In my time before Texas Ranch Sales, LLC, I was an County Extension Agent. Those may be foreign words to some, but part of the job is educating farmers, ranchers, and the public on agriculture endeavors. This gave me the opportunity to visit with many livestock producers, or future producers about the need for a herd health program/plan. The question that inevitably follows…“do I really need all that”? I would respond with “do you vaccinate your children”? If the answer is no, go ahead and continue thumbing through this beautiful magazine of ranches we sell here at TRS, because this article probably isn’t your cup of tea.
Step One – you need a set of working pens. No, you don’t have to spend a million dollars to make this happen, but you need to build it strong. My advice is to consult with your favorite online search engine and type in the following: “cattle working pens+edu”. The “edu” will insure that you will get .edu or .org information that is researched and field tested. That way you won’t be reading how “Bob with a cow blog” (that has zero education about livestock handling) built his for $400. No offense, Bob.
Step Two – familiarize your cattle with the process. Take a few weekends to move your herd through the pens without them having any bad experiences. This will ultimately help you to see any issues with your pens, make changes, and familiarize your livestock with how things work and that it’s not the death chamber they thought it was.
Now, you’ve got a facility that is capable of containing even “the crazy cow” (you should consider culling her), what’s next? May I call your attention to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s “Beef Herd Health Management Calendar” (produced in 2007 – yes, it’s still good), which can be found online by searching “AgriLife SP-289” (the publication number). I’m not going to tell you line by line EVERY detail, but simply hit the most important parts…i.e. the bare minimum of cattle herd health.
This explanation is based off a one to three month calving cycle. If you say to me “but Julie, my cows calve all year”…you were taught at a young age what causes babies…pull that bull out of your cow herd! He needs to have a separate space, where he will inevitably tear up lots of things, nevertheless, he only needs to be with your cows, during breeding time. I understand this may not be feasible for every cattle producer, but it allows your cows to have plenty of time to recover post birth, before breeding again, and allows you to have a calving “season” versus a guessing game of “is she pregnant or not”. Speaking of pregnancy tests…that’s an optional item you might want to consider adding to your herd health plan. No sense in feeding one that needs to head to the sale barn.
Note: any vaccination recommendations from here should be compared against the medicine label. READ AND FOLLOW THE LABEL! Also take into consideration all withdrawal periods. Yes, this means you need to read a 17 page print out in font two, but they make reading glasses or grandkids for just this reason.
(2-3 months before the cows calve)
If any of your cows do not have the body condition necessary to have that baby and take care of it – GET RID OF HER! I don’t care that she’s your favorite and her name is Sadie and you love to give her scratches. You’re going to experience a REAL loss when Sadie is teats up and can’t care for that calf. Consider supplementation to improve her condition, if that works for your herd. Other items to review on each cow: lame/cripple (even if it’s just a little bit), bad eyes, large teats at calving or doesn’t produce milk. Some issues are temporary and can be fixed with the assistance of a veterinarian, but most cannot. Finally, bringing it back to “the crazy cow”…you know who I’m talking about…high headed, snot slinging…”but Julie, she has amazing calves”. Fact – each year in the United States of America, 20 people are killed by cows.
She needs a brand, ear tag, or tattoo as some form of identification.
Give the Leptospirosis vaccination (commonly called Lepto), a 7, 8, or 9 way Clostridia (vet can recommend best for your area of the state) and Tetanus (contained in some, but not all Clostridial vaccines). In the US Lepto is “killed”, or inactivated, so vaccination of a pregnant and nursing animal is considered safe. IF you have your cows in the chute prior to breeding, give them Lepto shots, as it is used to prevent abortion. In the southeastern portion of the US (east half of Texas) it’s encouraged to give Lepto twice per year.
4. Evaluate for Parasites
(stay on top of stomach worms and horn flies, specifically)
Calving Season – Don’t book a trip to the Bahamas during this time! You need to be around or have a person familiar with your operation checking on your cows, especially if you have any heifers. In a perfect world, it’s ideal to take a birth weight in the field. Some cattlemen even take this moment to ear tag the calf with a matching number to it’s mother. If not then, make sure it’s done within the first two months of age.
(nursing calves – less than 2 months)
1. Castrate Males
Some feel that this is cruel or just don’t want to mess with it. I’d hypothesize 95% of the calves you sell at the local cattle auction will go to a feed yard where it WILL BE CASTRATED AT WEANING AGE, if they weren’t already, which is incredibly hard on the animal.
Most feedlots are only tipping horns, versus the older practice of dehorning upon arrival, which would set a calf back an average of 106 days. Feed bunk space is cheap relative to the performance cost of complete dehorning at feed yard intake. Ultimately, it becomes a personal decision…do you want them tipped in the yard or dealt with at home, while they’re younger?
3. Identify calves
If you have not already; ID calves with an ear tag or tattoo. I like ear tags because I can see them quickly as I drive by on the four wheeler, again…to each their own.
(nursing calves – less than 2-4 months)
Give calves their first Clostridia shots.
2. Identify Calves
If you choose to brand your calves, this is the time best for that. Number brands are fine, but ranch brands must be registered with the county clerk’s office. It’s illegal to use a ranch brand that isn’t registered. Make sure to use a calf-sized brand, not the same one used for cows.
Give calves their Clostridia booster shots. Read the label for exact timing!
2. Parasite evaluation
Cows and Calves – visit with your beef cattle veterinarian for the most effective control over stomach worms and horn flies as these parasites are the most common and detrimental to your herd.
Between 6-8 months, wean and weigh your calves OR if your calves are identified, a record of the weight will be collected at the sale to be used as a tool for cow culling. Before hauling off those calves, take a long hard look at records of production and make some decisions on culling. I don’t encourage culling after one missed season, a season in low performance, or one unhealthy or structurally incorrect calf. However, cows only get two calving seasons to prove their worth at my place, otherwise they’re just an expensive lawn ornament.
To the “cattlemen of the year”, this list is missing a great deal of items. If you want to be a stellar keeper of stock, go check out the beef calendar I mentioned in the beginning of the article. Cattle raising isn’t for everyone, but I can guarantee if you do it long enough and fly by the seat of your pants without preventative medicine, you’ll lose your fair share, which hits the potential pocketbook hard. I always hear a few folks that said “oh, I never did any of that”. That’s fine, but know you’re playing with fire.
There are lots of other options besides allowing this article to overwhelm you…hire a veterinarian to do it for you, or they often know a few good cowboys that they could recommend. If you’re completely in the dark, hiring it done will be less expensive and save tons of time versus a D.I.Y. cattle working. If you have more questions about creating a herd health program for your cattle operation (if it’s 5 cows or 5,000), call a local beef cattle veterinarian or the local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service for your county. Remember, if you ate today, thank a farmer or rancher.
Faries, Floron C.“Buddy”, DVM and Wayne Thompson. “Beef Herd Health Management Calendar.” AgriLife Publication July 2007: SP-289.
Huston, Carla, DVM. Ph.D., “Understanding Pregnancy Losses due to Leptospirosis in Cattle.” Cattle Business Magazine, December 2013.
Paschal, Joe, Livestock Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Interview, March 2, 2021.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julie Zimmerman Morris
Associate at Texas Ranch Sales, LLC
Growing up on a small ranch raising cattle and goats as well as her experiences with 4-H and FFA has led Julie to a life and love of working in agriculture and the ranching industry. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Services and Development from Tarleton State University. Here, she also went on to earn a Master of Science in Agriculture.
Julie spent over 13 years working under the AgriLife umbrella as a County Extension Agent – Agriculture/Natural Resources and Program Coordinator.