Now that we have discussed how to choose a family milk cow, we are diving into how to keep your cow healthy the natural way. If approaching natural livestock care seems overwhelming to you, you will definitely want to join us for this episode because Joshua does an amazing job of explaining his holistic approach in simple terms. We address the most common fears cow owners have: mastitis, parasites, antibiotics, supporting the overall immune system, and more. As a farmer raising grass-fed A2A2 dairy cows in a holistic way, Joshua is a wealth of knowledge on raising the healthiest cows possible.
In this episode, we cover:
- What A2A2 means and why it matters
- Reasons why you might cull a cow when building your herd
- Grass-fed genetics are more important than you think
- Exploring some root causes of mastitis
- The ramifications of using antibiotics in your cow
- Simple and effective ways to treat mastitis at home
- How to boost your cow’s immune system naturally
- What minerals cows need and why you want to mix them yourself
- Top three areas of health to assess your cow’s overall wellbeing
- Beneficial and harmful grasses and forage for cows
- Treating and preventing parasites naturally
Joshua Fuhrmann is a dairy farmer in Virginia raising a grass-fed A2A2 herd. Joshua loves cows and God’s design for farming. Joshua offers phone consultations if you are interested in more information from him. You can also email or call the farm to get in touch with his family and learn more about farming and natural living. Visit http://www.ourfathersfarmva.com to learn more.
Selenium 90 from New Country Organics
Check out Kim Fuhrmann’s book Journey Back to Health
Joshua Fuhrmann | Website
Homesteaders of America | Website | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube | Pinterest
Join us at the Homesteaders of America Conference in October 2023!
Amy Fewell Welcome to the Homesteaders of America podcast, where we encourage simple living, hard work, natural healthcare, real food, and building an agrarian society. If you’re pioneering your way through modern noise and conveniences and you’re an advocate for living a more sustainable and quiet life, this podcast is for you. Welcome to this week’s podcast. I’m your host, Amy Fewell, and I’m the founder of the Homesteaders of America organization and annual events. If you’re not familiar with us, we are a resource for homesteading education and online support, and we even host a couple of in-person events each year with our biggest annual event happening right outside the nation’s capital here in Virginia every October. Check us out online at HomesteadersofAmerica.com. Follow us on all of our social media platforms and subscribe to our newsletter so that you can be the first to know about all things HOA (that’s short for Homesteaders of America). Don’t forget that we have an online membership that gives you access to thousands—yes, literally thousands—of hours worth of information and videos. It also gets you discount codes, an HOA decal sticker when you sign up, and access to event tickets before anyone else. All right. Let’s dive into this week’s episode.
Amy Fewell So this week I am talking to Joshua Fuhrmann. For those of you who have never heard of Joshua Fuhrmann before, he is the milk guy. We call him the milk guy because we bought our dairy calf—our heifer calf—from him earlier this year. Her name is Hazel. For those of you who follow me online, you’ll see her picture all over the place. And he’s actually located in southern Virginia, which is pretty convenient for me. And so Josh and I have had quite a few conversations about dairy cows and natural health and how that works, because me being an herbalist, I’m really interested in that and having my cow stay healthy the natural way, not using antibiotics or anything like that. And so we dove into that in this episode. We talked—oh my goodness, y’all, we talk about everything when it comes to the health of your family milk cow. We talked about mineral deficiency, mastitis, probiotics, giving your cow kefir and kombucha. Who knew that was even possible? We talk about boosting your cow’s immune system, flies, toxicity, forage, all kinds of things. And I am so excited to bring you this week’s episode. Just a quick disclaimer: we had a little bit of rural Internet problems with Joshua, and so there are a few parts where he cuts in and out, but I think for the most part you’ll be okay with the recording. We had a lot of fun recording it, a lot of information, and it still worked out perfectly. So get ready for this week’s episode.
Amy Fewell Hey, Joshua, welcome to the Homesteaders of America podcast. It’s nice to see you again. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Joshua Fuhrmann Hey there. I’m Joshua Fuhrmann, and I work at a small family-run dairy here in southern Virginia, and my dad actually owns it. And so I work for him and we do mostly A2A2 100% grass-fed dairy cows, and we service a lot of customers in the area. We also have some chickens, turkeys, and dogs, and beef cows. But most of what we do is related to dairy cows or A2A2 dairy and that kind of thing.
Amy Fewell Yeah. So I first found out about you, I think it was through Justin Rhoads’s channel. He got a milk cow from you guys. And so we connected with you, too, and got our heifer calf from you, Hazel. And hoping to get another cow from you in the new year. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about A2A2 and grass-fed genetics because a lot of people don’t understand what that is, especially when looking for a milk cow.
Joshua Fuhrmann Sure. Well, A2A2 is a beta casein in the milk, so it’s protein content in the actual milk that the cow produces. And it’s in the genetics of the cow to be either A2A2 or A1A1 or A1A2. And so when you get a cow, you can test them. Usually you pull the tail hairs out of the cow, send them to University of California Davis or something like that, and get test results on what your cow is. So what A2A2 milk is opposed to A1A1 or something like that— the A2 beta casein is easier for the human body to assimilate. So it’s similar to goat milk or something like that. All goat milk is A2A2. And all cow milk actually used to be A2A2, but since they started to commercialize cattle back in the day, when they started to put cows behind the breweries and feed them the old leftover waste from different companies and stuff and really just commercialize cattle and take them out of the field and put them into the factory, that’s where the A1 beta casein kind of was born. And it has really taken over the industry and it’s really hard for people to digest the A1. And a lot of people, you’ll hear them say, “I’m lactose intolerant,” or something like that. And lactose intolerance is usually A1 intolerance because most of the people who are lactose intolerant can handle goat milk or they can handle A2A2 milk. So it just depends. So we started learning about it here on our farm maybe ten years ago, maybe a little longer. And we just switched over pretty much right away because of what we were learning about it. And there’s some good books and articles out there on the subject that can explain it in a deeper way for those of you who are interested. But that’s kind of the simple understanding of A2A2 vs. A1A1, and you can actually breed A2 into your herd by getting an A2A2 bull. And then as long as your cows have at least A2 property within them, then when you breed an A2A2 bull to an A1A2 cow, there’s a 75% chance you’ll have an A2A2 calf. So we kind of did some aggressive breeding and culling towards A2A2 herd out there. And now we don’t ever have any A1 cows on the farm, so that’s kind of what we’ve done. And it’s definitely something you want to look into before deciding to purchase the family milk cow and just see if that’s an important thing for you and your family.
Amy Fewell Yeah, in last week’s podcast episode—the one we recorded last week—we were talking about that a little bit. And you mentioned genetics and breeding A2 into your herd. So for this podcast episode, I know I sent you some questions in advance, and so I really want to kind of hone in on that— genetics and basically the health of cows, because in a previous podcast with someone else we went through how do you find the family milk cow? And now I really want to break it down with you because you and I have had a couple of conversations when I was trying to get Hazel and just had some questions with you. And so I’m going to go down this list of questions, and I think a lot of people are going to be interested in them. And so we’re going to start with the first question, which is talking about genetics and how choline can play an important role in a healthy herd. So I know for me when I get on a milk cow Facebook group or something and obviously all milk cows look a little bit different, but you have you have the cows that are genetically prone towards grass, and then you have the cows that have been grain raised and they always look more bonier and they they can’t stay full on grass as long. So I wonder if you could talk about the genetics real quick. And for those who have herds, what the importance of culling for the type of cow that you want? And how that kind of worked within you guys moving over to grass-fed A2 herds.
Joshua Fuhrmann Yeah. So I guess I’ll kind of start with answering the question of why would you cull a cow? And first of all, for me, the highest on the list is going to be genetic. If they’ve got some obvious genetic issues, I’m going to cull them. Or if they’re producing good milk and they seem like they’re doing all right, I will at least cull their line. So the way you would do that is you would just never keep a heifer calf or a bull calf out of that cow. And that’s culling her line, essentially. You’re saying this bad genetic trait is going to stop with this cow. And another reason you might cull would be for personality. And some of that is genetic as well. If you have cows that are just crazy, you don’t want to keep a calf out of that cow because chances are the calf will be crazy because calves learn from their mothers a lot of times. And then the third reason I would cull would just be production. So if the cow is not doing what I want it to do, if the cow is not be a profitable cow and bringing in the income that it needs to be bringing in, then it is no longer an asset, it is a liability at that point. So those are kind of the three top reasons to cull. And to get into the genetics a little bit to try to answer your question on that, the first thing we’re going to look for is how well do they perform on grass, 100% grass? Because for us in our dairy, we only feed grass, we only feed grass-based products. So if we do feed anything in the milking parlor, it’s going to be alfalfa or Timothy or fermented alfalfa or alfalfa haylage or anything like that. It’s all going to be grass or grass-based, nothing grain. And so most cows—especially conventionally raised Jersey cows and a lot of purebred Jersey cows—have been corrupted and they’ve been corrupted at a base genetic level, just like I was saying, A2A2 and A1A1. A1A1 was bred into the cow industry, just like grain-dependent cattle have been bred into the cow industry. And so a grain-dependent cow is not going to be able to function or produce on grass just because their biology has changed and their— not necessarily their biology, but their gut and what their body can handle and survive on. So a lot of it also is the way the calf was raised. So some calves who are raised on milk for six weeks and then they go to grain and then they have nothing but grain and maybe some silage and maybe a little nibble of grass here and there, but if that’s what they’re raised on their whole life, their stomach is never going to be able to develop the right proteins and the right bacteria. They have got to have this thing in their stomach that is going to help them to digest. And so they grow that as a calf. So they start out, and if you raise them on their mother, then the milk that they’re getting and the fat content in the milk from their mother—actual cow milk—is going to create this bacteria, the bacteria in the gut that is going to grow. And the minute you switch them to grain, the bacteria in the gut has to change. And so a lot of times the bacteria that you’re growing in the gut of the cow starts out when they’re little calves. And so I would say a calf that has been raised on grain and that for generations has been raised on grain is not going to be able to switch over to grass very easily just because of the bacteria in their gut. And what they, for generations, have been bred to perform on. They’ve been bred to perform on grain. Another genetic issue you’ll come up with sometimes is production issues or mastitis issues. So mastitis issues can be genetic or they can be management. Most of the time with a small family milk cow, it’s going to be management issue because you’re learning and you’re going through the school of hard knocks and you’re just kind of figuring out how to milk a cow out all the way or how to take care of the cow and give them what they need as far as minerals go and forage and water and all of that stuff. So that’s going to be kind of the other thing you’ll look for is how well do they produce? And what are the chances that they’re going to keep all four quarters all the way through their life? The other genetic issue sometimes you get into is calving issues or things like that. Like if you have a cow that has calving issues, I would not keep a heifer or a bull out of that cow because she’s showing a weakness there and you don’t want to reproduce that line and you don’t want to reproduce that weakness. Same with a cow that gets mastitis or gets mastitis regularly. If you’re treating all of your cows and your herd the same and you’re taking care of them really well and you’re milking them out really well and they all have the same forage and the same mineral access, then one of them continuously is getting mastitis, probably she’s just got a high somatic cell count. And if the cow has a high somatic cell count, then they’re more prone to mastitis and they will then get mastitis more easily, and they’re going to send that high somatic cell count on to any of their heifers in the future. So those are a couple of genetic things you want to look for. Do you have any other more specific questions on that?
Amy Fewell I mean, we can be here all day, but no, I think you covered that pretty good. It does kind of lead us into the next question about like general health. You talk a little bit about mastitis, which is one of the things I want to talk about that seems to be one of the biggest fears of the new family milk cow owner is what if my cow gets mastitis? How do I treat that naturally? And so that kind of leads me into the next part of this is I remember you telling me that you guys don’t treat with antibiotics and you went into explain why that is, and I thought that was really interesting. So I wonder if you might take some time to just explain how antibiotics affect a cow’s body and what are some alternatives to that?
Joshua Fuhrmann Yeah, sure. So what you’re asking is you’re a nervous first time cow owner maybe, you’re just starting out, and your biggest fear is mastitis. I would say mastitis is probably not and should not be the biggest fear. Mastitis is something that you may deal with, but everybody deals with mastitis. I mean, I would say go ask anybody who has cows and they’re going to say, “Yeah, we deal with it, we figure it out, and we work through it.” So as far as the antibiotics go, we do not treat with any kind of antibiotics. And the main reason for that is we’re a natural farm and everything we do is natural and organic and healthy for the body. And what antibiotics do is they kill everything. All bacteria. They kill bad bacteria, they kill good bacteria, and they kill the immune system. And so when we give a cow antibiotics, it may treat and fix the problem very quickly, just like if you get a cold. I’ve been dealing with a little cold myself for like two weeks now. And if I had gone and gotten antibiotics the first day, it probably would have been gone in three days, but I would have shot my immune system so much that I would have been susceptible to all manner of other things. And the other thing is, when you kill all the bacteria in the gut, that cow then has to start from scratch. So you’re not making a stronger animal. You are making a weaker animal and you are making a dependent animal. And you’re making a weaker bloodline and a more dependent bloodline. And so it’s one of those things where, like I said, if you have a cow who’s always popping up with mastitis, you probably want to cull. But if you have a cow who maybe has mastitis once, you treat it, you take care of her and she gets better, then a lot of times, she won’t get it again or— a lot of times, it’s a learning process. Like I’ve had people who got a cow and they got it delivered to their house, and when it was delivered, they did a CMPK test or something like that where you can see what the level of somatic cell was. And they said, “Oh, two of the quadrants have mastitis.” And I said, “Well, give it a couple of days.” We gave it a couple of days, the cow was fine. The stress of the ride is what caused the cow to have a high somatic cell on those quarters. So sometimes it’s stressors, sometimes it’s moving to a different place. Sometimes it’s just you not taking care of the cow the way you should be or her not getting what she needs. So going back to antibiotics—because I did want to say something on this—when you give your cow antibiotics, you’re taking all of the good bacteria that she has built since she was a baby calf in her stomach to help her to live and thrive and produce calves and milk on grass or whatever you have raised her for, you’re taking all of that work you’ve done and you’re flushing it down the toilet. You’re saying, “We need to start over again.” But if you push through a sickness and the cow gets better, she is building antibodies. She is, in a sense, vaccinating herself against the issue again. Her body is creating strength on strength. And it’s almost like working out. It’s just like, you work out, you get stronger. You get sick, your body works through it, your body gets stronger. And that’s the way that bodies work. And so if we go straight to the medical system— which all they really want is money. All the vets want is your money. They’re not necessarily going to cure your cow in a way that’s going to help the cow continue to produce for generations and generations. They might fix your cow quickly and they might fix your cow the way you want it fixed. So I’m not saying you shouldn’t use antibiotics if that’s what you feel like you should do.
Amy Fewell Right.
Joshua Fuhrmann But I’m just warning you what the dangers of antibiotics are.
Amy Fewell Yeah.
Joshua Fuhrmann And treatment. Okay, so treatment of mastitis naturally. So the way that we do that is we milk the cow out all the way. So I’ll tell people this all the time. Somebody is like, “I’m terrified of mastitis. My cow is going to die. My cow is going to get this terrible thing.” Listen, you see one little chunk in the milk, and you neglect to milk that quadrant out all the way, it will continue to get worse because mastitis is a bacteria that maybe some dirt got in there, maybe she was responding in a bad way to stress. And so it’s an issue that got into her quarter. Usually it’s one quarter, maybe it’s two quarters. Sometimes it’s the whole cow. But it’s some issue that started in this quarter. And the best way to treat her is to get everything out. Because you can. You can drain a cow completely out. And I’ll even do this. I had a cow a couple of days ago, she had an injury. So it wasn’t necessarily mastitis; she had a bruised udder. And there was some chunks in there, and I knew it was going to be hard for the machine to get everything out. So I went ahead and did it by hand. And then I waited 20 minutes, and I did it again. I waited 20 minutes, I did it again. And then the next day she was pretty much clear. And I did the same thing. And then the third day, she was fine. And so that’s the main way to treat it as long as they’re getting everything they need orally. So they’ve got to be getting the right minerals, they’ve got to be getting the right forage. They’ve got to be getting the right amount of water. So if you’re not getting food, water, and minerals into the cow, then you could have a continuous problem for maybe a week or two weeks. The other thing I would say is you can boost her immune system. That’s the best way to fight any infection in a cow is boost their immune system. So just like we said, antibiotics kills their immune system so that the immune system cannot do its job. The antibiotics now step in and do the job of immune system. But if you boost the immune system, then what you’re going to do is your cow is going to come up with more and more strength to be able to combat these different issues. So giving her probiotic rich stuff. I like to give my cows apple cider vinegar. They actually like the taste of apple cider vinegar. So you pour that on their forage or whatever you’re feeding them for milking. They love to lick that up. Sesame oil— organic, obviously. Sesame oil or flax oil. That’s the best thing. Flax oil. We buy that by the gallon jugs. We ship it in and we have it. And what that does is that gives the cow a certain amount of fats where she doesn’t necessarily need to use her own energy to keep warm or stay alive or whatever. That’s going to really just give her— you can also feed flax oil to boost condition in a cow who’s maybe lost some condition, and she needs to boost her condition a little bit. So that’s really just a level of fats that’s going to give the cow what she needs to then use her immune system to fight the mastitis, because if she’s using all of her energy to stay alive and to stay fat, then she’s not going to have as much energy to put towards curing the issue. So flax oil, apple cider vinegar. Other things you can use— I have used like kefir before or like water kefir or kombucha or anything with high probiotic richness. You can get it into them somehow. You can always put a hose down their throat, just past the back of their tongue, and have a funnel on the end of that hose. You can pour anything you want in there. And it’ll go straight down into her first stomach and then she will start the process of digesting that. And all it’s going to do is boost and feed the probiotics and things that are already in her stomach, already trying to fight the issue. And obviously, after you’ve done all that and you’ve done everything you can, if a cow persists in getting mastitis, then you’ve probably got a cow that’s got issues. You’ve probably got to consider breeding away from that line.
Amy Fewell Okay. Yeah, that’s a lot of good information. I don’t think most people think about giving kombucha to a cow. Those are good tidbits that most people don’t— they don’t share about that. When you go to learn about keeping a family milk cow, those are things that people— they just don’t share about. And probably because most people don’t do it and don’t know about it. But you mentioned minerals, having the right minerals. And that’s a big question that I have even though I grew up around farming. For a family milk cow, what kind of minerals do they need or is it specific to certain areas or how does that work?
Joshua Fuhrmann Yeah, so as far as minerals go, the main thing a cow needs is salt. And then after salt there are a couple of things that I would require for a cow, and that’s going to be salt, kelp, iodine, copper sulfate, selenium, and magnesium, and sulfur. The other thing you’re going to maybe want if your cows look like they need to be dewormed is some diatomaceous earth. You mix that in there too. But the mineral industry is kind of like a moneymaking industry, and they’re kind of in in cahoots a little bit with the vets and the people who make money off of sick cows. Right?
Amy Fewell Right.
Joshua Fuhrmann So in a sense, they’re a part of the big picture and part of the bigger issue, which is people wanting to make money off of your sick animals. And so most minerals you’re going to buy over the counter— actually it’s prohibited by law for them to put the right amount of iodide or the right amount of copper sulfate in the minerals for the cows because if the cow had everything it needed, it wouldn’t get sick as often. Right?
Amy Fewell Right.
Joshua Fuhrmann And so the laws and restrictions on cattle minerals actually restrict the amounts that you can put in it and then sell it over the counter. So I actually source all of those things myself and mix them myself. And so there’s actually a great grass-fed natural farmer who I learned a lot from—Gerald Frye—back in the day. He’s since passed, but you can get his books and you can still get his audios and videos and really learn a lot about cows, genetics, cow issues, and cow treatment. But my mineral mix actually originates from him. So I mix it myself. You can also buy some really good minerals from organic places. They’ve got good minerals if you want to just buy an over-the-counter mineral and maybe add a little iodine here or there. The best way to add iodine—it’s cheap—is kelp. So I would say one of the main reasons for mastitis is iodine deficiency.
Amy Fewell Okay.
Joshua Fuhrmann And so if you actually get kelp—organic kelp—cows actually like kelp more than salt. So if you put kelp in one box and salt in the other box, the kelp’s going to be gone really quick. So sometimes I’ll actually mix the kelp in with the salt, so it takes them a little bit longer to take it down. But if they really need it, then just throw it in there. Throw it in there and give them as much as they want until they get better. It’s another way of treatment. You’re giving them something natural and it’s maybe something that they need really bad, because ideally, they would be getting all the minerals from the grasses they’re eating off the ground. But if you don’t have the right symbiosis on your farm where you’re growing the grasses that can actually pull the nutrients out of the ground and you don’t have the right nutrients in the ground— some farms have been abused and used as croplands or have just been pesticides, pesticides, pesticides, and poisons, poisons, poisons sprayed all over them, so they’re just sterile. And you have to put fertilizer on it to grow anything. So ideally, cows would be getting what they need from the land and from the forage that they’re eating. But we have to supplement because most of the land has been messed with so much. I mean, you can go to some of these really great grass-based farms that have been grass-based for generations. Polyface Farm, they’ve been for years now. Gerald Frye, the farm that he had for years. Greg Judy, farm that he had. If you ever go to any of those farms and visit those farms, you’re going to see things in the grass. You’re going to see types of grass, types of legumes, types of forbs and weeds—well forbs is another word for weeds—that are giving the minerals the cows need. Also a lot of weeds that people don’t like, they have minerals in them. If you see a cow eating a certain weed, you can look up what mineral is in that weed, and a lot of times that cow is deficient in that mineral. So an easy way to do it, I would say, buy Selenium 90 from New Country Organics if you live in Virginia. It’s in Selenium 90 from New Country Organics. That’s the easiest way. And get yourself some organic kelp from New Country Organics. And mix that in with your Selenium 90 because that’s going to up the iodine content.
Amy Fewell Okay. Very good to know also. All right. So talked about mastitis, which is one of the biggest questions we get here at HOA. Like when you’re talking about milk cows. What are some other common cow problems that the home dairy might have? Mastitis is the one I always see. But in your experience, you even said in this podcast you wouldn’t be as concerned with mastitis as other things. What are just some general— maybe like your top three health issues to look for with the family cow? And kind of how would you— not necessarily treat them if you don’t have to, but obviously we’ve talked about a lot about prevention, but if you have to treat them, what are some options for those things?
Joshua Fuhrmann Yeah, So I would say top three issues you want to be worried about is, I mean, number one, what is your cow’s quality of life? Are they getting what they need? Are they not stressed? Are they eating the right things? Drinking the right things? Do they have a heavy parasite load? Because any parasite load can do a similar thing to what antibiotics will do. It can take out a lot of the proteins in the gut that they need. It can take out a lot of the good things and then the cow is just living off of the leftovers. So that’s the first thing. Look at how is your cow’s life? I mean, you can look at the cow. You can see what they’re drinking, see what they’re eating, and you can see what they need. I don’t mean go tickle them behind the ears and go brush them every day.
Amy Fewell Right.
Joshua Fuhrmann I mean, sure, those are great things. Those may help a cow in some way, shape, or form. But I mean, is the cow as an animal thriving?
Amy Fewell Right.
Joshua Fuhrmann That’s the first issue. And you can see stresses in a cow based on their condition or how they are walking or how they’re looking or how they’re producing, really. It’s like if they’re not producing very much milk, you’ve got an issue somewhere. If they’re not producing healthy calves, you’ve got an issue somewhere. There’s some sort of stress in their life that is causing these issues. So I’d say that’s the number one. The number two is going to be pretty much genetics. And what is this cow capable of? And is she making you money? Because a lot of cows out there are just eating up people’s money. And people don’t realize. They’re like, “Oh, this is great. We’ve got some yogurt. We’ve got some butter. Look at this!” It’s not free. It’s costing you, and it’s costing you a lot.
Amy Fewell Right.
Joshua Fuhrmann And so you’ve got to consider—when you’re considering genetics—is this cow a productive cow? Unproductive in a cheap way, you know, and so that’s going to be like, how much grass do you have on your property? How much hay do you end up needing to buy? All of these different things add up.
Amy Fewell Right.
Joshua Fuhrmann And mastitis is in there because it is partially genetic and it’s also partially management. But the third thing I would say to watch out for in your cows as far as health issues go is forage problems. So look out for poisons and toxins because cows are susceptible to poisons and toxins and even parasites killing off cows. Not as much as goats and sheep. Goats and sheep will just kind of flop over at the drop of a hat with parasites or with different things like that. So cows are a little hardier, but it still takes a toll on them and it can mess them up and it can just mess up their whole life and their production, their whole— and so it’s not necessarily parasites. It could be a plant that you have on your property. It could be a tree. I know in our area, black cherry—well, wild cherry—if those branches break and there is some wilted leaves… If the leaves are completely dead or if the leaves are completely green, cows can eat them all day. But the wilted leaves—right in between there—they’ll kill a cow in a drop of a hat. Or a calf. Black walnut, black walnut hulls, if they eat too many of those, then that can kill them. Mostly calves, though. And then there’s also some other toxins in plants that grow. And most of the time, cows are smart and they’re going to avoid toxic plants as long as they have enough to eat. So toward the fall, you want to watch out for it. And so fescue toxicity or fescue toxin—which are two different things—that can be an issue in our area just because fescue is the easiest grass to grow in Virginia, at least in the southern part of Virginia where I live. So a cow that’s exposed to too much fescue toxin, that is actually a toxin that the fescue produces when there is frost on it. So if there’s frost on a fescue plant, it will produce a toxin. And as soon as the sun shines on that plant, the toxin is gone. But if there’s frost on the leaves—on the actual grassy part of the plant—and they eat that, they can be exposed to fescue toxin. And a lot of cows do that and it’s fine, but some cows do it and they totally seize up and their blood just almost coagulates because the blood cannot continue to flow because they get restricted blood flow. Somehow that’s how it works. Fescue toxicity is a similar thing, but it’s a slower process. So there’s more from like mature fescue plants, but it’s not going to hit a cow that is strong and hardy. A cow that’s strong and hardy can eat fescue all day long. But you have a weak cow— maybe she’s weak from not getting what she needs or getting too much taken out of her sometimes. You know, you have a calf on a cow or a couple of calves on a cow and she’s not getting enough. They can suck the life right out of her and just take her down so far in condition and stuff like that. So a lot of times, a heavy parasite load, that’ll lead into fescue toxicity. But fescue toxicity, the issue would be where the blood flow is restricted again and then essentially different parts of her body start to get gangrene or just not function anymore because the blood is not getting all the way to the extremities. Either of those things you would need to catch pretty early on and treat pretty early on. Any kind of toxic issue, you’re going to have to catch pretty quick. And so that’s why a lot of times it’s good to look around and consider what you have on your farm as far as things to eat. Go and just do a little bit of homework before you get your cow. Just know what are some things I need to watch out for? Maybe I shouldn’t graze as part of the pasture this time of year. Maybe I should move around this way. Maybe I need to check the field before I move the herd in, just to make sure no black cherry trees have fallen down recently or whatever. You know, all three of these issues are management. If you’re proactive about taking care of your animals in all three of these areas, then you’re going to get some good qualities from your animals.
Amy Fewell Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know if you remember or not, but we have a ton of black walnut trees around our house. And so I knew that was one thing I had to be careful of when we got that calf from you. But then—I don’t know if you know or not—we have this weird grass in the back of our property. I think it’s called ‘sorza’ grass or something like that. Have you ever heard of that here in Virginia?
Joshua Fuhrmann Sorghum? Is it sorghum?
Amy Fewell No, it might be— I don’t know. I’ll have to— I think it’s ‘sorza’. It’s some weird name, but basically it goes dormant in the winter. Like it’s green all summer and spring, and then it turns brown purposefully in the wintertime. And she will absolutely not touch that. So I assume it’s probably not good for her.
Joshua Fuhrmann Yeah, I’ve not heard of that particular grass type, but I think that your calf, you know, she’s an animal. Animals have instincts, and so she’s kind of going to pick and choose. The other thing is if the grass does not have any nutrients in it, most of the time—unless they’re starving—they’re not going to eat it because it’s not worth their time to chew that up and then chew it six more times or however many times she regurgitates it and tries to get some nutrients out of it. So a lot of times it’s similar to like hay. Some hay bales, you get high quality hay where there’s nutrients and every bit of that. You feed a hay bale and the cow eats 90%, 95% of the bale. Some other hay you’ll get, it’s got a lot of broomsedge in it. It’s got a lot of just stuff that should just be rotting and turning into dirt again. But it’s in your hay bale. And so if you get that, then your cow is probably only going to eat 75% of the hay bale because she’s only going to eat what’s nutrient dense. She’s not necessarily going to eat just to fill herself up.
Amy Fewell Yeah, she’s been a great calf. She’s really healthy. She’s beautiful. So we’re happy with her. I looked it up on my phone. The grass is called zoysia grass. I’ve never heard of it before until— I guess it was like an ornamental kind of grass that people grew. It doesn’t really grow, actually. And so I knew she probably wouldn’t eat it. There’s probably no nutrient benefit in it at all, but it’s thick, thick grass. It’s like matted down. We have our garden over top of a section of it this year and we had to put down a black tarp and everything to kill it. It’s just impossible to get rid of. But I was just curious if you’d ever heard of it before.
Joshua Fuhrmann No, I haven’t, but I know a lot of decorative plants and things cows don’t really like because most of those are GMO. And cows like— especially our cows, they like to go for the natural stuff.
Amy Fewell Yeah. All right, one last question before I let you go. You mentioned parasites, and I know that’s one thing that a lot of people have questions about. What’s the natural way that you guys manage your herd in regard to parasites?
Joshua Fuhrmann Yeah, that’s pretty simple for us. We really just use Basic H. So it’s a Shaklee product. Shaklee is a natural soap company and so they sell— their main things are Basic G and Basic H. Basic G is not safe for any kind of mammal to consume. It’s not safe for human consumption or cow consumption. It’s just a good cleaning— good natural cleaning product. It’s all natural. Basic H is fine for animals to consume and even people. And so what we do is I’ll take a certain amount of that. It doesn’t really have to be strict amount, but for a herd of 45 cows, I would put probably a quart of Basic H in a hundred gallon tank, and I’d probably do that three days in a row just to give them a good hard deworming. And then I would wait two weeks or ten days—probably ten days preferably—and then I would go ahead and do another quart in 100 gallons and let them drink that. So Basic H really just goes in and kills a ton of parasites. So it’s kind of a simple way. Another way you can do it naturally is diatomaceous earth if you can get it in the cow. Like I said, if you mix it in with your salt or if you mix it in with your forage somehow. Diatomaceous earth is a natural way to deworm your animals, because—from what I understand, and my brother knows more about this because he actually has it to deworm his dogs and for flea and tick treatment—but it’s ground up fossils. And so it’s really just these tiny little razor blades. Microscopic. When a cow eats it, it’s totally safe. But the minute a parasite ingests it, it just murders them. And so if you do diatomaceous earth, you do want to stagger it as well, because you want to get the parasites and you want to get the eggs. So whatever hatches ten days later, you want to get those baby parasites as well before they reproduce.
Amy Fewell Right.
Joshua Fuhrmann And parasites, ticks, and different things— ticks are mostly going to be bad on a cow that has a bad immune system and that is not thriving. So you’re going to see more ticks or even fleas or different issues on just sickly animals. So those are kind of the exterior parasites. Flies, those can be an issue in the summertime, especially in Virginia. And I’ve never worried too much about them as long as you’re moving your cows regularly. Because if your cows are staying in one spot and their water is in the same spot all the time and their shade is in the same spot all the time, during the summer, you’re going to have just a huge amount of fly population coming from their feces. And if they’re standing right there, they’re going to have more and more flies and fly issues. The best fly treatment we have is birds. And you’re not going to have birds flying around your herd unless your herd is healthy and is organic because animals do not like GMOs. They do not like pesticides. All those different chemicals people spray. Fertilizers, chemical fertilizers. So birds don’t like that. Deer don’t like that. You’re going to attract wildlife to your property as you manage it in a holistic way without allowing any of those poisons to come in. And so birds will run with your cattle herd. And chickens. That’s a really good way to control fly population, because if you run your chickens two days, three days behind your cows, just like Joel Salatin does and most of these other big grass-fed farmers do, they will spread the patties and they will eat the maggots. So you won’t have as much of a way for them to populate. It’s just like people who have terrible mosquito issues. They’ve got standing water sitting around somewhere.
Amy Fewell Yeah.
Joshua Fuhrmann If I’ve got a friend who’s complaining about mosquitoes, I’m like, “Hey, dump out that bucket.” Just kind of normal things that you’ve got to wonder about and you’ve got to think through. So those are two good ways to treat for parasites. I’ve also heard of black walnut in small amounts. Putting some black walnut hull— but like I said, it can be toxic in large amounts. So you have to have small amounts. But Basic H has always been simple and easy for us.
Amy Fewell Yeah, I remember you saying that. And I think that’s what Joel uses, too. I think I remember him saying that. And your mom probably knows this because your mom’s a naturopath, right?
Joshua Fuhrmann Yes ma’am.
Amy Fewell And that black walnut hull is a good antiparasitic. And so I had wondered— I know a lot about treating humans, but I don’t know a whole lot about treating cows. And so one of my ambitions with having cows is kind of seeing what helps if they ever need something like that. So that’s good to know about the black walnut in manageable doses, not high doses. All right, Joshua, thank you for joining me today. This is a lot of information. I know you, right now, can’t see me, I don’t think. But when we watch the replay, you’ll see you I have a whole bunch of notes on my sheet over here that I’ve been taking from you. And so hopefully everybody else has, too, when they’re listening to this. But thanks for joining me on the podcast and I hope you have a great day.
Joshua Fuhrmann Yes ma’am. You too.
Amy Fewell Hey, thanks for taking the time to listen to this week’s Homesteaders of America episode. We really enjoyed having you here. We welcome questions and you can find the transcript and all the show notes below or on our Homesteaders of America blog post that we have up for this podcast episode. Don’t forget to join us online with a membership or just to read blog posts and find out more information about our events at HomesteadersofAmerica.com. We also have a YouTube channel and follow us on all of our social media accounts to find out more about homesteading during this time in American history. All right, have a great day and happy homesteading.