Organic Milk Update August 2014

Today’s Weather Report:

It’s a beautiful day outside – 75 degrees, sunny, dewpoint of about 50. Perfect for dairy cows, right?

Today’s Milk Report:

Looking at this week’s orders – fluid milk should be OK, but we may be shorting organic butterorganic whipping cream and organic half & half because sales are up but milk output is down a bit.

Why is organic milk output down?

There are a couple factors that contribute to the decrease:

  • Fall calving.  Many small organic farms plan their year around having at least some of their cows in the fall. It’s a great time for calving because the weather is pretty mild, the calves have a few months to mature before winter, and the farmers don’t have to worry about ice, snow, and cold like they do with early spring-born calves. Farmers stop milking the cows several weeks before the cows are born (starting about now), to allow the mom to put her strength into growing her calf instead of producing milk, and to stay healthy for the upcoming birth. The more calves that are born in the fall–the less milk we have in August and September. We love that our farms are moving to fall calving because it seems to keep the cows healthy, but as more of them move to fall calving we get less milk and cream at this time of the year.
  • Increased demand for organic dairy. Butter has been in short supply because cream is tight, as Kalona Organics owner, Bill Evans, shared earlier this spring. (Read the complete letter from Bill Evans.) We are still trying to catch up, but demand for high quality organic dairy and healthy fats is way, way up. Plain fact is we need more organic dairy farmers to increase the supply of organic milk.
  • A rough winter.  Our cows are looking good now, but coming out of last year’s long winter they were pretty tired. We had an extra long, extra cold, windy winter, and it was hard on organic cows like ours, who spent much of their time outdoors. Typically they do fine if they can get out of the wind and get enough good feed and water, but we also had some issues with feed related to last year’s hot summer.
  • Hot summer, poor hay production last summer. We had a hard time putting up good hay crops last summer. Every time it seemed like we could cut hay it would rain, or it would rain on hay we’d just cut. As a result, we got less hay than we really needed.  We had to store hay that was too mature and stalky (poor nutrition for winter) and the hay that was moldy and wet from getting rained on after cutting just didn’t keep well. In between the ill-timed rains we had some historically hot and humid days.  All of this is tough on cows.

So that’s why we can’t quite fill orders for whipping cream, butter, and half & half on this beautiful August day. Rough conditions for making good hay last summer; a long, cold winter; cows who needed more energy to stay warm; a shortage of good quality feed; fall calving which gives us less milk to sell in August and September; and more and more consumers interested in high quality organic dairy like ours.

Just the ups and downs of the natural cycle. It’s all part of working with dairy farmers, but it helps to understand that milk doesn’t just come out of the bottle without a lot of smart, creative farmers working with unpredictable weather, and a lot of beautiful cows doing their thing. Happy late summer from your friends at Kalona SuperNatural!