Things to do on the farm in February: Watch for FE, provide shady areas, hydrate animals and choose a mating paddock
Make sure ewes, pigs and poultry have plenty of shade and keep water troughs clean to encourage drinking.
THE COUNTDOWN HAS STARTED
Facial eczema (FE) spore counts will be heading up this month. Preventative zinc treatments need to be in place already. Try to keep livestock in your lowest risk paddocks. These are ones with long, leafy grass, an open aspect and that face west or south. Check what spores are doing in your area here.
JOBS FOR FEBRUARY
• Have you organised a ram? He should be fit, keen, in good health, brucellosis-free, and up-to-date with vaccinations. Check his back legs for strength, his foot health, and have him shorn so he can cope with working on hot days.
• Ewes should be increasing in weight as they go to the ram. You want good pasture cover and feed out hay, baleage and supplements. This frees up extra pasture for those ewes that prefer pasture. It means all animals will be gaining weight (for a ‘flushing’ effect that increases fertility), have less exposure to parasites, and will help your animals make the transition from dry summer grasses to rich autumn pasture.
• The paddock you use for mating should be chosen carefully. You want the geography to encourage as much action between ewe and ram as possible. Choose one with no gullies, creeks, bush areas etc, so there is no possibility of separation.
• If you are shearing, early morning is best as it is cool. Stress, heat, humidity and dust in the yards can be enough to bring on pneumonia. Symptoms include difficulty breathing including heaving sides, rapid breaths, head down low and forward. Don’t expect to hear them coughing. They need urgent veterinary treatment.
• Make sure animals get shade during shearing, and plenty of feed, cool water and shelter afterwards. Apply a preventative blowfly treatment as animals leave the shearing area. Avoid shearing and drenching for at least four weeks before mating, preferably six weeks.
• Don’t top messy paddocks. It will dry them out more quickly and increase the risk of stock getting FE. This is caused by fungal spores living in the litter layer in pasture which thrive in cut grass, putting your livestock at greater risk.
• Are you break-feeding but finding your cattle seem to be unaffected by your electric fence? Check your earth pegs – these are prone to inefficiency in dry weather, as the soil moves away from the pegs. Pouring a bucket of water around your earth pegs every few days will help keep the voltage strong.
• If pasture is getting low due to dry weather, consider feeding supplements to cattle. A change in diet will help them to maintain weight (they like variety), and avoid the fungal spores that cause FE and the parasite eggs found in short pasture.
• If you suspect a parasite infestation, do a faecal egg count reduction test – talk to your vet – as resistance to drench products is becoming more widespread.
• Keep goats on separate pasture from sheep, or run them ahead of your sheep. By letting goats eat longer pasture (over 8cm) they will avoid parasites waiting for a host (on average, below the 5cm mark) and you can drench less. Better yet, don’t have goats if you have sheep. Mature sheep build up an immunity towards worms, but goats never do. This puts them at more at risk from drench-resistant worms than sheep or cattle.
• Branches of willow and poplar are an excellent supplement feed for all animals, especially goats. Hang it on fences so it doesn’t get stood on and wasted. Larger branches will be stripped of bark and chewed. Goats get health benefits from the tannins in browse like this. NEVER throw clippings of any plant from your garden into a paddock – many garden plants are toxic.
• Shade is very important during summer, especially to pigs. Pigs can’t sweat so rely on shade, mud and water to regulate their temperature. Shaded areas with good air flow need to be available at all times. Have a wallow of mud and water available too.
• Are your water troughs clean? All animals prefer clean drinking water. If a trough is dirty or slimy, animals drink less which can create health and milk production problems. They can also pick up infections so don’t let birds swim in troughs – use wood to partly cover a trough to prevent access.
• Make sure water is available 24 hours a day. Poultry need water to aid respiration and even a few hours without it on a hot day can be enough to stop them laying. Very hot summer weather may have this effect anyway, and some birds may then go straight into an early moult and not lay again until late winter.
• If you have an animal that is white or has exposed pink skin, use a zinc sunblock. There are options available at vets, and rural or equine stores.
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