Overall, cows on pasture have fewer health problems than those in confinement, says this veterinarian.
Veterinarian Craig DeMuth isn’t quite as lonely as the Maytag repairman. But with half of his 30 clients doing some grazing and one-third of them intensively grazing, he’s on his way. DeMuth sees “a lot fewer problems
(on grazing) than with confinement. Overall, animals are healthier.”
Most information on the health benefits of grazing isn’t confirmed by controlled experiments but comes from the experience of people like DeMuth, who has practiced veterinary medicine in the Truxton, N.Y., area for 22 years.
Not surprisingly, foot health is one of the biggest benefits of grazing. “When cows are out on pasture, I see virtually no heel warts,” DeMuth says.
Good foot health holds as long as graziers control mud. “If cows must walk through 2 inches of mud, performance suffers; 12 inches of mud defeats the benefits of grazing,” DeMuth says.
Heel warts return, beginning as early as fall and lasting throughout the winter, he says. To deal with wintertime heel warts, most of his clients use footbaths.
Nixing metabolic problems
DeMuth sees far fewer metabolic problems in his grazing herds than in confinement ones. It’s the exercise, he explains. “Cows are much more active, and the pasture is highly palatable. Cows eat enough grass to avoid displaced abomasums (DAs) and ketosis.”
Cows that start with a uterine infection and are offered a total mixed ration (TMR) don’t eat, DeMuth adds. “But on pasture, it prevents them going off feed because they’re eating something that’s highly palatable.”
For transition cows, pasture alleviates the stress that may come with confinement housing. They have more individual space, DeMuth says.
When animals are stressed, they produce more cortisol, a steroid that suppresses the immune system. And
immuno-suppression is often a precursor to health problems such as retained placentas and mastitis.
Grazing alone doesn’t cure all ills. DeMuth has three priorities to maintain cows’ health on pasture:
1. Sound nutrition.
“Any dairy, including those that graze, needs to be aligned with a good nutritionist,” DeMuth says. Good nutrition relies on graziers’ ability to monitor and manage intakes.
2. A vaccination program.
DeMuth tailors vaccination programs to each herd. “If it’s a closed herd, we may do minimal vaccinating,” he says. “An open herd may have a more intensive program.”
3. A deworming program.
“Animals on pasture are more exposed to parasitic problems,” DeMuth says. “Almost all dairies try to worm two times a year, in spring and fall.” He prefers pour-on products that work on both internal and external parasites.
“When these three things are in place, I sleep well,” DeMuth says.
By Eleanor Jacobs
The Manager magazine
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