It’s time to produce green milk!


I receive many invitations to speak at dairy conferences across the country. I try to participate in these conferences whenever my schedule allows because I learn a lot from listening to other speakers and talking to conference attendees. Recently, I participated in a dairy conference where Dr. Mike Hutjens was also a speaker.

Disappearing breed

Hutjens needs no introduction to those involved in dairy production. As an Extension dairy specialist from Illinois, he has written numerous articles in dairy nutrition and management. He has long been a major contributor to Hoard’s Dairyman.

Hutjens has also spoken in just about every county home to more than 500 cows. He is now retired, but remains very active on the dairy conference circuit. That’s a good thing for dairy producers because I don’t think we’ll ever see and hear anyone like him; he is arguably the last one of a disappearing breed.

Climate change

Hutjens made the point that the general public has widely accepted the global warming theory and that, whether real or not, ruminants (predominantly beef and dairy cattle in the U.S.) are being blamed as major contributors of greenhouse gasses.

Although recent work at U.C. Davis, Cornell and Washington State clearly indicates dairy cows contribute far less GHG than originally thought, Hutjens argued that we should now market our conventional milk as green milk. That’s because the adoption of modern technology on our dairy farms reduces considerably the emission of GHG per unit of milk produced.

In fact, he suggests (facetiously) that if our government is dead serious about GHG emissions from dairy farms then it should put in place regulations to enforce the following practices.

Hutjens’ rules for producing green milk include:

Only high producing dairy cows should be kept in dairy herds.

All herds should be milking their cows three times per day.

Cows should be bred to be of smaller size.

All cows should be supplemented with rBSt.

All dairy diets should contain an ionophore.

All replacement heifers should be calving at 23-24 months of age.

All herds should ship milk with a somatic cell count (SCC) of less than 400,000.

All cows should be bred to superior bulls, and;

All cows should be enrolled in a milk record program.

When intuition fails

To many, these rules seem counter-intuitive. The common perception is that extensive production systems are far friendlier to our planet than intensive systems.

Although extensive systems are the sole alternatives in some areas of this country and some regions of the world, they are generally associated with far greater GHG emissions per unit of product than the intensive systems common to most dairy farms in the US.

We just need to adapt our language and terminology to change the label of what we call conventional milk to green milk. I think that I might just call Kroger’s 800 number to inquire when they will finally be selling green milk. That should be an interesting call …

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