Livestock

No easy solution for tackling ticks

Ticks pose a tremendous burden to livestock production. An esti­mated 80% of the world’s cattle are affected by ticks and tick-borne diseases, both of which cause significant production losses. In addition to the nuisance factor, ticks are known to transmit anaplamosis, an infectious blood disease in cattle caused by bacteria. Anaplasmosis can result in fever, weight loss and severe anemia. Ticks are effective vectors of this disease because they often are removed from a host through grooming and attach to an­other host, spreading the pathogen from one animal to the next.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple solution for controlling ticks in cattle herds. Acaricides—pesticides targeted to the arachnid subclass of ticks and mites—are effective in the short term but do not offer permanent control. While very useful, acaricides have a number of drawbacks. Over time, ticks have developed tolerance to acaricides, and some strains are resistant to all types of this pesticide. As stronger and additional acaricides are need­ed to counter resistant ticks, worries about public safety become more pressing. For some of the hard-hit­ting products, there is a significant withdrawal period, making their use untenable for milk cows.

Anti-tick vaccines are an alter­native to acaricides. This method of tick control has a number of ad­vantages. There are no withholding periods for vaccinated animals, so it can be used on dairy herds. Vaccine use poses no public-health safety concerns and does not contribute to development of acaricide resistance.

Unfortunately, there are no cheap, robust vaccines that are highly effective against ticks. A vaccine against the cattle tick, Boophilus microplus, confers partial long-term control but has little immediate effect on tick burdens. This vaccine works best on breeds with average tick resistance and can help keep the population below economic thresholds without acaricides.

In animals with low tick resis­tance, the vaccine alone does not give satisfactory control. A combi­nation approach of vaccination with strategic use of acaricides is needed.

More research is warranted. New anti-tick vaccines hold great promise, and new acaricides are also being investigated. Even with these emerging treatments, control is greatest among cattle breeds that have high natural tick resistance. Host resistance is a heritable trait. Just as milk yield or growth can be selected for in breeding programs, so can tick resistance. This avenue of tick control has seemingly been under-appreciated.

Tropical breeds of cattle, such as those with Brahman genetics, typi­cally have high natural tick resis­tance. They’ve experienced selection pressure from their environment for hundreds of generations. Creating a breeding program for such a trait, however, is quite complex. Tick resistance in these breeds does not come from one, or two or even three genes—it is a polygenetic trait developed over long periods of time. Because of this, there is not a simple trait, or even set of traits, to select for during breeding.

Additionally, the goal of such breeding programs could not only be tick resistance. Producers also want cattle with high production value. What’s the point of produc­ing an animal that is impervious to ticks if it will neither produce milk nor grow well? This makes it even more complicated—even impracti­cal—to cross temperate and tropical breeds to improve tick resistance.

There is an option for tick control that doesn’t rely on acaricides, doesn’t need to wait for effective anti-tick vaccines, maintains high production values and is achievable in an economically viable time­frame. The solution is to use major resistance genes. This provides heritable resistance from a gene that exhibits substantial protection, as opposed to the polygenetic protec­tion seen in breeds long exposed to high tick burdens.

An example of heritable resistance is found in Belmont Adaptaur cattle, which were developed in Australia by crossing Hereford and shorthorn breeds. Animals were selected for increased resistance to the stresses of the tropics, particularly heat and cattle ticks. This relatively new breed didn’t have the evolutionary time to develop layers of genetic protection. Rather, when exposed to ticks, car­riers of the protective gene acquired resistance early in life. That resis­tance proved to be stable, inheritable and lasted the lifetime of the animal.

Because only one gene is being selected for, this type of breeding program is more practical for cattle producers. Crucially, breeds that have these major resistance genes are very similar to temperate breeds favored for their high production values. The bottom line is that total tick resistance in cattle via heritable traits is potentially achievable and may be the key to effective long-term control.

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Deworn cattle, control flies to get grazing season off to a good start

Early in the grazing season, worm control and fly control go hand-in-hand for cattle producers. Spring pastures can expose the herd to both internal and external par­asites that threaten health, perfor­mance and, ultimately, profitability.

Economically damaging pests such as lungworms and round­worms may have overwintered either in the pasture or in the cattle themselves. Horn flies, the primary external parasite affecting cattle, can start to show up in heavy numbers in April, depending on the weather.

Thus, controlling parasites with a multi-faceted approach is an im­portant management practice before your herd hits the pasture this year.

Deworming

If you dewormed your cattle in the fall, they should have remained fairly clean all winter. However, only 10% of the worm population will be found in the animals. The other 90% is in the pasture and will emerge when conditions are right.

That’s why it’s important to treat cows and calves with a dewormer prior to pasture turnout. Consider a long-acting injectable to control worms for an extended period— enough to cover the entire grazing season. Other options include pour-on, oral and feed-through products.

Deworming cattle provides many benefits. Reducing internal para­sites improves immunity, which leads to better performance, feed consumption and conversion. With improved immunity, vaccination response should also be better.

Effective parasite control requires proper pasture rotation. Deworming causes the cows to shed parasite eggs. Producers should plan to move cows to fresh pasture after de­worming to avoid recontamination.

Always follow label directions. While you may see early-season control of flies when using a pour-on dewormer, this is not an appro­priate use of the product. In some cases, worms have become resistant to a class of dewormer because producers were using a pour-on dewormer as a fly-control method.

Fly control

Kicking off your fly-control program before grazing begins is also a smart move. Spring cattle-working tasks, such as pregnancy checks, weaning or branding, can provide a conve­nient opportunity to apply insec­ticide ear tags. They will provide several months of fly control.

Your biggest concern is horn flies. These season-long pests will show up in the spring and stay around until October. They are the most economically damaging external pests in cattle, costing producers some $1 billion in lost produc­tion annually. When horn flies are controlled, growing cattle gain an extra 1.5 pounds per week. Wean­ing weights can increase 12 to 15 pounds for calves nursing cows that have had fly control.

Horn fly pressure will be greatest in July and August. If fly tags lose potency in late summer, there are other options. Oilers or dusters can be used during peak season. They need to be located at mineral sites or water tanks where every animal will walk underneath.

Spraying cattle periodically while out on pasture is a possibility, and pour-on fly treatments can be used on cattle that can be run through a chute. Pour-ons provide up to three months of control. The economic threshold for a second treatment is 200 to 300 flies per animal.

Feed-through insect growth regulators (IGR) can be added to mineral during the grazing season. They’re particularly effective for flies that grow in manure, namely horn flies. IGRs control the insects’ development so they don’t mature and reproduce.

Stable flies and horse flies also ir­ritate cattle. Stable flies are generally seen on the animal’s legs and appear earlier in the season than horn flies. The best way to reduce stable fly pressure is to clean up around hay rings and bunk feeders.

Horse flies, on the other hand, are difficult to control. Their larvae usually develop in semiaquatic areas, making it difficult to prevent their growth. Only the females feed, and they only do it for short peri­ods of time. It’s important to control horse flies, however, because they can transmit anaplasmosis. If you want to try treating for horse flies, a pyrethroid can help. Central Life Sciences has a 6% pyrethrin prod­uct, Pyronyl Crop Spray, that can be used as a surface spray or in a misting system in barns, stables and on cattle in feedlots and pasture.

No matter what method you choose, control of internal and external parasites is one of the best investments a cattle producer can make. Talk with the livestock experts at your local MFA for advice on the right products and timing for your operation.

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Battle bacteria with good hygiene, nutrition

Livestock producers work hard to keep their herds healthy, but illness is often unavoidable. Some very easily transmitted but serious ailments can be traced back to one source: clostridial bacteria.

Clostridia are spore-forming bac­teria often found in the soil, manure or contaminated feedstuffs. Unlike many other disease-causing bacte­ria, clostridia are not contagious or passed from animal to animal. Cat­tle either get clostridia by ingesting it or through a cut or open wound. It can remain dormant in the ani­mal’s body until something creates favorable conditions for the bacteria to thrive—if the animal eats too much starch or carbohydrates, for example, or experiences an internal or external tissue injury.

In replacement calves fed milk, the rapid onset of symptoms such as abdominal pain, depression and feed refusal can be associated with clostridia, specifically Clostridium perfringens. This type of clostridial bacteria is particularly concerning to cattle producers. It can have a major impact on an animal’s gut health, especially calves that are less than 2 months old. If a clostridia infection is not treated quickly and reversed, toxins get into the bloodstream and the calf goes into shock. Death can follow in a matter of hours.

Over a number of years, uni­versity researchers collected and analyzed 1,200 dairy calf fecal samples from the seven big dairy states. Three out of four samples were positive for clostridia, and its presence was most prevalent during calf’s first 21 days in the hutches. These young animals don’t yet have a strong immune system because they have not developed a fully functioning rumen or a complete gut flora to combat the dangerous bacteria. Being on a milk-feeding program tends to encourage clos­tridia to proliferate.

If a calf has a clostridia infection, the initial response is to follow your veterinarian’s advice. Actions often include providing fluids, electro­lytes, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics and analgesics. However, the prognosis of success­ful treatment response tends to be poor. Reducing the likelihood of clostridia infections gives the big­gest bang for the buck.

The most effective practice is to maintain squeaky-clean hygiene and sanitation. In dirt, clostridia are ubiquitous. That is where they live. They also like to take up residence in the animal’s gastro-intestinal tract. If there is dirt present on equipment, instruments, bottles and udders, there’s a good chance clostridia could be on them, too.

This calf-feeding checklist can help mitigate the risk:

1. When collecting colostrum, initially wash, disinfect and wipe the udder and teats clean.

2. As soon as possible, preferably within the first couple of hours, hygienically milk the dam, using sanitized equipment.

3. Unless the colostrum will be fed that day, refrigerate or freeze it.

4. Adequately wash and sanitize all milking, storage and feeding equipment. Ensure that no fat film or residue is on feeding equipment surfaces.

Most calves from properly vacci­nated dams have good maternal im­munity to clostridial diseases, with blackleg being the most significant for animals at 3 to 4 months of age. Ideally, calves should be vaccinated around that 4-month time period with a clostridial vaccine.

While clostridia vaccines have certainly been helpful, there are a large number of strains that may not be controlled as successfully. That’s why vaccines should be com­bined with good sanitation, hygiene and nutrition to reduce the risk of clostridia. Using a product that con­tains MFA Shield Technology can also be beneficial. The all-natural blend of essential oils and additives includes prebiotics and probiotics that improve an animal’s gut health. Taking care to prevent health chal­lenges is always more effective than treating outbreaks.

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Slowing swine growth during market disruptions

The pandemic’s impact on live­stock production, harvest and sale has been in the forefront. Processing plant bottlenecks and a decrease in consumption because of restaurant and school closures have prompted producers to re-evaluate feeding programs.

In late spring 2020, there was a need to hold pigs back from growing too quickly to allow more time at the processing plants. This was a big paradigm shift for swine producers. Usually, they are laser focused on average daily gain, feed efficiency, cost of gain and return on investment. The ripple effect of COVID-19 throughout the industry changed those objectives.

It takes approximately six months from farrow to finish to produce a hog with a final weight of 280 pounds. Kansas State University swine researchers conducted a trial that produced a pig 14 pounds lighter at the end of that period by feeding a diet reduced in amino acids. These are the building blocks for animal protein, or muscle, and critical to a pig’s growth. Lysine is an important amino acid often used in swine diets. The objective of the K-State study was to slow growth while the pigs are consuming feed ad lib (available at all times).

Four test diets were formulated to evaluate the effects of lowered lysine content on pigs’ growth:

  • Diet 1 included normal amounts of lysine in the diet for the entire late finishing phase.
  • Diet 2 was a “slow diet” with the normal amounts of lysine until the final two weeks of feeding. Then, the pigs were fed a corn-based diet that included only vitamins and minerals.
  • Diet 3 was a “slow diet” with a 25% reduction of lysine during the entire late finishing period.
  • Diet 4 was a “slow diet” with a 25% reduction of lysine until the final two weeks of feeding. The pigs were then fed a corn-based diet that included only vitamins and minerals.

Findings showed that the slow di­ets resulted in substantially reduced growth rate. Just by lowering the level of amino acids, the pigs were 14 pounds lighter at the end of the 44-day finishing period. When the slow corn-based diets were fed, there was an additional 12-pound decrease in body weight, resulting in a pig 26 pounds lighter.

It is important to not start the low-protein, low-amino acid diet too soon because early growth provides more muscle deposition. The reduced levels of protein amino acids work best when the pig is over 200 pounds.

By reducing amino acids, the researchers achieved their goal of slowing the growth rate of pigs with a “holding” diet while influ­encing feed efficiency. They were able to buy 3.5 to 4 weeks of extra time to get those pigs to market, which allowed producers to keep the animals on the farm during the packing plant slowdowns while not getting them too heavy.

When producers have to hold onto pigs that are already close to market weight, the goal is to mini­mize costs of keeping those animals on the farm. In the K-State study, the price of a corn-based holding diet and reduction of lysine sup­plementation actually lowered the cost of feed per day. Even though the trial diets resulted in poor feed efficiency, the cost was much lower without protein (amino acids) included.

Researchers said these findings could be important any time markets are disrupted, whether it’s a global pandemic or other industry chal­lenges. These diets help protect the animal’s welfare and the producer’s bottom line while providing a safe supply of pork to the food chain.

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Minimize forage damage to winter pastures

Over the last 20 years, the most profitable beef herds have been the ones that use some sort of extended grazing system. Proper planning and implementation of winter grazing can dramatically reduce annual cow costs without sacrific­ing productivity. But this practice can also result in damaged pastures. There are measures producers can take to reduce the negative impact of grazing on winter pastures and encourage better forage growth in the spring.

A common forage management tenet is the “3-inch rule,” which is to maintain a residual of at least 3 inches. Granted, there are exceptions to this rule, such as leaving more grass when pastures are stressed in the summer and using different cutting heights for different species. For example, you cannot manage alfalfa like you do grasses. Alfalfa stores more reserve carbohydrates in the roots, but grasses need residual leaf area and are much more likely to restrict regrowth from close grazing or clipping.

One mistake producers often make in managing winter forages is grazing grasses to the ground, thinking residue isn’t important during the dormant months. How­ever, perennial forages go through a process called “nutrient resorp­tion,” in which they move nutrients and energy from old leaves back to storage locations within the plant. Warm-season grasses, cool-season grasses and legumes do this.

In grasses, leaves stay attached during the dormancy period and are a source of nutrients for grazing. Moisture is required to relocate the nutrients. As long as the leaves and stems have moisture, nutrient resorption can occur. Legumes store energy in the roots; perennial grass­es store energy in stems near the base of the plant. This is the source of the rationale for the 3-inch rule.

While all grasses store energy in stems, some grasses have under­ground stems, or rhizomes. Ber­mudagrass, Reed’s canarygrass and Johnson grass all have rhizomes. Hard grazing over winter will favor these species over species with­out rhizomes, even with adequate residual during the growing season. Species such as orchardgrass are less likely to be able to withstand hard grazing pressure and tend to decline over time.

If animals are kept in the same spot all winter, it is likely the area will be gnawed down to the dirt. Spring growth in this heavily used area will be significantly delayed. A possible mediation strategy is to use a specific paddock as a sacrifice feeding area during the winter. The best candidate for a sacrifice pad­dock is one that will be rotated next spring. This sacrifice field will have a concentrated feeding area and will protect the other paddocks from being damaged.

An effective strategy to minimize damage and mud accumulation is to change where the hay feeders, mineral feeders or feedbunks are located in the sacrifice pastures. This encourages livestock to go to different and unpopular parts of the paddock.

If there aren’t any fields to be rotated, then rotate animals, not leaving them in a given paddock long enough to cause excessive defoliation. Monitor the residual, again maintaining at least 3 inches of forage. Of course, the defolia­tion will not be uniform. The grass around the hay ring will be pound­ed down, while the forage 200 yards away may be untouched.

If you’re not satisfied with the performance of your pastures, there are still a few things you can do this winter to improve grazing next year. Assess the number of forage species in your pasture. If legumes are limited, consider frost seeding red clover when the freeze-thaw cycles begin in late winter/early spring. Typically, 3-5 pounds per acre of red clover should be broad­cast every two or three years. The clover will help with nitrogen fixing for the surrounding grasses and will also provide some extra tonnage and energy during the summer when cool-season grasses slow their growth.

There is not a “one-size-fits-all” answer to reducing pasture damage during winter feeding. Producers should analyze their individual op­erations and determine if there are small steps they can take to reduce the damage incurred annually while feeding in the winter. Reach out to your MFA livestock specialists for more information or assistance in developing a forage management plan.

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