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April 04, 2014 | All In A Day's Work
Farming is Learning
As a farmer, we learn something new on a regular basis. From soil health to herd health there is always something that pops up.
April 04, 2014 | All In A Day's Work
Farming is Learning
As a farmer, we learn something new on a regular basis. From soil health to herd health there is always something that pops up.

This week for me has been interesting to say the least. I've learned a lot of things that aren't part of normal dinner table conversations.

During the first part of the week, I learned about genetics in cattle. For example: When you breed cattle, the offspring take one set of chromosomal pairs from their father and one from their mother. In the case I was researching it had to do with chondrodysplasia. Chondrodysplasia is actually a dwarfism disease that is found prevalently in the Irish Dexters. When researching how to breed a mother carrier to an animal that is a non-carrier, I learned all about DNA research testing and how the structures are carried to the next generation.

Here is some information on the subject from Ingenity, a DNA testing lab:How Genes Determine Performance

Within the nucleus of virtually every cell in cattle are 30 pairs of chromosomes — each pair includes one chromosome from each parent. Each chromosome contains several thousand genes, all with DNA — the essence of all life. DNA is like a spiral ladder with the “rungs” made up of base molecules, called nucleotides. Groups of these nucleotides make up genes that code for production of amino acids, proteins, enzymes and other compounds that determine desirable and undesirable traits, and genetic variants affecting how an animal will grow and function. Alleles are forms of genes containing heritable characteristics.

Messenger RNA (mRNA) gathers genetic information from both chromosomes and uses it as the “recipe” for protein production. If both chromosomes include the same base molecule at a specific point, the animal is homozygous for that trait; if they are different, it is heterozygous.

The chondrodysplasia genetic is a concern because of it's lethal traits. It causes something we call "Bulldog Syndrome". The calves have no way to survive and is a birthing concern because typically the cows are not able to pass them as normal. Many times they need to be removed via cesarean section, which in turn causes additional health risks and concerns.

Photo courtesy of Calfology.com

About mid-week, I happened to be checking on one of the very pregnant heifers (which is an adult cow who hasn't had a calf yet) and noticed some bugs, yes bugs, along the back of her neck. After inspecting a couple of the others within the herd, I confirmed 9 animals that had the same issue. 

After spreading apart the hair, this is the sight I was rewarded.

Some of the creepy crawlies that were discovered were ticks. After making a bunch of phone calls and doing a little research, we knew this was an issue that needed immediate attention but we also knew we had to be extremely careful in our choice because of impending calves.

A run to the local farm supply store and we had one choice for immediate application. The active ingredient was Permethrin. Permethrin is actually derived from chysthaniumums and is an insect repellent for ticks, lice, fleas and other pests. The type we picked up was a pour on oil based product but could also be applied to a back rub. With supplies in hand, we set about treating each animal because these are highly contagious among a herd of cattle. We also have started working on an integrated pest management program to set up a long term plan of action.

After having the samples of the little blue looking things from the photo above examined, it was discovered that, along with the ticks, we also have a severe case of short nosed cattle lice infestation. 

Here are the samples we sent to the Cornell University Entomology Lab

These little pesky things require a double treatment. We are already seeing an improvement and many of the lice have pulled away from the skin! 

Needless to say, this week turned into an educational and eventful week. At the beginning of the week, we expected the excitement to be over calves and not these issues. It is what it is though. Now that we know what's going on and how to get it fixed, things will go better. Farming isn't always easy and sometimes we get thrown for a loop with things like this. There is a quote out there that says, "Expect the Unexpected." I think it was written by a farmer because that sums up the day to day on a farm. Today, it's lice and ticks. Yesterday, it was about genetics and breeding. Who knows what tomorrow will hold. I know I'm praying for calves but sometimes you just don't know. It could be water problems, broken tractors, flat tires or broken fences. 

I know it all sounds stressful and in some ways it is. Until that moment when calves run and play or the chickens are fighting over a worm. The good outweighs the bad a thousand times over. Besides, it feels good to be able to overcome issues, it's rewarding and fulfilling making life feel like you've accomplished something great when you overcome these hurdles!

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