When New York farmer Kelly Hendrickson was told she would have to start dumping milk, her milk inspector planted a seed in her mind. “What if we fed that milk back to cows?”
“Sadly, and sickly my milk inspector suggested that I look into it because I was going to have to dump milk for an extended amount of time,” she says.
Hendrickson called her nutritionist Greg Johnson of Cows Come First and fortunately he had some experience balancing rations with fluid milk as an ingredient. Together they set out to solve a problem that is now offsetting the half a trailer load each day that Dairy Farmers of America is asking her to dump.
“Kelly is dumping roughly 35,000 lb. per day,” Johnson says. “That amount was determined by logistics, but it turns out to be a good amount for us to be able to feed, so we’re able to offset those losses by feeding the dumped milk back to the cows.”
Milk is a wholesome and nutritious product, it breaks farmers’ hearts to dump the milk and feeding it back to cows seems silly enough, but it’s loaded in protein and has moderate levels of sugar and fat so it can be a solid ingredient to the ration.
On Hendrickson’s farm, the milk is offsetting a complete grain mix composed of corn meal, cotton seed, soybean meal, and high moisture corn.
“That mix is an ingredient, so what we did is we just reduced that mix by about a pound and put in about a pound of dry matter of milk, which is about 10 pounds of milk,” Johnson says.
1. The risks of feeding raw milk. As with feeding raw milk to calves, there are risks associated with feeding raw milk to cows.
“Unpasteurized milk can be a source of pathogens. Among others of concern would be Salmonella Dublin and Salmonella Newport,” says Mike Van Amburgh of Cornell University. He says the best practice in this situation would be to culture a bulk tank sample to fully understand the disease risks.
Johnson isn’t as concerned about disease risks posed by Hendrickson feeding her own milk back to her own cows. If the milk was going to another farm, that would be a different story. “It works out well here because we’re feeding the milk from this farm back to the farm, so we’re less concerned about diseases like Johnes,” he says.
2. Which cow strings it will be fed to. “Last week when we started this, we had water going in some diets and we added milk in place of the water,” Johnson explains. “Today, we're actually going to put more milk into the lactating cows, the pre-fresh animals I don't think they did as well on the milk.”
Look at milk as a nutrient. If a certain group of animals don’t need fat, sugar and energy, then you probably shouldn't give them milk, he says.
Additionally, Van Amburgh says milk likely cannot be added to the ration in amounts that lead to the TMR dry matter being less than 42 to 44%. This means that a dairy farm currently feeding whey would not want to feed both whey and milk in the ration.
3. The logistics. “The biggest discussion I've had with feeding milk back [to the cows] is logistics,” Johnson says. “It's nutritious, and from a ration cost standpoint, it saves you money. But it's the logistics of getting the milk into a trailer, being able to wash that tank every day and cleaning up refusals daily that becomes an issue.”
It’s critical rations containing milk are pushed out every day because the same characteristics that make milk an excellent source of nutrients for people also make it a rich source of nutrients to support microbial growth, according to Van Amburgh.
Additionally, finding a tank to store the milk in that can be cleaned properly can be an issue on some farms. Hendrickson says they were lucky that they already had the stainless tanker they’re using. She and her husband cobbled together some old parts to make a tank wash system for the tanker.
“We can pull it up to the barn and run a wash just like a milk tank,” she says. “We wash it before and after every use.”
Even though the tank is stainless, Johnson says they found some traces of liquid nitrogen in the milk the first time they used it. That’s why he recommends farmers test the milk after it’s been in the device they intend to store it in. “Our tank was stainless and if it’s holding that much [chemical residue], think about what a plastic tank will be holding,” Hendrickson says.
The storage logistics are one of Johnson’s biggest concerns for other farms.
Hendrickson says while DFA has not committed to what the pay price of the dumped milk will be, they have committed to paying for it. Unfortunately, because she’s found a good use for the milk, her rep told her they will be one of the last farms to stop dumping.