Cow-calf surveillance may offer vital data

The goal is to create a Canadian version of the National Animal Health Monitoring System run through the USDA

Researchers are recruiting commercial beef herd operators to take part in a Canada-wide project looking at key production indicators, such as disease, calving records and performance.

“We want to get base line information on a whole bunch of different things,” said John Campbell of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon.

The goal is to create a Canadian version of the National Animal Health Monitoring System run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A recent survey of 120 herds operating on the Prairies yielded valuable information on disease prevalence, animal welfare nutrition, biosecurity and calf management.

To participate in that study, producers had to have at least 100 cows per herd but many were larger than 300. About half were from Alberta.

Campbell said the herds were run by good managers but even among the top producers, many did not keep good records.

“The biggest downfall is we don’t keep good records and use good records to make management decisions,” he said at the University of Calgary veterinary summit held earlier this summer.

In addition to knowing what treatments were used, production information helps producers analyze their herds to make improvements.

“Those who used benchmarking increased their total production by about 60 pounds per exposed female. On a 300-cow herd, that is $30,000 to $35,000 per year extra,” he said.

“We are not making evidence-based decisions in the cow-calf sector.”

Nevertheless, researchers found the herds were in good shape. The cows got pregnant and few lost calves. The top five percent of herds had an open rate of 2.2 percent.

“The good herds with good health have very few calf mortalities,” he said. “That has a significant effect on your income. If you don’t have a calf to sell each year, that is pretty significant,” he said.

However, a lot of variation existed among herds and year-to-year data would allow producers to track incidents that affected production.

A new trend showed more producers have moved to later calving dates in some regions but it came at a cost.

“Statistically, herds that start breeding late in July and August have a slightly higher number of opens,” Campbell said.

The decline could be related to nutrition or some undiscovered effect on breeding cycles that occurs when cows are scheduled to calve on grass.

The study also looked at trace mineral analysis. Researchers found selenium and copper deficiencies.

Alberta was 32.7 percent deficient in selenium with the northwestern area being the worst.

Nearly half of the cows were copper deficient with most of those in Saskatchewan. There were no significant differences among soil zones.

The survey said 88 percent of herds had at least one deficient cow.

This response could be partly due to how and when supplements are provided for cows because it is hard to get minerals into them.

Molybdenum was 13 percent higher than recommended levels.

Producers were also asked about weaning. About three-quarters still use abrupt weaning.

Little information was available on antimicrobial use in cow-calf herds. With a change to federal regulations on antibiotic and antimicrobial use coming, more information is needed about how much producers currently use and when they are administered.

However, 71 percent of producers surveyed said they used injectable antibiotics at least once and 68 percent reported use of some form of oral antimicrobials at least once. Most were used to treat infections and less than 20 percent said they used antibiotics for disease prevention.

While most said they ask veterinarians for advice, about 40 percent of cow-calf producers do not use a vet regularly.

About the author



Stories from our other publications