Regardless of one’s location throughout the United States, a common goal among all cow-calf producers is wean a healthy calf crop each year. With today’s markets where calves earning north of $200 per hundredweight is not out of the question, producers should have further incentive to ensure their calves are raised under optimal conditions allowing them to wean as many pounds of beef they can.
An important step in that process is controlling internal parasites throughout the herd. Left unchecked, stomach and intestinal worms can cause production loss, create health issues throughout the herd, and thus, result in economic loss for the producer. Investing in and following a strategic deworming plan can help minimize the effects of parasites on cattle operations across the country. Rather than waiting until cattle show signs of parasitism, producers should follow a deworming program that reduces infection by interrupting the lifecycle of the parasite before symptoms occur.
Adult parasites produce eggs that are shed in manure, and larva hatches from the egg. The larvae develop, become infective and are capable of migrating from the manure onto moist grass. When cows graze on the infected grass, they ingest the larvae, which then develop into adult parasites capable of producing eggs, and the process starts over again. Larvae can survive up to a year on pasture, according to the University of Arkansas.
Parasites can result in production losses, ranging from depressed feed take and conversion, reduced weight gain, lower milk production and lower reproductive performance. They can also have negative effects on immunity and cause visible, disease like symptoms, including anemia, edema, diarrhea and more.
To achieve the best return on investment in a deworming program, it is important to deworm cattle when it is most effective. Parasite burden peaks during the spring when grass is wet from rain or dew and is lowest during hot summer months when grass is typically drier. Virginia Tech University recommends that programs should start when cattle are first turned out to pasture to graze in the spring, with subsequent dewormings depending on the length of the persistent activity of the dewormer the producer chooses to use.
The age of the animal is also a factor to consider when developing a strategic deworming plan. Older cows develop immunity to parasites over time and are not as susceptible. Young calves, however, are at a higher risk, making appropriate deworming even more crucial. Studies have shown that effective deworming programs can provide 20 or more extra pounds of gain per grazing season.
There are many products on the market from which producers can choose when it comes time to deworm their cattle. Some are pour-on products while others are injectable and a few are given orally. When selecting a product, factors to consider include the age of the animal, ease of application, product efficacy, broad spectrum of control, cost effectiveness, withdrawal time and personal safety, according to the University of Arkansas.
Producers should work with their veterinarian to develop a strategic deworming program that fits production and management goals.
Developing and following comprehensive herd health plans is a good practice for all cattlemen to follow, and including a strategic deworming program in one’s plan can lead to improved profits and overall improved herd health.
Another important part of a strategic deworming program focuses on pasture management, and we will take a closer look at steps to reduce parasite issues by managing pasture in a future article.