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Make the most of passes through the cattle chute

Beef 911: Don’t take a ‘we can do it later’ attitude and miss the opportunity to get more done in one pass

Some preplanning by the cattle producer in consultation with the herd veterinarian ahead of a major processing will accomplish many things, including herd improvement.

This article will describe a specific example of this. Certain points may fit into the management of your operation. Some points may become obvious when the processing starts and can be added in directly at that time or a note can be made to include them next year.

Consider these points when fall pregnancy checking. This is still not done by 40 per cent of producers — which is always surprising to me.

In this example, it was decided this year to utilize the veterinarian pregnancy check with the herd and help with a few other things.

There were two main things which were added into the protocol. The veterinarian suggested since this herd had always been vaccinated with a modified live vaccine for IBR and BVD just before breeding, the cattle would have very good immunity. And with the cows now well into their third trimester of pregnancy, that vaccine (which has fetal protection) could be added into this processing — saving the producers running the cows through before breeding (when it is difficult to separate the calves off).

This is a very important decision and must be done with the advice of your herd veterinarian as he or she must be happy with the previous protection from BVD and IBR which your herd has received. The veterinarian would also save you the costs of vaccinating any open cows and they could be shipped directly.

Resistance to the avermectins (pour-on endectocides) was found in this herd, so deworming with a different oral product and a hook feeder (fenbendazole) was also given. (Deworming and lice treatments should also be discussed with your herd veterinarian.)

As mentioned in other articles, you should always have a supply of the CCIA tags ready for cull cows so, if needed, they are tagged right when the cows are caught. Record the dangle tag and if possible sort her out right then as well. You as the producer should have the quick ability to sort at least two ways out of the chute. It doesn’t take much to even put up a few portable panels to make this happen.

I never like the statement, ‘We can do that later,’ because often later never seems to come — a person is too busy with other things and the details get lost. We always mark the open and late cows with a crayon mark in case cows got back together.

The producer had trouble reading tags in the past because of hair over the tags or dirt covering the number. Having a cleansing solution and a good pair of scissors rectified this.

Again, none of these things slowed the procedure down to any degree, and there will be recaptured labour and fewer mistakes made at calving when tags could be read. A few cows had tags missing and because they were purebreds, the tattoos were read and tags made immediately.

If in a real hurry, sort them off and retag at the end of the day. If calving on larger tracks of land, carry around a good set of pocket-size binoculars and you will be amazed at how often they get used reading tag numbers.

On this processing day an unexpected twist happened.

A few of the cows appeared overly thin so at the same time as pregnancy checking, the veterinarian did a body condition score and the decision was made to remove the heifers and any cows with a 2.0 condition score. This allowed the producer to bring up the condition score of the cattle to acceptable levels for calving and minimized competition in the main herd — a win-win situation. This could very easily be accomplished by sorting out of the chute.

A few other fringe benefits were also seen.

In pregnancy checking these far pregnant cows, a few sets of twins were identified which the producer could keep an extra watch on at calving. They ended up in the thin group (which is not surprising given they were feeding two fetuses). After examining the lists afterwards, it became apparent that a high percentage of the first calvers made it into the thin group, which I am sure is not surprising to anyone.

What was an eye-opener were the older cows.

A definite distinction was seen for cows older than 10 years — more than half of them made it into the thin herd. The younger and older cows had a hard time competing. This sort was still done far enough from the start of calving to bring the cows that needed extra nutrition up to good condition. As a result, good-quality colostrum will be produced and the cows being on a rising plane of nutrition should develop good protection to the vaccines.

Many chute-side computer programs are based on the individual RFID tag number, so this can be utilized as well so input of data can become automatic. This information helps with culling.

When pregnancy checking next time, use this example of how to better utilize your herd veterinarian. Hopefully, it will make your life easier in the long run. It also potentially eliminates a further processing in the future by doing as much as humanly possible with one pass through the chute.

Make sure to ask lots of questions on pressing subjects. With herds like this, the VCPR (veterinary client patient relationship) is automatically maintained.

About the author


Roy Lewis practised large-animal veterinary medicine for more than 30 years and now works part time as a technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.



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