How to avoid a winter housing crisis

Don't wait to do the simple checks ahead of the change in season

'Animals indoors can be put under stress very easily'
'Animals indoors can be put under stress very easily'

Eamon O'Connell

The last few weeks have been tough on both man and beast. The pressure has really been on. Grass was available but couldn't be eaten due to deplorable ground conditions. Stock weren't content, either inside or outside. The much lamented slurry deadline loomed large and finishing the harvest was a massive ordeal.

Today, winter has well and truly set in and now most animals are indoors for the rest of the year. A feeding routine has now been established and the pressure is off somewhat. However, it is at this time of year that cattle can be under most pressure. A large number of stock in close proximity to each other in a shared air space creates an ideal environment for sickness.

Animals indoors can be put under stress very easily, and stress is the most significant precursor to disease spread. Simple things like access to fresh water and enough space to lie down comfortably can be the difference between health and sickness.

For example, a dairy cow will spend around 14 hours per day lying down. If there isn't a minimum of one cubicle space per cow in the shed, then individual cows will become tired and stressed very quickly.

Adequate air movement and airspace would seem like a simple thing to provide, but studies have shown that up to a third of cattle buildings have design issues with regard to ventilation. If your shed seems stuffy in the morning when you walk in, then it is certainly inadequately ventilated. Equally, if there is a breeze cutting through the shed that makes you turn up the collar of your coat, this can be equally problematic.

The next time the vet is in the yard, ask him/her to comment on the ventilation in your sheds. You would be amazed how, with a few small and very inexpensive tweaks, air movement and ventilation can be dramatically improved.

Feed space too, is going to be more important this year than ever before. Every animal should be able to feed comfortably at the same time. A fodder crisis is already a harsh reality in some parts of the country. If silage/hay is being rationed and animals don't have enough space to feed together, then the smaller ones will be bullied away by the stronger ones. This will result in the smaller ones not getting enough feed when, in reality, these are the animals that need it most. Jostling and bullying for feed space can be especially dangerous when it comes to in-calf cows and heifers. A heavily pregnant animal could easily lose a pregnancy in the scramble for a place at the feed barrier. It is easy to spot a sick animal in the field: lying away from the others or lagging behind at meal feeding time. In the shed, however, it can be a lot more difficult to identify. Every animal should be observed at close quarters once daily. Check around the nose for any discharge. Watch for any sign of rapid breathing. Are they eating and do they look full? Do they stretch when they get up? Are they chewing the cud?

Pneumonia is estimated to account for up to 50pc of all treatments on Irish farms and is particularly prevalent at this time of year. Viruses such as IBR and RSV as well as bacteria like pasteurella and haemophilus can cause significant sickness and losses if not controlled.

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Your vet will advise you on the best vaccination strategy to help in the prevention of these diseases. It is worth noting that vaccinations will not be successful if the environment in which the cattle are housed is not up to standard.

Now that the pressure is off somewhat, take the time over the next few days to throw a critical eye over your sheds and cattle houses to see if some small improvements can be made. Get in amongst your cattle at least once daily. This could be the difference between keeping your stock healthy and suffering a significant disease outbreak. When the pressure is off, it's nice to keep it that way.

Humid, wet weather ideal conditions for parasites to prosper

Parasites are causing significant problems at the moment, especially in younger stock. Regional vet labs are reporting a high proportion of hoose pneumonia diagnoses on post mortem as well as significant worm burdens in faecal samples. The very humid and wet weather has created the ideal environment for parasites to prosper. Combined with the recent increase in resistance to certain wormers, we are faced with a dramatic increase in parasite-related disease.

It is common practice to dose younger stock with an ivermectin-based product on the day of housing. However, if there is a heavy burden of lungworm, this may cause significant coughing which, in turn, can lead to secondary infections.

A seemingly healthy group of animals can deteriorate rapidly over a few days. Leaving animals a few days to “settle” in the shed before dosing could make all the difference. Equally, consult with your vet to determine if your dosing strategy throughout the year has been adequate to avoid heavy lungworm burdens in housed cattle.

The practice of zero-grazing in recent times has become very popular. When cattle are housed, we presume that they can’t contract any more lungworm. However, if the paddock being zero-grazed has previously been grazed by cattle, then lungworm can be transported in the fresh grass and injested by the cattle in the shed.

Liver fluke and rumen fluke are also causing significant problems this year. Almost all land has endured a period of saturation, which made for ideal conditions for fluke to prosper. Fluke was considered only a disease which affected adult cattle in the past, but recently, younger stock have suffered from scour and weight loss caused by fluke infestation.

Faecal samples will confirm the presence of fluke and parasites. It is a very cost-effective way of determining dosing requirements for your cattle. Your vet is best placed to guide you through the seemingly endless maze of dosing products on the market at present.

Indo Farming


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