Killer in the feedlot: Bovine Respiratory Disease and how to prevent it discusses Bovine Respiratory Disease, one of the leading causes of revenue loss on Irish feedlots.

Major revenue loss

Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD), often referred to as Bovine Pneumonia, is among the most devastating conditions that farmers may have to deal with over the winter months. With the exception of very young calves, Bovine Respitatory Disease can strike cattle of all ages.

However, like many other conditions linked to the spread of infectious disease, it is most often identified among housed cattle and is prevalent in herds of cattle imported from diverse locations. It is difficult to overestimate the economic cost of BRD on Irish farms. Respiratory diseases in cattle are highly infectious, have exceptionally high mortality rates (up to 25%) and are among the foremost reasons for carcass rejection at slaughter.

What causes BRD?

Generally, BRD is caused by uncontrolled viruses and bacteria in the herd. Among the most lethal of these are Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida, though other agents such as RSV, PI3, BoHV-1 (IBR), BVD and Bovine coronavirus are also considered significant causes of disease.

It is generally recognized that cattle housed in poor conditions are more likely to develop BRD, and this is why farmers are always encouraged to ensure hygienic and well ventilated housing conditions.

Signs and symptoms

Cattle suffering from Bovine Respiratory Disease exhibit difficulty breathing, and breathe much faster than a healthy animal. An infected cow will have little appetite, usually has a cough and invariably shows a mucus drip from the nostrils. While these are the most common symptoms, raw mucous membranes, conjunctivitis and low milk yield in lactating cows are also prominent features. If you notice any of these signs in your herd, you should contact your vet immediately.

Nasal discharge is a common symptom of BRD


Diagnosis of BRD usually involves some for of veterinary examination. In many instances, BRD is only diagnosed via post-mortem examination. However, the disease may also be identified by clinical examination and laboratory testing. Farmers should be as proactive as possible in trying to diagnose the disease early, and your veterinarian will advise as to the best diagnostic methods.  

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Indoor Lambing: The Basics talks early lambing, and outlines some of the steps farmers can take to prevent lamb losses before, during and after birth.

As December draws to a close, early lambing is underway up and down the country. Now, when it comes to yeaning most farmers are well used to dealing with complications and are justifiably proud of their track record in this respect.

However, none of us should rest on our laurels when it comes to lambing outcomes. Few of us will come through the season without a few losses, but we should not forget the simple steps we can take to mitigate the risk of significant losses before, during and after birth.

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Lead poisoning: prevention is key discusses the dangers of lead poisoning on the farm, and outlines some measures you can take to prevent your animals from ingesting this common toxin.

More common than you might think

Lead is the most common cause of poisoning in livestock. Accidental ingestion of lead occurs among cattle and sheep far more frequently than you might think. Because lead ingestion will kill an animal quickly, lead poisoning often goes unrecognised. A farmer may find a previously healthy animal dead in a field and attribute the sudden death to a heart attack or some deadly disease. Farmland that lies near heavily industrialised areas is particularly at risk.

Failure to diagnose lead poisoning as the cause of death can have disastrous consequences, as the poison is on your land and more animals are likely to succumb to it if you do not take action.

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Winter dysentery: a preventable nuisance

With housing season well underway, discusses the symptoms of winter dysentery and outlines some measures farmers can take to prevent an outbreak.

A mere nuisance?

Among the many diseases that afflict cattle during the housing season, winter dysentery is surely one of the most common. Most of us tend to regard an outbreak of dysentery as a mere nuisance. After all, animal deaths due to this disease are negligible, and most healthy cattle will recover from it within a few days.

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Ewe abortions: causes and prevention discusses the causes of abortion in ewes and outlines some measures that farmers can take to mitigate risk.

Flock health post tupping

At this stage in the year, most ewes have already gone to the ram. After a successful tupping season (hopefully), our thoughts now turn to maintaining ewe health during the gestation period. Only ewes in peak physical condition are likely to birth strong, healthy lambs. Ewes in poor health are always liable to abort the foetus or fail to hold to the ram. Therefore, it is essential that we ensure the flock has access to plenty of high-quality feed, and that our animals’ diets are supplemented with vitamin and mineral drenches/boluses.

Preventing abortive disease

Even ewes in good physical condition can end up aborting lambs due to infectious disease. Small numbers of abortions among healthy animals may result from poor handling or in-fighting among sheep. However, if your flock has been hit by large numbers of ewe abortions in recent years, it is possible that you have a problem with enzootic abortion attributable to infection by Toxoplasma gondii or Campylobacter. It is estimated that these infections are responsible for up to 80 percent of later stage abortion in ewes.  

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Product Watch: the New Solantel Pour-On for Cattle

Fluke: impossible to avoid?

The right dose to use and when to use it. These are problems that trouble all sheep and cattle farmers at this time of year. Sheep, in particular, are so vulnerable to fluke that winter ewe deaths from fluke-related liver damage is commonly attested on Irish farms. It is almost impossible to prevent animals from contracting the parasite, especially if – like me – you have wet ground and have no option but to graze it. The lifecycle of this scourge of sheep farmers is very well understood and has been the subject of numerous studies. In short, fluke parasites that have been living on mud snails during the summer months migrate onto the long grass in early autumn, and from here pass into grazing livestock.

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Lameness in Cattle: Prevention and Treatment discusses bovine lameness and outlines some important measures that farmers can take to prevent and treat it.

A serious problem, and not just for dairy men

Winter is always a dangerous time for the contraction and spread of the infections that cause bovine lameness. Cramped housing conditions provide a perfect environment for digital disease to thrive, and we shouldn’t underestimate how much of a problem this can become. Nor should we think that this scourge is a problem for the dairy man only.

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Winter Menace: Managing Lungworm This Housing Season discusses the threat of lungworm in cattle this winter, and outlines the benefits of a pre-housing dose.

Winter Housing Plan

Autumn is well underway at this stage. As temperatures start to dip, our thoughts turn inevitably to preparation for winter housing. Putting together a good housing plan takes time, and that’s why it is best to start preparing it long before the last paddocks are grazed bare. Farmers can agree to disagree on the finer details of a housing plan, but some things are essential.

Getting your animal grouping selection right, for example, is a major point of concern. You don’t want to pair bigger and smaller animals together or the smaller ones will struggle to get their share at the feeding passage. We also need to remember that the dietary change from grass to hay or silage can be a severe shock to the system, particularly for younger animals. Therefore, choosing dietary supplements will always be an essential part of any good housing plan.

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Mineral deficiency in ewes and how to avoid it discusses sheep fertility and the importance of mineral supplementation against deficiency in the weeks before tupping season.

The science of fertility

Tupping season is only a few weeks away now. As I touched on in last week’s blog, late August and September is the time to focus on getting the breeding flock in tiptop shape before putting in the ram. Most sheep farmers will agree that this is an exact science.

While there are many factors that might negatively impact overall flock fertility at this crucial time of the year, mineral deficiencies will always be a key concern for sheep farmers. Obviously, ensuring that your ewes have access to good grazing as we move into September will be a crucial part of safeguarding against the various deficiencies that contribute to infertility. A malnourished ewe will always be deficient in key vitamins and minerals, so remember to get that body condition score up to a healthy 3 or 3.5 before putting her to the ram!

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Clostridial vaccination: have your lambs had their jabs yet?

Lamb Vaccination 001As summer gets underway, Agridirect offers farmers some advice on the prevention of clostridial diseases in sheep, and provides some information about the best vaccines available on the market. 

Here comes the sun!

Well folks, it seems fair to say that summer has arrived, and not before we had need of it. Last weekend saw highs of 21 or 22 degrees in some parts of the country. In northern and western counties, where growth has been abysmal until now, grass is finally on the move. As we move into June, we can almost smell the first cut of grass! Continue reading “Clostridial vaccination: have your lambs had their jabs yet?”