October 16, 2021

Many factors impact health program for cattle herds

PARSIPPANY, N.J. — The ultimate goal for cattlemen is to make sure each calf has the opportunity to reach its genetic potential.

“The genetic potential is set for each animal at conception,” said Jess Hinrichs, Zoetis technical service veterinarian, during a virtual media roundtable event. “We’ve utilized a lot of tools over the years to try to help evaluate cattle genetically.”

The industry has done a pretty good job at evaluating cattle for things that relate to growth, maternal and carcass traits.

“Many of our industry associations have done an excellent job of starting to apply economics to a lot of these traits and bring these traits together into dollar values for producers,” Hinrichs said.

“The problem is we’ve had a fairly limited ability to evaluate health traits in cattle as far as their genetic component,” he said.

One of the challenges is the long generation interval of cattle.

“It gets difficult to evaluate decisions we make today, when we’re not going to see how they turn out until three years down the road,” Hinrichs said.

Geographical diversity is another challenge.

“We need to make decisions based on the environment the cattle will be placed into,” Hinrichs said. “That can be dramatically different between the cow/calf ranch, the stocker operation and the feedlot operation, and thinking about how to tie all these together can really be difficult.”

Not all cattlemen have the opportunity to implement AI or embryo transfer programs in their herds.

“And it can be very costly to purchase bulls that will make large differences in a herd,” Hinrichs said.

“The biggest challenge with genetic selection on health is there is a lack of health data,” he said.

“Our colleagues in dairy have been able to look at detailed health recordkeeping systems and a much narrower genetic profile for their industry, which has allowed them to compare the genetics of animals versus health records,” he said. “That is very helpful in developing tools that look at potential health outcomes based on the genetic makeup of an animal.”

It would be great, Hinrichs said, if this could be accomplished in the beef industry.

“But we’re going to need a lot of cooperation from all phases of production,” he said.

Nutrition is an important aspect of cattle production since it influences growth and reproduction and has significant effects on health.

“Cattle in a good plane of nutrition have a much better opportunity to maintain a healthy status,” Hinrichs said. “They will respond much better to vaccines and they’re able to deal a lot better with stress.”

It is difficult to develop a program that fits every operation due to the geographic diversity in feedstuffs.

“We have a lot of different availability of feedstuffs and changes in growing seasons,” Hinrichs said. “There are opportunities for some cow/calf producers to graze their cattle most of the year and others are limited to four to five months of grazing and rely the rest of the time on harvested feedstuffs.”

In addition, nutritional needs of cattle and feedstuffs are greatly influenced by weather. One example is the extreme drought that is occurring in some areas of the United States.

“Don’t overlook the micronutrient portion of nutrition,” Hinrichs said. “The mineral status of our cows can greatly influence production, reproduction and their ability to fend off diseases they are challenged with.”

Water falls into this component, as well.

“Water is a major part of nutrition for animals,” Hinrichs said. “We have a lot of issues with water in certain parts of the country.”

Testing feedstuffs can be important since there is variation even within feedstuffs.

“Seek professional help to target your goals for production and also to make sure you’re providing adequate nutrition,” Hinrichs said.

For health management, the veterinarian encourages cattlemen to assess the risks for the herd based on geography and exposure.

“Certain areas of the country have endemic diseases that we need to be aware of,” Hinrichs said.

“We need to look at exposure to disease from other herds and also look at purchased replacements,” he said.

“Postmortem examinations are often the thing I have the most difficulty convincing practitioners to do because nobody wants to spend money on a dead animal,” he said. “But when we can use them as a tool to determine why animals are dying and potentially influence that earlier in the disease process it can be the most cost-effective thing we can do.”

Hinrichs advises all cattlemen to develop a vaccination program for their herd with their veterinarian based on what they consider to be threats to the animals.

“The goal of a vaccination program at the cow/calf level is to protect reproductive performance,” he said. “If we don’t get those calves on the ground, we’re not going to be able to develop a program that will keep those calves healthy.”

For more information about Zoetis, go to www.zoetis.com.

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor