Category Archives: 2012-7

That Cow Wasn’t Supposed to Calve Today

For most beef producers, the final days of the last
trimester of pregnancy for their cow herd is here. For
some early bird producers, calves are already bucking
and jumping. Winters like this one are great (keep your
fingers crossed) and temporarily lay to rest all the
discussion of when to calve.
Often, producers question when a particular cow is
due. Most producers have a handy calving table that
projects the calving date of the cow based on the day
she was bred. For example. the IRM Pocket Reference
guide shows a cow bred May 21 is due to calve on
March 1.
In recent years, the North Dakota State University
Dickinson Research Extension Center has targeted
March 1 as the start of the calving season. Do the cows
begin calving on March 1? Unfortunately, the cows do
not read the tables. Basically, a cow will calve when she
and her calf decide the time is right.
We have all seen the old cow that gets up, lays
down, gets up, lays down, walks over to the corner,
walks back, lays down, twitches her tail and calves two
weeks later. Or the cow with no udder that calves in
what seems to be minutes and successfully produces a
normal, well fed day-old calf.
A current trend is to advertise cows for sale with
predicted calving dates. These dates were projected
based on ultrasound measurements and are used to imply
the cows or heifers should calf over a period of seven to
10 days. Establishing the age of a developing fetus with
ultrasound is very accurate but gestational age and
calving date have little in common.
At the center, ultrasound records help us sort cows
based on 21 day reproductive cycles. No attempt is
made to actually guess which day a cow is going to calf.
In reviewing cow records, center research specialist
Keith Helmuth compiled all the cows with absolute
breeding dates and sire of calf. In other words, 462 cows
were artificially inseminated, and conceived to the unit of
semen she was inseminated with. Because of the
different breeds used, the parentage of the calf is not
questionable. No DNA test or judge was needed to
identify the father.
Of these 462 cows, the average gestation length was
282.5 days. Of the 426 cows, only 87 actually calved on
the expected date. These cows were expected to calf
283 days after breeding or March 1st. In reality, the first
live calf arrived Feb. 11, then one on the 13th and one on
the 16th. Three calves arrived on Feb. 17, three on the
19th, one on the 20th, three on the 21st, nine on the 22nd,
eight on the 23rd and a rush on the 24th produced 17
The calving crew is starting to sweat. On the 25th,
19 calves were born, 36 on the 26th, 38 on the 27th, 39
on the 28th and finally the due date, March 1, 87 calves
were born. More sweat, despite the cold weather. On
March 2, 53 cows calve, on the 3rd, 25 calves, on the
4th, 16 calves, on the 5th, 22 calves, on the 6th, 20
calves, on the 7th, 15 calves, and on the 8th, only four
calves. Just as there appeared to be a let up, on the 9th,
15 calves were born, on the 10th, 12 calves, and on the
11th, one calf. Finally, a slow down and the season
finished with two calves on the 12th, three calves on the
13th, four calves on the 14th, and one calve each on the
15th, 16th and 17th. The last two calves were born on
the 19th of March.
All 462 cows conceived on the same day, but the
calving season lasted 32 days. Approximately, 80 percent
calved within a 11 day window, 95 percent in a 19 day
window and 98 percent within a 28 day window. If you
want to bet me you know when your cow is going to
calf, I will bet you she won’t calf on the day she is due.
Cows don’t calve in a 7 to 10 day window, no matter
who thinks they should.
Happy calving. May you find all your ear tags.
Your comments are always welcome at For more information, contact the
North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association,
1133 State Avenue, Dickinson, ND 58601 or go to on the Internet. In
correspondence about this column, refer to BT0078.

Why Grass is Great!

Why Grass is Great!
This picture might not seem all that spectacular, a cow on pasture. When you break down the amazing orchestration of what’s actually happening in this picture it is absolutely amazing though. For thousands of years cattle have been in a symbiotic relationship with the microflora that inhabit their rumens. A cow’s rumen gives the bugs a home and a food source. In turn the bugs do for the cow what she couldn’t do on her own: they let her survive and thrive on a high cellulose diet of plant material that would otherwise be undigestible.
If you were to sample the cow in this picture, her ruminal fluid would be close to pH neutral, remaining more or less constant between 6.7 and 6.9. At this pH a whole host of “good guy” bacteria are hard at work in her rumen, breaking down plant fibers and producing volatile fatty acids, B vitamins, protein, and carbohydrates.
Understanding pH and how a seemingly small change in pH actually reflects a very large change in the amount of acid present is important for later in this article. The pH scale is simply a measure of how acidic or how alkaline/basic a substance is. A pH of zero is close to the equivalent of battery acid, whereas a pH of 14 is close to the equivalent of lye. The pH scale is logarithmic, meaning that for each whole number change there is a ten times (or ten-fold) change in the amount of acid or base. For example a pH value of 6 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 7 and a pH of 5 is 100 times more acidic then a pH of 7. This is why the physiological pH (also known as the pH of blood where life is considered compatible) is such a narrow window of 7.3-7.4.
Back to our cow grazing grass. The microflora in that cow’s rumen are adapted to survive at a pH of 6.7-6.9. So what happens when the cow is fed a foreign feed such as grains? The microflora in her rumen are all-stars at fermenting feed, but when that feed changes to a highly and much more easily fermented feed, such as grain or finely chopped hay, they go into overdrive and become their own demise. When fermentation is increased, so are the products of fermentation, including lactic acid. If lactic acid production exceeds the buffering systems in place, the pH begins falling in the rumen, becoming more and more acidic. The good bugs of the rumen get sick and begin to fail and die, and the other bacteria that had been merely getting by in a basic pH begin to thrive at the lower pH. Unfortunately these bacteria also metabolize glucose to lactate, which becomes a very dangerous situation very rapidly. So dangerous that if this were to happen rapidly, for instance in a ration error or when a cow gains access to a large amount of concentrated feed such as a bag of grain, the end result could very well be death.
If this acidifying process happens slowly though (as it does when cattle are put on feed for showing, feedlots, or dairy production), the outcome is different. In the case of feedlot calves the long term outcomes are rarely noted because they are slaughtered prior to the full development of clinical signs. Putting calves less than 14 months “on feed” has been shown to have deleterious effects on their long term survival and productivity. Bull purchasers have acknowledged this for years and many range cattle operations will not purchase grain backgrounded bulls due to the knowledge that they will “have had their feet burnt out from under them”. This is due to the fact that many cattle subjected to grain diets and the resulting ruminal acidosis will go on to have either subclinical or clinical laminitis. This is well demonstrated in dairy herds and in feedlots where the incidence of subclinical laminitis reaches nearly 100%.
If you don’t have good sound feet and legs under a cow or bull, regardless of how much the animal is worth, all you have is a slaughter animal. Cattle are large, heavy animals and clinically lame cattle become a serious humane issue. It is important to note that some animals with subclinical laminitis will show no outward signs of lameness, but can be diagnosed with radiographs or after death by measuring sole thickness and amount of digital rotation. This is part of the reason that many heavily fed breeding animals will show no signs until they are introduced into a situation where they must travel farther distances or over rough country. The example of the corn fed bull that gets turned out on the range and becomes completely lame and worthless is a good illustration of this.
Unfortunately, laminitis is one of the few ways that intensive feeding is visually recognized, but the unseen consequences are just as grim. When the rumen of a cow becomes acidotic, the good bugs are killed and bad bacteria invade. These “bad guys” produce a substance known as endotoxins. Endotoxins have many negative effects on the body, including making blood vessels “leaky”. Leaky blood vessels are implicated in the pathogenesis of laminitis as well as the other syndromes associated with ruminal acidosis. Most cattle that suffer from laminitis will also have liver abscesses. Liver abscesses are created when the bad bacteria are able to travel to the liver and colonize there. If the bacteria are able to escape the liver they are capable of colonizing the heart valves, lungs, joints, and kidneys. All of these can result in disease processes of the effected organs including; endocarditis, pneumonia, arthritis, and pyelonephritis. Many of these diseases are hard, if not impossible, to diagnose while the animal is alive but many of them can be diagnosed after the animal is slaughtered or dies. Sometimes the presentation of these problems will manifest rather dramatically with a dead cow with no outward reason for her being dead. Other times cows will present as chronic poor doers–they won’t gain well, they won’t milk well, they just aren’t “right”. It has always been greatly ironic to me that the process of feeding cattle up can result in them being lifelong poor doers.
Breeding cattle are fed concentrate rations for a couple reasons: to show them off to buyers and to show them. Fat cattle look better than thin or moderately fleshed cattle for the reason that fat hides flaws in conformation. The old saying that “the best color on a horse is fat” holds true in this case as well. The show standard for cattle is fat. If you tried to tell someone you were going to show grass fat calves they would laugh you out of the show ring, because grass fat isn’t the same as corn fat or pushed rate of gain. I am not completely condemning showing, but I will in good conscience issue a very stern warning to buyers and breeders to be aware when you know you are dealing with concentrate fed cattle. I will also issue a suggestion that all sellers be upfront and forthright, with what their feeding program is, when selling cattle. If you try to hide behind an all natural or grass fed front your grain fed cattle will rat you out.
I know that some people reading this article will believe it is biased because we are known to be a grass based program with grass based genetics. I will say that the truth is quite the contrary; we choose grass based genetics and run a grass based program because of the facts stated in this article: concentrate feeding cattle negatively affects a herd’s long-term productivity and profitability. . I also know that this article may be interpreted that I am against showing. I am not against showing but do believe that those who choose to feed their cattle concentrated rations should be aware of the potential outcomes and implications that it can have, not only for the individual cow but for the breed as a whole.
You are more than welcome to contact me at or you can visit us online at

“Hardwear Disease”

‘Hardware disease’ isn’t fun for the cow or veterinarian
April 18, 2011|Bill Croushore|The Daily American, Somerset, PA
As a veterinarian, a good portion of my time is spent diagnosing and treating diseases of cattle. One of the most interesting diseases we encounter in cows is aptly named “hardware disease.”

Being nerdy scientific types, veterinarians had to give it a Latin name: traumatic reticuloperitonitis. The English translation means that there was trauma to the reticulum that resulted in peritonitis. I know, that wasn’t much of a translation.

Hardware disease happens when a bovine eats a sharp metal object such as a nail or wire. Cattle are very indiscriminate eaters, so it isn’t uncommon for them to swallow such an object.

If the unsuspecting cow eats a nail or wire, it will end up in the chamber of the stomach called the reticulum. Unlike the big fermentation chamber the rumen, the reticulum’s function is to sort the feed. Feed that is of sufficiently small particle size can exit but larger material is retained to be regurgitated and chewed on again.

Once inside the reticulum, the metallic object could poke through the wall and wreak havoc inside the abdomen. Immediately adjacent to the reticulum is the cow’s heart, separated only by the diaphragm. One of the manifestations of hardware disease is heart involvement.

It is quite unfortunate for both the cow and the farmer to see a case of hardware disease with heart involvement. The disease is invariably fatal if it involves the heart and it also renders the animal unfit for slaughter since there is likely to be bacteria in the bloodstream.

But not all cases of hardware disease end with heart involvement. It is, in fact, uncommon. The usual manifestation is a syndrome called “vagal indigestion.” Sorry, there is no catchy English translation for this one. A cow with vagal indigestion, as viewed from her rear, looks like a “papple,” half pear and half apple. These cows have difficulty emptying the rumen of feed.

So, when we see a cow with the characteristic papple shape and other signs of hardware disease, we treat the animal with a magnet. If you’re picturing the huge electromagnet that Wile E. Coyote might use to snag the roadrunner, it’s not that type of magnet.

Actually, we get the cow to swallow a strong magnet that’s about half the size of a hot dog. Once down her gullet, it will be retained in the reticulum — the same place as the wire. With a little bit of luck, the magnet will latch onto the offending piece of steel and spare the cow further problems. It will stay in the cow for the rest of her days.

The magnet trick, while easy, is not successful every time. Sometimes the offending metal is aluminum and won’t stick to the magnet and sometimes the magnet just fails to pull it out. Those times that the magnet fails to remove the metal, we might attempt surgery to cure the papple-shaped bovine.

The surgery is really no fun for either the surgeon or the patient. To remove the piece of metal, we have to cut into the distended rumen. The stinky contents rush out under pressure and coat the barn floor, the surgeon and anything else within range. But once in the rumen, the surgeon can reach down deep inside the cow, find the reticulum and check for the wire.

As dramatic as it sounds, the recovery is even more dramatic. Sometimes, as soon as the wire is pulled out, the cow commences ruminating again, even before the hole in her rumen is sutured shut. Unfortunately, hardware disease in just one of several causes for the papple-shaped cow. None of the others respond as well to surgery.

Grazing season soon will be upon us. As you’re driving down the back roads admiring the beasts in the pastures, please don’t discard any metallic objects into the fields. Both the cows and their veterinarians would appreciate it.

(Dr. Bill Croushore is a veterinarian with White Oak Veterinary Clinic in Berlin, and services farms in Somerset, Bedford, Westmoreland and Fayette counties. If you have a question for the veterinarian, send it to

Pinkeye Prevention

By: Leah Lee, DVM
Carson County Veterinary Clinic

Many producers deal with Infectious Bovine Keratoconjunctivitis or pinkeye. It is highly infectious and generally a herd problem. Young cattle, particularly Herefords and crosses are predisposed. The bacterial organisms isolated in cases of pinkeye have been identified as Moraxella bovis, Moraxella ovis, and possibly Mycoplasma bovoculi. This is a treatable disease, but it causes production loss by decreasing average daily gain and milk production.

Pinkeye is more common in the summer months. The increased dust, pasture stubble, and flies cause trauma to the eye and create a place for the bacteria to grow. Pinkeye lesions first appear in the center of the eye. In the beginning of the disease process, you may notice squinting, increased tear production, and reddening of the eye. As the lesion progresses, the eye will turn a blue or gray color and an ulcer will develop. If left untreated, the ulcer may deepen until the eye ruptures or causes blindness. Mild cases may heal, leaving a scar.

In very early cases of pinkeye, your veterinarian can inject medication in the tissue around the eye. Tetracycline, a long acting antibiotic, is also used because it is secreted in the tears. Repeated treatments may be necessary. Be sure to visit with your veterinarian, especially if the problem persists or continues to spread to other cattle. Eye patches are helpful to reduce spreading of the bacteria by flies and close contact. The patch shades the eye from the sun and provides a cleaner environment to heal.

Prevention practices need to be established. First, separate any affected animals from the rest of the herd. Fly control is also important. There are several options on the market. Insecticide ear tags will help control face flies. Use ear tags only during the fly season and then remove them to prevent resistance. An insect growth regulator feed additive is also helpful to decrease the fly population, and it is available mixed in mineral drums. The additive is eaten and then passed into the manure. The medication prevents the fly larvae from developing into adult flies. Controlling weeds and brush in the pastures will also help decrease trauma to the eye.

Pinkeye vaccinations are available. The use of these products has been questionable, because studies have shown that the vaccines do not significantly decrease the incidence of the disease. Since there is more than one potential cause, the bacteria in the vaccine may not be the one causing infection in your herd. Additionally, the cost of the vaccine may not offset your production loss. You will need to discuss the pros and cons of using these vaccines with your veterinarian to decide if they are right for your herd production practices.

The bovine eye has a wonderful ability to heal. Fly control, early detection of disease and treatment are the keys to dealing with pinkeye. Your veterinarian can help you make a plan for disease prevention and control in your herd.

Autism & Showing Cattle

Autism and Showing Cattle: Through the Eyes of a Big Brother
Around 6 years ago, our family was blessed with my little brother Korbyn. He was born early in the morning at our house. We went on throughout the day and around 8:00 that night I received a call from mom that they had Korbyn and they were taking him to the emergency room because he wasn’t breathing right. He was legally dead at one point after he got to Springfield where he spent the first two weeks of his life in the Intensive Care Unit. Here we are 6 years later after being diagnosed with Autism, Cebral Palsy, eye problems, etc. and he still has a smile on his face. We have been showing registered shorthorns for several years and I worked for Julie Sandstrom when I got the wild idea to get Korbyn a Mini Hereford show heifer. I spent weeks trying to pick the perfect heifer when we settled on Brita. She’s a daughter of a heifer I showed at the American Royal in 2010. The day we picked her up she and Korbyn clicked. She follows him around and she loves for him to scratch her all over. After only 1 full day of being on a halter Korbyn had her washed, blow dried and with a little help was clipping on her. Korbyn has grown to be a great showman, although he sometimes needs help, he gets out there and tries his hardest. Having this show heifer has enabled Korbyn to become more social, gain responsibility, and understand a little more about the cattle industry. For the past 5 years Korbyn has traveled the show circuit with us as myself and my little brothers showed our cattle and he has made some great friends. In fact, all throughout this past spring he has shown his heifer across the state of Arkansas at jackpots and has drawn more attention than the big winners. People come to the show ring just to watch Korbyn show. He got a bigger round of applause than the supreme heifer did at a show in Fayetteville. Korbyn is truly an inspiration for people and is a success story for people of all ages about how showing cattle helps young people grow to become tomorrow’s leaders.
By Braden Hill