Mystery illness with young heifer calves finally solved


We escaped the storm with little damage, and whilst there were high winds, it was nothing like 1987 here.

Damage occurred elsewhere of course and we saw evidence of that in this newspaper. The following day was a very nice sunny day and I called the contractors in to cut the grass for third cut silage; they and no doubt others in the area thought this was not all that sensible considering the storm had dumped an inch and a half of rain on its way past. The grass was wet, but this was a snatch operation before conditions become too wet on the clay to make it at all.

The following day was also very nice and windy, and the grass picked up in the machine surprisingly well, and we cleared all but 40 acres which remains uncut, but is on fairly dry land. Ground conditions were surprisingly good, and apart from the gateways the fields are largely unmarked. Not an exercise I want to repeat, and we should have gone three weeks ago despite the Ag-Bag contractor not being available.

Well here we are in November and the grass is still growing, it’s still warm and growth will continue until the first frost arrives.

The heifers are still out grazing away with two to three weeks of grazing ahead of them. Sheep have arrived and they are following them around tidying up, and taking the grass down a bit further, eating the brambles, leaves and anything else they fancy. They are quite good at levelling out the ground with their tiny hoofs, leaving the field in good order when they have finished.

The builders are struggling with this weather, mud and water everywhere, but at least it’s warm. Things are going well, but have slowed down considerably since the rain came and finishing at Christmas is now becoming January.

We’ll be glad when it’s all over as it is very disruptive, diggers and dumpers all over the place, digging holes here, trenches there, pouring concrete, digging up old concrete, and so on.

We have had a problem with the young heifer calves at Tillington which has taxed everyone’s mind, including the vet. Some of them started to scour and became dehydrated as a result of that, becoming quite ill.

It looked like worms, but they had been wormed and were not due for another wormer, but we took a dung sample anyway and it came back negative. We thought of all the nasty’s like salmonella, but all tests came back negative.

They were out on grass and fed concentrates, but the sick ones which were brought in were slowly recovering, and not all of them were ill. The senior female vet from our practice came up with the answer, which was that the grass was so lush and full of water that in conjunction with concentrate (fed generously to compensate for the grass being low value at this time of year, especially when so wet) was causing acidosis in the rumen, which left unchecked was destroying the rumen lining; the papillae.

These are finger like projections of only 5mm all over the rumen wall which enable the animal to absorb energy.

Fortunately we had taken some straw over which they could munch at, something we do at this time of year, but this time we were completely caught out and it is a lesson we will not forget.

The papillae will take about a month to grow back, but there is no reason why the animals should not make a full recovery, although this has been a major check for them.

You never stop learning in farming and being late with some straw has caused quite a problem for these animals, something we could have avoided.

The grass growth this autumn has been phenomenal, and whilst all the animals grazing it are doing very well, it seemed that a bit of concentrate to help the youngest ones along was a step too far without roughage.

Now that my bank have shut the Petworth branch where two very helpful ladies used to know us all and offer excellent service, I have to drive to Haslemere and produce ID even when transferring from one account to the other!

I couldn’t help noticing as I sat waiting to be seen in the small room having no adequate ID with me (!), a huge yellow poster claiming that ‘We are the first major bank to go carbon neutral’. Well good for you, but has it been done by closing rural branches? My carbon footprint has increased now as I have to drive to Haselmere; maybe it’s carbon transfer to the customer?

Supermarkets are at last facing pressure to remove junk food from around check-out tills. The Department of Health says it now accepts evidence that food on display where customers queue is ‘less healthy than elsewhere’.

This is a policy U-turn, and goodness me it must have been really difficult to understand this problem; indeed it is only after a re-shuffle that we now have a Minister (Jane Ellison) who is willing to act. Her predecessor Anna Soubry would not have it that parents would give in to pestering children at the checkout, claiming that those who talked of ‘guilt lanes’ were talking nonsense.

We now seem to now have a Minister in place who is not detached from reality, although this issue has reached Prime Minister level and is known as the ‘chocolate Orange test’! After David Cameron attacked WH Smith for offering cut price chocolate oranges or large bars of chocolate instead of real oranges when one bought a newspaper, he was challenged by Ed Milliband. How can the Prime Minister tackle the banks, the energy companies and the train companies if he can’t tackle the chocolate orange issue?

Hot on the heels of this is the ground-breaking revelation that butter is good for you.

Leading cardiologist Aseem Malhotra of Croydon University Hospital made my day when he said that dairy products and fat from ‘real’ food protects the heart. If you have a choice between butter and margarine, take the butter every time were his wise words, although he added that a Mediterranean diet of olive oil, fish, meat fruit and vegetables is the best way to protect the heart (and sunshine maybe?).

He claims that the mantra of removing saturated fat to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease over the last 40 years, according to scientific evidence is not only flawed, but has actually increased cardiovascular risk.

He bravely puts this down to the stubbornness of doctors who do not like to admit that they are wrong. He pointed out that in the United States over the past 30 years, the proportion of energy from consumed fat had fallen from 40% to 30%, but obesity had rocketed. Taking the fat out removed the good taste of food, so it was replaced with sugar.