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 20, 2015

Just When We Think We're in Charge . . .

Dexters are pretty smart.  Siobhan's dam Sara weaned Siobhan all by herself without any human intervention.  After we sold her back to Kim, she witnessed exactly how Sara went about weaning her calf.  One day Sara kicked her calf off and wouldn't let it nurse.  The next day, she let it nurse.  The next day, she kicked it off again.  That smart old cow took her calf to every other day nursing to wean it and dry herself off!

Siobhan is just as smart as Sara, although maybe a little less determined.  Last February I noticed Siobhan kick Macree off when Macree was 9 months old.  Macree would not be dissuaded, though, so I intervened with a weaning tab.  The same thing happened this February; Siobhan gave Wellie a good kick to let him know the milk bar was closed.

Then Wellie got castrated, and Siobhan seemed to sense that he needed comfort, so she let him start nursing again.  Shortly after that I threw my back out, and the family told me to take a break from chores.   After three days of rest, I went out to the barnyard to check on the animals.  To my surprise, Siobhan had apparently decided that Wellie was sufficiently comforted, and she had kicked him off.  Her udder was bursting with milk, so I decided to start once a day milking.

Just to be sure Wellie had gotten the message, I put a weaning tab in his nose.  Poor little guy, he had just about forgiven us for the castration, and then this!

After a few days, I noticed that some mornings I was getting almost no milk at all.  At best, one side would have milk and the other would be empty.  I knew Siobhan wasn't self-sucking because I had put her harness on as soon as she weaned Wellie.  I figured that naughty Wellie must be nursing through the weaning tab, so I booted him out of the barnyard to join the other cattle.

The next morning the barnyard gate was pushed out as far as it would go, and one side of Siobhan's udder was empty.  I figured Wellie must be nursing through the wires of the gate despite his weaning tab, so Herb and I covered the bottom of the gate with chicken wire.  The next morning, as expected, we got all of Siobhan's milk.  It looked like we had solved the problem!  Sir Loin was hanging around the barnyard visiting Siobhan (as he had visited his buddy Wellie) and talking to her in little "baby" moos.  I thought it was odd, but kind of cute.

And then a couple days later I glanced out the back door.  To my horror, Sir Loin was nursing on Ebony who is due to calve in early April!  I ran out to check, and sure enough, all four of her teats were wet!  Sir Loin was banished immediately to a different pasture, and I post-dipped all of Ebony's teats before I turned her loose.

Suddenly Sir Loin hanging around the barnyard, the soft little moos, the gate pushed out, and Siobhan's empty quarters all made sense.  It wasn't poor Wellie nursing around the weaning tab; it was Sir Loin nursing through the gate!  And when we foiled him by adding chicken wire, he managed to convince Ebby to let him nurse on her.  I told Herb that Sir Loin looks tastier every day!

With the sneaky nurser banished, the only remaining problem was that Siobhan's harness was not holding up very well.  So I decided to try a product designed to support heavy dairy cow udders--Tamm Udder Support.  Two days after I ordered it, Siobhan was decked out in her new lingerie.  The sunlight shows her udder through the netting.  This is good for air circulation, but in order to be sure she wouldn't try self-sucking, I secured a clean cloth inside the net on her left side.

NOTE:  I now very strongly advise against using the Tamm Udder Support for any cow.  It ended up being disastrous for Siobhan (story here).  Another family cow milker told me in June 2015 that her vet advised her that using it would be asking for mastitis.  I wish I had known that piece of information in March.

You can see from the loops that even the small size support is a little large for a Dexter, but it is easily adjustable.  This is much more comfortable than Siobhan's old harness, and she seems happy to be able to turn her head freely.

You can see that there are numerous ways to customize the fit.

For milking, it was pretty easy to undo the two back buckles and one side buckle above the udder support without removing the entire harness.

We've had a fair amount of rain, and the cotton canvas dries out easily.  Of course, with all the rain, Siobhan's new lingerie is now a nice muddy beige.

Siobhan will remain in the barnyard wearing her harness until she's completely dried off.  Once I'm sure she won't be tempted to self-suck again, she can ditch the harness and join the boys until it's time for her to calve.

Her pre-drying off mastitis test came back with no Staph A, but I'll continue to keep her separate from Ebby as a precaution.  The episode with Sir Loin nursing first Siobhan and then Ebby is a reminder that even when we think we're in charge, we might not be.  We have to stay on our toes to keep ahead of our Dexters!

At least for now, everyone is where they should be.  Siobhan is drying off in the barnyard.  Ebby is about to move into the Home Pasture for calving.  Once she does, Sir Loin's banishment will be lifted and he can rejoin the bachelors.  It looks like we're back in charge again, for now . . .

NOTE:  Just in case you missed the warning above, I'll repeat it here:  I now very strongly advise against using the Tamm Udder Support for any cow.  It ended up being disastrous for Siobhan (story here).  Another family cow milker told me in June 2015 that her vet advised her that using it would be asking for mastitis.  I wish I had known that piece of information in March.

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