Va. dairy farmers’ have low rainfall woes

Posted at 5:26 PM, Jul 25, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-25 18:01:08-04

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ)--Over the last few years, parts of Virginia have been running below normal in rainfall.  Right now, meteorologists say the state is abnormally dry.  And that is a problem. 

Just ask any dairy farmer. Before they can make milk, dairy cows must have water; lots of water.

"I'm a dairy scientist so my main concern is the cows,” Katherine Knowlton, Virginia Tech Researcher, said.

Knowlton, along with other researchers at Virginia Tech, agree, water is the new gold and any shortage is bad for dairy cattle."When it gets this hot and this dry, milk production drops. Cows are under some stress and they just can't produce enough milk."

Student researchers check mineral levels several times a day. Nearly 90% of milk is water. If there's not enough rain, high levels of minerals like copper and iron, don't get washed out enough and remain in the short supply of water that dairy cattle drink.

"When there's a high level of copper or iron in milk, it can cause a flavor that's identifiable to either metallic flavor or sometimes it's described as cardboard. So people might taste that and think their milk is not right,” Susan Duncan, Virginia Tech Researcher, said.

"Virginia has about 700 dairy farms, about 100,000 dairy cattle. Each one of those cattle drink about 100 pounds of water every single day and that water needs to be as clean as it can be.

Researchers say it's simple; not enough water for dairy cattle, could mean you pay more.

"The cows are producing less milk and in the grocery store that could increase the price of milk,” said Knowlton.