Monday, September 30, 2013

A Cow Update

It's late. Thankfully, I have chocolate milk beside me. Today was a much needed food preserving day and I'm currently waiting for some tomato sauce to be done. Thankfully, the chocolate syrup was made several days ago and ready for this exhausting day. Packaging birds, making jam, and this tomato sauce is all new to me. I've done applesauce, diced tomatoes, and freezing in the past, but not the things I chose to tackle today.

So lets have a cow update while I wait. I love this stuff and am trying to source all the best products and resources so that we can be raising our cows as organically and healthy as possible, so I'll share what I've found along the way.

The cows are doing great. We decided to go two ways with the fence I talked about: electric and barrier. We are using the stone wall as part of the barrier fence, some old livestock fence in the woods as another side, and some rough cut 1x6x12 lumber and 8" posts from the woods. My dad wants some of the woods cleared out, and we needed a fence, so my Dad, Uncle, and Joel cut some posts and some wood for firewood one weekend. The next weekend, Joel and my dad put the fence up. We'll have to finish the electric part when Joel stops going away so often. But at least the cows are easier to move along that fence now and they won't go running towards the road.

With the fence configuration, our cows are now responsible for mowing the back portion of my parents lawn. They are happy to oblige. In the winter, we'll switch to hog panels and two electric strands (we think) that are linked to the main perimeter fence. It should protect the calf and train him on electric fence at the same time.

Salad Bar Beef by Joel Salatin has been amazing, and I just purchased it on amazon when I had to return the library book. I learned about electric fence paddocks, grass feeding cattle, easy herd management, worming, minerals... great stuff!

We chose to start Molly's Herbal Worming because that is what they used at their last home and because it is safe for Buttercup if she is pregnant. I wanted to do it just in case since buttercup got a few sores that were a mystery. I now think she rubbed up against something, but there was question about parasites and worms and a vet suggested starting a worming treatment.

The cows have a redmond's salt block, kelp meal (free choice), grass, and some hay as roughage. I've added the hay in on a regular basis because Norway showed signs that the grass is too immature (learned this from the Salad Bar Beef book) and there isn't a whole lot we can do about that (this is their second rotation on the grass and a month of rest in the fall wasn't' enough).  It isn't growing fast this time of year. I'll also be giving some free choice Redmonds salt selenium 90 to see if they need that too (I'll put out their max aloud amount/day, selenium can be dangerous, so I've heard). There is a lot to learn, but I'm keeping an eye out for deficiencies in selenium (could be bad for buttercup and calf) and magnesium (grass tetany) especially, and trying to offer some free choice supplements to allow them to correct any imbalances. Animals can do that, and it is really remarkable.

They do love the kelp. They gouged on it for the first week, and now they only eat what they need. Totally worth it and has great benefits to pregnant cows. (I've also thought about more extensive free choice minerals that separate everything out like described in this post, but for now, I'll be making sure I cover the minerals in some way between the mineral block, kelp, and other options.)

The paddocks have also shrunk. Instead of combining two or three strands, I'm setting up three separate, smaller, areas. They stay in one, and get moved in 48 - 72 hours to the next one. They were trampling a lot of good grass and were not grazing efficiently, so this is helping them eat what is in front of them instead of creating crop circles in our yard. All applied learning from Salad Bar Beef!

Is that spot under there is a whorl that comes out when the cow is pregnant?
I think Buttercup is pregnant. That dark spot of hair could be a whorl, or it could be where the umbilical chord was. It isn't a mass. I felt it, and it is just a lot of hair - so I was thinking it is the whorl that is talked about in this blog post and it would mean she is pregnant.

I read a little about whorls on cows and how they can tell you a lot about the animals fertility, immune system, temperament, butterfat content/marbling, and pregnancy. I think Buttercup's fertility one is more of a cow lick, and I'm hoping that picture up there is showing a whorl on her belly. Norway is a bit more confusing because I think his hair is telling me two different things. Reading the hair of a bovine is a very interesting article if you are interested.

His curls are actually a fertility thing. They look really cool. But then he has pretty straight hair on top, which is confusing.

Pregnant? Or just full? I think both.
And I stare at their rear ends a lot. I'm seriously loving the learning curve with all of this, and in all this I am trying to make sure they are healthy. Looking at them from the rear end can tell me their body condition and Buttercup's body condition looks like a 3-4 from what I've read. I'm really pleased with that since she is grass fed and there is a lot of doubt about being able to sustain a cow without grain. (Judge Conformation in Cattle, Body Condition Chart )

I actually learned something about this from watching Edwardian Farm. Although grain has been used for centuries to fatten cows on some farms, there were people that were still successfully raising cattle with only grass, haylage/baleage, and dry hay. When they couldn't devote so much land to pasture in hard times, they turned to grain and other substitutes. It makes sense. Grain takes the place of vast pastures that most people don't have. And grain ends up being easier for fattening up cows.

I found the baleage that we will be buying to get our cows through the winter without grain (hopefully, of course). Another stop on the side of the road at a farmstand, and a phone call about baleage I saw in the field behind the farmstand, lead to success. We'll be getting the baleage from a dairy farmer who winters his lactating cows without grain - just baleage (fermented, wet packed, airtight bales of hay) and dry hay. He is successful, and sells that milk all year.

And then there is the hay we bought...
and the milk room/greenhouse we'll be building...

So as you can see, there is a lot going on just with the cows. It's wonderful. I'll have more to tell you about chickens, and produce another time. Time for bed. The sauce is out.

And I'm adding this picture just because. :-)

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