Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Case of the Moldy Hay

As mentioned in some earlier posts we struggled with some issues with sick cows and heifers. We had some cows ill with toxic mastitis and we had a heifer die tragically from a hemorrhage in her intestines all within the same week. As dairy farmers often have to work as investigators, searching to solve a problem for the good of our animals. We have had experiences such as this over the last few years and we have learned from each of these experiences. With the pack barn that we run we allow the cows to sleep on bedding mixed with manure solids-it's clean dry and comfortable, better than the pasture-think Tempurpedic mattresses. As the manure break downs bacteria move in. As long as the cows are healthy and their immune systems are running at full force, the bacteria is harmless....BUT if the cows are under ANY stress these bacteria can now become harmful.

And that's where the investigation starts. Jonathan and I knew immediately that these 3 sick cows meant that something was wrong, and we knew that the only thing that we changed in the past week was the new alfalfa hay that we purchased to feed the cows and heifers. We remembered that in the past we had hay that had mold in it and made the cows sick, very sick, and we caught the mold when it was too late. I am glad to report that we learned from our previous mistakes and immediately stopped feeding that purchased hay to the cows and found some different hay from a neighbor to feed. Almost immediately the cows that were sick got better and the Somatic Cell Count that was rising, came down. These signs told us that it was in fact the hay, so we had it tested for mold. Our local feed representative came out to the farm and pulled cores from the bales and sent them to a lab for testing. After culturing the hay samples for mold we received the results that we expected....the hay was positive for mold, a mold that is very dangerous for cows....Aspergillus. Aspergillus is known to produce a mycotoxin that hinders immune systems, causes internal hemorrhaging, and other bad things.

So you ask yourself, how did the hay get moldy? Well, it's quite easy, alfalfa is cut, dried and baled, but this pile of hay was cut and not allowed to dry to a low enough moisture level to be baled. It was baled, which compressed the wet alfalfa next to each other and allowed an environment perfect for mold to grow. The mold is very small, almost unseen to the human eye, but we did notice it's signature white fuzz on a couple bales after the fact. Thankfully we removed the hay from the cows diets before it could make more of them sick. The importance of HIGH QUALITY feed for cows cannot be stressed enough. The better quality the feed for cows, the better the cows' overall health and production. We work tirelessly to make high quality haylage and corn silage for our cows at Orange Patch Dairy, and we try to buy clean dry hay. The hay grower that we purchased this hay from was not aware that his hay was moldy-and frankly it did look very green and dry, inside the bales it was a different story. After calling our grower, he will move the hay back home to be destroyed and he will refund us the money that we paid.

As a result the cows at Orange Patch Dairy are doing MUCH better, happy healthy, and producing!!!! Yet another example of how dairy farmers continue to look out for the best for their cows....Happy cows are producing cows!

1 comment:

  1. People don't realize just how much farmers have to know just to get by day to day. Glad you solved your problem with the hay and got a heifer calf too.


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