Maintaining Herd Health Through All Seasons

Dr. John L. Curtis, President and founder of Agtech, Inc.

Dr. John L. Curtis is President and founder of Agtech, Inc. Dr. Curtis has a Ph.D. in animal science with extensive experience in all areas of cattle embryo transfer technology. He maintains active participation in daily operations of the business, including in-house research and development. Dr. Curtis also provides hands-on livestock embryo transfer training to students in the United States and internationally.

Whether it is a small dairy farm or a large cattle ranch, herd health could be deemed as the livelihood of the business. If your herd is not as healthy as it should be, you can see a detrimental impact on overall profit margins. Below, we’ll cover how to implement a health management strategy to keep your herd as healthy as possible through every season.

Be Especially Attentive to Herd Nutrition

Total feed costs per animal is a critical component of a high-profit herd. While you want to keep feed costs low, never sacrifice quality nutrition. Nutrition is essential for herd health and should be adequately monitored and adjusted for the season.

Test feed sources regularly for appropriate levels of vitamins, minerals, protein, crude fiber and carbohydrates. Assure your herd is getting all it needs according to its unique requirements. A well-fed herd is more likely to have the immunity to fight seasonal illness threats and can even respond better when vaccinated.

Stay Alert to Biological Health Threats

Biosecurity in farming is all about securing an existing herd from outside biological threats. These threats are often assumed to only be an issue when bringing in new stock, but that’s far from the case. Diseases can make their way onto your farm through less-direct interaction, as well.

Watch for the following:

  • Transporting outside animals in your truck or trailer
  • Visiting other farms, livestock shows or county fairs
  • Bringing an animal home after a show or sale

If you or your farm crew travels to facilities were other animals are located, disinfect or change clothing and shoes before walking into your herd. Use sanitizing solutions to clean transport equipment. Make sure any animal returning from a fair or show is properly quarantined for up to four weeks before it is returned to the herd.

Manage and Maintain Herd Facilities

Provide your confined livestock with a clean and well-ventilated environment. Doing so can ensure your group is getting good air quality no matter the season or weather, which helps prevent respiratory illnesses and the spread of bacteria. Plus, a clean environment is more supportive of efficient reproduction.

When a cow is ready to give birth, she seeks an isolated pasture location for several reasons including being dry, and access to grazing, hay or silage and water.  You can offer a similar setup in your barns with a little time and attention. Also, try to negate excessive mud in confined lots or pens.

Create a Good Working Relationship with Your Veterinarian

Your veterinarian will be your go-to informant when it comes to maintaining a healthy herd. This medical professional offers a wealth of insight into factors such as:

  • Monitoring your herd for signs of illness
  • Seasonal illness threats most prevalent in your area
  • What vaccinations should be on your list



Prevent Unnecessary Stress on Your Animals

Cattle, horses and other larger herd animals can be stressed just the same as any mammal. Situations such as extremely cold temperatures, long periods of heavy rain and excessive heat can induce stress.

Out-of-the-ordinary weather brings added stress so avoid doing anything that might escalate the situation. Transporting your herd, bringing in outside animals from new stock, or mingling animals not familiar with one another are scenarios to avoid.

Prepare to Handle an Outbreak

In spite of your best efforts, sometimes, an illness outbreak may still happen. Being equipped to tackle the issue head-on with quick, aggressive treatment could mean the difference between pulling your herd through, and losing a lot of your animals and profits.

A good understanding of the threats to your herd throughout the seasons and how they should be handled will take you far. You should also have tools on hand to handle an outbreak — waiting for supplies could easily mean a larger problem to tackle.



Your herd-health collection should include:

  • Quality sanitizing solution that is bactericidal, virucidal and fungicidal
  • Sterile culture swabs for herd testing
  • Basic sterile supplies, such as scissors, syringes and exam gloves

In addition, have a plan of action in place to handle problems as they arise. Think about whether you will treat individual cases or provide a blanket treatment; look at supportive fluids that could help; and talk to the vet about anticipated risks for the coming season.

A Healthy Herd Equals Healthy Returns

Implementing a herd-health management strategy can protect your herd and profit margins, and reduce treatment costs over the long term. Some of the most basic changes in farm management can result in healthier animals. Assess your current strategy, determine what changes should be made, take action, and enjoy bigger gains for your operation.

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