Producers should evaluate hair coat and condition on cattle

As spring warms and everyone’s thoughts start to turn towards summer, the thoughts of most livestock seem to turn towards “what can I rub against to shed off all this hair?’

Shedding is prominent this time of year as animals lose their winter coats and turn sleek and glossy for summer. If cattle aren’t slipping those winter coats, however, it can be cause for concern. If it is a reoccurring issue with a few particular animals, it might be time to add them to the cull pen, since improper shedding suggests below optimum level performance.

Hair shedding is inheritable. That means you can select cattle that shed off more quickly than others.

Early shedders wean off heavier calves, suffer less heat stress, tend to breed back more readily and are more attractive to look at than animals that retain their winter coat all summer.

“Cattlemen for years have used hair shedding as an indicator of cattle health,” said Eldon Cole, livestock field 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 you have ruled out the possibility of parasites, it’s time to consider your feeding program and evaluate whether or not your 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. Shedding takes place once the animal receives adequate amounts of TDN and they return to a gaining condition.”

Also, along the nutrition lines, if you feed 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 your cattle haven’t shed out by a certain date, that’s a pretty good sign that something might be amiss.

“A target now is to have cattle shed off by May 15. Early shedding is evident within breeds and certainly between breeds thus it could be a factor when making herd culling decisions,” Cole said.


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