Be Watchful and Responsive
Close observation of cattle herds is considered good animal husbandry. But just watching cattle is not enough in and of itself. Watching them without responding to observed needs amounts to recreation instead of management. To start, producers must know what types of things to look out for when keeping eyes on their herds. Beyond that, producers must determine what actions are best to take when certain things are observed.
Observation Example #1: Number of Head
One of the first things many producers do when checking on their herds is to conduct a head count. This is done to make sure that all cattle are accounted for and in their proper places. Missing animals may be escaped, stolen, hidden, or dead. Injured, ill, or temperamental cattle may be either unable or reluctant to move with the majority of the herd. Cattle also tend to separate from the herd for calving.
If fewer head are counted than were expected to be in a particular pasture or pen, then carefully search the remainder of the enclosure to make sure that the missing animals are not actually just hidden from first glance. If vehicles are used to search large areas, be cautious not to accidently run over an animal lying down in tall forage. Young calves are particularly challenging to detect. They are relatively small, easily hidden from view in low-lying or obscured areas, and may hide intentionally as a defensive mechanism.
Once a pasture or pen is thoroughly searched without finding missing cattle, then proceed to search adjacent areas. Look for gaps or breaks in fencing or open gates that could have allowed for cattle to escape. Repair compromised sections of fencing, and secure gates as needed to prevent further escapes.
Search for cattle in a timely manner. Escaped cattle can pose safety and liability concerns when they enter areas such as public roadways or private property. The sooner they are located, the less risk of them causing damage or injury or being injured themselves. Similarly, the chances of recovering stolen cattle are improved with faster reporting of this crime to authorities and others who can assist in recovery efforts.
Besides lost animals, extra animals can be found during a routine cattle inventory check. A common example is a weaned calf or its dam that have reunited after being recently and intentionally separated. Another typical instance of this occurs when a bull crosses a fence to reach females with the intent of breeding them.
Observation Example #2: Weight Loss or Reduced Gain
Weight loss in cattle is readily apparent in cases of extreme loss or for people with a trained eye for this. Weight loss may appear as lost body condition and/or muscling. In other instances, weight loss is confirmed by running cattle onto scales, actually measuring body weights, and then comparing weights taken over time. Besides lost weight in their cattle, producers may also be interested in determining if rate of gain is below expectations. Cattle may not be losing weight, per se; instead, they may not be gaining weight at adequate rates.