Archive for the ‘dairy cow’ Category

milk feverMaybe it’s the grass this year, which has been exceptionally rich and plentiful with  alternate warmth and cool, sun and rain.  Good grass means plentiful milk, so much we’ve had to begin making cheese twenty pounds at a time, and butter in a four gallon bucket, good things indeed.  But heavy lactation right after calving can trigger calcium deficiency, or ‘milk fever’, a nuisance at best, deadly if not dealt with, and we’ve seen two cases now, two for two this month of May.  We’ve got a crick from elevating i.v. bottles for twenty-thirty minutes a go, and a permanent case of the shudders whenever we see a hypodermic needle.

In the case of the seven-year-old Jersey cow Poppy, it’s just not fair:  we gave her prophylactic CMPK paste two days before she calved, and again twelve hours after, and still at about 24 hours she went down, and we had to drip six 500 ml bottles of calcium solution into her jugular before she shifted her freight — the first two, we might add, kneeling for an hour in a cold drizzle.

Makes you feel old and experienced, and pretty triumphant, and certain you’d rather never have to do it again.

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Sweetheart, whose name has nothing to do with her personality, is tetchy even with her little boy Reese, and he finds it easier to get his meals from almost any other cow in the bunch than from his mama.  That right back leg is just too quick to lift whenever Sweetheart feels a touch on her bag, and our guess is that he hasn’t always dodged fast enough.  Neither have I; milking Sweetheart is like going out with someone regrettable who keeps trying to get his arm around your waist, only with Sh she’s trying to get a foot in the bucket.

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If you ever see a cow standing with her neck arched, mouth open, saliva dripping from her jaws, respiration about eighty breaths per minute, get her out of the sun.

These early spring days hit the cows harder  than hotter days will do in July, when they are acclimated to it, but what do you do with a cow who has water, shade and salt and prefers to stand in the sun and pant?  It was time to take that group of cows across the road to a wooded pasture, so over she went with the others, and after an hour in the shade was frisking with the rest.  Still, we don’t like to see a cow get in that condition, and she wasn’t the only one; there were two among the lactating cows which were approaching meltdown.  These were on the woods on the east side of the pasture, where the shade is thinner in late afternoon, so in the morning we gave them a paddock on the west side so that they would have the best shade between noon and four o’clock milking time, which did the trick.  Thank goodness; we don’t want a bunch of cows with heat stroke.

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green grass!

There are few kinds of relief to be compared to that of the grass farmer when spring green-up finally arrives; maybe the only one would be the sensation of a man in a strange city when he finally spots the door marked ‘Gents’.  We have been holding on by the skin of our teeth for three weeks, feeding the last of the hay, and whatever else we could scrounge, while we held the cows off the tiny points of green that were slowly, oh-so-slowly poking through the sodden brown trash left from our stockpiled forage.  The persistent cold weather and near-constant overcast were not encouraging to those little green shoots, and they weren’t sure they were really welcome on the Beautiful river.

Now we have green!  In just a few days — three, four at most — the rain stopped, the sun shone, and the grass popped and kept popping!  We split the cows up again and put twelve — dry cows, steers, yearlings — on the back in enormous paddocks where they can spread out and graze all they want without hitting anything too hard, and put the four lactating cows in a front paddock where they can walk back to the dairy without tearing up ungrazed pasture.  There is a beautiful brown Jersey heifer calf in there, too, because Honey, the three-year-old F/J cross, calved on Palm Sunday vigil.

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Wednesday, March 25, the Annunciation:

All winter we’ve held the lactating cows up front on the better forage, while the dry cows, heifers and yearlings cleaned up out back on the paddocks farthest from the dairy, and therefore the longest walk for the milkers.  Monday morning we ran all the cows up to the front of the farm and put them in one paddock, where the the sixteen of them actually look like a respectable herd.  They are pastured now on what we would call a sacrifice paddock, an area where we are going to create a lot of impact, more than we would want in a regular rotation.  There are two reasons for this choice:  one is so that the last of the stockpiled forage will be held in abeyance until green-up, so that the first spring paddocks will still contain some brown, high-carbon stuff to slow down the passage of new green grass through the cows’ gut.  The second reason for hitting this paddock hard is that this corner of the front pasture is only lately reclaimed from the jungle.  Last fall when we ran the cows over that paddock there was a lot of good grass they missed under the briars and cane, because they wouldn’t shove their faces in among the thorns to graze.  Feeding hay on that paddock now, with four-times-sixteen that’s sixty-four hooves cutting into the soil, we’ll disadvantage the cane before green-up, as well as adding lots of good organic matter, some biological activity, and whatever grass seeds spills from the hay or makes it unscathed through the cows’ digestive systems.  Coming up on calving we don’t want too much protein in the dry cows, anyway, so this is a win-win:  good nutrition now, better grazing later.

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We are doing so much writing on our book, The Grassfed Homestead, that we have done very little writing of posts.  Winter is not uneventful, but long, cold nights and short, cold, overcast days leave us saturated with snow, and keeping livestock warm and fed, and the never-ending struggle to keep stockwater unfrozen.  Sometimes a ‘possum gets a hen and eats it slily, head first, in the brush behind the henhouse.  JohnPaul shot one on a nighttime raid on the hen coupe at the monastery, where fourteen — less one — hens shiver of a night, waiting for the spring to come.  Five spotted feeder pigs eat mangel-wurzels and hog mash in the bottom of the white barn, burrowing in straw bedding and likewise waiting for the year to turn.  Up by the garden, four lactating Jerseys are eating good green grass hay until the ice melts in the lane and we can turn them out again on the stockpiled forage beyond the shrine.  The dry cows in the very back pasture are getting hay, too, because the ground is frozen so hard that we would have to use a hammer and spike to make new holes for step-in posts, and the cold is so bitter the last two weeks that we sleep better knowing everyone has hay in her belly.  The yearling calves are most comfortable of all, bedded in hay down in the run-in shed that backs to the north against the woods in the corner of the paddock behind the garden.

Sunrise comes earlier now, but the cold’s grip is tightening.

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Finally, the last of the heifers is bred.  She was standing last night, and again this morning she stood to be mounted (and mounted, and mounted); we had fetched the nitrogen tank from our most helpful and obliging friends the Powleys, so we were able to get her done this morning at five-thirty.  Tonight she went back in with the dry cows and steers who are out on the north pasture, leaving the front pasture, which is a more convenient distance from the dairy, for the lactating cows.  Whether she settles to the breeding or not is irrelevant, since she is only a yearling; if she doesn’t take this year, she gets another chance in 2015.   For the rest of the herd, pregnancy check day is a week away.  Any of the older animals not gravid will get one more chance — a trip to the Powleys’ Hereford bull — and if that doesn’t settle them, they’re history.  We’re short of beef anyway.

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