More than 25 cow-calf producers and feedlot owners from around the state gathered at the Knights of Columbus Club in Minot Wednesday night for a free beef dinner followed by an in-depth look at health issues pertaining to today's cattle producers by three state and regional veterinarians.
Jessie Vollmer, veterinarian for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, provided an overview of disease types and brought producers up-to-date information on the most common diseases and the most recently reported disease outbreaks. Focusing on the diseases Tuberculosis, Brucellosis, Anthrax, Johne's Disease and Trichomoniasis, he provided background information on each and highlighted states that have had or continue to face outbreaks, including a possible TB case in North Dakota which is still under investigation.
Gerald Kitto, veterinarian from the Sheridan Animal Hospital in McClusky, spoke to producers about adopting a health program while taking input and market prices into consideration. Using information from a colleague, Kitto advised producers to rid themselves of old cows and conduct fertility tests for bulls and heifers this spring due to the harsh winter conditions. With a tight hay supply, he said many producers would be forced to utilize old hay soon but cautioned them about the loss of protein and its potential effects on the animal's digestive system. Throughout the presentation, Kitto's main message to producers was to make herds work for them.
Don Bliss, a veterinarian parasitologist, conducted fecal samples at the North Central Extension Research Center Laboratory Wednesday afternoon to determine parasite levels in cattle herds from around the area.
"If they don't work for you, they shouldn't be there," he said. "With costs today, there are no second chances."
The main speaker of the evening was Don Bliss, a parasitologist and owner of Mid-America Agricultural Research, who discussed the economic impact parasites can have on a cattle herds as well as possible treatment and control measures. As part of his presentation, Bliss analyzed fecal samples of local herds provided by producers to gauge the parasite level and overall health of the herds. The tests were provided free-of-charge with sponsorship from the NDSU Extension Service and Intervet/Sherling-Plough Animal Health.
Results from the 105 samples from eight producers showed a wide range of health from parasite-free herds to one animal with 45,150 eggs per pound of manure. The most common parasites found in the samples were brown stomach worms, thread neck worms, tapeworms and coccidia.
One couple who had their herd tested, Barry and Ruth Scheresky of Des Lacs, said they were happy with the results of their herd tests and relieved because they were unable to de-worm the herd in November due to the high volume of snow.
"It's nice to know the parasite levels because it acts as a barometer to know if we are doing a good job," Ruth Scheresky said, adding that they attribute their low test results to their effective pasture rotation and consistent use of de-wormers throughout the life cycle of the animals.
"We are able to tell a lot about an animal's overall health by just using a small (fecal) sample," Bliss said. "Even if someone has the best nutritional program in the country but they have parasites, they will have a 10 to 15 percent production loss over the lifespan of the animal."
Numerous studies have found that parasite infestations can have a dramatic impact on an individual animal as well as the herd, especially in the areas of reproduction, appetite and weight gain, feed efficiency, carcass quality, milk production and immune system development.
And as animal efficiency and production has increased due to improvements in nutrition, genetics, disease control measures and other technologies, so has the importance of parasitism and its effect on a producer's bottom line. A recent study conducted by Iowa State University found that parasites are responsible for adding as much as $190 per animal to the cost of raising beef cattle.
While a majority of parasites are unable to survive North Dakota winters, those that do start a cycle that, unmanaged, can devastate a livestock operation. Parasites that survive the winter are present on pasture when cattle, normally parasite-free, arrive for summer grazing. The cattle ingest the parasites where they multiply and develop in the gut for as long as 30 days. The parasite eggs are then shed back onto the pasture in manure where they are able to further multiply and develop. If left untreated, calves will also be infected come fall by eating the grass.
To break the cycle, Bliss advises producers to de-worm cattle twice a year, once in early summer and again in the fall. By doing so, he said there can be an 80 to 90 percent reduction of parasites present on pasture. On the same note, he added, pasture that is left undisturbed for a season will cleanse itself of the parasites.
But in order to be most effective, timing is key.
Bliss said de-worming measures should be done two to four weeks after cattle are taken to pasture to allow them time to pick up any parasites that might have survived the winter so that they can be concentrated in the gut so that when the de-worming treatment is administered, it increases the effectiveness and chance of a complete kill, preventing them from being reintroduced onto pasture.
Several studies have showed that if treatments are not administered at the correct time or dosage, parasites can become resistant to treatments. To study this phenomenon, a national database was created by Intervet/Sherling-Plough Animal Health and the University of Nevada-Reno in 2003 for the purpose of tracking the chemical resistance of parasites and the products used as well to document the types of parasites that are common in different regions. Already 19 states have participated and over 22,000 samples have been analyzed. Results from the national database so far indicate that parasite resistance is now a wide-spread problem that can cost U.S. cattle producers millions of dollars per year.
"This problem is not going to go away, so producers need to stay informed and stay ahead of the problem," Bliss said.