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More is not necessarily better in cow-calf production

Don't up the dose — use animal health products at the proper rate and time

Colostrum, antibiotics, vaccines and even fly control measures — too much of a good thing often is not only harmful, but usually a waste of money as well. It is important to use products as needed and as recommended.

We as veterinarians have worked hard to educate producers about dosage amounts and to get away from the mentality of “more is better.” It might require repeated assurances that the label dose of pharmacy company research is appropriate. With higher rates, the withdrawal times and product costs increase.

Weighing cattle as they are processed in either the chute or in the alley has helped ensure we don’t over- or under-dose. So the industry has made progress. But aside from antibiotic dosages for example, there are other products with potential for being overused. Again, the risk is that higher rates will drive up costs while not providing any benefit.

Sometimes there is a tendency to overuse if use becomes more convenient or the price comes down. The fact is that with reduced use, with better timing, or with a change in management, products can be very effective, all helping to improve the bottom line as well.

The pour-on macrocylic lactones (ivermectin-type family of products) have been used extensively for the past 25-plus years. As the price went down frequency of administration and even dosage amounts increased in some cases.

Seasonal considerations

This is a product where late fall to early winter application is best in most circumstances. As a bonus the treatment provides warble, lice, and internal worm control all at once so further applications on turnout to pasture or summer may not be necessary, and pesticide residues in the manure may be detrimental to beneficial insects such as the dung beetle.

There may be instances where these products are also used for fly control during the summer but there are specific products for that and your veterinarian can help guide you. Also for fly control in the summer, when it comes to using cattle oilers the best is not continual treatment but pulse type of treatment — use the product at specific times and then stop.

Even though it is easy to put insecticides approved in the oiler for season-long use, we have the midsummer time for flies and the late fall for lice. The rest of the year you could use cattle oilers either dry or keep them supplied with mineral/canola oil but other medication shouldn’t be unnecessary.

Continual treatment ups the cost and promotes fly/lice resistance. Also, in cattle oilers, we always want to use insecticides indicated for oilers, with mixing instructions. It’s the only way we will continue to use approved products and others aren’t pulled from the market.

With vaccines, we want to make sure to give initial shots and booster shots as indicated and not get the timing too close together. Otherwise, if the booster is given too early, the shot may not get any response. With purchased animals that may have already been treated, retreating may be a waste of money. And when buying calves, find out their history, as preconditioning negates the need to vaccinate when purchased. There is no question in my mind that extra vaccination sometimes happens.

It is less common for cattle to be implanted close to their sale date, so redundancy is rare. It is always great to get or give as much health history when selling or purchasing cattle. That eliminates over-vaccinating but also identifies gaps in the program, which can be addressed. There are many diseases one can vaccinate cattle against. Based on age, past history and geographic area, the vaccine choices may change. This is where working with your veterinarian, the most ideal vaccine choice can be found, minimizing the number of needles needed for maximum protection.

What about colostrum?

Use of the air-dried powdered colostrum is definitely a good idea at birth following a hard calving, with twins or when there is a sluggish calf at birth (poor suckle reflex).

When in doubt, give calves that need it a dose of colostrum, but I have heard of some occasions where all calves get it. I question costs and labour to make this happen. There is also the risk of potentially spreading infectious organisms if the esophageal feeder is not cleaned properly. If the herd is vaccinated against scours, feeding powdered colostrum means you are not totally utilizing the cows’ or heifers’ own colostrum.

If supplementing all your calves at birth there is also a potential issue of mis-mothering, especially on heifers. Definitely use colostrum substitutes as needed but they shouldn’t totally replace the newborn suckling naturally.

When administering animal health products, we must always think drug resistance, parasite resistance, lice resistance and fly resistance can be an issue. Using more of the treatment product will not be the answer to preventing resistance.

Changing medications or various management changes may be necessary to combat the pathogen and reduce the risk of resistance developing. Changing management may in some cases take more work but may yield a reduction of products used.

That’s evident in reducing respiratory disease in calves. If we can reduce stress when weaning calves, introduce them to rations by creep feeding and even use the two-stage weaning nose flaps, those practices along with using respiratory vaccines could negate the use of metaphylactic antibiotics and greatly reduce treatment drugs needed.

Achieving more by using fewer drugs is a great goal in the cattle industry and one worth pursuing.

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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