Twin Calves

This time of year is so busy for us. It’s calf season! We have a fine bunch of mamas this year. Anyone who has cows knows a couple of things about mama cows. One, they like to hide their babies from us. Two, they are extremely protective of their babies with some mamas becoming outright homicidal when you get too close to their babies. This time of year can be stressful, as we try hard to keep track of who has had their babies and get them tagged while also trying to get eyes on the calves every day.

Seeing the calves every day can sometimes be easier said than done. We do our best, but we currently have the cows in a wooded field. Mamas who like to play hide and seek with their babies will pull their babies off into the wooded area to hide them from us. So far, we have been able to put eyes on each calf at least once per day, and we are checking them twice daily.

Yesterday morning, B went to check cows and found that one of our mamas had twins! She was missing when we checked cows the night before, and he found her yesterday morning with her two babies. Immediately he knew that she was not producing enough milk to support both babies. With the help of a friend, he was able to catch one of the calves and brought her to the house to bottle feed. The mama will produce enough milk for the other calf. We don’t have twins on the farm often. Here are some interesting twin facts for you:

In beef breeds, twins occur about 1% of the time. There is a higher rate of twins in dairy breeds.

In other farm animals (sheep and goats) it is extremely common to have twins. In cows, however, having twins can be a bad thing. Having twins is hard on the body, and a cows body is only made to have one baby at a time. Having twins means a higher rate of abortions (miscarriages in cows are called abortions) both in early pregnancy and in late term pregnancy.

Cows that are carrying twins have problems during delivery more commonly than single calf pregnancies. These mamas will generally need help during delivery. Cows that are carrying twins will more frequently go in to preterm labor, and the calves aren’t mature enough to survive.

It is pretty rare to have identical twin calves. In twin calves, you are 25% likely to have two bull calves, 25% likely to have two heifer calves, and 50% likely to have one bull and one heifer. 90% of the cases where you have one bull and one heifer calf, the heifer is infertile.

An infertile female twin is called a Freemartin. When a female and male calf share a uterus, the male hormones will cross through the blood supply to the female calf and that will cause abnormalities in her reproductive organs, making it nearly impossible for her to have babies. There are ways to check if she will be infertile, including a blood test. Typically a Freemartin cow would be raised for beef.

Twins are genetic. Twin heifers are more likely to have twins.

When we have twins on the farm, we always pull one calf off of the mama in order to ensure that each calf gets his best chance. In twins, it is common for one calf to be a lot stronger. This will mean that the stronger calf will get all the mama’s milk, and the weaker calf will likely starve to death. The alternative is that each calf will get half the milk produced by mama, but it will not be enough for them. Mamas to twins rarely produce enough milk to support two babies.

We look forward to seeing our babies grown this fall and winter. Calf season is tough, and can be stressful, but it is worth it.

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Snow Day on the Farm

As a kid, we all loved getting snow days. School was canceled, and we all got to play in the snow: building snowmen, snowball fights, sledding, etc. As an adult, however, we don’t really get snow days. A few weeks ago we had some bad weather in our area, and I was called off work. My husband, however, was not called off work. On a farm, the work never ends and there is no such thing as a snow day. If anything, there is more work on a snow day.

During the winter, our daily chores include feeding hay and grain to the cows. With our snow days we do typically feed extra hay to the cows, as they can lay in the extra hay and have some kind of warmth and protection from the wet and frozen ground. We have to count and check our cows daily to make sure that none of them are sick or hurt. If a cow gets sick, they can go downhill quickly. It is really important to do the daily checks so we can catch illness immediately. Mineral tubs are important to check daily as well, and refill as needed.

When the temperatures are below freezing, we also have to add chopping water to our list of daily chores. The cows need water, and we usually take a couple of extra hours to chop the top of the water so the cows can get a drink.

Now that we have started adding smaller animals to our farm, there is extra work that comes with that as well. The ducks really like to make a huge mess in their environment. Our daily chores now include cleaning up their messes, and providing them with fresh food and water. We are ready for the ducks to be a little older, when they will be more free range. Even with them free ranging, our daily chores will include cleaning up their messes AND will eventually include roosting them at night.

Our baby chicks are quite the project, making sure they are fed and watered, warm and happy. We happen to have a perfect little place for them in the barn where they are pretty well protected from the outside weather and critters. This helps a lot. With hatching our own chicks it takes longer to get eggs from them since they do not start laying until 5-6 months. However, we are excited with our new adventure of hatching our own babies.

The incubator itself is a daily chore as well. We found a good deal on an incubator that is a manual turner. This means the machine does not turn the eggs for us, so we must check the eggs every 4-6 hours and turn them ourselves. We also check the water levels in the incubator to make sure there is enough humidity for our growing hatchlings. The batch we have in the manual turner right now will be the first batch hatched from this incubator. Up until now we have been using a smaller incubator that only holds 24 eggs. This first batch will basically be our trial and error run.

Our full grown chickens do require daily chores as well, even though they are free range. We have found that when we feed our puppies the chickens will swarm them and eat the dog food. We now feed the chickens at the same time in effort to avoid this. Their water freezes on the cold nights too, of course. Checking for eggs is a daily chore, although our stubborn chickens like to lay their eggs all over the place. Thankfully, we have got most of our chickens roosting in their coop at night instead of on the back porch! B is working on some new coops this week which will give them a lot of space to move around, but they will be more contained and protected from hawks, raccoons, and other predators… (I’m looking at you, neighbor’s dog!)

Even on snow days, a farmer’s chores never end. They are on call 24/7, and the work is always there waiting for the next day.

Winter Weather Has Arrived

This weekend, we had a bad storm rolling in to our area. All weather reports said that the storm would hit mostly north of us, but we still needed to do some things to prepare here around the farm for the severe cold that we expected. Although we knew it wouldn’t be a bad storm for us, it would still bring colder air and a little snow. One thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that there is different preparations needed for different weather types. For example: rain vs snow. With snow, we can get several inches and it will not soak through the cow’s thick hair. This is great, because they don’t get soaked to the bone. Their thick hair keeps the snow out, and it settles on their backs. Sure it is colder, but the hair and their own body fat keeps them well insulated from the cold. With rain, however, it doesn’t take long for that to soak through to their skin. When the cows get soaked with the rain, they have a harder time retaining heat. They will then develop sickness such as pneumonia due to the cold rain. However, with the rain, there is not much we can do to protect them from the weather save from packing them all in the barn.

We started off our preparation by putting a bale of old hay in with the pigs to give them something to burrow into. I figured with enough food and some warmth from a wind block they would be fine. I also decided the cows needed a wind block. This was harder to do for the cows, as one bale would not cut it.

I put out 4 bales for the cows next to one of the barns. That should have been enough to last two days, but they ate almost all of it over night. I ventured out today to try and put a few more bales out. Unfortunately the pad lock was frozen solid. I tried everything but the obvious. After 30 mins I tried hot water… it worked first try.

After putting more hay out for the cows, and feeding the pigs, I hitailed it back to the house. As the saying goes, even in the winter the farmer has to work.

Is Hay quality really that important in Beef cattle?

I have heard for years people talk about the difference between horse hay and cow hay. Some people think that a mixed grass hay is not suitable for horses and that feeding something high quality like brome and alfalfa to cows is just crazy. Personally, I am not experienced in feeding hay to horses. I do know a lot about what to feed cows.

This year, like many other years, I am feeding a fescue grass mix. Our cattle seem to handle it well and it’s been several years since any have lost their switch or hooves. I know some people have issues with their cows on fescue but in this part of Missouri there seems to be fewer issues annually.

Cow that lost her switch on her tail

Fescue is nice for us because it allows us to abuse our pastures, running far more animals than we should and it still grows back. Most other grasses won’t handle that kind of stress. One draw back is we have to fertilize it each year. If we don’t, the grass that grows back will be thin and not grow as tall. I have considered switching to other grasses, due to their higher protein content. However, it is hard to justify that when fescue stands up to all the abuse and produces a good crop each year. 

In years past we have fed other grasses and have never noticed a difference in growth of the cows or calves. The protein in fescue is lower then some of the finer grasses but our personal experience has not shown a difference in growth. One thing, however, is that in years with a higher mold count the miscarriage rate increased in the cows. There is some mold in the hay every year, but it varies. In years where mold content was lower, there was no difference in our cows and calves. 

This year, they hay is not the best. This has been due to the rainy fall and winter. After having such a dry spring and summer, it was hard for a lot of farmers to get enough hay to make it through the winter. We didn’t have that problem, but the high precipitation has increased the amount of hay that is wasted. The rainy weather turns the outside of the hay bale into waste. Even with the extra waste, it seems to be providing good nutrition for the cows, and all the calves are growing well.

Here is a link to a nice article that talks about how to manage when you feed fescue to cows. https://www.agweb.com/article/minimizing_the_risks_of_fescue_toxicosis_in_cattle_naa_university_news_release/

 

 

Rain Rain Go Away

The past few weeks it has rained almost every other day. Normally rain in the winter is a great thing, as it helps ensure we have a good growing season. This year though we have gotten too much. The fields at one point had over a foot of water over nearly the whole place.

I’m not one to normally complain about rain, but mix rain and cold temps and you breed a disaster for young calves. I have been battling pneumonia in a small group of calves. So far this year I have lost two to pneumonia. They can go down so fast, in a mater of hours. There are some things you can do to prevent this from happening with your calves and cows. They make a vaccine that works wonder if they get it in time. Sometimes you have to resort to the strong antibiotics. With the two calves that I lost, I gave them the antibiotics. For one reason or another they were just not strong enough to improve. In some cases, unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to save your calf.

Another thing to keep in mind while trying to save calves is hydration. Keeping the calves hydrated and full of electrolytes is one of the most important things you can do. This allows their body to fight the germ and have a chance to recouperate. Normally one of the first signs that a calf is sick is sunken eyes. This is also a main symptom of dehydration.

A lot of what’s important in human health also translates to calves. The same signs and treatments also apply. The key to helping calves get over any sickness is catching it early and treating it fast.