March 13, 2022 Newsletter: Some sad news from the farm

March 13, 2022

Good morning,

It's been a few weeks since we have sent out a newsletter. The truth is, the month of February was a tough one for our farm and our family.

In 2021, we saw increased demand for fresh milk and so we purchased three registered Guernsey cows from two separate dairies in Wisconsin. This increased our herd size from two up to five milk cows.

Celia: 

Celia was purchased in March from a larger dairy in the Cashton, WI area, known for producing quality Guernsey cows. She produced a bull calf in June. She seemed to be adjusting to Honeysuckle Farm just fine. However, things took a turn in November when she came into her heat cycle.

A cow's heat cycle can last between 8-30 hours. In the afternoon, I had noticed Foxtail, our herd bull, pursuing her intensely, which is a sure sign of estrus. He would run after her, attempting to mount, and she would run away, thwarting his attempts. But he is extremely persistent. This is normal behavior, and so there was no cause for alarm at that time.

The next morning, I found Celia pinned under a large Honeysuckle bush. She was alive and alert, and it was apparent that she had been struggling to get free from the bush, but was unable. I cut was able to remove the bush, but she had been laying on her right side for quite some time. This situation was particularly bad because of how a cow's digestive tract operates. 

Cows are ruminating animals. They ingest forage of low nutrient value compared to other plant sources such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts, and the bacteria and enzymes in their rumen break down the forage allowing the cow to absorb the nutrients released. Gases are released in this process.

When a cow is unable to release these gases naturally, they become trapped in the rumen, which expands within the body cavity, causing a condition called bloat. Bloat can kill a cow in as little as 15 minutes, by essentially constricting the airways and suffocating the cow from within.

Celia had begun to bloat. With the help of a more experienced friend, we acted quickly. First, we attempted to insert a hose through her mouth down into the rumen to release the pressure. When that failed, we were forced to install a device called a trocar. This is done by using a sharp knife and piercing the hide and rumen wall, then screwing in the trocar device with acts as a passageway for pressure to escape. (Our friends have a YouTube channel that documented this ordeal. You can watch the video here)

Many times, cows that have this procedure done make a full recovery. However, this ended up not being the case for Celia. Her health began to slowly decline over the next few months, as she seemed to steadily lose weight until she was unable to stand on her own. She passed away on February 3rd. 

LoriKay:

LoriKay was purchased in November from a farmer who was retiring after decades of dairying. She was in milk at the time of purchase and was expecting a calf in May 2022. 

About a week after we got her home, I noticed she had developed a cough and her milk production was dropping quickly. We called our local traveling large animal veterinarian to come out and examine her. The vet said she had some fluid in her lungs and gave her an antibiotic to help clear it up. Subsequently, we began to dry LoriKay off to take some of the strain off of her system.

LoriKay's cough improved temporarily, then began to worsen again. So in late December, we took her and three other cows (including Celia) to the University of Illinois' Large Animal Teaching Hospital to get checked out. The teaching vets did an ultra-sound on LoriKay's lungs, which revealed that she had significant legions that were likely years old. They said she would likely continue to have coughing and respiratory system issues during hot/humid and cold/dry weather extremes. 

We brought her back home and she seemed to be chugging along until about mid-February when I noticed that she was unable to stand on her own one day. With the assistance of a skid steer loader, i was able to get her standing. However, the following day, she was unable to stand again. I again assisted her, and moved her to a bedded shelter to keep an eye on her. She had been eating and drinking and seemed alert and comfortable that evening. The following morning, I found her dead. I was stunned.

It had been exactly two weeks since Celia had passed.

Coppertone:

Coppertone was purchased along with LoriKay. Between the three cows that we purchased in 2021, Coppertone was the one we were most excited about. In dairy farming, you always hope to get a female (heifer) calf because that is the best way to build your herd. Coppertone had been artificial inseminated (AI) with sexed semen to produce a heifer calf, due March 22nd. She also had very good numbers related to her milk production, such as the percent butterfat, etc. For these reasons, her purchase price was about double that of the other two.

Coppertone was doing great on Honeysuckle Farm. She produced milk up until it was time to dry her off to prepare for calving this spring. But things took a terrible turn on February 26 when she slipped on some ice that was hidden under the snow. We were able to get her up on her feet again, and she finished the day walking around grazing in a new area that appeared to have better footing. In hindsight, I should have put her in a bedded shelter. 

The following morning, I checked on her at sunrise. She had attempted to stand at some point during the night and appeared to have slipped again. Her rear legs were doing the splits, straight out, side-to-side. I spent all day trying to get her to stand, but she would not. I didn't find out until later when I took her to the University of Illinois Large Animal Teaching Hospital that she had badly dislocated her hip. The severity of the injury meant she would be unable to walk again. 

At that point, the only option was to have her euthanized. An attempt was made to try to save the calf by inducing labor and performing a C-section, but unfortunately, the calf was not viable.

Needless to say, we have been devastated by the losses in the past month. In addition to the cattle losses, we also had two sows lose complete litters of a dozen piglets each, for reasons unknown.

Rachael has also been required to work 12-hour night shifts for the annual maintenance outage for LaSalle Station, which in and of itself puts a yearly strain on our family life.

I am sharing these ordeals with you to shed some light on the difficulties that we face as a small farm. We had a plan to try to meet the growing demand for fresh raw milk. Unfortunately, our plan failed and we now need to regroup and decide how to move forward. 

For now, our best idea has been to purchase weaned heifers and raise them on our farm from an earlier age. In theory, this should give them chance to become accustomed to our pasture-based system that may be a struggle for a mature cow that was raised in a confinement system. The downfall to this plan is that it will take significantly longer to build a milking herd.

On a lighter note, Glory recently gave birth to a little bull calf! This was such a wonderful and much-needed change to the way things were going. Check out the picture of him below under Farm Picture of the Week.

We hope to be able to meet the growing demand for fresh raw milk in the future and we appreciate your patience and support.

Looking forward to brighter days, 

Joe Conley | Honeysuckle Farm

Joe Conley

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