UK farming part 1 : Calves

When I was on a placement in Dorset I became really engaged with farming. I visited some of the best farms in the UK and I also saw standard, average and below par ones. I really saw how different each farm is, met some really dedicated farmers and I want to write about what I know and see as a vet student and future vet.

So I’m going to write a series of blogs about different aspects of farming

My goals with farming is that I believe we should concentrate on the quality of production rather than the quantity. Humans don’t need dairy and meat to survive but I enjoy eating it and think as it’s not going to be stopped any time soon we might as well produce it in the best way possible. I want to stop mass production and bring it back to concentrating more on welfare and environment within farming. If we as consumers change our mindset to meat being a treat rather than taking it for advantage then we’d be prepared to pay more for it. Ideally, more money would go back to the farmers and they can spend more money per animal because they’re getting more for each animal and don’t have to produce so many or so much. It isn’t viable to keep producing at the rate we are. But actually if we shared it around better and only ate meat/dairy, say, once or twice a week then everything would be so much more manageable and hopefully fairer and better for all lives involved.

I don’t want producing as much as possible for as cheap as possible (because that’s what consumers are asking for) but producing a good all round product for the amount of money that it costs to do so.

So as a vet,

Welfare is most important to me. We also need to make sure that a farmer’s business is sustainable and viable for their animals sake and our business with the farmer. We have to find ways to make us useful that doesn’t necessarily mean us getting them to spend money on drugs. Especially antibiotics, we’re all driving away from using them. And the best way to avoid antibiotics is to prevent the disease in the first place. We’re being encouraged to actually use our time and knowledge more wisely. Spend an hour or two on a farm, look for areas that are great, look for areas that could improve or could be causing some of the problems that the farmer talks about.

The calf pens made a huge stir a couple of years ago.  There were  large calves in these pens. I was talking to the vets who knew the farm and they were gobsmacked. Ironically, they said, it was one of the best farms in the area.

http://www.itv.com/news/2017-03-28/heartbreaking-footage-of-calves-caged-in-pens-at-farm-which-supplies-milk-to-marks-spencer-is-released/

The farm in particular had had a recent positive reactor on it’s tb test. This means that the farm was essentially shut down because it has been found to have an animal that may or may not have tb. It is immediately not allowed to remove (sell on) or bring on to the farm any more animals. Therefore these calves were due to be sent to another farm for rearing. But they were no longer allowed to be moved for another 120days at least. (until the next tb test is 100% negative). The farmer wasn’t set up to keep these calves so had to make do. This was the only way he could keep them.

As vets we really like these calf pens. (but yes those calves do look pretty big for those pens) They mean calves can be by themselves while they are really young (and most vulnerable to catching infections) but still see and interact with other calves. Then when they’re older and stronger they can be moved into group pens. Being outside, it means they’re less likely to get respiratory problems and pneumonia which is very common when they’re kept In sheds with little ventilation. The small pen is easy to keep clean and it’s very easy to keep track of each calf and reduce the spread of infection. If one of the calves comes down it’s only a couple that are affected not 25 etc, like you might see being kept in a barn.

A well fed and healthy calf should thrive within this kind of housing. A good bed of hay in each hutch and they’ll easily be warm enough.

A great sign of a happy and healthy calf is when they jump and kick their legs out and run about. And actually, I’ve seen a lot of playful happy calves in these kind of hutches.

Calf hutch / individual / polyethylene / with yard

When calves get old enough to move into group pens they often go into a group of up to five so that they can still be monitored more easily for any health problems. The older and stronger they get the bigger the group they can go into essentially. I loved the farm photographed below. The calves here have collars on that have a specific chip for each calf. When the calf feels hungry it learns to go to the machine (not pictured) which will read the chip and the machine lets down it’s food quota. This way the farmer can see which animals are eating as expected, which need more and which aren’t eating as much as they should be. Those that aren’t can then be identified and checked out to make sure they aren’t becoming ill.

Each calf also had a temperature gauge on it’s ear ID. the thermometers work by reading the temperature of each calf every hour or so. If a calf’s temperature has been repeatedly too high for six hours or so, the thermometer light beams red which will notify the farmer to keep an eye on the calf. Usually the thermometer gauges the very early stages of an illness, so early in fact that there are no other symptoms and therefore we can’t treat the animal! or we just have to guess! But it’s fantastic for being prepared and being able to monitor each animal.

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There is quite a lot of controversy regarding calves and the separation from their mother after birth.

It’s a difficult one and most vets will generally weigh up their knowledge and experience and come up with an opinion. Personally, I don’t think it’s a huge deal taking a calf off of it’s mother within a day or two of being born. Having worked with the animals a lot. A calf will be happy and thrive if it is fed and has interaction with other animals. It’s not very natural I definitely agree but I could argue that it was justifiable. Some people argue that letting a calf stay with it’s mother for a week or two and then taking it away is better. But actually, they have had time to build up a bond, a routine and learned how to deal with the environment that includes each other. To suddenly take that away from the two, i think that could be crueler? But it’s controversial and very debatable. There is also quite a noticable lack of mothering qualities in milking cows. It is believed that they were bred like it. But a beef cow will generally fight off anyone threatening her and her calf yet a dairy cow, though they are generally less temperamental anyway, don’t put up any kind of a fight if you go in and take their calf.

The reason a calf is taken from it’s mother is so that the mother can start producing milk for the milk industry, rather than give it to her calf.

There are a lot of other reasons for why we take a calf away from it’s mother. Disease is a big reason. There are a number of diseases that spread from mother to calf. Milk and faeces are the main way they are spread. Johnes is a great example of a disease and It’s a life long disease in a cow. It’s pretty complicated and long winded but essentially the key to getting rid of the disease is the either kill every animal with it (which is usually high if it is present in the herd and not realistic to kill them all). Or we can stop the next generation from catching it and therefore over a number of years reduce the number of animals in the herd that have it.  Stop the calves from catching it and by the time they are adults they are less likely to catch it. but a calf that catches it off it’s mum will carry it for the rest of it’s life and never grow as well or be as productive or healthy.

Another reason why calves are taken from their mothers is to make sure that they get the right amount and quality of milk.

So, yes, we create a lot of the problems by farming intensively that we then have to solve. Because we ask cows to produce so much milk the quality (so the amount of fat and protein) can hugely vary. The amount can also vary too. Because of this we can’t control how much a calf will get. The first drink for a calf is the most important. The colostrum contains a huge amount of fat, protein and antibodies that will help the calf fight disease until it can develop its own. A calf that doesn’t get a decent amount will really struggle to get on in life, it will probably catch more diseases, probably not grow as well and just not thrive or live as long. And therefore to control the health of the calves, when there are so many calves around sometimes it’s easier to take on the full management and know exactly how much a calf is getting by feeding it directly yourself..

Calves for now

 

I love cows

There will be more to come

Rebecca x

 

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Looking back.

It’s scary how two months have gone since my last blog post. My initial thoughts were that It has just been an empty kind of two months. It has felt like I’ve just been eating, working and sleeping. The eating and sleeping bits have been great! But I haven’t enjoyed them as much as I could have because of the working bit.

I don’t have much to complain about, I’m just being worked hard at the moment. I want more freedom, I want to know what the day is going to bring and when I will be able to go home. I’m quite fed up of being a student and I’d like a job and to stay in one place for more than two weeks is a dream at the moment. It feels like i’m tip-toeing around trying to please everyone and even pander to their whims just to pass each week. I just can’t be arsed anymore. I feel like maybe I don’t need to prove myself anymore. It’s a nice feeling in a way.

But here are some of the good things I’ve been up to in the past two months!

Dorset

I spent a month around Dorset on some farm placements. I explored Chesil beach before spending the weekend with Rosie and her family. We visited the beautiful Sherborne Castle.

I spent two weeks with two other vet students in Shitterton. It was really nice to get to know the two of them. It was a hard two weeks with tons of work to do but we still managed to have fun and visit a couple of pubs while we were there.

I have also discovered Huel, a meal replacement type thing. It’s now what I have for lunch. It is vegan and supposed to have all the dietary requirements needed. I’m usually and was at first against the idea of it. But actually I bought it in the end to make it easier to travel and not to have to worry about lunch, to be able to monitor how much i’m eating better and i think really, i just wanted some control over what I was eating and in my life in general! It has been a blessing regards lunched. Just three scoops and add some water and i’m good to go. I don’t have to get up early or make sure I get to a shop or buy anything. Just that extra thing to not worry about. Possibly lazy, but I’ll take it.

Utrecht

I visited Utrecht university for another farm placement. It was a very long and tiring and sometimes hard two weeks. But it was fantastic getting to spend a decent amount of time in one European city. It was great to get to know a place. We cycled into the campus every morning and evening and checked out a decent number of pubs.. again.

I love stroopwafels! Ah!

Rosie even managed to come and visit at the weekend and we rented a gorgeously cute little apartment looking over one of the canals. It was lovely. We all checked out the gay bars one night forgetting how bad we are at drinking these days.

We did all the touristy classics going up the tower and going on a boat trip.

 

London

But I was glad to finally get home and chill with the Doggo!

I’m working in central london for three weeks and got to stay with Rosie for nearly two of them which was great fun! One Tuesday evening we bought tickets to a book talk with Ali Smith at Foyles. We’re both big fans of her work and just her in general. She is so grounded and fair and honest and sees the world in such an incredible way.

One evening we watched a documentary about an anorexia clinic in London. Rosie knew of someone who had been into one. It was a hard documentary to watch. But a very thought provoking one. I have had some issues in the past that could have been a lot lot worse and I watched the people in the clinic and wondered why I seemed able to avoid getting as low as they were. Why i seem able to get by by knowing my signs and managing them yet others can’t and suffer so much more.  This will have to be another blog sometime in the future. It just made us think about personality types and how difficult, demanding, intimidating and out of control our world is at the moment.

Glasgow

Rosie went to Glasgow while I still had work in London. She went up for a concert on Saturday evening. I joined her on Friday evening and we had some of the weekend to chill and explore Glasgow together. Rosie knows the place a little from previous work but i had never been. It was a beautiful weekend which probably made it even better, but I loved Glasgow. It has some amazing places and spaces, parks and museums, shops and resturants. We got a hostel looking over a park and it was beautiful. Crisp air with everyone walking around in scarves, lots of doggies, we could see ourselves living there. Maybe one day!

On the evening of the concert we met up just before to grab some dinner. We went to a Southern India restaurant which was delish! Never eaten Southern before, we tried different chapatis and a lamb curry and it was so yum!

I was a bit of a soppy git and bought Rosie some roses and a keyring with out photo on it before the concert. It was a big deal for her and I could tell she was quite nervous. But she was fantastic and pleased with how it went. She definitely underestimates how good she is, but I feel like most people do when they’re trying to get somewhere. It’s hard to know what people expect and want and are looking for… in many careers i think.

After the concert we checked out a couple of gay bars and got ridiculously tipsy and giddy and no drinks whatsoever (cheap dates) and headed back picking up some  Belgian fries on the way home 😛 nommm

In the morning we checked out one of the restaurants Rosie has been too for breakfast and I had a full English which was FULL ON.

Glasgow

London

Back to London. I Stayed at Rosie’s for a couple more days and we had dinner with some of her friends and made mince pies one evening! We were both doing different hours to each other so often we didn’t have much time in the mornings or evenings but I love spending an hour or two just chilling with her or even just talking about our day in bed before one of us falls asleep first.

I’ve got into crosswords and puzzles again, first time since I was a kid! The guys in my placement group have been picking up the newspaper on the train and we’ve been working on them during lunch. It made me want to go back home and finish them with Rosie. We spent a good couple of evenings working on them. We are rubbishly awful at the cryptic ones though!

I had the first Amnesty talk this week too! It wasn’t very well attended but it was really interesting to hear more about what Amnesty does and make some connections. I feel like our group can only get better and stronger as it’s only early days yet. It’s just a shame that I’m not on campus very often and so it is difficult to meet up regularly or get bits done.

Rosie has gone back up to Scotland for more work so I’m currently staying with my grandparents who live in central London too. I’m so lucky to have family in London.

I went to watch Young Marx last night at the Bridge theatre. It is supposed to be one of, if not the newest theatre in London. It was great, a fantastic theatre with leather seats. Different. Doesn’t have the same detail architecture that the older theatres have. But a nice big stage!. The play was great, really funny, definitely recommend. I got a £15 ticket and it was definitely worth it and I could see most of the stage, all of the action anyway!.

The story outline kind of annoyed me though. Marx in the play was an absolute arsehole that used and was awful to his friends, family and supporters and yet he got away with it because he was a genius. I don’t know. Just rung of ‘boys will be boys’ and that’s rubbish. It was funny and lighthearted but not a great message. There was remorse at the end of course. And it was a comedy but just a bit samey really.

You can see a photo of one of the cuties that I helped look after while being in London. It has reminded me of how much I enjoy small animal work. I really do enjoy both small and farm. And I wonder whether I could just do small animal. It would be quite a lot easier than finding somewhere that has both. Would I regret only going into one and not the other though?

 

So yeah! Actually really an amazing couple of months! Haha! I really don’t have anything to complain about. Just haven’t had a massive amount of time to myself to be able to write a blog I guess! I have basically been working and then chilling to recoup for the following day.

Na, yeah I have nothing to complain about in life.

I do feel used by my university and I am fed up of being a student but diddums! I’ll suck it up and keep going. There isn’t really a huge amount left!

Glad I have written this blog. Need to remind myself actually how great things are for me. You so easily get absorbed into the problems of you’re own life and forget how easy you actually have it.

Write again, sooner next time.

Rebecca x