Monday, April 4, 2011

BACKSEAT FARMING: WOULD YOU USE BST?

This morning on Twitter I read that Glen Groth was giving his dairy cows BST shots. So I looked into what that was and came up with this informative article about BST by another dairy farmer.

BST is a synthetic hormone. I knew that one can buy hormone-free milk, but until I read this article I would've tested poorly on what that means.  

Glen Groth also said, "more milk from less feed = sustainability."  Glen has not watched Meat the Truth or he'd know you can't talk about cows and sustainability at the same time.


BST CONTROVERSY

In this day and age, to be successful at dairy farming, you have to keep improving your techniques and look for better ways to improve. This has become a high tech society and we need to do everything possible to enhance your farm. High milk production is the key to dairy farming. Farmers will go to many extents to stimulate the ultimate performance from their dairy cows. Such extents include adding extra protein or carbohydrates to their total mixed rations, or administering hormone shots every fourteen days.

Monsanto is a widely known company for producing farming products, and a popular company extending from Monsanto is Posilac. Posilac markets this milk-producing enhancement for dairy cows. Bovine Somatotrophin (BST) is the popular hormone shot that is administered to dairy cows after 9 to 10 weeks of lactation or after calving. BST is a synthetic hormone that is injected to improve a cows’ milk production by 10-15 %. A going rate of $5.20 a shot, can be very costly initially, but the results over time show a significant profit from using BST.

“BST is taken in by the liver, which synthesizes the fatty acids in the bloodstream. It regulates the liver, adipose tissue and bone, and produces IGF-1. IGF-1 affects mammary cells to increase cellular activity that increases weight gain and milk production” (Walker). The shot needs to be given in one of the two specific places on the cow. They include either right near her tail head or right behind the shoulder. If this is not practiced properly, it can cause severe problems with the cow. In conjunction with hormone shots, proper nutrition needs to be regulated to provide a balance diet. Consultations with your nutritionists can also enhance the results from BST. Technically, increasing the dry matter intake will help enhance the BST. “On average, dairy cows are showing approximately an 8-12 pound per cow per day jump”(BST).

Controversies dealing with hormone injections to cows are just like giving hormone injections to humans. In this case, the dairy cows do not have much of a say in this matter, whereas humans do. The BST that is administered is said to be very similar to the naturally occurring hormone that the cows produce on their own is called Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH). The Food and Drug Administration has looked over the research done by Monsanto on the effects of the dairy cows that were given BST. “There are no differences in the milk produced or internal affects on the dairy cow” (Posilac).

The positive side of this controversy is that the amount of milk that is being produced is helping out the farmers’ monetary situations. The cows are showing their ultimate potential, and it is a useful management tool. Cows show a dramatic increase on milk and slowly decline to their drying off periods. This still happens even if they weren’t on BST, but their overall production is still higher than without BST. BST is administered every 14 days, and to inject 250 shots takes about an hour. Time-management is needed on larger farms as well as smaller farms to administer the shot, which helps with overall management. “This is an efficient cutting-edge product that is available today. Might as well hop on the train while it is moving, and don’t miss out” (BST).

If a farm mostly bases their cull rate on milk production and effectiveness, using BST will decrease their cull rate. Trying to be efficient as possible in the dairy industry is vital for survival. Along with these important positive aspects to using BST, there are always negatives ones as well. Negative aspects are not spoken about when first using BST, but over time you see negative responses.

BST has to be given every 14 days, during that time, cows’ milk production peaks only in the middle of the cycle. It slowly rises to the peak position at about 6-7 days, and then slowly drops off after that. The high initial cost can be very intimidating to a first-time user. $5.20 a shot can hurt a farmer’s pocket if they decide that using BST is the last resort before they decided to sell out. Milk prices are not particularly in our favor anymore and when we experience a drop in milk prices, BST is very expensive to keep administering. If the shot is not given properly, the hormone can affect specific tissues and muscles that it is not suppose to, and will cause severe harm to the dairy cow. Cows can get addicted to the extra hormonal intake, where they do not produce without it. They can also become immune to it, and money is wasted to get them producing again.

There are many arguments that giving dairy cows BST is harmful. Research that has been done proves that BST only stimulates the system to produce milk, not stimulating cancer cells, or harmful bacteria found in milk. BST is not much more than a human drinking an energy drink. Eric Reid, an artificial inseminator for GENEX, states that he believes that BST is good for increasing milk production, but poor for dairy cow extended performance. “I just do not like to see cows be placed with extra stress and wear out faster than those who do not take BST” (Reid).

I am going to agree with Eric Reid, because I also do not like to see extra stress placed on cows to wear them out easily. However, BST hormonal injections are the best technology today, and by keeping our farm in business, we need to produce as much milk as possible. I have given cows plenty of BST shots and it doesn’t take up much time, but I still think it is very expensive. If there was a more dramatic improvement than 8-12 lbs per cow per day, than I could change my mind. This leads me to add that the milk prices are indeed getting better, but not good enough. If everyone were to stop using BST hormonal injections, there would be a demand/shortage for milk, and the milk prices would increase. A lot of people agree with me when I state this, but the action is hard to do. It would be a long-term benefit, but we can’t afford to decrease milk production due to terminating BST shots.

I believe that BST hormonal injections are not dramatically bad. They do have bad outcomes in the long run, but they are also very beneficial for right now. They are the newest technical improvement, and as an expanding dairy farmer, I need all the help I can get. I will stand up for BST shots when the subject comes about, but I will also state what I think should be done and personal feelings like I have in this paper. (http://it.stlawu.edu/~rkreuzer/canoe/projects/chambers/controversy.htm)


Would I use BST if I was a dairy farmer?  I'm sure I'd be under some pressure to, but I hope not.  I hope I'd care more about my animals than about money. And I hope I'd have access to a milk buyer who cared who in turn had customers who cared.  



   

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