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Disease Prevention

Dan Hickey April 22, 2020
Heard Health & Welfare

Choose the appropriate management practice, corrective treatment or a combination to prevent common diseases or disorders

Guidelines for choosing the appropriate disease management practice

All the procedures in this module rely on knowing the health problems that are potential risks to your beef enterprise.

Know the common cattle diseases in your locality

Consider whether any of the more common diseases, trace element deficiencies or parasites are likely to occur in your beef enterprise by assessing:

  • grazing and husbandry practices
  • age groups and classes of cattle
  • disease status of introduced cattle
  • locality of your enterprise.

Tool 6.7 provides a list of common production and reproduction diseases and conditions for their likely occurrence. These diseases of cattle can lead to significant economic loss when left untreated or treatment is delayed.

Diseases that affect cattle may be caused by:

  • infections from bacteria, viruses or fungi
  • parasite infestations
  • nutritional deficiencies, excesses or imbalances
  • metabolic disorders.

Pathogenic or viral infections include:

  • calf scours (neonatal calf diarrhoea)
  • pinkeye.

Parasite infestations to be aware of include:

  • gastrointestinal parasites
  • liver fluke.

Nutritional diseases discussed in this procedure include:

  • grass tetany (hypomagnesemia)
  • milk fever (hypocalcaemia)
  • bloat
  • mineral deficiencies (copper, cobalt, selenium, phosphorus)
  • ketosis (pregnancy toxaemia).

Important reproductive diseases include:

  • vibriosis
  • trichomoniasis
  • leptospirosis.
  • mucosal disease (bovine pestivirus, bovine viral diarrhoea virus or BVDV).

Consult with neighbours, producers with similar production systems, local veterinary practitioners and state departments of primary industries and agriculture to assist with a thorough assessment of the disease status of your herd.

Use local and veterinary advice to develop a disease management plan

Tool 6.7 includes maps showing where trace element deficiencies (selenium and cobalt) are most likely to occur in southern Australia.

Check that your herd is free of diseases by using Tool 6.7, an aid to diagnosing a number of common cattle diseases. Misdiagnosing a disease may result in substantial losses, so consult with a veterinarian to confirm a diagnosis.

Disease prevention is more effective and less costly than treatment. Vaccinate against specific diseases if it is cost-effective or a human health risk.

Once you have identified the risk from any particular animal health issue, decide whether to:

  • take immediate action and develop a preventive management program, or
  • monitor the herd when disease symptoms are likely to occur in the production cycle, and act only when diseases appear.

To help decide whether prevention of some of the more commonly recurring diseases (eg bloat, grass tetany, clostridial diseases) is cost-effective, use a spreadsheet to complete a simple partial budget, or use MLA’s Health Cost Benefit Calculator (see Tool 6.1).

To decide whether to take action, you need to know how severe a disease needs to become before it has an impact on production. Appropriate management strategies or corrective treatments for specific diseases are outlined in Tool 6.7.

An example of an integrated approach for the control of internal parasites in young cattle is outlined in the box below.

Using an integrated approach for the control of internal parasites in cattle

In cattle production, internal parasites are an important management issue, particularly in stock up to 12 months of age and especially in more intensive management systems where poor worm control can reduce cattle growth rates by at least 20%.

The approach relies on the strategic treatment of young stock at weaning and in winter, when worm pickup off pastures is highest. First- and second-calf cows, and occasionally mature cows, require a summer drench to prevent the emergence of inhibited larvae sitting in the gut lining. The number of drenches required depends on the local environment, pasture contamination and stock nutrition. Additional drenching of young stock is best determined by monitoring using tools such as faecal worm egg counts (WECs), clinical assessment of cattle performance, and laboratory tests using pepsinogen to measure gut damage.   

In addition to strategic drenching and monitoring, an important strategy to minimise the impact of worms is to use grazing management. Young weaned cattle should graze on low worm risk pastures (eg pastures grazed by sheep for the previous 6 months), new pastures or at least pastures where older cattle have grazed (who do not contaminate the pastures as much as young stock). 

Good nutrition is critical to minimise the impact of worms in cattle (see Module 3: Pasture utilisation).  

The risk of drench resistance is emerging in beef cattle herds, and producers should check if drenches are working effectively on their properties by conducting a faecal worm egg count reduction trial. Producers should also use effective drenches when buying-in new stock to ensure drench resistance is not introduced.

Further information is provided in Tool 6.7.

Timing of strategic drenching to prevent gastrointestinal parasites will vary slightly between regions and local conditions. MLA published The Cattle Parasite Atlas: A regional guide to cattle parasite control in Australia (2005), which presents an integrated approach to internal and external parasite control in various regions. It also contains basic information on the more important internal and external cattle parasites.

What to measure and when

Individual diseases have different requirements for what to measure and when. Tool 6.7 provides information on the following measurement aids:

  • indicators of the conditions likely to cause common diseases of cattle
  • diagnostic tools to detect the presence of common diseases
  • an understanding of the likely impact of a disease and how severe it needs to become to affect production.

Potential economic loss relative to cost of management and preventive treatment can be calculated using MLA’s Health Cost Benefit Calculator (Tool 6.1).

Use market information on commodity prices to calculate cost–benefit budgets.

Further information