I thought I would have a little fun in this week’s column by using the alphabet to discuss some facts and features of the dairy industry.
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A is for Ayrshire; B is for breeding. Ayrshire dairy cattle originated in Scotland’s county town of Ayr and are predominantly found in the Northeastern U.S., including Pennsylvania, although their numbers have increased in the Midwest in recent years.

Top Ayrshire milkers regularly produce over 20,000 pounds during lactation, with 4.1% average butterfat. Careful, planned breeding practices that improved the native Scottish stock are thought to have begun in about 1750.

C is for casein; D is for vitamin D. Casein, a slow-digesting dairy protein, is often taken as a supplement to boost muscle health. Milk is a source of vitamin D, which aids in absorption of calcium, helping us to have strong bones and teeth.

E is for e-Cow; F is for forage. The e-Cow is an animal simulation model that represents a single dairy cow at grazing. It predicts dry matter intake, potential milk yield and genetically driven live weight and body condition.

Of course, grazing would not be possible without forage. Historically, forage was used to describe live plants, but for as long as I can remember, the term has been inclusive of plants cut for green chop or silage.

G is for gram; H is for hoof. A simple term on first thought, “gram” provides a nutritional basis on which to compare milk to other foods.

An 8-ounce serving of whole milk contains 8 grams of protein, 380 milligrams of potassium and 8 grams of fat.

Compare that to almond beverages with 1 gram of protein, 140 grams of potassium and 2.5 grams of fat.

Hoof health problems are a major issue in dairy cattle that can cause economic problems. Nutrition and diet have a major effect on the health of a cow’s hooves.

Did you know that cattle hooves grow approximately 2 inches per year?

I is for insulin; J is for jobs. Glucose drives milk production. As in humans, insulin plays a key role in glucose metabolism in dairy cows.

And we already know how important dairy is to our economy. At latest estimate, the commonwealth’s dairy industry supports 52,000 jobs.

K is for ketosis; L is for liters. Ketosis is a common metabolic disorder in dairy cows and is usually found within the first two weeks after calving.

It occurs when the cow is unable to eat enough to sustain the energy needs of milk production. One doctor likened it to a human running two marathons per day.

Reverting to my lab study days, a high-yielding dairy cow may produce up to 60 liters of milk per day and over 12,000 liters over her lactation. Sounds funny, doesn’t it? Since we rarely use the metric system unless speaking in medical or scientific terms.

M is for melatonin; N is for night. I am going to combine these two letters. We have all probably heard of taking a supplement containing melatonin to help us fall asleep.

We have all probably also heard that a slightly warm glass of milk at bedtime can do the same.

Well, did you know that dairy milk contains melatonin? And, research shows that night-harvested milk contains more melatonin than product from daytime milking.

I guess I am going to have to contact my favorite dairy to ask them to label the milk as “night” or “day.”

O is for ovary; P is for phosphorus. As with humans, dairy cows have two ovaries.

On a totally different subject, but keeping within our ABC theme, phosphorus is the most abundant mineral found in a dairy cow’s body, with approximately 80-85% found in the bones and teeth. The major cause of phosphorus deficiency is dietary in nature.

Q is for Q fever; R is for reticulum. Q fever is a bacterial infection found in dairy cattle and other animals worldwide. While it is a mild infection in dairy cattle, it does lead to spontaneous abortions and stillbirths.

The reticulum is the second compartment in a ruminant stomach, coming after the rumen. It is often called the “hardware stomach” because metal and other objects swallowed by the cow will collect there. Its honeycomb-like tissue can be used to make tripe.

S is for SS; T is for TTI. SS stands for short and solid, referring to a cow’s teeth. Tooth health is often used to make culling decisions in a herd. SS teeth are short and showing wear, but they are solidly attached to the jaw.

TTI (tolerance to tactile interaction) measures responsiveness and avoidance behaviors of cows towards humans. Research using TTI has been used to improve milking and safety procedures on the farm, particularly when new equipment is introduced.

U is for urea; V is for veterinarian. Urea has been fed to dairy cows for over 100 years with amounts fluctuating with protein and urea prices.

Did you know that cows do not dislike the taste or odor of urea and can detect when the levels change in their rations? Research shows that cows develop an aversion to their feed when urea levels change drastically.

Of course, some of that research is done by veterinarians. There are 32 veterinary schools in the U.S., all accredited or about to be. Our own University of Pennsylvania veterinary school is among those at the top.

W is for welfare; X is for X (cross). Dairy farmers care about the welfare of their herds. They know that proper nutrition requires fresh and clean water sources, shelters and resting areas, and reduced stress will keep the cows happy and healthy.

Happy, healthy cows produce more milk. Farmers are happy when they find new ways to increase revenue.

One method currently being used is breeding dairy cows to a beef bull. This practice has increased the market price of offspring over pure Holstein (or other dairy breeds) calves at auction houses.

Y is for yogurt; Z is for Z-Box. Yogurt is a big business. In 2021, yogurt accounted for $7.24 billion in sales in the U.S. This was up from $5.60 billion in 2011, a 30% increase.

I had a tough time coming up with something for “z” but finally found the Z-Box. The Z-box is a particle separator employed by nutritionists to determine the “physical effectiveness factor” of a forage, used to monitor fiber content that is important to rumen health.

Well, there you have it, the dairy industry from A to Z. I hope you enjoyed this list of facts, some well known and some not. I enjoyed putting it together.

PMMB is interested in promoting all facets of the dairy industry. And we are always available to respond to questions and concerns. I can be reached at 717-210-8244 or by email at chardbarge@pa.gov.

Carol Hardbarger is the secretary of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board.

At the midpoint of the year, the all-milk price forecast for 2022 is a whopping $26.20 per hundredweight (cwt), according to the June 2022 USDA/ERS Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report.

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