This saga began in September when Frances calved.
Little Al’s entrance into the world was basically uneventful. Frances had had, of course, all the basic cow prenatal care, but complications still developed.
This was due in part to her breed (Jersey) and her age (older cows are more susceptible to problems of all kinds).
She developed milk fever first and then came down with pneumonia on top of it.
The vet told me then that she’d probably always be prone to it from here on out and that she should come into the barn for the night if there was a 30 degree or wider difference between the daytime high and the nighttime low.
Frances was born in August, 2008. Her registered name is “KC Exploit Clare” but she doesn’t know that and we have never called her that. So, she’s nine years old now, and will be ten in August.
This is not really all that old. However, she’s had seven calves, which is a gracious plenty. A Jersey cow can live fairly easily to be twenty or so, but will suffer from more and more health issues as she ages. Calving and lactation put huge demands on them, as you can imagine.
So, we’ve been wrestling with her future.
Dairies do not have this issue. When a cow’s productivity lessens and her health declines, she is simply sent to slaughter. It’s an economic situation and one I completely understand. The dairies aren’t being mean. They just cannot provide a retirement village for dairy cows unless all of us are willing to pay $10 per gallon for milk.
This solution, of course, is not an option for Frances or us.
Frances’ future is totally tied to Dave and to me. She is basically worthless as a dairy cow. It’s not just the health issues she has had recently. It’s also the fact that her right front quarter’s teat was injured severely in 2013. The injury was self-inflicted. She got up and stepped on her teat. (Nobody ever said cows were particularly brilliant.) In any other setting, that would have been enough for her to be slaughtered. We nursed that teat for three months. It took two of us to milk her (Dave had collars made for her back legs and held both of them taut while I milked so she couldn’t kick me into next week), and the process took about 45 minutes twice a day.
That’s what it looked like a few days after she did it. The orifice is right in the middle of that mess. Imagine how that hurt.
As a result, that quarter is hard to milk out. The orifice was scarred and is tiny so hand milking is horrible and I can’t do it for long. She has to be milked by machine and it takes longer than the other quarters. No dairy in the world would fool with it.
So, rehoming Frances means certain death for her.
She stays here, with us, for the rest of her life.
Having once made that decision (we did that years ago), we were faced with the problems of this fall and winter.
About a month ago, just as we were heading into that horrible period of very cold temperatures, she got mastitis.
Naturally, she got it in the right front quarter (the one with the blue Udder Mint on it). That photo actually looks pretty good. Way better than it has been.
There are several different causative organisms with mastitis. Most of the them have fairly distinctive symptoms. The worst is one that creates a clear discharge. That’s always Jason’s first question. “Anything clear coming out?” He wants the answer to be “no.” And it has been no.
The type she has causes a lot of swelling. That quarter is swollen in the photo above, but not nearly as much as it was a few days earlier.
See what I mean? That is after milking her. There’s no milk in there, just swelling. At its worst, that blue area was brick hard.
And that swelling creates a big problem, making it difficult to get the medication to the infected area.
Frances has had mastitis before. She got it when she injured that teat. There was no way to avoid it then, although we tried hard. She’s had it a couple of other times, both very mild. Generally, a shot of penicillin or Excenel and she’s good to go.
This time has been a challenge.
There are two ways to treat mastitis. One is with systemic antibiotics (a shot). The other way is to inject the medication right up into the quarter directly. Jason usually does both.
So he came out and gave her an initial shot of Excenel and that did nothing. He came back and tried a shot of penicillin and put some up the quarter. That helped tremendously—for a day.
Rinse and repeat.
Every night, he would come by and treat her. Every morning, it would be vastly improved, and then I would milk out all the medication and by nightfall, it would be all swollen again.
He tried giving her a steroid twice to reduce the swelling. Not only did it not help, he didn’t feel safe doing it again, as the medicine is very hard on a cow’s liver.
The trouble centers around the milk. The mastitis-causing organisms feed and grow in the milk. Get rid of the milk and you take the nasty organisms’ food source away.
But of course, she’s lactating.
So some folks treat mastitis by milking the cow more often, three or four times a day, in an effort to starve the bugs. It often works.
However, it was six degrees outside and I wasn’t exactly excited about the idea of having to drag the milking equipment out to the barn twice as often. I would have been doing nothing but milking the cow.
We shelved that idea.
We tried every antibiotic known to be used to treat mastitis. Some of it helped, briefly. None of it cured it.
So the other day, we made a decision to dry her off. This is a challenge too, to dry off a fully-lactating cow with mastitis. But we’re doing it.
I began by putting her on a medication called Today. It’s an oil-based antibiotic that you inject into the quarter. I did that for several milkings in a row, and then cut her milkings down to only once per day, in the mornings.
Reduced demand equals reduced supply.
Finally, we ceased milking her at all and let 24 hours go by (yesterday).
Jason came out this morning.
First I milked her out thoroughly. See how much better that quarter looks? It’s far closer to normal that it’s been in a month. It ought to look saggy-baggy like the rear quarter does.
This is Quartermaster. It’s a formula developed for dry-cow treatment and prevention of mastitis. It’s basically a combination of streptomycin and penicillin in oil and it’s long-acting.
One tube for each quarter. This, by the way, does not hurt and Frances doesn’t object to it.
Then came the part she does object to—those nasty wasps that Jason brings with him. The dreaded shots.
First up was a vaccination.
Frances is a cow who believes in science. Because of science, she is alive and well. She tolerates the god-damned wasps because she knows they are necessary. That includes vaccinations, which help not only her, but also make life better for her calf.
She also got a vitamin shot, since all this is very stressful.
The last thing was a wormer, which is poured on her back.
And here’s the game plan.
We’ll do nothing for three weeks or so, at which point we will bring her in, milk her out (probably little to nothing in her udder at that point) and repeat this whole process. Hopefully that will kill off everything.
This is very, very early to dry her off. She is not due to calve again until August. Typically, she’d be milked until the last of May. But this is the only way we can defeat this nasty bug.
Once she calves, we’re planning to milk her during the fall, probably right up until December if the weather stays decent. And then we’ll dry her off again. We are not going to attempt to take her through another winter lactating. It’s too hard on all of us. She’s getting older. Dave and I are already old. It’s time to slow the hell down.
So we are.
The downside to all this is that we’ll have to buy milk, which will probably kill us both. In addition, we have two bottle calves so we had to buy a bag of milk replacer.
There she is, enjoying her semi-retirement this afternoon.
What about the dollars and cents of all this? Well, the next time somebody says, “Gee, we’d like to get a milk cow. We have plenty of grass and we can make hay, so it won’t cost us anything,” please send that person over to talk with me.
Milk fever: $279
Pneumonia: $150 for each bout
Mastitis thus far: about $300
Milk replacer, 1 50-pound bag: $68
Putting Frances in retirement, even temporarily, will save us a whole lot of money. Although we’ll have some expense, as you can see, with milk replacer, we’ll not be feeding Frances so much grain (typically $60/month). Instead of 12 pounds of grain per day, she will get one. Hay remains pretty much the same. Hopefully, medical expenses will stop.
However, she needs a friend.
That’s my next subject. Tomorrow.