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Summer heat, pasture management and herd health

With summer in full swing, temperatures soaring and rain making a welcome appearance, things are once more – as usual – busy for farmers.

Whether you are a small-scale farmer, or even a large mega farmer, everyone depends on healthy herds throughout the year. Healthy herds are profitable.

Sheep flocks will mostly have finished lambing by early summer and these young lambs will benefit tremendously from the green pastures. The natural source of nutrients will encourage growth in the young animals, as well as promote the overall health of the animals.

Cattle herds will be in a similar, yet different, position. Many farmers use set calving seasons that start around the middle of August and end by the middle of November so that calves can grow optimally during the peak of natural pastures. Bulls will also be with cows and heifers for the duration of the summer months.

But it isn’t as easy as waiting for summer and merely putting animals together in the hope of getting calves and lambs. There are a number of things that need to be done beforehand.

Before putting either bulls or rams with your herds or flocks, make an appointment with your local veterinarian to come and test your bulls and rams for fertility. Diseases like bovine trichomoniasis (trich) among bulls can cause quite a substantial financial loss. Unfortunately trich cannot be cured, and is a likely culprit if the conception rate in the herd is extremely low.

During the summer months, tick numbers will be extremely high. The heat and wet conditions will cause their populations to flourish. This, in turn, gives rise to diseases like African redwater, Asiatic redwater (a very fast-acting disease with a high mortality rate) and bile disease. When the summer months make their appearance, dipping livestock becomes a very high priority.

There are a number of different types of products that can be used for both internal and external parasites. These products offer protection against parasites for several weeks and most offer immediate protection. It is always a good idea to speak to a knowledgeable person at your local TWK branch for advice on which products to use and for what parasite it will work. A broad-spectrum product will help, but in some cases a specific product may be needed to target a specific parasite.

Many people love going on holiday during the summer months. While this in itself is not problematic, having sick animals at home can become a costly problem. When you know you are leaving for a period of time, make sure your animals are healthy and give them preventative dips for parasites. This will lower the chances of one of your animals becoming ill or even dying.

Animals should be in optimal condition during summer and going out of summer into winter. Insufficient and poor quality feed is a cause for concern. When you speak to your veterinarian about your animals’ condition, they are likely to ask you about your animals’ diet and give advice. When going into winter in an optimal, healthy condition, animals are more likely to withstand harsh winters better.

Animals who have enough feed during the breeding season and are in good health are more likely to carry foetuses to term. This means more calves and lambs will be born. If animals are not healthy, the chances are that they will skip, which means the farmer will not get a calf or lamb to sell.

During the spring and early summer months, there are a number of vaccinations farmers should do for their cattle. Bovine ephemeral fever (better known by its Afrikaans name of drie-dae-stywe-siekte), Rift Valley fever and lumpy skin disease are some of the more common vaccinations that are recommended for cattle herds during spring and even early summer.

Things to look out for during summer:

  • The number of external parasites (ticks) and types of parasites on animals.

  • The type of supplements (licks) given to herds and flocks (are they eating the supplements or are they not eating them?).

  • Paleness (check eyes and gums) in animals that look sick (tick-borne diseases as well as internal parasites).

  • Condition of animals – animals should be in optimum condition during the summer months.

Become familiar with the different types of plants that grow on your farm. Some of them may be poisonous and you will need to know how to treat animals that have digested them.

Overuse of unnecessary medication can have negative side effects – speak to knowledgeable people about using the right medication at the right time.

Some readers may remember from the March issue earlier this year that wireworm was mentioned. Wireworm is an internal parasite that can cause significant losses among small livestock, which means a loss of income for farmers. Throughout summer and well into autumn, wireworm will be a common sight for some farmers. Thankfully, with the right medication (administered with a herd-management programme), wireworm infestations can be stopped and prevented.

A crucial vaccination small livestock farmers should remember for summer too is that for pulpy kidney. Many farmers suffer losses from pulpy kidney throughout the year and the summer months are no different. Pulpy kidney vaccinations for small livestock should be given seasonally or when a change in feed is made.

From the last weeks of winter, through spring and into the first weeks of summer sheep flocks are sheared. When flocks are sheared, it is always a good idea to dip animals for external parasites like lice and ticks. You can find a dip that will suit the needs of your flock at your local TWK branch.

Horses are used for moving livestock, transportation and pleasure riding. During October, horses are usually vaccinated for AHS (African horse sickness). However, during the summer months horses will also need attention for both internal and external parasites. Ticks and flies can become an infestation on horses, with internal parasites wreaking havoc too. It is always a good idea to give preventative treatment for parasites to horses, as in many cases horses will only show that they are unwell when they are losing weight. Also remember to deworm mares before they go into foal.

Make sure you know which poisonous plants grow in your area during the summer months. Knowing and understanding poisonous plants can make a world of difference when you want to help your animals. A common poisonous plant (which is problematic during spring months already), is Moraea spp. (Iridaceae), or more commonly known as ‘tulp’. There are several species of this plant that are considered to be toxic (poisonous) for animals. Knowledge is key when it comes to these plants.

Summer months may pose their own challenges for livestock farmers and their animals, but all things considered, with the right management plan in place, these challenges manageable. Speak to the right people about medication that is readily available, as new and improved products do come on the market. Taking care of your herds and flocks means they will take care of you. Healthy animals will make farmers profitable.


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