Lets get things straight….

calf black and white

Have you read the  ‘Dairy is scary’ opinion piece from the Guardian? I have, and it has left an exceptionally bitter taste in my mouth. I can’t believe that such a poor piece of writing has been published under the Guardians name- albeit as an opinion piece.  The article  has come about after the publication of a video by the animal advocacy group ‘Animal Equality’. I won’t waste space by leaving a link to it here, if you want to read it , its easy to find. Let me save you the bother- in this blog post I’ve summarised the key points from the article and addressed each one with fact and the views/opinions of a real life dairy farmer. However, if you do enjoy reading  work that contains very little truth and a lot of sensationalism then by all means, go check out ‘Dairy is Scary’.

Some truth about calf rearing…..

The article is based on perceived issues associated with the accommodation of calves on a particular calf rearing unit. For those who don’t understand how the dairy industry works  this is a farm where calves are looked after by calf rearers . These are people whose sole job in life is to make sure that the young animals  are fed, watered and kept healthy and happy.  The calves pictured at this particular unit are housed in individual hutches. These are specifically designed for calves and are actually high welfare accommodation. They provide good shelter and excellent ventilation. Young calves are susceptible to lung infections and this style of housing helps to significantly reduce the risk of illness. Also it helps to prevent outbreaks of disease if one calf does become ill.

The author is correct in saying that calves over 8 weeks are not permitted to be housed individually. If you read the ‘code of welfare for cattle’ produced by the UK government you can see this is a legal requirement. However there is no proof that the calves shown are over this age limit, and in fact the photo showing a measurement of a calf being taken would suggest they are younger than the 6 months that Animal Equality have claimed them to be. Trading standards have found no issues on the farm.

A bit about the ‘birds and the bees’……

According to Mr Newkey -Burden , dairy cow reproduction is a brutal event.  This is really not the case. Artificial insemination does play a role in the dairy cow life cycle. However it does NOT happen in the way this article purports.

For A.I to occur, semen is collected from a bull but this is not done mechanically as the article suggests. I’m not going into the ins and outs of artificial breeding, but lets say no bulls are hurt in the making of a straw of semen. In fact most stud bulls live the life of riley, cosseted and cared for as befits an animal of their calibre. The average monetary worth of a young bull going to stud is ¬£20,000. When you have this much financially invested in an animal would anybody not want to make sure they have the best care available

Insemination is not a brutal procedure. No farmer will attempt to ‘impregnate’ a cow before they are physiologically ready- it just doesn’t work. It is simple biology- a cow can only become pregnant for a short number of hours during a 21 day ‘reproductive cycle’. During this  period she will show natural behaviours that are a cue to her fertility. Farmers and vets refer to this behaviour as ‘bulling’. Once an animal shows this behaviour, an AI specialist  will inseminate the animal. This can be done without putting the cow into a handling system (Chas refers to this as a cruel ‘crush’) as she will naturally stand to allow the procedure to occur. Again I’m not going into the finer details of insemination.

Sometimes we do use ‘cattle crushes’. This is a colloquial or lay mans term for a cattle handling system. It does not hurt or harm the animal, as this would not help at all. We use them to safely restrain cows that need veterinary treatment or other procedures that require them to stand still. You have to remember cows are very heavy animals (500kg to 700kg for a dairy cow, 1 tonne plus for a bull). They are capable of doing serious damage to a human unintentionally just by moving their head or foot. Over friendly cows can easily knock an adult over going for a head rub!! As an aside a cows foot can accelerate at 10 metres per second squared. That will seriously hurt on contact. In fact it will break things- human bone shaped things.

Lets go milk a cow….. beginners 101.

Milking a cow is not easy. Any dairy farmer who gets up at stupid o clock in the morning every day of the year to do so will tell you this.  At the same time, no one steals milk from a cow, which Chas suggests. If a cow does not want to be milked, you wont get any. We put the cluster on, the cow doesn’t want to let down her milk, empty milk jar. Its a fact. Milk let down requires oxytocin. Oxytocin is a ‘happy’ hormone. Sad cow, mistreated cow; no oxytocin, no milk. Happy cow-content cow-oxytocin- milk let down. Cows come to be milked- each day on our farm, we call the cows to milk, they get up from their bed or come in from the field. No cattle dog, no sticks, they come voluntarily. In some dairy herds milking isn’t done by a human. They use robotic milking machines. These allow a cow to decide when she is milked. On average, a cow will go to the machines 2.8 times a day. Voluntarily. No pressure from a human involved.

Chas states that the Uk dairy farmer needs to rely on antibiotics and hormones to boost milk production. Uh oh, chas failed to get his facts right! This is not allowed. It is illegal! And just to make sure, milk is tested in milk factories to make sure it is drug free.

The article also refers to lameness being caused by large udders. Yet another inaccuracy. Lameness is usually due to poor food, bad conformation (animals anatomy), infection, trapped stones  or bad surfaces that the cow stands on. Lame cows don’t produce milk. In fact, when a cow is ill for any reason her milk production will decline, sometimes to the point of no milk at all.

The author also states that cows which produce large volumes of milk will get mastitis. Mastitis occurs in any mammal that is lactating.. Mastitis, or inflammation and infection of the udder, is caused due to bacteria, yeast or other environmental or infectious pathogens. In other words, bugs. Not milk volume.  Any cow with mastitis on our farm receives immediate attention, with veterinary care if needed.

Separating a calf and cow…

Yes, this happens. Modern domesticated dairy cows are not wild creatures. They produce far too much milk for a calf to take. If a calf were to be left on, the cow’s udder would never be drained sufficiently leaving her at risk of developing mastitis. Mastitis can kill a cow very quickly- in less than 12 hours from first infection.

The calf gets one on one attention when raised by a human, who makes sure all their needs are met. They are fed colostrum from their mums and follow on with milk.

Chas says calves and cows ‘bellow for days’ when separated. This is completely incorrect. Our cows usually return to their herdmates within 24 hours of giving birth. They don’t notice that the calf is gone. They often don’t understand what a calf is. Modern cows are not always cut out to be good mums. Some cows will actively try and hurt their calves if left with them, and can turn violent towards a human that tries to help the calf.

A question of gender…

Chas says, and it seems to be a popular belief amongst vegans and animal rights activists, that male calves are shot at birth and ‘binned’. This is not strictly true. Some farms may have to euthanize calves full stop if they are prevented from moving them to other farms or rearing units due to Tuberculosis movement restrictions. Other farms keep their bull calves, or sell them on to units that rear them on for bull beef or rose veal. Bull calves that go for rose veal go to abattoirs at 10 to 12 months of age. In fact Rose veal farming is backed by the RSPCA.

The death of a cow…

One phrase in the article really annoyed me, and I’m sure others will find it offensive too. Chas referred to cows being ‘dragged off by a tractor’ when they are too ill or old to be milked, or simply ‘collapsing under agony’. Wrong, wrong, wrong again!!! Any cow that is going to an abattoir must be able to walk soundly onto the lorry that is transporting it. It is not legal to transport a cow that is so poorly it cannot walk. If a cow has become very sick or has had an accident on the farm, a vet will be required to perform an emergency euthanasia (which requires a lot of paperwork!).  Chas also makes reference to abattoir slaughter in his piece, incorrectly. Unless an animal is being slaughtered for halal meat (something which I do not agree with) it will be stunned using a captive bullet. This renders the animal completely unconscious.

In conclusion….

One thing I do agree on with the author is consumer choice. Everyone in the first world has an ability to choose which food they eat. Organic, free range, vegetarian, vegan – choose as you will. But make sure it is an informed choice. One that is based on fact and not fiction. Listen to as many arguments as you need to in order to make the right choices. The argument I have made in support of the dairy industry is based on fact and personal experience. The facts have been checked with a dairy farmer who has over 40 years of experience with cows. Hands on, day to day experience of caring for them, reading their behaviour and making sure they are happy.  Farming and caring for dairy cows is in his blood. Quite literally. He is a 7th generation farmer, with his family farming the same area for 243 years. Safe to say he understands a bit about cows and calf rearing.

DSC_0137

 

 

 

 

Farm walk- tips for staying safe.

I’ve recently joined a few blogger groups on social media, ones that are full of outdoorsy types rather than fashionistas and make up artists. One of the threads the other day caught my eye. It was about going walking in the countryside when you’ve got bovinophobia- a(n irrational) fear of cows. Initially I thought it was a bit daft. How can anyone be  that terrified of cows? Then the replies trickled in…one poster after another admitting that they too really don’t like walking through cows. Some people offered advice, most of it sound and sensible. The odd suggestion was a bit odd, and potentially dangerous. I’ve come up with some advice of my own on how to stay safe when walking on farm land.

Plan your route and stick to it-Lots of working farms have public rights of way through them. These routes may be through grazing fields , across land used for growing crops or even through a busy farmyard. Farmers have a responsibility to make sure the area directly around a right of way or public footpath is safe. Stick to the marked route. If you go off the beaten track you could end up putting yourself in harms way.

Here come the girls #milkingtime #teamdairy #farminglife #farmfamily #wales

A post shared by TheFarmOnTheHill (@farmuponthehill) on

Leave it alone- Farmers often leave machinery in fields where they are working, or on the farmyard. Don’t touch it! Even if they aren’t switched on, tractors and other bits of farm kit are dangerous. The same rule applies to animals. If you see an animal that you think is ill or in distress, its best to try and let the farmer or land owner know.

Read the signs- Signs are put up for a reason. Quite commonly they will be used to alert you to the presence of a bull in a field, something which I personally prefer to know about before getting any where near him (I don’t like bulls. Not one bit) . Sometimes they will also let you know if there are lambing ewes present or if the field has recently been sprayed. In these cases, you might want to take a detour.

bull-in-field-sign

Animal encounters- Try and be aware of what livestock are in a field before you enter it. Although they may look cute and fluffy, cows, sheep and even horses can be dangerous and can  kill people. As a general rule, leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone. Most farm animals will be used to seeing people, especially if the route you are on is popular with walkers. Give them a wide berth- go round, rather than through a herd or flock.

If you spot calves in a field , be aware that any cows with calves at foot will be more wary and protective of their offspring.  The mothers may stop and turn to watch you, but generally they will leave you be unless they feel you are threatening them (ie coming too close) Never put yourself between a cow and calf. If you have a dog with you, they may be even more interested and alert.

img_0016

Sometimes groups of cows (usually bullocks or heifers) may run towards you. Although it might look like it, it isn’t a stampede as such- they are most likely  just being playful and nosy. Try and stay calm, and walk quickly and quietly through the field. This is easier said than done. I recently got caught out taking the mini farmers on a walk to a local castle, located in a farmers field. We made it to the castle uneventfully, it was only when I turned round to go back I realised we weren’t alone- at least 10 young bullocks were ambling towards us.I managed to carry /drag the kids and buggy across the field, all the while being followed by these hooligans. They gambolled along, snorting and skipping, really looking like they were enjoying themselves.  That situation could have been a lot worse. Playful calves don’t sound too scary until you realise that each of them weigh half a tonne.

 

img_3563

Group of bullocks grazing.

I would also recommend carrying a stick when walking amongst cows. If you do find yourself surrounded by inquisitive animals it can be used to gently nudge them out of the way. Its also good for making yourself look bigger (and feel braver) if you do get charged by cows.

One woman and her dog–  You can never be 100% sure how dogs will behave around farm animals, so adopt a ‘safe rather than sorry’ approach and put them on a lead. Sheep chased by dogs can miscarry their lambs, suffer from shock and die. Worst case scenario, a dog may attack and savage a sheep. Keep them on a lead to make sure you keep control. Even if you think they are the best, most well behaved canine that ever walked the planet. A farmer can and will shoot any dog that they feel poses a risk to their stock.

img_0071

Keeping your pet on a leash will also help protect lapwings and other ground nesting birds. Their nests and eggs lie amongst the grass, which can be disturbed and destroyed by dogs.

The only time you should let go of the lead is if you are challenged by cows. In this instance, your pet will be better able to protect themselves if they are off the lead, and you are  at risk of  sustaining life threatening injuries if you try to hold onto them.

These are just a few pointers, for more in depth advice check out the Countryside code.

 

 

 

 

 

¬†Please don’t feed my dog

This week Lemmy, the littlest four legged member of the family, turned 3 months old. The week before marked another important milestone in his doggy life- he had his second vaccination. Fully protected against some of the nastier doggy diseases, it was time to venture out into the big wide world.

img_2636

He loved it! He is such a confident little puppy, and incredibly active. For his first official walk I decided on a short lap of Broadhaven boardwalk, which takes about 20 minutes.

As we set off from the car park, Lemmy caught the eye of a bunch of walkers, heading in the opposite direction to us. One of the group was particularly enamoured with Lem, and stopped to say hello. Not a problem. Lem is very friendly, and I am keen to safely socialise him as much as possible. However, this gentleman took a step too far. He bent down to Lemmy and asked’Want one of these, little fella?’, offering some sort of food item that he had produced from his pocket. Lemmy is a ganet, and the proffered treat was snaffled up immediately.

‘No, sorry, he doesn’t want that, thanks very much’. I managed to hook the treat out – a rather large adult dog treat- before he had the chance to chomp it down

Now why did I do that? Surely the man was only being kind? Prehaps he was. But there are several reasons why you shouldn’t feed other peoples animals.

  • Diet matters- Lemmy has never had treats. He has been on the same dry food diet since he was weaned from his mother. How boring?! Not at all. Dogs don’t see food in the same way we do- they don’t become bored of eating the same thing everyday. In fact, it is important not to chop and change food. Sudden changes in diet can lead to an upset tummy, with diarrhoea and even vomiting. But this wasn’t a change in his diet, it was a single treat- why does that matter? A single treat can be all it takes to trigger a runny tummy. And that is something I really would rather avoid!
  • Size matters- Lemmy is a puppy, and still only small. He still has all his baby teeth. He can’t cope with large biscuits or treats, and there is the potential that these could become lodged in his mouth or throat. Not good!
  • Calorie counting- Lemmy is given the exact amount of food he requires everyday. His dry food is measured, to the weight advised by the manufacturers for his age and size, and split into three meals. He doesn’t need extra food. Extra food (and yes, a single treat counts as extra) can lead to weight gain. Carrying extra weight is no fun for people or animals. It can lead to arthritis and joint problems, as well as putting strain on the heart and lungs. Again, something I’d rather avoid.

There are other reasons why you shouldn’t offer food to other peoples pets, without the permission of the owner first.

  • Some animals have specific dietary requirements. A dog or cat may be diabetic, suffering from kidney disease or Inflammatory Bowel Disease. They may even have food allergies or intolerances. These pets need to be on special diets, with their owners often having to be extremely careful when it comes to what their animals eat. A small piece of the wrong food could lead to a lot of problems for an animal with one of these conditions.
  • Pancreatitis is another illness that can be triggered by food. The pancreas is an organ that helps with digestion of food. In cases of pancreatitis, the pancreas becomes irritated and inflamed, resulting in over production of digestive enzymes. This can be incredibly painful for cats and dogs, and can lead to them requiring a trip to the vets. In some cases it may need surgery, and can even be fatal. All this from eating or being fed something they shouldn’t have.

So, although the gentleman we met on our walk probably thought he was being kind to Lemmy, he wasn’t doing him any favours. Next time I hope he thinks twice , or at the very least asks, before feeding someone else’s pet.

Project Milking Goat

This week we celebrated two momentous occasions on the farm – the first being Cs birthday and the second being the departure of the goats to stud! C was exceptionally gracious about sharing her ‘special day’- no, who am I kidding,sharing isn’t a strong point in our house at the minute, with a resident ‘threenager’ and a baby learning to say ‘no’. Whilst C spent her¬†morning¬†helping King Thistle and Holly escape from a marauding T Rex I managed to disappear for an hour or so to load the goats.

The night before I had carefully checked Amy and Bernadette over¬†to make sure they were fit to travel.¬†¬†A¬†last minute¬†‘mani-pedi’ hoof trim to ensure their feet were perfect before the off and I left them munching on their hay nets, oblivious to what lay ahead of them.

Fortunately they loaded very easily. I had anticipated all sorts of shenanigans, but no, they were exceptionally polite. Almost too polite…

The journey to the stud farm passed uneventfully. Sam (short for Sambucca) was waiting to greet us, legs jauntily angled as he posed over his stable door.

The girls were impeccably behaved whilst we unloaded them and sorted out the obligatory trees worth of paperwork. They settled into their stable without so much as a backwards glance at me, stuffing their faces with hay as if they’d never been fed before.¬† Slightly miffed at their lack of clinginess to me (but yet pleased that they had become such confident creatures) I made my excuses and left, fingers and toes crossed for a successful ‘holiday’ stay. Good news came within 48 hours of their arrival; the stud owner assuring me we shall hopefully have our first goat kids in April 2017. We shall get them scanned to check that they are carrying babies, and so we can make sure we feed them appropriately.

People keep asking why on earth we are wanting to start milking the goats. The reasons behind this are quite simple.¬† C had been suffering from eczema and tummy aches. Many trips to paediatricians and GPs had led to repeat medication and the same old dietary advice (more water, more fruit)¬†. The treatment we were getting was coming up short, and C’s behaviour was starting to nose dive. Noise phobias, introversion and tantrums started to fill our days. When it came to the point that I was starting to avoid certain everyday activities because of the behaviour they might trigger from C I knew it was time to seek help elsewhere.

A friend of ours who is a behaviour therapist listened to my fears and the symptoms C was experiencing. She suggested trying to¬†switching her milk from Cows milk to goats milk. She felt there may be an underlying Cows milk protein intolerance which was triggering the health problems and now leading on to the behavioural changes. Slightly sceptical but at the same time¬†at the end of my tether with the NHS and ‘traditional’ thinking I¬†headed straight to the dairy aisle¬†and bought a bottle, just to try.¬†¬†Within 24 hours, her eczema had disappeared. Her behaviour improved and her tummy troubles have settled. Miraculous!

Since we have made the swap I have properly¬†looked into goats milk as an alternative source of dairy,¬†to discover exactly why it doesn’t cause the same problems as cows milk.

One of the main reasons seems to be the proteins within it.¬†Cows milk proteins, especially¬†Alpha S1 Casein, are the substances most likely to¬†cause problems in people. Goats milk contains much less of this protein, meaning people have a greater tolerance of it.¬† However, if you are allergic to cows milk protein (rather than just intolerant) you’ll probably have the same reaction to goats milk

Goats milk also has smaller fat globules than those found in cows milk, although the actual fat content in both forms of milk is almost identical. Smaller particles are easier to digest, making goats milk easier for our gut to deal with.

It also contains less Lactose than cows milk, obviously a win for those that are Lactose intolerant.

Finally, goats milk¬† doesn’t cause us to produce mucous, unlike cows milk. Anecdotal evidence suggests that persistently runny noses can dry up almost instantly after swapping to goats milk.

Unfortunately goats milk doesn’t come cheap. A quick¬† calculation led me to¬†think that raising our own goats to provide milk for the house would be much more economical (as well as fun and rewarding) than relying on shop bought produce. It would also give the girls another opportunity to experience ‘farm to fork’ with their food, and help with raising a different species. Of course, the initial outlay is quite a lot, with purchase, transport and stud fees, but hopefully it will start to even out soon!

 

 

Singing hawthorn

I have been back at work for a month now.¬†30 days that have passed in a blur of consultations and operations,¬†laboratory results and medications. I have survived my first weekend on call, spending a whole 48hrs¬†slightly on edge waiting for¬†my pager to bleep.¬†I have¬†seen hamsters, doves, cats, kittens, puppies, dogs and even a bat. Some cases have been straightforward, some not so, and there have been a few ‘final goodbyes’ too.

It has been nice to be back, doing a job that I love but my gosh the weekends are needed! I have missed my mini farmers, I have missed the outdoors and I have missed my own four legged companions!¬†Fortunately¬†Saturday mornings¬†come round quickly, and whilst the mini and not so mini farmers are breakfasting, I slip out¬†to¬†spend some ‘quality time’ with the goatlings.

They call to me as I put on my boots. My whispered hello is usually met with a volley of bleats, getting louder as I get closer. As soon as I open the stable door they are pushing forward, eager to be out. Lead reins attached we set off along the road, with the autumn sunlight casting our 10 legged shadow across the tarmac.

The quarry field is a particular favourite of mine. A wide flat expanse of lush green grass greets us as we step through the double gates off the main road. To our left the cow track acts as a field boundary, snaking down into the valley to meet the stream. We bear left, heading towards the old quarry. The grass underfoot glistens with dew.

We pass the midden, adorned with a crop of inky blue fungi. A narrow animal track runs

rsz_dsc_0556.jpg

past the dung heap, footprints in the mud suggest hedgehog, as well as gulls and other birds. Badger and fox frequent this field too, snaffling up worms and rooting through dung bats to catch beetles.

rsz_dsc_0567

Behind the midden lies a dense patch of nettles and brambles. We skirt around it and head down into the hollow that marks the start of the old quarry. This is the spot where we sighted our camera trap, and we know that at least 3 foxes count this area as part of their territory. The camera also caught sight of one large badger, one large hedgehog and a murder of magpies who came to steal my fox bait.

rsz_dsc_0566

At the back of the nettles and brambles stands a hawthorn, squat and twisted from the onslaught of the wind. It is glowing with berries, and alive with birdsong. Warbling¬†fills the air, crystal clear¬†notes trilling and tripping out from the branches. I try to push closer through the tangle of weeds to get a better look. A small dark bird perches on a twig at the top of the tree. I can make out a handful of others flitting amongst the branches, but I can’t get close enough to make out the species. Black redstart perhaps? Or a warbler?

rsz_dsc_0565

We dip down into the bowl of the quarry, the goats picking their way gingerly down the muddy bank. They hate to get their feet wet! Beneath the trees is another world, dank and dripping with raindrops from the branches overhead. It is cooler down here, and the stench of fox is overpowering. I feel as if we are intruding.The goatlings leave swiftly, and I follow.

rsz_dsc_0573

 

We head back towards the gate, and I am aware again of the hidden history lying inches beneath my feet. Less than a hands breadth of soil covers the remains of a roman settlement.

wiston2013a

Credit Dyffed archaeological society

When the site was dug a few years ago the local archaeological society were quite excited.Amongst the expected shards of pot, coins, charcoal and beads they found evidence of a potential fort, or possible outpost of the roman army. A typical fortification, complete with substantial timber structures and even a roadway, which is amazingly preserved.

wiston2013b

Credit Dyffed Archaelogical trust

Until this site was excavated, archaelogists¬†believed that the most western welsh roman¬†remains¬†were¬†in Carmarthen.¬† I still can’t quite grasp the fact that over a¬†thousand years ago a roman centurion may have stood in this spot and gazed out across this valley.

rsz_dsc_0552

If it hadn’t been for this fields role as grazing, these treasures of our ancient past may not have been so well preserved. Farming, especially small family farms, has an important place in the preservation of not only wild flora and fauna, but our culture and heritage too.

rsz_dsc_0580

We make our way back to the gate, the goatlings stealing mouthfuls of grass as we go. Back on the road we dodge the rush of Saturday morning traffic, mums and dads ferrying kids too and from soccer, leaving us to jump into the hedge as they zoom past. I feel like we have rejoined the ‘real world’ again, and quite a large part of me would like to step back into the quarry field, close the gate gently behind me and just keep walking, photographing and writing as I go. But that, well…it wouldn’t pay the bills now would it.

rsz_dsc_0559

Goatlings

October is on the horizon, the leaves are turning to orange, gold and red. I can hardly believe it has almost been a month since the goatlings arrived.

dsc_0526-6

Bernie through her gap in the hedge

Goats¬†were not¬†my first choice of new addition to the farm. We have been looking into animals that¬†could help turnover some ‘scrubland’ and make it more¬†suitable for¬†the creation of a micro wildflower meadow.¬†Initially I had¬†thought about¬†getting some¬†pigs .¬† I ummed and ahhed, read up on housing requirements ,worked out where they could root, and decided pigs probably weren’t right for us at the moment. All of the planning had¬†sparked a¬†desire to expand the number of species we kept here on the farm.¬†A chance discussion with a friend lead to us discovering that C was probably¬†intolerant to cows milk (ironically).We started on a trial of swapping to¬†goats milk to see if it would improve things for her. Within 24 hours of making the change, C was a much happier child. Coincidence or not, the journey towards our own small herd of milking goats had begun.

Don’t get me wrong, this decision was not made lightly, and it certainly wasn’t a spur of the moment ‘lets- go-and-buy-a-goat’ whim. Research was done, books were read, websites consulted.¬†It soon became apparent that having one goat was not an option. They are social creatures, and should be kept together in pairs.¬†I also found out that different breeds¬†produce different amounts of milk. Some will give you enough to fill your milk jug whereas others will give¬† enough to fill buckets! Toggenburgs seemed like the ideal breed¬†for us.¬†Friendly, amiable goats with an average potential milk production.

Within a few days of starting my hunt I’d found a pair that seemed to fit the bill.¬†¬†A farmer upcountry¬†was selling his herd of dairy goat , amongst which were two 18 month old goatlings. He was very patient with our various questions and queries, and we decided a trip to see them was in order (with trailer in tow, ‘just in case!’)¬†.

The journey to fetch them went smoothly , although it seemed like it took forever to get there.¬† Eventually we met the farmer, and after a few extra questions, a quick ‘pre purchase’ examination and the obligatory paperwork we became the owners of¬†our very own herd of dairy goats.¬†As is often the way the return trip was much quicker, and we pulled back onto our yard before night fall. With out any bother we unloaded the goats and settled them in to their new quarters, leaving them in peace to tuck in to their tea.

Despite not having been handled for over 6 months, Amy and Bernadette have settled into life on the farm without any problems. In fact, if Monty Roberts were to see the three of us out and about he would probably agree we have already ‘joined up’. On walks around the fields, we travel in unison. I speed up, they speed up. I stop, they stop.

dsc_0523-4

join up

When they are grazing they form two points of an invisible triangle whilst I act as  the third. I no longer bother with lead ropes when on our sojourns, as I have learned how far they will go from me.

dsc_0549-1

Amy does ‘tricks’ for food. Bernie does not.

Ash and sycamore are favoured browse, bramble leaves are an ‘if we must’ snack. Apples are snaffled, and cereal mix is rationed as they would gorge on it if left to their own devices.

dsc_0548-2

If they could, they most definitely would. And then they’d regret it.

My favourite part of getting to know a new animal is watching their individual personalities unfurl.¬†These two are¬†like chalk and cheese. Amy is¬†gregarious, happy to bask in human company and follows¬†me around like a faithful Labrador. Bernie is fiercely independent. She’ll go, but only when she wants to. The other morning we walked the boundaries of the croft, a¬† large field above the farmhouse. Bernie found a gap in the hedge, and picked her way to it, snatching mouthfuls of browse as she went. I called her away, and she followed me as I continued the walk. We crossed through into the adjacent field, and Bernie shot off ahead of me, and bounded back through that gap. She knew exactly where it was, and she wanted to cross through it. No amount of cajoling or coaxing could get her back through. In the end I gave up, and started to walk into the middle of the field. Fortunately amy followed, and reluctantly bernied hopped back through the hedge, and joined our train.

Having said that, I do have my uses.As far as Bernie is concerned¬†they are limited to ¬†scratching anywhere she can’t reach and providing food that she can’t reach.

dsc_0558-2

One of my uses

The eventual goal is to get the girls to milk, which will require them to have kids. I have started looking for a suitable Billy to, erm, ‘enhance’ the herd, and I can’t wait for the pitter patter of yet more tiny hooves. It will¬†mark an exciting new chapter in the farms future. Fresh, pasteurised goats milk anyone?! Not to mention cheese…and soap!!

ANIMALTALES

Autumn Calving – The pitter patter of tiny hooves!

1454971_10153457621165475_1455633453_n

I’m not really sure whether Autumn has arrived or not because the weather¬†is all over the place. One minute we have blustery winds and¬†torrential downpours. Next sticky, summer heat. Whatever the weather there is still¬†work to be done and¬†the start of¬†September marks the beginning of our calving season.

At the farm upon the hill we run what is called a ‘block calving’ herd. This means all our pregnant cows will deliver close together in a short period of time.¬†Most of our calves are born in the Autumn months¬†, although some may arrive¬†slightly later or earlier than planned.One tricky part of calving cows is that there is no strict timetable! Calves can be born at any time of the day or night, which can lead to some very late nights and early starts waiting anxiously to make sure everything is going ok. Other dairy farms work on a year round calving system, where calves are born through most months of the year.

For a cow ‘Maternity leave’¬†starts 2 months before she is due to calve. At this point she stops producing milk¬†. This is an important step to get right as it allows the cow to get ready to deliver her calf, and helps to protect her against some illnesses that can occur after calving ( e.g ‘Milk fever’, ‘ketosis’)

Calving time tends to start with a slow trickle of births with perhaps one or two calves being born every day, or every other day. However things soon speed up, until there are lots of baby calves running about!

1452156_10153457623420475_749873724_n

Calving is an exciting and nerve wracking part of our farming calendar. We look forward to meeting the new calves and enjoy taking care of them from their very first breath. Most of the time the births are straightforward and we are able to leave the mother cow alone to do as nature intended.¬†Unfortunately things can and do go wrong with labour (If you watch One Born Every Minute you’ll have an idea of the things that can happen !) and sometimes we do have to lend a helping hand. This can be really rewarding, and although it is quite often a long, hard and messy process (just like human labour!) we¬† feel privileged to be part of the process.

Straight after the birth we like to leave mum and baby in peace. We offer her food and plenty of water and let her get on with cleaning her calf and feeding it. The first feed,¬†Colostrum,¬†is ‘liquid gold’. It is full of nutrients and¬†antibodies.¬†It is very important that the calf gets this within the first few hours of life, as they are born with a na√Įve immune system.The colostrum provides them with protection against infection¬†.If the calf is weak or her mum is unable to care for her we will step in to help.

dsc_0496

Another important thing that we do soon after birth is dip the umbilical stump in iodine. This keeps it nice and clean and helps prevent against infection.

The calves come off their mums after a day. This enables the cow to go back into the herd again. The calves are kept together in small¬†¬†groups¬†, with special shelters and an outdoor ‘exercise’ area. It is fun to watch them playing together, and sometimes they can get up to alot of mischief!¬†They are quite inquisitive, and tend to use their tongues to¬†explore new things¬†.

dsc_0510

All the calves¬†are fed with milk from the herd initially, then powdered milk. We also give them fresh water and solid food from day 1, but they won’t take much of this until they are 3 weeks old.

We are not an organic herd so this means that we can give our calves medicine to keep them healthy. Antibiotics are only ever used when appropriate and as a treatment for poorly calves. We use vaccinations to protect the calves against viruses and bacteria that could make them very ill.

As Autumn turns into Winter the weather can get quite cold. Although we don’t usually have snow it can be very windy and wet. When the temperature outside drops we give our calves an extra layer of protection in the form of jackets! A cold calf is much more likely to become sick. The jackets also help to keep them dry too.

dsc_0558

We keep all of the calves on our farm. The girls (heifers) will eventually go back into the milking herd at around 2 years of age.The boys (bulls) are raised for beef and will stay with us until they are around 12 to 16 months of age.

10154175_10154076093685475_7647447213982317916_n

Calving is a really, really busy point in the year. It goes by so quickly, and can be quite tiring and restrictive. We tend not to stray too far from the farm in case we need to help a cow give birth. No doubt any plans we make in this period will get turned on their head as things can change within minutes. One minute nothing is calving then everything kicks off at the same time!! However it is more than worth it in the end. All our efforts go into making sure our animals get the best possible start in life . A happy, well cared for calf will become a productive cow that will have a long and healthy life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tick Awareness

What are ticks?

Ticks¬†are ectoparasites, which means they live on the outside of a host animal. They are ‘haematophages’; they like to eat blood. When it comes to finding a meal ticks aren’t particularily choosy, and will feed off dogs, cats, humans,livestock and wild animals.

tickst.jpg

Once they have attached themselves to their host they feed until they are engorged and then drop off.

The Big Tick Awareness project was launched last year. Run by the University of Bristol this study enlisted  the help of veterinary clinics, owners and pets to shed light on the spread of ticks and tick borne disease in the UK. Of the thousands of dogs that participated, 1 in 3 dogs were found to be carrying a tick. They also produced a map showing the risk of ticks across the UK. The results are astounding -Ticks really are everywhere!

25073_msd_big_tick_project_tickmap.jpg

      Map showing tick risk areas in the UK.               Picture credit : Big Tick Project

Traditionally ticks like to lurk in areas with bracken, long grass and woody areas. Urban dogs with little access to these areas were considered less likely to be at risk. The big tick project has shown this is no longer the case. Ticks are now widespread across the UK, with the study showing little difference between infestation risk in Urban or Rural pets. City parks

Why worry about ticks?

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be bitten by a tick, you’ll know it isn’t a pleasant experience. Apart from the irritation factor and¬†swelling around the bite site, ticks can also¬†carry diseases which pose a risk to both human and animal health.

Tick borne diseases:

Lymes disease (also known as Boreliosis): This is a bacterial infection that can affect people and their dogs. In dogs signs of this illness include lameness, stiffness and swollen joints, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy. Sometimes it can even result in kidney failure.

The symptoms in humans include a fever and flu like aches and pains. It can also cause joint, heart and nerve damage.

Babesiosis is an emerging problem in the UK, with an outbreak occurring earlier this year in Harlow, Essex. It is caused by a protozoal parasite, Babesia canis. Signs of infection include red urine, pale gums, jaundice (yellowing of the whites of the eye), fever. It can be life threatening.

There are treatments available for these diseases, but recovery may be a long, slow process. As such, it is much better to try and avoid getting bitten by a tick in the first place.

How do I know if my dog has a tick?

engorged_tick_0

Tick’s swell after feeding and are much easier to spot. Photo from www.bigtickproject.co.uk

Examine your pet regularly. Start by¬† checking around your pet’s face, ears and legs for any lumps, before moving on to the rest of their body. This can take a while, especially if your dog is large or very hairy!

If you find a lump, have a closer inspection. It is important to distinguish between ticks and other lumps such as skin tags or warts. If you look really closely you will be able to see the ticks legs close to the skin.

Ticks are easier to spot when they are¬†swollen after having a meal, and in the early stages may be as small as a poppy seed! Hopefully you won’t find any, other times there may be a¬†single tick, or several. One dog in the 2015 Big Tick Project had 200 individuals removed!

What do I do if I find a tick?

Don’t panic!

You need to remove the tick ASAP, as transmission of disease from an infected tick may take place within the first 24-48 hours. If you feel confident in doing this, great! But don’t worry if you don’t, ask your vet or vet nurse for help. They will be¬†happy to assist.

thmnwfc8nv

Tick remover

The easiest, safest¬†way to¬†take a¬†tick off is by using a¬†tool specially¬†made for the job. These can be found online, at your vets or pet shops.¬†They are relatively cheap and designed to hook around the tick’s body and then detach the tick by twisting.¬†This technique¬†avoids leaving bits of the tick attached to your pet. Leaving mouthparts can result in painful swellings or infection.

Avoid¬†using tweezers¬†to grasp or squeeze¬†the tick. This¬†can cause it to release saliva¬†¬†and potentially pass on any disease it is carrying to your pet. Likewise, don’t¬†try to¬†burn a tick or pull it off.

How do I prevent ticks from biting my dog?

As the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’! ¬†Talk to your vet and get advice on which product will suit you and your dog. Thanks to the wonders of science there are many different tick prevention methods available, including spot on solutions, collars and chewable tablets. More information can also be found here and here.