Farm Ireland

Monday 22 January 2018

Nursery paddocks are disease hotbeds


Peadar O Scanaill

What a joy it is to walk out among a group of beef cattle grazing the autumn pasture. The herd should be flying fit after a long summer's grass and signs of ill-health and disease should be furthest from our mind. But unfortunately our cattle are never far from lurking diseases.

The usual suspects at grazing are fluke, stomach worms, lice and even coccidiosis. Fluke will have grown steadily over the summer unless we have an effective control programme in place. A fluke dose should be due or perhaps later as cattle head indoors, but beware of a one-off single fluke dose. Very few flukicides will kill all stages of the disease. Therefore a dose when entering the winter sheds will leave some younger immature fluke stages untouched.

These will grow and cause liver disease throughout the winter unless another dose is used several weeks later. That's why doing one dose now in mid-autumn can be effective. The next dose could then be given about four weeks after entering the sheds to allow the immature fluke to grow and be killed by the one winter dose.

However, never change your programme just because you read it in the paper. Consult your own home vet to see what suits your farm best.

The stomach worms are quite similar to the fluke and a dose now, followed by a dose a few weeks into the housing time, could work very well. The last thing any of us want is to be feeding parasites on the expensive winter feed intended for our cattle.

Lice are other little energy-sapping fellows that begin to build up from now and into the winter months. If not now, then lice dressing would be very prudent at the early weeks of winter housing. If cattle are rubbing backs and necks at this stage of the year then we need to do a lice treatment, one immediately and a repeat dose early after housing.

That brings us on to coccidiosis. This is a bug that has been building up on a lot of farms over the years. We think of it mainly as a winter disease associated with wet and dirty bedding. But vets are seeing them more and more in grazing groups. It is the young stock that show early signs of pasture coccidiosis. A runny dark scour and not-so-healthy coats in calves may be the start of it. Clinical diagnosis based on history and examination of the batch could be enough to confirm it. However, you cannot beat being absolutely sure, so a few faecal samples are a wise place to start. The regional veterinary labs are very prompt and accurate in giving us a definite positive or negative on our samples.

We find that later grazing of calves or even suckling mothers in paddocks near the yard become positive for coccidiosis. This is because these paddocks are like extended calving pens. They become the convenience holding area for all vulnerable stock. These include sick stock, recovering stock or, most commonly on suckler farms, a newly born calf and her dam.

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Hence these paddocks get well used and little rest. A leaky water trough in a paddock like this and every calf-bug in the country will set up shop there.

But most common of all will be coccidiosis. He's a quiet fellow in that he doesn't set off alarm bells on the very first calf he infects. He slowly grows in members and may not cause serious clinical signs until he has the paddocks rampant with the disease. He also affects sheep and they can spread it onto the grass in mixed grazing enterprises.

The good news is that he is a very well-mannered character. Finding him is the first step, followed by treating and preventing him. Obviously your farm vet will be involved at this stage and will place a lot of emphasis on clearing up wet patches in the field.

Medicines are an acknowledgement that the bug is present but medicines are quickly replaced with prevention methods once the disease is treated.

I sometimes refer to the farm yard paddock as the 'suicide-strip' on certain farms.

I accept that it is a very useful area to turn high-care cattle out to avoid keeping them indoors. Just bear in mind that the paddock gets continuous use and should have clean, dry underfoot conditions as much as possible. Don't hit it with too much manure spreading as this further contaminates it with housing bugs. And as stock numbers grow on certain farms, why not make a second, third or even forth farmyard paddock?

Plant trees and hedging this autumn to fence and shelter off newer paddocks for future convenience. A well-sheltered paddock is a millon miles better than any shed as long as the weather allows us to use them.

But don't over use them. You will always be glad of them in your hour of need.

Peadar O Scanaill is a Meath-based vet and member of the food and animal group of Veterinary Ireland. Email:

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