Vet: Make quarantine and animal welfare the priorities when buying in stock
You may think you can get away without it, but failure to quarantine new animals properly can be very costly
Keeping a 'closed herd' - never buying in or renting any cattle - is definitely the best way to keep diseases out of your farm. However, the reality for most farmers is that a closed herd is completely unachievable.
From a dairy farmer who buys one stock bull every year to the beef finisher who buys multiple animals weekly, the term 'closed herd' does not apply.
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So, if we are moving stock onto the farm from an outside source, how do we minimise the risk of introducing disease?
Implement a quarantine period
This is the most vital step regardless of what types of cattle are purchased or where they are purchased from.
Quarantined animals should be kept in complete isolation away from the rest of the herd.
Usually, when I recommend a quarantine period, I am met with the same response: "Sure I never kept bought-in cattle separate before and I've never had any issues".
This may well be the case, but, when it comes to diseases such as IBR, BVD, BRSV, Pasteurella or Salmonella, just because you haven't seen it before doesn't mean it could not easily become an issue with the next animal purchase.
The simple fact is that a quarantine period protects your herd.
While in quarantine, a number of tasks can be carried out:
1. Monitor health status closely, especially during the first few days.
2. Treat any infections that have been picked up at the mart or during transport.
3. Vaccinate all purchased cattle to bring them on par with the rest of the herd.
4. Get cows/heifers scanned to check for pregnancies (especially unwanted ones in weanlings).
5. Cattle can be slow introduced to the feeding regime on farm to minimize stress and dietary upsets.
How long should a quarantine period be?
The gold standard is a minimum of four weeks. This allows for vaccine courses to be completed and full immunity to be developed.
It also allows for an animal to be no longer stressed and therefore not shed viruses such as IBR that could affect unvaccinated herds when introduced.
I know that four weeks may not be a realistic target, especially if shed space/facilities are tight or when it comes to buying in milking cows and attempting to keep them separate from the main herd.
Have a chat with your vet about how to maximise the quarantine period specific to the vaccination protocols and management practices of your farm.
The more stressed out an animal is, the more likely it is to contract disease or equally, to shed disease and infect other animals in quarantine.
A clean, dry, well-bedded pen with access to fresh feed and water should be provided for the first few days at least.
Be mindful that if a number of animals arrive from different herds at the same time, there will be some fighting, especially with bulls, to establish a social pecking order.
Pens should be well lit and have enough room for any animal to get away from another aggressive one.
A separate 'sick bay' pen is very important. It serves to further isolate any sick animal to reduce the spread. It also gives the sick animal a separate space in which to avoid being bullied and hopefully make a full recovery.
Purchased cattle should be allowed to rest and acclimatise to new surroundings for two to three days before being vaccinated.
Dairy replacement stock should simply be vaccinated to incorporate them into whatever vaccine programme is being used in your herd.
Beef stock, especially weanlings can be somewhat more complicated.
Where they were purchased from, transport distance and herd history (if available) will all play a part in deciding what vaccinations should be used.
Before purchasing weanlings this autumn, devise a vaccination strategy with your vet that will best suit your enterprise.
Eamon O'Connell is a vet with the Summerhill Veterinary Clinic, Nenagh, Co Tipperary
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