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Herd Health: More Than a Vaccination Program

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With spring-born calf weaning right around the corner, now is a good time to emphasize one of the most essential aspects of any cow-calf operation: a herd-wide health program for all classes of animals. It's essential for at least two reasons. The first is the fact that only healthy animals can perform at their genetic potential, and the second is that every producer is responsible for doing his or her part in generating a safe, wholesome, quality commodity for the eventual consumer.

The phrase "herd health program" probably brings to mind immunization protocols and timing and perhaps parasite control, but it involves more than that. Herd health really encompasses managing the animal's whole environment. I break it down into three areas:

1. Reducing stress

Stress impairs an animal's natural disease resistance as well as its ability to respond to whatever immunization regime we may impose. In reality, nutrition, water, facilities, labor, handling technique, preparation, etc., all significantly impact herd health; positively when adequate and negatively when inadequate. One of the primary goals of management should be to minimize stress throughout the year.

2. Developing a preventative immunization regimen with your veterinarian

This infers a solid veterinarian/ client/patient relationship based on communication and mutual confidence. The American Veterinary Medical Association defines this two-way relationship as one in which (paraphrased) the veterinarian has assumed the responsibility for making medical judgments regarding the health of the herd and the need for medical treatment, and the producer has agreed to follow the instructions of the veterinarian; the veterinarian has sufficient, first-hand knowledge of the keeping and care of the producer's herd; and the veterinarian is readily available for follow-up. The objective is a plan for all classes of livestock, tailored to your specific operation and based on things like your marketing objectives, prevalent diseases in your area, calving season, replacement female strategy, etc. It should be reviewed with your veterinarian at least annually at a logical point in your management cycle. This relationship is a vital part of any operation.

3. Implementing Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) practices

Beef Quality Assurance is a nation-wide endeavor by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association to define and promote sound management practices that will assure the safety and wholesomeness of our product to consumers. (www.bqa.org/). Most states now have BQA programs in place offering education, training and actual certification in these practices. Chute-side management practices, including immunization techniques, injection sites, biological handling, residue avoidance and proper recordkeeping to support verification are just a part of these comprehensive programs. Beef consumers are demanding a safe, wholesome, quality product. Producer BQA certification and product BQA verification are rapidly becoming the accepted standards of operation. All producers should become BQA certified and provide the necessary verification that their animals were produced within the accepted guidelines.

Herd health is much more than a vaccination program. It is affected by virtually all aspects of management, especially the degree to which stress is minimized in the animal's environment. The "nuts and bolts" of an immunization and parasite control program and treatment regimes should be worked out through a direct, ongoing relationship with a trusted veterinarian. Beef Quality Assurance is a program that ties all aspects of health and management together to ensure that beef continues to meet the demands of consumers.