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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care May 2008

NOTE: We moved! We now live at 555 Red Hill Road in Narvon , PA 17555 . Our new number is 717-768-7088. Please keep phone calls for routine work to be done that day between 7am and 8am fast-time. Emergencies happen anytime obviously. I am still in the emergency rotation with Gap Vet Associates, so when I am not on duty they are on-call. In the same way, I am on-call to cover for emergencies for their clients when I am on duty for them.

Hi Folks,

Pasture season is upon us in full swing. Lush green paddocks and cows wanting to only eat the fresh pasture: a new season of growth is upon us! Pasture and cows go together like a hand in a glove – yet sizing the paddocks to the amount of cows and the age of animals is critical to keep things in balance, both for the cows’ nutrition and for proper re-growth. Remember that if cows are put onto legume pasture for 3 days in a row or more, their chances of bloating are greatly increased, especially in the lush growth part of the season like now. Preventing pasture bloat is entirely preventable by feeding the cows effective fiber a half hour before sending them yet out to gorge on the same lush legume stands again as the previous days. It takes a few days for the bloat to build up. Fortunately, poloxalene (TheraBloat®) is now allowed for emergency use in organics without having to permanently remove the animal from the herd. Unfortunately, every year at this time there are some herds that experience death from pasture bloat.

On a slightly different topic about pasture, when I was in eastern Ontario a month ago at a conference at the Alfred Campus of Guelph University , a grazing expert from Nova Scotia made a very good point: the first day the cows are in a paddock, it is a dining room. The second day the cows are in the same paddock, it is a living room. The third day the cows are in the same paddock, it is a bathroom. Think about it. While it takes good management to make the most of nutrition from paddocks, lack of management yields nothing good. Keep moving your cows through your pastures and don’t let an area become primarily a bathroom where the cows walk around without any meaningful feed for most of the day. Hopefully, the USDA National Organic Program will come out (and come out *soon*) with a pasture standard that requires meaningful pasture intake for a minimum amount of time per day, week, month and year. This will be good both for the cows as well as giving what the consumers expect when they buy organic milk.

More and more since recently reading some books about alternative agricultural production systems as well as the high fuel costs and grain costs, I find myself back to the thinking I held as a herdsman when I was on the organic/biodynamic farm that got me started in organics in the late 1980’s. And that is to be as *self-sufficient* and as locally involved as possible, making the most of the land resources at your immediate disposal and to cut the umbilical cord of buying in grains from distant sources as much as possible. Does this perhaps mean having a herd size that more closely matches your land base? Yes. Does this perhaps mean using cattle that are more efficient or less requiring of grain to maintain production and body condition? Yes. Does this mean perhaps to grow some acreage of corn silage or other high energy crop for its energy content? Yes. Does this mean spending money on top notch hay as opposed to using grain as a band-aid for energy intake? Yes. (Protein is not an issue during the grazing season.) As most everyone knows, just because you make a lot of milk does not mean you make a lot of money. The trick is to feed your animals for their health, and then they will produce well. Back to basics along with excellent management will no doubt yield a healthy farm which is less dependent upon market conditions. This is a time tested truth in agriculture: SELF-SUFFICIENCY. You must rid yourself of the urge of simply picking up the phone and ordering yet another ton of grain from far away. Why not grow energy dense feeds on your own farm? And where that is not possible, reliance on local or regional resources will beat trucking in commodities from whatever major distance. While growing grain is not for everyone, perhaps harvesting barley while it is headed out will yield an energy dense baleage. Folks in Alberta , Canada use ensiled barley that is headed out as a staple for their livestock. Canadians grow their own grains in Nova Scotia , Quebec , Ontario , Alberta and elsewhere. This used to be the case throughout the Northeast of the United States . Prior to the expansion to the Midwest , southeastern New Hampshire supplied a lot of small grains. Yes, its will take a different mind set, but keeping the same old mind set when the world is changing quickly will probably lead to much frustration.

Having a diversified farm will be beneficial to all aspects of the farm. This may mean using a variety of cattle, including the minor breeds or cross-breeds which tend to have very few health problems, do better on less grain and have higher milk fat and protein percentage (but fewer pounds). Diversity in livestock species could help in natural parasite control. Consider following cows in pasture with managed chicken flocks as the chickens will peck away at the manure paddies and eliminate breeding areas for field flies and also destroy the eggs of stomach worms which are in the manure paddies. The chickens will yield pasture raised eggs (or poultry meat in the end). Hogs will also root through manure paddies but will need some extra management to keep them in (i.e. effective fencing). Turkeys could also be used.

Try to grow hay crops with a diverse mixture of plants. Think about brome grass, birdsfoot trefoil, and other species. More diverse crops will yield a more nutrient dense profile than just the same old mono-cropping of alfalfa, grass, and corn. Interplanting soybeans into row corn may keep weeds down and furnish nitrogen as well as perhaps some more protein when harvesting corn silage. Watch what your animals like to eat. The other day while taking a walk with my wife and daughter at our new place, we watched as horses rapidly chewed the flowering yellow heads of dandelions. Picking some and offering them, other horses happily accepted them. However, heifers didn’t. But I see calves and heifers happily eat young burdock.

Watch Nature and try to mimic it as closely as you can – Nature always has something from which we can learn and you will have healthier animals while spending less on bought inputs.

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

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