Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
We had a dehorning and RE-castrating day at the farm today. We had to make the very difficult decision to dehorn three heifers that had not been properly dehorned as babies, which is when this should be done. They were using their horns against the smaller animals and our goat, Cranberry, is due to have babies in a couple of months. Most of our purchasers are purchasing their first cow and are extremely intimidated by horns and/or have smaller animals such as goats as well. I almost had myself convinced that we don’t need to do them and then Fern, who is sweet as can be except with herd animals, aggressively pinned the pregnant goat against the stall wall. Even the little girls use them to control the much bigger calves that have no horns. Therefore, with heavy heart, we had the vet give them pain control topically and internally that will last two days. If they seem to be uncomfortable at all, we will give them some more when that wears off.
Trimming Cows' Feet
The two things that will cause a cow's feet to grow unusually long are overgraining/overfeeding and, believe it or not, just the opposite, which is underfeeding. Because of Fern’s malnourished state (I will share Fern's saga soon) when we purchased her, she also had to have her feet trimmed. Since she is bred, we had to lay her down and trim them manually instead of give her a drug to put her to sleep and trim them. (We have a local vet that has a cage, which lays a cow on its side to trim them, but it was way too big for a mini Jersey.) All went pretty well as she is a very sweet cow in the first place and secondly, we had 4 people! I sat on her neck once they "encouraged" her to lay down on her side with her feet out nicely for our very kind vet.
The second part of our day with the vet was to RE-castrate most of our steers. We had banded them, but those slippery things are tricky to get ahold of when they are little and we had missed one or two of almost all the calves we had done! This is almost too hard to believe. The vet told us that his brother buys “steers” at the sales on a regular basis and has to redo most of them. Apparently banding is a challenge to do properly when the calf is very young. So, bander beware! Since dairy bulls are notoriously mean, we couldn’t take a chance on anyone getting hurt, so we had to redo them and wanted to do it before fly season. We have learned many lessons this year and one of them is that we will let the vet castrate from now on.
This is the chute that we walk the cows thru to have any vet work done. In this case, the vet stands in the chute behind the cow and castrates them using pain control when necessary. I was amazed that they did not even move a muscle in most cases. Then we sprayed them with Blu Kote and turned them out to graze which they promptly did after spilling the vet's supplies out of the back of his open Suburban.
Raising Dairy Steers
We bought our steers from an organic local farmer this spring. We were going to raise them like everyone else on formula and not like most, without drugs. In fact, the first couple of times we purchased formula (the best one money could buy at our local farm store) they would ask us if we were sure we wanted “that” one (meaning the non-medicated one). We would smile and say yes, we want “that” one. It was not long until we realized that calves raised on formula are kept alive on drugs. We had sick little tummies, sad faces, severe weight loss and tails were not eagerly wagging when they nursed the bottle. We had to re-evaluate the situation and simply had to admit that they were created to drink milk and that’s what we would have to do in lieu of putting them on the strong drugs we were recommended to give, which in our opinion would further destroy their immune systems.
Even though it was a boatload of work, we went to the local dairy and bought milk in 5-gallon buckets. We cultured it into buttermilk to give a bigger bang for our buck with the probiotic benefits, and so the lactic acid would kill any pathogens that may have been passed on from the conventional dairy herd. We also added to this formula raw, free-range eggs. The vet about had a fit when he heard that but I just said to him, “We can’t argue with results”. The results were nothing short of amazing! They began to gain weight, wag their tails when they ate, and didn’t have the sick little hurting tummies that made them hunch over in pain. We also continued to give them probiotic and some other herbs for digestion and immunity, like fair trade pumpkin pie spice and wheat grass powder that we purchased from Frontier herbs, which probably kept them alive up until then. We talk to people quite frequently whom raise dairy steers and lose quite a high percentage of them in spite of the strong antibiotics and medicated formula they feed. We actually believe that it is a two-edged sword, the drugs sometimes keep them alive, but many times the immune system is so compromised that they die of the next bug, as calves are extremely susceptible when they are babies.
A note about feeding raw eggs: I have a neighbor who owns a chicken house, and would probably give us all the eggs we could use, but I would not feed confinement operation eggs to my animals raw. The acidic environment that is caused by the chicken not having enough greens to balance out their diet is a hot-bed for pathogens to flourish. Truly free-range eggs (not the ones that say cage free, which only means they are running around the floor with 20,000 other chickens) do not have the pathogens as a rule. We bought eggs 60 dozen at a time from a local free-range farmer.