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Getting Ready for Winter Housing


A fine autumn has resulted in increased grass growth and good grazing conditions on farms. However, with the recent change in weather the focus has now turned to housing for the winter. Aoife Forde, Drystock Advisor, Teagasc Galway/Clare has a few key points on housing here

1. Preparing Housing

Ensure all sheds are power washed and disinfected before housing cattle in them to prevent the spread of disease. Examine all barriers, gates and water troughs to be certain that they are all in good working condition and carry out any necessary repairs before housing cattle.

It is very important to make sure all animals have adequate lying space to ensure a good thrive and reduce the risk of spreading disease.  Suckler cows on slats require a lying space of 2.5 m² to 3 m², cattle over 275kg on slats require 2 to 2.5m2 while smaller cattle require 1.2-1.5m2.

2. Parasite Control

Housing is the ideal time to treat cattle for parasites. The main parasites that need to be targeted are lungworms, stomach worms and liver fluke along with external parasites such as biting and sucking lice and mites.

Older cattle have a level of resistance to lung and stomach worms. However, younger cattle such as weanlings and year and a halves do not have resistance and must be treated. Animals should be treated with either a white, yellow or clear drench. It is important that farmers know what developmental stage of the stomach or lungworm they are trying to target. This will help to asses if re-dosing will be required to ensure that eggs, larvae and adult worms will be controlled.

All cattle should be treated for liver fluke at housing. Liver fluke is influenced by the climate and mainly occurs in warm wet weather that is seen typically in autumn and spring. There are a number of stages to the liver fluke cycle which need to be understood when dosing. Early immature fluke occur between weeks 1-5 with immature fluke occurring between weeks 6-11 while mature fluke appear after 12 weeks. It is important that you know what products kill what stages of liver fluke. Most flukicides only control older immature or mature fluke so therefore a second treatment will be required. Products which are triclabendazole-based will kill all stages of fluke, however, cases of resistance to these products have been seen in Ireland so care should be taken.

External parasites such as biting and sucking lice and mites also need to be controlled. Animals do not have any resistance to these parasites and animals housed together with long winter coats provide ideal conditions for these lice and mites to spread. Symptoms include excessive scratching and hair loss. Cattle can be treated with either a pour-on or spot-on product or a clear drench containing Ivermectin in either a pour-on or injectable form.

When dosing ensure that animals are dosed to their correct weight to prevent under dosing which will result in the drug being less effective. Dosing products should only be used when they are required to prevent resistance occurring. Faecal egg samples can be taken to identify cases of worms and fluke on farm.

Remember always consult with your vet when putting a dosing programme in place on your farm.

3. Body Condition Scoring

It is important that both suckler and dairy cows are body-condition scored (BCS) at housing time to ensure that cows will be in the correct condition at calving The ideal BCS for a suckler cow at housing  is 3.0 – 3.5. When body-condition scored, cows can then be grouped together and then fed accordingly. It is important that cows are conditioned correctly over the winter as over-fat cows have increased calving difficulty because fat is deposited in the pelvic area, thereby reducing the size of the pelvic canal. Very thin cows also have increased calving problems (and increased calf mortality) due to insufficient strength to withstand the birth process and giving birth to weak, non-vigorous calves.

4. Fodder Quality

As cattle make their way into sheds, pits and bales are being opened. It is important to know the quality of your silage. A silage test will provide you with the dry matter and protein percentages as well as the energy values of your silage. This will then allow you to see what supplementation is required to ensure cattle continue to thrive over the winter months.

Teagasc Advisors are regular contributors of articles here on Teagasc Daily. Find you local Teagasc office here