cows in field

Recent Odairy Discussions, November, 2017

November 2017. One farmer had a puzzling situation on his farm. A cow entered the milking parlor, refused to eat, and kept kicking the milker off. She lay down in the holding pen, and seemed to be kicking at her belly. She was not bloated. A vet commented that these were classic signs for colic or passing a kidney stone. If the cow is not passing any manure for an hour or two and if she dips her right hook bone, it could be an intestinal colic or torsion – best to get your vet involved at this point. But if the symptoms abated after 90 minutes or so, she passed a kidney stone. Other farmers recommended a magnet to treat for hardware; it was noted that a cow with hardware disease will show a fever, and one with colic will not. Another farmer offered the possibility that perhaps she had eaten too many green apples, and simply had a belly ache.

A producer was struggling to keep calves healthy in an outbreak of coccidiosis. Several farmers weighed in with their treatment recommendations: black walnut hulls can be powdered or tinctured and top-dressed over the calves’ grain; Neematox (from AgriDynamics) can be added to the water; oregano, thyme, and garlic oils were also suggested; Calf Start (from Dr Paul’s) is added to the milk as both a treatment and preventative. And several knowledgeable producers mentioned that the most important thing is to “get to the root of the problem to prevent the issue in the first place”. One farmer related her experiences of copper-deficient calves having repeated bouts of coccidiosis; using soil tests, they determined that an over-application of calcium tied up copper, iron, potassium, and phosphorous. Once they corrected the soil imbalance, they have not seen any coccidia or other parasites. Another producer pointed to the anemia the afflicted calves often have: “Anemia commonly is considered an iron deficiency, but the biological pathway for blood production requires a number of key nutrients, notable among them in addition to iron are copper and B12. Cobalt is another, being required for B12 synthesis. I've had a little luck treating cases for which vets threw up their hands by tracing down these biological pathways to uncover underlying deficiencies (whether induced by a microbe or the environment).”

What began as a question to the group about why a farm’s bull became lame became quite a long discussion on mineral supplementation. To begin, this farmer’s bulls became lame usually about three years of age. It seemed as if the front and rear legs muscles just gave out; the bulls would be rested for weeks, or even months, but did not permanently heal. Some producers suggested a selenium deficiency. A vet noted that although selenium would be a good bet for a muscular lameness; but if it was in the hoof itself, then perhaps it was a deficiency of hoof building elements like zinc, biotin, etc. Or a boron deficiency if it was in the joints. Lameness is also often due to stones in the laneways. Then again it could be truly genetic. And, a real possibility is a combination of the above.

Several producers were using a Free Choice Enterprise with kelp and salt system; one of those gives 5cc shots of MultiMin90 at dry-off with good results. Another producer reminded us to use selenium in a yeast form; the sodium selenite (rock form) is only 10% available, where the yeast form is 90%. More questions about minerals led to the following post about their connection to the immune system and SCC: “I just wanted to add that trace minerals (minerals in general) are needed for enzymes since every enzyme has a mineral in its center. Enzymes help biological reactions take place. Minerals are definitely needed for the immune system, which is a continuous cascade of reactions catalyzed by enzymes for the body to maintain or regain homeostasis (healthy equilibrium). It makes sense that correct mineral levels could help have a good SCC. But that’s only part of the equation. Depending on the germs that confront the mammary tissue (traveling in via the teat opening), SCC cell count will reflect the battle the immune system is engaged in. Herds that are continuously battling Staph aureus or Strep ag will have higher SCC in their bulk tank in general.” On this producer’s grassfed dairy, they use Free Choice Enterprises 18-way mineral program with FCE’s Cornerpost (a high energy mix with vitamins). Cows receive dry hay and pasture, and are milked once a day. They make sure that cows have good rumen fill, never shorting them on the basic “groceries”.

And then the discussion turned to longevity after one producer asked why the average cow, across the country, has a productive lifespan of only 2 lactations. Many producers chimed in with their experiences of milking cows that were well into their teens. What has changed in the industry? Sexed semen and increased reproductive success (think hormonal breeding programs in conventional dairy) coupled with the practice of raising every heifer means there are just too many heifers “in the pipeline”. Genomic testing has increased the rate of improvement, putting out superior heifers (based on genomic tests, not daughter testing) faster and faster. Another producer added, “The number one, and too often only, thing selected for in dairy genetics is milk production. What happens when you select for milk production but do not consciously select for longevity is that you implicitly select for cows with suppressed immune function…….High milking but short lived animals.” Some producers suggested that this is a serious animal welfare issue on many farms.