SHERMAN, N.Y. — Doug and Dana Murphy of Nettle Hill Corners near Sherman, N.Y., recently hosted a pasture walk at their certified organic dairy.
They are milking 65 head, mainly Jersey and Holstein/Jersey crosses.
Although the premium seems enticing, there is more to being organic than just laying off the pesticides and medications. The three years that it took to achieve organic certification were tough, according to Dana Murphy, and there were many expenses without much to show in return.
The farm was mostly in grass when they purchased it, and to become certified organic took three years for the farm and one year for the cattle. Murphy is certified by the The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
The Murphy herd is divided into three classifications for grazing. The milk cows get the pick of the crop, with the dry cows following behind them. The calves are housed and fed separately.
This year, the animals have more than they can eat because of the amount of rainfall. But last year, Doug wondered where he was going to put his animals next because it was so dry.
When the couple purchased the farm, the barn was an 80-cow tie stall barn. The stanchions have been removed and a milking parlor with 20 units installed. One person can comfortably milk 100 cows.
This year, Doug Murphy planted 42 acres to corn, to try and cut down on his 2007 feed bill of $50,000. He feeds approximately 8 pounds of grain per day per animal.
Murphy said he’s learning it is a challenge to grow corn organically.
Murphy has built high tensile fences, each year adding a little more. He hopes to have a three-wire perimeter fence with a two-wire interior fence to fence off the paddocks. In all, he has 200 open acres that are grass.
Since the cows were walking over some of the areas over and over again, there were mud issues on this clay-based land. A 6-foot-wide lane was constructed to correct the mud issues. Fabric was placed beneath about 8 inches of gravel that was packed down. A crown in the center drained the water away.
“Milking clean cows is like fresh socks each morning,” said Murphy. In spite of the cost of gravel he feels this project was worth the cost and the work.
Twelve tubs are used to supply water to the animals with several of them servicing several areas.
Murphy reported that staph mastitis was the biggest problem he faced when going organic. He cut down on that by culling his herd. He told the group that he runs a low somatic cell count.
He uses a modified seasonal freshening system. His breeding allows production to peak in the fall when there is still plenty of feed for the fresh cows.