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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care September2011

Hi Folks,

This month is back to basics and discussion of parasites in calves as I like to do this time of year. I really think that parasitism, whether internal (stomach worms and coccidia) and external (flies and mange) are truly a weak link in the chain of organic livestock health and growth. I say this coming from being in the trenches for many years now. I see crummy looking calves out on pasture at this time of year – “natural raised”, certified organic or conventional.

It must be remembered that if pasturing animals in the same areas year after year, there will be parasites waiting for each group as they arrive. Pastures look really nice early on but those stomach worm larva are invisible to our eye and are out there rapidly multiplying and loading the animals that are out there eating the forages. That’s because the stomach worm larva crawl to the tips of the grass blades to be taken in again by the animal to start their life cycle all over again (to feed and reproduce themselves within the animal’s digestive system).

This is why I am in favor of clipping pastures or at least dragging pastures with a set of chains: it smears out the manure paddy and those larva will dry out in the sun and wind and not live to climb up the grass blades to be eaten and taken in again.

But here we are at the beginning of September and the best pasture season is already behind. And during this particular pasture season it seems like flies have been merciless as well.

What do your calves on pasture look like right now? Are they sleek and in good body condition just like when you weaned them or set them out to pasture? Or do they look a bit more ragged now - perhaps a bit pot-bellied, their hair being dry looking and reddish black (not shiny black as it should be), with thin back leg muscles and some dried diarrhea up high on their legs and tail? If so, these are classic signs of internal stomach worm infestation.

It would be wise to catch a few up and look in their eye sockets to see how pink or pale white the sockets are. In sheep and goats, it is common to use the FAMACHA test which basically looks at their eye sockets and, depending on how white (indicating anemia), this will indicate when to treat them with a conventional wormer. While the FAMACHA test is technically not valid for calves, looking at their eye sockets will still reveal the degree of blood loss as well. Calves just hide it until later in the disease.

In organic agriculture, with the requirement of animals 6 months and older to get a minimum of 30% dry matter from pasture over the grazing season, it is only a matter of time before the young stock, which are not immunologically mature against stomach worms, will become infested if pasture management is not top notch. A big part of it all is proper feeding to ensure excellent energy intake while on pasture. This can be from high energy forages or giving some grain. The immune system depends heavily on proper daily energy intake. It should be noted that adult animals do NOT need to be wormed as they can live in balance with a stomach worm challenge in their environment – unfortunately young stock can’t because they haven’t experienced worms previously. Note: lung worms can, and do, infect adult cattle especially in wet years.

I think a good goal is to raise calves that do have some challenge with stomach worm larva in the pasture, yet are managed and fed well enough that instead of becoming infested, they instead build immunity due to a low level exposure. This is a kind of a natural vaccine effect. Unfortunately not many farms seem to be able to achieve this. The result is somewhat stunted calves that likely will freshen a month or two later since they won’t reach breeding size as quickly. However, calves that do make it through this tough period of life – usually between 4-11 months of age – start looking really nice again by a year old and go on to do fine. Even if they did look crummy due to a significant stomach worm infestation, they will now be really strong against pasture stomach worm challenges the rest of their lives.

So how do we treat internal parasite infestations on certified organic farms? Well, as of this writing, only ivermectin is allowed to be used – and only for an emergency need when methods acceptable to organic have not succeeded in restoring an animal to health. However, earlier this summer, the USDA released an official statement that fenbendazole and moxidectin, on recommendation from the NOSB, will soon be allowed (still only for emergency situations, with a 90 day milk withhold). Typically in the past I have recommended ivermectin as a single treatment – essentially to re-set the individual animals which are infested – and then get the management in place to keep things in prevention mode rather than reaction (treatment) mode.

Fortunately, there are many plant based medicines being used around the world against internal parasites. In the chapter I wrote  called Phytotherapy for Dairy Cows in the book Veterinary Herbal Medicine (by Wynn and Fougere, Mosby, 2007), I reported on a study that showed birdsfoot trefoil or chickory interplanted into pasture decreased stomach worm larva burden significantly compared to straight white clover and rye pasture. This is because of tannins contained in the birdsfoot trefoil and chickory.

However, we are later in the grazing season, so what should we treat with right now if our young stock look crummy? One treatment is to give 10cc of the high tannin, iron and mineral “Ferro” once daily for 5 days in a row – this is highly effective but requires individual animal dosing which most farmers do not like to do when it comes to a group of heifers outside (understandable). Perhaps trying Dr. Paul’s “Eliminate” would be worthwhile. It has ginger root, diatomaceous earth, neembark, garlic and yucca root – good ingredients to battle internal parasites in the digestive tract. It is a simple dosing: 1 capsule / 500 lbs one time and repeat in 3 weeks. Another would be to try Agri-Dynamics Neema Tox or Vermi Tox as both have some positive benefits as shown by clinical trials at Chico State University. Weaned cattle are dosed at 1 oz/300-400 lbs for 3 days in a row. Remember, you can use ivermectin if your animals are in really bad shape – and you probably should at that point.

Remember, now is the time to really check your young stock on pasture for signs of internal worm infestation. If they are infested and nothing is done about it, the first batch of damp cold weather will likely bring on pneumonia – and that is not at all desirable. So be mindful: stop and observe your animals and take action as needed now, not later.  
NOTICE: Seven Stars Farm is seeking a full time co-worker for an immediate opening. Duties include milking, barn chores and care of young stock. This is an 80 cow organic, Biodynamic farm located in southeastern PA. Interested persons should have a strong interest in organic dairying, some milking experience and a love for cows. Housing and health insurance included. 
If interested, contact Edie Griffiths at 610-933-1222 or ediegriffiths@gmail.com
Amos K Lapp has a 22 month, proven bull for sale. Sire is from Dave Forgey. If interested call 717-661-5293 and leave message. 

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

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