Rebuilding? Expanding? Protect your herd.

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Black calf

If rebuilding or expanding your herd includes bringing in cattle from outside your operation, the risk of exposure to disease is significant. It’s important to take steps to protect your existing cow herd.

If the positive outlook for cattle economics has you preparing your grazing acres to support more animals, it’s important to consider how you’ll protect the health of your existing herd.

“Weather challenges, from extreme drought to flooded pastures, have hit grazing acres hardin  many parts of the country,” says Sam Ingram, Range & Pasture field scientist with Corteva Agriscience. “These compromised pastures serve as a good reminder of the role an abundant, high-quality forage base plays in the health of the herd.”

Specific to drought, one of the greatest challenges for cows is the suboptimal quality and quantity of forage, says Phillip Kesterson, DVM, with Zoetis beef technical services. Based in Bridgeport, Nebraska, Kesterson has weathered drought cycles many times with his clients and has seen how those factors can leave the herd vulnerable. As pastures return to productivity – along with favorable economics for the beef industry – cow-calf producers will once again be ready to rebuild cow numbers, typically following one of three approaches:

  1. Buying open replacement heifers
  2. Buying bred heifers or cows from a known source private treaty
  3. Buying bred heifers or cows through an auction barn

“As you bring cattle in, the biggest concern is with the health and wellbeing of your current cow herd,” Kesterson says. “You are exposing them to other disease pathogens and challenging their immune systems. Following basic biosecurity measures, like quarantining new cattle, can

help protect your cowherd.” Kesterson breaks down the concerns with each approach to expanding the herd.

Buying Open Replacement Heifers

  1. This can be ideal or problematic, depending on timing between purchase and breeding, potentially limiting vaccination options.
  2. A solid vaccination strategy is two doses of modified live vaccine before breeding. The first dose should be given after maturity of heifers (as evidenced by cycling). Allow a three- to eight-week interval, with the second dose at least 30 days prior to breeding; 45 days is better.
  3. If you are within the 30-day window, then Cattlemaster® Gold FP is strategically sound.
  4. A complete health program, including parasite control, is critical to breeding success.

Buying Bred Heifers or Cows from a Known Source Private Treaty

  1. Best situation is a solid modified-live vaccination program with proper timing of administration, ideally at prebreeding.
  2. Less ideal is if the vaccinations are inappropriately timed or based on a vaccine that isn’t labeled for fetal protection.

Buying Bred Heifers or Cows through a Sale Barn/Auction

  1. Involves more risk than buying privately, due to more pathogen exposure with the types and classes of cattle that sell through the auction barn.
  2. In most cases, the bred animals are past the high-risk pregnancy exposure, but they have increased risk of stress or injury with loading and unloading, sorting on concrete and going through chutes.
  3. If vaccination history is unknown then you need to let them acclimate at home before vaccinating with a killed Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) product with fetal protection, like Cattlemaster Gold FP.
  4. It is critical to observe a six-week quarantine period before commingling with your established herd, Kesterson says. The greatest risk is bringing in a BVD persistently infected animal that could put the established herd at risk. A testing strategy for BVD would be money well spent.
  5. If vaccination history is unknown then you need to let them acclimate at home before vaccinating with a killed Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) product with fetal protection, like Cattlemaster® Gold FP.

It is critical to observe a six-week quarantine period before commingling with your established herd, Kesterson says. The greatest risk is bringing in a BVD persistently infected animal that could put the established herd at risk. A testing strategy for BVD would be money well spent.

“The ideal situation is to quarantine until calves are born and offspring is tested BVD free, then you can commingle without worry,” Kesterson says. “But if you can’t keep them separate, it elevates the importance of a robust modified-live prebreeding vaccination program in the resident cowherd.”

One last reminder from Kesterson is that as cows are commingled, cows often succumb to respiratory disease. “One of the first things we think when a dead cow appears in the pasture is poisoning,” Kesterson explains. “Necropsies are critical to make sure the cause of death. Mature cows are masters at hiding the symptoms.” He encourages producers to be realistic and to take common-sense steps to protect their existing herds as they introduce cattle from outside sources.

A realistic approach is important too when it comes to pasture management, Ingram says.

“You can’t decide one day to add a bunch of cattle if your forage base isn’t ready,” he says. “Pasture recovery takes time. Over stocking only exacerbates the problem, from a pasture and herd health point of view.”

 

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