What started as an experiment by the Whatcom Conservation District (www.whatcomcd.org) has grown into a regular monthly session where dairy producers learn from university and industry experts about the latest in nutrient management science and best farm management practices, and connect with each other to discuss mutual seasonal topics of interest.
The WCD dairy producer education series is entering its third year and often attracts more than 50 Whatcom dairy producers to learn about topics ranging from crop development to better use or management of fertilizer. The educational series is organized by the Whatcom Conservation District in cooperation with WSU extension and the Washington Dairy Federation.
The education series connects the WCD to dairy farmers with meaningful information they can use for environmental compliance, crop development and animal welfare. Dairy farmers say the educational series provides helpful information but also gives them an opportunity to ask questions and interact with other farmers.
Education sessions are conducted the third Thursday of every month from September to April at Lynden’s Ten Mile Grange Hall from noon to 1:30 p.m., and includes a free lunch. The series takes place when ‘things settle down on the farm’ and when farmers have some breathing room from their full time 24/7/365 farm jobs.
“The free educational series is a service we provide to farmers that gives them tips and tools to improve their farm operations,” says Dr. Nichole Embertson, WCD Nutrient Management Specialist. “We develop sessions based on dairy farmer input such as water quality, drainage maintenance, and how to deal with nuisance wildlife.”
“The dairy speaker series started in 2012 to determine how interested farmers were in continuing education about best farm practices,” she said. “We recognized that folks needed more information to help them address the complicated issues surrounding dairy farm operations and assist them in making more informed decisions about management.”
More than 300 scientists, industry experts and dairy farmers met in Seattle from March 30 to April 3 to share and learn about latest practices and protocols in animal agriculture and environmental sustainability at the Waste to Worth: Advancing Sustainability in Animal Agriculture Conference . The conference is a biennial project of the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center (LPELC) of eXtension a communications collaborative for land-grant universities.
According to Dr. Joe Harrison -Washington State University Department of Animal Sciences faculty and one of the conference co-chairs – this year’s conference included 170 presentations during the four-day event; plus dairy farm tours to see anaerobic digestion systems at work converting manure into nutrient rich compost.
One of the conference tour destinations was 4th generation dairy farmer Landon VanDyk’ s farm near Lynden where a main attraction was a new-model anaerobic digester. The digester costs less to install than previous versions, but does the same job. “The technology on our digester is a little different than older models,” he says, “but I’m happy to show these experts and scientists how we are taking care of our dairy cows and how we are managing our manure nutrients.”.
“Consumers simply don’t have the agriculture connection they once had and research has confirmed they want assurances that the food they are eating was raised in a humane way,” said Dr. Amber Adams-Progar, WSU Dairy Management Specialist and assistant professor. “Although Washington dairy farmers have traditionally done a good job with their animals, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF)’s ‘Farmers Assuring Responsible Management’ (F.A.R.M.) program is an excellent enhancement, under constant review and regularly updated with the latest science, advances in technology and training for best dairy animal management practices.”
Northwest Dairy Association (NDA) has steadily received more inquiries from customers and consumers interested in learning about on-farm animal care practices. In 2007 NDA, working with outside experts, developed an animal well -being evaluation program. The interest in farm practices continued to grow and as a result, in 2010, NMPF introduced the F.A.R.M. program as the national animal -care standard.
Dairy farmers traditionally have treated their cows with respect and care because it is good for the animals as well as their livelihoods. “The healthier and more comfortable dairy cows are the better it is for the dairy farmer,” says Leroy Plagerman, Whatcom dairy farmer and member of the Darigold board of directors. “The F.A.R.M program provides updated information from industry experts to help improve overall farm practices and for training people on the farm about the importance of dairy cow care.”
Several Whatcom County dairy farmers attended a recent four-hour hands-on ‘stockmanship’ workshop about safe, efficient dairy cow handling at the TJ Veenacres Farms near Lynden. Farmers heard Don Höglund MS, DVM, North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine and dairy stockmanship educator describe low-energy approaches, efficient methods, and gentle techniques for managing dairy cows.
Dr. Höglund is a behavioral scientist, animal trainer and internationally known expert on efficient animal agriculture. His workshops help dairy producers understand the behavior of dairy cows.
The dairy cow handling process is known as dairy stockmanship, and reinforces the importance of judicious, efficient and discriminating ways to motivate and move dairy animals. Dairy stockmanship makes the science of animal handling practical for use on dairy farms.
TJ Veenacres co-owner Rolf Veening hosted the workshop and thought the information was helpful. “The people who attended all came away with information about dairy cow behavior that they can use,” he said. “Many of Dr. Höglund’s topics were common sense, but he gave good insight about understanding animal behaviors to better manage the cows.”
Dairyland News is distributed to dairy farm families, business leaders/dairy farm suppliers, government staff, elected officials, and news media to show how dairy farmers contribute to the community, with safe operations, best farm management practices and effective stewardship of land and animals. Dairyland News is produced by the Washington Dairy Products Commission in cooperation with the Washington State Dairy Federation.