Monday, December 26, 2016

Logical Type: when "form" follows "function"

By Greg Palen

“Type” has always had an impact on genetic selection, going all the way back to the “Guernon” system (prior to milk testing and show judging) which studied the patterns of hair over the rear udder in the 1800s.     As the milk industry evolved, “type” was to discern “dairy” quality from “beef’ quality.    The breeds then developed the judging scorecard to visualize the superior cow in show ring comparisons, followed by the “descriptive type” classification era which defined traits with the longest lifetime potential.     In the 1970s, defining “type” was turned over to the university geneticists, who designed linear traits appraisal to identify faster production maturity in cows at an early age.      As you can see, views of type continually evolved, at least until the breeds let reductionist scientists take over.

Type can be viewed broadly or narrowly

In the Beef breeding world, two standards of “type” exist—the characteristics of the fast growth “performance” animal, and the easy calving “maternal” animal.    Basically, the beef breeder is painting cattle physiques with a broader brush, not ranking animals on individual structural parts but on the blended result of the whole, selecting animals for breeding according to their purpose (wide and deep type to produce momma cows, long and tall types to hang steer carcasses).

In the Dairy world we have spent a lot of effort measuring individual parts, first deciding if they relate to production, and usually at the expense of assembling them into an integrated physique.   We will, for example, castigate an otherwise useful bull for siring “low foot angle”, when no one has ever culled a cow on the basis of foot angle.    We argue over whether “posty” hocks or “set” (curved) hocks are better, when neither one answers the question in comparative function (again, cows leave herds too early possessing either trait, cows live long lifetimes possessing the same).

The conceptual basis of type will control the success of the result

If there is one overriding concept within “linear type” it is that angularity trumps all.    If a dairy cow possesses visible substance (good body condition, heavy bones or muscles, more wide than tall, more long than deep) she tends to go down the scale in linear scoring.    The high production heifers of the 1970s were the most “angular”, therefore 45 years later (when cows are no longer hand fed in stanchions, but muscle into feed bunks, when they must walk wet concrete alleys and sleep in free stalls) we still insist on the same angularity while expecting 50% more milk per day than we accepted in the 1970s.

If we were to challenge this concept of “type” we could point out 45 years is 10 to 15 elapsed cow generations (“Cows have changed since Hoover was President”).    The highest producing heifers today are better grown, taller and bigger  than their 1970 counterparts, while the longest production life cows are more “dimensional” (wider, deeper, longer) than their ancestors’ 1970 contemporaries.     But all along this continuum of type measurement concepts, it is our lack of grasp of the multiple functions of the cow physique that create the limitations of type’s utility.

What do we expect of the cow?    (1)  We expect her to grow efficiently from calf to breeding heifer to freshened cow.    (2)  We expect her to calve easily and then get up to care for her calf.   (3)  We expect her to adapt quickly to each new life event, including being milked.   (4)  We of course expect her to milk in quantity when fresh and maintain a persistent volume of milk once rebred.     (5)  We expect her to maintain enough body condition and intake enough feed that she will rebreed in an efficient interval of time.    (6)  We expect her to walk on concrete, lay in free stalls, seek the feed bunk and stand there until full, be sure enough on her feet to mount and be mounted for visual heat detection, avoid injuries to teats and udder tissue when getting up and down.    (7)  We expect her to stay healthy no matter the climate (cold, heat, humidity).    

Careful review of these suggests that all are closely related to (if not dependent on) qualities of the physique.    Thus, “type” is important, but the method of defining “good type” more relevant to producing and replicating adaptable and profitable cows.

“aAa” Breeding Guide—the comprehensive relationship of “form” to “function”

Bill Weeks, first as a herdsman, then as a classifier, ultimately as a purebred Holstein breeder, dedicated his life thought to studying the mammalian structure, in the relationship of body parts to the organic living whole, and the interrelationships of body form to biological and economic functions.      His first epiphany was to blend “sharp” (skeletal qualities) with “round” (soft tissue qualities) to produce an “expansive” rather than a “restricted” physique.     His second epiphany  was to connect “behavior” to the physical qualities present or absent.      His third epiphany as a result of observing the “blended qualities” in “aAa” client herds was to identify causality in trait problems with the absence of one of the six “aAa” qualities defined from sharp and round in the front end, body or rear end of animals.   

Thus today, for the dairyman (or cattleman) who wishes to consistently produce functional and adaptable replacement stock, “aAa” defines “type” in a way relevant to daily herd management.  
The six broad physical qualities defined by “aAa” have impacts on all levels of function:
(1)   Production,   (2)  Reproduction,   (3)  Health maintenance,   (4)  Adaptation to the physical environment,   (5)   Efficient use of feed,   (6)   Vigor, mobility, trainability.

You can manage the heritability of physical structure

You may already have observed “frail” cows, leading to early age death or culling from the production herd.   If you track calf ID to their dams, you may wonder how successful cows can produce “frail” daughters, and it is as logical to blame that failure on her sire as it is to lay it at the door of feeding, vaccinating, housing and the stress of higher production.    You may not have realized that “good” genetics can produce such “frail” animals, as a result of any mating that did not recognize the advantages in “balancing” the qualities between cows and their mates.  
However, if you ask any user of “aAa” if frail cows are caused by mating decisions based on the  popular theories of “likes to likes” breeding (milk on milk) (selection index), they will tell you Yes—after using “aAa”, the “frail” heifers no longer show up in their herds.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Genetic [index] rankings reflects "one size fits all" milk marketing

Genetic indexing is based in the commodity definition of milk value, not in specialized genotypes that optimize our ability to capitalize on premium milk markets.    This needs to be recognized by dairymen, as soon as they pursue specialty milk markets that increasingly include specialized land, feeding, animal, and processing protocols.         

Thus, while Genomics has been all about condensing the selection mechanisms to a reductionist scan of the DNA for marker genes specific to commodity value production and only imputes index estimates for the AI sire selection process, dairymen increasingly are seeking information that goes beyond the basics of additive trait statistics.

Dairymen have tried crossbreeding as well as linebreeding.     They have limited their sire selection to sources with similar farm management (as in graziers only using New Zealand grassland bred sires).  These are all a reaction to the inefficiency of the selection (“ranking”) index to produce the cows needed to meet your goals.     Over time, all indexes have this weakness, mating “likes” to “like”.
There may be a specific gene, as with polled heads or A2 Beta Casein or specific selection traits, as with plus butterfat% and protein% deviations or plus Productive Life that become absolute requirements.    In each of these cases, there is a relationship to the milk market and to farm management parameters that dictates these genes as more important than the composite index the AI industry uses to “keep score”.

Matrix selection makes more sense (than index rank) for any specialized management or market.
A “matrix” is basically a list of “absolute” traits and qualities you wish each mating sire to possess.   If it is a longer list, you may settle for sires who possess 75% of the desired characteristics.    But the point is that rather than trust a composite index that “averages” the good with the bad to create a ranking biased by an external view of what is important, you work with bulls who avoid faults you wish to eliminate from your herd while providing the traits you need for your market and future market.

If you are seeking to participate in any direct milk marketing or specialty milk classification, genetic ranking as we currently practice it no longer applies to your situation.        

Why do we continue to produce “frail” heifers in spite of culling “frail” cows ?

This is another aspect of index dependence.     The more generations you follow a single index, the more “inbred to the index” your herd becomes.    In the case of TPI, LPI and $NM, it is in physical aspects of the animals that we create limitations for health and productivity even as the indexes are formulated to include trait measurements in favor of health and herd survival.      

The conclusion of many of us is quite simple: the heritability of qualitative physical characteristics is clearly greater than the heritability of trait measures for health, fertility and herdlife.    While you are adding up pedigrees full of PL, you are raising physiques that are too fine boned, shallow and narrow to function as they reach maturity.   Thus we continue to cull more cows in third lactation than we did in first and second lactations, leaving so many of us needing every heifer we raise to maintain herd size.

“aAa” will better explain why matings to highly ranked sires do not produce longer herdlife cows.

Are you ready for what could come your way in the milk market?

First it was component pricing, which made selection for +bf% and pr% more important.
Recently it was a lowered SCC standard, which makes selection on SCS more important.
Next, to be proactive in the face of consumer activism, but more importantly for impacts on calf growth and labor efficiency, selection for polled heads has become important.

What is next?    It could be A2 Beta Casein.    Just as was true for the earlier evolutions in dairy breeding, we are prepared with knowledge to advise on this potential premium milk market.    The desired trait can be found in a useful cross section of the major dairy breeds already, thus the usual arguments “but this interferes with genetic progress” will be as meaningless as they were for all prior issues that changed the direction of mating selection.

Our breeding program has two focuses:  (1)  mate cows for more adaptable replacements, (2)  select on traits that enhance current profitability and future marketability.    Thus it is NOT a commodity “one size fits all” breeding philosophy or sire list.

Mich Livestock Service, Inc      For the Best in Bulls      Since 1952 your independent AI source

Physical  character  of  “frail”  (short herdlife)  cows

Every herdsman has a personal definition of the ‘frail” cow—half of it is behavioral and half of it visual.    Frail cows are culled every day, but keep reappearing in the heifers we raise to replace them.    To avoid producing new “frail” cows, we need to understand how they get “mated” in the first place.

The limitations of the physique define the potential behavior of frailty

What does the “frail” cow look like?     Usually she is the cow who looks like she is working hard.    In other words, she has a lighter boned frame and very spare muscling, with lower body condition scores.  
She may have a shallow body; she may have a narrow frame from head to rump.    Her respiration will be more rapid as breaths will be shallow.    As she matures, the pace of aging appears rapid, with udder deepening and movement stiffening.    The cow may be slower about cycling and rebreeding after each calving.     She literally “milks herself to death”, if not lost to injury from clumsiness or repro failure from lack of body conditioning.      Note: her “genotype” has given her this “phenotype”.

The above describes the “all sharp weight” ( aAa  qualities  1+2+3 ) dairy cow physique

The qualities of the skeleton (bone) and the soft tissue (muscle, cartilage, tendons, nerves) are heritable on a very basic “qualitative” gene level, alongside the glandular functions that influence both skeletal and soft tissue development.    These underlie the more surface expressions of individual linear traits on the “quantitative” gene level, on which geneticists (and sire analysts) focus for their relationship to the productivity of the animal.

In “aAa” observation, the “sharp” qualities of (1) dairy, (2) tall, and (3) open produce more refined bone and feminine spread of the pelvis; a faster growth rate for long bones, resulting in lean muscle mass; and a minimal, elastic connective tissue between the bones.    The dairy metabolism is oriented to more will to milk, the tall metabolism is oriented to faster maturity, and the open skeletal structure is oriented to more persistent production during pregnancy.      Thus, in comparative genetic evaluation, the “sharp” qualities provide advantages in responding to feed energy density, a faster physical maturity, and sustained milk yield after rebreeding, that translate into bigger “plus” PTA yield volumes, especially at immature lactation ages.

Performance physiques require supporting “substance” qualities to stay healthy and live

These same qualities, when intensified by multiple generations of selection in their favor, reduce the  adequacy of “round” qualities that provide substance, stamina and fluid mobility.      Thus, the size and ability of the heart, the rumen, the liver, the uterus, ie, all internal organs, to meet their functions, as is being dictated by the genotype’s production gene possession, is dependent on maintaining a level of “round weight” ( aAa qualities 4+5+6 ) to support and sustain the drain of nutrients from the physique of these “sharp weight” quantitative gene actions.

Lacking one or more of the “round” qualities of (4) strong, (5) smooth, and (6) style, sets a cow up to have more troubles with circulation, flushing toxins from udders, swelling of joints, poor respiration, hyperventilating on hot or humid days, sturdiness of stance, uneven wearing or growth of hooves and related lameness, maintaining body condition, the fluidity of leg motion, getting up and down in stalls.

PETA'S Attack on "Nature's Perfect Food"

From the Summer 2014 Diary Route Letter

Hoard’s Dairyman has been producing articles on consumer activist topics fairly regularly, the last two issues suggesting that “Organic food marketers use scare tactics” and that lack of supporting science is what aborted a PETA advertising campaign against milk [mimicking the “milk mustache” ads] under a title “Got Autism?”       

The PETA ads intending to link childhood consumption of milk to the increase in autistic children also had the potential to link cow’s milk to childhood onset diabetes if not many autoimmune diseases.   The scientific link comes from old research in New Zealand and Australia that was challenged by industry, then picked up ten years later by the UN’s World Health Organization and researched in Eastern Europe to similar conclusions.     The contentions from this research are as follows:

(1)   Unlike human breast milk, as well as goat, sheep, water buffalo (essentially all studied mammals), there are multiple, mutated forms of “Beta Casein” in cow’s milk.     These mutations occurred centuries prior to domestication of Bos Taurus (European) cattle, and are spread through all known dairy breeds.
The normal Beta Casein variant is A2, the mutated Beta Casein variants are A1, B, and a few others.

(2)   The original New Zealand research believed it found an association between the consumption of A1 casein-content milk and the rise of auto-immune disorders in children.    The NZ dairy industry’s response was to assert that no causal link was established      Part of the assumptions on each side were conflicting interpretations of the effect of cows producing both forms of the Beta Casein (as a majority of NZ cows tested were “heterozygous” in gene possession as A1A2 Beta Casein).

(3)   Based on all the evidence, pro and con, offered over the last twenty or more years, the conclusion of medical researchers was to recommend “IF you have a family [genetic] history of risk for auto immune disorders, such as Type A (Childhood) Diabetes, Autism, and related issues, avoid consumption of milk that is not produced by “homozygous” A2A2 dairy cows.”     That is as far as science goes on it.

There is no “PROOF” that the mutated Beta Caseins in pooled cow milkCAUSES” autism.
Lacking that proof, PETA was enjoined from continuing their planned series of ads that were, as all their efforts consistently seek, designed to destroy the dairy cattle industry (as part of the mega-industry of all animal-derived food, clothing and other products).      However, Weston Price Foundation (not related to PETA) does publish and distribute a book entitled Devil in the Milk that is making a strong case to consumers- “seek out sources of DNA tested verified homozygous A2A2 Beta Casein cows and only consume their milk, thus avoiding ingesting the mutated forms of Beta Casein.”


The proactive dairymen will select for A2A2 Beta casein and even “polled” heads.     These are simple genetics.   In our business alone we have over 140 homozygous A2 sires in twelve breeds, as well as 80 polled sires in eight breeds, with more being identified regularly.    Some emphasis on health trait genes will assist you in lowering bulk tank cell counts over time as well.    The trends in dairy are once again in favor of “quality” over “commodity” and the wise dairyman does not get jealous of the neighbor who pursues on-farm bottling, certified organic, or any other developing market with premium milk prices—he does his homework to qualify for what may be coming next in his market.   Increasingly, the effort to fill premium markets will begin with genetic characteristics.     

Monday, December 19, 2016

Summer Annuals can make up for winter-kill alfalfa

From the Summer 2014 Dairy Route newsletter

You have completed your first cutting of hay.   You can tell that the residual alfalfa is too thin to leave the stand for another year.   In fact, you would like more feed off that acreage this year.    One option:
Interseed a summer annual—for example, BMR-6 Sudangrass (OR) Dwarf BMR-6 Sorghum Sudan

Seeded at half their normal rate, these will grow with what is left of your alfalfa, and you can expect two full cuttings reclaiming your expected yields for the season, that can be either windrow chopped or baled as you would have harvested your alfalfa.

Note once this stuff canopies, it not only provides weed control but will stunt off the remaining alfalfa.   Thus, at the end of the season, you could plant a fall cover crop to harvest in the spring for early forage (allowing interseeding of a new alfalfa crop) or used as plowdown “free nitrogen” for a corn crop next season.    

Unlike Grandpa’s sorghum sudangrass hybrids, thes BMR 6 varieties are “dairy quality”feed—plus they use ½ the nitrogen and water of a late corn crop to produce dry matter tonnage equal to alfalfas.


A new development finds Taurus Service “Affiliated Sires” working with Sexing Technologies (the company that provides semen sexing for all the AI systems) to bring both selected Taurus sires and an equal selection of Trans World Genetics sires to the AI market in “sexed” straws, at competing prices.

Ask us for the full list.    We are stocking a limited number of the sires but will order any you wish.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A bull mated to A cow aAa demo

A bull                                                             mated to                                  A cow

(Unique individual)                                                                                    (Unique individual)

                                                           Produces an offspring:

 A unique, individual phenotypic expression resulting from the genotype determined at conception and the impacts from the host environment(s) as the stages of growth, maturity and aging occur 

This “genetic makeup” is a result of gene pairings at conception for:

(I I I)     Quantitative genes                   additive traits                                 Pedigree information  
                                                                                                                          Phenotype evaluation 
                                                  ( linearly measurable )                                 PTA estimation
                                                  ( rankable intragenerationally )                 Genomic imputation


( I I )      Qualitative genes                    adaptive qualities                           “aAa” breeding guide*
                                                                                                                          “DMS” mating service
                                                  ( causal interrelationships )                         dominant/ recessive
                                                  ( co-balancing, non-accumulative )             B and K Caseins
                                                  ( identifiable intergenerationally )               B lactoglobulin


( I )       Interactive genes                     environmentally triggered              Full DNA mapping
                                                                                                                          epigenetic research

(1)     Quantitative genes are estimated from statistical regression of phenotypic data
(2)     Qualitative genes are determined from visual observation and analyzation
(3)     Mating selection can include both forms of information

Provided by Dr Royce Thornton, Instructor in Dairy Science
Agricultural Technical Institute, Ohio State University                             (2008)

“aAa”  was originally  “rounds”  and  “sharps”                (Greg Palen 2007)

Sharp:   physical characteristics related to production of milk over beef

              “Dairy”   [S front end]   will to milk, fast letdown, refined size

              “Tall”      [S body/udder]    fast growth, earlier maturity, high udder carriage

              “Open”   [S rear end]    room for udder, adds calving ease, persistency

Round:  physical characteristics related to sustaining production of milk

             “Strong”  [R front end]   circulatory system, muscularity, more size

             “Smooth” [R body/udder]   appetite, body conditioning, less (extremity) injuries

             “Style”     [R rear end]    blending of parts, cushioned joints, better mobility

You need cows ‘sharp” enough to milk but “round” enough to last

The overall balance of round to sharp elements in the physique has a significant impact on all physical functions—production, reproduction, health maintenance, adaptation to any changes in the environment, avoiding injury, sustaining physical vigor.

The analyzer’s challenge:

To be able to accurately analyze the differing levels or “sharp” to “round” so as to guide the owner/herdsperson in making a more accurate mating among sire choices.    More “sharp” cows can have a “round” element harder to detect, just as more “round” cows can have a sharp element harder to detect.     Few are all “sharp” and fewer all “round” today.

Heterosis vigor is maintained [in spite of increasing efi% of ranking sires] by accurately identifying both the actual round/sharp possession as well as the relative level of overall possession, and mating so as to avoid intensifying any qualities to the degree where the exclusion of other needed qualities begins.     This helps avoid inbreeding effects.

All six of the “aAa” qualities are necessary aspects of a functioning animal.    Matings that persistently prefer one level of qualities over another [which is what happens when we follow “single trait” selection methods] will over generations produce a progressive loss in function(s) related to the quality(ies) suppressed.

Monday, December 12, 2016

MILK IS JUST MILK - or is it really?

By Greg Palen

Every time I think dairymen are starting to pull together, I will read some blog from a major magazine correspondent, and realize how difficult reforming milk pricing will always be.

But in this instance it was a good dairyman from Utah expressing his opinion (through the “Ag Week” e newsletter) that he was frustrated by all the efforts to mislead consumers into thinking “organic” or “grassfed” or “glass bottled” or any of the growing tide of specialty milk products gaining premium prices from the market were not just a big ripoff of ignorant buyers.    Proof of his point was the profound statement—“milk is just milk”—proving to me that we are lucky he is not a cooperative director;  in condemning all milk to the lowest common denominator of commodity definition, he robs all efforts at quality milk production of their profitability.

It is a good thing that farmers are not usually in charge of marketing their production, because they have no grasp of the science of marketing, which begins with understanding your product.

Is milk “just milk” really?

First thing to understand—“milk” is the lacteal secretion of any mammalian female, for whom a recent birth event has stimulated her mammary glands to produce nature’s perfect food  (any food concentrated enough in nutrients and simple enough in digestibility to feed an infant is by definition a “perfect” food).     Thus, a sow produces milk, as does a horse, as does an elephant, as do the millions of water buffalo milked from the Mediterranean Sea to the Ganges River.

So the first, most obvious, and least defined aspect of the “dairy industry” is that, in the USA, the bovine is the dominant species.     Does this matter?    Yes, because for much of the world it is the egalitarian goat that is the primary source of milk for humans—cows are for eating, or hauling wagons, not low cost enough to feed to keep around just for a few gallons of milk.

The cow became ascendant in USA dairying because (1) we had the volume of arable land to deal with a larger animal, and (2) our earliest settlers came from the regions in Europe where the skill in domestication of cows for dairy existed.    Later (3) she became desirable as one of the markets our agriculture was developing for its favorite volume commodity, corn.

Both species and breeds alter milk composition

Second thing to understand—and it has proved hard for producers to understand, because bitter battles were fought to acknowledge what nature has always made abundantly plain in the way in which the federal milk orders price the “value” of milk—is that the uniqueness of milk is in its components—its unequal blend of butterfat for energy, protein for fiber, and minerals for its electrolytic and vitamin transfer benefits.    Once the solids are removed from milk, its volume is just in its “water” carrier.    So it is more an issue of “water is just water” – once you start to add in butterfat, protein and mineral solids, milk can become quite variable indeed.

The Jersey cow, for example, in her genetic encoding tends to put 20% more calcium and 16% more phosphorus per volume in the milk she produces.    On average, she produces 25% more butterfat and 33% more protein per volume in the milk she produces.     Did it ever make any sense to stand a glass of Holstein milk beside a glass of Jersey milk, fresh from their respective cow, and insist that milk is just milk??    But that is what this otherwise knowledgeable and articulate producer from Utah is implying in his rant on the “Ag Web” blog.    It must then be admitted that he is wrong on two assertions—first, for being oblivious to species, and then for ignoring breed differences.    (He is not alone in this—dairymen milking breeds other than the ubiquitous Holstein have always had to fight for the focus of milk pricing to be on the content of milk nutrients, and their ability to recover money from the user market, rather than the size of their bulk tanks.)   

Further more specific genetic differences alter product recovery values

“Casein” is the technical term for the forms of milk proteins.    There are alpha caseins, beta caseins, and kappa caseins, among others.    Kappa Casein is interesting in its impact on the cheese curd forming qualities of milk—another way in which “milk is not just milk”.

There are two gene variants for Kappa Casein—A and B.    They are, like all genes, passed in pairs at conception—you have AA, AB, and BB combinations possible in the bovine.    The B variant increases the yield of cheese curds relative to the A variant.     An animal (as is true for 80% of all Jerseys) that is “BB” will produce 15% more cheese yield per volume of milk than an animal that is “AA”, at the same levels of milk protein percentage.    The animal with “AB” Kappa Casein will produce 5% to 8% more cheese yield per volume.    Those animals that are “AA” Kappa Casein (as is true for 80% of all Holsteins) might better go into a bottle, they are going to produce the lowest common denominator of cheese yield, regardless of selection for higher protein% test levels.      (The milk market has yet to reflect genetic milk differences in conventional milk order pricing.    These sort of inequities lead to attempts at niche marketing.)

Given that cheese production impacts dramatically on the protein component price, and that the cost of whey disposal is a major part of the cost of commodity cheese production, to continue to argue “milk is just milk” as cooperative or federal policy is to continue sending an inaccurate production signal from our milk cooperatives to their producers, allowing utility costs to take a bigger than needed bite from all the product processing and supply balancing facilities.

Recent genetic studies suggest other milk quality differences

The writer has made the usual mistake of “technocrats” in assuming that the consumer knows less than he knows as the producer, about the product he is producing or the processes used and the inputs employed in production.    This is both an arrogant and a potentially disastrous state of mind that is all too prevalent in agriculture, and is drilled into our psyche by input suppliers who have vested interests in our continued belief in their scientific omniscience, and who have a better grasp on how consumer opinion drives demand for consumption products.   

A growing body of scientific research, starting in New Zealand and Australia, spreading into Europe, capturing the attention of the UN’s World Health Organization, is the assertion of a difference in Beta Casein structures that seriously dents cow milk’s “perfect food” designation.
There are fourteen forms of Beta Caseins, but three main variants describe 98% of all bovines, the A1, A2, and B variants.    For simplicity, “B” is benign, “A2” is desirable, but “A1” is now considered undesirable—linked in over 100 health studies to autoimmune diseases, such as juvenile diabetes, autism and alsheimers, afflictions that have grown in frequency in what we call the “western world” (North America and Europe).
“A2” is the form of milk that is being explored as a possible source of what some are calling “pharmamilk”—milk forms that can aid in recovery from cancer treatments, for example, as an aid to maintaining or rebuilding the immune system after it is ravaged by chemotherapy.    

Unless you are a Guernsey breeder (the Guernsey breed is relatively free of A1 Beta Caseins) or a certified organic producer-member of CROPP (Organic Valley brands), you likely have not heard about the A2 vs A1 theory of milk quality.    But you can bet the activist consumer has—because the Weston Price Foundation published a book “The Devil in the Milk” back in 2007, and it shows up in book stores and online reader services nationwide.

Our writer argues that farmers have science on their side, whereas consumers only have rumor and “unsubstantiated manure that” flows about the internet to guide them.   Organizations like Farm Bureau, who preach status quo superiority in all aspects of production agriculture, have to realize that the land-grant University form of “scientific research”—too often tainted by a funding source in the input supply side of volume agriculture-- is not universally accepted by their scientific peers on the “pure” side of scientific research, who feed information to both the activists (Sierra Club, etc) and the consumer watchdogs (including government bureaucrats).    

If the A2 vs A1 Beta Casein debate ever reaches a level of regulatory acceptance, you will face a clear refutation of the “milk is just milk” commoditization stance.     Only 60% of Jerseys and 50% of Holsteins appear to possess the desired A2 Beta Casein gene, the world population of Guernseys being too small to impact quickly on the milk supply.    No other breed appears to be any better than Jerseys in possession of A2 (some Red breeds are only 30%), and current AI  genetic selection focus on CDCI-generated trait rankings in the conventional, volume-oriented dairy production tends to unwittingly be expanding the frequency of A1.

But Organic Valley producers, supplying milk to Stonyfield yogurt, for example, have begun an effort to focus member genetic selection within sources of the A2 Beta Casein variant.   So in the eyes of activist consumers, yes, “certified organic” milk could deserve its premium in price over conventional commodity milk, on that basis alone—a concern for producing milk in a form that supports, rather than challenges, a consumer’s health.  

Feed quality has always affected milk flavor

Prior to the monopoly absorption of local and regional milk processors into the umbrella of Dean Foods—which now exerts a 70% market share in conventional milk processing, and has promoted the cross-country shipping of milk (mostly in an effort to lower FMMO utilization percentages, thus reducing class I premiums in higher cost orders) —there were many bottlers who went beyond the basic government milk facility inspection to demand higher standards for bacteria counts, somatic cell counts, herd health, etc, and developed closer relationships with producers to insure a quality milk supply, thus minimizing holding and transportation time and insuring the consumer a product with a full shelf life after purchase.

These local and regional bottlers could sense the flavor differences in milk, as well as changes in its composition, as a result of seasonal changes in how cows were fed.    The milk produced in the “pasture” (fresh grass) season had a sweeter flavor, the milk produced from ensiled feeds in the “barn” (winter) season a more acidic flavor.     Until the government imposed standards for butterfat and created the “whole”, “2%”, “1%”, and “skim” categories, flavor sold milk. 
Butter made in the grass season had less need for artificial coloring to look like butter in its packaged form, as there was more carotene in the milk from the cows’ greater access to sunlight absorbed Vitamins.     Creams from fresh feeds were slower to turn rancid.   These differences reflected that milk was, in its fresh unprocessed form, a “living” thing.    Prices for products often reflected these detectable differences, a big frustration for the bottlers stuck with the “lowest common denominator” of pooled milk suppliers.

Consolidation of farm milk marketing into cooperatives, and the USDA supported movement toward pooled milk supplies, was more of a boon to the indifferent dairyman, as it gradually eliminated the marketing choices of the highly skilled and premium breed dairymen.    This is a transition in milk marketing that is largely forgotten by today’s production dairymen (many of the dairymen who exited dairy since World War II exited due to consolidation of supplies and loss of marketing choice—they understood commodity economics better than we do) and as a result, today’s dairymen do not recognize that much of the movement in food activism in dairy is to regain choice in product quality that processing consolidation has driven out.

“Raw milk” vs homogenized milk

The activist consumer demand for “raw” milk is trying to send conventional dairy a signal—too much processing is involved in the conventional milk supply.

(1)   Pasteurization

How many dairymen realize a processor has two choices in milk pasteurization: (a) low heat (batch) pasteurizing, where targeted harmful organisms, such as tuberculosis and salmonella, are killed, but the naturally occurring digestive enzymes within milk remain viable—which is actually pretty important to those with sensitive digestion;  (b) high heat (continuous flow) pasteurization, which is hot enough to kill everything, rendering milk an “inert” composite.

Why would a processor pick (b) over (a), if it alters milk?    Mostly because, when you are dealing with huge volumes of milk to process, it was designed for faster processing.    But in the main, it became necessary due to the government definition of milk into butterfat levels.

The only milk that might still be “straight run” is “whole milk”—a product based on USDA’s definition that contains a minimum 3.25% (commodity Holstein level) butterfat, and whatever nonfat solids (protein and minerals) the same milk contained normally (generally 7.75%).

All other packages of milk—2%, 1%, ½%, and skim—by these same definitional rules, still have to contain a minimum of 11% total milk solids (butterfat, protein, minerals).   How are you to take milk from a bulk tank and turn it into 1% milk?    You are thus required to add a few steps to processing—first, skim all the butterfat, then add back in the defined level of butterfat, then add additional nonfat milk [powder, reconstituted] to hit the targeted level of total milk solids.     There is no other way to do this.    Thus, in fact, all milk is not just milk, it is increasingly (as “skim” milk products took ascendancy over “whole” forms) what can only be described as a reconstitution of milk from individually processed components.

It takes as much heat—and more time-- to evaporate and then dry natural, skim milk into dry nonfat milk powders, and then it takes added water [we used to call that adulteration] to turn the dry powder back into a liquid form to blend with the base skim milk and re-added fat, to produce the “2%”, “1%”, ½%” and “skim” milk forms.    Which is why, any time I have tried to drink this stuff USDA is recommending to our kids, I can sense a “burnt” taste—the impact of first evaporating, drying, and then reconstituting “milk” that was first subjected to high heat pasteurization. 

So when my Utah friend attempts to claim “milk is just milk” because he believes the milk he produces conventionally is “just as good” as some organic dairyman, he could be more or less right, but only at the point of farm production.     As soon as his milk hits that semi-trailer, which is going to haul it a thousand miles to a large commodity processing plant, and it goes through all the industrial processing that the evolving “organic” structure is trying to avoid, it becomes a truly different product—what should be more properly called a reconsitituted milk based beverage product, but USDA standards have redefined it [legally] as “milk”.

      (2) Homogenization
In the earlier days of milk bottling, when milk was mostly in reusable glass bottles, it was also batch pasteurized and went whole into a bottle.    Thus the term “creamline” milk—the cream (which contains the butterfat) would rise and sit at the top of the bottle.    So Moms usually had another jar for cream, would pour off the cream to use for cereal, coffee and baking, and we kiddies drank the skim residue, which was still a “live” (relatively unprocessed) milk.

But somebody in industry decided some Mom’s probably were not adept at pouring off and using the cream, so they invented “homogenization”—a process wherein you passed milk at great pressure (and high heat) through a fine screen, that broke up and hardened the butterfat globules into a hard little kernel that would stay in suspension.     

This came into vogue when the food industry faced the “fat is bad” fad and all the foods with a natural fat content had to figure out ways to reduce it or hide its presence.   

But now the cardiac care industry has been suggesting that those hardened fat globules are not as digestible, and are sticking to arterial walls, adding to the epidemic of arterial blockage that is making most heart surgeons wealthy men.

Butterfat in its natural form, by contrast, is highly digestible and remains a source of desirable “quick energy” for the athlete and manual laborer.     It does not clog our arteries.    

How much of the difficulty of conducting (and believing) research such as the A1 vs A2 Beta Casein studies, is complicated by our increasingly processed [adulterated?] forms of delivery for “nature’s perfect food”? 

Should “grassfed” earn any market premium?
I am fully aware that various food activists, sometimes bolstered by studies conducted from research institutions other than the land-grant University branch of industrial agriculture, have taken this position.    Their position is not specific to milk—they are equally adamant in the case of beef, and you have entire cultures (like Argentina) where “grassfed beef”, cooked by slow broiling (after searing to contain the juices) is considered the ultimate in premium beef.
I do know that, prior to industrial agriculture’s general revisionist approach to agricultural history, grass was not (as Monsanto claims) a “weed”, but the primary forage for ruminant livestock, and the natural soil-saving cover for a majority of arable land surface.

I have since learned that as much plant breeding expertise and effort has gone into improved grass varieties in places like NW Europe, as we have focused on corn, soybeans and wheat.  
The annual milk or beef yield from a cultivation of dutch ryegrass competes with the annual yield of hybrid corn forages.    This is a huge challenge to the US chemical industry’s near-monopoly investment in GMO corn, soybean and alfalfa culture, thus “grass base” farming’s intrusion into dairy poses a serious threat to their corporate share of our milk checks.

Production minded dairymen are thus being programmed into the “grass is a weed” and by imputation, “grass dairymen are socialists” frame of thought.    Why allow such subversive elements an opportunity for a premium price on a product that undermines our national farm structure?    Ignore the fact that, like Camenbert cheese, grass-based products were always among the sources of premium income (and higher profit margins) to cattle farmers globally.

But if US dairymen (or, more importantly, those dairymen who have lifetime appointments as directors of our cooperatives) could ever grasp the economics of commodity production, they would see that the “grassland” movement offers the dairy industry three large benefits:

(1)   Creation of a niche market for “grassfed” products removes production from the lowest common denominator commodity supply, thus helps support basic commodity prices.
(2)   Each niche market represents a salvaging of dairy consumption by consumers who have chosen to distrust industrial dairy products, thus were lost to the dairy industry.
(3)   Acceptance of the presence of grass-based dairy aids the industry in meeting demands
from the activist environmentalists, intent on restraining “factory farming”.

There are generally higher production costs, at least in the “learning phase” of adapting to a different production process, thus the premium prices “organic” producers (by USDA organic rules now also “grassfed” by definition) are receiving are not in themselves giving your few  organic neighbors a net income advantage over the easier, more infrastructure supported route of conventional production.    But the typical cow response to a “grass based” forage program over the conventional (grain based) TMR program should give many conventional producers pause—“can I learn from these innovative, experimental dairymen and lower my costs of milk production, thus improving my financial picture?”    Yes, you can. 

The financial studies done of the grass based dairy sector compared to the conventional model of confined herds and 100% stored feeds consistently show a net income advantage to the new “grass based” model.     Dairymen need to quit fighting and learn from each other, and in that all would benefit, as the squeeze on profit margins caused by a constant uptick in input costs would not force us so relentlessly into the expansion mode that is the true cause of current dairy production unpredictability and income instability

There should even be a place for raw milk

We used to have a legal “certified dairy” system, and it worked.   Consumers will pay more for choices.   Consumers can do their own “risk vs benefit” analysis.     Give them their freedom.   

“All milk is NOT ‘just milk’ ”

The dairyman who thinks any individual or collective producer effort to better their financial returns by a different production or marketing concept is wrong, or deceptive, rather than being market responsive, is clearly missing the real issues in dairy today—and screaming “milk is just milk” is admitting we still do not understand the consumer, not the milk cooperative or the government, is the true source of our income.   It is past time we learned that our chances at greater income from milk production depends on all the ways in which milk can be different—not in condemning it to a mediocre commodity sameness.

I find it sad that we can swallow the belief that painting milk mustaches on overpaid celebrities or killing cows at random through the CWT, or begging and bribing congressmen to throw us a subsidy bone or two, is a long term future for stability in dairy fortunes.    The fact you cannot find a sane banker to lend money to a dairy farm today is proof that we have made some wrong choices—we are an entire industry that has earned a label as financial delinquents.

Commodity production is the toughest game in the world.    The reason is that in commodity economics, the price you receive is always dictated by the lowest price some producer will accept.   It is like an auction where you have sixty cows to sell, and five farmers bidding, each wanting to buy ten cows—fifty will sell for the limit each farmer is willing to pay, but the extra ten offered will only bring beef price.    Thus, the average of all 60 is lower than if we only had sold the best 50—but in a “free market” auction, the buyer (the “cow consumer”) can choose which to buy and which to leave, and note it is on the buyer’s definition of “value”—not the seller’s assertion of equal value.    Thus, if all cows are unequal in value, and we accept that as reasonable, we must also accept—and try to embrace—that all milk is unequal in value also.

Trouble is, when we sell milk, we agree to let our nice cooperative sell it for us, they pool ours (at 100,000 SCS) with our lazy neighbors (at 400,000 SCS) and by the time it gets to town, the entire load is near 300,000 SCS, thus not salable to bottle at $17, so we powder it and get $10.      The “blended” price comes out at $13.50, where (as we all know from 2009) none of us made any money.    By rights, if the auctioneer (the “free market”) was allowed to sell your quality separately from your sloppy neighbor, you would have received $17, and your neighbor would receive $10.    If the checks flowed in that manner, our Utah friend would be proud to say “my milk is different from your milk” – in other words, he would have been fully paid for his effort as a “good” dairyman.     His decision to go with the peer pressure and not seek a better price, leads him to believe (and write) what are really unsupportable statements.

We cannot blame consumers, congress or USDA (well, maybe a little, they forced cooperative marketing and commodity definition on all of us), the economy, bankers, chemical companies, European subsidies and tariffs, the Canadian quota system, the weather, or environmentalists for our lack of profitability.    We must blame ourselves, for avoiding any responsibility for the  competent marketing of our production, and for allowing “pooling” (and minor considerations like hauling costs, linked by bad marketing decisions to pooling) to destroy all our efforts and opportunities at differential pricing on quality. 

July 15, 2010