Bovine Health Briefs


Calving Tips

Calving season is one of the most exciting times of the year as producers see the outcomes of their breeding decisions in their herd. It is also a very stressful time when calving difficulties, or dystocia, occur. Here is a review of some basic facts about calving.

Labor occurs in two stages. In stage one, the female starts to segregate from the herd and starts to show discharge. This stage lasts from two to six hours. Stage two is considered heavy labor and usually lasts no more than two hours. Record the time when the stages of labor begin and other observations about the laboring cows so if calving difficulty occurs, you have a record to share with us. If the labor is not progressing, you may want to check with us.

If the cow needs assistance, clean its vulva with a mild soap. Wear well-lubricated plastic sleeves when entering the birth canal to protect the cow and calf from foreign bacteria. Pull mainly when the cow is having a contraction to prevent tearing. If there is a problem, allow yourself 20 minutes to correct the situation and then call us for assistance.

Once the calf is born, be sure to clear the fluid out of its nose and mouth so it can breathe, and dip the navel with iodine to prevent navel ill. Also, be sure the calf nurses as soon as possible. It is important for the calf to drink 20% of its body weight within the first 24 hours to make sure it is off to a healthy start.

(From "Veterinary Tips for Delivering Calves," Angus Journal, November 1997.)

Wintering the Herd

Winter feed supply is estimated at 30% to 40% of all costs to maintain a beef cow herd. Over-feeding can be costly. However, under-feeding can be expensive too in regard to lower conception rates, decreased milk production, lighter weaning weights and less salvage weight when selling cull cows.

One management strategy is to group the cows for the winter based on their nutritional needs. An example of groupings might be mature cows in good condition; weaned heifer calves; and pregnant yearling heifers, thin two-year olds that have just weaned their first calf, and old, thin cows.

Nutritionally speaking all three groups may have additional requirements in extremely cold winter weather. Temperatures between 30? and 80? F are within the comfort zone for most cattle. Energy requirements increase when the temperature goes above or below this range. This increase is dramatic in cattle exposed to extremely cold weather without shelter. For example, a typical 1,100-pound dry brood cow in good condition with a full coat of hair and no access to shelter would require 10% more energy for each 10 degree decline in the wind chill factor below 30?. It is important to remember that the changes in the feeding regimen should occur if cattle are going to be exposed to extremely cold conditions for long periods of time rather than just one or two days.


Keep Herd Health Simple

To be able to use herd health programs effectively, you need to know what a healthy herd is. If animals' disease resistance level drops below the disease challenge level, sickness occurs. The worst scenario occurs when the resistance level is dropping at the same time as the disease challenge is rising.

The resistance level of an animal or herd can be lowered by stresses such as poor nutrition, transportation, winter storms, heat stress, fluctuating daytime/nighttime temperature, and processing. The disease challenge level can be increased when cattle from different sources are mixed together, when a sick animal is added to a herd of susceptible ones, and when susceptible cattle are added to a herd of sick ones.

To keep herd health simple, (1) recognize disease challenges, (2) know when they occur, (3) raise resistance levels before the challenge occurs, and (4) reduce the challenge. We can help.

Quick Tips for Identifying Sick Cattle

The experienced feeder can usually identify sick animals by visual inspection. The following technique, however, is offered to the inexperienced handler or anyone who doesn't have the "knack" for identifying sick cattle.

Process cattle before noon on the day after arrival. (Rising temperatures in the afternoon can affect the animals' body temperature and appearance.) As soon as an animal is restrained in the chute, take its temperature with a rectal thermometer. Designate as sick all cattle with a rectal temperature of 104? F or greater. Designate as sick all visibly ill cattle regardless of body temperature. Visible signs of illness include excessive nasal discharge, labored breathing, harsh coughing, moderate to severe depression or bloody diarrhea. Animals exhibiting only loose stools or non-bloody diarrhea are not necessarily considered sick. Mark or tag the sick ones, treat them according to a predetermined program, record the treatment and sort the sick animals into a hospital pen.


Winter Ration Options for Stocker Cattle

Ranch management philosophies, feeds available, status of the cattle market, and future destination all influence the decision on the optimum rate of gain for stocker cattle over the winter. Growing rations are categorized in three groups: less than 1 pound of daily gain, 1 to 1.5 pounds of daily gain, and more than 1.5 pounds of daily gain.

With the first option, cattle are fed only roughage or a limited amount of feed and maintained in the open with little protection except for natural shelter. Calves wintered at this rate and summered on pastures will likely not be as heavy in the fall, but net profits may not justify the costs of wintering at higher gains.

The second option involves feeding cattle 2 to 4 pounds of grain per head per day and/or a commercial supplement and all of the high quality hay the cattle will eat. This option allows the cattle to be put on grass or possibly to go directly into the feedlot at the end of the winter.

Cattle on the third feeding option (more than 1.5 pounds of daily gain) usually have the cheapest cost per pound of gain. Many feedlots find these gains to be the most desirable, as overhead costs can be a factor in the cost of gain.


Winter Weather's Effect on Feed Intake

Extreme, rapid weather changes can have a significant impact on the feed intake of cattle in the yard. Just prior to a change in the weather, cattle may suddenly increase their feed consumption. This abrupt grain intake may result in digestive disorders. This situation causes cattle to go off feed, increasing their changes for sickness. Other cattle will reduce their feed intake during periods of bad weather. During the winter it is recommended managers feed higher levels of roughage in the finishing rations, such as 15% to 20% rather than 5% to 10% on a dry matter basis. This should help reduce the number of digestive disorders in the yard as a result of rapid weather changes.

(From Michigan Beef Production Extension Bulletin E-1752.)

Mud Weighs Down Profits

Muddy conditions in the feedyard are credited for decreasing feed intake, slowing down average daily gain, increasing disease, and raising the amount of feed required per pound of gain. Research has shown 4 to 8 inches of mud in a lot will decrease intake by 8% to 15%, slow gains by 14% and increase feed requirements per pound of gain by 13%. Severe conditions–mud 12 to 24 inches deep–can reduce feed intake by up to 30% and decrease average daily gain by 25%. For example, a steer that would normally gain 3 pounds per day may only gain about 2.25 pounds for each day it spends in a muddy pen. Thus, every 4 days spent in a muddy pen adds 1 day to the total time required in the feedlot to reach slaughter weight. Mud problems can be reduced by well-designed mounds and pens that allow for good drainage, proper windbreaks, and ample space for the cattle.

(From Michigan Beef Production Extension Bulletin E-1752 and Taylor, Robert, Beef Production and the Beef Industry: A Beef Producer's Perspective.)