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"

Ron Klein
April 8, 2012

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 calves and kids from cows and does as soon as possible. And get them on colostrum immediately for many reasons. They are bedded on clean straw, and only exposed to a more “dirty” environment slowly over time after they are four weeks old. (They still are working on straw and hay so they are exposed to the environment.). Studies have show that one of the main routs of infection in new born kids and calves is people letting them suckle on fingers. I don’t let that happen. The main dirt and mud problems are Clostridia and protozoan parasites both killers of newborns, not necessarily E.coli and not Salmonella. (I do vaccinate for the seven most common strains of Clostridia that water buffalo are susceptible to, and the common killers of goats to boost ab levels in colostrum.) We have had several water buffalo births on pasture-(we are grassed based and practice MiG) I don’t worry about pasture births so much- though we do take the calves as soon as we can. (Often we bring the calves into the parlor to stimulate let down in the cow). My main concern is the unavoidable amount of dirt and manure in the barns and drylot-that’s why I have calves and kids separate on clean dry bedding. Since being extremely diligent in these things we have not lost a single newborn to scours or infection.

Been thinking a lot about freshening time—especially after just noticing globs of mucus and afterbirth on my pants from this morning’s maternity adventure-many very long days—but—-no matter how dark it seems there is much hope and joy in seeing a new born calf or kid stand on wobbly legs.


Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
April 8, 2012

“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 see the cows with projectile poop. Is this the same as scours? I remember distinctly, back in the 60s, when we were trying to separate a calf from the mother, the calf went between her hind legs attempting to latch on, the mother lifted her tail and pooped, it landed on the calf’s neck and head. It didn’t shoot out.

I believe for our food system to improve, it will take a huge amount of educating the public about where their current foods/phoods are from, how they are processed, what the outcomes are on their bodies and environment are for them to push for change.

It has been known for years that the anti-germ soaps and the consistent use of antibiotics have allowed bacteria to become stronger and resistant to many medications. yet, they are still produced and bought by consumers and promoted by the govt.

Tim Wightman
April 8, 2012

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 come cases Vitamin C and E are added by vets in a custom mix they have put together for certian areas they practice in.
My experience is that your mineral program needs review and while the injectables are a backup, one must address the cause which is lack of selenium and a few key other vitmans and minerals that work in unison with Selenium.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Ron Klein
April 9, 2012

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. The nutrition of the Dame and her state of health (including antibody titer levels) is extremely important-and IMO has much more to do with the state of the newborn than generally referencing modern breeding schemes–I’m not excusing what has happened with modern breeding-but just pointing out that we need to have a more holistic understanding to be responsible herdsmen. In many cases, I feel that vaccinating and worming are important until a healthful balance can be achieved-maybe thinking of it as a transition for a farm to a more sustainable/healthful state.

I wrote a brief piece on GI parasites recently, after noting the failure of many recommended organic remedies in treatment schemes at some “organic” farms……

Ron Klein
April 9, 2012

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 (and kelp did not provide the correct balance for our farm). I had thought my animals were healthy–then saw the results of the new mineral–which has made a significant difference-it also is as cost effective as a “standard” loose mineral.

And-this discussion IMO is extremely important. Dr. Donald Davis (Univ Texas) has assessed USDA nutrition tables published over the past several decades and has shown a significant drop in micronutrient levels–as high as 43%!!!!! The drop is attributed to genetic depletion of industrial plant stocks bred for harvest and transport not nutrition, and “mining” soil. Dr. Bruce Ames, one of the outstanding scientists of our time has been publishing very nice work since 1996 on the correlation between micronutrient depletion (mostly minerals) and the impact on the development of chronic disease in laboratory animals. (In my work, in a previous life, dropping the concentration of divalent metal ions mineral- -essential enzyme co factors-was used to induce in vitro mutagenesis during DNA replication by misincorporation of nucleotides-.)

We have evidence from our animal husbandry, and solid data published in highly regarded scientific journals that the greatest failing of current industrial agriculture practices is the production of high volumes of nutritionally inferior foods–even before processing. When we drill down into essential biochemistry and understand the critical balance of metal ions and other cofactors essential for proper enzyme function–and health—-it is little wonder we see a direct correlation between national health statistics and Ames work. This should be hammered into the core of the debate over food choice rights.
Interesting the path from projectile calf scours to food rights…….there is a metaphor in there somewhere…..

Shana Milkie
April 9, 2012

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

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 however is a different story since it is much more stressful on the calves and will increase the likelihood of a serious case of scours.

I think what Tim is saying about the selenium vitamin E connection is a valid point and aught to be considered as a factor when dealing with scours. Each one of my calves is injected with at least 1-2 ml. of this supplement when they are born. Feeding a selenium enriched mineral supplement is important yet inadequate if the animal is not given vitamin E.

I cannot stress more the importance of not giving antiparasitic agents to pregnant livestock. These neurological toxins are contraindicated for some livestock if pregnant yet, aught to be contraindicated in all pregnant livestock without exception. How many of the women who participate on this site would agree to have a neurological toxin injected into them while pregnant?

Just prior to Christmas a neighbor and good friend of mine, a teacher who has been farming for the last ten to twelve years decided based on the advice of his vet to deworm his beef cattle. About three weeks later his cattle developed diarrhea and began to abort their calves, he ended up losing 9 cows and six calves yet despite having spent thousands of dollars on blood and fecal tests the vet was unable to determine a cause. He came over to my place wondering what I thought. The first thing I queried him about was winter dysentery, however that was ruled. Eventually it came out that he had recently dewormed his cattle and as far as I was concerned it was case closed after that. It is not the first time that I have seen cattle become seriously ill with resulting weak and listless calves born to cows following the use of antiparasitic agents.

Ken Conrad

Ron Klein
April 9, 2012

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 condition, but the time from projectile scours appearing and irreversible downturn is very short. If-viral, protozoan or bacterial –intervention is called for IMO. and the issue is how do you know it is a common/natural occurance or something worse? For me–I error on the side of caution, assume the worst, use a thickening agent, electrolytes, vitamin boost and antibiotic depending on condition. Often there is no time. Also, if a calf or kid is on a bottle and one uses milk replacer–there are now milk flake replacers that do not have the additive soy proteins –the latter being responsible for milk scouring in newborns on bottle—at least in my experience.

The loss of large animal vets is just another problem with the over all loss of our agricultural infrastructure and another issue with how difficult and costly farming can be. Fortunately we have the internet and dialogues like this one. Costs are climbing and dark days are ahead of us-treasure the soil and stay in good health……..

Dave Milano
April 9, 2012

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 any isolates we can tease out and study. Can we fairly believe, to point out one small example, that it is even POSSIBLE to completely and accurately document the microbiological pathways and system intersections associated with cows searching out certain herbs or legumes or grasses to fulfill a particular and momentary physiological need?

Our seeming recalcitrant desire to focus on details is extremely dangerous because it invites ignorance of contextual understanding. Ron and Ken get to the possibilities there, when they suggest that ivermectins (as a stand-in for broad-spectrum antiparasitics, and really if we are to be honest, for broad-spectrum anti-anythings) can cause systemic damage. But antiparasitic use on a practical level is nearly always adjudicated in the most narrow context—read the invariably narrowly-worded warning label, and give the drug if it looks like it will help the cow. All contextual negatives are external to the equation. Only when the damage is long done (i.e. when we have created a toxic biological and chemical environment) do we begin to suspect that we’ve erred, and by then we may not be able to reverse course. (Hell, after a good few generations of paradigmatic indoctrination the majority of us haven’t the faintest idea even HOW to reverse course.)

I am heartened by farmers who are working gradually to rebuild their soils (there is no way to do it quickly). They are on the right track, but they will have a hard time of it. Poorly understood tests and treatments, systemic plant, animal, and human degradation, GMO crap, wind-blown toxins, rain-carried bacteria loads and acids, and God only knows what other insults, are today added to systematic political and economic barriers that make it nearly impossible to legally do anything, especially anything with a hint of business, on a small scale.

The industrio-technological world needs a great big wake-up call. At the very least, for the sake of our healthful survival, it should stay well clear of those trying to heal and repair local biological and economic systems.

Gayle Loiselle
April 9, 2012

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 changes and/or sacrifices necessary to do that. But there are many more millions who don’t have that choice, or think they don’t. Some just don’t have access to farm fresh food; some have lives so hectic there’s no time to cook, for others fast food is all they can afford, some really don’t know or believe how bad the majority of grocery store food is, and most really don’t understand the consequences of the loss of food rights. There is so much to be wary of in our world today that people shut down, stop caring about what feels out of their control. It’s up to us…EACH ONE OF US… We can’t say it’s up to someone else… we have to accept the responsibility of sharing what we know. We have to help society see how the death of a newborn calf on a small farm in Massachusetts really is everyone’s problem.

mark mcafee
April 10, 2012

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 has failed modern man….now that greed has grabbed medicine, the need to capture profit by harnessing illness is really blinding our so called healers.

This last week I toured several extremely frustrated doctors arround OPDC. Each shared their story of death by doctor. They were angry. They were tired. They wanted out. They hated the FDA. They listened to my preaching about GUT flora with an extreme interest.

A new paradigm is upon

mark mcafee
April 10, 2012

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

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

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

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

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 large fields farmed (mined?) near us. “Get out of the car and grab a handful of soil”….their observations-it crumbled, was pale in color, and had the very faint smell of a bottle of medicine.. and when these huge tracts of land were plowed–only couds of dust followed the plow–no birds. Then travel 30 miles south to Amish country-the plowed fields smell of real earth, the soil is dark and rich and birds follow the plow. The contrast speaks to something that is very wrong…..

mark mcafee
April 10, 2012

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 damn hard headed and self centered, they could all stand together and dump milk for three days. They could then set the price of milk for any thing they wanted. But…NO…the big prey on the small and they all suffer and in the end…looks like extinction for more and more.

April 11, 2012


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

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

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’