The goal on all farms is to have a healthy, happy animal that is productive. One way to have this happen the easiest is to prevent disease and illness. We implement several things to make sure our cows and heifers stay healthy. Calves are giving colostrum at birth, which sets them up with a healthy immune system for life. Heifers are fed a diet that promotes good growth and receive scheduled vaccinations. The cows eat a balanced diet, appropriate to the stage of life they are in and are given annual vaccinations. Just like your child or pet, vaccinations are some of the easiest ways to prevent diseases in cattle. When an animal gets sick it can be very costly. Visits from the veterinarian, medicines and lost production are expensive. Prevention is key.
You cannot vaccinate against every disease. Some times despite our best efforts cows get sick. There are more common ailments that we have to watch for early symptoms of and treat promptly to increase our chances of once again having a healthy animal. We are a “conventional” dairy, I HATE labels, which means we use antibiotics to treat our animals if they are sick. We can also use supportive therapies that are used on organic farms.
When a cow/heifer/calf is sick they are given the antibiotic, recommended by the vet, that is most effective for that disease. They can also be given pain medicine, anti inflammatories or IV fluids if needed. We do everything in our power to make them feel comfortable.
Once an animal is treated, administered medicine, she has a hold placed on her. A hold means that animals milk or meat can not be sold for consumption of any kind. Her identification number, the date and what medicine she received go in to our computer records as soon as it is given. This insures that she is not going to leave the farm or have her milk sold until the hold is off.
When we treat a milk cow she is clearly labeled with red leg bands. All of our milkers know that cows with red leg bands have their milk pulled in to a separate bucket. It never mixes with milk from healthy cows.
Despite our best efforts, some times treatment does not work. We are then faced with a few options. Once the cow or heifer no longer has a withdrawl hold, the time it takes for the medicine to leave her body, she can be culled to enter the beef market. A cull cow is an animal that is no longer productive in the dairy industry. They are sent to slaughter and used for beef. This is the most desirable option if the cow can not be saved. Yes she may be leaving the farm, but she is still being productive. The farmer is paid for the cow and she produces beef for people to eat.
The last two outcomes are the least desirable. Sometimes an animal is too ill or is injured too badly to be saved. Then the only option to allow the animal to quit suffering is a humane euthanasia. No one likes to see an animal put down. These girls literally spend their lives providing for us. We can give them the respect of a quick, painless death.
Lastly, there are cows who simply become too sick very quickly and pass away despite what we do. Some illnesses can be quick and nothing can be done.
We treat our sick cows with medicine in order to help them become healthy and happy once again. No one likes to be sick. We take great care of our girls. Medicines are needed to make them feel better and continue producing or growing. Milk or meat from animals that are treated is clearly identified and does not enter our food supply. As farmers are ultimate goal is to produce a healthy product from happy cows.