The First Steps of Animal Health
Animal health is very important to the overall profitability of all livestock operations. Animal health failure is a consequence of many management practices that producers take for granted or just fail to account for. Many producers believe that a good vaccination program is a good animal health program. It is true that a veterinarian prescribed vaccination program is a good start but many other components really address an optimum animal health program. I like for producers to understand that animal health programs should be preventive and not reactive. Too many of them concentrate on animal health issues once a wreck (e.g. disease outbreak) has occurred instead of preventing the wreck.
A disease is any deviation from normal health in which there are marked physiological, anatomical or chemical changes in the animal's body. Non-infectious diseases may result from injury, genetic abnormalities, consumption of toxic materials or poor nutrition. They are not due to microorganisms. Bloat is a common non-infectious disease that producers have to deal with. Infectious diseases are those that are caused by bacteria, viruses and protozoa. Ringworm and brucellosis are two common infectious diseases that producers protect cattle against.
Many animal health problems can be controlled or even prevented with good management, proper nutrition, good sanitation practices, a strong biosecurity plan and a customized vaccination program against infectious diseases. A successful herd health program must be reexamined on a regular basis in order to adjust for changes in herd management and to incorporate new information and technologies that are available.
The First Step: Nutrition
I am firm believer that animal nutrition is a great starting place to keep a strong, healthy animal. In general, poor nutrition levels lead to a compromised immune system. It is particularly important to maintain a moderately fleshy body condition. For example, cows should be kept in a body condition score of five to seven (on a scale of one to nine).
Concentrating on the use of economically preventive practices will help the bottom line. You should consult your veterinarian to assess specific disease agents prevalent in you area. The “shotgun” method of vaccinating for every disease known is not practical or economically feasible. Veterinarians can help you prioritize or rank various vaccines, anthelmintics and diagnostic tests that are necessary for your particular operation. A clean, sanitary management plan is a must.
Reduce the Threat
Reducing exposure to disease agents is also an area that needs more emphasis today. A good biosecurity plan can prevent introduction of new disease agents into your herd. This biosecurity plan should include animal, human and even equipment movement on the farm. I also suggest that producers be more conscientious on the control of insects (flies, lice or ticks) and rodents who are known carriers of many blood born disorders.
Good management practices are required to minimize exposure of susceptible animals to specific infectious agents. Minimizing animal density, keeping susceptible animals away from contaminated areas, preventing the buildup of contaminated materials in barns and loafing sheds and preventing contamination of feed and water are considered good animal health practices.
Isolation of all newly acquired animals is a must in the “gold standard” animal health program. However, the practice of isolation alone will only protect a herd from outside animals acutely infected with a short incubation period. These are generally diseases that were picked up while moving through the marketing process. Buying from closed herd farms can minimize the risk of introducing new animals into the population.
It is always a good idea to identify and isolate sick animals in a timely fashion. Producers should become knowledgeable on early signs of sickness. These signs generally include reduced water intake, reduced feed intake, heavy breathing or respiration rate, staying away from herd mates, downed ears, head carried low and mucous secretions from the nose. Those feeding the animals will generally identify the sick animal first if they take any time at all to observe the animals beyond dumping the feed out. Reduced water intake may be the first early sign of sickness but it is a very difficult sign to observe.
Technology for Health
DNA technology is a new practice that is gaining attention by many progressive livestock producers. This is a simple soft tissue (blood, ear notch, semen or root hair) test that can help producers identify carrier animals or those that have a compromised genotype for fighting off certain disorders. Persistently infected BVD animals are the most commonly tested animals today. The cost of the test is reasonable (less than $3) and relatively simple to perform.
In conclusion, it is important for producers to remember that a good proactive animal health plan will improve the overall profitability of the operation. Preventing diseases through the use of a herd health management plan will save time and money. For best results, work with your local veterinarian who is familiar with your livestock operation. Justifying the cost of preventive health management plan may sometimes be difficult to swallow but remember “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Dr. Tommy Perkins is a professor of animal science at Missouri State University.