Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ignorance Ain't Bliss

I was tired last night. 

Not hugely tired, mind you, but still ready for bed by 8pm. To keep myself awake a little longer, I pulled my favorite book off the shelf and got comfy in a chair by the wood stove that was muttering quietly. The book in question was Morrison's Feeds and Feeding; the 20th edition, this book was published in 1945. I adore this book. Front front to back, it has a little over one thousand pages. It can be dreadfully hard to read if you're not in a patient mood, but when you slow yourself down and really read through it, you can find some of the most amazing tidbits of information. I've used it extensively for my own animals over the years; whenever I had a question about feeds or animal care, I would pull out my Feeds and Feeding book. 

The house was quiet, the dog was snoring, I was randomly flipping through pages in my book, slowing down in the section about dairy cows... Just reading whatever caught my eye. While flipping through, I happened to land on a page about hay feeding. Specifically, feeding timothy hay. I lazily began reading through the paragraph about it, seeing as that's what I've been feeding my animals for months now and knew I needed to order some more in the next few weeks. 

As I read through the old text on those yellowed pages, I went from sleepiness to rigid alertness. I gasped as my eyes roved the words before me. Heart rate shot up. I had to re-read the same sentences over, and over again before I believed what I was reading.

Like a phantom come to haunt me, the words created a tormenting funeral procession of a sentence.

It read:

“The unsatisfactory nature of late-cut timothy hay for dairy cows when fed continuously as the only, or chief, roughage, is well shown by in experiments by the United States Department of Agriculture. Cows broke down on average in about a year and a half, and died or became sterile, when fed Timothy hay for long periods without any pasture. Calves from cows fed thus were born dead, or else weak and usually blind, and rarely survive past a couple of weeks.”

To explain my plight a bit: I had been feeding Mattie, my Jersey cow, nothing but late-cut timothy hay for months. What's worse, she was off pasture for the last few months of her pregnancy, creating a double-whammy. Remembering that this was a book written in the 40's, I dashed to the computer to do some more research on this. Surely this is outdated, right? Cows don't have that problem with timothy hay anymore, right??

My fears were confirmed as I scrolled through pages on the internet... It was true. Late cut timothy was was extremely deficient in vitamins A and D, as well as being dangerously low in calcium and phosphorus. For a non-lactating animal who was at least getting pasture, this proposed no threat in the least. To a high maintenance dairy cow though, who wasn't being fed a supplementary hay, OR allowed on pasture, it was lethal. One article went on to state that cows often shows symptoms of pneumonia before they die from such a cause. 

I broke down. The symptoms were all so perfect... A dead calf, pneumonia, no pasture, no supplementary hay, straight timothy hay for months... I think I unwittingly killed my cow. 

I'm not 100% positive that this was the cause of Mattie's death, but I'm highly suspicious. What else could it be, to cause such a torrent of problems all at the same time? Why oh why didn't I read that paragraph in my book sooner??? Why didn't I buy any supplementary hay for Mattie?? 

By the time 9pm rolled around, I was exhausted and still crying. I crawled into bed, not caring that it was so early, and tried not to think about the fact that I probably would have had a healthy cow and calf in my pasture right now, had it not been for my own stupidity. 

Whoever came up with the phrase, "Ignorance is bliss", obviously never owned a dairy cow... 


Tayet said...

I am so, so sorry. Just remeber, it was NOT your fault. You couldn't have known. Please don't blame yourself!

Feel better.

Anonymous said...

I'm in college, which has nothing to do with your farm at all except that I am currently applying for internships for the summer. It occurred to me that since you want to expand your farm so much, and especially with the horrible way things with Mattie turned out, that you kind of need an internship too. You seem to have a lot of lovely family and friends- do any of them know of a dairy farmer that can be your mentor? Just someone you can call and ask random questions that may sound silly, but they'll still take you 100% serious. Maybe they can let you help out around their dairy operation so that you can see all the parts of the process- and if you could get something set up soon, then you'd even be able to assist in a couple of births so that you get your confidence back for when you're ready to try again with your own cow.

Goat Song said...

Anonymous, thank you for your concerns... I've applied for internships in the past but they've never worked out. I don't wish to try again. I do have mentors. Many of them. I'm very familiar with the dairy business; this is just one of those things that have to be learned the hard way. No one expected that it could have possibly been the hay at the root of the problem. Live and learn. An internship would not have solved this problem.

I'm in the process of buying a new cow. Possibly two. Confidence never left me. Only Mattie did.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. For me, I would have had trouble telling people that I could have killed my cow. Thank you for the warning. I think I might go buy that book...
Looking forward to reading more of your life story! You're a good writer and farmer, like Joel. =)

Kris said...

Farming is an every day learning experience. Seems like everything I encounter is different from the last problem. I am learning new things all the time. I had no idea about Timothy hay. I am a complete dummy when it comes to hay. Just depend on the hay person to know what they are cutting. I have dairy goats and sheep. Right now we are down to crappy hay, which goats love. But now I am wondering if the reason my does have been so sick right after kidding is due to the crappy hay. And I also lost my oldest doe a few weeks after kidding. I have so much to learn as I go along.

I just love your blog and you seem to know so much. I just started a bucket of fermented grains, thanks to you.

So, what's done is done. There's nothing you can do about it now. Just know you are a great person and did all you could do for Mattie. Don't beat yourself up over this.

Linda said...

Oh I am so sorry! I agree with Kris, it a learning experience and you can't blame yourself - you didn't know. I am glad you posted about this... it may just help someone else.

Illinois Lori said...

Wow, that's really amazing. I'm so sorry, but it was not "your stupidity" that caused Mattie's death. Inexperience may have been involved, but the vets didn't know either, and they should be experienced. These things happen on a farm. While it was traumatic for you to read about it, and I am so sorry about that, I am AMAZED at God's goodness to you, that He should be watching out for you so much as to SHOW YOU that passage in that old, dry-read of a you will not have this happen to another cow. In that, you can rejoice :-)

Bryan put in the formal offer today on the farm he plans to buy...he hopes to close on the property by the end of April, Lord willing!!! So exciting!

Blessings to you,