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.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Saga of My Self-Sucking Cow and How I Got Her to Stop, Part II

In my previous post I detailed my efforts to stop Siobhan from self-sucking, ending with a jubilant victory after two tests.  However, since I had thought so many times previously that I had succeeded in stopping her, I decided to perform a third test--the third time being the charm, as they say.

So after milking on March 10, I performed a third food color test.  To make the test more thorough, I put red gel on the front teats and green on the back.  That made it easier to double-check any color transfer.

Siobhan went out and lay down on the brow of the hill to chew her cud.

She has always loved this spot, ever since she was a baby two years ago in April. We have a lot of history together, Siobhan and I.

The next morning stormy weather moved in, perhaps a harbinger of things to come.

A cursory glance was all it took to see that Siobhan had failed the test.  She was still self-sucking!

Or was she?  Could she just have managed to smear the food color in the dewy grass?
I wiped around the front teat with a damp, folded paper towel, being careful not to touch the tip of the teat.  There was red all over it!

When I wiped the rear (green) teat, my heart sank to find red all over it, too.  I despaired of ever finding a solution.

I decided that I'd given Siobhan too much rope, well, rein--and she had hung herself!  So although the reins were as short as they were meant to be, I found a way to shorten them by using a split ring (the kind that holds keys) to loop several of the rings closer together.

And by the way, this is not a mother-daughter reunion here, but a sassy teenager challenging mom . . .

And mom is not going to take any guff!  While Siobhan and Macree settled the issue of who was boss, I realized that the way the reins separate could cause a serious problem for a smaller calf, possibly even allowing it to hang itself.  Something needed to be done.

The answer was a piece of PVC pipe from Ace Hardware.  I had just one 28" long piece of 3" pipe so I put it on the side she usually turns to self-suck.  That smile of Siobhan's?  She's probably already figuring out how to beat this!

First I ran the rein through the pipe, pushing it up as far as it would go toward Siobhan's head.

Next I pulled the rein through the side ring on her surcingle.

Then I fed the rein back through the pipe and pulled it out the front end.  I was able to squeeze the rubber ring and shove it into the pipe so the pipe would come all the way forward on the rein.

I used the sliding clip on the rein to help secure the rein to the surcingle.

And finally I clipped both front ends of the rein to the halter, clipping one a little farther forward to shorten the rein even more.

As always with a new contraption, I did a taste test:  Can she eat?  Yes!

Next I added a new test, the turning radius:  Does it look like the pipe will stop her from turning to suck herself?  Well, I didn't see how she could do it, but only time would tell.

The day ended in a cloudy sky, which I hoped was not symbolic of the future of my Anti-Self-Sucking Campaign!  It rained hard that night, so there was no chance to do another food color test.

It wasn't until two days later on March 13 that I was able to do another test.  The next morning when Siobhan came in for milking, this is what I found . . .

. . . and this.  That food coloring is clearly untouched and un-smeared!

And these are the paper towels I used to wipe the sides of her teats.  SHE PASSED HER TEST!  NO SELF-SUCKING!  Even more good news that day:  Siobhan's cultures came back with NO GROWTH from any quarter.  Her SCC was still high, though, in both left quarters, and the vet wanted me to continue milking for two more weeks to try to clear it before I dry her off.

After all my previous failures, though, I still wasn't resting easy, and I wasn't taking any chances on the mastitis coming back.  I still wanted to try some more of the ideas I gleaned from my internet search.   I didn't have enough of the right kind of straps, so I played around with what I had.  I like the idea of PVC pipe better than the old-timers' wooden stake, but it's clear that what might work on a big tall Holstein . . . won't work on a short little Dexter!  There's no way Siobhan could walk with something under her chest, not without tripping on it.  Scratch that idea!

I've been warned by the cow gurus on Keeping a Family Cow that even if I can stop Siobhan from self-sucking, she might turn to sucking other cows.  So I decided to make a spiked halter, like the old timers did,  but a little more modern.  I'll do another post soon on how I made the halter and some changes I decided on after seeing it in the vicinity of my other cows' faces!

I realized I needed more supplies.  My creativity was ebbing, so I took a trip to Tractor Supply and wandered the aisles looking for inspiration.  I came home with a pile of horse trailer tie downs, dog collars and leads with clips.  In addition I found a leather crupper from my little French horse.  I piled all my treasures in the Doodad and headed out to play with Siobhan.

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that she actually tried to run away--well, walk away--when she saw me coming with more torture equipment!  I told her it was because I love her, but I don't think she believed it any more than I used to believe my mom when she said that before she spanked me.

Pretty much everything I bought at Tractor Supply ended up getting returned except this wonderful Weaver nylon tie-down strap for horses.  Once it was clear that it would work I headed back to TSC to get another one and return everything else.

On the way home I stopped at Ace Hardware to get a smaller PVC pipe that would still fit the tie-down inside.  All three of the regular "helpful hardware men" at Ace now know the saga of my self-sucking cow.  Whenever they see me there they ask how it's going, and they're ready with helpful ideas.  It's wonderful that they'll cut my PVC to the exact length I want, no charge.   I told them that with my collection of hardware and PVC pipe, I'm going into competition with them.  This is 2 feet of 1-1/2 inch PVC pipe, exactly the right length for the tie-down and just big enough for the smaller clip to go through.

Siobhan executed the turning radius test herself without any encouragement from me.  It's like she was testing the limits of her newest contraption!

I ran another test to my specifications, though, just to be sure it would work.

The taste test was fine, too.

Unfortunately, the rain test was a failure.  I hadn't thought of that one!  It started pouring rain that night, and the next morning Siobhan's halter was hanging around her neck, which of course rendered the PVC contraption useless.  The one problem with these nylon halters is that they stretch when they get wet.  So now I know that every time it's going to rain, I need to tighten up the halter; when it dries out, I need to loosen the halter again.

I put the halter back on, but the next night she somehow managed to rub against the clip on her halter and get it open, and I found the tie-down and PVC pipe dangling from her surcingle.  I hadn't thought of the genie-rub test, either!  So now I turn the clip in against her face and her side so she can't catch it on something to open it.

Finally, by March 18 I was ready for another test.  I had thought of an improvement this time.  One of my readers mentioned that they couldn't really see the food coloring on Siobhan's black teats, so I picked up some paper tape at Rite Aid.  (The local economy owes Siobhan a big thank you!)

The morning of the 19th was one of my lowest points, when I found both pieces of tape smeared with red food coloring.  I didn't see HOW she could physically be self-sucking, but apparently she was! That whole day I vacillated between being furious at my cow, desperate, despondent, and exhaustedly trying to come up with a plan, all of this going through my head as I made another trip to Ace Hardware and back.

I decided I finally had to use the expensive over-sized dog collars from TSC to make my absolute, last-ditch idea.  Two of them buckled together fit the biggest part of Siobhan's neck.  Some bolts and 1/2 inch PVC pipe replaced the old timers' broom sticks, but what could I use for the top of her neck?  I had two more collars, but they were way too large together, and one alone was too small.

So I raided my closet and found a nice silver-buckled belt that shrank and doesn't fit me any longer.  ;)  I was tired of walking back and forth to the house for fittings, so I carried everything out to the pasture and sat down on the ground to put the Anti-Self-Sucking Collar together.

I looked up at Siobhan, standing there so patiently where she'd been tied for the past two hours, gazing at me with her sweet, trusting face after all the torture devices I've put on her . . . and I burst into tears.  I bawled and bawled and begged her to stop sucking.  I was crying so hard I'm sure she didn't understand a word, but she kept gazing at me with that sweet expression.  (And drooling a bit because it was getting close to supper time.)

After a few minutes I dried my tears, picked up my pliers and screwdriver, and went back to work.
The first trial of the collar showed me a problem . . .

. . . Because the dog collars were buckled together, one went up and one went down--and they pulled the PVC pipes off-kilter.

So out came the trusty tie-downs, and I looped them through the collar buckles and around one piece of PVC pipe on each side.

That seemed to solve the problem, but it didn't look very comfortable at all!

However, it passed the taste test . . .

. . . and the turning radius test.
All that remained was the food color test.  The next morning Siobhan came in like this.

And like this.  I didn't despair this time, though.  The night before, Herb got home unusually early, while it was still light.  I dragged him out to the pasture to look at Siobhan and tell me how on earth she could be self-sucking with all that stuff on her!  I showed him the first pieces of tape I had saved and made her do a turning radius test for him.  It was the first time Herb had been able to see Siobhan in the daylight, and he said it was impossible for her to reach her udder.  What if, he asked, when she lies down her teats rub against the dewy grass and each other, transferring the food color to the tape?

Bingo!  That was an eye-opening revelation!  So I sat there yesterday morning and tried it out.  Yes, her teats would rub against each other, and yes, the color could transfer off the tip of one onto the side of the one next to it.

In fact, when I looked closer, the color on the tip of her teat was intact.  It was barely "dry-brushed" onto the tape, easily explained exactly as Herb had suggested.  I realized it was the same for the first tape test and that my PVC surcingle contraption had worked just fine.  I had become so focused on Siobhan and her problem that I was seeing a problem when there wasn't one anymore!  As I told Herb, "I need to get out more!"

In my defense, I will say that I kept expecting that once I stopped Siobhan from self-sucking, the left front quarter would be fuller in the morning.

The other side is fuller, although none of the teats look full, and her production has dropped by about half.  So it looks like she's simply drying off faster in the quarter that had mastitis and got most of the self-sucking.  It remains to be seen what will happen when she freshens, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

That morning's milking did uncover one problem with the collar:  I couldn't close the neck-catch of the stanchion over it.

I tied Siobhan, but it was easy for her to back up when she thought we should be done milking.

Since I thought all those straps on her neck looked terribly uncomfortable, anyway, I decided to switch her back into the PVC/tie-down/surcingle.  It's easy to unclip both tie-downs from the halter and let the PVC pipes dangle so I can close the stanchion, and it's just as easy to clip them back on when milking is done.
Siobhan looked so much happier and more relaxed when I turned her out!  I think she agrees that we've found a solution we can both live with!  We're halfway through the extra two weeks of milking the vet wants me to do in order to clear her SCCs, and then I can dry her off so she can grow her calf.

And if that calf turns out to be a heifer, I have her name already picked out: "ZH Cash's Pretty Penny," but I'll call her "Polly"--short for Poly Vinyl Chloride, of course.  What else?!


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  2. There's nothing that makes me madder than a self-sucking or milk-stealing cow. I'm glad that you arrived at a solution. You sure put a lot of work into that knot-headed little cow!

    1. Anonymous, yes, she did get me pretty frustrated! Now she just needs to put that knot-headedness into determination to give me nice calves! :D

  3. Wow It is allot to do but you seem to have a plan of attack. We are still in winter here on Eden Farm. Spring is just around the corner. I can taste it. This years project is a new barn.,Bev is so excited. I will be glad to have a place for our farm implements. I worry about them out in the weather. Well take care all & God Bless.

    1. Hey, Mark, so glad you guys have made it through the winter! I know you'll be so glad for spring. I'll be looking for a post on your barn. I think we're doing good on the self- sucking, although it looks like the mastitis might not have gone completely away. May you never experience this! Happy spring!

  4. Oh, Susan, you poor dear! You have shown such determination and I was "glad" to read of each of your innovations--tho sorry they were necessary! Glad to hear you finally got it licked!

    1. Ha ha, Barbara! Got it licked! Was that pun intentional? :D

    2. Yes, ma'am! :P

  5. Oh my goodness am I glad to read your saga. I am at the beginning of the same problem and am going to start making one of your contraptions today. Did you have to use it again once she had her next calf and was in milk?

    1. Hi Amber, I'm sorry you're having to deal with this. I used it for the succeeding lactations until the calf could drink all the milk, then I left it off. When I was milking her, I made sure to separate her from the calf in a place that had plenty of room for her to move around and graze so she wouldn't be bored. Then when it was time to wean the calf and dry her off, I put it back on her again until she was dried off. Hope that helps.

  6. Thank you! That helps a lot.


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