A Dairy Owner Grieves Over a New-born Calf, and Worries About What It Tells Us


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.

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20 Comments on "A Dairy Owner Grieves Over a New-born Calf, and Worries About What It Tells Us"

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Ron Klein
April 8, 2012 4:23 pm

Sad-I really hate to hear about the loss of newborn livestock.

Just a few comments. We are in SW Michigan; weather dictates a lot of what we do. Calving and kidding season come during our spring mud season which is almost as bad as our fall mud season, followed by our summer and winter mud seasons.

Now this is just me…..We milk dairy goats (>100 kids born so far this season) and Riverine dairy water buffalo (13 calves so far). I never let calves or kids on dirt/mud/manure until they are older. We take… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 8, 2012 4:24 pm

“What are we doing to the diseases out there by feeding them vaccinations and antibiotics that make them increasingly virulent?”

I am sorry that you lost your calf. Yes, it has made the bugs stronger against humans too. We are no longer exposed to chickenpox so our immune system doesn’t stay strong against combating shingles in our system. Rarely did a child die from chickenpox or have complications. The gov doesn’t tell how many are maimed or die from vaccinations.

“The scours was projectile. ”

When you drive by the feed lots you… Read more »

Tim Wightman
April 8, 2012 11:52 pm

Sorry to hear about your calf, but the symptoms you discribe sounds like a selenium deficiency not a pathogen.
It could be salmonella, but usually does not act that fast.
Given our mining practices that were labeled farming most of the north american continent is lacking in the mineral as well as most feed suppliments.
There are limits as to how much you can feed am animal set by the feds, which has created the need to keep MuSi and BoSi on hand as an added precaution. MuSi for moms BoSi for calves.
It is simply B vitamins and selinium injectable and in… Read more »

Ron Klein
April 9, 2012 1:56 am

Agree with Tim and Who…but when a calf has projectile scours emergency treatment with sulfamethoxazole (or something similar) is necessary–and call a vet. It is tough to boost the immune system of a dead animal. The projectile poop Sylvia refers to is lower GI gas distress due to the type of food fed and microbial flora and is not the same as projectile scours in young calves. We are working hard to restore the mineral balance on our farm, but IMO, there are times for antibiotics and compounds to save the life of a sick animal.… Read more »

Ron Klein
April 9, 2012 11:14 am

Tim et al. Tim-a selenium deficiency causing the level of scours described should have additional neural problems approaching what we see for white muscle and early stages of tetany-just some additional experience….. I just want to add a few more things. I worked with a nutritionist to design a specific balanced mineral for our area-loose mineral fed free choice. It is really important to do a soil test for what are classified as micro-nutrients (available mineral) and carefully balance mineral. I had been using kelp but the cost had gone through the roof… Read more »

Shana Milkie
April 9, 2012 1:16 pm

Ms. Ruthman, I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your calf. Both you, his human mother, and his cow mother must be grieving very hard, each in your own way. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Ken Conrad
Ken Conrad
April 9, 2012 2:03 pm

It is a precarious game using antibiotics, vaccines and antiparasitic agents. I’ve seen a lot and done it all in over 45 years of working with livestock on the farm and this much I can say with certainty, after having discontinued use of all of the above drugs by 1982 I am by far much further ahead.

It is not unusual to see scours (projectile, bloody or otherwise) in newborn calves, however as long as the calf is still nursing on the cow and is not showing signs of dehydration then it will get over it. Bottle feeding calves… Read more »

Ron Klein
April 9, 2012 3:50 pm

Ken et al. Yes many antiparasitic compounds should not be given to pregnant livestock. And if used should be used judiciously. One consideration, reagrding antiparasitics, that must be kept in mind is the devastating impact the ivermectins have on soil ecology. If used, we don’t turn out livestock to pasture for several weeks and we only use if warranted by anemia or fecal egg counts (low level infections are important for developing immunity….)

And I agree regarding scours (except in my experience it is not common) and still feeding and maintaining… Read more »

Dave Milano
April 9, 2012 7:13 pm

It is true that to encourage healthy animals and people we must explore and understand the status of our soils and plants, and identify micro-nutrient (and macro-nutrient) deficiencies. But is this the way the great big world was designed? To be dependent upon microbiological testing and manipulation to achieve health?

The “more holistic understanding” Ron Klein properly advises goes way beyond one’s willingness to use antibiotics or special feed regimens or the like. It requires willingness to submit to biological principles we may never fully understand in western scientific fashion. It requires accepting that the whole is far greater than… Read more »

Gayle Loiselle
Gayle Loiselle
April 9, 2012 8:04 pm

Ron said, “interesting path from projectile calf scours to food rights…..there is a metaphor in there somewhere….” I agree. The symbiotic relationship between the earth and all living things cannot be denied. Yet for century’s man has been doing everything within his/her power to change that truth. Most, if not all those who read and post on David’s blog value real food and family farms; we are farmers, we have a relationship with farmers, we have a garden and a few food animals, or we seek out and are able to pay for real food. We have made the… Read more »

mark mcafee
April 10, 2012 1:41 am

Calves are so darn cute….we love them. When customers visit OPDC the calf area is a favorite stop. We schedule visits to the calf area last just because of bacteria and the missmatch between kids and calves immune systems and pathogens.

More and more I realize how our natural approach to calf raising and kid raising has been derailed by Monsanto, modern medicine, vaccinations, antibiotics etc. What a mess.

I do not deny that life saving value of emergency use of antibiotics….they are a life saving tool. The problem is that when all problems are nails….all solutions are hammers.

Modern medicine… Read more »

mark mcafee
April 10, 2012 1:59 am

With some of our best friends being doctors….I find it fascinating that they are the doctors that are now de medicating their patients. The patients they see are so sick from poly pharmacy, that the best therapy is simply managed recovery from pharma!!!

Then the patient sees another doctor and back onto Meds they go…just to get sick again. Then a managed recovery from medication induced illness and round and round. Every one of these patients suffering a core GUT issue.

Madness…..money madness. An FDA roller coaster from hell.

Ron Klein
April 10, 2012 1:05 pm

Well said. The Industrial Technology Fairy won’t save us–and the current facination with biofuels, yield and ignoring the basic principles of biology is accelerating the insults…. The talk I gave on Technological optimism/biofuels is in this newsletter and drew flak —- http://www.michiganlandtrust.org/Fall09newsl.html Is Global Warming the earth develping a fever and sheding an infective pathogen? Another metaphor. . . . . .

April 10, 2012 3:35 pm

if it’s a metaphor, it’s one with an illogical premise … from which one can only get to an incorrect conclusion. The notion of “anthropogenic global warming” is an enormous hoax, peddled by the One-Worlders … scrutinzed by real science, it’s soon exposed as non-sense.

One of the main doctrines of the anti-christ Global Warming cult is that man-kind is the pathogen / a “cancer on the planet” , which needs to be eradicated. Make sense?

Barney Google
April 10, 2012 4:54 pm

Off topic;

James Stewart of Rawsome, and Mark Baker the Michigan farmer with the so called invasive species of hogs,on Alex Jones show now. Infowars.com

Ron Klein
April 10, 2012 5:58 pm

The obvious nature of the impact of various agricultural practices is readily seen. When I was kid in the early 50’s I recall riding with my Grandfather when he plowed–flocks of birds followed us. The earth smelled rich–the smell duplicated when the Upjohn Company was running a fermentation for producing Streptomycin from the most abundant soil organism -Streptomyces…the earthy smell. Some urban folks gardened on our first farm benefiting from my 30 years of building a deep rich vibrant soil. I had them feel and smell it. Then asked them to stop near… Read more »

mark mcafee
April 10, 2012 8:42 pm

Dairy prices slip in CA and predictions indicate a very bad year for CA Dairies….more dairies going to be lost with 50 in Bankruptcy right now. Two of my neighbors dairies are being bulldozed to the ground right now and will be planted into almonds or other crops.


OPDC sales all time high even with a small price point increase 60 days ago to cover recall losses. When spinach was recalled…spinach fought hard to regain consumer confidence. When raw milk is recalled, it stimulates the hatred of the FDA and sales rage.

If the dairymen were not so… Read more »

April 11, 2012 11:28 am


Another ecoli outbreak, in Missouri, accounted to raw milk. Of course.

It was ironic that on a Facebook conversation talking about this, Janet Riley, from the AMI, who has gone on record with the safety and nutritious value of ‘pink slime’, piped in and said “I’ll just take that dull, boring, safe, pasteurized milk for my family.”

April 11, 2012 3:51 pm

another, trite, example of how the myth is spun by the press-titutes = headline asserts a connextion between illness + raw milk consumption, then the very last line of fine print admits there is no such link

April 11, 2012 4:48 pm

one of the great modern horror stories, now on view at
Mary McG Martin reveals the root of her obsession with REAL MILK : nothing to do with raw milk, per se … it could have been anything which interfered with her religion of SON worship = worship of her son, the little emperor, around whom her universe revolved prior to ever taking a sip of milk from OPD. ‘When we feel our self-image is threatened, we have a mandate for war’