Farm Progress

Cow’s reproductive health depends on nutrition, vaccine management

Loss of calves is costly but can be prevented with good nutrition and management.

Rhonda McCurry, Freelance

January 4, 2018

4 Min Read
HEALTHY CALVES: Every rancher wants to see healthy, strong newborn calves. Taking care of cows with good nutrition and management, including vaccination against reproductive diseases helps make that happen.Murphy_Shewchuk/iStock/Thinkstock

The whole point of a cow calf operation is to make sure cows produce. A live calf is worth money and has hours of time, dollars in medicine and stress of management invested in it. It is not productive for a rancher to lose calves, so proactive measures must be taken to ensure the operation is profitable and efficient.

Unfortunately, there are factors constantly playing against ranchers and their cows to stop production. Diseases like leptospirosis, bovine herpes, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis and bovine viral diarrhea are issues each year, and treatment is necessary to prevent cows from losing the calf.

On my family’s Angus cow operation we vaccinate with 5-way lepto. For someone who grew up with a dad who was a veterinarian, I couldn’t tell you exactly why we did it then or why we continue it today. We give five CC’s of lepto vaccine to each cow before we breed them via AI. I think it works, because we typically don’t have bred cows abort. If anything, we say they didn’t “stick,” then breed them again either by AI or naturally with a registered Angus herd bull. Sadly, we sometimes lose a calf at birth, but rarely to late-term abortion. I credit this to a decent nutrition program full of good minerals and the proper vaccines that prevent calf loss in our Angus herd.

For any rancher, the red flag of lepto comes when they notice late-term abortions in their herd. The most common type of leptospirosis resulting in cattle abortions is Pomona, a bacterium that is commonly shed by feral pigs. These infected animals drink from or urinate into streams and contaminate the water. As the water flows and collects in drinking ponds or stagnant streams, it is ingested by cattle, which could ultimately lead to lepto abortions.

Jacques Fuselier, Merck Animal Health’s cattle technical services manager, says if a rancher sees abortion in a high percentage of cows (such as 30% of the cow herd) then lepto must be considered as a cause. A veterinarian should be brought in at this point to access the operation, determine the risk areas and exposure to the disease, and test cows that have not aborted. If a rancher finds an aborted fetus, the absolute best thing to do is to put the placenta and fetus on ice and bring it to a vet to test for cause. This is a disturbing image, but it can help prevent future problems.

If a rancher has a couple of cows that are bred then come back in heat 42 days or more later, trichomoniasis or campylobacter could be the issue. All bulls should be tested for those diseases. Before turning a new bull out with cows, a rancher should trich test the bull with the help of a local veterinarian. Fuselier instructs his clients not to buy a bull unless it has a negative trich test, but to also to test the animal again once it is home.

“It’s not expensive to do so and it’s cheaper to buy insurance like this than the diseases you can buy at the sale barn,” Fuselier says.

Nutrition also plays a vital role. When mineral imbalances in a cow’s diet exist, so does infertility. Copper, selenium and vitamin A are critical as holistic parts of the cow’s diet. A good treatment plan, Fuselier says, requires diagnostics and a good management level on the ranch. He said beef operations should be proactive on reproductive diseases.

With that said, abortions typically occur sporadically. When a rancher sees an abortion storm, the point is to react quickly with appropriate diagnostic measures to test cows and determine the cause. Without taking time to test and cull cows that carry lepto or other reproductive diseases, it is impossible to eradicate.

Fuselier says every cow has a percentage of pregnancy loss or wastage, which means they are diagnosed pregnant but don’t have a calf. A rate of 2% to 5% of cows not calving is normal, but if that number bumps up to 8% or 10% then something is wrong.

Lepto shows up suddenly, and in a short period of time a rancher will see cows abort late in pregnancy. Proper vaccinations should be administered to all cows on a regular, annual basis.

Ranchers should also keep in mind that if they pride themselves on being a closed herd that the neighbors’ fences don’t keep out disease — only the neighbors animals themselves.

Fuselier recommends an isolation area for new animals and those coming off a stock trailer. A 30-day isolation of all calves, cows or herd bulls is important before being mixed in with the home group, and is the best chance to decrease exposing the herd to whatever that animal might be carrying.

At the end of the day, the best management tool for reproductive diseases in cattle is to manage them with vaccinations and proper biosecurity. Keeping new or questionable animals from infecting others through isolation, then exposing them to the herd are the first steps. Next, maintaining cow health with proper nutrition and routine vaccinations are final keys to limiting and stopping reproductive challenges. A little bit of foot work and money spent on good management will all be worth it when those little calf legs first hit the ground.

McCurry writes from Colwich, Kan.

About the Author(s)

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like