Fall is a good time to run cattle through the chute for their semi annual vaccinations. Many ranchers try to accomplish as much as they can during this trip through the chute including pregnancy checking, applying substances to control parasites, vaccinating pregnant cows, and perhaps bangs vaccinating heifer calves while the veterinarian is there, if you live in a state that requires Brucellosis vaccination of heifers.
Pregnancy testing time is the best time to vaccinate and delouse cows, and there is no point in treating an open cow who will soon be sold. Vaccinations and fall treatments can be given to each animal after the veterinarian determines whether or not she's pregnant. At the same time, you should also consider the following management practices to keep your cow herd in tip top shape.
Cull open cows
Most ranchers sell cows who turn up open, since there is no profit in running a cow an extra year without producing a calf. If you are producing seedstock, trying to raise cattle who are fertile and efficient, you'll want to cull any cows who are less fertile and efficient than the rest of the herd. Your customers who are buying seedstock from you want genetics that will improve their herds and increase their profitability. Culling open cows and late calvers can dramatically alter a rancher's profit picture. A "freeloader" cow costs as much to maintain as a good, early calving cow, and it does not pay to keep her. The occasional exception may be a first calf two year old who raised a good calf, but didn't breed back because she was putting so much energy into milk. This is a hard age, since the heifer is still growing and trying to produce milk; she may not cycle in time to breed back during a short breeding season (and most ranchers try to have a short season, so the calves are grouped in age and size). Some of these good young cows, with their whole life still ahead of them, may be profitable to keep, if a rancher has the feed to run them the extra year. But an older cow has no excuse for being open and it is wise to sell her.
Ranchers in many regions must vaccinate at least twice a year for Redwater, to keep from losing cattle. The current 8 way clostridial vaccine protects against Blackleg, Malignant Edema, Sudden Death Syndrome, Redwater, Black's Disease, and types B, C and D Enterotoxemia. Adult cattle do not need to be vaccinated against all of those, but since there is no other vaccine for Redwater and Black's Disease, this is the only option for ranchers who must protect cattle from these health hazards.
Clostridial vaccines can cause tissue reaction and swelling and sometimes abscesses and scar tissue. No matter which clostridial vaccine you use, it should always be given subcutaneously, and preferable in the side of the neck. That way, any tissue damage that occurs can be easily trimmed out at slaughter without sacrificing good parts of the beef carcass.
Most veterinarians now recommend vaccinating all cows for Leptospirosis in the fall as well as in the spring. Leptospira can cause abortion at any stage of pregnancy, and the Lepto vaccination is effective for only six months. Lepto is one of the few truly cheap vaccines, so it makes sense to protect bred cows throughout pregnancy by means of semi annual Lepto vaccinations.
Some herd management specialists also advocate twice a year vaccination for IBR and BVD, in some herds. Since pregnant cows cannot be given modified live virus vaccinations for these diseases without risk of abortion, the standard procedure is to use modified live virus vaccine before the breeding season in the spring, and a killed vaccine product during pregancy, in the fall. This type of program is not necessary in all herds, but is very beneficial in some, especially for young cows (first and second calvers).
Yearling heifers need two doses of Scour Guard before calving. This product will help prevent scours in newborn calves. Timing of the second dose is critical -- it must be given at least two weeks before heifers start to calve. But the first dose can be given as much as a year before the second dose. Most ranchers wait until pregnancy testing time to give the first dose, simply because it doesn't make economic sense to put nearly two dollars worth of scours vaccine into an open heifer. Giving it in the fall is better than waiting until calving season is near and hoping you have enough time between doses for the shots to do any good.
Any cows which did not receive a Scour Guard injection last year need two doses before calving, in order to confer immunity to calves through colostrum. Yearling heifers and any cows you may have added to your herd during the past year should get an initial priming dose at preg checking time.
Check with your local veterinarian for advice on a vaccination program and schedule that will protect against common diseases in your area and specific situation. You won't need to worry about venereal diseases if your cattle are in a controlled breeding situation -- bred only to your own uninfected bulls. You won't need to give clostridial vaccine to adult cattle unless you live in the mountain west. But you will need to vaccinate for Leptospirosis wherever you are, and sometimes IBR and BVD.
Parasite control is also important in a fall management program. The primary parasites to worry about are grubs, lice, worms and in some locations liver flukes. Many ranchers use a pour on product that is effective against both grubs and lice, and some use Ivermectin to control grubs, lice and worms. Ivomec (a brand of ivermectin) has the advantage of killing both external and internal parasites, but does not kill liver flukes or tapeworms. In order to control biting lice, Ivomec pour on must be used. Injectable Ivomec does a very good job on grubs and sucking lice, but not biting lice.
Lice are one of the most costly and underrated parasites of cattle, accounting for millions of dollars lost each year due to reduced feed conversion, weight loss, anemia and sometimes even death. During the last cold months of winter and into early spring, lice can be a constant cause of irritation putting additional stress on cattle and draining energy reserves.
Most veterinarians recommend fall treatment of all cattle for lice control. You should also assume that any new animal brought into the herd is carrying lice. New animals should be isolated and treated, whatever time of year it's brought in, before being put with the herd. Most products for lice have a two treatment protocol and the new animals should be kept isolated until they've had both treatments. Any animal in the herd suspected of having lice should be treated in early fall before lice populations build up (to help keep lice from spreading to the rest of the herd) and all animals should be treated in late fall before infestation becomes severe. Effective control of lice requires two treatments two weeks apart if using a product that kills only lice and not the eggs. The second treatment kills lice that hatch out in between.
If cattle are being put through a chute, a pour on is usually the simplest way to control lice. Oil based pour ons are formulated to travel through the hair coat so the chemical spreads over the whole body of the animal. Other pour ons are systemic and absorbed into the body to kill lice, grubs and other internal parasites at the same time. Some of these must be used before winter to avoid toxic reactions due to grubs being killed while migrating through the esophagus or spinal nerve canal.
The dying grubs release substances that cause swelling and inflammation in the tissues (choking or bloat in the esophagus, or temporary paralysis if in the spinal canal), which could lead to death of the animal unless the reaction is reduced with prompt and proper treatment. Check with your veterinarian for advice on insecticides and which products might be best for your situation and climate. Cattle can be treated for grubs after heel fly season is over, no more risk of new eggs being laid, and about three months before the anticipated first appearance of grubs. Treatment for grubs in northern regions should be given before December, while treatments in warm southern states should be no later than mid October.
Check each cow closely
This is also a good time to check cows for problems that might affect future health or productivity. As they go through the chute, check cows' eyes for injury or signs of early cancer lesions (these are primarily a problem in cows with non pigmented skin, but do occasionally occur in dark skinned cattle), which can often be successfully treated in early stages, before they become malignant. Check face and jaw lumps to see if they are soft tissue abscesses that should be drained or bony infections that must be treated with sodium iodide.
Check teeth on any older cow who seems to be losing weight (a cow who has lost teeth may not be able to chew feed properly and will be difficult to keep in proper body condition to feed her calf and breed back). This is the time to make culling decisions on cows with serious problems such as bad teeth, bony lump jaw, bad eyes, bad udders, etc. It's also a good time to carefully assess body condition to see if cows came through summer in good flesh (if pastures were good) or thin (if pastures were dry or sparse towards fall). This will help you decide whether to wean calves early to enable cows to regain needed weight before cold weather.
Body Condition Scores are rated 1 (emaciated) to 9 (obese). Most stockmen try to keep cows at score 5 or 6 for best health and fertility. The ideal score will depend upon the genetics of the cattle; some cows need more flesh covering than others to cycle and breed successfully and produce milk for their calves. Know your cattle and try to keep enough flesh on them for optimum production.
When weaning calves and putting cows through winter, remember that high producing cows may have body condition pulled down more than the cows who give less milk, and will go into fall and winter carrying less flesh. These high producing cows need a higher plane of winter nutrition to get ready for the next calving and lactation. A good practice is to check body condition in fall and sort out thin cows and young ones (yearlings, first calvers and sometimes second calvers) to feed separately. If cows will be on hay or any type of supplement during fall and early winter, this will ensure the young or thin ones get their share. It is not cost effective to feed the whole herd to meet the needs of young ones and thin ones; the majority of the cows don't need the extra feed. It's better to sort them in the fall, or whenever they go from an adequate pasture to dry pastures or hay, so the ones who need the extra nutrients will be the ones who get it.
Cows should not be left on marginal fall or winter pastures while still nursing calves, or they'll lose too much body condition. A research project at Kansas State University a few years ago showed that cows on unsupplemented pasture who continued nursing calves until December lost about 150 pounds and 1.5 points in body condition score by their next calving. If calves must be left on the cows this late, pasture must be supplemented. When the pastures get dry, it is often better to wean the calves. It is cheaper to supplement the weaned calves, rather than the whole herd.
Fall working is one of the rancher's best opportunities to make management decisions that improve the herd health situation and also affect profit or loss. This is a good chance to have "hands on" every cow and to know what is happening.