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The many aspects of herd health on pasture

Animal Health: Lots to consider before opening the gate to summer grazing

The many aspects of herd health on pasture

As pasture readiness nears, there are several things producers should consider before cattle are turned out.

Especially when moving cattle to new pastures — new ground you or they are not familiar with — make sure they have been checked for everything such as the condition of fence lines and the potential for noxious weeds or other toxins such as old batteries from electric fencers.

Check the property for old dump areas, burrow pits or old yard sites which could be home to everything from garages with toxic compounds to open-bored water wells. All could pose danger during the grazing season and are worth cleaning up. If grass has just started growing and is limited, cattle will turn to eating noxious weeds and other materials until the growth of lush grass.

Vaccination program

Before loading on trucks or herding down the road, make sure cattle receive the necessary vaccines for general health and to cover clostridial diseases. Use a multivalent vaccine that covers as many of the clostridial organisms as you can. One never knows when decades-old clostridial spores are consumed. Pay attention if there is a risk of anthrax in your area and provide a spring vaccination as needed.

Calf vaccinations need to be up to date with proper coverage of clostridial, histophilus and the respiratory pathogens. Cows need protection against clostridial and reproductive pathogens, especially IBR and BVD, to reduce the risk of infectious causes of reproductive failure.

Make sure you have the bulls covered as well. The best time to administer these is when they are handled for semen testing or just before breeding, which often coincides with turnout to pasture.

It pays to do a thorough scan of general herd health before turning out to pasture. Keep in mind cattle are harder to observe and harder to catch once they are on pasture. Proper mobility and good feet and legs are important as they may need to travel well to reach water and mineral stations and traverse rugged terrain. Make sure cattle are well identified with dangle tags, RFID tags and even brands if required, making it easier to keep track of anything that might need extra attention.

Flies can be a problem later into the summer so have a plan to administer treatment or preventative measures in the heat of the summer when flies and other pests are often at their worst.

Don’t forget about treatment for internal parasites (worms) to guard against the herd contaminating pastures with worm eggs the minute they begin grazing.

Delay turnout if needed

It may be worthwhile to hold back any cow-calf pairs that may have some issues needing a little extra care or further medical attention. This may include such issues as bad udders (prone to mastitis), bad eyes (prone to pinkeye or cancer eye), thin cows (prone to a variety of medical problems). Cattle that are lame due to foot or leg ailments are likely to worsen their condition on pasture. Lame and sore cattle don’t move well, lose weight and don’t milk well for their calf. They need their feet attended to allow sole abscesses, cracks, corns and a myriad of other problems to heal. If chronically lame they may need to be left home for the summer.

If you find a dead cow, calf or bull on pasture I suggest removing the carcass for an autopsy off-site. If anthrax or clostridial diseases are suspected, we especially don’t want the carcass opened, exposing the area to numerous spores posing a risk to other cattle. Always think of the rest of the herd with contagious organisms.

Any animals with open wounds need to be kept at home until they have fully healed to avoid fly strike. Lumps and bumps such as abscesses or injuries should again be healed before going to pasture. Be cognizant of problems like weeping eyes which might be the start of a cancerous eye and could get much much worse by the end of the grazing season. Lumps on the jaw may need to be treated before they get worse. Attending to lumpy jaw earlier may provide much more favourable results than waiting until the condition becomes chronic and the jaw has deviated, making mastication almost impossible.

Hold back calves with umbilical abscesses, hernias, or chronic respiratory issues. You don’t want to turn anything out that has the potential to die or need further treatment at pasture. With calves, always think of the gain potential on pasture so implanting may be a definite option with commercial cattle.

There is lots to think about before pasture but looking after these things will hopefully lead to a trouble-free pasture season where cows gain well and breed well, bulls stay healthy and get their job done, and the weather co-operates to produce lots of grass.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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