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Spring Livestock Care

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
April 1, 2015        
Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties

Spring Livestock Care
By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (04/01/15) — Spring has been here for almost two weeks now.  We’ve had some fairly warm days lately, but we have also dipped below freezing some nights.  Spring brings some big changes to our environments-fluctuating weather, changes in atmospheric pressure, and a big boost in allergens.  Besides our own concerns with the transitioning weather, what about livestock?  Each change in season presents its own unique challenges, and winter-to-spring brings some important aspects to keep an eye on.

A major marker of winter’s exit is snowmelt.  Most of central Minnesota has already lost its snow, but keep in mind that wet conditions caused by the snowmelt are still present.  April is right around the corner, and I’m sure we all remember the old adage about April showers… Spring will bring wet conditions with it, and wet conditions can lead to all sorts of problems for livestock. 

Warm, moist environments are optimum for most bacteria.  Animals in these conditions are susceptible to a whole host of issues and diseases.  The single most important thing you can do is keep livestock clean and dry.  This may require adding extra bedding and changing bedding more often.  If you aren’t sure how much bedding to add or if it needs to be changed, try the kneel test.  Kneel down into the bedding.  If you stand up with wet knees, it means your cows are getting more than wet knees.

Also consider where livestock are housed, like at the bottom of a slope.  Obviously buildings can’t be moved, but pens and paddocks could temporarily be relocated to prevent animals from standing in mud.  Extended periods of time standing in water, mud, or manure can lead to significant hoof issues such as foot rot. 

Another aspect to consider with housing is ventilation.  As temperatures increase, so should air exchange rates.  This is done to remove any excess heat.  Also look at general air quality.  Are your animals breathing heavy?  Are their noses runny?  You probably don’t have to worry about your cows having a ragweed allergy, but they should have fresh, clean air.  Tying back to what I said before about damp conditions, air exchange needs to increase if moisture and ammonia from wet and soiled bedding makes the space damp and smelly.  The easiest way to detect a problem is with your ears, eyes, and nose.  Do you hear animals coughing or breathing heavily?  Can you see rapid nose or chest movement?  Does it smell stale and dirty?  If you answer, “yes” to any of these questions, then you may need to look at some ventilation improvements. 

In addition to thinking spring, now is the time to also think summer.  That may seem a little sudden, but taking the time to prepare for summer now will mean you are ready the instant the first heat wave hits.  Take some time to look at your heat abatement measures.  Make sure fans are properly functioning, complete any routine maintenance and repair any damages.  In addition, make sure they are positioned at the proper angles.  Along with fans, if you have sprinkler or mister systems those should be looked at as well.  Make sure hoses are in good condition, without any cracks or holes.  Also make sure the water source is properly functioning.  These maintenance tasks may seem tedious or non-priority during spring, but checking these systems now could help avoid delays in getting them working properly when the hot weather hits.

For summer time also start thinking about keeping a clean environment.  The heat can make environmental pathogens even more prevalent, and some producers will switch their bedding to something non-organic that will also keep animals cooler, like sand.  The attention you pay to proper bedding in the spring should also be paid in the summer.  Along with bedding, flies can be a big problem to livestock environment in the summer.  Do you know what measures you’ll be taking for fly management?  Assess how fly management was handled last year and if it was effective. 

Spring is certainly a busy time, and most time is dedicated to the fields, but don’t forget about your livestock!  Keeping them dry and comfortable is crucial to keeping them healthy and productive.  Taking some time to plan for the summer months will also help save time in the long run and ensure your animals never skip a beat as they transition into spring and then into summer. 

If you have any questions about livestock management, contact the Stearns County Extension Office at 320-255-6169, Benton County Extension Office at 320-968-5077, or Morrison County Extension Office at 320-632-0161.


Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169
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