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Jennie Eilerts

The Importance of Third-Trimester Nutrition in Beef Cattle

By Cattle, Cow-Calf No Comments

The third trimester of a cow’s pregnancy places great demands on her body that were not experienced during the first two trimesters. The third trimester starts at around 90 – 95 days prior to calving. Between cold late winter weather and the rapidly increasing requirements of the growing calf, the whole nutritional picture must be taken into account to ensure a healthy mother and baby.

The Role of Body Condition Score (BCS) in Cow-Calf Health

The body condition score (BCS) is a simple, inexpensive, and accurate means of determining whether a cow is properly utilizing feed and has enough fat, muscle, and energy stores. In the United States and Canada, the BCS scale runs from 1 through 5 (or 1 through 9), with one being an animal that is in very poor condition and five (or 9) being obese. The BCS of a cow going into the third trimester will help determine how well she and the calf will fair in the coming months. A BCS of 3 – 4 (5 – 6) is optimal for a cow entering the third trimester.

Cows with marginal or even low BCS will require a much higher level of supplementation than those animals that enter their third trimester in ideal body condition. Even then, complications such as a stillbirth or inability to breed back are possible.

The chart below is provided with permission by noble.org. To download or view full-size version, click here.

Vital nutrients for late-pregancy cows

There are a number of nutrients that must be available in adequate amounts to support the proper growth of a fetus while also nourishing the cow. These needs will continue to increase until birth, making it imperative that those requirements are met.

PROTEIN

Protein is a vital building block for every system of a growing calf. To maintain proper muscle and support organs, cows must also be receiving enough protein without the calf’s increasing needs drawing on her reserves.

Protein can be found in forages such as alfalfa or formulated feeds such as lick tubs or cubes. Forage in some areas may provide adequate protein but it is always a good idea to have testing done to make sure that nutrient levels are optimal and to identify any gaps so they can be supplemented.

CARBOHYDRATES

Carbohydrates provide the energy necessary for daily activity; they are also required for the proper function of organs and body systems. In addition, they help maintain essential fat reserves that keep a cow in a positive energy balance.

Most high-quality forages will provide decent levels of energy. If, however, the forage quality has declined over the winter or there simply isn’t enough available, supplementation is likely needed. This can be provided through the addition of tubs, distillers grains, cubes, or other energy sources.

VITAMINS

Certain vitamins are an important part of the development of a healthy fetus. Vitamins A and E, particularly, should be available in sufficient quantities. Vitamin A is needed by both the mother and her calf – if her colostrum is rich in Vitamin A, the calf’s likelihood of developing scours decreases. For the mother, successful post-partum expulsion of the placenta has been linked to an adequate intake of Vitamin A.

Cows require Vitamin E to improve Vitamin A absorption, in addition to minerals such as selenium. White muscle disease in calves is usually due to the mother having a Vitamin E deficiency during her pregnancy, and as such, not absorbing necessary levels of selenium.

Both Vitamins A and E can be found in forages; lush green pastures and hay. Aging hay and forage will likely have lower-than-ideal levels of these vitamins, so supplementation with alfalfa meal or even loose vitamin/mineral supplements might be needed for the pregnant cow to receive the quantities she needs.

MINERALS

Determining which minerals should be supplemented in pregnant cows depends on a wide variety of factors. Trace mineral levels are often dictated by the soil in which feed and forage was grown. By default, however, pregnant cows will require an increase in their calcium and magnesium intake to support fetal bone growth and prepare for lactation.

Regional mineral formulas are an excellent way to provide your pregnant cows with the minerals they need. Both block and loose mineral forms work well and will allow animals to self-regulate and consume as much as they need.

The Homestretch

The nutritional support a cow receives in the final months of her pregnancy will invariably influence the health of both mother and calf. Colostrum quality from a nutrient-deficient cow will not provide the support the calf will need, making it doubly important to pay special attention to third-trimester nutrition.

Adequate high-quality feed, water, and supplementation (as needed), will be the key factors in a successful calving season for both mothers and babies.

Shedding of Disease-causing Pathogens in Cattle

By Acidosis and Shipping Fever, Cattle, Cow-Calf, Feedlot, Pre-Conditioning No Comments

Almost every multi-celled organism on the planet is capable of shedding pathogens of one sort or another. In environments with large, dense populations, such as those of cattle, shedding of disease-causing viruses and bacteria can cause widespread disease rapidly. An understanding of how shedding occurs amongst cattle provides insight into preventing the outbreak of disease and consequential profit loss.

What is shedding?

Shedding is the expulsion of disease-causing microorganisms into the environment. When a pathogen has matured and reproduced within the host’s body, it must find a way to spread. Some of the most common ways cattle shed these germs is through their manure, coughing and sneezing and sharing common feeding and watering areas. When there are multiple animals living within close quarters, the likelihood of widespread infection increases.

How does shedding occur?

Viral, bacterial and fungal shedding occur via a variety of routes – pathogens can be introduced into the environment via the GI tract (Escherichia coli), respiratory tract (bovine respiratory syncytial virus – BRSV), oro-nasal (foot-and-mouth disease virus – FMDV and Mycobacterium bovis), ocular (infectious conjunctivitis – pink eye), reproductive tract (brucellosis) and even through the skin and hooves (dermatophytosis – ring worm).

Respiratory Tract

Shedding via the respiratory tract is perhaps the most common cause of infection in cattle. Secretions such as saliva and mucus can be aerosolized when an animal coughs or even just breathes, forcing millions of disease-causing pathogens into the environment. Some of these diseases are airborne and must be inhaled by other animals to cause infection, while others can land on fur or other surfaces and be taken into the nasal or oral cavity and lead to infection.

The incidence of transmission (particularly with inhaled microorganisms) increases exponentially when there are close quarters, such as a cattle transport or crowded pens at a sale barn or feedlot. Animals that are stressed and compromised will be more likely to contract diseases in these environments than those that are healthy and in a positive energy balance.

GI Tract

GI tract shedding is another common route for infection, as manure is regularly excreted into the environment and animals will tread through it, lay in and then, while browsing or cleaning themselves or each other, ingest the pathogens contained in the infected manure. Another issue is housing that is not frequently cleaned of excrement. Microorganisms can thrive in wet conditions, populating not just the fecal matter but the soil, as well. Feed bunks and watering sources may become contaminated with infected feces or soil, creating an even larger problem, as the majority of animals in a given space will be exposed.

Bacterial infections are of particular concern with this route of spread. Viral contagions often cannot live outside of a host for extended periods of time; however, many bacterial agents are capable of living in a non-host environment for extended periods of time and through extreme weather fluctuations. Therefore, infections such as Salmonella sp. and E. coli can get out-of-hand so quickly.

Oro-nasal Route

Some infectious microorganisms are spread easily via the oro-nasal route through saliva and mucous membrane secretions. This includes diseases such as foot-and-mouth-disease virus (FMDV) and Bovine papular stomatitis. An animal must come in direct contact with the contaminated surface, such as feed bunks or through licking or touching noses with an infected animal.

Ocular Route

Certain diseases such as pink eye are spread through contact with contaminated secretions from the eyes, and to a lesser extent the nose and mouth, due to the structure of the nasolacrimal ducts. The majority of eye infections in cattle are caused by bacteria. The most common means of spread for these infections is direct contact or rubbing of faces on fences, feeders, etc. It is also possible for these secretions to be deposited on grass or brush where other cattle may frequent and become exposed.

Genital Route

Brucellosis sp. are commonly shed through the reproductive tract in cattle. Placental fluids and vaginal discharges of infected cows can infect other cattle that may lick the infected animal. Feed and water sources can also become easily contaminated, creating the potential for widespread infection.

Additionally, there are numerous venereal diseases that can be shed but are only spread through the mating of infected animals, making these pathogens less likely to affect feedlot operators.

While the shedding of infectious microorganisms cannot be completely prevented, measures can be taken to help keep the impact to a minimum. Reducing stresses on animals, including providing high-quality feed and clean water, a calm environment and proper handling and a solid sick treatment protocol can go a long way towards helping prevent disease outbreaks in cattle operations.

The Impact of Mannheimia haemolytica on the High-Risk Herd

By Acidosis and Shipping Fever, Cattle, Feedlot No Comments

Mannheimia haemolytica is a bacterial contagion that is one of the main organisms responsible for the broader scope of bovine respiratory disease (BRD). M. haemolytica is frequently found in conjunction with Pasteurella multocida, with both bacteria typically presenting as secondary infections in compromised animals (most commonly following viral infections or significant stress events). It often leads to pneumonia, causing irreversible lung damage in the infected cow.

Prevalence of M. haemolytica in the Feedlot Setting

While M. haemolytica is fairly common to find in the living environments and upper respiratory tracts of most healthy cattle without causing issues, it does lead to secondary infections amongst compromised high-risk feeder cattle. In the case of M. haemolytica, it is responsible for pneumonia that can, at best damage the lungs, and at worst result in mortality of the infected individual.

In a study from the University of Georgia1, nasopharyngeal swabs (NPS) were taken during processing from a group of 169 high-risk feeder, sale barn bull and steer calves. They were also given the macrolide antimicrobial tulathromycin (2.5 mg/kg SQ) upon arrival at processing. Of those cattle, 27 (16%) swabbed positive for M. haemolytica (with 1 cow or 3.7% swabbing positive for a multi-drug resistant strain [MDR] of M. haemolytica). At 10 – 14 days a second NPS was taken from each of the 169 cattle with an alarming 123 (72.8%) showing positive cultures for M. haemolytica with 122 animals testing positive for a MDR strain of M. haemolytica. This offers a good idea of just how common it is to find M. haemolytica in high-risk stocker cattle and the waning or ineffective results seen with metaphylactic use on these groups.

How M. haemolytica Gains a Foothold in the Feedlot

Stocker cattle tend to be a mixed lot – some are healthy while others are in poor condition when they reach the sale barn. Knowing the background of any given sale barn calf is almost impossible.

  • Was it vaccinated properly?
  • Did the mother receive adequate nutrition during and after her pregnancy?
  • Was she vaccinated properly to ensure her and her calf’s immunity?
  • Did that calf have adequate weaning time?
  • How long has it been since its last meal? Is it already experiencing sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA)?

Unfortunately, these factors can have a huge effect on a calf’s ability to fight off disease and withstand the stresses of transitioning from its point of origin to the preconditioner’s lot.

M. haemolytica and Shipping Fever

“Shipping fever” is the common term for bovine respiratory disease (BRD), a complex of multiple diseases that can have detrimental impacts on stocker cattle. There are numerous viral diseases at play when looking at BRD – the most common include Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR), Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD – also a major contributor to scours), Parainfluenza Type-3 Virus (PI-3) and Bovine Respiratory Synctial Virus (BRSV).

Animals with weak or compromised immune systems are at greatest risk for developing shipping fever. With the stress of shipping – this includes handling, transport, lack of feed and water during transport, inhospitable weather and/or truck conditions, etc. – the calf’s immunity is put under significant stress. Because shipping fever is so prevalent, it’s common practice to administer a metaphylactic such as tulathromycin as they’re loaded for transport to help combat any secondary bacterial diseases that could contribute to “shipping fever”. Unfortunately, while this may help with bacterial infections that are already present, it doesn’t typically last long enough to address later-onset infections such as M. haemolytica.

When a cow is experiencing the ravages of shipping fever the immune system is under siege.  It is at this point that M. haemolytica can become a full-blown disease, invading the lungs, and causing pneumonia. As mentioned above, even with a metaphylaxis, the incubation time of M. haemolytica is such that it comes to fruition around the time the effects of the metaphylactic agent will be dwindling.

In some cases, cattle may contract M. haemolytica and recover without intervention; it’s often assumed that they “got over it” but the reality is that a good deal of lung damage may have occurred. This can become evident in that cow’s slower or reduced gain, stamina during handling, etc.

What Makes High-Risk Cattle Susceptible to M. haemolytica?

A high-risk cow is already in the “danger zone” for developing numerous problems. These cattle fall into several loose categories that can make them incredibly vulnerable to disease. It’s important to remember that the majority of a cow’s immune system lies within the rumen (about 80%). When viewed from that angle, it is no wonder that so many calves experience shipping fever and subsequent M. haemolytica secondary infections. Some of the factors that predispose a calf to issues include:

  • Unweaned calves. A calf that has not been properly weaned has not learned to eat on its own. It is also likely that its rumen is not fully developed, making it difficult for it to produce the necessary immunity to fight off disease. A calf that isn’t yet eating on its own can suffer from scours and acidosis.
  • Underweight calves. If a calf goes into the sale barn underweight it will surely arrive at the feedlot even more depleted. According to a review on transportation shrink by Ohio State University Extension, “Most of the shrinkage occurs during loading and in the first part (25 miles) of a trip. Cattle may lose half as much in 25 miles as they do in 200 miles. As the time increases, so does shrinkage, but at a slower rate than the first few miles.”2
  • Generally stressed calves. Calves that are being handled, moved to new environs, comingled with new cattle, etc., experience a high level of stress. Excessive stress releases cortisol which suppresses the immune system.
  • Undeveloped or under-developed rumens. Calves that have not been properly weaned and started on forage tend to have undeveloped rumens. This means that it is difficult to get them to start feeding and if and when they do, they don’t have the proper gut flora to adequately ruminate their feed.
  • Calves that refuse to eat or drink. In instances where a calf refuses to take in feed and water, they become quickly predisposed to being thrown into SARA.
  • Excessive antibiotic use prior to shipping. A metaphylactic program can be a vital part of keeping a herd healthy, however, the overuse or use of the wrong antibiotics can kill off beneficial gut flora, making it impossible for the rumen to function at peak levels.

Because the majority of a cow’s immune system lies within the gut, any one of the points above, or a combination of, can spell disaster for a calf with a weak rumen. This usually indicates it will have an equally weak immune system.

Use of Metaphylactics and M. haemolytica

The use of metaphylactics in the stocker cattle industry has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. When used prudently and properly, metaphylactics can help prevent widespread disease amongst groups of incoming cattle. However, if used carelessly or in excess, the benefits of metaphylactic use quickly become null.

Metaphylactics are used throughout an entire group of cattle under the assumption that they may be sick or will become sick in the near future. They might be administered in the form of an injection or added to feed. This is a much less time-consuming process than pulling individual sick calves and treating them independently of the herd.

A healthy calf with a strong immune system should be able to fight off serious infection on its own. The help of a metaphylactic agent may nip in the bud many diseases that are lurking but haven’t taken hold. This is assuming that the calf actually receives a therapeutic dose of the chosen drug. In cases when the metaphylactic is added to the feed, the consumption and dosage can be quite variable.

Consider a calf that is not fully weaned or is stressed and not eating. It may consume small amounts of treated grain, but not enough to achieve therapeutic drug levels adequate enough to treat the problem. This is when antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria develop and create a bigger issue than the one originally being treated.

Unfortunately, while metaphylactic use may be effective against many bacterial diseases, it is usually not particularly helpful in the case of M. haemolytica. This is because of the longer incubation time of M. haemolytica. If a calf is exposed to Mannheimia haemolytica at the sale barn or upon reaching its destination, it still has about two weeks before it might show any signs of illness. In the case of a calf given a metaphylactic at the time of sale or when arriving at the feedlot, that drug’s efficacy will be wearing off at around the same time that the incubation period for M. haemolytica will be ending. This creates the perfect timing for the bacteria to multiply and flourish in the body of the calf.

The other piece of this puzzle is the effect antibiotics can have on ruminal health. If a calf already has a weakened immune system with poor ruminal development, the likelihood that the metaphylactic agent used will destroy any remaining gut flora and thus throw the calf into scours and/or acidosis increases exponentially.

Why Immune System Development is Key in Preventing M. haemolytica

As previously mentioned, around 80% of a calf’s immune system lies in its rumen. Much of this immunity is received from its mother until it is naturally weaned. Because most calves must be prematurely weaned, this puts them at a disadvantage for developing a mature, fully functioning immune system.

The importance of a heifer’s health cannot be stressed enough when it comes to giving calves the best possible chance to start out healthy and realize maximum gains. A heifer that is depleted or experiencing SARA is not going to be able to put the necessary resources towards the development of her calf. Her immune system will be stressed, meaning the antibodies she is passing on, both in-utero and post-partum will not be nearly as potent as those that come from a healthy dam.

The milk quality will also be compromised – vital nutrients and other components that encourage proper development of a calf will be lacking. This makes it likely that the calf will require more milk to get its minimum requirements met, further depleting the dam.

Properly preparing a heifer for calving can save time and vital resources. A proper vaccination program for all cows is essential to help guarantee a calf’s latent immunity. This helps not only prevent scours in the post-natal calf, but also allows them to receive adequate antibodies throughout the duration of their nursing time.

Other Ways to Reduce the Prevalence of Shipping Fever and M. haemolytica

While there is no magic bullet for completely eliminating shipping fever or M. haemolytica, the risks can be greatly reduced.

The top way to keep the rumen functioning (and thus the immune system) is to get calves eating and drinking right away. They can be on transport trucks anywhere from a few hours to a few days without access to feed or water. During this time their ruminal health is incredibly compromised, predisposing them to acidosis and scours. As the acid concentration in the rumen increases, the appetite wanes, making it more and more difficult to get calves to consume feed and water. The best way to combat this is to bring the ruminal pH back into balance, thus stimulating the appetite.

It’s also important that a calf’s immunity start being built from day one. This includes ensuring that it is receiving adequate amounts of high-quality milk from the mother and not being exposed to stressors such as weather extremes, crowded living spaces, dirty environs or being subjected to improper or excessive handling. This naturally keeps the pH in check; when a calf is exposed to stress, administering buffering agents can stop the SARA process in its tracks.

Ensuring that the immunity continues to function benefits an animal in two ways – it keeps the calf on the right track for proper immune development and increases the efficacy of vaccinations. The chances of a healthy calf developing shipping fever and subsequent M. haemolytica go down markedly when a good care protocol is followed.

While it’s not possible to ensure that every calf is completely free of disease, it is possible to minimize the impact of shipping fever and M. haemolytica on the overall herd. The fewer animals that become sick, the greater the realized profits come harvest time. Prudence in antibiotic use and a keen eye on ruminal health can make the difference between a healthy, productive herd and one that sees more losses than gains.

Six Tips for Successfully Grazing Cornstalks

By Acidosis and Shipping Fever, Cattle, Cow-Calf, Feedlot No Comments

Finding economical feed sources that provide adequate nutrition is a major concern for producers. Grazing cornstalks offers producers a great opportunity to utilize a by-product that might otherwise go to waste. Turning cattle out after harvest allows the corn farmer and cattle producer to work together towards a mutually beneficial goal; the farmer’s fields are cleared of leftover plant matter and the producer can feed his cattle inexpensively.

The quality of feedstuffs will vary depending on several factors, including the weather, how long the stalks have been standing, how much grain is still left, etc.

Here are five tips for making the most of your cornstalk grazing program:

  1. Know what you’re feeding. Assess the amount of grain remaining following harvest. Do this prior to turning cattle out. Adjustments to supplementation will depend on how much corn is left in the field.
  2. Support optimum rumen pH. Rumen microbes take time to adjust to the increase in starch in the diet. When microbe populations must shift in composition to process starches, it can take around two weeks for this adjustment to take place. Bloat becomes a concern during this transition, so supporting a proper rumen pH is essential to ensure that there are not major increases in rumen acid (which can lead to microbe die-off and sub-acute ruminal acidosis).
  3. Be prepared to supplement protein. Cornstalks and grain are low in protein, making it necessary to boost the daily protein intake through supplementation. A non-protein nitrogen (NPN) may need to be used to help increase the breakdown and utilization of proteins. It is important to maintain a proper nitrogen-to-starch ratio to help support microbes and stave off bloat.
  4. Vitamin A is key. Vitamin A is most abundantly present in green plant matter – for cattle, lush pastures are the main source of naturally-derived vitamin A. Unfortunately, both cornstalks and grain are markedly low in vitamin A. It will be necessary to supplement vitamin A on a daily basis to cattle grazing on cornstalks.
  5. Provide loose salt and minerals. Cornstalks and grain lack in many essential minerals and the salts needed for the proper functioning of every system in an animal’s body. Phosphorus, for example, is vital for proper digestion, while adequate calcium must be available for lactating cows. Loose salt and mineral supplementation allow for customization depending on regional soil deficiencies and the particular needs of the animals being turned out for cornstalk grazing.
  6. Consider tubs for supplementation. Tubs offer a great all-in-one solution for the supplementation of cattle. Many offer regional formulas to address specific deficiencies unique to the areas they are formulated for. In addition to salt and mineral supplementation, tubs make it possible to fill in the gaps in the nutritional profile of cornstalk grazing without breaking the bank.

Using cornstalk grazing as an economical way to feed cattle is a great way to take advantage of by-product resources. Establishing that fine balance between affordability and optimum conversion may take a little research and work, but the end result can mean more dollars in your pocket come sale time.

The Importance of Vitamin A Supplementation During the Winter Months

By Uncategorized No Comments

As fall begins to give way to winter, pasture grasses go dormant, pulling their nutrients into the roots for the long, cold months ahead. Stored hay starts to lose its nutritional potency as it ages. What is left behind, while still holding some nutrition, can lack greatly in an essential nutrient – Vitamin A.

Where vitamin A comes from

Vitamin A is found in abundance in lush, green grasses. It is converted from beta-carotene, a nutrient that is present in most leafy green plants. Plants and grasses that are not sufficient in chlorophyll (the green pigment found in plant life) will, in general, also be lacking in vitamin A.

Hay may contain high levels of vitamin A shortly after cutting, but these levels will begin to drop the longer hay is stored. The two biggest factors in the degradation of vitamin A in hay are temperature and light exposure.

The importance of vitamin A in the bovine diet

Much has been learned about the role vitamin A plays in the diets of bovines. As with humans, every system in the body depends on this nutrient at least to some extent. The liver stores vitamin A as retinyl ester; this converts to the active form retinol that is then easily accessed by the body as vitamin A. Unfortunately, these stores only last so long, necessitating consumption of forage and feed that contains vitamin A to address immediate nutritional needs and replenish reserves.

Digestion, growth and development, immunity, respiratory function, and reproductive function are all dependent on adequate availability of vitamin A.

Calves

In calves, vitamin A is vital for growth and development. It contributes to the normal ossification of bones and teeth, ensuring that the animal’s skeleton will mature properly. Ruminal development is dependent on adequate levels of vitamin A. In addition, the growth and function of nervous tissue requires optimal levels of vitamin A.

Breeding Animals

For cattle in their reproductive years, Vitamin A is essential to keeping soft tissue linings including those found in the reproductive tract supple. A vitamin A deficiency in cows can cause thickening of the uterine tissues, making implantation more difficult and can even lead to fetal resorption or abortion.

Bulls that do not receive enough vitamin A in their diets may encounter problems with spermatogenesis (the development of sperm in the seminiferous tubules of the testicles), decreasing sperm count and quality.

All cattle

The overall effects of vitamin A deficiency in cattle can be disastrous for animals of all ages. As with the lining of the uterus in cows, the epithelial lining of the rumen is dependent on vitamin A to maintain pliability. Pliability in the rumen allows it to properly absorb nutrients. If it becomes thickened and rigid, the papillae start to shrink and reduced surface area for absorption occurs. An unhealthy ruminal lining is also more difficult for colonies of microbes to populate, leading to other issues such as poor feed conversion and sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA).

The respiratory tract can also become more brittle in the absence of adequate vitamin A. This makes animals more susceptible to infections such as BRD and can decrease the lungs’ ability to absorb oxygen.

The eyes are especially susceptible to vitamin A deficiencies. A prolonged vitamin A deficiency will result in night blindness; corneal ulcers can develop, causing lasting damage, even if the deficiency is corrected.

Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency

Cattle will display a wide range of symptoms in the presence of a vitamin A deficiency. Calves may grow more slowly and be sicklier than those that are receiving enough vitamin A. They may also have difficulty transitioning from milk to forage.

In general, cattle of all ages often present with inappetence, poor gains, decreased feed conversion and low energy levels. Physically, swelling of the legs may be present, in addition to a rough hair coat and dull eyes.

Supplementing vitamin A

Luckily, vitamin A is incredibly easy for producers to supplement. Before adding vitamin A to the diet, however, it is important to find out how much vitamin A forage and other feeds may be providing. Cut hay, as mentioned above, can begin to lose its potency as it ages. It should be assumed that dormant winter pasture will not provide adequate levels of vitamin A.

Depending on the size and type of cattle operation, different methods to supply this nutrient can be used. In the feedlot setting, vitamin A can be mixed into the TMR or offered in blocks or lick tubs. Many commercial TMRs will already contain certain levels of vitamin A. Consulting with the facility’s veterinarian or nutritionist will help determine if there are gaps that need to be filled.

Cattle on dormant winter pasture do well with uninterrupted access to lick tubs that contain adequate levels of vitamin A. Loose vitamin and mineral supplements and blocks can also be used but may not be as compelling to animals as lick tubs.

Vitamin A deficiency can have detrimental consequences on the health of a herd, but it doesn’t have to. With proper supplementation throughout the winter months, cattle can thrive and continue to perform at their best.

Lice Season is Approaching – Are You Ready?

By Cattle, Cow-Calf, Feedlot, Pre-Conditioning No Comments

When cold weather sets in, many cattle producers can take a sigh of relief as fly season draws to a close. However, the winter doesn’t herald complete freedom from external parasite concerns. It’s only starting for cattle lice.

Winter – the season of the louse

While always present on cattle, these opportunistic parasites spend the summer months laying low and not reproducing.  Because they are sensitive to sunlight, they tend to hide in dark places on the underside of an animal’s body, and especially when the haircoat is short and provides no protection. Lice take advantage of the cooler weather, shorter days, and longer hair coats to start laying eggs and wreaking havoc.

Lice emerge from their hiding places (folds of skin, mainly) as the hair coat increases in length, usually around late October into November and December. They can inhabit any part of an animal, but they seem particularly bothersome on the neck, shoulder, back and topline.

Consequences of uncontrolled lice infestation

Even though small numbers of lice are always present on healthy cattle, they are also opportunistic and will take advantage of cattle that are experiencing abnormal levels of stress. This stress may come from weather extremes, nutritional deficiencies, or other factors. Typically, a stressed animal will have higher levels of blood cortisol, the stress hormone that, in larger amounts, will cause a decrease in appetite and immune suppression.

A weakened immune system opens an animal up to a number of potential problems, external parasites being just one of them. Even in normally healthy animals, a significant lice infestation can have detrimental effects to their ongoing health.

Cattle that are experiencing the uncomfortable symptoms of lice will spend the majority of their time attempting to relieve the itching, taking them away from their number one job: eating. This can have dire consequences, considering their rumen health is dependent on a steady intake to function properly.

Some of the most significant effects an infestation can have include:

  • Reduced feed intake
  • Shrink
  • Higher susceptibility to infection
  • Cold stress (from rubbing off protective hair coat)
  • Reduced milk quality and production in cows (especially important for those fall calves)

Symptoms of lice infestation

The signs of lice infestation often manifest with animals rubbing, scratching and licking various areas on their bodies. Fence lines may be the first indicator of a problem, with tufts of scratched-off hair deposited in the barbs. Upon closer inspection of the animals themselves, there may be areas of raw, abraded skin or even crusted-over patches. When the itching becomes severe enough, they may even rub the majority of their winter coats off, leaving them susceptible to cold stress.

Cattle with severe infestations will also lose weight, as they are occupied with trying to relieve the irritation caused by the biting and chewing of these parasites. In the absence of feed intake, they can also experience sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA), leading to rumen microbe die-off and reduced nutrient absorption, opening them up to infection.

Types of lice found in cattle

There are two different groups of lice that the different species are divided into: sucking lice and chewing lice. Sucking lice feed on body fluids and skin secretions produced by the host, while chewing lice consume hair, skin and debris found on the body of their hosts.

Some of the most common species of louse found on cattle include the short-nose cattle louse (Haematopinus eurysternus), the biting or chewing louse (Bovicola bovis), the little blue cattle louse (Solenopotes capillatus) and the short-nose cattle louse (Haematopinus eurysternus). The variety of species can vary somewhat depending on region.

Heading off a serious infestation

One of the biggest mistakes made by producers is treating for lice too soon. Oftentimes, calves that are being weaned in the late summer and fall, prior to being moved to feedlots or pasture will be treated with either a pour-on dewormer or injectable dewormer. While this may have a small impact on the lice that are semi-dormant, it will not easily reach them if they have not moved to the upper portions of the animal. This means treatment is wasted and won’t prevent infestations from developing once the weather has truly gotten cold.

Pour-ons have shown the greatest efficacy, but the timing must be right. Early winter is an ideal time to treat for lice. It’s important to communicate with your herd veterinarian, as they will be able to advise on the most effective and economical timing.

How to help cattle that have already been affected

Even with good management, the weather can sometimes be a bit tricky and a serious infestation will occur. These animals will need a little extra help to regain their health and be able to withstand winter conditions. Here are a few things you can do to help your animals if they’re in this situation:

  • First and foremost, under the care of your herd vet, treat your cattle with a good pour-on dewormer formulated to kill the specific types of lice you are dealing with. Eliminating the cause of the irritation will help eliminate stress and allow any wounds to heal.
  • Treat ALL animals – even those that appear to be unaffected.
  • Base dosing on the weight of the animal. Too little and the product won’t work properly; too much is like pouring money down the drain.
  • Ensure complete coverage. The deworming product must come in contact with the lice themselves (or the areas they may migrate to) in order to be effective.
  • Help them reestablish normal eating patterns. This may require that problems like SARA are addressed. Neutralizing the rumen’s pH will encourage them to resume eating.
  • Support gut microbes. The rumen is responsible for 80% of the immune system’s ability to function. A very large part of this depends on a healthy microbial population. If the microbe balance has been disrupted, it will be necessary to provide nutritional support that will feed not only the animal but its damaged microbial colonies.
  • Take measures to help prevent recurrences, such as retreating at appropriate intervals during the winter months.

The time, money, and effort spent to properly treat your animals at the right times is a wise investment for the overall well-being of your herd. It will not only save them the discomfort of a lice infestation but can help boost your bottom line in the long run by preventing unnecessary shrink and illness.

Maximizing the Efficacy of Your Calf Vaccinations

By Branding, Cattle, Cow-Calf, Pre-Conditioning No Comments

As weaning time moves into full swing, the topic of vaccinations should be at the forefront of producers’ minds. An effective vaccination program can be the difference between having a great year or one that results in disaster.

Vaccines are essential for providing protection against diseases not only to an individual animal but the herd at large. When “herd immunity” is developed through an effective vaccination program, the number of animals that get sick goes down exponentially, which, in the bigger picture, minimizes sick treatment costs, performance losses and even deaths.

The benefits of vaccinations in today’s marketplace

As a growing number of consumers push for cattle that have not been fed antibiotics during the finishing period, or beef that hasn’t been raised with antibiotics in the feed, it is more important than ever that cattle going to market start out healthy and stay that way. While a few “natural” certification programs don’t allow for vaccinations to be used, the majority do and for good reason.

A cow that has developed a strong immune response to certain diseases is much more likely to remain healthy, even in situations where an outbreak may occur. This reduces the likelihood that they will end up in the sick pen being treated with antibiotics to combat whatever pathogens may be lurking in the environment.

Making the most of your vaccination dollar

There are a few things you can do to help guarantee a successful vaccination program. Below are our recommendations for getting the most out of your vaccine investment.

  1. Ensure calves are healthy enough to receive vaccinations

Vaccines depend on the immune system to react to the “invasion” they create, facilitating an immunity against the pathogens to develop. Factors such as stress or poor body condition can have a significant impact on the efficacy of vaccinations. Cortisol, a stress hormone that is released when animals respond to internal or external stress stimuli, suppresses the immune system. Calves that are not well-nourished or dehydrated will not develop an adequate immunity.

  • Handle and store vaccines properly

Vaccines are delicate – they are both light and temperature-sensitive. They should always be stored at the recommended temperature range. This information can be found on the packaging. Modified live vaccines (MLV) in particular are especially sensitive to temperature changes. If you are only vaccinating five calves, bring enough to vaccinate those animals and leave the rest in the refrigerator. Fluctuations in temperature – even if they’re being kept cool – can compromise the integrity of the vaccine.

  • Keep stress levels as low as possible

Calves are very susceptible to the effects of stress. Some of the major stressors include tagging, branding and weaning. In particular, weaning can be detrimental to a calf’s performance over its lifetime. Because of this, it is recommended that calves that are preparing to be weaned are vaccinated at least two weeks (three weeks is even better) prior to weaning, as they will be experiencing low stress at that time and they will have a greater vaccine response. A follow-up with a booster two or three weeks after weaning, too, will have allowed them time to adjust to their new environment and rations.

  • Determine what vaccines you really need

Vaccination needs are determined by several factors, including the region you’re in, what types of diseases your cattle may encounter at your operation and what they might face during transportation or in a feedlot, etc. Your herd veterinarian will be able to guide you in choosing the right vaccines for your geographic area. A good rule of thumb is to vaccinate against the most common and damaging diseases, including BRSV (bovine respiratory syncytial virus), IBR (infectious bovine rhinotracheitis), BVD (bovine viral diarrhea) and PI3 (parainfluenza). Other diseases to consider, depending on region would include a 7-way clostridial (blackleg), Vibriosis, 5-way Leptospirosis, etc.

Each operation is different – by choosing the proper vaccinations for your herd and practicing smart vaccine administration, you can ensure that you are getting the greatest immunity in your cattle while maximizing your profit come sale time.

Identifying and Treating Blackleg in Cattle

By Cattle No Comments

Maintaining optimum herd health is one of the greatest challenges cattle producers face. Herd losses quickly lead to lost profit; the loss of young heifers, in particular, can mean missed breeding opportunities and fewer head to take to the sale barn. To put this into perspective, in 2015 the total estimated cost of death loss in cattle and calves was $3.87 billion.

Blackleg is a fairly common disease in cattle and can have dire consequences. It can strike without warning, it has a high mortality rate, and its symptoms are not always easy to detect. Fortunately, producers and feedlot operators can take steps to increase the immunity of their herds and reduce the chances that their animals will contract blackleg.

What Is Blackleg?

Blackleg is a clostridial disease that primarily affects young cattle raised on pasture. A clostridial disease is one caused by anaerobic bacteria in the soil. These bacteria have protective coverings known as spores and are often fatal to the animals they infect. More than 60 types of clostridial bacteria exist, though not all of them have the potential to cause disease. Black disease, malignant edema, tetanus and botulism are examples of other serious clostridial diseases.

Blackleg is primarily caused by the clostridial bacterium known as Clostridium chauvoei. Its spores are incredibly widespread — they are found virtually everywhere in the environment. The disease is also known as clostridial myositis.

C. chauvoei was discovered in 1887 and later took its name from a French veterinarian, J.B.A. Chauveau. It is a gram-positive, spore-forming rod that is found in soil and the feces and digestive systems of many animals, such as cattle. The spores are highly resistant to harsh environmental conditions and many disinfecting agents. They can be found in pairs and sometimes in small chains, but most often each single bacterium exists in isolation, though there may be many other bacteria in the surrounding earth.

How Do Cattle Contract Blackleg?

Cattle often consume blackleg spores as they graze at pasture. When cattle consume low-growing vegetation, they may ingest some soil — and spores — as well. The spores then travel through the digestive system, pass through the intestinal wall, move through the cow’s bloodstream and disperse throughout the muscle tissue in the animal’s body, where they may remain dormant for some time. The spores often end up in the musculature of an animal’s legs, especially the hind legs, though they can also infect areas such as the tongue, diaphragm, udder or brisket. Experts are unsure why the spores so often colonize muscle tissue in preference to other types.

Lack of oxygen to the muscle tissues can cause the spores to emerge from their dormancy. When the spores become active, they proliferate rapidly and cause gas gangrene in the muscles, which quickly leads to the characteristic dark-colored lesions that give the disease its name. Tissue necrosis and toxemia generally result, as well. Though blackleg does not always cause outward discoloration, cutting into a diseased animal’s infected leg will reveal areas of darkened tissue where gas gangrene has formed. If superficial muscles are involved, a darkening of the observable tissue of the affected legs is also common.

Active blackleg infections ultimately prove fatal in a majority of cases. Many necropsies reveal inflammation in the hearts of cattle that have died from blackleg, particularly fibrinous pericarditis and necrotizing myocarditis, in addition to lesions and necrosis in their skeletal muscles.

It’s important to note that although blackleg is infectious, it is not contagious from individual to individual. So an infected animal cannot spread the disease directly to other members of the herd. It is also not necessary for cattle to have open wounds to contract blackleg — consumption and subsequent bruising and injury are sufficient to activate the disease.

Blackleg in Calves

Blackleg in calves is a particular concern. Blackleg has been observed in calves as young as six weeks. However, most blackleg cases occur in calves and cows aged six months to two years. Even strong calves who appear to be in robust condition and are growing rapidly are susceptible to this disease — in fact, young calves growing rapidly are among those most likely to be infected. Adult cattle can contract blackleg as well, but infections in adults are much less common, though they can occur, especially in elderly animals.

Causes of Blackleg Disease in Cows

A number of different environmental factors increase the likelihood that cattle will contract blackleg disease:

  • Injury: If a cow sustains an injury, the site of the injury may receive reduced blood flow and, consequently, a reduced amount of oxygen. Reduced oxygen at the injury site may cause the blackleg spores to become active. For this reason, a cow that exhibits noticeable bruising is at increased risk of contracting blackleg disease. Activities such as transport, improper handling, injections, excessive exercise and rough pasture interactions can all cause bruising that may lead to blackleg spore germination and active infection.
  • Ingestion of contaminated feed: Ingestion of feed that is heavily contaminated with C. chauvoei spores can also lead to infection. After animals consume the contaminated feed, the spores travel to and colonize their muscle tissue. In some cases, after animals ingest large amounts of contaminated feed, bruising or injury is not necessary for the active infection to occur.
  • Drought: Drought stunts forage growth. As cattle feed on shorter and shorter vegetation, their mouths must come closer to the soil, and their risk of contracting blackleg from soil contact increases. Drought also leads to dry soil that can easily blow away in the wind, spreading spores over the surrounding land.
  • Recent excavation: Recent excavation projects create a hospitable environment for the spread of blackleg spores. Excavation projects disturb the earth and allow spores to disperse over the ground. Even innocuous-seeming activities such as mucking out stalls or pens can disturb earthen floors and expose cattle to the spores lurking there.
  • Extreme weather: Many cases of blackleg occur during wet seasons, typically in the summer months. Torrential spring rains and flooding lead to hospitable conditions for the spread of blackleg spores because of the way they disturb the soil. The soil saturation associated with heavy rainstorms can cause buried spores to rise to the earth’s surface. The Texas A&M Medical Diagnostics Laboratory reports that it saw an unusual number of blackleg cases throughout 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
  • Flooding: Relatedly, floodwaters carry soil and spores over vast areas of ground. Rains and flooding make the earth soft, so cattle can easily dig into it with their hooves and horns, thus increasing their likelihood of coming into contact with the spores. If pastureland is flooding, consider moving feeding stations to higher ground or concrete pads to minimize the likelihood your cattle will ingest blackleg spores.
  • Movement to new pastures: Moving animals to new pastures, especially after heavy rains, may bring them into an environment where C. chauvoei spores are more prevalent. The likelihood that the animals will ingest spores then increases.
  • Improper carcass disposal: If a farm or ranch experiences a blackleg outbreak, proper carcass disposal is vital for preventing the spread of the disease. If these solutions are possible, burning the carcasses or burying them deeply where they have fallen are often the best practices, since dragging the carcasses over the ground can lead to spore dispersal. Burning the top area of soil where afflicted animals have been is often necessary as well. Fencing off the areas where carcasses are buried also helps prevent the transmission of spores.

What Are the Symptoms of Blackleg in Cattle?

Blackleg symptoms in cattle are often difficult to spot. Because the disease progresses so rapidly, in many cases, calves quickly become ill and die before symptoms have become apparent, often within 12 to 48 hours of contracting the active disease. However, some symptoms of blackleg may become evident, and it’s essential to keep a watchful eye out for them:

  • Fever: At the onset of infection, affected cattle may exhibit a fever, though the fevers often subside as the disease progresses.
  • Lameness: It is common for cattle to develop lameness in an affected leg.
  • Loss of appetite: Cattle who have developed active infections are likely to stop eating.
  • Lethargy: Lethargy or depression can develop in cattle with active blackleg infections.
  • Hot, swollen muscles: The pockets of gas gangrene that form can cause the muscles in the affected area to swell. Initially, these areas may be hot to the touch. Fever, lameness, loss of appetite, lethargy and swelling are typically some of the first signs that become visible.
  • Recumbency: Afflicted animals may lie down and be unable to get up.
  • Discolored skin lesions: Skin in the affected area may become discolored as the infection spreads and skin necrotizes.
  • Crepitation: Affected animals may have skin that seems to crackle when touched because of the gas that has formed in the muscle tissue.
  • Diffuse lung sounds and dyspnea: Some cases of blackleg involve cardiac lesions in addition to skeletal muscle lesions. In these cases, the lungs make characteristic diffuse sounds, and the animal may have difficulty breathing.
  • Tachycardia: Blackleg may also cause a rapid heart rate in some animals.
  • Rumen stasis: As the disease progresses, the animal’s stomach functions may shut down.
  • Skin coldness and insensitivity: Initially, the skin in the affected area may be hot and swollen to the touch. But as the disease progresses, the lack of oxygen in the affected area and the progression of necrosis may cause the skin to become cold.
  • Malodorous liquid and gas in cut tissue: Because of the gangrene infection, cutting into affected tissue often releases malodorous liquid and gas. The odor is typically described as similar to that of rancid butter.

In some cases of blackleg that lead to congestive heart failure, symptoms such as a distended jugular vein and edema of the brisket have been reported. However, these reports are rare.

Although veterinarians may make a presumptive diagnosis of blackleg on the basis of the above signs and the animal’s clinical history, the official diagnosis requires the detection and isolation of C. chauvoei in the affected tissues.

How Do You Treat Blackleg in Cattle?

Typically, treatment is ineffective against blackleg, and the mortality rate of the disease is relatively high. In some cases, if the disease is detected early enough, penicillin can be effective in saving an animal’s life. A cow that survives blackleg, however, usually suffers from a permanent deformity or lameness.

For this reason, and because eliminating blackleg spores from the environment is virtually impossible, one of the best treatments for blackleg in cattle is vaccines.

Blackleg Vaccines

Vaccines cannot treat blackleg in an afflicted cow, but they can help to prevent healthy cows from contracting the disease. The standard recommendation is to vaccinate calves once they reach two to three months of age, and the again around 6 – 8 months, the time when they start to wean. Until then, the antibodies they received via their mothers’ rich colostrum shortly after birth should protect them.

When the calves reach weaning age, a vaccination protocol becomes critical. Typically, calves should receive two doses of vaccine during this time, with the second dose following three to six weeks after the first. Because all blackleg vaccines are killed or inactivated vaccines rather than live vaccines, the second shot is often essential to ensure the vaccine’s effectiveness. Annual or semiannual boosters are recommended afterward until the animal reaches two years of age. Vaccinations should take place before the danger of blackleg becomes high — usually spring or early summer.

The available vaccines are typically extremely effective against blackleg — the limited research on the subject suggests these vaccines are nearly 100 percent effective against blackleg contracted from the environment. The antibodies the vaccines stimulate minimize the toxic effect of any spores that become active within an animal’s body. These vaccines usually protect against several other diseases as well, including malignant edema, black disease and enterotoxemia.

What Other Animals Can Get Blackleg?

Blackleg-like conditions have been described in other species, particularly sheep and goats.

Sheep are known to contract blackleg infections, but these animals often become infected through open wounds rather than by ingesting the spores. Infections in sheep typically occur after some form of acute injury, including cuts from shearing, docking or castration. It is possible that those cases are merely gangrene associated with C. chauvoei, rather than true blackleg. 

C. chauvoei infections similar to blackleg have also been reported in animals such as deer, horses, pigs, oryx, elephants and even whales.

5 Reasons You Should Consider Lick Tubs

By Cattle, Horses, Uncategorized No Comments

There’s no disputing that horses and cattle that receive a well-rounded, complete diet with proper levels of essential nutrients perform better, live longer, and have stronger immune systems. In an ideal world, all of their nutrition would come from the forage or concentrated feeds they are given. This, however, is rarely the case, as forage or grazing quality can vary wildly. There is also the factor that each animal will have different nutritional needs throughout their lives. Filling in the gaps in the regular diet is essential to ensure that they thrive.

Luckily, with the advent of lick tubs, fulfilling these nutritional needs is easier than ever. Here are five reasons you should consider adding lick tubs to your feeding regimen.

  1. Tubs deliver balanced nutrition in small quantities of product. Most tubs are formulated to be consumed at a rate of anywhere from 1/2 lb to 2 lbs per day, depending on brand and formulation. This makes them an economical choice for the smallest farm to the largest cow-calf operation or horse farm. Multiple tub sizes make it possible to ensure that your animals are receiving a product that is consumed in a timely manner.
  2. Tubs allow animals to self-moderate consumption. Good tubs will have a limiter built into them to prevent overeating — particularly molasses-based tubs, where the sweet flavor can be irresistible. That being said, most animals will eat only what their bodies require to sustain a proper energy balance. For instance, you may have noticed that your horse will visit the mineral block more frequently after a strenuous workout. This is because his body is telling him he needs to replenish the minerals and electrolytes lost through exercise. Tubs allow your animals to regulate what they consume when they need it, taking the guesswork out of top-dressing and mixing supplements into rations.
  3. Weather-resistant formulas ensure product quality. A good tub will not be affected by rain, snow, wind or sun, assuring that the nutritional integrity will be preserved. Pelleted and granular feeds can be ruined by any of these weather factors, leading to feed waste and lost money.
  4. Multiple formulations for different regions and life stages. The variety of tubs available allows the specific needs of individuals or groups of animals to be met. For instance, cattle grazing on lower-quality pasture may need extra protein, while nursing cows often need a boost in calcium and fat.
  5. Economical and easy to store. Because tubs have a long shelf life and take up relatively little space, they can become an economical way to supplement horses and cattle. Often times, money can be saved by ordering a larger quantity of tubs and storing them until they’re needed. This also allows for rotation throughout the year, should nutrient requirements change (for example, high energy tubs for colder months and more mineral-dense for hotter months).

As you can see, tubs are a beneficial addition to your feeding regimens. The versatility and ease of use make them a great option for both the large or small livestock operation.

If you’d like to explore adding tubs to your feeding regimen, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

How Weather Affects Your Cattle and Horses’ Stress

By Cattle, Horses No Comments

How Weather Affects Your Cattle and Horses’ Stress

Keeping your livestock healthy throughout the year allows your animals to be productive and avoid diseases. Unfortunately, weather conditions can present an obstacle to livestock’s health and well-being. But how exactly do weather changes and fluctuations affect the stress levels of your cattle and horses? What can changes in weather and stress levels mean for your livestock?

To keep your livestock thriving, it’s important to understand how exactly the weather impacts their stress levels and what you can do to help ease the effects of difficult weather conditions.

Body Temperature Regulation: Cattle and Horses

Livestock can regulate their body temperatures like humans, but only so much. The regulation of body temperature is known as thermoregulation. The body uses thermoregulation to avoid cold or heat stress. Because thermoregulation is limited, it’s important to note the weather changes that can impact the body temperature of your livestock.

1. Thermoregulation in Cattle

The body temperature of cattle is affected by their body condition, diet, conditions of their shelter and the thickness of their hair coat. Weather factors, such as wind and humidity, can also influence cattle’s body temperature.

Cattle hair coats vary by breed in terms of color and thickness. The hair coat also affects their ability to release heat through their skin. In a warmer region, cattle with a thick hair coat may be more susceptible to heat stress. Cattle with a thinner hair coat are more likely to be tolerant of higher temperatures in warm regions. Alternatively, cattle with a thinner hair coat may become more stressed in a colder environment.

Cattle body temperature can fall into three zones –– thermoneutral, upper critical (UCT) and lower critical temperature (LCT) zone. At the basal metabolic rate, cattle will be in the thermoneutral zone. So what exactly is the basal metabolic rate? It’s the amount of energy that is expended while cattle are at rest in neutral temperatures.

Neutral temperatures typically fall between 31 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, though this range can vary depending on the breed of cattle and the conditions of their environment. Wind, humidity and cattle hair coat all affect the temperature range that is considered neutral for cattle.

Upper critical temperatures are above the thermoneutral zone and increase the basal metabolic rate. The increased basal metabolic rate results in the body stimulating heat loss to maintain body temperature. When the temperature-humidity index is 80 or above, livestock may suffer from heat stress. Cattle produce little sweat and are not able to dissipate their heat efficiently, so producers often need to take steps to assist cattle with heat dissipation.

Cattle most often fall into the lower critical temperature zone during especially cold months, such as January and February. In LCT, cattle can experience cold stress. The basal metabolic rate increases to produce heat that can maintain or raise body temperature. This means the animal also requires more energy so it can produce heat. Beware of extreme cold stress, which can result in hypothermia.

2. Thermoregulation in Horses

Like cattle, thermoregulation in horses allows these animals to maintain, raise or lower body temperature. Unlike cattle, however, horses are more efficient at discharging heat in hot weather. Despite this, owners should still take measures to help their horses stay cool during hot, humid months. Horses use the following methods to maintain body temperature:

  • Evaporation of sweat: A horse will produce sweat that then evaporates, cooling the animal down. In a humid climate, sweat may not be able to evaporate, preventing the horse from adequately cooling. Owners can assist with creating a less humid environment for their horses so that evaporation of sweat can occur.
  • Convection: In this process, heat moves from inside the horse out into the air. Air movement and wind carry heat away from horses. To assist your horses further, especially if there isn’t much wind on a hot, humid day, a fan can be implemented to help move the air.
  • Direct radiation: Radiant heat comes directly off the horse and isn’t effective when the horse is standing in the sun. Providing them with shade can make the radiant cooling process more effective.
  • Conduction: Conduction is similar to convection, except that the heat that has built up in the horse’s blood is transferred to the air. On days when the air temperature is especially high, conduction isn’t very effective.
  • Respiratory loss: Horses can also lose a small amount of heat when they exhale.

To determine whether it is too hot to work your horse, calculate the heat index. Add the temperature in Fahrenheit plus the percent of humidity. The sum is the heat index. If the heat index is less than 120, it is safer to work them. If the heat index is between 120 and 150, use caution when riding or exercising your horse. If the heat index is more than 150, it is important to avoid working them until the heat index has dropped.

10 Signs of Weather Stress in Livestock

How much cold can cows tolerate and how much cold can horses tolerate before they experience weather stress? To keep livestock healthy and productive, you should be aware of the signs of stress. Knowing what to look for means you can improve your livestock’s conditions when the weather is posing extremes that can be detrimental to their health.

  1. Reduced milk production. During hot weather, dairy cows may experience reduced milk production due to stress. Feed intake drops in dairy cattle when temperatures rise, causing milk production to also drop. This decrease in milk production can have a major negative impact on the prosperity of the dairy business, so you’ll want to relieve your cows of weather stress as quickly as possible to ensure continued productivity.
  2. Changes in feed and water intake. In hot weather, cattle may consume less feed. Reduced feed intake can cause ruminal acidosis and decrease the animal’s production of volatile fatty acids. This, in turn, reduces the cow’s energy levels and fat content in its milk. In the heat, cattle and horses may also drink more water to stay hydrated and cool.
  3. Reduced conception rate. Calving alone puts stress on a cow. Combine the stress from calving with weather stress? Lowered fertility and fewer calves.
  4. Rapid respiration rate. Extreme cold weather can result in cold stress. Young animals are particularly susceptible to respiratory issues in cold weather conditions. Horses may also pant when they are dealing with heat stress, so if you are noticing rapid respiration in your cattle or horses, they may be experiencing weather stress.
  5. Standing when other cattle are lying down. When a cow is behaving differently from the other cattle, it’s a sign that something is wrong. A cow that stands while the others are lying down could be experiencing weather stress.
  6. Weight loss. Stressed cattle and horses may also experience weight loss due to a lack of appetite. The weight loss may negatively affect an animal’s ability to stay warm and productive in cold weather.
  7. Frequent urination. Cattle and horses may also urinate more frequently when experiencing weather stress. Animals may urinate frequently to relieve stress or because of increased intake of water. Horses may also produce a greater amount of manure or experience diarrhea.
  8. Weakened immune system. Cold stress, especially prolonged cold stress, can increase the cortisol levels in a cow or horse and weaken the animal’s immune system. Stressed animals are more likely to become ill by contracting infectious diseases. Since diseases may spread quickly to other livestock, this can become a major problem for producers.
  9. Frequent yawning. In horses, frequent yawning may be a sign of stress. Yawning releases endorphins, so frequent yawning could be a coping mechanism for your horse as it combats stress.
  10. Rapid heart rate and excessive sweating. If you notice a rapid heart rate in your cow or horse, the animal may be suffering from heat stress. Trembling is a similar sign of weather stress that may appear in cattle and horses, especially if they are trembling in an ordinary situation without a stressful trigger, such as transportation or a visit from the veterinarian. Heat stress may also cause horses to sweat excessively.

Here are a few more visible signs of heat stress you may notice in cattle:

  1. Increased production of saliva or slobbering
  2. Seeking out shade
  3. Open-mouth breathing
  4. Lack of coordination
  5. Splashing water
  6. Restlessness
  7. Lethargy
  8. Small or premature calves

Weather effects on horses can also cause lower productivity and cause poor health. High-performance horses and foals are particularly vulnerable to heat stress. Additional signs to watch out for include:

  1. Little or no sweat production
  2. Dry, hot skin
  3. Abnormally high rectal temperatures (99-101°F is the normal range)

To determine whether a horse is dehydrated due to heat stress, pinch the skin on the horse’s neck. The skin should spring back to its original position. If not, your horse could be dehydrated.

Extreme weather stress can put your animal’s health and even life at risk, so watch out for these signs and take action as soon as possible if you believe your animal is experiencing weather stress.

How Do I Cool Down Livestock?

In hot weather, animals perform some temperature control methods on their own. Cattle may stand in water or crowd together under a shady tree. You can also take action to keep your animals cool.

1. How Do You Cool Down Cattle?

If you’re concerned about your cattle dealing with heat stress, there are a few steps you can take to give them some relief.

  • You can provide more ventilation. Because cattle don’t produce much sweat, airflow is critical to keep their body temperature from getting too high in hot weather. When the animals are in a confined area, set up large fans that can remove stale or stagnant air. Increased air flow will allow cattle to properly discharge excess body heat.
  • You can use misters or foggers. Mist systems combined with powerful airflow are effective in cooling animals off. Misters or foggers can be much more effective and efficient than trying to cool the environment around the cattle.
  • You can supplement your cow’s diet. Cows consume less feed in hot weather, which can reduce a cow’s energy levels and the fat content in its milk. You may want to supplement the cow’s diet to reduce heat stress. A supplement like CattlActive® can neutralize acids, boost energy and lactation and even help cows produce higher-quality milk.

2. How Do You Cool Down Horses?

High temperatures and humidity, poor ventilation, lack of airflow and exposure to direct sunlight can also result in heat stress in horses. Owners can use a few strategies to help horses stay cool in hot weather and climates:

  • Exercise conditioning: If you’ll be competing, it’s important to condition animals in the environmental and weather conditions that are similar to the conditions you anticipate in your competition setting.
  • Monitor for heat stress: On a daily basis, check for heat stress in your horses. Monitoring your horses will help you notice their cooling needs as soon as an issue arises. You can then take immediate action.
  • Allow horses to acclimate: When introducing your horses to new, warmer environments, give the animals a chance to acclimate. You may want to allow up to a few weeks for acclimation.
  • Clip the winter coat: Clipping a horse’s winter coat can improve the dissipation of heat from the horse during exercise. Clipping has the added benefit of also making grooming the horse easier. Use a blanket in the winter to keep the horse warm.

Use these strategies to help keep your livestock cool in hot weather.

How Do I Warm Up Livestock?

In cold weather, you may find livestock huddling together in low spots to keep warm and avoid the wind.

How Do Cows and Horses Stay Warm in Winter?

In preparation for the winter months, cattle and horses grow long, coarse hair to keep their bodies warm. When the hair gets wet, it can become more difficult for the hair to trap warm air. Cattle and horses can get cold in the rain; they can benefit from shelter so that their hair can dry after being exposed to moisture.

Livestock will also consume more feed to help build body fat stores and create energy, which will insulate them from the frigid weather and allow them to produce more body heat. You’ll also probably see them crowding together in a field to share body heat.

How Do You Keep Cows Warm?

When it comes to wintering cattle outside, there are steps you can take to help cattle stay warm.

  • Allow for communal living: Cattle can huddle together to keep each other warm. Try to arrange for each animal to have at least one or two others they can huddle next to in cold conditions.
  • Provide shelter: Protect your cows from precipitation and the wind by providing shelter they can easily access. If barn-kept, the space should also allow for proper ventilation to avoid the buildup of moisture.
  • Provide dry, clean bedding: Clean out waste regularly so that the bedding is dry and put down fresh bedding after cleaning.

How Do You Keep Horses Warm?

There are a few steps you can take to keep your horses warm in cold weather.

  • Provide shelter: To keep horses warm, provide them with a shelter that can protect from wind, rain and snow. The shelter you provide should minimize moisture and drafts. Ideally, horses should have a shelter they can access at any time.
  • Use blankets: You can also use horse blankets to keep your animals warm. Be sure the blanket fits correctly and that you remove it every day to check for sores or irritation. You should also use different types of blankets for different weather conditions. If your horse may be exposed to moisture, provide them with a blanket that not only is waterproof but wicks away moisture from the body.
  • Adjust diet: You can also adjust a horse’s diet. Increased body fat will allow them to stay warm in cold weather and the added calories will give them more energy to produce heat.

Weather fluctuations can have a significant impact on the stress levels among livestock. You can stay ahead of the weather to keep your livestock comfortable by referring to a heat index map. Another great option for helping your livestock avoid weather stress is by providing them with CattlActive® or Zesterra®. CattlActive® and Zesterra® can help regulate the stomachs and PH balances of cattle and horses and help them become more resilient to stress caused by extreme heat or cold.

To help maintain your livestock’s health and wellness, you can browse our products at Pro Earth Animal Health today.

© 2019 Pro Earth Animal Health.

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