Are today's feed production methods resulting in a loss of nutrient density and breakdown of vitamin availability that's detrimental to dairy cows?
EXCERPT: Throughout his 35 years of dealing directly with livestock nutrition and health, Harle said his constant practice has been to look at the cattle before giving any feedback on nutritional practices. What he has seen in recent years – too many instances of apparently healthy cows suddenly declining and dying on the farms – disturbs him.
Farm consultant concerned over GMOs, use of glyphosate
Wisconsin State Farmer, 3 April 2017
Although supplies of milk and livestock are plentiful in the United States, are today's feed production methods resulting in a loss of nutrient density and breakdown of vitamin availability that's detrimental to dairy cows?
That something pertaining to that question “is going on” has occupied the attention of semi-retired agricultural nutrition consultant Dieter Harle for nearly two decades. One consequence of what he fears is happening served as the title for a presentation titled “Why do Swiss cheese makers report fewer or no holes?” in the seminar series on March 28 at the 2017 WPS Farm Show.
That title was derived from input that Harle indicated he has received on six occasions during the past three years from farmers and cheese makers on significant differences in the quality of milk for making cheese. Milk from certain farms is either preferred or not preferred, he said. In one instance, a cheese plant seeks the milk from a certain farm for its starter batch, he stated.
What's the Difference?
Those observations, along with Harle's other experiences, have led him to seriously question the growing of genetically-modified crops such as corn and soybeans in the past 20 years and the widespread use of glyphosate herbicide to control weeds on farms and in other settings.
The challenge in making cheeses is a topic which the affected plants are not going to admit for public disclosure, Harle remarked. He noted that they find processing and manufacturing methods to overcome those challenges.
But that doesn't satisfy Harle, who's in business as the Bettendorf, IA based Best Options Inc., which he founded in 1999. He's not sure of the answers but he's convinced that “there is something going on to affect the nutrition of dairy cows” which in turn affects the milk they produce and how that milk is possibly responsible for “the fewer or no holes” in Swiss cheese.
Mapping a Mission
While emphasizing that he's not opposed to progress or to the use of genetics in agriculture, Harle's mission, without claiming to have the answers, is to spark a discussion of his range of concerns. Even if the problem with the absence of cheese holes proves to be “a far-fetched deal,” he is nonetheless convinced that “something needs to be done.”
Harle pointed out that his camp for similar thinking and concerns includes emeritus or recently retired professors from Missouri, Iowa, and Purdue universities along with several contacts in his native Germany. The best known in this group is Don Huber, an emeritus professor of plant pathology at Purdue. In Germany, his main contact is veterinarian and professor emeritus Monika Krueger of the University of Leipzig.
On several occasions and in various venues, Harle has tried to draw attention to his concerns. For the most part, he has been rebuffed, even to the point of finding that “some researchers will not talk to me anymore.”
Following the Trail
How did Harle get to where he is today on his outlook? He traced that history for the dozen or so persons who attended his presentation at the WPS Farm Show here.
A United States citizen who is a native of Germany, Harle came to this country 49 years ago, becoming a graduate of the University of Wisconsin farm and industry short course in 1970 and then a UW – Madison graduate in 1972 with a major in meat and animal sciences.
After a three-year stint as an Extension Service 4-H in Waupaca County, Harle had multi-year episodes in dairy nutrition sales and service with both Wayne Feeds and VitaPlus in Wisconsin and four neighboring states. Ironically, he also worked in sales for Monsanto, which was the developer and original seller of glyphosate herbicide under the trade name of Round-Up.
As an independent today without a loyalty to any label, Harle said his intention is “not to slam anybody.” Instead, he defines his role as responding to “people who ask me questions for which I have no answers”.
Facing the Questions
Throughout his 35 years of dealing directly with livestock nutrition and health, Harle said his constant practice has been to look at the cattle before giving any feedback on nutritional practices. What he has seen in recent years – too many instances of apparently healthy cows suddenly declining and dying on the farms – disturbs him.
In addition, Harle inspects the manure stools to notice if they are shiny or not. He finds that, on paper or the computer screen, the dairy ration seems fine but that some cows are exhibiting evident problems in health and production. “There's something wrong,” he said.
Harle is also bothered by the ownership and managerial approach that he encounters in some of those situations. He mentioned the case of a 3,500 cow operation where 10 on-farm deaths per month (a death rate of nearly four percent per year) is considered acceptable.
In a wider spectrum, Harle suggested that the average annual death rate in dairy herds today is running at between six and seven percent – much higher in a few herds. (Colorado State University dairy scientist Franklyn Garry has been quoted as indicating that the dairy cow death loss has been increasing around the world.)
Those losses are in addition to cows that are culled and that were commanding very high prices in the beef market until about the past year, Harle observed. Many dairy operations aren't greatly concerned or affected by culling and death rates because “there are heifers aplenty today from the use of sexed semen,” he stated. “That camouflages the problem.”
At times, Harle had learned that the herd veterinarians are often not even being asked to provide their input on why cows decline and die suddenly or are being culled at high rates. “Nobody's asking about what's being fed to the cows,” he remarked.
On that point, Harle is pleased that the portion of grain in dairy rations has been reduced somewhat. He added, however, that there are still cases of acidosis (a typical result of excess grain feeding) in pre-lactating heifers.
Focusing on Feed
Harle's suspicion, on which he relies in part on confirmation from Germany, is that the combination of genetically-modified organisms and the use of glyphosate for growing the major portion of the feed for dairy cattle today is greatly responsible for their death and culling rates. “There's a lot of suspicion but we have a one-sided information track.”
With genetically-modified corn for grain and silage and with soybeans, up to 60 percent more water is needed for them to grow properly because of the additional energy and input they need to carry out their special traits for combating insects and tolerating herbicides, Harle indicated.
Those extra requirements can be satisfied in years with sufficient rainfall but not in dry years, Harle observed. He said that's why non-GMO crops can outyield the GMO ones in dry years and could be why the GMO-produced feeds are, as he believes, lacking the nutrient densities that support dairy cattle.
Drawing mainly on Don Huber's observations and arguments, Harle indicated that glyphosate is a chelating agent which in effect causes a binding of essential amino acids (protein suppliers), thereby displacing the nutrients and making them less available to cows. If this were not the case, Harle believes it would not be necessary for the common practice of supplementing dairy rations with four to five additives to address cow health, production, and longevity.
What Harle sees as the underlying problem is that the loss of nutrients in their feed deprives dairy cows of the immunity needed to fend off ailments. In the European Union, where glyphosate is used but GMO crops are not grown, he reported that Leipzig University's Monika Krueger has detected a link between the use of glyphosate with cases of chronic botulism in dairy cows.
Harle referred to both GMO organisms and glyphosate as “foreign proteins.” He recalled how “we were told that this is not supposed to affect us.”
What's not in doubt is that glyphosate is both in the soil and in both surface and ground water, Harle stressed. In tests of well water that he has overseen for the organic farmers who are among his clients, he has learned that 40 to 50 percent of the samples contain glyphosate.
A couple of years ago, Harle submitted samples of his urine, which was found to have glyphosate. The urine sample from his wife, who has been far less exposed to the agricultural settings where glyphosate is applied, did not have any of the substance, he indicated.
Although he was involved with the creation of an organic feed mill at Coleman in northeast Wisconsin a few decades ago, Harle doesn't advocate organic production as a general practice. He observed that organic methods are less productive in volume but wishes that much more attention would be given to non-GMO production.
Harle also mentioned the frequent references to“sustainability” by parties from all parts of the agricultural spectrum. He suggested that it's only a word that sounds good but that doesn't have a standard meaning and, certainly in his view, should not be used in context with the production of GMO crops.
While Harle doesn't know where his concerns will lead to on those points, he's engaging in some other pursuits. One of them is pursing a registration with authorities to approve the use of sauerkraut juice from a processor in Wisconsin as an ingredient in dairy rations.
In Germany, all of the dairy farms have begun to use that byproduct juice are still using it, Harle reported. The juice is a form of lactobacillus, which is commonly used as an inoculant to support silage fermentation, he explained.