Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Claims against meat fail to consider bigger picture

 From the July/August 2018 CONCEPTIONS Beef Newsletter

By Richard Young    Policy Director, Sustainable Food Trust      ( excerpts from June 14, 2018 speech )


The annual per capita consumption of beef and lamb in the UK produces less greenhouse emissions than one economy class flight from London to Stockholm (for our chief to attend the latest EAT forum).  The current media attention on the carbon footprint of beef production – especially time cattle spend eating grass in pastures – is generating lots of spurious calculations to support the contention “avoiding meat and dairy is the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth.”    Promotion of vegetarian and vegan agendas underlies many of these reports, with little broader consideration of the issues.


Activists need to face the fact that a majority of the grazed land on the earth surface is not automatically suited to row crops.   (in the UK only 12% of all “arable” land is approved for tillage under current EU rules.)    Soil degradation when grassland is converted to row crops is often visible within one farming generation [as can be seen in the limestone shelf of central New York, once prime dairyland until grass pasturage was replaced with row crops; now abandoned farms are being slowly resurrected by Amish conversion to grass-based dairy and beef].    UK Environment secretary Michael Gove warns we are 30-40 years away from running out of soil fertility on large parts of  arable land… with minor exceptions soil degradation is not a problem on UK grasslands.    Grass heals the land while trapping carbon.


Contrary to popular belief, continuous crop production is not sustainable.    Soils lost to the Sumerians 5000 years ago and to the Roman North Africans 2000 years ago remain desert wastelands today.   The most enlightened farmers are now publicly recognizing the agronomic need for grass breaks [grazing?] in row crop land, to break noxious herbicide-resistant weed cycles and restore elements of soil life.


The article in its entirety can be found online—or if you wish a copy, let us know.


Cattlemen are at risk if we passively allow distortions of our value to the environment and to agriculture.

The value of animal protein is well documented in nutrition circles, and the demand for animal protein is growing fastest in what used to be called “third world” (now the “emerging”) economies.    Why are we having so much trouble getting our points across in the consumer activist discussions?   [PETA??]

Bill Gates, Richard Brand, Leonard DiCaprio – joining their fortunes to the “green planet” crowd to replace animal protein with veggie meats.


If you have not seen the press releases and the feature articles, you will be surprised to know that “green” vendors like Whole Foods (division of Amazon) are now promoting a vegetable-based “meat replacement” designed by plant chemists to imitate beef and pork products.    The company behind these products has received heavy investment from the famous billionaires and Hollywood celebrities named above, all of whom (despite large personal “carbon footprints”) wish you to believe as they do that vegetarian lifestyles are necessary (by the rest of us) to insure the future of the planet.


Learning from the dairy experience


Look in the “dairy” case and you see soymilk, almondmilk, all sorts of “milk” labels that are not biologically “milk” (cow, goat, sheep, water buffalo).    The dairy industry back in the day when everything was rolling ignored these as fad drinks for vegans; now they are seeing market share lost to these products that carry the soothing “milk” term by name.


Milk still has the mystique of being the original “baby food” (what could be purer than a mother’s milk?) but has been behind the eight ball on producing drinks that adults would continue to use.   Thus less bottled milk is sold, but more yogurt and cheese is eaten.   To the developers of legume and nut beverages the term “milk” still carries a positive cachet in the market, so they co-opted the term and dairy now suffers.


The Missouri legislature (serendipitously following a move by the French parliament; more beef is raised and meat eaten in France than any other western country) is currently debating a bill to prevent synthesized vegetable protein products from being labeled as “meat”.   The sponsors of this legislation have their eyes open—if the vegan promoters do not want you to eat meat, why call their product “meat”??    It is (like has been true in dairy) an attempt to mislead trusting consumers into substitutions that can be produced in laboratories and factories rather than down on the farm.


Opportunities  remain  for  the  beef  industry


The current market standard is USDA “prime” and “choice” beef carrying a grain-based “feedlot” finish.

Growing alongside this USA beef tradition is the more worldwide-accepted grassfed beef, which also is an advantage to many of what we consider “heritage” breeds.


Certified Angus Beef is the most successful of any breed or commodity promotion, beef or dairy, 70% of commercial beef cows are now “black” with some (if not all) Angus genes in their DNA.    This was an example of how you can capture the attention of consumers to create some premium income niches.  

How  many  directions  are  there  to  go?


For the majority of those reading this newsletter, club calf beef is the focus.    Is that a true “beef” focus (as in do show steers in 4H sales sell at a premium because the eating experience will also be premium?) – or is our genetic focus, as one observer says, more on how much hair they grow so they can be sculptured into a show mannequin??


The clubby business, as we know, is an amalgam of Maine Anjou (France) and Chianina (Italy) bloodlines, with all the domesticated breeds mixed in from foundation cows.  The sort of trait selection that is paramount in most domestic (“commercial”) breeds had its impact earlier in the breed development, but most of clubby sire selection is driven by “type” and color.    To the advantage of club-calf, both Maine Anjou and Chianina have positive reputations for taste and texture – so fairs continue to draw premium buyers.


In recent seasons we have seen one sire source and only a couple sire lines come into a dominant position for the marketing of semen.    As these high profile sires age or die, the price of their semen is doubling or tripling.    In any other breed, this is a clue to a failure of “breeders” to look to the next generations and develop new sire lines.    In today’s club calf world, a handful of sires define a premium price calf at stock auction sales.


Might it be time for those breeding quality club calves to think about what qualities and traits the “next” premier club calf sire should possess? -And then proceed to identify the cows and matings that could produce him; and surmount the challenge of marketing him


By comparison to mainstream breeds (let alone the heritage breeds that are the focus for most of the grassfed movement) the weaknesses in clubby breeding revolve around cow fertility and easier heifer calving.     Can these selection traits be compatible with today’s preferred show type?    Based on experience in dairy breeds, YES is the answer.


Should Black always be the dominant color?


I think too many people like red for this to remain true forever.   However, genetically, Black color is a dominant gene, whereas Red color is recessive.   Only takes one parent to get a Black calf, but takes two parents to get a red calf.   


Which brings us to the challenges of selective breeding and compensatory mating.   Some things can change in one generation; other things may require a concerted effort over two or more generations.    The rewards ultimately go to those who make the concerted extra efforts.    Breeding improved cattle is a lifetime’s profession.

Monday, January 25, 2021

My personal “aAa” testimony


We started dairy farming on a shoestring on a 120 acre farm that had a bank barn, basement stable with 28 cow stalls, hay mows overhead and one 14x40 cement stave silo.    The stable was originally built for Jerseys around 1910: this was 1979 and we were filling it with purebred Holstein cows assembled one at a time through private purchase and local club sales.   We had to remove the stancions and put in a tie rail to keep cows from standing in the gutters.

We bought “bridesmaid” cows mostly, when the bidding got too high on our first choices we bought the second or third choice cows.   We had a simple breeding goal:  breed the highest protein % herd we could, while depending on “aAa” to improve the type of our herd (lots of bulls we used were unfamiliar to mainstream popular Holsteins of that time).

Feeding was dry hay all year long, pasture in season, corn silage in the winter, and a purchased feed mix from a local elevator.    We raised our heifers at my Dad’s farm lacking room here.

We generally sold half our heifers through club sales, in order to pay back the cow purchases.   We found the cows who came from balanced “aAa” matings lasted longer, so we needed fewer of them to keep the barn full.    We also had an open door for anyone who needed a 4H show calf for their children.     We milked this way from 1979 through 1986, when we transitioned to Jerseys, then moved to a 44 cow tie stall barn where we had half Jersey, half Holstein.

Of these heifers we sold, surplus to our needs, I am aware of eight that produced 200,000 lb + lifetimes in the herds of their buyers.    Looking back at those eight, six of them were sired by young sires (unproven at time of mating) thus selected on the longevity of their maternal line and used according to their aAa numbers.    The highest had 275,000 lbs lifetime milk when a cow in heat stepped on her udder—the owner was expecting her to reach 300,000 lbs.  

It is instructive to me that none of these six young sires were returned to service as proven sires, because their first “proofs” said “not enough milk”.    So how did these often amazing heifers happen?    The selection of mating sires was consistent, above average protein % (our genetic goal) from dams who had maternal lines consistent for longevity.    Then in choosing matings, matching each individual cow to an individual sire, we followed “aAa” closely—for the reasons (a) we wanted to correct the worst faults of momma, so we would not see them in daughters; (b) we wanted to develop cows with the capacities to express the latent gene potential, (c) we wanted a physique that remained functional into mature production levels.

What did we accomplish with the cows we kept?    From a type standpoint, the original cows had 100.7% BAA.     We reached 106.8% BAA with “aAa” heifers.    The original cows averaged 3.20% protein.    We reached 3.45% protein.    For a brief time we had one five generation cow family milking in that little barn.     The best of all the heifers we freshened made 20,071 pounds milk with 5% fat 1004 pounds butterfat and with 3.6% protein 722 pounds protein, she was two generations up from a grandmother who only tested 3.3% fat and 3.2% protein.     Keep in mind we only bred Holsteins from 1979 to 1987, half and half 1988 through 1994, all Jerseys since.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Cows were made to eat grass

 From the March/April CONCEPTIONS Beef Newletter

Of course, the miracle of ruminant digestion in the modern farming era is that cattle can eat grass, clover, alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrid crosses, BMR plant strains, corn stover, corn silage, and when enough forage is provided, eat an additional ration of grains from corn, oats, barley, or even processed oilseeds.    They will glean a couple bushel of corn per acre if you turn them in behind most combines have left the field.   They will even trim tree branches up to umbrella level, which certainly helps maintain fencerows.


Of course, they do all this eating primarily in the seasons when they are nursing or incubating their next calf.    And the most basic old-timer’s cow calf saying is, “No calf, no income”.    Reproduction season will soon be upon us; let’s get ready!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021


 From the March/April CONCEPTIONS Beef Newletter

In the 1960s, my Dad and our oldest cousin entered into the early Chianina and Simmental craze.    My brother and I were the “grunt labor” for this project and when I was 16 years old I was sent to a breeding school to learn AI.


We had ordinary Angus cows and equally ordinary Hereford cows.   The Angus got bred to the Chianina bulls; the Herefords got bred to the Simmental bulls.   I averaged 2.25 services per pregnancy my first season on 15 cows.


The Chi bull calves were very popular for club calf projects.   The Simmies were targeted for a freezer beef sales project.    Initially, all heifers were kept to grow the cow herd and needless to say, after the first year (with 90% bull calves) they were multiplying easily (the last year we wintered 70 head— ran out of hay—not a good move).


I recall that first calving season.    My brother already had a favorite cow (she was able to feed two calves no problem) and that maternal character showed one day as I was watching cows and calves grazing in the heat detection pasture.


Her bull calf was maybe a week old, and was nuzzling around her mouth.   All at once momma turned her head and shoved a wad of fresh grass into the mouth of her youngster.    It was clearly an epiphany for both calf and me:  the calf found grass to be worth eating, and I guessed I had just seen how the grazing instinct was passed between generations.   That bull calf (her first) weaned at 689 pounds.


Based on dispositions, we eventually favored Simmentals over Chianinas, but the way we used both was to sell the Chi steers for club calves, the Chi heifers became the freezer beef (and were easier to finish at a weight acceptable in that market) – the Simmie steers were sold as feeders, and the Simmie heifers herd replacements.


We had fun, we made a little money, we hauled a LOT of manure, gained a lot of experience.    This set me up for my adult investment in a grass-based dairy farm.


I think from these experiences that any successful cow-calf operator must keep in mind the “maternal” qualities he desires.   The cow willing to lick a calf to life and teach it to eat that has a pelvis built for calving and housing an udder is priceless to a beef breeding program.    Many “clubby” bulls are obviously a terminal cross, wonderful for making a winning show steer but less wonderful when it comes to getting his daughters bred, who then require assistance calving and nursing

Monday, January 18, 2021

What is really happening in the dairy business?


We cannot create solutions until we identify the real problems.


“Milk” (the lacteal secretion of domesticated dairy cows, populations distributed worldwide) is an agricultural commodity, which is either consumed in its natural “fluid” state or separated by its components into various manufactured food products, either sold as such or used within the packaged/processed food sector.    The labelling of any milk product for consumer consumption follows standardized nutrition formats and product definitions determined by USDA, a federal agency that overlooks and advises and regulates all of production agriculture since 1933.

The production of milk in the western world is generally regulated by a “permitting” process in which the facilities must meet water and sanitation standards, the cows must be monitored for infectious diseases, and the manure handling system must insure proper recycling of the waste nutrients into the soils producing the feed for the animals so that ground water is protected.

Two levels of inspection – federal and state government, and milk marketing procurers – have authority to suspend permits at any time they believe their statutes or their membership rules have been violated.    More recently, “animal care and comfort” protocols have been added to the basic sanitation and milk quality regulations, a response to consumer advocacy concerns.

Beverage sector competition

To the grocery store and consumer, “Milk” implies cows’ milk.   There are two parallel labels for cows’ milk, representing the defined production processes of (a) “conventional” milk [meeting basic “Grade A” rules] and (b) “organic” milk [produced under standards determined by USDA].    At this time, 90% of all jug milk is “conventional” produced and 10% of all milk is “organically” produced.     In manufactured products, 95% draw from conventional supplies, 5% from organic supplies.

If coming from any other source it will have a prefix identifying the source: “Goats’” milk, “Soy” milk, “Almond” milk (in ethnic communities you may see “horse”, “sheep” or “camel” milk).    In recent years milk products other than cows’ milk have gained traction due to misinformation on dairy cows’ contribution to atmospheric gases, or from basic health concerns to which the dairy industry has not responded in any coherent way.

Beyond this, you have the soda industry (including cola drinks), the brewing industry (beer and wine), and the expanding fruit and vegetable juice industries.    You have the proliferating tea and coffee industries (which includes some products with milk or cream added) served both hot or cold.    You also have some hybrids, for example, fruit smoothies and drinkable yogurts flavored with fruit juice (as well as traditional fermented milk products).     Reconstituted milk beverages designed as “lactose free” (for those diagnosed as lactose intolerant) have expanded into the category of “sport” drinks as consumers increasingly struggle with weight issues.

Other than the controversial Ultra-High-Temp pasteurized category of milk, refrigeration is required for dairy products, and all dairy labels will have a stated “sell by” date (limited shelf life)—in the case of bottled milk, this usually is a three-week expiration.    Much Federal law encourages pasteurization of all animal, vegetable and fruit beverages, and most USA State governments enforce this with a prohibition of “raw milk” sales [a few states still have “certified milk” permits, which require twice annual TB tests of all animals in production, and removal of any suspects from the edible supply].     The companion Listeria infection has been added to the threat of Tuberculosis in the raw milk supply to enforce pasterization for any commercial sales.

So what is “legal” milk?

USDA administers a system of FMMOs [Federal Milk Market Orders] in which the prices paid by handlers to farmers or farm marketing cooperatives are averaged to provide a standard price for milk at the farm gate.    Regional dairy consumption trends determine the pricing formula farmers are to be paid, under either Fluid +Butterfat (southern orders) or Multiple Component  (northern orders) pricing.      MCP orders determine a “market value” for each fraction of milk composition:  Butterfat, Protein, Lactose, Minerals, and Fluid carrier.     These are based on an analysis of the various sales dollars for each product form.    FBF orders basically consider the percentage of milk utilized for bottling, and then establish prices for each manufacturing class of milk (cream products, cultured products, nonfat milk powders, cheese) as if bottled milk was the “highest use” class of milk, cheese the “lowest use” for milk surplus to bottling or culturing.

Some farmer-member milk cooperatives are also processors producing retail dairy packages.   Others just strive to find private handlers to process and retail milk.    Private handlers must pay the FMMO stated price for milk received, but cooperatives can “underpay” as part of the supply “balancing” function (as when they may sell milk below wholesale into another FMMO than in which it was produced) (or when they have to dump milk as unsold production).    

The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gets into the business by defining labels for milk, and has defined categories as “skim” milk, “1%” milk, “2%” milk, and “whole” milk.    All of this is based on butterfat content, ie, skim = 0% BF, 1% BF, 2% BF, and whole = 3.25% BF.    Milk on store shelves is subject to inspection and a dairy processor can be fined if the butterfat (and total solids) content of any jug product differs from its label definition.    Back in the 1970s-80s when the “Dairy Lobby” in Congress was throwing money about, as butterfat% content was an issue related to more bad health science [thinking it was animal fats causing our obesity, rather than what we now know refined sugar is the culprit] – lobbyists got it written into the FDA rules that any butterfat removed must be replaced by non-fat milk solids (protein, lactose) so that all milk jugs would contain the same total milk-derived solids content.     This made milk protein of more value in the market, butterfat of less value, for the next 30 years (the time it took human nutrition research to catch up to reality).

The dairy production industry expanded greatly in the 1970s as USDA invented subsidies for the fluid milk production, and the processing industry followed with a period of consolidation.  



Milk haulers retire, their routes consolidated onto bigger trucks.    Due to the greater overhead, against a system in which rates are set by pounds shipped, smaller farms are originally told they must pay stop charges—then may later be told the hauler will no longer come (he can fill up his tanker from fewer, bigger farms and save some time off his work day).     The distance from the route area to the receiving plant gets greater as obsolete plants close, the times waiting in line to be unloaded at the remaining locations also get longer.     While expansion dairy farms got a lower hauling rate for “volume” the traditional farms got to make up the difference.

Dairy plants still in operation from the era before the 1970s fluid expansion, are now facing an obsolescence and are being closed, with processing consolidated into newer, expanded plants.    Any direct-ship farmers dependent on those local plants have found themselves without a place to sell their milk, given the modernized dairies were already aligned to receive milk from bigger expansion dairies.      The larger national-brand processors (such as Dean Foods and Bordens) facing competition from national-chain supermarkets that have built their own dairies to cut out a wholesale middleman, have lost a significant market share, and closing their smaller and older plants became a reaction to lost market share.     Government requirements for access to water treatment facilities for dairy plant wastes contributed to location consolidation.

Michigan allowed itself to become the poster child for States that did not adequately regulate the permitting process to ensure that dairy expansions had a market for their milk (this is done in many other states, for example Colorado).    In a seven year period, Michigan expanded its dairy “herd” by 100,000 cows (a 33% increase) without any increase in processing capacity in FMMO #33.     ”Distress” milk started crossing state lines seeking a home, and much of unsold milk ended up being dumped (skim milk on fields, whole milk into manure lagoons).     In the face of flat overall demand for dairy products and a decline in fluid “skim milk” sales, it soon caused farm gate prices to drop nationwide (100,000 cows means 7,000,000 pounds daily, or 823,500 gallons daily, at average Michigan Holstein cow production levels.)     The lack of new processing capacity meant that exportable (nonfat milk powder, butter, cheese) milk forms could not be made fast enough to entice foreign buyers.    In the face of this disaster farm and processor lobbies both argued against any form of supply management.     Overproduction has an economic side effect of further “dumbing down” this production to its lowest, commodity, generic forms, given the design of the milk procuring system is to “pool” milk supplies.

The problem with pooling

The effect of “pooling” has been to force all the milk produced in any area onto the same milk truck.     Any unique differences between farms, in their feeding and production program as it affects milk flavor and shelf life, in genetic choices affecting milk compositional quality and any potential fits for specialty marketing – all got “dumbed down” to the lowest quality of milk on that tanker.     Market premiums were spread over all farms, whether they earned them or not.

For years (as breed specialty bottling was forced out of business by competition from various consolidating national labels) (as those breeds other than Holstein began to disappear) no one gave this any thought:  after all, at the receiving plant, milk could be separated  into its various components.     Homogenization (to force butterfat particles smaller and harder so they would stay in suspension) became a popular selling point with two-income households, saving time over traditional “creamline” milk bottles as doctors began promoting lower fat diets.   

“Pooled” milk produced a change in genetic selection in favor of “one size fits all” ranking indexes that aligned with what could be marketed from a pooled milk supply.    Milk became generic—“milk is just milk” whether cows pastured or were confined, whether they ate fresh or fermented feeds, whether they were able to produce cheese curds or not, whether they had any added vitamins and minerals in their milk or not, whether they caused digestive upsets (from mutated A1 Beta Casein) or not.     Marketable breed differences became neutralized and lost to the God of the single milk truck, and the smaller dairies who specialized in marketing all those advantages were bankrupted by price competition from generic plastic milk jugs.

Commercial milk as it is today

Follow milk as it leaves its farm of origin, onto a semi-trailer tanker, commingled at each stop until it reaches a receiving plant.    It may travel all day before unloaded into refrigerated silos to be (first) flash pasteurized, then separated (to remove the cream), leaving the nonfat milk components to be powdered (which may require further separation between casein-protein and lactose) while the cream goes into churns to produce butter.     Your typical cooperative “balancing” plant is a separator, a churn, and a dryer.     Its products are designed and will be packaged in quantities that are standardized to the wholesale industry (as in 40-lb blocks of butter and 50-lb plastic-lined paper bags of nonfat milk powder).

For some cooperatives, the balancing plant may simply be a cheese plant, churning out 40-lb barrels of cheddar, again to be sold at wholesale for use in food processing.   

If the plant is receiving more milk than its processing capacity, milk will be reloaded onto an over-the-road tandem tanker and be routed to another handler.    This might be in Florida so add on a couple more days in transit from the time the cows were milked.     In the case of any milk the cooperative is selling to a local dairy, typically milk routes are scored on the Federal inspection system, and it will go directly from the farm route to the retail processing dairy.   But not always—sometimes dairy orders are filled from pumping over milk at a receiving plant.

The difficulty of economics in a “matured’ industry

Milk bottling off the farm began with brewery dairies in big cities in the 1880s.     Things ran along pretty independently until the Great Depression, at which point farm products began to turn into commodities by USDA definition.     Once you have a fully commoditized product, the only profits fall to “least cost” producers, but consolidation leads to “volume” preferences.    The dairy subsidies of the 1970s overheated production as soon as technologies for volume production came into place.     More was better became the “one size fits all” solution to any trouble we had along the way.    Milk cooperatives got confused in their mission, thinking the market was the government, providing subsidies – not the consumer, providing consumption.   “Volume” – “pooling” --  bigger is better, and we lost sight of the basics of milk’s values.

What that means in the jug of milk at the store

You have a product that has been “reconstituted”.     Farm-tank milk is first pasteurized, then skimmed to remove all cream; that cream is homogenized, then the required percentage added back to the vat to be bottled.    To make up any deficiency in total solids content, a bag or two of powdered nonfat milk protein or lactose can be dumped in and agitated to mix it back into suspension.     As the vitamins in milk are fat solubles (removed when the cream is separated) some supplemental vitamins (in liquid form) will be added in to “fortify” the milk.    Note that if the price of nonfat milk powder is rising the proportion of casein-protein to lactose may end up in favor of an elevated lactose content (compared to natural milk).    The law does not state a required proportion of lactose to nonfat powder in the reconstitution process.

Ultimately it is this added lactose fraction combined with lower fat content that now makes the skim milk packages a bigger source of obesity, while “whole” milk is now shown to be an aid to weight control.    But the dairy industry (stuck in the 1970s) still will price skim, 1%, 2% and whole milk at the same price—sending a confusing signal to the milk buying consumer, while lowering the component price recovery to the dairyman.

As for “whole” milk, except in areas where expansion mega-dairies already produce a “skim” milk level of butterfat and protein, the typical blended milk marketed through cooperatives arrived with 3.75% butterfat  (.50% higher than the Federal standard for “whole”).

Milk digestibility

There are three levels of contention as to the digestibility of a commercial jug milk product.   First, there is the difference between “flash” (continuous flow) and “batch” pasteurization.

When Mom used to heat the milk can on the stove and had us watch the thermometer afloat in it, the needed temperature for pasteurization was only 165 F for two minutes to kill pathogens.    In this time and at that temperature, the natural enzymes in the milk that are there to assist us in digesting the lactose remain alive and viable.   In a balancing plant, to insure pasteurization as milk flows through superheated tubes as a continuous flow process, the temperature is above that used for batch pasteurizing, high enough to damage those enzymes.

Second, there is the chemical changes wrought by homogenization.    The screens through which cream (or milk, in a bottling plant) is forced to pulverize the butterfat into very small particles are at 600 F.     At this temperature, any remaining enzymes are killed, and the fat globules are transformed into hardened little nuggets that are more difficult to digest.


Changing medical view of dairy products and our industry

The typical heart doctor believes the plaque that forms in arteries could be started from the hard little nuggets of superheated butterfat floating around in a homogenized jug of milk that pass our stomachs undigested into the bloodstream.

Third, there is the relatively recent discovery of a mutant form of Beta Casein that only occurs in bovine milk (not in goats, not in water buffalo, not in sheep or horses or humans).   Called A1 beta casein, the molecular form has substituted a “histamine” molecule for the benign enzyme (called A2 beta casein) that is part of the method by which milk is digestible to humans.     It is now tentatively confirmed by recent studies in Germany and Oregon that much of the “lactose intolerance” diagnosed may actually be an allergic reaction to A1 Beta Casein.

The first and second aspects of milk digestibility are manageable in a pooled milk supply just by changing milk processing design.    The third, however, requires genetic segregation of cattle to produce an A2A2 Beta Casein milk that is kept separate (not “pooled”) all the way to the jug.  

Relative product yields

Recently, a major milk cooperative lost a lucrative supply contract to a significant size cheese plant for repeatedly shipping them milk that would produce quality cheese curds and in the expected economic yield of cheese.    This was a milk cooperative that in its earlier days had assisted its major handlers in running local cheese production companies out of business who had the bad habit of procuring their milk directly from farms (cutting out the local cooperative “pooled” milk supply).    In spite of going through the 1990 to 2010 era, when protein earned twice the price of butterfat (a result of growth in cheese consumption) the management of this cooperative still thought of cheese as a use for “surplus” milk (the old “Class IV” category).

Two factors can degrade milk in its ability to set firm cheese curds:    (1)   Proportion of fresh or field-dried to fermented and oilseed sourced feed;  (2)  Level of the “B” and “E” Kappa Casein genes and “B” Lacto-Globulin in the milk supply.

In Kappa Casein genes, the A gene is “average” curd formation, the B gene is “enhanced” curd formation, and the E gene (also a more recent mutation) inhibits curd formation.    The B form of Lacto-Globulin affects the speed at which curds form, which can also have importance in a large-scale cheese production facility.     Prior to the shifts in genetic evaluation favoring the indexing of component yield volumes, there were major breed differences in Kappa Casein: 80% of Jerseys had the B gene, 50% of Brown Swiss had the B gene, but only 20% of Holsteins.    The E gene was recently discovered within a very popular Genomic ranking sire who has sold over one million straws of semen by seven years of age and had 250 sons (1000 grandsons) sampled in AI.     

Again, pooling milk onto a single milk tanker dilutes any possibility of enhancing cheese yield.    Milk produced from dry hay, pasture, seasonal baleage and dry grain rations will produce better cheese than milk produced from silage, oilseed proteins, straw and high-moisture grain TMRs. 

Can we perceive a future in which milk trucks do NOT “pool” milk with such different quality, but instead assist in keeping milk segregated until delivered to its point of highest and best use?   Can we tolerate politically a pricing system in which the “market” qualities of milk determines the price, instead of distributing the premiums from high quality milk to producers of lower product recovery milk (as the current Milk cooperative/ FMMO system forces)?

Consumer frustration

The debate over “raw” (activists call it “real”) milk’s desirability and the legal restrictions put in place to deny consumers the right of choice to follow their conscience in choosing to consume milk in its “Paleo” (natural, unprocessed) form for all the digestive and health benefits possible, has been a lightning rod for food activists.     They might buy “local” milk if available, but they are part of the market that has switched to “Soy” or “Almond” milk as a protest.    The prior dairy system that licensed “certified” dairies was lobbied out of existence by a partnership of national-scale milk handlers and their subservient milk cooperative suppliers.  

On-farm bottling

By definition, “certified” dairies were on-farm bottlers, because the certification was a farm-specific system.      Farm bottlers have a bad habit of finding ways to differentiate their milk in its promotion and labelling to emphasize comparative flaws of commercial jug milk: compare selling points between “organic” and all the other possible labels an on-farm bottler may use:

Certified organic   (no pesticides, herbicides or synthetic hormones used)

Compare to --

Glass bottles  (no dioxin bleed-through from plastic to milk)
Opaque plastic jugs   (no degradation of milk from UV lighting)
“Bottled the same day milked”  (enhanced shelf life, has not travelled 2000 miles)
Batch pasteurized    (digestive enzymes still intact)
Cream line milk    (never separated or homogenized)
Non GMO certified     (no feeds grown from GMO seeds, including carcinogens implied)
A2A2 certified    (all cows verified A2A2 by Genome test or by mating in pedigree after)
Grassfed (no grain) Cows    (better percentage of beneficial fats and proteins)
“Jersey Queen” (All-Jersey)     (higher calcium and phosphorus, consistent with Jersey milk)
“Golden Guernsey”     (higher carotene content, which adds the yellow fat color)


Where available, many of these packages are outselling generic “organic” milk because the specifics of the product benefit are relevant to the thinking of more sophisticated consumers.   A big part of this is the combination in thinking that “local” source food is also “fresh”.    The current Organic Valley and Horizon Dairy combines cannot make the same claim given their consolidated processing at locations at opposite ends of the country.   

In general, our milk cooperatives and our national level handlers are resisting any or all of the specialty labelling options, which consigns their labels to the basic generic commodity milk definition, and thus their farmers to a commodity milk price.     Is this product satisfying a dairy product consumer, and are the prices generated passing any profit back to the dairy farmer?


Produce to government standard or consumer desires?

Dairy can break out of its current miasma, and within it, traditional size farms well-managed can compete profitably, if we get out of the way and let the marketing of milk evolve along all the possible premium market niches.    Quit pooling milk, start redefining quality alongside an ability to produce a premium value product, let monetary rewards flow from the consumer instead of by fiat redistribution and government restriction and subsidy.     The need to qualify for an individual market would serve as a defacto “quota” system, more in line with what has worked in other industries without government imposition.   

In the meantime

Several years ago, the Sierra Club in Michigan polled farmers to determine what they could do to assist the ‘family farm” in surviving economically.     What came out of a lot of interviews was that farms of CAFO size had the potential to degrade the environment—all it took was failure of a manure lagoon during a wet season with excessive rain.

The combine of MSU ag engineering and Michigan Farm Bureau, assisted by MMPA and DFA did intense lobbying to prevent any actual enforcement of Federal CAFO guidelines.    The thought that a mega-dairy on limited acreage (for example, 500 cows on 40 acres, totally dependent on farming neighbors to recycle manure) could actually be an environmental time bomb was like a heresy to the “progressive dairy industry sector”.     Nothing changed.

Well, actually what did change was a recognition among monolithic monocultural dairymen that Michigan was the place to go—produce all the milk you want, no one was going to get in your way.     We added 100,000 cows, and the entire industry nearly collapsed in its inability to deal with that fast a growth in the milk supply.

The Sierra Club suggestion was elegant in its simplicity: if you want to put 5000 cows on 40 acres, you need a manure processing facility, the equivalent of a wastewater treatment plant as any village in Michigan with over 1500 residents already has.   Bring consistency in the rules between human populations and cow populations where density has been created.    On the other hand, if you are truly a dairy “farmer” (owning or controlling 3-4 acres per cow, which can utilize the manure produced from 3-4 acres of feed utilized per cow) the existing rules work and still apply and should continue to apply.     It was a simple question of, “what can soil biology handle”? and design to its unchangeable specifications.

Enforcing logical environmental rules which already exist could work to control the rate of future dairy expansion.    If you can’t pay for it, you are not as “efficient” as the experts say.    Match cows milked to dairy products consumed, produce products consumers want, and get paid for that collaboration.     Quit acting like we have the right to do what we want without consequences.     Put some restraints on greed and allow creativity to be rewarded.    Farming properly done is the solution to environmental degradation, and if we make friends with our consumers again, we can have that dialogue.      Otherwise, stay on this road and the climate change lobby will put animal agriculture out of business, if we do not bankrupt ourselves first by preserving infrastructure that no longer serves our interests.


Greg Palen

Retired dairyman
Current breeding consultant

March 14, 2020

Friday, January 15, 2021

The real cost of having too many heifers

 From the March/April CONCEPTIONS Dairy Newsletter

This may seem contrary to what you read everywhere, but I still can hear my Grandad telling a neighbor, “when the neighbors slow down driving by your farm, shaking their heads at what they see, you must finally be doing something right.    Peer pressure – that social force that got us into trouble during our school years, also has hidebound the dairy industry into replicating high-cost, technology-based operating styles that produce rates of return on investment lower than the costs of financing and depreciation.


Nowhere is this discussion more important than in the use of sex-sorted semen, which is promoted as a way to reduce calving problems in heifers (true enough—avoid the big lunker overdue bull calves).   So many dairymen following pre-health trait ranking indexes complained of never having enough heifers to keep pace with herd turnover.    As soon as sorted (female) semen came online, they wanted it and paid significant premiums to utilize it.   Today, the cost of sorting semen at the market level of demand has proven to be a huge financial burden to the AI industry, forcing some merger consolidations. 


For those using it who actually already had enough heifers, too often the result is – too high a charge for raising replacements against the value of each cow’s milk production.    Calculated costs of raising a calf to first freshening are in the neighborhood of $2.25 to $2.75 daily, or $1650 to $2000 per replacement.

The market for fresh heifers (given surpluses caused by sexed semen) barely matches the cost of raising them, so we are no better off today than we were in the 1960s, the last time we had a structural surplus in the replacement supply.


The “experts”are now telling us to do what they told our fathers not to do


Up into the 1960s, most grade dairymen bred heifers to beef breed bulls.    Reeasons: (1) usually an easier calving;  (2) they already got enough heifers from the cow herd, which had more longevity than what the industry is harvesting today;  (3) they did not want to raise a replacement from any heifer they decided not to keep.    Culling of below average heifers was their primary (and practical) method for genetic improvement.   (4) raising heifers only from “proven” cows kept numbers at a level that did not put strain on the milk check, and was always able to maintain desired herd size without buying cows.


“Genomic test, breed the best sexed, sell the rest”.    In fact, breed your cows to beef bulls (sell those calves as deacons to capture the beef breed premium) and raise all your replacements from heifers and younger cows, which are your “newest” genetics.   This is the recommendation now for a “progressive” dairyman to follow.     This places total trust in the technology of theoretical genetics for dairy.


Except there are consequences.    Here is a true story from Wisconsin.    A large herd bought into a Genomic testing of every calf.    Based on their cow turnover rates they sold the lowest 20% of heifer calves based on Genomic values.    A neighbor was buying all those calves at the sale barn (preparation for herd expansion).   Six years into this effort, the Genomic dairyman saw his neighbor’s herd average now exceeded theirs, SO he dropped in for a visit to see what was happening.


“Why do you buy all our cull calves, and how are you getting so much production from them?”   Turns out the neighbor had a longevity-based genetics and mating philosophy, and these “cull” calves proved to mostly be born from his oldest cows—thus carried lower index values, but realized more longevity.

In spite of years of selection favoring ‘fast maturity”, cows that actually achieve a functioning maturity milk 30% more.      Dr Dan Weigel, Zoetis “Wellness”    

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Commercially successful AI is 80 years old

 From the March/April 2018 CONCEPTIONS Dairy Newsletter

The artificial insemination of cattle in the USA as a business service began in 1938 in New Jersey under the direction of Enos Perry (NJ Extension dairyman) – who had gone to Denmark to observe and learn the technique they had developed.     The New Jersey Experiment Station was in the process of breeding a high butterfat strain of Holsteins to accommodate the desire of New Jersey milk marketers for higher component content milk than Holsteins were producing at that time.


Building genetic value from an inbred base


The bull ORMSBY SENSATION (result of breeding a famous 4% butterfat cow to her own son) had a high butterfat progeny list from natural service in a couple famous Midwestern breeder herds.    One of his later sons, Ormsby Sensation 45th came to New Jersey and continued the family tradition for NJES which proceeded to linebreed by brother-sister matings of 45th offspring, producing bulls for this early AI effort.   


Holsteins that could “test” like Jerseys


Within three generations, the descendants of “45th” transformed the typical 3.3% New Jersey Holstein herd into 4% butterfat producers (without loss of milk volume) with individual cows reaching the 5.0% mark—a level then (and today) considered only possible with “cream breed cows” like Jerseys.


The “Ormsby Sensation” bloodline was prominent in the formation of contemporary breeding herds like DUNLOGGIN (Ellicott City, MD—right next door to the USDA Beltsville experiment farms where the USDA sire summaries were calculated).    Besides high butterfat % these lines proved to be the ultimate in “longevity” – two characteristics that “Dunloggin” bloodline sires passed around the country with the advent of the A I industry across the nation in the model of the pioneering NJES service system.


Still possible today – “what goes around comes around”


The era of composite indexes has paralleled the generation of consumers taught (erroneously) to avoid animal fats as “unhealthy” – leading to the packaging of low-fat and skim milk products that are simple to make from a “pooled” (generic) processed milk supply.     The current state of indexing (including genomics) is a system to breed for generic fluid milk volume, rather than premium milk prices.    It is clear that increased butterfat % from focused genetic selection is the quickest way for you to raise the milk price on your bulk tank.    We have the bulls to do this.    Let us help you use them effectively.

Monday, January 11, 2021

What most impacts on your future price of milk?


We know TODAY that your butterfat production is more than 50% of your total milk check value.    Next in line is your protein production, which not only affects cheese but yogurt and food ingredient milk powders.    Fluid (bottled) milk is now a distant third, with skim milk varieties declining in consumption.    Thus POUNDS of milk is not a profitable breeding goal—PERCENT of components, at lower level of bacterial cells (SCC), certainly is NOW and in the foreseeable future.

As for the FUTURE milk market, consumer demand is forcing a less “commodity”, more specialized array of premium product categories.    For bottling milk, it will be the A2A2 Beta Casein variant milk that carries a premium for those conscious of their health, their digestion and especially for families fighting auto-immune disorders.    For specialty cheeses, BB Kappa Casein offers up to 15% more cheese yield, AB Kappa Casein up to 7% more cheese yield, than the same volume of AA (“standard”) Kappa Casein milk.

Friday, January 8, 2021

BEEF: It’s still what’s for dinner in the USA

 From the Jan/Feb 2018 CONCEPTIONS Beef News

The latest reports show that Beef consumption has steadily risen:  55 pounds per person in 2015, 56 pounds per person in 2016, 58 pounds estimated for 2017.      2% increase per person, times population growth, means several million pounds more beef are moving through American food stores these days.


So why have beef prices been down instead of up the last couple years?


Because the food retailing industry, in spite of all the “buy local” hype and farmers’ market venues as well as a rise in custom-processed specialty beef (such as “grassfed” or “Pied Lean”), continues to be consolidated.    When internet companies like Amazon use their inflated stock (300 times earnings!!) to buy boutique chains like Whole Foods it is clear that prices at the farm gate must accommodate all the hands that food passes through before it reaches the majority of American tables.


Lower beef prices have in fact stimulated demand


For years, the national cow herd declined (from over 50 million in the 1970s to under 35 million after the new century arrived) without beef prices dramatically increasing.    The reasons:  (a)  dairy source beef was filling the lower price sectors, for example fast-food hamburger;   (b)  more corn-fed animals meant heavier finish weights on carcasses;   (c)  lots of countries put a lot of effort into exporting beef to the USA.        


Grass-fed beef is easier for chain food companies to source overseas


Make no mistake—“grassfed beef” is here to stay as well as growing.    The cost to price ratio for corn is not sufficient for rangeland to be converted to row crops, so grazing remains a higher per-acre profit use for cattle feeding.    Thus desire to keep acreage “in grass” leads to desire to feed animals “on grass” for a longer period than just birth to weaning and for dry cow maintenance.


However, there is little movement to create a “grass fed beef” marketing infrastructure to move cattle from dispersed grazing farms to central collection locations to serve chain food marketing.   Thus, most of the “big guns” in beef retailing contract “grassfed” beef from as far away as Australia.


For the near future, those with a willingness to do direct-marketing (as freezer beef or USDA inspected boxed meat packages) will earn a market premium and help grow beef consumption among a primarily urban upscale food activist clientele…But if you try to buy it at Wal-Mart, you will understand why the “COOL” initiative got shot down.     Their “grassfed” beef comes mostly from South America.


Even at current prices, farm beef production currently has the best profit margin of any major agricultural commodity being produced.    Meanwhile, the lower per pound prices we are receiving can be managed with lower grain costs, multiple options for age at sale, and improved sale weights (some genetic stimulus here).    


The trend toward higher beef consumption, while small “per person”, is still a steady trend and has room to grow;  after all, 58 pounds per year is still only 1.1 pounds per week, which is two “quarter pounders” and an 8 ounce steak (or pots of chili with meat sauce) on the weekend.    Every gas station convenience store now offers entire racks of meat snacks and beef jerky.     



Beef prices may be down from a couple years ago, but the premium for “beef breed” calves and feeders (over dairy breed deacons and feeders) is larger and (based on comparative genetic selection trends) will remain so.



Those of us who see AI sires “on the hoof” at various AI centers will confirm that the Beef breed sires are “meatier” than was true 20 years ago, while Dairy breed sires are trapped in an “angularity” selection trend that works against fleshing feed efficiency.


The future growth in the Beef industry output will no longer come from dairy steers—it is coming from a resurgence in Beef breed feeding efficiency and specialty breed marketability.    “Grass fed” beef just requires “beef breed” genetics, while dairy beef is increasingly dependent on corn and soybean to reach finished quality.    (The only numerous dairy breed with any marbling ability is the traditional Jersey.)



Looking for sires to keep you aligned with the trends?    Just ask us.


Mich Livestock Service, Inc     ph (989) 834-2661     PO Box 661    Ovid,  MI  48866