The City Girl Farmer

I Make Cows Pee – What’s Your Super Power?
May 22, 2011, 6:44 pm
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Sometimes you have to laugh if you don’t want to cry.  Tiddles, our recently freshened Jersey cow, was diagnosed with ketosis last Wednesday.  She had quit eating her grain about two weeks before that but I thought that cows knew what they needed to eat instinctively and she was still eating plenty of hay, so I dismissed it.  That was my first mistake.  A few days later, I noticed that her milk production seemed to drop and that the milk smelled funny.  I was the only one who smelled it, though, and she was producing so much milk that I was making lots of cheese just to keep up, so I dismissed it.  That was my second mistake.  Last Sunday, I noticed that her breath had the same funny smell her milk did and she wasn’t eating very well.  I made a mental note that when I wasn’t so busy I needed to look up ketosis.  I had a faint memory of reading up on it before she had her calf.  Unfortunately, I was still busy and it wasn’t until Wednesday that her condition had deteriorated to the point where I thought I had to call the vet.  While I was waiting for a call back, I went back through my book and Tiddles’ was a classic case.  When I went out to feed her and milk her, she looked like a cow from India–emaciated.  She walked with a bit of a limp, too, but I couldn’t see any injury.  She had been a bit listless and she’s usually a very curious, active cow.  She greets strangers and will follow you around the corral or out into the pasture like a big, ungainly dog.

For my readers that didn’t open the link to the official definition of ketosis, think of it as a metabolically induced anorexia.  The cow starts to suddenly use her fat reserves as her sole source of energy.  She loses her appetite for everything, not just grain.  Ironically, the thing she needs most is carbohydrates—-lots of them—-right now!  So the treatment is to inject her daily with Vitamin B Complex, force feed her a molasses brew until there is no more trace of ketones in her urine, which brings us to the part where we can laugh.

I am a member of the “Keeping a Family Cow” yahoo group and while I was waiting for the vet to call back, I was pestering my fellow group members for help.  They told me to go get ketone test strips and to test her urine twice a day to gauge when I needed to force feed her the molasses brew and when just the injection of B Complex would be sufficient.  I was already almost in tears thinking that I should have acted much sooner and here I was pondering the idea that I would have to stare at my cow all day, armed with a test strip waiting to catch her pee.  Isn’t that pitiful?  And then I read that you can actually make a cow pee on demand by rubbing her briskly just below her vulva.  So out to the barn I went, armed with ketone strips and my newly acquired knowledge to give Tiddles a massage.  I felt a little awkward.  I don’t know, call me puritanical, but rubbing around animals’ privates is a wee bit on the perverted side, isn’t it?  But I carried on and a few seconds later she went into the characteristic squat of a cow about to urinate.  I stopped the massage and stuck my test strip into the stream and voila!  Urinalysis complete!  So if I ever join the circus, I am now armed with the most amazing trick, don’t you think?

So I think I’ve learned my lesson now.  The next time she calves I’ll be watching her like a hawk.  I might just feed her some Snickers to keep her sugar up (kidding!) prophylactically.  I have been told that once they get ketosis, it is a long road back to optimum bovine health and that I am looking at weeks, not days, of giving shots until she is back to normal.  Anybody who reads this blog knows that I *hate* giving shots.  So if you’re the praying type, pray for the City Girl Farmer.  She is very unhappy at her lot right now and she will be suffering a little bit each day until Tiddles is back to her old self.

Meet Tiddles
September 17, 2010, 4:35 pm
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Tiddles is our new milk cow.  It was no small project adopting her!  I bought her from a dairy farmer in Wyoming.  She was supposed to have come in August but there were several delays and she ended up being a month late.  I hope the new mothers in my life will forgive the analogy but the whole process has really reminded me of having a baby.  She’s been here five days now and the day she was delivered all I could think about was when the cow would finally get here and of course, it took forEVER.  Once she was finally here, everything changed.  All of a sudden a few more hours each day are sucked out of my schedule as I figure out the new routine.  I’m sure that as the muscles in my hands become re-accustomed to milking we’ll shave some of the time off.   In the mean time, I feel somewhat overwhelmed.

I finally have a bit of extra milk, so it will be yogurt and cheese time very soon.  For now we have all the most creamy, delicious milk you could want to drink.   Thomas made coffee ice cream today and tried out the milk shake machine I inherited from our neighbor.  Mmmmm.  THAT’s why we do this.  It just doesn’t get any better.

Good-Bye Lilly
February 24, 2010, 4:09 pm
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Lilly the day after we got her

We had to put Lilly down a little over a week ago.  I have been too sad to blog about it.  Now I think I might feel better if I tell her  story.  She went down early Sunday morning during a VERY cold snap.   I knew from when she had gone down before that we had 24 hours to get her up.  So we tried with no luck and decided to just set her up with food and water nearby and try again when we got home from church.  We couldn’t get her up that evening either and decided we would call the vet in the morning if she wasn’t up by herself.  She must have tried about a dozen times, each time too weak to make it all the way.

Lilly after milking a week before she died

The vet came out and told us she needed to be euthanized.  Right up to the end she hadn’t seemed that sick.  She was alert, eating and drinking and so we continued to hope.  It took Jon and I both a couple of hours to come to grips with what we needed to do.  The doctor took blood and stool samples to run three different tests.   After he left we called another farmer to make sure we knew how to put her down so that she wouldn’t suffer.  We talked about who should shoot her, both of us trying to protect the other from the inevitable psychic trauma of putting down a pet.  Jon did the deed, and well I might add.  She stopped breathing in a couple of seconds.  He said there was hardly any mess.

This morning I got a call from the vet.  She died from Johne’s disease.  It’s official name is Mycobacterium paratuberculosis.  It infects the intestines and the animal catches it as a baby.  It is latent until the animal is 2 or 3 years old.  Eventually they develop the symptoms Lilly had:  diarrhea, healthy appetite, no fever but wasting.  It does not respond to antibiotics and is always fatal. 😦

So now we know.  There was nothing I could have done that would have saved her and I suppose I am somewhat relieved that it wasn’t some gross failure of mine that caused her death.  I thought this news would make me feel better but actually I feel like a scab was torn off and I find I am quite depressed.  I have great admiration for the tough old farmers who undoubtedly took things like this in stride.  I, on the other hand, am a city girl and need time to learn to take these things in stride.  I wonder if I have enough years left.

Coming away after a good, long drink at the trough a week before she died