Cattle and Sheep Healthcare

Dr. Liza hopes you find the following information about Cattle and Sheep Healthcare useful. Please note: the information provided by is intended to educate and offer alternatives to help improve and manage your animal’s long term health. Any use of the guidelines contained herein is entirely at the user’s own discretion and risk. While every effort has been made to ensure this information is as accurate as possible, and its staff assume no responsibility for the improper application of this information. Please consult directly with your own veterinarian before making changes to your animal’s diet or nutrition.

If you would like to book a telephone consult with either Dr. Liza or a vet from Holistic Vets please click here.

Calf Care for Healthy Animals
Dairy Cow Metabolic Problems
Facial Eczema

Calf Care for Healthy Animals

An alert, bright eyed calf with a shiny coat that eats well and actively plays is a rewarding site which reflects the success of a farm.

When it comes to calf health, our adage applies as usual… prevention of dis-ease is better than cure and knowing what to look for and how to successfully address any problems that arise early on will go a long way to boosting quality production.

Calf health is promoted first and foremost by ensuring that these young animals have healthy mothers. A healthy cow that has been fed on balanced pastures with the correct feed additives is likely to carry and give birth to a healthy calf and is also able to transfer valuable immunity from disease onto her offspring.

After delivery, it is of vital importance that a newly born calf receives colostrum (the first milk) from its mother within one to twelve hours after birth. Colostrum contains many vital nutrients, the most valuable being immunoglobulins which are essential to help the young animal to effectively combat infection.

Calves must have sufficient feed intake to support their growth and development. Naturally reared calves or those who suckle on nurse cows grow quickly and generally do very well. Management systems which rear calves separately from their mothers must ensure that when feeding milk, calves aren’t overfed or underfed, that the correct milk is used and that any dietary changes are made slowly.

Adverse weather conditions can be detrimental to calf health so providing warmth and shelter in paddocks or in buildings to protect them from cold and wet weather is imperative.

Hygiene is another key component to raising healthy calves. Paddocks should be clean and the buildings where calves are housed must be regularly disinfected to prevent the build up of bacteria which can cause calves to become ill. Any utensils used in calf rearing must be clean and sick animals should be removed from the group to prevent the spread of disease. These buildings should also have a quarantine area for new calves that enter the property in case they are harbouring disease.

Signs of ill health include dull eyes and coat, poor appetite, disinterest, shivering, a tucked up appearance, laboured breathing or coughing and wheezing, scouring (diarrhoea) and pale mucous membrane colour.

One of the most common problems that calves develop is scouring which can be due to a variety of causes including viral, bacterial and protozoal diseases as well as worm infestations and even nutritional factors such as cold milk feeding and changes in food type and volume.

Scouring can lead to dehydration, the loss of body salts, low energy, dropped body temperature and ultimately death.

If you notice scouring, act quickly by immediately feeding the calf a good quality electrolyte solution to replace lost water, body salts and energy helping to support the calf. Isolate the infected calf and seek veterinary advice if necessary.

A healthy calf kept in a healthy environment will have good immunity and will therefore be much less susceptible to diseases and parasites such as worms and lice. These animals will boost productivity many fold and contribute greatly to the general long term well-being of the herd.

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Dairy Cow Metabolic Problems

Dairy cows have a remarkable ability to convert fodder into human food. A dairy cow is capable of producing twice her body weight in milk every year; she is truly a remarkable biological factory!

While lactating, a cow will typically produce 10 to 20 times the amount of milk required to feed a calf.

This places a huge demand on her body and greatly accelerates her metabolic rate. To complicate matters further, during late pregnancy a cow’s appetite will decrease, the amount of food that can fit into her rumen is less, due to the large space taken up by the developing calf, and this leads to less energy being available for her needs as well as a poorer availability and absorption of important minerals such as calcium and magnesium.

During lactation, a time of great physiological stress, she will draw upon body reserves to cope with the demand. A very fine balance exists between peak production and falling into the trap of developing post-calving complications due to a lack of energy and nutrient resources.

There are three main groups of post-calving problems that cows can develop:

Metabolic diseases such as milkfever, grass staggers, ketosis and downer cow syndrome, reproductive problems such as retained foetal membranes and late return to cycling or infertility and Mastitis.

Milkfever develops due to low calcium levels, especially during the first two days and usually within the first 10 days after calving, but can occasionally occur in the last few days of pregnancy. During the early stage of lactation there is a high loss of calcium in colostrum that is beyond the capacity of calcium absorption from the digestive system and the mobilization of calcium reserves from bones.

Calcium is a mineral essential for the maintenance of muscle tone, as well as nerve health in the body. When cows are deficient, signs of milkfever develop which are a progressive dysfunction of muscles and nerves with sudden weakness, recumbency and later coma and death unless they receive treatment with replacement calcium.

Cows who are high butterfat producers and those that are fed on high protein feeds and/or fodder high in calcium and low in phosphorous, such as lucerne, before calving are more susceptible to developing milkfever. High calcium feed after calving is helpful. Stress and fatigue precipitate milkfever attacks.

Low magnesium levels (blood samples can be checked by your vet) increase susceptibility to milkfever and also cause grass staggers to develop which is most common in the two months following calving, again because the sudden demand of lactation outstripping supply. Grass staggers can be triggered by excitement, stress, milking and adverse weather. Signs include excitability, irritability and convulsions.

Both milkfever and grass staggers can be successfully treated if caught early but, as always,prevention is better than cure and, as always, good nutrition as well as herd management are of utmost importance to maintain cows in peak production and to keep them in optimal health.

Year-round planned grazing on properly fertilized and well-balanced pastures is imperative and, where necessary, supplements such as magnesium licks or sprays can be used.

Ensuring excellent nutrition, especially in the weeks before and after calving, is a wise investment and will help prevent problems and optimize production.

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Facial Eczema

Facial Eczema (FE) is a condition affecting cattle, sheep, goats and deer. It has its origin from a fungus called pithomyces which grows on dead litter at the base of rye grass. In warm moist weather, typically between January and April, this fungus produces high amounts of spores containing a toxin called sporidesmin which damages the liver when animals eat the spores.

This liver damage prevents the excretion of a substance called phylloerythrin (naturally in their body from the breakdown of chlorophyll in their food), which then accumulates in the bloodstream. It reacts with certain UV rays from the sun and leads to damaged skin. This is why Facial Eczema often manifests as sunburn (redness and swelling) on the lighter pigmented and exposed parts of animals like their face and even the udder and vulva.

Because of the underlying liver damage animals are also prone to poor growth, lowered production, ill thrift and sometimes even death. These animals are uncomfortable and sometimes jaundiced (the whites of their eyes and gums have a yellow tinge) and they may develop skin infections. They often shake their heads with discomfort and seek shade to find some relief. Some animals that are severely affected might develop permanent liver damage which can affect them each subsequent season.

Prevention of FE is better than cure and one of the best long term strategies is to replace the affected rye grass pastures with strains which don’t support the fungus. It is also possible to use fungicides on the pasture but depending on the type, it might not be environmentally friendly to do so.

Another long-term solution for sheep stock is to select breeds which are more resistant to FE and will better tolerate pastures with higher spore counts. Yet another option is to move stock off high count pastures at this time of year.

Where animals are exposed to high spore counts, FE may be prevented by drenching stock with Zinc-oxide (not Zinc-sulphate as it is toxic), used according to the manufacturer’s directions to avoid over dosage. It is wise to start this in January and it is a practice that is acceptable on organic farms.

For affected animals, their infected skin might need anti-biotic therapy, while herbs such as calendula are a soothing option. Dairy cows with teat and udder lesions might need drying off. Remove the affected animals from the pasture, dose them on zinc-oxide and offer them shade as well as hay and water for a few days. Then gradually introduce high quality nutritious feed.

Vitamins and various other nutrients available from supplements and herbs will promote healing and help most animals to regain their appetites as well as help the liver to regenerate. Homeopathic remedies are another useful tool to employ both in the prevention and treatment of FE.

A long term plan for the prevention of FE is ideal as it will add greatly to animals’ quality of life, save them from tremendous discomfort and ultimately improve their production.

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