Monday, January 24, 2011

Doctoring Cattle

John and I worked our "herd" yesterday -- all four of them got shots, and we wormed them.  In my next life I'd like to earn a degree in animal husbandry with an emphasis on diminishing the tissue damage caused by vaccinations, amongst other things.  None of ours will suffer long-term effects, and I suppose it's not that different from the sore and stiff arms we get.  The benefits, however, are numerous.

The vaccine that all four received is a 7-Way vaccine against clostridial diseases, which are bacterial diseases spread through spores.  (One common clostridial disease is botulism.)  If critters become sick from a clostridial infection,  they can go from seemingly healthy to deathly ill very quickly.  Ironically, these diseases often affect the most well-fed, healthiest, and fastest-growing calves.

All four were also wormed, which should protect them against a number of internal and external parasites.  We've been needing to worm them for awhile, but I got a bit anxious about it when T3 (one of the heifers) had fairly large patches of hair loss.  Here's a picture:

In general cattle rub on everything and love to be scratched second only to being fed.  I'm hoping some of the hair loss is just due to normal rubbing, and John assures me that it's nothing we need to be concerned about.  (I'm still not convinced, and the fact that Sydney, the dog, was pulling off mouthfuls of T3's hair was enough to make me even more squeamish.)

Finally, Daisy received a second injection: Scour Bos 9, which means that her calf will benefit from drinking milk that is rich in antibody-filled colostrum.  Calf scours are a nasty diarrhea caused by various viral and bacterial infections.

Because we have such a modest cattle operation, here are also some photos of how we managed them.   We positioned panels so that we could squeeze the cattle into place to keep them still and safe. And I have to say that all four of them were troopers -- nobody overreacted or got fussy (me included), and though I think they have some sore hips and hind ends from the injections, they're better for the experience.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Daisy Mae Update

Daisy has just over two and half months left until she's supposed to have her calf -- assuming everything goes okay.  I know John would agree when I say that I'm a bit obsessed with how she's progressing.  The not knowing is so much more challenging for me than the waiting even.  John is certain she's still pregnant, but every little thing makes me panic that she's not.  For example, one of the steer calves occasionally tries to mount her, which can be a sign of heat.  Daisy doesn't tolerate it, though, so I try not to worry too much.  (I did, however, read an old wives' tale today that says such behavior means Daisy will have a heifer calf -- or female -- because the extra progesterone that goes into making a heifer calf makes other cattle think Daisy's in heat.  Should we place bets on how likely that is?)

If there is a calf growing in there, it will increase the most in size over these last few months of the pregnancy.  Therefore, I'll try to remember to take pictures of Daisy every few weeks and post them in case you're able to see the difference.

We've had a fairly weather-filled winter, and it is amazing to see how much hair Daisy has put on since last summer.  She does really well in the snow, and it has amazed me how many people ask whether she gets to go inside when the weather is cold.  Alas, no.  All she and the calves get is more food when it gets particularly cold, and they hunker down in the hay.  Fresh snow does make for some cute pictures, though.

Did I Ever Write About the Calves?

Last fall, John purchased 6 red Angus calves that were too light to be shipped off to "the place" where calves go.  He knew that he could put some weight on them and sell them for a small profit, and it's meant that Daisy has had some bovine buddies this winter.  There were 4 steers and 2 heifers, and since then John has sold 3 of the steers.  He won't have much trouble getting rid of the fourth steer, and I have to decide if I want to buy the heifers from him to add to my "herd."  I'll let you know how that works out when the time comes.  For now here are some pictures from over the last few months.

This Is What I Call Imagery

While this blog posting won't be graphic, it will be a bit on the colorful, descriptive side.  And if you start to get bored, skip to the best part at the very end.

John and I went spent about five hours a month ago helping our friends work their cattle.  They had recently purchased a couple dozen new cows that needed new ear tags and brands, and they planned to vaccinate, worm, and "preg check" their regular herd.  John worked what's called the crowding alley, into which he ushered  about five cows at a time before sending them through the chute.  I stood along the squeeze chute at the other end (the cows' final destination) and sprayed wormer across their backs just before they were released back to freedom.

There's a certain barbaric quality to working with large animals that I still don't quite accept though I'm increasingly aware of its occasional necessity.  Before we even started working the cows, I spent a few minutes just observing the herd's two bulls.  While they seemed to be playing with each other to some extent, the slightly bloody faces indicated that their antics weren't merely for fun.  There's also something impressive about 1800 lb. creatures battling it out literally head to head in a contest of sheer strength.

The day wasn't particularly cold or wet, but it was still December in Montana.  There was plenty of snow on the ground, and the wind kept blowing at a steady clip.  It was one of those days when you feel the blood rush to your cheeks and ears about 10 minutes after you head indoors following an extended period outside.  We were all bundled up fairly well, and there are only so many winter clothes one can wear that a lot of fresh cow sh*t won't ruin.

We didn't have particularly good luck with the first few cows through the chute.  The metal bottom was entirely too slippery for a couple of them, and all we can do is hope that the stress of the experience doesn't prove to be too much for them or for their unborn calves.   They both went down on their font forelegs and couldn't get the legs back under themselves. I have to admit that it was really tough for me to watch them struggle, and though I really feel there wasn't anything we could have done differently once they got hung up, it was still really hard to watch.  I know ranchers have their own approaches to handling animals, but it really is in everyone's best interest to treat the animals as well as possible.  Each cow is worth hundreds of dollars, and the potential value of the calves is nearly as much.  An injured pregnant cow can easily cost the rancher over a thousand dollars in lost revenue and vet bills.

After some adjustments, we were able to get the rest of the cows through without much trouble, but the best moment came when Travis, the county extension agent who was performing the preg checks, invited us (meaning me and the"other"  kids who were there) to feel a calf that was in a particularly easy-to-access position.

Most people preg check their cattle much earlier, on a similar schedule to when I took Daisy for her ultrasound.  The developing calf needs to be a certain number of days along for an experienced person to detect its presence.  I knew Daisy was pregnant because of an ultrasound, but a more rudimentary check is typically what most people have performed, and this simply means that the technician or vet examines the cow rectally in order to feel the fetus itself.  This second method is what Travis was using to determine each cow's pregnancy status.

I've been giving a lot of thought as to how I might describe that the experience felt like.  Imagine filling a tall kitchen garbage can partially with warm water and then immersing a large garbage bag of similarly warm water into the garbage can.  As a result, there would one "cavity" inside of another.  Now, imagine putting on a shoulder-length examination glove and reaching down into the garbage can between the bag and the wall of the garbage can.  Warm and a bit tight, right?  If there were objects inside the bag along with the water, you'd be able to feel their sizes and shapes.  That's the best I can come to describing what it feels like to preg check a cow and feel the head of the growing calf.  The whole experience was pretty amazing!