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An essential 10-point guide to get farmers ready for the turn-out

The big turn-out is beginning to happen around the country and now is the time to pause and plan the event. After the long months in housing, our livestock could well do with shaking off the winter bugs and getting out to some serious grass.

But farmers must tick several boxes and satisfy what needs be done to improve animal health on their farms this spring. The main areas to watch include: preparing the ground for grazing, preparing the animals for turnout and cleaning up after the winter.

1. Prepare the pasture

It's nice to have a 'sick-bay' beside the yard, where old lame cows and not-so-healthy calves are grazed. This means we keep a close eye on them as the yard work gets done.

However, these convenient paddocks often get over-grazed and contaminated with large worm burden, never mind whatever bugs the sick animals carry. We should therefore try to keep our young calves away from that area when they first get turned out to grass.

Likewise, young stock should, where possible, get the first grazing of a field when the worm burden is at its lowest. Older stock have a natural immunity to most worms, whereas first-time grazers are more vulnerable.

The leader-follower system is well described, where the young stock lead with the cows in hot pursuit. This is often difficult to achieve, but well worth trying over the next few months. Don't forget the water source in paddocks and fields. Broken pipes and troughs will have the livestock breaking all over the place in search of water.

2. Plan the worming

programme

Spend two minutes putting together a parasite control system that will stand the test for the season. Assuming we have treated the worms correctly when the stock were going in last Autumn, then we do not need to give a wormer as the animals are going out. A huge waste of money and incorrect use of medicines occur when animals are wormed at turn-out.

Internal parasites or worms are picked up from grass. Therefore, housed animals have no extra burden of worms from slatted sheds. If they did not need a wormer in November then they do not need one now at turn-out.

If the leader-follower system is used with young stock, then a much less frequent dosing programme will be required. The calves will be moving on from the paddock before the big worm numbers build up. On mixed farms, sheep and cattle grazing together also helps to reduce the worm burden on pasture. Oral doses of the white drench types need more frequent dosing times than the avermectin type of injection or dose.

New lay grass may have little or no worms depending on how long the ground was free of livestock. Speak to your vet on how to reduce the number of doses you may have to give and focus the medicine on when best to use it. This will reduce resistance in the long run and save costs in the short term. However, don't think that skimping is the way forward. Instead, make focused use of correct medicine when and where it's required.

3. Magnesium and tetany

The first few weeks of turn-out are most risky in relation to Tetany. Magnesium deficiency is very sudden and absolutely lethal when it strikes. It is acutely important here in the north east, where magnesium deficiency can have cattle drop like flies.

The local hunt kennels tell me they still see up to 25 dead adult cattle on any one day in the few weeks around turn-out. This loss can be greatly reduced by correct magnesium administration.

My favoured routes of administration are in water, in nuts or in boluses. Top-dressing of pasture with magnesium powder is very effective, but not as frequently done nowadays as it can be time consuming. The boluses are useful in suckler herds where paddocks may not be well-fenced and water can be available in the ditches.

This makes water inclusion of magnesium difficult and often these cows are not getting nuts when turned-out. The concentrated magnesium nut for dairy cows is ever so efficient and extensively used.

Buckets of minerals placed around the field, for cattle to come and partake as they wish, are not good enough in my view. The cow who is most at risk may not lick, and the other fat lady may stay all day licking the lot. It's hit and miss stuff at best. They're useful as top-ups only, and can't be the only source of added magnesium.

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4. Iodine/copper

and other trace elements

I put this one in as some pastures are low in some minerals in some areas and high in others elsewhere. Your vet will know the local deficiencies -- prepare to supplement according to best advice.

In our area, we commonly see very low copper levels, low iodine and way too high a selenium level. Copper supplementation is often required, especially in young stock for healthy bone growth and general thrift. Copper syringes are my favoured route of supplement, and oral copper needles are also used to good effect.

Selenium toxicity occurs in specific areas in Ireland and notably the north east is one of those. Elsewhere, selenium deficiency is common and supplement may be needed. The big word of caution here is don't use mineral supplements on your own stock just because someone in another county says they find it useful.

Go with the local knowledge and don't be afraid to soil and herbage test your own farm to see whether you need any supplement at all. Iodine in pre-calving cows must not be overlooked at turn-out.

5. Vaccinations before

turn-out

Black leg is the big one as, again, it causes very acute death especially in well-done young stock. Spring time is a good time on many farms to think of your BVD and leptospirosis boosters. Ideally, the booster should go in before the period of risk of abortion. If a window exists where the animals for vaccination are not yet sent for bulling, then this should be used to good effect.

A herd health plan would lay out your vaccination programme and cover all this beforehand. Stick to your herd health plan -- if you don't have one, then now is the time to do one.

Spring time is an excellent time to start the cycle, even though it's a busy time for both farmer and vet. A moment now will save an animal's life later I say.

6. Routine animal chores

Dehorning should be a thing of the past if debudding is done on time. However, horns still grow and 'skulling' must be done on an odd place from time to time. Well now, the time to cut the horns is before the flies come.

I think that every farmer and every vet would love the day when not another animal needed 'skulling' in this country. Roll out that debudding incentive we all shout. A quick run around the feet of housed cows at this time of year is very useful.

You'll get great results from minimal effort as nature will be helping your efforts. Lame cattle coming out of sheds will improve themselves once they hit the pastures. Any efforts at hoof-paring at your end will reap enormous rewards, despite your worst or best efforts. Squeeze those young bulls before they hop the hedge into the heifers after turn-out.

7. Ringworm, lice

and mites

Just two points on this. If you've seen ringworm during winter, deal with it now and prepare the house to avoid it next year. Lice and mites spread easily in cattle sheds so check skins now at turn-out.

Treat as necessary with the product best suited for the parasite where present.

8. Winter housing

cleaning

E-coli, salmonella and cryptosporidium are all bugs we see during winter. Once the sheds are empty, get in there and clean out the bug.

Clean first and then disinfect, and allow the sheds to rest for as long as possible. Remember, crypto especially needs a specific disinfectant regime and one should seek advice from your vet about how best to treat that nasty bug in sheds.

Fix the leaking water troughs to dry up the damp spots in corners. They are the havens for coccidiosis and such like. A dry, clean surface is the order of the day.

9. Ponder the post-

mortem findings

Any death during winter should get a quick mention here to see what were the big difficulties of the last few months.

Identify the bug that was most persistent and find out how it spreads.

Then we can plan to stop it next time around.

10. Next year resolutions

Farmers too often ignore making these, and the same old problems live on from winter to winter.

Follow the Back to Herd Health Plan again and put together four or five pointers that should help reduce diseases for next year.

Ticking the boxes in your mind is one thing, but writing down a short list of reminders is most important. Next September, when you've read the list, you'll smile because you'll be prepared.

Points to ponder

l Magnesium is a relatively cheap mineral that can save thousands of euro in losses.

l Worms are active only on grassland, and worm dosing at turn-out is wasteful of medicines and of money.

l Copper deficiency causes bone growth problems and leaves stock unhealthy and in ill-thrift.

This allows any worms, viruses or bacteria to knock the life out of any young stock. In my own mind, I picture the turning out of cattle as the peeling away of the nasty bugs of winter. Grazing livestock should be healthy livestock and let's use the green grass of Ireland to produce the best meat for Europe and beyond.


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