Gambling with cattle herd health

Gambling with cattle herd health
Too often, cattlemen will put off some basic animal husbandry practices to save time and expense, with the hope that their herd will be fine. (Source: Pexels)

EAST TEXAS - Too often, cattlemen will put off some basic animal husbandry practices to save time and expense, with the hope that their herd will be fine. Much of the time they might “do fine” but doing fine isn’t going to realize top profits and, heaven forbid, what if they don’t “do fine?"

With weather patterns and market prices causing unforeseen changes in profitability, I’ve heard some folks say that farmers and ranchers are gamblers.

But beef producers can do much to minimize the gambling of herd management by being proactive and focusing on known controllable variables and choosing wisely in this regard. Take horn flies, for example. Horn flies are the number one pest of beef cattle. Living their entire life on the backs of livestock, they feed constantly. Control is possible with proper insecticide use and biological control factors.

Those flies are a real problem for many. In addition to the excessive number of painful bites that occur daily, the lesions can lead to secondary infections. Horn flies occur mostly on the cow and usually only by incident on the calves. Not treating mama cows can lead to a 12% decrease in the average daily growth rate of nursing calves.

There are other flies and insects, but control of horn flies should be a priority.

Giving vaccines or other medication are going to part of protecting and caring for livestock. I’ve been hesitant myself on what needle size and syringe to choose. And once chosen, there are some locations and methods to deliver the medications that must be followed.

Gone are the days when you give a shot in the hip. You and I may get shots in the hip at the doctor’s office, but never should we give shots in the rear on market livestock!

Other herdsmanship practices that need to be better practiced include dehorning and castration. It’s true that dehorning and castration can be messy. Yet conducting both practices will net a higher price at the auction barn and may help reduce damage to other cattle.

Cattle identification is key as well. A simple tag in the ear will go along ways to helping most producers know which calf came off which cow. We’ve all heard that the most faded ink is better than the sharpest memory. The same is true for cattle identification. Unless you have a few “pet” cows, you’d be far ahead by identifying them and keeping records.

Understanding basic nutrition will be discussed as requested. It can be frustrating trying to sort thru feed labels and protein supplements. I’ll be talking about what protein levels are needed and what minerals are to be supplemented.

Weaning calves is the right thing to do because it correctly sets calves up to perform better for the rest of their lives. Weaning also gives sellers access to special preconditioned sales which may result in higher prices. Several folks are anticipating selling calves in the fall market. Those calves that are less stressed and already better prepared for the auction ring.

Lastly, there is an enormous volume of data to fully support cattlemen looking the Expected Progeny Differences (or EPD’s). To ignore EPDs when selecting bulls and replacement heifers is like rolling the dice.

This Monday, August 19, the Angelina County Extension office will host a program at 6:30 pm called “Cattle Herd Management Part 2: It’s More Than Just A Gamble”. The featured speaker is Dr. Bradley Clary, local veterinarian.

There is no fee for the program. Topics such as those above on basic animal husbandry practices will be the focus of the program.

Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is