Housing cattle in the winter time: dos and don’ts

As winter approaches there are many good reasons to get cattle off the land – from the opportunity to carry out parasite control to protecting land from being trampled on by cattle – however the main thing when housing cattle is to do it right writes agricultural advisor Mark McConnell The job of housing cattle can be a great relief for farmers to get cattle off the land and into the shed. It is a way to make sure they are out of the way and to stop them poaching the land when it is traditionally wet. However, if cattle are not housed properly it can lead to far worse problems and can have huge economic losses in the cattle industry. There are jobs that need to be done before and while cattle are housed to give both the farmer and the animal peace. It is also vital for the thrive and daily live weight gain of the animal that the housing surroundings are ideal. If it is properly prepared for and if the correct animal husbandry practices are adhered to then it will result in no animal losses and the correct animal performance that is required. Before Power wash and disinfect all sheds internally. This includes the slats, concrete areas and the walls. Clean out the tanks and make sure they are empty before the housing begins and don’t be emptying tanks when cattle are housed. Fix all drinkers and any water leaks in the shed and clean out drinker bowels. Fix all lights in the shed and make sure that there is sufficient lighting. Make sure that all street lights are working. Fix all gates and feeding barriers before cattle are housed. Make sure you sufficient reserves of silage/hay/straw in stock depending on what you are feeding. Test your silage before you start feeding it to cattle so you know how much concentrate ration to be fed along with the silage to reach the targets you require. Most feed companies will sample silage for free for their clients. Make sure you have sufficient space for the number of cattle that you have to house. Know the allowable areas required per animal depending on the size of the animal to be housed. This can have a huge impact on the performance of the animal. Take a faecal sample from the thinnest animals in the herd before they are housed in order to identify if there is a problem. If there are no eggs you can delay dosing for up to 10 weeks and if there are eggs present then you need to dose immediately. What to do when cattle are housed Housing cattle is a very stressful procedure and they should be closely monitored for the immediate days after they are housed. They should be fed small amounts of silage to start as there has being a total change in their diet and you don’t want to make them sick. Don’t be feeding large amounts of concentrate from day one and this will also cause digestive upsets. Feeding a small amount of meal when cattle are house is a great way to monitor if animals are sick or not. Make sure that animals are housed in pens that are of similar size. Don’t house small cattle with bigger cattle as they will be bullied and performance will suffer. Make sure that all animals have sufficient lying and feeding space. Keep an eye on water supply make sure that it is kept clean and constant supply. No water will put cattle of their feed. The housing period is vital to effective control of parasites. Parasite control The housing period is also a vital time for efficient parasite control. Housing marks an abrupt change from grazing in the field to the indoor environment. When cattle are housed they can no longer pick up new infestations until they are turned out to grass the following spring. Effective treatment at housing can mean animals being turned out to grass effectively free from worms and fluke. The following parasites can be effectively wiped out if treated while housed. Stomach and gut worms Lungworms Liverfluke and stomach fluke External parasites Where to start The first stage in an effective parasite control programme would be the conducting a faecal egg test to gauge what level of the problem that you are dealing with. Cattle that are heavily burdened with fluke and worms will have problems with coughing and scouring. Cattle will have reduced appetite and weight loss. Famers should discuss with their Veterinary surgeon the faecal results and put together an animal health plan to get effective parasite control and the most effective product to use. Why do this? It is a great chance for farmers to get their parasite programme up to date and sort out any problems that may exist within the herd and what will be vital to the performance of the herd into the following grazing year. Stomach/lungworm and gut worms Effects all ages and will result in suboptimal performance. Treatment with a Benzimazoles/Levamilsole and Endectocides products. Liver fluke/stomach fluke Effects all ages and will result in Hoose and increased risk of viral and bacterial pneumonia. Treatment with Albendazole,Clorsulon, Closantel, Nitroxynil, Oxyclozanide, Rafoxanide and Triclabendazole products. External parasites It affects all ages and will result in scratching, poor coats, anaemia, dermatitis, poor growth and low milk yield. Treatment with Endectocides, Pyrethoids and Amitraz products. Effective treatment during the housing period can mean that cattle can remain virtually free of worms and liver fluke all winter. This will mean that animals will have the correct live weight gain and performance. #Farming