4 tips to maintain a healthy herd through calving season

Published 13th January 2021
Feeding Health and Welfare

Calving season has either started or is just around the corner for those who farm or ranch in the Northern Hemisphere. Among the challenges of the calving season, the question of maintaining herd health is essential. Let’s explore four tips that could help you get through the calving season without a hitch.

Equal access to feed for the cows in their last trimester…

A cow in gestation and especially in the last trimester requires an adequate supply of feed. Whether you exclusively feed out hay or mixed rations including protein supplements, it is particularly important to feed high-quality feed to your cows through the last trimester.

Competition for feed

However, one aspect that is often neglected is the natural competition for feed between your cows! In spite of the provision of sufficient quality feed for the herd, it often happens that the cows at the bottom of the pecking order are deprived of access to the best parts, or even sufficient feed. First-calf pregnant heifers often bear the brunt of this, even though they need a high nutritional intake. This is often the case when feed is distributed in hay rings, hay wagons or troughs.

Luckily, a solution exists: scatter the hay in a long, thin windrow (sometimes up to a quarter-mile long!). This will ensure that all cows have access to feed since the dominant cows will be too far away from the other cows to be able to bully them or chase them away.

A common misconception is that hay fed out directly on the ground in a long, fine, even windrow causes hay waste and ultimately loss, however, studies prove that feeding hay in a narrow windrow instead of a round bale feeder can reduce wastage from nearly 40% down to just 2-3%!

Hustler’s Chainless bale processors offer a unique feeding method that teases out the hay while fluffing it up, making it more palatable to your animals. Windrow feeding also allows you to limit feed and give everyone equal access to good feed in a healthy environment.

Maintain the health of your herd while reducing the bill!

This means that you can reduce your feed bill and contribute to a more uniform herd condition while keeping a safe environment for your younger stock. From a regenerative standpoint, distributing manure throughout your pastures by windrow feeding versus bale ring feeding not only improves your pasture growth but it eliminates the need for manually spreading manure and re-seeding damaged pastures (an article is specially dedicated to this topic, do not hesitate to consult it by clicking here).

… and for the calves!

Even if the calves do not consume feed in the first few days of life, they will soon start to eat it, first by mimicry and then to supplement their mother’s milk intake. It is also recommended to expose calves to feed as early as possible to stimulate rumen activity. Most studies agree that the rumen is fully functional at 10-12 weeks of age (if you would like to know more, we have published an article on this subject which you can read by clicking here).

However, even if mothers are attentive, calves are more likely to be heckled by other cows (especially those that have not yet calved) when their mothers are feeding. It is therefore for the same reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph that the method of distributing feed in a long, fine swath is recommended!

Avoid the concentration of the herd

A mix of mud and manure in a calving lot or paddock can lead to health issues for the calves. This is reinforced by the use of hay rings, where the herd concentrates, exposing a calf and particularly a newborn calf following its mother. When the newborn calf suckles, it ingests bacteria along with the colostrum, especially when its mother’s udder is dirty. Antibodies from colostrum and pathogens are racing against each other, and it is quite often that the pathogens win. Some of the bacteria that can cause deadly scours in newborns or toxic gut infections in older calves are present in the soil wherever there have been cattle feces, and wet conditions make it much easier for calves to ingest these pathogens.

Also, if the umbilical stump comes into contact with contaminated ground or bedding before it dries and seals off, it offers an open doorway for pathogenic bacteria.

Spreading the hay in a long, thin windrow, in a new area of the paddock helps to keep the cows and their calves clean even in wet and muddy conditions. All cattle can be affected by protozoan pathogens but calves are especially vulnerable to massive infections. Whenever cattle lie on contaminated ground, the hair coat becomes dirty also, and both cattle and calves pick up the pathogens when licking and grooming themselves.

Beware of moldy hay 

Abortions can be a real challenge and can represent a significant loss of (potential) income to the producer. The diagnosis of abortions often presents a challenge to the herd owner and the herd veterinarian. However, a large proportion of abortions are due to food intake, especially moldy hay.

For instance, bacterial abortion due to Bacillus Licheniformis associated with feeding moldy feed. The abortion due to Bacillus Licheniformis usually occurs in late pregnancy with the infection causing the placenta to become necrotic resulting in separation and abortion. The fungal abortion called Aspergillus infection is associated with the feeding of moldy hay or silage and usually occur in late pregnancy. This fungal abortion is hard to identify because there are no other clinical signs in cows that abort to aspergillus.

The problem is that throwing away contaminated hay or silage bales can cause significant financial losses. One tip is to use a bale processor to remove the top layers of a hay bale outside the paddock, and after a careful visual check, feed out the rest of the bale to the cows. This avoids health problems and at the same time avoids wasting good quality hay that would have been contaminated!

Do you want to know more about the Hustler’s Chainless unique system? Contact us today for a friendly chat is one of our field consultants. We’ll be interested to hear your story!