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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care September 2009

Hi Folks,

We’ve been fortunate to have a green July and August this year and the pastures have benefited quite well. With the good growing year, not only are the crops growing nicely but the conditions have favored flies and other parasites. I won’t discuss pinkeye again this year (have already done it twice to help prevent problems) except to say that I’ve stitched quite a few eyes shut that were suffering from severe pinkeye. The eyes open back up a couple weeks later and are then pretty well healed in general.

Unfortunately, flies aren’t the only parasites. The ones which actually do the most harm cannot be seen. These are the stomach worms that can really build up in young stock and on the pastures. The life cycle of these pests is to be taken in by grazing animals, grow and reproduce within the digestive tract of the animals, and be deposited back out on the pasture to be taken up again by animals to repeat the cycle. This can happen many times to the same animals if confined in a small paddock. Unfortunately, the population of the worm larvae sky rockets as the growing season continues. This does come to a halt, however, after one to two good killing frosts. Prior to that, however, thousands of tiny larvae are nearly jumping off the tips of the grass into the animals.

If calves born in February through April and weaned three months later are sent out back to the regular old paddock where such animals always go, they will quickly become infested with internal stomach worms since they have no immunity to them. Typical signs are pot-bellied calves with obvious bones whose hair coat may be rough looking and reddish black along, with diarrhea and dried manure on back legs that look kind of thin. If you see this in your young animals out on pasture, it is almost sure sign of a parasite infestation. Animals in the age group between one month after weaning up to about 10-12 months old are the most likely to become infested. Once past this age, they tend to build natural immunity and can then live in balance with the parasites that they encounter. For the first time ever this year, I saw actual blood engorged (dark reddish) stomach worms. They were no longer than about 1 cm long. Looking at them under a microscope they are really horrible looking little monsters, with teeth lining a round mouth which rips holes into the stomach wall where it sucks blood. These particular ones were found in a water trough by a farmer who was nicely scrubbing the water tub out. I was completely amazed.

Unfortunately, the smaller the land base, the more likely it is that parasites will infest young stock as similar groups are placed in the same small lots year after year. Animals that are carrying a burden of internal worms will have their immune system drawn down. This can be troublesome if there are sudden changes in weather (cool damp weather will likely trigger the calves to start coughing) and fly burdens will likely cause pinkeye. Only on rare occasion have I seen an animal so severely parasitized that they are near dead due to anemia (loss of blood due to parasite action). This will present as an animal that already had looked like I described above (but was either not treated or at least not effectively treated) which will progress to having a swollen looking jaw (fluid filled), very white mucous membranes (mouth, eye sockets, vulva) and be extremely weak – most likely lying down. Sometimes these young animals will also have ulcers in their mouth.

So how do we prevent internal parasite build-up? All the above that I wrote can be prevented pretty much by really excellent feeding. There certainly are farms which do not have parasite problems (not counting the farms that can routinely use wormers and medicated feeds). The farms which have weaned calves that look good usually are those farms which wean calves no sooner than three months of age and that were feeding whole milk as it provides the absolute best nutrition. And of course those farms using nurse cows with calves will have stronger calves to begin with going into the weaning process. It is those farms that pay attention to detail in the continued proper feeding of their weaned animals that will be most satisfied. Without doubt, weaned animals up to 10 months old are generally the weakest link in the chain on organic farms. Clipping pastures, rotating calves from paddock to paddock, using chickens in the paddocks to peck apart the manure paddies, having diatomaceous earth as part of a salad bar of at least 6 free choice minerals types, fresh water, high energy stored forage to complement the high protein pasture and a touch of grain will all contribute to healthy calves that won’t become infested with internal parasites. If for no other reason, feeding excellent levels of nutrition will counter act the drain they will undoubtedly experience in the summer months due to the farm’s resident parasites.

Treatments can range from materials that are high in tannins like black walnut hulls, to better designed mixes like Fertrell’s dewormer mix that’s added to the feed, to Ferro which has extremely high levels of tannins, iron and minerals. If these aren’t working, then ivermectin is still allowed for organic livestock – if all other measures appropriate for organics have been tried. Bear in mind however, that ivermectin is totally poisonous to the dung beetle population, those beetles which decompose manure paddies quickly in healthy biological systems.

If a farm is found to be using ivermectin on a certain age class of animals every year, most certifiers would rightly ask to see what the farm is doing to prevent parasite pressures from developing. One way, at least in areas with high livestock density, would be to have your animals custom raised in an entirely different area.

As the season changes shortly, young animals that may be carrying parasite burdens are especially susceptible to damp chilly air, especially if brought indoors once the pasture season is over. Never, ever bring young stock back inside to the same building that shares air with older animals. A rule of thumb is that once an animal leaves the main barn where it was as a youngster, always raise it outdoors (with proper shelter) and bring it back into the main adult barn only when it is ready to join the milking string. Too many times I have been called to see sick and coughing parasitized animals that were brought back into the barn in October or November when the weather got bad. Major mistake. By feeding animals well and keeping them outdoors in managed pastures and shelters, your young stock will grow up to become healthy, productive members of your dairy herd.

NOTE: Stephen T. Stoltzfus, 5268 Amish Rd., Kinzers, has 10 certified organic Jersey calves for sale, $200 each. 717-442-8569.
Ben S. Glick, 38 S. Belmont Rd, Paradise, has certified organic ear corn and shelled corn to sell. 717-687-5265.


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