Nutrition and vaccinations are critical for overall health

The warmer weather may be sparking thoughts of spring cleaning and to-do lists. While compiling a list of spring chores, how about developing a plan to build a healthier herd? Experts agree that an unhealthy herd is an unprofitable herd. Luckily there are many ways farmers can get their herd moving on a healthier path. 

First, producers should evaluate their herd health protocols.

“I am all about preventative maintenance, taking care of them before they have a problem,” Andy McCorkill, livestock field specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

A good starting point is making sure a solid nutrition and mineral program is in place. 

“We have to take care of our animals by the way that we feed them. Animals that look healthy are going to be more apt to be healthy,” McCorkill added. 

Farmers can protect the health of their herd by restricting the movement of animals coming and going from their operation. Keep new animals separated from the rest of the herd until it’s established the animals are not carrying any pathogens. 

Vaccinations also play a significant role in promoting herd health. It’s never too late to start or improve on a vaccination program. 

“Vaccinations on healthy animals simply gives them a better chance to fend off disease challenges,” Johnny Gunsaulis, county extension agent, U of A Division of Agriculture in Benton County, Ark., said. Gunsaulis added some producers may want to test for diseases such as Johne’s, Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) and anaplasmosis.

Wildlife can carry diseases that impact a herd from a reproductive standpoint. Livestock can pick up leptospirosis (a disease that causes abortions in cattle) and other diseases that are spread through wildlife fecal matter and urine. Experts recommend looking for and cleaning off any manure piles on hay or silage. In addition, use water sources that limit fecal and urine contamination. 

A consistent and thorough deworming program can go a long way to promoting good herd health. “The animal spends a lot of its energy on the biggest attacker it recognizes,” Gunsaulis said. “When there is a significant worm load, a lot of the immune system is focused on that problem and the animal is more susceptible to other diseases.”

It is essential to follow proper deworming protocols so that animals do not develop parasite resistance. Experts recommend following the labels in order to ensure the drugs are working at their maximum efficacy. 

“Over the last few years, the typical veterinary recommendation has been to cut back on cattle to once or twice a year on deworming,” McCorkill said. “Some veterinarians will recommend using multiple products with different modes of action so that we completely wipe out what parasite trouble we have each time,” McCorkill added. 

Reducing stress is yet another way to maintain a healthy herd. Producers can start to reduce stress by focusing on the youngest animals in their operations. “I like to be well on the road of having the calves vaccinated before I wean them, to ensure that they have that immunity built up especially for respiratory diseases,” McCorkill shared.

In addition, experts recommend castrating and dehorning calves as early as possible to minimize stress. They also suggest fence line weaning or calf weaners, which are put in the nose of the calf to prevent them from nursing, to assist with the transition of weaning. 

Since calves from first calf heifers don’t have the immunity that calves from older cows have, producers should plan to calve their heifers separate from the older cows. If possible, move them to a clean field just before they start calving and then have fields to transition them to every two to three weeks throughout the calving season.


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