Last week I was lucky enough to spend the week at a Dairy Farm in Thame. Specifically a Waitrose farm, which I am told is very prestigious! Not knowing much about dairy and cows at the beginning of the week, I was taught and shown lots by the different farmers, a farrier and also a vet and on the whole now have a much greater understanding, and knowledge of dairy farming and cows.
The first day I arrived and helped to feed the calves. They are fed twice a day, each getting 1kg of corn (pellets), water and 5 litres of milk split between the two feedings. I also topped up all the pens with straw and gave silage to the older calves that were 1 1/5 – 2 months of age, who were now off milk and getting 3kg of corn a day. The farm farrier was also working and busily trimming their hooves. Whist he was doing the hoof trimming, he showed me how he treated a foot ulcer and the Digital Dermatitis found on some of the hooves.
The foot ulcers are caused by the pressure of the pedal bone on the base of the hoof, commonly as a result of the cows being stood on concrete ground for long periods of time. Cows hooves are not designed to be on concrete, rather grass and earth, therefore this is a common problem. To treat the ulcer, the farrier cut around the hoof revealing the ulcer and allowing it to drain. He then covered it in copper paste, which protects the ulcer from bugs and germs and then placed a block on the outer claw to raise the hoof of the ground, allowing the ulcer to fully heal.
Bovine Digital Dermatitis is a disease that affects soft tissue found above heel bulbs of the hoof. It causes high sensitivity of the area and can potentially lead to lameness if left untreated for a lengthy period of time, which would be damaging to milk yeild and the general health of the cow. It can also be passed between cattle, therefore the sooner it is treated, the better. He treated this again with copper paste and made a note of the different cows that had the disease to be checked more regularly. On the farm they have foot baths, using the chemical Formalin, that the cows go through after milking, also helping with the maintenance and reduction of the Digital Dermatitis within the herd.
The Vet arrived on Tuesday for the general checks, where he took multiple scans of the cows to identify if they were pregnant or not, and also if they were bulling and therefore whether it would be suitable to artificially inseminate them. I also sat in on a Herd Health meeting, where they discussed lots of aspects of the health of the cattle, including the births and deaths of calves. A few days later, I spent part of the afternoon with the farm manager, helping with the artificial insemination and even got to feel the reproductive system of the cow by putting on a long glove and getting a bit messy!
Looking after the bull calves was sometimes challenging as many of them could not find the teats linked with the milk easily. To help them, I would let them suck my fingers and then gently guide them to teat where they could then feed properly. Yes it was messy but felt rewarding to see them feeding so eagerly after, and the slobber didn’t bother me one bit!
A barn of heifers on the farm had ringworm, and all had the tell tale signs on their skin. Learning from the farmer, they all recover from it and find that if they have the ringworm when they are young they usually remain better immune from it in the future and therefore can be beneficial in the long term.
Not only did I help directly with the animals but I also helped with a lot of other farm aspects. The changing of bedding, cleaning of food troughs and barns, powerwashing pens, building and collapsing of pens and assembly of the electric fence were all other examples of other jobs I undertook.
Working in the parlour for one out of the two daily milkings for a few afternoons was a great experience! I got given the job of spraying the teat sealant, helped with the washing down of the parlour and different parts of the machinery and also helped with herding the cows in. They milk 20 cows at a time, each cow producing an average of 30 litres of milk daily, from the both milkings, which is then collected by a tanker every second day.
One of the highlights of my week was definitely witnessing the birth of a calf, something I have never personally seen before. It was amazing to watch, and to then see the calf grow for the further four days that I was there and being able to feed it daily I felt extremely lucky.
Farm work is definitely messy work, and found myself covered in all sorts every day, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and have learnt a great deal from it. The kind of knowledge you gain from experience is invaluable compared to that you could get from simply reading or questioning an expert.
I am extremely grateful for having the opportunities I have talked about above, and to be able to share it with you, and I hope now that it wont be long until I can really put all my new knowledge into action!
Thank you very much for reading this! Feel free to rate and or comment, I’d love to hear what you have to say!
Tomorrow I start a week of work experience at the Hearing Dogs Charity so there will be a new blog all about that on Friday! Other than that, more blogs to come soon…