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.

Two months later, she got a good case of pneumonia again.

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.



A Pedicure and Some Bling

Frances had quite a day yesterday.

She went to the beauty parlor.

Jason came and picked her up yesterday morning and took her to the dairy to have a pedicure.

She hates it.

This is why she hates it.


If you ever tried to trim a cow’s hooves  with the cow standing upright, you will appreciate that chute/table thing. The cow can’t do anything to resist, the farrier is not in danger of being kicked into the next century, and therefore can do a better and faster job trimming.  The whole thing is better for everyone and that includes Frances.

We did not go. I thought about it briefly, to get photos, but decided not to. She is stressed enough without having Mommy there during her moment of sheer horror and embarrassment.

Jason brought her home after a couple of hours with nice trimmed feet.  She was in a huge hurry, upon exiting the trailer, to get back to her pasture.

This is not a luxury.  It’s not just for looks.  It’s essential to the health and well-being of the cow. If she can’t walk comfortably, she won’t, and if she doesn’t, she will ultimately die.

Frances has one very odd hoof, the back right one.  It grows weirdly.  Cows’ hooves are cloven (two separate pieces to them).  The outer piece of that hoof grows at a crazy angle.  For that reason, we really need a good farrier to do a number on it about twice a year.  It’s much easier for us to just pop her in over there when he’s doing the dairy’s cows than to have him come out to our place for one cow.

He does surgery, basically, on that hoof while just doing a regular trim on the others.  This time, he took off about 1/3 of her back hooves and only had to trim a little bit from the front two.  That’s pretty much how it always is.

She came home with a bandage.  It’s made of very tough material so it can withstand a cow walking on it.  It comes off tomorrow morning.  I’m sure he had to cut into the quick and she probably bled some.  This is also pretty normal for her. The hoof looks much better.

In addition to that serious adventure, she got some bling yesterday for her stanchion.  Deb made Frances her very own decoration.  Originally, it said “Frances” on it, but apparently Stella sabotaged it and it no longer says that, but it’s okay because Frances can’t read.

Here’s her stanchion bling.  She is very proud of it.

I think that is supposed to be me.  I think of her as the barn guardian, watching over Frances as she eats.

Frances does not have the greatest table manners. She gets grain all over her nose.  She doesn’t care.

At any rate, I wanted to get photos of the bling and also of her hoof.  It’s hard to photograph her hooves.

For one thing, it’s fall.  During the fall and spring,  it’s often muddy around here.  Cows are not the cleanest animals on the planet. They just don’t care about dirt.

In addition, Frances has had a bit of diarrhea lately.  All cow poo is soft and sometimes a little runny.  Yours would be too if you ate the amount of fiber she does.  To add to that, we have her on alfalfa twice a day and that stuff is a major laxative.

So she’s a mess.  If this happens during the summertime, she gets a bath, every day, if necessary.  Because she has had two bouts of pneumonia close together, we’re not giving her a bath in this weather.  She can stay dirty for the time being.

Anyway, I tried to get pictures.

There’s the hoof and you can see the bandage.  It really looks good.  I promise it does.

But while I was getting the photo, I got distracted.

I got distracted by her tail.

When she has the runs, she sometimes manages to get it in her tail.  When we cannot give her bath, it dries.  And that’s what it looks like.

I do have a way to tie her tail back while I’m milking, because there is no experience in the world more pleasant than being hit in the face with a manurey tail.

But the tail.

I was so intrigued by the tail that I got another photo of it.

I cannot for the life of me figure out what it reminds me of.  Anyone got any ideas?