Doc’s Blog

Individual Cow Care

     A couple of recent items in the ag-press caught my interest. One was entitled  “How Many Times Do You Touch Your Cows?”  (   This infographic contrasted ten touches in a given period on a conventional dairy with only three on a hypothetical technically advanced dairy — at vaccination, breeding and when  pregnancy checked. There was no explanation of how he arrive at these numbers.

     I was a little disappointed in the other one,  “Individual Animal Care on the Dairy”   ( individual-animal-care-dairy?  Individual Animal Care on the Dairy)..)  I would liked to have seen something  on the comprehensive individual care of each cow. But, the article basically dealt with culturing and treating mastitic cows individually rather than blanket treating the whole group — a good thing to do, but not the information  I had hoped for. 

     For me, these two views were interesting, but basically useless. However, they did raise the question,  “Is individual cow care just something to placate the do-gooder animal welfare people or is it beneficial to the animals and to the animal caretakers?”

     An early Roman quote states, “The master’s eye doth fat the ox, his foot doth fat the ground.”  I interpret this to indicate there are beneficial  interactions betwixt a herdaman and his animals and between a farmer and the crops on his farm.  

     Over the years, I have known dairymen who were considered     somewhat backward in their dairy operation. Many of them did not have the latest innovations in facilities or equipment.  Most of them built their rations on the basis of what seemed to be best for the cows rather than least cost formulas generated by feed salesman and later on by computers. 

     The odd thing was most of them were more profitable than their up-scale neighbors.  Some did produce more milk  but the main advantages came from other sources — cow were healthier, they bred back sooner, and they stayed in the herd longer.  Many of them had four or five generations of the same bloodlines in the herd. Profitability is not always linked to milk production. 

     I particularly remember Shorty.  He milked and cared for about 30 Brown Swiss cows - all by himself. He catered to the needs of those cows  in a manner befitting the fine ladies they were  If one of his gals was off-feed Shorty would cut fresh grass from the meadow and bring it to the ailing cow in an effort to entice her to eat more. When he was in the barn he talked to them almost constantly.  He alway kept the bedding clean and deep, He groomed and brushed his cow regularly. 

     He loved his cows and they loved him.  Given the chance, they would reach out to nuzzle him in an affectionate manner.  Some would try to lick him as he walked by.  Needles to say, his herd was extremely productive. 

     Yes, I know you cannot duplicate this in large herds —and that’s a shame.  But, here is a tip from the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture that is useful in some herds.  There are acupuncture points at various place on the body of any animal.  Most of the useful one are located along either side of the backbone and down a ways on the sides. When stimulated, these  “visceral-cutaneous reflex points” have a beneficial effect on internal organs. Here’s the tip:  vigorous brushing with a stiff grooming brush stimulates well being in the cow and she enjoys it.  If you try this, no doubt some cows will follow you about, begging - in cow language - “Oh, pease, do it again.” 

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Seasonal Mineral Needs

   I am occasionally asked what minerals for livestock are required at different times of the year — for example, “Going into winter, what minerals should I make sure are available for my livestock?”

   It is true that mineral consumption may vary with the season, under different circumstances, and even in different areas of the country. You may see other consumption patterns on your own farm, but here are some examples. 

  • When cattle are grazing on lush, fast growing spring grass   they will generally eat more Magnesium. 
  • Young stock seem to eat more Copper as do animals having to eat  moldy feed.  
  • Sulfur is involved in hair and hoof growth, When animals shed their winter coat and grow a summer coat they will eat more sulfur.  The same is true in the fall when they are growing a winter hair coat. 
  • Calcium consumption may go down in summer and up in winter.  I have no explanation for this, but I suspect it has to do with a seasonal variation in phosphorus availability.  
  • Animals will often drastically alter their mineral consumption within one day of ration changes.
  • Animals will sometimes take more minerals in advance of imminent weather changes.  It seems they anticipate feed may be limited during a storm and stock up on minerals to tide them over.   Bison appear to be especially canny in this regard.
  • If the water is high in nitrates, animals will need more need more Vitamin A. They will take more Vitamin A and B when forage quality in stored feed declines. 
  • Animals under stress for any reason will eat more Vitamin B..
  • If well nourished animals are are changed to a mineral deficient ration it may take several months for them to deplete their body reserves and begin to show deficiency symptoms.  When they are again supplied with adequate minerals, it may take several months for them to eat what is required to replenish these  reserves — refilling the tank.

   I don’t think it’s possible to accurately predict what minerals animals will need under varying circumstances.  Thus, it is important to provide a full array of minerals at all times and let the animal’s innate nutritional wisdom make that decision. 

   In the last analysis, there is only one answer to the question, “What is the most important mineral to have available for your animals?” — and the answer is, “The one that’s most deficient.”