Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Water, Wildlife and Wire

Its hot out, and humidity is making it seem worse. The cattle are drinking huge amounts of water and we spend quite a lot of time filling the troughs. We do not have a big trough, 40 gallon ones and muck tubs seem to be working. We prefer to refill with fresh water instead of having a big tank get full of brackish, algae filled water. The climate is perfect for the growth of 'stuff' in water tanks.

The new fences are working well, allowing us to use the grass in better ways. However there are some interesting developments from the water and the wire.

The new fences cross land that was open, no trees or bush, the birds have found the high tensile and posts to be perfect for perching on. The meadowlarks have moved into the back of the farm.

 This was what  I watched this morning as I filled Muck tubs with water. He was singing to all the world, the joy of the day!

Swallows, both barn and tree, gossip as they perch on the top wire of the lane-way.

We have  never seen so many Brown Headed Cowbirds or Red Winged Blackbirds. These birds come to the edge of the water troughs moments after I fill them to drink. Its quite interesting to see how bold they are.

Google Image

They are also very hard to photograph so I have to admit I cheated and used Google!

The cows graze early in the morning and then amble out again at dusk. Days are spent in the breezeway, lounging and ruminating and trying to con us into feeding them snacks!

Katie and the Boys......doing some grazing this morning. They are on our weed dilemma. They love this stuff but it grows faster than I have ever seen anything grow. The growth they are on now was cut a week ago and we have had them grazing in this small paddock for three days now.

The changes to the farm made with the investment in 'Wire' has made some marvelous changes in all aspects of the farm. There is a wild turkey, shy and impossible to photograph, who comes up the lane almost every morning to drink. He loves the cow patties and just one turkey spreads the manure like 45 hens!

Our older chicks are out on their own now and wander the farm out back. They have grown up with cow patties and determinedly attack them. They are growing like weeds and there is some of the new wire they used to be able to zip through the gaps in...that they no longer fit through like they did when they were tiny. We chuckle at them as the march along the fence, then get side tracked by a bug or tasty bite of grass.

We were given a patio table and chairs...we love it and have taken two chairs up to the deck, in the evening a breeze blows around the west corner of the house and we sit and watch the birds and critters. It is a delight. Hummingbirds come to the petunias and deck garden.

Summer is speeding along and we are pleased with most of what is going on. Weeds will always be the bug bear here, but the addition of wire has blessed us with more wildlife to enjoy and entertain. The new locations for water have helped the wildlife as well so that adds to our own little ecosystem.

In closing I would like to post a thought for the day, I think it hits the nail on the head.

God Bless all of you and enjoy your world.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Dangerous World of Vlogs and Blogs.

I am so frustrated. Ralph and I are dealing with too much grass. Rich, lush wonderful grass. I tend to wander through Blogs and YouTube’s myriad of Vlogs looking for information about grass, feeding and things we could try with our plethora of roughage. Today it’s too hot to work outside and we are catching up on things inside.....oh and I made unbaked cookies for Ralph. I didn't have to use the oven but the burner gives off a surprising amount of heat.

We are feeling pleased with our progress and are so enjoying the animals. Month end and weigh day for our cow herd showed our beasts are gaining what we want them to. We check condition by feel and look and then double check with weighing them by measurements. I remarked to Ralph just this morning that Katie is actually getting a bit too fat. We only feed a small amount of grain as a treat and she is on pasture with the two calves.

So what you ask has me frustrated? Well the myth that dairy cows are naturally emaciated and don't look like beef cows. There is a difference in shape, I know that, but body condition has easy to read indicators in both dairy and beef animals. Emaciated and too thin are different than healthy Dairy condition.

The idea of a grass fed family milk cow is everywhere and I can understand why people want to go that route. What is making me crazy is the lack of real knowledge about body condition and animal health. Vlogs are the worst. People sharing their experience is wonderful but if your going to expose the world to your management of animals make sure you know what your doing.

A cow milking hard, feeding a calf, feeding your family and finally feeding herself takes a tremendous amount of energy. If they are maintained in good shape on good thick and nutritious pasture they will keep their condition up or even gain weight. In fact they need to be gaining weight to breed back, but they MUST be in good condition to start with. I am not a Garden expert, I am not an expert at a lot of things but I do know cattle and cattle health.

I follow several Vlogs who have a Jersey for their family cow.  One of them has a marvelous cow that they are very careful with, they keep her in great condition with a good dairy ration and excellent hay in winter. They are cautious getting her onto grass in the spring, letting her rumen adjust to the change in diet. They admit they are not experts but they want the cow to live a long, productive and healthy life. They value the investment in the cow and the milk she gives them. They know condition is key.

Some however do not. They look at a big belly as being fat. Are the starving children in poor third world countries with huge distended bellies considered fat?

Some of the Vlogs traumatize me. They have not got enough pasture for a cow to begin with and if they do feed grain, do not understand how much grain a cow needs. They also don’t have the experience to tell overall condition. Not just weight but look. One cow has rub patches, indicating lice, she is terribly thin. A really thin cow will also have dull, dry hair, dead at the ends and not shedding, it is another indicator of body condition or a parasite load. I try not to comment but was about to when another watcher left a comment about body condition and the cow looked like she might have lice. The vlogger replied dairy cows are always thin. He added they had done their homework and the cow is fine. Several Vlogs later they discuss the cows production is dropping. Other Vlogs with extremely thin cows are having the same problem with dropping production.

A very thin cow, note the absence of any muscle between the spine and the spring of ribs. She also has patches of rough, dead hair.

I look at Katie, she is holding steady at feeding two calves, I milk her when we need milk and get a gallon and a half  plus leave ‘breakfast’ for Rocky and Bullwinkle. He hair is sleek and shiny, she has dimples by her tail. She probably is too fat but she is so healthy. She is coming into heat on a regular cycle and we plan to breed her in August.

Katie, waiting to be measured. She weighs 1156 pounds by our calculations which seems close.

I just think there is a dangerous amount of misinformation and wrong information out there. Not being delivered by people who don’t care but by people who simply do not know enough to do some of the things they dream of on their ‘homestead’. Ralph and I are not experts but we can tell healthy animals from thin ones. My livestock experience has been enhanced by the adventure with our ‘dairy herd’.

Please if you read this and are unsure about your Cows condition, take the time to either talk to a veterinarian or a local Dairyman.

Understand how much it takes for a cow to do what a family cow does.
1: Produce Milk for you and enough to calf share if you go that route.
2: Feed Herself.
3: Regain condition after calving  
4: Cycle and come in heat to rebreed and get in calf again.

If your going to have a grass fed only milk cow allow time for her system to adjust to the nutrition change, amend your pastures with the best forage you can. Supplement her until she is in really top condition, maybe a bit fat, then wean her off the grains slowly until she balances herself. Allow for less production. You may have to feed her Alfalfa hay as a side to keep her in good shape.

A cows age also impacts condition and her ability to put on weight. A milk cow who has had her first calf needs to be in good condition before she calves. Not too fat by any means, that causes problems with calving, but in good flesh. Once she calves the demands on her system are extremely high. If she calves at two years of age she is still growing, now she is also milking, her teeth are changing, she is recovering from calving and she is regaining breeding condition to cycle and get in calf again. A lot is going on with her.

A mature cow will maintain flesh easier but if they are thin when they calve it is still very hard for them to regain condition. A senior cow, which Katie is, has other issues, teeth can be a problem. They do naturally drop milk production as they get old but again good management and observation will still keep a cow giving you milk in useful amounts.

All sorts of questions arise. What kind of pasture do you have?  Do you know your lands carry capacity? [How many acres to feed one cow] Ideally a cow does best on grass at least 6 inches high, so they can get a good full mouth full with each bite. Are you determined to be a strictly grass fed dairy? If your going to feed supplementary nutrition are you going to use grain?

There is nothing better than your own milk from your own cow. The joy of milking is truly satisfying.  However it is also a huge investment to have a cow, please practice the right husbandry to keep them healthy and productive. Be aware of all sides to the information available to you. Ask questions and discuss large animals with people who know them. There are so many well intentioned Vlogs and blogs out there. The handicap with the information we share is it is not hands on.

Now I had better get out to check the cows. Fly season has started and we are trying several fly repellent concoctions on Katie the test subject.

God Bless and keep you safe and remember just because a cow has a big belly and full rumen it does not mean they are in good condition. Fat and sassy cows are beautiful to see.