When considering the treatment of any type of livestock at pasture several factors such as severity of disease, ease of confinement, contagiousness to the rest of the herd and method of treatment must all be considered before treatment is initiated.
Most pastures have catch-pens so most livestock can be easily contained and even left confined for several days while follow-up treatment is given. Often if built around the watering or mineral areas, cattle and bison are used to coming in. This familiarity with the area helps when herding livestock as their flight response is naturally into these catch-pens. If major follow up care is necessary, then transporting the animal home is advisable, especially if rehabilitation or isolation is necessary. This may be required, for example, when treating a severe cut. A shot of long-acting antibiotics and a prayer will not be enough. This animal may need bandaging and let’s not forget the possibility of fly strike in summer. Flies and maggots can cause severe damage creating problems all their own. Always put fly tags or pour-on fly control on all treated animals in summer. It’s one less stress they need to worry about.
If catch-pens are not available several methods are still at your disposal. When several animals are involved, a good roper on a horse works well for cattle. I stress good roper. The rule of thumb is, if a roper has to chase livestock for more than two minutes, the stress exceeds the value he/she is providing. You can’t chase any animal till they exhausted and hope to get results with your treatments. For more fractious animals, darting, blow-piping or pole syringes may work. Several bow and arrow devices are out now that are very accurate at short range. They can also deliver high quantities of material. The only negative here is the entire product goes intramuscular and the large amounts (greater than 15 cc) cause more muscle damage. One must weigh this against the ease of administration and the greatly reduced stress the animal suffers. We all strive to minimize intramuscular injections, but in this situation we might make an exception.
For some herd-related problems, water or feed medication may be effective with not a lot of labour. Of course tanks must be available and serve as the only available water source. Keep the water level in tank low, add the medication and as the animal drinks it will receive adequate consumption of the product. Dewormers can often be given this way. Feed medication can be used if adequate trough space is available to allow proper consumption. Since not all animals will eat the same day we often need to fudge around this. For dewormers, often the treatment dose is spread over three days to allow adequate access. Talk to your veterinarian if you feel this may be a viable option in your herd. I’ve even treated individual animals this way. If they are quiet or real lame, a bucket of grain may be hand-fed to them with the required medication mixed in. Tetracycline or sulfa powders can easily be given in this method. Since the grain is given as a treat, palatability problems are quite rare.
Some severe emergencies require animals to be immobilized so major procedures can be done. Most veterinarians are skilled using tranquilizer guns. The products being used are becoming safer and reversal agents can be given. This procedure is not without risk, however. I personally had an experience where a calving elk was tranquilized because of no facilities. She decided to swim out into a dugout and luckily she swam out before the tranquilizer took full effect. With calving bison, which cannot be contained, this method can prove successful. The costs can become higher so only proceed with tranquilization in severe emergencies when the animal’s life is at stake. Always weigh the risk and economics before proceeding with any treatment on the pasture.
The beauty of the situation today is that several antibiotics are available which give long lasting (96 hour) protection and some further (a week to 10 days). Most have a fairly broad spectrum of activity. This makes pasture treating much more effective than having to try and catch animals daily. Animals become very elusive with once-a- day treatments. Try and assure healthy stock are taken to pastures in the first place. If you have experienced problems with footrot or pinkeye, keep in mind preventative vaccines for these and many other disease are available. Use them in consultation with your veterinarian.
Most of all keep in perspective the stress and cost to treat versus the actual benefit you will receive. In some cases doing less is better. Many lame cattle improve on their own, meaning treatment in these cases would have been overkill.
RoyLewisisapracticinglargeanimalveterinarian attheWestlockVeterinaryCenter, northofEdmonton,AB.Hismaininterestsare bovinereproductionandherdhealth.