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Beef Cattle Health

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Cattle Grazing

For cattle to reach their performance potential, they must be healthy. Therefore, a sound herd health program is a must in today's competitive beef production program. A proper health program will vary from herd to herd. A single program will not fit all herds throughout the state. For example, some herds may have very few health problems and, therefore, a minimal program will suffice while others may need a very extensive herd health plan. Also, particular diseases may be prevalent in one herd or area and be absent in another. The herd health program should be tailored to fit the individual herd.

The first rule to good herd health is sound disease prevention. Utilize your herd veterinarian to assist you in developing a comprehensive vaccination and therapeutic program. Your veterinarian can also support your beef operation by performing diagnostic procedures, including of samples to diagnostic laboratories and post mortem examinations.

A general concern of some producers is whether or not the costs of implementing a vaccine program are justified by disease prevention. The investment in disease prevention is less than the cost of disease treatment. Don't wait until a disease outbreak occurs before implementing a sound herd health program.  Avoiding a potential health disaster in your cattle operation validates the cost. Keep in mind the old adage "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". In other words, the costs of a disease outbreak will far exceed the price of disease prevention.

Remember that a vaccination program alone shouldn't be considered your complete herd health program. The vaccination program should be viewed as an important part of an effective health management plan that would also include proper nutrition, parasite control, and a simple biosecurity plan for your operation.

Minimizing or preventing disease entry and spread on farms should be included in every herd health plan. To accomplish this, several general management practices could be implemented with minimal cost. Simple considerations include knowing what is in the area of your farm perimeter (e.g. farms, visitors, neighboring livestock and wildlife), individual animal identification, animal health protocols, recognizing and dealing with sick animals, isolation/quarantine, supply handling and neonatal management.

Cattle Grazing
Cattle Grazing

Since people and vehicles can potentially transfer infectious agents from one farm to another, control access to driveways, private roads and barns. If possible, have only one gated entrance to the animal areas on your farm to better control and monitor all visitors and vehicles arriving at your farm and keep gates locked to prevent unwanted human or animal entry. Limit the number of visitors and traffic to your operation.

When someone visits your operation that has been in contact with other livestock, provide them with disposable boots or footbaths to use before entering your operation. If you visit a livestock sale, the county fair or a neighbor's farm, remember to disinfect and clean your clothing and boots before wearing them around your animals. Environmental pests such as rodents, raccoons, birds and insects can act as vectors of disease. Control measures should be imposed to limit the spread of disease from these potential vectors.  

Early identification of serious diseases can help minimize the risk of disease spread on your farm. If signs of disease are identified in and animal, seek veterinary services at its earliest detection. Waiting to treat the sick animal will only allow the spread of the infection to more animals on the operation. Signs of illness may include coughing, diarrhea, weight loss, runny eyes or nose, abortions, enlarged lymph nodes and lameness. If an animal happens to die, always remember to properly dispose of the carcass.

Some diseases can be tested for before you purchase an animal, and disease testing is one way to eliminate the transfer of a disease to your herd. Livestock buyers should ask sellers to test animals prior to the sale exchange. However, the buyer needs to be aware that not all tests are 100 percent accurate. Ask your veterinarian which diseases he/she would recommend testing for before purchasing an animal. Newly acquired animals should be held in an isolated area for at least 3 weeks to insure that you do not introduce unwanted disease into your herd. Isolation includes no fence line contact, shared water source or feed bunk space with your main herd. Regularly observe the isolated animals closely for signs of disease.

By implementing a strong herd health program for your operation, disease risk can be minimized. For more information on disease risk management for your operation, visit your county Extension office.

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