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Cow Comfort: Alleviating Stress for Improved Production

As I listened to Tom and Sally Brown, organic dairy farmers from Groton, New York, describe their struggle with Johne’s, I was reminded of what Dr. Ann Wells, D.V.M., from Arkansas says about cattle stress and its relation to health. This makes so much common sense — not just for Johne’s, but for most diseases and production/reproduction problems: Stress is a major contributor to disease in animals.

When doing farm calls, Wells likes to first observe the cows from a distance in a pasture or in the barn, keeping close track of which ani­mals are not with the rest of the group or who are acting “differently.”

As she walks toward the group, she notices which animals don’t readily get up or act in a predictable manner. She feels that those outliers can be to be early indications of sub-clinical problems, and can help alert a farmer to where management changes are needed.

She then analyzes the body condition of each animal, noticing body fat, hair quality and other factors, which can indicate low-grade conditions. Even noting which animals have the most flies around them is important — flies seem to bother weakened animals more than strong animals.

Sudden or acute stress is often much less of a problem to animals than chronic or periodic stress which can seriously depress the immune system. While it is often easy to detect the causes of acute stress — calving, disease, sud­den changes in temperature, it is often more difficult to notice chronic stress because it comes on gradually.

Some common causes of chronic stress in­clude nutritional inadequacy, lack of suf­ficient clean water, mycotoxins in feed, mud or ice, stray voltage, lack of ample bedding or other discomfort in stalls, and internal parasites.

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Livestock Grazing: The Organic Farmer’s Dilemma

Livestock grazing organically is one of the hardest things to do, and a dilemma for most organic farmers. Why do most farmers farm the way they do? Because it’s easy — easy to spray, easy to buy technology, easy to plant with a no-till machine.

An Angus calf grazes.

But it’s not always easy to make money, provide quality food, or be sustainable.

And about the way farmers care for their livestock? Locking them in a small box, calculating the “perfect ration,” and keeping it “simple”? When problems do show up, grab a drug — that’s easy! It’s a routine that can be taught. It’s certainly easy to get production and volume, but what about the well-being of that animal? And if we are what we eat, we have a problem.

And then there is organic farming. Is it easy? Well, the “not doing things” part is easy. If I just stopped all the negative practices and things went great, then organic would be easy, too. But is that a sustainable system for feeding the world and producing quality food? Organic can produce crops that yield as much as any other production system, but in more sustainable, environmentally friendly ways, providing better quality food while using less energy.

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Composting Tips and Strategies for Balanced Compost

Composting tips are common to find, but information to build a composting program is really what most people are seeking.

A wheelbarrow full of compost that is ready to apply.

Charles Walters, as quoted in Secrets of the Soil, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, says of microbial life: “There are more kinds and numbers of minute livestock hidden in the shallows and depths of an acre of soil than ever walk the surface of that field.”

As much as a cattle rancher’s livelihood depends on healthy livestock, he and his cattle’s very lives depend on armies of beneficial microbes for survival. Microbes are the foundation for all life on earth; without them the earth would be nothing more than a barren rock. There would be no fertile soils, no plants, no trees, no insects, no animals and no humans.

Soil bacteria secrete acids that break down rocks, and enzymes that break down dead plant and animal matter into rich, life-giving soil, while transforming minerals into forms that are usable to plants. Microbes help prevent soil erosion, combat disease organisms that attack plants, animals and humans, and are an important link our food chain.

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Kunekune Pigs: Perfect for Small Farms

Kunekune pigs (pronounced cooney cooney) are a smart option for small farms. Kunekune means fat and round in the Maori language as they hail from New Zealand. They are tasseled, sweet-tempered, medium-sized pigs with fe­males averaging 100 to 175 pounds and 200-250-plus pounds for males. They have short, upturned snouts that discour­age rooting, and they do not challenge fences. Kunekunes are grazing pigs and are able to grow on low inputs, making them an ideal type of pig to raise during periods of escalating grain prices. Gour­met chefs in Los Angeles have declared Kunekune pork outstanding.

Colorful six-week-old purebred Kunekunes nursing.

My husband and I raise our pigs in a semi-rural environment within the growth management boundary of Olym­pia, Washington. We have more than a dozen neighbors surrounding our 4-acre parcel. Our county conservation district has advised us that our pastures can support two boars, eight sows and their piglets. However, one boar can eas­ily keep eight sows in pig. Kunekune pigs are odorless, quiet and are safe for children, which keeps the neighbors happy, and both kids and adults love to visit with them. Continue Reading →

Cattle Breeds: An Introduction to Randall Cattle

Cattle breeds can vary greatly, so finding the right one for your property size and usage an important challenge.

A Randall cow and calf. Photo courtesy www.randallcattleregistry.org.

Much has been said lately about breeding cattle with strong genetics for milk production on grass. This is what Randall cattle are all about. For farmers interested in an old-time subsistence cattle breed for a homestead or small grass based dairy, Randalls may be just the ticket. Randalls originated in Sunderland, Vermont, on the farm of Everett Randall, who, along with his father before him, kept a closed herd of cattle derived mostly from the landrace hill cattle of the area. This herd is thought to have been totally isolated for over 80 years, surviving virtually unchanged while other landrace herds across New England disappeared by being “graded up” in the first half of the 20th century.

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Pasture Management: Benefits of Biodiverse Forage

Pasture management for livestock far too often falls to using artificial stimulants, and not by selecting the right plants and managing the soil. But the latter is by far the better way.

Cows and calves in the pasture.

The resurrection of interest among graziers in medicinal plants seems to parallel the burgeoning movement of livestock operators in organic (and ecological) meat, milk and egg production, rotational managed grazing, and the stockman’s increasing interest in reducing dependence on pharmaceutical drugs — due to their costs, side effects and concerns over residues in meat, milk and egg products. There are numerous books available on the medicinal properties of various plants, many of which are considered weeds in pastures and meadows on farms.

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