There are many things to think about at pasture turnout time. Once they’re gone to grass, cattle are not always accessible, easy to find or treat so planning is necessary before turnout.
One has to think about what things cattle will be exposed to on pasture and which age groups are most susceptible. Depending on your management program, different strategies may be needed whether you have grass cattle, cow-calf pairs or if the cattle are calving on grass. If you purchase cattle for pasture, get the best health history you can.
Check the pasture before turnout for potential noxious poisonous weeds, heavy metals such as lead from electric fence batteries or junk piles where old batteries or other poisons may be lurking. With reduced grass growth early in the season, cattle explore and can get into things. Also visually check and sample the water source if necessary. Severe losses have been reported when water quality gets poor. A good spring run-off will often flush surface water systems but one never knows. Poor quality can result in anything from deaths to poor weight gains. Water is an essential nutrient that must be looked after and managed.
Treatments before turnout
Just before turnout to pasture, it is important to preplan any preventative shots against diseases encountered over the summer. Clostridial disease is being seen more often, so be proactive. The clostridial shots should be given as close to turnout as possible, especially for a soil-borne disease such as redwater. Shots administered as cattle are going through the chute will afford maximal protection over the summer. The calves especially need protection against respiratory disease, while cows and bulls need protection against reproductive diseases such as IBR and BVD.
Calf vaccines for respiratory disease generally have protection against the five viruses and mannheimi, while other vaccines or combinations have Pasteurella multocida added in. All seven organisms are involved in the bovine respiratory disease complex and are important for young calves.
Histophilus, which causes respiratory as well as heart, joint and brain disease, is commonly given to calves combined with their clostridial vaccines. To cover all the bases, turnout to pasture commonly involves two subcutaneous shots to calves.
Protocols for yearlings depend on their vaccination history. Those kept for breeding should definitely get the reproductive shots such as boostered IBR and BVD. Leptospirosis and vibriosis also cause reproductive losses in some areas. A vibriosis shot is often required for cattle going to most community pastures. If you do take cattle to a community pasture or grazing reserve, review the manager’s health requirements ahead of entry day. Clostridial vaccines are always a must when going to pasture and an anthrax vaccine may also be needed if the disease has been diagnosed in your area. All cloven hoof animals are susceptible to anthrax to varying degrees. Bison are especially sensitive.
Hold back those needing treatment
I recommend a visual inspection of cattle before they head to pasture. Any lame animal or with another condition requiring further treatment should not leave the yard. Lame animals need to be dealt with. A cow that’s lame all summer is one that surely won’t get bred, setting you up for losses next year. Cattle need to move freely as they have more ground to cover. Conditions like beginning cancer eyes, beginning lump jaw, vaginal discharge, bad bags with the potential for mastitis or unhealed wounds should all be held back and treated.
If necessary, feet should be trimmed two weeks before turnout in order to make sure they are sound. Applying growth implants is another procedure best done close to turnout on calves or yearlings not destined for breeding. The payout on this procedure is always 20 to one and up depending on the implant. They must be put in properly and cleanly.
Flies and parasites
Flies and internal parasites can also be a concern once cattle start eating green grass. Timing is everything in this regard. Since July is the worst month for flies in Western Canada, don’t treat too early, otherwise the product is wasted. Midsummer is an ideal time for fly and worm control treatments. Some dewormers can be included in the mineral mix or dispensed through the water if there is a common controlled water source. Fly tags or the pour-on fly-control products can be given as cattle enter the pasture. Supplying on-pasture cattle oilers is probably the gold standard for seasonal fly control. Feed additive products are also available that pass through the gut and have no effect on the cattle, but are effective in killing fly larvae as they hatch decreasing fly numbers. All these strategies help improve gains, better health and may decrease things like pinkeye as well.
Herd health relies still on checking cattle frequently whether it be with drones, on a quad or on horseback. Always take binoculars to help identify cattle. Individual cases may require capture and transport back home, treating on-site or darting depending on the severity of the problem and whether retreatment is necessary. Dart guns may have their place but don’t overtreat and make sure you have the blessing of your veterinarian. Make an effort to pick up the discharged darts.
There is a lot to think about as cattle head to pasture. Always watch for subtle clinical signs and do postmortems on any dead animals if found in time.
Farming and ranching is an occupation requiring proper attention to detail. Individual animal attention of either treating or culling will lead to a more productive herd in the future.