2017 Cornell PRO-DAIRY Research Updates

Dairy cattle grazing in a field with the sun rising in the background.

The Summer Dairy Research Updates, presented in various locations around the state, included the latest data from several Cornell dairy research trials.

New York state dairy farmers had the opportunity to hear the latest PRO-DAIRY research updates on several topics of interest which may assist them in increasing herd health and profitability. The Summer Dairy Research Updates, presented in various locations around the state, included the latest data from several Cornell dairy research trials.

One of the presentation sites, in Amsterdam, New York, included an tour of the host farm, Stony Brook Dairy. Several dozen dairy farmers from the surrounding communities gathered for a tour of this dairy, whose milking herd averages about 460 cows, with 525 mature cows, plus calves and replacement heifers in this closed Holstein herd. The herd has reached its optimal size, and is no longer growing. Heavy culling of open cows, cows with health issues and poor performance, and a zero-tolerance policy of mastitis are some of the ways in which this farm focuses on increasing efficiency and profitability without herd growth.

The farm features a automated calf feeders and group calf housing, and recent additions to old heifer facilities, which have improved respiratory concerns in the herd. The milking herd is housed in a three row, free stall facility. The double 10 parallel milking parlor can milk 100 cows per hour. Milking is performed three times per day, including overnight.

The farm is calving at 20 or 21 months, and 40 to 50 percent of heifers are confirmed pregnant with their second calf by 24 months, farmer/owner Paul Bargstedt said. This attention to reproduction is one of the primary factors helping to reduce the cost of raising replacement heifers.

Cost of Rearing Heifers

“There are many ways to get you to successful reproduction,” Dr. Julio Giordano, DVM, Assistant Professor, Cornell University Dairy Cattle Biology & Management said. Giordano presented the latest data from his recent study on dairy cow reproduction and its impact on reducing replacement heifer rearing costs.

His research involved three New York farms, and studied three different approaches to managing heifer breeding. The least intensive method involved prostaglandin injections, followed by estrus detection (ED) and artificial insemination (AI); the mid-intensity program involved Presynch protocols (to synchronize ovulation) followed by  EDAI plus 5d-Cosynch; and the most intensive used a 100 percent TAI protocol. All farms had heifers enrolled in all three programs.

Giordano’s studies did not stop after the first breeding attempt. Open heifers were rebred via EDAI and 5d-Cosynch in all protocols. Any open at 31 days were bred with the same timed AI program used for the 100 percent TAI group. As expected, the most aggressive 100 percent TAI approach resulted in 100 percent of heifers bred within one day, on all farms.

The other approaches varied in success rates depending on how well the farm staff detected heat. For farms with high heat detection rates, the least intensive method resulted in only one percent of the cows open at 31 days. On the farm with very poor heat detection rates, this least aggressive method resulted in 47 percent of the heifers being open at 31 days. The mid-range intensity synchronization program resulted in more cows requiring TAI on all farms, with 19 percent of cows open at 31 days.

The study found little statistical cost difference between the low and mid-intensity programs. On average, the high-intensity TAI added $40.00 – $60.00 per cow to rearing costs, Giordano said. The heifers in the study, on average, did not make more money than it cost to rear them, after accounting for feed costs, fixed costs, shots, pregnancy checks, and the value of the calves born, and all other various expenses.

Supplementing Calcium

New York dairy farms have also been participating in a large-scale study to help determine what, if any, benefits are associated with supplementing fresh cows with oral calcium. In the study, 1,000 cows – both first lactation and older cows – were randomly given Quadrical boluses, and reproduction and milk production were studied.

Results show that some cows with normal calcium levels, but who received supplementation, had some negative health effects, including higher levels of mastitis in first lactation animals, or metritis in older animals. Some animal groups did demonstrate slight positive effects from calcium supplementation. Fat heifers had slightly better reproduction rates and small gains in milk production were seen in those with prolonged gestation. 

The national average rate of milk fever, due to low calcium levels, is about five percent. But forty-seven percent of cows on their second or subsequent lactations have subclinical calcium levels, according to Dr. Robert Lynch, DVM, Dairy Herd Health and Management Specialist.

“Downer cows need serious intervention,” Lynch said. However, “we’re supplementing everything and maybe need to decrease this tendency.” 

Harvesting High-Value Trees For Profit

high value trees

Although a diverse range of trees can be harvested, value of end product varies significantly.

There’s a commercial value of some sort to almost everything on a woodlot. However, the most financial gain can be found in high-value trees. These highly sought after trees can best be described as tall, straight, large in diameter, hardwood trees with no obvious defects to the stem. When successfully harvested, high-value trees can yield profitable high-grade lumber and fine veneer quality plywood.

Product value

When harvesting these high-value trees, it is important to understand product value and the various factors associated with it. Many different types of trees can be harvested, but the value of wood products produced from different tree species varies dramatically.

Woodlands with steep slopes and moist ground
Woodlands with steep slopes and moist ground can negatively impact logging efficiency that ultimately affects the profit margin for landowners.

About 80 percent of all timber comes from softwood, but the smaller percentage of hardwoods offer the most value. The reason is due in large part to the unique composition of hardwood trees. Hardwoods grow at slower rates than softwoods, which makes them denser. Denser wood is harder, stronger, more durable and usually lasts longer. Hardwoods are also characterized by distinct grain patterns and variations of color, which make them aesthetically attractive. Some of the most recognized hardwoods include maple, oak, ash, beech, sycamore, alder and cherry.

Another important factor in product value is tree size. Trees that are taller and larger in diameter will bring higher sale prices because they have more usable volume. A tree’s volume can be determined by measuring its diameter at the 4.5-foot mark and estimating how many feet up the tree can be used to make board feet. High-value timber and veneer is sold by the board foot, which is a piece of wood that measures 12-inch by 12-inch by 1-inch.

Landowners can have large and desirable tree species, but if the quality of the tree is poor, the product value can drop considerably. One characteristic of quality trees is consistent growth rings. These growth rings are produced when trees have ideal conditions to grow at a constant rate each year. The best way to ensure this is by letting high-value trees reach their full maturity.

Trees that are straight with few branches on the lower portion of the tree are also considered to be high quality. Any deviations to the tree stem such as knots, crooks and sweeps reduce product value because they can weaken the strength of the wood. Logs with small centered hearts and bright white color are also considered to be high quality.

Production costs

The production costs that logging contractors and timber buyers deal with during a tree harvest also play an important part in the landowner’s final profit margin. Woodland size, ease of logging, site accessibility and distance to a processing mill are some examples.

Logging contractors strongly prefer harvesting large volumes of trees with uniform characteristics because it correlates to lower fixed costs per job. Fixed costs are the costs that loggers have to pay regardless of how many hours they use their machinery. These include insurance, interest, taxes, storage and equipment depreciation.

Timber manufacturers
Timber manufacturers will often pay more money to landowners with dry and accessible tracts of land, especially during the wet season.

Loggers favor working on flat, well-drained tracts of land because it allows them to use the most efficient means of tree harvesting. Woodlands that have steep slopes and moist ground lead to difficulties with equipment impacting the harvest rate.

Logging trucks play a key role in tree harvesting by moving heavy equipment in and removing harvested timber out. Narrow, steep or substandard roads often hinder the site accessibility of equipment and logging trucks. Whether it’s finding alternate routes or building temporary roadways, it costs logging contractors more time and money to make the necessary adjustments affecting a landowner’s earning potential.

After timber is harvested and loaded, logging contractors focus on weight and distance. The farther away that harvested timber is from a processing mill, the more the loggers have to pay for gas, thus shrinking their final profit margins.

Market value

Morgan Mellette, a Gainesville, Georgia, resident with more than 30 years of professional service as a forestry consultant, said that the strength of the overall timber market is constantly changing due to supply and demand. He noted that supply can be affected by a number of variables including the willingness of landowners to put their timber on the market, current trends in land conservation that limit tree harvesting, economic conditions and competition from other countries.

Demand relates to the need for finished wood products such as lumber and paper. The timber market is also closely related to the housing market. When the economy is good, people tend to build more houses, which requires more wood.

logs
Logger’s fixed costs per tree are less with larger volumes. This means a larger profit for landowners.

Market value can also be affected by local conditions such as competition, inventory and weather. Timber mills in the U.S. are highly competitive; success centers around efficiency. Proximity of timber to a mill goes a long way in efficiency so mills will sometimes pay higher prices for timber to have lower delivery costs. Whenever timber manufacturing facilities are low in inventory they are more likely to go out on the open market where they will pay premium prices for timber. Timber manufacturing facilities tend to be low on timber during the wet seasons so they are often willing to pay more money to landowners with dry and accessible tracts of land.

Regarding market value, the type of action taken really depends on which side of the deal somebody is on. Landowners would want to sell into a hot market to get the most money that they can for their assets. On the flip side, buyers need to purchase timber with future markets in mind to maintain a profitable business. In either case, to get the most profit it is absolutely necessary to stay on top of current market trends.

two oak trees
Of these two oak trees, the one on the right offers the most value since it is more mature and can provide more usable volume.

Challenges

Harvesting of high-value trees comes with its fair share of challenges and affects everyone involved during the process in different ways.

Greg Berndtson, forestry management professional from Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, with more than 14 years of timber harvesting experience, said a common challenge among landowners is achieving maximum profit from their harvest. One way this occurs, according to Berndtson, is when high-value trees are harvested before they have reached full maturity.

“It’s not uncommon to see harvests done on a 15-inch and bigger diameter or somewhere in that neighborhood,” Berndtson said. “While these trees have value, if they are healthy trees with good form on a good site, you are selling yourself short cutting early.” Berndtson noted the highest paying logs need to be 18 or even 20 inches on the small end to get top dollar.

“So, it’s imperative to let the best trees in the stand get to those sizes,” he said. “Cutting healthy trees before they’ve accrued full value is like taking huge penalties by cashing in retirement funds early.”

According to Berndtson, loggers have their own set of challenges and it usually involves cutting trees in difficult terrain, which forces them to adjust their timber harvesting methods.

high value trees, tall and straight
High-value trees can best be described as tall, straight, large in diameter, hardwood trees with no obvious defects to the stem.

“Hardwood logging in many areas is still highly dependent on skilled hand fallers,” Berndtson said. “Areas of Pennsylvania and down through the Appalachian range are known for steep ground and sometimes hard-to-access timber. These areas are usually worked by hand fallers and skidded with dozers as they are more stable than wheeled skidders.”

Charles Gerber, president of Saratoga Land Management Corporation in Malta, New York, believes the biggest challenge to forest management services is overcoming the public perception that the cutting of trees has a significant negative impact on the environment. Negative opinions are often shaped by values, attitudes and beliefs, but Gerber feels there is a general lack of knowledge among most people when it comes to forest ecology.

“They don’t see a living, breathing and constantly changing ecosystem. The public just sees a hillside that has been thinned out and harvesting equipment along a roadside where there are a bunch of logs and trees dragged out. If they understood forest dynamics, the landowner’s goals and what the foresters are trying to do then they might change their opinion.”

Gerber thinks that one of the toughest challenges for landowners is finding the right certified logging professional to harvest high-value trees. Landowners that rush through this process and choose the wrong logger may find themselves disappointed with the final results. For landowners to get what they want, they need to complete their due diligence by checking references and really getting to know the logging contractor.

“The average landowner will only get one shot at it, so they need to make sure that they find the right person,” Gerber said. “They need to talk to several different foresters and loggers. They better know them, like them and respect them.”

logging trucks
Profit margins shrink when logging trucks need to haul timber far distances to the nearest sawmill.

A helpful resource

As Gerber noted, large-scale timber harvests may only take place once or twice in a lifetime for some landowners. Other landowners may not understand a great deal about high-value trees or the harvesting process in general. When harvesting a woodland, landowners should know that certified foresters can be a helpful resource.

A consulting forester would be most helpful during a tree harvest. Consulting foresters have no ties or obligations to any wood production or forest product company. Their goal is to simply offer land management advice centered around the landowner’s personal goals. There are fees involved, but by using forestry services landowners are usually able to generate more revenue than conducting a full timber harvest and sale.

A recent article written by Hank Stelzer, a state forestry Extension specialist at the University of Missouri, identified the different services that foresters can provide when it comes to harvesting trees.

First, foresters can offer their expertise and help develop a long-term management plan for a tract of land. They can maximize present and future economic value by identifying which trees to harvest and which trees to retain in the forest. Foresters are able to prepare an accurate inventory of what is to be offered for sale including species, number of trees, volume, quality and estimated value. They can help landowners to get the maximum price for their timber due to their extensive knowledge in the areas of tree value, markets and buyers. Landowners can even hire foresters to negotiate contracts and to monitor the activities of a logger to ensure that everything is being done correctly.

Photos: Berndtson Timber Management and Saratoga Land Management Corporation

Selecting The Right Program To Breed Your Dairy Herd

cow-with-a-calf

A variety of breeding programs, varying in intensity, have been designed to get the job done.

It should be simple: a bull, a cow, a pregnancy – it’s nature’s way, right? But dairy cow reproduction has become less about nature and more about human intervention as natural sire service – which accounts for roughly 30 percent to 50 percent of dairy breeding nationwide depending on who you ask – is being outpaced by artificial insemination (AI) and timed AI (TAI) protocols. A variety of breeding programs, varying in intensity, have been designed to get the job done, no bull required.

“AI is the simplest way that dairymen can improve their profitability. AI bulls are high in net merit and will improve profit over time,” said Bradley Heins, associate professor of dairy at the University of Minnesota. “All of the breeding protocols are used by dairymen to improve their herds’ profitability.”

Pregnancy rates

Keeping cows pregnant means money in the pocket. Because the reproductive cycle and milk production are interdependent, maximizing the dairy’s milk output means keeping cows pregnant as much as possible, while promoting cow health and keeping farm economics in mind.

“We know that herds that do better in reproduction can do better on a profitability basis,” Dr. Rob Lynch, Herd Health and Management, Cornell University, said in a recent PRO-DAIRY webinar. “When is it that we want to start breeding cows? What type of heat detection program are we looking at? What type of timed AI regiment are we considering?”

Ongoing research studies at Cornell University, via the Dairy Cattle Biology and Management Laboratory overseen by Dr. Julio Giordano, are examining the voluntary waiting period (VWP) and its effect on farm economics. The VWP is the time between calving and first service breeding and allows the cow’s reproductive system to recuperate. Typically, this is a 60-day period. Although some high-performance dairies work with a shorter VWP, Cornell research is looking at lengthening it to 88 days to measure the resulting impacts on conception, as well as long-term dairy economics and cow productivity.

Although it’s a complicated relationship between increasing pregnancy rates and economic benefits, increasing conception success rates above 20 percent is a goal for most dairy farmers.

The pregnancy rate measures the percentage of cows eligible to be bred that do get bred, multiplied by the conception rate, during any given 21-day period, as a cow’s estrous cycle is 21 days. The more cows in estrus that are inseminated, as well as an increase in conception rates, contribute to a higher pregnancy rate on the dairy.

Pregnancy reduces the days in milk (DIM) for a cow. The lower the DIM, the higher the milk production per cow. When the milking herd has more early lactation cows, dairy profitability increases. Enhancing reproductive performance through more successful breeding strategies increases that pregnancy rate.

“To see pregnancies established in a timely and efficient fashion to maximize milk production and maximize the number of offspring produced (are the primary goals of a dairy breeding system),” said Andrew Sandeen, Penn State University Extension dairy specialist.

There isn’t one right program for all dairies. Each reproductive program has its own limitations and its own costs to implement.

Artificial insemination

If a dairy herd is not being bred naturally, the dairy farmer should play a more active role in getting cows inseminated. But to do that, knowing when to inseminate so that conception is most likely to occur is key. Estrus is the period during the estrous cycle when the cow is fertile and receptive to being impregnated. Without a bull around to pick up on the hormonal and behavioral cues, dairy farmers need to do so.

Artificial insemination itself doesn’t just happen. Detecting that a cow is in heat, or estrus, and is patiently awaiting that sperm during this fertile period can be done in several ways and is normally the first step in any AI program.

“I don’t have true evidence, but I’d say the four common approaches for Northeast dairy farmers would probably be basic visual heat detection and using estrus detection aids followed by AI; using a herd bull for at least a portion of the herd or for problem breeders; timed AI or using an activity monitoring system,” Sandeen said.

Utilizing AI for first service breeding, combined with visual estrus detection or some low-key aids to get the timing right, is the least intensive method of dairy breeding, outside of that bull. Adding an activity monitoring system to assist with heat detection is the next step.

There are progressively intensive breeding programs that synchronize estrus, via hormone injections, so AI can occur systematically in the herd, making heat detection and insemination more efficient and less labor-intensive.

Other breeding protocols go further, synchronizing not only estrus, but ovulation, so that AI is more likely to cause conception. These more intensive, timed AI protocols don’t rely on or require estrus detection, although verifying heat can maximize any program’s success rate.

Estrus detection

When cows are in heat and ready to be impregnated, they will stand to be mounted. This standing heat indicates the most fertile period and is a good visual clue as to when conception would be most likely to occur upon insemination. Elevated estrogen levels and low progesterone levels in the blood cause the behavior. The duration of standing heat is about 15 to 20 hours and a cow will stand to be mounted between 20 and 55 times in this period.

“The ideal is to inseminate about 12 hours after the onset of standing estrus,” Sandeen said.

Many dairy farms rely on visual observation to detect heat. This visual observation requires cows to be observed at least once per day, for 30 minutes or more, for accurate detection. Other signs of heat include mounting, back rubbing, restlessness and increased bellowing. Physiological symptoms include an enlarged vulva and the presence of vaginal mucous. Environmental factors can interfere with these natural behaviors, making it less likely that heat can be visually detected in some herds.

Some farms, often due to time and labor constraints, use tailhead markings, which indicate when mounting behavior has occurred, or electronic mount detectors. Heat detector animals can also be used. Using cameras to record and observe cows can also increase the rate of estrus detection.

Another way to monitor for estrus is via activity monitoring systems. During heat, the cow’s activity level will change.

Activity monitoring systems “will monitor cows 24/7 and this technology can help to limit some of the problems we have with more traditional heat detection systems,” Giordano said during a webinar presentation.

Synchronizing the herd

Hormone injection protocols make it possible for the herd to be synchronized, so that groups of cows enter estrus simultaneously, increasing the chance of detecting heat and allowing for better time management and conception rates with AI. These estrus synchronization programs involve injecting one or more hormones on a specific schedule to induce heat. Prostaglandin (PG), progesterone (P) and gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) can be used alone or in combination.

“Some systems termed estrous synchronization programs are designed to cause cows to come into heat over a short period of time so they can be inseminated in a timely manner. Heat detection is required for these programs. The newer systems, termed timed breeding or appointment breeding, are designed so both the onset of heat (estrus) and ovulation are induced so cows can be inseminated at a specific time without heat detection.”

Some common TAI protocols include Ovsynch or Presynch. Neither requires heat detection, although enhanced pregnancy rates can be achieved if estrus detection is also used. Combined protocols include Double Ovsynch and Presynch-Ovsynch programs.

Some cows show signs of heat but don’t ovulate. Some don’t show signs of heat but do ovulate. About 30 percent of cows will have some problems with conception, according to Giordano, whose PRO-DAIRY presentation provides detailed information on various synchronization programs. View the Cornell ProDairy YouTube page for Giordano’s presentation.

But success isn’t guaranteed, no matter how intensive the reproductive protocol. Most dairies today are showing average pregnancy rates of just below 20 percent, an increase from just a decade ago, with top herds showing rates of 30 percent to 40 percent, Giordano said.

There isn’t one right program for all dairies. Each reproductive program has its own limitations and its own costs to implement. Every dairy farmer must assess the benefits of any system and whether the probability of raising those pregnancy rates – and the resulting economic benefits from more milk – outweigh any obstacles. Finding the best reproduction management practice for your dairy and implementing it to the best of your ability is key to success.

“What reproduction program is the best for your system? What is important is to be aware of what reproductive programs are available,” Giordano said. “Outstanding reproductive performance is compatible with current production systems. There is not only one way.”

Determining Sap Volumes Using New Rules

lady-extracting-maple-from-tree

Today, new tools utilizing reverse osmosis are becoming more common, plus historically, finished maple syrup had legally minimum densities of 65.5 degrees Brix. Now, it’s up to 66.9 degrees Brix in some states.

Before new technologies better defined sap volumes, the best measure to calculate was known as the Jones Rule of 86. With assistance from just a sap hydrometer and cup, all that was needed was to determine the number of gallons of sap required to make 1 gallon of maple syrup was to divide the number 86 by the percent of sugar content.

The equation is the origin of the reference ratio of 40 gallons of sap producing 1 gallon of syrup. The originator, C.H. Jones, an educator at the University of Vermont, came up with the equation in the early 20th century. Decades later, it was published as a rhythmic poem titled, “Maple Rule of 86,” that noted specific instructions like:

Seems easy, right? In a day before the internet and smartphones, probably so. But today, new tools utilizing reverse osmosis are becoming more common, plus historically, finished maple syrup had legally minimum densities of 65.5 degrees Brix. Now, it’s up to 66.9 degrees Brix in some states. Yes, a slight increase, but enough to throw a producer’s calculations off track.

Thus, the old rule of thumb has been slightly adjusted. Timothy Perkins and Mark Isselhardt of the University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center gave the rule a tune up by using the 87.1 adjustment for 1 gallon of syrup at the 66.0 degrees Brix and 88.2 for syrup at 66.9 degrees Brix.

Original Jones Rule of 86:

Most sap has about 2 percent sugar content.

86/2 percent = 43 gallons of sap needed for 1 gallon of syrup.

34.4 gallons for 2.5 percent; 28.7 gallons for 3 percent.

Source: University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension

For high-value sap, accuracy is key for sugarmakers and can be the difference in providing quality product as explained by Butternut Mountain Farm during its 2015 run:

“At the start of the season this year at our sugarhouse, the first couple of runs averaged a sugar content of 1 percent — meaning that it’d take approximately 86 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Last week the sugar content had increased to between 2 and 2.4 Brix. On Sunday it had improved further to 2.8 to 3 Brix, which is high. At 3 Brix it’ll take about 28.7 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. With the improving sugar content, shorter, sweeter runs will take less sap volume to make a gallon of maple syrup.”

Perkins and Isselhardt noted in their research that the relationship changes for higher sap sugar concentration and that buyers and sellers can adjust accordingly.

Getting The Most Out Of Fall Maple Retail Sales

pancakes-raspberries-and-maple-syrup

Lamothe believes virtual connections with customers are important but he prefers to sell the maple syrup and pure maple candy produced on his 360-acre farm in Burlington, Connecticut, the old-fashioned way.

Rob Lamothe has a website, posts updates on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and sends regular e-newsletters to keep customers updated on happenings at Lamothe’s Sugar House.

Although Lamothe believes virtual connections with customers are important, he prefers to sell the maple syrup and pure maple candy produced on his 360-acre farm in Burlington, Connecticut, the old-fashioned way.

“We like to go out and meet our customers,” Lamothe said.

He has been loading his truck with fresh maple products and driving to Canton, Connecticut, to set up a booth at the Collinsville Farmers Market for as long as he can remember. Although Lamothe has produced and sold maple syrup for 46 years, demand has spiked.

Mapleland Farms Sugarhouse image
Mapleland Farms sugarhouse

“Farmers markets are huge for us,” he said. “We see the same customers week after week; these are people with a significant amount of disposable income who want to make connections with producers.”

For producers like Lamothe, the Know-Your-Farmer, Know-Your-Food movement has created unprecedented demand for farm fresh produce, eggs, meat, milk and maple products.

In a 2015 report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service estimated that local food sales topped $12 billion, which is in part due to double-digit increases over the past 10 years in the number of farms selling direct to consumer. Moreover, the report noted that farms selling to consumers were more apt to remain in business than those selling to intermediate markets like grocery stores.

Marketing at farmers markets

Although spring and summer might seem like peak seasons for farmers markets, Carol Shaw said sales at Shaw’s Maple Products are highest in the fall.

“Fall sales are very strong for us,” Shaw said.

Shaw’s Maple Products participates in three weekly farmers markets, selling maple products from April through October from its Clinton, New York, sugarhouse. Although most items are popular all year, the onset of cooler weather – and with it heartier breakfasts and cravings for homemade baked goods – gets customers excited about drizzling maple syrup over pancakes and adding it to apple cobbler.

Images on packaged maple syrup

“In the fall, the days are cooler, apples are out, people are thinking about hunkering down for the winter; it’s one of the best times to sell maple products,” Shaw said.

For most maple producers, successful fall retail sales start at the farmers market. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service reported a 180 percent increase in the number of markets between 2006 and 2014, referring to farmers markets as “an integral part of the urban/farm linkage.”

Shaw believes a continued market presence has helped Shaw’s Maple Products develop a loyal customer base, which helps turn sap tapped from 2,300 trees across their 30-acre sugar bush into revenue.

“At the markets, customers can put a face to the producers and get to know who’s behind their food,” she said.

But setting up a booth is not enough to drive sales. Merchandising is also important. To attract customers, farmers should think like boutique retailers, creating attractive, even interactive, displays with their products.

At the Clinton, Westmoreland and Whitesboro markets, Shaw sets out maple syrup (in bottles ranging in size from 50 mL to 1 gallon) and value-added products like maple sugar pieces, maple cream, granulated maple sugar, maple barbecue sauce and maple popcorn; she even sells dog treats with pure maple syrup as the main ingredient. The rationale: The more diverse the product selection, the more attractive a booth will be to customers.

“From a marketing perspective, it looks better to have a table full of different products; it makes people want to come over and check us out,” she said. “Plus, if we were to sell only syrup, the profit isn’t there.”

Shaw also hands out samples, encouraging shoppers to taste her maple products; she offers recipes or suggestions for how to use different grades of syrup. The combination of free samples and cooking advice allows Shaw to interact with customers, creating a connection.

“You can’t talk to a farmer in a grocery store,” she said.

Forecast For Fall Sales

The 2017 sugaring season was short, but not sweet.

Thanks to a mild winter, producers in some areas of the Northeast saw sap start — and stop — running much earlier than usual.

At Mapleland Farms, David Campbell stared collecting sap on Jan. 23, the earliest run in his 45 years of sugaring. Despite adding 3,500 new taps this year, Campbell produced just 6,100 gallons of syrup — 900 gallons below his projected production.

Lamothe had 10 good runs between Feb. 14 and March 28, producing 1,400 gallons of syrup but production was down over 2016 when Lamothe’s Sugar House produced 1,560 gallons of syrup.

Production was down at Shaw’s Maple Products, too. Shaw produced 840 gallons from 2,300 taps, a decline from 1,013 gallons in 2016. Sap collection was on par but the sugar content was too low to meet last year’s production.

Declining production has some producers worried about having enough syrup to meet the demand for fall retail sales.

“Realistically, I may run out,” Lamothe said. “I hope it doesn’t happen but, if it does, we’ll figure out what to do. I have good relationships with other producers who don’t want to be in the retail market and will sell me high-quality syrup to get us through the season.”

Beyond the market booth

David Campbell also believes that interacting with customers is the key to driving sales, but he doesn’t participate in a single farmers market. Instead, the proprietor of Mapleland Farms, a 600-acre sugar bush near Saratoga, New York, prefers fall festivals.

Mapleland Farms sells about 75 percent of its syrup and value-added maple products between August and December; most of those sales come from weekend pop-up events such as the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival and the New York State Sheep And Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, which attract a combined total of more than 35,000 attendees.

In total, Campbell participates in eight fall festivals, traveling as far as the Poconos – 460 miles roundtrip – to take advantage of the seasonal hunger for sweet and savory maple products.

Image of the Campbell brothers of Mapleland Farms
The Campbell brothers of Mapleland Farms

“At the farmers markets, you tend to see the same customers week after week and people just don’t need syrup and candy every week,” Campbell explained. “At the festivals, it’s a different crowd every day – and a much bigger crowd – and that helps sales.”

Mapleland Farms generates more than 20 percent of its annual sales during these fall festivals.

Shaw also takes advantage of fall festivals near Clinton to sell maple products, noting that different events draw different crowds. Shaw sells more maple syrup at the farmers market and more value-added products and baked goods at festivals.

“At the farmers markets, people are still buying our ready-to-eat foods, but they are at the market to get staples,” she explained. “At festivals, we don’t sell a lot of syrup but we do sell a lot of snack foods.”

Lamothe participates in fall festivals, too, including events in Bethlehem and Arlington, Connecticut. He also keeps the farm store open seven days per week and markets maple products through local retailers to ensure customers always have access to his fresh maple syrup and value-added goods.

Creative Retail Strategies

For successful fall sales, think outside the box (or booth). Here are three retail channels producers are using to promote maple products to customers this fall.

Etsy

The online shop allows sellers to set up virtual storefronts to sell handmade items, including foods. Setting up an account is as simple as posting photos, setting a price and sharing information about maple products and the farm. Orders are processed through the Etsy platform. Once a transaction is made, sellers ship items to buyers (don’t forget to calculate shipping and include that fee in the transaction).

Community Supported Agriculture

CSA shares are no longer just for vegetables; the model also works for maple products. In exchange for an upfront fee, producers provide a share of the harvest, mailed direct to consumers. The cost of each share depends on the products it contains.

Adopt-a-tree

Some sugarers are allowing local food fans to “adopt” a tree in the sugar bush. For a small fee, adopters get a certificate of adoption along with a small bottle of syrup from “their” trees. In addition to generating revenue, adopt-a-tree programs are clever marketing tactics — and great gift ideas — to help promote local maple products. Fall is a great time to promote adopt-a-tree programs as gift ideas for the holidays.

Tapping into technology

Regardless of where producers sell their products, technology is important for expanding payment options, providing flexibility to customers and increasing odds of more or larger sales. Lamothe estimates that 80 percent of his sales are via credit or debit cards.

“Instead of a customer digging into their pocket and not having any cash, I can swipe their credit card,” said Lamothe. “Yes, the credit card company takes a percentage, but it’s a sale I wouldn’t have made otherwise.”

Bottles of maple syrup

Lamothe’s Sugar House also uses technology to track customer orders and keeps that information on hand at the farm store and their festival booths.

With a few taps of the keyboard, Lamothe can see which grade of syrup a customer purchased the previous year and offer them the same product – along with the confidence that they are buying the product they tried and loved.

Though technology helps seal a sale, Lamothe believes that it’s the low-tech, face-to-face interactions with customers that make all the difference for fall retail sales. “Customers want to know where their food comes from and that means getting out there to meet them and talk about how we make syrup,” he said. “If you want to save the farm, you have to do direct marketing.”


Why Pretty Isn’t Always Good In The Woods

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When it comes to the woods and nature in general, what’s “pretty” or “beautiful” to human eyes isn’t always good for wild plants and animals.

As a forester, I’m a big fan of Aldo Leopold. Landowner, forester, author and nature philosopher, Leopold and his classic book, “A Sand County Almanac,” inspired the way I approach caring for the land. Leopold advocated for a “land ethic,” where we see land as a member of our community, one we work with in partnership. I try to apply this ethic when making decisions about what to do in a forest or woodlot. In my book, “Backyard Woodland: How to Maintain and Sustain Your Trees, Water, and Wildlife,” I devote an entire chapter to the land ethic and what it means, on the ground, for the actions we take on our properties as landowners and foresters.

As much as I enjoy Leopold, there’s one part of his land ethic I’ve always struggled with. As he describes the concept, he writes, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

This line has always rubbed me the wrong way. It’s that one word: beauty. When it comes to the woods and nature in general, what’s “pretty” or “beautiful” to human eyes isn’t always good for wild plants and animals.

beautiful woodlot
Picture A

Here’s an example. I recently took this photo of a local woodlot in the Catskill Mountains (picture A).

It would be tough to argue that these woods aren’t pretty. There’s that one crooked tree in the foreground, but aside from that, this photo is a classic woodland scene. Big, straight trees, a lush fern carpet, plenty of open space for a long view.

But while this “biotic community,” as Leopold would call it, has beauty, it’s actually in poor shape. How can that be? Suppose for a moment you’re a wild animal. Where is the food you need in these woods? Very few animals can eat hay-scented fern. Even deer turn up their noses at it. What about cover? There are few places to hide or build nests.

Even the plants here are in trouble. With hay-scented fern dominating the ground, other plants like wildflowers can’t get their start. Tree seedlings will have trouble pushing through the ferns’ dense shade. If the parent trees die, say in a windstorm, there won’t be new trees to replace them.

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Picture B

Now look at these woods, which I visited the same day (picture B).

Granted, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are a few things that make these woods less visually attractive. There are fewer big trees, for one. There’s also a lot of low, dense growth that means you can’t see very far.

But though we might call these woods “uglier” than the ones in the first photo, these woods are a lot healthier. There’s plant growth at every level, so animals can find plenty of cover and nesting sites. The forest floor has a bunch of plant species instead of just one, so there are more food options available for picky eaters (most plant-eaters are specialists and can only eat a few species of plants). If a bigger tree dies here, there are plenty of young trees that can grow up to fill the gap.

It’s easy to equate “beauty” with “natural,” and to assume that because something looks pretty to us, it must be pretty to plants and animals. But that isn’t the case. So with apologies to Leopold, it’s perfectly OK if your woods aren’t beautiful, and it isn’t “wrong” if you do something that makes them less pretty. Nature can be downright ugly. In fact, sometimes it’s meant to be that way.

There’s no need to apologize to Leopold. He realized this, too. In the same section of his book where he describes his land ethic, he praises nature’s complexity, calling it “a tangle of chains so complex as to seem disorderly,” but that “its functioning depends on the cooperation and competition of its diverse parts.” For Leopold, for wildlife, for me, and I hope for you, natural beauty lies not in a tidy appearance, but in the woods’ grand, unsorted variety.

Takeaways from 2017 Empire Farm Days

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The 2017 Empire Farm Days was hosted by Rodman Lott & Son Farms in Seneca Falls, New York, Aug. 8-10. Here are a few takeaways from the week.

The 2017 Empire Farm Days was hosted by Rodman Lott & Son Farms in Seneca Falls, New York, Aug. 8-10. The Lott family has been hosting the event since 1988. The three-day show featured over 600 exhibits, live demonstrations and the latest equipment. Although the show started off a little rainy, it thankfully cleared up toward early afternoon on the first day. Here are a few takeaways from the week.

Tips for increasing milk per box

Douglas Waterman, Ph.D., talked about robotic milking and tips for increasing milk per box. Many factors affect milk frequency: milk production, the barn, cow health and cow comfort all play a role. Not only that, but lame cows have more problems with robots. According to Waterman, lame cows are a more serious problem in automatic milking systems (AMS) herds and will influence feeding frequency and the use of stalls, lying time and lying bouts.

Douglas Waterman, Ph.D.
Douglas Waterman, Ph.D.

What should you expect during the transition to robotic milking? Optimizing milk in an AMS has the same basic requirements needed in a parlor. Waterman suggests having good cow comfort with deep bedded stalls, high-quality forage, available feed and adequate bunk space and stocking density. When transitioning to milking robots, milk production will change and the primary driver for the change in milk production with reproductive management system (RMS) is a change in milking frequency. Waterman noted that robotic herds had production increases of 5 to 10 percent compared to milking two times, but production decreased 5 to 10 percent compared to milking three times. Waterman said to optimize efficiency, the goal is to have high-milking frequency in early lactation and lower-milking frequency in later lactation.

The primary factors that affect individual cow and herd average milking frequency include: number of cows per robot, milking permission settings, palatability and quality of partial-mixed ration and robot box feed, robot free time, cow fetching policy and barn design and walking distance.

Don’t forget to add feed into the robot to incentivize voluntary attendance; visits will decline if the feed isn’t available. Waterman noted that pellet is preferred over mash and hard palatable pellet with minimal fines is important.

Waterman’s top suggestions are to stick to the basics first, provide a high-quality pellet but not overfeeding, group to optimize milk per box in a facility, balance between milkings per cow, milk per cow and cows per box. He also emphasized having excellent managers and a plan because a farmer’s approach needs to be based on the goals, facilities and cows.

Top things to know about winter prep for beef management with Dr. Michael Baker

  1. A farmer needs to have their hay tested and run through a forage lab so they know what they’re dealing with and that the hay is good quality.
  2. Baker noted that sometimes water is forgotten about and cows need clean, fresh water all the time. One crucial point about the way a farmer delivers water is that it cannot be frozen.
  3. Mineral nutrition. The most important thing is for the cows to be in good condition, Baker said. If cows go into the winter really thin, their lactate will be thin for calving time and will cause problems. After weaning, their nutrient requirements increase so a farmer can add weight.

Baker said that a common misconception about going into the winter is that cows need a lot of cover. Cows have a rumen that produce a lot of heat. That keeps the animal warm and as long as the cow has a good wind break, she will do great without a barn.

Read more: How The Lott Family Hosts Empire Farm Days

Editor’s Note: August is Show Month

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It’s the Ag Days of Summer, yet still dog-hot!

August is one of the busiest months for everyone in the FARMING offices, as well as for you in your operations. For us, the two biggest outdoor shows of the season, Empire Farm Days and Ag Progress Days provide the perfect opportunity to see our readers and partners and learn what most concerns them in agriculture. For our readers, it’s also a time to learn about the new research and technologies that keep them operating at a high level.

That’s why we would like to acknowledge the hard work of the two educational institutions that offer this information to these attendees: Cornell University at Empire Farm Days and Penn State University at Ag Progress Days.

Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Center has been a mainstay at Empire Farm Days where specialists teach many disciplines such as sustainable farming practices and local food production. Also, our beef columnist, Dr. Michael Baker from Cornell, hosts a beef cattle handling demonstration that is always popular with show-goers.

Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences will hold more than 40 special exhibits spread throughout eight locations at this year’s Ag Progress Days. As with past years, the school will focus on topics such as sustainability, crop management, forage and nutrient management.

For our readers, this may be the month to kick the tires on a new tractor and find some good tools, but it’s also a time to learn something new about the industry. Best to take advantage and visit.

We always love to hear from our readers, especially those with an attention to detail. Noting as such, Pennsylvania Mushroom Farmer Joseph Poppiti made a worthy observation on our July cover: “I am not an authority on all the OSHA rules and regulations, and they might not apply to a single owner/operator such as Mr. Michael Orefice. As I look at the cover photo, the Turner Mills saw mill equipment seems to have all the required safety guards in place. However, Mr. Orefice is not wearing a safety helmet, safety glasses for eye protection, ear (hearing) protection, gloves or steel-toed shoes. This cover photo might have just been a staged photo for the magazine, but it might be used as a teaching example for the agricultural farm community. We all know that agriculture is a dangerous occupation, and maybe future articles could be directed to farm/farm employee (including owners) safety. Someone was thinking safety when they put hearing protection on the youngster.”

Thank you for your helpful words, Mr. Poppiti.


Five Questions With Michael Spadaro of Hud-Son Forest Equipment

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Hud-Son Forest Equipment is a New York State based, family-owned company that started in 1946. According to their website, the company manufactures forestry equipment that provides to tools to the forest land owners, loggers, tree farmers, tree arborists, firewood processors and others.

Michael Spadaro is the Factory Sales Representative for Hud-Son Forest Equipment.

FARMING:
Designs and materials for forestry equipment have evolved over the years. How does/will Hud-Son Forest Equipment keep up with the changes?

Spadaro:
Everything is always changing in our world today. From a manufacturing standpoint, we build everything mostly ourselves but need suppliers for materials and components used. Often suppliers may change or other factors out of our control may change the suppliers so we have implemented a quality control and in-house inventory systems. We are able to react quickly if a supplier is out of stock or sends us a less than desired material or component. This way, we are able to keep up with many of the changes while keeping the Hud-son Forest Equipment products the same quality our customers expect and availability at the same time.

FARMING:
Hazards are common when handling forest equipment. How has Hud-Son address those issues with its consumer base?

Spadaro:
Training, training, training. Hud-son for not only has a training guide that goes with equipment, but we also work through a dealer network. We feel it’s important to get trained on the equipment and the best way to do this is through a dealer network. Not all areas have dealers so therefore, until we have full dealer coverage, customers refer back to the Training Guide and talk with representatives six days a week. We are also producing training videos to help customers that may not be at a dealers location.

FARMING:
Talk about the importance of the right forestry equipment in the Northeast U.S.

Spadaro:
The importance of having the right equipment is the same everywhere. Having the right equipment allows you to do the job safely, efficiently and with the least impact to the environment as possible. Working safely and efficiently leads to higher profitability. Low impact on the environment is everyone’s responsibility and it will help protect our forest for future generations to work and enjoy.

FARMING:
How are your marketing efforts when promoting your equipment nationally and worldwide?

Spadaro:
Our marketing efforts are constantly changing nationally and worldwide. With markets constantly changing, we find that we have to adjust on a daily basis on our efforts to reach new customers. New technology is also a factor and we try to stay on top of what new avenues become available to reach a broader clientele base.

FARMING:
What is the one piece of equipment that you think is absolutely essential in a forester’s arsenal?

Spadaro:
I would say a plan is the most essential. You can then determine the right equipment needed to do the job with a plan. There are so many different types of logging styles. There is the traditional chainsaw and skidder operation, harvester operations, high-line operation and heli-logging. With every different operation, there are many different types of equipment used.

Five Questions is a FarmingMagazine.com monthly series that discusses industry-related topics with the people who influence the industry.

Transition Cow Management: Dietary Cation-Anion Balance

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Nutritional requirements increase significantly and play a pivotal role in the cow’s energy status and health at the time of birth and in the early weeks of lactation when milk production is reaching its peak.

The transition from the dry period to lactation is one of the most stressful parts of a dairy cow’s life. Physiological and hormonal changes accelerate during the eighth month of gestation as the milk secretion glands enlarge in the udder and the cow prepares to give birth. Nutritional requirements increase significantly and play a pivotal role in the cow’s energy status and health at the time of birth and in the early weeks of lactation when milk production is reaching its peak.

Managing calcium metabolism and reducing the prevalence of hypocalcemia (milk fever) in transition cows continues to challenge even the best dairy farmers and managers. Calcium is a macromineral necessary for bone formation and muscle function. Cows that are hypocalcemic for extended periods of time have poorly functioning rumens that lead to other metabolic problems including ketosis, displaced abomasums, laminitis, retained placentas, metritis, and mastitis. Research has shown that cows with even subclinical levels of milk fever are likely to produce several hundred pounds less milk over the course of lactation.

During the dry period, calcium requirements are minimal and these mechanisms for replenishing plasma calcium are relatively inactive and are slow to start up again at the time of calving. The beginning of lactation, however, places a sudden and large demand on the calcium supplies and the mechanisms that keep it in balance in the dairy cow. A cow producing 22 pounds of colostrum will lose 23 grams of calcium in a single milking. This is about nine times as much calcium as is present in the entire plasma calcium pool of the cow. Calcium lost from the plasma pool must be replaced through increased calcium absorption in the intestine and calcium resorption from the bones.

Cows normally do a good job of keeping calcium balanced through a complex interaction of vitamin D and parathyroid hormone — except at the time of calving. Because the replenishing mechanisms needed to metabolize calcium are slow to respond at the time of calving, nearly all cows experience some degree of hypocalcemia during the first days after calving. Intravenous calcium treatments have been the treatment of choice for decades to help the cow along while intestinal and bone mechanisms have time to adapt.

In the 1980s dairy researchers began to recognize that macrominerals and their ions play a critical role in cellular metabolism. We know that at the time of freshening it’s necessary for calcium to be pulled from the bones because dietary calcium and the mechanisms required to metabolize it from the diet are not operating at full capacity. For this to occur the cow’s system must be slightly acidified — which involves a negative ionic charge referred to as anionic — to draw out the positively charged cationic calcium ions and get them into the bloodstream.

All ions have a negative or positive charge. To understand the anionic-cationic dynamic, think about the poles of a magnet. One pole is positive and the other is negative. Like poles repel each other and opposite poles attract each other. The same type of thing happens with ions in the bloodstream. In the case of the positively charged calcium ions, there needs to be a negatively charged environment to pull them out of the bones and get them into the bloodstream. If the bloodstream is overloaded with other positive ions — remember, like charges repel each other — the calcium ions can’t get to the bloodstream because they are held back. This is often the case in a close-up cow’s diet and the troublemakers are most often sodium and potassium ions, which also have powerful cationic charges.

When balancing diets for dry cows that are close to calving we need to get the system slightly acidified for approximately two to three weeks prior to calving. This acidification requires knowing the values of the two cations, potassium and sodium, and the two anions, sulfur, and chloride, for the entire ration. Therefore, an analysis of all the feedstuffs in a close-up diet is required. The determination of whether a diet is anionic or cationic is calculated using a formula that measures the acid/base balance in the feed.

The cation-anion balance is most often known as the dietary cation-anion difference or DCAD. The DCAD formula will result in a positive or negative value when the cations are added together and subtracted from the sum of the anions. A positive value indicates that the diet is alkaline (more cations) or, if negative, acidic (more anions). A properly formulated anionic diet will result in a negative value typically around –5 to –10. (There are variations of this formula in use that incorporate other dietary minerals including phosphorus, calcium and magnesium, all of which have small additional impacts on the resulting calculations.)

The importance of having accurate values for the four main minerals in the dry cow diet cannot be overstated. Particularly in forages, mineral values vary considerably. Grass and legume forages are notoriously high and variable in potassium, which is the primary cation affecting DCAD, resulting in a positive value. Chloride and sulfate salts added to a dry cow/close-up diet are the means by which a positive DCAD becomes a negative DCAD.

All milk cow diets are positive DCAD diets due to the high levels of potassium in forages. When formulating close-up diets, look for low potassium forages. The higher the potassium in the diet, the more chloride or sulfate that must be added and there will come a point where the ration becomes unpalatable to the cow and too expensive to be practical.

Monitoring whether an anionic diet is being accomplished requires testing the pH level of the urine of these cows. A pH of 7 indicates neutrality; < 7 = acidic and > 7 = alkaline. The normal urine pH of a milk cow is around 8. So any pH value approaching 7 indicates that there is some acidification going on. The target for urine pH in anionic diets should be about 6.5–6.0. However, a close-up diet with a pH in the low 7 range will still have some minimal anionic affect.

Transition dry cow and close-up diets that incorporate anionic salts have been shown to reduce the propensity for milk fever and improve calcium metabolism at the time of calving. Those cows are less likely to experience other metabolic problems that often rob them of high milk peaks and overall production during their lactation.