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Mad heifer disease

July 17, 2008

This bruiser arrived by Bull Express on Tuesday.  His name is Henry.

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The steers like to hang out with bulls, and try to pick up a few pointers. 

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Henry will be here for 6 weeks, which will allow him to cover the cows through two heat cycles.  If a cow doesn’t breed back in two heat cycles, you’ve got a problem.  This means the cow should be culled, which fits in the categories: old, open, and ornery, aka the Three O’s.   I follow this rule for the beef cows, since the “old-fashioned” way of breeding is much more predictable and liable to work.  When I have to have my milk cow artificially inseminated, and she doesn’t settle,  I usually blame the AI guy or myself.  The cow and bull know when the time is right.  The humans haven’t perfected that just yet… .  These three rules help quite a bit, when deciding who stays, and who goes. 

 ♣  Old is a no-brainer, usually the cow has worn down teeth and isn’t able to raise a big enough calf, since she has a hard time maintaining her own body weight, let alone produce milk and be pregnant.  It’s a hard job being a cow, they are expected to breed back and have a calf every single year.  To do this, they have to be pregnant and lactating at the same time.  People who don’t feed their cattle properly, drive me crazy!!

♣  Open means that the cow did not breed back.  This speaks volumes about your feeding and mineral program.  It is so simple to keep cattle, you just have to have GRASS, when I say grass, I mean growing grass for most of the season.  Don’t look out in your field (or woodlot) and think that old brown stuff is going to be palatable. If your cow(s) can’t keep up with it, clip it yourself, to keep it growing.  Try not to let your grass go to seed if you are trying to graze animals.  Even most start-up farms have a hog mower.  This is a place where the grain bucket won’t save you and will do more harm than good.   Buying in expensive hay and grain, and feeding cattle on small acreages is hard on them too.  Especially, if the hay has been heavily fertilized with conventional type fertilizers.  That is the quickest way to mineral imbalances.  Some of the “problems” like grass tetany, displaced abomasum, and low reproduction are caused by the conventional farming, and feeding practices so prominent today.  50 years ago, these “diseases” where unheard of.  These things are good to know for grassfed and rawmilk consumers too, if you are going to a farm to purchase these items, and it is during the growing season (April through October here in Western Oregon.)  Look around, are the animals grazing fresh growing grass, or are they being fed alfalfa and other hay, and organic hay is still hay.  While it is better, it is no substitution for growing grass.  Feeding during the growing season is a sure sign that the farmer has too many animals for their land.  During the winter months, of course animals have to be fed hay, but like us, they need as much fresh feed as possible.  Save the stored stuff for the dark days of winter.  I’m not saying not to buy hay for winter, but at least try to graze your animals as much as possible.  Grazing animals can heal a worn out farm, but the key word is grazing. 
Also if the cow had a difficult calving, she may have an infection that has been overlooked or because she is run-down, her body is telling her it’s not ready to sustain a pregnancy yet.  This one can be iffy, depending on the value of the cow, how much money you have, and if there will be a bull available to breed her when she is healthier.

♣  Ornery doesn’t need a whole lot of explanation.  Our cows have to be safe to be around, because we are in close proximity to them everyday, with just a 17 gauge wire between us.  The cows pass their habits and traits on to their calves.  In our herd, if there is a “beef” between two cows, their calves will join in the fracas.  Usually the winner becomes dominant and the loser becomes the slave.  We’ve got two cows who battled for two years, and they seem to have come to an agreement.  The loser has to groom the winner, and defer at the water trough.  If you have a herd of mixed ages, you can really see the hierarchy play out.  Groups of like ages and sexes, act differently.  Think of a public school classroom setting, or a function with parents and children in the same room.  One is much quieter and more organized.
Our job is to handle them gently and firmly, and then we can tell if we have a bad apple or not.  Some just have a bone to pick.  That’s why we use the corral as part of the rotation, when it is their time to go, they don’t even think about being stressed out, since they have been in the corral many times and had an OK experience.


We used to keep our own bull, but it’s a hassle to keep them separate for most of the year.  To avoid inbreeding we could only keep the bull until his daughters were old enough to breed.   At that time, we would have to get rid of a perfectly good bull, or buy in females.  I like raising my own replacements, then I know what they’ve eaten, how they have been treated, and I have a good idea if they are going to have a good dispostion.   Now that we have less cows, this is much easier on the pocket book, a bull that weighs a ton+, eats a lot.  The rental is a direct tax deduction and we only have to feed him for 6 weeks. 

Most people assume that keeping a bull around is the hard part.  It isn’t the bull, it is the heifers.  A yearling heifer in heat is worse than a teenager!  Or about as bad.  They jump fences, and generally go crazy to get in with the bull.  The heifers aren’t old enough to have a calf, but they are determined to make that happen.  I plan on using them for meat, or want them to grow into cowhood.  Having a baby too young is imminent doom for a heifer.

Henry was scheduled to arrive on Tuesday after 5:00 p.m.  We were going to separate the heifers before noon, so everyone would be settled down, by the time he got here.  We spent Tuesday a.m. sorting the heifers and putting them in a SECURE area.  To these girls, this is like being weaned all over again.  They hate being separated.  Of course, one was in heat and so was a cow, so breaking them up took some doing.  We had just came back for lunch, when we heard someone at the gate.
Bull Man was here – I was hoping he would come at the time he specified, since he is a little too lewd for my liking, and if he came later, DH could handle it.  But, not to be.  So I declined his offer to ride to the pasture, telling him I had to go open gates.  He always has to tell me how much his bulls like their job, wink wink.  YUCK!!  Believe me, if there was any other person close, with nice bulls, we would use them.  And, of course, Lula, the cow in heat, came out of the woodwork, before Henry was even out of the trailer!  Bull Man loves the next part.  So I decided to go back to the house and get the checkbook, so I wouldn’t have to stand there and watch with Bull Man, and see any more winking.
Bull Man is woefully inadequate at turning around with a trailer, and usually I worry about him taking out some fence, but this time I decided I would just fix the fence after he left, it would be worth it not to have to listen to him.  I hate strongly dislike it when people don’t learn how to manuever a trailer.  He should be better at driving and backing up by now, since this is his business… .

So things are fairly quiet – the heifers are a little beside themselves, but I fenced the cows in a three day paddock so they will be within sight of the girls until they get settled.  In a couple of days, I will move the milk cows and put them in adjoining pastures for company.  Hopefully, there won’t be any fence jumping for 6 weeks.  And, Full of Bull Man didn’t hit the fence!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2008 11:29 am

    Sounds like you are having way too much fun there!! I had been considering AI myself, but you are about the umpteenth person that has said to “keep it simple”. Since my heiffers have successfully bred for the 2nd time, I think I just might leave things as simple as possible.

    Fortunately for me, there are quite a few “seasoned” rachers nearby that still raise their herds the “old fashioned way” and are only too happy to share their knowledge.

    Thanks for sharing your experience as it will surely help me.

  2. July 17, 2008 3:42 pm

    Good advise! I know way too many people that try and keep the “O” cows and it’s just plain ole stupid.

  3. July 17, 2008 3:43 pm

    ….I can’t spell worth crap today! ADVICE!

  4. July 17, 2008 6:06 pm

    My girls would love to meet Henry. He’s a handsome fellow for sure. I’d even put up with Bull Man taking out a fence or two 🙂
    We were successful with AI breeding last year but this year has been a different story. I’m very frustrated that my cows aren’t bred back and we are now looking for a bull to purchase. I swore I wouldn’t keep a bull here but I need to get them bred. If we can get a young bull, we will only keep him long enough to settle the cows and then put him in the freezer.

    I’m slowly cathing up on your blog posts – your gardens look great, weeds and all 🙂 Our growing seasons may be different but we definately have some of the same weed species growing!

  5. July 17, 2008 8:32 pm

    Learned a lot reading this post. Our neighbor had a cow once, and we came home one night around midnight in the late fall and came face to face with the cow. She had gotten out of her pasture and we were concerned, so knocked on neighbors door, but they never answered (heavy sleepers? ). We decided to take it upon ourselves to get her back in and it was COLD that night. She charged our jeep and took off. We followed her and with weak flashlights against pitch black night, all we could see of her was her eyes glinting when the light hit her face. Quite nerve-wracking for 2 ex-city folk new to the country/farming scene. She charged us again and we gave up after an hour of trying to herd her this way and that and freezing our butts off.

    We found out in the morning she was in heat and jumped the fence looking for a bull. They found her a mile down the road looking for a way to get into another pasture.

    We’d like a milking cow someday, but I don’t think we have enough pasture to support one. Only about 3 acres of cleared land and the rest is wooded. We may settle for a couple goats instead…

  6. July 18, 2008 1:02 pm

    Your description of Bull Man is so funny! I can just see this creepy guy, buggy eyes and all, going into explicit detail about cow sex!

    Thanks for coming by the blog!

  7. July 19, 2008 7:36 pm

    Good piece info for a farm girl that wants heifers but hasn’t a clue about them! TY 🙂

  8. July 20, 2008 2:31 pm

    It just makes so much sense. I feel like a bit of a simpleton sometimes, but it seems to me that the simple way IS best. For the longest time I thought I must be “missing something.” But why anyone would want an ornery animal to breed is beyond me!

  9. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    July 20, 2008 10:48 pm

    David, if you can deal with a bull, you will get better results. I like having all our calves born in the same 6 week interval. Have a great season!

    Linda, I know what you mean, it costs too much to feed them, it’s the same amount on work to feed a good one as a bad one.

    Debi, I hear on the AI thing, my Della isn’t due until Labor Day, all because last year, we had too many scheduling conflicts between the AI guy and us. He has a huge territory, and he wouldn’t listen to me, she doesn’t mess around, she has never missed a milking – when it’s time to go to the bull, she gets it done before it’s time to come back at milking time.
    Best of luck finding a bull, can you use beef (better disposition) instead of dairy? I usually only breed AI if I want a dairy calf. Otherwise the milk cow has a half beef and half dairy. Although this year, Henry will be on to the next harem, before she is ready to breed.

    The garden is growing finally – your’s looks great!

    Jenny, that’s some story, I believe every word of it. They become crazed. I’m glad she didn’t run over the top of you guys. Goats might be best with only 3 acres, especially if you don’t want to buy much feed. Goats actually give quite a bit of milk too.

    Gina, I wish you could see this guy – he’s a hoot, although I get tired of his jokes. 😉 Glad your bull man is nicer.

    Kim, thanks, owning cows can be interesting to say the least.

    Hayden, sometimes keeping it simple is harder to do, I know that doesn’t sound right, but sadly it is true.

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