still wondering

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, and maybe it isn’t.

Of the ten or a dozen dairy cows we have owned, two stand out as difficult to milk, not for any deficiency in teat size or location (we’ve experienced both of those, more than once or twice) but for inadequate let-down reflex.  These two make plenty of milk, lovely, yellow high-fat content milk; but instead of pushing it out, as any good cow does, when you help her along with some scientific squeezing action, these two make you wring it out of them.  Takes twice as long as milking any other cow, or maybe longer yet.  Maybe there’s no connection, but these two also happen to be the only two in the bunch which were once-upon-a-time milked with machines.  Is there something about the compressor-produced suction of the milking machine that makes let-down reflex unnecessary, and, supposing there is, would an unnecessary reflex diminish over time?

We don’t know, but you won’t catch us buying a machine milked cow again in a hurry.

starting calves

Real milk or calf milk replacer?  The latter is the equivalent of baby formula, and you might think the difference would be slight, but no, and this year’s experience is a case in pointcalf2:  the extra bulls we picked up for beef (between our families and the monastery we need a lot of beef) are doing beautifully on surplus milk, but the three we picked up for our neighbors, people with experience in raising calves, never thrived, and at around six weeks they were all dead, yes, doornail dead.  Same batch of calves, same pickup dates, same protocols for rearing — only the milk was different.  Such a high mortality rate is, we admit, not the norm, but fifty percent wouldn’t have surprised us much.  Replacer and real milk are not the same.

iron weed

weedy paddock  This one is tall, with red stems and clusters of flowers of a purple Caesar would envy.  As fast as we see improvement in pastures we are beginning to graze intensively, a glance at the fields in July and August is always a little discouraging; iron weed can grow to as much as ten feet , and it self-sows generously.  Neither the cows nor the sheep will browse it significantly.  Additionally, according to Ohio State, “research showed that 9 successive years of mowing on two dates during the year caused no significant stand reduction of tall ironweed. Herbicides controlled top growth of tall ironweed in the season of application but had little effect on regrowth from surviving roots.”

Good news:  intensive grazing seems to be much more effective than that.  After six years, where once the iron weed grew thick and tall, our home pastures now show only a few scattered plants.   Why should intensive grazing work when mowing does not (after all, the animals aren’t grazing the iron weed, just its companion plants), and why might the process take a few years to show its effectiveness?  We’re not experts, but we speculate that individual plants already established continue to push through the pasture grasses for several years until either their viability is sufficiently compromised by competition, or until they have completed their natural life cycle, while new plants can’t get established through the improved ground cover that goes with intensive grazing.


book cover   We heard today that we will have a starred review in the September issue of Library Journal.  Can you beat that!

bug repellent

So, we can’t absolutely say that this one works, but then again we can’t say it doesn’t, either.  In a world where bugs the size of pinheads can destroy an entire patch of winter squash, turn cucumber vine leaves to brown lace, or eat potato plants down to mushy green stems, we’re willing to do a lot to discourage bugs, even if a lot of a lot doesn’t really work.

This method was recommended to us by a friend from Wisconsin, who remembers it as a trick her grandmother, born in the early decades of the last century, used to repel cabbage loopers, those little green caterpillars that leave caterpillar poo all over your cabbages.  It seems the good lady saved the water in which she had defrosted meat, or the (let’s call it what it is) blood on the meat platter, diluted it in a couple of gallons of water, and let it get good and stinky.  Then she poured it on the vegetables she was trying to save from the bugs.  The idea, as our friend understands it, was to make the plant smell like something other than what it was; smell like carrion, in fact.  We’ve tried it.  Just a little meat juice in water can get remarkably foul-smelling if left to sit a couple of days in hot weather.   Don’t know if it really fools the loopers, but we’ve never had such beautiful cabbages.  We sprayed it on our winter squash, too, half of which had already succumbed to bacterial wilt, and the wilt seems to have run its course, but since it’s supposed to take a couple of weeks for bacterial wilt to kill a plant, such results are totally inconclusive.  We like the idea, though.  We don’t suppose it can hurt; it might even be a homeopathic dose of foliar fertilizer, as well.


cow warts

cowsWhen one of the three heifers that spent the winter on another farm came home with warts all over her face, we did a computer search and found multiple sites that said 1) that warts are caused by a viral infection (we knew that); 2) that cows often get them, and they are infectious; 3) that after a couple of months the cow develops an immunity and they go away again.  In short hand, that means that if you aren’t wanting to sell that cow right away, don’t worry about it.  We are now in a position to add our own little bit to the online wisdom, to whit:  the warts did not go away in a couple of months, it has been more like six months, but yes, after spreading over much of her face and even onto one shoulder, they are finally receding.  No one else showed up with warts, which are supposed to be spread by cows using the same rubbing posts or trees as the affected cow, but in an intensive grazing system paddocks change so often that maybe there’s no opportunity for repeated visits to the same tree.

May this be some help if your cow turns up with facial warts.


two abscesses

Always learning.  Remember Poppy, the cow with the recurring milk fever?  She received, if memory serves, eleven five hundred mil bottles of calcium gluconate before we got savvy to the fact that milking was taking the calcium out of her system as fast as we were putting it in.  We stopped milking for a day or so, and all was well.  For the time being.

Not surprisingly, after all those needles in the jugular furrow, she developed a whopping abscess on the left side of her neck.  We’ve seen lots of abscesses over the years, but this was one for the diary, being about the size of half a large grapefruit, and although we don’t get worried about abscesses normally — they always seem to reduce on their own, in their own good time — the size and location of this one meant we were definitely keeping an eye on it; in fact, we could hardly help it.

Meanwhile the heifer calf Sylvie (not Poppy’s calf), about eight weeks old and lively as you could hope to see, showed up with an enlarged umbilical site.  It was about time to wean her to the bucket anyway (she’d been on Mama up to that point), and when we loaded her to move her down to the lower farm we found it was an abscess, too, in fact, it ruptured as a result of the activity and made a mess in the back of the truck.  Videos online, and the sterling advice of our local vet, gave us the confidence to lance the thing, so the next day we tied her down and had at it.  Only, we were wasting our time; the abscess was draining just fine on its own, and we could have saved the poor calf two good cuts with a razor by just leaving it alone.

Back to Poppy.  Cut and drain, or leave the thing be?  While we were still debating, it bagan draining on its own (they develop a soft spot, sometimes more than one, which becomes a drainage sinus).  It took maybe three weeks to reduce more or less completely, but it did so, without help (dubious at best) from our primitive surgery.  Meanwhile, Sylvie’s umbilical abscess healed without further interference.

Lesson:  if it’s draining on its own, it probably won’t help to cut it; and chances are good it will drain on its own.


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