Agricultural business and living

When you support MSU Extension, you help the hard-working families who raise and care for cattle to feed families and add to the economic growth of Michigan.

Your support of MSU Extension means that farm families are helped in their efforts to make their passion of providing high quality food products a successful business as well. Together we work to improve cattle health and well-being. Access to research-based information is critical when business decisions depend on it, and Michigan State University is a leader in discovering knowledge and applying it on farms for the benefit of the farm families and their communities.

Coping with farm stress

This has been a difficult year for many dairy farmers because of low prices for milk. In addition, beef cow-calf producers have also been facing low prices for their product. Though there is very little anyone can do about the prices received, there are things that can be done in the business and at home.

  • Wrote a letter to dairy families encouraging them to contact Extension for help.
  • Met with farmers to help them consider management changes and alternatives.
  • Met with two groups of ag professionals to discuss the impact of stress on farmers.
  • Invited dairy farmers to come together to discuss stress and ways to cope with it and had them share experiences of reducing costs.
  • Spoke to beef producers in several meetings to talk about ways to improve the returns from their business.
  • Worked individually with farmers to identify opportunities for improving finances.

Checking milking protocols

With milking being done two or three times every day, protocols can sometimes drift from what was intended or instructed. The impact of that on cows can build up quickly. Checking, retraining where needed, and having equipment checked can all be important to improve cow udder health as well as parlor efficiency.

  • Working with an Extension Intern, we observed milkings and measured vacuum during milking at the teat end on three farms.
  • Prepared reports and reported back to the farm owners with recommendations. Each made changes. Later, we returned to measure the impact of their changes.
  • This was part of a statewide project from which the data is being combined and will be presented back to farmers in a number of ways.
  • Co-authored a book, “People and Parlors” on milking that can be used as a training guide for employees.
  • Co-wrote articles based on parlor observations that have appeared in dairy press.

Labor supply and management

Finding employees who will be an asset and keeping them continues to be a major challenge for some dairy and beef producers. Employee turnover rates are high on some farms and many find managing people to be much more difficult than managing cows.

  • Have been writing and speaking on employee management for several years.
  • This year, a new edition of the book “Large Herd Dairy Management” was published as an e-book. It contains a section on “Effective Management of Farm Employees” co-edited by Durst and Moore with a chapter on “Building a culture of learning and contribution by employees” by Durst and Moore.
  • Wrote articles on employee management for Michigan Cattlemen’s magazine and Nebraska Cattle’s magazine. The National Association of County Agricultural Agents recognized the articles with an award as the National Finalist for excellence in communication for personal column.
  • Working with Moore, we developed a program to recruit, train and place Puerto Ricans on farms as legal employees. Together with University of Puerto Rico Extension faculty and staff, we are conducting an initial training in Puerto Rico. We are also working with U.S. farm owners who are part of the project to help them improve their employee management skills and reduce employee turnover rates.

Bovine Tuberculosis is still around

While farmers, land managers and government officials have done much during the past 20 years to control TB in cattle herds, the reality is that there are still newly infected herds each year. Prevention is the key.

  • Working as a member of one of two teams of specialists visiting beef and dairy farms in the core TB area of Michigan to help farmers identify risks to their herd from potentially infected deer, we have done “Enhanced Wildlife Risk Assessments” on 17 farms.
  • Develop reports with the team that provide ideas specific to the farm and to the management goals of the farmer.
  • Have also been a member of the team that has investigated 4 new herd TB infections.
  • Work with Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to develop policies that are practical and yet effective.

Learning to control an insidious virus

Bovine leukemia virus (BLV) is often underestimated in both its prevalence and its impact on dairy and beef herds. Much of the research into both has been done at Michigan State University.

  • Leading two Extension projects on BLV in dairy herds involving 80 herds across the state and the testing of approximately 3200 cows.
  • Met with the dairy farmers and their veterinarians on 36 farms to discuss the disease and its transmission.
  • Followed-up with herd owners after test results were received.
  • Communicated BLV management information through articles.

Individual work with farmers

Farmers have individual needs and situations. While meetings are good for teaching topics, all topics can’t be covered and they cannot be specific to each farm. Making changes in the business depends on trust between the Educator and the farmer. This Extension Educator has met with farmers at their farm or in their home 220 times throughout the year to discuss a variety of topics, including:

  • Current problems and challenges
  • Evaluation of the operation
  • Alternatives and opportunities
  • Plans for greater success

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