Better beats bigger

Dale and Marie Smith are Ontario's 1999 Outstanding Young Farmers
The overwhelming trend in Ontario's dairy industry seems to be toward expanding production drastically. But bucking the norm can pay dividends.

Just ask Dale and Marie Smith and family of Mount Hope, Hamilton-Wentworth.

For one thing, judges of Ontario's 1999 Outstanding Young Farmer program last spring chose the Smiths as the winners among a group of outstanding finalists. The Smiths, the second generation to farm at Don-Mair Acres, a 325-acre purebred Holstein operation, will represent Ontario in the Canadian Outstanding Young Farmer competition in Regina, Nov. 23-28.

For another, fine-tuning the management of their current set-up without expansion has allowed an improved social and community life for both the couple and their children - Aaron, 15, and Kendra, 11. Dale has joined a local slo-pitch team ("I'm known as one of the 'udder guys'") and is also serving on the committee of adjustment in the local municipality.

You believe him when he says that jobs that need doing shouldn't be ignored, on farm or off. You just need to ask someone who's busy and they'll find the time, he says. Marie coaches baseball with enough flair to have been named coach of the year two years ago.

Dale says the family "wants to get better before getting bigger." To that end, Don-Mair has set a milk production increase goal of five per cent per year. But even in accomplishing that they've not chosen the fashionable route, eschewing TMR feeding for the computer feeder that has been a staple of the operation's feeding system for a dozen years. The computer feeder supplements a ration of alfalfa and corn silage, which is mixed on the conveyors carrying it from the tower silos to the feed bunk. "The system is real simple. Anyone can feed our cows," says Dale, who admits he took a long hard look at TMRs on a variety of farms.

Smith figures his farm's feed costs at 12 cents per litre of milk shipped.

"Lots of TMRs cost more than that," he says. TMRs take too long to mix, he says, and require careful supervision while micro nutrients are added.

A portable mixer requires two tractors to operate it. And with a stationary mixer, says Dale, "there are more conveyors and more chains and more things to go wrong."

Smith has opted to continue feeding micro nutrients in a pellet made at the local feed mill in Ancaster. Basis for the pellet is homegrown mixed grains, barley and oats, which are stored at the mill. The mixed grains offer an additional bonus. There is more straw per acre to be harvested from combined fields than is left after straight barley.

Dale rolls his fields through a rotation of cereals, alfalfa and corn. This spring, he round-baled and wrapped 15 acres of first-cut hay, sprayed the field with Roundup, and hired a cash cropping neighbour to plant corn in early June for a double silage crop this year.

He's optimistic that this year's crop will be better than 1998's. There was more moisture in the ground in early June than at the same time last year, he says. The Smiths have carved out a market for excess alfalfa hay, selling large round bales to a horse farming neighbour. A 50- x120-foot Coverall structure to store both large round bales and machinery was installed this year.

Most years, the Smiths grow 70 acres of mixed grains, 120 acres of hay and 50 acres of corn to feed their 54 cows and followers. Dale is a fan of no-tilling, but sees that it has limitations. "You can't go full no-till with manure," he says. It has to be worked into fields in the fall.

He also direct seeds alfalfa with a Brillion seeder to get a cut of hay in the same year as planting. Mould board plowing is kept to about 30 acres a year. Dale prefers to chisel plow to minimize wind and water erosion.

The cows are housed in a freestall in a modified traditional barn and milked in a double-four Surge Autoflow parlour that was installed in 1994.

The set-up has greatly reduced labour. Milking now takes one person 75 minutes. "It used to take two of us two-and-a-half hours," says Marie, who's helped work the farm since her marriage to Dale in 1980. The rolling herd average on 54 cows is now 9,700 kg per cow, up from 6,900 kg 10 years ago. This May was the highest milk production month on the farm ever, with cows producing a daily average of 78 pounds of milk per animal.

Dale and Marie toured farms for two years before building the new parlour and saw up close the disadvantages that can be associated with fast growth.

"I think there is a fine line between where you make money and you're just supplying a job for the vets and the feed company," says Dale. Marie agrees that the farm is at a point where everything is manageable without a lot of outside help. "I don't want to be a slave to my cows. I want them to work for me," says Dale.

Dale has started grid sampling his fields for soil tests, using Guelph-based Agri-Food Laboratories. He is sampling for potash, phosphorous and pH.

Don-Mair has already developed an environmental farm plan. Semi-solid manure from the cow barn is stored in a open-sided but roofed concrete holding area beside the barn. Pipeline cleaning liquid is recycled to wash down the parlour area, then held in an eight-month capacity storage area under the barn until it's spread by a custom operator with a low-hanging boom behind a tractor.

The Smiths have a long history of community service, a significant factor in OYF judging. A small field of soybeans has been donated to the local Presbyterian church's food grains bank. Efforts to improve the farmstead earned Marie a township property beautification award last year.

"That's the way we were raised," says Marie, who grew up on a farm a few miles away. She's a sister of Doug Cranston, who with wife Joan took 1995 Ontario Outstanding Young Farmer honours.

© copyright 1999 Agricultural Publishing Company Limited.

Emu expansion

Dale and Marie Smith have also diversified into emus. They own three adult breeding pairs and 14 youngsters. The birds are kept at the farm of a friend who is set up to raise the birds.

Dale is keen on developing the market for meat from these exotic birds. He makes meat sales privately, without advertising. Potential customers find out about his product "through word of mouth."

The birds are slaughtered at between 12 and 18 months of age at a local abattoir that handles a number of different species. At that age the birds weigh 100 pounds. "It's the ideal time to market them," he says. The ratites are made into pepperettes, sausage, as well as roasts and steaks.

"People who buy it really like it," Smith says, while stressing that it's important to get the product onto people's plates and into their mouths so that they can try it.

© copyright 1999 Agricultural Publishing Company Limited.

Outstanding in your field?

Canada's Outstanding Young Farmer program recognizes farmers between the ages of 18 and 39 who exemplify excellence in the profession and have innovative and successful operations to show for it.

The country is split into seven regions for the purpose of the competition, and the seven regional winners go on to compete for the national title, which this year will be awarded at the Regina Agribition. The process begins with a nomination at the local level, often by county farm group. Candidates must complete a detailed application form that asks for details on:

- Progress in agricultural career

- Extent of soil, water and energy conservation practices

- Crop and livestock production history

- Contributions to the well-being of the community, province and country

Regional finalists are determined by a panel of agricultural experts. For details on the program, contact:

Mark Murphy
Ontario Regional Chairman
RR#2 Alliston, ON L9R 1V2
(705) 435-2141

© copyright 1999 Agricultural Publishing Company Limited.


New milk rules set for August

New milk testing and milk house rules go into effect Aug. 1, and even more regulation changes are expected later this fall. Some of the changes are in anticipation of a new National Dairy Code, standards that will be applied to farms producing milk across Canada.

Ontario has given its blessing to regulation changes for testing milk samples for somatic cell counts (SCC), along with standards in the milk house.

Under the new rules, bulk tank samples will be tested for SCC four times a month rather than once. Somatic cell counts are an indication of mastitis in a dairy herd, and Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) wants farmers to know that the udder health status of their herds has changed as soon as possible so that management changes can be made.

"We figure that more information [to farmers] will get better results," says George MacNaughton, DFO's farm policy and field services manager.

Farmers can check their SCC score the day after testing on the DFO's web site A farmer with a high SCC count will also receive an advisory letter. While testing will be done weekly, penalties for violations will continue to be meted out to violators monthly, based on a weighted average of the four weekly SCC scores.

Also, Aug. 1, it's going to be easier for expanding farmers to increase the capacity for storage in their milk houses. The provincial Milk Act regulations will be changed to allow a producer to have two bulk tanks in one milk house. This will suit farms that are looking at expanding operations. Farms that already have a bulk tank with a capacity of 1,000 US gallons or more can now install a second tank, rather than purchase a single larger tank. To meet the provincial regulations the second tank must hold a minimum of 600 US gallons.

Tanks that hold 1,000 gallons or less are readily available, both new and used, MacNaughton says. Allowing a second tank will increase transportation efficiency.

Having two tanks will also reduce risks for larger operators, MacNaughton says. If there is a problem with milk in one tank they can put milk into the other without breaking the milking routine.

A second tank must be approved before it is installed, MacNaughton points out. There are spacing issues that must be addressed, as well as the issue of capacity for cleaning and hot water supply. A particular concern is clearance between the tank and the ceiling.

Looking further down the road, bacteria, inhibitor and SCC penalty programs are due to be changed Jan. 1.

The acceptable limit for bacteria in milk is going to be cut in half come Jan. 1. Currently, the threshold level for bacteria in milk is 100,000 cells per millilitre of milk. As of Jan. 1, that level will be reduced to 50,000, bringing Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba in line with the other provinces.

Also beginning Jan. 1, the SCC program will change to four penalty levels for samples over 499,000, rather than six penalties before a shutoff of milk shipments occurs. Under the old system, farmers were penalized $1 per hectolitre for the first violation, $2 for the second, $3 for the third, $4 for the fourth, and $5 for the fifth violation, all within the previous 12 months.

A sixth violation within six months results in a $6 per hl penalty and a shutoff on shipments.

As of Jan. 1, the first two penalty levels of $1 and $2 will be dropped.

The first penalty that a farmer receives will be $3 per hectolitre for milk shipped that month. But the first penalty won't take effect until three out of four tests within four months register SCCs greater than 499,000. So the producer has more time to clean up his mastitis on the farm before a financial penalty is imposed.

Also in January, the DFO and the province get tougher on producers who repeatedly ship milk with inhibitors: A producer will be shut off if he has two violations within 12 months.

When pickups are shut off because of quality problems, the producer must appear before the director of regulatory compliance to set reinstatement requirements.

© copyright 1999 Agricultural Publishing Company Limited.


Early calving has its drawbacks

Early season birthing increases risks and provides few benefits, study says
Across Canada, beef farms have gradually moved to early spring and late winter calving.

That may be the wrong way to go, say the authors of a study conducted in central Alberta. Early breeding and early calving isn't the be-all and end-all of beef production. The greater risks associated with early season birthing take a toll, with relatively few benefits.

Scientists at the University of Alberta compared calves born in March and April to calves born in late May. They concluded that pregnancy, calving and weaning rates, post weaning average daily gain and off-test weights in early and late borne calves were nearly the same.

Late season had some benefits. For some breeds, late calving resulted in higher average daily gains and higher heifer weights to first breeding. The later calving group had a tighter calving period and also produced heavier calves. Late calving cows had a shorter lactation period, considered to be easier on the cows.

The studies were conducted on the Kinsella ranch run by the University of Alberta. Researchers bred cows in two groups: an early group bred beginning June 21 with the aim to begin producing calves about Apr. 1. The other group began breeding on Aug. 4 to produce calves on May 15. In both groups the breeding season lasted six weeks. Pregnancy was diagnosed four months after breeding by rectal palpation. The study was conducted over three years. Calves from both groups were weaned on the same day each year. Cows and heifers calved on straw bedding in sheltered areas on the range.

The cows and heifers used in the test were of three different genetic backgrounds. There were two "synthetic" beef groups. One group was one third each Angus and Charolais, 20 per cent Galloway and the remainder other breeds. The second beef group was made up of 60 per cent Hereford and 40 per cent other breeds. A third group was described as a dairy synthetic, being composed of 60 per cent Holstein, Brown Swiss and Simmental and 40 per cent beef breeds.

Cows in both early and late groups received the same amount of winter feed in addition to what they foraged. The average calving date was Apr. 15 for the first group and May 28 for the second group. But the average calving period, the time between first and last calf, was longer in the early group, 53 days, compared to 47 days for the late-calving group. A lower percentage of calves were born in the first 21 days of the calving season in the early group than in the late group. Pregnancy, calving and weaning rates did not differ between the groups.

Pre-weaning average daily gain in the early group was higher than in the late group, 1.17 versus 1.12 kg per day. The scientists believe the older calves are better able to utilize pasture and consume larger quantities of their dam's milk when pasture is at its flush.

But the study noted a difference between the beef bred cows and the group of synthetic dairy cows. The later born calves from the dairy breeds grew faster than the early born calves.

The dairy-type cows also lost more conditioning over the winter.

© copyright 1999 Agricultural Publishing Company Limited.


Castration vaccine in works

A new vaccine that castrates bulls was recently tested in a study by the Lethbridge Research Centre; Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development; and Biostar, Inc., of Saskatoon. Results indicate it works effectively, while avoiding the swelling and health risks commonly associated with traditional castration methods.

The vaccine makes the animal immune to a reproductive hormone called GnRH.

The immunity prevents GnRH from triggering two other hormones that control testosterone and sperm cell production in the testicles. The result - confirmed in the study - is immunological castration.

"This study clearly demonstrates that vaccination against GnRH has considerable potential as an alternative to traditional methods," says Dr. John Kastelic, a veterinarian and reproductive physiologist at the Lethbridge Research Centre.

The scientists are conducting additional studies to further test the effectiveness of the vaccine and develop practical protocols for commercial use, including reducing the number of vaccinations required. The vaccine - a recombinant protein - was previously developed by Biostar using biotechnology methods and after further development could become available to producers within five years.

Kastelic says the vaccine could serve as a valuable alternative to surgical castration, which can cause swelling, short-term reduction in weight gains, hemorrhage and infection.

The main study involved 60 crossbred beef bulls approximately nine months old with an average weight of 307.5 kg. Half were treated with the vaccine, which was administered three times: at the start of the study, and at 56 and 112 days. Half were an untreated control group. Bulls were backgrounded for 84 days, then fed a finishing diet for 100 days prior to slaughter.

During backgrounding, the results showed no significant differences between the two groups for average daily gain, feed intake or feed efficiency. During finishing, although the rate of weight gain was significantly lower in the vaccinated bulls than the control bulls, it was similar to the expected performance of steers. Vaccinated bulls had lower testosterone concentrations than control bulls, were less aggressive and easier to handle. At slaughter, vaccinated bulls had significantly smaller testicles and lower sperm production than control bulls.

© copyright 1999 Agricultural Publishing Company Limited.


Tougher standards for provincial plants

Concerns about food safety are forcing changes on provincially inspected packing plants in Ontario. Your favourite local abattoir, a partner in your freezer trade, may be feeling the squeeze soon.

The 250 provincial plants slaughtered about 117,000 beef cattle in the province last year. That's almost 17 per cent of the annual slaughter in the province. The provincial plants are even more important to the veal industry, handling roughly 70,000 veal calves, nearly half of the production in any given year.

"There is a lot of uncertainty out there," says Laurie Murdock, executive director of the Independent Meat Packers Association, based in Guelph. There are concerns because some plants are going to require a significant upgrade in order to meet new federal standards that will put all the provinces on equal footing.

Murdock says 80 per cent of the volume of all species is slaughtered in 75 plants across the province. The rest of the plants serve rural communities.

Packers will have to "make a business decision," Murdock says. The industry has seen an initial draft of regulations and a code. There will be a second set of consultations between governments and packers this fall.

The changes that are being brought about aren't changes to regulations as much as more enforcement of current standards of compliance. All plants are being brought to a national code. Murdock says the focus will be on assessing food safety, rather than simply adhering to regulations. Plants will likely have to follow a HACCP (Hazards Analysis and Critical Control Points) plan to assure that there isn't contamination of food.

Packers can expect to be able to trade outside the province with the new standards. But it isn't clear whether they will be able to sell to export customers.

Plants that now slaughter a number of different species may find that they have to take more measures, Murdock says. She thinks it will be difficult for plants killing a number of species to meet HACCP standards. "The cooler is a critical control point," she says. They may need to add cooler space in order to properly segregate different species; and they may have to increase cooling capacity as well.

There is also the question of who will certify provincial plants, Murdock says. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency oversees federal plants. - Don Stoneman

© copyright 1999 Agricultural Publishing Company Limited.


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