January 12, 2010

Estimating Body Condition Score - thoughts on grain

It appears that two things brought Elderberry's condition up fast.   The supplements have all helped.  I feel sure they make a difference in her resistance and general health.  But we put a round bale out for her.  It is like manna.  I think her hay consumption doubled.   She doesn't like the square bales.  We don't know why.  The hay all appears the same to us.  But we aren't cows, so how can we really know?  To her, it is very different.

And we started using a dairy ration developed by an Amish farmer.  I haven't even seen the ingredient list.  I can tell you its powdery - and appears to be mostly ground corn.  I never liked the looks of it.  I was against it from the start.  She had been on an 18% sweet goat feed that was mostly whole grain.  It looked beautiful and pleased me.  This is not beautiful and its only 16%.  But its cheaper and formulated for dairy cows and the buying was not left up to me.  So its what we got.  Guess what?  Her condition came flying up, as well as her milk production, when we made the switch. Which serves to remind me how new I am, how little I know, and how much I have to learn. 

So with her condition and her production coming up fast we hit the coldest spell NC has seen in years.  The nights have been in the low teens, days barely above freezing, and wind on top of that.  I decided to start soaking a tub of alfalfa cubes and serving that, topped with warm water, morning and night.  She liked it.  She held her condition through the cold.  And we were all pleased.  Her production kept creeping up.

The up creeping production, from two gallons a day to almost four, actually bothered me.  You might wonder why.  Four gallons of the nicest milk you have ever seen in your whole life is quite the point.  Its very much the goal.  Who doesn't want that?  Well, I'm not trying to push her.  I'm trying to get her healthy.  I've been musing on the Jersey character, how they are in many ways bioengineered machines.   They are made to make milk.  Like it or not.  Animal rights activist or not.  They are made to make milk.

Then we ran out of alfalfa.   And I felt bad for her.  So, I added a bucket of grain to her routine.   And she started to crash.   Jerseys are delicate machines.  Think Porsche.  I gave her extra grain - okay, a lot of extra grain.  By that afternoon, she was refusing to come in to be milked.  I had to go get her.  That's a first.   That evening she didn't finish her grain.  Another first.  The next day she was loagy.   First time for that.  She didn't care, was moving slow, was her gait odd or was that my imagination.  She refused her grain altogether.

I keep milking her out.  Her production has only slipped minimally.  Her condition is nearly the same.  But I am worried.  And finally, the alfalfa shipment arrived at the feed store.   Yesterday afternoon she got her alfalfa.  She still didn't eat all of her grain.  But I put it in her stall with her over night and it was gone this morning.  And she cleaned up her alfalfa and grain this morning.  And now she seems fine.

I think she was flirting with a touch of milk fever.  I think she couldn't handle what her body interpreted as a push for more milk.  And I think we are (knocking wood) in the clear now.  But, gosh, there is so much to learn about dairy cows.  All comments and thoughts much appreciated.


doc said...

Ack. An extra bucket of grain can kill your girl. The fermentation part of digestion is different for hay and grains. Too much grain = acidocis = bloat = death. The next time you run out of hay for a day, don't worry. She is a ruminant and can chew cud for a good 48 hours. You can put her out on pasture for a little longer. Anything but more grain - especially a ground grain that is going to digest just that much faster. Too much grain is bad for a lot of things, which is why a lot of small producers go grass only. The only carb source she needs is grass, but she will produce more milk on grain. A little is good, a lot is bad.

Sarah said...

I'm a novice as well, but I know that you have Doc and Matron on retainer. I really like Matron's stance on grain and milk-producers (she does cattle, I do goats).

I like the molass-y smell of grain mix, but I've had to learn also that it's jut not that good for them, is it?

Cecelia (CC) said...

I know nothing, so this may be less than helpful...but...my goat was not eating her grain and shivering. Answer: stop graining, start haying. Worked.

Katherine said...

The thing about these dairy cows that were bred for production, it can be hard on them to keep them on straight grass. But even if she weren't so down in condition, we don't have even close to enough pasture. I mean, the land is there but its over grazed within an inch of its life (and its January.) She has always had free choice hay.

She ate one extra scoop and boom, something was wrong. Wow, that is delicate. Its not like she got into the bag. And she never bloated. But it was definitely the wrong thing for her. UGH.

Jessika said...

I agree with doc. My first thought was, " Yikes! An extra bucket of grain can kill her! " I concur with signs pointing to acidosis. Grass hay is fine, when you run out of alfalfa. I had a bad experience, when first starting out, of feeding my cow ground corn to improve her condition. I nearly killed her with impaction, followed by bloat, followed by acidosis, followed by founder. If anyone can be spared that kind of disaster by learning through my mistakes, I'll gladly share them! You read and learn, and you learn by doing. Good job, intuitely picking up on the problem before it escalated!

Katherine said...

OH this is so scary to me. Imagine if I had killed her? ugh!!!!!! Well, lesson learned. And isn't it interesting that she solved her own problem (despite my best efforts otherwise) by going off the grain. Research turn up this:
Bovine lactic acidosis syndrome is associated with large increases of lactic acid in the rumen, which result from diets that are high in ruminally available carbohydrates, or forage that is low in effective fiber, or both. The syndrome involves two separate anatomical areas, the gastrointestinal tract and body fluids, and is related to the rate and extent of lactic acid production, utilization, and absorption. Clinical manifestations range from loss of appetite to death.

Again, UGH!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Okay this explains why one of my cousins has a job (which i didn't even know existed before) planning feeding programs for cattle. She works for some ag company. love, V

Katherine said...

I halved the grain I was originally giving her. I've replaced that with soaked alfalfa. We'll see how this works. She seems to be doing well.

Thanks y'all!

Katherine said...

100% Grass Fed Jerseys:

Katherine said...

And, an excellent discussion of acidosis: http://www.penndutchcowcare.org/moo-news/May-2009.htm

"One thing to avoid is graining cows that are skinny to put weight on them – this is a wrong thing to do."