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It Pays to Map Out a Herd Health Program with Your Veterinarian

Courtesy of: Boehringer Ingelheim

DULUTH, Ga. (Aug. 27, 2019) — “A comprehensive herd health program is important for two key reasons,” said Richard Linhart, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim. “The primary reason is to keep the cattle healthy. The second reason, though many people may not realize, is for marketing purposes. Cattle that are handled, nourished and vaccinated properly are going to be more enticing for potential buyers. Those cattle will bring you more money than cattle not properly enrolled in a health program.”

Dr. Linhart explained that an effective herd health program starts with consulting your veterinarian to make a plan that fits your operation’s needs. “There are no ‘cookie cutter’ herd health programs that apply across the board,” he said. “If I were to prepare a program for a commercial cow-calf operation that sells calves at weaning time, it would look drastically different than the program I would recommend for a purebred breeder that sells replacement heifers and herd bulls.”

A well-rounded program includes good management and nutrition, carefully selected vaccines, parasite control, a treatment plan and consistent implementation of protocols year after year.

1. Stress Management
When animals are under stress, their immune systems can be compromised and make them susceptible to disease. Many times, periods of stress are elevated when a change occurs in the weather or the management of animals. Protect cattle during stressful events by practicing the following:

• Shield cattle from harsh weather conditions, and give them plenty of bunk space.
• Avoid overcrowding, as it causes stress and promotes the spread of disease.
• Low-stress cattle handling is key to making sure the moving process goes smoothly for both you and the cattle. Livestock move and react more predictably when they are calm and feel secure. Low-stress handling techniques include presenting a calm disposition, avoiding loud noises, reducing the use of cattle prods and removing visual distractions.
• A metaphylaxis treatment, or a group antibiotic treatment, for at-risk calves in a timely manner can help reduce morbidity and mortality on beef operations. Good candidates for treatment would be newly weaned calves with an unknown vaccination history that have been on a truck for several hours. “Your antibiotic should provide protection against all four of the bovine respiratory disease–causing pathogens, Mannheimia haemolytica, Pasteurella multocida, Histophilus somni and Mycoplasma bovis,” noted Dr. Linhart.

2. Nutrition
A strong nutrition program is vital for cow reproduction, cow and calf health, and growth of all classes of cattle.1 Animals should be put on a nutritionally balanced diet that encourages appetite and includes good forage, protein, concentrates and quality trace minerals. “Trace minerals are critical in supporting immune health,” said Dr. Linhart. “Feed usually accounts for the single largest input cost associated with beef cattle, so work closely with your nutritionist to create a well-formulated ration.2”

3. Parasite Control
Of all the animal health practices used to increase production, treating beef cattle for parasites gives producers the greatest economic return.3 In fact, one study concluded that it can result in up to a $201 gain per head.3 Dr. Linhart encourages producers to design a control program with a veterinarian that targets the internal and external parasites that may compromise your herd’s health status and ability to convert feed to gain efficiently.

4. Vaccination
Before the calf is born, producers can provide protection in advance by vaccinating the dam. “Certain vaccines given to cows later in gestation are going to stimulate an immune response that will provide pathogen protection in the colostrum,” Dr. Linhart explained.

Before weaning, protect calves against respiratory disease with a modified-live virus vaccine “Vaccinating before weaning gives calves the opportunity for their immune systems to work at optimum levels, and can help to keep the calf protected,” Dr. Linhart continued. “It’s important to understand that vaccines don’t work immediately. They can take between a few days to two weeks start working, so ideally we’d position vaccines prior to when calves are at risk of getting sick.”

When looking at vaccinations, a veterinarian can provide in-depth disease knowledge and guidance on proper vaccination timing, and they understand differences in vaccines. “There are literally hundreds of varieties of vaccines on the market and it becomes daunting to know which one to pick,” said Dr. Linhart. “A veterinarian is going to be able to help you identify the best options for your cattle.”

5. Treatment
When animals do get sick, find a long-lasting, fast-acting antibiotic to use upfront. An effective treatment should provide calves with a rapid response to minimize lung damage and give them the best chance of recovering. It’s also important to work with a veterinarian to implement a standard operating procedure (SOP).

“An SOP should be put in place because producers will often give an antibiotic to a sick calf, then come back a few days later and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t working. I’m going to try something different,’” said Dr. Linhart. “That’s our emotions making the decision; which does not usually allow enough time for the antibiotic to fully kick in.” Establishing an SOP with a post-treatment interval protocol where clinical signs are closely monitored over a set amount of days will help determine if retreatment is necessary.

“Unless disease pressures change, or disease incidences change, try to stay consistent with your herd health program year after year,” concluded Dr. Linhart. “If the protocols are constantly changing, it can be hard to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.”

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