Educational Workshops on Organic Dairy Management

Final Report for SW04-127

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $39,377.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Ken Andersen
University of California Cooperative Extension
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Project Information

Abstract:

In response to regional dairy industry needs and rapidly growing interest in organic management, we helped offer educational workshops to give producers accurate, science-based information addressing the specific challenges of organic dairies. We selected workshop topics based on input from dairy producers.

On April 1-2, 2005, we co-sponsored the 2nd Annual Western Organic Dairy Conference, which featured talks on organic livestock health care, nutrition, and NOP regulations. On November 16, 2005, we hosted a workshop on “Integrated Parasite Management for Ruminants.” On March 17-18, 2006, we co-sponsored the 3rd Annual Western Organic Dairy Conference, including a half-day dairy field tour and a full day of presentations on herd health, soil and pasture management, and organic certification issues.

Project Objectives:

Our objectives were: 1) to provide dairy producers with science-based information they need to manage a dairy herd organically; 2) to assist dairy producers in networking with technical specialists and with other producers; 3) to enhance sustainability of our regional dairy industry; and 4) to extend low-cost technical services to limited resource dairy producers.

To achieve objective 1, we carefully selected speakers with technical expertise in the topics they presented and supplementing the oral presentations with written reference materials.
To achieve objective 2, we provided opportunities for dairy producers to meet with other attendees of the workshop and to meet technical experts who can advise them individually and in person.
To achieve objective 3, we provided dairy producers with tools they need to be successful in their transition to organic. An increase in organic dairy production will enhance the sustainability of our regional dairy industry.
To achieve objective 4, we used the grant funds provided to cover the costs of bringing technical experts to our region to advise dairy producers as a group, with some time provided for individual questions and concerns to be addressed.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Lynn Deetz
  • Annie Eicher
  • Elizabeth Whitlow Inman

Research

Research results and discussion:

Workshop 1: April 1-2, 2005

Our first workshop was held as part of the Second Annual Organic Dairy Conference held in Arcata, CA, on April 1-2, 2005. Over 150 people attended the conference, mostly from the western states but including folks from all over the country. A key topic for transitioning dairies is organic animal health care. At the conference, dairy producers heard from veterinary health care professionals experienced in caring for organically managed dairy animals. They also heard from successful organic dairy producers who shared their personal experiences about making the transition to organic management, including challenges, hurdles, and benefits. Additional topics included National Organic Program (NOP) compliance issues, organic feed, and trends in the organic marketplace.

A workbook was prepared for workshop participants containing printouts of the speakers’ presentations with room for note-taking and other pertinent reference materials. Workbooks were sent to additional producers who expressed interest in attending the event but were unable to attend.

Workshop 2: November 16, 2005

Our second workshop, titled “Integrated Parasite Management for Ruminants” was held in Ferndale, CA, on November 16, 2005. This was more of an intensive "hands-on" workshop with both a lecture and a field component, looking in detail at parasite problems specific to the Pacific Northwest region. Nineteen people attended the Nov 16 workshop, including producers from as far away as Klamath Falls, OR, and Petaluma, CA, as well as the local area.

Featured speakers included Dr. Ann Wells, DVM from Prairie Grove, Arkansas and Dr. Joe Snyder, DVM from Myrtle Point, Oregon. Dr. Wells has over 20 years experience in livestock production, including natural lamb and grass fed beef. She is on the board of directors for the Organic Materials Review Institute. Dr. Wells has her own business, Springpond Holistic Animal Health, working with producers and educators across the country to develop sustainable animal health management plans. Dr. Snyder has practiced veterinary medicine for the past 22 years at the Myrtle Veterinary Hospital. He is on the board of directors for Oregon Tilth and also for the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners. Dr. Snyder is very interested in grazing management and strategies with regard to both parasite control and pasture stewardship.

Dr. Snyder began the workshop by helping participants to better understand parasite life cycles. He provided an overview of common internal and external parasites of concern in the Pacific Northwest, with information on their life cycles, methods of transmission, and persistence in the farm habitat. Dr. Wells then discussed best management practices that can eliminate or minimize parasite problems, emphasizing a system approach including appropriate pasture management, hygiene, and techniques to recognize and reduce stress in livestock. Rotational grazing management was discussed, both in terms of optimal forage production and minimizing the spread of parasites. In a system that is intensively managed for rotational grazing, a high density of animals is used to achieve uniform grazing, the animals are moved promptly, and the forage is allowed a period of re-growth before animals are re-introduced. Rotational grazing helps to minimize parasite problems by breaking the parasite life cycle. Parasite eggs are shed in feces, the eggs hatch, larvae crawl onto grass and are consumed when cattle graze. If, however, the animals are promptly rotated to a clean pasture, they are less likely to be re-infested. Also, the parasite larvae tend to remain close to the ground, so it helps to move the animals before the forage is grazed too low.

Proper testing and record-keeping were encouraged to reduce the need for treatment and also to help determine the most effective timing for treatment when necessary. Herbal leys and alternative de-wormers were discussed as well as strategies for using conventional de-wormers. The morning session concluded with a focused discussion on the special challenges of raising healthy, parasite-free calves. The afternoon session consisted of field trips to two local dairies. It was fruitful to continue the discussions generated from the morning presentations within a field context.

A workbook was prepared for workshop participants containing printouts of the speakers’ presentations with room for note-taking and other pertinent reference materials. Workbooks were sent to additional producers who expressed interest in attending the event but were unable to attend.

Workshop 3: March 17-18, 2006

Our third workshop was held as part of the Third Annual Organic Dairy Conference held in Arcata, CA, on March 17-18, 2005. Nearly 200 people attended the conference, coming from all over the country, especially the western region. Most attendees were organic dairy producers or dairy producers considering a transition to organic management. Attendees also included dairy consultants, veterinarians, nutritionists, processors, certifiers, educators, an agricultural loan officer, and product suppliers. This diverse mix made for lively discussion, both in a roundtable fashion and also more informally during the evening receptions, during mealtimes, and on the dairy tour. Interaction with other conference participants was consistently ranked as one of the most valuable aspects of the conference.

The conference kicked off with an afternoon field trip to the O’Neil Dairy in Loleta, CA. Participants were split into two smaller groups to allow for greater discussion, hearing first one presentation and then switching groups and hearing the second presentation. One presentation focused on herd health and the other on pasture management. Dr. Hue Karreman and Dr. Marta Engel, two veterinarians who both work with organic dairy producers, addressed the group on health issues of concern specific to our region. Organic dairy producer Jack Lazor and consultant Gary Zimmer talked about pasture health, stressing the importance of proper soil management. There was a reception Friday evening, followed by a dinner presentation on organic dairy market trends, presented by Walter Robb, co-President of Whole Foods Market.

At Humboldt State University on Saturday there were four consecutive panel presentations, each 1.5-2 hours long, with time for questions and answers. The first was on the topic of “Organic Herd Health.” Dr. Karreman and Dr. Engel were joined by Dr. Arden Nelson. The second session focused on “Soil Management,” presented by Jack Lazor and Gary Zimmer. The third panel was on “Certification Issues,” with representatives from three different organic certification agents. Megan Kuhn represented QAI, John Foster represented Oregon Tilth, and Leslie Zuck represented Pennsylvania Certified. The fourth session was a “Dairy Producer Panel,” with producers Jon Bansen, Bill Ecklund, Albert Straus, and Peter Ruegemer each talking about their operations and answering questions from the audience.

The guest speaker for the Saturday dinner presentation was Dr. Chuck Benbrook of the Organic Center with an in-depth discussion of major issues of concern facing the organic dairy industry today.

A workbook was prepared for workshop participants containing printouts of the speakers’ presentations with room for note-taking and other pertinent reference materials. Workbooks were sent to additional producers who expressed interest in attending the event but were unable to attend. A copy of the workbook is enclosed with this report.

Research conclusions:

The information provided in this series of workshops is intended to promote good stewardship of natural resources, including soil, water, and air. A transition to organic dairy management can help to maintain and improve the quality of surface and ground water, improve soil health, and enhance wildlife habitat. We hope that the lessons learned will also help producers improve the economic viability of their operations and enhance the quality of life for themselves and their community. Through innovative niche marketing, organic dairy producers can ensure profitable self-employment, and maintain their lands in agricultural production. The entire community benefits from the preservation of open space with aesthetic values and wildlife habitat values. Furthermore, the adoption of dairy practices that reduce the use of antibiotics and hormones will be beneficial to consumer health and safety. Consumers are becoming more aware about these issues and are showing increasing support for the production of organic dairy products.

Producer Evaluations: April 1-2, 2005

We were able to obtain producer evaluation data for our first workshop by including a question on the conference evaluation form handed out at the conference the following year (March 17-18, 2006). The question dealt with how participants have used the knowledge gained from the previous year’s organic dairy conference in their operations. A total of 27 participants responded to this question with a wide range of responses. A number of respondents indicated that the information had helped them to improve the overall health of their herds, with more specific comments including that they have tried new health care practices and products such as feeding their cows molasses. Many people responded that the conference had helped enhance their understanding of NOP regulations and some said that it helped them to assess the risks, costs, and benefits of transitioning to organic management. Other responses included using the information provided for dairy education, market assessment, and improving herd nutrition, pasture management, and calf-raising.

Producer Evaluations: November 16, 2005

Evaluation forms were handed out at the November 16 workshop. 74% of the participants submitted evaluation forms. On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest, 93% of respondents gave an overall rating of 4 or 5 for the workshop, and 93% said that the event enhanced their understanding of the subject very much (rating: 4/5). 73% responded that they definitely plan to use the knowledge gained in their operation (rating: 4/5). 73% said that the handout materials were very useful (rating: 4/5), and 71% said that they were very satisfied with the material covered (rating: 4/5). 50% of respondents felt that the interaction with other participants was very valuable (rating: 4/5). It is perhaps worthwhile to note that the evaluation forms were collected at the end of the morning session and so did not contain comments about the afternoon field trips. The morning schedule was full with presentations, but the field session allowed more time for interactions among participants and with speakers, which everyone appeared to feel was worthwhile.

In response to questions about how producers will use the information, workshop participants said they planned to try some of the practices described for controlling parasites, to enhance the overall health of their cows, to add value to their milk, to upgrade their calf vaccination program, to focus on overall farm planning, to improve observation habits, and to make changes in basic calf management. People reported that they liked most the information on parasite life cycles, the interaction with speakers and other participants, the practical applications of the information presented, hearing different points of view, gaining new knowledge, nice location, the clarity and conciseness of the information, and the presentation on calf management. Suggestions for improvement included planning more time for questions and going to more field sites. Suggestions for future workshops included pasture management, more time on grazing management, nutrition (including micro-nutrients), feed sourcing, more time on calf management, and mastitis management.

Producer Evaluations: March 17-18, 2006

Evaluation forms were handed out at the March 17-18 conference. A total of 87 participants submitted evaluation forms. On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest, 89% of respondents gave an overall rating of 4 or 5 for the workshop, and 79% said that the event enhanced their understanding of the subject very much (rating: 4/5). 78% responded that they definitely plan to use the knowledge gained in their operation (rating: 4/5). 87% of respondents felt that the interaction with other participants was very valuable (rating: 4/5). 65% said that the handout materials were very useful (rating: 4/5). 70% of those responding had attended the dairy tour, and of those who attended, 79% found the tour to be very useful (rating: 4/5).

In response to questions about how producers will use the information, workshop participants said they planned to try some of the practices described to improve pasture management and to enhance the overall health of their cows. More specific responses referred to calf-raising practices, understanding and improving soils, trying homeopathy and other alternative medical treatments, and assessing the organic market. Several said they planned to use the information gained to transition to organic management. Other responses included using the information from the perspectives of dairy educator, certifier, product supplier, and consultant.

People reported that they liked most the interaction with speakers and other participants, the presentations on soil management, the market updates, the certifier panel, the veterinary information, and the overall high caliber of the speakers and the high quality of the presentations.

Suggestions for improvement included covering fewer topics each in more depth, earlier notification for the event, staying on schedule, moving the conference to different locations within the western region, spending less time on profiles of specific producers, planning more time for questions, taping the presentations, and going to more field sites.

Suggestions for future workshops included adding a consumer perspective, more on NOP regulations (with Ray Green present to answer questions about California’s State Organic Program), more in-depth coverage of pasture management, information on specific homeopathic treatments, the economics of transitioning, representation by non-profit organizations, and adding a trade-show component.

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.