Monday, February 16, 2009

Twiggy in Our Midst (a.k.a. "We Heart Julie")

The boyfriend's back...and the younger girl is skinny...hey la, hey la, the boyfriend's back...

Things at Skookumchuck Farm are going well as far as the love department is concerned. Tabor and Sheila are still ever so much enamored, sharing drinks at the trough, tussling occasionally, sleeping near each other, following each other around. We have no concerns that a breeding will take place during Tabor's visit.

Bridgit, meanwhile, has been losing weight. This isn't uncommon for nursing cows, especially lactating first calf heifers like Bridgit, who is supposed to be directing energy both to milk for her calf and growth for herself. On the beef cow scale of 1 - 7, where 1 is super skinny and horrific-looking (too thin to breed back) and 7 is Fatty McChubberson (too fat to breed back), we'd put Bridgit at a 3. Ideally, she should be a 4-6 to breed back (closer to 4); in contrast, Sheila is probably a 4 1/2 to 5.

Bridgit's so busy making extra rich milk for Annabel that she's not directing enough towards her own growth or even physical upkeep, so a pat along her spine reveals divits in between each vertebra, and her ribs (and especially her short ribs) are easily felt. She looks pathetic when she's wet. The cattle have access to free choice hay of good quality, but she needs something more. With our limitations on housing, fencing, etc. and not wanting to supplement those who don't need it (Tabor and Sheila), we were feeling a bit backed up against the wall.

Today, after a visit to the urgent care clinic to clear up my own creeping crud (hack hack), I headed south to The Farm Store in Chehalis, hoping our go-to girl, Julie, might be in. She was! The angels sang, sunbeams penetrated the store's metal roof, my heart slowed to a more normal beat. I spewed out our issue and concerns in rapid fire, and she put my mind to ease with the following suggestions (which we will heed):

1) Feed Bridgit a "dairy" grain ration (16% protein) for a couple months, long enough to get her the extra fat and protein she needs to put on some weight. This is in lieu of alfalfa flakes, because we really need to separate Bridgit during supplementation time long enough for her to eat undisturbed, and with alfalfa that could be an hour or more, not terribly practical given our available time and our facilities.

2) To get Bridgit what she needs, we'll have to work in a team, one of us bribing Tabor and Sheila away with a little grain or whatever they'll fall for, and the other tempting Bridgit into our only closeable stall for her own bucket of goodies.

3) Paul is to feel Bridgit's spine and ribs now, and then again in 10 days, so he can decide whether he thinks her body condition is changing at all. I work with her every day, so I won't be objective enough to tell any difference (and truth be told, my obsessive little brain would be looking for signs daily, which will only serve to drive me nuts).

At her recommendation, we'll try this for 30-45 days, and if we don't see a noticeable difference, we'll go back and Julie will help us with another plan. (No change would mean Bridgit's just pouring all the excess nutrient into her milk for Annabel (good mothering instict, but poor self-care) and requires a different supplementation (more fat, less protein than the dairy ration) to change that.)

I also got a couple other extra tips, including making sure we put hay somewhere else in addition to the feeder to be sure Bridgit always has access, and letting Sheila out to the paddock when Bridgit's in heat so Tabor can actually have a chance to do his job. I didn't realize this, but really dominant boss cows like Sheila can (and will) knock a bull off during his mating attempts on other (lesser) cows. To prevent that from happening, Sheila needs to be locked away physically from the potential love birds. Not ideal, as we'd prefer to leave everyone off the pasture until April 1 or so in order for the grass to grow, but we'll do it if it'll increase Tabor's likelihood of impregnating Bridgit. Plus, she's a big girl and we don't need her hurting anyone in her bossy attempts!

If any of you readers have feed store needs and live near Lewis County, Washington, I highly recommend The Farm Store (and Julie in particular) in Chehalis for your needs. Their prices are a little more expensive, but we trust their expertise and have always had positive experiences there! If you go and you have beef animals (or goats), ask for Julie!!

I, meanwhile, feeling more at ease, am going to put my slippers on and have a healing cup of tea...and maybe I'll even put my "cow emergency" books away!


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