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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care June 2010

Hi Folks,

Now that everyone is keeping proper daily records and grazing your dairy cows in accordance to the new organic rule, perhaps we can shift our focus to other things. As we already know, cows that are out on well managed pastures will have dramatically fewer general health problems and especially less digestion problems since they are in their natural environment. The key of course is “well managed pastures”. 

Yet young stock, those around the time of weaning and then placed out on pasture, are a slightly different story. And as everyone is well aware, young stock 6 months of age and older must also be getting 30% dry matter on average from pasture during the entire grazing season. So we need to balance the environment and nutrition of these more delicate animals so they do not succumb to common problems that adult animals tend to fend off better. This goes back to how strong the calves are as they come into the weaning time and shortly thereafter. Weaning time is extremely stressful to the calves as we all know. It doesn’t matter if up until the weaning time that they have been fed milk from an individual bottle in a hutch or if they have been running freely with nurse cows. And it may be more stressful to those having been on nurse cows - but those calves tend to be more robust as well. There are good points and bad points to everything.

Unlike drying off a cow abruptly to get the best results, weaning should be done as gradually as possible to avoid stressing calves generally but especially stressing their digestive tracts. Prior to weaning, hopefully your calves will already be eating all the kinds of feed that they soon will be completely reliant on. This means they are already used to the forage and grain. Their rumens are functional prior to weaning time and having forage as part of the feeding routine enhances health of the rumen by keeping a fiber mat for the calves to chew cud, which provides saliva and bicarb to help keep the rumen pH where it should be. A healthy mat of fiber in the rumen also helps to slow down the rate of passage of feed in general.

Calves that are being fed only grain (and milk) as a pre-weaned animal tend to have an increased potential for digestive upset and may even experience rumen acidosis which can affect their ankles and hooves (see this by strong pink areas at the ankle area). This is a terrible condition at any age, but even worse at such an early age.

Another stress to calves is dehorning / disbudding. Hopefully everyone is now using the portable burners and no longer using the choppers that a caveman would use. Using the burners is much, much less stressful than the choppers and also creates no blood at all, which reduces the attraction for flies and their wiggling, burrowing maggot off-spring that can inhabit the chopped site. Still, disbudding with even a burner is stressful and should be done well before weaning, ideally at about 1-2 months old and with lidocaine for anesthesia. This of course means you are not weaning until 3 months old.

Calves should be weaned when 3 months of age or older. Why? This is when peak milk production of dairy cows starts to decrease and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the cow’s milk is meant for her calf (but we utilize most of it). Therefore, calves will naturally be stronger the longer they are on milk. This will translate into animals which can weather common problems that occur when calves are then put on pasture and not tended to as closely. Of course you now have to tend to this group of animals almost as closely as your milking cows since the new Rule requires that these smaller animals also be on pasture for the grazing season, just the same as your milk cows.

By rearing a healthy, robust calf such underlying problems as low levels of parasites will not be such an issue. You need to be aware that as you put calves out on pasture right now, there are stomach worm larva waiting there to meet them. And the stomach worm larva will increase dramatically during the next few humid months. Therefore, you really need to make sure that calves are receiving proper levels of energy, protein and minerals for their immune systems to mature quickly enough while the animals are encountering these pests for the first time. If any part of the nutritional needs is not met, even the best calves will start to look worse and worse over the course of the pasture season. I have seen this occur much too often over the years. But to be fair I have also seen really nice calves on their first season on pasture IF they are fed properly AND the pasture is managed such that it is not a wasteland of rank forage growth with more weeds than actual forage.

OK, so besides proper feeding, what are some basic management things that need to be kept in mind for your calves on pasture? The first thing that comes to mind is clipping pastures. So far this year I have seen many pastures filled with orchard grass that have gone to head and start becoming brownish. First, this means that the plants have lignin and are less usable. Second, these rank, brown stands will potentially prick and irritate calves’ eyes when they seek the softer, greener vegetation lower down. Third, valuable real estate is being wasted. Fourth, and especially with orchard grass, once the plants have headed out, any re-growth (even after clipping) is less palatable due to chemical changes that have taken place within the plant as it went to seed. Thus the potential utilization of that paddock when grazed again will be diminished significantly.

Clipping pastures is a primary method of ensuring uniform re-growth as well as cutting down weeds that might be heading out soon. Dung beetles break down the organic matter of manure quickly so that the larva of stomach worms does not build up. Earthworms help to incorporate that organic matter into the soil as well. By simple management of timely clipping (to a residual height of 4”) the value of your pastures will increase. Ideally, animals should be placed into the pastures when the height is 10-14”. If much higher, consider pre-clipping paddocks a couple hours prior to placing animals in them. This will wilt the clippings and the animals tend to devour everything, rather than leaving areas untouched. Proper pasture management is not only legally required now for organics, it is smart use of your limited resources as well as a healthy way not only to feed cows but calves as well.

PASTURE WALKS with Karl Dallefield of Midwestern Bio-Ag will be held in conjunction with Lancaster County Cooperative Extension Service on Tuesday June 29th , Wednesday June 30th, and Thursday July 1st. On June 29th the meeting will be held at Amos T. Ebersol, 590 Red Hill Road, Narvon, PA 17555; Wednesday June 30th at Roman Stoltzfoos, 1143 Gap Rd, Kinzers, PA; Thursday July 1st at Paul Weaver on Possum Hollow Rd, Shippensburg, PA. For questions, you can call me at 717-768-7088,
Becky Brown 774-521-6100 or Sarah Dinh at Lancaster Extension at 717-394-6851.
In this workshop, Karl will address:
*Managing soil for quality forage
*Grass-based system management & grazing
*Pasture species identification
*Biological and financial benefits of a tight crop/pasture rotation
*How to determine dry matter intake from pasture 

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

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