Rumbling from the Bull Pen

Dr. Allen Young
USU Extension Dairy Specialist

A lot has happened in the last month that really reminds us that we belong to an interesting and dynamic business. Items such as limits on BST, removal of ECP from the market, the first confirmed case of BSE in the United States, milk marketing and others have kept things interesting. I have lived in different parts of the U.S., and in many areas there is a saying that if you don�t like the weather, just wait a minute and it will change. I guess change is what keeps things interesting enough to motivate us to get out of bed each morning. I would like to comment on some of these issues and hope you realize that my comments are my own views, and may not reflect those of �management.�

I would guess that the BSE issue has been on everyone�s mind for the past month. After watching the news and reading the newspaper, it appears that the general public is not reacting as negatively as I, or many others, expected. That says a lot for our current system for catching these problems. However, it does not mean that the system is perfect or even close to it. I expect many parts of the system to evolve over the next few months, and I think the definition of �downer� cows will probably evolve in a way that may allow you to realize a little income from animals that are nonambulatory, but clearly not sick. Unfortunately, the cow that tested positive apparently was a downer because of paralysis associated with the birthing process.

My opinion is that this issue has been, or should be, a wake-up call to all dairy producers to be more careful about how and where they buy their animals. There are very few farmers that haven�t bought an animal in the past 5-10 years. Regardless of how well you know the person you are buying animals from or the farm from which they came, always insist that the appropriate tests and vaccinations have been done before they come to your farm. Again, it�s not a perfect world, but to go out blindly and bring animals onto your farm that haven�t been checked in detail is like playing Russian roulette. The more animals you buy without doing thorough checks, the more bullets go into the revolver. In a Johnes study just completed here at USU, the management practice most closely associated with Johnes positive herds in northern Utah was having brought cows or heifers into the herd within the last 5-10 years.

My second comment is in terms of animal ID. A national program that aims to trace an animal in the food chain back to the farm of origin within 48 hours begins Phase I of implementation this summer. The BSE problem will probably speed up the time line to achieve this goal. This program will probably increase your costs of production because of the special ear tags required; however, in the long run, I think it will be good for the whole industry. I urge you to take a good luck at your current system of ID and make an effort to identify all animals. Using DHIA will help you keep up on this. Traceability will continue to evolve as a major issue on your dairy.

I would like to switch to another topic. You may or may not be keeping up on the fact that changes are about to take place in Utah and Idaho regarding the Federal Milk Market Order 135. Or I should say, what used to be FO 135? By the time you read this, it should be official that FO 135 has been dissolved. Kaput, nada, history! If you want the details, contact anyone on the Utah Dairyman�s Association board of directors. The Reader�s Digest version is that here in Utah we have the distinction of having the lowest milk prices in the nation. Sometimes we let someone else switch places with us, but not often. As a result of the low prices stemming from several issues such as pooling, we requested a hearing with the Market Administrators to try to fix some of these issues. They finally ruled on the points brought up at the hearing (about a year and a half or more after the hearing). After a comment period, a vote was taken to see if the changes were acceptable to segments of the industry included in the order. While the vote has not been made public, it�s pretty clear that the vote will be negative. This leaves only one outcome, and that is to dissolve the order.

What will that do to your milk price? One of the concerns with not being in an order is that processors would no longer pay a minimum amount to producers. As of right now, the comment from processors is to not take advantage of this situation. If they do, then the language for a State Order is ready so that it can be implemented and will function similar to a Federal Order. I applaud those who took a chance on Order Reform. Walking a tight rope without a net is always gutsy. As I heard from one person, �What do we have to lose? We are already the lowest in the nation.� Sometimes you have to take chances, and I think that long-term this one might be good for the WHOLE industry, not just Utah.

I have rambled enough. If you are still with me at this point I just want to wish you a happy and prosperous New Year and may you have success and joy in the dairy industry. ©