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A few weeks ago Jennifer developed an oedema on her lower jaw known as ‘bottle jaw’. Bottle jaw or intermandibular oedema is due to protein loss from the bloodstream into the intestinal tract. The most likely cause of this is either Johne’s disease (pronounced “yo-knees”), a disease you really don’t want in your herd, or parasitism, most likely fluke, both of which damage the liver. However it could be the result of a heart condition in which case an oedema could subsequently appear on the chest.

As you can imagine, I was worried. Jennifer, if you remember, is the herd’s number one cow, the matriarch. She is also the cow, back in February, I photographed throughout the labour and birth of her massive calf. After calving I decided to supplement her feed with cereal to help her cope with the demands of a large calf and to make up for the lack of nutrients in last summer’s inferior forage. Despite this additional feeding she continued to look rather emaciated, though her character, disposition and appetite remained much as usual.

I consulted my vet when the oedema first appeared and we decided to wait twenty-four hours to see if any materialized on her chest which would indicate a heart condition. Thank heavens none did. The next stage was to try and find out what the cause was and if possible to treat it. I took a faecal sample which was sent to Starcross Laboratories to test for Johne’s disease and parasites. She was given a dose of flukicide in case the herd’s routine autumn drench for fluke had not been effective. I injected her with a multi-vitamin to boost the liver and a steroid to control the oedema.

Unfortunately Johne’s disease is incurable. Briefly it’s a serious wasting disease that affects a wide range of animals. It causes a thickening of the intestinal wall which blocks the normal absorption of food. The animal is hungry and eats but cannot absorb any nutrients. This results in wasting and finally death. Diarrhoea and bottle jaw are common signs of its presence in cattle. It’s very difficult to diagnose and often by the time any symptoms come to light the disease is well established in the herd and difficult to eradicate.

I waited nervously for the test results to come back. In the meantime Jennifer’s oedema continued to increase in size. I knew that sweet fresh grass would be the best medicine for her, indeed she was craving it, but unfortunately that wasn’t an option. One evening I found Olly in the cow palace scratching her back “I’ve a bad feeling about Jen, mum”. This was after doing some searches on the net which gleefully informed us that once the oedema appeared the animal had approximately two weeks to live!

“Well I don’t think she’s that ready to give up just yet” I replied “after all she has this year’s intake of maiden heifers to sort out and one of them’s her daughter little Jen” (her real name is Kate but she looks so like her mum that we nicknamed her little Jen). “I’m sure she’ll want to make sure that she’s putting her connections to good use and is groomed for future matriarchal succession.”

My vet phoned with the results – and joy of joy they were negative both for parasites and Johne’s! But, he warned this can sometimes be a false negative in the case of Johne’s and we should continue to monitor her. She has now been out to grass for almost a week and I think the oedema is lessening; she certainly looks to be carrying a little more weight. So hopefully this incident is due to a combination of age, her years of exceptional fertility, mothering and milk production…and the very poor quality of last summer’s haylage. Neither the herd nor I are ready to see the end of her reign. Long live Jen!

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bluetongue’s winter warmer

Now here’s a thing. I had a fit of the giggles. Actually it was probably a touch of mini-hysteria; the uncontrolled, raucous, thigh-slapping, tears-pouring-down-face kind, coloured by total disbelief. Wishful thinking there – what I would hope to be total disbelief.

In this week’s New Scientist under the heading ‘Bluetongue’s Winter Warmer we were told about the distinct possibility of bluetongue virus overwintering in the unborn calf cosseted and protected by the cosy bubble of bovine uterine warmth.

And as those hungry veracious biting midges reappear (the end of the non-vector period was the 15th March) these bonny babies would become a delicious fresh source of the bluetounge virus. Hey-presto! Yup, you have it in one.

Pirbright suggest there should be additional controls targeted at newborn animals. Now, me-wonders, what on earth have they in mind? No vaccine around yet. Could only be one other thing.

And if that’s not sinister enough – listen to this…the only bluetongue virus ever seen to cross the placenta of infected mothers to infect their foetuses was a laboratory-adapted strain used in experiments with sheep in the 70s.

Ring any bells? Shades of last summer’s FMD fiasco? Afterall the great and the good have been wondering how the BTV8 strain gained such an unshakable foothold in northern Europe.

Maybe they now have their answer.

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Two days of inspiring spring weather. Uplifting: good for body and soul. When I walked down to the river at Scadsbury, the wild daffodils were already in flower. Small, delicately-pale cream-lemon-yellow petals, translucent against the light, the base and trumpet a brush stroke more vibrant, each flower set-off by green spears of thrusting leaves. Nodding, softly swaying in the breeze from the fast-flowing water, they resembled clusters of coy, yet animated, bonneted maidens. A far cry from their loud, brash and quarrelsome cultivated cousins.

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After the success of their outing last week I decided to take the cows up to silage barn again today. Still aggravatingly itchy from mites I felt they would benefit from the fresh air and sun on their backs. This week they were ready for me. Gone was the spontaneous joyful and scatty hiccupping down the lane, instead there was a wall of solid red determination! Ranks mustered, eyes forward, they surged as one. Occasionally a foot soldier would break ranks to snatch hastily at a particularly flavoursome plantain, a bind of ivy or a clump of rank, wet grass – otherwise they were single minded in their resolve – they were going out to grass. When we stopped at silage barn it took a lot of persuading and cajoling to get them through the gate into the yard. This was not the game plan. Yet once they knew my determination was every bit as strong as theirs they conceded, eventually, and didn’t have too bad a day. Returning to the cow palace for tea they ambled along quickening their pace as they got nearer home – there, in full view of the young stock, they milled around the pulling at grass, brambles, whatever was to tongue, and shouting, with mouths full, about the heavenly day they’d had out to grass.

Not to put a dampener on the glorious day I will leave my next post about bluetongue till tomorrow.

Yesterday was not a ‘remembering remarkable holiday’ day. It was a full-on farming work day.

Every year, about half way through the winter housing period, I muck out the cow palace. I do this for several reasons – the dung is beginning to build up, to make sure that parasites or fungal growths such as roundworm, lice and mites that thrive in moist warm dung are removed; and, most importantly, to help get rid of any bacterial build up before calving. This seems to be more important during recent winters as we no longer have any sustained cold spells to inhibit the growth of pathogens.

And every year I look at the job in front of me and think ‘it’s never going to be done in a day’ ‘how have I ever managed before?’. This year Olly was my helper and, taking on board what was expected, he just looked at me and said “You gotta be joking! It’s impossible! We won’t do all that!” With false cheer I replied “Yup, I, we, will. It’s done every year. I know it looks daunting. But we’ll get in done. And in plenty of time too”. Read the rest of this entry »

Five things to do on a rainy weekend.
1. Fluke the calves and young stock 2. Fluke the bull 3. Fluke the lambs
4. Fluke the rams – and for a bit of variety…5. Dehorn a six month old calf

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Fasciola hepatica – liver fluke Read the rest of this entry »

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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