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Animal Health Notebook

Reviewing a few basics might help

When you run “close to the edge” an eye on details is a must.

Believe it or not, I have a few friends. They are truly quality individuals in most every respect. Remember that all of us are uniquely made and somewhat different and do not possess the exact same skills, interests, and/or focus.

As land and animal caretakers we have been assigned the responsibility of producing healthy growing soil, healthy nutritious plants, healthy beef, healthy people, a healthy planet, and a healthy future for prosperity. There are numerous examples of our failures. Repeating our failures makes a lot less sense than learning from and correcting decisions that did not end well.

I have never visited Walt Davis’s ranch but I love and agree with his concepts, principles, writings, and heart. He is truly a wonderful person and colleague in the cattle business. He may have even been more miles than I have. I’m studying his book “How to Not Go Broke Ranching”. It is much more than a good read and deserves study by anyone serious about making it in our business.

A goodly portion of my professional life has been spent fighting fires of animal health problems. Several of them have been nearly catastrophic and a few went over the cliff. The problem with fires is the fact that fireman often save the lot and not much of anything else.

When it comes to animal health and the close profit margins we work with on a daily basis, prevention of fires especially wild fires is paramount in most everything we plan and execute. High production usually begs for lots of feed. Cattle love lots of feed. But a little too much feed can start a blaze that will kill.

An old good friend of mine called me on Sunday morning. He had a big problem and said he needed some help. I totally agreed.

An employee was in a hurry three days earlier feeding the cattle their total mixed ration. The ration consisted of alfalfa baled haylage, corn silage, and ground grain concentrate prepared in a vertical tub grinder mixer. The sequence is as follows:

* Drop a roll of haylage in the tub and allow the knives in the bottom to grind and mix the haylage for 10 minutes to a 6” to 8” length of the stems.

* After 10 minutes add the corn silage with the mixer still running.

* Lastly, add the grain concentrate and allow mixing for several additional minutes.

* Auger the TMR into the feed troughs while observing the feed as to the mixing of all components. The tub mixer has scales that are quite easy to observe. Timing and the PTO speed are very important. It is not rocket science.

With age many (most) of us get more enjoyment and less stress from performing tasks that do not require much thought. These jobs still require that we “pay attention”.

My client’s man failed to allow the bale of alfalfa to grind for 10 minutes before dumping in the corn silage and the concentrate. The heavier material (grain) went to the bottom and lifted the bale of haylage up off the knives and left it intact. The cattle were fed a TMR that was near 100% grain. Five days out there are 30% dead and another 30% which are not “out of the woods”.

Over eating disease (enterotoxemia) and lactic acidosis are both the result of the consumption of pathological amounts of easily fermentable sugars and starch (usually corn or wheat). With enterotoxemia the animals (usually baby or young calves) start dying in 12 -16 hours or less. With lactic acidosis the clinical signs might be a “while” (days) before exhibiting noticeable sickness.

With lactic acidosis there is a huge “kill off” of the rumen microbes and a dramatic drop in pH and electrolyte imbalance and toxemia. Affected cattle are a wreck and demand quality emergency treatment instituted quickly for a successful ending. Trouble is, the signs are a bit slow showing up and in short order, the damage is non-reversal in many of the animals.

With enterotoxemia (overeating disease) caused by Clostridial perfringens the clinical signs often hit so fast that most animals are not seen alive between feedings. Dead, stiff, greatly swollen, and rotten on the inside is the norm. Enterotoxemia is usually regarded as a disease of calves and lambs.

I have made the statement in the past that a producer can kill cattle quicker with feed than with starvation. I have seen my share of both. Feed kills are ahead of starvation in my history books both in speed and in numbers.

It would not hurt us to remember that cattle do not have beaks. They love eating corn but if it is in quantities greater than 15-20% of the daily dry matter intake we don’t have a Natural example to stand on. Rumen microbes are quite adaptable to different feeds and forages. But change takes time and too much is too much.

It takes an average of 18 to 25 days to bring cattle on full feed, during which time rumen microbes change over to lactobacillus (sugar digesters) being in the majority. They digest the simple sugars and starches producing lactic acid for absorption through the rumen wall. When an oversupply of high sugar/simple starch feed is ingested the amount of lactic acid becomes pathologic and deadly. It is not a pretty sight to behold.

Cattle on feed require a highly functional rumen and a healthy liver in order to operate efficiently. There is nothing efficient about sickness. Dragging dead is red ink. Do a little too much dragging and we can forget our “dream vacation” and/or a bunch of stuff, possibly sleeping indoors.

The take home message is that we always must be paying attention to details. The farther we move away from the Natural model the more important this message. The closer to the cliff we run the cattle, the easier it is to inadvertently push them off the edge. Saying I’m sorry doesn’t help much.

The Natural model knowledge can keep us in business. We need to review the basics with a degree of regularity. Think about it.

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