Tag: Nutrition

What Are Milk Components?
The Farm

What Are Milk Components?

What Are Milk Components?Milk components are a common topic related to dairy cattle. For example, when researching dairy breeds, it is commonly mentioned that Jersey cows have more components in their milk than Holsteins do.

So what are the components of milk? There are three main categories:

  • Fat.
  • Protein.
  • Other solids.



When a cow’s rumen digests fiber, it produces fatty acids. Some of these fatty acids are processed in the udder and released in the milk, accounting for about half of the fat naturally found in milk. The other half of the fat enters the milk from the bloodstream, often coming from the cow’s liver or backfat, or directly from fats absorbed in the diet.

Because fiber is important to producing milk fat, cows generally have higher levels of fat in their milk when fed diets high in natural forages of good quality. Cows are sometimes fed low-fiber, high-energy diets to increase total milk production. Needless to say, this extra production comes at the expense of the fat component.

Fat content is generally expressed as a percentage. This is important because a high-producing cow like a Holstein may yield more pounds of fat per lactation than a Jersey. However, a gallon of Holstein milk contains a higher percentage of water than a gallon of Jersey milk does. Total milk yield and percentage of components are usually inversely related.



Protein makes its way into milk thanks to the action of rumen microbes that start the process of breaking proteins down into amino acids. Mammary glands later reconstruct the amino acids back into proteins with the aid of glucose. Also, small amounts of albumin and immunoglobulin proteins enter milk directly through the bloodstream.

It is interesting to note that the chemical makeup of the protein component can vary from cow to cow. Casein is the main type of protein found in cow’s milk, but it can come in two forms, known as A1 and A2. The latter type is considered easier for humans to digest.

A deficiency of dietary protein will indeed reduce the amount of protein in a cow’s milk. However, once the cow’s protein needs are met, feeding additional protein will not further increase amount of protein in the milk. Beyond this point, protein content is strongly influenced by genetics.

Like fat, the protein content of a cow’s milk is expressed as a percentage.


Other Solids

Many times, when milk components are under discussion, fat and protein are the main solids of interest. However, there are many other solids that make milk:

  • Lactose: A type of sugar; the carbohydrate component of milk.
  • Minerals: Including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium.
  • Vitamins: Particularly vitamins A and B complex.


Why Components Matter

  • Components indicate cow health. A healthy, well-fed cow with minimal stress will have plenty of fat, protein, and other nutrients to spare for her milk. On the other hand, a cow suffering from mastitis or from rumen acidosis will show a considerable drop in fat and protein components.
  • Components are important for human nutrition. Two glasses of milk from two different cows are vastly different. A glass of milk from a cow bred and fed for high total milk production is mostly water. A glass of milk from a cow bred and fed with an eye to components contains more of the proteins, vitamins, and minerals necessary for good health. Even the fats are beneficial to humans, as they are important for building cells.
  • Components offer value-added opportunities. Fat and protein are necessary to the manufacture of butter, cream, and cheese, among other dairy products.
  • Components give rich flavor and texture to dairy products. Milk fat and other solids are what make ice cream creamy. In fact, one of the factors that separates gourmet ice cream from just plain old ice cream is a higher percentage of fat.
Pros and Cons of Slow Cookers
The Lifestyle

Pros and Cons of Slow Cookers

Pros and Cons of Slow CookersPick up any slow cooker cookbook, and you’ll be amazed at the versatility of this simple appliance. With a slow cooker, you can combine the ingredients for anything from stew to oatmeal to cobbler within minutes, then just walk away until it’s time to serve and eat.

Are there other advantages to slow cooking? Are there any hidden disadvantages? And is slow cooking safe? Let’s find out.



  • Energy efficiency. Running the oven for extended periods of time can be expensive, and much of the electricity is wasted heating up the kitchen (not desirable on a summer day). The slow cooker pulls comparatively little power and wastes none of it.
  • Convenience. How much easier does it get than a slow cooker? Pile in ingredients and wait for dinner!
  • Lack of odor. No smoke, no smells of burnt food. Just a warm, savory smell when someone opens the lid. (But please resist the urge—opening the slow cooker increases the time the food takes to cook.)
  • Food safety. Don’t worry about the long cooking process when it comes to meat. The FDA recommends cooking food at temperatures above 140°F, while most slow cookers fall within a range of 170°F to 300°F. If the meat is done, the pathogens have been killed, even if the slow cooker was set on low heat most of the time. If the food is cooked, but you are not ready to eat it yet, leave the slow cooker on low to prevent the temperature from falling into a range more suitable for bacteria. As a final precaution, thaw meat thoroughly before cooking.
  • Impossibility of burning food. Okay, you can overcook food in a slow cooker; some meats, particularly chicken, may get too dry if they go too long without enough broth or other liquid. But actually burning the food is virtually impossible.
  • Tenderness. Even low-quality cuts thrive on slow cooking. This is because the collagen in connective tissue is what makes meat tough. Slow cooking melts the collagen away, leaving a tender piece of meat.
  • Flavor. The longer food simmers, the better the flavor gets. Therefore, food from a slow cooker always has a delightful, savory flavor.



  • Need for planning and preparation. Changing your plans at the last minute just doesn’t work with a slow cooker. You will need to know what you are making well in advance of dinner, perhaps even early in the morning. Then you will have to prepare your ingredients and thaw your meat.
  • Slow pace. Need dinner in a hurry? Obviously, a slow cooker will not help you here.
  • Incompatibility with cans. Many home cooks complain about the texture of canned food, particularly vegetables, cooked in a slow cooker. Fresh produce has the structural integrity to be tenderized while slow cooking instead of turning into mush. Frozen produce works, too, but note that as it thaws it can make the meal somewhat watery.
  • Uneven results. If you combine vegetables and meats in the slow cooker, you may notice that the vegetables (especially potatoes) take longer to cook than the meat. Often a little extra cooking won’t hurt the meat a bit. If you are concerned, however, either precook the vegetables slightly, or put them into the slow cooker well before adding the meat. Chopping them finer helps, as well.
  • Nutrient loss. As vegetables sit in the slow cooker for extended periods of time, they slowly lose nutritional value. Don’t worry—the vitamins and minerals are still present in the broth. But if maximizing nutrient intake is a priority, eat your vegetables raw.
  • Bean toxins. Raw beans, particularly kidney beans, contain the toxin phytohaemagglutinin, which is why they must be cooked thoroughly at very high temperatures before being eaten. A slow cooker does not get hot enough to destroy phytohaemagglutinin, so all beans must be boiled before going into the mix.



The slow cooker has so much going for it that it is considered indispensable by many home chefs! The biggest drawback is exactly what makes the finished product taste so good—a slow pace. As long as you can plan and prepare well before it’s time to eat, you may find that the slow cooker becomes your best kitchen assistant.

Milk Production in Beef Cattle
The Farm

Milk Production in Beef Cattle

Milk Production in Beef CattleIf you have been searching for the right beef cattle breed for your new farm, you undoubtedly have come across plenty of promotional literature published by breed organizations. This material usually includes long lists of the benefits of the breed in question, such as calving ease, rapid weight gain, or meat tenderness.

One characteristic commonly touted is a cow’s milk production. This may give you pause if you are not looking for dual-purpose cattle. After all, what difference does it make if a beef breed is noted for milk production?


Benefits of High Milk Production in Beef Cattle

By producing plenty of milk, a beef cow is producing plenty of food for her calf. The more food the calf has access to at an early age, the heavier the calf will be by weaning time. A study conducted by Oklahoma State shows that the extra milk can translate into as much as 30 extra pounds of calf weaning weight. All other factors being equal, heavier calves tend to bring better prices at sale time.


Drawbacks of High Milk Production in Beef Cattle

All this said, there are reasons why some beef producers still look for more moderate levels of milk production in their cows. When nutrient inputs are limited, cows will channel their energy into three basic directions:

  1. Body maintenance.
  2. Lactation.
  3. Reproduction.

Each of these functions represents a separate “level.” Only if the demands of one “level” are met will surplus energy be channeled into the next level. So lactation will only occur after the body’s basic maintenance needs are met, and the cow will only breed again after she has met her energy requirements for lactation.

Not surprisingly, cows that are heavy milkers need plenty of energy. They require large feed inputs to output all the milk they are capable of producing, and only once their nutrient needs for lactation are met will they be ready to breed again. Heavy-milking cows rarely thrive in a low-input, grass-based system. They tend to form the lowest tier of the herd, the ones that always breed back late. Oklahoma State research shows that heavy-milking cows also tend to have poorer body condition than their lower-milking counterparts.


Choosing the Right Cows For You

As you can see, when considering beef cows based on their milk production, you have to strike a delicate balance. Higher milk production means a heavier, more valuable calf, but it also means a less reliable, more expensive cow.

If you are looking at a grass-based system, you may simply not have the option of using heavy-milking beef cows. If you are planning on providing some supplemental feed, then you will have to count the cost.

Estimates of the dry matter intake of different cows in early lactation are as follows:

  • Cows that produce 10 pounds of milk per day: 26.5 pounds of dry matter per day.
  • Cows that produce 20 pounds of milk per day: 29.0 pounds of dry matter per day.
  • Cows that produce 30 pounds of milk per day: 31.5 pounds of dry matter per day.

Do you have access to an abundant supply of cheap feed? That may decide whether a heavy-milking cow will be an asset or an expense in your system. Keep in mind, however, that you can maintain more low-milk-production cows than heavy-milking cows on the same amount of feed.

Do the math!

Brix: How Do We Use It?
The Farm

Brix: How Do We Use It?

Brix: How Do We Use It?Now that we know what brix is and how to measure it, we’re ready to find ways to apply this knowledge.

So what is an ideal brix level?  Most plants show markedly improved vitality and pest resistance when their brix levels hit 12 degrees on a refractometer, although with care many can go far higher than that.


Increasing Brix in Produce and Pasture

Proponents of high-brix farming and gardening agree that soil microbe health is directly correlated with high brix levels in produce and pasture.  Therefore, while chemical fertilizers can provide brief boosts in brix, they cannot maintain high levels over long periods of time unless special high-sugar hybrid plants are used.  Organic fertilizers made to be applied directly to the leaves of the plant can also give a temporary increase in brix.  In the long run, however, growers of heirloom and non-hybrid plants, whether they be food or forage species, must focus on feeding the soil.

Maintaining a balance of nutrients in the soil is an important step toward keeping microbes healthy and happy.  If you are struggling with low brix levels, start with a soil analysis.  Measuring NPK is not enough.  It is important to know the levels of trace minerals, as well, because these are key to microbe health.  Depleted minerals must be replaced.

Once the soil is brought back into balance, there are many options for keeping it that way.  One of the most amazing soil and plant foods out there, according to refractometers across the nation, is raw milk.  Pastures fed with raw milk can have a brix reading over 20 degrees!  Grazing practices that allow for nutrient distribution and pasture recovery time tend to affect brix positively, as well.


Using Brix in Milk and Honey

Sometimes a quick fix is important when feeding milk to calves.  If the brix levels fall too low (below 22% solids for colostrum or below 10% solids for whole milk), the calves will not thrive and mortality rates will increase.  In this case, milk replacer or milk extender must be added to the milk.  In the long run, managing the health of the dairy herd is important.  Eliminating mastitis infections can make a big difference in milk quality.

Honey that contains a high proportion of moisture to sugar tends to ferment.  Therefore, it should not be harvested until it measures 82 to 83 degrees brix (17% to 18% moisture on a honey refractometer).  If for some reason the honey must be harvested before this point, the honey frames can be dried artificially with fans.

Brix: How Do We Measure It?
The Farm

Brix: How Do We Measure It?

Brix: How Do We Measure It?

Optical refractometer

Now we have a definition of brix: the weight of dissolved sugar expressed as a percentage of the weight of the entire solution.  The next question is how we measure brix.


The Refractometer

As its name suggests, a refractometer operates on the principle of refraction.  When a beam of light passes through a liquid solution, it bends, or refracts.  The more solids (e.g., sugars) that are suspended in the solution, the more the light refracts.  A refractometer is simply a device used to measure refraction.

Two types of refractometers are commonly sold:

  • Analog or optical.
  • Digital.

An analog refractometer uses a prism and an external light source to operate.  A few drops of solution are placed on the prism, the refractometer is held toward a light, and the results are read on a scale.

A digital refractometer works on the same principle, but shines its own light on the prism from an LED.  A sensor takes the measurement, a computer calculates the results, and a screen displays the brix reading.

Note that refractometers specifically sold for testing honey are made to display the inverse of a brix reading—that is, they display the moisture content of the sample and not the percentage of dissolved solids.


Shortcomings of the Refractometer

The reading displayed on the refractometer is actually not a true measurement of the sugar dissolved in the substance being tested.  Any dissolved solids can cause light to refract; therefore all dissolved solids are included in the refractometer results.  This includes minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates other than sugar, as well as other non-nutrient solids.  Adding fertilizer to a glass of water, for instance, will change the brix reading according to the refractometer.

Of course, this may still help us reach our goals in measuring brix in the first place.  After all, if we are measuring the brix of fruits and vegetables, whether from the store or our own backyard garden, we are using brix as a gauge of overall nutrient content.  If there are more minerals in the produce, so much the better.

However, the main disadvantage of using the refractometer is that it cannot tell us exactly what is changing the reading.  The only way to know for sure what sugars, minerals, and other solids are in our food or forage is to do a complete nutrient analysis—feasible in a livestock business, but a little too costly for everyday kitchen use.

Other factors that may influence refractometer results include:

  • Sample preparation.
  • Sample settling.
  • Plant part tested.
  • Ambient temperature.

Digital refractometers are programmed to compensate for some of these variables (particularly temperature).  To ensure the most accurate results, however, try to test the same part of the plant at the same time of day in every test.  Testing in similar weather conditions is also preferable.


Next week: How do we use brix?

Brix: What is It?
The Farm

Brix: What is It?

Brix: What is It?

Brix is one of those topics that come up fairly frequently in sustainable agriculture.  Simply put, brix is a measure of the sugar content of a plant or other substance.

To be more specific, Brix expresses the weight of dissolved sugar as a percentage of the weight of the entire solution.  Pure water has a brix of 0%.  A solution of 5 grams of sugar to 95 grams of water would have a brix of 5%.

This measurement system was developed by and named for Austrian scientist Adolph Brix.

So how can this knowledge help us?


High-Brix Growing

Advocates of high-brix farming and gardening say that plants with high brix levels are vibrant and healthy—and vibrant, healthy plants resist insect pests and diseases.  They can also stand up to a light frost a little better.

High-brix fruits and vegetables generally have a sweeter, more appetizing flavor than their low-brix counterparts.  However, brix proponents claim that there are other benefits to growing and eating high-brix foods.  High-brix plants have a superior aroma and may be more digestible.  They may even have higher nutritional content (some caveats next week).

Brix can be used to positively determine if a fruit is ripe, as the sugar content of a fruit increases dramatically while ripening.

Finally, high-brix produce keeps surprisingly well.


More Uses for Brix

But brix is not just a useful tool for those who grow plants.  If you raise livestock, you can also benefit from monitoring brix:

  • Beekeepers use brix to monitor honey quality.
  • In dairy cattle, brix is used to evaluate the nutritional content of colostrum fed to calves.
  • To all grazing animals, brix equals palatability.  When given a choice, livestock will always choose high-brix forages over low-brix forages.

Some consumers also shop for brix these days, tapping into the nutritional benefits of high-brix foods.  Besides testing fruits and vegetables for flavor and nutrition, they can also check honey and maple syrup for dilution.


Next week: How do we measure Brix?

Get Ready for August 2016
The Lifestyle

Get Ready for August 2016

Get Ready for August 2016Even when the afternoons are too hot for outdoor work, you can still make the most of the time with research and planning. Spend some time studying business, marketing, nutrition, animal health, and more.

  1. Consider new ways to direct market your beef.
  2. Find out how reproduction and animal health are related.
  3. Discover 96 horse breeds of North America.
  4. Build a sustainable business.
  5. Learn what kobe beef is.
  6. Ponder the relationship between the railroads and the homesteaders.
  7. Enjoy the wonderful art of drawing horses.
  8. Practice body condition scoring.
  9. Read about the Kansas climate.
  10. Study the roles and natural sources of vitamins.
Blossom End Rot
The Garden

Blossom End Rot

Blossom End RotBlossom end rot may look like some type of dreaded bacterial disease, but it is actually a symptom of nutritional deficiency. Affected plants include:

When blossom end rot strikes, your plants are signalling that they are deficient in calcium. Calcium is an important part of the cell walls of fruits and vegetables. When calcium is deficient, the cell walls break down, producing blossom end rot.

Most gardeners don’t realize that the calcium content of the soil is rarely the problem, particularly in states like Kansas that have limestone (calcium carbonate) in abundance. Blossom end rot frequently appears when a plant is unable to take up calcium for some reason.

In most cases, the root of the problem lies with the root of the plant. Both nitrogen-rich fertilizer and cool, wet weather tend to prompt lush plant growth, but very little root growth. When a hot, dry spell hits, the plant will have far more foliage than it can easily support with its meager root system. It will focus its efforts on survival by restricting the flow of moisture and dissolved minerals such as calcium to its fruits, producing blossom end rot.


Blossom End RotSymptoms

  • Soft, shriveled blossom ends on fruits.
  • Brown, dry, leathery patches on bottoms of fruits.
  • Secondary fungal infection.



Remove the rotting fruits from the plants. After that, there isn’t much you can do except wait for the plant to regain its water and nutrient balance. How long this takes will simply depend on the weather.

If a soil analysis shows that your garden is truly deficient in calcium, you will need to spread gypsum to correct the problem in the long run. For a temporary solution, you can feed the plants with liquid calcium fertilizer or by burying a calcium carbonate tablet at the base of the plant.


Blossom End RotPrevention

Avoid the overuse of nitrogen fertilizer. The goal is to keep the plant growing steadily so that its root system can keep up with the growth of the top.

While the weather does not always cooperate, anything you can do to provide an even supply of moisture to your plants is helpful. Water consistently during dry spells, and apply mulch to keep the soil moist.

Finally, be careful when hoeing to avoid damaging roots lying close to the surface.


Complete Series

Garden & Orchard DiseasesGarden & Orchard Diseases


Get Ready for July 2016
The Lifestyle

Get Ready for July 2016

Get Ready for July 2016Summer can be very busy, but don’t forget to learn and brainstorm.  Spend some time enjoying nature, researching animals, and growing healthy plants.

  1. Brush up on your birdwatching vocabulary.
  2. Discover how wood type affects the sound of your guitar.
  3. Explore the 11 physiographic regions of Kansas.
  4. Learn about rare and popular breeds of livestock.
  5. Consider growing beans as a field crop in Kansas.
  6. Find out why healthy plants are bug-resistant.
  7. Decide if a raw diet is right for your pet.
  8. Weigh the pros and cons of soaker hoses.
  9. Identify Kansas wildflowers and grasses.
  10. Live the cross-centered life.
Our Vitamin Guide—Updated!

Our Vitamin Guide—Updated!

Our Vitamin Guide—Updated!We have updated our vitamin guide to include country pets, those special cats and dogs that share our lives and help us out around the farm.

In addition to information on vitamins in livestock nutrition, you will now find details applicable specifically to pets:

  • Natural sources of vitamins tailored to carnivores.
  • Causes of vitamin deficiency unique to cats and dogs.
  • Symptoms that pets are unlikely to share with livestock.
  • Causes and symptoms of toxicity specific to small animals.
  • Medicinal uses of vitamins that have been successful in pets.

The usual cautions apply.  Content regarding medical conditions and treatment is provided for general information purposes only, and is not to be construed as legal, medical, or professional advice.  Please consult your veterinarian for advice regarding your specific animal’s needs.