CONDITIONS for stock over the past month have in general been quite benign and animals seem to have been turned out to grass in good shape to make the most of the plentiful spring grass.
Metabolic demands on beef cows around calving have taken their toll in a few cases, though. I have seen cows and calves lost as a result of the complications of milk fever on a few occasions.
Strategies adopted by dairy farmers can easily be adapted to beef animals where small inexpensive steps can prevent losses, and you only have to save one cow or calf every few years for them to be easily costeffective.
Simply measuring the Dietary Cation-Anion Balance (DCAB) of the main pre-calving forage can give an idea of the risk and, if high, special attention can be paid to at-risk cows (old, fat, twin-bearing, dairy bred), BEFORE they calve down.
This is easier if a due date is known, which it often isn’t. So if DCAB is high, consider supplementing water of at-risk cows prior to calving with Bichlor or similar, and ensuring magnesium levels are adequate.
If cows go down around calving, this can be disastrous for both cow and calf, given the importance of colostrum intake in the first hours of life.
Further on in lactation, the energy demands can “find out” cows with underlying disease and Johne’s is a good example of this.
Johne’s disease has been diagnosed by the project in a series of bought-in dairy bred replacement animals. In each case, the Johne’s status of the source herd was not known and the animals represented a significant loss to the enterprise (and money badly spent in buying them).
Cow longevity is a key determinant of suckler herd profitability and replacements are critical to the herd’s future: Always enquire about the Johne’s status of dairy farms from, which potential replacement heifers are sourced and go for animals from accredited free herds where possible.
Sheep can also suffer from Johne’s. Shearing time is a good opportunity to spot (and test) thin ewes.
Clostridial disease continues to cause sudden deaths in last year’s weaned cattle, which always seems a shame as vaccines are cheap and effective. There have been one or two cases of bacterial pneumonia in suckler calves (vaccinated for viral pneumonia) out at grass, which is quite unusual as sub-optimal ventilation issues should not apply.
There will be an underlying cause in most cases – it just requires a thorough approach, working with your vet, to find it. Trace element deficiency (copper, selenium) has been the culprit in a few cases, so attention to this aspect before turnout is important.
Lungworm will soon be in prospect, so vigilance is advised.
On the sheep front, coccidiosis continues to be seen, sometimes in older than expected lambs, but most should now be immune. Serious parasitic gastroenteritis problems have not occurred yet, probably because of the dry weather, but lambs will be eating enough grass now for the risk to be rising, especially on sheep-sick land and if the weather turns wet.
When dosing later in the year, don’t miss the opportunity to drench test lambs, especially if using a white (sample ten to 14 days posttreatment) or yellow drench (seven days post-treatment).
If resistance is identified, that drench will not be effective against those worm species in future.
The Eblex-funded project aims to provide an inexpensive and accessible postmortem service, based at J Warren ABP, in Hamsterley, County Durham. To benefit from the service, the farmer should request a postmortem at the time of collection.
This will be conducted at the collection centre and results reported back to each farmer within 24 hours.
Costs (ex-VAT), which include some simple lab tests, are £20 for a lamb, £25 for a ewe or tup, £30 for a calf less than six months old, £50 for a beast six to 24 months old, and £70 for a cow or bull.
For further details contact Ben Strugnell on 07899- 950372 or Warrens ABP.