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What’s hair got to do with it?

February 22, 2009

A lot if you are trying to assess the condition of your stock.


You can tell the general condition of stock right off the bat by looking at their coats.  Winter is a good time to evaluate how good you’re doing in the nutrition department.  I’ll just stick with cows here, because that is the only hides I have to look at – but you can apply the same eye to any stock and this includes our feathered friends too.  The hair is one of the first things to show deficiencies in what we are feeding or using for minerals.

I worry the most about Della, my family cow, since she is pretty important to us.  If all the cows had to go, she would get to stay.  Being a dairy cow gives her a slight advantage over my other cows.  Our beef cows are employed here and perform the same jobs, but Della’s extra milk producing capacity give her a bag leg up.

What you want to see is the hair laying down, and the cow should have a fairly slick and soft looking appearance.  This time of year the hair won’t be as shiny as it is in the summer on good fresh forage, but nonetheless, the cow should just look good.  I think the words to describe a poor coat are dull, and lifeless.  It is as simple as that.  The hair should not look fuzzy, even if the cow has long hair it should not look like it is sticking up.  I know this sounds like a pretty simplistic way to describe hair condition on cows but a glance can tell you if something is going right, or about to go wrong.

Each age of cattle has different coats.  Our weanling and teenagers have “baby” hair and they are a little more fuzzy looking than the cows.  And I have some old cows that are looking a little rough this winter.  That is the good thing about having a mixed age herd of cattle.  This helps me to do a better job of culling.  Everyone gets the same treatment (feed) and the ones that do poorly, stand out as much as the ones that do great.

Another thing to look for is back fat.  This is important for lactating animals, because this is where the milk comes from.  If your cow is thin (backbone is sticking up like a ridge)when she freshens, it is hard to put the weight on for good reproduction while they are giving milk, since a cow is programmed to give milk, not put on weight.  You also don’t want to see the backbone sticking up mid-lactation either.

While we are on the subject of reproduction, Della is open and is starting her 7th month of lactation.  She didn’t settle with AI, so I decided to wait until summer to breed her.  Hopefully she will settle, and that will put her on a better calving schedule.  All this makes for “fun” times every 21 days when she is in heat.  She is in the mood for love, and not interested in coming to the barn for milking.  Needless, to say this morning was just one of those hair-raising days!  Trust me, you walk quickly in front of cow or heifer in heat, and you don’t turn your back on them, or you just might find them on your shoulders.  Picture a amorous cow rearing up, and trying to put her front feet on you!  Be still my beating heart – that is the quickest way to wet yourself I know of… .

This one of our Herefords.  Beef cows are shaggier and have more fat and muscle so they appear, dare I say – meatier?  You can see the hair is long, but laying as flat as curly hair will allow.

Another place to look especially on younger stock, is the face.  The hair should really be smooth looking, not giving a puffy faced appearance.  The calves show this more, because the food source may not be supplying enough nutrients for the animal to maintain healthy growth.  Beef calves usually get to nurse until weaning age, and probably won’t show the fuzzy face.  The fuzzy face is usually seen in bottle calves that don’t get enough milk (or skimmed milk) for a long enough time, and have a higher percentage of forages in their diets.

This photo was taken last winter, and Della was not open and her condition was about the same as this year – shown below.

February 22, 2009     She’s relishing her last days of being 10, her March birthday is coming up.

Speaking of hair and fat…
Trace wants to know if his pants make him look fat??

18 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2009 11:24 pm

    I’m sure I echo the thoughts of the entire blog community when I say how smitten I am with Della. Living in the city, she’s as close as I’ll get to knowing a dairy cow. And speaking of being a city girl, here’s a question that hopefully won’t send you and your other readers into serious eye rolls. Does Della always wear a halter? I’m assuming she wears one because she’s a milking goddess. Are there other reasons for it? Do any of the other bovines wear one? Just curious. Oh, and Trace … baby’s got back!

  2. February 23, 2009 1:43 am

    I always learn so much from your blog. All I can say is thank you!

  3. February 23, 2009 3:23 am

    I’m not sure why, but many of the photos on your last couple of entries are only showing up as lines to the left.

    It is doing it on both my home and work computers, so I’m not thinking it is my computer.

    I’d really like to see this tutorial too!

  4. February 23, 2009 6:30 am

    Paula, Della is a little nervous about photo shoots without her clothes on – just kidding. I do leave her halter on her when she is lactating. When she is dry, she doesn’t wear it. It is just a hassle to take it on and off several time a day, and as sweet as she appears in these photos, she is a little headstrong. I could use a collar, but I need to be able to turn her with her nose. I don’t have to lead her every where, but being the milk cow she gets privileges, like getting to walk around outside the pastures. But once in a while she decides to just walk on by her stall and at those times I have to be able to grab her. That collar was her Mom’s and Della was a major pill until I started using that one on her. I think it has special powers;)

    As for Trace, we have been calling him Kardashian, he doesn’t get it but it sure makes us chuckle 🙂

    Mangochild – thanks.

    Christy, I wondered about that – if I view the last three posts in IE I can’t see all the pictures, but I have been using Firefox and they look just fine. I am not sure how to fix it.

    Any ideas anyone? Do I need to adjust my browser or is it just Microsoft having the problem?

  5. February 23, 2009 7:47 am

    What a beautiful cow! Very interesting to learn about all of this!

    This holds true in pets as well. Our pets get good quality food and they have beautiful coats. We often get comments on how beautiful Lucy is, and I think it’s because she gets fed with care and is a healthy dog. Our cats also have beautiful coats.

    The eyes are another place you can tell if an animal is healthy. If they have bright eyes you know that they’re healthy as well.

  6. February 23, 2009 8:52 am

    Your blog works fine here: Mac, firefox. Maybe updating of browser would help?

    Thanks for another great post. Your photos are great. I too take a lot of pictures, sometimes they really do say more than words (if you know what to look for).

  7. February 23, 2009 9:08 am

    Once we had a bottlefed baby, we called Skipper, because all she would do is skip everywhere.

    Skipper grew up and became the Boss cow of our small herd, she also was the prefered babysitter for the little calves of joy.

    But the funny thing was when she was ready to be bred she would come to the fence and moo at my husband, sometimes he would be wanting her to wait (if she just had a baby for instance). She would moo and moo. One time she tried to ride him (panic), but on the most part she would be fairly patient for the bull to be turned into the pasture. BUT…………………………..if Terry took too long in bringing in the bull she would get out! Just go (after all she warned him) and head to one of the neighbors until she found the bull. And she stayed there! We would miss her the first thing (morning or evening) and have to go searching. She came home skipping and dancing all the way.

    We had that cow for 20 years. It was hard, hard, hard to lose her.

  8. February 23, 2009 10:37 am

    I really enjoy reading your posts pertaining to cows. It so reminds me of my childhood. We always had fresh cow’s milk growing up and I truly miss it. I remember how our little piglets used to chase after the dairy cows trying to sneak a sip, there is nothing more amusing then a little pig standing on his hind legs trying to suckle a cow…they usually had some success at it as well.

    One of my goals this summer is to find a source of fresh cow or goat milk (for my pets of course). Even the organic milk in the store does not appeal in any way to me. Your cows look great, very healthy.


  9. February 23, 2009 12:03 pm

    The photos are fine here, same computer as EJ. You did a good hairy analysis here. Love the photos.

  10. February 23, 2009 6:40 pm

    I was out bird watching last week and saw some young bald eagles – and their feathers just looked atrocious.

    I wonder what their diet is lacking. The adults appeared sleek and healthy.

    I guess I can’t compare them to cows. (:

  11. February 23, 2009 7:05 pm

    Having the same problem with the photos. Just lines to the left. I’m using IE. Never had this problem before and it has not shown up any of the other 45,783 blogs I read. (I have no life. So sue me!)

  12. February 23, 2009 8:43 pm

    Hey Nita,
    Why won’t you pictures show up on my computer? The last two post have not shown the photos. I am sad, any ideas?

    I hope that you dont’ mind,but I left you an award at my blog. You probably don’t have time to worry with it. If not, I understand. I thought of you because of your generosity of spirit and you are a friend to so many of us.

    I love Della! take care.

  13. February 25, 2009 4:27 am

    Great and timely post because my girls are heading into their last month before calving and I’ve been wondering how they are faring. The bull is such a pig and I tend to worry he is taking too many resources, but I should know better. Both of my cows have their horns (bull is pulled) and they know when to use them!

    I’m going to print your photo guide out and double check their health tonight! I switched them to a higher quality hay (not that the stuff I was feeding them was bad in any way-just insurance).

  14. February 25, 2009 12:59 pm

    Funny, I just came in from lead training with the calf and was going to do some research on hair loss.

    Bella gave birth a week ago Sunday, and she’s starting to shed hair on her neck. I don’t know if it signals some kind of deficiency or if it’s just seasonal shedding. I don’t see any obvious signs of external parasites.

    She gets kelp and a dairy mineral from Nature’s Best Organics, a company out of PA nearby.

    Thoughts? Directions? Wisdom?

  15. February 26, 2009 11:00 pm

    Chiot’s Run, yes the eyes really tell it too. People comment on how healthy our cats look, and I think it is because they hunt so much and are outdoor cats – they get very little cat food, which I think is a good thing.

    EJ, the pictures really give me a different perspective – the photos are priceless for the information they reveal.

    Linda, what a great story about Skipper! How sad when it was her time. 😦

    Mike, thanks and I agree, the organic milk in the store doesn’t compare. Sadly most organic cows are confinement cows. 😦

    Dawn, thanks – I think I’ve got everything fixed now…

    Wayne, can I sue a lawyer?

    Finding Pam, I think it is fixed now – thanks for the award BTW!

    Gina, I can’t wait to see the babies – I’m in calf withdrawal right now.

    Danielle, my best guess would be lice, my two old girls have lice this winter, and they have the same patches on their necks. They have been itching, but I see no signs of the lice because it is too cool – it takes a really warm day for them to come out where you can see them. We are still in winter here, freezing at night, and snow during the day, with no sign of grass or shedding of winter coats. So maybe I’m wrong and she is shedding since you are further south.

    I thought Bella looked thin for just calving, and it will be hard to put weight on her now that she is lactating. There are two schools of thought on parasites and other general care. One is that parasites attack the weaker/challenged animals and plants – and you feed and mineralize them out of that stage OR you just treat the problem topically and get rid of the parasites and maybe not get to the root of the problem.

    It mostly depends on what your personal philosophy is, and the more people you ask, the more answers you will get, especially on body condition. I do know that feeding her more now will just stimulate her to produce more milk, which will in turn just run her down more. Hopefully the grass will come on soon, and she can pick up a little.

    I had a hard time with Della’s mom, who came from a dairy, she had received a low forage diet that was less than ideal for her to go onto a grass based diet. Della is the next generation – she nursed until I weaned her at 8 months and she developed a healthy rumen. As a result, Della has been easier for me to keep in better shape during the winter. I don’t know if any of this helps or not.

  16. February 27, 2009 11:53 am

    Thanks Nita, I think I’ve figured out the problem, which should hopefully be fairly easy to correct, but I feel like an idiot. I think she hasn’t been getting enough salt because I looked on the minerals and there isn’t any, and I had just assumed that it was part of the free choice minerals I’d been giving her. Bad on me, I know. I feel awful about it.

    But, to compound it, I think she’s been overeating the kelp to make up for the lack of salt and has been getting excess iodine, which would account for the hair loss.

    Based on my research, both issues should be easy to correct without much lasting damage, I hope. But I sure do feel like a heal. I’ll be doing a blog post about how important it is to really read the labels and to *know* what each of those things is doing and why rather than just counting on premixed rations. Argh. Kicking myself.

    Obviously, I could be wrong, but this is my best guess, and I’ll give it some time to see if I notice a turn around.

    I don’t think she’s too thin, but I guess she could be. I’d actually been worrying that she’d gotten too heavy.

    Thanks again, as always, for your blog and all its information!

  17. February 27, 2009 10:48 pm

    Danielle, that’s great that you figured out the problem. I was under the impression that a cow couldn’t ingest enough kelp to make the iodine a problem, but if livestock received too much potassium iodide there could be a problem.

    A place to tell if a cow is too fat (or is in good shape) is the topline, not the gut or stomach area. She should have good muscle and a little fat around her shoulders and all along her backbone and on top of her pelvic bones prior to freshening and then she will lose a little once she gets into full production.

    It is hard, and time consuming to diagnose problems with our livestock, I quiz my daughter constantly about what she is seeing, and I’m trying to teach her the old adage: When you hear hoofbeats, think horses…

    The calf is a doll, BTW.


  1. Reading Condition in the Herd | Chism Heritage Farm

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