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Keep a vet’s perspective in building a herd health plan

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 11 April 2018
Arn Anderson

Cattle producers preparing to add more livestock to the cow-calf herd should be willing to include one interested party before heading to the sale.

Dr. Arn Anderson, with Cross Timbers Veterinary Hospital in Bowie, Texas, said consulting with a vet is key to making sure your herd starts healthy and stays as healthy as possible. That consultation should start before you buy new cattle.

“We want to know your goals. What are you going to sell and what’s the thing you’re going to make to make your ranch successful?” Anderson said to attendees at the Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association annual convention in Fort Worth, Texas. “That’s the first question you need to know before you go to a vet and say, ‘I want a herd health plan.’”

A veterinary-client-patient-relationship or VCPR, where a vet visits and reviews your plans and cattle, is necessary for prescriptions and post-purchase treatment. So why not begin that relationship before you buy?

With that input, vets should also review with producers several elements to the operation that will determine management steps adding to herd health stability.

Facilities

Anderson said a vet will visit an operation’s facilities and “see if they’re safe, functional, clean, convenient, complete and have working holding storage.”

Safety is the start, he said, citing a visit to a ranch with a cow in a chute that broke free. “She had her head caught in a gate that was no longer attached to the chute. So now she was 1,000 pounds of made Brangus with 500 pounds of steel around her head.”

Clean facilities also require cleanup from working procedures. Chutes that aren’t cleaned from previous work build bacteria and disease, and pose a risk to cattle and producers.

Convenience is another factor when establishing facilities. “If your cattle are on that other 640 acres and your working facilities are two miles away and hard to get to and hard to use, you’re going to have a hard time. What’s the likelihood you’re really going to process cows?”

Facilities should be complete with working parts and adequate storage. Don’t keep vaccines in an old toolbox, and holding facilities shouldn’t include the side of your house.

“We used a lot of vehicles to corral cattle. It works really well until the cow gets into the back of the pickup. We need to know the cow is confined to where we can get to it.”

Beef Quality Assurance

Anderson said certification for BQA steps is an insurance plan for tidy operations and healthier cattle.

“We start sticking drugs and vaccines and dewormers and pour-ons and fly tags and numbered tags. But in the end, what’s the final end of our product? It’s something on somebody’s plate.”

Producers need to be prepared to show process verification to show when cattle were treated. Product names, serial numbers and expiration dates should be included. Regulatory testing is also required in some areas and health certificates as well.

The line of defense from the state and from your vet is really about protecting your cattle, Anderson said. “We need you to be an advocate, not an adversary. So when your vet says you need this record or this certificate, be an advocate.”

Biosecurity plans

Ranchers know it costs less to prevent disease from showing up than treating it when it arrives, Anderson said. So sitting down with a vet to create a formal and written biosecurity plan is the first step in the savings you can make.

“We’ll look for breaks in the armor. Very few of us have a closed herd with no outside influence. We have bad fences, bad neighbors, we bring bulls in, the neighbor’s stockers come across, and wild pigs. Nobody really has a closed herd.

“Our goal as a veterinarian developing your herd health plan is to see how can we allow that cow to come into your herd and not bring in a disease.”

After a typical purchase, Anderson said, a vet should recommend isolation of new cattle for 30 days. “We’re going to vaccinate them into your herd; I don’t care where they came from. Test them for BVD, and deworm them twice. At the end of 30 days, we’re going to do it all over again; then you can kick them out.”

The tradition of buying from a reputable seller and taking their word on all the tests they did is over, Anderson said.

Putting it into practice

Producers asked Anderson how to handle those neighbors with cattle roaming free into their herds. That requires a sit-down between neighbors to explain what’s going on. If the neighbor persists that nothing’s wrong with his cattle, you have to respond.

“So here’s what you do. Back off 25 yards [from the fence] and you put up an electric fence. And so when you graze cattle in that pasture, they’re not nose-to-nose [with neighbor cattle] anymore.

“Next thing, you don’t want to calve there at all. Calve somewhere else. The most susceptible are the younger ones; they don’t have the immunity. So don’t calve near neighbors.

“And if your neighbors are running stockers and your herd is based on calf health, most stockers are coming from all over, so don’t put your mamas next to them.”

Biocontainment

When the outbreak happens, biocontainment keeps the illness from getting worse in your herd. The vet will tell you what actions to take with sick animals.

Anderson said it comes down to assessing need by “if this, then that” protocols. A vet can be called in some instances, but in others, you may be able to treat it alone. Those plans can be developed before the crisis hits.

“A vet will tell you what diseases are in the area, what you will see and what you can do. This is far more important than just sticking a needle in your cow,” Anderson said.

Choosing your drugs

Anderson told producers their biggest choices may come down to which vaccines they choose, and it won’t be easy.

“Not all vaccines are equal,” he said. “Some are for prevention of disease; some prevent colonization; some prevent infection. There’s five different classifications of vaccines. Read the bottle and label, and go to the internet and see if it’s number 1 level or number 5 level.”

Anderson warned of basing a vaccine selection on price. “We get that all the time: ‘This vaccine has the same letters on it that this one has, and it’s a lot cheaper, and so I’m going to buy the cheaper one.’ What’s cheap is not always best.”

And no vaccines are 100 percent effective, he added. But every producer should know the duration of immunity, and the time to onset, when buying and using the drugs. Vaccines have varying levels on all those points. So know your goals: How long do you plan to keep cattle and will you breed them before?

Most importantly, when buying a drug from a sales pitch, ask why you need it.

“You’re trying to protect cattle, so if they say you need to use this dewormer, you need to ask why. This is an important investment to you. You need to know everything that’s going into it. You should do a better job, in my mind, with your veterinarian than you would yourself.”  end mark

David Cooper
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PHOTO: Dr. Arn Anderson speaks to Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) convention participants in Fort Worth, Texas, March 23, 2018. Photo by David Cooper.

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