Time limited for area cattlemen to rejuvenate herds after hard winter

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Dr. John Harper, D.V.M., looks over a field of cattle to evaluate how the herd is springing back from an unusually severe winter. Area cattle producers saw more cattle deaths this past winter than in previous years due to sub-zero temperatures and calf birth injuries. Melonie Roberts/Cassville Democrat

Severe winter caused loss of body condition, herd health

This past winter hit some area cattlemen hard, causing losses in calving and herd health as cattle struggled with self-preservation in the severe cold temperatures.

"Some mamas abandoned their calves at birth," said Dr. John Harper, D.V.M. with the Animal Clinic of Monett. "They were in self-preservation mode. They just didn't have what it took to survive and take care of their calves."

Harper said he saw many area herds that cattle spent a majority of their time eating.

"Producers had to provide a significant amount of extra feed and supplements to support the cow's body conditions," Harper said. "We still lost a lot of calves to hypothermia and severe frostbite issues. Anything born in severely cold weather can be damaged. It was difficult for cattle to get their newborn calves cleaned and dried quickly enough to prevent hypothermia and freezing."

Calving issues also included pneumonia, scours and not receiving colostrum in a timely manner, resulting in a slow start.

"We saw a lot more frostbite on the udders of dairy cattle than we have in years past," he continued. "That could also result in teat damage, followed by mastitis, an infection of the udder."

Some producers had left aging cattle in their herds for another season, thinking they could produce one or two more calves. For some, that was a risk that didn't pan out.

"We saw older cattle losing body condition," Harper said. "Some went down and were unable to get back up. That's never a good thing."

Harper also said it would benefit producers to move cattle that are expected to calve soon nearer to a barn or other protective structure to protect the cows and their offspring from bitter cold temperatures thus increasing the odds of survival for the newborn.

"During these rough winters, there is also a benefit to producers knowing what the nutrition quality of their hay is so they can supplement with nutrients, an extra energy source, vitamins and trace minerals and protein," Harper added.

Harper is the first to credit producers for struggling to preserve their herds.

"These guys did a great job," he said. "Some spent their entire days rolling out hay and chopping ice so their cattle could get nutrients and have a cushion against lying directly in the snow. Producers did an exceptional job trying to cope with such severe weather."

Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension specialist, said poor quality hay contributed to feed intake not being sufficient to meet the daily nutrient needs of the herd.

"We've seen an increase in death rates and lower than normal conception rates," Cole said. "Lactating cows and first-calf heifers need much higher quality hay and protein above what they receive from self-fed supplements."

Producers now have a short window of opportunity to recondition their herds for the spring breeding season.

"We have about 45 days before it's time to turn the bulls back out for re-breeding," Harper said. "This is the time to build body conditions back up. With the green grass and prime forage, cattle will get back into optimum breeding condition by May. Producers will still have to provide energy and a vitamin and mineral program to ultimately improve pregnancy rates."

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