Winter is coming – so look after your cattle

caring for cow in winter

Photo: Dreamstime

Poor grass growth this summer will mean lifestyle block owners will need to take particular care of cows this winter.

Words: Clive Dalton

After a long summer, skinny pregnant cows will be a major concern this winter. If they calve while emaciated there will be calf deaths at birth, and they’ll be slow to cycle and get in calf again.

They’ll need good quality supplements over winter to replace lost body condition and it takes time to put it back on. Cows should be calving at Condition Score 5 which is when they have rounded hips.
Consult your vet over young stock that may be scouring and losing weight, often called ‘ill thrift’. It may not be internal parasites, but if it is you need to use the correct drench to avoid drench resistance which is building up in cattle thanks to the excessive use of pour-ons.

Rising yearlings are a special priority, and keeping them growing this winter will be a challenge. If they stop growing it takes a lot of extra feed and time to catch up and reach their target weights for mating in October.
Blood tests can show a whole range of things including mineral deficiencies, salmonella, yersiniosis and much more, and it’s important to get a vet diagnosis to sort out the problem.
Lice are a regular winter problem, especially on stock not thriving, so again consult your vet about which product to use.
Facial eczema should have gone, but watch for its long-term effects. Long-term zinc treatment can strip the copper reserves from the liver, so copper supplementation may be needed (check with your vet). Also the liver may have been damaged by the toxins, which can result in milk fever when stress comes on at calving.
Always watch for abortions over winter, as even when you send the foetus for lab testing, it’s rare to get a positive diagnosis. Talk to your vet as soon as you have trouble, as you never know if it’s a one-off or the start of an abortion storm.

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• Try to get pregnant cows up to a body condition score of 5 for calving (rounded hips).
• Young stock must be given priority feed to keep them growing.
• In cold wet weather, cattle need extra roughage. Hay is ideal as it’s easy to feed out and cattle relish it.
• Build a standoff pad with shelter to prevent pasture pugging.
• Get rid of all bulls not needed – they are a major farm hazard.
• Check with your vet about your cattle’s mineral status – it has to be built up like charging a battery.
• Don’t drench or use pour-ons on mature cattle, and only drench young stock after talking to your vet.
• Get vet advice if cattle have lice, especially on young cattle.
• Have your calving gear ready in case an early, unexpected calf appears, and check for any abortions.
• Have the treatments ready for metabolic problems (milk fever, staggers and acidosis).
• If you are going to rear dairy beef calves in spring, strike a deal with a dairy farmer now so you don’t have to buy in the saleyard with disease risks.

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