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boost health of your herd this summer

Warm weather provides the perfect chance to check the condition of valuable beef livestock

Beef production is enjoying fresh enthusiasm in this country following recent price rises across the board. The grass-based production system in Ireland helps make our beef so attractive.

At this time of year, all the stock are grazing, giving us a chance to examine and improve the health of livestock on all beef enterprises.

The calf at foot, though still reliant on the dam's milk, is now eating grass of its own accord. Grassland parasites waste no time in affecting these vulnerable young stock, and so we must monitor and treat according to on-farm risk.

Faecal egg counts are an essential guide on any modern suckler farm. They are carried out on faecal samples taken from individual calves or their dams.

Your vet will advise when and where to use these tests, and how best to deal with their results. In general, the tests will focus the control of grassland parasites.

Below are key tips to help you get the best from a test.

• Only use fresh faeces.

• Place the sample in a clean, clear plastic bag and seal immediately. Re-sealable small freezer bags are most useful.

• Number the bags one to 10 for easy identification.

• A sheet detailing what's in each numbered bag should be enclosed in the box of samples.

• An old fridge kept in the farm office is useful to store samples over the weekend, before dispatch to the vet's surgery.

• Samples should be primarily taken from young stock (80pc), with the remainder (20pc) from dams.

• In leader-follower systems, use samples from the batch that are leaving a paddock, to focus worm programmes for the batch about to enter that paddock.

Leader-Follower system in parasite control

A reliance on worm medicines alone to control pasture parasites is doomed to failure. We must use our knowledge of the life cycle and habitat of the parasite to help reduce the worm burden on our grassland. The leader-follower system is one such method.

We know that young stock have less resistance to worms, so we allow them to graze a field first. As the worm eggs build up on the grass in that field, we move the young stock onto a fresh field and allow older stock to graze the original field. This is the basic method of the leader-follower scheme. If we complete faecal egg counts on the batch leaving the first field, we can gain an accurate read on the pasture contamination of the first paddock.

This allows us to decide whether to dose the outgoing or incoming young stock. In well-run systems, it may be that neither batch will need a dose. This system helps reduce a reliance on medicication and greatly reduces the build up of 'super-worms' -- worms that are resistant to all wormers.

Fluke control

nAvoid young stock grazing known 'flukey' land.

nFence off particularly wet corners of known fluke pastures.

nDrain grazing paddocks where possible.

• Do faecal egg counts for fluke on some adult cattle to assess over-wintered fluke levels.

nAim a fluke control programme to avoid residual over-winter fluke in adult cattle. Consult your vet to assess the risk of fluke levels in each herd.

Vaccinations of the Beef Herd

Calves are on the ground and cows are preparing for the return of the bull. An over-reliance on stock bulls and underuse of AI is a problem facing the genetic quality of the beef herd in Ireland. That said, no matter how they are inseminated, beef cows should be prepared now to give the best chance of early and trouble-free pregnancies. Farm vaccination programmes should be checked and boosted this month.

BVD, IBR, and Leptospirosis vaccinations should be the focus for now, while the clostridial and scour vaccines may be more appropriate during later pregnancy. Your vet will guide you, but here are some general pointers:

nBVD, Leptospirosis and IBR are diseases that may cause infertility or abortion in any herd.

• Vaccinating before going to the bull will create the strongest immunity levels when risk is at its greatest.

nAlthough it may be possible to reduce the risk of BVD or IBR infecting your farm, it is not possible to stop Leptospirosis completely. The common rat is a carrier and spreader of Leptospirosis, and no farm can remain immune.

nEffective fencing, and hygiene control points at farm entrances and exits are needed to reduce the spread of IBR and BVD.

• The purchase of stock and their movement onto a farm is by far the greatest risk of new disease entry.

nVaccination programmes with boosters given before the cow returns to the bull are a very important tool in preventing outbreaks on beef suckler farms.

nThe stress of giving a vaccine or running cattle up a crush should be minimised during pregnancy. Complete those routine chores now to avoid stress during pregnancy.

nMineral levels on farms should be checked at this stage and altered according to requirement.

nThe farm's history and previous years' problems offer the best guide to the type of testing that may be required.

nLow copper levels are a common problem on Irish farms and will eventually lead to poor fertility performance in beef cattle.

nEvidence of low copper levels in suckler cows should lead you to check their growth rates. Low copper affects growth and can lead to chronic ill-thrift in a batch of calves.

Indo Farming