Beef farm, 23.12.16

I fed all of the cattle their morning feed, which varied between the different groups. All of the cattle get silage which is grass that is cut when there is optimum nutrients and left to wilt before compacted to reduce the oxygen in it. This is due to the fermentation being an anaerobic process, with the microorganisms lactic acid bacteria requiring oxygen-free environments. It is important for it to be stored in a way that won’t expose the silage to oxygen. The bullocks were fed a mix which provided a range of additional nutrients. As the cattle are fed twice a day, before I finished for the day I gave them their afternoon feed.

After hearing many coughs, my first question was about the common health problems so pneumonia is a clear threat, the farmer also identified liver fluke as a major problem for beef cattle.

Two bullocks had been separated due to lameness, and it was interesting to see how feeding the animals was a method to identifying sick cattle as staying in the bed is unusual when food is presented. This can be a red flag for hoof problems such as foot rot (which I have the responsibility of treating in the goat herd), interdigital dermatitis and heel warts, white line disease, hoof cracks and injuries. Hoof condition/susceptibility to hoof problems is a factor used for selective breeding as a means to prevent these problems in a herd.

Learning about Neosporosis was interesting as I am planning to work during calving, the cause is cows ingesting dog faeces- which is why dog walkers need to be very careful as it can cause a cow to abort.

Chlamydiophila abortus bacteria also cause abortions in cattle, sheep and goats and it is very contagious (to humans too), the offspring will usually be born stillborn or die shortly after birth. It is important to keep any infected animal/material away from the herd/flock.
It was interesting to hear about the dystocia delivery of the three day old bull calf as the farmer had to use a calf puller and used frozen colostrum to provide the calf with sufficient antibodies as they are born without antibodies. The first 24 hours of a calf’s life are vital. There are then three things a farmer has to do according to the law: ear tag the calf, apply for a cattle passport and input the details on the holding register.

Two tags are required and the first 6 digits are the herd identification and the following are specific to the individual animal. I tagged the calf but as both testes had not dropped yet, I could not castrate the calf.
  In the first week of a bull calf’s life, he can be castrated using a rubber ring as it stops the blood supply and causes them to drop off. I asked why specifically beef bull calves are castrated (then called bullocks), and one of the reasons is the market for the more tender meat.

In addition to this, bulls are aggressive by nature due to the hormones the testicles produce. I saw one bull which was kept separately and I discussed bull rings with the farmer- as it is the most sensitive part, the ring is used to control such a dangerous animal.



I was also informed about dairy farms using sexed semen to increase heifer calf numbers when I asked about bull calves in the dairy industry (they do not have a desirable conformation for beef). I also met a heifer who was a ‘freemartin’ meaning she was a twin to a bull. A freemartin is genetically female but has male characteristics and is infertile due to the placental membranes joining and the foetal fluids mixing, resulting in an exchange of blood and antigens. After researching freemartins, I found out that 90% of heifers born with a twin bull are freemartins and that it depends on the fusion.



As the jobs on the farm were complete, we travelled to a dairy farm that used automated milkers. The machine identifies each cow by her tag so knows details such as working quarters and detected mastitis. The machine will then wash the udders and begin the process if the cow is ready to be milked, but the machine will let the cow straight out if there has not been a large enough break between the cow’s last milk. The machine detects the teats using lasers and releases the correct amount of food depending on the milk yield. The suction cups will detach when milking is complete and the cow is sprayed with iodine, all of the data is stored and the farmers have access to many more details than farms that do not have this technology. However, less time is spent with the animals so illness may go unnoticed.

I gained a lot of knowledge about beef farms and I will be returning next spring for lambing and calving.

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