Louisiana dairies supply fresh, wholesome milk products

Linda Benedict, Bruce Jenny, Charles Hutchison, Gary Hay, Johnny Morgan  | 10/19/2015 12:29:01 AM

Though the number of dairies in Louisiana has been decreasing, the dairy industry remains strong, contributing $114 million to the state’s economy in 2009, according to the LSU AgCenter's Ag Summary. Louisianans benefit from having local dairies supply fresh, wholesome milk. These local dairies exist because of the strong dairy research and extension program at the LSU AgCenter.

In 2009, Louisiana had 165 dairies with 20,000 dairy cows that produced 273 million pounds of milk.

The highest producing herd on a per cow basis in the state is operated by the LSU AgCenter on its campus in Baton Rouge, according to Bruce Jenny, dairy science professor.

“This herd produces more than 2,000 pounds of milk per cow per year – more than any other dairy in the state,” Jenny said.

The success of this dairy is due to the nutrition program and a management system that pays close attention to detail. Jenny said the cows on the campus farm are fed a Total Mixed Ration (TMR), which consists of corn silage, alfalfa hay, corn, soybean meal, soybean hulls, whole cottonseed, dried distillers grains, cottonseed hulls and a vitamin/mineral premix.

“We put into practice what we teach through our research, extension and academic program,” Jenny said. “The feed these cows consume is available to most of the dairy farmers in the state.”

Fewer Herds
Gary Hay, interim director of the School of Animal Sciences, said the Louisiana dairy industry has undergone some drastic changes during recent years. “The number of dairy herds in the state has declined by nearly 35 percent in the past five years.”

Yet, Hay said, he’s optimistic about the industry’s future for several reasons. The farmers sticking with the business follow research-based recommendations, provide high quality feed to their cows and are just good managers.

Charles Hutchison, associate professor and dairy extension specialist, said the campus dairy farm milks 87 cows and has about that many replacement heifers. “This is small compared to most dairies, but the management principles and details involved in the business are the same with 87 cows, 187 cows or 2,087 cows.”

Cow Comfort
Cow comfort is top priority. The cows must have a clean, cool place to lie down and to eat. And what they eat determines how much they produce.

“This includes the transition nutrition program that we put our cows on three weeks before they calve and they continue on until three weeks after they calve,” Hutchison said. “With this program, we increase the amount of nutrients the cow consumes during this time, and this reduces the stress that the cows are under.”

In several western states, including California, there is an upsurge in large confinement dairies, where the cows are kept inside large freestall barns and are not dependent on pasture for nutrition.

Hay said the herd on the LSU AgCenter campus is a confinement operation with a freestall barn, but for other reasons. “Our dairy here is a confinement dairy, not really by choice, but because of the small amount of land and soil type that we have here. This campus dairy is only about 70 acres.”

In the confinement dairy, the cows spend little time out in the pasture. They have all that they need in the freestall barn. In these barns, there are sprinkler systems, fans – and all meals are catered.

Research has shown that cows under these conditions produce more milk and have fewer problems with diseases like mastitis than cows on pasture all the time.

“We’ve tried to develop plans and models to see if large confined dairies like they have out West can make it here. We believe they could be profitable in some areas of Louisiana, but not in every part of the state. Some of these dairies are milking as many as 5,000 cows,” Hay said.

Southeast Research Station
In addition to the dairy herd on campus, the LSU AgCenter has a dairy herd of about 215 cows at the Southeast Research Station in Franklinton.

Mike McCormick, the LSU AgCenter’s Southeast Research Station coordinator, said the research station uses a freestall barn for most of the milking cows.

“This research station has been known mainly for its work with forages, and they’ve done a lot of work on fertilization rates and especially in the areas of winter pastures,” said retired dairy agent Aubrey Posey.

The Southeast Research Station is a national leader in bale silage research and McCormick is continuing his bale silage research with studies on new millet, sorghum-sudan, and forage sorghums types that should put more milk in the tank for area dairy producers.

Another research project tests dairy wastewater at three stages on its route to become safe enough to enter lakes and streams. Vinicius Moreira, an assistant professor in nutrient management and dairy nutrition at the station, heads the study.

The first stage is an anaerobic (without oxygen) lagoon. The second stage is an aerobic (naturally aerated) lagoon, and the third stage is a constructed wetlands. Moreira tests the nutrient and pathogen levels at each stage.

“Our studies show the amount of nutrients and pathogens are reduced,” he said, noting he’s found that the bulk of this reduction takes place in the second stage lagoon.

Another research project, also led by Moreira, involves the testing of the amount of calcium and phosphorus that’s needed in a dairy cow’s diet. Moreira is trying to determine the appropriate amount of calcium or phosphorus in a cow’s diet, which will make dairy farming more efficient and save the producers money.

Dry Cow Management
LSU AgCenter dairy scientists are finding that the management of “dry cows,” those not lactating is extremely important to a dairy business. In the past, the care and feeding of the dry cow was not a high priority in dairy herds. Dry cows were often neglected and placed on the "back forty" to fend for themselves. Today, dry cow management is an integral part of total herd management. In fact, the 50- to 60-day dry period could be the most critical phase of animal care especially for minimizing cow health problems, boosting milk production and improving calf survival, Hutchison said. Read more.

Read about the dairy business in Louisiana and the resources from the LSU AgCenter.

The LSU AgCenter is one of 11 institutions of higher education in the Louisiana State University System. Headquartered in Baton Rouge, it provides educational services in every parish and conducts research that contributes to the economic development of the state. The LSU AgCenter does not grant degrees nor benefit from tuition increases. The LSU AgCenter plays an integral role in supporting agricultural industries, enhancing the environment, and improving the quality of life through its 4-H youth, family and community programs.
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