Well, besides Christmas and New Year's interrupting my blogging time, Jon and I have been spending a great deal of time at the farm. We really had a real life episode of CSI: Dairy Farm Investigation, on our farm this week. As always, we put our cows' health first. Healthy cows are Happy & Producing cows, but this past week the cows weren't happy. So....here's what happened:
Monday: We noticed 1 of our heifers (13 months old) was avoiding the feed bunk. This is odd behavior from a heifer, usually they can't get enough feed. Jon and I immediately thought she had pneumonia, so we brought her inside for a thorough check up. Much to our surprise we found that she had a LDA (Left-sided Displaced Abomasum). Something had cause our heifer Snowflakes to go off feed, get a gas build up in her stomach, which forced her stomach to move from its normal position. When an LDA happens, it has to be fixed immediately and their are 2 methods to fix it. The first option is a surgery, where a cut is made in the side of the cow, the stomach is deflated of the gases, and the stomach is sutured to the body wall, preventing it from floating out of position again. The second option is less invasive, but not always successful. It involves sedating the animal, rolling her onto her back to force the stomach to the correct position and placing a suture on the bottom of the animal to hold the stomach in place. We opted for the 2nd option, since it was be less tramatic for our Snowflakes, and since she was a small animal, it would be successful (and it was! Snowflakes is doing great now!). So once we fix Snowflakes, we started our investigation....something caused her to go off feed and get a LDA...so what was it???? We didn't want any more sick animals, but we were in store for more.
Tuesday: We noticed new fresh cows (cows that just had calves in the past week) were starting to struggle with their feed intakes. We watch our cows diligently, and because of that we noticed almost immediately that they were not eating enough feed. We worked to treat them with probiotics, vitamins, and minerals to help appetite, but it wasn't working. Our investigation continues....
Wednesday: We found another LDA animal...a mid-lactation (cow that has been milking for more than 100 days) which had suddenly floated a LDA! Luckily our vet came to our rescue, and we did surgery (with large milking cows we always do surgeries for LDA's to guarantee success). Our cow Ozzy, for no apparent reason also went off feed, filled her stomach with gas, and floated it out of position....now we were really concerned....LDA's in cows don't happen at that stage of lactation. We thought it could be our new alfalfa haylage that we started on Christmas, or maybe our new alfalfa hay that we had delivered on Christmas. So, we tested both feeds and kept on investigating.
Thursday: We noticed the cows were producing almost 5 pounds less milk per cow each day...this was a dramatic change! What seemed like a good day, was about to be a storm of problems brewing for Friday.....
Friday: 3 more cows floated LDA's! 3 more surgeries! 2 were mid-lactation cows and 1 fresh heifer! Now we were really worried! Did we have an epidemic on our hands? What was making our cows sick? How can we stop this? We started to brain storm, and after some thinking we put the pieces together and contacted our nutritionist with Cargill Animal Nutrition. After talking with Jeremy, we confirmed our suspicions. So....what was making our cows and heifers sick???? ........Our Corn Silage!
Diagnosis: Corn silage is a lot like wine...as it ferments, the longer it stays sealed the better it becomes. Corn silage fermentation helps to make the fiber more digestible, but as it becomes more digestible, the cow's rations need to be adjusted to ensure that the cows are eating enough fiber each day. If a cow doesn't get enough fiber in the ration, she gets loose manure, she has a reduced appetitie, she chews her cud less, and can even float a LDA! So our corn silage has been working hard these past few weeks to become better and better, but the cows weren't giving us the signals we needed to see to make the changes to avoid upset stomachs and LDA's. I would relate this to when we eat too many Christmas sweets...we have a stomach ache, and so do they!
Sollution: The sollution was easy! We needed to add more fiber! So we are now feed more total forage to our cows. The extra forage comes in the form of extra alfalfa haylage and corn silage. But we also added straw to our ration. Our cows are now eating 100 pounds of feed each day, that also serves them 1 pound of wheat straw. The straw helps to slow the rate at which feed goes through the stomach, but it also encourages the cows to chew their cuds more. Cud chewing is great for cow health~! So after making these changes already on Friday, we know we are back on track! It's so scary to see your cows getting sick and not know what is making them sick, but it is always rewarding to figure out the cause and return them to good health once again. As always, our cows health always comes first!!