Those who traveled to Chambersburg, PA for the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance annual Field Days, held on Sept. 29 and 30 found that attending the two-day event was time well spent.
Participants had the option of touring the Trickling Springs Creamery plant prior to the first session. Trickling Springs is a relatively young company, established in 2001, and provides an outlet for organic farmers who produce clean (low somatic cell count) milk. The Trickling Springs plant tour included a look at the bottling process, which follows low-temperature pasteurization and immediate cooling. In addition to bottling organic milk, Trickling Springs produces yogurt, cheese, butter, smoothies and ice cream. The company’s ‘Farm Friend’ brand offers an option for grass-fed dairies or dairies that are in the process of transitioning to organic.
John Kempf opened the speaker sessions with an engaging presentation on forage production. Kempf stressed the importance of paying close attention to soil biology when managing pastures. He also discussed the process of building soil organic matter, and the role of organic matter in the soil ecosystem.
Several speakers, including Tim Joseph of Maple Hill Creamery; Liz Amos, Inspections Program Manager PCO; Lauren Tonti, NOFA-NY certifier; and Peter Miller, Organic Valley participated in a roundtable discussion of the grassfed label. Miller stressed the fact that a uniform standard is needed because both consumers and mainstream grocers want it. Joseph stated conventional farms are interested in organic/grassfed labeling, although some are further along than others due to the fluctuating price structure. Tonti mentioned that this year’s drought has made it difficult for some producers to maintain the required 30 percent time on grass, and perhaps a variance could be granted for drought-stricken regions.
Fay Benson, NYCCE, introduced the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship, a program that’s designed to help small dairy farms remain viable. Program director Joe Tomandl, who initiated the program in Wisconsin, said the program was valuable for successor and transition planning. The benefits for the dairy farm owner include highly skilled employees who are competent and trustworthy and development of managers for current operation or investment farm. Tomandl says there are currently 81 approved sites for apprenticeships, 28 master-apprentice pairs and 12 journey dairy grazier graduates who now own start-ups. The program is funded by USDA-NIFA and through a USDA-CIG grant.
Veterinarian Jessica Scillieri Smith, director of Quality Milk Production Services Northern NY Lab, addressed issues in milking systems that can affect productivity. She spent time discussing mastitis, describing the differences between clinical and subclinical cases, and stressed the cost of mastitis to the dairy farmer. Smith outlined proper milking procedure, and the importance of employee buy-in when it comes to following established milking protocol.
Dr. Rick Watter, director of Western NY Lab, QMPS, talked about the role of milking equipment in mastitis. Watter discussed potential contributors to mastitis including liner slippage that leads to teat end damage. He emphasized the role of pulsator rate, vacuum pump regulators, liners, and cluster and claw maintenance. He suggested dairy farmers establish attainable parameters for keeping equipment in good working condition, and stressed the fact that well-maintained equipment lasts longer.
Dr. Kris Nichols, chief scientist at Rodale Institute, explained the Organic Research and Education Initiative (OREI) research project as an effort to examine an integrated livestock and crop production system. She stated the project is a 4-year effort to determine how to best enhance soil health, minimize soil disturbance, keep soil covered and insert livestock into the system.
The event wrapped up with a tour of Cliff Hawbaker’s dairy farm, Hamilton Heights Dairy, which he converted to a pasture system in 2000 and then obtained certified organic status. Part of Hawbaker’s mission statement includes ‘focus on wealth accumulation and quality of life for family and employees’, and his management style has led to just that. Hawbaker is passionate about pasture, and is willing to try just about anything that makes sense to him when it comes to improving his overall system. Hawbaker, who sells milk to Trickling Springs Creamery, says while managing a grazing herd isn’t easy, he believes it’s possible for a dairy farmer to manage their way out of a problem. As guests examined the pasture and the cows it was supporting, Hawbaker explained he used bulls for breeding, but it was important to have the right number of bulls.
“Don’t have one bull,” he said. “Have three. One to breed the cows, and two to fight with each other.”