Every other Thursday we have this routine day at the farm called herd health day. On this day our veterinarian comes to the farm to examine our cows and heifers, while I strap on a 25+ pound one-year-old in our Ergo baby carrier. (I know I need to upgrade our backpack to a heavier duty one. I actually just ordered one as today she feel asleep during herd check and had no head support. Do not ask me how she feel asleep because we are still all puzzled by it! It was cold and herd check is never boring!)
Despite the cold weather we are starting to endure, I really do enjoy herd health day. On this day we check our cows that we hope are pregnant via a rectal pregnancy exam, we examine cows that recently had a baby to make sure they had no complications from their delivery, and we also look at any cows that may be feeling a little under the weather and just needs a visit from the doctor. Our vet will stop in any time we need him for emergencies as well.
All of our cows are bred via artificial insemination (AI) with semen by our AI technician. Most of our heifers are also bred AI, however we do keep a herd bull (much to my disapproval but he is safely contained) to bred the heifers that we are unable to get bred with semen. Once our cows hit 70 days in milk (or days since they gave birth) they are eligible for breeding and our virgin heifers are bred for the first time at 12 to 13 months of age. Cows and heifers have a 21-24 day estrous cycle, a short period of time when the animal can be bred and become pregnant. I’ll talk more about this another day.
Now back to the herd health day. Each farm follows slightly different practices but at our farm we pregnancy check our cows twice throughout their 274-day or 9-month gestation period. We do the first pregnancy check between 38 and 52 days of gestation and again between 80 to 94 to make sure there are no complications with the pregnancy and to make sure the cow is still carrying the calf (cows can miscarry their calves just like humans). While the vet checks each cow, he tells us if the cows is pregnant, not pregnant (open) or even if there is a reproductive complication with the cow. Between my husband or I, one of us carries a clipboard or our new handy dandy tablet to record all the information our vet tells us about each individual cow. We then put all of that information into our farm computer and cow database so we can maintain all of this information and care for our animals the best we can. We also use tail paint to keep our two groups of cows separate and this identifies if the cow is pregnant or is eligible for breeding. Some of our cows will have blue, some green and some pink on their tail heads.
If a cow turns out to be open on herd health day, we will give the cow a reproductive hormone shot. The series of reproductive hormone shots will make the cow come into heat and after she shows a heat or after 10 days we bred the cow. We hope that these shots will increase her likelihood of becoming pregnant. These reproductive hormone shots can be compared to those used in women for fertility treatment. These hormones are all naturally produced by the cow and have no effect on the milk or dairy products we consume. I’ll be addressing hormones and medicines soon as well, I promise! I have a lot to tell you about our farm, cows and our farm life.
You may wonder why we care if our cows are pregnant and that is because to maintain lactation (production of milk) a cow must be bred and reproduce. All cows produce milk once they give birth to a calf and they then spend about 10-12 months producing milk and are bred again. They cows slowly decrease their milk production over the course of that year and 60 days before the birth of their next calf they take a resting period where they focus on their calf (we call this their dry off). After the birth of their next calf the cow will begin providing milk again and reenter the milking herd.
So today we had a good day. Lots of our cows are pregnant and all of our cows are feeling healthy! We chalk that up for a win!