It goes without saying that cattlemen care about the health of their herds. That concern is based first on the welfare of the animals themselves, but we also know that healthy cattle are more productive, more efficient and less costly to raise, and they produce higher quality beef.
But while it is easy to recognize the value of disease prevention, studies continue to highlight areas where the average producer could (and should!) take steps to improve their herd health program. Recognizing and adopting these key ‘healthy habits’ can have lasting benefits for cows, calves, and the bottom line.
Your vet’s role should be more than just emergency responder. Develop a true veterinary-client relationship, and use their expertise and local experience to help design your preventive health program. As Dr. Bethany Funnell emphasized during the recent University of Minnesota Cow-Calf Days, risk and needs are site specific. A vet who knows your operation can make informed recommendations for vaccines and parasite control, and for effective treatments when needed. Remember, too, that this relationship is a legal prerequisite for dispensing many drugs, especially if any off-label use is justified.
Timing is Still Everything
When it comes to animal health, convenience always needs to take a back seat to efficacy. In particular:
→ Base fly control and deworming efforts on the life cycle of primary pests, for maximum impact. If that does not coincide with other animal-handling events, consider alternative strategies such as feed-through products that can be delivered through supplement.
→ Avoid vaccinating during times of high stress, such as weaning.
→ Allow adequate opportunity for needed booster shots.
→ Vaccinate calves for high-risk diseases before their initial passive immunity (that received from their mother) is completely gone.
While most vaccines are administered at a set amount per animal, antimicrobials and anthelmintics are dosed by body weight. An interesting report from Kansas State University evaluated the potential impact of real-world dosing based on average weight. Using historic records for 6231 calves, representing 24 lots, they graphically illustrated the variation in individual weights (see chart). If these animals were medicated with the right dose for their lot’s average BW, a notable portion were significantly under-dosed (meaning they may not have received enough drug to effective) or over-dosed (significantly increasing cost, as well as possible residue risk). This same principle would be very applicable in many cowherds, where animals can easily vary in weight by several hundred pounds.