reproduced with permission from The Moo News Archive at http://www.hubertkarreman.com/
The immune system (September 2013)
The immune system is such an incredibly important system in our daily lives and we rarely think of it, unless an illness arises. The immune system is a con-stantly changing, dynamic aspect of each of us – and every animal life form, to greater and lesser extents. Frogs have immune systems, crayfish have immune systems, salamanders have immune systems, snakes have immune systems – as do lobsters, swordfish, haddock, penguins, otters, armadillos, loons, moose, cows, pigs, sheep, dogs, cats, and mice. The immune system separates every living being from every other living being, essentially saying, “this is me, not you”. The immune system protects us every breathing moment that we are alive, whether we think of it or not.
So how do we maintain a vigorous, vibrant and effective immune system? Diet. Our diet has direct, immediate effects on our immune system. Why? Because our gut is the first stop for food to be broken down and absorbed into our system. Food either makes our digestive system happy or it does not. If ingested food is irritating in any way, it will cause inflammation, which leads to leaks along the intestinal walls, letting toxins gain entry and causing serious damage. Most food, when absorbed normally, is sent with blood that drains the intestines through the portal vein to the liver. Then the liver performs major transformations of the ingested substances, forming simple nutrients. These nutrients are then sent into general circulation via the hepatic vein and to the heart to be pumped into circulation as nourishment. Along the intestines are immune glands called Peyers patches, essentially strings of lymph nodes which are ready to attack bad foreign substances trying to gain entry into the body at the gut level. If the Peyers patches are constantly on high alert (due to poor dietary choices and/or germs, like the Johnes bug) this will lead to inflammation and send signals to the rest of the body that something is wrong at the gate of entry. Additionally, diets that are constantly irritating to the stomach lining due to acidic pH (too much grain) will cause an inflammatory reaction in the intestine since the pan-creas which neutralizes low level acidic contents of the stomach is overwhelmed. An inflamed gut makes for easier entry of things into the system (taxing the liver) that otherwise would stay in the intestinal tract and would be sent out with manure. Inflammation of the gut will also result in diarrhea or irregular stools.
Organs beyond the digestive system that are part of the immune system include the spleen, tonsils, thymus, lymph nodes and bone marrow. These are nour-ished regularly with each pump of the heart sending blood which has been originally filtered by the liver. Lymph nodes are the “regional cops” that react when there is a challenge – bacterial, viral, or parasitical – in that area of the body. They swell when they react. Think of the lymph nodes at the top of the throat or under your arm pits or where your legs attach to your torso – they swell when challenged. Cows have lymph nodes in the same areas. Lymph nodes drain lymph fluid. Lymph fluid is made up of immune cells that have swallowed up bacteria, viruses or parasites, which is whisked away through the thoracic duct to the heart. The lymph system does not have its own circulation and sends build-up away only by the animal’s or person’s movement – that’s why exercise is always good: it helps to circulate everything, moving bad things away and moving good nourishing things in.
So how can we eat to best help our immune system at the ground level? Perhaps the main method that I’ve always thought was prudent was to eat to satisfy our genetics – that’s usually a good and easy start. For me, with Holland Dutch genetics on my mom’s side that goes back to the 1500’s in Friesland and on my dad’s side for generations in Zeeland in Holland’s south, my system feels best when I eat fish, dairy products, and starches like potatoes and beets. It’s simply what my digestive enzymes are adapted to primarily. Obviously vegetables are part of the diet, too, but if I eat too many vegetables, my digestive system tells me that pretty quickly. Diets obviously will be different for people of different backgrounds.
So how should we feed ruminant animals? Ruminants, like cows and sheep, have eaten fresh green grasses and other forages, as well as the tops of maturing grass plants (seeds/grain) for countless generations. Dried versions of fresh grass – hay – is also well received by the rumen digestive tract as are silages of grass plants (corn is a grass). So maybe we should feed them in the same manner for them to have the healthiest digestive system and immune system: high forage intake with little/minimal grain. Unfortunately, modern Holsteins and Jerseys have been bred to eat relatively energy dense (grain) diets geared for high milk production whereas “minor” dairy breeds such as Milking Shorthorns, Linebacks, Normandies, Dutch Belted, etc, generally do quite well with only a little grain in their diets. The minor dairy breeds keep their body condition much better with low/no grain diets than Holsteins or Jerseys ever will. Cows which get skinny, due to not being bulked up on fiber but receiving too much grain (acid in system) and that are pumping out lots of milk will become run down, with their im-mune systems being only borderline effective. They may be more prone to high somatic cell counts remaining high rather than their system overcoming the challenge and returning to lower levels. Looking at the consistency of their manure or seeing undigested grain in it will tell you if they have rumen acidosis – which is the beginning of the downfall of their immune system.
As I’ve always said, you can never feed enough dry hay to dairy cows – it’s always OK to feed dry hay. Indeed, feeding even a little dry hay during feeding tran-sitions will help digestion – and thus their immune system. You might want to keep this in mind when you transition to winter feeds in the fall.
Timely Treatment (March 2011)
Being that we who are in the organic realm don’t reach for antibiotics except in dire infections, how best do we prevent dire infections from arising in the first place?
The key words here are “dire” (meaning critical and immediately life threatening) and “prevent”. Obviously we can’t prevent everything. Things happen as part of life – oddball things, infrequent things, and accidents. Prevention is great, but when it doesn’t work, then what? Clearly, there is a time line between “pre-vent” on one end and “dire” on the other end.
The difference between prevention and a dire situation then comes down to timely treatment, doesn’t it? In using natural treatments, timing is critical as natu-ral treatments rely on a functional immune system. But if the immune system is overwhelmed, there is little chance for any treatment to work, let alone natu-ral treatments.
Timely treatment doesn’t necessarily mean involving a veterinarian. Timely treatment does mean, however, that when the farmer gets the slightest hunch that something is wrong with an animal, prompt action is taken. For example, when feeding, if an animal simply doesn’t “look right” in the eyes or in whatever way you get a sense that something is wrong, by all means investigate the situation. This means that even if you have no idea that anything is wrong but something inside you makes you think even a moment extra about that animal (or bunch of animals) – take the time to stop what you’re doing and quietly observe the situation. Yes, stop shoveling out the silage or scooping out the grain or cutting the strings off the hay and just stand there for a good long mo-ment. If you get no further indication that something is wrong, then resume what you were doing but keep a mental note about what got your attention. Then next time you are there again, stop everything, and simply observe and see if there is anything at all, no matter how slight, that is different than normal. Doing this will help guard against becoming numb to what is around you in your daily routine. I once read a very interesting statement: “where your attention is, there is your energy and where your energy is, there is your attention.” In other words, what you focus on is what you will likely be acting on. As you go through your day, are you really tuned in to your animals or is your attention on other things?
Unfortunately, it’s only too human to become numb to what we do routinely. This is especially true in factories that assemble equipment. But when it comes to animals that are dependent upon us – be they dairy cows, pigs, chickens or pet dogs and cats – we simply cannot become numb if we want to be good stew-ards of life that surrounds us.
Again, this is especially critical for those caring for organic animals since reaching quickly for a strong antibiotic when something is finally noticed to be really bad is simply not a preferred situation. And remember that the organic consumers who are the steam for the organic sector have faith that organic farmers are taking the best possible care of their animals.
So if the first step of timely treatment is simply stopping and taking notice of something/anything which triggers your sense that something is not right, then what are some simple signs to look for? Obvious things like a change in appetite, milk production level, color of manure and its consistency, breath-ing/coughing, staying apart from other animals, red discharge from a cow to calve, the way an animal walks, calves that don’t finish their bottle….all these things should trigger immediate investigation on the part of the farmer. If you don’t look into it now, your focus on it will likely fade as you go to your next task. Further investigation usually means counting how many breaths an animal takes per minute (should be around 20-24 for a cow) and depth of breathing; what she is (or is not) specifically eating; taking the animal’s temperature (100.5-102.5 is the normal range for cows); reaching into a cow nearing birth to make sure everything is OK; personally looking into a calf hutch to see the amount and type of manure; lifting a hoof to evaluate it; etc. In other words, not just eyeballing an animal but actively checking an animal.
The above list is a set of basic activities that any good farmer will do to make sure that his/her animal is OK (or not). Unfortunately, all the best intentions (like personally checking an animal) are meaningless unless there is active follow through. Follow through is the most critical component in timely treatment, espe-cially with organic animals. If the calf that is not drinking also has diarrhea, what will you do and when? Wait until tomorrow because “it’ll get her hun-gry”? No. Or if a cow has a red discharge a couple weeks before freshening, wait until tomorrow morning to see if she’ll be calved in by then? No. If a cow is off feed and has a swollen quarter, just give her a probiotic and see if she’s eating by next milking? No. Even with relatively tough animals like cows, life is fragile and things can go downhill surprisingly quickly. Calves are even more fragile. With common conditions like mastitis, farmers can by all means start treatment. But even if a common condition like mastitis seems odd (like the quarter secretion smells horribly, indicating possible gangrene setting in), a consult with the veterinarian is probably in order.
While I have witnessed that there are dramatically fewer problems with organic dairy cows, farmers sometimes are lulled into a sense of complacency if nothing has gone wrong for a good stretch of time. Working with animals – living beings that can feel pain and suffer very much like we do – demands that farm-ers take the extra few moments to look at an animal(s) and take prompt action so that dire situations do not arise. Stopping everything to quietly and closely observe your animals to nip things in the bud will add maybe 10 minutes of time to your work day. Aren’t your animals worth that extra effort?
Getting Ready for Winter (October 2012)The seasons are changing once again and it’s time to start thinking about getting animals ready to come inside. But not all animals do best indoors, de-pending on the group of animals being considered. Why is this? It gets back to the foundations of health which I periodically talk about: dry bedding, fresh air, high forage diets and grazing.
So once grazing is finished, why and how would you keep animals primarily outside? Two of the other foundational pillars of health apply: fresh air and dry bedding. Certainly the freshest air will be outside. The main thing you need to keep in mind for animals outside is for drafts at ground level to be minimized. This could mean having a 3-sided structure so the animals can get into the back areas (much like individual hutches are designed) as those chilly 34°F degree rains can quickly damage animals – any size or age. And of course enough dry bedding is needed so they retain body warmth when ly-ing down. Feeding enough dry matter for animals to extract calories is critical to not only keep warm but also for them to grow. Which groups of animals are then best suited to be outside? Pretty much all of them. Another reason for animals to be outside is simply for them to experience a change of envi-ronment from being confined to the indoor surroundings, allowing their senses to experience what they normally would if they were in their natural state.
After enjoying fresh air since being born on pasture in the spring and perhaps having never even been inside at all yet in life, a box pen full of animals grouped together without good fresh air almost guarantees stress, thus negatively affecting the immune system. Add in the bedding not being added to enough or changed enough. Contact with damp concrete is the worst situation.
Complementary and Alternative Animal Treatments (December 2011)
There are many types of alternative treatments that can be used as stand alone treatments or in combination with each other. As a group, the American Veterinary Medicine Association calls them Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine (CAVM). My opinion is that we should use whichever mode of treatment that we feel intuitively drawn to. Or if there are certain CAVM therapies that make no sense to you whatsoever, don’t seem “real enough”, or make you uncomfortable, simply don’t use them.
A short listing of CAVM groupings with specific some examples follow:
food therapy – preventive nutrition, therapeutic nutrition, glandular therapy and orthomolecular medicine;
manual therapy – massage, acupressure, acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractic, and physical therapy;
biological therapy – hyper-immune plasma, hyper-immune eggs, serum therapy, bee sting therapy, and pharmaceutically reared leeches and maggots;
botanical therapy – western herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, essential oils and aromatherapy;
energy medicine – Christian laying-on of hands, classical homeopathy, homotoxicology, Bach flower remedies and non-traditional homeopathy.
This is not a complete list of course and there are combinations of treatment, like injecting homeopathic remedies at acupuncture points.
If you are drawn to a particular CAVM, consider learning more about it to use it well. Or, if a CAVM therapy makes no sense whatsoever, doesn’t seem “real” enough, or makes you uncomfortable, simply don’t use it. Just please don’t blindly “grasp at straws” in attempts to avoid standard, conventional therapy. Knowing a little about each may help you understand their potential role.
Acupuncture is a form of treatment which utilizes energy routes (meridians) that naturally course throughout the body, with certain points (acupuncture points) of the channel on the skin surface connecting nerves to organs in the body interior. By stimulating these points with dry needles, injectible solu-tions, electricity or heat, we can influence the functioning of circulation and internal organs to help return a patient to health.
Homeopathy is a form of treatment that uses very highly diluted substances of plant, mineral or animal origin to gently stimulate the body to return to normal equilibrium. The materials that are used would, if given in their raw form, create the illness condition that the dilute remedy is being used to treat. In-depth knowledge of the remedies’ properties and specific symptoms are needed to use homeopathy effectively. Homeopathic remedies higher than 12C (such as a 30C or 200C) actually have no original material, only the essence or energy of the original material remains.
Botanical therapy is a form of treatment which has been used by humans and animals forever. The Bible mentions many plants that were used as medi-cine. Plants are food, herbs, nutraceuticals and medicine. Real medicine is tucked away within plant cells and all the big drug companies got their start with plant medicines and with good reason – because they contain active compounds. Like homeopathy, there are energetics associated with botanicals (bitter, cooling, pungent, sweet, and salty), but moreover, there are a multitude of real medicinal compounds in plants.
Biological therapy is a form of treatment that uses natural substances derived from living organisms to stimulate, augment, or modify the immune system. Prior to the antibiotic era, serum therapy was used to deliver antibodies from donors to recipients. Hyper-immune plasma, much purer than serum ther-apy, is the modern equivalent. For example, rabies anti-toxin, snake venom anti-toxin, botulism anti-toxin and gram-negative coliform and salmonella an-ti-toxins are derived from horses and cows. Using bees to sting certain points can reduce arthritic pains, using leeches to draw off excess blood accumula-tion, and carefully placing maggots to temporarily eat away gangrenous, dead tissue is known and practiced by some regular medical doctors.
In approaching cases and coming up with possible solutions, I like to use hands-on touch to sense where problems may be, careful observation, heightened sense of smell, listen for subtle sounds (with a stethoscope) and intuition to pin point problems. Then I choose from whichever CAVM treatment seems best for each case. Anyone can do this. And while it’s satisfying to be part of a successful outcome, I don’t feel it’s actually me that gets the patient better – that is up to Holy Spirit. I am just a channel for healing to hopefully occur. You can be, too. Using natural therapies honors God’s creation. But if there isn’t success, then hopefully we learn from the situation to prevent it from happening again. That’s the way I handled situations as a herdsman and still do as a veterinarian.
One last thing, and it’s mighty important, the intention with which we approach our animals is critical. I love what bio-dynamic herb grower Andrea Rei-sen said, “As soon as you put your intention upon anything, it changes everything”. This is so very true. Animals can sense with an uncanny ability whether we as individuals truly want to help them or if we are just going through mechanical motions. Yes, animals can resist your attempts to treat them. But if we come to them from a calm heart rather than a busy head, we may better understand what ails them – and then we’ll choose better therapies from the natural kingdom which God allows us all to partake in.
Please realize that antibiotics do have a place in therapy. For example, if pneumonia hasn’t responded quickly to natural treatments, switch to antibiotics. You’re going to cull a few animals a year, so using antibiotics shouldn’t be automatically be viewed as an impossibility. Most people agree it’s better to have a live cow than a dead organic one. There’s a reason God placed the animals you have in your life – do what’s right and take good care of them. Re-wards abound.
Herbal Medicine (September 2012)
The term herbivore is simply the scientific way of saying that an animal is biologically programmed to eat plants. Plants have been used for food forever by animals and people. Plants and herbs are spoken about in the Old and New Testament – to eat, to use for health, and as symbols within para-bles/stories. However in the Old Testament, all illness and healing was thought to be provided by God, so plants specifically for healing were not discussed much. There are about 125 references to plants and plant terms mentioned in the Bible (specific plants or words like vine, flowers, thorns, etc.)
Some people plant Biblical herb gardens with plants mentioned in the Bible. These kinds of gardens likely started in monasteries, when monks or nuns were the local providers of medical care to both nobility and peasants. In Italy, the Medici family was famous for their additions of plants and their deriv-atives to the world of medicines.
The most common route of administration is through the mouth – as it should be. There are two good reasons for this. First, it is the normal way that an-imals take in plants into their system. Thus their digestive tract is alerted and can respond since it’s biologically geared to take in plants anyway. Folks that watch animals on pasture know animals like to eat a variety of plant species – certainly not only orchard grass, white clover, and perennial rye but lambs quarters, smooth pigweed, soft seed heads of spiny red root, poison ivy, multiflora rose, quack grass, etc.
The second important reason to give herbal medicines in the mouth is that the sense organs are very concentrated in the head area. The sense of taste of the tongue is directly related to the sense of smell in the nose while our vision and hearing help orient us in space and time. These four senses are the main ones our herbivorous animal friends have, as they don’t have sensitive finger tips for touch like we do. The 4 main sense organs are only a very short dis-tance away from the brain, which processes incoming information with amazing speed. Additionally, there are lymph nodes near the base of the tongue, behind the jaw and along the throat that help process incoming information towards the immune system. Between the brain’s immediate response to the herb via the facial senses and the digestive tract’s ability to sift, sort and absorb plant material, it can easily be seen that oral administration is the best method of giving herbal medicines – whether they be tinctures, essential oils, dried herbs, teas or glycerites (glycerin as the carrier, which animals like much better than the alcohol of tinctures, which may give a burning sensation).
The list of dosages shown below is from a book I stumbled upon many years ago – it’s a gold mine of real information of plants used by veterinarians for animals “back in the day” – when botanical medicine was commonly used by veterinarians. It’s called The Book of Veterinary Doses by Dr. Pierre Fish (Slingerland –Comstock, Ithaca, 1930). Dr. Fish was Dean of the Cornell Veterinary School.
All doses shown are tinctures for oral administration in ml/cc.
In their widely acclaimed book, Veterinary Herbal Medicine (Mosby, 2007), Dr. Susan Wynn and Dr. Barbara Fougere also show dosages of herbs to give. The doses shown in the table are from modern day veterinary practitioners from all over the world that use herbs. What’s really nice is that these doses match up fairly well with the doses used in the 1930’s with dose for tinctures being between 1 – 3 Tbsp, which is approximately 15 – 45 cc (1Tbsp = 15cc & 1 tsp = 5cc)
I am pleased to have both Dr. Wynn and Dr. Fougere as friends and we’re among the original members of the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association, which was started in 2002. The Association is a world-wide group of veterinarians dedicated to using plant medicine with animals. I invite you or any veterinarian you work with to learn from the website:www.vbma.org .
Sprouted Grains (December 2012)
It seems like there’s been a lot of talk about sprouted grains over the past year. The action of water on regular dry grain is nothing short of miraculous: starch is converted to sugars, proteins are converted to amino acids, and lipids are converted to fatty acids (quality energy). Perhaps most important of all, animals enjoy sprouts, as seen by the yearlings ripping at the mats of squares fed to them.
Perhaps most importantly, feeding spouted grains is feeding fresh live food. In a sense it is continuing the grazing season into the winter when the cows are inside. In regular grain, there are anti-nutritional factors, such as phytase and tannins which help the seed protect itself. Even just soaking seeds for one over-night period will deactivate the phytase and tannins. I remember seeing a few farmers soaking grain overnight in buckets 10 years ago, the idea being that it would be better when fed out. Now I understand. The other thing is that regular grain brings starch into the rumen, which can cause problems like rumen aci-dosis, whereas sprouted grains provide sugars. Starch and sugar are both forms of energy, but the sugars are more friendly to the digestion process.
There have been many experiments on how long to grow the sprouted grains. It seems that day 6 is when they should be harvested – this is easy to remember for the 7th day is for rest. The biological reality is that the starch reserves of the dry grain are used up by that point. Beyond that time you need soil. Also, the composition of the plant changes beyond day 6. In general, 285 pounds of dry grain will yield 1 ton of sprouted grain (with soaked up water). Thinking purely in dry matter, 1 pound of grain will yield 1.4 pounds of sprouts in 6 days and its fresh, green feed.
Let’s look at the nutritional profile of sprouts. Crude protein in barley grain is about 13% whereas when sprouted it’s about 16%. Vitamin E, a vitamin which is universally low in stored feeds, can increase from about 7mg/kg in barley grain to 62 mg/kg when sprouted. Vitamin E is critical to proper immune system functioning. Beta-carotene goes from 4.1 mg/kg in barley grain to 42 mg/kg when sprouted. Beta-carotene is the starting compound for vitamin A and also has important immune system functions. Biotin, which helps glucose production, as well as keratin production for hoof health, increases from 0.16 mg/kg to 1.15mg/kg. Free folic acid, or vitamin B9 goes from .12 mg/kg to 1.05 mg/kg.
Being live feed, sprouts also increase enzyme levels, which give better digestion and absorption. As far as protein considerations, soluble protein is converted to by-pass protein, thus less rumen ammonia and less milk urea nitrogen. Sprouted grains also have increased amino acids, such as glutamine and proline, which are converted to lysine (an amino acid which cows cannot make on their own and is normally supplemented).
There is extra labor needed in making sprouts: loading the grain into trays and filling with water, loading the trays onto the shelves, checking fodder growth daily, removing the trays from the shelves and emptying them into a container; washing and rinsing trays, and feeding the green feed to the animals. Just make this part of your daily feed routine.
A main consideration is constant temperature and humidity control to make sure growth is optimum and molds are inhibited. Slope of tray is also important for all seeds to germinate properly and not get too water logged. Recycling of used water for further sprout production is not recommended, but recycling the water for other farm uses is fine. Notably, nothing needs to be added to the water for the sprouts – the starting grain has all the reserves it needs to sprout. Simply applying warmth, humidity and water will start the miracle of life from otherwise dormant, hard to digest dry grain.
Sprouting seeds seems like a great opportunity to get fresh high quality feed to your animals year round. I’ve always liked eating sprouts myself and knowing a bit more about them now, I think I’ll ramp up my own intake of them!
Parasites: Flies (August 2012)
Parasites love heat and humidity. Unless you’re in the drought stricken areas that are extremely dry, the very warm summer temperatures this year are helping parasites multiply in very short times.
Parasites can be internal or external. Important internal parasites of livestock usually bring to mind stomach worms and coccidia. There are many more, but those probably cause the most problems. External parasites bring to mind flies, lice and mange. Flies torment animals during the warm season while the effects of lice and mange tend to be seen during the indoor housing times of colder season.
Horn flies are smaller than other kinds of flies and are usually found on the bellies and backs of cows; horn flies deposit eggs in fresh manure and take 9-12 days to develop into an adult. They take 10-12 blood meals per day and can transmit Staph aureus between animals. Face flies also lay eggs in fresh manure and are adults in 14 days; face flies have been found to carry over 30 bacterial diseases and are the main carriers of the pinkeye bug. Stable flies are found on the lower body and legs of cattle and take about 2-3 blood meals a day; stable flies prefer aging manure and bedding or round bale feeder areas to deposit their eggs. Cattle bunch up trying to avoid painful bites. House flies will use a variety of organic materials to lay their eggs and it takes about 7 days for them to become adults.
With these things in mind, maybe it is easier to see why I have always promoted clipping and/or dragging pastures to destroy the manure pies and allow even re-growth of pasture. Just wait 2-3 days so the dung beetles can drill manure into channels they create in the soil. This action of dung beetles is incredibly im-portant. Applying basic biological concepts such as the action of wind will reduce fly burdens and drying-by-dragging will reduce the habitat of parasites in pasture, making your animals happier and more productive.
Parasites: Stomach Worms (September 2009)Unfortunately, flies aren’t the only parasites. The ones which actually do the most harm cannot be seen. These are the stomach worms that can really build up in young stock and on the pastures. The life cycle of these pests is to be taken in by grazing animals, grow and reproduce within the digestive tract of the animals, and be deposited back out on the pasture to be taken up again by animals to repeat the cycle. This can happen many times to the same animals if confined in a small paddock. Unfortunately, the population of the worm larvae sky rockets as the growing season continues.
In summer, unless your paddocks are scorched, parasites are thriving and sending millions of eggs out onto pasture as your herd animals drop their ma-nure on the ground. The eggs hatch in a few hours, soon crawl up the blades of nearby grass hoping to be eaten by animals as they graze, then start their life again in the host, sucking blood from the stomach walls. This is basic biology and there’s no getting around it completely. This does come to a halt af-ter one to two good killing frosts. Prior to that, however, thousands of tiny larvae are nearly jumping off the tips of the grass into the animals.
Parasites (of any kind) will always be present wherever there is a high animal density in a contained area. Only the free roaming bison on the American Plains could constantly move along and not encounter heavy pressure of internal parasites. There are ways, however, that you can reduce the pressure while also keeping your animals healthier by eating better. How? By using rotational pasture management so animals get new paddocks every 12 hours and by giving the paddocks a rest once grazed in order to re-grow. Just as important, dragging pastures to spread out manure will allow quicker drying out of manure to kill the fragile microscopic larva crawling about. The ideal time to drag out manure pies is 2-3 days from when the cows are on the paddock. This will not hinder pas-ture re-growth and more importantly will allow the dung beetles to do their work. This timing also allows time for horn flies and face flies to lay their eggs, so eggs will be hatched and the fragile young larva can also be killed by spreading out the manure pies and quickly drying out their living areas of internal para-sites and developing flies.
If calves born in February through April and weaned three months later are sent out back to the regular old paddock where such animals always go, they will quickly become infested with internal stomach worms since they have no immunity to them. Typical signs are pot-bellied calves with obvious bones whose hair coat may be rough looking and reddish black, along with diarrhea and dried manure on back legs that look kind of thin. If you see this in your young animals out on pasture, it is an almost sure sign of a parasite infestation. Animals in the age group between one month after weaning up to about 10-12 months old are the most likely to become infested. Once past this age, they tend to build natural immunity and can then live in balance with the parasites that they encounter. For the first time ever this year I saw actual blood engorged (dark reddish) stomach worms. They were no longer than about 1 cm long. Looking at them under a microscope they are really horrible looking little monsters, with teeth lining a round mouth which rips holes into the stomach wall where it sucks blood. These particular ones were found in a water trough by a farmer who was nicely scrubbing the water tub out. I was completely amazed.
Unfortunately, the smaller the land base, the more likely it is that parasites will infest young stock as similar groups are placed in the same small lots year after year. Animals that are carrying a burden of internal worms will have their immune system drawn down. This can be troublesome if there are sudden changes in weather (cool damp weather will likely trigger the calves to start coughing) and fly burdens will likely cause pinkeye. Only on rare occasion have I seen an animal so severely parasitized that they are near dead due to anemia (loss of blood due to parasite action). This will present as an animal that already had looked like I described above (but was either not treated or at least not effectively treated) which will progress to having a swollen looking jaw (fluid filled), very white mucous membranes (mouth, eye sockets, vulva) and be extremely weak – most likely lying down. Sometimes these young ani-mals will also have ulcers in their mouth.
So how do we prevent internal parasite build-up? All the above that I wrote can be prevented pretty much by really excellent feeding. There certainly are farms which do not have parasite problems (not counting the farms that can routinely use wormers and medicated feeds). The farms which have weaned calves that look good usually are those farms which wean calves no sooner than three months of age and that were feeding whole milk as it provides the absolute best nutrition. And of course those farms using nurse cows with calves will have stronger calves to begin with going into the weaning process. It is those farms that pay attention to detail in the continued proper feeding of their weaned animals that will be most satisfied. Without doubt, weaned animals up to 10 months old are generally the weakest link in the chain on organic farms. Clipping pastures, rotating calves from paddock to paddock, using chickens in the paddocks to peck apart the manure paddies, having diatomaceous earth as part of a salad bar of at least 6 free choice minerals types, fresh water, high energy stored forage to complement the high protein pasture and a touch of grain will all contribute to healthy calves that won’t become in-fested with internal parasites. If for no other reason, feeding excellent levels of nutrition will counteract the drain they will undoubtedly experience in the summer months due to the farm’s resident parasites.
Treatments can range from materials that are high in tannins like black walnut hulls, to better designed mixes like Fertrell’s dewormer mix that’s added to the feed, to Ferro which has extremely high levels of tannins, iron and minerals. If these aren’t working, then ivermectin is still allowed for organic live-stock – if all other measures appropriate for organics have been tried. Bear in mind however, that ivermectin is totally poisonous to the dung beetle popu-lation, those beetles which decompose manure paddies quickly in healthy biological systems.
If a farm is found to be using ivermectin on a certain age class of animals every year, most certifiers would rightly ask to see what the farm is doing to prevent parasite pressures from developing. One way, at least in areas with high livestock density, would be to have your animals custom raised in an en-tirely different area.
As the season changes shortly, young animals that may be carrying parasite burdens are especially susceptible to damp chilly air, especially if brought in-doors once the pasture season is over. Never, ever bring young stock back inside to the same building that shares air with older animals. A rule of thumb is that once an animal leaves the main barn where it was as a youngster, always raise it outdoors (with proper shelter) and bring it back into the main adult barn only when it is ready to join the milking string. Too many times I have been called to see sick and coughing parasitized animals that were brought back into the barn in October or November when the weather got bad. Major mistake. By feeding animals well and keeping them outdoors in managed pastures and shelters, your young stock will grow up to become healthy, productive members of your dairy herd.
Parasites in Calves (September 2011)
I really think that parasitism, whether internal (stomach worms and coccidia) and external (flies and mange) are truly a weak link in the chain of organic live-stock health and growth.
It must be remembered that if pasturing animals in the same areas year after year, there will be parasites waiting for each group as they arrive. Pastures look really nice early on but those stomach worm larva are invisible to our eye and are out there rapidly multiplying and loading the animals that are out there eating the forages. That’s because the stomach worm larva crawl to the tips of the grass blades to be taken in again by the animal to start their life cycle all over again (to feed and reproduce themselves within the animal’s digestive system).
This is why I am in favor of clipping pastures or at least dragging pastures with a set of chains: it smears out the manure paddy and those larva will dry out in the sun and wind and not live to climb up the grass blades to be eaten and taken in again.
What do your calves on pasture look like right now? Are they sleek and in good body condition just like when you weaned them or set them out to pasture? Or do they look a bit more ragged now – perhaps a bit pot-bellied, their hair being dry looking and reddish black (not shiny black as it should be), with thin back leg muscles and some dried diarrhea up high on their legs and tail? If so, these are classic signs of internal stomach worm infestation.
It would be wise to catch a few up and look in their eye sockets to see how pink or pale white the sockets are. In sheep and goats looking at their eye sockets will reveal the degree of blood loss. Calves hide it until later.
In organic agriculture, with the requirement of animals 6 months and older to get a minimum of 30% dry matter from pasture over the grazing season, it is on-ly a matter of time before the young stock, which are not immunologically mature against stomach worms, will become infested if pasture management is not top notch. A big part of it all is proper feeding to ensure excellent energy intake while on pasture. This can be from high energy forages or giving some grain. The immune system depends heavily on proper daily energy intake. It should be noted that adult animals do NOT need to be wormed as they can live in balance with a stomach worm challenge in their environment – unfortunately young stock can’t because they haven’t experienced worms previously. Note: lung worms can, and do, infect adult cattle especially in wet years.
I think a good goal is to raise calves that do have some challenge with stomach worm larva in the pasture, yet are managed and fed well enough that instead of becoming infested, they instead build
immunity due to a low level exposure. This is a kind of a natural vaccine effect. Unfortunately not many farms seem to be able to achieve this. The result is somewhat stunted calves that likely will freshen a month or two later since they won’t reach breeding size as quickly. However, calves that do make it through this tough period of life – usually between 4-11 months of age – start looking really nice again by a year old and go on to do fine. Even if they did look bad due to a significant stomach worm infestation, they will now be really strong against pasture stomach worm challenges the rest of their lives.
Rabies (June 2006)
Now that the warm weather has hit, many of the wild creatures are also moving about and living out their lives in the nearby woods. Rabies is a viral in-fection that can sometimes take from 20 days to 6 months to incubate in the victim. Once it shows itself clinically, there is no way to reverse the course of the disease. The end result is always death. The common signs are episodes of odd behavior (aggressive or depressed), overly friendly activity for a wild animal, odd vocal sounds, reluctance or inability to drink water, and salivating/drooling/foaming at the mouth. Once the signs are observable, the animal will die in about 5-10 days. There is no recovery with rabies – so if an animal is displaying these symptoms, but then improves, it isn’t rabies.
The usual animals in our area that are carriers are raccoons, skunks and bats. As a licensed veterinarian I get a complete listing of all tested rabies posi-tive cases in Pennsylvania counties yearly. The entire listing usually includes a couple dogs, cats, a cow or two, a horse, a mule, a few opossums and maybe a ground hog – in addition to scores of raccoons and skunks. Bats are hard to catch to test. If bitten by a bat, assume it is rabid and seek medical attention. Any nocturnal animal (animal that is usually active at night) that is seen active in the daytime should be considered as a possible infected animal. One time at noon when I was sitting by the Octorara creek around the corner from where I live, a bat was flying overhead. Not good. Another time during the day I saw a raccoon doing back flips in a recently harvested corn field. Last summer, at midday, a raccoon came within 10 feet of my front porch, making really weird noises and odd backwards jumps right near my cat, which was about 3 feet away from it. I quickly took a metal bucket and threw it at the coon and off it went. But I was on high alert the rest of the day and carried a baseball bat around with me in the yard. Never did see that coon again, but I told the neighbors to stay on alert.
There is no state law requiring a veterinarian to administer the vaccine to farm production animals like cows and horses. You can vaccinate your own cows and horses, if you feel inclined. Hardly any farmers do this locally but in other states they do.
If a vaccinated dog or cat gets into a fight with a raccoon or skunk (or whatever wild animal) that wanders into the barn, barnyard or farmstead, we im-mediately re-vaccinate your pet. You need to call me to do it and you need to do it quickly – not a week later when you get around to doing it. Usually peo-ple get frightened, and rightfully so, when there is odd behavior by a wild animal in the yard. Boosting the initial vaccine will kick the antibodies into high gear and protect your pet. Those antibodies were created from the first vaccination. If, however, your pet was not vaccinated, it must stay in strict quar-antine for 6 months, so it can be determined if your pet will come down with the virus or not. Unfortunately, most farmers will not do a strict quarantine and the unfortunate animal is put to sleep. A previous vaccination would have prevented that.
If there is human exposure to an animal that tests to be rabies positive, the state public health department will come to your farm and figure out who needs to get the post exposure series of shots. These will save the life of the person who has accidentally gotten any bit saliva or blood of the rabid animal into any nicks or cuts on the skin.
Rabies is entirely preventable by being vaccinated. It is one of the few vaccines that I urge to be used, not only because it can prevent such a dreaded dis-ease but because it is also state law.
Vaccination (November 2012)
With the topsy-turvy weather of mega-storm “Sandy” and temperatures only in the low 40’s and overcast, stress on your animals’ immune systems is probably happening. This brings to mind the topic of vaccination. I am not strongly in favor of vaccination nor am I opposed to vaccination – it all depends on factors within an individual farm. While vaccinating prevents disease, I think that it’s also a crutch that allows for unnaturally high density of animals to be kept to-gether. Vaccines certainly can prevent terrible diseases – I thank God for the rabies vaccine. There have been no alternative forms of prevention for rabies. Un-vaccinated people or animals that are bitten by a rabid animal will die unless they get the antibody treatment in time. On the other hand, some vaccines seem to be weak, evidenced by the need for one to two shots a year. One would think that a truly good vaccine would provide long standing immunity – hopefully for many years. For example, the rabies vaccine in people is good for 5-10 years and in most small animals it’s good for 3 years. I’m definitely not in favor of excessive vaccination programs as it may confuse the immune system or possibly create a tolerance effect, which is when the body becomes accustomed to the injected material and no longer mounts a response.
Pneumonia (February 2013)
I treated cases of pneumonia this month in cows and have been called from out of state for even more pneumonia cases. We’ve only finished January and more fluctuating weather will no doubt occur and negatively affect animals before good spring weather arrives. Let’s look at general prevention and then biological treatment options for cases of pneumonia.
First it needs to be stated that in the normal animal there are “good” and “bad” bacteria that line the respiratory tract, with the good ones keeping the bad ones in check when the animal is in good health. But when the animal’s immune system is stressed or depressed from being outside in 35-40 degree rain, damp/chilly air, calving time, internal parasites, stale air, damp bedding and/or recent shipping, the normal balance can be toppled. How? Viruses punch tiny holes in the respiratory tract lining, which then allow the bad bacteria to gain an advantage, resulting in coughing animals – and potentially in pneumonia. I say “potentially” because if environmental causes like stale air, drafty air and/or damp bedding can be corrected, then coughing does not necessarily proceed to pneumonia. Importantly, if you can get animals that have recently started coughing outside into fresh air – if the weather is pleasant – it can stop the downward process. This is why it’s important to NOT keep animals indoors all winter long. If it’s a sunny, pleasant day, it’s not icy and there’s not a lot of mud, by all means put animals outside to get fresh air and some exercise. And I don’t mean for only an hour. Put them out for the whole morning or afternoon, whenever possible – it will enhance their health. As most people know, it’s very uncommon for calves in hutches to get respiratory problems – they can go in and out from their hutch whenever they please.
Let’s consider the role of the immune system. In the course of respiratory disease, if the animal is immuno-competent yet never has been previously challenged by the bad bugs, it takes about 10 days for the animal’s own antibodies to rally and start fighting off the bad bacteria to restore equilibrium. In the first few days, during initial activation of the immune system, the animal’s interferon levels increase. Immune system cells, having a kind of “radar”, are drawn to the sites of infection. These cells (macrophages and neutrophils) kill anything that shouldn’t be there. During battle, these cells are sending signals via lymphatic drainage to nearby lymph nodes. When the macrophages and neutrophils have become exhausted from the battle, you will start to see yellowish snot – that’s their remains along with dead bacteria. Other cells (lymphocytes) have been signaled and quickly mature in the nearby lymph nodes and these cells create an-tibodies. It takes anywhere from 5 to 10 days for lymphocytes to make antibodies. Once formed, antibodies are very efficient in killing specific bacteria – anti-bodies seek them out, lock onto them and destroy them quickly in expert fashion.
Wouldn’t it be even better to have highly efficient antibodies already waiting to go at the first hint of challenge? After all, in pneumonia every day that the damage goes on from the bad bacteria means there’s much less chance for recovery – leading to permanent lung damage or death. The best way to have func-tional antibodies already present and functional is by vaccination (induced prior exposure). If vaccinating for only one common infectious disease on a farm, pneumonia would be it.
The building blocks of the immune system are energy, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and proteins. Therefore proper nutrition is critical. In the winter time, however, the vitamin content of stored feed is reduced compared to fresh green pasture. While healthy cows do make their own vitamins in the rumen, young stock whose rumen function is just starting may not achieve appropriate levels. Any ketotic (low energy) animal will also not have an intact immune system. Basically any animal backing off of feed won’t be making enough vitamins. Therefore supplementing vitamins like A, D and E would help boost the immune system. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps the cells of the immune system function better. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant but is quickly excreted in the urine, so it should be injected daily for 3 days in a row.
Mastitis (March 2013)
The warming weather and associated dampness has had me treating coliform mastitis lately – so this month’s newsletter will focus on the causes, preven-tion and treatment of this very frustrating problem that pops up at times. The infrequent nature of coliform mastitis lends itself to not spending much time and energy in thinking about it. And in a sense, simply by maintaining excellent daily milking procedures and udder hygiene, coliform mastitis is normally prevented.
Most times, it’s the fresh cows which seem to come down with this problem. Why might this be? Perhaps the most important factor is the naturally occur-ring immune suppression of cows preparing to calve and those which have recently calved – basically for 2 weeks on either side of calving. Cows are simp-ly more susceptible to infectious problems during this time. Add in the usual decrease in daily dry matter intake (lack of “groceries”) combined with the immense demands placed on the entire system due to rapid increase in milk production and problems can quickly get out of hand. This is especially so with coliform mastitis since the bugs causing the problem double themselves every 20 minutes. That’s the internal angle.
What about the environment the cow is in? Coliform bugs can be anywhere in the environment – manure, bedding and water. It’s just the way it is. Using bedding materials which are inert is helpful: sand is the best. In the middle is probably straw, which usually doesn’t cause much in the way of coliform mastitis problems in my experience. At the bad end is sawdust: if damp for any reason it can cause major flare-ups. Sawdust is the most common bedding I see associated with coliform mastitis. I have also seen a horrible outbreak with ground peanut hulls years ago – it was advertised to lower somatic cell count but upon laboratory analysis it had zillions of klebsiella-type coliforms! Adding very fine limestone (calcium carbonate) to any commonly used bed-ding material can help to change the pH and reduce coliforms.
Back to the cows – aside from the general immune suppression they experience around calving, why else might a cow contract coliform mastitis? Answer: contact time with teat end and its direct environment is a major factor. Cows lying down for longer than normal will be more easily in contact with bacte-ria in their bedding environment. Such cows will likely be older cows – those weakened by metabolic problems (milk fever or slight milk fever). They are slow or cannot rise. Such an animal will also have slower teat sphincter closing time – and may be actively leaking milk with her teats in direct contact with bedding materials. This is why many hot coliform mastitis cases seem to be in recently fresh, older animals. Worse is when a weak older cow has trouble getting up and steps on her teat end, even in a very minor way – this almost always causes mastitis of various sorts. However, a first calf heifer that is paralyzed may also have a chance of getting coliform mastitis since her teats are spending more time on potentially infected bedding materials.
Not cleaning off the cows’ teats properly during milking time can be a cause as well – that’s why it’s so important to not only look at the length of the teats to be clean but also the teat ends themselves to be clean – not a speck of dirt should be seen on the actual teat end where milk comes out. Dipping the cows prior to and after milking can greatly decrease the possibility of bad germs getting into the teat canal as well.
Pasture Bloat (April 2013)
As we soon get into the early pasture season, there are some things that come to mind for cow health. Many folks may think “what problems can there be with cows on pasture?” Well, believe it or not, there can be some. Above all, changing the diet of the herd radically by putting them all out onto lush growing pas-ture can cause digestive upsets. Try putting cows on grass for only a few hours a day at this point while still feeding the dry hay and/or long leaf baleage in the barn. Moving cows quickly through fields at this point is also good so they don’t trample young growth too much. Keep them in a paddock for an hour or two and move on. Transition your cows to 12 hour grazing by going from 2-3 hours per day in pleasant afternoons to both morning and afternoon grazing over a week’s time. It’s understandable that people want to get their cows out of the barn but try to do it in a way that doesn’t hamper the early growth of your pas-tures, otherwise you might be shooting yourself in the foot.
Once pasture is in full gear, we often notice cows with pipe stream “pasture” manure. What does this mean? Simply put: excessive rumen degradable protein. Fast growing grass in the vegetative state is simply chock full of protein – actually way too much for a cow’s rumen to remain healthy. All that protein from the pasture creates ammonia as it’s broken down. That ammonia can seep through the rumen walls. The cow’s system takes care of it by sending it to the liver, which converts the ammonia to urea. This urea is then in the blood stream and is called blood urea nitrogen (BUN). This BUN is mostly turned into urine and excreted. But the BUN also freely moves into the udder and creates milk urea nitrogen (MUN). This whole process is the cow’s way of getting rid of too much protein intake – but transforming the excessive ammonia costs the cow biological energy and lowers milk production. This is part of the reason why we often see cows on prime pasture getting lean. But we can reduce this excessive drain on their system in two simple ways, by making sure (1) that there is enough energy for them to balance out the excessive protein being taken in and (2) by slowing down the rate of passage through the rumen by feeding effective fiber. The best effective fiber is dry hay – but cows don’t tend to like the dried feeds when they have lush green salad to enjoy in the spring time. They will eat it, though, if you pour or spray diluted molasses on it – and the molasses will provide energy to the rumen as well. And while many farmers that are into graz-ing do not like the thought of corn silage (even though it’s a grass itself), corn silage actually complements grazing well because it provides energy and fiber… and cows still like it even when on pasture! Regardless, balancing intake protein, fiber and energy is critical for your cows’ sake.
While cows on pasture are athletes and very fit due to exercise, folks also need to keep in mind basic biology. The best time to put cows onto a field is about when you’d make hay: for instance, when the clover is about 7-8”, the alfalfa is early bloom at 10-14” and orchard grass is 12-18” high. At this height it yields about 250 lbs dry matter per inch per acre. At that height, it provides the best quality according to brix measurements. It also provides some effective fiber right from the pasture itself. Give it some thought. If starting to graze pasture 24” or taller, it’ll be too mature to support good levels of milk production. Draining cows of milk twice daily means feeding your cows correctly. The New Zealand method of grazing 4-8” tall grass simply doesn’t work in southeast PA due to excessive protein, lack of fiber and lack of energy. But it sure could fit cooler areas that simply cannot grow grass any taller.
I have a couple other thoughts prior to full spring grazing. Every year I usually get at least a few calls from alarmed farmers that cows are suffering from pasture bloat. Pasture bloat is a very real problem but easily prevented by feeding your cows correctly. Pasture bloat results from putting cows (especially hungry cows) onto legume dominant pasture for a few days in a row and is most likely to happen in the cooler early or late times of the season, though it can happen mid-summer. Always feed your cows some dry hay or long leaf baleage ½ hour prior to putting out to pasture regardless of pasture species as the fiber mat in the rumen is vital for cow health. Pasture bloat is even more likely if putting cows onto frosted legume pasture – always wait 2 hours after frost is off prior to putting cows on legume dominant pasture.
We all know that grazing is more of an art than a science. But just because cows are on green grass doesn’t necessarily mean that their rumens are healthy and happy. Perhaps one of the best and easiest ways to watch rumen health is to let your cows tell you how they are doing. Do they chew at least 60 chews per cud that they bring up? It’s easy to do – simply count the chews they chew of a cud right after they bring it up. Do it with a bunch of cows. If chewing less than 50 chews per cud they are lacking fiber for the rumen mat. That is actually vital biological information to know. Also, are at least 60% of the cows chewing cud an hour after eating? And, what does the manure look like? With good digestive health manure should not shoot out of cows like water from a hose but instead should “set up”. It also shouldn’t have any grain chips in it. That’s money going right through your cows without any benefit to you. Truly, feeding stored forage really can balance out lush green grass nicely. By some simple steps, you can make sure that your cows are healthy and happy when out on pasture this season.
Dr. Karreman is an organic dairy veterinarian based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is a 1995 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. By utilizing completely natural treatments for infection rather than antibiotics, Dr. Karreman hopes to elevate agricultural veterinary medicine to a higher level. He has served as a member of the National Organic Standards Board and has a book published by Acres USA, “Four Sea-sons Organic Cow Care.”