How Fat is Too Fat

When I look out on my little herd, I see sleek, fat, and happy cows munching the late summer grass that is growing like crazy this year due to all the rain we’ve had over the summer.  Usually rain doesn’t grace our property at all during July and August, and by early September we’re desperate for moisture, not so this year – which leads me to the topic for this posting.

Like most animals, a little fat on their ribs looks really nice. They look healthy, and are happy to eat all day long regardless of their expanding girths.  But, is it possible for cattle to be too fat?  In the case of Mini Jersey cattle, the answer is a definitive “yes”! 

Miniature Jersey cows, like standard Jerseys, are designed to produce milk, and to do so requires large amounts of calories and other nutrients in their daily diet.  Since Jerseys are designed to be milked, they are predisposed to eat constantly regardless of the demand placed on their bodies which means that if they are not milked regularly, they can bulk up in excess fat very quickly.  This excess fat can cause numerous problems including difficulty breeding, fat necrosis that can accumulate in the abdomen, and arthritis problems.  The normal cycle for a dairy cow is to lose lots of weight, over 100 pounds in most cases, after the calf is born and during the 6-9 months that she is in milk; then she will gradually begin to gain weight as she enters breeding season, and continue the weight gain during pregnancy until calving at which point the cycle begins again.  As long as this cycle is not interrupted all is well.

What happens on many breeding farms such as ours, is that since we aren’t in the dairy business we really don’t have a use for all the milk our cows produce.   Milk we can’t use for food products goes to the garden as fertilizer, but one can only use so much.  So we, like many others, keep our cows in milk for as short a period as necessary.  In fact, since we bottle feed our calves anyway we will choose not to milk some of our cows at all, but allow them to dry up immediately.  This reduces our work load and the amount of milk we have to deal with.  But this is not a healthy practice for the cow because if she isn’t milked, she never loses her “baby fat” and the next breeding just adds more fat to her.  Pretty soon she’s obese with all the health issues associated with obesity. 

After much research and help from Texas A&M’s great veterinary services in College Station, we have made the commitment to milk every one of our cows for a minimum of 6 months in order to maximize their health and allow them to experience the purpose for which they are bred.  We look forward to leaner, healthier, and happier cows as we improve our herd management and practices.

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First Mini Jersey Calf of 2017!

WhHannibal & Spiceat a wonderful surprise we found at feeding time early Saturday morning, January 14th.  Spice had been milking up for about 3 weeks, but still we weren’t convinced she was ready to have her calf so soon.  Usually when a cow is within a couple of days of calving, we check them every 2 hours so we can be available if help is needed.  However, Spice is a 10-year-old cow that has never had problems calving and we just didn’t think the calf was coming quite so soon…oops!  Fortunately Spice was in a well-bedded, warm calving stall in the barn, so Hannibal had a good place to start his life and he is strong and healthy.

Many people ask how we raise our Miniature Jersey calves:  do we bottle feed them or allow them to be dam-raised?  Normally we prefer to bottle feed the calves with the dam’s milk.  We do this for several reasons, but primarily because we think bottle feeding produces tamer calves that bond better with people.  This is a good thing for dairy cows that will be handled daily.  However, this is not a hard and fast rule and in this particular case we plan to allow Spice to raise her bull calf.  The reason for this decision rests largely on the temperament of the cow, Spice.  Spice is very, very gentle and enjoys the company of human beings.  Because Spice trusts us she teaches her calves to trust humans, and as long as we do our part and train the calves to lead and enjoy being handled, we have found them to be just as tame as bottle-fed calves.

We just love raising these little mini Jersey calves and we look forward to watching little Hannibal and the rest of this year’s calf crop grow into the fine animals they have been bred to be.

Happy New Year!

 

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Mini Jersey Bulls – Naughty or Nice

People are always asking me if Miniature Jersey bulls are mean or aggressive.  It’s common knowledge that Jersey bulls have a bad reputation, but we have not seen this in our bulls – quite the contrary.  Bull calves are very playful, but they can also be extremely sweet, sometimes even more so than their female Ebenezer & mecounterparts.   Generally our bull calves tend to be quieter and less spooky than the “girls”. 

One of the things that we do to help keep bull calves gentle, is that we bottle feed them right from birth so that they are bonded to us.    In addition as we train them to lead and be handled, we take care to let them know that they are not in charge – we make sure that they don’t come to think that they are our masters and not the other way around.  If you watch a herd of cattle with their young calves, you’ll see the mama cows occasionally ram their babies, or kick them a little – this is just nature’s way of letting the calf know that they’ve pushed just a little too hard on their dam and need to back off some.  It’s all about socializing the young to their environment.  In a herd the calves learn about herd dynamics, dominance and leadership from their dams, just as they must learn proper conduct in relationship with humans.

When our bull calves are very young we handle them often every day; but once the calf reaches puberty (often 6-7 months for a mini Jersey bull) we don’t “mess” with them so much.  We continue to catch our bulls calves every day and brush them or lead them from pasture to night paddock, but we don’t just go out to pet them for long periods of time.  There is a reason for this:  bulls continue to be playful for life and if you’re just out hanging around in the pasture with your bull he’ll find something “fun” to do with you – and usually what my bull thinks is fun, I don’t much like!  Watch your bull in a pasture with other cows.  He’ll jump on them, ram them, and generally make a nuisance of himself…you do not want him treating you that way.  So, after a bull is mature, handle him when you need to, but otherwise leave him alone. 

When dealing with animals there are always exceptions on both sides of the issue – there are many aggressive bulls, but there are also some very gentle ones (like our D C Ebenezer who will stand quietly to be brushed for as long as you are willing to do it).    Always take care when you are around any bull to make sure you recognize any aggressive behavior immediately, and do not let it escalate into a problem.  If you are not comfortable owning a bull you can always AI (artificially inseminate) your cows and avoid owning one altogether.   Above all, be careful, and be safe when around any large animal.

 

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Spring Grooming for Your Mini Jersey

Spring has arrived at Mini Miracles Farm.  The grass is growing, the cows are getting fat, and the calves are terrorizing their pasture with tails curled over their backs and feet flying.  Who doesn’t love spring?!? Grooming

In the mini Jersey world, it is also time for spring shedding.  The cows stand and groom each other for seemingly hours trying to get the itch of that old winter hair off their bodies.  That’s where I come in.  With shedding blade in hand I groom each cow for a few minutes every day.  It may sound like a bit of work, but it doesn’t take very long and has great benefits, not just to the cow herself, but to her relationship with me.  You would be amazed at how gentle and sweet a cow can get with daily grooming; Ebenezereven those that don’t start out all that friendly, soon come running to you looking for her brushing.   Our bull, Ebenezer, enjoys his daily grooming as much as the “girls”.

Giving your cow a daily brushing will not only make her look and feel better, it bonds her to you in a magical way that transfers into the milking parlor as well.  What was once a nervous animal in the stanchion suddenly becomes much quieter and more docile.  Miniature Jerseys, like other pets, are far more enjoyable to be around and are more manageable the more time you devote to them.

Spring is also a great time to prepare for breeding season.  We like to breed our mini Jersey cows/heifers between the months of June and September. This gives us March to June calves, which for us is the ideal time – it’s after the wet and chill of winter, but before the heat of a Texas summer.    Remember that Mini Miracles Farm sells frozen semen on two really great bulls, South House Dapper Dan, and D C Ebenezer for only $50 per straw, with sexed semen available from Ebenezer to qualified buyers.   Both bulls are producing lovely calves with incredible beauty and quality.

Spring seems like such a short season, enjoy it while you can!

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Artificial Insemination in Mini Jerseys

LateDan heifers 2015ly it seems that many people are talking about challenges they are experiencing with artificial insemination (AI) of their mini Jersey cows and heifers.   This is a serious issue for Miniature Jersey cow owners since most owners have only one or two animals and do not want, nor have the facilities to keep a bull.   So, we thought we might offer some tips to help you with your AI program.

Since you have to have calves to have fresh milk, it’s critically important that you have a plan for keeping your cow calving regularly, hopefully annually.  It is true that you can milk a cow for longer than a year if she is fit enough, but we recommend that you do not get in the habit of doing so as it puts great strain on the cow.  Plus, the calves you receive have considerable value themselves.

First off, unless you plan to take an AI class and do the insemination yourself, you have to find a competent AI tech.  AI techs can be found through your veterinarian, your local agricultural extension office, or a bull semen collection facility (there are many of these throughout the country).  We were fortunate enough to have a quality bull collection facility, Champion Genetics, just 2 hours from our farm.  We purchased frozen semen on the bulls we liked and had it shipped directly to Champion where it was stored until we needed it.  When a cow needed to be bred, we simply took her to Champion and let them perform the service.   It was easy and effective. 

Secondly, heat detection is important.  A cow should ideally be inseminated at 12 hours after the onset of standing heat, but can often become pregnant if insemination occurs as late as 24 hours after onset of heat.  Standing heat is easily detected if you have more than one cow, but if you have only one it can be more difficult.   For this reason, you may want to find a professional collection facility to perform your AI as they can put your cow with others to make heat detection much more precise.  Heat can also be induced, with the AI tech estimating the onset of standing heat – this can be an effective method.

Thirdly, the frozen semen itself needs to be of good quality.   Frozen semen is fragile and must be carefully handled.  When we sell semen it ships directly from the collection facility to wherever the purchaser is going to store it for future use.  This reduces the chance of degradation caused by heating and cooling during multiple transfers in and out of liquid nitrogen tanks.   Plus, we sell only semen that is embryo transfer quality, the highest quality rating.

Fourth, some cows simply will not breed using AI.  It’s rare, but it does happen, most often with older cows.  To help maintain your cow’s ability to conceive, we recommend that you begin breeding her as a relatively young heifer around 18 months of age, and that she be bred each year thereafter.  We never try to AI a cow on the first heat after calving, the probability of success is just too low; in fact, we usually wait until the 3rd heat cycle post-partum to maximize the probability of success.

Lastly, about sexed semen.  Sexed semen straws usually consist of 2.1 million sperm cells while regular frozen semen has 12-15 million sperm cells.  The lower sperm count, combined with the fragile nature of sexed semen, make it much more difficult to use and makes accurate heat detection critical.  For these reasons plus the higher cost, we offer sexed semen straws in very limited quantities and only to those who have already achieved success in their AI program using standard straws.

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask – we want you to be successful with your AI program.

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Clostridium in Mini Jersey Calves

As I walked to the barn in the cool pre-dawn of a lovely autumn morning, I looked forward to bottle feeding our 5 day old heifer, Felicity.   Bottle feeding these little babies is something tFelicity 3 wkshat I truly enjoy and was anticipating Felicity’s normal robust feeding style.   My heart dropped to the floor when I rounded the corner of the barn and saw Felicity lying flat out on the soft bedding of her stall.  I ran to her side and found her completely unresponsive – but breathing!  Not having any idea what was happening, I grabbed her up into my lap and hugged her to me like a baby, firmly rubbing her all over.  Slowly she began to awaken and become aware of her surroundings, although she remained lethargic and barely able to stand.  Additionally I could see that she was running a high fever – I later learned that her temperature was 106 degrees!

Because my husband had already left for work, I had to complete the morning feeding and milking routine before I could rush Felicity to the hospital.  Upon arriving, our wonderful vet immediately administered IV antibiotics and Banamine for pain, assuming we were dealing with Clostridium – which as it turned out, we were.   In addition to the medications administered by the vet, we continued a protocol of oral and injected antibiotics plus Banamine for the next few days.   It wasn’t until the 2nd day of treatment that other symptoms developed, including severe bloody diarrhea which we treated by feeding her electrolytes to keep her hydrated.   I like to use Re-Sorb for the electrolytes as it can be mixed with milk – many electrolyte compounds cannot, and we believe that a scouring calf needs maximum nutrition and recovers more quickly if she is not deprived of milk while in her weakened condition.

The type of infection Felicity contracted is called Clostridium perfringens Type C.  This type of Clostridium is especially virulent in calves less than 10 days old, and often less than 5 days old, and death often occurs before the severe bloody diarrhea develops.  It can be exacerbated by excess milk in the abomasum (true stomach) from over-feeding or poor digestion. We were so blessed to have found Felicity in time to save her life, and within 3 days of her initial “event” she was bounding around her pasture, although it took over a week for her to regain the weight and strength she lost during her illness.

Every illness that our Miniature Jerseys contract, offer an opportunity to learn something.  Even though we vaccinate our cows for Clostridium to boost the value of the colostrum they produce, and we place new calves in a clean, freshly bedded stall, we knew we still had more to learn about this.  Since we bottle feed our calves from the moment they are born, we found special considerations to help prevent this from happening again in the future:

  • Adequate colostrum must be fed to the calf as soon as possible to maximize the immunity passed from dam to calf.
  • The temperature of the milk must be close to the calf’s body temperature (~101ºF).
  • If using milk replacer, it needs to be mixed thoroughly.
  • Feeding schedules must be regular and consistent.
  • Calves need to drink their milk slowly – if you feed with a bottle do not make the nipple opening too large (we tossed all the old nipples that we had opened up to making feeding quicker!). 
  • More frequent, smaller meals – we feed 3 bottles per day instead of just 2 for the first month.
  • Careful equipment hygiene (buckets, bottles, nipples, etc).

We are thankful for lessons learned, and precious lives saved.

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Mini Jersey A2A2 Bull – South House Dapper Dan

Mini Jersey Bull Semen

 At last we are beginning to see calves from our good A2/A2  miniature Jersey bull South House Dapper Dan!  As expected,  his calves are gorgeous; and with beta casein A2/A2 they will  help increase the number of A2/A2 animals in the mini  Jersey world.   

 Additionally, Dapper Dan is producing lovely deep dished  heads and small size in his offspring (see picture of Miracle  Faline).Faline 2 wks 2

 

As you know, there are very few A2/A2 mini Jersey cattle at this time, primarily because the animals from which the mini Jersey breed derived did not have the A2 gene.  Over time as a result of breeding other polled breeds into the original mini Jerseys, the A2 gene has been introduced into the mini Jersey and is becoming more available.  Whether you believe in the A2 Corporation’s claims or not, we anticipate that the A2 gene will become more common in the next few years. 

If you are looking for a bull to advance your herd to the next level, Dapper Dan would be a good choice for many reasons: 

  • Dapper Dan has a unique lineage that will help expand the gene pool of the mini Jersey;
  • He has good conformation with a great head that he’s passing along to his offspring;
  • Dapper Dan has a wonderful temperament and is handled by us daily to maintain that gentle disposition;
  • Dapper Dan’s frozen bull semen is “embryo transfer quality” which is the best you can get, giving you the best possible results with your AI program; and,
  • His frozen semen is shipped directly from the collection facility to ensure its quality to the buyer.

As you consider your breeding options for 2015 and beyond, don’t hesitate to call us with questions.   Artificial insemination can seem like a daunting endeavor at first, but with help from those with experience, it can be very rewarding both financially and esthetically as you produce better and better calves.   Even if you own just one cow and she is primarily kept for your personal milk supply, why not breed to be best?  The sale of one well bred heifer can easily reimburse you for the cost of keeping your cow, and future calves make a nice return on the investment you have in your family cow.

Mini Miracles Farm has other young bulls coming up as well.  Currently being offered is frozen bull semen from one of these young bulls, D C Ebenezer – we’ll keep you posted as we see calves from this great little bull next year.

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Mini Jersey Naming Conventions

What a wonderful experience it is to watch a baby miniature Jersey calf take its first feFaline 2 wksw steps and get its first meal.  They are so happy and cute that, at least here at Mini Miracles Farm, we just can’t help but walk around with gigantic smiles all the time.  We especially enjoy watching the young calves throw their tails in the air and take off across the pasture on bright sunny mornings.  Our newest heifer, Miracle Faline, literally curls her tail up over her back when she runs – just too cute.

All of our animals are registered and soon after birth we start trying to think of names for our little ones.  When considering names for registered miniature Jerseys it’s important to remember that there are actual naming rules or conventions.  Each breeder gets to choose a unique name or identifier (often initials) that identifies their breeding operation, and this identifier precedes the given name of the calf.  For instance, at Mini Miracles Farm, the word Miracle precedes the name of each animal born here.  The rule is that the breeder identification belongs to the owner of the cow when the cow was bred.  So, if someone purchases a cow from us that is bred, the calf would have the word Miracle as the first part of its name because it is the result of our breeding program.  Likewise, if we purchased a bred cow from someone else, then the resulting calf would have that breeder’s identifier in the name and not ours.

You’ll notice this naming convention in practice at Mini Miracles Farm.  All of our older cows and both bulls were purchased from other breeders and they have names like South House Dapper Dan, DC Ebenezer, TGF Spice, BTTF Bree, RNC Miss Ruthie, TRRH Ruby, etc.  In the case of all of the animals listed above, the first name(s) or initials identify the breeder of the cow.  These names are not changed when the animal is purchased, as registered names should not be changed or it would be very difficult to track bloodlines, which is the whole purpose of registering animals in the first place.

So, when you are considering names for your cute little calves, remember that you need to include the breeder’s identification in the name of your calf when it is registered if you did not own the cow when she was bred.  Also remember that the name will go with the animal for the rest of its life – so naming an adorable baby bull Twinkle Toes may seem cute, but he’s likely to outgrow that name relatively quickly.  

Enjoy your calves, it won’t be long before they are full grown and having calves of their own.

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Mini Jersey Breeding Season

DC Ebenezer

 It’s that time of year to get ready for breeding season for your miniature Jersey.  Depending on what part of the country you call home, breeding season may be all year long or very short periods of time.  On Mini Miracles Farm we have 2 distinct breeding seasons:  June – September, and December – January.  These seasons give us calves from March – June after the last freeze and much of the late winter rain is over with, and again in September and October before winter rains and slush set in.   Many times, however, we’ll miss these exact times due to breeding issues of various sorts.

 People ask us all the time when to breed their heifers/cows.  What I tell them is to consider what month they want the calf to be born and add 3 months to establish the breeding date.  So, if you want your calf to be born mid-May, you’ll breed your cow mid to late August.  Being able to choose the date your cow will calve is one of the many advantages of artificial insemination (AI).  

 Even though we have bulls on the farm, and one of them is always with the herd, we don’t allow our bulls to naturally breed unless we are struggling with AI on a particular cow/heifer.  Artificial insemination allows you to establish the date breeding occurs and gives you many options as to the bull you choose for your breeding program.  AI also protects your bulls from mishaps associated with live cover.

 So, with so many bulls to choose from, how do you choose the “right” one for your cow?  There are many factors to consider with each bull:  bloodlines, genetics, size, color, polling, etc.   However, at the end of the day, until you gain experience and see what your cow produces with a particular bull, find one you like and a supplier you trust and go for it.  As with any breeding program, your goal is to produce a calf that is equal or superior in quality to your cow. 

 A wise breeder once told me that regardless of how large your herd is, “the bull is half your herd”.   We could not agree more!  At Mini Miracles Farm we purchase bulls that we believe will compliment our herd of breeding females.  We have a look in mind that we’re trying to achieve, plus genetics we want to establish; and we want to do all this with as wide a gene pool as possible.  Mini Miracles Farm does not line breed nor inbreed as we believe that mini Jerseys have experienced enough of these practices in the past and it is our responsibility to expand the gene pool to protect future generations of miniature Jerseys. 

 At this time Mini Miracles Farm offers mini Jersey frozen bull semen on two outstanding bulls:  South House Dapper Dan and D C Ebenezer.  These bulls are both young so it will be a few years before we see what they produce over time, but they were selected because of their outstanding bloodlines, conformation and genetics.

 Take a deep breath and enjoy breeding season – it’s a magical time in your breeding program.

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The Well Trained Heifer

Melody in training

It is hard to milk a cow you can’t catch.  For this reason, we at Mini Miracles Farm work hard to train our miniature Jersey heifers.  We have found that it’s never too early to begin training your heifer (or bull calf for that matter).  By the time our mini Jerseys are 2 weeks old, they have learned to wear a halter and lead around the yard.  Since we bottle feed our calves, they also come running to us which is really great when they’re old enough to turn out in a larger pasture – it saves us from having to go catch them!

 By the time our calves are a month old they’ve learned to stand for brushing, load into the milking stanchion (note Melody in the picture above), lift their feet to be trimmed if necessary, and they enjoy human contact and companionship.  They also are trained to load in a trailer with and without a ramp so trailering your mini Jersey is easy and much less stressful.

 All of the training we put into our calves results in future milk cows that are calm and enjoy the milking process.  We want to reduce the possibility of problems that may occur at your heifer’s first freshening as they become mothers for the first time and then need to be milked.  Our cows depend on us and know they can trust us so that we can attend the birth of their calves without stress to the cow and calf.  This is tremendously important in the unlikely event that assistance is needed during delivery.

 The same care is taken to train our bull calves as is taken to train the heifers.  If a bull isn’t trained to lead and respect people, it is difficult to deal with him.  It’s much easier to gain his respect early in life and he matures with a willing attitude toward his owners.  We train our bull calves to tolerate a stanchion as well so that they get used to being confined – it helps them accept a head gate for vaccinations later in life, or as needed for veterinary procedures.

 All of this training takes time, but we believe that it is vitally important to the enjoyment you will have with your mini Jersey. 

 We hope you had a blessed Christmas and are looking forward to a wonderful  New Year.

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