This is one of my favorite times of year to be up early and out on the farm. We are well into the rhythm and feeling of summer and it is amazing how much I missed the smell of blooming apple trees and the sting of poison ivy on my legs. It’s all part of the package that comes with longer days and warm nights in the Northeast. This is the time of year when I spend a significant amount of time watching my animals. The days are longer giving me more time to sit and relax after chores are done and it is warm in the fields, but most importantly the animals are behaving differently than any other time throughout the year. The pecking order has been disturbed with the sudden addition of the new calves and their aggressive mothers. Some of the more stubborn calves who have been stealing milk now find themselves cut off from this delicacy and are forming new alliances with their yearling partners. Some of the herd is going into their first heat and realizing that having seven steers and a confused heifer follow you around for three days straight can be very frustrating. We can learn so much just by taking the time to watch how our animals act and change with the seasons. This is not only entertaining but it is also important. Knowing how your animals behave normally and in all conditions provides you with a baseline. When something doesn’t look or feel right your farmy senses can kick in and you can begin to figure out what is wrong.
In the classes we teach here I always mention the word thrift. Thrifty animals are those ones that look right for the time of year. They have strong hair coats, bright eyes, and they are doing what you expect from your stock at that time. I find that many of the first signs of illness are the dulling of the animals themselves. Happy healthy animals play, battle for dominance, explore, and make noise. When your animals start to wilt, you know right away something is going on with them that will require some further investigation. Is the water in the sun all day and not good to drink, have you adjusted your mineral program to the season, or is something happening that you’re not aware of? Spare electrical currents, dogs getting into the fields at night harassing the animals, or poisonings from unsuspecting plants are all situations we have discovered after noticing animals with ill thrift. This is why I encourage you, in this spectacular weather, to spend as much time observing and understanding your animals. They will be better off and I guarantee that you will be more relaxed and happy.