September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
U of M WCROC awarded $1.9 million grant
"[We hope] to find good solutions to some of the challenges [organic dairy farmers] are facing," said Brad Heins. "We will do the research and provide answers that producers can implement in their herds."
Heins, assistant professor at WCROC, has been involved in the grant process from the start.
"We had several group meetings with organic producers from all over the state," Heins said. "We wanted to hear their thoughts on research, educational opportunities and direction for the program. That's what led to the development of the proposal."
The $1.9 million grant was awarded to WCROC by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which focuses on organic research and extension. Researchers at WCROC plan to use the money to fund several research projects that will focus on grazing management, fly management, outwintering cattle, mastitis treatment and prevention, animal behavior, soil fertility, and economics.
"It's a big project, but it will be good - long term - for everybody," Heins said.
The research projects will begin in January 2013, beginning with the outwintering study, which will compare housing lactating animals on an outdoor straw pack versus in a compost barn during the winter months.
"We will look at the different housing systems and the effects they have on animal health during the winter," Heins said.
The grazing portion of the project - which will begin in spring 2013 - will consist of a comprehensive study of several different pasture systems, including grazing cool season grasses, such as rye grass and clover, and grazing warm season grasses (BMR Sudan grass and teff grass). The project will also look at extending the grazing season by grazing oats and turnips into the fall, Heins said. In conjunction with that, soil scientists will look at the nutritional balances to determine nutrient losses in each grazing system.
Working with entomologists from the University of Minnesota, one research project will focus on determining best methods of horn fly control. For this, two different styles of walk-through fly traps - a Spalding Cow Vac and a Bruce Fly Trap - will be set up at WCROC. Plans are also to work with several organic dairy producers across the state, setting up fly traps on some of the farms and leaving some as controls to get a broader picture of the effectiveness of the different control methods.
The mastitis portion of the project will look at the effectiveness of udder mint creams as a method of treating mastitis. It will also focus on dry cow treatment.
"Most organic producers just stop milking them [at dry off] and call it good," Heins said. "We plan to take milk samples before dry off and when the cows freshen to compare the bacteria counts [in them]."
The economics of each individual project will also be looked at, to determine what is most cost-effective.
"There is also a big extension component, so we will be hosting field days in Morris and on farms, as well as online activities," Heins said.
Much of the research for these projects will be done on the WCROC's own organic dairy herd. While the work will begin in January, the data from the research projects will be collected over four years. Heins's hope is that the findings will provide new insight to common problems within the organic dairy community - insight that organic dairy producers will be able to take home and implement on their own farms.
Meg Stuedemann believes the benefits from these studies will go far beyond organic farmers.
"It's an organic project, but it is stuff that every dairy farmer can apply," Stuedemann said. "I'm convinced there will be things that will be transferable [beyond] the organic dairy producers in Minnesota."
Stuedemann and her husband, Kevin, milk around 80 cows on their organic dairy farm in northern Le Sueur County, near Belle Plaine, Minn. Like Heins, the Stuedemanns were actively involved in the front end of the grant process, attending the pre-proposal meetings and working alongside the researchers and other farmers to steer the direction of the grant proposal. Now, the Stuedemanns will serve as a test farm for some of the projects, including the fly management project.
"I'm particularly excited about the fly management [study], because that's a big challenge for us," Stuedemann said. "... In organic, everything is really connected. Sometimes it's not managing the cow or the fly, it's managing the pasture, the soil and the cow pat."
This comprehensive approach, Stuedemann said, will be reflected in all of the research projects being funded by the grant.
"What's really exciting ... is that they will look at things simultaneously, at the connection among all influences," she said.
Organic dairy farming - and dairy farming in general - can present many challenges to the farmer. With this $1.9 million grant, researchers at the U of M WCROC hope to mitigate a few of the most common problems and provide practical solutions that can be implemented by all.
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