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Pre-Conditioning

Prudent Use of Antibiotics for Vaccine Efficacy

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

As it has been evidenced in humans, antibiotic use can negatively impact the delicate microbial balance present in the gut. The same is true for cattle. Use of antibiotics can kill off colonies of beneficial bacteria in the rumen, making rumination less complete and more difficult. There is also the risk of developing antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains within a herd due to overuse. This can, in turn, impact a vaccine’s ability to properly immunize your cattle against disease. Your herd veterinarian can help guide you in prudent use of antibiotics to help not only preserve the gut flora and fauna but also work towards preventing the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria amongst your herd.

Dietary Considerations

The cow’s rumen is a complex system of checks and balances to ensure that every bite of feed is utilized to the fullest extent possible. Cattle do best on a grass-only diet, but this is obviously not optimal for finishing cattle or keeping up with the nutritional demands of milk production in dairy cattle.

Cattle that receive large amounts of grain-based feeds have a particular set of challenges to overcome in their digestive process. Grass and forage contain large amounts of fiber, necessitating numerous cycles of regurgitation-chewing-swallowing before the process is complete. The low-carbohydrate makeup and slow breakdown of plant cell wall structures keep the acid production in check, and thus the pH is fairly neutral at around 6.0.

High-concentrate feeds such as grain, however, do not require nearly the same level of chewing and ruminating to be digested. This, in turn, shortens the length of time the feed is mixed with saliva, which contains enzymes such as salivary lipase and amylase, not to mention minerals such as potassium, bicarbonate, phosphate and urea. When there is less ruminating (also known as cud-chewing), the buffering effects in the rumen environment are reduced. The rapid production of VFAs (volatile fatty acids) lowers the pH to closer to 5.5, creating a more acidic environment that does not support the forage-utilizing microbes, leading to a die-off.

With a lower pH compounded by an increased lactic acid and VFA concentration, the rumen can fail to provide adequate buffering and efficiently absorb the VFAs. When this happens, metabolic acidosis poses a threat, in addition to damage to the rumen lining. These ulcerations can cause discomfort, inappetence and, thus, stress and cortisol release. Without adequate breakdown of feed compounded by a compromised barrier, larger, undigested feed particles can cross through tissues and membranes, creating the perfect storm — an inflammatory response that then triggers yet more cortisol being released into the bloodstream.

Both adult cattle and calves transitioning from a pasture or range setting to a confined environment can have a difficult time making the change. The differences in environment, in addition to being separated from herd mates and introduced to strange animals, causes a great deal of stress, regardless of how it is carried out.

Once in this new setting, they are also started on high-concentrate feeds that they have likely never encountered before. The change from a forage diet to a concentrated diet can increase physical stress and create a pH imbalance in the rumen. Poor digestion contributes to low weight gain or actual weight loss. For calves and adult cattle that have been out with the herd, this poses an even more difficult set of challenges. Not only do they have to adapt to separation from their group, but they also must become familiar with water sources that they may have never encountered, such as troughs (many range cattle drink only from streams or ponds). Dehydration is a major factor in acidosis and rumen damage.

At this juncture, it’s most important to support the digestive processes (and thus the immune system) to help animals adapt. Maintaining a healthy pH balance is the most efficient and cost-effective way of ensuring that animals being introduced to new feed and water sources thrive. A healthy, well-functioning rumen ensures that at the time of vaccination, the immune system is primed to respond properly for building immunity.

While there are many other stressors cattle may encounter, the aforementioned four factors are the most widely reported as having negative effects on cattle health and vitality.

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The Immune Stress of Transportation and Poor Husbandry

By Acidosis and Shipping Fever, Branding, Cattle, Cow-Calf, Pre-Conditioning 6 Comments

It is likely that the most stressful event a cow will face in its lifetime is transportation. There are many factors that play into the toll shipping has on cattle. First, the trauma caused by loading can be fairly significant. If rough handling or poor conditions inside and outside of the trailer exist, this heightens that stress even more.

The inner environment of the trailer itself can also have a major impact on the herd’s well-being. Crowded compartments and unfamiliar animals contribute drastically to raising stress levels in cattle. Temperatures within transports can soar to almost unbearable levels during the summer and plummet to below freezing in the colder months.

Once on the road, an animal can remain in transport for more than 24 hours in some instances. During this time, access to water and adequate feed is limited. Fat cattle tend to fair the best, but they can still experience a fairly large amount of shrink. After 30 hours, the body cannot shed more water, so the weight being lost is tissue itself. Calves, cull cattle, and feeders tend to fare the worst in this scenario, consistently showing the largest amount of shrink. It’s important to ensure that cattle are well-prepared for a long trek prior to transport to ensure the least amount of stress and physical damage as they are conveyed to their destination.

 Husbandry

There is a direct correlation between poor husbandry and increased stress levels in both dairy and beef cattle. Every vaccination available can be administered, but with the wrong living conditions and lack of attention to care, there will be no marked benefit. This is due to the overwhelming stress put on the immune system while it attempts to cope with the influx of harmful microorganisms present in the environment.

In the case of dairy cattle, unsanitary living conditions can lead to mastitis, internal systemic infections, skin infections and hoof conditions, severely limiting their production potential. Most of these conditions require antibiotic intervention, during the course of which the cow’s milk cannot be included in the production stream. Mastitis treatment can be particularly painful for the cow, increasing stress levels regardless of how frequently she is handled.

Sub-par living conditions can wreak havoc on not only an animal’s physical well-being but also that of their psychological health. Waterborne and airborne diseases are common in poorly kept barns and stockyards. Dim lighting and cramped quarters lead to fighting, injuries, and distress. They’re also the perfect breeding ground for highly contagious diseases such as Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex (BRDC), Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD), scours, foot rot, conjunctivitis, ringworm and a large number of other aggressive pathogens. Additionally, bedding or footing saturated with water, feces or urine have the potential to create serious problems in the dermis and respiratory systems from exposure to fungus, bacteria, aerosolized fecal matter, and ammonia. Young calves are especially susceptible to poor air quality and easily develop calf pneumonia.

Sanitary conditions and adequate room, along with proper ventilation, is vital for maintaining health and reducing stress levels in cattle. Clean water and feed that is free of mold allow the animal’s body to better derive and utilize nutrients; supplements that support the immune system and fill in nutritional gaps allow the rumen to properly function.

Check back in on  Friday for more on the topic of vaccines and the role the existing immune systems plays in their efficacy. Missed the last installment? Check it out here

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Handling Techniques and Their Effects on the Immune System

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

There are several situations that can contribute to the overall stress level (and subsequent hormone release) in both individual cattle and the whole herd. While it’s not possible to completely avoid these situations, measures can be taken to prevent excessive exposure. Not only does stress have an effect on immunity and the outcome of finished cattle, but it can also have a negative impact on the quality of meat or, in the case of dairy cattle, the milk itself. The factors outlined below have been found to be the most detrimental to the well-being of cattle, both physically and psychologically. In this segment the first major factor — handling — is covered; next week the remaining stressors and situations will be addressed.

Handling Techniques

Over the last few decades, the cattle industry has seen major shifts in the handling and processing of livestock. Starting in the 1970s with the findings of Dr. Temple Grandin, the face of cattle management and “best practices” has changed significantly. It was realized that with certain equipment modifications and handling techniques, the stress (and subsequent loss rate) of livestock slated for slaughter could be reduced, therefore increasing production. The same methodology can be applied in the handling and care of dairy cattle as well. Frequent, gentle handling can create trust between cow and handler. Relaxed and non-fearful milk cows produce more milk of higher quality than their stressed counterparts.

The handling of beef cattle can be a virtually stress-free event for both the animals and the handlers. According to Principles for Low Stress Cattle Handling, “An animal’s previous experiences will affect its stress reaction to handling. Cattle have long memories. Animals which have been handled roughly will be more stresses (sic) and difficult to handle in the future. Animals which are handled gently and have become accustomed to handling procedures will have very little stress when handled. The basic principle is to prevent cattle from becoming excited. Cattle can become excited in just a few seconds, but it takes 20 to 30 minutes for the heart rate to return to normal in severely agitated cattle.” This indicates that a cow may remain in a nearly constant state of stress-induced arousal with repeatedly rough or unfamiliar handling over a prolonged period of time, increasing the release of cortisol into the system. More and more ranchers are rejecting the “ram and jam” method of cattle handling, trading it in for less aggressive methods.

Branding, vaccinations, and castrations can be arduous for both cattle and handlers. Hot branding is considered to be the most stressful means of animal identification, due to the pain levels that have been measured during the procedure. The American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) has outlined practices for less painful (and subsequently stressful) identification, including freeze-branding, tagging, and ear-notching.

Vaccinating cattle is absolutely essential to ensuring herd health and immunity. When administering multiple vaccines to a cow, it causes less pain to the animal when needles are changed after each injection, as they dull exponentially upon each puncture. Subcutaneous injection is always preferable, as it tends to be less painful than intramuscular injections and as such, should be used whenever feasible. Further, the spread of disease from animal to animal is less likely with frequent needle changes.

Further studies have shown that abrupt separation and forced weaning between cows and their calves can cause heightened stress responses, both physiologically and psychologically. It can prove especially detrimental in range calves that have not learned to be in confined areas or around humans. Handling calves gently from birth (or first contact) can markedly increase their trust and subsequently diminish stress responses to routine handling and moving.

Another marked stressor for cattle is overly aggressive cattle dogs. It’s of the utmost importance to ensure that any dog that is working cattle does so in a calm, methodical manner. Cattle are prey animals, making it incredibly frightening and stressful to be faced with a predator that, by all appearances, is in attack mode. Exposing both calves and mature cattle to adequately trained dogs regularly helps dispel their perceptions of danger from herding dogs.

Check back in on Tuesday for the next part of this multi-part series where I’ll outline additional stress factors that can have a negative impact on vaccinations and their efficacy. Missed the first installment? Check it out here

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