Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dairy farming feature

This month Mary of Mackinson Dairy Farm is featuring women in dairy.

Here are her questions and my answers.  To read the whole article - and about all the other featured farmers - you can go here!

What are 3 things you want consumers to know about the dairy products you produce?

I’ll talk about the questions I get most …

There are no antibiotics in your milk. Our cows are generally very healthy. If a dairy cow does get sick, we help her get better by giving her an antibiotic to fight off a bacterial infection, much like people do. There’s a very specific way to treat her. First, we follow the medicine labels, which inform us how long the antibiotic will be in her system. For that period of time, we milk her into a separate container and dump the milk. Her milk does not go into the bulk tank with the other cows’ milk.
Here’s the verification process and how we guard against human error:

Step 1: At the farm, the driver takes a sample to hang on to from each farm’s bulk tank, then adds the milk to the combined truckload. The driver drives to the milk processing plant.

Step 2: Each and every combined truckload of milk is sampled immediately upon arrival at the milk processing plant before unloading.

Step 3: If the combined truckload tests positive for antibiotics, the plant goes to the individual bulk tank samples from each farm to determine which farm had antibiotics in the milk. (Each individual sample from the bulk tank is tested every day anyway, so that the farm knows the exact components of their milk.)

Step 4: If the milk plant finds a trace of antibiotics in the milk, it dumps the entire load (yours and whatever other farms’ milk they have in the truck). The tainted milk never even gets to the milk plant’s tank.

Step 5: That farm that had antibiotics in its milk is then fined and it doesn’t get paid for its milk.

Step 6: If it happens more than once in a year, that farm is suspended.

Aside from all of that (and despite what you may have heard), there’s no advantage to us of overusing antibiotics. It doesn’t make our healthy cows healthier, more comfortable, or give more milk.

We’re not keeping antibiotics out of milk because we only want to avoid fines. We don’t want it either! Farmers want to, strive to, and work hard to provide you with a quality product. Keeping antibiotics out of the milk is what everyone wants – farmers and consumers. We want to give you the nutritious and wholesome product you expect.

Plus, I buy my milk at the store just like everybody else. I’m completely confident in it – and you can be, too.

There are natural hormones in all milk – organic and conventional.  There are natural hormones in milk because cows (like all mammals) have hormones.  People didn’t put them there.  Farmers like us that belong to MMPA (Michigan Milk Producers Association) do not give their cows any hormones.  In the past, some farms gave their cow’s supplemental recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), which is the growth hormone that normally occurs in cows, to help them produce more milk.  But since farmers were giving them more of a hormone that occurs naturally, there was no way to tell from the milk if they had it – because it’s a hormone they already have.  You may have heard of women who take hormones to increase their milk production.  It’s the same practice.  But again, we don’t give the cows any hormones and never did.

A comfortable, healthy cow gives more milk. Farmers treat their cattle extremely well because we want them to produce high quality, high volume of milk.  It’s awful that any person let alone farmer would mistreat an animal, and when someone does that, it’s heartbreaking.  It not only is awful for the animal, but it’s depressing for all the people who are trying to do everything right.

So the bad apples aren’t representative of all the farmers who are depending on their cattle for their livelihood and do anything and everything for them.  We make sure they have the best nutrition, bedding, housing, temperature, medical care – everything so they can continue to easily and comfortably produce milk.

What is the most rewarding part of production agriculture? Challenging?

We always wanted to own our own business, but we weren’t sure what we wanted it to be.  The most rewarding part of owning a farm is that it’s your farm.  When you work, it’s for you.  When you make decisions, you’re the one that faces the consequences.  I also love that we can share our business and lifestyle with our boys.  This business gives us the flexibility to have our kids with us, really see what the farm is about, and spend time together.  There’s not much of a separation between home and farm.  They get to see hard work up close and as they get older, participate in it.

The most challenging part of farming is the uncertainty of it.  The weather, the market, a strange cattle virus – so much of it is out of your control.  You really just have to try your best and have faith that it’s all going to work out in the end.  So cheers!  Have a glass of milk and toast to the farmers across the nation, all doing the same thing!

What do you envision the future of the dairy industry looking like?

It’s an interesting question – when we first approached my parents about buying the farm, they had a lot of concerns.  One concern was that the nature of the dairy industry is cyclical, and you have to be prepared for the ups and downs of the milk prices.  The first year we started was a high, and the next was a low.  We felt we got a taste of it right away!  I know the dairy margin protection program is designed to help ease that transition, but it doesn’t make as much of an impact as one would hope.

There are still lots of small farms (like ours) but with the low milk prices you wonder how many of them can withstand the tough years.  I think that with the price of robot milkers coming down, that’s a way that the smaller farms can continue to milk.  With the recent attention and news about how great full-fat dairy products are for health, that’s another positive for our industry.

Our future has a lot of questions – Will the cyclical nature of dairy farming ever change?  What happens when we’re all producing something there’s no demand for?  Will there be bigger, fewer farms or smaller, robot-milker farms?  Maybe we’ll all just have to pick a different direction to go when people choose almond ‘water’.  If that happens, I’ll have to keep a cow just for me – I love milk and drink it every day.

Wardin 3


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