Herd Health 101
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Herd health on any operation, no matter the size, starts with prevention. Prevention includes biosecurity as well as preventative medicine. Both of these, done the correct way, will lead to more profit in the long run.
Closed herds are a great way to reduce the amount of pathogens or bad germs that are brought in on your operations. Keeping your best heifers as replacements rather than purchasing them is a great way to start. Although there are times when you have to buy better genetics to improve your operation. When you go this route, try to avoid stockyards and buy from other producers who you know have a healthy herd. A smart thing to do with any animal that you bring on to your farm is to disinfect them with a product like Virkon or Chlorhexidine. Also, keep them separated (quarantined) for a few weeks before you put them with your own cattle.
Keeping the number of external parasites down is a good way to prevent sickness as well. There are a lot of different methods that will work, and I recommend using a combination of all of them. Fly tags work well but require more labor since they only last for a certain period of time. If you use them just remember to switch up the active ingredient every year. Pay attention to the active ingredient and not the brand, since different brands use the same ingredients.
Pour on’s are available for external and internal parasites in cattle and work great when used properly. Internal parasites can have a great effect on the growth of calves and efficiency in your cow herd. Just remember that there isn’t one miracle dewormer that is a cure-all for all parasites. There are different classes of anthelmintics (dewormers) that treat different parasites. It is important to consult a vet to determine which dewormer you should use to treat the parasites you are having issues with. Once you figure that out, the biggest problem producers have that they might not realize, is giving the correct amount. You need to know how much each calf or cow weighs. The dose is calculated by weight for a reason, so be sure you are getting an accurate weight. When you don’t put enough dewormer on, the parasites start to build resistance to that class of dewormer.
Without preventative medicine like vaccines, calves as well as cows, lack that extra immunity to fight off different bacteria and diseases. This can lead to more animals getting sick. When animals get sick they require antibiotics almost all of the time for treatment. Sick livestock costs time and money. When they do recover, calves’ growth is behind and they take longer to catch up to the rest of your calves. Herd health plans are specific to each operation in different areas so it is important to consult a vet to help create your own herd health plan. Some of the most common diseases that we need to prevent are respiratory, blackleg, scours, pinkeye, and foot rot.
A lot of respiratory diseases are treated in feedlots but still can occur in your operations. Prevention and reduction of treatments goes back to the cow-calf industry with vaccinating the cow herd and calves. Vaccinating the cow herd helps reduce sick calves and calving loss with passive immunity during gestation and lactation. It can also reduce abortions in your cows. In most cases of calf loss, it is due to viral lesions leading to lower immunity, then bacterial infections take over the body.
Blackleg is caused by bacteria that are in the soil or where oxygen is absent. Blackleg may not be commonly heard of like other diseases, but it is around and can be a serious threat to producers when it appears. It lives in conditions without oxygen and when it is exposed to air, the bacteria creates spores that can live for years and can be hard to overcome. Cattle get affected when the spores enter the body through the mouth or wounds. Vaccines are available and work best when they are given to young calves. Treatment for blackleg is expensive, so it is a lot cheaper to prevent than it is to treat.
Scours (diarrhea) occurs when there is inflammation in the intestinal tract (enteritis) and is one of the cattle industry’s biggest economical losses in calves. More calves obtain scours within the first 2 months than any age of cattle. Enteritis can be caused by a number of diseases, so many symptoms can be seen. Stress from the weather can start the process that leads to scours. Once scours set in, it’s important to treat calves as soon as possible. Calves get dehydrated and start to lose weight, which in turn can cause death in just a few days if not treated. Sanitation and making sure calves get plenty of colostrum are the best preventative methods against scours. There are also vaccines that can be given to cows at least 30 days before calving that can help control most types of scours.
Pinkeye is a common disease that can have a large economic impact and is usually caused by bacteria. It is spread by insects that have been in direct contact with the pathogen. Fly control is the best way to help prevent pinkeye, but there are vaccines that are made from strains of bacteria that can be used as a prevention. Consult your vet to get a vaccine from a strain or strains that are common in your area.
Foot rot is the last issue we are going to cover and it can be caused by many bacteria, fungi, or other organisms that are mainly found in wet areas. Foot rot occurs when the pathogen enters the body through an open wound in the foot due to sharp objects like nails, wire, or rocks. There are no vaccines available for foot rot, so prevention is the best treatment. Sanitation and good drainage of pastures, watering, or feeding areas, are key to keeping foot rot cases to a minimum.
If you noticed repetition throughout this topic you are right. In almost all diseases, prevention is the best treatment and is often cheaper than using antibiotics or other medications to treat sick or infected animals. According to the University of Illinois, “The annual cost of a vaccine health program ranges from $3 to $10 per cow-calf unit.” So in the long run, it is not that expensive and creates healthier cattle. Even though the cow-calf industry may not see many disease issues, it is still important to vaccinate and produce healthy calves. Selling healthier cattle can earn you a higher profit on sale day and is best for our cattle industry not only locally but at a national level.