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The Wet Summer - Implications for Livestock
2012-11-19

Farm Vet John Macfarlane of Alnorthumbria Veterinary Group offers a timely update for farmers in the North East dealing with the repercussions of a disastrously wet season.

John Macfarlane of Alnorthumbria Veterinary Group

John Macfarlane

Back in July, I considered the hazards facing cattle and sheep which were likely to result from the heavy rainfall we had experienced. I was mostly concerned about parasites, both internal and external, and the likely difficulties in growing and conserving good winter fodder.

There has been very little respite in the weather since then and many of my predicted problems were well founded. If you were a fluke, a worm or a lungworm, 2012 has been a vintage year. Scoured young stock have been a perpetual problem through the summer, with our nurses kept busy doing worm egg counts. Accurate egg counts are the essential first step in establishing what’s wrong. In the early summer there were large numbers of confirmed cases of coccidiosis, in both lambs and calves. It was imperative that laboratory analysis distinguished these from nematodirus (in lambs) and gut worms (in both) as the signs shown are similar and, indeed, there were frequent occasions when more than one cause was found. Treatment can only be effective once you know, accurately, the cause of the problem.

Cases of lungworm and, particularly, fluke continue to be a serious problem still. I would strongly advise all livestock farmers who do not know their farm’s status for these to get samples to the practice for analysis. The favourable conditions for both of these parasites this year make this the best opportunity for finding out if you have a problem. We are also finding occasional instances of triclabendazole resistance, so it is also a good time to check that your fluke treatment is working properly.

Early indications are that pneumonia will be common this winter, although it is comforting to see many farmers getting the vaccine in early. Especially on those farms where we have rooted out BVD PI animals, the calves are definitely looking healthier.

Looking on the bright side, my predicted fly strike catastrophe failed to materialise; the consensus was that the summer was simply too cold for them!

Harvesting and foraging have both been a serious challenge, with quality and quantity reduced for all crops. This will mean that what straw there is will be less absorbent; hay and silage is in short supply and will meet a lower percentage of the winter ration; home grown cereals are of lower quality and due to global crop failures, purchased feed is expensive. Poor bedding supplies will create a particular problem for those calving inside, especially as we are struggling to acquire sufficient Rotavec for those who need it. We have filled orders for just under half of the spring requirements and we are now looking to import an equivalent product from Europe. Adding it all together, it means that wintering livestock this year will be an expensive business.

Finally, the moist foraging and harvesting conditions will lead to greater exposure to mycotoxins this winter. Resulting symptoms range from appetite reduction, reduced growth rate and lower milk yields to reduced fertility and immunosuppression. Testing is now accessible and diet supplements available which will prevent disease caused by mycotoxins. We expect to be recommending these tests over the housing period.

All in all it looks like we just need to cross our fingers for an early spring!

For more information about Alnorthumbria Veterinary Group call 01665 510 999.

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