Today was our scheduled Herd Health Day, at the farm. Every 4 weeks our veterinarian comes for his scheduled visit. We usually have a list of animals that need to see the vet. These animals are 99% of the time not sick, but just getting "physicals".
The first group of cows that the vet checked today were the post-calving cows (cows that have calved since the last herd health). These cows are palpated (checked rectally) to make sure that they are free of infection (which can occur during calving) and inflammation (swelling left over from calving). I would say that 90% of the time our cows get a clean bill of health. For those 10% that might have some infection a treatment protocol is put into place. We like to avoid using antibiotics when at all possible, to make sure that we aren't wasting milk (antibiotic treated cows need to have their milk dumped) but for severe cases of infection we do need to use antibiotics. For mild/minor infections we can use non-antibiotic antimicrobial to clean out the infection, keeping the cow in good health. Today we had 100% of the 10 post calving cows free of infection! At this time we also vaccinate for contagious diseases and give a vitamin injection to boost the cows immune system. Healthy cows, especially healthy post calving cows are critical to good quality milk production.
The second group of cows checked are the post breeding cows. These cows were bred 35 days or more ago. We use artificial insemination to breed all of our cows. We do not use a bull, for safety reasons-bulls are unpredictable and dangerous at times. Bulls don't fit into our goals for our farm. Artificial insemination allows us to use lots of different bulls from various companies, increasing our genetic advancements. Cows that were checked today are also rectally palpated to determine if they are pregnant or not. Our vet is well trained in this practice. This method does not hurt the cow, in fact it is a short process and she hardly knows anything happened to her. We also have the ability to ultrasound cows as well. We did not ultrasound cows today, but in the past we have to determine the sex/gender of the calf, determine if there are multiple calves, and determine conception date. Ultra sounding cows is much like ultra sounding humans-the images even look similar. Today we checked 16 cows, 11 cows were confirmed pregnant, 4 cows were open (not pregnant) and one was pregnant but might be losing her calf. The 4 cows that were not pregnant will be put back on the "Cows to breed" list. Some we will watch for natural heats, others we will synchronize breed. When we synch cows, we use 3 shots of hormones. These hormones are safe and do not transfer into the milk. Cows, just like humans have cystic ovaries or even have ovaries that become static or annovular. These shots help to bring the cow back into her cycle, just like doctors prescribe for women who have similar problems. Thankfully, we only have to give shots to 3 of the 4 cows...I hate giving shots to the cows.
Getting cows pregnant after calving is important because it means that we can keep the cow in the herd, she will give us another calf, and she will milk for another year. In the wild cows would also naturally calve once a year, so we are NOT forcing our cows to be calf factories, but following their natural cycles.
The last thing on the list for Herd Health today was pulling blood samples. We are part of a volunteer program which tests for and certifies for Johne's Disease. We have been certified Level 2 Johne's free for the last 4 years. Today's task was pulling blood samples on 30 random cows in our herd to be tested. If any come back positive then we will have to pull fecal samples from the positive cows. Some cows come back false positive, hence the fecal test (more expensive but more reliable for determining false positives). The blood sample is pretty painless. We like to make sure that we are doing a good job maintaining good bio security practices, keeping cows healthy, and keeping our milk safe. Be assured that EVERY DAY we are working for you the consumers, producing the safest healthiest product possible for you, your families, and our own families. Tmorrow we look forward to hoof trimming! Happy June Dairy Month!