Thursday, June 2, 2011

To Medicate or Not to Medicate?

That is the question...or not.  When we first got the baby calves, we had some non-medicated milk replacer on hand.  I had gone to two farm stores to find some; the cashier at the first strongly advised me to buy medicated, and the cashier at the second had a couple bags in stock that someone had ordered and never picked up.  "People always buy the medicated," she told me.  I bought the non-medicated.

Now, I don't have an agriculture or animal science degree.  In fact, we realize we have a steep learning curve with any of our farming endeavors.  However, on this issue in particular, I've been wondering why the farming community at large purchases medicated everything.  Especially since calves on milk replacer are susceptible to scours (diarrhea) and can thus dehydrate.  Last time my kids were on antibiotics (it's been a couple years at least), they got diarrhea, too, since the antibiotics destroy the bad and the good bacteria in your body.  Wouldn't the medicated milk replacer essentially be doing the same in the calves' bodies?

Don't get me wrong; antibiotics have saved lives and continue to do so.  But are there other ways to be preventive of disease in both animals and people?  We're moving the calves to fresh pasture every two days at the most, they're eating grass now (apparently another industry no-no), we're not feeding them grain supplements, and they're growing.  But if they were still with their moms, wouldn't they be out in the field doing exactly the same thing?  Grain-based cattle farming seems to perpetuate a viscous cycle: feed cows grain, they get sick because they have difficulty digesting it, medicate, repeat.  The only benefit seems to be that the cattle get fatter much more quickly.

I may stand corrected if the calves drop dead tomorrow or next week or next I said, we have a bit of a learning curve.  But we're trying our best to educate ourselves, whether it be from "grass farmers" such as the folks at Polyface, or the wonderful farmers we know around here who think we're a bit nuts.

Apologies for the brevity of this post!  I have a homeschooling seminar three days this week and the general busyness of life is piling up that sinkfull of dishes that I won't get to until at least 10 p.m. tonight.  Thanks for bearing with me...lots of updates to come!


  1. I know w/ chicks they recommend the medicated food just for the first month, then they get off it. Apparently there is a lot that they can be susceptible too in the beginning. I wondered about it as well, but we went ahead w/ the medicated. I'm sure your calves will be just fine!

  2. Chicks are in such close confinement at first, too, so that seems like an understandable precaution. With the cows, we were more concerned with dealing with dehydration that diarrhea would create than possible sicknesses. They're about a month old now, and so far, so good. :)

  3. interesting! are the cows for milk or meat?

  4. Meat! No milk cow until the house is DONE...too much of a time commitment!