Tag Archives: Jerseys

I Got My Cow Bred The Old Fashioned Way

Yesterday was kind of a quiet day.  We had just as much work to do as ever, but there was a hushed sort of expectancy as we all waited for the wedding time.  After a while, I picked up my camera and went on a little walkabout, seeing the world and making photographs of it.  I met up with my neighbor on the way back, and he nodded toward the camera slung across my body.  “What are you up to?”

“You know,” I said, “taking pictures is probably my most favorite thing in the whole world to do.”

“What are you taking pictures of,” he asked, since I’d just come up his drive.

“Well, there’s this fence post covered in wild roses I saw the other day, and on my way back, I noticed some hooks hanging off one of your trailers, and the barn up there where you’re having the wedding is just beautiful.”

He looked a little doubtful.  Meanwhile, my cow was keeping up a steady bellow a few feet away on our side of the fence.  “What is up with her?” he asked.

“She’s in heat today,” I answered.

“What are you going to breed her to? I’ve got a registered Angus bull over here.”

Well.  I did not know that.  I was going to use Jersey semen, but we’ve had a hard time breeding our cows lately, and I’d not been looking forward to trying to catch her in heat on the same day the vet was open, hoping he was available to AI, and praying it “took” for three weeks till her next cycle, only to find out it didn’t, forcing us to repeat the process until we finally get it right.  A nice Angus bull might be just the ticket.

“You just have to let her in through the gate,” he said temptingly.

So I got my cow, and we let her in through the gate, and we made sure the bull noticed her, and then we left them to their business. Two hours later, I came back to check on her and she was all humped up, with her tail extended like she had to urinate.  “Is that normal?” I asked.  “Or is my cow mortally wounded?”

Normal, it turns out.  So we fetched her back out again and took her home.  He says nine months to the day, she’ll be having her calf.  And I must admit this was certainly easier – and cheaper – than AI!  Also, I’m thankful for good neighbors who don’t mind helping a woman get her cow bred, even on their son’s wedding day.

Greener Pastures

Yesterday, we moved our boys to greener pastures…literally! They were thrilled with the grass, but not so much with the change of location.

They’ve lived in this other pasture their whole lives, and cows are such creatures of habit that I suppose their angst is understandable, but they spent a large portion of the day mooing at me, and nobody likes to get mooed at like that!

They’ve been on this field for about a year and a half, and you can see how badly it’s been overgrazed. We’re going to run our poultry on this field this year. They add fertilizer naturally, eat bugs and grass, leave plantings of spilled feed behind, and just generally make our fields all lush and beautiful. Some areas of our farm are too hilly to run the birds on, but when we can, it does wonders.

We’ll be showing off our chicken crates soon; our eggs are pipping as we speak!

Farm Babies and Other Things

I haven’t written on this blog in quite a long while!  Since August, it seems.  My bad.  In my defense, middle-aged me is happily pregnant with our ninth child, but quite exhausted.  Even keeping up with the daily must-do list has been more than I could manage.  Thankfully, I’m coming into the second trimester now, and feeling quite a lot better.  It also helps that we have sold or butchered all extraneous livestock as we come into the winter season, so there are fewer bodies to tend around here.

If you’ve visited, you’ve probably noticed that all of our chicken crates are empty!  The children helped us process them in three pretty easy sessions, and then we were done.  We’ve set aside a laying flock of about sixty hens.  Around fifteen of them are already laying, and we’re hoping to have a good egg supply for our shareholders through the winter.  Our last crew gave up laying in early August, for some reason.

But we have more important news, oh, yes, we do.

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On Saturday morning, just after 1AM, our heifer, Sunshine, delivered her fist calf!  The birth was uncomplicated, and mother and son are both doing fine.  We’ve named him Oliver, and he’ll be in the barn for the rest of the week.  He’s very sociable, and he’d love it if you’d say hello when you visit the farm.

Sunshine’s training has paid off and she’s milking relatively well.  She’s got a bit of settling down left to do, but her issues have been minor thus far.  Her milk should be in by Wednesday, for which the children are very grateful.  They’re used to drinking about 30 gallons a week, but we’ve been milking just one cow for a month, and supplies have been tight!

Also, I miss ricotta.  A lot.  I dream of warm, sweet bowls of cheese…

Artificial Insemination and Planning Ahead

Do you have a cow?  If you have a cow, and you want her to produce milk, she’ll have to have a calf.  She makes the milk, after all, for the benefit of her baby.  And if you want her to keep producing milk for many years, she’ll need to have a new calf about once a year.  That means you’ll need either a bull or someone who knows how to artificially inseminate your cow for you.

We use our local vet, but not all veterinarians are comfortable with AI, so your mileage may vary.  You might be able to find someone to do it for you through your local extension office.  The extension agents know everybody.  And, worst case scenario, you might learn how to do it yourself!  I’ve been assured that it isn’t overly difficult, but there is a knack to knowing how everything feels and when it’s all right.  The vet or the AI specialist gets a lot of practice that you probably aren’t going to get on just your own cow or two.

As I said, we use our local veterinarian.  He’s really good and he makes farm calls, so we don’t have to load the animal to get the deed done!  Our problem is in scheduling.  Sometimes, there are two vets working out of the office, and then it’s not so bad, but when there is only one, like now, I need to know when my cow is going to be in heat so I can schedule him to arrive on time!

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Signs Your Cow Is In Heat

If you have more than one cow, the most obvious sign of imminent ovulation is mounting behavior.  In the beginning, the cow in question will attempt to mount other cows in the herd (or even you, if you aren’t careful!) but she’ll move off if the other cows try to mount her.  Later, within a few hours, she’ll stand while they mount her, maybe turning her head to admire her derriere.  In fact, even without other cows present, she’ll seem overly interested in her rear end.

You can use other signs to determine when she’s fertile, too, even if she’s your only cow.  She will very likely be unusually restless and perhaps moo-ey.  If she’s milking, she may not let down so well for you that day.  You might notice her vulva being a little softer and maybe a long string of mucus.  She may not eat as much as you’d expect, being rather intent on accomplishing a certain other activity.

Pay attention.  You’ll be able to tell!

Planning Ahead

Once you’re noticing what she looks and acts like when she’s in heat, it’s helpful to know how long her cycles are.  The average bovine has a 21 day cycle, but I’ve noticed mine are more like 22.  Each cow is different.  If you are in a hurry to have her bred, you can go with the 21 day average, but if you can pinpoint your particular cow’s cycle length, I think you’ll have better results.

Now you can call your AI guy and schedule him to come to your cow.  I plan, against my vet’s advice, to have him there a little bit before I expect my cow to show heat signs.  His understanding is that the semen, once thawed, have only a 10-12 hour lifespan.  I’m pretty sure we have more like 24 hours, or perhaps better.  Anyway, I’d rather have him there a bit early than miscalculate and have him show up as scheduled, but too late.  Too early, you still have a chance, but too late is just too late.

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The Basis for My Timing Decisions

Allow me to explain my thought process here?

Up until this past fall, I just watched and waited and called my vet as soon as I saw any indication that my cow was in heat.  Alas, a country vet who makes farm calls is in high demand and my small, last minute need often went unfulfilled.  That has a negative effect on my herd family planning and the management of my milk production.

Then, one day late last summer, my husband’s Army friend was visiting.  He grew up on a dairy farm, spent all his leave for twenty years going back to work on the farm, and just retired from the Army and bought the farm.  Which is all to say that he really loves his dairy farm, and he has never gotten out of the business, in spite of twenty years of military service, frequently overseas.  🙂  So this one day last summer, he was talking about how the dairy guys in his neck of the woods were breeding at 19 days and trying for 18.  It was kind of an “aha” moment for me.  I mean, of course!

I know enough about human fertility to know that sperm live for several days in situ, and I don’t see how it would be any different for cattle, who also happen to be mammals.  We do admittedly lose a lot of the little guys by freezing, and then thawing, them, but the ones that do survive the process should have a lifespan of at least 24 hours.

I’ve scheduled all three of my cows to be artificially inseminated approximately 12 hours before they actually went into heat.  Sunshine and Maybelle conceived on the first try.  Annabelle was bred in early May by a different vet and didn’t take, but we tried again this week.  He came in the morning and she was in standing heat by the evening milking eight hours later.  Hopefully, this one takes!  I’ll let you know in three weeks.

A New Tractor and an Annabelle Update

IMG_9523We got a new tractor last week!  There we were, just driving along, minding our own business, when suddenly, we spied this little fella parked enticingly in what we call “The For Sale Spot”.  Everybody’s got one.  It’s up front, near the street, and the item in question is usually posed, so you can always tell, even if you can’t see a sign.  So when we saw this tractor nestled beneath the maples, hay spear raised several feet in order to show off his muscles, well, we knew.

It’s an International Harvester known in these parts as “Dickie Chapman’s Tractor”, though we bought it from Bennie Bruner.  Our hay man, Jeff, recognized it right off.  “That’s Dickie Chapman’s tractor!” he said with a grin.  “I grew up driving that thing!”  Tractors have personalities, I guess, and this one is obviously one-of-a-kind.

IMG_9532We’d actually only just gotten it home when Jeff arrived with our first load of winter hay.  I know.  The last winter is hardly even a memory yet, and here we are loading up for the next one.  That’s farming for you; make hay while the sun shines!  Dickie Chapman’s Tractor handled the job just fine, and David had a much easier time of it because (a) this tractor can lift and then move, unlike Katy Tractor, who had to lift and move at the same time, which is a bit challenging to work with, and (b) everything was going on in front of him, not behind, which is where Katy’s lifting gear was located.  The hay is quite neatly lined up.

Last night, though, Jeff brought over two loads of hay on a borrowed HayLiner.  That was a beautiful thing behold, I tell you.  Seven bales line up single file in the bed, and when you get it where you want it, you pull a lever which releases the bed.  The bed then tips over and dumps all the bales into a nice neat row.  They’re all nestled up neat as a pin next to the first row we set the other day, and no tractor work was involved. We might have cheered from the sidelines.

IMG_9533And I promised you an update on Annabelle!  Her milk has been back on line for over a week.  It tastes fine and there was no milk-withholding on the drug we used to treat her.  She’s still getting topical applications of tetracycline, and the hairy hoof wart isn’t gone, but it’s greatly reduced.  I have penicillin to administer, which would hopefully finish knocking this infection out, but I haven’t given it yet.  When I do, we’ll dose her for three days, and there will be an additional withholding period of three days (and possibly more) after the last dose is given.

My current thought is that hairy hoof wart is so hard to cure because we’re looking at it as an external problem and treating it only topically, rather that looking at it as an internal infection with an external manifestation.  But what do I know.  I’m just a small time farmer with a cow I can’t afford to lose.  🙂

Here’s a paper to read, if you should find yourself interested.  It comes from the University of Illinois Extension.  Hairy Heel Wart

Hairy Hoof Wart and Annabelle’s Milk

Well, we’ve had to pull Annabelle’s milk this week.  It’s been tasting a little off, and I think I finally know why.  Hairy hoof wart.  Here’s my theory.

I’ve been smelling something when Annabelle comes in for milking for quite a while now, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.  It smelled rotten, but upon examination, I could find nothing wrong with her.  Then, months later, as she came into the barn, she stepped on something that hurt her heel, and that’s when I saw what appeared to be a perfectly round but lumpy growth about two inches across.  blog not annabelle lizzie

When the vet came out for another purpose the following week, I asked about it.  Hairy hoof wart.  Highly contagious and she’s surprised we’ve gotten it, having a closed herd and all.  (Either we track it home from places like the feed mill, or the vets track it in on their boots.  That’s the only explanation, as far as I can tell.)  They also don’t think we can cure it.

But here’s the thing.

I think it’s not just affecting her foot.  I think it’s making her sick.

She’s not put on weight like the other cows this spring, in spite of adequate grazing.  Her lymph nodes in her neck were swollen.  She was just a little bit droopy, though not enough to cause concern.  And her milk tastes a little off.

So what we’re trying is systemic antibiotics, coupled with a topical antibiotic wash to try to eliminate the infection from both ends.  Apparently, the recurrence rate is high in susceptible cows, but I think, on Day 2, we’re already making progress.  The wart appears to be smaller, she seems to be walking on it a little better, and the lymph nodes are soft again.

Of course, her milk will be out of circulation for a while, till she’s clear of infection and residual antibiotics, but the alternative is to cull the cow altogether.  The temporary loss of milk is a small price to pay!

Also?  I love my veterinarian.  She’s willing to give this a try, and I really appreciate that.  Our herd is too small to suffer the loss of a good cow.

Shares Are Available

I’ve gotten some emails in the past few weeks from folks looking for herd shares.  Unfortunately, I just found out today that my email service has not been saving most of my sent messages.  That means I don’t have email addresses for anyone who has contacted me recently regarding shares!

The grass is green and growing and the cows are producing well again.  We do have shares available, so if you’ve expressed interest, and I put you off for a few weeks, please contact me again!