So where to from here with animal health?

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“Of droughts and flooding rains……………….”


So where to from here with animal health?


Feed quality – a check on the rumen – from a cheese cracker diet to all broccoli and spinach!


It is vital to understand that the rumen needs gradual adjustment for the bacteria to change to efficiently process what is deposited down the throat.

With this 2-3 inches or 50-75mm of rain, any existing plants get a surge of growth and over the next 3-6 weeks the seed base will germinate strongly producing a change in protein from a low 5-6 % in the residual dry feed (plus whatever supplementary grain/hay you have fed) to an extraordinary 26-28% protein feed 

---------- the rumen bacteria are insulted!

---------- who can guess the outcome?

Change of rations should be adjusted from zero increasing by amounts of 10% over 10 feeds (about 3 weeks)


Feed quantity – this is where the wheels can fall off!


If the cattle are in condition score 2 (or even 1) and have been on a below maintenance diet the major problem results from the change from warm balmy weather to cool damp or windy cold weather with the result that their energy requirements are at least doubled  

---------  are you up to the task? -----------  can you meet their needs?


A good rule of thumb to check yourself with on supplementary feeding if you tangle yourself up with energy value calculations is that it should be in the order of between 5 - 10% of an animals bodyweight - in grain - per week – for a maintenance ration for dry mature stock.


Visit the saleyards on a Thursday to get a good idea of the actual weights – an average beef cow will be in the order of 500 kg which means she needs 25 kg of grain per week if dry or 50+kg if late pregnant or lactating.

If feeding hay alone double this figure – but watch if they eat it all!


Double this as a minimum to supply enough for late pregnant, lactating or young, growing stock.

Allow enough for every individual and class of head fed

And add another 10% for all classes of stock if it gets cold.


(How do your fodder reserves stack up now if you need to do this till August / September?)


Evidence on many properties that I have visited has indicated most have been feeding less than this and all classes of stock have steadily lost weight – the cold and wet will find these stock wanting as winter approaches.


A reminder that feeding on the ground results in significant wastage at any time and particularly when its wet – covered grain feeders and round bale feeders are a good investment.




How do the above two impact on general animal health?


The most common observation is scouring with associated appearance of ill-thrift.


Scouring and ill-thrift!


The causes can be complex – sudden dietary change the most usual cause but more often than not it is the rapid explosion of arrested stages of intestinal worms in the bowel and increased worm activity and pickup off the new pasture.

------ do a worm test and/or treat all stock with the appropriate drench or other treatment.

------ remember to seek advice from your vet if worm tests or treatment appear to fail – there are other bugs around like coccidia, bacteria and viruses which may need specialist diagnosis and treatment.


In addition, long term, restricted, poor quality diets can affect the bowel function and this includes issues of onion grass/hair balls and sand impaction. Together with high bacteria, protozoan and worm intakes, significant damage to the bowel may have occurred and take a long time to recover – if at all.

----- watch  for poor performing individuals and segregate for treatment  - or cull.


In young stock there can be major issues of failures in the development of their immune systems and young suckling or weaner stock enduring or coming out of drought conditions often have trouble coping with the masses of parasites or other bugs which emerge. They have a much lower bodyweight and are less able to withstand a sustained problem – do the appropriate checks and treat early!



And death!


With autumn breaks the other common issue is the explosion of weed species and again a reminder that the rumen can deal with most things ------- in moderation!

We regularly get inquiries after an owner has let stock into a “fresh” paddock and experiences significant stock sickness or losses. Yes, often the plants are toxic but mainly they cause a problem because they comprise most of the diet  - strategic grazing and provision of mostly a known safe pasture or supplementary feed can get you through.

To compound the issue of course is the lurking enemy of fungal toxins on the warm damp grasses at this time – variously causing liver damage and associated ‘sunburn’ or direct attack on the nervous system. Again be aware and careful – strategic short grazing periods for fresh paddocks should be the norm.



And infertility!


Finally the most critical issue for cattle producers after this dry spell will be infertility – even if you’ve never done it before – consider pregnancy-testing cows.

Feed reserves for most are at an all time low so a cow not in calf is a waste of feed and space.


Issues may also arise with abortions connected with toxic weed pastures, fungal toxicity in pasture, hay or silage – be aware and manage appropriately.


John D Ryan
District Veterinary Officer, Wangaratta
Wangaratta Government Centre
cnr Ovens and Ford Streets
03 5723 8680
0400 023 398