Southeast Pa. Grazing Conference Marks 20th Year
QUARRYVILLE, Pa. — A workshop at the recent Southeast Pennsylvania Grazing Conference featured a variety of technical and scientific information, highlighting the fact that farmers, among all the other hats they wear, need to be scientists at times, too.
For example, workshop speaker Jerry Brunetti advised the more than 180 people who attended the conference to get a three-ring binder and begin making observations every month for each year.
“If your animals are out grazing, watch what they’re craving and write it down — burdock, dandelion — write it down,” he said. “Note how the weather affects their behavior, and write it down — write about whether it is unusually dry, wet, cool or hot, then go back and start looking at your soil, forage and behavior commentaries, and you’ll start having aha!’ moments,” he said. “It’s better than a Ph.D.”
Brunetti, a soil and crop consultant who spoke both days of the conference, titled his second workshop “Fine Tuning Nutrient Needs for Herd Health.”
Held Feb. 19 and 20 at the Solanco Fairgrounds, the conference was sponsored by the Lancaster County Graziers. The theme was “Keeping Costs Down.”
Get It Tested
“Does anyone actually measure their farm to tell them what they need?” Brunetti asked. “Get it tested. You need to find out what you need — don’t buy things you don’t need.”
Besides a soil test every three years, Brunetti recommends that everyone should get forages tested annually and comprehensively
Additionally, Brunetti recommended getting a pH meter or pH paper from the pharmacy to measure urine.
“Cow urine should be somewhere between 7 and 8 if it’s properly functioning,” he said. “Ammonia comes out in urine, and tells me the pH isn’t right. So if I see an 8.5 pH, I have an excess of ammonia or potassium. Below 6.5, I probably have acidosis.
“If you see animals panting when it’s not hot, check their urine and you’ll probably see a high pH — they are trying to get rid of ammonia by panting,” he said “They don’t do a good job sweating so they pant to get ammonia out of system.”
To combat this, a healthy rumen makes acidic acid, another word for simple apple cider vinegar. Producers can change the pH of rumen with vinegar, he said, by adding a cup in 20 gallons of water.
“Or mix it 50/50 with water — let the cows tell you,” he said. “If it’s acidosis you’re going to find out that animals are going to start craving things they normally shouldn’t crave.”
Vitamins and Minerals
Brunetti also described how producers can effectively use vitamins and minerals.
“If you want longevity, if you want an absence of diseases, if you want your animals to breed back,” identify what made the difference for healthy, productive, long-lived cows, Brunetti said. “It’s because they had the creme de la creme of minerals and fat soluble vitamins working together to create immunity and resist disease.
“The best mineral nutrition animals can get are from your plants,” he said. “They should only be eating a few ounces of minerals a day, that’s it. The rest of it should be in your soil, coming up through the plants.”
For example, “one of the things in a biodiverse pasture is tannin, and tannins are made from oak bark or oak leaves, but they grab onto rumen ammonia so it doesn’t escape. There is a lot less bloat in high-tannin pastures. If you have bloat concerns, you probably have a deficiency of tannin.”
Role of Genetics
Besides observation, and proper vitamins and minerals, producers need to know their genetics, and decide what they are breeding for.
As his example, Brunetti pointed to the Carnation dairy, which 50 years ago was the most productive dairy in world.
Carnation had 600 cows of all breeds with 135 cows in the herd that produced more than 1,000 pounds of butterfat on mostly a high-forage ration.
“They were bred for length and girth — bred for capacity,” Brunetti said.
Today’s cows may have good production numbers, but that news needs to be tempered with their projected lifespan, which is around 44 months.
Brunetti said he believes there are several factors in weighing the productivity of a cow, and he pointed to a statement by Newman Turner in the book “Fertility Pastures,” that it is time to evaluate a cow by unit of assessment, which takes into account total milk solids production in relation to body weight and food consumed.
“In the 1950s, we started changing phenotype (the environment dictating expression of a gene) because of very affordable, inexpensive fossil fuels and grain, so we could get max milk production,” Brunetti said. “Those days are history. The real question is trying to get genetics back.
“So here’s the good news and the bad news,” he said. “You basically inherit the behavior of your ancestors going about five to seven generations, and you also pass on phenotype. The good news is, if it’s been done the wrong way, like in my opinion it has, you can turn it back but it takes several generations.”
Brunetti said he is looking for producers to “bring genetics back into system that starts creating animals that are profitable on forages,” which he calls “grass genetics.”