Often we remind you about dairy cattle management in terms of proper feeding, reproduction, best milking techniques and general hygiene. Alongside these, there are a number of activities which make part of best management dairy cattle production. These codes of management practices, contribute to your farm’s viability and profitability if correctly done and timed well. Though some cut across livestock species, this write-up limit to dairy cattle for today, with emphasis on the specific activity, threats if ignored or benefits they come along with, operation equipment or control measurements and their correct timings where applicable.
Dehorning and disbudding
De-budding or disbudding is the removal of horn buds. It is normally done before three weeks of age and can be done to either male or female cattle. When buds are left to grow, they develop into horns and the practice now done to remove the grown horns is dehorning. These activities are mostly done for the safety of the rest of the herd since some animals are aggressive and can cause injuries to others or themselves. However, disbudding is more recommended over dehorning since it is less invasive. Before the practice, restrain the animal in a humane manner and arm yourself with hot de-budding irons. It is better to do a painless procedure than to provide post-operation pain relievers thus you can use local anesthetics, sedatives and anti-inflammatory agents to reduce pain for longer hours and make the activity smoothly successful. Disbudding should always be done correctly to avoid re-growth of buds into horns in future by a vet. Observe disbudded calves up to 2hours and should there be head-pressing or abnormal head tilt for over 2 hours, call the vet back for re-examination.
This management practice is to control abnormal growth of hooves that cause lameness. If not trimmed regularly, hooves get misshaped and cattle remain predisposed to foot rots, abscesses or foot punctures, false pad and foot injuries. For a start, you can hoof trim heifers at about 4-6 months of age thereafter carry out the activity wit not defined specific time. Frequently monitor the growth of your herd’s foot and trim when applicable to make your animals more comfortable enough to stand longer time. If you wait, foot cracks grow meaning more time during trimming. During the practice, you need a sharp knife or hoofnipper, hoof pick, rasp and a pair of gloves to protect your hands. Trimming hoofs with cracks require zinc supplements to firm up the hoof and prevent future cracking. Trimming hooves infected with foot rot require that you dip the feet in copper sulphate solution bought from any agrovet. Poor or over trimming can result to lameness. Always make your animal as comfortable as possible to ease the activity.
This is normally done to young males not intended for breeding purposes. Castration involves methods in which testicles are removed through open surgery, cords crushed by use of a burdizzo or blood flow restricted to the testes using rubber rings. Since all these methods cause pain, sedatives and anesthetic drugs are use during this procedure by a qualified vet.
This is the most common practice in farms since it determines the success of any activity to be performed on dairy cattle. Always handle your animals with care, easy and calm. Restraining structures or apparatus in well-constructed dairy units include the crush, head yoke, halters made from ropes and other rope patterns. Depending on your choice, any of these should reduce animal’s fear, avoid injuries or pains and make animal treatment easier. To be sure of these anyway, is when the animal’s normal lying or standing behavior is at stress free. Anytime when handling animals, be in gumboots for pain purposes and increased chances of completing any activity successfully. Bull ring application should also be painless.
Identification and Branding
Animal identification is mostly important for traceability/ follow ups, individual animal identity and keeping accurate individual cattle records. In cattle, identification is mostly by use of ear tags or tattoos. Though branding is mainly done in beef cattle, it is a practice still seen in some dairy farms but is not recommended for dairy. When applying the identification method of your choice, be careful to avoid pain or distress to animals. Anti-inflammatory drugs may be required during ear tagging and tattooing. Where paints are used for markings, ensure that you use non-toxic paints. Ear tags are applied at young calf age. Veterinarians are best placed for this procedure because of drug handling.
This is removal of hair from coats, tail switch trimming and udder hair removal. Cows may carry pathogens in their tail switch and infect the udder. Udder and coat hair accumulate dirt and manure and also make acaricide penetration difficult. Off-milk flavor risks are also high where udder hairs are left to grow. Tail switch is mainly done two to three times in a year, coat hair once a year and udder hair on a regular schedule. Electric shavers are mostly used, but take care not to cause cuts.
External parasite control
Ecto parasites still a threat to most of our dairy farms mainly include ticks, biting flies, fleas and mites. If the host is burdened, signs of weight loss, diarrhoea, loss of hair and scratching against the wall are seen. Ticks cause a number of tick-borne diseases like East Coast Fever (ECF) while Tsetse flies cause Tripanosomiasis which are very expensive to treat or deadly. So to be safe, regular use of acaricides is appropriate. Some of these acaricides are limited to ticks only, while others are open to repel many external parasites like the tsetse flies and flies. When you visit an agrovet, ask for safety precautions on the use, and good acaricides that do not leave chemical residues in milk and have least impact on environment. It is important that you do not spray your animals within the unit but in a crush if using a knapsack, spray race or use a cattle dip dressed in overcoat, gumboots and nose mask. Also recommended is that you rotate the acaricides you use to reduce chances of resistance by parasites on the specific acaricide you use frequently. For cattle dips, give your animals water first so that they do not drink the acaricide treated water in the dip. Always spray regularly; one or two weeks interval depending on the acaricide used.
Internal Parasite Control
The healthy appearance of your livestock does not reflect their true infestation by endo-parasites. These are mainly worms that include roundworms, tapeworms and flukes. Worms compete and drain the animal of nutrients resulting to poor health, slow growth rate and general low productivity. Where regular deworming is not practiced, recognizing the symptoms of worms’ infestation mostly dull and rough coats, hair loss, coughing and distended abdomens helps effect treatments. Control worms using effective dewormers (anthelmintics) with keenness on ease of application, whether broad spectrum, milk withdrawal periods and cost effectiveness. Some dewormers cause miscarriages to in-calf cows therefore deworming post calving at around early lactation is safer and consistently increase milk yields. Most range of dewormers recommends the practice at three months interval. Some dewormers are not recommended for treating pregnant animals, if used they can cause miscarriage; therefore be sure of the choice of dewormer.
Extra Teat Removal
Supernumerary/ extra teats are teats developed apart from the four primary teats. Normally they pause risk for bacterial infection and make milking difficult. In case you identify extra teats, call a vet to remove them at calf age under controlled bleeding and pain using a scalpel or sharp scissors.
Weighing should be a common practice in your herd to monitor each cow’s growth and weight losses. Most diseases or conditions are manifested by weight losses therefore any significant weight loss is an alarm call. Where weighing machines are not available, employ the use of weight bands bought from agrovets.
Vaccination schedules are mostly appropriate depending on the herd’s area prevalent diseases. Vaccines vary with diseases with periods of administration ranging biannual and annually. Vaccines prevent the wrath of diseases befalling your herd and minimize your gains. After vaccination by a vet, ensure you are issued with a vaccination card or you may need ear tags showing cattle that have been vaccinated like in ECF.000