By Jerri Cook, Countryside Staff
Every urban resident has asked the question, “Where’s a cop when you need one?” The answer that follows is the customary, “Probably at the donut shop.” But if you do dairy cow farming on your homestead, you’ve probably asked the question, “Where’s a veterinarian when you need one?”—the answer is simple. There probably isn’t one anywhere nearby. In fact, you’re more likely to find a donut shop in the rural parts of the United States than you are a veterinarian. If you are lucky enough to find a vet, he or she is likely the only one for miles, making emergency calls difficult and costly. For most homesteaders with dairy cows, prevention and early intervention are their best friends. With the national shortage of large animal vets, the attention to herd health becomes a critical factor for the small-scale producer. Here are seven natural remedies we keep on hand to treat everyday illnesses before they become serious enough to warrant a midnight call to the veterinarian, who may or may not be available.
Essential Home Remedies for Dairy Cow Farming: Garlic Tincture
Garlic is known as one of Nature’s best antibiotics. Here on our farm, Due North Organics, we’re growing garlic every year and use it to boost the immune system of susceptible cows at dry up and just before calving. A simple regiment of 6-30cc of garlic tincture, delivered either vaginally or orally for three days, can help even the most vulnerable animal stave off a nasty bout of mastitis or pneumonia.
Garlic is one of those remedies where more is not necessarily better. Start off with only 6cc once a day or 3cc twice a day when you’re trying to build up an immune system. On our farm, Wayne only uses the high doses when the situation is critical. “It’s hard to imagine that 6cc of garlic tincture is enough to affect a thousand-pound animal, but if it’s good tincture, the results are astounding.”
It’s critical to use the highest quality tincture available. If you’re buying it on the open market, you’ll pay more for the higher grade tincture, but it’s worth it. The good news is that garlic tincture is one of the easiest remedies to make. Simply peel enough organically grown garlic to fill a quart Mason jar to an inch below the neck. Pour high-quality alcohol over the cloves so they are covered. Seal the jar. Shake it every day for at least two weeks to allow some bruising of the cloves. This allows the alcohol to penetrate and thoroughly soak the cloves. (I prefer to let it go about three weeks.)
Pour the alcohol into a clean quart jar. Line a colander with cheesecloth and place a bowl under it. To make the tincture pour the cloves of garlic into the colander and cover with the cheese cloth. Place an old plate on top of the garlic. On top of the plate place a heavy rock or weight. Use one in the 10-pound range to ensure the cloves are crushed. Let the mixture drip into the bowl below for at least six hours. By then, the garlic has soaked up the alcohol and will release the strongest of its medicinal properties during the pressing. Be sure to give the cheesecloth a good twist over the colander before pouring the contents of the bowl into the alcohol in the Mason jar.
Essential Home Remedies for Dairy Cow Farming: Lactobacillus Acidophilus
Acidophilus is a beneficial bacteria which supports a healthy immune system in ruminants of every sort. However, during times of high-stress, such as dry-up, calving, a change in feed, or location, this beneficial flora is killed off by the increased acidity in the rumen. This supplement is easy to find, and easy to administer. It comes in gel caps which can be concealed in a little grain.
Essential Home Remedies for Dairy Cow Farming: Aloe Vera
Aloe vera medicinal uses vary widely, from treating skin problems to helping soothe digestion. If we have a calf with scours, Aloe Vera is a quick way to give them some relief. We buy organic Aloe Vera from a supplier that specializes in natural and homeopathic treatments for animals. However, if you grow aloe as a houseplant, you can pick a few leaves and use them. Pick the biggest leaves. Rinse the dust off and run the leaf, spikes and all, through a blender or food processor. Use a cheesecloth-lined colander as described above. Unless you heat it enough to pasteurize it, fresh-squeezed aloe only keeps one or two days. Use it immediately. Wayne pours aloe juice in the watering cups. The cows seem to like it. “I’ve never had one refuse to drink it from a cup,” says Wayne. Aloe can be applied externally to injured teats and other non-puncture wounds.
Essential Home Remedies for Dairy Cow Farming: Arnica Montana
Farmers and healers have been using arnica for bruises and other external injuries for hundreds of years. We keep this homeopathic remedy on hand to help members of the herd heal from traumatic injury, organ strain, cuts, abrasions and fever caused by the onset of a cold. “For a thousand-pound animal, six pills twice a day mixed in with their feed for five days seems to speed the healing process,” says Wayne. “And the pills are so tiny; the cows don’t balk at eating them. I use Arnica Montana in conjunction with garlic tincture if there’s been an injury or illness.”
Essential Home Remedies for Dairy Cow Farming: Tincture of Iodine
With the discovery of iodine, another antiseptic became available to treat the injuries of war. This is ironic when you consider that the guy who accidentally discovered it was looking for a way to kill as many of his fellow human beings as possible. In 1811 when Bernard Courtois was looking for a more efficient way to manufacture gun powder for Napoleon’s growing army, he found a way to make more gun powder and treat the wounds inflicted by gun powder. Every farm should have strong iodine on hand for wounds caused by horns, barbed wire fence, rocks in the pasture, infected insect bites, as well as minor surgical wounds.
Essential Home Remedies for Dairy Cow Farming: Licopodium
This homeopathic treatment is a ketosis specific remedy we keep on hand. Ketosis typically occurs in dairy cows in early lactation. Cows will be uninterested in eating and seem depressed or dull. They may also exhibit a lack of coordination and in extreme cases be unable to stand. Six tablets on the tongue once a day for five days seems to ease the symptoms and speed recovery times.
Essential Home Remedies for Dairy Cow Farming: Aspirin
Aspirin tablets for cows are huge. They have to be administered with a balling gun, which is nothing more than a tongue depressor with a trigger. The bolus (dosage) is lubricated with mineral oil, placed in the balling gun, and “shot” into the stomach. As with humans, aspirin relieves pain and fever in cows. And, as with humans, aspirin can cause stomach upset.
“Depending on what the issue is,” explains Wayne, “I always give either acidophilus or Aloe Vera along with the aspirin to guard against stomach upset.”
An adult cow can receive one or two 240-grain aspirin bolus every few hours. As with the garlic, start low and work your way up.
“Some cows will be fine a few hours after just one. Others need two,” says Wayne. “You have to know your animals in order to treat them.” Even if the medicine chest in your barn is well stocked, a call to the veterinarian is inevitable.
One of the worst mistakes a cow owner can make is waiting too long to call for help. This is especially true when the closest veterinarian is one or two counties away. The remedies we keep in the barn aren’t meant as a substitute for the qualified care of a professional. “If your gut tells you something is seriously wrong, don’t take a wait-and-see attitude,” advises Wayne. “Of course, if you use all the resources available to keep your herd healthy, the panicked calls to the vet in the middle of the night will be few and far between.”
Originally published in the January/February 2012 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal.