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Weaning time is a good time to think about biosecurity; developing a plan isn’t as difficult as it seems.
Biocontainment – preventing the spread of disease within your herd – is equally important. And records are important here as well, so you know where animals have been on your operation and who’s been in contact with them.
Isolation can play a role. If you’re running different bunches of cattle on different places, and they haven’t been in contact with each other, bringing them together in the fall is essentially the same as merging two outside herds, Ondrak says. The infectious agents that one herd was exposed to could differ from those that challenged the other herd. So, if possible, isolate different bunches of cattle, or at least the calves after they’re weaned, so you can sort out any health challenges that might arise.
Isolate sick animals, he says, and test for what’s wrong. “If we do some testing to identify the infectious agent, we can use vaccinations to control some of those diseases,” Ondrak says.
And then, wash your hands. If you haul cattle for a neighbor, you probably think about washing out the truck or trailer. “But if you’re working with a sick calf, maybe you ought to wash your hands, and clean your boots and clothes,” he suggests, to prevent spreading the problem further.
Ondrak and Sager agree any biosecurity and biocontainment plan works better when your veterinarian is involved as a year-round herd health consultant. “Today, the need for an animal health expert with current knowledge of biosecurity is more important than ever,” Sager says. That’s because new challenges always crop up.
Like leukosis, which is a slow-acting virus that circulates in the blood or the lymph system and causes a lymphoma-like condition. Little is known about it, and research is underway to learn more. “I think it’s a smoldering coal that we recognize as more of a problem in cattle now than we did just a few years ago,” Sager says.
And finally, Ondrak says, look beyond the medicine bottle. “A lot of times, producers and veterinarians focus on the animal. We want to prepare the animal for weaning and certainly we want to improve their immunity and increase resistance to infection. And certainly vaccinations and dewormers are a part of that whole process.”
But there are several other things to consider, including a low-stress environment. “Reduce dust, reduce mud and, depending on the time of year, avoid extremes in temperatures,” Ondrak says.
“Then we need to think about the disease-causing agent. And that’s really where biocontainment and biosecurity come into play – trying to reduce the exposure by how we manage the animals. If we do a good job dealing with these components, we’ll have a fairly successful weaning,” he says.