Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Winter Wonderland Reprise

I walked out of our bedroom this morning and saw a sight that made me RUN for my camera!

No newspaper this morning!  Luckily we have nowhere to be, so we can just soak in the beauty of God's creation.  The snow is still falling hard outside, this time as it melts in huge clumps from the trees.  So we're going to enjoy it while we can--along with our warm, lighted house and internet service.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Winter Wonderland

We finally got a real snow!

It started about 5 p.m., and by the time we finished chores at 6:30, it was falling thick and fast in huge flakes.  It was time for some winter fun . . .

A snowy ride would be more fun if the Doodad had a windshield, but it handled the snow just fine.

The dogs raced ahead of us, delirious with joy at the outing.

From the top of the Back Pasture, we could see the whole farm through the thick veil of falling snow.

Peaceful and still, it was truly a winter wonderland.  Sometimes I think God's creation is at its most beautiful buried under a soft blanket of snow.

Fifteen minutes later we headed back to the house, cold and wet--and thoroughly enchanted!

As night fell, it was still snowing.

I hope our winter wonderland will still be there in the morning.

P.S.  Herb just came in at 9:30 after putting Misty to bed in the barnyard and said, "You have to come see this!"

It's still coming down, and with the temperature holding at 30°, it looks like our winter wonderland might still be here in the morning.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Wellie's Castration Story

When we decided last summer that Wellie would be castrated, I talked to our vet about when and how to do it.  He advised doing it when Wellie was 4-5 months old, by cutting rather than banding.  He wanted to wait until Wellie was old enough for his vaccines and fly season was past.

He said he would give Wellie a shot of tetanus antitoxin as well as a tetanus vaccine (and his other vaccines) at the same time.  In the absence of a previous tetanus vaccine, the antitoxin would prevent any chance of tetanus while the vaccine built up immunity over a two week period.  We had heard tragic stories about people who castrated calves and gave tetanus vaccines, only to have the calves die of tetanus before the vaccines could build up immunity.

Unfortunately, life got in the way for the vet and us, and we were unable to get him here when planned.  Finally, I decided that at 8 1/2 months Wellie really needed to be castrated, and I called another vet.  (We like to keep good relations with several vets for cases just like this when one can't make it.)  The second vet also prefers castrating as less painful, uses the same tetanus prevention protocol, and agreed to use a local anesthetic.  So we set a date for the deed.

On Feb. 11 we put Wellie into the squeeze chute.
The vet folded down several of the squeeze bars so he could reach Wellie and administered the local anesthetic.  He gave it time to take effect while he gave vaccines to Wellie and Ebony.

I saw that the vet used a tool called a Newberry knife and made a slit in the back of the scrotum.  After that I went up by Wellie's head and did not see the actual operation.  I learned later that some vets cut off the bottom portion of the scrotum to allow for drainage, but ours made an incision in the middle.  It bled a little, but not much, and the vet said it would swell up and remain swollen for several days.  When I asked about disinfecting the site, he said I could use 1/2% iodine, so I sprayed some on.

During the operation, Royal came over to check on Wellie.  Of course, when it was his turn later to get in the squeeze chute to get a magnet, he did NOT want to go in!  I assured him that considering the per capita price we had paid for his testicles, they were quite safe!

Wellie jumped more over his immunizations than he did over the local.  He struggled a bit during the surgery, but less than I have seen cows fight over a shot.  Although the vet says they have more pain with banding, I don't think there is a painless way to castrate.

I know some farms do not castrate meat animals, but we simply do not have enough pastures to keep intact bull calves separate from cows and heifers.  As he has gotten older, Wellie has engaged in more head-butting challenges with Royal and Sir Loin, the older steer.  Being so small, he gets pushed around, and although he has never been hurt, I hope that he will now act less like a bull.

I do not like castration.  I wish it didn't have to be done, and I'm sure Wellie did, too.  But if we are going to be responsible breeders, we have to make sure that a bull calf that is not breeding quality is not breeding our cows and heifers.
I kept a frequent eye on Wellie to be sure he was okay.  The rest of that day and the next, he was moving slowly (to be expected), but was nursing, eating hay and chewing his cud.  Then on the morning of the 13th, I found him laying partly on his side with his legs spread out as if to keep them off his swollen scrotum.  When I got him up to check on him, his rumen was hollow (showing he had not eaten a lot of hay), and he looked peaked.  Half of Siobhan's udder was full, so he had obviously not nursed much, and I decided to take his temperature.  It was 24° out, so Wellie might be expected to register lower than the bovine normal of 101.5°, but his temperature was 103.9°.

I was quite concerned and called the vet, who had gone out of town!  Not only that, his partner does not do farm calls, and he didn't have another vet to cover for him.  So I called the original vet I had hoped to have do the castration.  He agreed that Wellie's temperature was too high and said if I would meet him, he would give me an antibiotic.  I made the two-hour round trip and came home with Excede, a long-lasting antibiotic, as well as a bottle of Banamine to relieve pain and fever.  Pain inhibits animals from healing, and when they are given pain relief, they tend to heal more quickly.

Herb was gone all day, and I was pretty sure from previous experience giving shots to cattle, that I would not be able to do it alone, even with the squeeze chute.  So I called on our neighbor, Randy, who came over with his son to help.  Excede is very thick and must be given sub-cutaneously behind the ear--never in a vein or muscle--using a large-bore needle.  Banamine goes in the neck muscle with a smaller needle.  Wellie objected strenuously enough, even in the chute, that I was very thankful for help holding him.

Randy, who grew up with cattle and had seen many castrations, felt that the bulge of tissue protruding from Wellie's incision was not normal.  I had no frame of reference at all, but tended to agree with him.  When I posted a photo later, other cattle owners agreed.  Once Wellie was medicated, I took a bucket of hot water and cleaned the incision of dried exudate, making sure it could continue to drain as necessary.  I also applied oil of oregano around the incision on the advice of my family cow friends.  Within a couple hours, Wellie was obviously feeling better, eating better and had nursed Siobhan out.

Herb and I gave him Banamine the next morning to make sure he continued to feel well and eat well.  He objected much more vigorously than he had the day before, so I decided that if he felt that good, he didn't need any more Banamine.

Wellie is back to normal now, and his scrotal swelling is gone.  He's eating well and acting lively.  Here he is visiting with his buddy Sir Loin at the barnyard gate.

Today Wellie wanted to nurse, and Siobhan pushed him away several times.  (That's another story.)  In a fit of temper, he charged one of the ducks.  The snow in the barnyard was slippery and crusty with ice, so Wellie hunched his back and crow-hopped across the barnyard, landing each jump on all four feet, pursuing the hapless duck who fled with flapping wings as fast as his short little legs could go.

Without a camera, all I could do was stand there and laugh.  The duck escaped with everything intact except his dignity, and I was just happy to see Wellie feeling so fine.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Geography for Farmers

Here are some fascinating maps, the kind of geography farmers love!  Even if you aren't a farmer, if you simply eat and enjoy food, there is a lot of scope for reflexion in these maps.

40 Maps that explain food in America

The first one includes a bit of history, too.

Where the world's cattle, chickens and pigs live

In case you were wondering, there are apparently 980 million pigs in the world, 1.4 billion cows, and 19.6 billion chickens.  To put that in perspective, there are 7 billion humans.

According to evolutionists, chickens are the closest living relative to Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Considering that chickens outnumber humans by 2.8 times, it might behoove you to check the second map and see if there are any chickens living near you!  If there are, you should be afraid.  Be very afraid!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Share Milking

In traditional dairying, calves are removed from their mothers at birth or shortly thereafter and fed with milk replacer while their mothers are milked twice a day in order to sell their milk.  On smaller farms and homesteads, farmers sometimes remove the calf from its mother, milk the cow and bottle feed some of the milk to the calf while keeping the rest for the house.  Others use a foster cow to nurse one or more calves while milking the other cows.  There are numerous variations of this system, usually requiring the farmer to milk twice a day.

One of the things that attracted me about Dexters is that they are well-suited to share milking.  With share milking, the calf remains with its mother.  After the calf is a week or two old, it's separated from the cow for up to twelve hours (usually at night) to allow the farmer to get one milking.  The calf is then returned to its mother to nurse for the rest of the day.

There are several things I like about share milking:

  • I love the idea that our cows get to raise their own calves the way God created them to.  That's how heifers learn to be cows; and dam-raised bull calves are less likely to become aggressive with humans.
  • I love that our calves get a good start in life with their mother's healthy milk instead of artificial milk replacer.
  • I'm a lazy milker and don't want to have to milk twice a day, which is usually necessary when a calf is removed from its dam since her udder produces milk 24 hours a day. 
  • Bottle feeding a calf is a lot of work, and it can be difficult to get it right.  Too little milk, and the calf doesn't thrive; too much, and it scours.  
  • I like to take days off and go on vacations, something no dairy farmer can do without an experienced relief milker.  With share milking, the calf is a willing relief milker. 
There are also several potential problems with share milking:

  • I get less milk because the cow makes sure her calf gets what it needs, and I get what's left over.

  • I get less cream because, believe it or not, cows can selectively "hold up" and save the cream for their calves. 

  • Some people feel that calves that get used to nursing are more likely to suck on other calves after weaning.  So far, this has not been our experience.

  • This past year, milking kind of got away from me.  I knew that we would have to be gone several times during the summer, so I kept both calves on their dams and just milked occasionally when we needed milk.  I was concerned that if I milked one of the cows on a daily basis, I would encourage her to build up her milk supply beyond what her calf could easily handle when I had to be gone.  So our cows got to be mamas and our calves got to be babies for most of the summer.

    Tiggy was weaned in October before going to her new home, and I dried Ebony off, leaving Siobhan as my milk cow and Wellie as my relief milker.  Then a fencing break in November meant the cattle had to move to a pasture too far from the barn for convenient milking.  In December I got sick and couldn't get well, so I went two months without milking. Although I missed the time with my cows and we missed our fresh milk, it was a relief that Wellie stepped up to the plate as relief milker without a single complaint.  :)

    Recently I've started milking again.  To my delight, Siobhan has slipped into our new routine without a hitch, and Wellie, whose halter training ended practically before it started, has been easy to work with.  I've switched to evening milking because I've been hesitant to shut Siobhan away from Wellie overnight for fear she would start self-sucking again.  In the winter, trying to put her anti-self-sucking harness on in the dark is more than I want to tackle.  So I separate Siobhan in the morning and milk about nine hours later when we do evening feeding.

    Today, however, was a first for me in share milking.  When I went out at 5 p.m., Wellie was standing at the gate like a small red shadow of Siobhan.  "How cute!" I thought, "and how nice that we don't have to go fetch him and lead him all the way to the barnyard."

    As I opened the pasture gate, I commented to Herb in passing that "the boys" had pushed it in toward Siobhan so hard that it was difficult to open.

    I tied Siobhan up to eat her grain while Herb led Wellie into the milking parlor.  I was surprised that Wellie followed Herb so nicely and didn't try to go nurse while his mama ate dinner, but I was gratified at how tractable he was.

    Wellie settled down to munch on Siobhan's hay while I got her into the stanchion.  To my surprise, her udder that should have been full and tight was floppy.  It didn't feel like she was holding her milk up; it just felt like there wasn't much in there.  And there wasn't--a measly one and a half cups!

    "Could she possibly have been self-sucking because I didn't put her harness on?" I wondered.   I didn't think she could have drained all four quarters equally, but I had no idea what was wrong.

    When it became obvious that I wasn't going to get much milk, I untied Wellie and decided to let him clean up.  To my astonishment, Wellie couldn't have cared less.  I couldn't even get him to look at Sibohan's udder, much less nurse.  And suddenly the light dawned!

    The pasture gate that was pushed in toward Siobhan . . .
    . . . Wellie waiting right by the gate . . .
    . . . Siobhan's empty udder . . .
    . . . Wellie completely uninterested in nursing--

    They were busted!  The little stinker had nursed through the gate and drained his mama dry!  And the big stinker had turned herself around so the little stinker could nurse both sides!  Look back up at the photo of Wellie by the gate, and you'll see what a feat of patience that was on both their parts.

    As I told Herb when I came inside with my measly haul of milk, at least today's milking wasn't a waste of time because we learned something!  I learned more about a cow's desire to mother her calf and got a glimpse of bovine problem solving.  And Herb learned that if he wants milk again, there's a new job on his Honey-Do List--line that gate with chicken wire!

    Despite the fact that we have to tweak our management a bit, I'm still committed to share milking.  We get plenty of milk for our needs, and far be it from me to interfere with that kind of God-given maternal instinct!

    Saturday, January 31, 2015

    Better Bite Bloat in the Butt!

    Last spring I did a post about our first bout with bloat, a true bovine emergency.  We have now had a second bout with bloat--in the middle of the winter with no clover in sight!  So here I am, once again, to share things we're learning . . . so others can hopefully learn from our mistakes and avoid them!

    This photo was taken on Jan. 19 in the early afternoon.  I was still recovering from the winter crud, and Herb had been doing almost all of the feeding since doing much of anything left me exhausted.

    This was as adventurous as I got--using a telephoto lens to peek at the cattle enjoying a bit of shade on a warm winter day.

    All five cows were chewing their cud together in the shade, but when I looked out a bit later, Siobhan was at the other end of the pasture eating on the hay bale.

    I looked out yet again and saw the same thing--Siobhan skipping the cud chewing party to dine at the hay bale.  It was unusual enough that I told Herb I wanted to feed her evening grain and check on her.
    I went out about 4:30 to check on Siobhan.  Siobhan was eager for her feed, and I let her eat it to keep her still while I checked her over.  It didn't take long for me to notice her bulging side and to be worried about her.  As long as she was still, I pressed my ear to her side and listened to her rumen.  There were no nice rumblings, just a few crackles--NOT good!  So I haltered Siobhan to take her up to the barnyard.  As I led her out of the pasture, she gave a little "drive by" poop that plopped down in two places as she walked--not a nice reassuring, I'm-not-budging-till-I'm-done-with-this-serious-buisness poop!  Take my word for it:  It's a fact of life with cattle, you WILL become a "connoisseur" of poop, and Siobhan's puny plops were just not doing it for me.

    I took the photo (above) on my cellphone after we got to the barnyard, so I could text it to the vet.  While Herb walked Siobhan around, I went back to the house to get our "Bloat Kit," which consisted of a bottle of Therabloat and a large needle-less syringe to drench her with it.  (I sincerely hoped I could avoid having to use the plastic tubing that I bought in case I ever needed to shove a tube down a cow's throat into her rumen!)  The dark bulge at the bottom center of the photo is Siobhan's hip, and the large ballooned expanse bulging toward her head is her bloated left side.

    This photo shows Siobhan's hip bone on a level with the switch of her tail.  You can see from the photo that her left side, where the rumen is located, is distended and very full, although not bulging up above her backbone.  My guess is that she was somewhere on the way from mild to moderately bloated.  These photos are of a cow that was more severely bloated, so severely in fact that her owner didn't stop to take photos until the cow deflated down to the stage shown in the photos!  Thanks to Louise of Carragheen Dexters for sharing her story and photos.  At any rate, Siobhan's rumen was very rounded and firm to pressure, and rumen sounds were absent.

    Having been through this before, we knew the drill, and while we waited for the vet to call back, we took turns walking Siobhan rapidly around and around the barnyard.  She had interrupted Wellie's nursing to go eat her dinner, and she was extremely indignant that we were keeping her away from her baby!  So it really wasn't a challenge to keep her moving--all it took were occasional pulls on her lead rope to channel her energy in the direction we wanted.  Whenever I needed to stop for breath, Herb massaged Siobhan's rumen firmly to get the gas moving.  It sounds a bit crazy, but it really helps, and the massage was often followed by some encouraging gurgling sounds.  I kept laying my ear against her rumen, checking for those melodious notes.  If you spend much time around cattle, you'll also become a fine arts aficionado--feeling your heart lift to a nice tenor rumble or plummet to hear a soprano cellophane crackle.

    After about 15 minutes of this, I was not happy with our progress.  Siobhan was still bloated with no good rumen sounds and no burping, and she began to arch her back like she wanted to poop.  She did this every few minutes, with no result at all or just a measly bit of poop.  This is a sign of physical discomfort and stopped up "plumbing."

    So into the squeeze chute she went.   Cows make terrible patients!  They do not understand, "I'm doing this for your own good," so a squeeze chute is invaluable when a bloating cow needs to be drenched.  The squeeze sides held her still, with Herb's help to hold her head, while I got the syringe filled with Therabloat into her mouth and squeezed it a bit at a time down her throat.  You can't hold her head too high or she'll choke, but if you let her drop it down, the precious medication runs out.  You have to develop a feel for when the head is in just the right position so the only option is for the patient to take what's coming to her and swallow it!

    About that time the vet called back.  He suggested we give Siobhan Gas-X, which is simethicone, but unfortunately that was about the only gas remedy that Herb didn't have in his medicine cabinet!  Since we had just given the Therabloat, we decided we would wait it out and give it time to work.  Herb really had to finish some case notes, so he went back to the house while I continued to walk Siobhan rapidly around the barnyard.  I still wasn't happy with her progress, so I started calling Dexter friends that might have dealt with bloat.  I was very thankful when I heard Melissa Parker of Nonesuch Farm on the other end of the phone.

    Melissa had dealt with bloat before, and she had some excellent advice besides the Therabloat and massage.

    • Keep her moving!  
    • Get her chewing!  Tie a bit or a stick in her mouth to make her chew, which will make her burp.
    • Cut out her grain for a few days.  Cows can get acidotic after an episode of bloat, and we needed to withhold grain for 2-3 days.

    This photo is not the best quality because it was taken at about 6:15 as it was getting dark, but you can see the bit I rigged up for Siobhan.

    Luckily I had a large (size 5) Dexter halter, a snaffle bit with big side rings, and a couple of spare carabiner clips--and voila!  Siobhan's Big Blue Bloat Busting, Belching Bitted Halter!

    Believe me, Siobhan was NOT amused!  Unfortunately, I can't offer any videos of how her halter worked because by that time we were bouncing quite indignantly around and around the barnyard, but the bit was what finally turned the corner.  Siobhan was definitely chewing at it--trying to spit it out--and it wasn't long until I heard a lovely rumbling belch!

    I listened for regular rumen sounds, counted three long belches, and noted a couple of decent poops.  Best of all, there was a hollow in Siobhan's rumen where before it had resembled a large, firm beach ball.  A half hour after the bit went in, I pronounced her "cured" to the best of my ability.

    It was also almost pitch dark, and I could barely see to lead Siobhan back to the pasture.  She was a black shadow fading onto the dark hillside, first calling loudly, then in soft mama moos.  After a few moments, a small shadow at the bottom of the hill baby moo-ed back, and Siobhan took off galloping and bucking down the hill to find her calf.  All's well that ends Wellie, I guess.

    The question we had to figure out was WHY did Siobhan bloat?  This wasn't the frothy bloat that Ebony got from lush clover in the spring.  So what happened?  This excellent article on bloat gave me a few answers.

    1. Earlier in the winter the cattle were eating coarser first-cut hay.  About a week before this happened, we put out a new bale of finer second-cut hay.  I was concerned that it might not have enough roughage, and I've since been told this could have been a factor.  The cattle did have constant access to the hay bale, which is very important, but after the bloat episode, I asked Herb to throw some of the horses' coarser hay (from an older bale) over the fence for the cattle.  Believe it or not, they actually left the "nicer" bale and came up the hill to eat the coarser hay, Siobhan included.
    2. I'm the one who replenishes the minerals, and with being sick I had not thought to ask Herb to check on them.  If the animals' salt consumption decreases, they may drink less water, which can contribute to bloat.  I can't remember now if there were minerals left in their tub at the time or not, but it's an easily avoidable bloat factor that I won't forget again.
    3. We had recently switched Siobhan from 11% all-grain sweet feed to 14% non-GMO multi-species pellets.  The article on bloat cites small feed particle size as a contributing factor for bloat.  Small particle size is found in pelleted feed, as opposed to all-grain.  I had been sure to make the change gradual and added probiotics to Siobhan's feed during the process, which is the way to change feed.  However, given the way pellets break down more quickly in the rumen, it seems likely that the feed itself was a contributing factor.  This is not enough to make me switch back to GMO all-grain, but it is enough to make me watch more closely.  After withholding grain for three days as Melissa suggested, I worked Siobhan back up to a pound twice day instead of 2 pounds twice a day.  She doesn't really "need" the grain to maintain her weight, so she now gets it just to keep her coming up to the barn twice a day, which makes it easier when I want to shut her up for milking.
    4. The weather had suddenly changed from a week with  daytime highs of about 32° to a high of almost 60° the day Siobhan bloated.  As surprising as it seems, weather changes are a factor in bloat.  Obviously, that is nothing we can control, but we can be aware of it and be more vigilant for other potential factors that could cause bloat.
    As emergencies go, this one was kind of an "also ran".  I'm not sure that Siobhan's life was in danger, and she might have recovered with no treatment at all.  However, I was not willing to take the chance when a $3 bottle of medication and a couple hours of my time might make the all the difference.  This episode has reinforced in my mind the importance of several things:  Constant access to free choice hay and loose minerals; daily interaction with your animals to check on them; familiarity with their normal habits; and keeping a box of basic emergency supplies available.  

    There's one more thing our "bloat kit" needs (besides a new supply of Therabloat), and that's a trocar.  A trocar is definitely one of those tools you hope you never have to use.  It's similar to a hollow ice pick that you stab into the cow's rumen to allow the excess gas to escape.  It sounds horrendous,  but it beats losing your cow.  One woman I know, who lives in a remote area far from vets, found her beloved cow down, seriously bloated and gasping for breath after getting cast in the barnyard.  Knowing that her cow was dying, this gal grabbed the steak knife she used to cut hay strings, cleaned it quickly in teat dip, and stabbed her cow in the rumen to let the gas escape.  That's not something any farmer wants to do, but as this gal said, when the alternative is watching your cow die in agony, you'd be surprised what you can do!

    We know that no matter how well you care for your animals,  things can and do go wrong.  I'd much rather use a trocar than have to resort to using a steak knife on a living animal . . . so the emergency cow box is getting a trocar to add to the tubing, the syringe and the bottles of Therabloat.  If we never have to use them and they sit there gathering dust, it was cheap insurance!  If we should need to use our emergency kit, we'll be ready to kick bloat's butt!

    Friday, January 23, 2015

    Toystory, a Role Model to Inspire Our Dexter Bulls

    The following column by Ron Hart was printed in the Chattanooga Times-Free Press today.  I wanted to share the link here, but couldn't find the column on Ron Hart's website.  So I emailed to ask him if the column had been published online anywhere because I thought it was so hysterical I wanted to share it on my blog.

    He replied quickly, thanking me for my compliment, and gave me this link.

    Thank you, Ron Hart, for allowing me to share this!

    NOTE:  In the interests of accuracy, let me point out that Toystory, as a Holstein bull, was almost certainly being used to increase milk production, not beef.  The article could be interpreted in that way, and I wanted to add that disclaimer, lest my readers think I don't know the difference between a Holstein and a Hereford!  ;)

    Here's a Genex link about Toystory's record setting achievement.

    Here's an article about Toystory's passing, along with a photo.  Google also came up with some videos of Toystory at work, but in the interest of good taste, I won't provide a link here.  You'll have to do your own search!

    R.I.P., Toystory, may our Dexter bulls be as virile as you were, if not quite as prolific and a whole lot smaller.  Twenty-seven hundred pounds?!  I'll take a Dexter any day!