My Placement at a Riding Facility and Petting Zoo

This placement was super close to my parents house so it was very nice to be in town every day after working on the farm. This farm owned quite a few horses that were leased out or used for riding lessons. They also have tons of different animals that are part of a petting zoo….ferrets, chinchillas, guinea pigs, parrots, cows, pigs, chickens, peacocks, goats, emus, alpacas, llamas, hedgehogs, cats, dogs! I was also lucky enough to do this placement with my best friend/roommate (its about time we did a placement together!).

Each morning started with chores. Animals inside were taken care of first and stalls or pens mucked out. Then we grabbed the water truck and headed outside to all the outdoor animals. One of the problems with keeping animals outside in the winter is that you either have to have heated water containers (so no ice can form) or you have to go around and break all the ice out of the containers before filling them up! We brought a hammer to break up ice.

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At this point, I became pretty good friends with one of the parrots who rode around in my hood to stay warm.

All the animals outside received extra bedding or grain to help them keep warm when it snowed. Many of the horses wore thick blankets as well. Some animals require more specialized feed. For example, the guinea pigs received extra vitamin C and D in their water because they are prone to deficiencies.

There were 3 older horses who had a hard time eating hay and getting enough energy so we brought them inside every day and gave them a mixture of grain and beet pulp.

 

Horses were ‘worked’ or ‘broken’ later in the afternoon. Often they spent a long time running around in a circle on the end of a lunge line. During one session the vet came out from a nearby equine clinic to look at an older horse that had tripped hard earlier in the week. I took a couple of minutes to chat to the vet about Metacam and how it is metabolized differently in the horse than other animals.

My friend and I spent some time working with a pony. He will eventually be pulling carts and working with young kids so he needs to be quite comfortable with unknown sights and sounds. We ran him around in circles and over jumps. We also rolled barrels and a large exercise ball close to and over him. The pony was very uncomfortable with us touching his back and hind end. With some more work this pony will be well on his way to cart pulling!

Another day we assisted with breaking a horse to a wagon. Last time this horse was hooked up to the wagon she freaked out and sat on the bar (a very dangerous situation)! We made sure to move slowly and calmly. First we pulled the cart around the horse so she could get use to how it looked and moved. Then we walked the horse around the cart. Lastly, we slowly hooked the horse to the cart and then walked beside her in the arena. The session went very well.

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We spent a lot of time grooming horses, sweeping the barn, organizing the tack room, watering down the arena (to keep the dust down), blanketing and moving horses, and oiling tack. Tack is oiled to ensure the leather stays supple, smooth, and in good condition so that it can be used for many years.

 

On our last day of placement we worked on some worksheets about horse health, anatomy, and care. However, the highlight of this day was learning to ride English.  Previously, all my riding experience has been in Western saddles so this was quite fun for me. A couple of staff members were working with a young horse–getting him used to being ridden and the commands he needs to follow. My friend and I were riding older horses in the arena so the young horse would feel less nervous.

I had a lot of fun being around (and learning about) the huge assortment of animals at this farm. Thank you for the opportunity!

 

My Placement on a Robotic Dairy Farm

This last week I completed a placement on a robotic dairy farm. I was very interested to see how a dairy functioned/filled up their time if there wasn’t 2 or 3 scheduled milking times a day. Through this week I learned that dairy operations are all about routine and cycles.

Each day starts and ends with feeding calves. We would use diverted milk from the robots and milk from the bulk tank to fill a portable pasteurizer. The machine would warm the milk to a sufficient temperature for calves. Specific amounts of milk could be dispensed from the pasteurizer into nipple buckets for the calves. Older calves were group housed and also received pellets. Sometimes calves have not learned how to drink off the nipple buckets and we have to help/teach them. Newborn calves are taken off their mothers and bottle fed (or stomach tubed) 2L of colostrum 3 times in the first 12 hours. The babies also receive a preventative scours pill.

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This calf is settling down for a nap after her bottle of colostrum. 

Other regular chores include moving animals around the farm depending on what stage in their lactation cycle they are at. Cows that are kept outside will grow a winter coat so they can keep warm. Once the cows are brought inside (because they are fresh) they will be too hot and sweaty in the barn. One day I spent a bit of time trimming a cow so she would be more comfortable. (I hope they aren’t planning on showing her anytime soon!). Checking young stock for foot problems, pink eye, gait, signs of estrus, signs of abortions in bred cows, etc. is also a daily task. Three times during the day the mattress beds are raked clean and bedding spread out. This helps to keep the cows clean and comfortable reducing the risk of infection.

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These are memory foam beds with a rubber mat on top and gypsum bedding. DYK that cows produce more milk if they are lying down and ruminating? This is great incentive for farmers to make sure their cows are as comfortable as possible!

It is always essential to make sure the robots are working properly. This involves checking stats and alarms on the computer in the office. Sometimes cows that go through the robots are marked as ‘incomplete’ because not all 4 quarters of their udder were milked. Each of these cows needs to be found in the barn and checked (possibly mastitis, kicking off cups, bad conformation, etc) and then milked out. I stripped a quarter of an udder by hand in a cow that had mastitis (we did a CMT test first) and then gave her treatment. Each time we medicate a cow that treatment needs to be entered into the computer system so that when the robot milks her the treated milk can be diverted out of the bulk tank.

Outside of the regular routine on the dairy we artificially inseminated (AI) a couple of cows based on the observation of estrus behavior (mounting), activity levels recorded in the computer, and days in milk.

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This is a liquid nitrogen storage container for semen straws used for AI. 

Every 2 weeks on the dairy a herd health check is completed by the veterinarian. On Wednesday the vet was doing pre-breed checks and preg-checks. I grabbed a glove and palpated along behind the vet trying to feel the things he was describing. (For my non-animal friends this does mean that I was sticking my arm up cow butts). Next, we went to another barn and preg-checked heifers to assess if they were open(not pregnant), bred (pregnant), or needed to be started on an ovsynch protocol. When the vet comes he sedates some of the older calves so that we can go through and dehorn them with a hot iron dehorner. Cattle need to be dehorned to make the farm safer for other animals and staff.

On Friday I was lucky enough to be put in contact with the farm’s nutritionist. Well managed farms will typically consult with a nutritionist to formulate appropriate diets for the different groups of animals. It was a farm call day for the nutritionist so as we drove around we chatted about feed, agriculture, dairies, school, etc. The first dairy we visited was a simpler operation than the one I was on all week. The most interesting area was the nurse cows. Cows that were not good milkers were removed from the herd and put in a pen with calves. The calves suckled naturally from the cows until they were about 5 months of age. We visited a second dairy after lunch as well. I found it interesting that not only did the nutritionist complete Pen State Shaker tests, discuss rations, and evaluate feed–he also consulted the farm on all other areas of management.

Professional hoof trimmers will visit dairy barns a few times a year. Lameness/gait issues are often a major problem in dairy barns. To treat cows with foot rot, ulcers, and other problems the regular staff can do touch ups on the cattle. I learned that sometimes the hoof trimmer will add a wooden block to the hoof to reduce pressure on certain areas and promote healing.

 

The farmer I spent some of my time with this week is extremely forward thinking and willing to try new things to move his farm business forward. One of his latest trials included feeding yucca as an additive. According to the workers the yucca seemed to be increasing the dry matter intake of the cows and stabilizing intake over the week. I’ve seen many cool feeds for dairy cattle on other farms including: brewers grains, candy, oranges/lemons, grapeseed, etc.

I got to practice my cattle clinical skills this week with IV injections through the jugular, drawing blood through the tail vein, giving intra-mammary infusions and several intramuscular injections, palpating, and even trying my hand at dehorning!

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These friendly ladies supervised me as I worked all week. 

 

I apologize for the long post! I had a lot of fun on the dairy this week; it reminded me of my time in my undergrad studying dairy science, preparing for the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge and competing at the regional and national competitions in California and Indiana. I would highly recommend this competition to any pre-vet or vet students in North America!

Dairy farming is quite different in North America than it is in Australia! I would love to chat more about the differences in the industry with anyone interested.

For a brief overview of the robotic farm I was at check out this quirky video a few of my previous classmates made:

 

My Placement on a Purebred Beef Operation

I am having so much fun doing my placements, spending time outside, networking, learning from people, and working with animals! I’m glad so many people love to read my blog and keep up with my adventures as well. Anybody who knows me knows how much I like cows, so I was really looking forward to this placement! This past week I was completing a placement on a beef farm. My friend from vet school in Australia was visiting Canada and came out to the farm with me.

Each morning on the farm starts with chores. Each group of cows or bulls receives different amounts of feed (and sometimes different types). On this farm we would load the tractor with corn silage. Some animals would also receive haylage, mineral, or grain. We also added salt blocks to each pen so the cattle can lick essential minerals and salt that they need.

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My view from the tractor seat, on the left you can see the corn silage pile, straight ahead are bales used for feed and bedding. 

Another tractor with a ‘bale buster’ attachement would drive into each pen and shred a bale up for bedding. Fresh straw and bedding was added daily to keep the cattle warm, clean, and dry. New bedding is a great way to improve herd health and decrease risk of disease.

 

Its calving season! This is usually a pretty busy time of year so I was happy to help out and experience many different activities on farm this week. Because this farm was a purebred beef operation they calve out (have their cows give birth) in Jan and Feb so that the yearling bulls (bulls that are 1 year old) are reading for breeding and sale in the spring to commercial operations.

Nightly checks on the cows and their calves occur every 2-3 hours depending on how cold it is. The colder the weather the more often checking the cows is required. If a calf is born outside (instead of in the barn) it could freeze its ears off or even freeze to death! It is also important to make sure that no cows are having trouble calving over night and need assistance. This week, my friend and I saw 2 calves that had to be pulled. The first calf was a very large heifer calf. The dam’s vaginal wall was not dilated enough and was putting too much pressure on the calf. The second calf we saw pulled was a very long and large bull calf.

Every night before heading back to the house we looked at all the cows in the pre-calving and calving pens to separate them out and bring them into the barn if they looked like they were ready to give birth. The barn is also heavily bedded down with fresh straw. One morning we found twin heifer calves born outside in the snow. They were quickly brought into the barn to warm up–no frost or freezing damage! It was very exciting to see that both calves were females, as this means there was no risk of freemartinism.

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The two heifer calves snuggled up in the warm barn; only 24 hours old.

This farm has a bull sale at the end of Feb so we spent a decent amount of time preparing the bulls for sale this week. One afternoon we ran the 2 year old bulls through the chute/squeeze to change out their ear tags and trim up their back hair. The hair on their back’s was cut shorter so buyers can better visualize the conformation of the bull. In winter, animals that live outside will grow a ‘winter coat’–lots of extra hair to keep warm! We used a torch to get rid of the long hair on the bull’s backs. We didn’t trim or groom this much, but if you are interested in torching and preparing for show please watch this video. (Note: this is NOT the only technique of grooming and cleaning cattle).

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This Simmental bull is caught in the head gate of the squeeze. This equipment is used for both the bull and our safety. 

 

The bulls are also filmed before the sale so that the clips can play during auction. This means the bulls do not actually have to be walked into the sale–this decreases stress and handling for both the farmers and the bulls. Working with bulls (especially when we separated them out singly for filming) can be dangerous. You need to be aware and on your toes at all times! My friend was charged by 2 bulls and had to jump the fence!

 

On the last day of the week we spent the majority of our time helping with semen testing bulls. It is important that the bulls are fertile and producing effective semen before they are sold or bred. The vet is called out to the farm for the test. The vet will measure scrotal size, palpate and stimulate secondary sex organs, insert electroejaculator, and then collect and analyze semen. For a more detailed (but brief) overview of semen testing please read this blog post from an Australian cattle station. While this was happening my friend and I ensured each bull had an RFID tag and vaccinated for pink eye and foot rot. Injections in cattle are given in the neck to protect the good cuts of meat from trauma, bruises, or broken needles.

After a fantastic week of placement I rushed back to the city for a short shift at the vet clinic! (ahhh the life of a student…)

Thank you again to the families who treat me as their own and teach me their way of life!

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P.S.:Some fun side activities this week involved visiting a Boer goat (meat breed) farm and a rabbit farm. The rabbit farm was quite small but still interesting to see as my grandparents used to farm rabbits but I haven’t experienced it in many years.