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Animal health considerations for cows fed in confinement

Published on -6/29/2014, 4:03 PM

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With the much-needed precipitation received in June, the choke-hold Mother Nature had us in has loosened a bit. But with many areas of Kansas affected by the drought, cattlemen and cattlewomen still might be scrambling to find ways to keep their cow herds intact. Before the rains, grass growth hardly was occurring, and some operators might have completely run out of grass following two to three summers of drought conditions. And if there is no grass or other standing forage available in their areas for leasing, then grazing no longer is an option. Where harvested forage supplies still are available in the area, two options might be to place cows into a dry-lot or a feedlot situation. How cows are managed in preparation for dry-lot feeding will affect the success of this necessity.

If producers are going to dry-lot their own cows and feed them home-raised or purchased forages, the situation is fairly simple from a health standpoint. Just make certain they are current on the respiratory and reproductive disease vaccination program in use prior to placing them in a confined dry-lot situation. IBR and BVD vaccinations serve to protect against both respiratory and reproductive disease losses. Adult cattle rarely are affected by PI3 or BRSV, so these components do not have to be added except in replacement heifers that are retained.

A typical minimum program would include vaccination against IBR, BVD, Lepto hardjo-bovis and Lepto pomona, and Campylobacter (Vibrio) fetus. If calfhood vaccination for Brucellosis (Bangs) is part of your routine heifer development program, this vaccine should be administered by your veterinarian before heifers reach 12 months of age (prior to 10 months of age is preferable). If dusty conditions are anticipated while cows are being dry-lotted, the addition of Mannheimia haemolytica leukotoxoid and Pasteurella multocida bacterin to the vaccine program also should help cut down on pneumonia problems in these adult animals. Deworm the animals prior to placing them into the dry-lot. Being worm free greatly will improve their feed efficiency. Feed animals from bunkers and above-ground water tanks to keep animals from eating and drinking from the ground, reducing the potential for spread of disease. Make sure adequate clean water is freely available, and feed to maintain appropriate body condition score (BCS) for the stage of production the females are in.

The animals' requirements will change as they progress through the seasons and stages of production, so the diet will need to change also.

A second option would be to place cows into a commercial feedlot. The feedlot's consulting nutritionist should be able to develop a ration that is economical and sufficient to meet animals' needs as they progress through the different production stages. Because of the possibility of being placed in feedlot pens adjacent to commingled feeder animals from multiple out-of-state origins, it is imperative cows and heifers be vaccinated two to three weeks in advance of when they are to be placed in the feedlot. Plan to use the whole array of vaccinations mentioned above, and have all vaccinations completed before moving cows to the feedlot. This will give your cows time to respond fully to the vaccines and maximize their immune response at the time of initial exposure. You might want to add a SRP salmonella vaccine for control of salmonellosis if feedlot history indicates this disease has been a problem.

If possible, have the feedlot place your cows in the same section as other cows they might be feeding for other ranchers. You might want to ask that any of your cattle that require treatment be treated and returned immediately to the home pen, rather than being left in the hospital pen where they might be commingled with sick cattle from a variety of other pens.

Most feedlots process all incoming cattle with modified live virus (MLV) IBR, BVD, PI3 and BRSV vaccines.

Do not let them do this to your pregnant animals unless your animals have been vaccinated previously with MLV vaccines as use of MLV vaccines in naive unvaccinated animals, or those that have only been vaccinated with killed IBR and BVD vaccines in the past, might cause them to abort if they receive their initial dose of MLV vaccine while already pregnant.

With these precautions in mind, it is possible to dry-lot cows successfully. Whether you do this in your own facilities or a commercial feedlot, dry-lotting will provide a way to keep a good set of cows together for when it finally starts raining and we have grazeable grass again.

* Information provided by Larry Hollis, K-State Extension beef veterinarian.

Stacy Campbell is agriculture

Extension agent in Ellis County.

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