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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care November 2006

Hi Folks,

With the changing of the seasons, we need to think about how our cows and calves adjust to feed changes and the varying weather conditions. In the last week I've had 5 calls from 5 different farms regarding bloating cows. My initial thought was that the cows were turned out to frosted pasture, which certainly can give digestive upsets. To prevent this, keep cows off frosted pasture until the frost is gone for a couple hours. Also feed some dry hay about a half an hour prior to going outside. I know that many of the farms here in the local area generally plan to pasture well into November, so please keep these things in mind.

Another reason cows may bloat or simply go off feed for no apparent reason is a rapid feed change, especially if the feed started to be fed is of questionable quality - notably ensiled feeds. I personally have no problems with farmers that like to feed corn silage (as long as it is no more than 20-25 pounds as- fed during the winter time). However, I do believe that the root cause of most digestive problems in dairy cows in the United States is the feeding of ensiled feeds (notably corn silage or grass haylage) that are of questionable quality. This means that they are either too dry and/or have molds in them. Herds that are fed only dry hay and grains simply do not have digestive problems in general. I would like to add that baleage is a nice feed as its fiber length is good for the rumen although it is partially digested due to the ensiling process. I can say from direct experience of treating cows for over a decade now that farms that really push corn silage and other silages as well as grain are the farms having the most digestive upsets in their cows. I started this paragraph mentioning rapid feed changes; the cows most vulnerable are those that are just fresh and placed in the milking string. Remember that the rumen bugs take about 2 weeks to adjust to new feed ingredients entering into the rumen area. To minimize the problems that can occur with rapid feed changes, always feed some extra dry hay - and especially to cows just fresh - to maintain a healthy rumen fiber mat from which they will chew their cud. You can add whatever rumen probiotic you like to use as well. Additionally, for a ruminant that breaks with scours (for whatever reason) always immediately take away all ensiled feeds. If she eats, feed only dry hay and some grain for 3 days. This should straighten out the digestive system. If it doesn't correct the situation, I then start thinking about the possibility of Johnes disease. However, for cows that are eating and have blast out watery diarrhea (which can be seen in winter dysentery as well), plain grass hay is the primary treatment. Always offer a cow some top quality dry hay if she is off-feed. If she really digs into it, she is telling you something.

Another seasonal change that should be kept in mind is calf health. We are quickly approaching the time when cold, chilly, damp days occur for stretches at a time. The primary number one thing that will keep calves healthiest is a robust level of nutrition, dry bedding and fresh air. I can always predict when farmers will call in with coughing calves. The weather will be damp and chilly for about 1-2 days and then 3-4 days later the calls come in to check on coughing calves. Nine times out of ten, the calves are housed indoors and the bedding is damp. I forgot to mention one other ingredient to the healthiest calves - individual hutches. There is no better way to raise calves in their earliest months than with hutches that are properly bedded. This is something I have also seen borne out to be true over the last 10+ years in practice. Almost every single pneumonia calf I have ever had to treat is not in a hutch set up. There must be something about cinder block and rock walls that act as magnets for pneumonia germs. The next best things to hutches are kennels that allow each individual calf to decide for itself if it wants to be inside or outside in its fenced area. Even with hutches, it seems as though calves tolerate, to a slight degree, some damp bedding without getting the coughs. However, those chilly nights mixed with damp bedding will not help those calves to stay warm and they will not grow as well if they are burning up energy just to stay warm. Calf jackets are a handy item to have, if not for all the calves then at least for some of the more delicate ones. I am glad to see that they are becoming more common. By using calf jackets, the need for extra food for increased calories to maintain body heat is somewhat lessened. I do realize that not everyone has hutches for their calves. If you have a situation where the calves will be indoors, you may want to consider using the intranasal vaccine (Nasalgen or TSV-2) right about now. This particular vaccine is very effective against pneumonia and is given in the nostrils - which is the true way the pneumonia germs enter the respiratory tract. Therefore, this vaccine is also a safe one to give as any vaccine that is administered via the same route of natural infection is safer, in my opinion.

In general, it is courting disaster to bring youngstock back indoors for the winter when they've been outside all summer - especially in the same general area of mature cows that have antibodies to the many germs that the youngstock do not. Heifers that are between 5-10 months old and begin coughing indoors likely have an underlying parasite problem, in my experience. Any parasitized animal will always be more prone to other infections. Placing these critters indoors with greatly decreased access to fresh air and then having damp bedding in addition to a few damp, rainy days is a recipe for disaster. I like to check this age bracket for stomach worms. While the stomach worms hibernate in the stomach lining during the cold months, I still may see eggs under the microscope being passed and then I know they really, truly are parasitized and this needs to be dealt with effectively prior to ever getting ahead of other problems that they may be expressing (like poor growth and coughing). I must say that calves that have been consistently fed well throughout the grazing season will tolerate parasites better than those "forgotten".

In summary, robust nutrition, fresh air and dry bedding will prevent many common diseases we see on dairies, especially those syndromes encountered in the winter months.

NOTE: Top notch Jersey herd for sale - 45 registered cows; heifers and calves. The owners have always given a great degree of individual attention to their cows, heifers and calves. Conventional herd, no rbST. If someone is transitioning to organic right now, beginning their third year, and would like a whole herd of excellent Jersey cattle, this would be a great opportunity. The youngstock could be placed on organic farms that were transitioned prior to October 21, 2002. Great herd of cows any which way. Call Becky and Darryl Reiter at 717-768-3730, 6236 Beaver Dam Road, Narvon, PA 17555

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

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