Are some of your cattle still sporting a winter coat? It could be genetics or nutritional issues 

The shedding of winter coats is a natural process for animals as the weather warms, but if cattle aren’t shedding off it should be cause for concern.

Fred Miller with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture said that they “learned that early shedding of winter coats correlated with better breeding performance.”

“Four years of data showed cows that shed in May had higher pregnancy rates to artificial insemination and their calves had higher weights at weaning than cows that shed their coats later in the year,” he said.

“Cattlemen for years have used hair shedding as an indicator of cattle health,” said Eldon Cole, livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. “The first thing most people associate long, rough haircoats with is parasites, mostly the internal type. Internal parasites are fairly easy to handle once you and your veterinarian identify for sure the product he recommends for your particular operation.”

If a producer has ruled out the possibility of parasites, it’s time to consider the feeding program and evaluate whether or not the cattle are receiving everything they need to maintain good body condition and slip their winter hair.

“Nutrition or lack of proper nutrient intake must be considered in young growing stock or in females under lactational stress,” advised Cole. “Energy or TDN (Total Digestible Nutrients) shortage is more often than not the culprit.

The problem has been given some names like “high trough disease,” “agroceryosis” or “hollow belly.”

Shedding takes place once the animal receives adequate amounts of TDN and they return to a gaining condition.

Also, along the nutrition lines, if a producer feeds fescue, that could be a reason for cattle not shedding out properly.

“Currently, much attention regarding slow shedding is focused on the most popular forage in this area, Kentucky 31 fescue. Cattle grazing it or eating it as dry hay may be suffering the toxic effects known as fescue toxicosis,” Cole said. “It results in poor blood circulation, reduced growth rate, poor reproductive patterns in both cows and bulls. An obvious symptom is slow or even a failure to shed winter hair coats. This failure is a real problem when heat and humid conditions occur. The actual cause of the circulation problem is several ergot alkaloids that come from the fungus in fescue.”

If cattle haven’t shed out by a certain date, that’s a pretty good sign that something might be amiss.

“Early shedding is evident within breeds and certainly between breeds thus it could be a factor when making herd culling decisions,” Cole said.

With the approach of summer, slow shedding cattle are more prone to heat stress and high body temperatures, which result in slower gains, lower milk production and poor reproductive rates.


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