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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care September 2005

Hi Folks,

I was on a farm a week ago and the pastures were a thick green carpet, no stalky weeds. The cows looked great as far as body condition. I asked the farmer what he was doing. He said he was clipping the pasture BEFORE the cows graze it. He started this practice in early August when it was blasted hot - and the cows went up in milk! The cows eat everything in sight since it is all clipped and softer/wilted. They love it and clean it up. Such a simple management tool with powerful effects. Think of it, all that fescue, burdock, quackgrass, redroot pigweed and foxtail all mixed in with the clover, orchard grass and alfalfa. A true pasture TMR! The clipping should be done about 2-6 hours prior to grazing the paddock. Use a standard disc mower or sickle bar - don't use a mower conditioner. It is probably best suited for the time of the year when common pasture species slow down and the "weeds" come up. Remember that those "weeds" do have nutritional value. If you have my book, you can see the lab read-out (compiled from Jerry Brunetti) showing the standard nutritional value of some 12 species of "weeds" as compared to alfalfa. Many exceed the nutritional standard of alfalfa. I always thought it interesting that the "weeds" have nutritional value, and while many claim that the cows will go for the dandelions in early spring or the dock if they need iron or have a liver problem, I've never actually seen cows eat much of those "weeds" if they are in a well managed pasture of standard grazing species. But - with clipping beforehand, they do take in everything. It was really amazing and still blows me away how simple yet powerful a management tool it is. If you've been against clipping pasture for one reason or another, think a little about this clipping BEFORE grazing. It could well change the way you graze forever. You will be maximizing their pasture intake thereby naturally feeding your cows much more effectively. Hey, this may even reduce your need for grain since they will be taking in more dry matter and energy.

As he weather has finally gotten better, the cows are generally healthy and it is harvest time. With harvest time comes much hurrying around to quickly get in and out of the barn. This is understandable. (Harvesting would also include clipping before grazing.) But we also need to keep paying attention to our animals and not put off dealing with an animal that "doesn't seem right" just to quickly get back into the field. While the vast majority of the cows are quite healthy at this time of the year, it is primarily the time of emergencies for me. This is due to you only seeing the animals at milking times for the most part.

Be aware of cows that are off-feed and far into lactation. These are the animals that tend to get a right-sided twisted stomach, and if "let go" for a few days to see if she gets better on her own - and if she doesn't - things can be bad. If you have an off-feed animal at this time of the year, please at least take her temperature. She shouldn't be hot since it is not terribly hot out right now. If there is a fever and sluggish eating, immediately give the cow a magnet and some probiotics (lactobacillus type product). Magnesium oxide "pink pills" (OK for organic) would be good, too. If a cow is scouring, keep her off pasture for a few days and feed her only dry hay to bulk up the rumen fiber mat that is necessary for proper rumination. Remember, cows take about two weeks to adjust to a feed ration change. If you are feeding green chop corn silage, feed healthy amounts of dry hay as well and add in probiotics to help the rumen bugs stay happy.

If we run into some damp, cool weather, be mindful of dry bedding for the calves. It is a bit early for the annual autumn pneumonia outbreaks that farms see locally, but if calves that are somewhat run down, there is a possibility that a few will develop pneumonia. So if a calf is not eating quite right, check it. Assess the breathing - is it calm and breathing easily or is it breathing rather quickly and shallow? Take its temperature. If there is a fever, pneumonia is likely.

I have just recently developed a hyper-immune plasma product from a local organic cow that is free from BVD, BLV and Johnes. It was harvested professionally at our local veterinary school (U Penn New Bolton Center). Hyper-immune plasma is a source of passive antibodies, a natural alternative to antibiotics. It also has interleukins and cytokines that help the immune system communicate and function better. Hyper-immune plasma is an ideal natural alternative for early pneumonia in calves and cows as well as scours in calves. Combined with a dose of the commercial Immunoboost and vitamin E and selenium, this is a good multi-prong medical approach to nipping pneumonia in the bud.

As not many cows are calving right now, it is not on our minds to watch those dry springers so much. But any dry or springing animal that goes off feed or hangs back from the rest of the group really does need to be checked out at that time, rather than waiting a few days to see if she gets better on her own. Dry cows and springers, if off-feed, tend to have fevers, which are usually due to mastitis. Dry cow mastitis is especially dangerous since it can negatively affect the calf (born dead or aborted). These animals need to be tended to in short order to blunt the impact of a full blown systemic mastitis infection. Check their quarters - if one is hard, strip it out. You'll probably find it to have a bad secretion with a foul odor. These cows usually need fluids and frequent stripping out of the quarter. If you yourself cannot do it because of field work, have someone else do it - but get it done!

Pregnant animals that have a reddish discharge need to be checked now - not a few days from now when it is more convenient for you. A reddish discharge is a red flag. It can indicate that the cow is going to calve but more often it means something is wrong. If let go, the outcome is likely to be a dead, rotten calf. Not good for the cow's immediate future survival nor her long-term reproductive future. Therefore, wash her up, lube up and reach in. If you are not sure of something, please call me and we can discuss it or I can come over and work on it. And always check for a twin if a cow is early or the calf is small.

So take a few moments to check a cow to head off potentially disastrous events. This is especially important for organic folks - nipping things in the bud is the name of the game when it comes to managing illness in your animals.

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

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