Farm Ireland

Friday 19 January 2018

Vaccinate against diseases as winter housing draws nearer


Peadar O'Scanaill

It's hard to imagine, with the recent good weather, that the grazing season is rapidly coming to an end. In the field, all the beef cattle are as healthy as bees.

But, as sure as eggs are eggs, in they must come and what a pity if we see all those winter bugs wreak the same havoc as in years gone by. Small changes now may help defer the date of disease outbreaks, so we'll go through a few of the prevention measures.


In the older batch of cattle, we may know of one or two animals that have had disease problems during the summer. By this I mean the odd bullock that got pneumonia in the field.

Although it's unusual to get virus outbreaks when cattle are outdoors, it is becoming more common nowadays than before. IBR is one of the viruses responsible for this type of pneumonia.

This virus is of the herpes family and is not unlike the herpes cold sores we humans can suffer from. Like the cold sore scenario, any period of stress can trigger a repeat bout of the disease. The virus can remain in the animal's system and flare up again at stressful times. Entering the slatted unit or winter sheds can be the most stressful time of all.

Many of our farms are quite limited in their ability to change stock around, and so the only option for a bullock that falls ill and lags behind his comrades is to fall into the batch younger than himself, or stay with his own batch and fight his corner.

One way or the other, he could potentially be the source of the first outbreak of winter pneumonia. So what's the solution?

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Knowing we have such an animal is the first step in addressing the problem. If the animal is identified in a batch, then perhaps he should never enter the fattening shed at all this winter. He can be left outdoors in a sheltered field with a roof over his head to protect from the rain, in order to limit the spread of disease and to avoid unnecessary stress for the animal itself.

However, it may be more practical to vaccinate all his comrades before the risk period in order to prevent the outbreak this winter. Virus pneumonia vaccines are readily available and very effective when used under veterinary advice.

The three common pneumonia viruses are IBR, RSV and PI3. They are merely names of the different types of pneumonia viruses on Irish farms, and the prevalence of one over the other will vary from farm to farm.

Your farm vet is best placed to know what pneumonia problems you dealt with during the year, and advise you on the best vaccination programme to put in place.

With some vaccines, a double shot several weeks apart is required and now is the time to get the first of these shots done. The booster vaccine can be given then as the cattle go indoors, rather than starting the programme at the time of housing.It would be ideal to have the two injections given even before the cattle enter the sheds in order for the vaccine to have maximum protection.

The Veterinary Health Plan that we speak of should be consulted this week. Vaccinations pre-housing are due now. Salmonella is one such vaccine, as is Leptospirosis and BVD.

With breeding cattle, these three diseases can wreak havoc and salmonella and BVD will also cause massive losses in next year's calves. Each farm will have its own challenges -- hence the need to have the Veterinary Health Plan in place.

With younger weanlings entering the winter housing phase, we may be able to exploit their smaller size. Every week they can stay outdoors is one week less for winter housing.

Parasites, such as fluke, worms and lice, could need a dose now, and if the farm is dry enough, the weanlings could be fed and hayed outdoors for as long as possible. Barring that, it could be very useful to look at ventilation in the winter houses and make improvements.

Would it be possible to break an opening in a wall to provide a large exercise area for younger stock, without compromising the whole farmyard in the process?


Winter pads got plenty of discussion in the past, but they were somewhat flawed in their aim. We will never achieve total turnout all winter in this country, but an exercise area that alleviates the cramped air space of any winter shed from time to time would be a great help to our younger stock.

To finish for now, we should beef-up against our worms, fluke and lice -- dose now, and get the vaccines in place before winter.

Look at sheds to make them more comfortable, airy and less cramped to lessen the effect of the winter bugs, which will have more relaxed animals and a healthier herd in general.

Peadar O'Scanaill leads a mixed practice in Garristown, north Co Dublin

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