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 Grass vs. Grain

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T O P I C    R E V I E W
maryjane Posted - Nov 23 2015 : 08:05:44 AM
When it comes to milk production, I'm a big fan of an organic daily grain treat (concentrate with vitamins and DE added) to not only keep milk production up but to create an abundance of tasty, thick cream. Like I mentioned in my book, grains got a bad rap because of the over-use of them in the mega-production, mega-meat world. The same world in which they also feed chicken and cow remains to cattle. Yikes!! If you think about it in terms of marketing, what term would you use to set yourself apart? Grass-fed. When it comes to beef, the marketing image it instantly creates is quite the bucolic scene and definitely not a feedlot scene. It’s impossible to say 90% grass-fed. It doesn’t play into the simplicity people crave for deciding what they do and don’t want in their lives. Think about how difficult it would be to try to market your milk or your cows if you said something like “organic other than selective use of herbicides in order to keep my cattle alive after frost hits pasture.”

When you’re trying to sell something or buy something or adhere to a belief system, marketing and single-issue wordage has its down side. If you’ve been vegan for several years, but you’re losing strength in your muscles, the leap to eating steak and eggs is huge. It’s a crisis in faith actually. Here’s a personal example that comes to mind:

Thirty-six years ago (when my first child was born in 1979), I had a burning desire for a "natural childbirth." All the women in my family and Utah in general had started going to hospitals in the era I was born with less-than-wondrous results. I’d read all the books, talked all the talk. It was a set-myself-apart, make-a-statement burning desire that I experience natural childbirth. We were living on a remote ranch so I checked into a motel across the street from a small hospital in a tiny town once I began labor. Why? I’d just participated in a birth on that same ranch in which the woman tore horribly. We had to load her and her new baby in the back of a cold jeep with worn-out shock absorbers and drive three hours on dirt roads in winter weather to get her to someone who could sew her up and then three hours back again. After I’d checked into the hotel with a defiant notion of how it was all going to turn out for me, it was one thing after another. First, I started itching all over. Our room was infested with fleas and I had to get settled into another room and rid myself of fleas. Then my labor went on and on and on. I walked across the street to the hospital and they gave me a sedative (I desperately needed some rest) that made me vomit--I fell and hit my head on the way to the toilet. They checked me in but remember, in this particular situation, we were without modern monitors, etc. I stalled at 8 cm dilation because my daughter's head was in the wrong position and wasn’t helping dilate me (we didn’t know it until we saw her misshapen head after). Even after 72 hours of labor, not only was my precious daughter stuck but I was stuck in my thinking. Finally, a doctor put one hand on my shaking knee in the air and his other hand on my hand said, "MaryJane, this is about having a healthy baby." In that instant, when he gave me permission to let go of my notion of right and wrong, they put a healthy (but stressed) baby girl in my arms within minutes, C-section. It cost a total of $900 so later that month I sold a 14’ travel trailer I’d been living in to pay for it.

Here's another way to think about "grain." In the link below there is a graph at the bottom that lists cereal grasses and their seed heads.

If you were a cow in the wild and you came upon a field of grass that had gone to seed, you’d think you’d died and gone to heaven. There's no way you'd try to eat just the grass and ignore the seed heads. In fact, you’d probably gobble up the high-energy, yummy seed heads first. When I put a fresh bale of straw out for my girls, they spend about an hour nosing around and sniffing out the few kernels of wheat that sometimes end up in the straw. If I were marketing my operation as grass-fed would I have to lie about that? I had a woman call me to ask, first, if I had A2 cows, I said, yes. She then asked about antibiotics and I explained to her that in order to save a cow (or a child) I’ve always been grateful for antibiotics (again, this stems from the fact that in the mega-dairy world, cows are fed antibiotics in their feed every day), and then she asked whether or not a single kernel of grain had ever in the cow’s life passed its lips. When I said yes, I feed them grain daily, she hung up on me.

I would say that as I age, my world as I see it, gets more and more gray. I feel bad for the producers I've talked to recently who are in a serious marketing tight spot over grass vs. grain. Either they’re dealing with drought and lack of “grass” or they have a producing milk cow(s) that is slowly losing body mass; the photos I've seen are alarming. If grass-only is keeping your cows and bulls vital, stick with it. If not, give yourself permission to recognize that it’s about having healthy cows, not single-issue marketing slogans.
25   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
CloversMum Posted - Apr 25 2016 : 4:47:43 PM
You are welcome, Keeley! If you find a better one, post it too.
farmlife Posted - Apr 25 2016 : 04:51:06 AM
Thanks, Charlene!
CloversMum Posted - Apr 24 2016 : 10:23:33 PM
Here's one youtube link:

At the four minute mark the different numbers 1-5 are explained.

Another one that was even better:

This one was short but it showed actual cows for each number which helped me a bunch.
farmlife Posted - Apr 24 2016 : 9:47:47 PM
Tell me if you find the video, Charlene. I needed the visual too.
CloversMum Posted - Apr 24 2016 : 11:47:43 AM
Some notes that I copied from the article that MaryJane provided a link to:

The goal is to minimize weight loss by encouraging intake of high quality, highly palatable forage dry matter at a rate of 1.8 to 2.0% of body weight per day, with grain supplemented to support milk production.

If regaining body condition is delayed past 80 to 120 days, cows will often have reduced fertility. The nutritional program should encourage moderate weight gain (0.75 to 1 pound per day) that will support milk production and fertility, but avoid excessive weight gain.

I need more visual to figure out body condition scoring on cows ... this article talks about having a video on it so I'll have to look it up.
maryjane Posted - Apr 23 2016 : 10:17:52 AM
Body condition is somewhat intuitive I think, a result of handling a cow daily and knowing her for a length of time.

Here's a more scientific approach that I think is well written:

In it you'll read things like this:


"Energy balance plays a very important role in reproductive performance, and both current and past energy status influence a cow’s ability to reproduce. Greater change in BCS between calving and first breeding and lower BCS at the first breeding consistently are associated with reduced pregnancy rates. However, multiple studies have found that diet changes were not able to overcome BCS loss in early lactation, which means that the primary way to control BCS at breeding is to manage BCS at calving.

A Cornell study published in 1989 provides a good example of the impact of BCS on reproduction. In the study three groups of dry cows were monitored to determine the effect of body condition during the dry period on subsequent reproductive performance. Cows with the highest BCS at calving lost the most body condition in the first 5 weeks of lactation. These cows had a longer interval to first ovulation, a higher number of days to first heat and conception, and the lowest first-service conception rates (Table 1). Losing body condition during early gestation has also been associated with increased embryonic losses. For the farmer, these factors mean lost dollars."
CloversMum Posted - Apr 21 2016 : 7:52:56 PM
When I read the comment about "contrary to popular belief, cows do not pasture graze year round" (that was paraphrased), it reminded me of the Little House on the Prairie books where Ma would add carrot juice to make the butter yellow, but didn't need to during the spring when the cow was eating the new grasses. So, obviously, previous generations knew this and just recently there has been a push for grass-fed everything. I guess all must be in balance ... otherwise, you'll end up in the ditch on either side of the issue.

And, most definitely need to watch and respond to your own animal. Each cow is unique with their personality, nutritional needs, likes and dislikes. But we all should know and study regarding body condition ... what is good? What do you look for? etc.
maryjane Posted - Apr 17 2016 : 09:09:07 AM
I agree Cindy. Cow lactation/pregnancies are all different just like women's pregnancies/lactations are different and it's our job to figure out what our cows need in order to give us milk.

When I got pregnant the first time I was alarmed by how much I wanted to eat. Subsequently, I gained 50 pounds. Within the first two months of nursing, I'd lost the weight I'd gained and proceeded to struggle to maintain "body condition." I kept getting very thin while giving milk for another two years. Toast and jam! Milkshakes! It was like that Meryl Streep 'Judgment City' movie where you can't gain weight (in heaven) and can finally eat all the pasta you want.

Some women need 1,500 to 2,000 and maybe even 3,000 calories/day just to produce milk. That's in addition to her own metabolic needs.

Janet, I did notice his procedure for 'down to 38 in nothin' flat.' Wouldn't that be nice. Must be an impressive vat cooler.
NellieBelle Posted - Apr 17 2016 : 05:36:39 AM
Great link MaryJane, and interesting findings with your milk. Did you read where they get their milk to 38 degrees in less than a minute from the time of milking? Great information to glean from. Thank you.
txbikergirl Posted - Apr 16 2016 : 8:20:49 PM
how i see it maryjane is that i am artificially creating demands on the cows health by increasing their milk supply for my needs, so it makes sense that i need to add to her diet to compensate for that. i can't think that just "more" pasture will compensate for the increased production i created.
maryjane Posted - Apr 15 2016 : 8:21:29 PM
I put in a call this past week to Idaho's Dairy Bureau to speak with the director of our state's raw milk program. Why? A graduate student at the U of I took raw milk samples from me last summer (I was milking Sally and Daisy at the time). She wanted to run tests to determine bad (e. Coli, etc.) and good bacterial colonies (probiotics). I told her I'd be happy to help on one condition. From the same batch of milk, I wanted her to run the exact same tests on my thermized milk (150 degrees for 15 seconds). The nasty bacteria we're all familiar with die at 145 degrees. Anyway, long story short, my raw milk "was exceedingly clean" (no bad bacteria) and had 9 colonies of probiotics. My thermized milk had 8 colonies of probiotics. "Essentially, they were the same," she said.

I think this finding is significant so I'd like to pursue more involved testing and called to find out if there is a laboratory who can help me. He didn't know of a laboratory off the top of his head but he did direct me to a rather large-scale raw milk dairy farmer in S. Idaho who he said is a "total class act," thinking he might be able to help me find a lab.

As I looked over his website, I thought some of you might be interested in what he has to say about quite a number of things.

For example:

"Many dairy cows may lose weight during the early stages of lactation due to energy requirements even with the best nutrition. If dairy cattle are not given the proper nutrition they need, they can get severely stressed and may be susceptible to infectious and metabolic diseases. Not only will the cow suffer, but also her milk production and quality. For example, ketosis and hypocalcemia are both common and quickly fatal metabolic diseases in dairy cattle that are caused by inadequate nutrition during lactation. Contrary to popular belief, year-round pasture feeding dairy cattle is NOT natural and is not the way dairy cattle have been historically managed. A good quality, high producing dairy cow cannot do well on green pasture alone. Even the best pasture does not contain the nutrition it needs to produce the milk it was bred to produce. Keep in mind that a grass fed dairy in Idaho only has grass available from April-Sept/Oct. Year round pasture feeding of dairy cattle requires the artificial creation of year-round pastures by intensive irrigation that uses high volumes of energy and water ... "

"Tim Boyd, a member of the WAP Foundation, comments on the subject of grassfeeding milking cows, "...[G]rass is very short on Phosphorus and calcium two of the three essential macro nutrients, and is very short on energy (starch) to give fuel to microbes to multiply to digest large amounts of protein. The average cow rations should be in the range of 16.5 percent protein, most grass we feed as pasture is 24 to 27% protein, essentially drowning the microbes in too much protein forcing the cow to starve given nothing or very little gets digested because the microbes have no energy to reproduce even though the cow eats constantly.... The key is to have the balance just right with dairy cows and that is very hard to do with grass, and remember we have the limited up take of calcium and phosphorus as mentioned earlier with grass alone.... WAPF to my knowledge has never promoted 100% grass fed given the two counties in the country that can do it cannot supply the country with products. Grass can be a good thing but it also can be abused and lead to the same results of CAFOs, just killing them with protein and instead of energy."

Here's his website:
CloversMum Posted - Dec 10 2015 : 09:39:08 AM
You two could be dangerous with what you'd come up with! :-)

I'm thinking that a poo-catcher like Janet is describing could take the place of the super duper pooper scooper. It is a constant race to see if that yellow bucket can get placed just perfectly as Clover ready, aims, and fires! Clover doesn't always poop during milking now either, so the surprise factor plays into it.

And, I like the name, "Milk Cow Boutique."
maryjane Posted - Dec 09 2015 : 4:21:33 PM
No doubt a formidable milkmaid posse rounding up good ideas hither and yon. (No doubt the occasional hit-or-miss.)
NellieBelle Posted - Dec 09 2015 : 2:50:13 PM
I actually think it may be doable. If we were closer I can only imagine the things we would come up with. :) Milk Cow Boutique
maryjane Posted - Dec 09 2015 : 2:45:00 PM
I'm all ears. And I have a heavy duty sewing machine.
NellieBelle Posted - Dec 09 2015 : 1:55:09 PM
Thinking more in the lines of a large canvas bag/washable bottom, like what we carry our milk machine in, to keep the udder from getting mud/muck on it. Straps to go up around the flank, so it can be easily removed at milking time. No plastic as it needs to breath. May be onto something. :) Maybe even dual purpose, weaning bag.
NellieBelle Posted - Dec 09 2015 : 1:48:01 PM
Couldn't agree more. Give us time. :)
maryjane Posted - Dec 09 2015 : 1:03:06 PM
I still think we need to diaper their butts and knit udder muffs that we line with plastic.
NellieBelle Posted - Dec 09 2015 : 11:26:18 AM
Well, I will be curious to see how the Mastoblast performs. I must admit, keeping and udder clean under these conditions is definitely a challenge.
maryjane Posted - Dec 09 2015 : 10:59:10 AM
Yes, one of her cups gelled. It was perfectly clear yesterday. Lots of mud and muck around here also. Not only did she gel the cup, that quarter is swollen and a glob of yuck came out when I stripped her, a first for her. Drats.
NellieBelle Posted - Dec 09 2015 : 09:58:04 AM
MaryJane, Miss Daisy showed positive on her CMT? Well, this will be a good time to test the Mastoblast out. Sure hope it does the trick. I keep thinking one of my gals will show positive for mastitis with all the mud and yuck around here, but knock on wood, nothing has shown. Hoping the best for Miss Daisy.
maryjane Posted - Dec 09 2015 : 09:00:31 AM
Miss Daisy gave me the opportunity to try out my Mastoblast this morning. I'm looking forward to tomorrow to see if she responds. I also gave her plenty of Ester C.
CloversMum Posted - Dec 03 2015 : 8:20:33 PM
Caren, can you tell us more about your consultant? What organization are they from? Seriously, do they travel??
txbikergirl Posted - Dec 03 2015 : 4:27:28 PM
good to have you back ron
Ron Posted - Dec 03 2015 : 2:58:59 PM
Yep was nice before all the all just called food !

One reason I like your products MJ....I trust where they come from :)