Cattle health concerns as Old Man Winter creeps in

By Tim Kalinowski, Staff Writer


The wet summer and fall is expected to take a heavy toll on general animal well-being and health on farms this winter, says Barry Yaremcio, a beef and forage specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“Nutrition is going to be extremely important this year,” confirms Yaremcio. “Protein is down two to four per cent compared to what we typically see. The hay that’s been turned two or three times to dry and put into bales; that has lost some of the leaf material so quality is down. Some has turned black and there are molds and spores present. That won’t really cause sickness, but the cows will pick and choose and avoid the moldy stuff; and the amount of feed which is going to be wasted this year will be a lot higher. So it is definitely going to be more expensive to feed this winter compared to last year.”

Yaremcio says farmers may see lots of feed in their stacks, but quantity alone does not ensure animal well-being.

“It’s even more important this year than most years to take a good, representative, feed sample, send it away to a feed testing lab, get the results back and get some help to balance the ration,” he says. “Get a nutritionist. You’ve got extension analysts across western Canada that do this kind of work: There are private consultants, feed mill nutritionists, forage associations, government extension people; they all do this kind of work. But the thing is, it is going to take a little more care and attention to get a proper rations for cows in mid and late pregnancy.”

According to Yaremcio, the consequences of insufficient nutrition in feed this winter will not only be felt at calving time this spring, but could have severe consequences going into next summer’s breeding season as well.

“If you are paying attention to these details now, what you are doing is priming that cow’s system to ensure she is in proper shape to provide the colostrum to have a healthy calf this year. But the big kicker is, if you screw up feeding her before calving her chances of getting pregnant and having next year’s calf drops by 20-30 per cent. If you don’t know what needs to be done ask for help. There are people out there to do that.”

Yaremcio says there is also a direct correlation between good nutrition and overall animal health, and susceptibility to disease. And some of that susceptibility is definitely weather-related. This is certainly true with reports of several cases of Fog Fever and higher instances of pneumonia in the province this year. Fog Fever comes as a direct result of moving cattle from an older or poorer quality pasture directly onto a much lusher pasture without giving the animals’ guts a chance to adjust slowly to the higher rates of Tryptophan in the in the grass.

“It’s the equivalent of you or I going from a nice glass of wine to moonshine which is 90 per cent alcohol,” explains Yaremcio. “You have to move them over gradually. To go fully from an older forage into a lush forage takes somewhere between five and ten days.”

As for pneumonia, says Yaremcio, it is often the wet and muddy conditions animals have to deal with in the corral that aggravates the disease.

“There are more problems with general pneumonias this year because everything is so wet, and the cattle are under that much more stress,” he says. “On the pen side of things, if you don’t have a pen that drains properly. It does not have a good clay base that is hard and firm. Or if it is not designed properly, these cattle are walking through water or mud that is knee deep to belly deep. That mud pack on them is going cool them off and will put them under temperature stress… You are getting a reduction in performance by these animals when they are placed into the wet pens.”

Yaremcio acknowledges there is probably little farmers with this kind of problem can do about it until the winter freeze-up, but advises action as soon as is practical.

“This is a real headscratcher this year, I’ll put it that way,” he says. “Drainage is one thing they can do, and a lot of times that could relate to how do you re-surface the pens or how do you re-level the pen with extra clay. But a second option a lot of guys are looking at waiting an extra three weeks or month to wean the calves, and what’s going to help this whole situation is when we finally get a good, hard frost, or cold snap, so finally the ground freezes. That’s the only salvation we have right now for these wet pens.”