A good preventive herd health program is essential to any cattle operation to reduce herd illness, improve milk quality, and increase profitability. From an economic standpoint, taking preemptive steps to control disease costs much less than treating conditions as they arise. Preventive herd health management programs must be tailored to each operation, since factors such as nutritional resources, herd genetics, management styles, facilities, disease history, neighboring herds, and environmental conditions, are unique to each operation. Leatherstocking Veterinary Services can partner with you to help implement an optimal preventive herd management program.

Biosecurity for preventive herd health management

Biosecurity is the practice of taking preventive measures to reduce infectious disease transmission to and among livestock. Measures taken to decrease the chance of an infectious disease being carried to your farm by people, animals, equipment, or vehicles include:

  • Limiting traffic — Limit non-essential traffic on your farm, and allow only clean, disinfected vehicles. Have only one entrance and exit, which will simplify traffic monitoring, and keep a record of all farm visitors. 
  • Providing a clean environment — Keep feeding and watering areas free of mud and remove excess manure and standing water. Minimizing these stress factors will optimize cow comfort and decrease disease and parasite transmission.
  • Creating a line of separation — Establish a biosecurity line of separation that separates “clean” areas from “dirty” areas to reduce disease spread. Workers should know who is allowed to cross the line, and what they must do before crossing the line.
  • Minimizing contamination — Keep a separate pair of boots for farm use, and provide disposable footwear for visitors, to help prevent bringing unwanted pathogens on your property. Spray disinfectant on all vehicle and trailer tires before allowing them on your farm, and avoid borrowing tools or equipment from other farms.
  • Quarantining new animals — Purchase livestock from reputable dealers only, and quarantine and monitor new animals for disease for at least two weeks. 
  • Monitoring for clinical signs — Monitor your herd for infectious disease signs, and notify our veterinary professionals as soon as you recognize a sick animal, so we can formulate an appropriate treatment plan.

Vaccination for preventive herd health management

Vaccination is important to minimize or prevent disease in cattle caused by common pathogens (e.g., infectious bovine rhinotracheitis virus, parainfluenza-3 virus, bovine viral diarrhea virus, bovine respiratory syncytial virus, clostridial infections, and leptospirosis). Each cattle operation employs different feeding practices, management styles, health care programs, and facilities, which leads to varying pathogen exposure, disease resistance, and stress levels for each operation, so vaccination protocols must be customized for each cattle herd. Veterinary professionals are best equipped to determine the best vaccination strategy for your herd. Steps in developing a vaccination strategy include:

  • What infections? — You must determine what infections pose a risk to your farm. 
  • What animals? — You must identify the groups at risk for infection and determine the best timing for vaccinations to provide optimal protection. For example:
  • Protecting newborn calves — Newborn calves are best protected by colostral immunity, so cows should be vaccinated before giving birth.
  • Protecting animals from clinical disease — Vaccinate as maternal antibodies decline and prior to exposure, and boost as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Protecting against subclinical infection — Vaccinate to minimize subclinical infections that cause reproductive or fetal losses prior to breeding. 
  • How often — Vaccine frequency will depend on the vaccine type and your particular farm operation.

Nutrition for preventive herd health management

Proper nutrition management during the dry and transition periods is paramount to prevent negative impacts on lactation performance and cow reproductive stress. Nutritional recommendations include:

  • Dry cows — The dry period is defined as the last 40 to 60 days of pregnancy, when cows must consume sufficient nutrients to make the metabolic transition to lactation. A body condition score of 3.0 to 3.25 should be maintained, and separate diets should be formulated for far-off and close-up dry cows. Far-off cows should be fed a diet containing low energy and adequate fiber. Close-up cows should receive a diet containing more metabolizable protein and energy, as well as enough fiber to ensure adequate feed intake after calving. Close-up cows should also receive forages lower in potassium to help prevent milk fever after calving. Cows who are over-conditioned at calving are at higher risk for conditions such as ketosis, displaced abomasum, dystocia, retained placenta, uterine infections, and cystic ovaries. 
  • Transition cows — The transition period is defined as the three to four weeks following calving when cows experience a drop in dry matter intake, increased nutrient demands, immunosuppression, and systemic stress and inflammation. Dry matter intake (DMI) is a major factor influencing milk yield and body weight in early lactation. Higher DMI earlier in lactation reduces the time cows are in a negative energy balance. Transition cow rations should meet the minimum fiber and protein requirements while maximizing energy availability and balancing carbohydrates and protein for dry matter intake. When possible, feed 50% of the dry matter diet as forage. Feed should be pushed up several times a day to encourage the cows’ appetite and maximize DMI.

A good preventive herd health program is important to every cattle operation. If you would like help developing a program customized to your herd, contact our Leatherstocking Veterinary Services team, so we can formulate the best strategy for your operation.