On beef cattle operations, the fall season requires many management and labor decisions, including repairing fences, planting cover crops, assessing pasture conditions, moving cattle to fall grazing and wondering if enough feed is available for the winter.
Unlike with crops, producers can’t buy insurance to cover the vagaries in the livestock business. However, they can take steps to ensure they have a successful year. What “crop insurance” do cattle producers need for this fall?
One step is good management, according to livestock experts at North Dakota State University.
“The fall season is another good time to assess body condition score (BCS) in cows nursing calves,” NDSU Extension Service beef cattle specialist Carl Dahlen says. “Scheduling pregnancy checks for cows nursing calves provides a good opportunity to identify cows for market and to prewean vaccinated calves. Pregnancy checking heifers provides the opportunity to market open females directly off pasture.”
Bulls need evaluation in the fall as well, Dahlen says. Producers should assess the animals’ feet legs and BCS, and check the bulls for penile injuries. Mature bulls should have minimal weight loss during the breeding season, while yearling bulls will lose some weight during that time and would benefit from improved nutrition when removed from the breeding herd.
Selecting the right vaccine is another part of good fall livestock management.
“This aspect of ‘crop insurance’ must be done in consultation with your veterinarian because it involves an assessment of the risk of certain diseases, and the efficacy and safety of specific vaccines,” says Gerald Stokka, NDSU Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist. “The preweaning vaccination protocol provides an ideal opportunity to follow up on springtime vaccinations and enhance the immune response to respiratory pathogens.”
Respiratory disease is one of the primary risks to weaned calves, Stokka notes. Bovine respiratory disease complex (BRDC) is associated with the stress of weaning, a change of diet, transportation or movement to new surroundings, and often the commingling of different pasture groups on the same ranch. Enhancing the calves’ immunity to specific potential pathogens decreases the risk of BRDC.
In addition, sorting and vaccinating calves while they still are nursing reduces the stress of the processing event.
“Preweaning vaccination events, while stressful, can minimize pathogen stress that normally is associated with commingling of different pastures, separation from the dam and changes in diet that occur with weaning,” Stokka says. “Work to ensure that all animal-handling events are conducted in a calm, low-stress manner to the extent possible.”
Depending on the veterinarian’s assessment of the disease risk in a herd, calves may receive booster doses at weaning or simply may be separated from their dams without additional vaccinations. Modified live virus vaccines, often called five-way viral vaccines, can provide excellent protection when handled properly and administered according to label instructions, Stokka says. Other bacterial vaccines may be used, depending on herd history and risk.
“What is important to remember is that killed/inactivated vaccines usually will require a booster dose to achieve an adequate level of protection,” Stokka says. “Consult your veterinarian about specific products related to viral and bacterial vaccines.”
Other diseases that can affect cattle in the fall include:
- Clostridial diseases, commonly called “blackleg” - The risk of this infection is difficult to assess; however, this organism lives in the soil and can cause severe illness and death in susceptible animals. A second dose of vaccine administered at this time will enhance protection against this family of pathogens.
- Internal parasites - Cattle on grass will have internal parasites. These parasites can reduce calves’ feed/forage intake, resulting in reduced weaning weights, and have a negative impact on the calves’ ability to respond to vaccination.
If dewormer products are used at preweaning, calves should be moved to clean pastures to avoid re-infection. Rotational grazing can increase parasite loads, especially if the cattle are left too long on rotation units or if some units are used several times during the grazing season. Conversely, rotational grazing can decrease the internal parasite load when cattle are moved appropriately (one month or less) to clean grazing units. Producers should consult with their veterinarian about which products to use.
- External parasites - They will be very evident at this time of year. Horn and face flies can be bothersome to adults and calves. Topical treatment at preweaning for cows, bulls and calves is advisable, depending on the fly population. However, Stokka doesn’t recommend treating for biting and sucking lice now. Lice’s feeding activity will increase with colder weather, so hold off on systemic treatments until signs of lice appear.
Stokka says reproductive vaccines also can be administered to breeding herd females at this time, but producers need to be very aware of label recommendations for the timing and use of vaccines in pregnant cows. Producers should make sure their veterinarian has provided recommendations about the use of these vaccines.
Another important aspect of herd management is to record the inventory and assess breeding females for pregnancy, and to sort out market animals, Dahlen says. He recommends producers take inventory of bulls, assess the physical status and make decisions about marketing of extra animals.