Dexter Cattle

During the last 20 years or so there’s been an increased interest in smaller cattle for homesteads. The most popular breed of little cattle at present in the U.S. is Dexter cattle. Dexter cattle are a minor breed and do have a place on many small farms and homesteads.

As a former Dexter breeder and owner, it always surprises people that I don’t routinely recommend Dexters to homesteaders. There are many reasons for this.

Feeding Dexter Cattle

Dexter Cattle

For starters there is no such thing as a uniform type of Dexter. Many people don’t realize it but Dexter cattle come in a few dissimilar types. There is no one breed standard. Some Dexter breeders breed for a beef type of animal. Fewer Dexter breeders breed for a dairy type. Worse yet, too many back-yard Dexter breeders are breeding cattle for “cuteness”.  Trust me on this: it is not a very good reason to breed cattle.
We are not talking about pet dogs or cats – we’re talking about livestock.

The lack of a breed standard is made worse and is seriously aggravated by the fact that at present there are three different Dexter breed registries in the U.S. The three registries have fostered a tremendous amount of infighting and back-biting among Dexter breeders and between the registries themselves.

Many people who buy Dexters are not knowledgeable about the breed or are ignorant about cattle in general. When compared to other types of cattle – either beef or dairy – Dexters are expensive to purchase and are not budget friendly for the average homesteader of modest means. Moreover, many breeders market Dexters as a feed efficient animal that can be finished solely on grass.
That’s not exactly true.

Hanging Dexter Beef

Dexter Beef

While it is true that some Dexters owners do try to keep their cattle on poor pasture, it is not true that beeves managed in such a way produce a meat carcass that is acceptable to most people. If you have poor or marginal pastures Highland cattle are probably a better way to go.

For their body weight Dexters eat more than what you’d suppose and give less milk than what you’d expect. Because of their smaller size Dexters don’t do as well at the sale barn as other cattle. Dexter breeders are often forced to find a direct sale for their beef because of this market prejudice.

That said, because Dexters are a small animal they have a couple of distinct advantages for the homesteader or small holder. For people with limited pasture space or meager pasture a Dexter will do better than some other types of cattle. Because they are smaller they are easier on facilities. Dexters if treat properly can be very friendly and affectionate and easily handled.

Dexter Cattle

A Group of Young Dexters

Of all the minor breeds of cattle, Dexters are the most mainstream. This is an advantage when buying Dexters but is also a mixed bag for breeding Dexters. Because of their smaller size a Dexter heifer or cow cannot be bred to just any breed of bull. She must be serviced by a small breed of bull. This is especially true of first time heifers. Due to the popularity of Dexters, it isn’t hard to find a Dexter bull. Also Dexter semen is readily available should you decide to go the AI route for breeding. I recommend AI for people who are just keeping a few cows. Dexters, like all cattle, benefit from an intelligent and well thought out breeding program.

If you decide that Dexters are a breed of cattle that you’d like to own, just keep kind in mind that there are a couple of genetic traits that you’ll want to avoid like the plague. The first and most serious genetic fault is known as a “bulldog calf”. A bulldog calf is actually called chondrodysplasia. It is a lethal genetic mutation and is form of dwarfism. Another genetic mutation is known as a “water baby”. This is the folk term for pulmonary hypoplasia with anasarca (PHA). PHA in cattle is a condition where there is an incomplete formation of the lungs. The fetus or calf has a monstrous swollen and bloated appearance due to water retention. Such calves often weigh twice what they should. Many such calves are never born alive, but unfortunately PHA can cause life-threatening and dangerous calving difficulties.
Both conditions are problems in some strains of Dexters. Thankfully both syndromes are being limited today by genetic testing. Two pet peeves that I have with Dexter cattle is their feet and udders. But both faults can be corrected with culling and selective breeding. Just be on the look out when you are buying Dexter cattle – or any cattle for that matter.

Goat or Cow? Choosing The Right Homestead Dairy Animal

Goat or cow? My husband and I have a mixed marriage. He’s a “goat person” and I’m not. He loves goats and if it were up to him this farm would be positively overrun with them.

I on the other hand don’t really like goats; either dairy goats or meat goats. My problem with dairy goats is that I can’t stand to drink the milk because of the taste. It’s a crying shame really. My aversion to goat’s milk colors my perspective on an entire species.  It’s a classic case of sour grapes; or goaty milk in this instance.

The photo below of me, and Katie the dairy goat, is a joke photo for my husband’s benefit. Katie loves me but she hasn’t figured out that I don’t love her back.

Alpine Dairy Goat

Me & Katie The Goat

To my way of thinking goats are more trouble than they’re worth. You need fences that will hold water to maintain goats. And when they escape (and they will!) you can be assured that they’ll head straight for the most valuable plants in the garden or clear out the window boxes. Not to mention that keeping a Billy goat can be a real challenge because of the way they smell. And they do smell! But what else would you expect from an animal who routinely and purposely pees on his beard to make himself attractive to the opposite sex?

I love writing about dairy goats because I’m guaranteed to get a knee jerk reaction from evangelical goat people who feel either misunderstood or called to preach the Gospel of Goats. From my point of view, goat people just don’t seem to appreciate that not everyone likes goats or cares for the taste of goat milk. The unsolicited advice that I’ve received over the years regarding goat milk has been endlessly entertaining.

Goat lovers will insist that goat milk is very fragile and must be handled with particular care to ensure that there’s no “off taste” to the milk. Well that’s actually true. Goat milk will readily pick up barn odors faster than cow’s milk.
In fact when it comes to handling fresh goat milk, I’ve found that the best way to cool down a small amount of milk fast is with a Cuisinart ice cream maker. The freezer bowl cools the milk quicker than a standard stainless steel bulk tank and results in perfect Grade “A” milk. A  Cuisinart ice cream maker is really a good investment if you milk just one goat. Not to mention that you can make ice cream with one.

I think there’s some type of genetic component in the ability to taste “goatieness” in fluid milk. It’s kind of like the ability to roll your tongue. Not everybody can roll their tongue. Maybe the goat milk taste thing is all in the genes. I’m not alone in objecting to the taste of goat milk. Many people can taste the difference between Grade “A” goat milk and cow’s milk.
I think in general, that if you are like me and hate goat milk, you may be better off with a very low producing family cow.

Kerry Dairy Cow

Olga – A Kerry Cow & A Low Producer

But a cow unlike a goat represents a very large financial investment and personal commitment. You’d be hard pressed in my part of Pennsylvania to pick up a dairy cow or young heifer for less than $900.
And once you have that cow she must be housed, fed, cleaned up after and she needs periodic veterinary care. A cow needs at least 2 to 4 acres of fenced pasture to be happy.
Not to mention she needs to be bred so that she can give milk. Most single cow families will elect to borrow a bull; or ship the cow to a neighbor who has a bull; or have the cow artificially inseminated.
Believe me all 3 of those options have benefits and drawbacks.

My advice to most people thinking about a home dairy animal is this:

Try fresh goat milk to see if you like it. If you do great! Get the nicest goat you can afford and enjoy her and her milk. Dairy goats range in price from upwards of $150, with about $180-$225 being the going rate at present. Be sure to taste the milk before buying a fresh goat. Sweet feed and good clean hay go a long way in making decent milk.

Hand Milking A Goat

Milking A Dairy Goat

A dairy goat is the almost always the best choice for a small homestead or backyard garden farm. A good dairy goat will often produce well over a gallon of milk a day. That’s plenty of milk for cheese, cooking and for table use.

All babies (human or animal) thrive on goat milk. Even chicks bloom and grow faster with a small amount of goat’s milk. And nothing I know of will fatten a pig faster than corn and goat milk. For years I kept dairy goats just to feed the milk to other livestock. Goat kidding was timed to occur about 2 weeks before lambing season. That way I never had to buy expensive milk replacer for orphan lambs and always had plenty of milk on hand if the opportunity arose to buy day old dairy calves or weaned piglets.

Lamb Drinking Goat Milk

Bottle Lamb Drinking Fresh Goat Milk

You may have some trouble making butter with goat milk because the cream doesn’t readily separate. But no matter. With a good homestead dairy goat, you’ll have the means to make the best feta cheese that you’ve ever eaten, and the resource  to create creamy skin soothing goat milk soaps.

But if you’re like me and can’t stand the taste of goat milk you really only have a couple of options for a homestead dairy animal. If you have  a large family and  good pasture; and have the time and inclination to make cheese and butter a cow is the way to go.
A popular way to keep a family cow is to buy a low producing cow, and let her keep her calf for half the day. That way you don’t have to milk twice a day and you still get lots of milk. You’ll have the benefit of a calf that will grow for meat. Or if it’s a heifer calf you can sell her once she’s weaned.

If money is no object and you already know something about cattle, Dexter and Kerry cows are popular with many homesteaders. Both breeds are extremely low milk producers and might be a good home dairy option if you can find them.
But be aware that often a Dexter cow will not give enough milk for kitchen and table use and still have enough milk for her calf. You might have to keep a dairy goat to feed the calf. It’s pretty much a case of either milk for your family – or milk for her calf. You probably won’t have milk enough both. Kerries are only a little better in terms of milk production but are frightfully scarce and not budget friendly.

Dairy Cows

A Commercial Dairy

I think a better option for a family cow is a commercial dairy cow that is being culled from a large herd. A cull dairy cow can often be found for a reasonable price. That’s what I most often recommend to people on a budget who want a family cow. Truth is many perfectly good dairy cows are culled because they are considered to be low commercial milk producers. But they work well as family milk cows. Just so you know, sometimes dairy cows are culled from commercial herds because they have one or two bad quarters or are susceptible to chronic mastitis. Both of those conditions can sometimes be made manageable on a small homestead with very careful attention.

Whatever animal you choose for your homestead or family, you can be assured she will give back more than she ever takes with good care and proper management. Not to mention all the cheese, ice cream and yogurt you can stand to eat!


The Sacred Bird of January

Did you know that the month of January, and the first day of every month during the year is associated with roosters?
Well it’s true and I’ll tell you why.

A Buff Orpington Rooster

Jimmy the Buff Orpington Rooster

January is named for the ancient Etruscan god Janus.
Janus/Jana was an androgynous, mythical creator sun-god and was considered to be the keeper of the door of life. He was the guardian of all beginnings and endings and every new undertaking. He was father to twelve other Etruscan gods, and his divine children had twelve altars that belonged to the twelve months.
Gates, doors, caves and portals were all sacred to Janus.

The early Romans adopted and absorbed the myths of Janus and he was one of their earliest divinities.The people of Rome attributed the introduction of agriculture, law and religious worship to him.
In Rome, the doors to the temple of Janus were left open in times of war and closed during times of peace.
In art and literature Janus is most often portrayed as a two-faced or two-headed figure.


The Two Faced Roman god Janus

One face looks to the past – and the other face looks into the future.
Janus is at times depicted with a staff and he is usually in possession at least one key. Sometimes Janus has a rooster by his side.
The staff is a porter’s staff that directs the way forward to new beginnings or ventures.
The key is a symbol that Janus is the gate-keeper of life and that he holds the keys to the gates of heaven.
And because Janus is a sun-god, the rooster was his honored and sacred bird.

The Romans believed that the rooster welcomed the sun at dawn with vigorous crowing that symbolized the sun’s triumph over the night and darkness.

Dark BrahmaRooster

A Dark Brahma Rooster

Tiny Chicken Eggs – A Natural Phenomenon With A Spooky History

I went to collect eggs yesterday and found a tiny chicken egg sitting in the nest boxes along with the regular size eggs. I thought to throw it over the house but instead decided to tempt Fate and brought it indoors so I could take a picture of it to share with you.

Tiny Chicken Egg

Regular Size Eggs and a Small Dwarf Egg Called a “Cock Egg”

Tiny or miniature size eggs in standard size hens are the natural result when a small bit of reproductive tissue or other small foreign mass enters the hen’s oviduct and triggers the regular formation of an egg.
Inside the hen’s body the bit of tissue or foreign mass is treated exactly like a normal yolk. It is swathed and enveloped in albumen, membranes and a shell and is eventually passed from the hen’s body. When it is laid it looks just like a regular chicken egg except that it is very little and teeny.

These types of malformed eggs have been known for centuries as a ‘Cock Egg’. Most often these little eggs contain only the white of the egg and no yolk. Usually the shells are harder to break than that of a normal egg.

Cock Egg - No Yolk Just Egg White

Cock Egg – No Yolk Just Egg White

‘Cock Egg’ is a synonymous term for any type of abnormal egg.
Sometimes a normal sized egg is formed without a proper hard shell but with a yolk. That egg too is also known as a cock egg, but is sometimes called a “rubber egg’ or “tube egg” by people not familiar with the history or folklore of eggs.

In folk tradition, a cock egg was understood to have been laid by a rooster or cock and not a hen, and was a cause for concern. Cock eggs according to different folklore traditions bring bad luck or illness if they are brought into the house. That’s because a cock egg is believed to have malefic and magical powers. They are reputed to be of value to sorcerers and magicians for mixing magical potions and casting spells.

The way the story goes, is that if a toad, serpent or witch at the behest of Satan incubates a cock egg, the resulting hatchling will be a cockatrice or a basilisk. A cockatrice or basilisk is an ancient winged monster with a serpent’s body and a rooster’s head that can kill and destroy by its breath and glance.

During the middle ages it was self-evident to most intelligent people that a cock egg was the work of the devil. Animals as well as people could be in league with Satan, and in 1474 a chicken passing for a rooster in Basle, Switzerland was put on trial and condemned to be burned at the stake for “the heinous and unnatural crime of laying an egg”. American author and educator, E.V. Walter in his essay – Nature On Trial – The Case Of A Rooster That Laid An Egg , writes, “ the execution took place with as great a solemnity as would have be observed in consigning a heretic to the flames, and was witnessed by an immense crowd of townsmen and peasants.”

A cock egg has also been called a ‘Witch Egg’ since the Middle Ages and a ‘Fairy Egg’ during the mid and late Victorian era. In Scotland and elsewhere in Europe, a cock egg is sometimes also called a ‘Wind Egg’. In recent times here in the U.S. these types of deformed eggs are sometimes called ‘Fart Eggs’.
I suppose language really does reflect cultural ideals and concerns.
Superstition instructs that the best way to protect against the evil of a cock egg is to throw the malformed egg over the roof of the house and smash it on the other side which of course I didn’t do.

So now I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next. But I’m not too worried – it was worth the photos.

An Easy Trick To Help Pick A Calm Cow

Selecting young cattle for future breeding is as much an art as it is a science. It’s a guessing game in regards to future temperament, productivity, milking ability and mothering. Temperament in cows is an important trait to keep in mind especially with a small herd.
Temperament in many animals is hereditary.

Good sound feet, sturdy legs, a nice straight top line and a feminine appearance are all important considerations when selecting foundation breeding stock. And all things being equal I also select cattle by low head whorls.

A Good Conformation in a Beef Type Heifer

A Good Conformation in a Beef Type Heifer

Some cows are just born crazy. They have a wild streak and there’s not much to be done about it. Crazy cattle are harder to handle and can end up hurting themselves or you. Rowdy cattle will run into walls and try to jump fences and holding pens trying to get away from people. I call it “crashing”. Unmanageable cattle can be dangerous in both a squeeze chute and in an open pasture. Trust me life is too short to put up with crazy cows.

Chasing A Heifer In The Farm Yard

Chasing A Heifer In The Farm Yard

When buying a group of cattle or even just a single animal, I always judge temperament by using three different assessments.
The first is I watch to see how the animal or the group of animals reacts to a stranger (me) in a standing open lot. Next I watch to see whether or not the animal crashes during handling or with a little pressure to move. Lastly I also note the position of the head whorl on the animal .

The first two behavior tests are obvious. But judging cattle temperament by a head whorl is maybe not so obvious.

A facial head whorl is where the hair on a cow or horse’s face meets. Head whorls are simply cowlicks on the face.
Generally the lower the whorl on the face, the less high-strung and calmer the animal will be. The whorl should be at or just above eye level on the face. It is best to avoid very high whorls and especially very uneven whorls high on the face.

Low Head Whorl In A Crossbred Heifer

A Low Head Whorl In A Crossbred Heifer

The example above is a crossbred Kerry heifer with a very low facial head whorl. Notice that the whorl is just below eye level. This heifer was usually calm.
Selection by head whorls is not fool-proof, but when combined with the other two factors, it can help pick good heifers out of a big lot.

Healthy Sheep Feet

Elliot, my Border Cheviot ram has pretty good feet. His hooves haven’t been looked at in over a year and really don’t need too much trimming.

Healthy Sheep Feet

Good Feet Need Little Trimming

I live in a very wet climate and often to deal with soggy pastures. Over the years I’ve noticed over that sheep with black hooves tend to do better on wet ground than sheep with lighter colored hooves.Wet ground can lead to foot scald in sheep and leaves the hoof susceptible to foot rot.
Some of the sheep breeds with light colored hooves are Dorset, Merinos and Polypays. Sheep with light colored hooves do very well in dry climates.

So the next time you’re thinking about buying sheep, keep in mind the kind of pasture or ground the sheep will be standing on. You’ll save yourself and your sheep a lot of trouble.
Now aren’t you glad you know that!

Ram Get Feet Trimmed

Elliot Is Getting His Feet Trimmed

Black Badger Face Border Cheviot Lamb

Spring has finally arrived here in western Pennsylvania!
Daffodils are beginning to bloom and lambing season is finished. For the most part this year’s lambing season went smoothly.
But there was one big surprise.

An unusual Badger Face ewe lamb was born about 10 days ago.
The ewe lamb is a twin out of two registered Border Cheviot parents. Her sister is white and her mother is one of my oldest ewes.
It’s recessive genetic throwback.
In Border Cheviots there is a recessive gene for black. Sometimes purebred Border Cheviot lambs will be born with a black patch or born completely black.

Lamb With A Black Circle Around His Eye

Lamb With A Black Circle Around His Eye

But an extreme reverse Badger Face?
In over 25 years of breeding Border Cheviots I’ve never seen anything like her before.
In fact when I first saw her, I was left completely speechless and dumbfounded.

Badger Face Border Cheviot Lamb

A Black Border Cheviot Ewe Lamb With A Badger Face

My new Badger Face Cheviot lamb is marked similar to that of a Torwen Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep.
Badger Face Welsh Mountain sheep are from Wales, United Kingdom, and come in two distinct types: the Torddu and Torwen.
The Torddu variety is mostly white with a distinctive black underbelly and black eye stripes.
The Torwen is the opposite. They are mostly black with a white or beige colored belly and smaller white eye stripes. The Torddu type is about three times more common than the Torwen and is known as the Badger Face.
Sadly my little Badger Face lamb is being picked on by a couple of the adult ewes.
Because of her coloring she’s not recognized as a natural part of the flock.
Believe it or not sheep do notice color and distinctions. In fact given a choice, sheep prefer to mate with other sheep of their own face color. More than just people are racist.

Badger Face Lamb With Twin

Badger Face Border Cheviot Lamb With Her Normal Marked Twin

Her mother is protecting her and doing a pretty good job of keeping her away from the main flock.
Hopefully some of the adult ewes will grow to accept her and she won’t become too over shy.
Just yesterday I noticed she was jumping and playing with some of the other lambs.
So there is hope that all will be well for her.
Good thing.
Because I’m keeping her.


Dexter Cattle Flaw – Bad Feet

The calf in the center of the photo below is a year old purebred Dexter steer. He has the typically overgrown “elf booties” feet that are a major flaw of the breed. Follow the red arrow in the picture and notice how his hooves are fluted, pointy and upturned.
The steer calf has never been kept on concrete and is kept on good, dry pasture with two slightly younger Kerry Simmental cross heifers that have perfectly normal feet for their age. Compare his hooves to the hooves of the calf on the left.
Notice how her hooves are shorter, wider, thicker and more balanced?

Dexter With Bad Feet

Dexter Calf With Bad Feet

A neighbor, who runs hundreds of cattle on nearly a thousand acres, stopped by the farm the other day and remarked that our little steer has the worst feet he ever saw in an animal so young.
I laughed and replied, “You just ain’t seen enough Dexters.”

And that’s true enough, because it’s hard to believe that one breed of cattle – heritage or otherwise – can have so many faults until you actually see lots of them together in one place from many different breeders.
Last June (2012) my husband got a chance to do just that when he attended the National Dexter Cattle Show and Sale in Fort Wayne Indiana to meet with other Dexter breeders. He was appalled by what he saw there, and until this day he still calls that 3 day affair the “Bad Feet and Bad Udder” show.

The faults of both bad feet and poor udders are a plague on most strains of Dexter cattle.
Both faults can be corrected through intensive culling and an intelligent breeding program. But sadly very few Dexter owners are willing to ruthlessly cull inferior animals due to ignorance and financial considerations.
Many Dexter cattle are sold to new and not so new homesteaders and small holders who want a smaller “dual purpose” animal, but have very little experience with dairy or beef cattle breeding and husbandry.
Folks, there are no satisfactory “dual purpose” cattle.

The old saying, “dual purpose doesn’t do much of either purpose very well” is for the most part true. Inexperienced people simply don’t know that and “backyard breeders” are doing precious little to improve the Dexter breed as a whole.
Truth is for most people who are simply looking for a family milk cow; Dexters are way overpriced, eat too much for their size and are frankly over hyped. As beef cattle they still eat too much, and take a long time to bring to slaughter weight especially if you are buying feed.
Don’t let the small size fool you, Dexter cattle are not feed efficient animals, nor are they cattle for people of modest means or families on a budget.

Now I know my opinion isn’t going to make me real popular with other Dexter breeders or homesteaders who’ve always dreamed of owning a “dual purpose” Dexter for milk and for beef.
But don’t get me wrong about Dexter cattle – I’m simply the messenger.
Dexters do have a real place on certain homesteads and garden farms. But do not believe everything you read about them on the internet.

What You Can Do To Make Your Veterinarian’s Job Easier

My veterinary practice is purely mobile at this point.
I travel to peoples’ homes and farms to see their animals.
This can go very smoothly, or it can be an exercise in frustration depending on what is going on.

Some people call me for an appointment and are prepared for my arrival.
Others think they are prepared and really aren’t.
It’s when owners aren’t prepared that things can be very frustrating. Here are 7 things you can do to help make my job, or any traveling veterinarian’s job easier .

1. Remember That I’m Coming
Yes, this has happened. I get to a farm ready to do something and the owner isn’t there. I call from the barn to make sure they are coming out…and they went to the store. When this happens, I still have to charge for my time. It’s frustrating because I could have been helping someone else. If you have to be somewhere else, please just call and let me know!

2. Have The Animal(s) Caught
Few things can waste my time more than waiting for an unprepared owner trying to catch the flighty animal.
On any given day, I can have one farm call or several farm calls for that day. When I’m prepared to start, having to wait for folks to catch an animal is very frustrating.

Chasing A Heifer In The Farm Yard

Chasing A Heifer In The Farm Yard

This is especially true one days when I have more farms to visit and it takes a half an hour or longer to corral an animal. Have your animals in the barn or in a pen. They don’t have to be tied up. They just have to be where we can get to them quickly.

3. Have The History Ready
Many times when I’m heading to a farm, I only get a quick summary over the phone; just enough to let me know what’s going on.
When I get to the farm, in order to help the animal fully, I need to know everything that has gone on, as well as that particular animal’s history.
It makes a big difference when I’m treating a downed animal to know how old it is, whether it’s pregnant or not; if there was anything it may have eaten, or if there was an injury.
It also helps to know how much time or money you are willing to put into the animal. Tell me ahead of time what the animal’s purpose is.
If it’s a food animal, there are medications that I can’t give them. I don’t want to treat your animal with certain usable drugs if that animal is going to slaughter in X number of days.

4. Tell Me What You Have Already Done or Not Done
When I come to treat a sick animal this is important for me to know.
If you have already given a pain medication, please inform me, so that I don’t give it again and overdose your animal.

Sick Ewe

A Sick Ewe

Tell me what you have already tried, so I can try something different, or tweak what you have already done.
And let me know which medications you have on hand, and which ones you don’t. Speak up and tell me what you are comfortable doing for the animal and are able to do. That information can help me plan the treatment of your animal.

5. Have the Paperwork Ready
If you are taking your animals to shows or to fairs, or selling them, it helps me to know ahead of time where you are going.
With that information I can double-check the requirements for you.
If you are going out-of-state, there may be extra tests the state you are going into requires.
Also there may be additional things a particular show wants you to do.
Be prepared for that. Because if I find something that is required and you didn’t know about it, I will let you know. Keep in mind that there are time frames for when I can do exams, tests, and CVIs before shows, fairs or sales. Knowing ahead of time when to schedule me to come out is important.

6. Tell The Truth
I can’t tell you how unbelievably frustrating it is to go to a farm and have an owner flat-out lie to me about what is going on with the animal.
I do the physical exam and come up with a likely diagnosis, but the owner swears that it can’t be that because of X, Y, or Z that they did.
When you lie to the vet, we can’t help you or your animal.
Our job isn’t to judge you. Our job is to help you give the best care to your animals.
We can’t help you take care of your animals if we don’t know what’s going on. I don’t care that you made a mistake and forgot to give a medication or gave the wrong dose.

Pony Waiting For The Vet

A Pony Waiting For A Farm Call

I don’t care if you forgot to lock the pen and they got out and into something they shouldn’t have.
I don’t care that you should have being doing something, and didn’t because of time or money constraints.
I don’t care about any of that.
What I do care about, is that I know about everything so I can treat your animal appropriately.
With misinformation, I may treat your animal inappropriately; which terrifies me, because I could accidentally kill your animal. Just tell me the truth when I show up, and I will help you find the best way to take care of your animals.

7. Listen and Tell Me What You Don’t Understand
Another frustration many vets have, are clients who apparently listen to everything we tell them…and then don’t follow through on treatment.
Most of us went through at least 8 years of school to become veterinarians. Many of us went to school even longer because of Masters Degrees and internships. We learned all the building blocks of diseases and treatment plans, so we can go out and help people care for their animals. When we have worked with you to come up with a treatment plan, and then learn on follow-up that you didn’t complete the treatments needed to help your animal that hurts us because it means you don’t trust us.
When we are going over the treatment plan, or explaining the reason why we are recommending this vaccine or this prevention management, if there is something you don’t understand just tell us. I for one am happy to go into more detail as to why I’m doing something. If you don’t agree with something I suggest or recommend, tell me why so we can work something else out.

Veterinarians work hard to help people take care of their animals. We didn’t go into veterinary medicine for the money; we chose the profession because we care. We went through 8 or more years of school in order to practice in a profession we love. And we all swore an oath:

Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.
I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.
I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.

So when you call us to come take care of your animals, remember veterinarians put a lot of time and effort into what we do. We will work with you to help you care for your animals.
But you have to help us out too.
Respect our time and we will respect yours.
Tell us what we are going to be seeing on your place so we can plan accordingly.
Let us know what you have done already and what you are willing to do.
Be honest with us.
Whenever I go onto a farm or to some one’s home I have sworn to do my best. But I need your help. Please keep in mind the things that you as the animal owner can do to help me or any veterinarian, to do just that.

Dr. H

***Today’s post is authored by Dr. Risa Hanninen.
Dr. Hanninen is a 2013 graduate from Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.Her practice, Northwest PA Veterinary Service, is a mobile veterinary practice that stretches across seven counties in Pennsylvania and into eastern Ohio.

If you live in northwestern Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio you can contact Dr. Hanninen at (814) 573-7013

How To Give Animal Injections

As a veterinarian, I’m always giving animals injections for one reason or another. I give vaccines, I give antibiotics, I give pain medications and other drugs.
Often when I’m treating an animal, I give owners instructions on how to administer the medication themselves so that they can continue the treatment. Many of my clients already know how to give injections, but sometimes I have to teach folks how to give injections.
Depending on what medication I’m giving the animal, the route of injection may vary.


2 Hereford Cross Pigs

What follows below are the two different types of injections I routinely have owners give to their animals.

SQ or Sub Q – This is short for subcutaneously. This means you give the shot under the skin.

IM – This is short for intramuscular. This means is a shot given in the muscle.

There are also IV (intravenous)injections. But I do not teach owners how to do these types.
Intravenous injections take a higher skill level to do. IV injections also carry a higher risk of complications especially if something goes wrong. Some drugs or medications will cause abscesses and extensive tissue damage if they leak out of the vein. If you should miss the vein and give a medication in the artery, the animal will go into seizures.

When giving SQ or IM injections, you must always draw back on the plunger to make sure you are not in a blood vessel and that you are not drawing air into the syringe.
If you do get air into the syringe, it means you’ve generally gone through the skin and back out again. You don’t have to draw the plunger back very far, just enough to know where you are.

Where to Give An Injection
Where to inject medication depends upon the species of animal and the preferred route for drug delivery.
Food animals tend to have injection guidelines based on meat and hide quality. Some medications can cause lots of muscle scarring which has to be later cut out of the carcass. Injections also may cause scarring in the skin which can devalue an animal hide.
Areas to inject are chosen for the ability of that particular spot to handle an injection.
The SQ space in some animals can handle quite a bit of drug volume. Muscles on the other hand can’t take as large an injection.
Muscle injection sites are chosen based on muscle size, animal comfort after the injection, and with consideration of the muscle value as a cut of meat.
Muscles should not be given more than 10 ccs (ml)of medication at one time.
Large volumes of medication for muscles need to be split into two or more injection sites.

What follows are the common farm animal species and where to give them injections.
I’ll try to hit the highlights and you can laugh and enjoy my drawing and tracing skills.

1. Horses – Many injections given to horses are IM. These injections are given either in the neck or less commonly in the muscles farthest towards the hind end. The neck is most often used because it is also safer for the person giving injection because they’re less likely to be kicked.

Horse Injection Site

Horse Injection Site

2. Small Ruminants – Sheep and Goats – Many injections given to small ruminants are SQ, but sometimes they are given IM. Small ruminants are considered food animals even though many people have them as pets.
The most common injection site for sheep or goats is right in front of the shoulder. This shoulder spot has loose skin which is good for SQ injections, as well as muscles for IM injections. Another spot for SQ injections in small ruminants is behind the elbow where the hair or fleece is thin. At this site it’s easier to find skin.

Sheep or Goat Injection Site

Sheep or Goat Injection Site

3. Cattle – Cattle are popular food animals. Even when a cow starts out in a dairy herd, she often ends up going to slaughter when her milk producing days are over. Because of this almost all cattle injections are given in the neck region. The neck region on cattle is a low value meat area and is not a valuable part of the hide. Both SQ and IM shots are given in this area. The one shot that is given differently is the antibiotic Excede which is given SQ at the base of the ear.

Cattle Injection Site

Cattle Injection Site

4. Swine – Pig and hogs are another popular food animal which some people also keep as pets. The ideal spot to inject a pig is in the neck, about 7 cm behind and below the base of the ear. Again, the area chosen for injections for pigs was decided based on meat quality and ability of the area to handle injections.

Pig Injection Site

Pig Injection Site

5. Camelids – Llamas and alpacas have gone up and down in popularity but are still quite numerous. Many folks have them as guardian animals or for fiber. Because camelids are fiber animals, injections can be a little interesting. There are a couple of places to give SQ injections. One is in front of the shoulder, and the other is behind the elbow, down where the thick fleece ends. Most injections in camelids are SQ. But should you have to give an IM injection, the recommended spot is in the muscles of the shoulder, above the elbow.

Camelids Injection Site

Camelids Injection Site

No matter what medication you are giving or where you are giving it, there are some things you should always do for cleanliness and animal safety.
1. Always use alcohol to clean off the tops of bottle. Use alcohol to clean a spot on the animal where you are giving the injection. This helps keep your medicines or vaccines uncontaminated, and it helps keep the needle from dragging dirt into the bottle or the animal.
2. Always use new needles going into a bottle (prevents contamination), and you should really only use one needle per animal. Sharp needles don’t hurt as much, and you won’t carry disease (like blood parasites) from one animal to the next.
3. Throw out contaminated bottles. This one can hurt, depending on the medication or vaccine. But what would hurt worse would be you injecting bacteria or fungus into your animals and causing abscesses or systemic disease.
So there are the main points about giving injections and where to give them. As always, if you have any questions, ask your local vet for help.
Dr. H

***Today’s post was authored by Dr. Risa Hanninen.
Dr. Hanninen is a 2013 graduate from Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.Her practice, Northwest PA Veterinary Service, is a mobile veterinary practice that stretches across seven counties in Pennsylvania and into eastern Ohio.

If you live in northwestern Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio you can contact Dr. Hanninen at (814) 573-7013

Common Veterinary Abbreviations, Words and What They Mean

With every profession there seems to be a secret language or code spoken for the purpose of confusing everyone else. Veterinary medicine is no different with our alphabet soup of acronyms and abbreviations that we use as short hand.

Usually I remember to ask my clients if they understand what I mean when I give them instructions. But sometimes I forget.
So here are some of the ones I commonly use in practice and what they mean.

When Giving Injections –
1. SQ or Sub Q – subcutaneously, this means you give the shot under the skin. Most animals you can tent the skin and slid the needle into the tent.
2. IM – intramuscular, this one is a shot given in the muscle. Most animals you give the shot in the neck muscles, some you give in the muscles of the back leg. I’ll often show my clients how and where to give these shots before making them do it on their own.
3. IV – intravenously, this is an injection I will not have you do because so many things can go wrong if done improperly. This is an injection into a vein. With most farm animals I use the jugular vein, with dogs and cats I use their leg veins.
4. IN – intranasally, meaning into the nose. Equine strangles vaccine and canine kennel cough vaccines are often given this way.

Filling A Syringe

Drawing medication into a syringe

When Giving Medications –
1. PO – per os, this simply mean giving something by mouth or oral medications
2. SID or q24hrs – this is short hand for giving something only once a day
3. BID or q12hrs – short hand for giving something twice daily
4. TID or q8hrs – short hand for giving something three times daily
5. QID or q6hrs – short hand for giving something four times daily
6. EOD – short for giving something Every Other Day
7. mL or mil or cc – milliliter aka cubic centimeter, both mean the same amount. 1 mL is equal to 1 cc. This is an amount of liquid I want you to give as an injection or as an oral med.
8. mg or mig– milligram, this is an amount and a weight
9. kg or kig– kilogram, this is a unit of weight that the rest of the world uses and so is the standardized way for veterinarians to record and calculate weights. One kg is equal to about 2.2 pounds or lbs.
10. mg/mL or mig per mil– milligram per milliter, this is a concentration. For example, the common antibiotic LA-200 has a concentration of oxytetracycline of 200 mg/mL. The anti-inflammatory Banamine has a concentration of 50 mg/mL. I use these concentrations to help me figure out how many mLs I need to have you give your animal.
11. mg/kg or mig/kig – milligram per kilogram. When I’m calculating doses, I’m often given the appropriate dose as “give this number of mg per kg of animal weight.” For example with Safeguard, the dose for goats is 10mg/kg. I have to know how much your goat weighs so I can turn that into kgs and multiple things together to get you the correct dose.
12. IU – international units, this is another concentration often found on the labels of penicillins and vitamins. Instead of mg/mL, the concentration is IU/mL
13. X – I use this one personally; another vet may use something different. I use it when I want someone to give more than the labelled dose, for example “Give Safeguard at 5X the labelled dose,” when I want you to take the labelled dose and multiply it by 5. I’ll also use it to tell you how many days I want you to give it. “Give Safeguard at 5X the labelled dose X 5 days,”
Hopefully these clarify some of the label directions that I, or another vet, may give you and you can translate “Give Safeguard at 5X labelled dose PO SID X 5 days,” and “Give 4.5 cc/100lbs (9mg/lb dosing) LA200 IM EOD X 3 treatments.”

Where Things Are Located On Your Animal –
1. Rostrally – towards the nose. Usually I’m describing something on the face
2. Cranially – towards the head
3. Caudally – towards the back-end
4. Dorsally – towards the back or spine area
5. Ventrally – towards the belly
6. Laterally – towards the side
7. Medially – towards the center
8. Distally – away from. Usually used to describe something on a limb
9. Proximally – near to, another one used to describe something on a limb.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. But hopefully the next time you talk to your vet, you’ll be able to better understand what we’re talking about when we forget to translate.
Dr. H

***Today’s post is authored by Dr. Risa Hanninen.
Dr. Hanninen is a 2013 graduate from Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.Her practice, Northwest PA Veterinary Service, is a mobile veterinary practice that stretches across seven counties in Pennsylvania and into eastern Ohio.

If you live in northwestern Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio you can contact Dr. Hanninen at (814) 573-7013

Pick The Best Day For Hatching Eggs

I’m a great believer in agricultural traditions and folk wisdom.
That’s because much of what I learned about homesteading was passed onto me by the two generations of garden farmers that came before me. Heeding their advice enabled much success and fewer homesteading failures.
One bit of advice that was given to me by those far more experienced than myself was regarding the best time for setting or incubating eggs.

The most favorable time for setting eggs under a broody hen or in an incubator is 21 days before a waxing moon is in the zodiac sign of Cancer.

New Hatched Chick

A Buff Orpington Chick Hatched During A Waxing Moon in the Sign of Cancer

In order to determine what day that would be you’ll need an almanac for the current year. All good almanacs have tables or charts that map the course of the moon though the zodiac.
If we use chicken eggs as an example here’s how to find the best day.

Chicken Eggs Hatching

A Clutch of Chicken Eggs Hatching In The Moon Sign Of Cancer

Chicken eggs need 21 days to hatch.
So a quick look in any current almanac will find days that the moon will be in the sign of Cancer, and will also be waxing.
Most years there will be a couple of days that this will occur during the light (waxing) of the moon.
All that is necessary is to pick a Cancer, and then count backwards 21 days. Whatever day that happens to be is the day to begin to incubate the clutch of eggs. That day counts as Day 1.

If for some reason a waxing Cancer day is inconvenient for setting eggs, a day that a waxing moon falls in the signs of Scorpio or Pisces would be a second best choice.
Chicks that are hatched during a waxing Cancer moon tend to hatch with fewer problems and grow faster.

Supplies To Keep Hand For An Animal Health Emergency

Animals rarely pick a convenient time to have an emergency.
So when one comes up, it is good idea to be prepared and to have some basic supplies on hand and to keep a few things in mind.

For starters ask yourself, is this animal a pet? Or it this an animal that will be going into the food supply?
If it is a food animal that is injured, is this animal ready to be butchered? Or can you afford to wait until the animal is healed up and the drugs are out of its system?
For food animals, you have to be very careful of what you give them and the dosing. Because drug withdrawal times meat and milk are set to keep people safe.
Once these questions are answered, you can act accordingly.

Animal Health

Border Cheviot Ewe With Her Resting Lamb

General Supplies:
There are some general things that are good to have on hand no matter what species you have.
1. Disinfectants – Betadine and Chlorhexadine are examples of disinfectants. These types of disinfectants are diluted with water. With them you can clean off injuries and flush wounds and abscesses.

2. Bandage Materials – Gauze rolls, gauze pads, vet wrap, cotton leg wraps, roll cotton, white bandage tape and even in a pinch…duct tape. All of these bandage materials should be on hand in case of injuries.
Even for an injury that you will need a vet for (like a broken bone), you can help your animal by cleaning off the injury or stabilizing it until the vet arrives; or before you transport your animal to the vet. Broken legs can benefit from lots of cotton padding secured with vet wrap. Gushing blood can be slowed or stopped by the application of pressure from a wad of cotton secured by vet wrap.

3. Blood Stop Powder – You put it on to help clot blood. Flour and Corn starch will also work.

4. Electrolytes – Animals who don’t want to drink or have diarrhea/vomiting, or who are ill in general could all use some electrolytes. These replace the ones they are losing to diarrhea/vomiting or aren’t taking in.

5. Drenching Gun or Oral Syringe – For those animals who are eating or drinking, or those who need oral medications.

6. Gloves – Short exam gloves and the long rectal sleeves. The short gloves are good for when you are dealing with injuries or giving oral meds to help keep your hands clean and protected from zoonotic disease. They also help protect your animal’s injury from the bugs that normally live on your skin. Rectal sleeves are good to have on hand when you are birthing animals and have to go in to reposition a baby. Again, they keep you clean, and also keep the animal protected from your skin flora.

7. Wound treatments – for minor wounds, things like Scarlet Oil and general triple antibiotic ointments are useful to have on hand.
Furazone ointment is often used in horse but is a major DON’T in food animals. AluShield is a spray on bandage that is useful for covering minor wounds to keep the flies off.

This is where you have to start thinking about what animal you are treating and what its purpose in life is.
For food animals, you have to pay attention to medication withdrawal times and to which medications are forbidden.
Your vet can help direct you, because what is good in one species can kill another.

These are a few medications your vet may want you to have on hand.

1. Antibiotics – For most dogs and cats, your local vet can dispense or prescribe these according to diagnosis.
A. For food animals, (cows, goats, sheep, pigs) many of these medications are commonly found at your local feed store.
What type of medication your vet advises will depend on why you are treating your animal.
a. Penicillin G is an oldie, but goodie. It’s a broad spectrum that is the first line of defense for many ailments from wounds to retained placenta.
b. Oxytetracycline AKA Biomycin AKA LA-200 AKA…This is another broad spectrum antibiotic that is used in another plethora of ailments, from foot rot to pneumonia.
c. Ceftiofurs are also broad spectrum. These include Excenel, Excede, Naxcal, and Ceftiflex. Again, also have a wide range of uses.
B. For horses, Penicillin is also one that is commonly used, but SMZ-TMP is another broad spectrum your vet may want you to have on hand. Other antibiotics are used to treat a specific ailment and may only be prescribed when needed.

2. Pain/Anti-inflammatories – These are most commonly prescribed as needed for pain.
Often people often want to use human medicines, like ibuprofen, Tylenol, and aspirin, for their animals. But animals metabolize these drugs differently than we do and giving them our medicines can kill them.
So please, before giving your animal something, ask your vet.
For large animals, Flunixin Meglumine (aka- Banamine, Prevail, Flunixiject) is often one that a vet will let you keep on hand if there is a need for it. For large animals it’s their version of an NSAID. This medication comes in an injectable form for food animals and horses. But for horses there is also a paste version for owners who are uncomfortable with giving injections. Horse owners may also want to keep Phenylbutazone (aka- Bute) on hand.

Here are a few other odds and ends that you can have on hand as well.
1. Activated Charcoal is frequently used when an animal has eaten something toxic, like a poisonous plant.
2. Mineral oil is often a go-to for colicking horses. But it is also use when an animal has eaten something you want to have move smoothly through the guts with some lubrication.
3. Baking Soda is often used in ruminants to treat rumen acidosis
4. Diphenhydramine is mostly use in pet animals. It isn’t labelled for food animals and is good for allergic reactions.
5. Vitamin B Complex and Thiamine is helpful for ruminants who are off their feed or ill. TRuminants usually make their own B vitamins in the rumen, but when they don’t feel good, they don’t always make enough. Vitamin B Complex and Thiamine also stimulates appetite to some degree.

There are many other things you could have on hand for animal emergencies. These suggestion are just a starting point.
Each farm and home is different.
What one needs on Farm A isn’t necessarily what will be needed on Farm B.
In any case, talk with your local vet ahead of time about the things you may need in an emergency. Your veterinarian can help you tailor your emergency grab bag to fit your farm needs.
Dr. H

***Today’s post is authored by Dr. Risa Hanninen. Dr. Hanninen is a 2013 graduate from Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.Her practice, Northwest PA Veterinary Service, is a mobile veterinary practice that stretches across seven counties in Pennsylvania and into eastern Ohio.
If you live in northwestern Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio you can contact Dr. Hanninen at (814) 573-7013

Keeping Animals Warm in Cold Temperatures

Winter can be a slog through cold mud that won’t freeze or a frozen tundra to slip on. Be it cold rain or a blizzard, farmers can’t take a bad weather day off from going out and taking care of their animals.

And when we’re done with chores, we can come back inside to the warmth of our homes.
But what about the animals? How do we keep them warm?

Well, for starters most animals from dogs and horses to goats and cows, grow their own winter coats to help stay warm. These coats tend to be fluffy which traps body heat in. As long as an animal is dry, these winter coats work very well.

Snowy & Cold

A Cold & Snowy Day

However, if animals get wet, they get cold. And if the wind is blowing, it steals away that body heat. So having shelter for animals to get in out of the wet and the wind is essential. Animal shelters, be it the barn, the shed, or the dog house, need to have an area that blocks the wind.
But no shelter should be airtight.
Shutting animals in can help keep them warm, however if there is no air flow at all, that can lead to breathing troubles and pneumonia. Shelters should block the wind and weather and also have some airflow to keep your animals’ lungs happy.
Something else to help keep animals warm in their shelters is deep, dry bedding. Remember, damp and wet are the enemy, but deep bedding allows animals to snuggle in out of the wind, creating a pocket of warmth.

Besides their winter coats and a good shelter, animals should also be eating more feed during the winter to help them maintain a good body condition, and also to stay warm. Food provides energy to animals that they use for building muscle, laying down fat, growing, etc.
But in the process of digestion to get that energy, a lot of heat is produced! So feeding your animals well also helps to keep them warm. Good nutrition helps keep animals healthy and in good condition which helps them withstand cold temperatures.
If they are too thin, they can’t stay warm. Getting your hands on your animals to assess body condition is essential during the winter because those fluffy winter coats can actually hide poor body condition.
You should be able to feel ribs, but not get your fingers in between them. If you can get your fingers in between your animal’s ribs, you need to increase their feed.
Having warm water is also a good thing because it encourages animals to drink. Cold water chills them so they don’t drink it as much during the winter.
Horses are especially vulnerable to colicking during the winter when they don’t take in enough water. We don’t reach for an ice-cold lemonade during the winter, we reach for the hot tea and hot chocolate. Our animals are the same way.

So the essentials for keeping your animals warm during the winter months are having good body conditions, good shelters that block the wind and wet, but not airflow, deep bedding, and plenty of good feed with warm water if possible.
But when these aren’t enough, or you get an animal who needs a little more help staying warm, there are other things you can do.

Some animals can be blanketed to help supplement their winter coats.
Horse blankets come in all different sizes, and foal blankets can fit goats, llamas, and alpacas. Just make sure the coat stays dry, because again, wet and damp are the enemy during winter.

Heat lamps can also be a help, but you have to be careful. Keep the light and the cords up where the animals can’t reach them. Broken lights can lead to fires and chewing on cords to electrocution.
Lamps should be positioned in a corner or other sheltered area out of the wind. Animals should be able to get under the heat lamp if they want to, but also need to be able to get away from it if they get too warm.

Keeping animals warm in the winter can be a challenge, but keeping these things in mind can help you keep them happy and healthy.
Dr. H

Dr. Hanninen is a 2013 graduate from Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. In January of 2014, Dr. Hanninen purchased a mobile veterinary practice in northwest Pennsylvania, and returned to her home region to help fill the need for a mobile veterinarian for small ruminants, camelids, horses, and pets who can’t get in to a vet clinic.
Her practice, Northwest PA Veterinary Service, is purely mobile and stretches across seven counties in Pennsylvania and into eastern Ohio.
If you live in northwestern Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio you can contact Dr. Hanninen at (814) 573-7013

Cattle Cooling Tank

The 50 gallon water tank in the heifer pasture never stays clean. That’s because Holly insists on standing in it. She’s positively incorrigible.

Black Cattle

Holly Standing In Her Water Tank

No sooner is the water tank sprayed out, cleaned and refilled – then she immediately hops back in.

Black cattle and cattle with a greater muscle mass seem to be more sensitive to heat and humidity. Standing in water helps cattle to cool off.
Many dairy farms and beef operations have earthen or cement cooling ponds to help keep their cattle more comfortable in hot weather.

Speckled Sussex Chickens

Now that there’s just the two of us, I don’t keep as many laying hens as I use to. These days six to eight good hens supply my kitchen with more than enough eggs.
Through the years I’ve owned many different types and breeds of chickens. Thirty years ago when I was a new homesteader they were one of the breeds I started out with.

The Speckled Sussex is a very calm and quiet brown egg layer. They are an older English breed and have been a favorite on American small farms since the early part of the 20th century.
The Speckled Sussex is often described as a “dual purpose” chicken that will tolerate confinement well.
If you don’t already know, a dual purpose chicken is one that is used for both meat and eggs.

Speckled Sussex Hen

Speckled Sussex Hen

But it’s been my experience that unless the cockerels are caponized they make more bone than meat.
I think intact Sussex roosters aren’t worth the bother when it comes to using them for food. They make a tough and bony fryer.
In so far as tolerating confinement, I think the Speckled Sussex is happiest when they have lots of room to roam. They are a very people friendly, large bird that cannot fly well. Since they can’t really fly, they put up with whatever arrangements their keeper wants for them.
So if the criteria for tolerating confinement is putting up with any treatment you’re given – then I guess the Speckled Sussex fits the bill.

Young Speckled Sussex Chick

A Speckled Sussex Chick

In the past I’ve had a few Speckled Sussex hens go broody if they are given plenty of space and are allowed to free range.
My Speckled Sussex hens always seemed to have a preference to sit a clutch of eggs in the mid autumn instead of the spring like some other breeds of chickens.
Around here, inevitably the broody hen will go missing for a few weeks and then turned up later with her newly hatched brood in tow.


Retained Placenta in Sheep & Goats – Treatment & Considerations

Normally after lambing or kidding, a ewe or nanny will expel the afterbirth or placenta within an hour or two.
But sometimes the placenta can be stubborn about being released during the cleansing phase of lambing or kidding.

Planceta Expelled Within A Couple Of Hours After Lambing or Kidding

Normally The Placenta and All After Birth Is Expelled Within A Couple Of Hours After Lambing or Kidding

In sheep and goats a placenta that does not evacuate the uterus after about 12 hours or so is known as a retained placenta.

There are several possible reasons for retained placenta in small ruminants. Too much grain, low quality hay, a overlarge lamb or kid; lack of exercise, nutritional deficiencies, premature birth, stillbirth, abortion and infection are all associated with retained placenta in livestock.
Retained placenta is usually no cause for alarm as long as a few simple guidelines are followed.

Sheep Plancenta

Normal Sheep Placenta Shed Shortly After Lambing

It’s is safest not to try to manually remove the placenta.
Often the placenta is completely retained and there is no sign of it.
But sometimes the retained placenta will be seen hanging out of the vulva. After 12 hours or so, little harm will be done by very gently testing the adhesiveness of the placenta. In such cases if the placenta doesn’t readily flop out of the ewe or nanny after a very slight tug – leave it alone.
What is important to remember is that the placenta is attached to the uterine wall by disk-shaped cotyledons. If you try to pull the placenta away from the uterus before it is ready to be shed, you can injure the ewe or doe and run the risk of adversely affecting her future pregnancies.
Pulling on the placenta also increases the chances for bleeding and infection.

The best course of action is to prophylactically protect the ewe or nanny with an antibiotic and keep a very watchful eye on her.
In ewes or nannies that have retained their placenta, I use 10- 20cc of injectable penicillin (Penicillin G Procaine – 300,000 units per ml) via a SQ or IM injection every 48 hours until the placenta is released.

Injectable Penicillin G

Injectable Penicillin G

Most often the placenta is sloughed away within 3 – 5 days and the ewe or nanny will go on with life as if nothing happened.

Ewe With Lambs

Border Cheviot Ewe With Lambs

If the nanny or ewe should go off her feed she may need an injection of Dexamethasone as a supportive therapy. Dexamethasone is a synthetic analogue of prednisolone. It has a similar but more potent anti-inflammatory therapeutic action than prednisolone and is available only on the order of a licensed veterinarian.

Kerry Cattle

My husband and I originally bought Kerry cattle for an integrated dairy production project that involved two different family farms. The plan was that our neighbors would keep them and milk them along with their dairy cows on their farm, while my husband and I would raise the heifers and feed out the steers for beef on our farm.

The plan didn’t work because the Kerries weren’t earning their keep due to low milk production. The Kerries were producing less than 1 ½  gallons of milk a day. Lately I have been trying to figure out what practical place Kerry cows might have in 21st century America.

Kerry cattle are an extremely rare heritage breed of dairy cattle native to Ireland.
They are long-lived and have genetics that are unique and are unlike that of modern U.S. dairy cattle. Kerry cows most often produce milk with A2 type of β-casein which is a very desirable trait in some milking herds.The A1/A2 controversy has become a topic of interest and specialty marketing in the dairy industry and in alternative health circles.

Kerry Cow

A Kerry Cow

When a Kerry bull is crossed onto a Holstein cow or heifer the resulting offspring is solid black. Due to that fact alone the bull calves command higher prices at the sale barn. With our herd we’ve noticed a distinct hardiness and liveliness in any Kerry cross calf.
Kerry bulls are my service choice for easy trouble free calving for a first time heifer. I have found the most successful Kerry crosses so far to have been Kerry X Jersey; Kerry X Holstein and my favorite has been Kerry X Simmental.
Kerry cows like their cousins Dexters,  are low milk producers compared to modern dairy breeds. But they are easy keepers, do quite well on pasture and can make a good family cow for a small family if you can find one.

Kerry Cattle

Kerry Cattle Are Friendly If Handled Properly

The Good

  • Kerry cattle are small but are not dwarfs.They are not nearly as small as many Dexters. The larger size is an advantage for those who do not have a reliable means to sell direct to consumers and must sell feeders or finished beef through traditional livestock markets.
  • Excellent feed efficiency. Kerry Cattle eat about 25%-30% as much feed as a Holstein and maybe 50% -70% as much feed as a modern commercial Angus.
  • Kerry cattle are tame and easily managed if handled right.
  • In crossing with other breeds, the sold black color is very dominant. Black cattle can bring a premium in traditional livestock markets of 12%-30% over other colors of cattle.
  • Extreme longevity. There are verified instances of 20 year old Kerry cows having calves
  • Their primitive DNA may provide some unique disease immunity. There was initial research in Britain that no Dexter or Kerry cow was ever slaughtered for BSE. But this was never fully researched.
  • Beef flavor was traditionally well regarded. I find it to be a much better flavor than Dexter beef but not quite as good as Hereford of Angus. If slaughter at 24 months the meat is fine grained and slightly marbled.
  • Small birth weights. A smaller calf means less calving assistance by the herdsman in order for a calf to be born.
  • High rates of A2 beta casein. A2 beta casein is a source of controversy at present in some dairy circles. Most diary cattle in the US do not carry the gene for A2 beta casein.
  • Because of their low milk production Kerry cattle, like Dexters, might have a place as a family cow on the right homestead.
  • Kerry cattle have only a very distant relationship to other breeds of cattle. This maximizes the advantage of heterosis in crossing with more mainstream breeds.

The Bad

  • Most Kerry cattle in North American today come from one single importation from Ireland to Canada. The gene pool in North America is very limited. All Kerry cattle in North America are closely related.
  • From at least 1919 onward, the majority of Kerry breeders in Ireland and England were aristocrats. The landed gentry kept Kerries as prestigious estate cows. Kerry cattle have not really been bred for milk production or improvement for at least 90 years. This is a serious problem today, as most North American Kerry cattle breeders are keeping them for their rarity or heritage, and not for milk production.
  • Our direct experience with milk production was an abysmal 12 pounds per day (that’s less than two gallons a day) over a 180 day lactation. Modern dairy cows have a lactation of at least 305 days. Even for many home dairies, or people keeping a single family cow, this is just not enough milk. It is milk enough for a calf and maybe a half gallon a day for the table or kitchen. Certainly not enough milk to make getting pooped on and occasionally kicked worthwhile.
  • Kerry cattle are a genetic dead end. There is no consistency of owner expectations about the future niche of these cows.
  • There is not enough modern data on crossbred performance. Crossbred performance is the heart of modern day beef production and becoming common in dairy cattle breeding. Many of the 100 year old reports of crossbreeding Kerry outcomes are useless. This is because every other breed of cattle crossed onto a Kerry has changed since then.

A Crossbred Kerry Heifer

Horns on Cattle

The first or second thing most farm visitors notice about our older Kerry cows are their horns.
It’s understandable.
Horns were what I initially noticed about Kerry cattle the first time I saw them too. From a farmer’s point of view horns in livestock can be a source of trouble. Horned cattle are more dangerous to handle and are subject to accidents.

Kerry Cow

Olga Is A Kerry Cow

When we bought our first Kerry cows a few years ago they already had large horns. For the most part our cows are good girls and don’t misbehave too badly or get into trouble with their horns. However, we made the decision early on in our Kerry breeding program to de-horn all younger heifers and steers that were born on this farm. It makes life easier for both humans and cattle.

The presence of horns in cattle is the result of genetics. Cattle that lack certain genes are naturally hornless and are known as “polled”.  Some breeds of cattle like the Angus and Galloway are always polled (hornless).
The gene for polling is a dominant gene in cattle.

Hereford Cow

Polled Hereford Cow With Her Calf

Here in western Pennsylvania, old-timers use to refer to a naturally polled cow as a “Muley Cow”. I always wondered why they were called that and then I learned about the naturally polled Moiled Cattle that once roamed Northern Ireland.  Moiled and Muley sound a lot alike and the word may have survived from the first Scots Irish settlers in this area.

Before we bought our first Kerry cows the previous owner had allowed a commercial cross bred Simmental/Angus bull to breed two of them. The resulting offspring were born naturally polled.

Polled Calf

A Naturally Polled Kerry Crossbred Calf

Horns once served cattle as a defense mechanism and will discourage casual predators. Horns can also help cattle that spend a lot of time in semi-wild places. Their horns can be used to knock over young trees and brush for food.

I do find it curious that a dominant genetic factor which would make cattle less able to defend themselves in the wild (and make bulls less able to beat rivals to build a harem) would be dominant.

In situations where cattle are managed inside buildings and yards horns can be bad news. Horns can cause puncture wounds on other cows and to humans; and horns can catch on pipelines, gates and feeders. And a broken horn on an adult animal can be a real bloody mess.

But horns do have useful commercial purposes. Before plastics, horns were used for buttons, cups, powder horns and other useful items. Once removed from a slaughtered cow horn material can even be heated and shaped. Horns are especially useful in working oxen as the horns keep them from backing out of a yoke.

Regardless of the gene expression, horns in cattle remain both a source of expense and controversy.
In the dairy cattle world all mainstream dairy breeds still have horn genetics.
Horns cost the dairyman time and trouble to remove. With cattle de-horning should be done as early as possible in a young bull or heifer’s life to avoid too much unnecessary pain and the possibly of complications. But de-horning also must be done with regard to weather conditions.  Because de-horning done improperly can result in sinus infections and fly strike that can harm the newly de-horned animal.

Cutting Horns

Horns Are Cut Off

Polled dairy genetics are now available but most dairymen have not used them. Some farmers are concerned that breeding for a single characteristic such as polling could result in some other valuable genetic trait being lost.


Care And Management Of Hypothermic Lambs & Kid Goats

Gosh it’s cold outside!
Hypothermic lambs and kid goats can become a real problem in this kind of weather.
Throughout much of North America, the record cold is interfering with the health and well-being of many early season neonatal lambs and goat kids. Lambs and goat kids can take quite a bit of cold as long as they are well started, stay dry and get plenty of nourishing milk from their mothers.

But sometimes a new-born lamb or kid will suffer hypothermia because of inadequate mothering, a lack of regular feeding or simply because the lamb overslept and forgot to eat in extremely cold weather.
Hypothermic lambs and kids will die if not attended to immediately.

Hypothermia is the leading cause of pre-weaning lamb and kid goat losses in this country. Many deaths can be prevented with a few simple tools and a basic understanding of how hypothermia kills. Hypothermia is a condition where the core body temperature drops and the body’s vital signs begin to weaken. Heart rate and respiration decreases and the metabolism slows down.

Hypothermic Lamb

A Mildly Hypothermic Lamb

Past a certain point, the digestive system cannot help a lamb or kid overcome hypothermia. Without energy delivered properly and directly into the core of the body in the form of glucose, brain function is impaired and results in a continuing weakness, confusion, drowsiness, coma and the eventual death of the kid or lamb.

Severly Hypotherimic Lamb

This Hypothermic Lamb Will Die Without an Intraperitoneal Injection of Glucose

What follows below is information you may need to know to save a little life. If you are a new shepherd or goat keeper what I’m going to recommend may scare you. I encourage you to put your fear and apprehensions behind you. Do what you must do. Because if you don’t your hypothermic lamb or kid goat probably will die.

Thermometers and a Keen Eye Save Lives
That’s no hype or exaggeration. Nothing takes the place of good observation in cold weather. A very mild hypothermic lamb or kid goat can often be found before things take a turn for the worse. Mild hypothermic kid goats and lambs will commonly have a characteristic humped up look or will sometimes be off sleeping alone in a corner.
Such lambs and kids can be fed a little extra and warmed up without too much risk. The judicious use of a rectal livestock thermometer can save thousands of little lambs and goat kids. If you don’t own a livestock thermometer you need to get one. A human thermometer will work in a pinch. When I take the temperature of a goat kid or lamb I lay them across my lap. A thermometer is easily inserted with a little spit from me or Vaseline. I keep the thermometer in place for about 3 minutes. I’ve found it helpful to tie a piece of string or dental floss to the end of the thermometer so it doesn’t get “lost” while in service. I’ve never had this happen with a lamb, but it can happen with a big animal.

Normal Temperature for Lambs & Kids

  • Normal body temperature in healthy lambs and kids is 102 °F- 104°F
  • Moderate hypothermia is 99°F – 102°F
  • Severe hypothermia is below 99F° – and your lamb or kid is in serious trouble.

There Are Two Stages of Hypothermia & Two Different Treatments In Lambs or Kids

When treating your lamb or kid for hypothermia you need to understand which treatment is appropriate. Lambs and kids under 5 hours old have a special type of internal body fat that will keep them safe for a few hours depending upon the air temperature. Lambs and kids older than 5 hours have used up the supply of internal fat that they were born with and cannot be treated the same way. If your lamb or kid has a body temperature of 99°F – 102°F and can still hold its head up and suck and is under 5 hours old, warm sheep or goat milk is all you’ll need. About ½ cup fluid (120cc) every 3 or 4 hours by bottle or stomach tube is right for a medium breed of sheep; a little more for large breed sheep. Warm milk replacer works well but is expensive. Should none of those options be available to you, and while it is not ideal for lambs or kids, cow’s milk will work (raw is best) in an emergency. Melt about a tablespoon of butter per ½ cup (120cc) of whole milk or diluted canned evaporated milk. If you do not have butter on hand, find something else that is 100% animal fat – tallow, lard, chicken fat, bacon grease or whatever. No Crisco, vegetable oil or margarine. Make sure the milk is warm before you feed it. About 100° F– 105°F is perfect. If your lamb is fully conscious and can hold its head up, but cannot or will not suck, and its temperature is between 99°F – 102°F you should stomach tube the milk mixture.

Stomach Tubing

Stomach tubing is an easy to learn skill and is a life saver for just about all neonatal farm animals. A thermometer and a stomach tube used correctly will save more neonatal lambs, kids and calves than any other thing I know of. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a basic homesteading skill. To use a stomach tube is really quite simple.

Stomach Tube For Mild Hypotherimic Lambs & Kids

Stomach Tube For Lambs & Kids

Here’s how to do it: You’ll need milk, a Mason jar or pan and a large 60cc syringe with a stomach tube or catheter.

  • While sitting on a bale of hay or a bucket, lay the lamb across your lap or hold it between your legs. I do this well out of the sight of mamma sheep.
  • Have the warm milk ready in a Mason jar or pan.
  • Remove the catheter/tube from the syringe.
  • Dip the end of the catheter into the warm milk to moisten it. Now insert the tube in the corner of the lamb’s mouth. Gently pass the tube all the way to the stomach. The distance varies but is about 7”-11” in most breeds of sheep. If the tube doesn’t go in but a few inches or the lamb starts to struggle you are probably in the lungs and need to remove the tube and re-insert it. When a feeding tube is properly inserted the lamb will remain relaxed and will not struggle.
  • Draw a full 60cc syringe full of warm milk. Place the syringe onto the end of the tube. Slowly depress the syringe to a count of 10.

That’s all there is to it. To remove the tube, pinch it tightly between your thumb and forefinger and remove it very quickly. You don’t want any drops of milk to accidentally aspirate into the lungs.

If the lamb or kid cannot hold its head up and its temp is 99° or below or is unconscious DO NOT use a stomach tube or bring the kid or lamb into the house or try to warm it up in any way. You could kill it. You should give an intraperitoneal injection of glucose.

Intraperitoneal Glucose Injection

An intraperitoneal glucose injection is an injection of glucose directly into the abdominal cavity of the lamb or kid. The lamb or kid can no longer create energy via the digestive system. It must have glucose. It is the best way to save the life of a lamb or kid that is older than 5 hours and has a body temperature of 99°F or less. You must give glucose before warming the lamb because the lamb or kid may die from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
If you do not know how to give this injection get your veterinarian to do it or teach you how to.
If you can’t get a veterinarian fast enough here’s what you need to know to do it yourself. Be brave. It is very scary the first time you do this on your own. Just remember your lamb or kid is almost dead and you have nothing to lose and maybe everything to gain.

Here’s How to Do It
The needle size must be a 1” X 19 gauge used with a large syringe. A longer needle could nick internal organs and shorter needle will not reach the space in the peritoneal cavity. A 60 ml syringe works well.

Dextrose For Severe Hypothermic Lambs or Kids

Dextrose For Hypothermic Lambs or Kids

You need to use a sterile 20% glucose solution. You can dilute a 40% or 50% glucose or dextrose with sterile water if necessary.

The rough dosing is as follows:

50 ml for a large lamb or kid
40 ml for a medium lamb or kid
30 ml for small lamb, kid or triplet

If using 50% glucose or dextrose boil the water to sterilize it before mixing. For a large lamb or kid goat, draw up 20 ml of 50% glucose or dextrose into a sterile syringe. Now draw up 30 ml of sterile water.
The water can be very warm – in fact it works better if it is. You want the glucose solution to be slightly above normal body temperature -104°F- 108°F when it is actually injected.
Hotter water keeps the solution from getting too cold by the time you make it up and get back to the barn. I keep the syringe warm in the barn by keeping it under my clothes and close to my body until I’m ready to use it.

The injection site on the lamb is located 1/2″ to the side and 1″ down below the umbilical cord stump.
Be sure to have the warm syringe ready in hand before you pick up the kid or lamb. Hold the lamb or kid up by its forelegs in front of you while you lean against a wall or bales of hay. By holding the kid or lamb in this way the liver and other internal organs are dropped out of the way of the needle.

The lamb or kid probably won’t struggle much or at all. But you do need the lamb to be completely limp before you inject the glucose. Wait a few minutes if you have to for the kid or lamb to go limp. With an unconscious kid or lamb this isn’t an issue.
To give the injection when alone, first steady yourself firmly against a wall or bales of hay. Take the cap off the needle and insert the needle straight on and directly into the belly aiming slightly towards the tail or butt. Very slowly release the plunger on the syringe. That’s all there is to it.

Now it is safe to slowly warm the lamb or kid back up. The lamb should receive a course of antibiotics for 5 – 7 days. I use a long acting penicillin. But you should consult you veterinarian for the proper type, dosage and his/her recommendations for the appropriate antibiotic in your area.

Ram Marking Harness

One of the most practical sheep management tools during breeding season is the use of a ram marking harness. A ram marking harness is a small harness typically made of nylon or leather that holds a square colored crayon.

Ram With Marking Harness

Ram Being Fitted With Marking Harness

The way that a marking harness works, is that a colored crayon is attached to the front part of the harness and is centered over the ram’s brisket or chest area. When a ram with a properly fitted harness and with a temperature correct crayon mounts a ewe, the color from the crayon is transferred onto her rump.

By monitoring the backsides of any given group of sheep it is easy to determine which ewes have been bred. Most ewes will deliver approximately 145 – 149 days after ram service. A note on a calendar indicating the service day records the breeding and helps to calculate when a given ewe can be expected to lamb.

Marking harnesses are available in 2 or 3 sizes to accommodate the various breeds of sheep; and marking crayons are manufactured in differing degrees of hardness. Marking crayons are temperature sensitive and the proper crayon should be selected according the expected weather conditions during breeding season.

Hard crayons are used during hot weather for temperatures of 85°F and above. Medium crayons are for mild weather of 60°F – 85°F, and soft crayons are for use during cool weather breeding when temperatures are less than 60°F.
Marking crayons come in a several colors and are used in a few different ways.

Ram Working

A Ram Working Wearing A Marking Harness

One way is when 2 or more rams are working in a single group of ewes. When two rams are working together each ram wears a different color crayon marker on his harness. This system is most often employed for 50 or more ewes.

Another way that crayon marking is helpful is when space is very limited. By observing the backsides of ewes 4 or 5 times a day, a ewe can be removed from the group after she has been marked if necessary.
When ewes are run with two or more rams there’s no way to determine the sire of her lamb(s) if a ewe has been marked by two or more colors. With grade sheep it’s not a problem and the extra ram power is an advantage. But this method should never be used for registered sheep or when the offspring may need to be papered.
When using a marking harness it’s important to be able to distinguish between a “jump” smear and a good, solid breeding mark. Often a ram will attempt to mount a ewe who will not stand for him and he will leave a faint smear or streak of color on her backside or flank. When a ewe has been honestly bred by a ram wearing a marking harness the mark is quite distinct.

Making Babies

Ram Covering A Ewe

Different color crayons are helpful when trying to determine if ewes are pregnant or if ewes need to be re-bred or to determine if a ram is possibly sterile.
Most sheep are naturally polyestrous short-day breeders. Active estrus in a ewe lasts for approximately 24 – 36 hours and it is the only time that she will stand to be mounted by a ram.

Without human intervention like sponging, a ewe will begin a normal estrus cycle every 15 -17 days when daylight hours begin to decrease in the fall.
(sponging is a method of altering a ewes natural cycle by using hormones saturated on a tampon like sponge that is inserted vaginally for a few days and then removed)
By changing the crayon color on the harness every 16 – 18 days, it is possible to observe if a particular ram is re-breeding ewes. If he is re-breeding most of the ewes, he probably was temporarily sterile when he first was turned in with them. Some rams are very heat sensitive and can end up sterile or with a low sperm cell count for many weeks after a summer heat wave. Most heat sensitive rams will recover fully once the weather turns cooler. A ram can also be made temporarily less potent if he is asked to service too many ewes at one time. 30 – 35 ewes is about a much as a fully mature and experienced ram can handle.
There are many different reasons why a ewe may not get with lamb and settle after the first tupping (tupping is the term for copulation in sheep) and it’s not unusual for a ram to have to re-service a few perfectly normal ewes out of a large group during subsequent estrus cycles.
Back in the old days before there were marking harnesses and colored crayons, sheep breeders would paint the brisket of their rams daily with a mixture of linseed oil and different colored pigments or lamp black (soot).
It was a low tech and much messier way to record sheep breeding activity, but it sure enough got the job done.

Raw Pumpkin Seeds As A Dewormer For Livestock

This year sure has been a good year for pumpkins! We’ve harvested all the pumpkins from the garden and have set them on the front porch to cure. Last week I made a fresh pumpkin pie, and sometime this week, I plan to either freeze or can some of the extra pumpkins that I don’t care to store in the cellar.

When I start to process the pumpkins I’ll be sure to save some seed for next year. The pumpkin variety that I grow is Connecticut Field. It’s a really nice old time variety that makes good pies and wonderful jack-o-lanterns.


Connecticut Field Pumpkins

Speaking of pumpkins, did you know that raw pumpkin seeds when fed to livestock in a large enough dose can help to reduce the load of tapeworms and roundworms? It’s true. Raw pumpkin seeds contain an amino acid called curbitin which can eliminate some parasitic worms.

Raw Pumpkin Seeds

A Bowl of Raw Pumpkin Seeds

The only problem is that very large doses of pumpkin seeds must be fed, and most animals can’t or won’t eat enough pumpkin seeds to have any noticeable effect upon the worms or the number of worm eggs. In theory, feeding pumpkins for the control of intestinal parasites is a good idea. But in practice it is not the most effective way to control worms in livestock.
Every fall we feed pumpkins to our sheep, cattle, hogs and chickens, but never substitute raw pumpkin seeds for more effective wormers.

How To Keep Snakes Out Of The Chicken House

I hate snakes. Big or small – snakes  really freak me out.
Maybe I have too much monkey DNA in me or something, because snakes are the only creature that I do encounter here on the farm that I’m afraid of. I know I’m in good company because even Indiana Jones has a bad case of ophidiophobia.
Back when I used to keep our chickens in a chicken house with a dirt floor, during the summer I would encounter big snakes in the chicken house living under the bedding and hiding in the corners. Not every day – but often enough to keep me on my guard.

Snakes Like Dirt Floors

A Chicken House With A Dirt Floor

Use to be that old-time farmers would catch snakes just so they could release them in the chicken coop. Snakes are hell on rodents but I think I’d rather have the rats.

A chicken house with a solid floor or on a block foundation will discourage serpents in a chicken coop. Snakes probably won’t slither up a ramp into a coop with heavy “chicken traffic”under normal circumstances unless it’s a really “snaky” year. But the truth is, that if a snake is determined, it will go where it wants to.
Now that my chicken house is up off the ground I haven’t had a snake in it yet.

Snakes Stay Out Of This Coop

Chicken House On Above Ground Skids

One way to discourage snakes is with good old-fashioned mothballs. Place the mothballs in a capped length of PVC pipe with drilled holes. Put the capped pipe around the perimeter of a building or in an open area. Using mothballs as a snake repellent is not environmentally friendly and may actually be a violation of some kind of federal regulation. But screw Uncle Sam and all the Tree Huggers.  I do it anyway.
The active ingredient in mothballs is naphthalene and the last I checked naphthalene is used by the US Army as a snake repellent.
But be aware that naphthalene is a very toxic substance and is a known carcinogenic. Exercise extreme caution when using mothballs around small children, livestock and pets. Don’t let the chickens peck at it. Mothballs are nasty and you’ll have a medical emergency if mothballs are ingested. There is no antidote for mothball poisoning.

Snakes Hate Mothballs

A Box Of Mothballs

It doesn’t take a lot of mothballs to get the job done. One box of  mothballs is enough for three 8′ filled pipes. Place the pipes along the ground or in the area that you don’t want the snakes to cross or enter into. Snakes are repelled by the odor so you’ll have to keep the mothballs semi-fresh until the snakes find somewhere else to go.
If you don’t want to use mothballs some people have pretty good luck with turpentine soaked rags. Once again it’s the smell of the turpentine that keeps the snakes at bay.There are commercial snake repellents that also claim to work. They are much safer than mothballs.

Fly Control in Pastured Cattle

Because cattle produce so much manure fly populations can be hard to manage and control even when cattle are kept in open pasture and not confined.

Heifer On Pasture

Flora Walking Down The Grassy Lane

Here in western Pennsylvania summertime means fly season for folks who raise cattle. Heavy fly infestations in cattle can be a real animal welfare headache. That’s because flies bite, suck blood; spread disease and cause agitation and a general misery both in cattle and humans alike.

In this part of the US, there are two major types of flies that trouble cattle: face flies and horn flies. If you are new to keeping a family cow or plan on keeping cattle in the future it is a good idea to learn the difference.

Face flies look at lot like big house flies. They tend to cover large areas of the face and like to feed on the eye, nose and mouth secretions that cattle produce.

Fly Control Is Needed

Josie With Summer Face Flies

Face flies transmit the bacteria Moraxella bovis, which is the primary cause of bovine pinkeye. Pinkeye is an extremely contagious inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva of cattle and can result in blindness if not treated promptly.

Horn flies are about half the size of house flies and have pointier looking wings.
And like the name suggests they prefer to gather in a large mass around the horns or poll of cattle. But horn flies don’t just stop with the head. They are blood suckers and congregate wherever they can’t easily be rubbed or brushed off.

Horn Flies

Horn Flies On Cattle

Horn flies like to stay on cattle continuously and will often face directly downward towards the ground while they cling to cattle. The back and shoulders of calves and full grown cows are all easy targets for horn flies. During rainy weather they will move to the belly and throat of cattle for shelter from the rain.


There are a few different types of products and delivery systems that aid in the control of flies on cattle. The type of fly control that a producer or small holder will choose depends upon budget, herd size, management system and personal preference.


A daily insecticide spray on is a fairy effective control measure if you have only a few cows and if you handle them every day. It’s the type of fly control that we use and it will give about a half to a full day’s protection.


A pour on fly repellant is a good choice for both dairy and beef cattle and can last up to 4 weeks. I keep bugging my husband to get some so we can quit with the daily spray.


Dust bags and oil rubs are very convenient and can be located between two fence posts or a gate where cattle will have to walk every day. Dust bags are filled with powdered insecticide that gets applied like bath powder on bovine heads, backs and necks when they walk underneath it.
Oil rubs are extremely effective and look and act a lot like the big horizontal wiper mops that you see in automatic car washes. Instead of a car passing through and being dosed with soap and water, and cow passes through and gets dosed with insecticide.


Insecticide ear tags are an effective but expensive form of fly control. Best results are obtained if tags are set in both ears and not too soon in fly season. Both caution and rubber gloves must be used when applying insecticide ear tags and flies can develop a resistance after a couple of years of use.


The way a feed or mineral additive works is that insecticide in the feed or mineral block is eaten by the cattle and then passed through the digestive tract and into the manure.
The insecticide reduces the number of flies emerging from the manure and helps to keep fly populations under control.

Small Animal & Livestock Euthanasia – What You Need To Know

Tibby is a young barn cat that will need to be euthanized within the next few days. She is less than a year old and is suffering from an aggressive form of cancer.
For the past week I’ve been spending extra time with her and feeding her all the milk and cheap bologna she cares to eat.
She doesn’t seem to be in any pain just yet.  I’m watching her carefully for the first signs of pain; or for a change in her behavior or for the tumor to begin to rupture. At the first hint of a change my husband or I will euthanize her quietly here on the farm.

Tibby Will Be Euthanized

Tibby The Barn Cat With An Aggressive Cancer Tumor

Without a doubt one of the most unpleasant but vital homestead skills is the ability to quickly and painlessly euthanize sick or suffering animals and livestock.
For most animals the preferred method on this farm is a well-placed bullet to the front or back of the head while the animal is eating or distracted in some way.
That’s how Tibby will be released.
She will be shot from behind while she is eating and her death will be instantaneous. She will never know any pain.

On our farm we use small-caliber bullets for small animals and a larger caliber for large livestock. Chickens, ducks and other poultry are not shot but instead quickly euthanized with a broomstick. We never use the services of a veterinarian for euthanasia due to cost, time considerations and because it is less stressful for an animal to be put down by someone they know and trust.

I prefer a .22 caliber bullet for cats, small dogs, goats and light pigs, and a .38 caliber hollow point for sheep, cattle, horses and heavy hogs.
My husband prefers the .45 Long Colt for larger animals.
It doesn’t matter if the shot is made from a rifle or a handgun. However a rifle produces a higher velocity bullet and that can be an important consideration in some situations.
I almost always use a handgun when I have to destroy an animal because it’s what I’m comfortable with.
But at times it can be safer for the shooter to use a rifle if the animal is very large and in pain.
An animal in pain is unpredictable and can be dangerous.

Whenever possible I restrain and remove the animal from the other animals so that they don’t witness the killing. Some people say it doesn’t matter but I think that it does.
Animals understand a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for.

Sick Ewe

A Sick Ewe

When euthanizing an animal the most important thing to keep in mind is safety for the shooter and to any other creatures nearby. It is safest to have bystanders stand behind the shooter and well back away from the animal.

If at all possible I try to move the animal out-of-doors and not take the shot in the barn if I can help it.
A ricochet bullet is unlikely, but I do take care that nothing obviously hard or solid is in my way or in the line of fire.  That said, if it is too stressful or upsetting to the animal to be moved, I will shoot it in the barn.

Outdoors, I try to take the shot while standing behind the animal and facing downhill if I’m on a hill. That’s because an animal will often lunge forward when first shot and it is easier for the shooter to back up.
Almost always animals will jerk, thrash and twitch when shot in the head and it is important to be able to step out of the way so as not to be accidentally hurt.

The most effective head shot is a shot that is taken 3” -12” away from the back or front of the head and not with the muzzle of the gun placed directly on the head.
A little extra distance allows the shooter to shift if the animal moves.

Photos are not three-dimensional and have limitations. But in general, the shot should be aimed downward directly between the ears when standing behind the animal or between the eyes or mid-line on the forehead when in front of the animal. The angle of the shot and placement depends upon the species and where the shooter is positioned.

Cattle Head Shot

Bullet Placement For Cattle

This is where it’s important to be aware of the basic physiological differences in livestock and small animals. Skull shape is not the same in all animals. Take the time ahead of time to learn how the animals you keep and are responsible for are put together.

Pig Head SHot

The Bullet Placement To Quickly Euthanize A Pig

The more precisely a bullet is placed into the center of the brain – the more catastrophic the tissue damage. Catastrophic damage results in a merciful and quicker kill. It’s a case of lights on – then lights off – and there is no pain for the animal. It’s a complete short circuit from the brain to the body.

If you are unsure about exact bullet placement a larger caliber bullet can reduce the margin of error. Two shots fired into the skull in rapid succession will kill or fatally stun most large farm animals.

With chickens, ducks and other poultry I believe the most merciful and quickest killing is by way of cervical dislocation with a broomstick.

I first restrain the chicken and hold its wings in place close to the body. I next place the chicken, beak and breast side down, on a very hard surface like a cement sidewalk.
The broomstick is placed so that it directly spans across the back of the chicken or duck’s neck where the head meets the neck. I then step quickly on the left side of the broom stick and then on the right side, and pull the chicken’s body by its feet towards me, and away from the head and broom stick.
By stepping on the broom stick while it spans the chicken’s neck and pulling the body backwards, the spinal cord is severed from the brain and death is instantaneous.

The proper disposal of euthanized animals is an important consideration. On this farm all animals are either buried or taken to the woods and left exposed so that other animals can make good use of them.

My pet dogs have been either buried in my flower and rose garden or the hill behind my mother-in-law’s house.

If you know ahead of time that you will need to euthanize an animal it is helpful and practical to have the grave dug ahead of time or have a plan for the removal of the body.

If you’re going to bury an animal it’s important to be sure to bury it deep enough. Graves should be at least 3’ deep for most animals – deeper for large livestock – and plenty wide. A backhoe and a set of chains are real time savers for large farm animals. Keep the graves well away from wells and other water sources.

No conversation about animal euthanasia would be complete without a mention of the human emotions that are involved.

Speaking from personal experience, I have found that there’s a profound sense of regret, sadness and emptiness when any animal has to be destroyed.  A feeling of interior hollowness and the stillness and absolute finality of death is always present.
Often there is self-blame whether or not it is merited.

When the animal is a pet or there is a strong emotional attachment, euthanasia can be very hard. It’s at that time that personal courage, bravery and faith is necessary.
Because euthanizing a pet can be difficult many people will elect to use the services of a veterinarian or call a trusted friend. There’s no shame in asking someone else to shoot your dog or horse.
We unfortunately live in a society that denies death and anthropomorphizes animals so there are bound to be problems when we’re face with the euthanasia of our pets and animals that we love.
Often emotions will cloud good judgment and sadly many animals have been held onto way past the time when they should have been allowed to pass away.

But sometimes euthanasia can be an easy choice with few regrets.
I have found this to be especially true with large livestock. When an animal is obviously suffering and there’s no possible hope or remedy for the situation it is easy to take the shot.
At those times courage is not needed – only mercy is required.
Mercy is a gift that we as humans can bestow upon the animals that serve and depend upon us. Mercy is what helps me to find my target and to remain calm, detached and determined while I do what I must.

I always say a prayer right before I take the life of any animal.
I pray that God will steady my hand and give the animal a quick and painless death.
I also pray for forgiveness.
Never once have I killed an animal that I was not cognizant that death is the cost for this earthly life and that one day I too will be required to pay the price.

Bottle Jaw – What You Need To Know

Bottle jaw is the vernacular term given to pendulous lower jaw swelling in sheep, cattle and goats.
The swelling is a soft tissue edema cause by anemia. It is characteristic in animals that are carrying a heavy load of blood sucking internal parasites – better known as worms.

Bottle Jaw

A Bottle Jaw In A Young Ram

Most often in sheep and gaots, the worms are haemonchus contortus often called “barber pole worms” because of the red and white twisted appearance in large female worms. But other worms, namely ostertagia circumcinta  and trichostrongylus colubriformis can also cause a bottle jaw.
What you need to know about bottle jaw is that if you see it in your animals you have a serious problem and must act quickly.
That’s especially true in sheep because most often the first sign of a heavy intestinal parasite load is a sudden death.

Sudden Death Due to Worms

A Sudden Death In A Nursing Ewe Due To Barber Pole Worms

In sheep, cattle and goats the symptoms of worms can also include diarrhea, weakness, weight loss or thriftiness. All or none of those symptoms will sometimes also accompany a bottle jaw. The best test for worms
in sheep and goats is the correct use of a FAMACHA card system. 

FAMACHA score cards are usually available from your veterinarian for about $25.

The treatment for most common worms is simple.
First check around to see what wormers work in your local area. Internal parasites can and do develop drug resistance.
Here’s what I do:

  1. First administer a wormer.
  2. Confine the animals for 24 hours after worming so they can pass out the dead worms. Make sure they have plenty of fresh water.
  3. Release the animals onto clean ground or pasture that has had no livestock for at least 2 months.
  4. Repeat again in 10 days.

At present in my area Cydectin or Ivermectin are effective by injection, drench or pour on. I believe both wormers are off label for goats but are still used. Eprinex , Dectomax, Prohibit, Rumatel, Nematel, Strongid, Tramisol and Valbazen are all good wormers but may have drug resistance where you live. There is drug resistance in my area to  Panacur and  SafeGuard.
Not all wormers are the same so be sure to read the label and pay attention to the milk and meat withdrawal times.

Pick The Time Of Day When Lambs or Kids Are Born

Did you know that the way a pregnant ewe or nanny goat is managed can influence when she will lamb or kid, and how quickly she’ll lamb or kid?
It’s true.

Sheep In The Snow

A Group Of Pregnant Border Cheviot Ewes

The time of day that a pregnant ewe or nanny goat is fed can influence when she will lamb or kid and how quickly she’ll lamb or kid.
Sheep and goats tend to lamb 6 hours prior and 6 hours after the time of their grain or main feeding. Knowing this can be of great benefit to those who would prefer to avoid late night or early morning lambing and kidding.

If you prefer lambing and kidding during daylight hours, feed your ewes and nannies around noon. It will result in most lambs and kids (70%) being born between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Also ewes and nannies tend to begin active labor when there is less human activity going on around them.
Human presence can slow down active labor so much that I personally make it a habit to leave the barn when I see an animal in labor.
Without me in the barn a ewe or nanny is able to get on with her business without the stress of the boss constantly watching over her.

Feather Loss – Molting & Treading Marks in Chickens

In chickens molting and treading marks are the most common reasons for feather loss. Both conditions are perfectly natural and usually require no human intervention.

About once a year chickens go through a molt. Molting is the time that a chicken will shed their old feathers and grow new ones. It is a completely natural occurrence and takes anywhere from 5 – 12 weeks to complete.

Molting usually follows a period of heavy egg production and hens will not lay eggs at all or will lay eggs sporadically during their molt. Laying hens usually fall into two groups -late molters and early molters.
Hens known as late molters will lay eggs on average for 12 to 14 months before they begin to molt.
Late molters are generally the better laying hens and they will often have a more raggedy and tattered appearance during their molt.

Hen With Feather Loss From Molting

A Molting Hen In December

Hens known as early molters sometimes begin to molt after only a few of months of egg production.
Early molters take longer to complete their molt and are often poor layers. They can have a fuller feathered appearance and don’t look as moth eaten. They often will only shed a few feathers at a time.

Fall is the traditional time of year that the molt occurs due to a decrease in daylight. During the molt period feathers are lost in a predictable sequence. Feathers are lost from the head first, followed by those on the neck, the breast, the body, the wings, and then lastly the tail.

One thing interesting about one of the hens in the photo below is that she has an unusual loss of feathers across her back. Below I’ve enlarge a portion of the image and added an arrow so you can see it better.
The loss of feathers on her back is from more than just molting. It’s called a treading mark.

Treading Marks

Treading Marks On The Back Of A Buff Orpington Hen

She has a treading mark because she was a favorite with my main rooster and some of the other young roosters. During copulation or mating (called treading in chickens) the rooster’s feet sometimes will tear feathers from the hen’s back as he moves his feet quickly across her back while he is on top of her.

The above hen has been treaded so often that she now has a very big bare spot on her back. She has had it since the summer and in fact looked quite bad until just recently.
Her feathers will probably grow back in time if she can manage to stay away from the rooster.

He's Doing The Treading

Sampson The Rooster

A Beginner’s Guide To Chickens

Here’s a blast from the past! A Beginner’s Guide To Chickens. It’s my favorite podcast from the old GRANNY MILLER RADIO.
Please note that this is a podcast that has been illustrated with images that I happened to have. Not all images will correspond to what is being said.

Here’s some resources that are mentioned in the podcast
Backyard Poultry
Murry McMurry Hatchery

Freemartin Heifer Calf

Aren’t they cute? They’re Brown Swiss calves and they are 4 month old twins. The cream-colored one is a bull calf (male) and the fawn colored one is a heifer calf (female). The heifer calf is known as a “freemartin”.

Karl & Ellsie Mid-May

Karl & Ellsie in Mid-May

A freemartin is an infertile female mammal.
In cattle a freemartin is the normal outcome of mixed sexed twins. And 90% -95% of heifers born from mixed sexed twins will be sterile. Sometimes a single heifer calf will be made sterile from the death of a male twin during the early part of the gestation period.

The female is made infertile in utero due to an interconnection and fusion of chorions and shared blood vessels which permits the blood from each twin to flow around the other twin.
The action of male hormones upon the female fetus usually renders the heifer calf with non-functioning ovaries and often a very short vagina. The heifer often displays a masculine appearance and behavior.
The action of the female hormones on the male fetus usually has no effect on the bull calf except sometimes the testicles may be smaller than normal. This is important because testicle size is associated with cattle fertility.
The freemartin effect has been recorded in goats, sheep and pigs but it is very rare. The 18th century Scottish physician John Hunter was the first to observe that a freemartin heifer always has a male twin.
Freemartinism is usually diagnosed by vaginal examination with a probe at  3 – 6 months of age. Vaginal length in a normal heifer calf is usually greater than 5 1/2  inches. In a freemartin heifer the vaginal length is usually between 2 1/2 to 4 inches long.
Sometimes genetic testing will be used with a valuable heifer to determine breeding ability. But most often a visual examination of the placental membranes shortly after birth will confirm the probability of sterility of the female calf.