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cow eating dirt?

 
                    
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We acquired a pregnant Jersey cow last week.  Daisey Mae is going to be calving in a month or so.  There wasn't a whole lot of grass in her previous pasture, and we were told by her former owner that she'd be slowly switching over from hay to grass over a few weeks, as the bugs in her stomach adjust. 

There is a bucket with a bit of dried kelp in it in her pen (which we've been pulling around our our field so that she has new grass several times a day) as this is the salt source that Joel Salatin provides his cows, but we were told to feed her nothing other than hay and grass and the salt source until she has the baby. 

The first days she was here we observed her licking up mole hills.  She ate the whole thing!  We asked the previous owner about it, he asked if we were providing salt and we said yes, and he didn't know anything.  She seems to have stopped, or at least we haven't seen her doing it the last few days. 

Anyone know of this behavior?  What it means?  Is it unhealthy?  Is it perfectly normal for a very pregnant cow?  Should we provide a different salt source? 
 
Emil Spoerri
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It's called Pica and it means thems dirt got some minerals ur cow needs!

It should be fine for a cow if she doesn't do it too often in the wrong places, though I would be a bit more worried if a goat or a sheep did it, having more trouble with parasites and all.

They sell some edible dirt that might get her to stop. Azomite is one, can't recall any others.
 
Emerson White
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I disagree, I suspect that she is searching for better microbes for her gut, when cows are intestinally unballanced they tend to search for new microbes, it's common feed lot behavior, because the cows are not happy being fed corn. I believe they have something that they use for it, to stabilize the pH, but I wouldn't bother. If there are other grazing animals on the field she will soon pick up there gut flora/fauna and be right as rain.
 
                    
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That's what we thought, Emerson.  She has been on dry hay all winter and the first day she was here she didn't eat any grass at all.  She's been eating more and more each day.  We were told she needs to switch gradually so her guts can adjust, and eventually she'd ignore her hay when the microbes have switched over to the fresh stuff.  She's the only cow right now.  Our pigs eat grass but they aren't ruminants. 

Could this be related to the possible calcium deficiency discussed in the grass fed milk cow thread? 
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
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Marina, I don't think it's anything to do with the calcium issue.  I think the other posters are right, and she was balancing her gut flora with the change in feed, and possibly balancing her minerals, at the same time.  You are doing the right thing with the kelp as a mineral source -- wish I could find some here without having to order it!

I would, however, worm her as soon as she calves -- you will need more specific advice from someone experienced with cattle on that (e-mail Joel Salatin?!?  or surely there must be a forum for people keeping dairy cows organically on grass), but with the goats, they have to be wormed the day after they kid, because the hormones and stress of kidding allows the internal parasites to have a field day -- it seems to trigger an explosion of growth in them.  Worming the day after they kid, with a three-day withdrawal (on the wormer I use), means that the milk is good for us to use about the same time that the colostrum turns into milk, so it works out well.  I don't know if cattle have this issue or not, but since she's been eating dirt, and very likely picking up parasite eggs with it, it seems like it would be a good idea.

If you do find a helpful forum for cattle, could you post the things that you learn here, so others can benefit from them, too?  I don't know if I'll ever have a cow (I'd love to have the cream so I could make butter), but I'm sure there will be others here who will.

Kathleen
 
Emil Spoerri
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:
Marina, I don't think it's anything to do with the calcium issue.  I think the other posters are right, and she was balancing her gut flora with the change in feed, and possibly balancing her minerals, at the same time.  You are doing the right thing with the kelp as a mineral source -- wish I could find some here without having to order it!

I would, however, worm her as soon as she calves -- you will need more specific advice from someone experienced with cattle on that (e-mail Joel Salatin?!?  or surely there must be a forum for people keeping dairy cows organically on grass), but with the goats, they have to be wormed the day after they kid, because the hormones and stress of kidding allows the internal parasites to have a field day -- it seems to trigger an explosion of growth in them.  Worming the day after they kid, with a three-day withdrawal (on the wormer I use), means that the milk is good for us to use about the same time that the colostrum turns into milk, so it works out well.  I don't know if cattle have this issue or not, but since she's been eating dirt, and very likely picking up parasite eggs with it, it seems like it would be a good idea.

If you do find a helpful forum for cattle, could you post the things that you learn here, so others can benefit from them, too?  I don't know if I'll ever have a cow (I'd love to have the cream so I could make butter), but I'm sure there will be others here who will.

Kathleen


Hrm, sure it's good for you, but what about the kids? And what if you want some colostrum? That stuff is realllly good.

At first it tastes kind of gross. But then you want more. And then it's all gone...
 
                    
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We haven't seen her licking dirt in days now.  I think it was part of her adjustment to the fresh grass. 

I suspect our pasture's parasite load is low.  She's the only cow that's been here for a really long time, like, 50 or so years.  Not that she didn't have parasites when she arrived.....

We move her current pen (six stock panels) around a few times a day.  She's not ever going to be turned out in a big area to graze freely.  When we get her into a larger enclosure it'll still be a fairly small area that she'll only stay in a day.  And a few days later we'll have the chickens come through and do their grub eating pasture sanitation thing, just like Joel!  I don't think he "does" email, unfortunately. 

I will return to this website and then post useful stuff here, if I have time. 
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
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Marina, even if there had never been cows on your land, there have been deer, and they do share some parasites with cattle.  You should probably do some checking with vets in your area, find out who treats livestock, and ask some questions.

Kathleen
 
                    
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Agreed!  Will do. 
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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