cows in field

Recent Odairy Discussion, January 2009

By Liz Bawden, NODPA Rep and Newsletter Co-Editor

Added January, 2009. It has certainly been busy on ODairy recently. The discussions began with rat control.

Rat Control

Based on one farmer’s query on what to use that was effective and allowable on organic farms, several responded with suggestions. One option was a product called Quintox, whose active ingredient is Vitamin D3; it comes in small packages left around as bait. One farmer kept rat bait away from other animals by constructing a large “T” made from PVC pipe -- place the “T” upside-down along and wall, and drop the bait down the vertical pipe. Using 1 1/2 or 2 inch tubing, the rats can get the bait, but not the cats. Some were concerned that the affected rats would poison birds of prey and your own dogs and cats, as they see the wobbly behavior of a poisoned rat as an easy meal. Your free-range chickens may be helping you control rodents as two farmers noted how chickens will eat mice and baby rats. Another suggestion was instant mashed potatoes at a bait. And another farmer raved about his Rat Terrier -- he says cats will kill a rat to eat, rat terriers will kill them all for fun. Another suggestion was the management of an effective cat population - keeping them fixed, wormed, and vaccinated.

The Best Insulated Workboots

A farmer asked what type of insulated work boots people liked best; all those that responded said they preferred the Muckmaster boots!

Young Calves

A 3 week-old calf suddenly off-feed, listless, and coughing was a problem for one farmer. Treatments suggested included: Vitamin C, garlic or other antibacterial tinctures, Immunoboost, Biocel CBT, homeopathic aconite if there is a fever, and to keep her well hydrated.

Several farmers chimed in on their search for the best management practices in feeding young calves. Conventional researchers point out that calves on milk need to be started on grain before hay is introduced. Our veterinarian friends pointed out that these studies (often funded by grain companies) are centered on Holstein calves fed 2 qts of milk twice a day. This only provides enough energy to maintain a 7 to 10 day old calf, so the calf will take to the grain to avoid starving, and to allow it to grow. No studies have been done with calves receiving 1 gallon of milk at a feeding, which is more common on an organic farm. Recommendations were to introduce hay to very young calves and feed it the ground to avoid contamination. Fiber is important for developing the rumen. Free choice kelp and humates were also recommended from day one.

Best Reference Books

Farmers were asked to list their favorite reference books. Books that topped the list were “Morrison’s Feeds and Feeding” , “Treating Cows Naturally” by Dr. Hubert Karreman, “Natural Cattle Care” by Pat Coleby, the Albrecht books, and “Alternative Treatments For Ruminant Animals” by Dr. Paul Detloff. Other goods references mentioned were “Feeds and Nutrition” by Ensminger et al, The Cornell Dairy Reference Manual, “Quality Pasture” by Allan Nation, “Science in Agriculture” and “Life and Energy In Agriculture” by Arden Anderson, “Nourishment Homegrown” by A. F Beddoe, “Productive Dairying” by R.M. Washburn, “Fertility, Pastures, and Cover Crops” and “Herdsmanship and Fertility Farming” by Newman Turner, “Biological Farmer” by Gary Zimmer, “Homeopathy for the Herd” by Dr. Edgar Sheaffer, “The Farmers Short Course In Livestock”, “Organic Livestock Production” and “Organic Crop Production” by the Canadian Organic Growers, “Prescribed Grazing and Feeding Management For Lactating Dairy Cows” by Darryl Emmick and Karen Hoffman, “Weeds Of the Northeast”, and “Organic Dairying” by the Kickapoo Organic Resources Network.

Grain Feeding

A long discussion on grain feeding took place including the frustrations that many feel. The cost of purchased grain has been so high for long enough that many of us have reduced grain feeding; some have reduced it dramatically or eliminated it entirely. Are we wasting our cow’s genetic potential? Is it the best road to feed less grain and accept lower production (that was already significantly lower than when you were conventional)? It was said that you can’t grain your way out of problems, if you don’t have good forage, without hurting the cows. One good rule of thumb is 1 lb of grain per 100 lb of body weight. Another suggested rule of thumb was based on milk production: no grain to cows giving 20 pounds or less, 1 lb grain for every 3 pounds of milk over 20 pounds (up to a maximum of 16 pounds) plus a soymeal topdress based on individual protein needs.

Some farmers felt that cutting back on grain hurt their bottom line. They felt the production lost was a greater financial loss than the cost of the grain. But it certainly depends on the formulation (no need for high protein rations with good pasture or stored forages) and stage of lactation of individuals. These farmers monitored Milk Urea Nitrogen (MUN) levels, and some could grow at least a portion of their own grain requirements. There were some middle ground farmers that talked of feeding less grain, and just accepting less production, usually around 40 lbs. One farmer said he just went to a simple mix -- just ground corn and minerals. There were some farmers who fed no grain, but said it was a long transition to acclimate the cows and breed for this ability. Some farmers said crossbreds are able to transition more smoothly to no-grain, but they all had exceptions in their herds. One concern was how to provide the extra minerals to the cows without using the grain as a vehicle.

Pasture Rule

There were several discussions centered on the Proposed Pasture Rule as farmers began to see some surprise requirements that seemed to have nothing to do with providing pasture. Most of these centered on the requirement that the cows be outside 365/24/7. The farmers that chimed in were outraged and puzzled -- certainly not a good policy to support optimum cow health and comfort. Many were equally puzzled by the sacrifice pasture, workable only on some farms.

Outwintering Herds

Outwintering herds was also discussed. Several farmers are trying it for the first time, others freely shared their success and failures in this practice. One farmer successfully outwintered the milking herd in the midwest, but is having far more trouble in Vermont. All agreed that cows must be given an area that is out of the wind. They must have someplace dry to lay down, so it takes a lot of bedding or wasted hay to maintain a bedded pack. Several farmers mentioned that the first year is the hardest, both for the cows and the farmer. One farmer was very open about the downside on their farm, including cows that melt through deep snow and get cast, frozen teats, increased incidence of mastitis in springing heifers, and a bull that frosted himself so he could not breed again. Several farmers spoke of cows lying down in a hole or on a hill, and not being able to rise -- a potentially fatal condition. One farmer seemed to feel that outwintering made the most sense on seasonal herds. One suggestion was to use Crystal Creek Udder Fancy instead of a teat dip in cold weather to prevent teat problems; another suggestion was to wipe off the teat dip before letting them out. One farmer said they felt that cold damage on teats set cows and heifers up for Staph aureus. Others felt that it was the cold, rainy weather with muddy conditions that was the most difficult for the cows. Another point was the increased intake of forage to compensate for increased energy needs; one farmer suggested that you estimate your forage needs will increase by 20% over cows fed in a barn.

The pros and cons of outwintering led to some talk on bedding pack barns and hoop structures to provide the shelter for the times where it is needed. The farmers that used this system all felt it was the best combination for the good of the cows. It also allowed operations to comply with their state soil and water quality regulations, especially those that are large enough to be considered CAFO’s.
There were some folks asking questions about starting farming; and of course received lots of ideas and suggestions. Some of the highlights were: have written holistic goals, have a written business plan, be wary of debt, don’t be afraid of debt, size your operation for the income you need, graze as much land as you can, keep your off-farm job for a while until you have a cash flow, be sure you have a market secured before you begin, rent a farm (it’s tax-deductible) and buy the cows to get started, some suggested to steer clear of FSA for financing, start your operation in an “ag” area so you’ll have support services It was also mentioned that the NODPA website has links to a variety of helpful information.

Pneumonia Treatments

Treatment of pneumonia in adult dairy cows was discussed, and the following treatment was offered: Dextrose bottle topped off with 90cc herbal anti-bacterial tincture (Phyto-Biotic) given IV, 500cc Vitamin C, 200 to 300cc hyperimmune plasma, 5cc Immunoboost, and calcium if it is an older cow and milking well. Follow up with 15cc Phyto-Biotic tincture given orally 2 to 3 times a day for 3 to 4 days. Add fresh air, clean and dry bedding, and top quality feed.

Cannibalism in cows?

One farmer observed a Jersey cow chewing the tail of another cow. The injury required bandaging, and the farmer wondered if this was related to a mineral imbalance. Responses suggested that a magnesium deficiency would cause this type of behavior, and rock phosphate and dolomite limestone should be fed. A vet suggested that this was classic phosphorous deficiency.
The thread on dehorning adult cattle from the previous month continued into the subject of dehorning calves. It certainly is nobody’s favorite job, but absolutely necessary to avoid dehorning older animals. Often, very young calves are dehorned quickly with no medication for pain, as they seem to resume normal behaviors. But it was recommended by our veterinarian friends that lidocaine (as a local anesthetic) or xylazine (as a sedative) be used; check with your certifier how they interpret the rule that allows xylazine for medical emergencies. After a bleak morning in the barn dehorning calves, we can all feel very receptive to new ideas on introducing polled genetics into our herds!