You Can Help Prevent Farmer Suicides

You can help prevent farmer suicides
( Farm Journal )

The dark underbelly of the current dairy crisis is that some farmers will see no way out but to attempt to take their own lives.

An even more chilling statistic: For every suicide that results in death, there are 25 failed attempts. But there are concrete actions you can take as a family member or friend to reduce the risks, says Cassandra Linkenmeyer, Minnesota area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She spoke recently at a Farm Bureau rural health symposium.

“Suicide is a health issue,” Linkenmeyer says. “Nine out of 10 people who die by suicide have mental health issues. It can be treated, prevented and corrected.”


Seeking help for depression is often stigmatized, particularly in rural communities. But depression and thoughts of suicide have nothing to do with strength of character. Autopsies of the brains of individuals in deep states of depression show there are actual physical differences and changes present in those brains. As a result, their responses to stress are different from people who are mentally healthy.

Linkenmeyer’s main message: “Talk saves lives.” That means it’s important for family and friends to have conversations, however difficult they might be, with those they suspect are dealing with depression.

“Most people who attempt suicide are ambivalent about death, but they often reach a crisis point in their lives and are desperate to escape the unbearable pain. Their brains can enter a state of tunnel vision, where nothing else matters to them,” she says.


Suicide warning signs include talking about suicide, such as wanting to end their lives, believing they are a burden on their families or no longer having a reason to live. Watch for mood and behavioral changes such as increased alcohol or drug use, insomnia or reckless behavior.

Also limit access to lethal means, such as firearms and vehicles. “If they don’t have access to a method of suicide they’ve been fixated on, such as a gun or car, they often don’t look for another method,” Linkenmeyer explains.

Talking is essential to determine their state of mind. “Talking to them is prevention. Listen. Express concern. And ask them directly about suicide,” Linkenmeyer says.

The critical thing is to acknowledge their pain, and to avoid minimizing their feelings or offering advice on fixing the problem, she says. If you suspect they might act on their suicidal thoughts, it’s imperative to get help immediately. “Twenty-five percent of suicide survivors say they made the decision to attempt to take their lives within five minutes,” she says.

“If you think they might make an attempt soon, stay with the person, secure or remove lethal means, and escort them to mental health services,” Linkenmeyer says. If a clinic isn’t nearby or they refuse to go, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or use the crisis text line at 741-741. In an emergency, call 911.

Finally, Linkenmeyer urges everyone to be aware and watchful of family members, friends and neighbors during these stressful times. “Trust your gut. Assume you are the only person who is going to reach out to them,” she says. “Talk is life.”

Ice Cream Flavor Of The Month: Whale Vomit?

Would you celebrate National Ice Cream Month tasting the first written recipe for ice cream? ( Farm Journal )

As summer heats up across the country, producers and consumers are cooling off by celebrating National Ice Cream Month this July. While vanilla remains America’s most popular flavor, the first recorded recipe, written in the 1660s, called for cream, sugar, orange flower water and ambergris, also known as whale vomit. Yum.

According to Gastropod, a podcast about food science and history, the first known recipe for ice cream was written by English noblewoman, Lady Anne Fanshawe.

In place of salt, which is used to lower the freezing temperature of the cream, Fanshawe used chunks of ambergris to help freeze and flavor this dairy treat. However, the briny ingredient has an unusual origin.

Produced by sperm whales, ambergris can be found floating atop the ocean, washed ashore or within the abdomens of the oceanic mammals. Consuming a heavy diet of giant squids, the whales are unable to digest the bone-like squid beaks.

Traveling down the whale’s intestines, the beak gathers bile and hardens to form a large mass. Eventually, the whale will expel the mass, which will then float to the top of the ocean to cure in the salt and the sun. The salt obtained from this process can then be used to help freeze and flavor the cream.

No longer used for ice cream, ambergris is now more commonly found in expensive perfumes due to its “sweet and woody” odor.

If whale vomit ice cream is not your flavor of choice, celebrate National Ice Cream Month this year by dishing up one of America’s top 10 favorite ice cream flavors according to the International Dairy Foods Association.


Tall Fescue

With its drought, low soil pH, and high stocking density tolerance, tall fescue is the forage of choice in many pastures. While it may come off as a “super grass,” tall fescue can cause major health and reproductive issues in some animals.

Danielle Smarsh, equine extension specialist at Pennsylvania State University, addressed tall fescue toxicity in pregnant broodmares in a recent article published in Penn State’s Field Crop News.

“Certain varieties of tall fescue are infected with the fungus Neotyphodium coenophialum,” explains Smarsh. While this fungus is great for the plant since it protects against drought and some insects, it isn’t so great for grazing animals.

The fungus produces ergot alkaloids, which have harmful physiological effects in grazing animals, including pregnant broodmares.

Fescue toxicosis is a major risk if pregnant broodmares consume infected tall-fescue. Some of the many symptoms of fescue toxicosis include abortions, stillbirths, and weak foals.

Late-pregnancy broodmares are the only horses that have ill effects from grazing infected tall fescue. Research demonstrates that stallions grazing infected tall fescue show no signs of declining reproductive performance.

The exact amount of ergot on a given pasture varies depending on the time of year, the amount of fertilizer present, and plant variation.

The real kicker is that you can’t tell if tall fescue is infected or not just by looking at it; the grass has to be tested.

Take tall fescue samples in early summer and fall when grass is growing rapidly. The exact time to sample is highly dependent upon weather and region.

What can be done to mitigate the issue with pregnant broodmares?

If pastures test positive for endophyte-infected tall fescue, remove pregnant broodmares 60 to 90 days before foaling. Another option is to treat mares with domperidone to relieve most toxicosis symptoms. Consult with your veterinarian before taking this approach.

If enough space, time, and money is available, renovating pastures to remove the infected tall fescue is a possible option. Tall fescue can be removed with an herbicide and replaced with other cool-season grasses or endophyte-free tall fescue.

“This process can be costly and take several years, so it might not be the best solution for everyone,” Smarsh warns. She also notes that it is difficult to remove all infected tall fescue.

If a mix of cool-season grasses is used, identify the percentage of tall fescue in the stand. If the percent of tall fescue is small, there is less risk for broodmares to contract toxicosis. Even so, the best management option is to remove them 60 to 90 days before foaling.

To Treat Or Not To Treat?

Not every cow will require treatment in her lifetime.
( Farm Journal )

Many times, as veterinarians and cow health caregivers, we strive to do what we think is in the best interest of the calf or cow we are treating. On some farms a treatment is administered at the slightest sign of a possible illness. Often antibiotics are included in this treatment. We are also focused on the prevention of disease through good management and vaccination programs. However, all too often we realize vaccination protocols have turned our cows into pin cushions. Are all of these vaccines warranted?


With the implementation of the veterinary feed directive (VFD) and increased consumer pressure to reduce antimicrobial use, we have been challenged in a good way to review the common practices of disease treatment and prevention. The routine use of antimicrobials in milk replacers and calf starter feeds are one example where we have effectively reduced antimicrobial use with little to no negative consequences. Continued research and the early adoption of selective dry cow therapy is another area of significant promise in not only the reduction of antimicrobial use but also the reduction in labor and drug costs for a dairy operation.

As we continue to gain information through research projects and implementation of updated treatment protocols, there has been a greater realization that perhaps some of the common treatments we administer might actually be neutral or even detrimental. Think of the evolution of certain treatments, such as uterine infusions, which were very commonplace but are rarely performed today. We have used research trials to measure the important outcomes and edit our treatment protocols based on this information.


There has also been a major shift to not try and save every cow or calf. Early identification and removal of an animal that has a very poor prognosis is a win-win. It is improved welfare for the animal in question and is generally the most economical decision if the animal can be slaughtered versus removal after death. Extended treatments only create increased residue risks and more labor for the farm staff. This is an excellent place to use your herd veterinarian for second opinion examinations. Do we have a case worth continuing treatment? Is the diagnosis and treatment correct? When is it time for either humane slaughter or euthanasia?

The regulations around pharmaceutical use, especially antibiotics, will continue to evolve and become more stringent. Again, these challenges are not all bad as they cause us to think out of the box, improve management and not always reach for a syringe to “cure” a problem. Organizations such as the American Association of Bovine Practitioners have been active on the legislative side to preserve the use of necessary antibiotics for livestock use while we concurrently work toward more prudent use.

As with all things, it is a balance. This balance can only be created with an openness to change and by putting available data to use, not subjective evaluation, for our prevention and treatment programs.

Benefit from creep feed

Dan Herold, Ph.D., Manager, Beef Nutrition And Technical Services, Hubbard Feeds

The benefits of creep feeding can reach well beyond weaning weight. ( Hubbard Feeds )

Cow-calf producers often simply view creep feeding as a way to increase calf weaning weights beyond what can be produced with mother’s milk and available forage. However, the benefits of creep feeding can reach well beyond weaning weight and are summarized below:


  • Additional protein, vitamins and trace minerals enhance immunity and performance.
  • Higher energy intake at an early age can increase marbling and carcass quality grade.
  • In early weaning programs, young calves are prepared to start on feed more quickly.
  • When fence-line weaning, feeders serve as a nutrition base station to nourish calves.
  • Coccidiosis control can be provided in creep feed to promote health and weight gain.


  • There is a more immediate transition to bunk feeding with less weaning shrink.
  • Early feed intake reduces weaning stress and improves health and weight gain.
  • Better nutrient status supports the immune system and vaccine response.
  • Heavier calf-feds can be first to market in spring and summer, saving feed and yardage costs.
  • Setting the stage for success

A successful creep feeding program requires an understanding of factors affecting feed intake. Feed quality and quantity determine energy intake of young calves and is based on the nutritional theory that calves will select the most nutritious and easily digestible diet available. The ration choice for nursing calves follows this order of preference: milk > fresh, young grass > creep feed, or mid-bloom grass > mature grass.

When milk production and grass quality decline late in the season, intake will shift from forage to creep feed. Moderate-energy creep is now the most nutritious option to fill the calves’ hunger gap and fuel their increasing energy needs for growth. Creep feeding late-season requires more attention and management than was required in early to mid-summer. Calves’ appetites are growing at a time when their base ration of milk and grass are quickly disappearing.

A rapid increase in creep feed intake can catch cow/calf producers by surprise. In a typical 100-day feeding program, creep feed consumption averages 4.5 pounds per day. This is based on a range beginning at 0.5 pounds per day in early July and ending at 8 to 12 pounds in late October. It may require over a month for the feeder to empty early in the summer, and just days to empty it later in the fall. Consider that 50 calves eating 10 pounds of creep feed per day will consume 1 ton of feed in just four days. A sudden increase in intake is a good indication that the pasture is nearly spent and it is time to wean calves.

Creep is intended to supplement milk and grass, rather than to serve as a complete feed. It is natural for hungry calves to increase creep consumption when faced with declining milk and forage supplies. However, the sudden increase in energy intake can trigger an undesirable response from rumen bacteria. Rumen “bugs” that are accustomed to slowly fermented grass will break down creep feed at a faster rate. For calves, the shift from slowly digested forage fiber to an abundance of readily available energy in the rumen usually yields the same outcome: enhanced fermentation rate, increased ruminal acid and gas production, and potential digestive upset. This sequence of events is why it is strongly recommended to wean at the appropriate time and never run out of creep feed. This rule applies especially at the end of the grazing season, when intakes are highest. The risk of overeating is at its peak when the feeder is refilled, and hungry calves return to make up for lost meals.

As calves become more dependent on creep to meet the demands for maintenance and growth, more attention needs to be given to maintaining feeders:

  • Gates should be adjusted to encourage calves to work a little harder to obtain creep. Inserting the handles of a standard set of pliers between the feed gate and bottom of the feeder can serve to gauge the correct distance.
  • Keeping the opening to just a few inches will keep feed flowing while reducing accumulation of fines and spoiled feed. Excess feed accumulating in the trough absorbs saliva as calves nuzzle and sort feed to locate larger particles. The result is soft pellets that break down into fines, which can build up quickly. This accumulation encourages more sorting, as calves don’t like fines, and the cycle continues until the feeder is cleaned and fresh feed is available.
  • Feeder troughs should be checked and cleaned out routinely and at greater frequency as the season progresses.

As previously noted, creep feed can provide several benefits by supporting weaning weight, calf health, ease of weaning and, ultimately, quality and value of the finished product. However, the objective of the program should be to achieve a balanced intake, with creep feed serving to supplement milk and grass rather than replace it. When properly used, creep can take pressure off both the cow and forage resource pre-weaning and help calves transition through post-weaning stress. When creep feed intake rapidly ramps up late-season, it is a clear signal that it is time to wean. Digestive upsets are the result of failing to recognize this transition. Use proper management to prevent sudden swings in energy consumption.

Using creep feed as a strategy to extend the grazing season past the point of optimum intake is an unnecessary risk to calf health and producer profit. Creep feeding coupled with good management will yield the most benefits both pre- and post-weaning.

First Cutting in Alfalfa: Why Cutting Management is Important?

First cutting is the most important and critical of the alfalfa growing season. A late start of this growing season will determine multiple things during this year’s production. It is important to know that the success of the entire production will be based in determining a proper date to cut for highest yield and quality. As rule of thumb, forage quality varies with the environment and cutting management. If you are forced to delay the first cutting due to environmental conditions (rain or even drought), keep in mind that this could have negative consequences with a slower regrowth and perhaps a reduction in future yield production.

First cutting tends to have low quality if it is cut late during the growing season. Generally, during pre-bloom or bud stage the stems are highly digestible with high quality forage. Second and third cuttings still very important for production, however if there is a need to wait to harvest beyond the bud stage then the more the quality would suffer because of lower proportion of leaf and stem ratio. Below are some guidelines in plant height and harvest maturity in alfalfa. Producers should take this into consideration for future management and cutting strategies.

Table 1. Plant height and harvest maturity in alfalfa.

Cutting Schedule Plant Height (inches) Maturity Stage
First Cutting 32 Late vegetative to early bud
Second Cutting 23 Late bud to early flower
Third Cutting 19 Early to late flower
Fourth Cutting 16 Late flower

Source: Professor Marisol Berti; North Dakota State University for Midwest Forage Association (Forage Focus; May 2018).


Each growing season brings new challenges. It is important to plan ahead and be ready to make the best decisions. Oftentimes, compromising forage quality to avoid plant stress is one way to harvest a little later than expected. It all varies depending on climate and other factors such as: stand health, age of the stand, history of winter injury and winter kill, previous cutting management, soil tests, insect and disease problems.

‘Moon Milk’: America’s New Health Trend?

“Moon Milk” could be America’s next health craze. While many farmers have little trouble falling asleep after a long day’s work, a cup of “moon milk” may be the answer for those having difficulty catching some zzz’s.

Taking Pinterest and Instagram by storm, the trending milk claims to be a natural sleep aid for those who suffer from insomnia. A new spin on a cup of warm milk, “moon milk” uses cow’s milk, honey, spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg, and adaptogens.

Adaptogens are an herbal supplement which some claim can improve the health of the adrenal system. Different types of adaptogens alter the color of the spiced milk, making an eye-catching drink perfect for social media.

According to HelloGiggles, a popular health and lifestyle website, “moon milk” has seen a 700% increase in popularity over the past year on Pinterest alone and is on track to be America’s next health trend. The colorful dairy concoction can also be found on Instagram in every color under the sun.

But does this new health craze actually work? While the verdict is still out if the dairy drink will help one sleep, it does have some health benefits.

Erin Coffield, a registered dietitian at the National Dairy Council, explained the health factors.

“It’s simply cow’s milk with some added spices and herbs,” Coffield said. “Nutrient-rich cow’s milk already sets you on the path to a healthy choice, because you get the added benefits of protein, calcium, vitamin D, B vitamins, and more.”

Besides the nutrients provided from milk, spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger may assist with digestion and a sense of calmness.

If counting sheep is not working for you, maybe “moon milk” can help you rest up before another long day on the farm.

Hay Moisture Levels

With the limited opportunities and short windows many have had to make hay so far this year, some hay may have been made at higher moisture levels than we would like. Moisture levels have a direct effect on hay quality. What we have found to be a consistent number in the literature is 20% moisture maximum. To be more specific:

    1. Small squares to be 20% or less,
    2. Large round, 18% or less and
    3. Large squares, 16%

Hay baled at 20% moisture or higher has a high probability of developing mold, which will decrease the quality of hay by decreasing both protein and total nonstructural carbohydrates (TNC) AKA energy! The mold will also make the hay less palatable to livestock and could potentially be toxic, especially for horses. Even hay baled between 15%-20% moisture will experience what is known as “sweating.” Sweating, in regard to hay bales, refers to microbial respiration, which will create heat and result in dry matter (DM) loss. A good rule of thumb is that you should expect a 1% DM loss per 1% decrease of moisture after baling. As an example, hay baled at 20% moisture that is stored and dried down to 12%; will result in 8% DM loss.

What happens if we bale hay and the moisture content is too high? Bad things. If lucky, maybe the hay will only mold, but if it is too moist and starts heating, it could catch fire. If the hay heats to 100-120 degrees F, it will be fine; if it goes above that, monitor daily. Once it gets to 140 degrees F, consider tearing down the stack. At 150-160 degrees F, call the fire department, and once it gets to 160 degrees F, there will be smoldering pockets and hot spots, and gases will ignite hay when exposed to air (source: Washington State University Extension, Steve Fransen and Ned Zaugg).

It can be a double edged sword in regards to losing quality by not baling, or losing quality by baling with moisture levels that are too high. Therefore, our recommendation to ensure adequate livestock nutrition this winter is to have a forage analysis done on the hay baled this year. Once you have those results, develop a corresponding supplemental feed program, if necessary, based on the nutritional requirements of your livestock.

The two short videos below by Clif Little and Rory Lewandowski will answer questions regarding forage testing, and subsequently interpreting the results of the test(s).

National Dairy Month: Learn More About Dairy From Farm to Table

Midwest Dairy shares a behind the scenes view with their online farm experience.
( Midwest Dairy )

June is National Dairy Month, so what better time to learn more about where your milk comes from? You’re probably curious—and we can help! Start by learning more about the dairy farm families in South Dakota and throughout the Midwest.

Want to visit a dairy farm? We’ve got you covered! Midwest Dairy has an online farm experience. You can take this 10-stop video tour to experience how milk from real cows, on a real Midwest farm, becomes the fresh, naturally nutrient-rich dairy foods you love.

Do you have specific questions about dairy from farm-to-table? Take 48 seconds to watch the journey your milk makes in about 48 hours. If you’re fond of eating local foods, then choose dairy as a part of your diet. Milk is locally produced in every state so it doesn’t have to travel far from home.

What about dairy cow care? Dairy farmers know that if you take good care of your cows, your cows will take good care of you. Read on to learn how they do this through a nutritious diet, regular medical care and comfortable living conditions.

Feel like celebrating? World Milk Day kicks off June 1st with events going on around the globe. Or, join us in celebrating National Dairy Month and beyond with our simple, tasty, and nutritious recipes. Everything from savory pizzas and creamy parfaits, to chocolate milk and tempting cheese plates is deliciously, extraordinarily, Undeniably Dairy!

North Carolina Could Ban Labeling of Plant-based Drinks As Milk

After winning approval from the House committee on Wednesday, the 2018 North Carolina Farm Act could pose changes for companies labeling plant-based products as “milk.” The state may be the first in the country to require this new labeling law.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines milk as “the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.” Companies that produce alternative dairy products, however, are still able to label products as “milk” under the current law.

Following countries like Canada and the majority of Europe, North Carolina is taking steps to ban the labeling of plant-based drinks as “milk,” a marketing tool confusing to consumers . However, some North Carolina House Finance Committee members are opposed to the state being the first to require this.

“Sometimes, it’s good to be in the lead,” Rep. John Szoka said, “but sometimes, if you get too far in front, you look around, and there’s nobody behind you.”

Agriculture Commissioner, Steve Troxler, disagreed.

“The move is needed to protect the dairy industry, as well as consumers who may not understand that soy milk doesn’t include any milk,” he said. “You ask people what’s in it, they say, ‘It’s almond-flavored milk.’ But no, it’s not.”

Troxler went on to say this would not pose a burden on the manufacturers of plant-based drinks as they are already banned from labeling their products as “milk” in Canada and across Europe.

North Carolina dairy farmers are on board with this new law , but it is still uncertain if their state will be the first to take action.