So what should we actually be doing? Here are some top tips for housing your cattle this winter.
1. Is Your Housing Ready?
It is essential you assess the quality of accommodation available for your cattle. Many common problems of housed cattle arise due to structural issues with the sheds. Now is the time to make alterations if you can. For example, fresh air flow is essential to avoid pneumonia – are there side panels you can remove or top rows of breeze blocks that could come out to increase air flow? Cattle in well ventilated sheds perform better; fact. It is equally important to be able to avoid a breeze, particularly at low level to protect the young stock from chills.
The size of your sheds is also an imperative factor. Overcrowding increases spread of disease and there must be enough lying/feeding space. 10m2 per cow is a reasonable aspiration for modern housing of which 3–3.5m will be lying space.
If you have cubicle housing, it is suggested you have 10% more cubicles than cows, but at a bare minimum there should be one for each cow.
2. Slurry Management
Slurry needs to be kept to a minimum with frequent scraping or slatted passageways. Cubicle beds should be cleaned daily, and bedding replaced as necessary in order to keep the bed clear of muck. If feet are standing in slurry and moisture, they become softer and at increased risk of lameness including, Digital Dermatitis and claw horn diseases.
3. Adequate Feed & Water Space
Considerations to feed face space is essential for housed cattle. Bullying is very common, and studies have shown this reduces by up to 57% when the recommendations below are achieved.
Feed space recommendations for dairy cattle:
Feed space recommendations for beef cattle:
Cows should feed with heads down as this encourages saliva production and you will get more out of your feed. Troughs should be clean and smooth to avoid damage to cow’s mouth/tongue. You should also ensure that any barriers are not inhibiting cows reach or creating pressure sores as this will affect feed intakes.
4. Parasite Control
It is always best to seek veterinary advice for specific farm needs. However, housing is a great time to get on top of parasite burdens.
It is always best to run a faecal egg count first before spending money on wormers if they are not necessary. Lungworm and Fluke require further testing but it is always economically advisable to diagnose an issue before treating as well as reducing the risk of resistance.
Should animals need treating, the correct choice of treatment is essential to leave animals clean throughout the housing period. Right product, right time! For example, if a shed or group of animals has mites/lice, they should be treated at housing to avoid spread to the rest of the herd. However, if fluke is an issue, it is best to treat animals 6–8 weeks after housing so that you can hit all stages of the fluke lifecycle.
With closer contact between animals and reduced ventilation, combined with a potentially humid damp environment at housing this is a perfect combination for viruses to multiply and affect cattle.
Check your vaccination protocol is up to date and animals are going into housing with maximum immunity. Prevention now before housing will save time and money on treatments when the cold weather arrives!