Heifers and Bulls O My!

Here’s a typical day working with heifers and bulls ages three months to two years old, at Maddox Dairy.  There are around 4,800 bovines that fit this age category. The heifers are raised in dry lots from 3 months till around 9 months of age.  Then they are moved to free-stall barns, in addition to a connecting dry lot.  After the heifers are confirmed pregnant they are moved back out into dry lots.  The bulls are raised on dry lots from 3 months till they are sold as breeding stock.  The dry lot pens all have headlocks and a shade over part of the pen for a cool place to relax. 

So, I arrive at work around six in the morning and receive a list of the animals to treated because they were identified ill earlier in the week.  This list includes the pen number and what their treatment has been and will be. Then I help prepare the cooler with the necessary medicine, vaccinations, syringes and needles needed for the day.  

Since there are many cattle in this part of the farm, treatments are on a schedule.  Primarily based on the needs of the animals and then by the specific treatment.  For instance certain medications are only given every three days (following the recommended directions), but the animals are observed in between the treatments.  Each case is treated at least two times to ensure the animal is healthy, after that the animal is evaluated again and another treatment is administered if deemed necessary.  If the animal is healthy, great!  No more treatments.  The treated animals must be recorded with the specific treatment, number of treatments given, date, animal identification number and pen number.  One of the managers will enter all this information in the main herd records.  He also makes the next treatment schedule so we know which animals to treat if needed in the coming days.  As we treat the sick animals we are also observing all the healthy animals for any sign they may be getting sick. 

After the cooler and everything is ready we head over to lock up the headlocks of the pens with cattle to be treated.  As the cattle come and eat they’ll get locked up, so while waiting we tail-chalk breeding age heifers.  The heifers 13-14 months of age are tail-chalked since at 14 months of age the heifers will become surrogate mothers (referred to as surrogate dams, in the cattle world) for embryos.   Tail-chalking is done to help the employees see heifers in estrus, aka heat.  Meaning they are ready to be bred or receive an embryo.  If a heifer’s tail-chalk is gone later in the day, or the next morning it means she could be in heat.  We will observe her closer, and more throughout the day for confirmation.  After tail-chalking, we head back to the locked up pens to administer treatments and evaluate the pens of cattle closer, watching for ANY problems with the cattle. 

So basically in the morning, treatments, vaccinations and evaluation of the cattle happen.  When this is done, if any cattle need to be rotated to another pen, they are.  After moving cattle, completing the daily treatments and vaccinations, and evaluating all the cattle other daily maintenance tasks can take place.  The other tasks include cleaning the water tubs, pushing up feed, filling salt tubs, walking pens for more observation of the animal’s health, watching for more heifers in heat, grooming the free-stalls, picking up garbage or debris, assisting the veterinarian with embryo transfer (implanting embryos in the heifers), or pregnancy checking.  There is ALWAYS something to do on a dairy farm.  What I find interesting on this farm is that the employees are given are more specifically defined jobs that allow them to focus on the given tasks in their area.  On a smaller farm, like the one I grew up on I might’ve been doing some of the things I mentioned above but also fulfilled multiple roles throughout the day, not just one.  But the great thing about Maddox Dairy is that training is continuous.  Employees can learn new things and take on new roles in the future if the managers see fit, and they desire it.  

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