The wet autumn is a double edged sword for farmers

The autumn is generally the wettest time of the year and figures suggest that this year has been one of the wettest on record in the North East with the region receiving more than double the normal rainfall in October.

Thursday, 21st November 2019, 4:00 pm
Cows at grass at this time of year are a high risk for a metabolic disease known as ‘grass staggers'.
Cows at grass at this time of year are a high risk for a metabolic disease known as ‘grass staggers'.

Flooding has been a regular feature on the national news, but what effect does excess rainfall have on livestock in Northumberland?

First of all the high rainfall experienced late summer has allowed grass growth to continue later than normal which is a bit of a double edged sword for livestock.

While the extended grazing season is ultimately beneficial, autumn calving cows have the propensity to become overweight as well as produce oversized calves which then require delivery by caesarean.

Additionally, cows at grass at this time of year are a high risk for a metabolic disease known as ‘grass staggers’ which is potentially fatally low blood magnesium levels due to late season grass being low in magnesium.

If you look out the window when driving around the county you will see many fields with standing water which, if grazed by livestock, will become poached. Therefore cattle are being housed early this year which is having the effect of an early pneumonia season.

Cattle are pretty hardy animals but by bringing them together at this time of changing seasons, we increase the risk of infectious diseases such as pneumonia.

The physiological stress of weaning, housing and dietary change needs to be managed accordingly in order to reduce the risk of calf pneumonia.

We recommend the tailored use of vaccination programs, gentle weaning regimens and the introduction of winter feedstuffs prior to housing in order to reduce the risk of pneumonia in housed cattle.

Sheep are also at risk of disease due to the waterlogged pastures. Liver fluke is a parasite that infests cattle and sheep but animals grazing the habitat of the mud snail (the intermediate host of liver fluke) are the most frequently affected.

This year we have seen many cases of acute liver fluke in adult ewes and spring born lambs which have been grazing wet areas in which the snail lives.

Affected animals become very thin, jaundiced and are at risk of death from this insidious parasite. A liver fluke control plan should be in place on all livestock farms which involves effective treatments and pasture management.

Likewise, wet conditions increase the risk of lameness in sheep; therefore farmers are advised to consider control programmes such as vaccination at this time of year. As the seasons change so does the challenge to the livestock farmer and vet alike.