Just like the mother of a newborn babe, dairy farmers spend a lot of time examining the poo of their charges.
It’s not easy to live on grass. The stuff is very hard to digest and that’s why cows have developed an amazing digestive system that this really nice little video explains beautifully in a little over a minute. As you’ll see, the rumen and its helpful bugs play a vital role.
Manure is the dairy farmer’s window into the rumens of the cows. If their diet gets out of balance, they can get “acidosis”, which means the bugs die off and the cows find it very hard to digest their food. Not surprisingly, this is bad news! If it gets bad enough, the cows get extremely sick but it can also be subclinical, only affecting milk production. One of the first signs is the wrong type of poo.
According to Dairy Australia’s informative Feed Fibre Future Quick Checks Fact Sheet D (c’mon DA, couldn’t you have come up with a more friendly name?):
“Manure has a porridge-like consistency. Forms a soft pile 40–50 mm high, which may have several concentric rings and a small depression in the middle. Makes a plopping sound when it hits concrete floors and will stick to the toe of your shoe. This is what you are aiming for.”
Because we’ve increased the cows’ grain ration with the onset of spring, we’ve matched that with extra fibre in the form of silage to prevent acidosis and I’ve been Chief Manure Monitor to check we’ve got it right.
I thought that when our farm consultant, Matt, arrived earlier this week he’d be proud of me. Well, he was but said that, if he was to be really picky, perhaps the poo was slightly too firm. As a consequence, we’ve upped the grain a little and backed off the silage by one roll.
Oh, the road to perfection has no end!