28 Jan 2019
Spring planning by Hugh Thomson
With the festive period laid past for another year, the joys of spring swiftly follow… lambs, calves and sleep deprivation; before we know it livestock farms across the north will be like scenes from Zombie Apocalypse where we no longer speak to each other, we just grunt! The on-call phone will ring too often and my wife will learn one or two more swear words. But looking ahead for most of us, it is simply anticipation and excitement to see what your favourite beast can produce and pray that it does not end in disappointment.
As a result, I find this time of year is the ideal time to plan out your “Spring strategy”… by the time the decision-making rolls round, you are no longer in a fit state to be rational or at times of sound mind. How will we manage the first cow to calve? Have we a pen set up? How is the drug cabinet looking? Is the calving jack clean? Did we clean the lambing pens down after last year? How will we split the night checks? Do we have enough staff….? Never!... but we must get on with it anyway…
Much of this will be floating around your head but it’s always a good idea to share it with others. A formal Health Plan might contain such information. It might not be the bible that one reaches for last thing at night but it is something that should be revisited. What went well last year? What didn’t work? Sometimes an hour with your vet can be invaluable at discussing the plan and whilst they are on farm it is always worth thinking about supplies. Having everything you need close at hand, and in working order, could be the difference between life and death. I have an old Harbro mineral tub full of the necessaries for calving and lambing time and what I deem to be essential.
- Disinfectant: Iodine or Hibiscrub are very handy for dipping navels or cleaning down feeding tubes/ bottles after use. Too often disease outbreaks are spread by humans, not livestock. You can very easily give watery mouth to every lamb that you stomach tube if the tube is not thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after use. In the same vein its worth having access to hot water for the same reason so there might still be time to get the plumber round to rig up a hot water tank in the shed.
- Antibiotic Blue Spray- there are plenty of open wounds or sores at this time of year that benefit from the blue spray treatment, or maybe even time to tackle the lame ewe before she goes out the grass.
- Obstetrical lubricant- a traumatic birth will reduce the vigour of the calf or lamb. The use of lube is kinder on the mother and in some cases will contain disinfection to reduce contamination if you have to intervene or help with any tighter squeezes.
- Calving/ Lambing ropes- as above, ensure these are washed and disinfected after use. It is worth having a spare pair handy in case of a losing them in the straw. I like a ‘left’ and ‘right’ pair… if you put the red rope on the right leg it will help when you’re attaching the calving jack that you’re the right way round.
- Calcium/ Magnesium/ Glucose- often in cases of prolonged labour and in older cows post calving, calcium levels can need to be topped up. Low calcium can affect ewes pre-lambing whereas it tends to affect cows post calving. Calcium has a key role in normal uterine involution and rumen function so is crucial to balance for post-partum convalescence. Down cows can often benefit from calcium but the cow is very efficient at regulating blood calcium levels so generally once the cow has received two bottles of 40% calcium over a short time they are not able to utilise any additional calcium given. If weak lambs are placed into a warming box they should either be stomach tubed or given intra-abdominal glucose first to ensure energy is available before they are warmed and their metabolic rate is increased.
- Antibiotic- a broad spectrum antibiotic Is useful to have for prolonged assisted lambings or calvings, retained membranes or similar issues. We should be mindful of reducing our usage of antibiotics in general and certainly some in particular, so speak to your vet about which antibiotics that you should have on hand as they will likely be required. Ensure you have a good selection of syringes and needles handy and always check the dose of the product you are using at least once.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs- there is a lot of research looking at the value of anti-inflammatories in cattle post-treatment. Increased feed intakes post disbudding is well documented and the same can be said for convalescence post mastitis and after a long or difficult calving. There is real value in using these drugs in the first instance following disease, pain and/ or inflammation. Anti-inflammatory drugs are probably still underused and antibiotics considered the priority but the opposite may be true.
- Arm Length gloves-always think hygiene when assisting, gloves can make manipulation more difficult but are a good discipline so wear them when you can.
- Thermometer- a high temperature (>39.3oC) can be the first sign of disease such as metritis or respiratory disease. Low temperatures can be associated with low calcium, toxic mastitis or internal blood loss, so it is a quick and easy test that can reveal something isn’t right.
- Feeding tubes and bottles- it is likely that the use of these will be essential but ensure they are cleaned and disinfected thoroughly after use, including the teat. Milk is a great growth medium for bacterial growth.
- Colostrum substitute-generally you get what you pay for. Mothers’ colostrum remains the gold standard so if a calf or lamb is unable to suckle within 3-6 hours then intervention is required so facilities to strip a cow are advisable, calving gate or squeeze crate for example. A cheap measuring jug and whisk will ensure it is made up to the right quantity and it is also important to mix it well.
- Marker spray-with sleep at a premium your memory won’t be as sharp as usual so any animal receiving treatments should be marked. Ewes losing lambs or experiencing difficulties at lambing time may be better marked for future culling.
- Notebook/ diary-as above, keep a note of things so you can refer back, disease rates etc can be looked at out of season. I tend to use the notes section on my phone or take a photo so I can have something to refer back to if required.
- Halter/ rope
- Head torch-most drama usually occurs at night.
- Magic wand- for when things get really dark.
- Handcream-look after your hands.
- Haribo or similar- it is not just the stock that need sugar sometimes (maybe best to keep these in a safe place away from the above!)
Lastly, a sense of humour goes a long way. Sh*t does happen but one thing for sure is it will happen to everyone else too. Before you know it we’ll be chasing new life away to green fields… good luck.