BoPeep gave me a bit of a scare a couple weeks ago. Her milk production dropped drastically one day, and I was worried that maybe she had just decided to dry herself off since Hershey left. But after doing some investigating, I came to a different conclusion. Here’s what happened.
We had previously moved the cows to the brand new paddock over on the “horse side” of the farm. They had grazed the nice, tall grass in that paddock for a week, then I moved them through the other 2 paddocks next to it over the following 2 weeks. At that point there was still a good bit of grazing left in the new paddock, so I decided to give them another week in there before moving them the whole way back over to the “cow side”. Bo was with the herd & I was going out with the halter every morning to lead her in to the cow barn to milk, and then returning her when we were done. About half-way through that second week on the new paddock, she gave me only 3 quarts at milking instead of her usual gallon and a half…and, yes, I was sure she let down nicely & gave me all of it. I left her out in the corral behind the barn for a few minutes until I was ready to take her back to the pasture, puzzling whether she could really just be drying herself off suddenly. Then I saw her poop….an unusually runny, squirty mess. “Hmmm, what is going on?” But she didn’t seem to be feeling sick or acting “off”, so I took her back to the herd.
The next day was the same thing, and she still had bad diarrhea. So when I took her back out to the pasture I spent a bit more time checking on the others & observing things. Keira & Eavie also had messy rear ends that looked like they had the squirts, but everybody else looked normal. They all were eating well & acting like they felt just fine. Bo dove her nose into a big patch of “weeds” & started chowing down, while Ladybell was carefully eating grass out from between weeds. I recognized the “weed” BoPeep was eating…it grows all over our property and the cows & horses munch on it some here & there. But on a more thorough inspection I noticed that this particular paddock was literally about half grass & half this “weed”. We had never really been sure what the plant was, but now I started really wondering if it was the cause of the diarrhea, and if so, then WHAT indeed was it? I had to leave the cows there for a couple more days until Jeff had a day off & we could have a “cattle drive” to get them back over to their normal pasture. So I decided to bring Bo back over to the cow barn for the night, just to make sure she wasn’t letting one of the other calves nurse her & that was why she didn’t have much milk for me. That night she didn’t seem to have much of an appetite & the next morning she gave me a scant half gallon of milk. Not good!
Once we got the whole herd moved back to the cow pasture, I was able to observe all of them more closely. I then realized that Eavie didn’t have much appetite either at this point, and that poor Rousseau had such watery diarrhea that it wasn’t even sticking to his butt to make him look messy. But the others, including the 3 calves, were still fine with normal manure, so I was pretty sure it wasn’t anything contagious. We started feeding them some hay to “dry out” their diet a bit & I also gave the runny ones some “Pinkto Dismal” to try to soothe their inner workings. After a few days they were all improving & Bo’s milk production was steadily rising again and by the end of that week everything was about back to normal.
I was pretty sure our “weed” was the culprit and wanted to find out what it was. So I sent a stalk of it with Jeff on one of his errand-trips to town and he visited our county extension agent. He thought at first that it was sericea lespedeza, but then when he looked closer decided it wasn’t quite right for that. So I was to get more samples, including roots & flowers, for him to send to the “weed guy” at UK. I ended up finding what looked to me like two slightly different plants, one more upright & taller and the other shorter & more creeping. When the report came back from the weed specialist, it said that the taller plant was indeed sericea and the shorter one was common annual lespedeza. Both are legumes, and sericea is often planted as forage in pastures & hay fields. And in appropriate amounts, legumes are good for milk cows. But because of their high protein & tannin content, too much can definitely cause diarrhea.
So it seems the puzzle is solved, and now I know 1: what sericea looks like & that we have a lot of it in some of our pastures, and 2: that some of my cows have developed a liking for it & will eat more than they ought. And that means I’m going to have to be careful & manage closely the grazing of those paddocks where it grows in abundance. I also learned that keeping baking soda out in a mineral feeder for the cows is a good idea. It helps to buffer their rumen pH level & can also help with digestive upsets like this from too rich food. So now the puzzle that remains is…where to find baking soda in large enough quantities to put out free-choice for a herd of cows??