Summer Herd Health
Summer can be a wonderful time on the farm – haying season is in full swing, calves are growing and the kids are out of school. But as enjoyable as summer is, it can also bring some problems for the health of your cattle herd. If you do run up against any of the health concerns listed below, contact your veterinarian and begin treatment immediately to prevent the situation from taking a much more serious turn.
Heat Stress: “The most consistent health concern for Ozarks cattle herds in the summer is heat stress,” said Dr. Heidi Ward, assistant professor and veterinarian for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. This summer’s only health concern can quickly become a costly and devastating problem.
“One of the largest costs of heat stress is reduced fertility,” said Reagan Bluel, University of Missouri-Extension Regional Dairy Specialist for Southwest Missouri. “Fertility is primarily compromised through early embryonic loss,” she said, and can be a direct result of heat stress. In extreme cases, this condition can even cause death. Knowing the signs of heat stress is crucial for producers.
“Heat stress shows itself in several ways. High respiration rates, drooling and open-mouth breathing are classic visible signs,” said Eldon Cole, MU Extension Livestock Specialist. “Of course, checking body temperatures is another way. The normal cattle temperature is 101.5 degrees. Under heat stress conditions the temperature may rise to 105 or more.”
Cattle showing signs of heat stress need to be moved to shade and given water immediately – if it is a severe case, contact your veterinarian about potential electrolyte solution.
Tick Borne Illness: “The most common infectious problem is anaplasmosis, a tick-borne disease that spreads from herd to herd through biting insects,” Ward noted.
“Adult cattle with anaplasmosis are even more susceptible to heat stress and often die when the stress triggers the immune system to attack infected red blood cells.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first symptoms of anaplasmosis typically begin within one to two weeks after the bite of an infected tick and the symptoms include reluctance to eat, weight loss, pale skin around the muzzle, labored breathing, constipation and high fever. If cattle exhibit any of these symptoms, a veterinarian needs contacted immediately – if the disease is caught early enough, cattle can be treated with antibiotics and potentially a blood transfusion with a good chance of recovery.
Fescue Toxicity: One of the foremost warm weather problems that crops up on the farm is fescue toxicity.
“Fescue toxicity is definitely a summer problem and is caused by a fungi found in the seed heads of some fescue varieties used as forage in the Ozarks. Over-fertilization of these pastures with nitrogen seem to make the problem worse,” Ward said. “The current recommendations are to graze the fescue pastures early before the grass goes into the reproductive phase and produce seed heads and to give cattle access to ample cool water and shade. A long-term alternative is to establish an annual summer grass to dilute the effects of the fescue.”
No matter what summer health problems come to light on your farm, the key is getting a professional diagnosis from your veterinarian as quickly as possible, and proceeding with the recommended treatment plan from there.