Wednesday, February 25, 2009

T & A

My life this past week or so seems to have revolved around a little bovine T & A action—either working with Bella's udder to help relieve some of the engorgement or working with the calf, Daisy, to get her to eliminate. Of course, this was much my own making...

We made the difficult decision not to share milk Daisy because Bella was not showing signs of being cooperative with human and calf milking, and we didn't have 2-3 months worth of patience with the kicking and other behavior problems. So, we decided to bottle raise Daisy—sad from a mama's point of view, but great from a kids point of view.

We left them together for more than 24 hours, and then decided to separate them. Once we did, Bella immediately stopped the kicking and general recalcitrance, and she's settled back into her milking routine nicely. She did bellow a bit for about a day, but after that she settled down. We have Daisy in the stall right next to Bella's so they can hear each other and smell each other, but we're now Daisy's surrogate mamas. She had no problem adjusting whatsoever and takes her bottle greedily.

She's gotten so strong by this point that the girls aren't feeding her much anymore. She butts the bottle way too hard for them to hang on. My job, besides feeding her has been to make sure she's eliminating and maintains a healthy gut. She had a great start with all mama's colostrum, but calves can still have really sensitive guts before the rumen gets going, and they can be very susceptible to parasites as well. The poo color and consistency are some of the best indications of what's going on.

Although it probably wasn't necessary, as I can't imagine big dairies worry much about this at all, I did rub her backside while feeding her for about the first week or so, just like you do when hand-raising kittens. This stimulated her to eliminate, and I'd seen mama doing it, so I figure whatever mama does is probably the right way to do things. She's ten days old today and is now eliminating independently, but I still make sure that I give her nice firm little circular rubs all over her back and sides just like mama would with her tongue while nursing her. My theory is that will help stimulate digestion and good health. I'm not mama, but I'll do my best to emulate her.

Bella seems to have accepted that I've taken over her calf—maybe it's the whole alpha cow thing—but she likes being able to talk to and smell her through the stall, and she'll bellow if she sees us taking Daisy out for a walk on the lead rope. Daisy's doing well learning to lead, and we hope to have a nice little heifer calf for sale in a couple months.

Bella's milk has come in nicely, and her udder is doing well. It was very hard and engorged for about a week, with the square between the four teats being the last area to soften. At first, I was massaging most of the milking time, which made for a pretty gymnastic milking. She was so engorged that her teats were spread almost too wide for the milking machine, necessitating one hand on that to keep it from sucking air and losing vacuum while the other massaged her udder to make sure mastitis wouldn't take hold. There are different kinds of mastitis and lots of different causes, but leaving milk in the udder is one of the primary causes. Complete milking out is really important, and mastitis isn't something any cow owner wants to mess with. An ounce or ten of prevention is worth a pound of antibiotic cure!

We chose not to dry treat her, which is routine in most dairies. This involves injecting a prophylactic antibiotic directly into each teat and then sealing it in with a wax or glue throughout her dry period. Since we weren't having any mastitis issues going into the dry period, I opted not to use the antibiotics and see how things went. So far, so good. Of course, it's also possible to treat many mastitis cases naturally by increasing milkings and massage, and this is one of the really good arguments for share-milking with the calf because the calf can help with the workload.

We were also very lucky in terms of milk fever, which is more common in Jerseys than other breeds because of their milk production relative to their size. Milk fever is basically the body's inability to mobilize calcium quickly enough as the milk comes in, and once a cow is down, she can die quickly if not treated. It generally happens within the first 24-48 hours after birth, but can happen within the first week. The chances of it happening increase with the cow's age, and first fresheners are rarely affected. This was Bella's second calf, so we were on the safer side of things. Still, I kept a close eye, and checked on her in the middle of the night that first 24 hours and about every two hours for the first 48 hours though the second night I went out just before bedtime and then again at around dawn.

Milk fever can be pretty successfully managed through diet by lowering the intake of calcium throughout the dry period. While this seems somewhat counter-intuitive, it ensures that the cow's body will be able to access the calcium quickly once it's added back in at birth. We dropped all alfalfa, which is high in calcium, out of her diet and lowered the calcium in her minerals for the two months leading up to birth. We also gave Bella two tubes of calcium paste as a preventative measure—one right after birth and another 12 hours later. I also had an IV kit and a calcium solution on hand in case she'd gone down, which I would've given subcutaneously, or sub-Q. For an actual IV, I would've called the vet.

I can't stress how important it is for anyone thinking of having dairy animals to educate themselves on milk fever, how to prevent it, and how to deal with it if/ when it happens. Goats can suffer from it as well as cows, so it's a good thing to read up on and to be sure you have everything on hand in the case of an emergency. The last thing you want to do is to have an emergency and have to run out to the store for something, especially if the stores happen to be closed. Lots of these emergency measures can be purchased from a local feed store or an online source like Valley Vet or Jeffer's Livestock.

This goes for all livestock: have what you'd need in the case of an emergency and consider it an insurance policy. I don't ever want to use antibiotics on my animals and I haven't needed to yet, but I want to have it on hand if I ever should need it. There are also homeopathic kits available online that will help with a variety of issues, and this is on my purchase list this spring. Matron of Husbandry has a good blog post on homeopathy, but a general search of her site will bring up even more. She's a great source of information and provides links and resources for further reading.

I was lucky enough to attend a conference session last year by a homeopathic vet from Pennsylvania, and she was very helpful. The two books she recommended most highly for the small homestead were Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs, which although specified for cats and dogs is really applicable for most small animals, and Homeopathic Medicine at Home. Pat Coleby's natural care books are really great too, but it's important to understand the theory behind what she's recommending so you can tailor it for your specific area, as some of her recommendations are specific to her soil experience in Australia. Mineral needs and deficiencies can vary greatly from region to region, so it's always important, in my opinion, to understand why you're doing something rather than just following a recipe or formula.


Carolyn said...

Great post. Lots of good information for those of us that don't any thing about Cows or their T&A


Sunflower Hill Farm said...

Hi, there. I can't remember how I found your blog but it's a wonderful read! Thank you! We, too, have a jersey. We got her in November and milked her for a couple months (until her milk turned salty in her late lactation). She's been dry for a bit now but will calve in early April. It's very interesting to me to read about your experiences and get ready for a similar opportunity. This is our cow's (her name is Truly Scrumptious, ala Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!)2nd calf as well. Thank you for leading the way. I can't wait to be back in milk again.

underthebigbluesky said...

you do such a great job of educating. it's nice to see someone who truly cares for her animal friends as she would a member of her own family.

these are very lucky girls, indeed.

Christy said...

Bovine T&A action is better than no T&A action! The baby is adorable.

Christy said...

Logan says I'm obsessed with Orion's poop. I know you need to make sure digestion is working right in such young animals. He seems to be doing well.

disa said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.