Flip through any dairy publication and you’re sure to find a number of ads promoting products that claim to improve dairy cows’ health and well-being.
I’m sure millions of dollars are spent developing, packaging, and marketing these products. Many of these remedies do what each one claims and each dairy farmer seems to find certain products that fit well into their management system.
But we often forget about one item that works miracles . . . especially when cows aren’t feeling well and stop eating. It doesn’t come in a fancy package with carefully crafted claims. In fact, it’s probably considered a little old-fashioned. It certainly requires a bit of good, old-fashioned hard work to acquire.
What is it?
Fine-stemmed, fragrant, green grass hay.
One of our cows, Mahina, was extremely sick last month. She stopped eating and drinking, stopped milking, and was bleeding internally. She has a family history of late-lactation abomasal ulcers and, unfortunately, she became afflicted, too.
We got her through the acute phase with lots of supportive therapy, including oral and IV (intravenous) fluids and vitamin K. But she still didn’t feel good enough to graze or eat TMR (total mixed ration) . . . and cows can’t live very long on oral and IV fluids alone.
That’s when grass hay worked its magic.
When we have a cow off feed, we offer calf starter and grass hay. Sometimes the cow won’t touch the calf starter and then we know she’s really ill. But it’s almost impossible for them to resist high-quality grass hay.
I put a bale of our best grass hay in front of Mahina. Sure enough, she immediately started eating. Then, after munching down some hay, she took a drink of water.
One month later, Mahina has recovered completely. She’s not our first cow whose recovery relied, in part, on grass hay and she won’t be our last.
So when I’m up in the haymow in the middle of summer, cursing our old-fashioned way of making and storing small square bales of hay, I remind myself that these bales can work miracles.
The author is a dairy farmer and writer from central Minnesota. She farms with her husband, Glen, and their three children. Sadie grew up on a dairy farm in northern Minnesota and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in agricultural communications and marketing. She also blogs at Dairy Good Life.