Boost cattle profitability; kick parasites off the payroll

Aug 21, 2009
by WLJ
Boost cattle profitability; kick parasites off the payroll

—Cattle-Fax survey shows profitable cow/calf producers don’t cut corners on animal health.

Herd health costs account for a relatively small percentage of a cow/calf producer’s expenditures, but they can have a big impact on boosting productivity and securing profits. This is an important insight that most profitable cow/calf producers already know, according to Cattle-Fax’s annual cow/calf producer survey.

“Year in and year out, in good markets and in bad, our cow/calf producer survey shows that high-return producers do not skimp on genetics, pasture or herd health,” says Kevin Good, Cattle-Fax senior market analyst.

Of all those practices, Iowa State University data shows that parasite control easily tops the list of most economically rewarding cow/ calf pharmaceutical practices.

Parasite control comes in at almost six times more important to a cow/calf producer’s breakeven cost than growth-promoting implants, which was the second-most important practice. The same research shows that not controlling parasites in the cow herd can negatively impact a producer’s breakeven selling price by 34 percent—equating to a value of $201 per head. “Parasites negatively affect cattle performance and, therefore, profits, from a number of different angles,” says Dr. Frank Hurtig, director, Merial Veterinary Services.

“Parasites can cause reduced weight gain, conception rates, immune system response and milk production—negatives that can all build on each other and result in significant losses.”

Parasites build up on pastures and in cattle throughout the summer grazing months, making fall cattle work—such as preconditioning, weaning or pregnancy checking—ideally timed opportunities to clear both cows and calves of profitrobbing parasites in preparation for winter, Hurtig says. Lice are usually the top-ofmind pest leading up to the winter months. Hurtig says this is due in part to the fact that the damage from lice is easily seen, but it is important to remember that lice can cause more than a little hair loss. Studies have shown that feeder calves infected with moderate to heavy lice populations can have a decreased average daily gain of as much as 0.21 pound.

Hurtig says it’s also important to treat for internal parasites, such as liver flukes and Ostertagia this time of year. Research has shown that through improved growth and production, heifers treated for both nematodes and liver flukes in the fall earned $153 more per head. In addition, in 8- to 9-month-old calves, research has found that subclinical infections of liver flukes caused an 8 percent reduction in weight gain over six months. Higher levels of infection reduced weight gain by 29 percent.

“Controlling both internal and external parasites at fall preconditioning or weaning sets up calves for more efficient weight gain and better overall health as they transition to the feeder or heifer development stage,” Hurtig says. “Left unchecked, parasite infections will cause reduced weight gains, inefficient feed conversion, and increased incidence of disease—all of which will quickly chip away at profits.”

Controlling internal and external parasites also can give cows a much-needed boost as forage quality declines and they are struggling nutritionally.

“This falloff in forage quality makes it important that cattle get the most benefit possible out of the feed that is available. Parasite loads make that even more challenging,” Hurtig says. “Parasites decrease appetite, have a negative effect on nutrient utilization, and hamper immune response. Clearing cows of parasites before winter means that expensive supplemental feed is going to benefit your herd, not feed parasites.”

When choosing a parasite control product, Hurtig notes that it’s important to choose a product that will control both internal and external parasites. It’s equally critical, he adds, to use products—such as IVOMEC (ivermectin) Brand Products—that are backed by a trusted manufacturer.

“Low prices make it tempting to use generic parasite control products, but it only takes one pound of gain to pay for the difference between an IVOMEC Brand Product and a generic,” Hurtig says. “And, unlike generics, all IVOMEC Brand Products are backed by the 100 percent Product Satisfaction Guarantee, so producers’ fall parasite-control investment is protected no matter what.” Hurtig advises all producers to consider what Cattle- Fax says high-return producers already know and practice: Sound herd health, which includes parasite control, pays big dividends— even in hard times.

“Even though it may be tempting, sound parasite control should be the last place producers cut,” he says. “Instead, they need to work with their veterinarian to develop a plan for using IVOMEC Brand Products this fall and again next spring to help cattle fight the damaging effects of parasites throughout the year.” — WLJ