RUOK day and the SSM test for people like me

SSM

I tweeted yesterday that I had voted “yes” for same sex marriage because who others love is none of my business.

I am sure of that but I made the mistake of thinking the same sex marriage survey was all about LGTBI people. A call from another Gippsland dairy farmer set me straight. It’s about us.

Like gay and lesbian couples, dairy farmers are a minority group. When $1 milk arrived in 2011, I started this blog, frustrated that few Australians seemed to understand why it mattered; why we deserved a fair go.

But there is a difference. The bullying, abuse and vicious attacks LGBTI people often endure is foreign to me. On the contrary, ordinary Australians with no connection to farming whatsoever put their hands in their pockets to buy branded milk during the dairy crisis. Because they understood that everyone deserves a fair go.

The impact of the dairy crisis lingers but, today on RUOK Day, yes, I am okay. And, for that, I owe something to the support of everyday Australians who showed they cared.

The SSM survey cannot test the validity of anyone’s love. It is a test for ordinary Australians like me who expect a fair go. Will we rise to the challenge and return same the respect and tolerance for others that we demand for ourselves?

 

There’s a spring back in my step

PrairieGrass

How things have changed. The pastures are finally no longer moisture stressed and neither am I.

In a wintry week that’s likely to see snow carpet our sky line, I’m grateful for hope. The idea of another desolate season on top of 2015 and the corrosive dairy crisis had me all jittery in July.

August pretty much turned things around and the whipping rains in this, the first week of Spring, are welcome. The cows really don’t mind the cold – anything above 18 degrees Celsius is getting warm for them.

We still need a lot more rain. The dam has about a metre to go before it fills and the soils aren’t likely to make it in time for summer.

Soil moisture maps show that the root zone, which is classified as the top metre of the soil profile, remains much drier than usual.

This means that if there are lulls in the rain during the warmer Spring months, it won’t take long at all for the pastures to become stressed and slow their growth.

On the bright side, the Bureau’s three-month outlook has changed remarkably. There had been a low chance of average rainfall during Spring but, now, we have an even chance.

We’ve already locked in some standing silage and hay purchases but this more positive outlook means I won’t be on the hunt for more just yet. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that enough rain falls at the right time to get a good harvest of our own.

In the meantime, we’re keeping the paddocks well fertilised and grazing them to the perfect length to maximise their yields.

Unlike some dairy farmers, we graze according to leaf stage rather than the weight of grass in the paddocks. The kids and I count the leaves on a weekly “farm tour”.

Each plant can grow three leaves before dropping the first one. At the same time, each leaf is larger than the one before it. That means our aim is to let the cows into the paddock right when the grass plants have between 2.5 and three leaves each – the maximum amount of juicy new leaf matter and the minimum amount of waste.

Depending on the variety, this can look very different. Check out these two paddocks. Both were at two leaf stage and photographed this weekend, using my glamorous gumboot as a height indicator.

2leavesPRGlores

VS.

2leavesARG

Obviously, the second one looks the winner! But of course, it’s not quite that simple (it never is in farming!).

Number 2 is an an annual rye grass, which means it will need to be resown next autumn, whereas number 1 is a perennial rye grass, which should offer up to a decade of faithful service, in the absence of flood, fire and pestilence.

Each time we resow it costs money, adds an element of risk and disturbs the soil, potentially damaging its structure and the good bugs within it.

Also in the perennials’ favour is the flush of “All my Christmases have come at once” growth a sneaky summer thunderstorm can bring long after the annuals have given up the ghost.

So, you see, it’s all a bit of a balancing act. We use these flashy annuals as part of a renovation program. When a perennial is past its best and needs replacing, we spray it out in late Spring, plant a summer crop like millet or a brassica for the cows to graze when nothing else will grow, followed by an annual rye grass, another summer crop and then back to a perennial.

This program allows us to eliminate as many weeds as possible, get lime incorporated deep into the root zone and lift fertility, too.

huntercroplores

Delicious summer crop

Nothing’s assured in farming but the tide finally seems to be turning in our favour.

Sight and safety

My recent brush with 650kg of angry cow triggered a discussion on social media about the best way to protect yourself from an attack. Veterinarian Dr Zoe Vogels offered some interesting insights about the ways cows perceive the world and kindly agreed to explain more here on Milk Maid Marian. Thank you, Zoe, for this fascinating guest post!

One thing I don’t remember being taught at university was cow biology and behaviour – a must, one would think, for a new grad dairy vet! While preparing for a farmer talk earlier this year, it was good to finally read up on such an interesting topic.

Domestication of wild cattle began in the middle east more than 10,000 years ago – as an exchange. Cattle give us milk and meat and labour and in return we provide them with food, water, shelter from the environment and safety from predators.

ZVCowancient

What our dairy cows’ ancestors looked like. (Source: http://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/6/4/705/htm)

Despite cattle being domesticated for such a long time, some of these wild behaviours have never left. As prey animals, cows are constantly vigilant to detect and escape from potential predators.

Cows have binocular vision for only the 25–30° straight in front of them. Binocular vision is like ours: the eyes can focus to perceive depth, distance and speed.

To get the best possible vision of something of interest, cows will lower their head and face the object straight on.

The rest of a cow’s field of vision is monocular: they can detect movement very well (i.e. potential predators) but cannot judge depth or distance well.

ZVstaringcows

These cows are investigating the strange being lying on the ground taking photos of them

When a cow is grazing with their head down, they can see almost 360° (which helps to monitor for those nasty predators!) but when their head is raised, there is a blind spot behind them. Approaching cows from the front, approaching them quickly and moving in or out of the rear blind spot can spook a cow.

ZVdiagram.jpg

I’d love to be able to put on some “cow-coloured” glasses to see the world through their eyes. One thing I discovered is that cows can see colour, though perhaps not with the intensity that we can. They can distinguish red from green or blue but have difficulty distinguishing between green and blue (Phillips and Lomas, 2001, JDS 84:807-813)

ZVcones.jpg

Cow eyes can register wavelengths of around 450 nm and 550 nm (Jacobs et al 1998 Vis Neuro Sci 15:581-584). The human eye registers wavelengths from 400 nm to 700 nm and so will see red, green and blue equally.

Cows have horizontal pupils and weak eye muscles, which means they cannot focus quickly. Shadows and bright light will make them baulk. For example, a shadow across the dairy yard – is it a shadow, or a deep, dark snake-filled pit that they will fall into?!

A few safety tid-bits
Despite thousands of years of domestication, the behaviour of cows still closely resembles that of their wild ancestors. These ancient bovines used to react to wolves by running away – kicking as they ran – or by turning and fighting back by butting and goring.

Remember that if frightened or angry, cows can defend themselves by using their head to bunt, horns (if they have them) to gore, and legs to kick. Stationary cows can kick forward to their shoulder and out to the side with their hind legs, while moving cattle kick directly backwards

Bulls and cows with calves can be especially dangerous: the following link shows a cow trampling a bear that got too close to her babe. Animals can turn on you in the blink of an eye and it’s important for everyone working with cattle remembers this doesn’t get complacent: on a recent veterinary discussion list, the following wise words were uttered: “treat ‘em all like they’re killers”.

Even down cows can be dangerous with their back legs – I’m sure many of you have seen this awful footage.

As herd animals, cows all want to do the same thing at the same time, as it reduces the risk of predation (they confuse those wild lions by the large number of animals running in random directions). This means cows are fearful of situations where they are solitary isolation.

As a vet, I have encountered this many times: an animal that’s quiet and blends in while with the herd, but wants to kill you when you’re called on farm to examine it. Keep several animals together and ensure everyone (including the vet!) knows which animal is to be seen/treated.

There are lots of other OH&S issues when working with cattle (I could write another page on crushes for example), but three important ones:

  • Always identify an escape route for yourself when working with cattle
  • Never be in front of animal in a race (they may run forward and squash you)
  • Always ensure there is a barrier behind you if you’re working in a race and other cows are still in the yard behind you (again, they may run forward and squash you)

 

The truth about $6 cheese

I love a supermarket bargain as much as any mum trying to balance the family budget. But there’s one I won’t be buying and that’s a 1kg block of cheese for $6. Why? To explain, Zoe and I have made a quick video to explain the ugly truth behind $6 cheese.

It we don’t value the clean, safe, high quality fresh food that draws shoppers into our supermarkets, we’ll lose it.

CheeseTitlePic

Senate: get the ACCC to fix it

I can see why the Senate delayed its report into the dairy industry: it has no meaningful solutions. But it does seem pretty sure that the two main responses to the crisis – a voluntary code of practice and milk price index – aren’t the answers either.

The report makes 12 recommendations and four of them are simply to ask the ACCC to act on the most pressing issues.

Two recommendations suggest reviewing the code of conduct, with a view to making it mandatory.

There are other pretty darn obvious ones like suggesting a consumer campaign and asking processors to set prudent opening prices to avoid step downs.

The standout is Recommendation 11:
“The committee considers that the proposed Dairy Commodity Price Index is of limited value and its development should not be continued.”

The government is in the process of assessing tenders for a $2 million project to produce the index. That’s a lot of taxpayer money and I would hate to see it wasted, or worse, used to wallpaper over the cracks in the system.

The Senate inquiry has identified the issues we face. That’s a good start. Let’s hope the committee’s faith in the ACCC being able to solve them is well placed.

 

A cow more dangerous than a bull

1570lowres

The aggressive 1570 in the yards

1570 came roaring out of the dozen cows and calves, head lowered, eyes bulging. I had nothing. No dog, no stick and nowhere to run.

I’d been standing on the side of the road to shepherd the group across from the calving paddock to the dairy when she broke from the rear of the ambling mob.

She was as angry as an ambushed tiger mother and, as she lunged towards me, I knew I was in real trouble.

I’ve been there before. A couple of years ago, a cow we were attempting to treat for blood poisoning left me with a dislocated jaw and badly bruised ribs. That was a first-calving heifer but 1570 was a 650 kg fully-grown cow. A 6-year-old in her prime.

I meant to shout an intimidating bellow but, instead, out came the gurgling, shrieking, involuntary scream of a cave woman facing a sabre-tooth tiger.

And, then, with a whoosh, the quad bike appeared between us. Not exactly a white knight but close enough, thank you Wayne!

1570 and I met up again at the yards a few minutes later. Me safely on the other side of the fence. I wasn’t doing anything to threaten her – just standing quietly. Again, no dog, no stick, no history.

The reality is that some cows just go a bit bonkers when they calve. I wasn’t the only one – she was banging her head against other cows, too.

If she doesn’t settle within a day or two, we will sell her. Making the cows’ welfare top priority is ingrained in a dairy farmer’s psyche but this type of aggression can be both genetic and lethal. We simply can’t take the risk.

So, if you happen to be anywhere around cows and calves, don’t assume they’re simply gentle herbivores. Be careful.

Don’t have a dog with you. Be quiet and calm. Make sure there’s someone with you. Take a stick that can be used to make yourself look wider – or as a last resort – defend yourself.

EDIT: Having used hers to call for help after being trampled, fellow dairy farmer, Donna Edge, reminded me on Twitter that it’s also a good idea to bring your mobile phone and as Lauren Peterson suggests, download the http://emergencyapp.triplezero.gov.au app so the emergency services can find you.

Crushed nut juice

Sorry if that headline created a word picture you’d rather forget but it wasn’t mine. It’s the phrase used by a farmer describing almond “milk” that caught Twitter’s attention yesterday.

“Crushed nut juice” hit the news as NSW dairy body, Dairy Connect, launched a campaign to have soy, rice, almond and other plant-based extracts relabeled without the word “milk”.

Dairy Connect CEO Shaughn Morgan said there was a constantly evolving range of so-called “milk” products vying for consumer attention.

“We have seen a rise in the number of dairy-imitations made from plants,” Shaughn said.

“We believe that this has been the source of confusion among consumers, some of whom equate the great nutritional benefits of cows’ milk with the plant drink alternatives.”

Can’t imagine how people could confuse the nutrition of dairy milk and something like rice milk? Tragically, the news is sprinkled with the cases of infant deaths due to just that mistake.

They’re all white, they all work well on your Weeties but these cute little explainers from Dairy Australia make it pretty obvious there’s no comparison between the real thing and the imitations.

If you’d rather go natural, go for real milk

ingredients

Perhaps the most surprising difference between real milk and the imitations is the amount of processing and added ingredients. Wow!

The nutrients
main nutrients

Real milk is a naturally good source of protein and calcium but the imitations must be fortified with artificial ingredients to come close.

more nutrients

Truth in labeling is important to me, both as a dairy farmer and a mum. Families at the supermarket deserve to know exactly what they’re buying, so I’ve added my signature to Dairy Connect’s petition. Do you think it’s time to take a stand for real milk, too?

https://www.change.org/p/taking-a-stand-for-real-milk?recruiter=17154510&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition&utm_term=autopublish.guest_form_reduction