Don’t let your herd’s health fly away

Use more than one approach for fly control. 

Flies cause substantial economical losses to cattle producers. For example, biting flies carry diseases such as anaplasmosis and bovine leukosis virus, while face flies can spread pink-eye from animal to animal. Unfortunately, you will never completely eliminate fly problems in your herd. Flies are well-adapted to the environment; they have been around for thousands of years and are doing very well for themselves.

The adaptability of flies means that it is going to be impossible to completely remove them from your operation. However, there are ways to control flies and to lessen their negative impact. These practices each have their benefits and drawbacks. Using a combination of these practices can improve control.

You should evaluate your herd, your environment and your fly pressure to choose which is best for your livestock.

Feed an insect growth regulator or a larvicide

There are a variety of these products available, depending on your needs. They include Altosid for horn flies, or Rabon for horn, face, house and stable flies. ClariFly is product used mainly with confinement cattle. The larvicide or insect growth regulator should be fed starting 30 days before flies typically appear, and should be continued for 30 days after a killing frost. This means feeding the product from about mid-March to mid November. While horn flies don’t travel far, face flies will travel a mile or two. This means that if your neighbors have cattle, you may inherit some of their flies—unless they have joined the fray and are aggressive about knocking down fly populations.

Use fly tags

Newer-generation fly tags are useful in controlling fly populations. To reduce pyrethroid resistance, after using pyrethroid tags for two consecutive years, switch to an organophosphate tag for one year. For optimal fly control, many products require two tags for an adult animal and one tag for a calf. As always, whenever you are using a pesticide, read and follow  label directions. The rules governing pesticide and insecticide are federal rules. You really don’t want to run afoul of them.

Applying the tags too early will result in less effective fly control. The ideal time to apply tags is when there are about 200 horn flies per cow. The best time to check this is in the early morning hours. Mornings are cooler, and the wind tends to be calm. Observe livestock while the animals are up and grazing. It is relatively easy to see the flies on their sides.

Use pour-ons

Pour-ons require labor, but are effective fly deterrents. You can apply a pour-on at the same time you fly-tag your cattle. If you do this during spring turnout, you can use a product that kills internal parasites, as these products are also effective against flies. If you apply a pour-on later in the year, use products that are just labeled for flies and/or lice.

Provide dust bags/cattle rubs

If you place a dust bag or rub at a site where all cattle use it, keep it charged with insecticide. Rubs are an economical means of controlling face and horn flies.

Spray cattle

If you use a spray product on your cattle at timely intervals, it can be very effective at reducing the fly population. Though useful, it is time consuming, and control can be sporadic.

When working on controlling flies and lessening their damage to your cattle, it is unlikely that one strategy alone will be sufficient. When you use several methods in conjunction, you are better able to lessen the negative impact of flies.

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Parasites eat your profits

Control lice in the winter and horn flies in the summer.

Lice puncture the skin of host animals to take their meals. Biting lice scrape and irritate the animal’s skin. Parasites cost you money. Drivers of economic loss associated with them include reduced average daily gain and weaning weights, decreased feed efficiency and increased susceptibility to disease.

Infestations of biting and sucking lice have been associated with reduced weight gains and general unthriftiness of cattle. The economic impact of these small insects has been very difficult to assess. However, it appears that an average of 10 insects or more per square inch will have a significant effect.

Moderate-to-heavy infestations add to the impact of cold weather, shipping stress, inadequate nutrition, harm from internal parasites or disease. The interaction between low levels of both lice and intestinal nematodes can reduce weight gains by more than 8 percent. The energy that lice steal, coupled with other factors, can have a severe impact on animal health. This impact shows itself in various ways. It can be anemia, slow recovery from diseases, poor gains or general unthriftiness.

Lice are primarily spread from animal to animal. Lice can arrive on new cattle. Any time you bring in new cattle, you need to be persistent about treating them.

It is best to assume that all purchased animals are infested. They should be isolated from the existing animals until their full course of treatment is completed. Cross-fence contact can be enough for spread of these insects, especially during the winter when louse burdens are greatest.

Lice spend their lives on the host animal. Sucking lice typically die within a few hours of being removed from the host. Biting lice, can live up to a few days off the host—under ideal conditions.

A high-energy diet seems to reduce the effects of cattle lice on weight gains, perhaps because lice populations decline on better-fed cattle, a sound feeding program and high energy ration serves as the foundation of a louse control program.

Lice interventions include insecticide sprays, pour-ons and dust. As soon as summer comes, the lice begin to disappear and horn flies roll in.

A few horn flies can reduce performance substantially; these blood feeders can take 20 to 30 meals per day. An individual horn fly only consumes 1.5 mg of blood per meal. However, when there are a large number of flies, the blood loss can be substantial. While it is not feasible to eliminate horn flies, it is well worth it to reduce horn fly pressure. Controlling horn flies on calves will likely result in calves that are 25 to 50 pounds heavier at weaning. Controlling horn flies on cows will likely result in calves being 10 to 15 pounds heavier at weaning.

The economic threshold of horn flies is about 200 per animal. This is best evaluated early in the morning, with still air. The method used for estimates is to count the number of flies on an animal’s side. If there are more than 100 flies, there will be a positive response to controlling horn flies.

Horn flies are relatively weak fliers. They spend most of their time on the animals. Females will leave hosts only to deposit eggs in fresh manure or to seek other hosts. Because horn files must lay their eggs in manure, they are susceptible to feed-through pesticides that have activity in the manure. For pasture cattle, the product of choice is Altosid. Altosid is standard in MFA mineral in a wide range of MFA mineral products. Visit with your local MFA feed representative to find one that fits your needs.

Horn flies reduce animal performance because cattle predated by horn flies will have disrupted and decreased grazing. The cattle will spend more energy on moving, rubbing, tail switching or other activities to reduce fly irritation. The skin irritation from numerous bites may result in open wounds, which can increase the risk of secondary infections. Infected lesions may result in reduced hide value. Additionally, horn flies are suspected of transmission of anaplasmosis, anthrax and other diseases.

The best fly is one that never gets to your herd. Prevention pays.

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Feeding cows on a different calendar

Think of a cow’s nutritional needs according to her place in the cycle.

Feed is both a principal cost and a principal factor in reproductive performance. This relationship dictates the fundamental goal of cowherd nutrition programs—achieving an optimal reproductive rate for cows.

A challenge of feeding beef cows is that their nutritional requirements change dramatically during the year based on their BCS, size, pregnancy, lactation status and environmental conditions. Because of these stages, it is common to divide the cow year into four periods.

Period 1, nursing cow. She needs to get bred; her nutrient requirements will be the greatest in this period.

Period 2, cow bred and lactating. At this point, pregnancy demands are small, and peak milk is past.

Period 3, mid-gestation. At this point, the calf is weaned; this is usually the period with the lowest nutrient requirements and a prime opportunity to increase cow BCS.

Period 4, 2 to 3 months prior to calving; during this time fetal growth rate is at its highest and the cow should be in adequate flesh. Having cows underfed in period 4 can result in lighter calf birth weights, lower calf survival, lower milk production, lower calf growth and delayed estrus—which translates to later calving next year and lower weaning weights.

As cow weight increases, the nutritional requirement for energy and protein increases. BCS has gained considerable favor because it has been demonstrated that reproduction in beef cows is greatly influenced by body fatness. The goal should be to have cows calve in good body condition and avoid significant loss in condition between calving and the start of the breeding season.

Milk production places tremendous demands on cows. Peak milk usually occurs by 60 to 80 days after calving which is right before the breeding season. The nutrients spent on milk production means high-producing cows tend to get pulled down physically, which will make it more likely that she will breed later in the season. Feeding thin, high-producing cows more feed prior to reaching peak milk tends to cause them to milk more rather than to gain weight.

The age of the animal influences nutritional requirements: a young cow is still growing. Most cows found open are 2- and 3-year-olds. Young cows should be gaining about half a pound per day. If these young cows fail to rebreed, it is an indication that feeding was inadequate to the animal’s maintenance, growth and milk production nutrient requirements. If possible, young cows along with old or thin cows, should be separated and fed a more dense diet than mature cows.

Winter feeding guidelines
Quality and quantity of forage available are the major factors influencing intake. Intake is probably most influenced by the quality of forage with intake decreasing dramatically as quality decreases. When forage quality is low or average, forage intake is increased with protein supplementation but not with energy supplementation. This increase in intake caused by adequate protein supplementation, coupled with maintenance of forage digestibility, means that the total daily energy status of the cow is increased. This is a win-win situation. If protein is adequate, cows will consume about 1.8 percent of their bodyweight as forage dry matter (less if they are fat, more if they are thin). Usually energy is the most commonly deficient nutrient in beef cow diets, but protein often represents the largest out-ofpocket expense. Proper protein supplementation of poor quality forages will increase forage intake. Increased forage intake meets the cow additional energy intake. Thus, to maximize profitability, it is essential to optimize protein supplementation. Inadequate dietary protein results in low forage intake and digestibility, resulting in much poorer performance. If you are feeding hay, budget at least 2 percent of body weight as hay DM per head per day.

Mineral supplementation calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and salt are often fed as the macro minerals. Cattle on a plant-based diet will always be sodium short, and they are likely to be calcium short unless there are legumes in the forage. Phosphorous will be short in dormant-mature forages, but may be adequate in young forage. You should supplement with magnesium in the early spring to prevent grass tetany, especially on cool-season forages such as fescue and wheat pasture. Supplementation should be started about three weeks prior to initiation of grazing. The recommended intake of magnesium can be achieved by feeding Ricochet mineral all the time or Hi-Mag or Mag-ADE meal. Ca, P, Mg, and salt are required at significant amounts and are major considerations in diet formulation.

When evaluating cow herd feeding programs, bear in mind that a high percentage of problems with poor reproduction and low weaning weights can be directly attributed to inadequate energy, protein feeding or both. This is much more common and likely than vitamin or mineral deficiencies. First verify energy and protein feeding, then evaluate vitamins and minerals.

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Sick calves lose money

Manage scouring calves with electrolytes

When calves get scours, they may get dehydrated and experience electrolyte loss. As a result, the calf’s risk of death increases, which would be a major loss in this market environment. Because of this, oral electrolyte solutions designed to counter these effects are an important way to keep calves going.

A good electrolyte solution will replace lost fluids and restore the calf’s acid/base balance. It will also supply nutrients and energy to the animal. When considering if a particular electrolyte solution is right for your calves, there are a number of things to keep in mind.

First, oral electrolyte solutions must have an alkalinizing agent to reverses the acidosis caused by the acid/base imbalance that comes from scours. For years, bicarbonate has been effectively used to achieve this goal.

New research has shown however, that using acetate or propionate as the alkalinizing agents in electrolyte solution may provide improvements over bicarbonate. Acetate and propionate produce energy when they are digested, they also promote water and sodium absorption in the calf’s intestine—bicarbonate does not do these things.

Additionally, oral electrolyte solutions containing bicarbonate can potentially raise the pH level in the calf’s abomasum. This higher pH level can promote the growth of salmonella and other bacteria and may sometimes result in worse scouring. Using acetate- or propionate-based electrolyte solutions helps prevent increases of abomasal pH. That seems to be its edge to bicarbonate as an alkalinizing agent in electrolyte solutions.

In order to replace lost electrolytes, oral solutions should contain sodium and potassium. Moreover, look for a product that provides glucose and glycine. In addition to providing energy, these ingredients will help promote absorption of water and sodium from the intestine.

Some oral electrolytes contain dietary fiber, usually psyllium. This is the same stuff as in Metamucil.  These products will thicken the calf’s manure and make it look like the diarrhea is improving. However, this addition of fiber will cause less glucose absorption and can lead to reduced energy levels for calf. This range of fiber may even cause prolonged scouring. For scouring calves, I don’t recommend using oral electrolytes containing dietary fiber.

While using electrolyte solution, you should provide the nutrients and fluids found in the calf’s normal diet. This means you should continue to feed milk or milk replacer. If you starve a calf, it will quit scouring because it has nothing left in its digestive tract. However, there is no proven benefit to removing milk or milk replacer from a calf’s diet. My reading of the research indicates that pulling the milk or milk replacer will worsen the calf’s negative energy balance. Its prognosis will be worse off for it. If you pull milk replacer when your calves are scouring, you are making a mistake. While milk or replacer should continue to be fed, electrolytes and milk or milk replacer should not be fed at the same time. It is best to add the oral electrolyte solution as a separate meal between regular milk or milk replacer feedings. For example, if you feed milk in the morning and evening, you could administer an oral electrolyte during the middle of the day and again late at night.

Beyond providing milk and electrolyte, be sure to have free-choice water available to the calves at all times.

While oral feeding solutions are very useful, it is important to know when other interventions are called for. Calves that cannot lift their heads or stand may need intravenous fluids. Work with your veterinarian, ASM or calf specialist to choose the product most suited to the particular situation you are dealing with.

Aside from scouring calves, it is sometimes necessary to deliver electrolytes for other reasons. Electrolytes can alleviate the effects of hot weather on calves and can be used to combat dehydration that may occur during stressful times (weaning, pen moves, de-horning/castration and transport). In these situations, offer the electrolyte solution free-choice along with water, or feed it during every other water feeding. If calves are not scouring but you want to offer them electrolytes to help combat stress or reduce shrink, use a diluted solution of electrolytes. A good starting point is about a third to half the amount of powder you would use on scouring calves.

Dr. Jim White is the Director of Nutrition at MFA Incorporated. Questions? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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A newborn lamb nutrition and management plan provides optimal care

Plan for lambing and kidding success

Lambing and kidding season can drive a flock or herd’s long-term success. The health, growth and early performance of a newborn determines the number of feeders for marketing and the quality of future replacements. With so much riding on this season, be sure to plan in advance to provide optimal care to your next crop of lambs or kids.

Set goals
Before the first newborn hits the ground, analyze past flock or herd performance and set goals. Setting tangible goals and determining a path for achieving these objectives can help you build on past performance.
Consider the following goals:
200 percent lamb or kid crop: Mature and well-conditioned ewes and does should be able to care for at least two lambs or kids. To achieve this goal, extra lambs and kids (triples and quads) and those from younger or under-conditioned ewes or does may be better cared for separately.

Less than 5 percent pre-weaning mortality: The industry target for pre-weaning mortality is less than 5 percent. However, it’s estimated that nearly 20 percent of lambs die before weaning, with 80 percent of those losses occurring during the first 10 days. Similar estimates are in place for kid goats.

Create a colostrum feeding strategy
Colostrum, or the first milk of the ewe or doe, is the first protection newborns receive against environmental pathogens and bacteria; however, not all ewes and does are able to produce the quality or quantity of colostrum required for early protection.

Test quality of colostrum with a colostrometer and monitor the amount of colostrum consumed. Provide colostrum at a rate of at least 10 percent of a newborn’s body weight by 18 hours of age. Serum immunoglobulin levels should be above 10 mg/ml.

Keep a colostrum replacer on hand during lambing and kidding season in case ewes and does are unable to produce the necessary colostrum. Colostrum replacers are one way to reduce variation in quality and provide proven protection to newborns. If feeding a colostrum replacer, select one that is formulated and USDA-approved (to prevent failure of passive transfer) specifically for lambs and kid goats.

Determine which newborns should be fed milk replacer
Feeding a milk replacer can help provide consistent nutrition to the entire crop, especially those that the ewe or doe is unable to care for. The option also allows dairy producers to market ewe’s and doe’s milk.

Determine which lambs and kids should be fed milk replacer as soon as possible, considering the following newborns which require additional care:
•    Lambs and kids on dairy operations
•    Orphan lambs and kids
•    Weak lambs and kids unable to nurse
•    Unclaimed newborns
•    Third and fourth newborns in sets of triplets or quadruplets
•    Weaker or smaller lamb or kid of twins
•    One of the twins from a ewe or doe lambing at less than 1 year of age

Select a species-specific milk replacer
Research milk replacer options and select a milk replacer formulated specifically for sheep or goats. Lambs and goats require different nutrient levels than other livestock, so milk replacers created for other species may not provide adequate nutrition.

For example, the fat content of sheep and goat milk is much higher than cow’s and the lactose content is lower. Selecting a milk replacer that provides these higher nutrient levels can better help newborns meet their full potential.

In fact, research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Spooner Agricultural Research Station has shown that successfully raising lambs on milk replacer can increase the net return per ewe for the flock due to increased growth rates compared to sheep milk and non-sheep milk replacers.

In research trials, kids raised on Doe’s Match Premium Blend kid milk replacer gained quicker and cost about $0.16 less per pound of gain than those raised on goat’s milk. Kids also experienced similar growth rates and less scours that those raised on goat’s milk.

To best match the nutrients in ewe’s milk, select a lamb milk replacer with an enhanced fatty acid profile and a balance of 25 percent protein and 30 percent fat. The ingredient Digestarom has also been shown to positively support gut health.

For kid goats, select a milk replacer with 25 percent protein and 28 percent fat along with the Architect Formulation System.

Assist and monitor lambs and kids from birth through weaning
Create a schedule for newborn management. Consider the following steps and tips when raising young lambs:
•    Provide an adequate quantity of colostrum to newborns as soon after birth as possible.
•    Remove newborns from sight or hearing distance of ewe as soon as possible after birth.
•    Provide a warm, dry, draft-free place to start nursing lambs and kids.
•    Assist newborns in nursing for the first few feedings as needed.
•    Avoid placing younger lambs and kids with older livestock. Older lambs and kids tend to push smaller lambs and kids away from feeding.
•    Hang a light over the milk replacer self-feeding devices for added visibility and warmth.
•    Start lambs and kids on high-quality starter feed at 2 weeks of age and provide ample high quality clean, fresh water supply at all times.
•    Wean at 30 days or 25 pounds of weight when lambs and kids have begun to eat starter feed routinely. At weaning time, each lamb or kid should have consumed at least 20-25 pounds of species-specific milk replacer powder.

Tom Earleywine is director of nutritional services, Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For more information on lamb and kid goat nutrition and management, visit

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