From the Farm: Running my own experiments

I started doing experiments here on the farm.

It doesn’t involve leaving a pile of dishes on the counter to see how long it takes for someone to assist the person who put the goods on the table. And it doesn’t involve leaving a stack of laundry in the laundry room waiting for someone to take up the initiative to actually throw a load into the washing machine. Sometimes I think my co-habitants believe the laundry will actually do itself.

I’ve tried those and the experiments always fail. It never fails that I get frustrated with the mess long before the idea of helping ever crosses anyone’s mind.

My newest experiments have more of an impact on our farm than any dirty dishes or soiled laundry experiment ever will.

I have previously explained how cows get mastitis – an infection in the udder.

There are a gabillion reasons for a cow to develop mastitis. Pathogens that cause swelling and inflammation in an udder can be found in the environment, on dirty milking equipment and faulty equipment.

In fact, dirty laundry can cause mastitis in cows. Because we use microfiber towels to clean the cows’ udders during milking prep, the towels have to be washed after every milking. If the towels are not properly washed, it’s possible for germs to quickly spread to other cows. We use one towel per cow, so every day, 230 individual towels need to be put in the washer and dryer.

And we have to use super-hot water and high heat when we dry towels.

Our compost barn is the perfect environment for pathogens to thrive. Instead of having dust mites in their bedding, the cows have ugly little pathogens like staph aureus, bacillus, and yes, the nastiest of them all klebsiella and e-coli.

It’s imperative that we maintain excellent prep procedures to keep the cases of mastitis in our herd to a minimum. Mastitis costs us money due to lower production and administering medication to the affected animal.

A while back, when a new case of mastitis showed up, we would take a sample of milk and run it into the vets’ office. After several days, we would have test results that would tell us what medication to treat the cow with. If we were lucky, we were using the correct type of medication. If not, we started all over with a different treatment. Different types of mastitis get treated with different types of medication.

In an effort to increase efficiency here on the farm, I finally got the go ahead from the head honcho to purchase an incubator to use for identifying causes of mastitis.

Now, and I hate to admit it, I kind of get excited to find a new case of mastitis. That means I will be able to retrieve a sample and incubate it for 18 hours and identify the culprit germ. Sometimes I have to wait 24 hours.

As an instant gratification kind of gal, it kills me to have to wait that long.

It’s really too bad that the 18-hour time limit happens at approximately midnight! I will not get out of bed to look at germs.

I have been running tests for approximately two weeks. My first test was stellar. I was able to identify the cause as a strep species. It was a beautiful plate. Little dots of ickies showed up where they were supposed to.

The next couple tests haven’t gone all that great. There were two tests that were contaminated from something I did that I cannot identify.

I have been working with our vet’s office to identify what’s going on with my samples. I guess I am a dirty sampler! (That sounds awful.)

Thursday morning, because my husband was snoring to beat the band, I was up at 3:30. I typed this column, and then chose to go look at a sample I was “cooking” in the incubator.

Turns out we were treating the cow with the incorrect medication.

As soon as I get to be great at growing these little germs, we should start to save a bit of money.

For questions, or comments, e-mail me at kahoffman@newulmtel.net. You can also visit my blog at www.gettingkerrydaway.wordpress.com

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