‘There’s no magic in animal handling.’ Calm behavior taught, learned.

Dr. Hoglund’s low-energy cattle-handling workshops school cattle and handlers

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Dr. Hoglund talks about raising hands from below eye level to above the eye level of the cattle to add a little energy to create movement, while emphasizing the importance of using only the amount of energy needed.

 By Sherry Bunting, first published in Farmshine, Nov. 7, 2018

MARION, Pa. — When Josh and Brandi Martin attended their first low-energy cattle handling and stockmanship clinic with Dr. Don Hoglund, Josh wondered what he could learn. After all, he works cattle every day at the family’s farm where they milk 1000 cows and raise dairy replacements as well as beef cattle in Franklin County, Pennsylvania.

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Josh and Brandi Martin attended a previous clinic and learned so much they organized one as a refresher at their farm for themselves and their neighbors.

“I learned a lot, and it surprised me,” he told a dozen fellow dairy producers, employees and industry representatives at a two-day workshop organized at Martin Farms Oct. 15-16.

“There’s no magic in animal handling,” said Dr. Hoglund, who stated there’s also no definition for “emotion” because emotion is cognitive and requires language.

Fear, therefore, can’t be quantified.

He focused on the observable behavior of animals and how humans and animals learn from their interactions.

The learning for clinic attendees began in a classroom setting before heading out to the heifers and cows with the realization that just like no one in the room could know what anyone else was thinking or feeling, we also don’t know what animals are thinking or feeling.

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Dr. Don Hoglund

“But we can observe and measure their behavior and responses,” said Dr. Hoglund, whose educational, vocational and life experiences span decades as a veterinarian, animal behaviorist, animal trainer (including for Walt Disney Company), researcher, educator, evaluator and text book author on the subject.

A scientist with decades of experience, Hoglund stressed the importance of observing behavior, not emotion and of using specific words in conversations with consumers to convey behavior that can be observed instead of emotion, which is a guess.

As we soon found out, Hoglund’s clinics are not your run-of-the-mill stockmanship workshops. He teaches science-based and practical approaches to human and animal interaction – challenging the conventional wisdom.

“I’m not here to tell you how to handle your cattle, but rather to show you how animals learn, and how you learn affects how your animals learn,” he said.

Part of the two-day cattle course at the Martin farm involved having producers do techniques in training and handling to the point where they can teach someone else and accomplish important aspects of various farm owner and employee certifications.

Additionally, Hoglund’s techniques equipped attendees with a few ideas for “teaching” dairy animals calm parlor behavior via low-energy training as heifers.

The fascinating aspect of the clinic was evident in how both the people and the cattle demonstrated observable behaviors that showed they were both learning.

“We are seeing a revolution in the neurosciences,” said Dr. Hoglund, explaining that we really don’t know why animals run.

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A dozen dairy producers, employees and industry people attended Dr. Don Hoglund’s low-energy cattle handling clinic at Martin Farms near Marion, Franklin County, Pennsylvania recently. Photos by Sherry Bunting

“They run because they can,” he said. “There’s more than one reason why animals run, so instead of why, we should be looking at ‘when’ they run. Look at when a behavior occurs, not guessing why. You know what the cattle are doing and when they are doing it.”

He demonstrated a primary example on dairy farms.

“A dairy cow faces you all of her life. That’s how we feed and interact with her growing up. But for milking, she faces away from you and has to turn her head to see you,” Hoglund explains. “We can teach animals to calmly face away so they are ready for the parlor.”

He explained his techniques as “low-energy handling” — using just the amount of energy it takes. Preferring to speak in terms of “energy” versus “stress,” Hoglund said a key is for cattle handlers to learn to manage their own energy levels relative to the cattle.

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Dr. Hoglund instructs pairs of participants in the heifer pens at Martin Farms as the teach heifers to calmly “face away.”

“When we start doing things in the blind zone, early, we are training the cattle to handle this calmly,” he said. “Everyone is told to stay out of the cow’s blind zone, but that’s where all the milking work is done.

“How about we train her to accept that?”

In the heifer pens, attendees, working in pairs, put the principles into practice according to Hoglund’s instructions getting the heifers to learn “facing away” behavior and “see human go to food.”

It was interesting to see how quickly they settled-in to be orderly as they learned “facing away,” and how their handlers learned to step away once they got the animals where they wanted them to go.

“Your energy drops and the animal learns. That’s what we’re after, the learning,” said Hoglund. “Cattle are in the business of learning to stay alive. They will go the efficient way and that helps you get more of the milk you are investing in.

“When we work with cattle in low-energy, then we have them in the parlor in low-energy,” he explained, adding that calm behavior is observable where the term “relaxed” is a feeling term, and therefore unknown.

“We want to talk and think about these things as behavior and not emotion. Behavior is anything you can observe,” he explained. “We are teaching others to teach animals to go calmly and to face away from us.”

The biggest thing for clinic attendees was to come away doing enough to be able to teach others at their own farms. After working in a heifer pen, participants had the opportunity to ‘train’ another clinic participant.

Throughout the handling, Hoglund said that trotting is okay, but that if the animals begin to lope, that’s not what you want.

The exercises in teaching cattle to accept “facing away” are something producers or employees can do 15 minutes a day for three days in a row and get results and then periodically refresh, according to Hoglund.

“It’s not really animal handling or stockmanship, it’s animal learning,” he observed. “The animals are learning to accept compression, and the people learn to slow down, be safe, and manage themselves to use only the energy required to accomplish the task. As we lower the energy, we reinforce the learning.”

He acknowledged that it’s tough for handlers to learn when to step back. “That’s one of the hardest things to learn, but also the most important.”

Low-energy handling starts with hands at sides. For safety reasons, he advised participants not to put them down in their pockets but to thumb their pockets and keep the hands out in case they need them.

“We add energy to move them by moving our hands from below the eye level of the cattle to above the eye level to raise the energy,” Hoglund explained.

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Bred heifers calmly eat at the bunks watching some of their pen-mates ‘learn’ calm parlor entry through a makeshift chute.

When it comes to training animals and human handlers for low-energy handling, Hoglund said avoid training animals where they sleep: “You don’t what to chase animals out of their beds to train them.”

While working in the heifer pens at the Martin farm, Hoglund explained that, “Heifers learn through all five senses. To know where an animal is looking, look at her ear, not her eye. She can see two things at once, so the ear tells you more.”

This is important information for producers and employees to avoid raising the energy level in a pen.

Hoglund made the case that these techniques are also important from an economic standpoint. Citing work he has been involved with in Minnesota, he said it takes 20 minutes for a cow to get rid of that adrenaline rush from a high-energy handling.

“That 20 minutes can hold back two and a half to three pounds of milk in the next milking,” he said, adding that cattle remember “where” things happen and don’t regain the milk lost.

“These techniques will help you get the milk you’ve already invested in,” said Hoglund, explaining that  “animals repeat what they learn, and for the people working with the animals, seeing gives information but doing is learning.”

This was just one aspect of the two-day clinic and the tip of the iceberg in terms of Dr. Hoglund’s work and the services and education he provides to universities, organizations, companies and especially hands-on to groups of producers and employees on farms.

Look for more tips from this clinic in the future, and to learn more about Dr. Hoglund and his work, visit https://www.dairystockmanship.com/

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How will fake milk, fake meat be labeled and regulated?

Say, what? New twist on standards of identity: How will fake milk and fake meat be labeled and regulated?

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In a time when many people have lost their connection to the values and sustainability of the circle of life, cattle have been getting an undeserved bad rap on everything from diet to environment to compassion. On all three counts, the anti-animal agenda lies behind the false narrative that is leading us down a dishonest path to more fake concoctions of ill-fated science fueling profits at the expense of our physical and emotional health and the health of the planet. Fake meat and fake milk are funded by billionaires, genetically engineered by USDA, initiated as the brain children of Silicon Valley techies, with partnership from the biggest names in corporate agriculture. Noble goals of ending hunger are the defense, but it’s difficult to believe that when we have surplus dairy and meat protein produced naturally with the real problem of hunger coming down to distribution and waste. This so-called solution has the potential to quietly dictate food choices, markets and livelihoods.

By Sherry Bunting, updated since first published in Farmshine, November 21, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  “Dairy reinvented: Sustainable. Kind. Delicious,” is the tagline of Perfect Day’s website.

“Better meat, better world” are the words that jump from the Memphis Meats website.

To be more specific, Perfect Day’s mission is to “create a better way to make dairy protein, the same nutritious protein found in cow’s milk…without the help of a single cow.”

Meanwhile, at Memphis Meats, their mission is “To bring delicious and healthy meat to your table by harvesting it from cells instead of animals… feel good about how it’s made because we strive to make it better for you… and the world.”

On the fake meat side, Memphis Meats received Series A funding from four sources in August 2017: venture capitalist DFJ, billionaire investors Bill Gates and Richard Branson, and Cargill. In January of 2018, Tyson came on board as an investor.

On the fake dairy side, Perfect Day received its Series A funding from Singapore and Hong Kong venture capital and investment companies that have relationships with some of the largest food and beverage companies and brands in the world, according to a company news release. In addition, Continental Grain was part of the early investment, and in November 2018, Perfect Day announced a partnership with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).

The big question, at present, is how will these proteins be regulated and labeled?

The discussion is converging with FDA’s nutrition innovation strategy and modernization of standards of identity (especially dairy standards of identity), along with parallel hearings and comment periods on how to regulate and label the ‘meat’ version of lab-created cellular proteins.

Make no mistake about it folks: Both of these processes involve genetic engineering start-to-finish.

Perfect Day (fake milk protein), for example, sources yeast from USDA research labs that has been “genetically-altered” to include bovine protein stimulators and synthesizers.

Memphis Meats (fake meat) uses animal cells, mainly bovine and poultry, from cell banks that have been edited to grow only desired muscle cells — separate from their whole-animal source.

The fake dairy protein would be the end-product of the fermentation of the genetically-altered yeast, while the fake meat protein would be the protein blobs that grow from the genetically-edited cells, using neonatal bovine serum — or a plant chemical substitute that is under development — as a growth “on” button.

Both systems would require energy feed sources, using a sugar and/or starch substrate to feed the growth.

Both processes would produce waste streams.

The dairy version are grown in fermentation vats. The meat version in bioreactor towers.

While opinions vary on how quickly these technologies can scale, it is clear that the technologies are well-funded, and that agriculture’s top-tier food supply-chain processors and distributors are partnering.

We must continue to let FDA and USDA know what farmers and consumers — the two ends of the supply chain that need to be talking to each other — feel about the potential of these technologies to create captive-supply market control using interchangeable proteins in common manufactured dairy products or as protein enhancements for plant-based beverages, as well as to stretch boneless beef and poultry products with fake counterparts, namely as ground beef, hamburger, meatballs and chicken tenders and nuggets.

In a press release Friday, November 16, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that they will “jointly oversee the production of cell-cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry.”

There has been no similar FDA PMO-regultory process established for the fake milk proteins.

USDA and FDA had a public meeting in July and October to discuss the use of bovine and poultry “cell lines” to develop these cell-cultured, lab-created foods.

In fact, meat industry stakeholders shared their perspectives on the regulation that is needed to “foster these innovative food products and maintain the highest standards of public health,” said FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb in an official FDA statement in November.

USDA and FDA announced their “agreement on a joint regulatory framework wherein FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks and cell growth and differentiation. A transition from FDA to USDA oversight will occur during the cell harvest stage. USDA will then oversee the production and labeling of food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.”

As FDA and USDA are “actively refining the technical details of the framework,” some of the aspects of the framework are said to include robust collaboration and information-sharing between the two agencies to allow each to carry out our respective roles.

The well-funded startups and their lobbying organization Good Food Institute (a misnomer in this author’s opinion) had pushed for FDA to control labeling and inspection knowing that if USDA were in charge, their efforts to scale production would be slowed.

In view of this joint approach between FDA and USDA, the original public comment period about cell-cultured ‘meat’ had been extended to December 26, 2018. Comments can be seen at the FDA docket at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FSIS-2018-0036-0001  and there are thoughts that this comment period could be extended again as has the dairy standards of identity comment period.

Meanwhile, on the lab-created ‘dairy’ protein front, Perfect Day, a Silicon-Valley startup, announced in a press release in November that it has formed a partnership with ADM, an agricultural processor and food ingredient provider with a mission of plant-to-plate collaboration throughout the food industry.

In fact, ADM will provide facilities for scaling this technology as part of the deal.

This partnership is billed as “teaming up” to begin supplying “the world’s first animal-free dairy proteins to the food industry in 2019,” according to Perfect Day.

“Animal-free dairy proteins will not only offer consumers the option to have a lactose-free, animal-free alternative to conventional animal-based dairy, but also provide a portfolio of nutritious and functional, high-purity proteins with similar taste and nutrition profile of dairy proteins for a wide range of food and beverage applications,” Perfect Day said in their press release.

Meanwhile, the FDA has extended — yet again — its invitation for information specifically on “the use of names of dairy foods in the labeling of plant-based products.” So far, 10,043 comments (as of December 28, 2018) have been received on this docket. To comment by the new deadline of January 28, 2019, go to the docket online at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FDA-2018-N-3522.

Dairy checkoff-funded DMI completed a survey of consumers recently showing that 73% are confused about the differences in nutrition between real dairy milk and plant-based alternatives calling themselves ‘milk.’

Other surveys show that more than half of U.S. consumers want healthy foods with ‘clean’ labels having few ingredients and limited or no processing.

It would seem that these findings, among others, would indicate clearly to FDA and USDA that consumers want no more monkey-business when it comes to their food, that they want to see clarity in the enforcement of milk and dairy standards of identity, and that they want to be informed about look-alike ingredients made in laboratories instead of in the time-honored land-and-animal care-taking profession of dairy and livestock farmers and ranchers.

One thing to keep in mind when commenting is to highlight the fact that over half of U.S. consumers want food that does not have a long list of additives and that is minimally processed.

That, on top of nutritional differences and new unproven processes, are enough reason to aggressively label any food containing either the fake dairy or fake meat protein because standards of identity are in place not just for health and safety but also to prevent fraudulent misleading of consumers.

Consumers should know what they are buying and be able to choose food based on their beliefs about what is a better world, not someone else defining what is kind and good and sustainable for them and not using the government’s currently flawed dietary guidelines to decide for consumers what is deemed “healthy.”

Let FDA and USDA know that we as consumers and farmers want clear labeling if these technologies are going to scale into our food system. We want the fake versions to have all of the inspection rigor that real dairy and meat proteins are subjected to.

Above all, we do not want the government quietly removing — via its one-size-fits-all nutrition innovation strategy — our ability to choose foods and production methods with which we want to nourish our bodies and on which we wish to spend our hard-earned money.

This may come down to a battle between fake animal protein ingredients funded by billionaires aligned with Silicon Valley startups and partnered by the biggest names in corporate agriculture vs. a collaboration between individual farmers and ranchers who are the backbone of our nation, the stewards of land and livestock, along with the public at-large, the consumers who are confused by the lines that are blurring.

Now, more than ever, both ends of the supply chain — farmers / ranchers and consumers — need to engage with each other directly — and not through the industry-scripted mouthpieces.

Stay tuned.

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How do we unwind a trend that demonizes and suppresses a food group?

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A dairy panel with Mike Eby, Nina Teicholz (center), Lorraine Lewandrowski and John King (not pictured) was eye-opening to food-interested people at the 25th NESAWG conference in Philadelphia. Minds were opened as food policy influencers report weeks later some are reading Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise, and it is changing their thinkingAllied Milk Producers helped sponsor this panel. Stay tuned. 

JUNK NUTRITION SCIENCE STILL RULES DIETARY GUIDELINES

25th NESAWG brings dairy to table in Philadelphia 

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 14, 2018

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Justice, power, influence… Balance. How do people unwind a trend that demonizes and suppresses a food group?

How do Americans have faith in an increasingly globalized food system that gives them choices, but behind the scenes, makes choices for them?

How do urban and rural people connect?

These questions and more were addressed as hundreds of food-interested people from all backgrounds and walks of life gathered for two days in center-city Philadelphia recently for the 25th Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) conference.

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Lorraine Lewandrowski (left), a central New York dairy farmer and attorney, talks with Niaz Dorry of NFFC. Dorry spoke on the opening panel about her 67,000-mile tour of rural America, urging others to “meet the farmers where they are.” Lewandrowski spoke about the ecology of rainfed grasslands in the Northeast and the struggle of family dairy farms throughout this landscape.

For Niaz Dorry of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), the answer is simple: “Get out into the countryside and meet the farmers — where they are,” she said, during the opening panel of the conference as she talked of her recently completed America the Bountiful tour, driving over 67,000 miles of countryside — coast to coast.

Dorry also touched on the dairy crisis. “Go and experience their grief with them. Be with them at milking on Tuesday and see them sell a portion of their cows on Wednesday — just to make payroll.”

Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, Russell Redding echoed this theme during the lunch address as he said agriculture is “zipcode-neutral,” that we need to forge “a more perfect union in our food system” but that the future lies in “differentiating” agriculture here.

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“We see our future — and our long-term investments in Pennsylvania — driven by differentiation…” said Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russ Redding.

“It’s nice to be with folks who understand the power of food to change lives,” said Redding as he mentioned rooftop gardens, urban brownfields and Pennsylvania’s rank as number two in the nation for organic sales.

“We see our future — and our long-term investments in Pennsylvania — driven by differentiation, by being able to grow and produce and market organic agriculture,” said Sec. Redding.

With the NESAWG goal to “cultivate a transformative food system,” panels and breakouts covered topics from building networks and insuring equity among sectors to understanding urban food trends and ways to position Northeast agriculture within the power grid that ordains the direction of mainstream food production, processing and distribution today.

A breakout session on building “farm-to-school” hubs, for example, gave attendees insight for getting more fresh, local foods into school meals. Presenters talked about obstacles, and how they are navigated, about martialing available resources, identifying networks, working in collaboration with others, piloting ideas and growing them. Farm-to-School began in 2007, and it is growing.

Another breakout brought a panel of dairy producers to share with urban neighbors the crisis on Northeast dairy farms. The panel featured the work of dairy producers Jonathan and Claudia Haar of West Edmeston, New York, who spoke about consolidation that has been underway for decades in dairy.

But it was an afternoon panel — Milk Economies, Ecology and Diet — that put dairy and livestock producers squarely in the realm of hope for a re-wind.

Keynoting this panel was Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise and founder of The Nutrition Coalition. She covered the history of current government Dietary Guidelines and how rigorous studies have been ignored for decades because they don’t “fit” the narrative on saturated fats and cholesterol.

She was joined by dairy farmer and attorney Lorraine Lewandrowski of Herkimer County, New York, who spoke on dairy ecology and how the rainfed grasslands and croplands of Northeast dairy farms are a haven to wildlife, especially important species of birds and butterflies and pollinators.

They were joined by Mike Eby and John King of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, representing National Dairy Producers Organization and Allied Milk Producers. The two men spoke on the dairy economy and what is happening on family dairy farms, struggling to remain viable.

“The land is most important to us,” said Lewandrowski about her deep love of Honey Hill, where her family has farmed for four generations. While, she is an attorney in town with farmers among her clients, she also helps her brother with the farm and her sister with her large animal veterinary practice.

Lewandrowski is known as @NYFarmer to her over 26,000 followers on Twitter — generating over 75,000 interactions from nearly a quarter-million tweets in the past 10 years!

She described a reverence for the land and its wildlife — cohabitating with a rich agricultural heritage and sense of rural community that exists within an afternoon’s drive of New York City.

“We have land that is rich in water,” she said with a nod to a dairy industry consolidating into regions that rely on irrigation.

“Our lands are rainfed: 21 million gallons of water run through our farm with an inch of rainfall,” she said. “Our farms are diverse across this landscape. But our farmers are going out of business in this economy. So many of these farms are then turned into urban sprawl. What will become of the people, the land and its wildlife?”

Lewandrowski talked about identifying bird species on their farm, of the crops and pasture in dairy operations, and the economic hardships she sees firsthand. She shared her vision of Northeast rural lands and what they bring to urban tables and communities.

Introducing Teicholz to an audience primarily of urban people, Lewandrowski shared how dairy farmers feel — working hard to produce healthy food, and then contending with poor prices driven by regulations that suppress its value.

“I didn’t know why our food is not considered good and healthy. Nina’s book gave me hope,” she said. “We are fighting for our land, and yet the vegans are so mean. When our farmers go out of business, they cheer on social media. They cheer when our families lose everything. But the land and wildlife lose also, and the vegans cheer.”

Teicholz traced the history of her 10-year investigation that led to The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. It started with a newspaper assignment on dietary fat.

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Nina Teicholz explains the revelations of a decade of investigation leading to The Big Fat Surprise. In the 5 years since publishing, farmers seek her out to thank her. She says she never realized how it must feel to be a dairy or meat producer — producing a healthy product while being told it is not healthy and seeing your livelihood pushed down by faulty dietary controls.

“Before I knew it, I had taken this huge deep-dive into fats and realized we have gotten it all completely wrong,” said Teicholz, a former vegetarian for 25 years before her research.

“I’m here to speak today because I found Lorraine’s twitter account and fell in love with her photos and stories from the dairy farm,” said Teicholz. In the nearly five years since her book was published, awareness of ignored science has been raised.

A California native, living in New York City, Teicholz described herself as an urban person and how surprised she was to hear the stories from farmers about how her book and her work gives them hope.

“It breaks my heart to now realize that — after all this time — the dairy farmers and meat producers have been led to feel that there is something wrong with the food they are producing, and to see how vegans go after these farmers, and now after me too,” Teicholz related.

“How did we come to believe these things that led to the decline in foods like whole milk, and have pushed down the producer?” Teicholz traced the history of dietary caps to the theory of one researcher — Ancel Keys from the University of Minnesota.

“Concern about heart disease in the 1960s led to many theories. The diet-heart hypothesis of Ancel Keys was just one theory, but he was unshakably confident in his own beliefs, and he was considered arrogant, even by his friends,” said Tiecholz.

“When the American Heart Association nutrition committee first supported Keys’ recommendations — even though the scientific evidence was very weak — that was the little acorn that grew into the giant oak, and it’s why we are where we are today,” she explained.

Methodically, Teicholz took her audience through the science that was used to support Keys’ theory, as well as the many more rigorous studies that were buried for decades.

In fact, some of the very research by the National Institute of Health (NIH) that had set out to prove causation for Keys’ theory was buried in the NIH basement because “the results were so disappointing to that theory.”

The studies that did not validate Keys’ theory — that fat in the diet is the cause of heart disease, obesity and other diseases — were suppressed, along with the studies that outright refuted his theory. A steady drumbeat of science — both new and exposed from those earlier times — shows a reverse association and causation.

48329399_2290819234570553_8398919649542012928_n.pngIn fact, since the Dietary Guidelines capped saturated fat in the 1980s — becoming progressively more restrictive in requiring lowfat / high carb diets — the data show the association, that Americans have become more obese, with higher rates of diabetes and heart disease.

“It feels like the battle is endless,” John King said as he spoke of the real struggle on dairy farms and of selling his dairy herd in 2015. “But it is rewarding and encouraging to see what people are doing to expose the truth now.”

King posed the question: “Do urban communities really care about rural communities? If not, then we are done. Our food will come from somewhere else and the system will be globalized.

“As farmers, we care about what we produce, and we care about our animals,” he said. “What happens to us on our farms trickles down to the urban areas. It’s an uphill battle to try to go against the status quo, and we need urban communities to care if we are going to be successful. It comes down to whether urban and rural care about each other. Do we care about our neighbors?”

Teicholz sees the U.S. being in the midst of a paradigm shift. However, it is taking time for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to change and open up to the science. She noted that in the 2015-2020 guidelines, the caps were removed for cholesterol, but they were kept in place for saturated fat.

“The cholesterol we consume has nothing to do with blood cholesterol,” said Teicholz. “The body produces cholesterol, and if we eat fat, our body makes less of it. It is the science that remains buried that needs to continue to surface. People need to know that the fat you eat is not the fat you get.”

She cited studies showing the healthfulness of full-fat dairy, that drinking whole milk and consuming the healthy fats in butter, beef, bacon and cheese are the fastest ways to increase the HDL ‘good’ cholesterol in the bloodstream.

It is the saturated fat caps in the current guidelines that are the reason whole milk, real butter, beef, and 100% real cheese are not served in schools today, said Teicholz. She showed attendees how these recommendations drive the food supply.

“The recommendations are allowing children to have whole milk only for the first two years of life, after that, at age one or two, children on skim milk,” she said. “The recommendations drive what we eat whether we realize it or not.”

She showed how the current flawed Dietary Guidelines drive the diets of the military, school children, daycare centers, WIC programs, hospitals, prisons, retirement villages. And these recommendations are downloaded by foodservice and healthcare: physicians, dieticians, nutrition services, foodservice menu guides. They are driving how dairy and meat products are presented in restaurants, fast food chains and other menus of choice. They are driving the current FDA nutrition innovation strategy that is working on a symbol for “healthy” and looking at modernizing standards of identity to accomplish these nutritional goals that focus on lowfat / high carb diets.

“Meanwhile, it is the unsaturated fats, the new products in the food supply, that are negatively affecting us and those are all there… in the USDA feeding programs,” Teicholz pointed out.

Others in the panel discussion pointed to an anti-animal view, that cattle are bad for the planet in terms of climate change. These views perpetuate the current dietary guidelines. In fact, in 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee attempted to introduce “sustainability” guidelines on what they deemed “healthy” for the planet into these guidelines, officially.

This is the ecology side that Lewandrowski addressed, showing urban food influencers how the concept of sustainability is being overtaken and systemized and how Northeast dairy farmers have a great story to tell that is being ignored, drowned-out.

“We have to think about how the shifts are occurring in the food system and manage those shifts. We can work together and make change happen,” said Mike Eby, articulating the message of National Dairy Producers Organization (NDPO), seeking to work with the system to manage farmers’ interests.

Allied Milk Producers helped sponsor this dairy panel, and Eby said that whether it is milk promotion through Allied, membership in NDPO, or supporting the buying and donating of dairy products through Dairy Pricing Association (DPA), it is important for people to participate.

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Mike Eby and John King brought Allied Milk Producers materials — and plenty of milk — to the NESAWG conference in Philadelphia. Amos Zimmerman also had a booth for Dairy Pricing Association.

He gave examples of how Allied and DPA — funded by farmers — are reaching out to consumers, schools, urban communities with donations of product and a positive message.

“We need more people to get involved to fix these issues, and to create a system that supports its producers and stabilizes prices,” said Eby.

“We need to reach out and work together as urban and rural communities,” added Lewandrowski.

 

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Hundreds of food-interested people from all backgrounds and walks of life attended the 25th Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference in Philadelphia, where networking from urban to rural looked at regional solutions.

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Cutting costs, connecting consumers, striving to keep joy in dairying: Dairywomen share insights, Part Three

AUTHOR’S NOTE: It’s the last week of November, the month to celebrate women in dairy. A dozen women from multiple generations, states and farm sizes responded to the same five questions in this three-part series. Part One “Being Real” ran in the November 16 Farmshine, Part Two “Faith, friendships, fighting for each other’s survival” ran November 23 and this is Part Three, which ran in the November 30 Farmshine.

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Even our animals know that no matter where or who is your support group, the important thing is that you have one. They, too, are counting on us to tell our story, we all have one.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, November 30, 2018

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Communicating with dairywomen about the challenges and opportunities in dairy today continually circles back to the economics. On many large and small family dairy farms, there is some diversification, so the low prices right now for all commodities are trying. But these women also see opportunities for better pay prices in the future through communication with consumers, changes in dietary recommendations and reaching out into the world of specialty markets.

Answering questions while attending a Penn State cheesemaking course recently, Amy Brickner in south central Pennsylvania says she “feels strongly that the only way small farms are going to continue is through the processing and marketing of premium dairy products locally, which also ensures that people are invested personally in where their food comes from.”

She describes herself as a “slightly unconventional dairywoman.” She still acts as herd manager on her family’s 160-cow dairy while moving to her fiance’s 100-cow dairy farm in charge of herd management and records and looking to add a milking robot. Both farms are three and four generations in dairy farming, and like others, dairying is both a business and a heritage that brings a passion for cow care and quality milk to the table.

In south central Wisconsin, fourth generation dairy farmer Cindy Krull Begeman also cites the generational passion for dairy in families like hers. But, like others, she views the future with heavy doses of practicality.

“Low milk prices are making it very hard to want to pass the farm on to the kids,” says Cindy. “As a parent, we always want better for our kids. Even though we love our cows, it is pretty hard to want our kids to struggle like we are now.”

Pulling in a positive direction during difficult times is something Cindy is no stranger to. After the death of her husband eight years ago, she talked with her children about what to do with the farm and the cattle.

“This farm had been in Brian’s family for three generations. The kids were 17, 14 and 10 at the time and very involved in 4-H and FFA. They wanted to at least keep a few cows around to keep the cow family lines going after their father and I had worked so hard to breed them,” she recalls. They sold half the herd at that time and slowly started to rebuild with embryo transfers out of their favorite cow families. They milk 50 registered cows in a tie-stall barn and run 350 acres of crops along with some pasture.

While Cindy still owns and manages the farm, her daughters do the matings and are involved in the genetics and her son is working in the industry. Last year, she took a job as herd manager of a 300-cow robotic dairy in northeast Iowa where they bottle milk and make cheese and ice cream. Having remarried and relocated near Sioux Falls, her youngest daughter attending Iowa State and with her younger brother and his family helping with the cows and crops on the home farm in Wisconsin, the situation works, and her lifelong involvement in the dairy industry gives her both a broad and narrow view of the future.

Specifically, she says they have taken many practical steps in this down market — cutting back on everything extra that they can from the feed bill and the vet bill. They take extra jobs off the farm, sell extra equipment, clean out the closets and sell extra clothes to buy new.

Terri Hawbaker has also sharpened her pencil at Grazeway Dairy in central Michigan. Having worked full time on the farm as she and her late husband Rick purchased it from her parents in 2002, she also went through a transition when Rick passed away nearly three years ago. Her children will be the sixth generation on the farm and the third on the homestead. She and the children operate the farm, along with employees, and Terri’s parents manage the heifer ranch rented for youngstock and hay.

“This allows (my parents) some additional income in their retirement years, yet they can travel when they want,” says Terri, adding that her parents help when needed in hay making, parts running and food preparation.

“Each dairy will have its own unique challenges and different opportunities, depending on their goals and vision… and available markets,” she points out, noting their current ongoing challenge is “to be as efficient as possible with the resources available without taking all the joy out of dairy farming.”

Like Amy, Terri also observes that with markets being limited, “quality is a must in order not to lose the market you have. Opportunities for a dairy of our size include more out-of-the-box thinking, such as A2 genetics, suppliers for specialized products, agritourism, and educational and training opportunities for others.”

She also believes it’s important to do what is right for the individual farm, not necessarily what the recommendations are from others.

“Every farm went into this slump in a different financial situation, and that will determine, somewhat, their outcome,” she says as a matter of reality. While she has taken very specific actions in 2017, she says “it boils down to continuing to work on efficiency.”

She is quick to point out that what is efficient time-wise and what is efficient financially can be different. “At the end of the day, it’s money-in vs. money-out,” she says, and she weighs the money-in / money-out with the “comfort and convenience” before making a decision.

One example is her reduction of custom work costs by taking more of that on themselves. “For example, hauling the hay from our rented farm takes twice as long doing it ourselves, but remember, it’s money-in vs. money-out.”

Other advice she takes seriously is to challenge how things have always been done and rethinking things that don’t have a good “why.”

One area she is most open to is different ways to feed the cattle that may be more financially efficient. For her herd, it’s grazing, and simplifying the grazing system has been a key to it.

Terri is also set on “clearing the clutter.” She says it helps to simplify, to sell excess machinery, to clean up the scrap pile. “Clearing the clutter not only brings you down to the core of what you actually need, it creates a more clean and peaceful work environment.”

And when it came to replacing a full-time employee, she opted to split responsibilities and take more on for herself by rearranging her work day. “I don’t get paid by the hour, so I am driven to get the work done, yet gentle on equipment because repairs come out of my pocket, essentially.”

Along with that, she evaluates the skill of her employees working on equipment and believes in communicating not just the how, but also the why, when explaining the importance of being gentle on equipment. She explained to employees that a recent skid loader repair of $4777 leaves less “in the pot” for raises and bonuses.

For Jessica Slaymaker of northern Pennsylvania, the challenge is real after she and her husband built the freestall barn three years ago milking 150 cows. She works mainly on the cow side “a herdsman who knows how to run a skidsteer,” so to speak. Before marrying Dan, Jessica was herdwoman at her parent’s nearby 600-cow dairy.

“I don’t think anyone thought this downturn would last so long,” says Jessica. “It is making us try to think smarter and be more efficient, but it is mentally, physically and emotionally draining.”

But she sees the opportunities for the future, “When things finally do turn around, I think we have a lot of potential here. We have good genetics and can hopefully market extra replacements. We also breed the lower 25% of the herd to beef bulls and that boost in income is helping too.”

In Mississippi, Tanya Rushing sees the challenges in market access after plant closures. She partnered with her father in the 80-cow dairy until she bought him out in 2017. She’s the third generation to dairy there, and her husband works off the farm but helps with mechanical work and wherever else he can while their son now works part time on the farm with the intention of carrying the farm into a fourth generation once he’s out of school.

As sole owner and operator now, Tanya has two employees to help with milking and other labor. She, too, relies on good grass management and hay.

“To me, the challenges and opportunities facing the dairy industry go hand-in-hand,” says Tanya. “The difficulties are forcing many farmers to close their barn doors, and I hate to see it happen. But I also feel that a change in economic policies, as well as new dietary recommendations concerning butter and whole milk will improve on-farm pay prices in the future.”

She cites the need for positive agricultural and animal advocacy, which “forces farmers to stepout of their tractors and tell their farm stories to the public,” says Tanya. “Consumers want and need to know the voices behind where their food comes from. Advocacy is an integral part of the future of dairy, and we all must strive to educate people every chance we get.”

For Tricia Adams in northern Pennsylvania, it’s easy to identify the challenges in dairy right now, and she spends a lot of her time working on the solution side. “You feel helpless and disappointed to see milk sold as a core staple while watching so many other products like soy and margarine replace your product to where now we have to defend our product and can’t seem to backpeddle fast enough,” she says.

Tricia and her three brothers own and operate Hoffman Farms as the transition is in process from her parents Dale and Carol Hoffman who moved from Snyder to Potter County with 35 cows in the 1970s. Today, they are milking 800. In addition to her many roles feeding calves, managing employees and working in the office, Tricia helps educate consumers through the farm’s Facebook page and giving school and community tours for many years.

The questions come into the page and even to her personal facebook page. “Even my friends start questioning things that dairy farmers do that they don’t understand. I explain what we do and try to be upbeat.”

She also has worked on ideas to get better milk in the schools because when the school tours come to the farm, the kids always say “Oh, it’s the GOOD milk.” They always serve whole white and whole chocolate milk on their tours to put dairy’s best and most nutritious foot forward, and she finds that she has to order it ahead of time from the grocer to make sure there’s enough whole milk for her events.

“There has got to be better access to our products,” says Tricia. “I go to a restaurant or on college visits with my kids and look for the milk. I go to the store and find whole milk few and far between, but plenty of 1% milk. Our teachers in the schools want to change the milk also, but run into the red-tape.”

At Hoffman Farms, the second and third generations are starting to look deeper at what they can do to become more self-sufficient. They, too, are using beef bulls on some of the herd and recently began marketing custom beef, locally.

“As farmers, I think we have to take charge of our livelihoods again and come back full-circle to marketing our products,” Tricia observes, explaining their recent diversification into selling beef. “We have consumers. They want to buy from us as farmers. So we are thinking a lot about how to build even more relationships with consumers.”

The scariest part of the future, says Tricia, is “not knowing when to make the critical decision to stay in or exit. We’re in this so far. It’s our life and our livelihood, our family homestead. The time to retire out has come and gone, so we’re at a point where we will keep going. Our backs are against the wall, and that is forcing us to look at other ideas.”

She relates something her father always says. “Everybody has to eat, meaning farmers will always have a job, but sometimes it seems not to be the case. If we can’t have our products where they need to be and are losing future milk drinkers because the milk at school isn’t filling and yummy anymore, it makes things more difficult to shape that secure dairy future.”

Having middle-schoolers read The Omnivore’s Dilemma as part of the New York curriculum is another hurdle, but it also gave Tricia’s daughters the opportunity to speak up and invite the class to the farm to see how modern dairies really do take care of their cows.

In every aspect of life, Tricia sees opportunities to tell dairy’s good story, and she embraces that challenge. “It’s essential because the consumer is bombarded with so much misinformation and we have to be active in turning it around.”

Cindy sees this too. “One of the best things as a woman dairy farmer is that we get to tell our story to everyone, every chance we get. Whether it’s coffee hour at church, or some other opportunity, we can take milk and ask if anyone needs it, then bring up how important milk is and how bad things are for farmers across the county,” she relates. “We have to tell our story. We all have one.”

She also finds real value in networking with others. “We all need to learn, to get out and talk with other farmers,” she emphasizes, “because we are all in this together, and we all understand each other. We are not alone!”

Socializing with like-minded individuals is also important to Tanya. “It helps me to feel not so alone with the day-to-day challenges, to blow off steam with ladies who ‘get it,’ and discuss the fine lines between being a farmer, a business owner, a mom, wife and daughter.”

For Jessica, Dairy Girl Network has been “a Godsend. It is a lifeline to women who know what you are going through and deal with day-to-day,” she says. “Being involved so heavily in the daily activities on the farm can make a person feel isolated; however, with Facebook and the Dairy Girl Network page, I can go there while eating lunch, or milking a slow side of cows, and interact with women from all over the U.S. To me, that’s amazing. Everyone is there to answer questions, offer guidance, or just to listen and comfort. It’s an amazing group of women that I am proud to be a part of.”

Tricia also gets on the DGN page. “I love it because there is nothing negative on there,” she says. “We may complain, but it’s not a negative pointing of fingers.” She also wants to start a group of women meeting in her area because “we have other things in common too. It’s good to find the fun things, to share pictures of our kids on the farm, or a new ice cream recipe or collaborate on what kids can take to school for snacks or even inspiration for designing farm logos. It helps to be connected.”

For Amy, being part of the Dairy Moms facebook group has been one of her best support teams. “It is 100% the most positive group of women, and no matter what kind of day you are having, or what struggle or triumph any one in the group is having, we are all supportive and understanding, and ready with positive comments and help,” she notes.

Terri follows different networking groups through social media, as well, and she focuses on groups that cater to the grazing systems. “I view farming as a business, and just like other industries, there are males and females and the percentages vary,” she says, noting that the important thing for her has been having “a few very close friends that have gone through all the trials and celebrations with me… and a few mentors that I call upon.

“No matter where or who is in your support group, what matters is that you have one.”

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Faith, focus, friendships, fighting for each other’s survival: Dairywomen share insights, Part Two

AUTHOR’S NOTE: A dozen women from multiple generations, states and farm sizes respond to the same questions. Part one ran last week, here is part two.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, November 23, 2018

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — When asked what challenges and opportunities women see for dairy farming today into the future, “sustainability” comes to the forefront, but not in the way we often see this term used.

“The biggest challenge is, of course, sustainability… Can we survive!?” writes Joy Widerman, the youngest partner-owner of the second generation of the Hess family operating JoBo Holsteins, a 1075-cow dairy that grew to include multiple families and generations after her parents John and Bonnie relocated from Lancaster County to Adams County, Pennsylvania in the 1970s.

Joy is herdswoman and takes care of reproduction and genetic decisions, so she is continually looking ahead at the registered Holstein and Brown Swiss herd’s future.

“We are doing everything in our power to be profitable, but with so many unknowns in the dairy industry, it’s hard. From milk prices to feed prices, to weather — farming is one of riskiest jobs to have,” Joy relates.

She wonders how dairy farms will “make room for future generations to join.”

Profitability is the key to achieving that, and experts suggest diversification.

“But with the market as scary as it is,” writes Joy. “How do we do that? These are questions my family faces everyday… What’s next?”

Alicia Haag of Mohrsville, Pennsylvania also talks about the uncertainty. “We don’t know what tomorrow brings,” she says. “So we clamp down hard on our faith and try to feel the blessings of having this opportunity to grow up in America and be blessed with what we have at the moment.”

Alicia finds it difficult to see all the herd dispersals happening, and she tries “not to dwell on the bad” and to remain thankful to have children with a keen interest in the farm that has been in her husband’s family for seven generations.

She and her husband Mike milk 76 registered Holsteins in a tiestall barn. She takes care of the night milking with her daughter and occasional help from a neighbor. She is responsible for calf care and feeding, and helps anywhere else she is needed. She has also been working off the farm as a construction-zone flagger for a local contractor since 1999.

In the last year or two, Alicia has increased her off-farm hours, working two or three days a week, every week, to help bring income back to the farm. She often flags beside other local dairywoman on job sites all over.

“It’s hard for moms to find a job off the farm that provides good enough pay to make income after paying the help that replaces you at home,” Alicia notes. “There aren’t many jobs that also give the flexibility I need to be able to successfully be a mom and farm wife.”

She hopes other employers will consider flexibility the next time they consider employing a farm wife.

“If we want to help the farming industry remain here, having off-farm jobs that offer a little flexibility could be a key,” Alicia suggests. “Employers should know that when they hire a farmer’s wife, they are getting someone who is going to come in and give 100%.”

This year has been particularly stressful on farm families, she observes: “We are tired between the economic stress and the weather. It’s hard to get yourself out of the funk. Trying to get crops off when you know the income isn’t there with milk prices, so you’re trying to do the crops right to get by with the income you have.”

The Haags, like others, had extra expenses with replanting and not being able to get forages off the fields timely this season. In times of stress, she cites the special importance of family, friends and networking with others as a way to rejuvenate optimism — whether it’s getting together with friends, a hug from someone who understands, or the ideas and support gleaned in a network of other farm women.

While there isn’t much time for it, Alicia loves sitting on her front porch and talking with her kids. “Most of the corn is off, and the cover crops are just starting to peek through,” she describes the November scene as a metaphor. “This is life — looking out, everything looks dead, but I know that in this field there are seeds planted, and it will soon be green again.”

For Karen Hawbaker of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, living in faith surrounded with people who share her values have been keys to getting through the toughest of times.

“We can’t do life alone,” she says, noting the good in getting away, mentally and physically, even if just for a few hours. She believes dairy farmers need this, and sometimes the ‘one more thing to do’ can be replaced with ‘it can be done tomorrow.’

Karen started dairy farming with her late husband Rodney in the 1980s. Eight years ago, she lost him in a farming accident. Today, she operates the 200-cow dairy on her own with a team of employees and trusted advisors.

“If God helps get us through something, that’s another confirmation that we are where we are meant to be. We can’t do any of this without faith. It changes the whole outlook,” Karen explains, reflecting on how she felt the prayers of others in her loss. “I look around and see that I would hate to try to do this by myself. When we set ourselves apart, it causes divisions. We have enough divisions out there.”

Carol Williams of Madison, Georgia also observes how bringing people together — within and beyond the farm gate — provides what is her true definition of opportunity: “A set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.”

She has been farming 42 of the 43 years she and Everett have been married. She has milked, fed calves, raised replacements, planted, chopped, hauled and spread crops for silage, fed cows, hauled cows, pulled calves, built fences, finished concrete, changed tires, done minor mechanic work all while raising four kids and being a homemaker.

Dairywomen balance a lot of competing priorities!

Today, their two sons take care of day-to-day management of the 1700-cow WDairy, and their two daughters help in the office and with dairy promotion and youth events.

“Being part of networks helps people to understand that they are not alone. Women on farms can be isolated, and with today’s economic atmosphere, they can be discouraged,” Carol observes, explaining how seeing other women go through the same things, getting tips on how to do things, and hearing encouraging words helps.

“When I was young, all the other wives were teachers, and I had no one to relate to. I would have benefitted greatly from a friendly network,” she recalls.

Without exception, dairywomen see the importance of reaching out beyond the farm gate as the percentage of the population in farming continues to diminish.

“All farmers have the same challenges of weather, low prices, high input costs, and labor shortages,” Carol notes, citing one of the biggest challenges as the amount of misinformation that is publicized daily about agriculture.

“Most people have no idea what is really involved in producing the food and fiber that they use daily. They believe that dairy farmers abuse their animals, that farmers purposely pollute streams and rivers, that we have 9-to-5 jobs with weekends off, that we are getting wealthy, that meat and dairy products are unhealthy, and that nuts can give milk,” she relates. “Even worse, they have been so brainwashed that you cannot hold a reasonable conversation to try and educate them about reality.”

These are the shared frustrations of many dairywomen engaging daily on the front lines of communication with consumers, their non-farm peers, at community events, while grocery shopping, by giving tours and on social media.

“Tours at the dairy are a great opportunity to show people just how much our animals mean to us, how their comfort and well-being are our number one priority and how complicated, technologically-advanced and exhausting dairy farming is,” writes Carol.

She tells about the Commercial Dairy Heifer Show Program in Georgia and the opportunity it gives FFA and 4-H youth — 95% of them not from farms. “Dairy farmers loan calves to the kids to raise, train and show. At the end of the show season the heifers are returned to the dairy farmer, and they can get another one for the next season.

“Not only are we teaching these youth about animal care and responsibility, we are educating them about dairy farming. By being exposed to this, many are choosing careers in agriculture,” Carol explains how it leads to more sharing opportunities to the family and friends of these young people.

In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Joy Widerman agrees that public understanding is huge in the sustainability — the survival — of family dairy farms. As a mother of three, her quest for balance keeps her focused.

“I know that if I spend too much time worrying about the future of JoBo, then I start to forget what’s truly important — my kids and my family,” she writes, noting that the third generation shows interest in the farm. Some work on the farm after school or after clocking out of their jobs. “Our farm is the backbone of our family. I try not to sugar-coat it. My kids know how hard it is to survive… and that we need to work hard at being profitable.

“I do everything I can to educate the public, so they know what farmers are facing,” she explains. Joy gives tours at the farm, speaks at local meetings of civic organizations and stays in touch through the farm’s Facebook page.

She believes farmers need to stay connected to each other and to consumers.

“Any opportunity we have to talk to others about what we are facing, we should do it,” Joy suggests. “We all need to realize we aren’t in it alone. It’s key that we all lean on each other… to talk and let our voices be heard. We need to fight for each other’s survival.”

Look for more dairywomen wisdom as this Farmshine series continues next week.

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‘It’s getting real, and we’re not alone’

Unsure of future, Nissley family’s faith, community fill gap as dairy chapter closes with sale of 400 cows

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, November 16, 2018

Nissley0051.jpgMOUNT JOY, Pa. — Another rainy day. Another family selling their dairy herd. Sale day unfolded November 9, 2018 for the Nissley family here in Lancaster County — not unlike hundreds of other families this year, a trend not expected to end any time soon.

After 25 years of building from nothing to 850 dairy animals — and with the next generation involved in the dairy — the Nissleys wrestled with and made their tough decisions, saying there’s no looking back, although the timetable was not as they planned because the milk price fell again, and some options for transitioning into poultry came off the table.

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The Cattle Exchange put up the tent, and the community came out in-force to support the Nissley family and their sale Friday. Throughout the weekend, they heard from people who bought their cows, telling them they’ll take good care of them. While many went to new dairy homes, a third of the cows at dispersals like this one have been going straight to beef, despite culling a good 10% of the herd in the weeks before the sale.

They began culling hard the past few weeks and on Friday, Nov. 9 offered 330 remaining milk cows and over 80 springing heifers. The Cattle Exchange put up the tent, and the community came out at 10 a.m. to support the family and — as Mike Nissley put it — “watch a life’s work sell for peanuts.”

Breeding age heifers are being offered for sale privately and the young calves, for now, are still being raised on another farm as they would sell for very little in these trying times.

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As we talk outside the sale tent in the cold November rain, the cell phones in the pockets of Mike, Nancy (left) and Audrey are sounding off with outpourings of support. Know that the smiles through brushed back tears are because of the loving care of others, the family’s faith in a loving God, and the knowledge that they took great care of their cows.

Mike and his wife Nancy aren’t sure what the future looks like, but they are surely feeling the prayers, calls and texts of their friends, family, and community getting them through it.

Both Mike and his daughter Audrey Breneman have loved working with the cows, saying the sale felt like a funeral — “the death of a dream” — standing in the light rain outside the sale tent while the auctioneer chanted prices dipping into the $500s and $600s, even struggling shy of $1000 on a cow making 90 pounds of milk with a 54,000 SCC.

Later, a smile crossed his face, hearing the auctioneer stretch for $1700. “That one’s good to hear,” he says, as they headed back into the tent to watch springing and bred heifers sell.

While Daniel Brandt announced their number-one heifers, bids of $1600 and $1700 could be heard on some.

Nissley2011“It was a privilege to make the announcements on those 425 head, and I was impressed with the turnout of buyers, friends and neighbors as the tent was packed,” said Brandt after the sale. “The cows were in great condition and you could tell management was excellent.”

Mike gave Audrey the credit.

Before the rattle of cattle gates and the pitch of the auctioneer began, Audrey addressed the crowd with words that make the current dairy situation real for all who were there to hear them:

“We would like to welcome you to the Riverview Farms herd dispersal and thank you each for coming. Today feels a bit like attending my own funeral where we bury a piece of me, a piece of my family, and a piece of history, where we say goodbye to a lifestyle, to a way of life, to a lot of good times and many hardships as well. But I stand before you today proud to present to you a herd of cows that will do well no matter where they go.

 “This isn’t the end for these ladies, nor is it the end for us. I’ve had the privilege of managing the herd for the last 15 years and though we may not have done everything perfectly, we’ve done a pretty darn good job of developing and managing a set of cows that can be an asset to your herd. Everything being sold here today is up to date on vaccines. Any cows called pregnant has been rechecked in the last 10 days, Feet have been regularly maintained and udder health was always top priority. We culled hard over the last few weeks and have only the cream puffs left as the auctioneer Dave Rama says.

 “Though it feels like the end, it’s only the beginning of the next chapter, and we’re excited to see where God leads us next. Our milk inspector said once: it’s not a right to milk cows, it’s a privilege, and that’s exactly what this herd of cows was, a privilege.”

Her sister Ashlie’s husband Ryan Cobb offered a poignant prayer. The youngest grandchildren not in school, watched until lunchtime as the selling went through the afternoon, and the cattle were loaded onto trucks in the deepening rain at dusk.

As the sale progressed, a solemn reflection could be seen in the eyes of neighbors and peers. To see a local family sell a sizeable herd leaves everyone wondering ‘who’s next’ if prices don’t soon recover.

Nissley-Edits-21.jpg“It’s getting real,” says Mike. “Everyone is focused on survival, but we can see others are shook, not just for us, but because they are living it too.”

He has spent the last two years fighting to protect everything, including his family, “but now I surrender,” he says. “It feels like failure.”

There’s where he’s wrong. There are no failures here, except that the system is failing our farmers — and has been for quite some time — leaving good farmers, good dairymen and women, to believe it is they who have failed, when, in fact, they have almost without exception succeeded in every aspect of what they do.

Nancy is quick to point out that without Mike’s efforts and the family’s faith, “we wouldn’t have gotten this far, but now it’s time to see where God leads us next.”

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The dairy chapter closed last Friday for the Nissley family in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, but they are looking forward to where God leads them next. Mike and Nancy Nissley are flanked by daughter and herdswoman Audrey (left) and son-in-law and feed manager Matt Breneman and son Mason and daughter Ashlie (right) and son-in-law Ryan Cobb.

“Never have we felt the love and support like we have now from our community,” Audrey relates.

Nancy tells of a group of 20 who met at the farm for a meal the night before: “They prayed with us and rallied around us and supported us.”

Mike feels especially blessed. “We’ve had people just come over and sit in our kitchen with us,” he says. “People say ‘we’re here for you.’ People I never met are reaching out to tell me ‘you’re not alone, you’ll get through it, and there’s life after cows.’”

His bigger concern is that, “The public doesn’t fathom what the real struggles are out here. They have no idea where their food comes from and what it takes to produce it, the hours of work, of being tied to it 24/7/365. As farmers, we don’t have the resources or the time to correct all the misinformation when everyone believes what they see on social media.

“They go in a store and see milk still sold at $4.75/gal. The ice cream mix we buy for our ice cream machine costs the same as it did in 2014, when farm milk prices were much higher. DFA and Land O’Lakes report big annual profits. Where does the money go? Where did our basis go? It used to be $3.00 and now it’s barely 50 cents. There’s not one area to fix if the system is broken,” Mike says further.

“When you really look at this,” he says, “it’s amazing how little farms get for the service they provide, but if the public doesn’t know or understand that service, then they won’t expect the farmers to receive more and will actually make it harder for the farms to do with less.”

Nissley-Edits-25.jpgThe Riverview herd had good production and exceptional milk quality. Making around 25,000 pounds with SCC averaging below 80,000, Mike is “so proud of the great job Audrey has done. Without that quality, and what was left of the bonus, we would have had no basis at all,” he says, explaining that Audrey’s strict protocols and commitment to cow care, frequent bedding, and other cow comfort management — as well as a great team of employees — paid off in performance.

But at the same time, with all the extra hauling costs and marketing fees being deducted from the milk check, the quality bonus would add, but the subtractions would erode it.

He notes further that a milk surplus doesn’t seem to make sense when the bottom third — or more — of every herd that sells out is going straight to beef.

The Nissleys are emerging from the deepening uncertainty that all dairy farm families are living right now in a country where we have Federal Orders for milk marketing, and yet we are seeing an expedited disorderly death of dreams at kitchen tables where difficult decisions are being made.

Nissley2097Trying to stay afloat — and jockeying things around to make them work — “has been horrible,” said Nancy. She does the books for the farm and has a catering business.

Financial and accounting consultants advised holding off the sale for the bit of recovery that was expected by now. But it never materialized, and in fact, prices went backward.

“The question for us became ‘how much longer do we keep losing money hoping that things will get better?” Audrey suggests. “We had to start figuring our timeline.”

She has been the full-time herd manager here for 15 years since graduating from Delaware Valley University with a dairy science degree. Husband Matt has been the full-time feed and equipment maintenance manager.

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Cows have been part of Audrey Breneman’s life as long as she can remember. “They are part of who I am,” she says. Graduating from Del Val with a dairy science degree in 2003 and working full-time for 15 years as herdswoman at then 400-cow dairy farm started from scratch by her parents Mike and Nancy Nissley, have given her options as she moves forward after the sale of the family’s dairy herd.

She loved the cows. Their care was her passion, and the herd record and condition reflected this. But even the strongest dairy passion has limits when tested in a four-to-five-year-fire of downcycled prices.

“It’s too much work to be doing this for nothing,” she says.

With two young children of her own, Audrey could not envision doing the physical work, the long hours, with no sign of a future return that would allow her and her husband to invest in facilities, equipment and labor. How many years into the future could they keep up this pace, continually improving the herd and their milk quality, but feeling as though they are backpeddling financially?

These are the tough questions that the next generation is asking even as their parents wonder how to retain something for retirement, especially for those like Mike and Nancy who are still a way off from that.

We hear the experts say that the dairy exits are those who are older and deemed this to be “time,” or that the farms selling cows are doing so because their facilities have not been updated, or because they don’t have a next generation interested.

These oversimplified answers seek to appease. The truth is that in many cases — like this one — there is a next generation with a passion and skills for dairy farming.

The problem is the math. It doesn’t add up.

How are next generation dairy skills and passions to take hold when the market has become a flat-line non-volatile price? There are no peaks to go with the valleys because the valley has now become the price that corresponds directly with the lowest cost of production touted by industry sources and policymakers when talking about the nation’s largest consolidation herds in the west — and how they are dropping the bar on breakevens.

How are the next generation’s dairy passions to take hold when mailbox milk checks fall short of even Class III levels in much of the Northeast where farms sit within an afternoon’s drive of the major population centers

In Audrey’s 15 years as herd manager, there have been other downcycles, but they were cycles that included an upside to replenish bank accounts and hope. The prolonged length of the current downcycle brings serious doubt in the minds of young dairy producers about a sustainable future, but are the industry’s influencers, power centers and policymakers paying attention?

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Cows congregate in the two freestall barns and in the meadow by the road as a holding area during the Nissley family’s sale of the dairy herd Friday while the milking team milks for the last time in the nearby parlor.

Like many of her peers transitioning into family dairy businesses, the past four years have been draining. Much depends upon how far into a transition a next generation is, what resources they have through other diversified income streams in order to have the capital to invest in modernizing dairy facilities and equipment.

Without those capital investments, these challenging dairy markets combine with frustrating daily tasks when there is insufficient return to reinvest and finding and securing sufficient good labor also becomes an issue.

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As difficult as it is for the Nissley family, they are also concerned for their family of employees. The herd’s production and excellent milk quality are very much a team effort, they say, and the team of milkers pictured with Audrey (l-r) Manuel, Willie and Anselmo were busy Friday with the last milking at Riverview as cows came through the parlor all day ahead of their sale and transport.

The Nissleys are quick to point out that as hard as this has been for their family, it is also hard on their family of employees. They, too, are hurting.

“This is what I wanted to do all my life. It was our dream when we were married. I had a love for it and Nancy had a love for it,” says Mike, whose dairy dream was ignited by visits to his grandfather’s farm. Nancy grew up on a farm too, but the cows were sold in the 1970s.

The couple worked on dairy farms in the early years and saved their money. In 1994 they started dairying on their own farm with 60 cows. In September 2007, they moved to the Mount Joy location and began renovating the facilities for their growing herd.

Cows have been part of Audrey’s life as long as she can remember. “They are part of who I am,” she says, adding that she is glad to have her dairy science degree, along with the dairy work ethic and experience. “Here we are selling the cows, and I have opportunities to consider that I may not otherwise have. That degree is a piece of paper no one can take away from me.”

As the Nissleys closed this chapter Friday, they turn to what’s next. Nancy says she looks forward to being able to do things together they couldn’t do before while being tied to the dairy farm. As to what they will do on the farm, she says “God has not steered us wrong yet. Yes, it’s scary, but we also have faith that He is in this.”

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Mike and Nancy Nissley aren’t sure what the future looks like, but they say they are feeling the prayers, calls, texts and support of friends, family and community. That’s what is getting them through these days.

Mike has also gained new perspective. He observes that for any dairy family that has a future generation with a long-term goal, it makes sense to stay in and try to ride this out. “But if you have any question about that long-term goal, have the tough conversations about your options.

“It’s easy to lose perspective. For the last two years, I lost my perspective because I was so focused on survival. That’s what I take away from this, the importance of getting perspective. We are first generation farmers. We started with no cows 25 years ago and have 850 animals today. It’s hard to see it all dismantled and be worth nothing. But we’re not second-guessing our decision.”

Talking and praying with friends and acquaintances, Mike believes that, “We go through things, and we can’t let it drag us down but use it for God’s glory.”

Under the milky white November sky spilling rain like tears, he says that while the sale “feels like the death of a dream, I know I’ve been blessed to have shared this dream with my wife and to work alongside our daughter and to see the great things she was able to do with this herd, for as long as we could. I’m thankful for that.”

The sale started at 10 a.m. Over 400 cattle were loaded in the deepening rain at dusk as the dairy chapter closed at Riverview Farm, Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, and two generations of the Nissley family said there’s no looking back, only forward to where God leads them next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being real: Dairywomen share insights, Part One

AUTHOR’S NOTE: It’s Women in Dairy month and the season of harvest and Thanksgiving, so I reached out to more than a dozen women across two generations and several states for their insights and wisdom. Each woman received the same five questions, and the feedback was both informative and inspirational. Here is part one.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, November 16, 2018

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — When asked what challenges and opportunities women see in dairying today, many of those interviewed pointed out the low milk prices and the difficulty in managing costs and juggling payments through the months when milk prices don’t stretch. But even more so, they identified consumer communication as a primary challenge.

“Conveying milk and dairy products as superior (because dairy is), conveying the economic struggle… and meeting consumer demand and desires with economic realities,” writes Katie Sattazahn of Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania describing the main challenges she sees for dairy.

Katie is part of Zahncroft Farms LLC with 250 Holstein and Brown Swiss cows in a conventional freestall and parlor facility. She manages the calves and does the farm financials and is part of the third generation of the farm owned and operated in partnership with her husband and brother-in-law.

She also shares snippets of life on the dairy — the basics with the hows and the whys — with her friends on her personal facebook page.

Other women, too, expressed their desire to have the general public understand more fully what dairy producers face and to know the clear nutritional benefits of dairy over other choices in the food and beverage marketplace.

An interesting observation by many dairywomen is that there seems to be a large gap of understanding between farmers who are struggling and the industry representatives who receive a paycheck, regardless.

This was touched upon by Jessica Peters of Meadville, Pennsylvania also. She farms in partnership with her brother and father as the fifth generation, milking 275 Jerseys through the parlor at Spruce Row Farm.

She does a column in Hoards, in which she touched on this topic.

Jessica also does the farm’s facebook page with over 5800 followers, and her “See Jess Farm” style has drawn consumers and other farmers into the discussions of all things dairy, including a lot of myth-busting. She has become known for her social media expressions, including videos where she is clear to be herself and to be real and to be entertaining.

Recently, she spoke to a group of industry representatives and warned them that her presentation would be unlike anything they’d ever seen.

“I talked about what I do online and why I do it,” says Jessica. “I touched on what they can do for us. I told them to understand life sucks for us right now, that it is difficult for us to answer the phone because you want money, and we don’t have any, and you are our friends, and it is awkward,” she explains in her very honest and direct manner.

She also produced a little video “Dear struggling farmer,” several months ago that has continued to fill her phone and inbox with others reaching out to talk or to thank her for putting into words what they are feeling and could not express.

After speaking to bankers and industry reps, Jessica says she couldn’t believe how many came up to her and said they did not realize how hard it is right now. The difficulties go beyond dollars and sense and what Peters describes is the reality of what people feel and how it affects relationships and every part of their lives and businesses.

“My dad always says we don’t want to be complainers, and I am not a Debbie-downer, but not speaking about what we feel is part of what got us here,” she says.

For Katie, the challenge of meeting consumer desires for small to mid-sized family-run farms in an environment where processors and agribusinesses are leaning toward wanting larger farms, is an example of the challenging gap in understanding.

“How do we give consumers what they want — quickly — so they don’t find another product to consume?” Katie asks. “We have a superior product that we don’t need to alter… We just need to educate consumers to understand that dairy packs a huge nutritional package per dollar of cost. As a younger farmer, I recognize everyone needs to eat … so the opportunity in 20-plus years is definitely there for our generation.”

Renee Troutman farms with her husband, milking 100 Holsteins in Berks County, Pennsylvania. She milks, raises calves, does the heat detection and bookkeeping.
Seeing the challenge of rapid consolidation of the dairy industry, Renee points out the impact of diminished market options, which was not the case when they started farming.

“The dairy gave us a great quality of life for our first decade in, and it was our plan and desire to continue that way. But things are changing in the industry and the feeling of becoming obsolete because of our size and structure is tangible. The last several years of low milk prices has all but eroded that first decade of progress,” says Renee.

She and others talk about looking ahead at ways to diversify and ways to get closer to consumers who seem to want that relationship with food producers.

In a broader way of relating to others, Jessica put some of the farming realities in the form of submitted photos into a recent “This is Farming” video for National Farmer’s Day in October, organized to an uplifting and inspiring song.

“I am very millennial. It has to be fun or emotional to catch my attention, and that’s what I try to do with my videos, catch their attention and just be myself,” she says.

The “This is Farming” video is something she had in her head for awhile after watching The Greatest Showman. She loves music and theater. It was Jessica Peters — along with Katie Dotterer-Pyle of Cow Comfort Inn Dairy, Maryland — who started the “dairy dance off” earlier this year where farmers, farm women, farm kids across the country caught on with little stress-relieving videos of themselves or others on the farm dancing karioke-style while doing chores.

For “This is Farming,” Jessica had the vague idea in her mind, but then decided to post a request for photos at the Dairy Girl Network facebook group. On-farm photos started pouring in from across the country. Within a half hour, she had 300 photos. It took 6 hours to edit the video together, and she posted it later that day on Facebook and YouTube. (Here’s a link to it again: This is Farming)

“I never expected such a good response,” Jessica says. “It is one of those videos that speaks to the heart for those in and out of the industry.”

She notes further that “everyone is feeling this concern right now.”

Jessica and others say they see the emotion in conversations and posts in networking groups and in the unspoken word.

“People need a place to go to connect,” she says.

“I guess one of the most important things I want people to know is that they are not personally failing,” says Jessica. “It’s almost like agriculture as a whole is falling hard right now, and that we need to talk to each other and realize that even though it feels personal, it’s not.”

She too is concerned about the public perception of agriculture, but takes it a step farther. She wants it to be real.

“People don’t seem to consider farmers as people. I just don’t think they realize we are people, the same as everyone else. We have done that by setting ourselves apart from the average consumer,” Jessica observes.

That’s changing through social media and dairywomen who give glimpses of life on the farm within the context of every day life their non-farm peers can relate to.

“Building relationships is important as a first step with the goal of getting others to trust you enough to come to you when they have that question,” says Jessica.

Look for more dairywomen wisdom as this series continues with Part 2 in the Nov. 23, 2018 edition of Farmshine and posted here online at Agmoos.