shakira wins, we will dance like crazy.” To make the dream even more outstanding, Francisco has announced, “When our Shakira wins, they will play “Hips Don’t Lie.” Her story was now ready to be set to Shakira’s music!

Francisco leading Shakira as a yearling at the 2016 World Dairy Expo


Shakira was a nice calf and loved by all her owners but, as they reported, “She was not a show winner at the start.”  Francisco explains “Shakira had great parts but John’s raising program was for growth and health and not skinny show heifers so, in the heifer classes in the show ring, she often carried too much weight.” At that time, Shakira ended up in the middle of the heifer classes. 


John Erbsen also saw her special beauty. “My kind are the ones that get better every year.  They develop out and calve back.” With Shakira, he sums it up, “I could see that Shakira was going to do that.” John says his judgement was confirmed by others. “It gave me confidence, when other people could also see her potential. My sister Paula, after seeing Shakira when she was four or five weeks fresh said, ‘This one is going to be pretty special!’”

Shakira’s breeders knew there was potential but only after a couple of months fresh in her first lactation did it all start coming together. John Erbsen saw her every day and he reports that “Shakira was not the same as she started out after calving.” He colorfully adds, “On the phone, I teased Francisco that she might not be great. However, by the time Francisco visited and saw her, he was in love. She had changed a lot. She was coming on. She was going to be pretty special.” We now see exactly how special. Shakira has excelled at significantly improving her conformation after first calving.


The team then decided to take her to the mecca, World Dairy Expo.  Where she started to get lots of attention.  Ysabel Jacobs continues the story, “When Yan walked the aisles at World Dairy Expo in 2017, he came back to our string and said, “I saw the best cow.” Thus, began discussions over price and purchasing. This inspired further activity. “We took her on a walk.” reports Ysabel, with the following details. “There was careful consideration and growing excitement until, on show morning, when I went into the barn, before 5 a.m. Yan said, “We bought her!” Shakira was now owned by the new partnership of Ferme Jacobs, Jacob’s family members and other extended family. (Read more: Ferme Jacobs – “Dreams without goals are just….dreams”)


Sofia and John saying their good byes to Shakira.

One would understand, if those who owned Shakira never wanted to part with her. The growing worldwide support might also confirm that position. However, John Erbsen is quick to point out, “I don’t run a museum here.” He does admit though that his whole family was attached to Shakira as were Francisco and his wife, Sofia. Everyone agreed that Shakira was a great personality animal. “We all wanted to be able to see her continue her journey.” Everyone supported the final decision. “Our partnership was confident we were selling her to a home, where she could keep developing.” Juan Pablo also recognized that not selling would leave them with “too much money on four legs.” Even as Francisco confirmed that  “We sold her to another great Team.”, it was still emotional. John and Sofia, and probably other family as well, shed tears.  In a beautiful picturing of the connection that is maintained with this well-loved rising star, Rodriguez declares, “The original team celebrates every time Shakira rings another bell.”


It isn’t surprising that those who have worked with Shakira have many positive anecdotes about her.  Ysabel says, “It is a pleasure to work with Shakira.  She responds well to feed and environment.” It should be noted that Shakira’s environment changed between owners.  Ysabel explains, “Shakira was used to being by herself all the time at Erbacres. She had also been a 4-H calf.  When she arrived at Ferme Jacobs, we let her be by herself but within a pen with the group.” Ferme Jacobs has carefully developed this style of housing show animals.  “Show cows will be more aggressive and learn more by being part of a group.” Ysabel and Yan have witnessed how this works. “When feed is presented, they learn to run. If they don’t hurry, others are going to eat it.” This housing style is also mirrored in Shakira’s present situation, according to Ysabel.  “She is currently with the fresh cows.  She herself hasn’t calved but she is due in June and adds, “Shakira is doing really well right now.” To those who reach for the stars, these are the ordinary details of an extraordinary cow.

ERBACRES SNAPPLE SHAKIRA 1st place Junior Two Year Old 2017 Canadian National Holstein Show Antelimark, Jacobs, Theraulaz, TY-D

Ysabel Jacobs also has notes along this line. “Shakira has continued to change quite a bit.  She wasn’t the big, framed cow that she is now.” Specifically, she clarifies. “Shakira always had the perfect rump and especially good udder, as a heifer.” Some had noted that she had somewhat of a thick as a heifer “Her dam had a thick head and a thick neck as a heifer. Shakira’s front end has cleaned up a lot Ysabel sums up. “Shakira has a long dairy neck now.”

Erbacres Snapple Shakira-ET VG89, gets the nod for Intermediate Champion at World Dairy Expo. She is jointly owned by Ferme Jacobs, Ty-D Holsteins, Killian Tehraulaz, Ferme Antelimarck and C & F Jacobs. She is led by Tyler Doiron.


As we tell Shakira’s story, we cannot help but be impressed with the ways she is winning new fans. A notable measure of her growing popularity is that for Shakira it connects three continents –  South America, North America and Europe – and continues to grow.

Regardless of the business you are in, awareness is powerful. Even with the instant communication that is growing exponentially, that alone doesn’t guarantee success. However, in six years, Shakira’s popularity has skyrocketed.  Her popularity has multiplied partly because of passion and partly because of marketing. “Being able to actually see her on line has a double impact.” says Francisco. “Nothing beats being able to see her mobility” That is fantastic marketing.   Francisco then enthuses that it is possible now for many more eyes to see Shakira’s great characteristics.  

Ysabel also praises what online marketing can provide. “Everyone can actually see so much volume with that perfect udder.” In show cow circles, many claim perfect udders but Ysabel says, “You can have a good udder but, with Shakira, you have both the quality and the exceptional veining.” This opportunity for visual sharing, brings her story to the eyes and hearts of dairy breeders everywhere. Shakira’s story is able to go where no dairy star story has gone before.

Erbacres Snapple Shakira
Grand Champion
2020 Summer Invitational
Ferme Jacobs, Antelimarck, Theraulaz and TY-D


For dairy breeders who would be thrilled to emulate Shakira’s success, there is much to learn.  It starts with Francisco’s first two steps “Make your passion a dream by having a sound genetic plan and goals. Stick to your plan.” He then adds another key requirement.  “Dairy breeding is a great business, but it is more than just cows.” With impassioned emphasis, Francisco told The Bullvine, “People make the difference. You must have a great team.” Fortunately for Shakira, great teams contributed to her development at each stage of her progress. A long-range view is the starting point. Persistence through challenges will teach lessons.  Always have patience.  Teamwork triumphs.


The dream began with a star’s name.  Francisco had a dream that one day his namesake would emulate that star’s success, while standing in the ultimate dairy spotlight. There have been many star performances for SHAKIRA on the way. Her success has won her an audience and many loyal followers.  It is likely that SHAKIRA will indeed stand in the ultimate spotlight one day at World Dairy Expo and the Royal Winter Fair, but Francisco’s dream doesn’t stop there. In his story of Shakira, he dreams that she won’t be alone. Her namesake SHAKIRA will be there too and the song playing in the background will be, “HIPS DON’T LIE!” Another first.  Another starburst.



With so many facts already recorded in the historically exceptional story of Shakira, the question becomes, “Where will Shakira go from here?” Each person who has known her best answers from a different perspective, but they all share the same confidence, “Whatever happens next, Shakira, will continue to set new records and leave outstanding genetics.” Today The Bullvine and fans throughout the dairy world heartily applaud Grand Champion Breeder’s Choice Winner – Shakira.




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The Top 12 Editor’s Choice Articles Of 2020

The Rear View Mirror Says Dairy Had to Stop. Detour. Slow Down. Delay & Follow the Science


In January 2020 I remember thinking that, in order to create catchy headlines, the two-word phrase 2020 vision was going to become annoyingly overused. In fact, the most repetitive headlines had to do with data. In the dairy industry, which has been built on records, the daily deadly reports were hard to hear and they continue to be impossible to ignore. As data collectors, we at The Bullvine were most fortunate that, although distanced from meeting face to face, our readers still proactively shared the information that the dairy industry felt was most important.  Every industry and every business, whether small or large, has had to learn ways to navigate through a pandemic. We thank you for these top ten 2020 road signs of the times.

#1 Should You Share Your Data?

When faced with a proposal for sharing, we worry about what we will get out of it and what the cost will be. It is easy to get tunnel vision and begin to fight against others in our industry.  Dairy grows at the speed of cash but we can’t make money without using data.  When a farm’s data is not available for others, everyone loses. Collaboration using all data perspectives will inspire innovation, insights and capabilities that a single dairy cannot solve by itself. It isn’t about who owns the data but who uses the data for new implementation.  Sometimes we want confirmation that we are right. Sometimes we need insights about where we could be better.  (Read more: Should You Share Your Data?)

#2 Heat Busters. Who You Gonna Call? 

One of the lessons that will long outlast 2020 is the warning, “When facing a crisis, it is vital to take fast and effective action.” Multiple forces act on dairy cattle to send their body temperatures beyond normal levels. Managing heat stress is a high priority. The goal is to make it possible for each cow to meet her full potential for milk yield and fertility, without damaging heat stress. More research is needed to identify improved comprehensive cow-side measurements that can indicate real-time responses to elevated ambient temperatures. With this knowledge, effective heat abatement management decisions can be acted upon in the right way, right now!  Here is where cow sense, common sense and scientific research must combine for success. (Read more: “HEAT BUSTERS. Who You Gonna Call?”)

#3 Break the Mold – Shape Your Future Through Sire Selection                            

The economic crisis triggered by the pandemic did not necessarily affect the entire dairy industry equally. For some it marked a heartbreaking end of a long family journey. Others had to reconsider every aspect of the dairy business, including breeding models. The old way was characterized by dairy breeders using a total merit index as their primary tool and following a “balanced” breeding program. Balanced because the emphasis placed on the traits included in the index are proportional to the historic economic importance of the trait or balanced because the relative equal emphasis is placed on conformation and production traits with a lesser emphasis on auxiliary traits. This article addressed how a modern strategy might pivot toward new breeding realities It is time to break the mold. (Read more: Break the Mold – Shape Your Future Through Sire Selection)

 #4 To Niche or Not to Niche? Big Questions Face Dairy Markets

It’s impossible to predict what the impacts of Covid-19 on dairying will look like three, six or twelve months from now. One thing, however, will be certain. Dairy businesses that decide to take the leap and prioritize what the dairy consumer wants and needs, will be the ones that come out on top. In the past, the total volume pumped from the milk tank was the priority.

Continuing to chase volumes means accepting the risk that an outside force could make some dairy operations irrelevant.  Uncontrollable forces such as a global pandemic, weather disasters, economic upheaval and politics will become the endgame for some.  Instead, what is needed is dairy decision making based on market consumption. Milk producers must then prioritize products that recognize the end customer.  Milk has huge potential.  It is up to dairy owners and mangers to create partnerships, collaboration and community connections that will point the way to dairy sustainability.  (Read more: To Niche or Not to Niche? Big Questions Face Dairy Markets) 

#5 Tomorrow’s Dairy Cattle Genetic Evaluations Must Consider Environments 

Dairy cattle genetics in North America has enjoyed exponential acceptance worldwide. It has been an exciting journey which, ironically, has contributed to creating worldwide competition.  This front-line forward motion can only be maintained if we keep developing the science. If breeders and organizations persist in using one milking or one day’s observations per month to calculate milk yields and ignoring data from in-barn monitoring systems, our dairy industry will fall behind.  As well, animal performance beyond milk cows cannot remain non-existent in our central data bases. It is time for breeders and their representatives on committees and boards to expand, collect and use more on-farm data. There can never be too many known and implemented dairy genetic facts.  (Read more: Tomorrow’s Dairy Cattle Genetic Evaluations Must Consider Environments)

#6 You Can Strengthen Your Dairy Immune Status

The dairy journey through 2020 experienced a parallel reality with the human journey. This article homed in on “Five signs that your herd Immunity is under attack.” and included “8 Steps to Strengthen Dairy Immune Response.” Insights and opportunities are always present when strengthening immune systems. As happens on the human side, it is important to watch out for headline scare tactics. Vaccines for animal diseases are nothing new thanks to Louis Pasteur in 1879. What is new are trends suggesting refusal of the use of vaccines. Allowing vaccine preventable disease to decimate food animals would not only be a severe hit to the economy, it would threaten food security all around the world wherever these animals are a source of protein. (Read more: You CAN Strengthen Your Dairy Herd Immune Status – Healthier Herd. More Milk. Healthier Herd. More Profit.)

#7 STOP WASTING TIME!! Choose Sires that Save on Labor

There are good arguments for driving forward in the dairy industry by using the same genetic science that produced superior production and conformation in our dairy herds.  This article asks “Is it time to address how the genetic merit of our animals affects the cost of labor on the farms of tomorrow?” With more animals per employee and the focus moving to on farm efficiency, it is imperative that milk producers choose and use sires that are significant breed improvers for labour-saving traits. More time will be available to attend to other important on-farm herd functions – fresh cow temperature checking, extra health checks of calves, increased herd checking, more time for report analysis, more time for staff training. (Read more: STOP WASTING TIME! Choose Sires that Save on Labor)

#8 Terri Packard: When you build it..they do come

If there is anything hard times have taught passionate dairy people, it is that right next to the cows, people are the most important success factor. This article focuses on Terri Packard and opens by saying, “Although she isn’t royal in the strictest sense, there’s no doubt her iron-clad reputation makes her one of the industry’s blue bloods – and a shining example when it comes to talent, integrity, intelligence and grace under pressure.” When we look back and try to identify what kept the dairy industry compelling amid the uproar of changing times, people like Terri Packard and husband Ernie Kueffner will stand tall. “Every industry needs leaders” and Terri recognizes that the dairy industry needs everyone on that team making sure that great cows get great care every day. Ernie adds, “To get to the top requires sacrifice.” This wonderful story of beloved cows and, most importantly, dedicated people, has all the elements to inspire generations. (Read more: Terri Packard: When you build it…they do come)

#9 Watch Out – Breed Societies are on a Course to Crash and Burn

It is quite true that there are occasions when we are so close to what is happening that we can’t really see mistakes even as they are happening. This article encouraged dairy associations to remove the blinders before it is too late. To be relevant, decision makers for breed societies must value the skill of listening to what members are saying. Having earned a chair at the table, they must then bring those real concerns to the determination of the value provided. It isn’t enough to say that we are all part of the journey.  Associations must align priorities, services, data and science and then commit to being drivers of the necessary changes. The signs will either be followed or associations will come to a full stop. (Read more: Watch Out – Breed Societies are on a Course to Crash and Burn) 


One lesson does not fit every dairy.  There are kids, adults, bosses, employees and services providers.  All ages.  Many stages. A determined dairy detective would be able to find silver linings among the impacts of Covid-19 on their dairy.  Such was the intention behind the article, “WAYS FOR KIDS TO BE UP-ON-THE-FARM DURING CORONAVIRUS.” At the other end of this road we travelled, we find the losses incurred when mental health issues are ignored. This was raised in “Dairy Farmers – Break Down the Stigma Around Suicide.” This is a dairy business issue but it goes beyond that too. The goal is to help yourself and others to come out on the other side with a more constructive, productive and effective way to face mental pain.  (Read more: Ways For Kids To Be Up-On-The-Farm During Coronavirus) 

#12 WORLD DAIRY EXPO – The Show Must Go On

And so we come to what many of us recognized as the main casualty on the Pandemic Road. Cancelled dairy shows were frequently announced.  Depending where you lived, efforts were made with varying degrees of success to adjust to the rules and continue this iconic part of the dairy industry experience.  On behalf of The Bullvine, its readers and the dairy industry, our founder Andrew Hunt did not shy away from analysis and a call to action. “We have the opportunity to re-invent the industry so that it is greater than it ever was before.” He concluded, “The show side of the dairy industry was in trouble before Cofid-19 hit.  The question now is will Covid-19 be the nail in the coffin or the catalyst for change that revises the show industry?” (Read more: World Dairy Expo – The Show Must Go On)


We won’t find our way through 2021 by blindly fixating on the roads taken in 2020. The future needs us to heed what we have learned and to work every day to make the conditions, cows and dairy teams the best they can be.  At The Bullvine we look forward with gratitude and appreciation to each one of you and wish you every success as we commit to proudly sharing your passion, as we continue this amazing journey together in 2021.

To Niche or Not to Niche? Big Questions Face Dairy Markets


Currently milk producers see milk checks as cash flow and they fear giving up cash flow. And so begins the cycle.  Too much fluid milk. Fluid milk with nowhere to go. Fluid milk ends up being dumped. This repeating cycle has been with us for at least fifty years due to the fact that milk is seen as a commodity.  As a commodity, there is no differentiation between fluid milk products. Every unit is the same as every other unit.  In the competitive market place, a differentiated product is able to stand out from competitors and win the interest of consumers. We can argue the well known health benefits until the cows come home, but we will still be faced with shrinking markets.  Producers need consumers. We can’t afford to stubbornly hold our positions or the day may come when one side or the other withdraws from the fight. Dairy producers need to design their cash flow so that they are not dependant on volume alone for cash flow.

DO HEALTH MIS-PERCEPTIONS CONTINUE TO AFFECT DAIRY MARKETS?                                                                   

When I meet with non-dairy friends, they see all farms through fond memories of fairy tales, nursery rhymes and their relationship with their own pets. Regarding animal care, this last perspective leads some consumers to fall too easily for negative attacks regarding animal treatment on dairy farms.  We need to look at ourselves from their perspective. They don’t produce products from their pets.  They don’t have herds of pets. The idea of herds of the same animal living together or diseases that spread from animal to animal is not usual to their companion animal experience. With enough negative publicity or lack of positive information, consumers may choose another option when sourcing their beverages.


It is up to the dairy industry to explain how milk is different from other beverages. However, we don’t want to be a product that professes difference that the consumer doesn’t accept. Different does not necessarily mean a product is provably better but we must win perceptions. The purpose of advertising and promotion that occurs in our society is to achieve the end result of earning the consumer’s dollar. It is a competition and we must start by recognizing where the competition actually is. We should compete against other non-dairy beverages.  We can learn from those who do the most convincing job?   A good starting question is to ask why many non-dairy beverages try to be perceived as “milk”.  We need to emphasize different taste.  Unique health benefits.  Speak up about the different benefits for different ages of consumers from birth to assisted living. If we continue to be stubbornly undifferentiated, eventually that sameness will drive prices lower and vital consumer support will also decline.


We are all consumers and accept responsibility for the buying decisions we make.  Milk producers can earn new consumers by caring enough to recognize and align our milk products with their real concerns. Creating a brand for milk benefits that show it to be safer, healthier and with a wide variety of tastes that appeal to the whole family. If your current niche differentiation is that you are organic, the time has come to admit that it is not enough.  Organic milk is still fluid milk and simply puts milk in a different commodity market. The opportunity must be taken to differentiate your milk by focusing on specific aspects that are sought by specific markets. Generations before us have promoted healthy milk.  Today the appeal needs targeted outreach to the hearts of all consumers.  Pregnant women.  Babies. School children.  Sports diets. It must start with the recognition that members of households have different requirements and personal preferences from the points of view of health needs, taste, sustainable packaging and ease of availability.  The dairy industry can’t assume that consumers are also not a commodity that has only one profile to appeal to.  As well, we can’t assume that all consumers are well-informed on the differences between the facts and fallacies regarding the production of milk and its impact on health. Where does your milk fill a specific need?


Finding and building a niche market cannot be done for free.  It takes dollars to advertise.  It takes time and money to find the working partnerships.  It takes investment to make profitable changes to the milk delivery line as it moves milk from farm to table.  For this reason, a lack of resources can be the most difficult part of making the transition from commodity to niche product. Wherever your dairy is operating, there are other producers, manufacturers, marketers and retailers. The forward building dairy business will look for the partnerships that not only build their own dairy but the community they serve as well.  Without customers there is no dairy industry. Although I have previously said nothing is free, all dairy businesses have the opportunity to share free virtual content that highlights the health, safety and entertainment value of dairy farming.  Reinforcing a positive dairy milk image is step one. And “Yes!” – I said entertainment value.  With zoos and parks facing the challenges of health and safety, virtual farm experiences from simple to complex, depending on your resources, can fill a niche. Additionally, consumers in restricted times are receptive to experiences to accompany their purchases. Some creative dairy folks are filming virtual calf shows.  There are opportunities to provide experiences from calving to milking lines. At an in-house creative level, dairy kitchen recipes can expand consumer experience and put dairy products on more tables.


Many business analysts us graphics to show the rising trajectory of successful business decisions. We are convinced by rising income, rising production, reduced costs and reduced debt. That’s on paper. In real life, time doesn’t stop to allow us time to see the future more clearly ahead of time and then change the lines to reflect our positive success. We cannot perfectly control the future.  We cannot perfectly control the consumer market. Perfect answers are not needed.  Forward progress is needed.  Having said that, vulnerability and risk come with every change.  From the size of the investment that is needed, to the development of the equipment, people and advertising, progressive dairy producers must face many issues when daring to be different. These factors include weather changes, pests, currency fluctuations, economics and political support or lack of it.  That is the dairy side.  On the consumer side, there is reduced disposable income, marginalized demographics and those who are vulnerable for other reasons during these unusual times.

THREE KEYS: 1. Responsibility. 2. Innovation 3. Relationship   

The dairy milk producer does not exist in a vacuum.  From the cow in the dairy line to milk on the table, each step depends on effective input from numerous other businesses. As the world, as we know it, is disrupted, innovation will be important as a way to find ways to keep the dairy business line operating successfully from end to end.  It is risky to feel that the producer at one end does not need to be connected to consumer concerns at the other end.  Going forward the dairy producer will survive because of a successful direct to consumer relationship. It takes acceptance of this responsibility to start the ball rolling.  Then comes willingness to change and innovate.  All three steps are needed for a dairy operation to begin the process of producing not just fluid milk but also niche products.  Simultaneously, the dairy industry has to have compassion for the reality that many businesses are completely interrupted or closed due to the global pandemic. These closures may not immediately affect your dairy business, however, eventually the domino effect will, at the very least, affect the purchasing habits of consumers. It makes sense to start early to consider what new infrastructure would enhance your longevity in the dairy industry.


 Long before the decision to invest in new niche market infrastructures, a dairy producer considering change needs to allot time for experimenting with milk specializing, learning new techniques that might be necessary and continually analyzing all changes and the resulting effects on improving milk quality. It can take years, and require significant trial and error, to be able to consistently produce milk for an identified niche market. Niche milk quality, rather than supply and demand, should determine prices – but “should” is the key word here.  In theory, consumer will pay premiums for better-quality milk however, price premiums are not guaranteed.  As much as everyone prefers the comfort of a sure thing, today’s business environment means that this surety is unlikely to be achievable.  Through constant evaluation and adaptation, every dairy operation needs to evaluate processes and track data. Tracing of actual results is key to achieving potential markets and improving consumer market penetration.


Reinforcing the reality that no business, dairy or otherwise, can operate totally in a vacuum, specializing in niche markets will mean reaching out to new partnerships and collaborations. Finding a community of viable partnerships is not easy. Many businesses have had tough years based, at least in part, on the new realities of the Covid Pandemic.  On the bright side, there are great reports of innovation and new beginnings.  From new packaging to green manufacturing, we are excited to see the opportunities for new business partnerships to reach consumers in new ways.

Closer to our own milk industry, it is important to recognize that many non-milk beverages are well along the path of marketing to consumers in new ways.  Specialty micro-breweries. specialty sodas and a booming growth in specialty coffees are fiercely competitive in the beverage market.  We can learn from their successes and failures.  Individually, dairy producers need to consider and implement ways to raise the profile of dairy products. This can be undertaken through support of community events, 4H competitions and vulnerable groups, all of which may vary from community to community.  The important point is to earn, learn and give back to the community where you are. The dairy future will have a strong foundation only if if builds on consumer confidence, relationships and interaction.


 In the past volume of production was the priority. If dairy keeps chasing volume, it means also accepting the risk that an outside force could make some dairy operations irrelevant.  We readily acknowledge the uncontrollable impact of forces such as a global pandemic, weather disasters, economic upheaval and politics.  A more controllable possibility is for dairy to adapt and transition toward selling to specialty markets. This means building long-term relationships with buyers and resulting outcomes in milk consumption. There will be opportunities to innovate new products and give dairy a higher profile position. Strong dairy niche markets will provide more stable income and reduced risk. The most important outcome is that the dairy industry will continue to provide safe and healthy food for the entire community.  




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Is Dairying Ready for Post-COVID Good “News!”?

As the global pandemic continues, the dairy industry is asking “What’s New?” the simplest answer is one word – “Coronavirus”. At this time, even though the majority of countries and businesses are still very much in the crisis management phase of COVID-19, some are already exploring how they can set themselves up on the right trajectory for growth as they come out the other side. Although it is very easy to fall prey to negativism, it might be both refreshing and forward-looking to actually consider the positive potential for what post-Covid dairying could look like. 

New Priorities

In dairying, there are many variables that are beyond your control which makes it necessary to know what you’re aiming for and what you can actually do. Don’t wear yourself out trying to meet standards set by news headlines, neighbours or anti-Ag activists or unrealistic romanticism. Do what makes it possible for you to maintain your sweet spot during hard times.  Don’t strive for excellence. When we clearly know what our plan is, we are not derailed by criticism. Do you need a home gym? A pool? New family computers? Others not walking in your shoes may criticize but you must make plans that make it possible for your business to continue to support you and your family … that means the children too!

New Dairy Org Chart

It is impossible to be a master of everything. Today dairy managers need to excel at screen time, as animal feeders, as animal breeders and animal doctors. Post-Covid the highest priority will be putting together new teams to efficiently and effectively handle all these special skills. 

Post-Covid there will be new definitions for the collaborations between your dairy everyone else who provides support or derives payments for expertise, consulting or products. We need all that expertise but how will we get it?  No more large group gatherings of 100s at trade shows or farm days. No more conflicting overlapping areas of expertise which waste time and cost money and have been excused by saying, “It’s the way we’ve always done it. We value lifestyle over profit.”

New Business or Old Lifestyle

Post-COVID it well be necessary to admit “Sustainable dairy farming isn’t all about the lifestyle”. You would find it hard to name any other relevant industry that professes to stay the same because of the “lifestyle”. Of course, there are very successful entrepreneurs who support their talents and hobbies through the companies they run.  So back to 24/7 dairying.  You can’t love the living but then continually ask for someone to “subsidize” it with financial support.

Speaking of support, this takes us one step further. Before, during and after COVID, the success of each dairy operation is impacted by every person working to produce products from milk. From ownership to staff to each on-farm provider, the need will be for openness and transparency in all communications in order for support to be relevant and ongoing. The entire staff fears for their futures, their health. Many don’t have savings to fall back on. They fear for their security. Hard conversations will be needed as entire dairy teams work through the challenges of COVID.  Family.  Employees.  Suppliers.  Who is entitled to draw their living from your lifestyle? What will be the difference post-COVID?

New Supply Chain Interaction

One post-COVID visible difference will be that there will be many more who work from home. In these first months, we’ve discovered that jobs no one thought could be done remotely can be handled very effectively with a laptop computer and video conferencing. At the other end of the spectrum, delivery service drivers have become essential to our new lifestyle. We still need police, firemen, pilots, and others to report to work. But many white-collar jobs that are now being done from home will remain there when the crisis passes. On the dairy farm, the winners will be dairy industry suppliers, who will continue to make the interactive business to farm processes easier. The post-COVID winners will be those suppliers and consultants that offer good prices, prompt delivery, and user-friendly websites that provide measurable value to the dairy operation. We could just hang on for now or we can use this time to make all interactions a more cohesive part of the dairy operation puzzle.

New Technology

Unsurprisingly, dairy operations that were furthest along with their digital transformation journey before COVID-19 struck are tending to adapt to the crisis better than their peers. Their technically proficient business models and working processes meant that they were able to pivot more rapidly or accelerate changes already underway. This could lead to complacency or it could be seen as an opportunity to take the dairy to the next level. For some, this could mean turning to or expanding robotics.

The rise of robotics is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it improves productivity and reduces vulnerability to the impact a future pandemic could have on labor. On the other, it carries the fear of leaving people without work. Managing that crisis is an old dairy challenge that needs a new answer. We need to use technology to augment, not replace, people. Robotic technology can do more than simply feed and milk cows.  

New Big Picture Planning

We need to reshape how we grow, transport, package and consume our food. Currently, our straight-line methods involve what some call take, make and waste. We need to find ways to decrease dependency on fossil-fuels and shorten the distance from producer-to-consumer. Continuing the agriculture commitment to mitigating the climate crisis and respecting and improving workers’ rights are part of the new perspective that is vital in order to build strength resiliency. When the urgent part of the crisis has been navigated, we need to go forward with a new commitment.  Interesting ideas are easily accessible and provide an interactive discussion on blogs such as “Less Waster and More Value”)

New Perspective Combining Health For Herds And Humans

In the dairy industry, we have personal experience with biosecurity and how to handle it.  Usually, our cows are the focus of the discussion.  Today it is about controlling an epidemic as it strikes humans. What we really need to develop is how we anticipate, discover and act.  Having the knowledge isn’t effective if we wait until it is too late to act. For example, we already are well aware that most major human infectious diseases have animal origins, and we continue to be bombarded by novel animal pathogens. Yet there is no ongoing systematic global effort to monitor for pathogens emerging from animals to humans. An ongoing systematic effort makes headway in describing and categorizing the diversity of microbial agents to which our species is exposed. We could characterize animal pathogens that might threaten us in the future. We could detect and control a local human emergence before it has a chance to spread globally. In other words, the pandemic has revealed the gaps in our current public health infrastructure.  Will they still be there post-COVID?

New Financial Solutions

Getting a grasp on big picture philosophy is often difficult. It seems easier to move from big picture imagining to down to earth dollars. What will post-COVID dairy financing save, keep or throw away from the experience? It is always easy to cut expenses and weather through until a more normal economy reappears. However, some dairies are thinking of trying new solutions. They don’t intend to reinvent the wheel.  Instead, they are looking at dairy dollars in a unique way.  Weighing the cost of cost-cutting or expenses in terms of what the actual impact is? For example, culling on the basis of replacement cost alone does not consider the cost of poor fertility, high breeding costs and the labor costs incurred.

Dairying is well aware that governments are going to be stretched to their limits in providing fiscal and economic stimulus. At some point in time, the hope is that we will emerge from the crisis stage. At that point, governments – federal, state and local – will be faced with massive debt problems. There will be attempts, realistic or otherwise, to recoup and rebalance the books.  Who will receive new benefits?  Who will be a new pawn?  

While we are always tempted to turn to self-protection, there are always new opportunities to find new ways forward and that could mean investing in new research. Post-COVID it will be valuable to collect and coordinate dairy data for the good of the entire industry. (Read more: “Opportunity Knocks! Will Dairy Answer?”) The goal is to keep successful new genetics and new innovations going over the long term.

New Globalization

As we live through the growing reality of Covid-19, we see governments with wealth turn to prop up their own economies as the developing world sinks into chaos.  New rules and new restrictions are mounting as each country protects themselves and keeps their money at home. At first, this protectionist attitude seems profitable but it eventually begs the new question, “Who is buying our products?” “Who is making our products?” An editorial in Western Producer sums it up this way, “Jumping off the globalization bandwagon will forfeit international advantages created by economies of scale, such as prairie agricultural, the advantage of the developing world in labour and manufacturing as well as incentives for international investment, which mitigate risk from all perils including disease. (Western Producer editorial published June 18, 2020). Will we see a coordinated global response or will we create more division, competition and a growing mountain of regulations?

New Heroes

“We are balancing between amazing acts of courage and heroism as our frontline healthcare providers lean in to take care of people across the nation and the world” says Kimberly MacPherson, teaching fellow at the Haas School of Business. At the same time, there are those who say “in a lot of ways my life has not changed all that much.”  Unfortunately, there are many more who are not so blessed. Now and post-COVID we need to open our eyes and ears to those who need unselfish, hard-working leadership, sharing and humanity.  These describe the dairy industry people and food producers.  That is why people have not been forced to stay home for three months and produce their own food. Heroes do what they do best and don’t stop until the job is done.

The Bullvine Bottom Line 

Post- COVID the new hope is that all dairy producers understand that we all need to work together.  One country cannot survive without the others. Producers cannot survive without consumers and everyone in between. We will find what is new, when we are proactive and create an intentional preparedness plan for a new dairy future.




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“HEAT BUSTERS. Who You Gonna Call?”

My mailbox and inbox have recently been overflowing with downloads and brochures about HEAT STRESS.  These written pieces are emphasized by capital letters and exclamation marks as many on-line suppliers and consultants provide information, strategies and, of course, their particular product that will combat this costly annual challenge. But great information is no good if it winds up in the garbage.  At the Bullvine we like to remind each other to ask the second question.  “What can I do with this?” If you have the herd contact person, ask the simple question, “What do you think we could do better to handle heat stress in our herd?”  

HEAT STRESS: Early Warning Signs and Symptoms

  • Increased breathing
  • Open mouth breathing (panting)
  • Slobbering
  • Trembling and loss of coordination
  • If they go down, recovery is unlikely

Take action when the first signs of heat stress are observed.  Survival depends upon effective intervention. Be particularly observant during the evening when cattle are trying to dissipate the heat built up during the day. Record observations and measurements.

HEAT STRESS AWARENESS TOOL: The Temperature Humidity Index 

Cows are large and their daily living processes means that they themselves are producing heat, in addition to the heat of the environment that they are living in. The effects of heat stress on dairy cattle are caused by a combination of high environmental temperature and relative humidity. These combined effects are measured by the THI Temperature Humidity Index. And used to assess the risk of heat stress and prevent harmful effects. Studies of THI have concluded that heat stress in cattle is avoided as long as temperatures are below 64 degrees Fahrenheit and when humidity is under 15%.  The optimal temperature for dairy cattle lies between 23 degrees F and 64 degrees F. At a temperature of 68 degrees F and humidity of 80%, a cow is already suffering from heat stress. It is clear that these conditions are repeatedly exceeded for extended periods of time during warmest months of dairy operation.  We can be sure that even though we humans may be comfortable; our cows are already experiencing heat stress. THI adds important analysis information. (for more information Excellent examples of how THI is formulated can be found online)

NEXT: Get Ready to Refine Results Beyond the THI Index

THI started being studied in the 1950s and has been available since the 1980s. There are apps available for doing the calculations.  One application doesn’t fit all situations.  It is necessary to know the predominant conditions in the area you are in as well as the relative humidity. Results are different in areas of dry heat (semiarid climates) or moist heat.  Present-day dairy operations need to plan ahead for the microclimatic changes caused by global warming and pollution. The actual Index also needs continual modification to more precisely interpret 24-hour results over extended time periods. Moving ahead, combining THI, body temperature and other indices (i.e. activity) will make it possible to individualize and effectively forecast heat stress.  

YOUR DAIRY HERD:  Who Else is Hot?  

Calves:  Two recent studies conducted at the University of Florida reported a lower pre-weaning average daily gain of calves from heat-stressed cows than those from cooled cows. As well, calves that experience in utero heat stress during the dry period maintain a lower body weight at least until 1-year-old compared to in utero-cooled calves. Multiple studies report that calves born to dry period heat-stressed cows had reduced efficiency to absorb immunoglobulin G (IgG) from colostrum, resulting in lower serum IgG concentrations during the first month of life.

Dry Cows: An article by Mark Pearce (Dairy Australia May 2016) stated that heat stress on dry cows has a dramatic effect on the development of mammary tissue in the udder and leads to decreased milk production in the following lactation.

KEEP COOL CHECKLIST: Take Immediate Action  

  • Check ventilation capacity and reduce any barriers to airflow
  • Increase ventilation rate when necessary (mechanical ventilation)
  • Make adjustments to achieve effective natural ventilation
  • Make sure all water troughs are clean at all times
  • Increase access to clean fresh water.
  • Keep all feed rations fresh and palatable
  • During hot periods, only have the cows on pasture during the night or during the cool moments (evening, early morning) of the day

COOLING OFF:  Dairy Stress Nutrition Strategies  

There are many sources who can provide advice and support when your herd is facing heat stress.  Don’t overlook the effect that targeted nutrition strategies can provide. Don’t consider the cost input without also calculating the dollars lost to dropping production or rising health problems.  Feed special rations (supplemented with additional minerals and vitamins) at least two times a day. In an experiment conducted at the University of Illinois (Pate et al, 2020 Journal of Dairy Science) the following was reported: “Protein in milk declines seasonally, just like butterfat, and the lowest point is reached in summer. “Heat-stress also reduces milk protein and milk fat depression during summer.” Protect against milk protein depression in summer with amino acid balancing and rumen-protected methionine supplement with a high bioavailability. 


Addressing heat stress from a genetic perspective presents a longer term solution. Relatively new on the breeding scene is breeding for the Slick gene in Holsteins.  It produces a shorter and smoother coat.  This is a gene with dominant heritability (like the polled gene) so that it makes it easier to introduce it into a population.  Sires are now available for carriers of the Slick gene. Slick animals in the tropics have been found to have 30% more sweat gland areas and 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit lower surface temperature.  University of Florida research shows Slick gene cows, 60 to 90 days in milk, produce 10 lbs. more milk per day in hot environments.  As well, calving interval for Slick gene cows was 30 days shorter than for normal Holsteins.

HOT STUFF: The Multiplying Costs of Heat Stress.  

In May of 2013 Hoards Dairyman published an article “How Much will heat stress cost you this summer?” It provided very interesting numbers to support the expensive side of dairy cattle heat stress. “It is estimated that heat stress costs the dairy industry anywhere from $900 million dollars to $5 billion each year depending on the calculation used.  The level of stress experience by an animal and resulting financial losses fluctuate as temperature and humidity go up and down.” “Knowing that heat stress does not typically happen for one day only, consider if a cow suffered heat stress for a period of 45 days; the losses for a 500 cow herd grows to $36,000 to $126,000. If the herd is milking 1,000 cows the losses become even more significant ranging from $72,000 to $252,000. These numbers don’t take into account reproduction losses and extended days open.”  These may not be your numbers but they may inspire you to take a realistic look at the financial impact of dairy heat stress on your operation.


As we move through human learning regarding responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are learning about the effects of crowding and physical distancing.  While heat stress isn’t contagious, crowded conditions are certainly another way that temperature impacts our herds. Cows that have spacious pens or pastures may still come into heated conditions while moving through holding areas. Barn fans are a mechanical solution to the moving air that is needed for groups of animals.  Assessments should be made to determine whether the moving air is actually on the animals or if it is largely blowing down alleys over people movement areas. Sometimes the fans are in the right place but the machinery we use for feeding and cleaning may block effective air flow onto the cows.

HEAT STRESS: Exercise Can Help Cows Adapt to Heat 

Studies have reported that cattle that exercise regularly spend less time in an elevated temperature, so they are less susceptible to hot days.  This can provide the added benefit of more milk components. Tim Rozell, an animal scientist with Kansas State University says, “We see increased protein in milk from exercised cattle. Last year, for example, we exercised pregnant heifers up to three weeks before they underwent parturition, and even 15 weeks or so into milk production, we saw increased protein in their milk, elevated lactose and other improvements in milk production.” Abi Wilson, A K-State master’s student in biology reports, “At the beginning and end of each trial, we take muscle biopsies. We are looking at specific enzymes, hormones and any changes in the skeletal muscle that may enhance their tolerance to heat, pregnancy rates and milk production.”

CLIMATE CHANGE: Will it Make a Dairy Difference?  

According to a recent study, the average number of days that feel hotter than 100 degrees in the U.S. will more than double by 2050. Scorching weather and lack of rain damages the quality of crops and the grass used to feed farm animals. This is even more concerning if weather conditions include the other extreme of too much rain and subsequent flooding. Some scenarios predict that climate change could lead to a 5 to 11% reduction in dairy production per year between 2020 and 2029 after controlling for other factors (see Journal of Dairy Science, Issue 12, December 2015, Pages 8664-8677). Research and extension efforts are needed to promote suitable dairy adaptation strategies.  You might ask, “Do animals beat the heat better by being inside or by being out outside?”  There are arguments to be made that pastured animals may be more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than cows that are housed. This is because housing provides shelter and technological options to mitigate the extremes of weather. There are no absolute answers.

HEAT STRESS: Simply Surviving a Few Hot Periods is NOT a Success Strategy 

Making it through to cooler temperatures may seem like a heat stress win which we might attribute to survival of the fittest.  Unfortunately, that attitude means accepting the long-term damage to current and successive generation of the dairy herd. It isn’t something that may happen.  It will damage your herd.

If the gene pool is too slow or too expensive, you might consider a more economical solution such as misting or water evaporation. For many, the solution of water misting seems obvious but, here again, it will depend on how well you manage the resulting humidity.  The plan is that the solution won’t make the problem worse instead of better. 


Multiple forces act on dairy cattle to send their body temperatures beyond normal levels. The goal of dairy management is to make it possible for each cow to meet her full potential for milk yield and fertility, without damaging heat stress. More research is needed to identify improved comprehensive cow-side measurements that can indicate real-time responses to elevated ambient temperatures. With this knowledge, effective heat abatement management decisions can be acted upon in the right way, right now!  It’s your call.




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Ways For Kids To Be Up-On-The-Farm During Coronavirus

Necessity became the Mother-of-Invention when my grandchildren moved further away from the farm than an easy drop-in distance. That’s when we inaugurated Granny Camp.  It was tremendously successful and gave me many ideas to share with friends and families with kids home on the farm during the Coronavirus.

How to Start “Kids Camp on the Farm”

Make a schedule.  Adults and children should plan together and modify a schedule and then post it.  This is important because after a few days the boss position will be challenged.  However, if it there is an agreed upon schedule that becomes the responsibility target, those issues can be avoided with “Let’s check the schedule.” Just a note.  Variations of Kids Camp on the Farm can become Kids Camp in the City.

Set Up a “How Far We Have Come” Corner

At first it will seem that progress and fun are not too significant.  I still urge you to collect results into a box, a basket or posting area (fridge door, bulletin board, walls).

Every day needs a physical representation of the Kids-Camp program:

  • A picture
  • A piece of art
  • Something to eat
  • Something to watch. Find programs that lift family spirits.
  • Keep school skills growing. Create a dairy math problem. Dairy because that makes it unique. Perhaps a “Milkhouse Math Problem”.
  • Keep school skills growing. Create a “Dairy Diary Journal”
  • “Would you rather” feed calves or feed barn cats? Would you rather helps kids humorously identify their farm favorite chores, games, animals and things.
  • Delve into creation of Dairy Farm Sound FX. This could be a creative way to take 26 days to alphabetize sounds on the farm. For instance, day number three might include calves, cows and coyotes.
  • Set up your own Good News Station. Do real or imagined interviews of farm owners, farm family or staff on the farm. Bring out things that make them unique, hardworking and friendly. Lift everyone up with positive feedback.
  • Create a TV ad for drinking milk, supporting farmers or keeping your farm work place clean. Empower kids to have input and to contribute actively.

We Can Lift Each Other by “SEEING A BRIGHTER LIGHT”

Put Christmas Lights up on your barn or along a fence. Of course, we don’t want to put additional strain on the system, so decide at a Camp Meeting how to schedule a recurring “Bright Lite” for an half hour to an hour once a day.  This brings a learning opportunity for everyone as we discuss issues of community responsibility, community cheer and responsible managing of difficult situations.

Farmers Have Always Found a Way.  Let’s Look at “THEN AND NOW”

Scavenger hunts have always been fun on the farm.  Of course, make sure clean hands, gloves and discussion sets everyone up for safety. This could be a written list, if that keeps hands cleaner.  Perhaps you could do two scavenger hunts.  (1) Find 20 things that would have been on a farm 100 years ago and are basically unchanged on your farm today.  (2) Find 20 things that a farmer in 1920 would never have seen on his or her farm. This kind of looking back and hoping ahead could expand over the days at home into Farm Equipment – Then and Now.  Farm Crops – Then and Now.  

“This is Not the Time to Turn Screen Time into Screen Time!”

These unusual times give us an opportunity to rewind home disciplinary and conflict situations that may have moved beyond our control.  Admittedly, I am not a grandparent who has a less-is-better attitude toward TV and screen time. I have learned a lot from patient grandchildren who “help” me adapt to this change. I do request that manners are respected at meal time or during specially scheduled activities.  Having said that, I feel it is hypocritical to withdraw screen privileges from the children, when I myself use and enjoy electronic media for learning, research and entertainment. 

“Speak Up on the Farm”

A wonderful part of confinement to a farm situation is the opportunity to interact with animals. When our contact with friends is dramatically reduced, we can use the barn animals – cows, dogs, cats and others — as an audience for improving our public speaking skills.  For instance, we could set up a judging panel: perhaps three transition cows.  If the kid numbers support it, there could be reporters to take pictures and post headlines. One idea might be to determine the entertainment value by the attention span of the chosen audience. 

“The Farm Act” Expands Entertainment on the Farm

We have been moved by scenes of singers and musicians singing from their balconies in cities that have asked for social distancing during Covid-19. In the past my grandchildren have entertained all of us with some very creative show biz opportunities that can be found in the barn:

  • Big Bale BoogiE
  • Hay Mow Acrobatics  
  • Wagon Wheel Parade (riding mowers)
  • Milk Pail Rhythm BanD
  • Heavy Metal Rhythm Band (farm tools)

“Honk if You LOVE Dairy”

As essential services continue, the farm may still have visitors coming in and out of the lane. Respecting the health of everyone, this will mean keeping a healthy distance.  Having said that, creative signs might invite new ways to show support:

“Honk if your happy.”

“Wave to us.  We are on the Porch”  

“We are Glad to See You” …. And then ring the farm bell.  

 “Start Your Own MILK MUSEUM”

Keep your kids engaged by using their strengths and talents to focus on the positive side of life on the farm.

  • Have tickets.
  • Create advertising
  • Make shoe box models.

The last example could be up scaled into a soap box derby. Create farm-cars.

“Go Beyond Pin the Tail on the Donkey!”

Stand in a section of the barn and only using your sense of hearing, identify what is going on behind your back.  Farm (and city) mothers are disqualified from this game because we all know they have eyes in the back of their heads.

“Kids in the Kitchen”

If you have never turned your meal planning, creativity and presentation to your kids, this is a delightful way to upgrade the family eating experience.  Perhaps you will encourage farm-only menus.  Or the Morning Milk Smoothie Challenge.  The opportunities and family benefits are exponential to the amount of shared selecting, creating and judging.  Dairy desserts could see the development of family favorite recipes.

“Kids and the COYOTE CAMPFIRE!”

One of the first successes we shared at Granny Camp happened on those evenings when everyone gathered after sunset around a camp fire.  We were working with small children who were not all comfortable with the darkness and sounds of a rural farm.  That soon changed as we began to look forward to the three-part experience:

  1. Howling at the moon. Everyone joins in.
  2. Listening for the echoes.
  3. Share stories past and present and dreamed of.


We are well into the changed conditions resulting from Covid-19.  As grandparents, our challenge is the very restricted travel between the US and Canada.  Our personal adjustment has been to move away from face to face contact and to find creative and safe ways to keep our connection to our isolated kids-and-calves loved ones.  Every day will not be perfect. Changed routines bring new issues and anxieties.  Let’s find ways to use farm ingenuity to help the whole family to stay UP ON THE FARM.




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You CAN Strengthen Your Dairy Herd Immune Status – Healthier Herd. More Milk. Healthier Herd. More Profit.

The Health of Your Dairy Herd Is Always Under Attack

Over the past 6 decades, advances in disease control and dairy productivity have required that professionals repeatedly shift their focus to a broader perspective and expand the array of methodologies used. Thus, we have made the leap from the sick individual, to disease control and eradication in groups, to the health and productivity of cows on a dairy, to the health and productivity of a nation’s herd.

The Immune System is Sneaky and Dangerous

Immune Response is a powerful force which impacts the entire dairy herd both positively and negatively every single day. While diseased cows are visible, the immunity challenged cow or calf may sneak under the radar of casual observation. You need to identify these four situations before they take down your herd and your profitability.

  1. Clinical diseases. mastitis, lameness, milk fever, retained placenta, or displaced abomasum.
  2. Subclinical diseases. These diseases require screening tests, fecal culture or ELISA for diagnosis – ketosis, mastitis, acidosis, and laminitis.
  3. Sporadic or endemic infectious diseases.
  4. Diseases that have serious consequences for public health. 


Stop reading. 

If your answer was “No!”, do something right now to change your answer to “Yes!”  

If your herd is not meeting your health and production goals, you have an immunity problem.

As with any proactive plan, the first step is always accurate identification.

However, we let ourselves off far too easily!

FIVE Signs That Your Herd Immunity is Under Attack

If an animal ticks 3 of the following 5 boxes. You must act.

Here are five signs:

  • Increased culling. How much has it risen?What is your new target? Assign dates.
  • Reduced milk or protein yield. Identify the amounts.Benchmark the next step.
  • Increased adult cow mortality. How did this happen?What causes are identified? 
  • Reduced reproductive efficiency. Is complacency taking over?
  • Reduced longevity

So, if one cow ticks three of the five boxes, culling is the next step.  There can be no “heart” ticks. Emotional decision making can have a disastrous effect on the herd.

Do you have a sick animal that is not responding to treatment?

This is a threat to the health of other animals.  Do something about it right NOW.  

You Must Accept That Genetics is the Front Line for Building Up Immune Response

“When all else is equal, the question that differentiates between two cows on your dairy is, ‘how strong is their immune system?  How able are they going to be to respond to that challenge?  Because no matter how well managed a dairy is, every cow is going to encounter both bacterial and viral pathogens almost every day on a dairy farm,” says Dr. Steven Larmer, Senior Manager, Genomics Program (Immunity+). The immune response is heritable at 30%.  This means there is huge potential to positively impact disease incidence simply though genetic selection.

8 Steps to Strengthen Dairy Immune Response.  One Day at a Time. Every Day.

Dairy cows are under constant attack from metabolic and infectious diseases. A strong immune system defends against pathogens that cows come into contact with when stressed by events such as calving, lactation and extreme temperature changes. Take steps to prevent infections, reduce the cost of treatments and boost milk production and fertility:  

  • Proactively supplement nutrition during gestation, calving and transition.
  • Monitor body temperature and rumen activity during the first 7 days after calving
  • Manage extreme temperatures to reduce the negative effects.
  • Observe incidents of cows not performing as expected.
  • Collect feed samples for nutrient analysis

Nutrition Supports Immunity: Quality Counts. Supplementation Counts.

When the feed you provide your herd does not provide everything that is needed to meet 100% of each animal’s needs, you should provide quality supplementation.

  • Dairy herd health and production cannot be achieved by feeding inadequate amounts of minerals, vitamins, energy and protein. These exact requirements are challenging to provide. Collect data. Consult with those who can provide answers
  • Monitoring of feed consumption is necessary to assess changes due to weather conditions. Transfer of this knowledge into farm practice is difficult mainly because climatic conditions are considerably more variable than those monitored in laboratories.
  • Feed managers must also be aware of the changes in forage quality that results from the influence of summer temperatures.
  • Work with your nutritionist to identify how reduced feed intake or reduced forage quality is affecting the components of the milk that is produced.
  • Collect feed samples for nutrient analysis. Assess pasture conditions.  

Manage Water for Herd Health

Water is an essential nutrient. When ranking the elements needed for nourishment, water follows only oxygen in importance. However, many times water quality gets overlooked and does not receive the attention that other aspects of the ration receive. Pollutants, dangerous microorganisms and some minerals can affect the production and health of the cow. To check for contaminants, water quality should be evaluated several times a year for coliforms, proper pH levels, minerals, nitrates and nitrites, and total bacteria. 

You Can’t Build Profitable Herd Health on Promises Alone

In herd health, as in human health, it is possible to provide too little supplementation or too much. In the current marketplace, you must place your trust in the honesty of feed and nutrition providers. Of course you want to hear that your feed is going to increase your herd health and your profitability.  However, if delivery of the promised product is slow or non-existent that paper promise is worthless. Don’t get caught in the middle of competing businesses, where you could be susceptible to lowest price wins.  Your profits are built not only on delivery of the product to the farm but upon delivery of results when used. More research and data collection is needed about the quantity of minerals and vitamins consumed, the quantity available (absorbed) and the quantity needed by cows under different situations.

Managing the Dairy Cow Rumen for Better Herd Health

The primary goal is to prevent ruminal acidosis.  It is necessary therefore to use a combination of improved nutrition and good management practices. Although continuous ruminal pH measurements provide reliable results in research settings, consistent results and high costs for on-farm sensors preclude their application on most farms.   

  • The most practical indirect markers for a decline in ruminal pH are the observation of chewing and feeding activities, as well as the monitoring of milk, faecal and blood variables. Here again, specificity and precision of these measurements, limits diagnosis.
  • Monitor portion sizes and ensure the amount of feed consumed is neither excessive or inadequate.
  • Add long fiber particle to boost saliva production.
  • Reduce the volume of easily fermented grains or carbohydrate consumed in each meal.

Manage Dairy Cleanliness for Better Herd Health

Housing does not have to expensive but it does need to be built in ways that allow for maintenance of hygienic conditions and easy access by staff for efficient cleaning and feeding.

  • Ensure that all pens are as clean as possible. Use a strong disinfectant. Let fresh air ventilate each pen.
  • Cattle produce large amounts of manure and urine. If it is not dealt with in a timely and proper manner, it becomes a source of disease for both humans and livestock and also impacts the production of clean milk.
  • It isn’t often that dairy producers adequately consider the nutrient content of manure when it is applied to fields. Few individuals test the soil on any regular basis. Producers most often apply manure to the land because it is available. You can change this now.
  • Contaminated hands are the biggest risk in spreading biological/bacteria. They can also carry microbes to other sites, equipment and staff.
  • Have farm workers who are handling these animals wash their hands, change their clothing and clean their footwear before working with other animals on the farm.

Any piece of equipment or inanimate object that touches your cows can become a carrier of disease.

What system do you have in place to prevent this from happening?

Watch Out for Immunity Headlines and Scare Tactics

Vaccines for animal diseases are nothing new thanks to Louis Pasteur in 1879. What is new are headlines and trends that are leading pet owners to refuse vaccines. This means that although some eradicated diseases (i.e. Rabies in the U.K.) are on the rise.  Allowing vaccine preventable disease to decimate food animals would not only be a severe hit to the economy, it would threaten food security all around the world wherever these animals are a source of protein. 

The HEALTH Focus Has Shifted to Prevention

Perhaps the single biggest advance in dairy health in the last 25 years has been the paradigm shift to focus on disease prevention, rather than treatment. Great progress has been made in understanding the biology of energy metabolism and immune function dairy cows in transition, the time at which the majority of disease occurs.


The dairy focus today rests mainly on the production system until the milk truck leaves the farm. The next challenge will be to broaden the perspective once again, this time to encompass the entire food system, including issues of food safety, product development, environmental issues, consumer demands, food supply and security, and the role of the dairy industry in society as a whole.



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Dairy Farmers – Break Down The Stigma Around Suicide

Suicide in the agriculture community is an unfortunate reality and is an issue farm families have to be concerned about. It’s time to end the stigma.  Let’s start by ending the silence.

“What are We Talking About?”

As dairy farmers, we spend the majority of our time working and when we do get to socialize in person, in our communities or online, it sometimes is easier to talk about the current price of milk than it is to bring up mental health issues.  I don’t personally know Jessica Peters but I want to give her heartfelt thanks for sending out her thoughts about mental health in agriculture. She was interviewed by Hoard’s Dairymen and can be found on facebook/com/sprucerow.  Thank you Jessica for calling us to action, “It is time to speak up.”

“There is A Global Gathering Place Online”

Online, the Twitter hashtag #DoMoreAg serves as a global gathering place for struggling farmers to reach out for support.  Politicians, industry leaders and mental-health advocates credit farmers opening up on the platform for pushing this crisis and its severity into the spotlight. Farmers talking, asking and listening is bringing attention to the problem of suicide.

“Depression is Not a Choice or a Shortcoming”

We find that our dairy family and friends are impacted by this difficult issue. The first place to start is by correcting misinformation.

  • Nobody is immune to mental health issues, either young or old.
  • Mental health issues are not just a phase. They are not a choice.
  • Mental health issues do not define a person.

Intervention is definitely needed if someone becomes suicidal. Before that crisis time,

training in social problem solving skills, creating a sense of belonging, and providing social support could reduce the likelihood that someone will attempt suicide.

“Take This One Action”

Rural communities and individual farmers find it hard to reach out when faced with this topic. One suggestion is to set up a local farm meeting simply to acknowledge how everyone is doing.  There is no need for speakers and formal presenters.  Simply provide some time for people to talk to each other. Sharing in a safe place we can admit that we all face challenges.  We all need support and encouragement.

“We Have to Rethink Support Programs”

There are many negative triggers in life and whether you carry the burden of one or of many, you can be assured that there is assistance. In the farm community, the expressed reasons are – debt, alcohol addiction, environment, low produce prices, stress and family responsibilities, apathy, poor irrigation, increased cost of cultivation, private money lenders, use of chemical fertilizers and crop failure. Supporting someone means having an understanding of the causes. It means understanding the possible impacts and the kinds of information that is needed. 

“Information.  Too Much.  Wrong Kind.  Too Little”

It is often the stated goal of any industry forum, magazine or editorial to inspire discussion and to be an impetus for action. This works well when discussing measureable outcomes with visible parameters.  Breeding charts, feeding strategies or effective storage solutions respond to this type of open analysis. However, when it comes to health issues and, specifically mental health issues, the topic can have repercussions. It is natural to feel uncomfortable with difficult conversations about mental illness and suicide.  However, completely avoiding acknowledgement of the topic might lead to community pushback and suspicion, while too much of the wrong kind of information could be as counterproductive.

“If you think you may attempt suicide, get help now.”

“We Have to Learn how to Ask for and How to Give Support.”

That was the opening to a recent conversation with a farming friend. As more and more negativity piles on our already overloaded senses, we feel less able to cope. In an effort not to hurt or burden others, we retreat into ourselves becoming more and more isolated.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can be very isolating.

“You Don’t Have to Suffer Silently. It’s Okay to Ask for Help”

Getting people to talk about a subject that tends to be taboo and about which many hold mistaken and prejudiced ideas will help the dairy ag community to learn about the risk factors so that they can identify and learn to address them. Here are some signals to be aware of:

  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Increasing use of alcohol or illicit drugs
  • Changing normal routines, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly 

“Don’t Ignore the Warning Signs.” 

Warning signs aren’t always obvious, and they may vary from person to person. If you begin to see negative changes in your behavior or in someone else, they are signs stating to the world that something is wrong:

  • Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”.
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Preoccupation with death, dying or violence
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next.

“Find Out Who to Get in Touch with RIGHT NOW.”

Suicidal thinking doesn’t get better on its own.  If you’re feeling on the edge, but are not immediately thinking of hurting yourself:

  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
  • Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone in your faith community
  • Call a suicide hotline
  • Make an appointment with your doctor, other health care provider or a mental health
  • If you find it too hard to list these numbers for yourself, ask a friend or family member to help you with this task. 

“When to See a Doctor for Depression”

Sharing your feelings with trusted family or friends may help in the short term. When more help is needed, don’t give up. Doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists can provide treatments and self management strategies beyond what those close to you can do. This is a proactive step but there could be issues! It takes courage to reach out but in today’s health community the current waiting list might be quite lengthy.  Here is an added burden for people who are already finding it hard to cope. The ag industry and healthcare at large needs to be more adequately prepared to meet the mental health needs of the community. Depression can make a person feel completely helpless.  Their energy becomes so drained that they haven’t enough left to ask for help.  When you are worried about a friend or loved one, offer support by encouraging them to speak to a health professional. If they’re not able to do it on their own, ask for their permission to ask on their behalf. 

“Take Care of Your Body and Mind.”

One of the ways we identify with those who are struggling is for the reason that we recognize the ways everybody tries to manage our mental health.  Here are four ways to offer help.

  • Encourage the person that you are worried about to get enough sleep. Although they may feel that working 24/7 is a way to avoid facing root causes, in actual fact, it may worsen the problem.
  • Be aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)which most often occurs in response to the onset of the shorter days and colder weather of winter, known as winter-onset SAD.
  • We all need to exercise regularly, although it may seem redundant to hard working farmers.Exercise that loosens and relaxes muscles counteracts the buildup of tension and helps both mind and body.
  • Time and worry steal attention from self care. Be sure to regularly eat healthy foods. 

“Do You Need More Help?”

Plan Postvention to Provide Support, Intervention and Assistance”

Postvention refers to a series of activities undertaken within the community to respond to a death, suicide or other public crisis with the intention of

  • facilitating the grieving;
  • helping with the adjustment process;
  • stabilizing the environment;
  • reducing the risk of negative behaviors;
  • limiting the the risk of further suicides through contagion.

All efforts need to work simultaneously to get the community back to the pre-crisis level of functioning, while developing new skills for dealing with new or repeated challenges in the future. 


Assuming a connection between weakness and depression makes it difficult for people with this form of illness to ask for the help they need.  The agricultural and dairy community must break down the stigma around mental illness. Far from being a sign of weakness, living with and recovering from depression takes a lot of personal strength. You are not alone.  The goal is to help yourself and others to come out on the other side with a more constructive, productive and effective way to face mental pain.



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Use 20/20 Hindsight to Build 2020 Vision

We are almost one month into 2020 and here at The Bullvine we are eager to be a relevant resource and sounding board for the new dairy year. For some of us, the indulgences of the holiday season are affecting both our waistlines and our health goals.  It would be wonderful if we could grow our businesses as easily. In fact, we can, if we take what we know and turn it into actions.

“Taking a Risk Can Work but The Entire Dairy Team Must Work Too!”

Dairying in 2020 will have struggles as dairy farmers face multiple risk ranging from volatile milk prices, trade wars and declining milk demand. Throw in more recent risk of being slammed in the press or facing health and production risks from changing climate and environmental factors.  The good news is that these symptoms of distress are fixable. None of them are easy, but the pathway is possible. Dairy operations must start by pulling the team together and taking the necessary action steps. Is the goal more milk with less work?  Increased fed efficiency per pound of milk produced.  Lower bulk tank SCC.  Raise first service pregnancy rate.  Dramatic improvements can occur in as few as 12 to 18 months. We must stop searching for headlines that deny the challenges and then buckle down as dairy managers always do. Get to work.

“Effective 2020 Change Starts at the Top”

Whether you are the actual top, meaning ownership of the dairy or whether you are the manager, change starts at the top.  More clearly.  Change starts in the heads of those at the top.  Whatever is wrong with your dairy in 2020, it is functioning exactly as you have designed it. The first step to better dairy profitability is to accept that you are responsible for where you are today.  You are also responsible for creating a 2020 plan of action that works. Then make sure that it is communicated to every person who is part of the process. Know it. Do it.

“Who Should Go? Who Should Stay?”

Even if your dairy team has recognized dairy stars, a bloated dairy team pulls the rest of your operation down. Dairy superstars have to work twice as hard when teamed up with a poor performer.  The hardest working dairy staff probably won’t say anything.  They will just suck it up and work twice as hard and burn out that much faster.  Do you have some staff that are just poor performers? You must have at least one or two…Come on, be honest.  If you do, then you need to let them go. 

Letting people go is not an easy task for most dairy managers. We extend endless second chances. Let go and improve your bottom line.  It will also improve team morale.  The cattle herd and the dairy humans will both benefit. ‘Happy employee make happy cows” and we all know “Happy cows make milk.” Move forward with well-considered cow culling and staff cuts.

“Learn to Dairy by the 2020 Numbers”

If we expect to realize our 2020 resolutions, we must be prepared to gather and use all the data.  One business source categorically states that 4 in 10 businesses don’t have a budget.  Success or failure follows the numbers. First get the data measurements for your dairy operation and then respond to what the numbers say. You don’t want to measure yourself against oft quoted “averages”.  What you want are the actual numbers of your own dairy farm.  Know where you are at this exact time. It is important to target each step from where you are now to where you need to be.  For example, targeting 110 pounds per day milk production may be a long way off.  Don’t mimic the actions of the herd that is almost there already. You can’t get there by feeding a 110-pound ration to a cow that is currently producing 80 pounds of milk. To do so risks failure and also risks health issues. Target each small step. Start today.

“Not All Dairy Consultants Are Long Term List Ready”

Make list of the suppliers to whom you pay money.  Make a corresponding list of the exact service or services they provide that make your dairy profitable.  Make a simple note of the last time each one met or exceeded your expectations.  Do they provide actionable advice?  Do you count on them for reliable delivery and excellent follow-up on the paperwork?  Don’t value suppliers on the basis of perks like a trip to an exotic meeting location, sports tickets or a new jacket or cap.  These giveaways are pleasant but they don’t put money into your dairy bank account.  Is your value as a customer being recognized by those who count on your checks? A 2020 dairy vision requires us to challenge the entire dairy team, including the ones who are off the farm.  Keep the ones that meet changing needs and eliminate those who have become more social than business driven.

 “Cut The 2020 Fat”

We need to continue this conversation because dairy operations that will remain financially viable in 2020 are already experts in cutting expenses. At boardroom tables around the dairy industry, CEOs and Financial Planning Departments have distributed lists, enumerating projected expenses and projected profit targets based on the needs and expectations of their head office gurus.  The trickle down effect has every area manager and salesperson looking for ways to reach those targets.  Dairy customers – such as your dairy farm — represent a number that they must check off on their road to success.  For years, we assumed this was a win-win situation.  The veterinarians, feed company, processor and many others, provided something we needed.  We used it.  We produced a healthy product. It was a win-win.  In 2020, we need to check each of these inputs more carefully and make sure that we are actual receiving a value-added input. If not, we must cut the fat.

“From Reflex Resolutions to Real Dairy Reality”

Many of us indulge in making New Year’s Resolution.  Before we even see February 2020 we know whether our plans are achievable or if we are already crying over spilled milk.  Remarkable success needs to build from a foundation that focuses on actual dairy logistics that we can do better, faster, cheaper.  This is what our individual dairy value proposition is built on. We say we are intelligent dairy managers but dairy success doesn’t arrive just because we were good at breeding show winners, or because we have a PhD in AgBusiness or because we are descended from generations of dairy farmers. What do we do that is EXCEPTIONAL and IMPORTANT to our dairy’s success?  If you can’t answer these questions, the question of our ability to produce relevant success is also unknown.

“Technical Transformation Will Continue to Shape 2020”

We now browse the internet for information, take pictures with our smartphones and send emails from our laptops.  This is digitization.  If we truly expect to transform our dairies we have to go beyond a few technical process upgrades and embrace digital transformation. Farmers are increasingly using drones, daily satellite based images and near autonomous robots. Digital transformation is a process. It will make huge strides in satisfying the end customer of our dairy products.  And – when all is said and done -satisfying the end customer is the very reason why we are in the dairy business.

“The Difference Is in The Details”

Although you may think the preceding proposals are difficult, there still remains the important task of summarizing your 2020 vision into a clear and concise action document.  This gives you clear talking points to present to every financial advisor, farm consultant, vet, nutritionist, and geneticist that you work with. Details must be written down. Shared. Remembered and Repeated.

“Is this 2020 dairy decision making so difficult that it’s impossible?”

No! What makes this visionary foresight possible is simply getting started?  Start sharing it with people who know what dairy success looks like. Start with yourself and your staff. Revise and refine.  Once you have adjusted your draft, get back to your team and put it into action.

“You’ve Got to Give, In Order to Earn What You Take”

When we break it down this way, the changing dairy industry economics become easier to manage. We can’t just explain a desire for change. Instead, we need to actively define people’s expectations. We need dairy customers to feel like we’re giving, not taking. We need to feel that our dairy suppliers are adding value, not trying to extract it. We have to show customers that, our goal of a healthy food product is in complete alignment with their expectations. Yes, we must show the foresight that shows them the that we’re always looking out for them and their needs.  They can expect to be taken care of. The same must be true of the other members of the supply team.


Leading a 2020 dairy operation into the future is all about what you are looking for.  Eyes wide open doesn’t mean being blind to serious issues and risks.  It does mean working every single day to make the conditions, cows and dairy teams the best they can be. Attainable and sustainable.  Here’s to seeing our dairy business with ever greater clarity this year.




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Top 10 Editor’s Choice Articles of 2019

“The Changes We Faced in 2019 Raised New Questions and New Answers!”

We’ve started into a New Year with all the anticipation that readers of The Bullvine bring to the dairy industry. At The Bullvine we enjoy this retrospective look at the top trends that you have brought to our attention.

To start off, we invite you to join us in using this opportunity to identify and discuss three trends that are becoming dairy industry truths:

  1. The Dairy Industry Must Identify Friends and Enemies.
  2. Sometimes We Are Our Own Worst Enemies!
  3. Everyone Wants a Piece of the Dairy Farm!

#10 Frenemies at the Farm Gate

In 2019 we became even more familiar with news stories that opened with who we love to hate. Unfortunately, dairy farmers often felt that they had landed in that negative category. 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. Sometimes our intentions and methods are questioned. The mistake on both sides happens when we reduce everything to a popularity contest. As dairy producers we want consumers to enjoy delicious healthy food. We need to establish trust or restore it, if it has been lost. 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.

#9 Don’t Let Ageism Kill the Dairy Industry

Economics, politics and poor business decisions are the excuses we give when dairy dollars are going down the drain.  Assigning blame is the knee jerk reaction whenever dairy sustainability is challenged. We need to ask the tough second questions.  What is at the root of a dairy industry that faces the onslaught of multiple challenges. Unfortunately, with all our knowledge, data and assessment processes, we are turning a blind eye to the biggest asset that we have available to us. It only makes sense that to survive into the future, we need leaders, managers and owners to take on those roles with conviction. A future industry must have people. Without a doubt, those people are the next generation of young dairy entrepreneurs. The take home message is that we can’t have a future dairy industry, without the input of young dairy people. 

#8 Everybody’s Kicking the Milk Bucket

Sometimes being in the spotlight isn’t rewarding or glamorous.  When the eyes of consumers become more critical than supportive, it throws into question generations of pride in the dairy industry. From the working level as seen by the the farmer managing machines, milking cows and raising calves, those on the front lines that dairy farming isn’t as simple as it looks from a drive-by viewing. It is easy to find fault.  The facts show that it is hard to provide food. They also show that it is being done successfully. Today Canadian farmers feed 120 and supply products to 150 other countries. Farmers in the United States feed 155. Food production has big needs.  We need to recognize the challenges and successes.  Recognition must start by moving beyond past measurements and romanticized visions of the family farm. 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? 

Having identified some of the issues which are attacking the dairy industry, those who remain must take a serious look at where they fit in.  In 2019 this raised more questions.

            Is it time to quit?

            Is it time for more women in leadership?

            Is it time to use robots?           

#7 Is It Time to Quit Dairy Farming?

Our seventh Editor’s Choice in our year of facing the tough questions is “Is it time to quit dairy farming”.  Although it may seem pointless to make endless lists of questions, failing to answer them means just that … failing. You don’t have to answer questions.  The flip side of that decision is that you also don’t have to stay in business. Either way, taking action is the answer.  We can be justifiably proud of our dairy history even as we recognize that the way forward will always hold new issues, challenges and opportunities. We must take big risks if we would reap bigger rewards. The time has come to start something new, with people who will stop at nothing to achieve it. That is the business of dairy farming.

#6 Are Dairy Boards Closed to Women?

There are many things in the world of business that don’t transfer smoothly when you try making them work in the business of dairying.   One of those areas is women in the Board Room.  In areas outside of agriculture the commitment to woman in the workplace has seen more dramatic changes. “Since 2015, commitment to gender diversity has risen significantly.” For more information, see Closer to home, when we look at the dairy industry, we applaud the women who step into managing the family farm but the question remains, “Why are there so few women in the boardroom?” Can we answer honestly?   

#5 Robots are Ready

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. Evolving with the times has always been part of dairy farming history. Today technology is in our cars, our schools and our churches.  Readers of The Bullvine have made technology part of their every day life. Using economies of scale, large dairy farms are turning to robots. Even if you don’t milk five hundred cows, there are ways that robotics can support your place in the dairy industry. The future means adapting to change.

At The Bullvine we are constantly put in a position of being able to witness the clever, creative and even courageous ways that the dairy industry proactively meets the challenge of changing.

            Genetic Change Dairy Sire Selection

            Cooperative Change: Align, Merge or Die

            Change One Thing: Change Cow Structure

            Change the Ideal Cow

#4 Does Your Sire Selection Need an Overhaul?

Ninety percent of the genetic progress that can be made in a herd comes from the sires used. Just as there are no perfect sires, there is no perfect index that will place the correct emphasis on functions, fertility and health for an individual farm’s breeding program. Progressive breeders need to determine where their herd needs improvement for traits beyond production and type. Changing sires isn’t like changing tires.  Profitability and longevity require a prioritized overhaul that looks at customizing the priorities used to make sire selection decisions.

#3 ATTENTION: Dairy Farmer Cooperatives – Align, Merge or Die!

Decision making and prioritizing are not restricted to dairy owners and managers only.  Everyone drawing from the financial pot of a dairy farm needs to accept responsibility and accountability for the long term sustainability of that dairy herd. Is your cooperative ahead of the challenges or falling behind? Private companies will take on whatever services cooperative ignore. Dairy farmers need to stop being silent.  They must demand dynamic progressive service by their leaders.

#2 Ideal Rump Structure – Does It Really Matter?

Current Holstein breed ideals and standards for rump structure and the emphasis placed on rumps in the type classification programs are only of quite limited value for most herds. Outside rump appearance bears little value in predicting calving ease, longevity and fertility. Conformation evaluations need to include the functioning of the body part and not simply the appearance. Rumps could be a good place for breeds to start in revamping their type classification programs in order to remain relevant to tomorrow dairy farmers’ needs.

#1 Cows of the Future Will Look Very Different

And so our looking back must inevitably lead to where we should be going in the future. The good old days provide stories but a sustainable dairy herd must be profitable. Have you recently heard a dairy cattle breeder speak or write about how cows used to last until they were ten years old and that today cows are one lactation wonders? Should Bullvine readers accept this perception as fact?  For sure yesterday’s cows got us here… Definitely, tomorrow’s cows will be different. In the future cows will function trouble free for many years in large groups on automated farms. They will live in a multitude of environments and will need to be able to produce a high volume of milk solids. They will efficiently covert non-human food to milk. And genetic selection will turn on net returns over a lifetime and how body parts function most effectively. Will your herd find its place in the future?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

No one wants to look back and wonder if they could have done better. There are no sure things or easy answers.  It all depends on you and whether you will take action or not. Here at The Bullvine we are committed to providing information, support and encouragement for each one of you.  Keep on changing, evolving and asking for the best information available so that you can make decisions that make a difference.  Best wishes for an active and reward 2020 and beyond.

Don’t Let Ageism Kill The Dairy Industry?

“It’s Not Too Late to Capitalize on Dairy’s Biggest Asset!”

Economics, politics and poor business decisions are the excuses we give when dairy dollars are going down the drain.  At least, those are the things we blame. However, even without playing the blame game, we feel justified in forecasting a dire future for dairying.  We think it can’t be helped.

            Unfortunately, with all our knowledge, data and assessment processes, we are turning a blind eye to the biggest asset that we have available to us.  Without a doubt, that asset is the next generation of young dairy entrepreneurs.

            We can’t have a future dairy industry, without the input of young dairy people.


            When we look around, there is much to be excited about concerning young people.  Even though their positive stories rarely lead the news, there are many great successes in science, technology, sports and creativity that deserve glowing praise. For example, the Junior who bred the national champion cow or the college junior who created an app that monitors calf health. However, more often than not, these achievements, unlike murder, scandals and political mayhem don’t lead the news but are usually left for a single good news bit at the end of the broadcast, following the weather and after the final buy-our-product ad. And, if they relate to agriculture, they may not be included at all. Thus it is that the first things you’re apt to hear about younger folks in general conversation are complaints about them burying their heads in technology.


            Let’s be honest here and forget the ageism.  It isn’t only the younger generations who are burying their heads in technology. It’s all generations.  I am a senior and, although the specific tech uses may be different, many of my peers are rarely seen without their grey-heads buried in their smartphones.  When was the last time you were in a seniors group, coffee shop or grocery store and overheard one side of a cell phone conversation?  

            While we seniors profess not to be addicted, we often lead conversations with “I read on Google…” or “I saw it on Pinterest.” Confirmation proof is easily found. Recent national data (PEW Research Center June 2019) reveals that Americans are more digitally connected than ever before. It reports that approximately 70% of seniors are now connected to the internet and use devices to stay informed, connect with friends and family, shop, choose travel plans and make reservations for transportation and, not surprisingly, to read the latest news. Most dairy farmers are familiar with digital uses that provide data information for their dairy herd from health, to recording, to feed and employee management. The time for negative finger-pointing from one generation to another is hypocritical.


            “TOO YOUNG TO KNOW ENOUGH.” 

            “TOO OLD TO LEARN MORE”

Not everyone in the dairy industry has grown up in the fast-paced, hyper-connected digital world that those under forty years of age have experienced. Having done so, this age group that has developed the ability to quickly cut through the extraneous noise of repetitive explanations, rationalizations and criticism.  Whatever the label, Generation X, Generation Y or Generation Z, by and large, they are focused on what they want when it comes to work and education they expect interaction to be at their fingertips. If the dairy industry is to remain viable and valuable, it has to accept that digital is here to stay.  Adapting to that reality is going to be the key. 

            Traditional education and the ways we move through dairy processes must be enhanced by technology not held back by the way we did it in the past. Hands-on experience and practical skills can’t be taught by osmosis.  While we argue over whose heads are where, education programs – on farms, in colleges, or through industry – are missing out on the practical internships that could grow the dairy industry.

            Everyone on the modern dairy farm has to be open to learning from the cows and about the cows.  That goes without saying.  We have to be open to working with cutting edge technology.  The sources of knowledge are expanding.  We can’t hoard information from our competition, and we definitely can’t keep it from those whom we must entrust with our future. Peers.  We must open up to unlimited access from the largest educational institutions to the smallest device in our hands. Online e-learning about everything from reproduction to genomics to profitable dairy strategies is the only way to keep up and remain relevant.


            Most non-agricultural industries – medical, computer, engineering – advance as the knowledgebase and practical instruction are passed down to the next group of industry professionals. But when we talk about entrepreneurship in the dairy industry, whom do we name as those who are actually leading and guiding the next dairy-producing generation? Are academic institutions keeping pace with the changing realities?  Did they ever?

            We, as a dairy industry, are justifiably proud of our dairy farm offspring for their work ethic and understanding of the dairy business. It is a great foundation.  But are we confident enough to urge them to make dairy their ultimate career path?  And if that is the ultimate goal, have they received enough training? Training of the right kind?  Are they equipped for what they have to face in the years ahead?

            In the not-so-distant past, dairy breeders grew their businesses through careful breeding, bull selection, and buying and selling to a discriminating market. Over the last twenty years, this has changed dramatically. The economics of modern dairy breeding has made it difficult for an individual breeder to breed an influential sire, thus all but closing down this income source.  The economics of a profitable dairy herd turns not only on “cow knowledge” but also on “cow science” and when a dairy entrepreneur overemphasizes one at the expense of another, it has a dramatic impact on dairy profitability.


            We can’t have a dairy future without people experienced enough to run dairy farms. Instead of whining about the downfalls of the next generation, we need to engage with them. We need to be open about the downside of dairy entrepreneurship.  It can be hard, thankless humbling, lonely, and a precarious career choice.  It requires focus and a long term outlook coupled with a commitment to sacrifice.  Ask yourself: “Does that sound like the career you signed up for 20, 30 or 40 years ago?” We must face the fact that future success is not guaranteed.  Share what you have learned about personal freedoms, work-life balance and the risks and rewards of being a dairy entrepreneur.

            When we started in dairying, more than likely, people spoke to us in terms we understood.  We had a vision for what we thought we were facing. Does anyone talk to today’s young dairy hopefuls about being an entrepreneur on their terms?

            Like the other, more traditional professions, we need to aggressively advance our areas of education and training in entrepreneurialism.  Andrew Bachelor a social media influencer and entrepreneur was told by a college professor, “The job you will have ten years from now doesn’t exist today.”  How do we apply that vision to the dairy industry?  “The dairy farm you will have ten years from now doesn’t exist today.” Entrepreneurs in most thriving industries are not born and bred into their positions. We apply the word entitled to the younger generation but aren’t we the living examples of entitlement? We are if we expect to maintain the status quo at the expense of evolving to meet the needs of a changing world and a changing customer.


            And this brings me one more message for older dairy entrepreneurs. You can never overshare your experience.  Share how you learned.  Share how you built your dairy from what it was when you started to what it is today.  While the methods and motivations may be somewhat different, all ages can relate to the passion and will to succeed.  All ages need to be ready to try new things if we want to get from where we are to where we want to be. We need to find a way to combine the cutting edge of technology that will keep us up with new ideas with the steadying business experience that years in the dairy industry provides. When both groups work together, the entire dairy industry benefits.

            Something great doesn’t happen without problems, near misses and even failures. We can’t avoid these hurdles, but they only become full failures when we allow them to become full stops. Instead of hauling out the criticism, we need to praise the doers. Cheer the attempts. Analyze and offer concrete suggestions.

THE FUTURE BUILDERS                         

            All generations need to recognize that the future success of dairying will be built on giving each other – young and old – the opportunity to try … and to fail. All of us have had experience with difficulties.  If someone hadn’t had our backs, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We tend to let the years shine a rosy glow onto everything.  We can’t change the past, but we can accept where we are.  We can hand off to those willing to continue on. The foundation for the future will be built on great dairy cattle and dairy people, of all ages.


We can be justifiably proud of our dairy history even as we recognize that the way forward will hold new issues, challenges and opportunities. We must take big risks if we would reap bigger rewards. The time has come to start something new with people who will stop at nothing to achieve it. Together.




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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.




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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.




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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!




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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.




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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.




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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!




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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. 




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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?



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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.



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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.



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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!”




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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.




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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.



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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!!




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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!”



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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!



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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.




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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.




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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.




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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.



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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!!



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