Losing her prized calf, Titanic, has Brigitte Ruthman thinking a little differently about dairy-producing priorities. Ruthman, owner of a tiny dairy, has been on this blog before in connection with her clashes with Massachusetts agriculture regulators, who have tried to get her to discontinue making milk available to a handful of herdshare owners in the western part of the state.

I’ll let her tell the story of her calf.

As an experienced herdsman I can tell you that we never gave calves immunizations at birth…and three calves have fared well under similar circumstances here. But it was apparent something Titanic nibbled on after being let out in his second day of life, e coli or salmonella, got into his gut.

We never saw scours like this in Vermont in the 70s. We had scours that created a loose manure, and the calf could be easily corrected.

I saw this scour as something stronger. His ears flopped and he became listless within the hour it took to treat him. I only gave antibiotics when he showed symptoms. By then, the powerful bug had overtaken him. I understand now, after watching Titania, his half sister, what likely occurred.

They are like children at this age, bouncing around investigating and eating anything that has
an interesting texture…well, sampling.

They like to eat dirt, and at this time of the year there is more dirt than grass.
He ate dirt containing bacteria. At three days old, a calf’s immune system is underdeveloped,
even with colostrum. The bugs as I remember them managing a dairy farm in Vermont long ago never overtook
a young animal so quickly. The scours was projectile. His system failed almost immediately.

I am told it is now common practice on some farms to immunize all calves, just in case. Well, what does that do? It makes the bugs stronger. Same thing with people.

I am told there is a particularly virulent form of pneumonia going around some dairies–not
contagious to humans, but it’s killing cows faster than any treatment. No remedies are working. No one has raised the topic.

And the e coli and salmonella that are in the soil are lurking and ready to be in unsanitary
milk rooms. The risk never used to be so high.

What are we doing to the diseases out there by feeding them vaccinations and antibiotics that make them increasingly virulent? Milk blogs are filled with soap opera antics and politics of milk instead of important issues about disease prevention and calf and cow health.

And how are these diseases relating to the contamination of milk? Commercial cows are bred for volume, and to a certain extent, even the heirloom breeds are suffering a loss of somatic cell values (the equivalent of white cell counts for systemic strength). We breed for volume now at the expense of animal health…this never happened in the 70s.

So little Titanic, a beautiful healthy calf, was given a bolus of scour antibiotic remedy, which went directly to his stomach. And I tubed him to hydrate him.

He stopped breathing and his eyes rolled back. He died with his head in my lap. His mother is still looking for him.