It has come to my attention that I need to resurface over here and do some writing! Yes, I disappeared for the week; I'm sorry. It's been a crazy, crummy spell for the most part, with yesterday being the first good day that will hopefully be a forecast for the new week.
It all started with Ellie.
Last Saturday morning I noticed that she didn't want to eat her food and seemed rather sluggish. At first I wrote it off as a mix of her being a picky eater, and the stress of being moved across to the road with the sheep. I checked her vitals and she was fine, checked her for mastitis and got a negative there, she had no symptoms of milk fever... She seemed off, but I could find no reason for her to be off. Sunday morning rolled around and she was worse; didn't want to get up (although she would with much coaxing), and didn't want to eat her grass or hay. And worst of all, her milk production plummeted. She was doing a pretty good 3.5 to 4 gallons a day for me, but by Sunday she only gave 1 gallon. A wise cow owner on my favorite discussion board asked if I had tested her for ketosis yet and I had a face palm moment. Duh, why didn't I think of ketosis sooner!?!? Her symptoms fit perfectly!!
I ran a quick test on her and sure enough, we were looking at a moderate case of that annoying problem. Sigh, this was looking like a long week ahead of me... The main thing to deal with when a cow has ketosis is to keep their energy levels, up, up, up! So every three hours (during the day) I would go outside and dose my poor cow with a cup of blackstrap molasses. And for the record, my cow abhors molasses. I also started dosing her with some leftover cal/mag boluses that were left over from Mattie, made sure that she had enough copper by giving her a scant teaspoon of copper sulfate (only did this once! Any more and it would have been an overdose.), and saw to it that she had a high-fiber hay in front of her at all times.
It was slow, slow going. She wouldn't eat anything. Milk production kept dropping, and meanwhile I still had herdshare members wanting their weekly milk. I was so frustrated that I couldn't get Ellie's ketone levels normal that I alternated between crying and fuming while milking her. "Eat, for Pete's sake, you darn cow!!!"
To make matters worse, I was physically exhausted all week. I had the "brilliant" (note heavy sarcasm behind that word) idea to go ahead and start a detox regimen on Tuesday and it took me down and out. Completely. So while dealing with Ellie every three hours, I was also fighting feelings of tiredness, light-headedness, dizzyness, and quite frankly, I was cranky.
Thursday night was my breaking point. The cow ate nothing, I got less than a 1/2 gallon from her, and I was so sick of dealing with all this that I was doubting my decision to even buy her. I knew from the start that I faced the possibility of her getting ketosis since she is so underweight, but I had hoped that maybe we'd get lucky enough to miss it.
Friday morning dawned and as I prepared for morning milking, I came to a decision: It was time to stop being negative about this. Being grumpy isn't going to make the situation better. So instead of moaning about how little I got from now on, I would instead be happy that I got milk at all and that she hadn't dried up on me yet. I got a scant 1/2 gallon from her that morning and smiled. Thank you Ellie for at least giving me this... Ellie also surprised me that morning by eating 2 lbs. of her grain, and polishing off 4 flakes of hay. This was a good sign! After all my hard work this week, was she finally getting getting over this ketosis hump?
I had barely finished barn chores when a friend arrived; she and I were headed down to a grass-based dairy that had heifer calves for sale, and we were each planning on bringing home a new girl. After this rough week with Ellie (and even the problems with Mattie), I have decided that I do not want to have Jersey cows in the long run. This breed is too fragile for my liking; I need something hardier. The dairy we were going to had primarily Dutch Belteds, but they also kept crosses such as DB/Jerseys, DB/Shorthorns, and DB/Normandes. I was hoping to come home with a DB/Normande cross, as that sounds like the most amazing dairy animal ever. This particular dairy is interesting since they feed NO grain whatsoever, and they only feed hay in the winter time when there is no more grass. Their cows are sleek coated, chunky, and milking 4 gallons a day on average. And what's even more surprising is that their pasture is simply a perennial polyculture. I half expected to find that all their pastures were seeded with high-protein annuals, but nope! Their cows were on the same kind of pasture that I have here!
Picking out just ONE calf was incredibly hard. I had toyed with the idea of getting 3 or 4 more calves in July if I liked how they looked, and it didn't take long at all for me to set that idea in stone. I want more of these cows. They were all stocky and chubby looking, yet still dairy in form and quite feminine. They were on a simple diet and yet they were gaining as if they were on a hot corn/soy feed. Talk about feed efficient...
I went back and forth between pens of calves... Looking each one over, comparing them with each other, telling my friend to just pick one out for me because I couldn't make up my mind (hehe), and talking with the owner of the farm about his cows and calves. After thirty minutes I had whittled my choices down to three: One was a chunky, large framed, 7 week old, 89% Dutch Belted; if you wanted 100% grassfed, this looked like your girl to get. She was the classic "Oreo cookie" cow with her black body and white belt around her middle. She was fairly friendly too.
My second choice was a 6 week old, Dutch Belted/Milking Shorthorn cross. She was red in color with a light brindling on her face and a white patch on her side. She was a stout little girl too, and had a nice looking udder, although I thought it looked a little meaty to me...
My third choice was the calf that had caught my attention right off the bat, and who I kept coming back to over and over again. She was another Dutch Belted/Milking Shorthorn cross (3/4 DB, 1/4 MS), but was a mere 4 weeks old. She had a white body with a red hood over her head and shoulders, plus a red patch on her rump, and then four adorable red socks on her feet. She was the most dairy looking calf in the entire barn. Perhaps not the chunk that all the other calves were, but she still had substance. The owner pointed her dam out to me and said that while this girl is going to be every bit as hardy and grass fed as the others, she would have more production than the others.
She was a pretty little thing... And for a good while I kept telling myself not to get her, because I felt that her looks were swaying my decision too much. Beauty is as beauty does! But I kept going back to her... She was so pretty, and dairy, yet still hardy looking. That Dutch Belted kept catching my eye too though. She looked like the kind of animal that could go through any sort of difficulty and not lose condition.
In the end, I went with the gorgeous DB/Shorthorn cross girl that I liked from the start. I knew I'd be coming back for more calves in a few weeks; I'd get my stout, unkillable girls then. I looked at the DB/Normande cross heifers too, but those girls were 12 weeks old and alas, out of my budget right then and there. But they were exactly what I could have wanted in such a cross. I really hope they're still there next time I go.
When we got my new girl home, I put her in the pen with Ellie and groaned as I watched her make a beeline for Ellie's udder. She nursed that cow dry. My cow had no idea whether to be pleased or annoyed at this invader's audacity. Hmm, change of plans; okay little heifer, you can be in a little pen by yourself for now! I sighed a the realization that I would probably have no milk tonight; I needed every bit possible these days for herdshare members, and now saw myself having to make phone calls to explain that my calf just took their milk. Great.
My friend had brought me some new grain to try giving Ellie, in hopes that it would entice her to eat. So after getting my heifer settled, I brought Ellie into the parlor and skeptically gave her 3 lbs. of grain. After almost a week of barely eating, I wasn't expecting anything grand from her now.
Turns out I was in for the surprise of my life. She inhaled that grain. Ate it like there was no tomorrow. She polished her bucket, licked the dust, and searched for more. I fairly floated as I led her back to the pasture. I thought about not milking her that night, seeing as the calf had just taken it all, but I figured I might as well do it; maybe I'd get a quart at least. When I hooked her up that night, I was dumbfounded to find that she gave a GALLON of milk! Holy kohlrabi, she hadn't given that much in one sitting for days!! She at 5 lbs. of grain during her evening milking, too.
This morning I found Ellie perkier than I've ever seen her. She trotted her way to the parlor by herself, leaving me in the dust behind her. She at another 5 lbs. of grain, and searched for more when she was done; I could barely get her out of the parlor, she was so intent on finding every last bit of grain! She gave a respectable 3/4's of a gallon this morning, which I am pleased with. It shows that she's finally increasing in production, instead of decreasing. I also ran another ketone test on her and was delighted to see that we're back at normal levels!!!! Yippee!! The crisis has been averted and it looks like we're back on track!
So now it's Saturday. It's been a crazy, crummy week that only just now got better since my cow is over her ketosis hump, and I have a pretty little heifer calf in my barn. :) I'm still thinking of a name for her, but I'm kinda' leaning towards calling her Ruby. But we'll see; I still have the names Willow and June still competing.
These cows drive me crazy... I love it.