Winter housing can be a very stressful time for cattle, particularly if you are moving animals, changing diets and mixing group, and it can have a negative impact on their immune system efficiency, which can result in an increase in the spread of disease. This is especially true if cattle are in high stocking densities in a confined and shared air space.
To mitigate this risk, Paul Williams, technical manager for ruminants at MSD Animal Health, recommends you keep up to date with any booster vaccinations and consider other preventative disease measures, such as a gradual diet change, minimising stressors and a thorough examination of cattle prior to housing.
“Winter is a high risk for pneumonia infection, which is the most common cause of death in all cattle above one month old and can result in poor performing calves. There are a number of steps farmers can take to prevent pneumonia which include, ensuring adequate ventilation in sheds, separating age groups, good hygiene and vaccinating calves,” explains Paul.
Bovine Vial Diarrhoea (BVD) is easily transmitted from cow to cow, especially at housing. BVD control and vaccination programmes are now key aspects of many industry lead initiatives. Cattle can be vaccinated from 8 months of age and the primary course should be completed prior to breeding.
Regular mobility scoring, regular footbathing and routine foot trimming is recommended to keep on top of any lameness that arises over the housing period, as well as the rest of the year. Poor cubicle designs and prolonged standing times on concrete are both contributing factors. Winter housing is a good time to mobility score and organise a routine trim.
“Assessing body condition score regularly throughout the winter housing period will help determine your winter feed ration and whether it is adequate. This is particularly important in extreme cold as good nutrition is essential for cattle to maintain their core body temperature. AHDB’s body condition scoring sheet will give a detailed description and accurate illustrations to help with scoring and is a useful way of measuring body fat reserves.” , adds Paul.
All aspects of cow management should be focused towards maintaining a healthy herd and good welfare to optimise performance and sustainability.