This and that which I read recently and thought was interesting…

Copper and Pregnancy in Cows

In WSU’s most recent vet med newsletter, there was a report on a study of the relationship of pre-breeding mineral levels and pregnancy rate in cattle. The only mineral which bubbled up to show a correlation was, lo and behold, copper.

As serum copper concentration DECREASED from about 0.5 ppm, the probability of becoming pregnant DECREASED, particularly for 2-3 year-old cows. Controlling for body condition and calving-to-breeding interval for 2-3 year-olds, the probability of becoming pregnant was about 92% at 0.4 ppm serum copper before breeding, 75% for 0.3 ppm, 40% for 0.2 ppm, and less than 20% for 0.1 ppm.

Who knows if the same is true for sheep and goats, but it does make me wonder about my favorite mineral…

Veterinary Graduate Grants

They announced the results of the USDA rural veterinarian shortage grants, and Snohomish county got one. So yay, maybe we will attract a recent vet school graduate who wants help paying back student loans and is willing to work full time on agricultural animals in our area.

Tenderness Factors in Lamb

Sheep! Magazine had a really great article by Helmut Lang in the Hair Sheep Reports column on factors which affect tenderness in lamb meat, as found in various scientific studies. I definitely encourage a read of the full article and the magazine in general, but here’s my takeaway. Animal stress is one big factor. Stressy sheep breeds for one, and stressful handling at slaughter as well.

Marbling is a helpful factor, but lean meat is not necessarily always less tender. This is of particular interest since USDA grading often down-grades lamb that has “inadequate” marbling. Genetics play a role, as does the pH of meat. Interestingly, both high and low pH meat is more tender than samples in the midrange. Acidity is affected by genetics as well as diet.

The way the carcass is handled post-slaughter is another area of influence: when and how the meat is hung, chilled, frozen and thawed can all make differences in tenderness. Age of the animal is a player, and some researches have found some “weird science” methods of introducing chemical agents into the animal pre-slaughter which can improve tenderness. And lastly, polls have shown that consumers say they are willing to pay more for reliably tender meat.

So it would seem the more immediate factors we can control as producers are choosing a calm breed, making sure they are gently handled pre-slaughter, and making sure the animals are carrying a little condition. Also, choosing a butcher who “knows” sheep and lamb, though this is hard to find in modern times.

Sending Dairy Cows Outdoors == Smaller Carbon Footprint

The Cornucopia Institute had this interesting study on comparing modern 24/7 in-the-barn dairy operations with the more old fashioned model of sending cows out to graze between milkings. My understanding is that as dairies grew in size to maximize equipment, staff, and animal usage, they also figured out they could profit more if they milked three times a day.

If you are milking a thousand+ cows three times a day, that doesn’t leave any time for the cows to leave the barn: when the last cow steps out of the milking parlor, it’s time for the first cow to step back in. I also remember from my childhood in the eighties, when hot air balloons were all the rage, how angry dairy farmers got when a balloon “accidentally” landed in a field with cows. The frightened cows would run, and bash around their huge udders, bruising them and sometimes getting blood in the milk. No good. So you can see why most farmers started to think, it’s just easier and more profitable to keep them in the barn and bring the food to them.

The study confirmed that putting them out to pasture definitely lowers overall milk yield per cow (so presumably that translates to lower profit, but since they had multiple variables, that part’s not clear). But it has several environmental advantages: improved air quality, reduced fuel use, lowered greenhouse gas emissions, greater carbon sequestration, improved watershed quality, decreased soil erosion, and an overall decrease in “carbon footprint” by 6%. Now, that just means people have to get over the fact that this means making cows stand out in the rain! ;-D