Archive for Dairy Industry

The Dairy Industry – Past, Present and the Future

Like many Bullvine readers I grew up on a small dairy farm, took part in 4H clubs and fell in love with a breed of cows.  I attended college and studied animal agriculture. I graduated during the Green Revolution, not green like we know it today, but green in the fact that the developed countries felt that they could ramp up production and feed the world without the need for developing countries to produce their own food.  And since that time animal agriculture has focused on animals producing more and more. Well the truth is that both of these models where animals produce more and more and where only developed countries need to produce food are broken. We ignored factors such as a country needing a strong agricultural base to be successful and more and more milk per cow leading to poor and poorer reproduction rates.  Furthermore the idea that the majority of the world’s population growth would occur in the developing nations never even crossed our radar screens back then.  How could we have been so wrong in our thinking? Are we thinking any clearer in 2013, when it comes to dairy feeding people in the years ahead?

Today’s Dairy World

Few of us are aware that India is the country that has the most cows (48 million) kept for milk production purposes. The production of India’s cows is low (1,200 lbs per year) but through improved husbandry there is great potential. China’s rapid growth as an importer of dry milk powders (whole and skimmed) is predicted to grow in 2013 by 12% and 18%. The USA in 2013 is exporting the equivalent of 15% of its annual production where just a few years ago it was thought that USA milk prices were too high for significant exportation to take place. USA cheese exports in 2013 will be double the exports in 2008 and that will make it the largest single exporting country for cheese. Cheese is the darling child of milk products when it comes to exports and EU countries which export almost half of the cheese globally are looking for new customers. To say the least, the world is hungry for dairy products. The demand for dairy is expected to increase at a rate faster than the world’s population growth. (Read more: “Got Milk” is becoming “Got More” and MILK MARKETING: How “Got Milk?” BECAME “Got Lost”)

Tomorrow’s World       

We have all seen the prediction that there will be 9 billion people by 2050. That is a 25% increase. If dairy is to fill more of the average global diet the world will need 30 to 35% more milk to be produced in 2050 than there is produced today. The rapidly expanding middle classes in China and India will consume more milk products as will consumers in Africa, SE Asia and Russia. At the processing industry level, expect new products (including low lactose and ingredient enriched milk products) and more uses for milk. At the farm level the rate of applying technology will be at an ever increasing rate. But the dairy industry does not exist on a vacuum.

Over the past few years besides population growth and environmental concerns, the major issue before all countries has been trade. (Read more: Why the Future of the North American Dairy Industry Depends On Supply and Demand) Trade is important in the EU which once had production quotas but where now farm prices are no longer guaranteed and narrower on-farm margins are resulting in increased herd sizes in order to efficiently apply technology and provide critical mass. In the future no country will be an island onto itself when it comes to producing milk and trading in milk products. Canadian dairy farmers are facing that matter after the Canada and the EU signed a tentative trade agreement last week in which more EU cheese will have access to the Canadian market.  Read more: (Read more: Canada, EU close to sealing trade deal with concessions on cheese, beef and Canada’s dairy farmers ‘angered and disappointed’ by EU trade deal that would double cheese imports)

Agenda: Theirs, Yours and Ours

Feeding the growing world population, the application of technology, the elimination of duplication and waste and the best use of all resources will be on every country’s agenda. Are these issues too big or too far away? We lose if dairy is replaced in the diet. All things dairy lose if we think too small, only nationally or only about self preservation. All dairy agendas are inter-related.

Tear Down the Silos. Ramp Up the Herd.

It is paradigm shift time. The big picture question is how can more milk be efficiently produced to feed a hungry world?

Are farmers, their organizations, their service providers, the milk processors and the global traders thinking in terms of mutual (collective) benefit or individual benefit? The survivors will be in supply chains that can provide a quality product at a price that consumers are willing to pay. Quality is the watchword. For those that are not prepared to work with others it will not be Who Moved My Cheese but who replaced my cheese with their product.

What will that look like? At the farm level the list of changes needed will be extensive but in the immediate future it is likely to include larger herds to take advantage of technology, information and critical mass. At the industry level our organization leaders will need to dismantle and re-create new organizations and structures to provide the best and most relevant services dairy farmers will need. If you are looking for an example read the announcement in the Bullvine last week to merge Dairylea Cooperative Inc. and the Dairy Farmers of America in the USA (Rad more: Dairylea announces proposed merger with DFA).

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Everyone in the dairy world will need to think collectively and globally. The rewards will go to those that can adapt, adopt and act. Cattle breeders in just ten years will be using technology and information that is hardly on the researcher’s bench just now. If you are looking for an example we need only to remember back five years to 2008 when we asked each other how to pronounce genomics. Today it is an important tool in breeding dairy cattle for the future. Will you and your farm be part of dairy’s future or part of its history?

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“Got Milk” is becoming “Got More”

“Drink your milk.”  Dairy farmers aren’t the only ones who have been raised with this mantra and its follow-up don’t-argue-with-me reasoning, “It’s good for you!”  There are many parenting proverbs that haven’t stood the test of time. but milk`s goodness has.

Milk has Already Got More Good Stuff

There is significant recent scientific research to prove that milk contains several disease- fighting compounds. Research is also evaluating the potential health benefits of proteins that are found in milk.

Cows are Putting More Good Stuff Into the Milk

With the proof of milks’ already healthy properties, comes the good news that scientists have learned that these properties can be increased by feeding cows specialized diets. The potential is definitely here for dairy farmers to change the way they feed their cows and thereby raise the health-enhancing properties of milk.

For example, in a recent study, Oregon State researchers were able to increase the level of omega-3 fatty acids in milk.  They also were able to decrease the amount of saturated fat.  Both these results came through feeding flaxseed to cows. This is great news for consumer health.  Less cholesterol and more omega-3 fatty acids in our human diet reduces the risk of heart disease.

What More Has Milk Got for Me?

Research trials have shown that consuming butter with elevated levels of CLA can reduce the size of cancerous tumors. CLA is Conjugated Linoleic Acid and is a naturally occurring anti-carcinogen. Researchers at several universities, including Cornell. have discovered they can increase the level of cis-9 trans-all CLA by feeding cows certain nutrients.

Other news from this area reports that a2 brand milk comes from cows specially selected to produce A2 beta-casein protein rather than A1. Most cow milk contains both types of beta-casein protein – A2 and A1. The A1 beta-casein protein has been linked with digestion and health issues so having more A2 is a plus.

A2 Corporation, the manufacturer of a2 brand milk products, targets three areas of growth: building its beverage business in Australia and New Zealand, capturing niche shares of global milk and dairy product markets and developing an infant formula business with an initial focus on China.  In April 2012, they announced a strategic agreement with Synlait Milk Limited in New Zealand to manufacture a2 brand nutritional powders, including milk powders and infant formulas for A2C.  According to A2C managing director Geoffrey Babidge, the a2 brand’s growing credibility will provide a platform for the firm’s expansion plans in the UK, Ireland and China. In December 2012 production of the China-destined a2 branded infant formula was set to begin.

Milk has Got to Have More Taste!

When a food has earned the label “good for us”, we sometimes choose not to eat or drink it claiming it doesn’t register on our taste scale.  Since the 1970s milk consumption has been declining and certainly consumer taste preferences are part of that statistic.  In the U.S. the volume of total liquid dairy is declining. Consumption of white milk is forecast to decline by 6.5% between 2011 and 2015.  But then comes the “good taste” news.  Consumption of flavored milk is growing and expected to increase to 9.5% by 2015. Flavored milk, the second most widely consumed Liquid Dairy Product (LDP) after white milk, is forecast to increase globally by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.1% between 2012 and 2015, rising from 17.0 billion liters to 19.2 billion liters.

The World Wants More Flavors

In the past five years, 2009 to 2013, four emerging countries – Brazil, China, India and Indonesia – are driving the increased demand for flavored milk. While developing countries accounted for 66% of flavored milk consumption, this is forecast to rise to 69% by 2015.

Research shows that China, South Asia and Southeast Asia drink more than half the world`s flavored milk. In fact, just six Asian countries – China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand – consume 47% of the world`s flavored milk.  This highlights that emerging economies are the growth engines of the dairy industry.

North America`s Got Apple Pie Milk and More

While not leading the consumption of flavored milk, North America is certainly not out of this tasteful picture.  Just in time for birthday celebrations on Independence Day Shatto Milk Co. of Osborn, Mo., stocked store shelves with apple pie-flavored milk to celebrate its own 10th anniversary.  Other flavors this flavorful company produces include cherry chocolate and mint chocolate milk. According to Dennis Jonsson, President and CEO of Tetra Pak Group “For consumers unwilling to compromise on taste, health or convenience, flavored milk is proving to be an increasingly popular alternative to other beverages.”

Flavored Milk’s Got More with Less Packaging

Cartons have become the established packaging format for flavored milk, according to Tetra Pak.  They accounted for 62% RTD (ready to drink) flavored milk packaging in 2012, up from 57% in 2009, and are expected to rise to above 64% in 2015. Portion packs are expected to reach 81% of RTD flavored milk consumption.

Milk’s Got More Added Value

Whether you`re attracted to milk for its high nutrition, health benefits or good taste, milk products today can meet a huge range of  needs.  It starts with the desire for nutritious and healthy food.  Developing countries are turning to nutrient-rich milk products.  In prosperous urbanized areas of the world the fast pace of modern life demands tasty, flavored milk in convenient packaging. Consumers are eager to try new and unusual food and drinks. New varieties of milk products will most definitely increase milk consumption.  Additionally, these “designer” dairy products could sell for premium prices.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Kudos to dairy producers, the scientific community and marketing wizards.  The production of milk with so many “Got-More” features means we are improving the health of the consumer and the health of the dairy industry simultaneously! Now that’s more like it!  So “Drink your milk!  It’s good for you!”

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World Markets: Who Is Minding Our Business?

In North America we are accustomed to having the freedom to pursue our chosen business, in our case dairying and to proudly wave our American and Canadian flags at every opportunity. We assume that all is well with the world when we can raise cattle, make milk and pay the bills on a regular basis.  In June 2013 I read a Hoard’s Dairyman article by Utah dairy producer, John Nye entitled, “Opportunity Knocks, New Zealand’s Fonterra Answers”.   It turned out to be a wakeup call for me.

I don’t have a background in finance and economics but I will admit I am reassured by headlines that say things like “Markets well supported at mid-year” or “U.S. exports reach record levels in April”

The shrinking world is a fact of everyday life.  It’s exciting to correspond with fellow dairy breeders from every corner of the globe and share our dairy passions.  We can – and do – learn from one another.  Dairy genetics, dairy technology and dairy sales are being shared worldwide.  What we may be missing is the very important point of who controls what we are taking to the bank today and, most definitely, what our financial success will be tomorrow.  When our hard earned dairy dollar takes a dive we blame it on the weather, the government,  the fickle market or numerous variables that are out of our control.  Realistically, we should be blaming at least some of the effect on ourselves!

We take huge care to see that genetics inputs and management don’t skim off our profits but then we leave the economics of the marketplace in other hands.

Three facts from the previously mentioned Fonterra article stood out for me. Firstly, Fonterra owns enough supply in the US that they could dump supply domestically thus lowering prices and therefore making the export of US product more affordable for them.  Secondly, Fonterra’s partnership in mega dairies (10,000 to 20,000 cow dairies in China) gives them the financial leverage to pay twice what Americans can afford for alfalfa hay. And thirdly this raised the question for John Nye, “How does New Zealand that produces about as much milk as Wisconsin, control the world`s market like they do?”

As a Canadian, with supply management in place, it’s hard to imagine that our hard earned dairy income could be manipulated by outside forces from another county.  Or is it?  If we are so focused on keeping a protected wall around our shrinking dairy market, would we even notice if a third party came in and quietly scooped up the opportunities for growth and development?

What is the growing edge of the dairy industry in 2013?  If you can’t answer that question, that is exactly what has allowed companies like Fonterra and investors from offshore to make billions of dollars at the expense of a naive North American dairy industry.  As Nye quotes in the article, “Fonterra’s attitude is that dairymen in the U.S. could not agree on what kind of rope to hang themselves with.  As long as we are divided on dairy policy, Fonterra is very happy to take advantage of us.” The finger of blame for who is responsible for this predicament points squarely at us, “They are pretty sure we will never get together as an industry with one voice in this country.”

We are not only divided we are in opposition to each other.  It is so much easier to pick a fight with the neighbour you see – whether he’s over the fence or on one side or the other of the USA-Canada border.  While we are wrangling over the fine details of who has bragging rights for being the “best” and how to prevent each other from chipping away at our market share — the well-organized, unified and government supported visionaries from other countries are scooping up not only the opportunities but doing it with our permission.

The challenges for the USA and Canada include:

  • Politicians (some with no ag understanding) are making crucial decisions
  • Politicians with their own agenda have the final say
  • Outside interests are getting their voices heard first
  • Is short term financial gain the best way to “sell off” our commodities?
  • Why do processors have so much more influence than producers?
  • Pricing schemes (and even price protection) don’t work if, in the long term, we are preventing the sustainability of our dairy industry
  • Everyone can state that the dairy producer’s price is being eroded.  Who is doing anything about it?
  • Even if we appear to be holding our own today, what about the future of the industry?

Being able to state the problem is the first step.  Doing something about it is next.

Who PAYS THE (export) PIPER?

Regardless of which side of the border you’re on (actual residence or political leaning), you have to have an informed answer to the question, “Is there a downside to the market for dairy exports?”  What this means is that there is the potential that not ALL exports are good. At the end of the day, is the farmer getting any benefit?  Working 24-7 with more and more members of the family working off the farm doesn’t seem the best way to keep a healthy bottom line.

Let’s Mind Our Own Business

Politics, economics and world markets have tremendous impact on the dairy industry.  Like us those areas have experts who can weigh the pros and cons and their lasting effects.  Once again it isn’t necessary to “win” or “beat” these interests.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

We need to cooperate and work together as dairy businesses with shared interests and common goals.  The potential is there. If we don’t mind our own business, who will?


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MODERN DAIRY MARKETING: Winning Hearts, Minds and Wallets

It’s haying season here.  A wonderful time of year for dairy farmers who produce the food that feeds the cows that produce the milk that feeds the consumers.  As we are watching the weather with one eye and with the other one on the cows and machinery, do we ever spend any time thinking about the next person who buys our dairy genetics? We love dairying and we do it to the best of our ability.  Our hearts and minds are engaged.  Do we consider engaging the hearts and minds of our genetics customers? Or are their wallets all we care about?

We have to be careful that we don’t think only of the pay cheque and forget that we are providing a product for real people.  In today’s marketplace we have two distinct customers.  First, the milk drinkers who we are more or less involved with, depending on the product we produce and what country we produce it in.  And secondly, the cattle buying customer.  Just as our future in the dairy aisle depends on the product we deliver, our future in the genetics industry depends on what we deliver and not what we can get away with.

The milk drinking public gets turned off by the media message of scary farm practices, rising health issues and poor animal care.  These concerns reflect badly on each one of us in the dairy industry.  We can’t separate ourselves from the message. Likewise, when it comes to selling cattle, we have to respect ourselves and our customers enough that buyers know what we stand for. If we allow ourselves to be the type of business where responsibility ends once the cheque is cashed, then we deserve to have our sales drive out the lane and forget us the next time they buy.

Dairy Sales Are All About People First

If you ever found it impossible to find out details about animals in a sale. If you have been disappointed after purchasing an animal to find out that there is an issue that wasn`t revealed. If you ever found that you were taken in by the fine print in a contract, you know where bad feelings start. “It’s nothing personal.” is the exact opposite of how you feel.  It’s very personal!

Good Business is Built on Trust

Good dairy business kicks in when marketers are smart enough and brave enough to work side by side with their buyers for the same end result – good dairy cattle.  When full disclosure allows you to make informed decisions, you remember it.  You will go back to that source again and again.  Of course, this means that a huge opportunity exists. You will likely do best if you avoid misdirection and pandering and instead embrace an honest approach to doing business. RULE #1: Build trust by treating your customers like respected peers and admired family members.

As Good as Your Word

Think about the last time you were impressed by how you were treated in a sales transaction.  It’s unfortunate that it’s rare enough to be remarkable. It is so refreshing to find your issues meaning more than a dollar sign and receiving more than was promised and not simply the legal bare bones. Today – especially with the instant sharing possible through social media – your happy transactions and your sad ones are shared far and wide. The word gets out and has instant repercussions on your business credibility and bottom line.

Marketing is More About the Stories than the Sales

Social media has found its way into the dairy business and is having a tremendous impact. Everyday there are new blog posts, videos and press releases. While this is fantastic for agriculture as a whole, it can be really hard to get your dairy business noticed. If you want to rise above the herd, you have to have a good story that captures attention. You need to share what you believe in, who you are and what you stand for.  The invisible face behind a magazine ad or an AI brochure listing is too easily lost in the 21st century crowd.

Today You DON’T Get What You Pay to Advertise For

In the not too distant past dairy players where the ones with the money to step up to the marketing table. It took advertising money to make money. Today, with social media, a business of any size can connect with customers and do it without spending a dime on paid advertising. Social media has changed the game and now anyone can compete regardless of the size of their marketing budget.

Where to Go?  What to do?

No sooner do you get comfortable with one or two pieces of modern technology, then a whole handful more present themselves to your flying fingers. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube have totally changed the relationship we have with present and future customers.  It can be challenging to figure out where to focus your time and energy. Here again it’s not the single choice of one site over another.  In easily understood farmer terms, it’s about cultivating relationships. Find the way to tell your story in a way that is comfortable, honest and open and you will engage customers loyal to you and your business.

Talk is NOT Cheap

This may sound like a complete reversal from the “free” advertising mentioned earlier but, in this case, it is referring to what happens after everyone finds you and then has the ability to share their experience and thoughts, not just with the neighbor over the fence, but with hundreds to thousands of people.  Today, more than ever, you must walk the talk and be accountable to your customers.  The minute what happened in your barn, in your office or at your auction sale hits the wires it becomes the measure of your business.  Believe it!  When bad news gets out there it’s going to be shared so quickly it will make your head spin and your bank balance shiver in fear.  In the past when bad news raised its ugly face, you had a certain amount of time to plan how to respond.  Today, if you wait to respond, it can be too late.  Responding in real time with real information will be more successful in transforming negative publicity into a building opportunity.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Is there a way to use social media so that you won`t have to suffer through scary mistakes?  No! Mistakes happen in any environment.  Equipment fails.  Hay weather upsets the routine.  Cows get sick. And that’s just one farm.  Ramp that up to real-time techie interaction on the web and you can’t expect perfection of yourself or anyone else.  Rather than worrying about making mistakes, you should be worried about not making them!  If you’re not experimenting with social media that means you’re missing out on a myriad of ways to win hearts, minds and wallets!



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DAIRY PRIDE: Presumed MISSing!

Today the average North American is three generations removed from a farm. Food is still being provided even though the numbers would suggest that dairy farmers themselves are going missing. Both husband Murray and I represent the fourth generation to live on the family dairy farm, which puts us among the 2 percent who still live on farms.  Although each succeeding generation has spent more time working off the farm, all three of our children are in agricultural careers in A.I., nutrition and ag marketing.

In the modern marketplace milk and the dairy industry are misjudged and misunderstood. (Read more: How got milk? Became got lost?) Those of us who remain are concerned about what happens to the milk they produce between the time it leaves the farm lane and takes up shelf space in the dairy aisle. This formerly “perfect food” is marked by a hit and miss journey that has many more misses than hits. Targeted by misconceptions, misinformation, and communication is it any wonder that there are days when both sides feel that dairy pride could be presumed missing?

MIStaken Identity

Every one of us who grew up with a farmer as a role model is astonished today at the metamorphosis from “Farmer in the Dell” to “The Farmer is the Devil”.  However on the farmer side of the fence, we too shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the consumer is “the Big Bad Wolf.” ready to huff and puff and blow our dairy world down. None of these images fully portrays the real strengths, challenges and fears facing 21st Century farmers and their customers.


It’s extremely difficult to understand how some of the public perceives farmers as “MOST WANTED!” for abuses against our own animals.  The immediate question arises, “How can anyone imagine that people who work daily with livestock don’t care about the animals?” It would seem to be a no-brainer that only the best possible care allows animal handlers to survive and thrive on the farm.  Having said that, neither are financial reasons the main motivation. “You do it because you love the animals.  Otherwise why would you be up before sunrise and making final rounds after sunset day in and day out?”  You wouldn’t.


Over time, fewer and fewer find the rewards that are commensurate with the commitment and dedication that dairying demands.  For those who do have the desire, farming methods have become more efficient.  Technology has contributed to the sustainability.  Automated equipment, robotic milkers and GPS tractors are just a few of the tools that keep efficiency growing. As in any other industry, investing in new technology requires that the business, in this case the farm, must get bigger. In responding to the challenges, it is frustrating to be labeled with the implied derogatory term, “Factory Farmers.”  The truth is 98% of farms are family owned (what other business can claim that) and the goal is, as it has always been, to provide food …. for everyone.  Not selfish.  Not criminal.


It’s ironic in this day and age of mass production, mega stores and IMAX that big farms are judged to be bad. It’s hypocritical to accept the growth of computer assembled cars and think that food producers can remain at a static size. There was a time when one famer fed five.  Everyone respected their hard work. Today one farmer feeds 200 and it seems like everything from motives, to ethics to animal husbandry is being questioned.  Is there any other profession, where the consuming public insists on reverting to the past?  If you’re reading this, you are using a computer.  How many channels are available on your TV? Is your transportation provided by a “mom-and-pop” car shop? Do you drink your water from a pump in your yard or do you reach for a plastic bottle?


As an industry we need to accept responsibility for debunking myths that have taken hold in consumer understanding.  Jude Capper, assistant professor of dairy science at Washington State University spoke at the Alltech Symposium. “Organic dairy farming certainly has a very favorable consumer perception. But, productivity on the typical organic dairy farm is lower than conventional farms – anywhere from 14 to 45 percent lower in terms of milk yield per cow.” she said.  “What that means is that more cows are needed in the organic systems, along with more natural resources, to make the same amount of milk as the conventional systems. And, that increases the carbon footprint per pound of milk.”  Since 1944 the carbon footprint per pound of milk has been reduced by 63%.  Dairy farmers have made major progress and it is something they should be proud to declare and share.


For whatever reason – perhaps because of their agrarian forefathers – people feel quite comfortable assuming their expertise about modern farming. Where they might tread lightly in pronouncing how factories should be managed yet there are many “activists” who can speak against modern agricultural practices.  Genetically modified organisms deepen the divide between farmers and consumers.  GMOs are crops that have been scientifically altered to enhance the plant’s quality and resistance to elements and pesticides.  In a national survey 64 percent of people said they were unsure if eating GMOs was safe.  It is time for the dairy producer to stand proudly behind the products we produce, eat, drink and serve to ourselves and our children.


Farmers and consumers too often have an “us against you” mentality, which the media intensifies by focusing on negative instances that can colour the entire industry.  More consumers are asking questions about where their food comes from and about farming in general. That’s great. Just asking questions is the best way for the public to learn about farming.  Asking and getting an answer is the only way to bridge the gap between emotional finger pointing and mutual thumbs up!

MISSing the Opportunity

The time is long past, where we can rely on our good intentions to spread the good word to the consuming public.  It’s time to proactively take whatever role we are most comfortable with.  Rather than witness a loss in dairy and consumer confidence – I would rather stand on my soapbox, share great stories, teach what I believe in, and raise my voice at every opportunity.  It’s time to be the “change I wish to see!”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It’s not easy being on the receiving end of blame. However whether producer or consumer it’s in our best interest to make sure that there are voices, from both sides, speaking with pride, about the products we produce and eat!


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Why the Future of the North American Dairy Industry Depends On Supply And Demand

With the recent announcements about both Canada and the US entering significant trade negotiations with the European Union (EU), there has been a great deal of discussion by breeders on both sides of the border about what this means to the future of the North American Dairy Industry (Read more:  A Nation Held Hostage By Dairy Cows and Dairy Groups Welcome Launch of U.S.-EU Negotiations).  One thing I learned in my microeconomics class is that in any competitive marketplace the price is determined by supply and demand.   As we enter into a more competitive global marketplace there is no question that the dairy industry will  depend on this economic model to determine its future.

The Future of Supply Management

It’s really pretty simple. In any industry you need a buyer and a seller.  If you have more buyers (demand) than you do sellers (supply) the price goes up.  If you have more sellers than you do buyers then price goes down.  Well, unless you are in Canada, where there is supply management and then that is  a completely different story.  In Canada the 12,700 dairy farms have been protected from this economic model because of the supply management system. It  blocks foreign competition from coming into Canada by placing elevated tariffs on milk and milk products thus making it impossible for imports to compete. Only about 5% of the Canadian dairy marketplace is supplied by imported products.  It has also controlled the level of production domestically (Quota) so that there is not an oversupply in the marketplace. This protects the price of milk so that dairy producers in Canada have been able to enjoy a stable milk price and consistent predictable revenue.

The challenge with this is that the world is very quickly moving to a global marketplace.  In addition, one of the global requirements is that there is “fair” and equal trade in all industries.  This means that systems like supply management are being removed in many countries and certainly are key issues in international trade negotiations.  Many Canadian producers have millions of dollars tied up in quota. Compare this to the $12 billion a year trade negotiations Canada is having with the EU and you can see why there is concern about  the future of supply management.  While I totally can see the benefits to Canadian farmers from the system, you simply cannot deny the benefits of world trade to the whole country. Hence you can see why these programs are severely at risk.

Canadian dairy farmers simply need to look south of the border to see what life without supply management is like.  Dairy operations have to operate very differently when sale price and production is not set by a managed system.  There you are forced to run your farm more like a corporate organization, with detailed analysis of profit and loss and all decisions dependent on the effect it will have on the bottom line instead of on emotion.  Yes it makes dairy farming more of a business than a way of life, but that is the future. The other is the past.

It also means that the marketplace will determine who stays in business and who goes under.  If there is an over production of milk, milk price will go down.  Those organizations that are having challenges will go under.  It’s simple business.  Run a good business you will succeed. Run a poor business and you will fail.  Notice how I said business and not farm.   Dairy farmers have to start looking at things differently.  Dairy farmers need to be business persons first and farmers second.  This could be a  change that many farmers are not able to make.

Demand the Other Side of the Equation

The  second part that I learned in my long and boring microeconomics class is that if you want to increase milk price and cannot decrease supply, then you need to increase demand.  According to estimates, the world population is set to reach 9.3 billion by 2100.  Much of this growth is set to come from countries like China, South America and Africa.  Very impressive numbers for sure, but let’s look at milk consumption in those regions.  China averages 28.7 kg/capita/year, most African countries average less than 50 kg/capita/year, and most South American countries average around 100 kg/capita/year.  That is nowhere near the 253.8 kg/capita/year that Americans consume, 206.83 kg/capita/year for Canadians and over 225 kg/capita/year for most EU countries.
Current Worldwide Total Milk Consumption per capita

Therefore, if population growth alone is not going to help significantly increase demand for dairy products, we then need to look at how milk and dairy products compete for market share.  As we highlighted in our recent article, Milk Marketing: How “Got Milk?” became “Got Lost”, the land of milk and money is gone.  As an industry we  forgot about the consumer, we  forgot about the product, and we forgot how to innovate!

demand variety

A simple trip to the local grocery store reveals that while products like organic foods, international foods and soft drinks are always innovating and battling for market share. Milk, for the most part, has not done anything.  Look at these pictures that show the amount of shelf space (key in driving sales) these other products have compared to milk.  We can no longer rest on our milk stools.  We have to compete for the marketplace with all the old beverages … and countless innovative new ones.  That may seem to be a daunting task but it can no longer be ignored!

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The world is changing, old systems and production models are being eliminated and new ones are being established daily.  Those that sit and try to battle to keep the old will be left behind.  We need to look to the future instead of fighting for the past.  Consumer demand is the most serious issue impacting  the future of the dairy industry.  We need to understand what the consumer wants instead of fighting for what we used to have. If you want to be part of the future, think about SUPPLY and DEMAND. There are good reasons why it is NOT called The Law of Supply and PROTECT!!


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Is There Still Going To Be A Market For Purebred Dairy Cattle In 10 Years?

People are starting to realize that the old market for purebred cattle, if not dead, is definitely endangered.  Why is this once “healthiest” of marketplaces facing the current flat line?

The basic assumption has always been that there is a premium for purebreds that is paid back on sale day.  Ever since there have been purebred cattle there has been a movement to convince commercial operators of the value of owning purebreds and registering their cattle.  For about the past 20 years the focus has gone from educating the commercial producer on the increased value of purebred cattle to making the process and the system a better fit for the commercial producer.  While the intentions were great, this change in philosophy has ultimately led to the demise of the premium received for purebred cattle.

Industry vs. Breeders – Whose Fault Is It?

For years I have heard both sides of this discussion.  Seed stock cattle breeders complain that industry executives in organizations like milk recording and A.I., as well as geneticists, would not know a good cow if one kicked them in the head.  I have also heard the other side of this argument where these geneticists and officials complain that purebred seed stock breeders don’t know how to see the bigger picture and the two sides have batted heads at the board level all along the way.

The part that many people don’t understand is that these industry officials did not set out to harm seed stock breeders.  Neither were they looking to discriminate against them.  Rather they saw this group as a niche segment of the market place and thought they needed to serve the bigger picture instead of catering to this small, but vocal group.

For many years the only organizations that seemed to hear the cry of the seed stock breeders were the breed associations.  Initially, the breed associations were great about trying to build new marketplaces, as well as trying to help educate commercial producers on why they should pay a premium for these purebred cattle.  They also educated commercial producers that by registering their cattle they too would receive a premium when they went to sell these cattle.  Ironically, all that changed when breed associations started to try to become a greater service provider to commercial producers, instead of building the marketplace for purebreds.  This shift in emphasis from worldwide market potential to bottom line domestic cattle and membership numbers, as much as anything, killed the premium paid for purebreds.

It Started Slowly, but Got Rolling Quickly

In the beginning the changes were small.  They simply made it easier for commercial operations to register their cattle.  Then came subtle (and necessary) changes to the classification systems to target a more commercial friendly cow.  Followed by significant changes where breed associations stopped being a marketplace developer and focused on being a service organization to the commercial producer.

While this helped increase registrations and showed that the breed as a whole was growing, the objective set out by our breeder boards, it started to have a small but significant side effect.  As the system changed to be more commercial friendly, the premiums commercial producers were expecting to receive for selling purebred animals disappeared.  Take a look at many of the sale barns today and compare the price of a grade fresh heifer to that of a registered one.  There is not as much difference as there once was.  There is certainly not enough for many commercial producers to justify the cost and effort of registration and type classification.  Add to that the fact that in many regions and with certain high end sires, there are no longer semen incentives for young sire usage, semen cost for young sires is almost as expensive as proven, and commercial producers ask, “If it doesn’t make financial sense, why do it?”

Without that premium selling price, many producers will stop registering their cattle.  With less herds registering, that means that costs for the programs will fall on the niche group of seed stock breeders.  Breeders who already have less income from fresh animal sales, and like all milk producers are battling the increased cost of production and the decreased milk sale price.  It certainly isn’t a time to take back additional expenses.

Yes, your top 0.1% index seed stock breeder is seeing greater prices than ever.  In addition, there is certainly still value in consistent generation after generation breeding families that provide a stable investment (more on that to come next week) but we are talking your average every day purebred breeder.  They have certainly seen the prices for fresh heifers go down.  Many have attributed that to the introduction of sexed semen and genomics.  I would contend it was more accurately due to the fact that the cost of milk production went up, milk prices worldwide went down, and commercial producers, the buyers of these animals, no longer see the need for the extra investment in the purebred pedigree they once did.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

By making that small shift from building the marketplace for purebred cattle, to trying to woo the commercial producers into registering their cattle, the industry as a whole has, in a sense, contributed to its own demise.  Now all sides need to find a way to work together, before it’s too late.

Has the heart of the industry stopped? Is there time for resuscitation? Who knows marketplace CPR?



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What the Dairy Industry Can Learn From the Firing of Brian Burke

Hockey fans, which most dairy farmers are, know Brian Burke as the guy with the permanently askew necktie and reddish face, and a plug of chewing tobacco planted firmly beneath his cheek and gums as he stared down at his hockey team from the general manager’s box in the press level at the Air Canada Centre, chirping at opposing teams or on-ice officials and urging on his Toronto Maple Leafs.  They also know him as the guy who talked a good game but failed to deliver a competent goaltender and overspent for players.  Something far too familiar to many dairy industry executives.  Burke was fired this week.

The thing that many dairy farmers need to realize from this scenario is that dairy farming, just as hockey is a results oriented business.  Just like hockey, when someone is not performing, change is needed.  When Burke was ushered in to Toronto many fans were already planning the Stanley Cup parade down Yonge Street.  The problem is it never materialized.  Similar to the announcements of many dairy industry executives.

Leadership starts at the Board Level

The same can be said of many dairy organizations.  New leadership comes in and it seems to take a long time to see any change, and even longer for the boards that preside over these organizations to realize it’s not working and enact change.  Take a look at the Leafs, the board at the time when Burke was hired, was comprised of mostly hockey fans (Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan owned the Leafs as much for the PR value with membership as they did for ROI).  Then about a year ago Canada’s two media giants, Rogers and Bell, teamed up to purchase the majority stake in the Leafs for $1.07 billion, with official transfer happening in late August.  As one of their first moves, though delayed by the lockout, the very results driven board decided that Burke was not the man to lead them forward.  He’s gone.

This is one area that I think many of the dairy breeder boards (Breeds, Milk Recording, A.I., Milk Marketing etc.) do not do a good job of.  While everyone likes to be everyone’s friend, management must be held accountable for results.  This is its very mandate that every board should hold itself to.  Now I know that in many cases breeders tenure on these boards is short (something many big corporate boards would never allow), so the ability to bring about change can be hard.  However, it is also why I think as an industry we need to look closer at how we comprise these boards.

While there is no doubt I believe the breeders should be represented, it can also be very helpful to have people from outside the industry on these boards.  Any good board needs to have its stakeholders (the breeders) on its board.  However, it’s also important to bring non-investor (non-breeder) who has outside perspectives to the board.  Typically this means bringing people from financial, legal and organizational growth to the table.  This will help in bringing a more balanced approach to growing the organization.

Blue and White Disease

For all his performance shortcomings, there were certainly things about Brian Burke’s tenure that I have a great deal of respect for.  One thing is the way in which he worked at getting rid of the “blue and white” disease.  This was the clever phrase Brian used to slam the culture of entitlement they believed every Leaf was stricken with.  We see this in many dairy organizations, where staff and board members seem to have a sense of entitlement just because of their position with that organization.  They seem immune to the performance and accountability that all employees and boards should feel as paid or elected representatives of a public or co-operative organization.

Now I understand that there is a time and a place for different styles of leadership.  At times, it is better to lead from the rear than the front.  No questions asked.  However, much like William Wallace (Braveheart) and Maximus (Gladiator) there is also a time that you need to lead your organization from the front, leading the fight at risk of firing or in Wallace and Maximus case even death.  That is what it is going to take to win.  In a time where there was no superstar capable of being the front man for the Leafs, Burke took the heat and stood up for the organization.  (Don’t even get me started on Kessel, whose trade may be the one biggest mistake Burke made that ultimately cost him his job).  Now he may have partly done it out of ego, but when the organization or even certain players were under severe scrutiny (which happens a lot in the hockey crazed city of Toronto), Burke stepped up and took the heat, something that earned him a great deal of respect from all internal staff and players.  This is one thing I see severely missing in the dairy industry.  At one time there were people like Moe Freeman, Roy Snyder and George Clemons, that when it was needed stepped up and led from the front lines.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The dairy industry is stricken by its own Blue and White disease.  The sense of entitlement held by many of its breeder organizations is staggering.  These organizations need to be accountable for performance, and when performance metrics are not met, heads need to roll.  Currently, there is rising uncertainty, due to changes in consumer demand, marketplace decline and genomics.  It is time for leaders to step up to the plate.  It is time to lead from the front.  It is time for accountability.  Brian Burke accepted that leadership responsibility.  He was willing to risk it all, knowing that performance would dictate his fate.  Can dairy breeders expect the same from our boards and leaders?

MILK MARKETING: How “Got Milk?” BECAME “Got Lost”

taylor-swift-got-milk2013ectIt’s just eight days into a New Year and already I’m thinking about the ‘good ol’ days!”.  Remember when the dairy industry was at the top of the agricultural sustainable list, milk was the “perfect food” and milk moustaches were seen on celebrities and sports stars? Hmmm. Where has all the glory gone? In 2013, the dairy industry is fighting to stay alive, the North American diet, including milk, is under attack as obesity from babes to the elderly is out of control and, when all is said and done, milk is a slipping way down on the favorite beverage list!

The land of milk and money is gone. In the cold light of the soul searching brought on by a new year, it seems that this shocking state of affairs has happened suddenly and for no apparent reason.  In actual fact, the signs have been there for more than thirty years and we as an industry let it happen.

MILK OF AMNESIA – We forgot the basics

It took three steps for the milk market to evaporate!

  1. We forgot about the consumer.
    The first commandment of business, “The customer is always right!”  in the dairy industry has become “The cow always comes first!”
  2. We forgot about the product.
    Somewhere production, with the myriad of logistics in between, pulled out in front of the inherent value of our end product – milk.
  3. We forgot delivery.
    Despite the first two failures, we still expected that the product we produced could be delivered in boring, hard-to-open cardboard cartons, heavy jugs or even plastic bags and compete against the “cool” the “sexy” and the “handy” beverages provided by competitors – who wanted — and stole — our market share!

MISSING THE TARGET:  Where’s The Consumer? Where’s the market?

Consumer demand is the key to market sustainability. There’s no use producing a product if there is nobody to buy it. The truth is demand for milk has been in a free fall for the last three decades.  North American milk consumption has dropped a startling 36% since the 1970s. The continuing economic downturn has refocused consumers on value.  They not only are choosing private label products and discount store venues, they are seeking low calorie, reduced sugar and functional value in the beverages they consume. Milk – even though billions of pounds are being produced is losing out to fortified, organic, sports drinks and a myriad of better-for-you products. We are paying the piper for focusing on just one highly commoditized product, ignoring market trends, and trying valiantly to sell what we make rather than what people want.  If we don’t give consumers what they want, someone else will.

LOOK BEYOND THE PAIL: Think outside the box stall.

For decades industry strategy has been to make dairy operations more efficient.  It has succeeded: From 1970 to 2006, the number of cows declined 25%, output per cow more than doubled. But while the dairy industry focused on squeezing more milk out of fewer cows, they largely ignored the fact that demand was getting squeezed as well. That’s the nature of business. Where’s the competitive spirit that drives all the other parts of the dairy industry?  Even the perfect sire or model cow, needs to be marketed.  Our over-riding concern to “protect” ourselves from each other, the economy and even mother-nature, has made us put on blinders to the dangers of not being relevant to the marketplace.  Breeder beware! We could protect our industry right to zero!!


Three steps got us into this mess.  Let’s start with four to get us out.

  1. Pay Attention:
    With per-capita North American milk consumption down 36% between 1970 and 2011, it isn’t whether or not there is a problem. The fact is the dairy industry is in trouble.
  2. Make it Functional:
    You’ve got to get the drink – in our case milk – into consumers’ hands. This is no time for doing things the way they’ve always been done.  Look at Nestle.  They wanted their milk drink containing probiotic for children to have a shelf life of one year.  Realising that it is impossible to keep the probiotic alive at room temperature for more than a few days.  The solution was a shelf-stable nutritional drink with the probiotic in the straw, instead of in the drink.  Inside the patented straw of boost Kid Essentials is the probiotic lactobacillus reuteri ‘protectus’, released by the liquid when the consumer drinks through the straw! Now that’s functional!  On-the-go consumption is increasing. Milk packaging needs to conform to this trend.  Consumers are increasingly looking for a range of package sizes to suit different beverage types and thirst levels, as well as functional and aesthetically-pleasing packaging. Not my area, you say as a dairy farmer?  Whose is it?  Who cares?
  3. Make it Healthy:
    Whether it’s the health benefits you get from drinking milk or the environmental benefits of how it is packaged – the consumer cares about both! Parents are increasingly concerned about the nutrition and sugar content of the products consumed by their children.  This can work for us (with soft drink competition) or against us (sugar added milk products).  Again packaging enters the discussion. Studies in 2011 showed there is a substantial proportion of European consumers that would be prepared to pay extra for glass containers, especially for milk, yoghurts, juices and wine. “it may well be that consumers are willing to pay more as good packaging protects the health benefits and taste of the product for longer”. The health and wellness trend is not going away.  We have a healthy product but it won`t sell itself if we continue our milk-sells-itself mind set!
  4. New Products. New Location.
    We`ve got to ask ourselves what does the market want and then find innovative ways to provide it. Perhaps even before we answer those questions we have to zero in on “where” the market will be.  In a global marketplace, we need to consider the enormous potential of focusing on the end user – perhaps in another country!

LIVE OR DIE MILK BATTLE: Consumption is the Key

We can no longer rest on our milk stools. We have to compete for the marketplace with all the old beverages … and countless innovative new ones. That may seem to be a daunting task but it can no longer be ignored.  Again.  The world is waiting.  Look at the graphic below.  While our own markets are mature in the milk marketplace, there are HUGE opportunities for dairy in the global scene. 

Consider this: One glass of milk per day per child in China could surpass the milk consumption of the entire North American market. It’s a new frontier to be won!


We can’t continue to let narrow focus override finding the consumer and serving them the milk products they want. Laying blame won’t stem the downward trend of the dairy industry.  Remember when land-line phones had a monopoly on communication? Think about large phone companies (another almost monopolistic industry, especially in Canada). Where would they be today, if they had continued to whine about the intruders into the marketplace?  The faster we learn from their example, the sooner we’ll prove that the North American dairy industry isn’t ready to kick the milk bucket yet!

Preferential Treatment – The Bull Proof Killer

Accuracy of bull proofs has been one of the biggest challenges for dairy cattle improvement for many years.  It has been well known that top index cows have always received some level of “preferential treatment” and as a result their indexes have been inflated.  Usually this didn’t affect their sire’s proof since they were usually already proven sires and when weighted with many other daughters this had little to no effect on the sires proofs.  Enter genomics and large portions of young sire daughters receiving preferential treatment and this could have huge effects on the proofs of these genomic index bulls.  There is no question that the current systems around the world cannot account for this preferential treatment and as a result many genomic sires’ first proofs will be inflated.

In the past when young sires were sampled they were used across many different herd environments and regions.  I remember when regionally proven sire (California, etc) or breeder proven sires were released. Many breeders where hesitant to use them because they were not confident that these sires proofs would hold up.  Young sire programs in the past offered semen at low cost or pretty much free (when you factor in incentives) to many different breeders in order to ensure that the sire got enough daughters and that they would be able to achieve a reliable proof.

Does random sampling still exist?

Young sires are no longer randomly sampled.  In today’s genomic age, a lot of the systems and controls are gone.  Yes, many of the sires are still offered to all breeders, but these high-ranking young sires are sold at a much higher price, and marketed much heavier.  In addition often the first release semen is only used on contract matings on extremely high index, carefully selected mates.  This results in anything but random sampling and in reality is almost the perfect method for receiving an inflated proof.  It isn’t just because of the actual mates they are being used on but also because of the care the resulting calves will receive.

Why do daughters receive preferential treatment?

Think about it, if you have paid upward of $750 for a dose of semen (Read more – $750 Dollar Semen! Are you crazy?) to be used on your most valuable animals, wouldn’t you make sure you protected your investment by giving them the best care possible?  It is well known that top index cattle around the world have received over inflated indexes as a result of preferential treatment.  The problem is ‘how do we account for the biases?

Does the current system account for preferential treatment?

Genetic evaluation systems assume that all animals in the herd are treated equally.  Yet while there is nothing wrong with a breeder wanting to ensure their return on their investment in these top genetic animals, it certainly causes many problems when accounting for it in the genetic evaluations of these animals. (Read more – The Hot House Effect on Sire Sampling).

Most “animal-model” genetic evaluations in the world account for the genetic merit of a sire’s mates.  However, when the US first added females to their genomic reference set they actually got lower reliabilities as a result of inaccuracies in female’s proofs due to preferential treatment.  That is why some countries actually leave female genomic data out of their reference sets, as a large portion of the females are these high index animals that, in many cases, have received preferential treatment.  In the US they actually implemented a scaling-effect adjustment to bring those top females down.  The US has also implemented a new single-step model that includes genomic and traditional data together designed to account for this in bull proofs.  Other countries are also looking for potential solutions.  This includes potentially withholding early data from evaluations as well as other options.  The challenge is that no one has found a real solution to the actual problem, and steps so far just mask the issue with scale downs and other band-aids.

How to identify preferential treatment?

I recently attended a GEB session put on by CDN (Canadian Dairy Network) where they gave a presentation on accounting for herd bias.  Brian Van Doormaal presented a few different ways he theorized would identify bulls’ daughters who might have received this preferential treatment.  One indicator he presented of possible preferential treatment was if a high percentage of a bull’s early offering were the result of ET.  Another indicator he looked at was the percentage of daughters that have been genotyped.  However, neither delivered conclusive results.  Another suggestion that was presented was increasing the number of daughters a sire needs  in order to receive an official proof.  The challenge with that is that A.I. companies and most high profile breeders are wanting sires to get a proof as quickly as possible and increasing the requirements will cause delay.  In addition, analysis of semen price so far does not show it to be a great predictor either.  Currently there are simply no answers.

In Brian’s presentation he equated this problem to the challenges we have seen with second-country proofs.  In Canada bulls like Shottle, Planet and more recently Man-O-Man (Read more – Man-O-Man will he turn platinum? and Is Man-O-Man really going to be a sire of sons?) that come through with initial Canadian proofs over 3500 LPI, which everyone knows to be unrealistic, in time saw their proofs drop 300+ points with the addition of more daughters.  Van Doormaal also comments that you could expect bulls like Snowman, and genomic sires to do the same.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Currently there are no definitive answers only growing concerns.  This preferential treatment problem is going to get greater attention, as more high profile genomic sires,  priced high and highly marketed will start to receive proofs in 2013. The industry must be proactive about this issue. If not we are going to see breeder confidence in proofs decrease, instead of increase, because of genomics. That would be a killer!

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


Not sure what all this hype about genomics is all about?

Want to learn what it is and what it means to your breeding program?

Download this free guide.




CATTLE BREEDING: If we don’t change we don’t grow

The Art of Livestock Breeding: It starts with a need

The breeding of domesticated livestock has long been considered to be an art practiced by food producers of the world. It is has definitely not been static. It started with observant farmers seeing an opportunity to improve the attributes of their stock. Initially this meant fixing the characteristics of their stock and establishing breeds. Breed purity was the primary focus which often meant coat colour in cattle or ability to pull heavy loads in horses; reproduction rates in pigs’, egg production volume in chickens; ability to find their way home in carrier pigeons and so on as the need or goal was established.

Dairy Cattle Breeding: The cream rises to the top

Over the centuries species and breeds have evolved. In cattle it meant animals that were developed for draught, meat and milk production. Milk has achieved special designation and has been recognized as nature’s most perfect food. Over time, there have been hundreds of attempts at developing breeds of cattle for their milk producing ability. That progressed to the point where there were only a few. Today Holstein and Jersey are the major survivors. These breeds were developed in temperate regions of Europe each with their own characteristics.

Advancement of North American Breeding: No decade stands still

Over the twentieth century dairy farmers in North America have molded their dairy cattle into what they are today by taking many steps. A brief and not all inclusive synopsis of some of those changes by decade are:

Early 1900’s Milk recording groups formed to authenticate volumes and milk quality
1920’s Type Classification programs started
1930’s With electricity came the start of machine milking, larger herds and the need for teats to point to ground and be close together
1940’s Artificial insemination, the painting of breed True Type pictures and the need for milk not to carry diseases humans could contact
1950’s Mechanization of field work resulted in farms specialization, improved forage quality, off farm processing of milk and sire daughter raw averages
1960’s Sire proving coops were formed, milk recording started to be used for more than just animal authentication purposes and farmer marketing coops were established
1970’s Greatly expanded numbers of young sires being sampled, BLUP analysis technique and genetic indexes for both bulls and cows
1980’s Significant changes in genetic indexing methodologies, breeds and breeding companies with specified breeding strategies, the practise of on-farm preventive medicine programs by veterinary practices and amalgamation of farmer coops for recording, breeding and milk marketing
1990’s Dairy cattle breeding adopted more finely tuned breeding formula’s (TPI, LPI and Net Merit), total mixed rations, on-farm least cost feeding, increased on-farm management practises including computer software programs, data analysis to better predict genetic merit, and in Canada governments , due to budgetary constraints removed themselves from the provision of milk recording and genetic indexing services
2000’s Greatly enhanced rates of genetic advancement, capture of data for auxiliary and functional traits, refinements in breeding strategies to consider more than milk and conformation, routine use computerized farm management for both production and economics, greatly expanded herd sizes,management took on greater importance on all farms and researchers started to consider if the DNA make-up of an animal could be used for genetic advancement

Finding a New Path: Adding Genomics

Very definitely the move about five years ago by a few AI companies and the USDA to compare the DNA snips results with the genetic evaluations for dairy bulls proven in the USA and Canada was significant. However the decision not only to study but to make the results openly available to breeders was a gigantic step. Breeders could know the genomic results for bulls and cows. This meant that breeders were central to the genetic future of their animals and their industry. Compare that to the swine and poultry industries where relatively few breeding companies own the genetics of the world. Now in 2012 all dairy cattle breeding regions of the world are using, or are about to use, genomics to evaluate their animals’ genetic composition.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

I have always noticed that people who make a difference are the ones who, not only don’t resist change, but welcome it. It is important that producers through their breed societies and breeding coops continue to have open minds and collectively research and develop the genetics of their dairy cattle. If breeders are to govern their destinies, they need to make sure that their elected and organization officials are objective and dynamic in how they approach changes to cattle breeding such as genomics. Many changes are yet to be thought of. We always need to remember that, “When you are through changing, you are through.”

KIDS, CALVES and COMPETITION: Safety in the Dairy Ring

dairy cattle showing youthOne of the outstanding benefits of living on a dairy farm is that it provides the opportunity to learn how to compete in the dairy ring. Working with dairy animals improves physical fitness, coordination, self-discipline and teamwork, but these beneficial activities can also put participants at risk for injury.

Show-related injuries are preventable.  It is a matter of protecting bodies, while they are still growing and just beginning to understand the skills involved in working with animals. Unlike sports such as baseball or hockey where flying objects can cause injuries to the face, the danger in the show ring  most often lies in the child’s awareness of the living, and sometimes unpredictable, animal at the end of the lead.

Training of both the child and the animal is the key to avoiding injuries to both participants.  Of course, it is up to the adults in charge to make sure that youth participating in the events are safe from foreseeable harm.

Dairy Show Injury Prevention Tips

  • Dress participants in appropriate protective equipment. Most sports teams require participants to have specific equipment that is the proper size and adjusted to each athlete. We should do the same for young cattle show persons. Footwear that can withstand tromping on and that is safe from slipping in wet, muddy or messy conditions. Steel toed work boots are the safest choice. Flip flops, clogs and bare feet are strictly unacceptable when working with cattle.  If proper protective equipment isn’t available, it is NOT alright to go ahead.  It teaches two incorrect things: a- the rules don`t count  b- rules can be broken.
  • Proper halter size. A halter that is too big is dangerous as it can be easily pulled off. The halter should not cause discomfort to the calf. As well, make sure the lead shank is neither too long nor too short. This is where experience will be the best teacher but don`t let the handling of the halter or lead become a bigger job than moving easily with the calf.
  • Maintain safe show ring conditions. Wherever, cattle are being shown, basic safety precautions should be in place. Clear the area of debris. Beware of broken glass, rusty nails, used syringes, rocks and other items that would increase injury if a child fell or slid on them. If this will be an outdoor event, watch weather forecasts; have a set of guidelines for postponing the event, if necessary.
  • Have an emergency plan for injuries during shows. If at all possible have an adult trained in first aid techniques on hand. At least have an adult with a charged mobile phone. Provide the adult supervisor with a notebook of emergency phone numbers for parents or guardians of all participants. Carry a well-stocked first aid kit.
  • Enforce basic sportsmanship rules. This is the beginning of learning how to care for animals, prepare them for showing and putting forth their best feet forward in the ring. By all means, prevent bullying of competitors by adults or children. Young show persons need to focus on showing, not on their shame, embarrassment or humiliation.
  • Ensure children drink plenty of liquids. In the excitement of participating in this highlight of dairy cattle this may be overlooked and could result in dehydration. This is especially important in high heat, high humidity or high altitudes or with children who are novices and may not have experience in maintaining control of their animal for an extended time.
  • Provide proper training and skills building for young show people. Select a calf that will be a suitable size for the child to work with and show. Begin training as soon as possible. Training is not something that can be done in a couple of days! As the child builds fundamental skills, they will gain confidence in handling the calf and in presenting it for the judge`s consideration.
  • NEVER wrap the lead rope around the hand, arm, wrist or any body part. If they are bound like this and the heifer moves away quickly, the child could be seriously hurt.


When children are properly prepared to show dairy cattle, the skills they learn and mentors they meet will last them a lifetime. Safety first.  Memories forever.

GLOBAL INVESTMENT: Milk is a BIG Growth Industry!

Movie fans will remember the movie “BIG” where a young boy makes a wish at a fairground machine to be big. He wakes up the following morning to find that his wish has been granted and his body has grown older over night. But he is still the same 12 year old kid on the inside with a whole lot of strange new people and experiences to deal with! Some, including Canada, are finding themselves in a grown up world trying to catch up.

The Cream Rises to the Top of the Milk Maker List?

Globally, dairy farming, along with agriculture in general, is experiencing the “BIG” phenomenon. Milk production is expected to grow an average 2% per year for the next decade. Asia will account for most of it. Now that`s a lot of milk and BIG indeed!

Today we are looking at the list of Top 10 Countries By Milk Production as per US Department of Agriculture, 2011:

Top 10 Countries By Milk Production

Everyone feels patriotic when their country does well on ranked lists. Did you look to see where your country stood in the Top 10? How did it make you feel? Where you even on the list? If you’re like me, you probably thought (because of numerous publication writers telling you so) that Canada is a major milk producer. Ooops! We better make that major milk consumer. We are higher on the milk consumer list than we are on the milk producer list. We’re approximately 12th for per capita consumption, according to the United States Department of Agriculture and we’re 19th for production. Sounds a little far back even for a die-hard Blue Jays and Maple Leafs fan.

Where’s the Wiggle Room?

There’s lots of room for everybody to take advantage of the opportunities. If you’re at the top of the list, like the U.S. you can take heart from the fact that food production will be challenged to increase 70 percent over the next 30 years. The scary part is the fluctuating nature of consumer demand. An editorial in Hoard’s Dairyman, 8/25/10 made these points, “Of the countless wildcards in the dairy business, the future role of dairy exports is, perhaps, the wildest. That is why it is vital that our industry leaders and policymakers keep export potential in perspective. What our industry must have is a system that enables us all to expand production when domestic and foreign demand calls for it and to cut back on production when the market signals tell us to.” The comments are definitely something to think about. On the other hand, there are dangers in holding back as well. The truth is there is a huge gap between growing global demand and global supply. You might rewrite the axiom to say, “Nature abhors a gap!”You can be 100% sure of one thing. Somebody will move to fill it. The earliest ones into the game with vision and dollars will be able to profit from providing the milk, even it has to be accessed outside their own borders. It has been suggested that New Zealand could accomplish this. Or perhaps one of the mega-food companies who see the opportunity and are ready to take it. There is huge potential for countries or companies who have a low cost of production to move to the forefront of milk production.

But what if you`re further down the production side of the list? You may decide that it’s time to start movin’ on up! Hang on! It could be a bumpy ride. Consumer demands, trade regulations and national food policies are just three of the variables that are going to present ongoing challenges. even though many forecasters see agriculture as the greatest growth industry of our time. Super! All we have to do is increase the production of animals and plants. But then there is the increasing squeeze from land use, sustainable agriculture and available water. It’s ironic that at the very time when markets are growing and science and technology are making great strides, land and water use from growing urbanization are providing counter pressure.

Although we are learning to accept and adapt to the speed of new technology, it is probably true, that what we are familiar with today may not be the breakthrough that will take us into the future. For example, new technologies, such as nutrigenomics, will become increasingly important. With nutrigenomics, it will be possible to influence or control genetic expression in animals. Certain feed ingredients will be able to switch on genes in the animals, leading to improved production. It will revolutionize nutrition, said Karl Dawson, chief scientific officer at Alltech, when speaking at the Alltech International Symposium held in May in Lexington, Kentucky. He added. “You’re going to see more changes in nutrition in the next 10 years than you have seen in the last century.”

Thus far we see that there is growing demand and improved methods of delivering milk and milk products. Another key factor is the initiatives throughout the world to train farmers in the business of dairy farming. Rural development and sustainable agriculture projects are seeing successes that will affect milk production worldwide, while sourcing information and mentors in the areas of animal genetics, product development and dairy cattle management.


So far, everyone agrees that it will be possible, somehow, to keep up with the food demands of a growing world population. What we may not be so sure of is the exactly how it will happen. Nevertheless, milk will be an important product in feeding world populations. If you`re already in the dairy industry, you have an advantage that not all of the companies who aspire to global trade can claim and that is that the market is far from saturated and demand is continually growing. No wonder the stock market is recognizing that you can put your money where the milk is.

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