It’s autumn, so what’s the beef?


With autumn here again, it is a good time to take stock and plan ahead for what is an important and potentially stressful period for our livestock.

On the beef cattle side of the business, ‘pneumonia season’ is looming and as ever can have a major potential impact on your business.

The disease may appear to vary in severity from year to year, and it is easy to forget how damaging it can be in a bad year. Morbidity rates (affected animals) may vary from five per cent to 50 per cent in outbreaks. Vaccination more than pays for itself over time, and we are delighted with the results and feedback from those who have been using some of the newer vaccines.

Unfortunately there is no single vaccine that covers all causes of pneumonia, so it is important to discuss with your vet how to implement a vaccination regime and which vaccines to use.

Different vaccines have different lag phases before immunity develops, but none are instant so plan to use before housing. Weighing the calves while vaccinating will give allow you to measure the cow’s output if done around weaning time. Compare the average weaning weight with previous years to check things are improving.

If not currently weighing calves at weaning, we have an electronic weigh scales tray which any client can borrow to allow you to measure output accurately.

Looking at the housing environment to sort out leaky gutters for instance will reduce straw usage and reduce humidity in the shed so reducing life span of pneumonia causing viruses. Now is also the time to get silage analysed and then put in place a ration to achieve target growth rates.

Housing time should also be considered as a good time to pregnancy test cows.

Housing cows can be an expensive business, so now is the time to identify and cull any barren cows (no point in feeding them for a loss over winter). This also gives good opportunity to check and potentially tackle any fertility problems you may have within your herd. At the same time, condition scoring of cows and then differential winter feeding will allow target calving condition scores to be reached.


In the sheep calendar, tupping time is approaching again and you will no doubt be checking ewes and tups pre-mating. This is a good time to reflect on last year’s performance data such as scanning percentages, lambing percentages and lambing spread.

Sub-optimal fertility should be investigate well before the breeding season commences in order to ensure any changes have time to be effective.

Tups should all be examined for fertility with a thorough check on body condition, teeth, feet and testicles. Semen testing is now a common test carried out on many breeding tups and should be part of your pre-tupping preparations.

Trace elements in ewes may also have an influence on embryo survival, and now is a good time to check via blood sampling, so that any deficiencies can be corrected. In particular, we suggest looking at selenium, cobalt, copper and increasingly iodine status.

Be on the look-out for parasitic gastroenteritis (roundworms). Worm larvae on pasture will have reached dangerous peak levels recently and may be causing diaorrhea with reduced growth rates, especially in young stock.

Faecal egg counts can be performed at the practice, quickly giving a reasonable indication of work burdens, helping make informed decisions on whether worming is worth it or not.

This year we have done quite a few faecal egg count reduction tests in the practice and have found resistance to clear and white wormers to be widespread.

Each time an anthelmintic is used, selection for resistant worms occurs. Sustainable control of parasites in sheep recommendation is to reduce the overall anthelmintic used on farm, for example by not worming fat ewes pre-tupping as they should have a good immunity.

The newer families of anthelmintics, Zolvix and Startect, are also vital to be given to purchased sheep as part of your quarantine procedures so resistant worms are not brought onto your farm. Likewise once your lambs have had two or threeworm doses then it is prudent to use the newer classes to remove any resistant worms left which otherwise would be dropping resistant eggs all autumn and winter.

If liver fluke is a known problem on farm, it is advisable to contact your vet and discuss control of this also.

As you may know, sheep scab is a concern locally at the moment and has been isolated on a number of farms.

We are making real efforts to eradicate this disease from the county again, and this relies on strict vigilance by stockmen and farmers among other things.

Most farms involved in our eradication programme are dipping sheep in October, and we suggest dipping as the gold standard in the control of scab. Organophosphate showers has been shown to be relatively ineffective at sheep scab treatment.

Any farmers interested in the local control programme should contact us, and any farmers or shepherds who notice sheep with wool loss, skin lesions or itching should contact us to arrange testing of samples.

For those of us who are troubled with footrot, it is well worth considering alternative treatments and preventive products and management for control.

Vaccination may be well worth considering if footrot and scald are major causes of lameness. Currently Footvax costs around 90p per dose and is unusual and useful in that it is licensed for both treatment and prevention of footrot. Be on the lookout also for Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitis (CODD), a highly virulent form of lameness which is particularly nasty and can lead to shedding of whole hooves.

Micotil antibiotic administration by a veterinary surgeon to batches of sheep with CODD pre tupping is very effective at reducing the levels going into the winter.

It is worth remembering that sheep suffering from footrot will often be immune-suppressed, have lowered appetites and reduced fertility, so there are many economic and welfare reasons for controlling this disease.

Many of our farms have lameness incidence under five per cent with less than two per cent lame an achievable target.