A Sure Sign That Spring is Just Around the Corner
e’re still six weeks away from doing any grazing because grazing early at spring green-up is a like taking a draw on your summer grass paycheck, or in other words, a grass crime in grass farming circles. Apologies to all you folks reading that are still under snow or being subjected to below freezing temperatures. Here in Western Oregon, we’ve fared pretty well. We had a skiff of snow on Saturday, but it was fleeting.
February is the time of year our larders are emptying out, and we have been a long time from the sun. Eating stored food takes a toll on us and our livestock. The haystack is diminishing just like the pantry shelves. It’s also a good time to assess where you are with your cows by looking at them. I mean really looking at them. I was a little vague on my last post about hair coat in winter. So I thought a more in-depth post about Jane or dairy cows in general might be in order. My beef cows are much curlier, and not quite so compliant in the photo shoot sessions, so Jane it is. A lot of these things still apply to cows in general though so this post will still be helpful to beef cow folks. You still have time to up your feed or minerals before calving, doing a winter assessment now can really save you some heartache come calving. I’ve got roughly three months before calves arrive, so time is of the essence, since the calf in the womb grows a lot in that last trimester. Negative energy balance at calving is a bad thing, and is much easier to combat when your cow has been on grass for at least 30 days prior to calving. Spring tonic if you will. Right now things you don’t want to see are fuzzy dairy cows, black cows with an orange tint or cows with a spectacle look, all things access to more minerals (or higher quality feed) can cure.
Despite spending most of her time outside all winter, Jane is still starting to shed. She does have access to a three-sided loafing shed to get out of the worst weather, but most mornings she is in the pasture choosing to sleep outdoors. If you own cows of the common dairy breeds, Jersey, Holstein, Guernsey, Shorthorn or Ayrshire and live in Western Oregon, your cow’s hair should look similar to Jane’s, smooth, not fuzzy, and most likely shedding by now, these photos were taken on February 15th and she’s shedding even more now. A rough coat is usually a sign nutrition and access to minerals is lacking. Dairy cows especially need a higher plane of nutrition than beef cows.
Cows are funny creatures, about the time we humans can smell the soil warming, the cow like to anoint themselves with dirt. Another sign of spring. I’ll look out the kitchen window and see Jane on her knees “killing” the bank or a molehill, after she is done she will get up and buck and kick so it must feel good.
Cows in good shape have a “look” about them that is pretty universal. At high summer all cows look slick and shiny, making looking for hair patterns easier, but it’s fun to look during winter too, as shedding times and patterns are important to the cow keeper. Grass is the wonder food for cows, and the vertical “happy lines” visible on Jane’s neck right now will be repeated on her barrel during the summer. It’s good to see them now though. Again you don’t want to see fuzzy hair on the neck, face or body and you certainly don’t want to see bald patches when the cow starts to shed.
Swirls or whorls in the hair are good indicators of reproductive soundness and all around general immune system gauges. The Adrenal swirl in located on the back near the tenderloin area. Look behind the shoulders above the ribs, the presence of this swirl indicates good endocrine function.
Another swirl to look for on a cow is the Thymic swirl which you will find on the neck. The Thymic swirl is an indicator of a strong immune system. Regular readers know I believe Jane is a little compromised in the immune system department, her Thymic swirl could be bigger, but at this point I will take what I can get. I’ve seen cows that don’t show one at all :(
Next in the swirl department is the Pancreatic swirl on a pregnant cow. You will find this on the belly in front of the udder, and it appears about half way through the pregnancy. Obviously Jane is pregnant and I know that, but I still like seeing this in addition to the other swirls. It was interesting to me to test these swirl theories out on our last free-martin heifer – she showed no signs of any reproductive swirls because she was a free-martin. Very interesting indeed, before learning this I would have never thought to look at any factors other than just condition. Fascinating!