If I were the Martha Stewart of minis, I'd call these the "good things" because you never know what you'll learn here
Blood testing for pregnancy
After having several years of frustrating Vet palpation exams we set out to find a better way. It simply wasn't acceptable to have Vets miss the gestational age of calves by literally months or worse off crush an early pregnancy. So, I set out with the determination of a red head with a science degree to find something better.
Enter the age of ultrasound. Handheld devices like the PregTone are designed for the average rancher/homesteader to use in diagnosing pregnancy in some species. Seems easy enough to just aim the device at the uterus and hear the sound that indicates pregnancy. The major flaw is that it can take a great deal of anatomical awareness to aim the device at the correct spot. It seemed to be clumsy and not as diagnostic as I had hoped. The hunt for something better continued.
Then it happened, a simple Facebook post had me almost jump out of my office chair. The post mentioned a BLOOD TEST for pregnancy determination in cattle. I couldn't scratch down the name fast enough on a piece of paper, BioPryn. A quick internet search landed me on the homepage of BioPryn and then the lab locator indicated I had a lab within an hour of my house. Can you imagine the luck? I called the lab and quizzed the owner as questions flooded my mind. After I hung up the phone I literally laughed and said to myself it can't be that easy. I mean you draw 3 CC of whole blood and hand it over to the lab and within an hour they will tell you if your cow is bred? I HAD to run an experiment and I thought I knew what I was doing. *insert phlebotomy jokes here* The YouTube videos were easy enough. I had needles and the blood tubes so off I set to run a cow into the squeeze chute.
I caught the cows and readied my supplies. Then I proceeded to completely and utterly fail at finding any blood in the cow. The videos had made it look easy, I mean REALLY easy. After several failed attempts I had 1 CC of blood in my tube. I realized this wasn't as easy as YouTube or the internet would have me believe. Several following attempts were clumsy and awkward with frustrating results. I knew I had to learn from an expert, enter the Texas cow Vet AKA Dr Dan. Dr Dan is a wickedly smart Vet raised on a dairy with more cow sense in his pinky than most cattlemen will ever know in a lifetime. I loaded the trailer with hopefully bred cows and off I headed to Texas to learn the art of cow phlebotomy.
Dr Dan and I have an almost sibling like relationship where he always finds some story he knows will peak my interest then he gives me a hard time about my "fun sized" Herefords. This day was no different except I had my big cows in tow and instead of him doing the blood draw I wanted him to teach me. After a quick lecture about how it would be easier for him to just do it and I explaining that I wanted him to teach me so that I didn't have to waste his valuable time he caved. We loaded the first cow in the chute. The anatomy lesson was the most critical part, with equipment being a close second. Knowing how to read the bottom of the tail is very important. The first cow seemed easy, almost as easy as the YouTube videos. The second cow was the same way. Just as I had found my rhythm the next cow confused me...no blood. This was the most valuable lesson of the afternoon, how to correct from a mistake and get the sample. I left there with my samples (even though he wanted to send them off to the lab for me) and my cows. Once the cows were back in the pasture I headed to the lab full of hope both for the future pregnancies and that I'd found a better method going forward. I got a text on my way back home and all the cows were confirmed bred. Could it be that easy? The answer was and still is, yes.
Fast forward a few years and now I can almost draw blood by feel. Usually it's so fast that even people helping me don't realize it's over until I hold up the sample. I've taught others to draw blood using the same method. Driving to the lab became a chore and eventually I had to find another way. Realizing that I had the knowledge to run a simple lab and the need to perform these tests I knew what had to be done.
I now run my own rapid pregnancy tests for the H and R Ranch herd and other local producers in the region. They simply drop off the blood and get a text message later that day with the results. It's a blessing to be able to help other producers in this way.
There is a better way and you can learn to draw blood. The tests are very accurate and I find it's the least invasive method with the lowest risk to an early pregnancy. I will leave you with these words, if you aren't happy with your current management practices keep searching for the ones that fit your program best. Blood pregnancy testing fits our program better and allows us to manage the cattle more closely with less stress. Video to follow...reading is one thing but seeing is believing!
I was on a conference call earlier this week with a friend and her client having a newborn calf. This call would have been happy and easy if the calving supplies were all gathered up and at hand, as you can guess that wasn't the case.
- Towels can dry the calf, clean your hands and be used as a blanket for a chilled calf. You can even roll the calf onto the towel and drag it if needed.
- Iodine can be used for splashing on the calf umbilical stump to help clean it and dry it which closes off the "opening" that bacteria could enter causing navel/joint ill.
- Flashlight, well you know if things are going to go wrong it will happen at night so be prepared.
- Chains, called OB chains, are used in the even you must assist the cow in delivering the calf. Learn to use chains and how to apply them or you could do more harm than good to the calf and the cow. Chains are easily washed and sanitized unlike the nylon straps.
- Trauma sheers are about as handy as a good pocket knife. They can cut through fabric, umbilical cords and even wire in an emergency. We keep a set in each ranch cart. They seem to get less slippery than a pocket knife and can be used by kids if necessary.
- Thread can be used to tie off the umbilical cord or even suture a wound if you are comfortable with such procedures. (Think field medic, just something until the vet arrives.)
- Work gloves can help your grip in slippery situations and if you are dragging logs away from birthing site. Some cows will hide in the worst possible places.
- Medical gloves are really handy as they can be put over dirty hands to "clean" them instantly or be used as a way to tie off something that's bleeding due to their stretchy nature. You can also grab samples of something you may need to show the vet later and then turn them inside out without having to touch the item.
Fertility is the single most important trait when it comes to the economics of cattle. Simply put, your cattle make money when they make more cattle. A female that hasn't calved during the year cost money to maintain and didn't make a calf that could be sold to offset her costs. Ask yourself this, would you pay an employee to not come to work? (If the answer is yes call me and I will fill out a job application.) That's what happens when they don't produce a calf every year.
There are always lots of questions about breeding females. Going back to your old school days, we'll call them the 5 "W's" (who, what, when, where and why.)
Getting solid advice could be the most valuable part of buying an animal from an experienced breeder. Advice that helps you steer clear of problems and keeps you from wasting both time and money. We constantly get calls with a variety of questions regarding purchasing and breeding cattle. So here are a few good rules to follow:
Here is our vaccination protocol. It has detailed explanations on how vaccines work and why you can use some on bred cows and others on open cows. This is a must read for anyone that owns cattle, period. We chose the highest immune response we can because our cattle go to shows and leave our property, we can't afford for them to become ill and bring it back to the herd.
This is most likely the most informative website for all things cattle I've found to date. It can help beginners all the way through the "Master Cattlemen" gain knowledge and continue to learn the latest research proven methods to keep any owner on the cutting edge in this industry.
Here is our guideline for an entire year's worth of cattle vaccinations and worming, etc. We use the OSU (Oklahoma State University) planner along with their other helpful handouts. This helps us know what is appropriate for our area and when it should be done to the cattle. Finding your local information can best be done through a friendly trip to your county extension agent. It's their job to help give you the best information backed by experience and research.
I've been helping new cattle owners get setup lately and some experienced mini owners now moving into the registered world. A common question is what do you do to keep your cattle in top shape, the answer really is not much as good cattle are just GOOD. I will share with you the things we do use. The first being a TOP QUALITY mineral that is loose and allows the cattle to eat what they need when they need it. We use Redmond minerals, #10 fine or #4 medium and the conditioner. Follow the link to search for a dealer near you but call ahead to see if they have it in stock as my dealer always has to order it for me. Always follow your vet and state vet school recommendations as they change from region to region. A quality mineral program will help fill in any nutritional gaps that your pasture, hay or feed leave behind.
Guard animals, out of all the options (dogs/donkeys/llamas) we picked llamas for the cattle. Llamas are gentle on the fences/pasture/cattle and they don't roam off and get into trouble on other ranches around us. The great part is that once a year you get to carve off all that fiber and see how awkward they really look! Here is what happened today at the TX ranch, shearing slide show.
Inbreeding coefficients (IC) if you breed any kind of registered animal you should know what these are and what they can indicate. Here is an amazing tutorial from the American Hereford Association. We strive to keep our IC %'s as low as possible with injections of fresh bloodlines and rotating the use of outside bulls if needed. There are herds that will have higher IC numbers than others due to the breeding practices called linebreeding. You might also like reading up on popular sire syndrome and Founder effect. Trends come and trends go but quality cattle should be your goal over time. Keeping your IC %'s as low as possible will keep our breed healthy for the long haul.
How to take a DNA sample for the AHA. We will be making our own video, our method is much simpler and of all the methods we prefer to pull hairs, blood is messy and the test should be run before you've invested all the money in collecting semen. FYI, you can't sell semen on a bull that does not have a DNA panel already on file with the AHA and get registered calves. Again, do your homework on the bull you are buying semen out of first. You are looking for the AI permit on file with the AHA, ask for proof.
Things I've learned while setting up the Ardmore, OK ranch, facebooking and website design could kill even a boring person. I'm now the lady with the minis and I wear that as a badge of honor even here shoulder deep in cow-calf country.