From the smallest cow-calf farm to the largest beef cattle ranch, herd health maintenance allows livestock producers to improve the fertility and overall longevity of the herd. Beyond maintaining proper facilities, working closely with the veterinarian, and combatting herd stress, you can better maintain herd health year-round with these additional activities.
1. Evaluate BCS regularly, sort cattle when needed.
Body condition scoring (BCS) is important throughout the year. The score gives you an idea of how well an animal is equipped with proper energy reserves, body mass, and health to handle seasonal changes, reproductive plans, and even stress. Because the basic 1 through 9 scale assesses the fatness and body condition of a cow or bull, the ratings help you make decisions about issues such as which animals should be grazing, supplemented, and given more all-around attention.
By sorting your herd according to their BCS, you can more effectively maintain the health and longevity of your animals.
2. Analyze the nutritive quality of feed rations and supplement strategically.
Analyzing what the herd eats is an obvious way to cut operational costs and maintain herd health throughout the year, and yet many small cattle farms fail to make observations that can significantly reduce cost.
Seasonal weather changes like humidity, temperature, and precipitation have a major influence on the quality of pastureland, and also affect stored hay and other food rations. Taking samples from your pasture and rations for analysis to determine their nutritive quality allows you to supplement where needed to make sure your herd is getting their required nutrition.
Make it a point to take samples at least once each season and adjust supplementation plans accordingly. Doing so can be a major factor in maintaining optimal BCS throughout the herd.
3. Monitor and manage external and internal parasites.
Parasites can be a year-round issue but are most prevalent among cattle in the spring, summer, and fall. Internal parasites are obviously a threat to your cattle, with the potential to affect long-term immune system reactions, body condition, and reproduction due to changes in nutritional absorption.
However, even external parasites like biting flies can cause problems. For instance, grazing patterns in pastures and the overall behavior of the herd can be affected by external parasites.
Stay alert to signs of parasites, treat the herd consistently, and avoid postponing treatments — the repercussions of inattention can be exceptionally damaging to herd health for the long term.
4. Aptly prepare your herd for the winter season.
Winter can be especially taxing on your herd, especially if you live in a colder climate and get a lot of inclement weather. In addition, spring-calving dairy and beef operations will have a large number of females somewhere close to or already in their third trimester of pregnancy during late winter.
The onset of winter should be a time of:
- Monitoring nutritional requirements
- BCS assessments to use as a guiding reference as the weather changes
- Veterinarian care to make sure herd health protocols are followed and vaccinations are given sorting pregnant heifers and cows according to BCS and feed requirements
It’s ideal to assess your entire cowherd’s BCS at the beginning of winter, whether pregnant or not. Improving scores for cows you plan to breed at the beginning of spring ensures a healthier season.
5. Be attentive to season-related health threats.
Every new season brings along new health threats. While winter can be more challenging for the herd, the summer heat leaves cattle more susceptible to things such as flies, summer pneumonia, pink eye, and even anthrax. Spring – with volatile weather patterns and loads of rain – can introduce threats of bovine respiratory disease, foot rot, and coccidiosis. The fall brings a higher risk of bacterial diarrhea, clostridiosis, and acorn poisoning.
Familiarizing yourself with all seasonal risks and threats specific to your herd’s environment helps ensure problems and illnesses are identified and addressed quickly.
Year-Round Herd Health Maintenance Leads to Long-Term Success
By carefully monitoring herd health throughout every new season, you are much more likely to prevent problems from arising or prevent small problems from turning into big ones. Simple herd-health maintenance strategies can both reduce your overhead costs and generate bigger operating profits year after year.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. John L. Curtis is President and founder of Agtech, Inc. Dr. Curtis has a Ph.D. in animal science with extensive experience in all areas of cattle embryo transfer technology. He maintains active participation in the daily operations of the business, including in-house research and development. Dr. Curtis also provides hands-on livestock embryo transfer training to students in the United States and internationally.