Ward off diseases with a herd health plan
Beef farms are frantically feeding the housed and out-wintered stock. Another cold snap is due but, hopefully, not as severe as last month.
The suckler cow is heavily pregnant and should be fed roughage and minerals to avoid an over-fat cow at calving time. High roughage intake helps keep the rumen bulked up and quite full at all times. Ad-lib hay or silage keeps the digestive tract working as it moves and mixes the stomach contents before digestion. This generates heat and is especially important in cows being kept outdoors. The full rumen also means that we see much less displaced stomachs in the beef herd than we do in their dairy-cow cousins.
The minerals being fed are to ward off milk fever in particular, but also a range of other metabolic diseases that we see. These include magnesium deficiency, iodine deficiency and copper deficiency. On many beef farms, we also see low selenium levels in the diet. The mineral mix should include selenium in these farms, with some notable exceptions.
The northeast has well-known pockets of high selenium soils and the forage on those farms can carry excess selenium into those cows. Because most mineral boluses or powders are made for general use, they often have added selenium in them.
We have seen added selenium causing endless havoc in farms already high in that mineral. The net effect is endless calving difficulties, a lot of retained placenta after calving and nasty womb infections, resulting in sick cows. This leads to weaker calves with deaths observed in bad cases.
The important point is that livestock farmers know what their cows need, and they feed accordingly. The farm vet can blood test a few cows and nutrition advisers can sample the silage or diet mix. For mineral analysis, it is usual to test about 10pc of the herd to get an accurate read.
As the calving is still a few weeks away, now is a good time to do a herd-health plan, including taking some representative sampling. The veterinary health plan allows farmers to set out the correct vaccination programmes to protect against common livestock diseases. It also allows herd owners to tease out last year's difficulties with the newborn calves and the suckling mothers.
Under the heading of minerals you'll include milk fever, tetany and iodine deficiencies. Copper and selenium may vary on different farms, and the farmer and his/her vet will work out what is, and is not, needed.