Cut Herd Health Risks
Proactively improving wellness is the most important function of a herd health program.
“If our goal is to prevent fetal infections, we’d like immunity to be the highest when the threat is the greatest,” said Gerald Stokka, a Pfizer Animal Health veterinarian.
That’s why he recommends pre-breeding vaccinations for cows and a first round of vaccinations for calves at one to two months of age.
Stokka consulted on the Best Practices Manual, a new publication from Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB), which contains a chart of optimal vaccines and timing. It suggests protection against parasites, as well as clostridial and respiratory diseases.
“Most vaccines should have a booster,” Stokka said. “It’s a difficult management task to achieve, but it would be best to give a booster.”
Viral vaccines at spring turnout can provide protection against summer pneumonias. Their bacterial counterparts guard against blackleg and some types of pneumonias, he says.
“Sickness is such a labor issue. It takes away from other things that need to be done,” Stokka said.
A key to giving the vaccinations at the right time is a functional facility.
“When things are difficult to do, they tend to be avoided,” he said. “Proper working facilities for cows and calves are essential.”
To stay healthy, a calf must start healthy. Calving area design and management make a big difference, said David Smith, Extension veterinarian at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).
“Scours is the leading cause of sickness and death for baby calves,” he said. “For a lot of producers it’s the difference between a profitable season or not.”
UNL research found that calving in the same small lot or barn for weeks at a time may be the cause of a ranch-wide outbreak.
“The probability for calves to scour increased as the calving season progressed,” Smith said, explaining that the older calves become infected and expose the younger calves to disease.
“There was time for that pasture, the environment, to become polluted with all these pathogens,” he said. Smith’s work led to the development of the Sandhills Calving Program, a system that has helped some ranchers eliminate scours problems altogether.
When the first calf is born, the entire herd is moved to an initial calving pasture. After two weeks, all the pregnant cows and heifers move to a new pasture, leaving the cow-calf pairs behind. This movement continues weekly after that.
As we keep calving in new pastures each week, we end up with a series of lots, each holding calves that are around the same age,” he noted.
One 900-head Sandhills herd had as many as 120 deaths from scours prior to implementing the program. The ranch records no scours-related deaths today.
Smith said not all producers deal with scours, but for those with even the occasional challenge, this system could save time and lost revenue.
“A number of ranchers say that not only do they have more calves to market, but those calves are thriftier,” Smith said. “Calves that experience scours in the first few weeks have lower performance as they go into the feedlot.”
Stokka said that’s true of almost any disease, early on.
“Cattle that stay healthy throughout their lifetime tend to perform better, with higher average daily gains (ADG) and feed efficiencies, once they go on to the next phase,” he said. “When cattle don’t have bad days, like being sick or short on feed, it will enhance carcass quality.”
Parasites, disease and other stressors reduce the final value of that animal.
“There are definite benefits to making sure these calves are as healthy as we can possibly make them,” he said.
That starts long before they’re even born.
“A total health program is not just vaccines and when to give them,” Stokka said. “It’s paying attention to the entire scope of producing healthy calves. That begins with asking, what kind of genetics do I have?”
Conformation, mothering ability and disposition all affect results.
“It’s absolutely vital, when trying to put together a health program, that the genetics are correct,” he said. “If they’re not, you can have the greatest vaccines in the world, and have the best timing, and it will never be what you want it to be.”
Lifetime nutrition also plays a role.
“If the cows aren’t receiving the appropriate protein, energy and macro- and micro-minerals, then what vaccines you use won’t help very much, either.”
The big-picture approach to health management will help eliminate all those risks that could cause big headaches and big discounts down the road.
Miranda Reiman is an Industry Information Specialist with Certified Angus Beef.