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.
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.
In today’s stocker and feeder industry, producers must rely on “high-risk” sale barn calves for inventory. Trailer weaning, commingling, and non-existent health programs make these calves challenging to precondition and put into production. The fact that most of these calves have no immunity and have a rumen that is not mature makes them very susceptible to environmental and airborne pathogens. Exposure to other cattle, dusty sale barns, and hours without feed and water during the sale and transportation to an unfamiliar environment starts the process of “shipping fever.”
Pressure from consumers – both foreign and domestic – for less antibiotic use has increased the focus for alternatives to antibiotics. Nutritionists I veterinarians, and academic researchers are starting to focus more on Sub-Acute Ruminal Acidosis (SARA) – often a result of stress – and the effects it has on appetite, immunity, and cortisol levels in cattle. Stress is unavoidable when cattle are weaned I transported, commingled, and processed and is the leading cause of SARA.
How Stress Affects Ruminal Health
Stress creates a physiological chain reaction that increases acid production in the rumen, resulting in a lower ruminal pH. This imbalance must be corrected for the calf to digest any feedstuffs that are ingested. Prolonged acidity in the rumen compromises the protective mucosal lining, allowing bacteria from the rumen to leak into the bloodstream, causing shipping fever. A compromised rumen also means that the calf’s immune system is being negatively impacted as 80% of the calf’s immune system is contained in and around the rumen and small intestine.
A compromised immune system allows secondary pathogens in the respiratory tract to multiply and migrate to the lungs where irreparable damage occurs. These pathogens are the main cause of death in “high-risk” calves.
The three physiological effects of stress that impact a “high-risk” calf are:
• An increase in acid production and a decrease in pH of the rumen suppresses the appetite and impacts digestion.
• An elevated core temperature causing fever and increasing morbidity.
• An increase in blood cortisol levels suppresses the immune system and appetite.
An increase in cortisol suppresses appetite by affecting the brain’s ability to release hormones that trigger appetite. Elevated cortisol levels also suppress the immune system, making vaccinations ineffective when administered to stressed calves. A climb in the core temperature can prove detrimental as fever greatly increases morbidity and the possibility of mortality.
How CattlActive® Can Help
CattlActive® is an all-natural oral drench that is proven to raise the pH of the rumen 0.9 units in 15 minutes. It is also proven to lower the core temperature by as much as 6° F in 15 minutes. In addition, it has been shown to lower cortisol levels from an elevated 229 nmols to a more beneficial level of 153 nmols.
CattlActive® can also be used in a water source at 1 ml/gallon to sustain these beneficial levels of pH, core temperature, and cortisol. Every time a calf is processed, handled, revaccinated, or treated for sickness it is stressed, increasing the risk of SARA affecting that calf. The ability of CattlActive® to neutralize acid in 15 minutes makes it ideal for “high-risk” calves.
Good quality feed and water are the best medicine for cattle – creating the environment in the rumen to receive feed and water is paramount. This encourages the beneficial microbes to flourish and promote proper digestion. It also increases the calf’s ability to regain shrink, respond to vaccines, and fight off disease. Remember, antibiotics are only 20% of the defense against disease in cattle. Vaccines, good management, and nutrition are the other 80%. Using CattlActive® in your operation will encourage “high-risk” calves to eat and drink, supporting a healthier animal overall.
For a printable copy of this article, including cost analysis of CattlActive®, please click here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
In the cattle industry, stress among livestock is one of the top issues producers face. Stressors can hinder the overall productivity and health of cattle. Calves may be even more susceptible to the adverse effects of stress. Fortunately, producers can take steps for stress management for a calf to reduce its stress levels.
Stress refers to the symptoms that result from an environment or situation that is not normal for an animal. Think of stress as an external influence that impacts the homeostasis of a system. Stress can manifest physically and psychologically in cattle. Some of the physical changes that occur as a result of stress are the release of cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones. A psychological manifestation of stress is fear of specific objects, environments or situations.
Causes of stress include:
A triggering event
Fear can come from triggering events such as restraint, transportation, handling, neglect, noise, unfamiliar objects and a variety of other causes. As such, restraint and handling are two of the most significant topics of concern when it comes to lowering cattle stress.
High levels of stress, especially prolonged stress, can have long-term negative impacts on cattle, such as a weakened immune system, reduced reproduction, weight loss, digestive upsets, inflammatory reactions and reduced feed consumption.
Stress can make cattle unhappy and unhealthy, resulting in less productivity and the potential for disease outbreak. Animals instinctively want to maintain homeostasis, which means they may respond to external changes to re-balance the body’s internal system. For example, when experiencing heat stress, cattle may drink more water and seek out shade. Collectively, we call these stress-reducing behaviors thermoregulation.
Thermoregulation has its limits. For one, thermoregulation is easier for animals on hot days than cold ones. A cow can only do so much on its own to reduce stress from external factors. Because stress can have a significant negative impact on a herd, owners should take steps to minimize stress among cattle.
Effects of Stress on Cattle
How does stress affect the overall health of cattle and calves? What are the implications of stressed cattle on growing livestock and the quality of life the cows have? The following are effects of stress on cattle.
Reduction in Feed Intake
When cows suffer from stress, they may experience a loss of appetite. When cattle are coping with high temperatures in hot weather, for example, they consume less feed. This reduction in feed intake can decrease a cow’s production of fatty acids and cause ruminal acidosis.
Lower Energy Levels
A decrease in the rate of consumption of feed also leads to lower energy levels in cattle. Cows and calves become lethargic and less productive. The fat content in a cow’s milk may also become compromised, as well as their milk production.
Stress can also lead to weight loss in cattle. In cold weather, the loss of an insulating layer of body fat can make a cow or calf more susceptible to the frigid conditions. The animal may not be able to keep itself sufficiently warm or be productive.
Reduced Conception Rate
When cows feel stressed, the success rate of insemination drops. Producers will have fewer calves and productivity will slow.
Reduced Production of Milk
When stressed, dairy cows may also produce less milk. Heat stress, which typically occurs in summer months, can be a cause of reduced milk production. Because stress causes a loss of appetite, cows have less energy and aren’t able to produce milk at the same rate. This lack of productivity can have a significant impact on a producer’s livelihood, making this a sign of much concern.
Small or Premature Calves
Another effect of stress on cattle is that calves may be born premature or small. Stress among cattle could make growing viable, productive livestock more difficult for producers.
Weakened Immune System
Prolonged stress can also result in a weakened immune system in cattle. Cortisol levels increase due to stress, compromising the animal’s immune system. As a result, stressed cows and calves are more likely to get sick.
Though vaccines are common in the livestock industry to prevent disease, a stressed animal has a less effective response to pathogens than an unstressed one. Often, a stressed animal with a large concentration of cortisol will still not have an effective immune response, even with a vaccine. This animal can still get sick and spread diseases to the rest of the herd.
Calves are particularly susceptible to contracting diseases from other cattle, so ensuring the entire herd is healthy is especially important to maintain healthy calves.
Stress-related diseases include coccidiosis, pasteurellosis and Mannheimia haemolytica. The cow’s immune system typically keeps these under control. When an immune system becomes compromised by stress, however, this may result in the animal contracting one of these diseases.
Pasteurellosis is more common in calves, especially those that are being weaned. Weaning can be a stressful time on calves, and this stress can leave these young animals vulnerable to disease. Pasteurellosis is frequently a cause of economic loss. Mannheimia haemolytica causes lung infection and a form of pneumonia in stressed animals.
These diseases may cause the following symptoms:
Young animals are also more vulnerable to coccidiosis. This parasitic disease tends to occur when calves move from a pasture to a feedlot. While the animal is unlikely to die, it will likely have a low production rate. Symptoms may include:
Diarrhea that may include mucus and blood
Cows and calves can face severe consequences when suffering from stress. A stressed cow can become less productive, sick or even die. To prevent disease or loss among your cattle, you should know the signs of stress in cattle.
12 Signs of Stress in Cattle
What are the signs of stress in cows? To keep your livestock healthy, happy and productive, you should be aware of the symptoms of stress in cattle. Knowing what to look for will allow you to deal with an animal’s stress as soon as it manifests and improve the conditions of the animal’s environment.
1. Respiratory Issues
Sick cow symptoms often include respiratory issues. Calves are especially vulnerable to breathing problems, particularly in cold weather or climates. Respiratory issues could result from heat stress, cold stress or sickness. Breathing problems can be one of the most telling signs of stress in calves.
2. Standing While Other Cows Are Lying Down
Is your cow or calf behaving abnormally compared to the rest of the herd? One sign of stress in cattle is standing while the other cows are lying down.
3. Frequent Urination
When stressed, cattle may urinate more frequently than usual. Cattle tend to increase their water intake when stressed, so frequent urination could be a sign of stress to look for.
4. Rapid Heart Rate
Another telling sign of stress in a cow or calf is an increased heart rate. The animal could be suffering from an adrenaline-induced stressor or heat stress.
Cattle may also tremble when suffering from stress. Shaking could be a fear response to a stressful trigger. Cows will remember an object, situation or environment that caused a fear response in them before, and trembling could be a sign of fear of that object or environment. Trembling could also be a sign of weather stress if the animal is in an ordinary situation where a stressful trigger is absent.
6. Seeking out Shade
Are your cattle clustering together under a shady tree? On a hot, sunny day, this could mean cattle are experiencing heat stress. They want to find a cooler spot away from the sun so they can return their body temperature to the right range for homeostasis.
7. Open-Mouthed Breathing
If your cattle are breathing with open mouths, this may be another sign of stress, particularly heat stress.
The increased production of saliva is another indicator of stress. Make sure cows are out of direct sunlight and have access to enough water to keep them hydrated.
9. Lack of Coordination
Dealing with a few clumsy cows? Lack of coordination is a severe sign of heat stress. This condition can lead to collapse and even coma or death. If you notice your cattle beginning to stumble around, take immediate action.
Cows can also become restless and agitated when coping with stress. You may be unable to get the animal to lay down, and its productivity levels will drop. Handling and managing the animal may also become more difficult, so do your best to prevent external factors that may cause cattle to become restless or agitated.
11. Splashing Water
On a hot day, a cow splashing water may be a sign of heat stress. Because cattle don’t produce adequate sweat to cool themselves off, they may seek ways to get moisture on their bodies that can then evaporate, allowing them to cool down.
12. Huddling Together
In the winter months, you may notice your cattle grouping together. Cattle stand close in groups during cold weather to share body heat and keep warm. If you see cattle trembling or clustering together in the cold for long periods, your animals may be experiencing cold stress. Since thermoregulation during cold stress is more challenging for cattle than thermoregulation during heat stress, owners must note cold stress as soon as possible and take steps to minimize the stress cattle are experiencing.
Knowing the signs of stress in cattle and calves can help owners minimize stress for their livestock.
Handling Stress in Calves
Minimizing the stress in the cattle’s environment is beneficial not only for calves, but for the people who work with them. Producers will benefit from having happy, healthy cows, so how can you handle stress in calves? Are there ways of reducing stress in a calf?
1. Recognizing Signs
One of the best ways owners can manage stress in calves is by knowing what to look for. If you notice any of the above signs of stress in cattle, take action as soon as possible to lower a calf’s stress levels. Minimizing calf stress can ensure your young animals are healthy and have a good quality of life, which will then increase their production.
2. Provide Accessible Shelter
If your calves are often out in the elements, provide a shelter they can access easily during storms, heat or frigid temperatures. Shelter can help calves avoid weather stress. Since severe weather stress can lead to sickness and even death, providing adequate shelter is a way for producers to minimize this stress calves may experience.
3. Reducing Calf Stress at Weaning
Producers want to raise quality calves to ensure their future. Weaning is one of the most stressful events for calves. Because severe stress can have dire consequences for cattle, producers should go above and beyond to make sure calves are experiencing minimal stress at weaning.
One step producers can take to reduce calf stress at weaning is implementing an effective vaccination program. Calves should receive a clostridial product, a pasteurellosis vaccine and a quality deworming product at the opportune stages of their growth. For example, at birth or turnout, administer clostridial, followed by a second dose a few weeks before weaning. A deworming product can control parasites, which can help reduce calf stress at weaning, as calves will be able to respond more effectively to vaccinations and will be better able to use nutrients from feed.
Considering a calf’s age in regards to weaning is another crucial step to reduce calf stress. When a calf’s age and the weather are more conducive to good health, this may be the optimal time for weaning. A calf may fare better by being weaned at a younger age, under four months old, or when the calf is at least seven months old, as its immune system has developed more if it received the appropriate vaccines. At this age, weaning begins to occur naturally, so leaning into this natural weaning can be a good way for producers to reduce stress on these young animals.
Also, consider weaning earlier in the year, when temperatures are consistent, to reduce calf stress. Even if the weather is hot, this is still a better time of year to wean a calf than during months when the temperature fluctuates, which can compromise the calf’s immune system.
Stress is an external influence that impacts the homeostasis of an animal’s body. Stress can have several negative effects on calves, some of the most vulnerable and valuable animals a producer has. To help your calves handle stress when it’s begun to affect their stomachs, use CattlActive®. This product neutralizes excess acid in a cow stomach that builds up due to stress. CattlActive® can help encourage water and feed consumption, which then allows for the intestines and rumen to begin healing.
To help calves manage or alleviate the effects of stress, try CattlActive®.
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.
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.
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.
Reduced conception rate. Calving alone puts stress on a cow. Combine the stress from calving with weather stress? Lowered fertility and fewer calves.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Little or no sweat production
Dry, hot skin
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.
Ranchers who want to know how to improve the profitability of cow-calf operations must understand how many factors play into the costs and earnings of this endeavor. It is possible to turn a profit from raising beef cattle, but producers need to provide everything for the animals until their sale. When an operation is small, though, every dollar spent must be an investment in the overall cattle production.
The USDA Economic Research Service collates data for various farm products across the country. The average cost of maintaining cattle from 2008 through 2018 was $562.23 per head. Adding the overhead costs of running a ranch, the total rises to $1,374.45 per head. Operating costs factored into this maintenance price per animal were graze feed, fed feed, purchased feed, harvested feed, vet bills, medicine, bedding, marketing, lube, fuel, electricity, repairs and interest on costs.
Costs of raising cattle are not stagnant. While operating expenses have slightly increased overall since 1996, in some years, the price tag was much higher. For example, in 2014, the operating costs per cow reached a high of $628.47 per head. That year, though, overhead budgets, including pasture maintenance costs, were lower, bringing the total to just a dollar below 2018’s total, $1,375.63. The real factor behind rising costs for cattle ranchers has appeared in overhead expenditures, which more than doubled from $387.24 in 1996 to $812.22 in 2018. To make up for these rising overhead costs, the rancher must do everything possible to improve the profitability per animal.
Producers typically have small herds. Just under half, 45.6%, of all beef cows came from farms with fewer than 100 cattle. Fewer cows correlate to spending less time on beef production. Those with fewer than 50 cows averaged only 28.6% of their time in caring for the operation, whereas 47.3% of those with farms up to 100 cows did. These numbers still relate to cattle producers spending a minority of time raising their animals, which means a smaller margin of error in things that improve profitability.
Profitable cattle ranching, though, is a possibility, with a mixture of skill and luck. The factors affecting profitability fall into two categories: those that are under the producer’s control, and those that are not. When ranchers make the most of changeable factors, they will help offset issues beyond their control, such as weather or increased feed costs.
When it comes to profits, several factors are under the ranchers’ control, while others are not. Understanding the factors behind ranch operations that influence earnings and debt-to-equity ratio, a producer will be able to change the profits from the ranch.
1. Percent of Mothers Weaning a Calf
Choosing when to cull females that fail to produce calves affects the amount of feed used throughout the year, as well as income earned. Ideally, ranchers want to maximize the number of females weaning calves, which will increase operations profits from sales of young animals. Females that do not produce a calf use resources without generating income in the form of a saleable calf. Early culling of females without calves can positively affect operating costs.
2. Calves’ Weaning Weight
The weight at which a producer weans calves determines those animals’ final selling price. When to wean calves is a decision that rests solely on the shoulders of the rancher, who must balance the calves’ health and weight to the milk production, pasture conditions and age. Weaned calves and culled low-fertile females account for the majority of income in operations, both of which the rancher directly influences without external forces.
3. Overall Cow Nutrition
Keeping up with the nutrition of cattle helps them gain weight as needed. Heavier calves that stay healthy can sell for higher prices. The cost of feed, though, impacts operations. How many acres needed per cow and the ranch size affect the total amount spent on raising the animals. Across all cow-calf operation sizes, the majority, 93.7%, owned their land for cattle grazing.
4. Cattle Stress
Cattle stress can significantly impact the health of animals in a herd, which ties to cow-calf profits. Separation and handling stress can occur at weaning for the calves and at birth for the mothers. Reducing stress does more than keep the animals happy. Less stressed cattle have healthier immune systems, and vaccines work better because excessive stress levels negatively impact the effectiveness of immunizations.
5. Price Received for Weaned Animals
While market conditions will influence the amount received for weaned animals, some aspects of the price fall within the rancher’s influence. Selecting the best cattle with marketable attributes for raising can help when working toward profitable cattle ranching. Beyond keeping the animals healthy and reaching a good weight, there is little else a rancher can do to affect the price received for weaned calves.
The environment plays a direct factor in the percentage of weaned calves. Longer or shorter winters can cause minor fluctuations in the rates, but other environmental factors also play a role. Air pollution and mineral depletion in the soil can affect the health of cows and their calves.
For example, in Montgomery County, Tenn., the soil already lacks adequate copper and selenium. Forage for cow-calf operations did not have enough of these minerals. The problem increased when nearby coal plants started burning sulfur-containing fuel that bound what little copper and selenium the cows had available. The weaning rate in this area is only 78%. Adding cattle supplements to feed with the lacking minerals can help the problem as long as the practice remains economically feasible.
The breeds of cattle used can also affect the weaning rate and profitability. For instance, in Florida, weaning rates have dropped because operators prefer using single-breed animals instead of crossbreeds. The crossbred cattle could improve weaning rates by creating herds better adapted to the environmental challenges of heat, humidity and low-quality forage. Producers do not seek such opportunities, however, due to the higher costs of choosing better-bred animals.
While economically, in Florida, choosing more crossbreeds may not make economic sense, it could improve operations in other parts of the country by selecting cows that have more natural abilities to thrive in the local environment.
By selectively crossbreeding cows to be superior to their parents, weaning rates and productivity can both improve. Maternal heterosis offers the cheapest, most effective means of increasing weaning rate without breaking the budget. With better weaning rates, profits may increase, depending on the region.
Tips for Improving the Profitability of Cow-Calf Operations
When it comes to changing how much ranchers make per cow, keeping the animals healthy is key. But other factors will help producers find what is the most profitable way to raise cattle for beef production. Pricing, animal stress, nutrition and weaning are among the factors that can help raise profit margins.
1. Maintain Animal Health
Keeping up animal health reduces the costs of treating sick cows and the economic loss of lower-weight cows and deaths.
Part of ensuring the long-term health of cows requires preventing diseases. For large-scale cow-calf producers, vaccinations are standard. Farms of between 100 and 199 cows reported 95.9% of them vaccinated their herds, while 92.1% of producers with over 200 cows inoculated their animals. Compare that to only 59.4% of small-scale producers with fewer than 50 cows that vaccinated. Vaccinating animals can help boost their immune systems and protect them from diseases such as shipping fever, also called bovine respiratory disease. Against this specific condition, only 26.3% of producers with up to 49 cows vaccinated, while 82% of operations with over 200 animals did.
Vaccinating against preventable diseases may add to the costs of raising the cows, but it can prevent loss from animal death and lower-weight cows that sell for less. Because each animal contributes a higher percentage to the total profits earned, small-scale producers must do everything possible to maintain animal health.
Hiring a local veterinarian to assess and help maintain the herd’s health may be an investment, but it can provide access to vaccinations and give the producer advice on diseases that could affect the health of the cows.
2. Reduce Cattle Stress
Cows and calves experience significant levels of stress at various times during the seasons. At birth and during weaning, both calves and their mothers see high levels of stress that can affect their health. To ensure the healthiest herd, inoculating cows against disease, providing quality feed and giving freshwater are not the only things that will help cows live their healthiest lives.
Reducing stress in cows requires them to eat and drink enough to keep up their nutrition requirements. When cows experience ruminal acidosis, supplementing their diet with CattlActive® can help the pH balance of rumen in their digestive systems, which can help them eat enough to recover from stressful times. When cows have low stress, their immune systems will work more efficiently and swiftly.
3. Make Birthing and Weaning Changes
In some regions with lower weaning rates, such as Florida, shortening the weaning season could help. For instance, removing cows that do not produce as well and reducing Florida’s standard weaning season of 120 to 180 days could lead to an improvement in weaning rate from 82% to 85% in three years.
In other parts of the country, such as the Midwest, breeding cows earlier to produce heavier weaned calves influences profits. California, however, already has a high weaning rate and particular problems with its herds to warrant maintaining its current status quo.
Even for small-scale operators who do not have specific weaning seasons, controlling the herd and making decisions based on maximizing its economic value are essential. Culling non-pregnant or low-fertile females early will prevent the extra cost of feeding and maintaining them throughout the year. The earlier producers can cull open cows, the more money they can save and the higher the profits from the operation.
4. Offer Adequate Nutrition
Offering adequate nutrition to cattle ensures they stay at a healthy weight to re-breed. When cows do not have an optimum body condition score (BCS) after giving birth, they will be less likely to have a successful breed back. To maintain nutrient levels, farmers must recognize the higher nutritional needs of cattle just before giving birth and while lactating. Meeting these needs through adjusting the feed for the animals will keep the cows from losing weight.
Changing food availability and nutrient needs can stress an animal’s digestive system, which relies on balance. Signs of digestive problems such as acidosis include weight loss, refusal to eat or drink, unusual behavior, high pulse rate and lethargy. These symptoms necessitate immediate action to prevent permanent damage to the health of the animal. Re-regulating the system with supplementation can help the cow’s digestive system to restore itself.
When the animals have enough nutrition, they will produce healthier calves and be more likely to continue breeding in the future.
5. Choose Forward Pricing
Forward pricing allows farmers to set a price above the break-even point. Regardless of what happens in the market later in the season when the sales occur, the amount agreed upon at the beginning of the season stands. A minority of operators, 2.3%, with up to 49 cattle use this strategy. Among operators with 50 to 99 cows, 3.1% chose forward pricing. Large-scale operations, though, select this option more often, accounting for 15.4% of operators.
Selling larger lots of cows can also increase pricing and make buyers more likely to purchase from a single group. Having a large lot with several uniform calves can improve the selling price, increasing profits.
The downside to choosing forward pricing is the legally binding nature of this pricing system. Farmers must promise a set number of cows for delivery at the agreed-upon price. As long as producers keep up with the health and reproduction of the cows, the guaranteed number of cows should be ready at sale time.
6. Sell Higher-Value Calves
Choosing animals that will fetch a higher price will affect profits. The breeds sold depend on the region of the country, but crossbreeds often sell at a premium price compared to single-breed animals. For example, in Florida, compared to the usual Brahman/Angus mix, an Angus crossed with Hereford gets $5.76 more.
Calves with horns negatively affect the price because the horns can damage the animals and require the additional cost of removal. Polling or dehorning calves can improve their selling price.
When cows give birth to male calves, producers must choose whether to castrate the animals. Steer calves sell for more at auction, at an average of $8 to $10 more, compared to heifers. Bulls do not sell for as high a price as steer calves. Castrating males will improve the amount received at auction.
Discover How CattlActive® Can Help
Cattle stress can affect the health and well-being of each animal maintained. CattlActive® has a palatable formula that encourages cows to eat and drink by neutralizing the acid. Once a cow begins regularly consuming healing feed, both its stress levels and overall health can improve. Through this all-natural formula, producers can see better gains in the cattle as the animals increase their nutrient intake. Make a purchase or get answers to questions from us. For more information, ask one of our consultants.
What is a ruminant? Ruminant animals are set apart from other mammals by their complex digestive systems. The way they process food, absorb nutrients and gain energy is different from other herbivores.
The main distinction in a cow’s digestive system, or a ruminant digestive system is that the stomach has four separate compartments, each with a unique function, whereas most other animals only have a single compartment with a unified functionality.
The four compartments allow ruminant animals to digest grass or vegetation without completely chewing it first. Instead, they only partially chew the vegetation, then microorganisms in the rumen section of the stomach break down the rest. Animals with singular stomach compartments — known as a monogastric digestive system — do not have the same capability.
Many different animals have this unique four compartment stomach type of digestive system, including:
These animals convert plant matter and vegetation into useable energy more efficiently than other herbivores.
In cattle and dairy cows, the development, pH balance, functionality and bacteria levels of the digestive system are crucial to maintaining overall health and high yield.
While some parts of the ruminant digestive system are similar to those of non-ruminant systems, several essential components perform the necessary functions for digestion.
While the ruminant digestive tract operates differently from the monogastric system, it is composed of the same six basic components:
The mouth is where the process begins. Cattle will graze by wrapping their tongues around plants and tearing, pulling them into their mouth for mastication. They chew first with the lower jaw incisors, working against a hard dental pad on the front part upper palate, then second with the molars, grinding plant material down further. Chewing stimulates saliva production and the saliva mixes with plant matter before the animal swallows. Saliva contains enzymes capable of breaking down fats and starches and helps to buffer the pH levels in the reticulum and rumen segments of the stomach. Mature cattle will swallow from 50 to 80 quarts daily to aid in digestion, but the amount varies based on how much time they spend chewing.
When the cattle swallows the plant material and saliva mix, it will travel down the esophagus to the rumen. The esophagus performs the swallowing action through waves of muscle contractions, moving the feed down. It has a bidirectional function, meaning it can move feed from the mouth to the stomach or from the stomach to the mouth. Cattle need the latter to regurgitate “cud,” or the under-chewed plant matter and grain, back up to the mouth for further grinding. Once the cow is finished chewing the cud, it again swallows the matter back down to the stomach.
Generally, the stomach functions to further break down plant matter and grain. More specifically, there are four sections of the stomach — rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum — each with a particular job to do. These sections store chewed plant material and grain, absorb nutrients and vitamins, break down proteins, aid in beginning digestion and dissolve material into processable pieces. The next section will focus more closely on the responsibilities and functions of each stomach compartment.
4. Small Intestine
The small intestine has three main sections — the duodenum, jejunum and ileum — that work together to complete most of the actual digestive process. In the duodenum, the section connected to the stomach, secretions from the gallbladder and pancreas mix with the partially digested matter. This process balances the pH in the intestine, ensuring the digestive enzymes work correctly. The jejunum section is lined with small, finger-like projections known as villi, which increase the intestinal surface area and absorb nutrients. The ileum absorbs vitamin B12, bile salts and any nutrients that passed through the jejunum. At the end of the ileum is a valve, preventing any backward flow of materials. Throughout the small intestine, muscular contractions move the matter forward. In a fully mature cow, the entire organ may be up to 150 feet long and has a 20-gallon capacity.
Sitting between the small and large intestines is a three-foot-long pouch called the cecum. It has little function besides providing storage and a transition between the two intestines, but it does aid in the continual breaking down of material. The cecum has about a two-gallon holding capacity.
6. Large Intestine
Smaller in length but larger in diameter than the small intestine, the large intestine is the final step of the digestive process. It absorbs remaining water and contains bacteria microbes that finish digestion and produce vitamins the animal needs to grow and remain healthy. Its last job is to eliminate any undigested and unabsorbed food from the system in the form of waste.
When the cow is properly handled and fed, this process continually occurs, keeping the animal healthy and at the right weight. The entire digestion process should take anywhere from one to three days.
If something interrupts this process or the cattle is unhealthy, the sections will no longer be able to function as well as they should, causing diseases and complications.
The Four Components of a Cattle’s Stomach
Of the six components in the cattle’s digestive system, the most important part is the stomach. A ruminant animal’s stomach has four distinct compartments, each with its specific function. These compartments are:
The rumen, also known as the “paunch,” is the first area of the cow’s stomach, connected to the cattle’s esophagus. This compartment acts as storage for chewed vegetation and forms balls of cud. Cud consists of large, non-digestible pieces of plant matter that must be regurgitated, chewed a second time and swallowed before continuing through the process. The rumen absorbs nutrients through papillae of the rumen wall and facilitates fermentation, creating the rumen bacteria and rumen microbes necessary to break down and digest the proteins in feed. Microorganisms in the rumen are responsible for digesting cellulose and complex starches, as well as synthesizing protein, B vitamins and vitamin K. As a storage area, it can hold up to 40 gallons of material. The rumen, combined with the reticulum, makes up 84% of the volume of the entire stomach. A few common health issues with the rumen include bloat, which occurs when a cow can’t eradicate a buildup of gas, acidosis and rumenitis, which occur when low pH balance allows for high acid production. These can be prevented by managing and paying attention to cattle’s food and water intake.
The reticulum is frequently referred to as the “honeycomb,” because the inner lining appears like and is structured similar to a honeycomb. While it does have its independent functionality, the reticulum is attached to the rumen with only a thin tissue divider. This component holds heavy or dense objects — such as metal pieces and rocks — and trap large feed particles that are not small enough to be digested. The reticulum facilitates regurgitation. Both the rumen and reticulum contain digestive bacteria, so no acid is included in the regurgitation of materials. The reticulum holds about 5 gallons of material. One common health issue involving the reticulum is hardware disease, which occurs when cattle ingest heavy or sharp objects — like nails, screws or wire. They are swept into the reticulum and may puncture the stomach wall. This disease is preventable by putting magnets on feeding equipment to catch any metal, or cured by the placement of an intraruminal magnet that traps already swallowed objects.
The globe-shaped omasum is nicknamed “manyplies” because of its internal structure. It is lined with large leaves and folds of tissue that resemble the pages of a book. These folds absorb water and nutrients from feed that passes through after its second round of chewing. The omasum is smaller than the rumen and reticulum, making up about 12% of the stomach’s total volume. It can hold up to about 15 gallons of material.
The abomasum is the last component of the stomach and is often known as the “true stomach,” because it operates the most similar to a non-ruminant stomach. This true stomach is the only compartment of the stomach lined with glands. These glands release hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes to help the abomasum further break down feed and plant material. In comparison to the other chambers, the abomasum is on the smaller side, representing about 4% of the total stomach volume and only holding about 7 gallons of material.
Each of these components is vital in maintaining a healthy digestive process. They must cooperate quickly and efficiently to turn grain and plant matter into energy for the cattle. If one section becomes incapable of performing or ceases to work correctly, it will affect all of the other functions in the digestive system.
Because the rumen is the largest area of the stomach and the section that focuses on reducing feed to be passed through the digestive process, it is crucial that it is properly developed and remains healthy.
The Development of the Rumen Compartment of the Stomach
The ruminant system relies very heavily on the rumen segment of the stomach. For cattle to convert food into energy, their rumen must be healthy at all times and properly developed. All cattle handlers, including both beef cattle and dairy cows, need to know how to ensure the success of a calf’s stomach growth.
When a calf is born, it begins its life as a functionally non-ruminant animal. It has the ruminant anatomy, but only the abomasum is fully developed at the time of birth. This is the compartment that has a similar processing ability to the human stomach.
While the other three chambers are present, they remain undeveloped and out of use as long as a calf continues feeding solely on milk. As the calf begins to consume starter grain and forage, bacteria microbes start to develop in the rumen and reticulum. The further fermentation of these bacteria is what causes the rumen to begin development.
Milk and liquid substitutes bypass the rumen and reticulum, but dry feed collects in these areas, beginning the chemical changes necessary for development. Dry feed absorbs water already ingested by the cattle, providing the right conditions for bacteria growth.
That bacteria then helps to metabolize nutrients and produce volatile fatty acids, effectively lowering the pH of the rumen by way of neutralizing acids and improving bacteria growth.
The acids produced by bacteria provide energy for the rumen wall to grow. Butyric acid does not absorb through the wall, so all the energy it produces goes straight to the development of the organ. Other acids provide energy for the entire calf to grow, which contributes to the digestive system organs, as well.
Weaning is one of the most significant key factors in the development of the rumen. Timing the weaning process correctly is crucial. The calf’s rumen should be allowed time to develop before weaning the calf off of liquid feeds entirely. It takes about three weeks of significant starter grain intake daily for any calf to develop its rumen to the point where the weaning process can begin.
This time period allows for the establishment of a sufficient microbial population and absorptive capacity for continued normal growth without the help of liquid feed. If the calf is weaned before this stage, the calf may lose weight or not grow for the three weeks it takes the rumen to develop.
To encourage proper rumen development, handlers need to maintain a certain level of care for all calves, keeping them well fed, housed and managed.Calves need to feed to gain the nutrients and energy that supplement growth. But, if it is stressed or sick, a calf may refuse to eat. For this reason, it is crucial that their environment is consistently low-stress and that they remain healthy. They should also have a free choice of clean, accessible water.
They may also refuse to eat starter grains that seem unpalatable, such as those that contain too much dust or are moldy. Handlers should be sure to store starter grains so they are well-kept, without risk of contamination or mold growth, or any other element that may discourage a calf from eating.
Handlers should be consistently paying attention to a calf’s intake and eating habits. Additionally, they should maintain the correct balance of liquid and solid feeds. If overfed with the liquid variety, a calf will be discouraged to eat solid grains.
Any incorrect practices can lead to delays in rumen development, sometimes taking twice as long or longer to reach full maturity.
Most Common Issues With a Cattle’s Digestive System and What to Do
Because the ruminant digestive system has so many stages, numerous things can go wrong and cause complications. If anything inhibits the process, the afflicted cattle may develop an illness, refuse to eat or even risk death.
The most common ruminant digestive system issues are:
1. Rumen Impaction
The contents of a cattle’s rumen should be allowed to flow and move freely with proper hydration. But, without sufficient water intake, indigestible materials — including overly dense plant matter and high acid detergent fiber feeds — can pile up and compress within the rumen. This will prevent movement throughout the rest of the digestive system and keep it from functioning normally. To prevent rumen impaction, cattle need to have access to clean water and handlers should pay attention to whether or not they are drinking an average daily amount.
2. Hemorrhagic Bowel Syndrome (HBS)
Unfortunately, there isn’t any one specific cause for this affliction, as scientists have been unable to reproduce circumstances that cause HBS in cattle successfully, so diagnosing a direct reason can be difficult. However, there are a few potential catalysts to consider, including molds and mycotoxins, Clostridium perfringens type A or other bacteria like E. coli, improper management while trying to achieve higher milk production in dairy cows, or excessive dirt, soil, gravel, sand or rocks mixed in with feed. Generally, HBS is the result of a blood clot obstruction or blockage within the small intestine, which becomes distended. If this syndrome goes uncorrected, the fatality rate is exceedingly high. There are no guaranteed solutions or preventative measures, but maintaining rumen health may decrease the chances of HBS from developing. If the rumen fails to reduce feed well enough, it can pass forward obstructions and starches that feed unwanted bacteria and mycotoxins. So, encouraging reduction and proper rumen functionality may be the best preemptive defense against HBS.
Acidosis is a metabolic disease occurring directly within the rumen segment of the stomach. It can be brought on by several factors, including another illness, excessive or incorrect handling that causes the animal stress and too much concentrate, not enough forage. Any of these catalysts may lead to general complications and heightened susceptibility to diseases such as bovine respiratory disease or scours. Acidosis is a cyclical disease. When a catalyst causes the ruminal pH to shift to 5.5 or lower, the rumen ceases to move, making the afflicted cattle decrease its food and water intake. The combination of the pH imbalance and decreased intake causes the amount of acid collecting in the rumen to increase, further discouraging the cattle from eating and drinking. As this causes good bacteria to die off, releasing toxins and continuing the increasing amount of collecting acid, the animal will continue to avoid any kind of intake. If let worsen, this cycle can compromise the intestine linings, leading to leaky gut syndrome, weakening the animal’s immune system or potentially resulting in death. Successfully encouraging eating and drinking is the only way to break this cycle.
4. Fatty Liver
Fatty liver is what it sounds like — excessive accumulation of fat in the cow’s liver. The potential for this disease is common in cows around calving time. It’s typically caused by a negative energy balance, which occurs due to the growth of a calf, the beginning of colostrum production and a decrease in dry matter intake. These factors cause the cow to break down too much fat for the liver to handle. This broken down fat is converted to fat in the liver, an attempt to prevent toxicity. Fatty liver can begin developing within 24 hours of a cow going off feed and will not decrease on its own until the cow can retain a positive energy balance. Symptoms of fatty liver include a decrease in appetite, lower quantity milk yields, milk fever, ketosis, mastitis, retention of fetal membranes and a reduction in fertility. To prevent fatty liver in cattle, handlers need to keep cows at an ideal body condition and encourage a low-stress environment, including no sudden changes in their overall environment or feeding regimen. Handlers should generally avoid anything that may cause a reduction in feed intake.
Each of these diseases and syndromes is more common in high producing cows, which require consistently high food and water intake. Most of these issues occur in areas of the digestive system after the rumen, but the rumen’s reactive response can be severe for the cow’s health.
While changes and imbalances in a cattle’s health and digestive system are ordinary, there are ways to prevent common digestive issues for cattle through regulating the process and the functionalities of each internal organ.
Caring for Your Cattle’s Digestive System
Gut health is crucial to ensuring any cow’s long term health. The digestive functions of your cattle require balance, as any imbalance can severely impact the animal’s overall health.
Complications frequently arise from common catalysts, such as stress or changes in eating patterns. Little changes like these can mean big problems for the rumen and successive issues for other areas of the animal’s digestive system. If the animal’s digestion isn’t progressing correctly, they become prone to severe and potentially deadly diseases and excessive weight loss.
Signs of Potential Digestive Issues to Watch Out For in Beef Cattle and Dairy Farming
Because of the serious nature of these conditions, you need to pay close attention to the potential for or direct signs of digestive issues. Watch for cattle refusing to eat or drink, suffering from weight loss, diarrhea or lethargy, maintaining an elevated pulse and respiratory rate or generally behaving unusually.
If any of these symptoms show and persist in your cattle, you may need to find a way to re-regulate their digestive systems.
Be Proactive With the Digestive Health of Your Cattle
Pro Earth Animal Health created CattlActive® for this purpose. CattlActive® is an all-natural, completely U.S.-made product that will help keep your cattle’s digestion on track. It works by neutralizing excess acid in the rumen, easing bloat symptoms, increasing nutrient utilization, preventing ulcers and encouraging your cattle to eat and drink.
By maintaining your cattle’s regular digestion process and eating habits, you can help them stave off diseases and discomfort.
It’s a well-known fact that cattle producers face many problems that can cause productivity and economic losses. The leading cause of these losses, however, is usually a result of calf scouring (diarrhea).
It has been reported by the National Animal Health Monitoring System for U.S. dairy, that half of the deaths in unweaned calves (calves who are usually younger than 8 or 9 months of age) were due to scours.
There are multiple agents that can cause a calf to develop scours, such as malnutrition, stress, and infectious pathogens, with the leading and most common cause being a pathogen that is best known as E. coli (Escherichia coli).
E. coli is a species of bacterium that inhabit the stomach and intestines of calves and, “can be classified into six pathogroups based on virulence scheme: enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), shiga toxin-producing E. coli, enteropathogenic E. coli, enteroinvasive E. coli, entero aggressive E. coli, and enterohaemorrhagic E. coli.” (Cho, Yong-Il)
Among the six types of E. coli, ETEC is the leading cause of neonatal diarrhea as this bacteria produces toxins that stimulate the lining of the intestines. This stimulation causes the intestines to secrete excessive fluid, which then becomes diarrhea.
In order for ETEC to stimulate the intestine and cause diarrheal diseases, it must first colonize, or adhere to intestinal mucosal membranes in the intestine of the calf. This is done as a result of pili or fimbriae, which are adhesins found on the surface of the bacteria, and are known as K99 adhesin antigen.
When a calf becomes infected with ETEC, they will produce an abundant amount of diarrhea and experience abdominal pain. E. coli will also prevent the calf from absorbing the water and nutrients found in their dam’s milk, as most of the water and nutrients in the calf will be lost in diarrhea.
Once infected, the calf will lose fluids, minerals, and salts (electrolytes) which results in dehydration and acidosis, and being that a calf is 70% water at birth, the mortality rate is high.
When a calf is suffering from scours, it is quite apparent in their appearance as they may show several symptoms such as sunken eyes, weakness, dryness in the mouth or nostrils, depression, and weight loss to name a few.
The best action to combat scours caused by E. coli is through preventative action, as treatments to reverse scours can prove to be expensive and sometimes futile measures. E. coli is usually transmitted from the consumption of contaminated food and water, from insect bites, and unsanitary living conditions.
To reduce the likelihood of a scour outbreak, a calf must first and foremost have a strong digestive system. This means that it is at an optimum pH and is primed to absorb water and nutrients.
It is advised to always provide clean feed and water to the calves, keep them properly vaccinated with the latest vaccines, provide clean living quarters, and, perhaps most importantly, keep their stress as low as possible.
Understanding the causes of calf scours will allow producers to provide preventative measures to protect their investments and livestock; this includes having a firm understanding of E. coli and the effects it can have on the young calf.
Baecker, P A et al. “Expression of K99 adhesion antigen controlled by the Escherichia coli tryptophan operon promoter.” Infection and immunity vol. 56,9 (1988): 2317-23.
Cho, Yong-Il, and Kyoung-Jin Yoon. “An overview of calf diarrhea – infectious etiology, diagnosis, and intervention.” Journal of veterinary science vol. 15,1 (2014): 1-17. doi:10.4142/jvs.2014.15.1.1
E. coli.” Britannica Academic, Encyclopædia Britannica, 6 Jun. 2011. academic-eb-com.aurarialibrary.idm.oclc.org/levels/collegiate/article/E-coli/472242. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.
“Enterotoxigenic E. Coli (ETEC) | E. Coli | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014, www.cdc.gov/ecoli/etec.html.
Henderson, Greg. “Calf Scours: Causes, Prevention and Treatment.” Drovers, www.drovers.com/article/calf-scours-causes-prevention-and-treatment-0.
Stokka, Gerald, and Louis Perino. “Calving Tips: Going To War On Calf Scours.” Beef Magazine, 26 Dec. 2018, www.beefmagazine.com/mag/beef_vets_opiniongoing_war.
Talk to Dave Jagow for a few minutes and it’s apparent that if there’s one thing this man knows, it’s livestock. Located in the SW corner of Minnesota, Dave has grown a solid network of friends and fellow stockmen in the area.
Learn more about Dave! Read on…
PE: So, Dave, what made you want to get involved in working with Pro Earth?
DJ: I met Matt (Zancanella) a few years ago and became acquainted with him. I started using both the CattlActive® and Zesterra®. Last year I saw him at a stock show and he mentioned that he didn’t have anyone covering my area of Minnesota. I decided that because I believe in the products and what they can do, I wanted to share them with other livestock producers in my area.
PE: What do you like most about our product(s)?
DJ: I enjoy being able to show the results to people and letting them see for themselves what they can do. I also really love the ease of use.
PE: What is one accomplishment you’re incredibly proud of?
DJ: Introducing some of the smaller feedlots on CattlActive® and seeing it help their bottom line.
PE: So, what would you like us to know about you?Your family, hobbies… anything you would like us all to know.
DJ: Well, I’m married and have 4 kids. I’ve worked in agriculture my whole career — feedlots, cow/calf operations, and now I’m the transportation manager for New Horizon Farms. In my free time, I enjoy trail riding and ranch rodeos. I also collect and trade old bits and spurs and have recently become interested in old cast iron cookware.
PE: Which Pro Earth Products do you offer to folks in your area?
DJ: I offer CattlActive® and Zesterra®. I also carry the lick tubs for both products.
PE: What area(s) do you serve?
DJ: I am located in the SW corner of Minnesota and serve Worthington, Rock County, Pipestone County, Nobles County, and Murray County.
PE: What is the easiest way for people to contact you?
DJ: I’m most easily reached by phone. My number is 507-290-2183
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