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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care August 2004

Hi Folks,

          Here we are in August, generally the hottest and driest time of the year, but we still have green all around us. Although we haven’t had quite the scorching heat yet as we usually do by now, the humidity feels to be near 100% and that makes things feel hot anyway. This affects the farm animals very much and we need to keep in mind animal comfort if we are to prevent disasters from happening. By disasters, I mean heat stroke and hot mastitis cases but also includes pneumonia and a rash of lameness. How these are all connected can be seen by how comfortable our animals are and what they do to keep that way and what they will do if we don’t help them to keep comfortable.

        Preventing problems of course is the goal, but no matter how good the management is, individual cows are bound to show problems depending on their inherent vitality (ability to fend off problems with which they are confronted). We all know how cows can look on a very hot and humid afternoon when they come in to be milked. They can appear rather withered in a sense. Of course they tank up on water in the barn or in the barnyard. If you see this, you might ask yourself why they are drinking so much all at once. Reasons are possibly that there is not enough water being delivered to them while outside during the day and/or the water quality available to them is not desirable. This is when animals may be drinking really objectionable water from little puddles outside in the pastures or from small creeks that slowly wind their way through the landscape that has potentially harmful quality water (carrying bacteria and parasites).

           If cows are really sweaty during most of the day, then you need to consider ways to decrease the moisture visible because flies are attracted to moisture. This can result in pinkeye in cows when you think they really shouldn’t be getting it. Of course cows or young stock needing to poke their faces down through tall, rank growth to get at the lush green vegetation down low will prick their eyes at times and cause tearing which will attract flies as well. And as we all know, flies are the vector for pinkeye (the carrier of the bacteria). Poor nutritional status of animals, especially young stock, that are out on poor pasture are prone to parasites like flies as well as internal parasites. And as most farmers are finding, diatomaceous earth simply does not cut it when animals have been overwhelmed by parasites. DE helps to keep things in balance if everything else is in place (proper nutrition, clean environment and low stress), but it is essentially useless as a treatment when clinical problems are occurring. 

            Cows bunching up around trees are unfortunately a well known site. Hot coliform mastitis is a usual end result of such scenes. It is perhaps better to have no trees in a pasture than a very small amount. Better yet is to plant trees and have them fenced off. One farmer I know has about 5 acres of dedicated permanent pasture and a few years ago planted willow trees protected by fencing. They have been growing nicely and are all producing a modest amount of shade now. It is nice to see the herd spread themselves out evenly beneath the trees’ shade. When nearly the entire herd of 40 cows is standing in the same spot underneath one big tree, I would forecast coliform mastitis to be brewing, especially in this humid and rainy weather we’ve been experiencing. Since some people are entirely opposed to the thought of vaccinating to prevent for illnesses, prevention through wise management of soil, shade and moisture is paramount. Even with smart management to keep cows in dry areas, if the cows’ udders are in contact with wood shavings in their stalls, the potential of contracting coliform mastitis is very high. Add in any leaking water bowls or leaking teats, and there is a near certainty that at least one cow will break with a hot mastitis that is actually entirely preventable. 

            Cows that are too hot will not produce as well as they could if they were less heated. They may also break with respiratory problems, especially if transitioning into the fresh string. It always strikes people odd that cows can get pneumonia in the summer time; all it is probably due to is the opportunistic bacteria that are normal inhabitants of the respiratory tract taking advantage of a stressed cow. Without doubt, tunnel ventilation provides a much more comfortable environment to both the cows and the workers. Keeping cows inside during the day with tunnel ventilation and letting them graze at night is probably a good idea in the worst heat of the year. Keeping cows in all day without either tunnel ventilation or something nearly like it can make for uncomfortable cows. Also, having really big cows (heavy body weight and over conditioned) can make for problems in the summer because of the obvious high feed intake and heat of metabolism that is produced from very rich rations. These cows really need tunnel ventilation. Farmers that practice intensive grazing need to be very aware of their water supplies outside and shade provisions. Most intensively grazed cows are not burdened by excess body condition (usually they are too lean if anything), but if they are to get most of their nutrition from pastures, then attention must be paid to their comfort out in the pastures. Hybrid cows (crosses) and leaner cows tend to be resilient in the heat compared to big fat ones. It does not matter what the breed is, if an animal is fat, she will suffer in the heat. Many graziers will easily point the finger at Holsteins as being inferior grazing animals, but I take exception to that. One herd I know has about 10 out of 40 animals ages 12 and up – the oldest being 18 and still in the milking herd. The herd is all Holstein. The trick to getting longevity in cows is in their conformation and especially their legs. If you want cows that will last a long time, breed for legs rather than production. 

            Speaking of legs, lameness is another problem at this time of year, at least for the grazing herds. As the cows walk around more, they undoubtedly have a higher potential to suffer from hoof punctures and sprains. Hoof puncture potential is compounded by having walking lanes that have many stones in them or by cows standing in creeks (with unseen stones on the bottom) or standing in muck and soupy areas. This year the lanes are obviously moist. But in most dry years, the lanes become very hard and the stones that are lodged in the lane afford no “give” when the cows plants her weight upon them and a puncture will happen in this way as well. 

            As usual, I have been harping on management of the cows’ environment that they live in on your farm. Although we cannot control the weather, we certainly can control the areas our cows inhabit to help prevent potential disasters in the heat of summer.

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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