Archive for July, 2016

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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Let us speak for a moment of hemp dogbane.  hemp dogbane

Do a search for it online.  “Hemp dogbane:  Apocynum canabinum.”  The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service  —  “Normally, animals avoid hemp dogbane because of its bitter, sticky, milk-white juice. Sheep are more frequently affected than other animals, as they will eat large quantities of hemp dogbane leaves and tops . . .” and “Death from poisoning generally occurs 6 to 12 hours after animals eat the plant. Both dried and green plants are toxic. A lethal dose for most animals is reported to be about 0.5 gm/kg body weight, but as little as 15 gm of green leaves have been reported to cause death of some cows. ”  Or the Virginia Cooperative Extension,   which informs us “this weed may be poisonous ether green or dry, and only 15-30 grams of green leaves are required to kill one horse or cow.”  Further investigation will turn up many other similar reports, all sufficiently similar to seem to indicate a single parent source.

Now, let’s look at a Penn State bulletin from 2016 (thank you, Penn State!), also treating of Aponcynum canabinum, commonly known as hemp dogbane:  “Much of the literature on hemp dogbane claims that it is poisonous to livestock, but these claims were based on an early investigation in which oleander (Nerium oleander) was mistaken for hemp dogbane.”  (As little as a single leaf of oleander can kill an adult human.)  It also adds, “Animals find fresh hemp dogbane distasteful, but can eat it in hay without suffering ill effects.”

Now, we’ll go ask the cows, who eat it first and voraciously when they are turned into a new paddock.  Distasteful?  It’s a favorite forage.  Ill effects?  None.

What is the agribusiness industry recommending?  Well, the USDA says it “may be controlled by repeated treatment of 2,4-D (italics ours)” while the Vermont extension suggests killing it with Accent, Beacon, Banvel, or Roundup Ultra herbicides, alone or in combination.  Poison the poison, in other words.  Only, it seems this particular plant isn’t poisonous after all.  We are to douse the fields with toxic chemicals, without even knowing the enemy.

And this is science, people, the god we’re never supposed to question.



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springtank2Most rules are really generalities.  Nature loves variation.

When we turn the dry cows (for convenience this includes steers and heifers) into their next 24-hour paddock, they surge forward and start getting theirs, but they don’t all go for the same stuff.  Some head straight for the orchard grass seed heads, plucking them off like apostles on a sabbath; others hurry to be the first to browse black locust seedlings.  The older, more mature cattle, who may know a little something, make straight for the hemp dogbane (about which, more in a later post), and they’ll be there as long as there are any leaves left to browse.

The lactating cows are on the front pastures, where there is more clover, and where they are more convenient to the shed for milking.  These paddocks tend to be much more weed-free than those out back.  Interesting:  as they are brought up for milking, which may mean crossing Little Church Road, or taking the long lane up from the tire tank, they pass over compacted soil (sorry, can’t help it, these are much-traveled) where broad-leaf plantain abounds.  In the verge of the lane, where the grass is mowed often for appearances’ sake, wild carrot, which will be called Queen Anne’s lace in its second year when it flowers, grows thick and lacy.  The cows are mad for both of these.  Although they have just spent ten to twelve hours on lush pasture,  they snatch mouthfuls as fast as they can, and if they are allowed to do so, they will just settle down and graze, forgetting the barn and the bucket until they have gotten all there is to get.   If they are lucky enough to find some hemp dogbane, it’s a goner.  All this on top of twelve hours of grass and clover.

We don’t have the perfect, weed-free pasture of legumes mixed with cool and warm season grasses, but the cows seem to get along fine, and maybe even finer than they would on that perfect pasture.

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