For producers this year, as with many, troubles seem to start and end each new endeavor.
Snowstorms and frigid temperatures throughout the winter caused many to become dangerously low on feed. Early spring snowstorms greeted producers in the beginning of their calving season and flooding saw them through until the end. Late spring saw cool temperatures and damp conditions that delayed grass growth on grazingland and stunted nature's ability to get rid of excess water on the land.
Now, as producers prepare to put their herds out to pasture, experts said they need to be aware of how all of these elements may come into play.
"It was a tough winter. The stress from the cold and the marginal feed at times have resulted in not enough colostrum getting to the calves so there has been above normal levels of pneumonia and scour recently," said John Dhuyvetter, livestock systems agent for North Dakota State University Extension Service. He added that run-down cows were also at greater risk of pneumonia and exhibited greater numbers of illness.
Compounding the problem is the fact that the last few years of drought have resulted in less nutritious forage, said Charles Stoltenow, NDSU vet.
"These animals are so strung out from winter and spring that their immune systems are not as strong as they should be so I expect to see an increase in pasture pneumonia, foot rot, pink eye and other common nagging ails so producers need to make sure these animals are getting a trace mineral and protein mix.''
Although most of the calves are now recovering, the effects of the harsh winter conditions may have some long-term ramifications, said Susan Keller, state veterinarian.
"Decreased lung capacity from chronic pneumonia and a damaged GI tract from reoccuring scours may keep calves from reaching their normal production potential," she said.
Those production losses include a lower weaning weight and fertility issues, but the prospect of ample, nutritious grass may compensate to some degree, Dhuyvetter said.
The most recent crop, livestock and weather report from the North Dakota field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service showed a vast majority of pastures were deemed fair or good condition and stockwater supplies were overwhelming deemed adequate, but below normal temperatures continues to hinder grass growth. Because of this, Dhuyvetter said proper grass management will be key.
As producers prepare to put their herds out to pasture, experts warn of potentially deadly elements that may be lying-in-wait in the soon-to-be-supple fields.
The first and foremost concern anthrax.
Due to snowmelt and flooding, Dhuyvetter said the state, particularly the eastern third, is at risk of an anthrax outbreak, which can survive in the ground as spores for up to 250 years and is typically fatal. He added that there has not been a reported case of anthrax in the Minot area for many years and the risk is low, but producers need to remain vigilant.
The state Board of Animal Health agreed and has advised producers to vaccinate.
"Every county has been affected at one time or another so the entire state could be at risk," said Susan Keller, state veterinarian. "Areas like the upper northwest go along for years without having a case and become complacent, but this is not one to cut out of protocol."
While there was one reported case of anthrax last year, Stoltenow said there are thousands of unreported cases every year, adding that Sargent County alone reported 1,000 cases in 2005.
"The entire region from Montana to Canada and here is all endemic for anthrax," he said. "It may not happen in 2009, but I guarantee you we will have an outbreak within the next three years."
At one to two dollars per dose, Stoltenow said vaccinations should be done every year before cattle are put out to pasture.
With high moisture levels and the potential for fast grass growth, Keller said producers are in a high risk time period for grass tetany, an often fatal metabolic disorder involving low magnesium levels in the animal which causes cows to tremor and convulse, so she advises an extra magnesium supplement.
Other potentially deadly concerns include blackleg, a highly fatal disease of young cattle caused by the spore-forming bacteria clostridium, and overeating disease, a toxic condition caused by undigested carbohydrates in the intestine that causes harmful bacteria to be released. Keller said she already heard reports of these infections around the state.
Russell Behm, a veterinarian with the Minot Livestock Clinic, said he has seen a fair amount of coccidiosis, which is an infection caused by parasitic protozoa that can cause damage to the intestinal mucosa, in herds that shows up as blood in manure, diarrhea and emaciation.
Although not lethal, experts cautioned producers to be on the lookout for pinkeye, transmitted by flies, and foot rot due to the increased chance of standing water in pasture.
To avoid the financial, physical and mental headaches these afflictions cause, all of the experts advised producers to vaccinate their entire herds before putting out to pasture and to provide nutritional supplements regularly.
"Get your vet involved early on before you've lost a lot (of animals) because by the time those animals have died, the disease may have already run through its course," said Stoltenow.
"Don't let your guard down just because there's green grass," Keller said. "With all these animals have been through, they need to be checked more carefully and more often."