cows in field

Recent Odairy Discussion, March 2009

By Liz Bawden, NODPA Rep and Newsletter Co-Editor

Added March 6, 2009. Wide ranging discussions this month began with a farmer’s query about a newborn Jersey calf with contracted tendons causing her to walk on her ankles. Several farmers have experienced the same thing on rare occasions; a few said that it tends to straighten out in a week or so. Several connected it with selenium deficiency and a scouring calf. A veterinarian on the list noted that contracted tendons may be congenital in Jerseys, or acquired by selenium deficiency, malnutrition, joint disease, or local neurological conditions. Selenium injections were suggested as well as the use of splints, or at least setting them up on their feet to stretch the tendons.

Sub-clinical hypocalcemia

A long thread began with a farmer’s problem of a purchased cow on and off feed, losing condition, and milk production way down. She had been given magnets and treated for sub-clinical ketosis. Temperature and manure were normal, lungs clear, rumen functioning, no displacements. The veterinarians agreed it was likely sub-clinical hypocalcemia. They suggested IV calcuim, and noted that many cow problems trace back to sub-clinical hypocalcemia. Probiotics were also suggested and a caffeine source to stimulate gut motility. A researcher suggested the solution to the problem lay in the addition of dietary boron. Even if added just during the dry period, it can have effects throughout lactation. He told of a herd that was studied in Florida. They had a dry-cow ration that was sky-high in potassium, but the western alfalfa they fed also contained high levels of boron. Where this farmer should have experienced large numbers of downed cows and milk fever, he had virtually none. Another farmer suggested that the western alfalfa would likely have high levels of sodium to keep the potassium in check, and he noted that mineral interactions are so complex that looking at one single element without considering the bigger picture can get us into trouble and/or wrong conclusions. He suggested that boron is called a “gate keeper” for other minerals. That makes its effects on other minerals very important in ways that are not always obvious.

Bale processors

A brief discussion of bale wrappers moved into a discussion about bale processors. A farmer noted that it has become difficult to obtain wood shavings used for traction in holding areas and in a bedded pack. He thought to look at bale processors to chop up old hay for this purpose. One farmer said he likes the Teagle 8080 as it can handle both round or big square bales. Another likes the Kvernland which can handle either dry or silage bales; 2 round bales or 1 big square bale at a time. Others pointed to the round balers that cut the forage at that step; they liked it for bedding packs as the bale breaks up and can be moved around with a skidsteer.

Dealing with that “deal”

Some good suggestions for those of you considering buying cows that are a “deal”: a farmer was making a decision to buy a herd that had been poorly managed for a while, but otherwise had good genetics and most of them were in calf. Several other farmers suggested that he test all the prospective cows for Johnnes, do a full milk culture to rule out introducing pathogens to the milking herd, isolate the incoming animals for a few weeks if possible, consider drying them off early to allow them to put on condition, and feed lots of kelp and minerals and good quality forage. But there were warnings of “train wrecks” from other farmers that had disastrous experiences; several felt strongly that with the organic limitations in veterinary drugs, a closed herd is a safer approach.

Miscellaneous issues

A farmer was surprised by Staph aureus in several cows. Suggestions included shipping them before it spreads any farther, use them for nurse cows, and milk them last. One farmer pointed out that there are several strains of Staph aureus, some of the environmental ones may self-cure. But it is impossible to know if an animal has it without testing as they do not generally display clinical symptoms. Farmers with a strategy for controlling Staph aureus tested regularly.
Uterine infections, or pyometria, were discussed. One farmer suggested infusing the cow with caulophylum and garlic tinctures with aloe vera. Another infused a weak iodine solution with aloe vera. One of the verterinarians felt the best product he’s used is Utre-Sept infused with aloe.

The mid-February announcement that CROPP/Organic Valley was lowering the pay price was met by a flurry of posts. Farmers expressed their anger, fears, frustrations, resignation, and support.
Flukes appeared in the liver of an otherwise healthy steer at slaughter. The farmer wondered if she must assume that the rest of the herd was infected, and what course of action to take. Spreading ferric phosphate in bands next to wet areas was suggested to keep snails, which are the vector, away. A vet related his experience that the immune system of a healthy cow eventually kills the fluke, but it leaves scar tissue and an absess in the liver. If multiple flukes are involved, it may be enough to damage liver function, but this usually only occurs in youngstock and sheep. There were no known organic treatments for liver fluke. The vet recommended that there is no real cause for alarm as it appears that a healthy animal can handle a few flukes.

A farmer asked about others’ experiences re-bagging corn silage. There were pro’s and con’s. A vet reminded her that if not done correctly, listeria and botulism were both real possibilities. One farmer suggested to do it while air temperatures are low, and to pack it tightly. Several others said they did this successfully, but it had to be done as fast as possible to minimize air exposure. Another farmer reported that he mixed his silage into a TMR as he refilled an upright silo. The usual recipe was haylage and high moisture ear corn; then he mixed in whatever ground grains he had that year - barley, oats, soybeans, minerals, etc. That prompted another farmer to recall that he used to mix ground grain into haylage as it loaded into the silo to add carbohydrates to the fermentation; he felt the end product was a much better feed.