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CATTLE TODAY

TUNE UP THE BEEF MACHINE WITH GOOD MANAGEMENT

by: Clifford Mitchell

It troubles the mind to think how far back someone has been turning raw products into useable goods. Take an old butter churn for instance, how long did it take for one person in the family to put this item on the table. Even though it was often one person doing the work, this could be an example of one of the earliest factories.

The growing nation struggled to become industrialized with factories working in a slow and inefficient manner to produce small quantities of a certain item. Then boom! Mr. Ford invented the assembly line system and it was off to the races. However, these factories and its workers could not run non stop without minor maintenance during shift changes and major overhauls when called for to maintain efficiency.

The cow herd on many ranches is its own factory. However, in a lot of situations once that cow's shift is over, weaning time, most cattlemen begin thinking about the calf and cows are left to fend for themselves. Granted she has finished the job for the year, but to maintain production goals, a good combination of health and management will get the best results.

“Recent research has indicated there is a lot that happens in-utero. Cow health will affect future production,” says Dr. Christine Navarre, Louisiana State University Extension Veterinarian, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Timing and administration of this routine health maintenance kit is kind of like getting the rancher to the doctor for a yearly checkup, it just depends on when it can get done. Setting a schedule for routine protection from disease could benefit most operations.

“There are definitely some diseases out there that can cause problems in the cow herd. Most producers will give vaccinations when they wean and preg check the cow herd. Others like a pre-breeding vaccination program,” says Dr. Jeremy Powell, University of Arkansas Extension Veterinarian, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

All factories are powered by some external source of fuel. Coal, ethanol, currently the big rage, and of course oil are some of the major power sources used in these production systems. Solar and wind powered plants are relatively new. A steady supply of an energy source keeps these factories online. The cow herd is no different and will not keep producing without proper nutrition.

“Nutrition is very important over the winter. Maintain those cows at a body condition score (BCS) of five and a half to six. Cows will calve, milk and rebreed,” Powell says. “They'll have healthy calves and plenty of nutrients in their colostrum to get that calf off to a good start. If you don't maintain this BCS, you limit production because there will be lower breed back rates and lighter calves at weaning.”

“You have to take care of those cows, particularly during the last part of gestation. Good nutrition improves colostrum quality, increases calf numbers and helps calf surviveability,” Navarre says. “If the cow has a poor BCS, calves don't have quite as much fat when they're born and the cow's colostrum quantity and quality is reduced. We concentrate on cow fertility, but poor nutrition for those dry cows can lead to more still births, increased dystocia, and less pounds at weaning. Recent studies show poor colostrum could affect calves all the way through the feeding phase and impact fertility in replacement heifers.”

Keeping cows in good shape does not mean producers have to start loading the truck up with expensive sack feeds to get the most out of the cow. Stockpiled forages and hay can still be very beneficial in a maintenance program. Testing for forage quality and proper storage will help keep costs down. Producers can starve the profit out of the cow herd.

“Nutrition is the key to a good health program. If an animal is properly conditioned, she can fight off a lot of potential diseases because her immune system is functioning correctly,” Navarre says. “Without proper nutrition vaccinations aren't going to work because you're putting tem into a system that can't mount an immune response.”

Along with providing an energy source to the cow herd to keep it running smoothly, key nutrients must be provided through mineral supplementation. Again the list of products is a long one, but depending on your area, some minerals will play an important role in cow herd performance.

“Copper, zinc and selenium all affect the immune system and its ability to respond,” Powell says. “Copper is also very important to reproductive soundness.”

Obviously, the management scenario will take into consideration things like environment, calving season and forage conditions to help determine when it's time to vaccinate. Others rely on the products they believe in to dictate when cows are worked.

“A defined calving season will help manage the cows as a group from both a nutritional and health standpoint. Some producers like modified live vaccines, but you can't utilize these products at certain stages of the production cycle,” Powell says. “Studies show if you deworm that cow within 30 days of calving she'll wean a heavier calf. You can pay yourself back more by deworming in the spring of the year when conditions are right for heavy parasite loads.”

“I like to boost immunity with a fall work, when the cows are gathered to wean calves. In our part of the country, a fall deworming with a flukiciede is very important. This would include vaccinating for the respiratory viruses and an 8-way Blackleg (colostridial) shot,” Navarre says. “Some people like to give pre-breeding vaccines. This will give them the ability to use modified live products and give a Lepto shot. I advise people to work cows in the fall to avoid working them at pre-breeding. I don't like to separate cows from those young calves. The herd health schedule is very farm dependent.”

Just like a good history lesson, sometimes past experiences with the cow herd will provide instruction for the future. Once the precedent has been set, the management must change to meet the challenge or face lost profits. Scours are a profit robber that attacks the calf crop in early stages of life. There are many factors that could be responsible for this, but vaccinating the cow herd is a viable option.

“A scour vaccination can help reduce the number of cases in a herd if there has been a problem. Scour problems tend to occur within the first three weeks of a calf's life,” Powell says. “Scour vaccines aren't cheap and most people don't utilize them until there is a problem. It is still cheaper to prevent disease than deal with an outbreak.”

“Scour vaccines can be effective depending on the situation. It seems we have more of a problem in really wet years combined with overcrowding and muddy conditions,” Navaree says. “Vaccines help, but with a problem like this I like to advise producers to fix the environment rather than depend on a shot.”

Improving bio-security or sanitizing the environment where calves are raised would be somewhat like the factory workers preparing for an OSHA inspection. Certain steps must be taken or everyone could be out of a job.

“Bio-security is becoming more important to the cow/calf man,” Navarre says. “Pay attention to what you're buying. People will create their own problems by introducing it to the cow herd through purchased animals.”

“You can eliminate a lot of problems through correct management. During calving season, segregate older calves so they aren't spreading disease to their younger herd mates. After week one rotate all the heavy springers or cows that haven't calved into a new pasture,” Powel says. Repeat the process weekly until the youngest calves are four weeks old. Calves can be co-mingled at this time because the threat of scours is over for the most part.”

Testing has armed producers with another weapon to fight infectious disease. New protocols give producers the ability to eliminate a problem before it starts or differentiate their products.

“New testing methods give producers the ability to remove persistently infected animals (PIs). From the time they're born until the time they die, persistently infected animals are constantly shedding the BVD virus exposing their herd mates. BVD can do all sorts of bad stuff,” Powell says. “Testing could be very useful to producers who purchase a large number of replacement heifers. This would eliminate problems before they even got started.”

“I would recommend producers test for PIs before they turn out bulls and get rid of those calves at that time,” Navarre says. “Testing is a very useful marketing tool for registered programs because people are starting to look for breeding stock with a negative test.”

Production costs are always the driving force, no matter what business you're in. These expenses will lay a heavy burden on future profits, if care is not used at time of purchase. Producers with correct information on herd health's affect on the profit loss statement should have a helpful guideline for making the right management decisions.

“One PI animal within the herd could cost you at least $20 per head. You will see decreased conception rates, increased instances of abortion, pneumonia and scours,” Powell says. “Not to mention the lack of gain in the calf crop due to a suppressed immune system. Fifty cows at $20 per head that's $1,000: when producers can spend $3.50 per head to test. Testing would be a good option for herds that are always having some sort of health problem.”

Many regions of the Gulf Coast and certain pockets of other states require specialized herd health to deal with anaplas. These vaccines have been met with good and bad results. Controlling external parasites will be helpful in this battle.

“In our coastal Parishes, vaccinating for Anaplas pays for itself. It's an expensive vaccine, but one dead cow pays for a lot of vaccine,” Navarre says. “Producers should be set up to boost cattle in the spring of the year at the first sign of mosquitoes. This will be a good indicator because flea, tick and deer fly populations are all on the rise at this time.”

“We have pockets around the state where Anaplas is a problem. However, our producers have had some problems with the vaccine,” Powell says. “Producers are mainly vaccinating bulls, because he's the most important animal. We try to control the problem with areomycin and CTC in the minerals. Producers need to control flea and tick populations. Changing needles often will eliminate spreading the disease within the herd.”

In a real factory not operating the machinery correctly can lead to slow downs in production. Unskilled labor may also be wasteful, using more resources to produce the same amount of product. Improper care and administration of the vaccines could render the cow herd at risk.

“Handling, storing and using vaccines properly is very important. The vaccine must stay cool and in a shaded area while you are administering it,” Powell says. “A lot of times, we're performing many different tasks when we have a cow in the chute, those vaccines can go bad and become ineffective if they get too hot or have too much exposure to sunlight. A cooler by the chute is usually a good idea.”

Factory workers are protected by workman's comp and working conditions are regulated by outside agencies to make sure workers are being treated fairly and have the proper equipment to do the job. On the ranch the cowboys decide the fate of the cow herd upon close evaluation and inspection of the environment.

The weather can provide good and bad years, but it's up to management to know whether the cow herd has all the tools to compete and the insurance policy to fall back on created by good herd health. Just like the factory worker can go to his line foreman for some advice; the local veterinarian is always there for producers to help them get back on track.

“A lot of times a sound herd health program deals with a lot more things than what goes through a needle,” Powell says. “Even something like good record keeping plays a role in herd health. Without proper records, how do you know when to administer timely boosters and what are the residuals that are in an animals system.”

“The major problem I see with the industry as a whole, is producers not paying attention to that cow during the non-lactation period,” Navarre says. “Taking care of the factory goes a long way to having a good calf crop next year.”

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