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The transition to housing in beef suckler herds is a crucial point in the production year. It involves careful planning for each management group (Spring calving cows; Autumn calving cows; youngstock; bulls) and for the buildings.

This is the latest of the XLVets local press articles and has been written by our very own Ken Wilson.

Spring calving cows.

• Feed Analysis

Nutrition is based upon a maintenance ration. As silage quality varies year to year, analysis gives reassurance that the winter ration is adequate.

• Body condition scoring

Body condition scoring (CS)should be used as guide of adequate nutrition. Aim for a CS of 3 at weaning, falling to 2.5 by calving.

• Trace elements

The necessity for trace element supplementation varies according to the land you are farming. Blood samples may be taken to identify deficiencies and supplementation should be guided by discussion with your.

• Pregnancy diagnosis

Housing is often the first opportunity to carry out pregnancy diagnosis. This is best done as early as possible. Barren cows can be culled, saving winter feed for the productive animals in the herd.

• Ectoparasites

Lice are common in housed cattle, but other ectoparasites can be a problem too. Treatment with the appropriate ecotparasitic medication is indicated. The selection of the right product should be discussed with your vet.

• Fluke

Fluke is now a potential problem in all herds. A pooled dung sample will give an indication of the presence of adult fluke in the cattle. Herds with evidence of fluke should treat all adult stock with an appropriate flukicide AFTER housing. Correct timing of the treatment should leave cattle free of fluke throughout the housing period.

• Roundworms

Worming in adult cows is controversial. Adult cattle are generally immune to gut worms but heifers and second calvers will not yet have fully developed immunity. A roundworm treatment at housing is warranted in these animals.

• Vaccinations

Remember to organise a date to vaccinate the cows against the common calf scour agents.

Autumn calving cows.

• Parasites

All the comments made regarding Spring calving cows will apply to the Autumn calving herd as well.

• Body condition scoring

Aim for CS 3 at calving ( September/ October) falling to lower than 2.5 at mating time (December/ January).

• Nutrition

Grass quality is deteriorating in the months before housing , and it is often necessary to buffer feed cows and to supplement magnesium. Loss of condition before housing is difficult to reverse once cattle are housed.

• Return to cycling

The main challenge to autumn calving herds is getting the cows back in calf. Four key factors have been shown to contribute to anoestrus in these cows.

o Suckling

The hormonal effects of suckling significantly inhibits the cows' return to oestrous during the first 25-32 days after calving. Normal cycling may take up to 60 days after calving to return.

o Season

This is not a time of year that cows will naturally cycle.

  • o Age

Heifers are growing animals. Their nutritional requirements are complex and this group will often have more fertility problems if not properly fed.

o Nutrition

Good nutrition (with appropriate trace element supplementation) is the best way to maximise the fertility of these cows. The other factors are more difficult to manage.

Bulls

Don't forget the bulls!

• Nutrition

Young bulls are still growing; bulls at the end of the mating period will be in poorer body condition Good quality feed will allow them to recover. However, many bulls become obese, potentially affecting their fertility.

• Parasites

All the comments made regarding Spring calving cows will apply to the bulls too - but remember to accurately assess their weight and dose accordingly.

• Foot Care

This is the time to assess and correct any overgrowth and lameness issues. Poorly pared feet will only get worse during the housing period.

Calves:

• Nutrition

Maintaining live weight gain as the autumn grass diminishes and as calves are weaned is a challenge. Creep feeding prior to weaning helps to acclimatise the rumen. These effects are compounded by the stress of weaning and mixing groups that occurs on housing.

• Pnuemonia

A wide range of respiratory disease vaccinations are available. The choice and timing of vaccination will be specific to each farm. Please discuss strategies with your vet. This is to be discussed BEFORE weaning and housing. Proper timing of vaccination strategies will impove the efficacy of the programme.

• Worming

Spring-born calves should be wormed at housing. Injectable, oral and pour-on products are available. The timing and the choice of product should be discussed with your vet.

• Ectoparasites

Treat calves on housing for the same external parasites as the adult cows.

• Fluke

Older calves could have been exposed to fluke in the grazing season. They must be included in the control program in place for adult cattle.

Buildings

And finally, a checklist for the buildings.

• Stocking densities

Is there enough space for all the animals to feed and to lie down?

Are there enough water troughs and are they clean?

• Ventilation

Is there enough ventilation to control humidity and temeprature without drafts?

Does the ventilation reduce build up of dust, spores and ammonia in the air they breathe?

• Bedding and flooring

Does the flooring allow the drainage and easy removal of urine and dung?

Is there enough bedding to give all the animals a dry bed to lie on?

Is slatted flooring intact?

• Cleanliness

Have all building been cleansed and disinfected before housing?

Are there facilities to carry out further cleaning and disinfection during the housed period?

• Care

Are there enough pens for calving cows?

Are there pens for sick animals?

Are there facilities to handle injured or ill animals?

Donald S McGregor & Partners Ltd is a company registered in Scotland SC495194 | Registered Address: Veterinary Surgery, Janet Street, Thurso, KW14 7EG