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The reason to prioritise herd health this winter

In this article, we look at optimising herd health over the winter period, the importance of a vaccination programme and planning.  

Irish winter weather conditions lead farmers with little choice but to house the majority of cattle in the country. Consequently, immunity can be reduced and diseases are more susceptible to spread.

To reduce stress on the farm this winter, early preparation of housing facilities and familiarity with widespread bovine diseases is required.

Preparing housing

It is imperative that you empty tanks before housing livestock. Calculating slurry storage requirements can be a difficult task, pending on the weather conditions.

Firstly, you should ensure that the slurry storage tanks are emptied. You should do this to correspond with the slurry spreading closing date.

Furthermore, you must wash and disinfect housing facilities before the entry of animals.

Adequate space is a key requirement. You must ensure that cows on slats have a space of 2.5 m² to 3 m².

Cattle over 275kg on slats require 2 to 2.5m2. On the other hand, cattle smaller than this need access to 1.2-1.5m2  (Forde, A. (2021), Getting Ready for Winter Housing, Teagasc).

Controlling and monitoring disease

To achieve successful disease prevention, it is crucial to use the correct dosage rate and to administer the medication accurately.

When following the correct guidelines, treating liver fluke can be accomplished successfully. One suggestion is to drench cattle with Triclabendazole two weeks after housing.

Another option is to kill immature flukes by administering an injection and pour on. This is done seven weeks after housing.

Following on, if you want to kill only mature fluke, you will have to wait seven weeks after housing before dosing. You can administer this dose by injection and oral drenching.

There are various product types available for this treatment.

Moreover, cattle should be treated twice during the winter season to control fluke burdens.

Illnesses such as pneumonia are common on Irish farms during the winter housing period.

A good ventilation system is crucial in controlling a pneumonia outbreak in the herd. To allow proper airflow, simple repairs may be required, including spacing boarding, or removing tin sheets.

According to Teagasc, pneumonia is the most common disease associated with housed calves.

There are several causes of pneumonia. Therefore, it is often termed a “multifactorial disease”.

It is recommended to vaccinate cattle to maximise the animal’s immunity.

A vaccine will stimulate the animal’s immune system to produce antibodies. The antibodies will, in turn, assist in fighting infection.

A vaccination programme for pneumonia can involve two injections, four weeks apart. Before an animal’s next exposure to the disease, they should ideally obtain a booster dose.

Animal nutrition

Once you have housed animals, conduct body condition scoring regularly. This task becomes increasingly important as temperatures begin to drop.

Cattle require quality nutrition to maintain their core body temperature.

As the winter season progresses, it is critical to continue to assess the body condition scores of your herd. By monitoring body condition scores, you can determine the number of feed requirements.

Considering that cattle consume 7-12 gallons of water per day, ensuring they have adequate access to water supplies each day is vital to their health and wellbeing.

Every aspect of herd health and nutrition should be considered during the winter period to optimise your herd’s performance.

Planning for herd health

Vaccinating your herd and maintaining a hygienic environment are key aspects of your herd’s overall health.

For a farming enterprise to be successful, it is essential to plan for the health of the herd.

Both a farmer and their vet compose a herd health plan collaboratively.

Firstly, you can identify diseases at risk to the herd and a plan is then developed to deal with an outbreak, should it arise.

By developing a herd health plan, you can also improve biosecurity procedures, as well as better farm management to reduce stress during busy periods.

For the farmer, this document should contain as much detail as possible so that he/she can manage the enterprise as efficiently as possible.

Risk assessment forms the base of the herd health plan. For example, if your herd health plan is for the winter period.

We have outlined above prevalent diseases across Irish farms, which are generally incorporated into herd health plans.

Assessing risks, allocating priorities and being adaptable in terms of planning are all key strategies to a good herd health plan.

Identifying disease and ambitions to improve animal health and welfare is vital for a successful farm enterprise.

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