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Pre-Conditioning

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.

Feed and Water: The Best Medicine

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

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.

Prebiotics: What They Are and What They Do

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

Prebiotics are an important part of the digestive cycle and especially for mammals. Although much research has been conducted on the importance of probiotics, it’s only been in recent years that the role of prebiotics has been closely examined and studied.

Not to be confused with probiotics, prebiotics support the health and continued growth of the beneficial microbes that make up prebiotics.

These findings have led to a major change in the way prebiotics and probiotics are being used in the cattle producer’s operation to help minimize the need for antibiotics while increasing gains.

Definition of Prebiotics

Prebiotics are feed ingredients that are not digestible or only partially digestible. They provide colonies of beneficial bacteria in the gut with “food” so they can continue to flourish. This, in turn, works to maintain a balanced digestive microbiota.

In specific, cattle benefit from the undigestible sugars that are often found in fibrous plant material. Most feedstuffs contain at least a small amount of prebiotic material. Prebiotics can be found naturally at some level in almost any feed.

This includes grass and other forage, grains, and formulated concentrated feeds. Some products on the market even add specialized blends of prebiotics.

How Do Prebiotics Work?

When a cow consumes feed, the rumen works to break it down more and more as it moves sequentially through each stomach chamber. In this way, the feed it is eating has the highest chance of being gleaned of nutrients for the cow’s utilization.

By the time this digesta reaches the intestinal tract nearly all of the nutrient-containing components have been extracted, allowing for the final stages of digestion and absorption into the body. The only exception to this is the undigestible matter that remains unprocessed. Much of this matter serves as a prebiotic.

Once these prebiotics reach the intestinal tract they begin to ferment, where they produce volatile fatty acids such as butyric acid. The beneficial bacteria in the gut thrive on these volatile fatty acids (VFAs), which in turn allows them to grow more robust and increase their numbers.

What Is the Most Common Source of Prebiotics in the Bovine Diet?

In an unenhanced diet (i.e. feedstuffs that have not been seeded with prebiotics), the most plentiful source or prebiotics comes from plant material such as hay or alfalfa. The undigestible fiber and other components in this roughage provide an excellent source of prebiotic material.

This is, in part, why cattle that are on a concentrated feed diet may be more prone to experiencing intestinal microbial imbalances.

To counter this issue with concentrated feeds, many companies are now offering diets using a wide variety of prebiotics. Perhaps the most widely known of these are mannan oligosaccharides (MOS).

MOS are highly beneficial for attracting and carrying harmful pathogens from the gut. They work by drawing in bad bacteria with a sugar known as mannose. These bacteria cannot derive energy from the sugar but do stick to it. They are then carried from the animal’s system without managing to infect it or further populate the gut.

Other prebiotics that have also shown to be valuable in developing a healthy digestive system include fructooligosaccharides and beta glucan.

Why Are Prebiotics Necessary?

The health of the digestive system and gut microbiota (as discussed in the first installment) is dependent upon the balance of microbes inhabiting the intestines.

Every animal has a different microbial makeup that forms their own individual microbiome. Despite this, there is one fact that is the same across the board – there must be a much higher level of beneficial microbes than commensal or pathogenic.

Prebiotics feed the beneficial bacteria that line the gut walls. They are responsible for helping further digest food, increase nutrient absorption and keep the pathogenic microbes at manageable numbers. They also provide a sort of “buffer” that prevents toxins from passing through the intestinal walls and into the bloodstream.

When enough prebiotics are not being introduced into the digestive system, the beneficial microbes don’t have access to the needed “food” that keeps them functioning and multiplying. As they “starve” they begin to die off in increasingly larger numbers.

As this die-off occurs, acid-producing harmful bacteria are able to establish themselves in larger numbers on the gut walls.

Once too much of the beneficial microbe population has been destroyed, it’s difficult to get the balance back where it belongs.

How Can Prebiotics Help?

In animals with a healthy gut microbiota, keeping an adequate level of prebiotics in the diet will help maintain the status quo. However, for those animals that have a compromised digestive system, prebiotics may be the key to giving them an honest chance at becoming healthy.

It has been found that calves that receive adequate prebiotics both pre and post-weaning tend to have greater gains. This is due to increased nutrient absorption.

A popular remedy for calves that are poor doers is to administer lactulose, a synthetic disaccharide. Studies have found that calves that have been given this course of therapy frequently develop strong immune systems and are able to overcome some of the issues associated with premature birth.

Additionally, prebiotics increase the body’s ability to rid itself of waste and toxins by increasing stool size, moisture content and composition. Both constipation and diarrhea can be devastating conditions for the young calf.

In Conclusion

Prebiotics are an absolutely necessary aspect of maintaining a healthy microbiome. The gut’s ability to function optimally depends on two main things – how strong the beneficial microbial population is and whether or not the pH is properly balanced.

Both of these functions depend on the presence of adequate amounts of prebiotics to support the digestive system.

SOURCES:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462921/

http://ijlr.org/issue/prebiotics-new-feed-supplement-dairy-calf/

http://www.credenceresearch.com/press/global-prebiotics-in-animal-feed-market

https://www.progressivedairy.com/topics/feed-nutrition/youve-heard-about-probiotics-for-cows-but-what-about-prebiotics

http://feedlotmagazine.com/benefits-of-using-probiotics-prebiotics-in-cattle-feed/

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What is a microbiome?

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

What In the World Is A Microbiome?

Part one of a three-part series on the microbiome and the role of the digestive system in the overall health of cattle.

Let’s face it – ruminants are some of the most complexly-designed animals on the planet. Their multi-chambered stomachs must be in sync like clockwork to ensure the animal gets the nutrients it needs.

These inner workings are further complicated by the fact that the resident microbial population must maintain a careful balance in order for proper digestion to take place.

You may have heard the term “microbiome” before. For as important as it is, it very rarely features in discussions surrounding the gut-immune system link.

To understand the roles of the various parts of the digestive system, including its microbial element, it’s helpful to know what the microbiome is and how it functions as a whole.

The skinny of a microbiome

The honed-down definition of a microbiome is a group of different kinds microorganisms that live together, creating a unique miniature ecosystem in a host. Think of it this way: The entire body is a city. Within that city are numerous inhabitants including plants and animals that create the residents.

Within this microbiome, these residents include symbiotic, commensal and pathogenic bacteria, viruses and fungi. In this particular case, the microbiome is the cow’s body.

Now, onto these neighborhoods. In every living organism are multiple “neighborhoods” or communities known as microbiota. Each of these is unique in the types and numbers of different microbes living within that group. Microbiota are present in every part of the body.

For the purposes of this article, the main focus will be on the bacterial microbiome that is found in the cow’s digestive system.

The Good, the Bad, The Lazy: different bacteria of the microbiome

There are three different categories of bacteria that live in the microbiome. These three categories are symbiotic, commensal and pathogenic.

Symbiotic bacteria are those bacteria that work with the body and contribute positively to the animal’s well-being. In true symbiotic fashion, they take what they need from the host, and in return, give the host something it needs.

Commensal bacteria are the freeloaders of the bacterial world. They don’t hurt the host, but certainly don’t provide anything, either.

Then we come to the pathogenic bacteria. These “criminals” of the bacterial world are usually present in the fewest numbers. They are very opportunistic and will take advantage if they find a weakness in the system. This is when they are most likely to cause disease.

The overall health of a microbiome determines how everyone lives together and whether or not the pathogenic bacteria will be able to take hold and cause disease. In healthy animals, they live side-by-side with smaller populations of the “bad” bacteria being kept to a minimum.

Got microbiome?

Literally every multi-celled animal (and even plants) on the planet depend on their microbiomes to keep them healthy and alive. Focusing in even closer, the individual microbiota in a microbiome serves its own purpose, making sure the whole can function properly.

A cow’s body has a multi-layered system of defenses that protect it from disease. This is where the microbiome shines as the hero.

Starting with its hide, this is the first defense barrier. It physically protects against the invasion of pathogens and other foreign substances from entering the body.

Up next are the mucous membranes. They play host to a wide variety of cells and microbes that help prevent disease. They also provide a layer of protection for underlying tissues.

Last, but not least, we have the gut. The gut is the number-one most important element of a healthy microbiome.

How?

Sure, it breaks down food and makes it useable. Between digestive enzymes and acids, the bulk of the feed gets broken down. Then what? This is where the symbiotic bacteria present in the gut get their moment to shine.

They further break down feed into absorbable nutrients and, in the process, create some pretty amazing metabolic by-products that are actually highly beneficial to the cow.

These chemicals support a healthy gut lining. They neutralize excess acid and encourage the growth of more beneficial bacteria. This not only crowds out any extra pathogens but also keeps toxins from crossing the gut barrier and entering into the bloodstream.

Big bonus: they promote stimulation and support of the overall immune system.

How does the ruminal microbiome develop?

A calf’s system is a blank slate when it’s born. When in utero, the calf doesn’t have to contend with bacterial or viral issues – ideally, its mother’s body takes care of all of that.

Once it is born, the creation of its unique microbiome begins.

Exposure to microbes found in the birth canal are the first the calf will encounter. From there, the next introduction is to those found in the environment around it – the air, soil, and plant life it comes into contact with will contribute new microbial elements to the overall development of its microbiome.

A calf’s gut doesn’t have any marked populations of bacteria, fungus, yeast or viruses until it nurses for the first time. The combination of the microbes found in those first feedings of a cow’s colostrum, along with any found on the teats provide the framework for the gut’s development.

Because these first nursings determine a calf’s health for the rest of its life, it’s integral that the mother have a strong and healthy rumen that allows her to produce a high-quality colostrum.

Obviously, the microbial population plays the biggest role in the development of the digestive microbiome. Despite this, additional factors such as genetic makeup and the diet have a significant influence on the ongoing health of the microbiome.

Antibiotics: both friend and foe

Believe it or not, the average cow’s microbiome, and in turn its digestive microbiota, was actually healthier a hundred years ago than it is today.

This is due to the introduction and overuse of antibiotics. While these drugs can literally be the difference between life and death when facing a major bacterial infection, they can also be the worst enemy of the balance of the microbiome.

The reason for this is because antibiotics are unable to determine which microbes are beneficial and which are harmful. They end up killing the majority of the bacteria they encounter, pathogenic or not.

As the balance of bacteria is disturbed, the entire microbiome – not just in the gut – is thrown out of whack. This gives opportunistic microbes such as yeasts and funguses a chance to grow unchecked.

The use of antibiotics is being closely examined now. Careful use and management are helping many producers avoid developing antibiotic-resistant diseases in their herds.

Sustaining a healthy microbiome

Ensuring your herd maintains healthy microbiomes can be a big task but is well worth it. The most important aspect of this is giving your cattle a stress-free environment. This helps reduce the production of various chemical components (including gastric acids and cortisol), thus helping maintain homeostasis.

Secondly, directly supporting the microbiome with a healthy diet that is rich in nutrients and has a high prebiotic content.

The cow’s microbiome is the determining factor in its success or failure. Whether raising breeding stock, a feeder calf or a dairy cow, maintaining the balanced microbiome is pivotal in ensuring that animal thrives during its lifespan.

In the next installments, we will cover the importance of prebiotics and their role in maintaining a well-balanced gut and overall microbiome.

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Understanding Adaptive Immunity

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

The Adaptive Immune System:

What It Is and How It Works

The immune system. It’s an abstract concept that, at best, is confusing.

It’s common knowledge that the immune system protects against disease-causing pathogens. For instance, a cut may become contaminated with foreign material such as dirt or debris that contains bacteria.

The immune system then detects a threat, kicks in, and sends an army of different cells to mop up the damage and kill off the invading germs.

This type of immune response is the perfect answer when there is an immediate threat; the body does what it must to take care of the pressing possibility of infection.

In a perfect universe, a basic immune response would eliminate any threat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

So, what about when the body is exposed to specific pathogens time and time again? This is where the adaptive immune system gets its chance to take the wheel, or in some cases, work alongside the innate immune system.

A Closer Look at Adaptive Immunity

Every creature on the planet must carry some sort of immunity that allows it to fight off disease that can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi. From insects to elephants, they must have a strong immune system in order to thrive.

Babies of all species are born with a small amount of immunity (innate immunity) and receive a major boost from the colostrum they get from their mothers in the first days of life.

This immunity allows them to contend with minor infections and helps them to resist common, everyday pathogens. What they are lacking is the more specific responses of adaptive immunity. This is where time, exposure and vaccinations come in.

Each time the body is exposed to a new pathogen, the adaptive immune system “remembers” it and develops specific antibodies to destroy that disease. For instance, childhood chickenpox is only contracted once (in most cases).

Once the body has recovered from a disease, it then recognizes and ideally develops specific antibodies to prevent infection by that disease from ever occurring again. The next time exposure occurs, the adaptive immune system will recognize the virus and be lying in wait to kill it off before it can cause infection again.

Vaccinations work from this principle. A weakened, modified or killed version of a disease is introduced into the body. It elicits a response from the immune system to take care of the invading pathogen.

Because it is not a full-blown version, it does not cause clinical illness. It does, however, pack enough of a punch to make the body recognize it and build antibodies to protect against future infection from the pathogen.

Unfortunately, the body doesn’t just come by strong adaptive immunity. There are a few factors that help determine whether an individual’s immune system will be able to properly develop antibodies. The most important of these factors is digestive integrity.

While it may sound odd, most of the immune system develops in and is dependent on a strong digestive system.

Leaky gut syndrome and acidosis can wear down the body’s ability to create effective defenses. This, in turn, leads to an inability to develop strong, disease-specific antibodies, opening the animal up to the possibility of serious disease.

What Does This Have To Do With Cattle?

In the case of cattle, a focused protocol that encourages the growth and support of beneficial gut flora is key. Maintaining a thriving colony of beneficial microbes relies heavily on a balanced pH.

Although any species can experience acidosis, cattle are arguably one of the most impacted by this condition.

By keeping acidosis from developing, a cow has a much greater chance of being healthy and maintaining a strong adaptive immune system.

Want to learn more about how you can help your cattle thrive? Check out what CattlActive can do for you!

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Heat Stress and Your Cattle

By Cattle, Cow-Calf, Pre-Conditioning 3 Comments

Heat stress is an age-old problem and can have a detrimental impact on your herd. Your cattle may be particularly sensitive to high dew points and extreme temperatures, resulting in heat stress. This only worsens if there is no significant cooling period after the sun goes down and throughout the night. Essentially, this will guarantee that they won’t have any opportunity to cool down, putting a great deal of strain on their bodies and resulting in heat stress.

What to Watch For

Heat stress isn’t difficult to spot — it’s very obvious when an animal is in distress. They will display symptoms such as:

Early stage heat stress:

  • increased respiratory rate
  • open-mouth breathing
  • slobbering

Should the heat stress advance, cattle are likely to:

  • lose coordination
  • tremble
  • stagger

If a cow goes down as a result of heat stress, the chances of them getting back up and being able to recover are very, very low.

How to Avoid Heat Stress in Your Herd

To help your herd transition through these relentlessly warm days and nights, we’ve provided a short (but thorough) list of things you can do to safeguard your cattle. If your cattle are showing signs of heat stress, it’s integral that you provide immediate intervention. If possible, help the process in the evening after the sun has set to help them maintain a fairly natural heat dissipation pattern.

Keep water fresh and provide additional water sources. If your cattle are on pasture, give them access to more water. For example, if there is only one tank in each pasture, add one or two more spaced out a bit. Stay on top of the water — make sure it is clean, free of foreign material and top it up regularly.

Keep handling to a minimum, or avoid it altogether, if possible. This includes moving, processing or transporting your cattle. If it’s absolutely necessary, work during the early morning hours when the temperatures will be at their lowest for the day. Always try to practice low-stress handling techniques, but especially during inclement weather, such as extreme heat.

Provide adequate shade. This is sometimes easier said than done, but your herd’s well-being depends on being able to seek relief from the sun’s burning rays. Dark-colored, young and old cattle have a particularly difficult time handling the direct sun. The easiest ways to provide shade are to move your cattle to pastures that provide natural tree cover or even holding pens that offer open buildings.

Create adequate air flow in enclosed barns. If you keep your animals in a setting such as a dairy operation or feed beef cattle indoors, be sure that there is adequate ventilation. If possible, open up the sides of the barn or use fans to keep the air moving through the structures. If possible, move any cattle that don’t need to be indoors to outside pens with shade. Overcrowding can push the temperatures up even more. In humid areas, refrain from using sprinklers, as this can raise humidity levels, but do little to help cool the cattle themselves.

Keep an eye out for unusual behavior. As with any animal, stress combined with heat can be a recipe for disaster. If your herd becomes stressed for some reason, watch carefully for unusual behavioral patterns (moving around too much, or not enough; aggression; lethargy, etc.).

Always be prepared. The worst thing you can do is enter into the hot summer season unprepared. For instance, have a contingency plan should your well or water source become unavailable. Be sure you have the ability to obtain enough water to keep your herd adequately hydrated. Should power go out in your fan-cooled buildings, make sure you have adequate outdoor space you can transfer your cattle into or that you have functioning backup generators to power the cooling system.

Keeping an eye on resources such as heat index maps can help ensure that you’re a step ahead of the weather. Keeping your cattle cool and healthy may take some extra effort but in the end will be well worth the effort.

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Mineral Supplementation: A Summer Essential

By Cattle, Cow-Calf, Pre-Conditioning No Comments
It’s hot. Your cattle sweat. They need to consume more water. Because of this, they also need to be receiving adequate mineral supplementation to maintain proper balances to thrive. Minerals provide a wide array of necessary nutrients, from electrolytes to maintain adequate hydration and cardiovascular function to calcium for strong bones. It may be hard to keep up with the demands of checking and filling feeders or replacing blocks regularly, but it’s in your best interest to ensure your cattle have 24/7 access to adequate mineral supplementation.

Choosing the Right Supplements

It can be daunting to figure out which minerals your cattle need and which they don’t. It all comes down to the feed they’re consuming, the presence of naturally occurring minerals in the water source, etc.

  • Forage. Forage contains many different minerals your cattle may need. Depending on what the forage is, what type of soil it’s grown in and so on, it can be determined what gaps you need to fill. Testing is available on hay or pasture to determine what the nutrient content (including minerals) is present in your feed. Soil testing may also provide you with valuable information on what your land is capable of providing.
  • Concentrated feed. Concentrated feeds are often fortified with vitamins and minerals. The labeling on these feeds should include the different mineral contents. Depending on how much concentrated feed you’re offering, you may need to supplement or scale back mineral supplementation.
  • Water. Some areas produce water that is naturally rich in certain minerals. If your cattle drink consistently from the same well, creek or municipal water source it would be prudent to have the water tested for mineral content. As an aside, it’s important to note that water with strange odors or objectionable flavors (such as water with a high sulfur content) may discourage adequate water intake. Water additives can help increase palatability and thus, consumption.

Mineral Supplementation

Once you’ve determined which gaps you need to fill in your cattle’s mineral profile you can begin supplementing. In many cases standard mineral blocks are adequate. This is a convenient way to supplement cattle on range or pastureland that are eating a diet of grass and forage. If you’re keeping cattle in this setting, place the blocks in areas where they spend a lot of time. These can include areas near water sources, shady areas, loafing sheds, etc. This allows them maximum opportunity to consume optimum quantities. A common rule of thumb for free-access is to have one mineral station for every 30 head. If you are feeding a concentrated diet, you can use a feed additive with the right mineral balance to meet your cattle’s needs. Some companies will create customized mineral supplements to meet the specific needs of your cattle and their environment.

Observing Mineral Consumption

It’s important to keep an eye on how well your cattle are consuming their mineral supplements. Replace them as needed to ensure that there is always a constant supply. It can become tricky if your veterinarian has recommended medications to include in a mineral combination. This will make it even more important to observe consumption to ensure that your cattle are receiving not only adequate minerals but also the proper amounts of medication. If those medications include antibiotics, you’ll need to establish a “Veterinary Feed Directive” (also known as a VFD). Your herd veterinarian can work with you on determining what is right for your herd’s management.

Proper mineral supplementation can mean the difference between your cattle thriving or merely surviving. Taking the time now to ensure your animals are receiving what they need will eventually find its way to a healthy bottom line.
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Securing Herd Health for Vaccination Efficacy

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

Stress on cattle is inescapable. Just as with humans, daily occurrences can create stress reactions. In cattle, the long-term effects can have detrimental effects on herd health, including reduced milk production and quality; poor weight gain and vitality; reduced immunity to both common and less common pathogens; lower-grade meat; and, ultimately, lower bottom lines.

In a Catch 22-like scenario, the healthiest and strongest cattle are those that have high functioning immune systems. In order to support that high level of functionality, they most benefit from a well-planned vaccination program. Thus, in order for the vaccination program to work, herds must be in the best possible health prior to receiving vaccinations. This is where proper herd management comes into play.

The most effective way to ensure that a herd is primed and ready for vaccinations is to address their rumen health. As mentioned above, rumen pH is perhaps the most important factor in maintaining a viable and highly functioning rumen. Key points for maintaining a healthy rumen include:

  • Avoiding stressful situations for the cattle that will consequently increase cortisol release.
  • Feeding a balanced diet that promotes beneficial microbial growth within the rumen.
  • Maintaining a proper pH balance within the digestive system.
  • Encouraging adequate hydration.
  • Reducing the use of antibiotics when possible.

The bovine digestive system and immune system are indivisible. When they are both working at their optimum levels, they ensure disease resistance and stress resilience. Through careful behavioral and dietary management, every herd has the potential for top production and healthy profit margins.

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Stress and Cortisol Can Undermine Your Herd Vaccination Programs

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

Over the past several weeks it has been mentioned that high levels of cortisol can wreak havoc on a cow’s immune system. Just as in people, cortisol can set into motion all sorts of systemic issues that can be hard to reverse. Careful management practices can go a long way toward helping your cattle avoid stressful situations and in turn have stronger immune systems.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is the main hormone released during stressful events. When there are high levels of cortisol in the system, immunity, in general, can be compromised. It has been widely noted that stress is associated with higher fail rates compared to any other factor (aside from inappropriate storage or incorrect use/administration) when considering the numbers for vaccination program failures. Dr. Rob Callan states in his paper titled “The Limitations of Vaccines“: “Many management factors can limit the effectiveness of vaccination including nutrition, environmental conditions, exposure to disease, and vaccination administration. Protein, energy, minerals, and vitamins are all required to develop and maintain a strong immune system. Specific vitamins and minerals associated with optimal immune function include vitamin A, vitamin E, selenium, copper, and zinc. Harsh or stressful environmental conditions can have significant detrimental effects on immune function. In addition, crowding and poor sanitation increase the exposure to infectious agents which can overcome even high levels of immunity. These factors contribute to the increased disease rates associated with climate changes, weaning, herd expansion, shipping or other changes in animal management.”

How Does This Affect Vaccine Efficacy?

Vaccines work by taking a pathogen and weakening, altering or killing it to trigger an immune response in the body. By imitating the disease and infection process (typically asymptomatically in healthy individuals), the body is fooled into believing that an infection is present. The immune system then produces antibodies and T-lymphocytes that attack and create defenses against the isolated pathogen. Because the immune system has a sort of innate “memory,” it stores the primed T-lymphocytes for the next time the body encounters the disease.

A compromised or suppressed immune system will not be able to adequately produce immunity-building cells, resulting in a weak or nonexistent defense. Cortisol, the main stress hormone, works by suppressing the immune system against perceived threats. Obviously, as this occurs, it will be difficult if not impossible for a cow’s body to develop its immunity to the proper levels to prevent infection in the face of an outbreak. The only real way to ensure a vaccine program’s efficacy is to administer vaccinations at the right time and to the most healthy animals possible.

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