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Dairy Farming Lessons

Pamelann S.
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 3, May-June 2002, p. 98

My husband, Brad, and I worked on a dairy farm where I learned, in an unusual way, that breastfeeding is very important. It was long before our son, Clayton, came into our lives. Brad was born and raised on a farm so milking cows was as natural to him as breathing. But I had a lot to learn in my job of caring for calves.

When we first arrived for the farm job, many of the calves were dying. On a dairy farm, calves are taken from their mothers after birth so that the cow can be milked. I was told how and what to feed the calves and what to do in the event of illness. I was taught the signs and symptoms of different illnesses, which drugs to use, and how to administer them. It was a lot of work getting sick calves well again. I learned how to do this and I was very proud of myself.

I noticed that the animal feed sales representatives who came to the farm always stressed the importance of colostrum for the newborn calf, in spite of their interest in selling "calf replacement formula." I began to form and implement my own feeding techniques. I requested that the colostrum be saved from each milking. I bottled and refrigerated every drop. When I built up my refrigerator supply, I began freezing the rest. Soon I had so much colostrum that most newborn calves were fed colostrum for three or more days and no calf had to go without.

This feeding regimen and my careful monitoring reduced the need for drugs. The illness rate among the calves dropped significantly as well as the cost of raising them since there was less formula and medication to buy. The calves were healthier. I was now even prouder of myself for having raised healthy calves right from the start just by utilizing what nature intended all along. Brad would always say, "A calf who has been sick has a higher chance of illness as an adult." When Clayton was born, I needed no convincing of the benefits of breastfeeding. I just knew it would be worth it.

Breastfeeding was a long and difficult path for us, filled with episode after episode of plugged ducts, milk blisters, mastitis, and thrush. My husband was very supportive and my LLL Leader, Barb, was very helpful with suggestions about what I could do to solve my problems. There were many hugs, tears, and warm compresses but I continued believing it was all worth it and that things would get better. After all, if a cow has these troubles the farmer does not give up and say, "It didn't work out for her." He keeps on trying to get his cow on the road to successful lactation. I was happy to have "cow" knowledge to solve my own problems. It's amazing how similar the problems and solutions, although most women want nothing to do with the comparison.

My last plugged duct came when Clayton was eight months old. That seems like a long period of troubles, but the benefits of breastfeeding and the breastfeeding relationship Clayton and I developed made it worth the inconvenience of my discomfort. So I became a pro at getting plugged ducts unplugged.

Thanks to the support of my husband and the help of La Leche League, Clayton is now a two-year-old nursling. We enjoy every nursing session and look forward to more. I am, once again, proud of myself for my achievement and happy to have a son who loves cows. Imagine that!

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