Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

A Tale of Two Homesteads

Garden with barn 

I left college with one real goal --- to find a piece of land with a creek and room for a garden, to move in, and to live as simply as possible so I could focus on my art. As you might expect, the reality turned out both better and worse than my expectations.

The land I settled on was much larger than anticipated --- 58 acres, funded by a no-interest loan from an amazing friend who never even set foot on its soil. A quiet creek made the core homestead walk-in-only, which was no trouble for my nature-loving self...until I started thinking about the reality of building a home there. Oh, and did I mention that the creek overflowed its banks and cut off the central area from all outside access for up to a week at a time once or twice a year? I reveled in the adventure (and in the rich soil laid down by the receding floods).

Flooded ford

The husband who wandered into my life halfway between the day I purchased the land and the day we actually moved there was ten years older and more of a realist than my starry-eyed self. He helped me realize that an old mobile home today was far better than an owner-built home that might never materialize. He talked me out of hauling water by hand from the well for all of our garden and household needs. And he came up with wheeled conveyances that made transporting large supplies more feasible during the dry seasons that inevitably materialized a few times a year.

Goat family

For the better part of a decade, we lived in bliss. The mountains of southwest Virginia are poverty-stricken, and the flip side of that coin is that life there can be dirt cheap if you grow most of your own food, heat with wood, and entertain yourself by watching chickens and butterflies. Property taxes rose by 50% one year during a reassessment...which meant we were paying the equivalent of $30 per month instead of $20. Pretty feasible even for an aspiring author. (And yes, the writing dream came true as well when plenty of time for introspection and creativity morphed into well-received books that did and do continue to pay the bills.)

Of course, the only thing we can depend on is change itself. Around about year seven, my husband stopped being a spring chicken able to toil in the fields without a thought for aches and pains. New dreams arose and were harder to kindle than we'd expected in our remote location. And I started having a totally different kind of dream --- a recurring nightmare in which I pulled and pulled and pulled and couldn't dislodge a piece of gum lodged in my throat.

Baby Chick And Dog

A search of the internet suggested my gum dream meant I had something I neded to say, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out what. Until, that is, the death of a beloved dog and a beloved goat within a month of each other snuffed the spark of joy that had tied us to the land since the beginning.

"Don't get scared," I told my husband one evening over dinner. "But I think it's time to move."

So we did. Over the course of three months, we found another plot of land with many more opportunities for both my husband's film-making aspirations and for allowing me to leave the hermit stage of my life behind. We packed up two cats, a wheelbarrow, and two wood stoves. Then we moved north.

Unloading compost from a truck

Our new homestead is smaller and less remote than our old one, and the property taxes are a bit steeper too. I miss my creek, my black-gold garden soil, and the composting toilet that allowed me to do my business while watching phoebes nest in the rafters. But I love the like-minded community and the thought-provoking opportunities in the new location, both of which make it possible to live sustainably without doing everything ourselves.

So did we make a mistake with homestead number one or with homestead number two? I'd say both homesteads have been just what we needed at the time. When I was 25, I had little cash but plenty of desire to immerse myself in self-guided study about wildcrafting and livestock raising and the understanding the earth. Now, at 39, I'm ready to rest on my laurels and spend more energy on the creativity that drove me back to the land in the first place.

Which isn't to say I'm letting the land lie fallow around me. Instead, we're starting a new garden, are plotting out rainwater capture, and are harvesting ramps and mushrooms out of the woods. After all, the homesteading bug is no passing fancy. You just have to be willing to go with the flow and let shocking changes enfold you on the path to following your dreams.

Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton's starter homestead is now on the market. Perhaps you're the right person to make the fruits and berries, goat pastures, and huge barn of homestead 1.0 your new home?


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Raising Nigerian Dwarf Goats Podcast

goatThe National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) has created a new podcast to guide farmers through the process of raising Nigerian Dwarf Goats. NCAT Livestock Specialist Linda Coffey has paired with Tessa McCormick, who currently cares for and farms over 50 Nigerian Dwarf Goats, to give listeners advice on buying and raising Nigerian Dwarf Goats.

Tessa and her husband, Scott, share their story of how they came to be dairy goat farmers. By sharing their own personal journey to becoming dairy goat farmers, they offer listeners advice on how to get their own farms started and how to make sure they are getting their goatherds from the right places.

Tessa also discusses the important decision on how her family decided to raise a herd of Nigerian Dwarf Goats, as opposed to another type of goat. She talks about the different benefits of raising Nigerian Dwarf Goats, explaining how their milk produces a sweet and higher yield than an average dairy goat. The protein content is also higher in the milk of a Nigerian Dwarf Goat form other dairy goats.

Arguably, the most important point she touches on is how the Nigerian Dwarf Goat best suited her family; with children in tow, Tessa and her husband were attracted to the personalities of the Nigerian Dwarf Goats, saying how they are incredibly social and friendly goats to raise around children.

The seasoned goat farmer explains how her family began their own farming business, and how they sell their products, particularly during the farmer’s market off-season. This inside information is extremely valuable to those who are looking to start up their own home-cheese productions, giving them a heads-upon where to look for the best customers for their products.


This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

 

Re-thinking Our Homesteading Strategies

 

From the time when we began planning our marriage and future family, we knew that we're going to raise our children in communion with nature. We wanted plants, trees, animals, and great open spaces. We had a great desire for simplicity, self-sufficiency and growing a significant part of our own food. Crowded city life just wasn't something we were ready to put up with.

What followed was a fascinating decade-long adventure of rural living, tending to a plot of land, raising chickens and goats, building a cabin, and meeting many wonderful people who shared the same vision.

Our eyes were always turned toward possibilities of more land, more space, more privacy, and more remoteness - all not so easy to obtain in a small, densely populated country like Israel! That's not to say independent farms don't exist, but people usually band in communities, which is not really our thing, as we're very pronounced individualists. Either way, we had hoped for the opportunity to build and tend our own private nook, with space as far as the eye can see - we've even looked at permaculture in the desert for that purpose.

However, recently, due to a combination of various circumstances, we found ourselves facing the prospect of a move to a (small) town in a few months. We're going to have a house with its private lot, which is lucky, but it's a lot less space than we have been used to. There won't be much room for a garden. I don't know how keeping chickens is going to work out, though we are certainly going to give it our best shot - extensive free-ranging, however, will be out of the question, as will keeping noisier fowl like guineas or geese (which we have been wanting to try). We had hoped to get back to goat-keeping, but now this will be put on hold indefinitely.

Life happens, and wherever we are, we can always practice simple living, DIY projects, experimenting with natural cooking and holistic health products, reusing and recycling, and growing food at least on a small scale. Also, our journey is far from over, and who knows? In a couple of years we may find ourselves moving forward in the direction which we have been dreaming of for so long. Still, this present bend in the road finds me in a little bereavement, as I have to let go, for the time being, of a great and long-time dream.

I'm not going anywhere, though. Keep watching this space for our future experiences in urban homesteading, small-scale gardening and setting up backyard tiny farming. 

Photo by author.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.


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Wildfire Decisions

 

Climate Change

Whether you believe in climate change or not we have definitely noticed a difference in our local weather patterns. It has been far more dramatic this year than we have noticed in the past 20+ years. We usually receive on average around 265” of snow each snow season. This year we have only received 95”, and we have been in red flag warnings for wildfire more than we have been out. While it is not unusual to have high winds in the mountains, this year and last year there have been regular high wind warnings. In addition our temperatures seem to have been higher than usual. These conditions make us acutely more aware of a potential wildfire threat than usual.

Common Sense Prevention

We have chosen  to be proactive in wildfire prevention and over the years have taken significant precautions to give ourselves the best opportunity to survive a wildfire should we be unable to evacuate. The exterior of our home is native stone (see photo), our trees have been thinned or removed the required distance from the structure, limbs have been trimmed 18-20’ high, undergrowth has been removed or trimmed low to the ground and we have a high pitch metal  roof. We have also invested in a misting system for the exposed wooden deck. Some are inclined to put a sprinkler on exposed wood but that will drain a well dry in short order. A mist system slowly mists the exposed wood and doesn’t drain a well while still keeping the wood damp.

Propane tanks in our community are required to be out of sight and many use wooden fences around them to be in compliance. We chose to surround our tank with a masonry stone enclosure with a metal top - neither which are flammable.  In addition we maintain two 55 gallon drums of water and we purchased a hand pump that will pump a gallon a minute as a backup defensive measure. Does taking all these measures mean we would survive a wildfire? Not necessarily but they do give us a better chance than most. When a wildfire is bearing down on you is not the time to be thinking of prevention.

Multiple Factors To Consider

 No two communities are the same and different challenges confront each wildfire prone community. Our community is approximately 15 miles long and 5-6 miles wide with one entry/exit which is gated. The leaders within our community have struggled for years to develop a safe and viable evacuation plan in addition to doing tree mitigation. The mitigation has proceeded slowly but no evacuation plan has been developed that seems plausible. To establish a flawed plan that has a high danger of putting residents at risk is worse than no plan at all in my estimation.

The proposed  evacuation route over several miles of jeep trail through the forest is fraught with potential disaster especially for those in small cars with 13” wheels or large RV’s. We have hiked the mostly unmaintained two rut roads and they present a serious hazard; therefore it is good to have a personal plan in case evacuation presents more of a danger than hunkering down in place.

Resources

There are several websites which provide useful information but there are two that I have found to be the most useful. The first is www.wikihow.com/Survive-a-Wildfire which provides good information on survival techniques when on foot, in a vehicle or taking shelter in a structure. The other is a U.S. Government site that has very good information regarding any natural disaster, including wildfire. Being informed with practical and useful information ahead of time greatly increases your chance survival. Most of the sites I read had one common denominator: stay calm so you can think clearly when in danger.

Staying Calm

When you are faced with a wildfire staying calm can be hard to accomplish. Everything in your being tells you to flee but that rarely is the right choice. We live not far from the Great Sand Dunes National Park and I recall several years ago that a wildfire was rapidly burning toward the park. Some visitors went into full blown panic and took off running for the hills. Fortunately the park rangers were able to remain calm and round them up getting them onto the sand dunes because sand does not burn nor is it a fuel source. Thanks to the calm rational behavior of the rangers no lives were lost. Finding a large open area with no fuel source if one is available may just be the key to survival.

Personal Threat

The real threat from a wildfire is not so much being burned alive but instead asphyxiation from the carbon monoxide which replaces the oxygen in the burning process. It therefore stands to reason that the less fuel source available for a wildfire the less intense the fire. Evacuation in the face of a wildfire is clearly the smart choice and safest way to go and the recommended tactic. In the mountains where the wind can change direction instantly there may not be adequate time to evacuate or to do so safely. As has recently been seen in the California wildfires they can move rapidly and change direction easily. Testimonies of some of the victims said they were unable to evacuate and were trapped. It is therefore better to be informed and have a plan for that contingency in case rescue can’t reach you or you can’t evacuate.

Professional Advice

It is also advisable that property and personal survival plans be reviewed by wildfire professionals. We have had our plan and mitigation efforts evaluated by two such experts and both have given us favorable opinions on our actions. It was the State Forester who suggested a misting system as he had noticed using the hose or sprinkler sucked wells dry rapidly doing little good. Professionals who are experts on wildfire mitigation and survival are worth the cost of their professional advice and should be high on any list of mitigation. Wildfires are unpredictable but when proactive plans are developed ahead of time survival chances improve.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their life in a small cabin with their three German Shepherd dogs go to: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com


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Homesteading, Heritage Breeds and Mission Statements

Homesteading with heritage breeds may seem to have no more in common with mission statements than backyard chickens have with JP Morgan. In real life, however, having a mission statement helps us have a clear vision of what our long-term goals are and prevents us from veering off in costly directions. I’ve seen these wrong choices result in homesteads, and even relationships, failing.

Heritage breeds offer so many enticing advantages that having a mission statement may seem unnecessary for success. These old breeds excel in longevity, easy births, good mothering, and are excellent foragers. However, The Livestock Conservancy reports that the average time people keep heritage animals is only five years. Because some people have worked with heritage breeds for decades, it’s obvious that others quit after a year or two.

Dorking rooster, Buddy

That is what I’ve witnessed during the 17 years I’ve had and shared heritage chickens, cows, pigs and turkeys. Not only has this been sad and expensive for the people involved, but it’s disastrous for these animals whose genetics are close to extinction. It’s understandable that people are attracted to these wonderful breeds--perhaps they haven’t thought about their goals or how these animals fit into their plans. For example, heritage breeds are perfect for sustainably feeding our families, but don’t suit high-production and consumer sales as well. If you create a mission statement to clarify your goals, you can see if these animals fit your situation. In this way, you will continually make successful choices for your homestead.

Below is the mission statement my husband and I agreed upon when we began our homestead. By seeing how your own goals agree or differ, I hope it helps you form a mission statement of your own.

Grow healthful and flavor-filled food for ourselves: First of all, we want healthful food, and that means feeding our animals well. Not only are they free-range and their food organic, but we continue to improve their pastures. The second part of this statement reminds us that our goal is to grow food for ourselves. We are a homestead and not a farm, so we don’t depend on income from selling produce. This has saved us from saying yes to everyone who asks us to raise food for them. When we have extra produce, we sell it. When winter comes and there isn’t extra, we can say “no” without guilt; growing food for others is not part of our mission statement.

Help save rare-breed genetics: As industrial agriculture has come to provide the vast majority of the meat, eggs and milk consumed in the United States, heritage-breed animals are becoming so rare that some breeds have become extinct. For the animals’ sake as well as future generations of humans, we find it meaningful to be part of an effort to save heritage breeds. The Livestock Conservancy provides a wonderful network of people with whom we share knowledge and genetics.

Our goal of saving these animals affects the choices we make for them. We can enjoy them, but not keep them forever as pets. If the chicken house is full of non-laying hens and the meadow filled with steers, the genetics of the breeds will be lost. To save these endangered animals, we must keep them reproducing and share their genetics. Individuals who have single-handedly saved a bred from extinction have usually done so by finding markets for their products, including their meat. It’s true—we have to eat them to save them.

Bonita and Corinna

Sharing knowledge and genetics: I’m writing this blog because I enjoy sharing as I learn. If you also enjoy sharing knowledge, you’ll find people eager to learn about these beautiful animals. Likewise, sharing the genetics—both fertilized eggs and young animals—will put you in contact with a wonderful community of people who feel as you do.

Having these animals puts us on a continual learning curve. Resources I’ve found helpful are The Livestock Conservancy and the individual breed associations. Neither my husband nor I had been around cows when we got our first two Dutch Belted cows; folks from The Dutch Belted Association have been our mentors ever since.

Being part of these communities helps us keep going when things go wrong. Don’t feel isolated if you lose a calf or if a predator gets one of your precious turkeys. Contact others through these associations to both learn from and commiserate with. Feeling isolated contributes to failure.

Enjoy life: I admit that enjoying life is a state of mind as much as it is the activities we do, but at our homestead, making time to enjoy our animals has definitely enriched our lives. Juggling full-time work would make this tougher, but so does juggling a large garden, orchard, bees and family. I remind myself to stand still and observe the chickens’ antics, to take time to teach the cows to enjoy eating tomatoes (they really do!) or even sit in the pasture and let the turkey-girls fly up onto my lap. Yes, it is silly. But always trudging through a to-do list doesn’t make life quite so enjoyable. At any rate, having fun doesn’t have to be justified if it’s part of our mission statement!

As you write up your own mission statement, I hope you’ll be able to find the perfect animals and breeds to help fulfill your goals. You may even find that a faster-growing and higher-producing hybrid animal would fit your mission better than a heritage breed. Being clear from the beginning what your mission statement is will keep you on the right track. Whatever direction your homestead takes, I hope you’ll be able to include “Enjoyment” as part of your homesteading adventures.


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Drying Off Your Milk Cow

 

Every dairy farmer has an opinion about how best to “dry off” cows when it is time for them to take a vacation in preparation for having their next calf.  And they are probably all correct!  Because I manage a company that sells dairy equipment and supplies, inexperienced cow owners routinely ask me how to dry off (or as they put it sometimes “dry up”) a cow.

To be clear - I am not a vet nor do I have any formal training in cow care. But after milking cows for 40+ years this is how I dry a cow off and it works for me.  When the time comes, I just stop milking her and keep my eye on her. I stopped dry treating my cows years ago because I came to the conclusion that doing so causes more mastitis than it prevents. Nor do I milk my dry cows out half way for a few days after I stop milking them. I just let the pressure in their udders build up because that pressure is what sends the signal to a cow’s mammary glands in her udder to stop making milk. The pressure is a good thing.  If you relieve it intermittently you just confuse the issue.  Her udder should start to calm down in a week or so after you stop milking her.  If, in the meantime, she begins to leak milk just keep an eye on her and keep her bedding, udder and teats clean and dry. You can dip her as you would a milking cow. Just try not to bonk her udder as you do, because that may stimulate her to let down and milk herself out.  If she does be sure to keep her bedding dry.

Occasionally, when it is practical, I will limit the water intake of a cow I am drying off for a few days after I stop milking her. Cows that aren’t milking don’t need more than ten gallons of water per day or a five-gallon bucket morning and night. Back in the old days, before water bowls, that’s generally how much water milking cows in New England were given per day when they were "barned up" for the winter. They didn’t make much milk but they survived. Without water bowls, water had to be carried in buckets to the cows in their stalls, hopefully from a spring that flowed into the barn or milk house so the water didn’t have to be carried bucket by bucket from the house, as my wife and I did for a couple of winters 40 years ago at our first farm. 

Most importantly, immediately stop feeding grain, silage or second cut hay to dry cows, even if you feel sorry for them when you feed your other cows. Feed them a ration of long stem first cut dry hay. It is good for their rumens. Also try to keep dry cows off good pasture, regardless of the time of year, for the same reason.  That is one of the challenges of managing a small herd of cows.  With a larger herd you usually have several dry cows at the same time that can keep each other company on a played out pasture.  Most cows hate to be alone so keeping a single cow segregated is more difficult. Just do the best you can to keep your cows from getting fat or over conditioned before or during their dry period.  Fat cows run the risk of developing metabolic conditions such as Ketosis, or worse yet, “Nervous Ketosis” after they calve. Do some research and learn about cow body scoring.  A dry cow’s body score should be between 3.5 and 4.  When I see a fat dry cow I envision $600 plus vet bills when she calves due to the potential of heath problems caused by her being “over conditioned”.  Fat cows also may not have the appetite they require to eat the large amount of feed their bodies need to keep up with the large amounts of milk they can make when they are fresh.  In that case cows can start to metabolize too much of their own body fat, which can lead to Ketosis.

If you are new at managing dry cows, study up on Milk Fever and Ketosis.  Be prepared for both. Consult your veterinarian and develop a plan for dealing with Milk Fever, especially if you have a Jersey or Jerseys.  Give him or her a heads up when you think your cow is going to calve.  Large calcium boluses have recently come onto the market that are very effective for preventing milk fever if given to the cow at the right time.  I have recently begun to use them with good success.

Also, consult with your vet or nutritionist about supplements or minerals your cows may benefit from during their dry period.  Just remember medium quality long stem first cut dry hay is the best ration for dry cows. I also avoid giving dry cows and bred heifers salt as it may cause their udders to swell with unwanted edema that may be painful for them and make them difficult to milk, especially if you milk by hand.  Simply another reason to keep your dry cows and “close-up” heifers segregated from your milking cows.

Finally keep your dry cows and bred heifers clean.  Don’t let manure build up on their flanks, udders and legs.  And keep their housing clean, dry and well bedded.  If your cow is going to calve in a pen make sure it is squeaky clean and well bedded.  When weather permits I prefer to have my cows calve on pasture in the company of other cows who can act as nurses.

Enjoy your cows and good luck!

Photos by Steve Judge

Steven A. Judge of Royalton, Vermont has been involved with the dairy industry for 45 years as a farm hand, farm owner, farm manager, and marketing entrepreneur.  In 2001, Steve purchased and brought back to life an abandoned 40-acre farm in Royalton, Vermont where he now lives with his wife Wendy and milks four Jersey cows.  In 2006, working out of his farm house, Steve founded Bob-White Systems Inc. an innovative internet business that sells milking and milk handling equipment  to smaller sustainable, community based dairies all across the US. 


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Mastitis in Cows

 

A few words about mastitis and cows.

Full disclosure, I am not a veterinarian nor do I have any formal training or expertise in animal health beyond what I have learned through practical experience during my 40+ years as a dairy farmer. For the purposes of this blog, I am going to assume you aren't milking very many cows and that you are probably fairly inexperienced with mastitis. The first thing to do if you notice any health issues with any of your animals, pets or livestock, is to call your vet.  What follows is simply how I deal with my cows.

Probably the best way to avoid or control mastitis in your cows is to have their milk tested regularly so you can spot problems quickly. First do what is called a tank test.  Mix your cows’ milk together and test the entire batch.  If the sample tests positive for any signs of mastitis or has an abnormally high “somatic cell count” then sample and test each cow individually so you can identify and isolate the problem cow and her milk.  Once you identify the problem cow or cows, test the milk from each quarter so you can identify the problem quarter or quarters.  Then follow your vet’s recommendations. 

Most importantly, test the milk from any new cow you intend to buy before you buy her   and introduce into your herd.  It is wise to avoid all cows with a high “somatic cell count” or milk that shows any signs of mastitis when tested.  I always pay for the testing if the cow is okay and I end up buying her.  But if she doesn’t test okay and I don’t buy her, then the seller can pay for the testing.  Another rule I try to follow is to put my hands on and feel the udder of any cow I intend to buy.  If she kicks or has a hard or slack quarter I usually pass on her.

One of the pieces of equipment that I sell at my dairy equipment business is a “strip cup”, a little cup with a screen on top that you squirt samples of your cow’s milk into as you prep her for milking so you can spot any abnormal milk or flecks of solid milk or clots, also called garget, which can be an indication of an udder infection or mastitis. Strip cups can also drive a dairy farmer crazy and cause him or her to worry and call the vet for no reason.  Small flecks or clots of milk can appear on the cup's screen for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with mastitis.  Don’t tell anyone but I put my strip cup on the shelf years ago and watch for mastitis problems by simply observing my cows and their milk and testing it routinely.

Another method you can try for early detection of mastitis is called the California Mastitis Test, or CMT.  Some dairy farmers swear by them.  I swear at them!  Like strip cups they can drive you crazy worrying about mastitis.  It is far better to have your cows’ milk tested by a dairy-testing lab such as DHIA.  Ask your vet about it.

If your cow's udder looks and feels normal when you prep and milk her and she is behaving normally then she is probably okay. A normal cow should always either be eating, drinking, chewing her cud or sleeping.  If one of your cows isn’t, something may be wrong with her.  As long as she isn’t in distress, the first thing to do is take her temperature.  It should be around 101.5 F but it does vary from time to time.  If she is in distress or has a fever, call your vet.

I agree with experienced dairy farmers who say they can feel clinical mastitis when they start a cow, if she has it.  You can feel the clots or garget pass through the teat canal with the milk on the way out.  Now when I prep and start my cows I squirt their milk onto the paper towel I wiped them with.  If you do see any abnormal milk be sure to remove and replace any bedding that you may have squirted it onto so she doesn’t lie in it.

There is one extremely important form of mastitis that you need to be on the constant look out for, chronic Strep Ag mastitis.  A cow suffering from it may show clots in her milk yet not show any other clinical signs or symptoms of mastitis. To complicate the issue, with Strep Ag, the clots in her milk may go into remission for a short period, leading you to believe the infection has passed, only to reappear in a few days or weeks.  I consider Strep Ag mastitis to be incurable (despite claims to the contrary) and I know it is highly contagious.  I bite the bullet and ship cows that carry the infection right away. If you must milk a cow with Strep Ag or any other type of mastitis, always milk her last and be sure to thoroughly wash and disinfect your hands before you touch another cow.  Plus always discard her milk and never feed it to calves, as the infected milk may pass the infection on to the calves.  If you are machine milking, thoroughly wash, disinfect and dry the machine before using it to milk another cow, or better yet set it aside and use another clean machine. 

All the bells and whistles should go off on in your barn if your cow’s udder or any individual quarter swells up and feels hot to the touch or is obviously painful for the cow.  It could be Coliform or E-coli mastitis. Both are bad news. Again, take her temperature and call your vet immediately. The situation can get ugly quickly. Both Coliform and E-coli mastitis can be fatal.  Sometimes when you start a quarter infected with either Coliform or E-coli only clear liquid and garget will come out.  On occasion the garget will actually plug up the teat canal and stop the flow of milk or whatever is coming out.  In the worst cases the foremilk can also be bloody and even gaseous! Make sure you wash and disinfect your hands and all equipment that may have come into contact with the infection as soon as possible.  But keep in mind that bloody milk can also be a sign that the udder was damaged or injured somehow, either by another cow or a pasture hazard.  So don’t automatically panic if you see blood in a cow’s milk or there is some mild swelling or hardness in a quarter.  Just pay attention to the situation.  Give her some aspirin if she seems to be in pain.

Can Mastitis Be Cured?

Sometimes. Always follow the recommendations of your veterinarian and have your cows’ milk tested routinely so you can spot a problem quickly before it spreads to your other cows.

In the old days before antibiotics, the common cure for mastitis was to hand milk the infected quarters out as many times per day as possible (to eliminate the medium, or milk, that the infection can multiply in) and to give the cow aspirin for any swelling or discomfort.

A good rule is to avoid injecting anything into your cows’ udders or sticking anything into your cow’s teat canals for any reason.  Just leave them alone. Avoid teat dilators and cannulas if at all possible. And never pick a scab off the end of a teat canal.  If your cows are developing scabs on their teat ends, check the adjustment your milking equipment first and apply a salve that softens the scabs and encourages new skin growth such as a Calendula salve.

But the worst of the worst is when a cow develops mastitis because she has stepped on, cut or otherwise injured a teat.  Just follow your vet's advice; keep you fingers crossed and try not get kicked.  Injured or cut teats seem to take forever to heal, depending on the seriousness of the injury.  They can be very discouraging and require the farmer to have great patience and gentle hands. Make sure your cows have good footing on surfaces where they lie down so they don’t slip or lose their footing when they get up.   If you don’t have mats in your stalls, putting down pulverized lime helps with the traction.

In closing I firmly believe that best way to cure mastitis is to prevent it in the first place by keeping your cows and their housing as clean and dry as possible. Don’t let manure build up on their udders or flanks and keep where they sleep or lie down well bedded, clean and dry.  Pick the manure out of run-in sheds and loose housing daily and keep them well bedded.  I have been milking three or four cows at my micro dairy for a dozen years and haven't had one case of mastitis in my barn yet!  Enjoy your cows and good luck!

Steven A. Judge of Royalton, Vermont has been involved with the dairy industry for 45 years as a farm hand, farm owner, farm manager, and marketing entrepreneur.  In 2001, Steve purchased and brought back to life an abandoned 40-acre farm in Royalton, Vermont where he now lives with his wife Wendy and milks four Jersey cows.  In 2006, working out of his farm house, Steve founded Bob-White Systems Inc., an innovative internet business that sells milking and milk handling equipment  to smaller sustainable, community based dairies all across the US. 


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