Cattle parasites represent a significant concern for herd management. They can cause economic losses due to reduced feed efficiency, decreased milk production when calves need it most, and higher mortality rates. One way to combat and control parasites in your herd comes from proper grazing and nutrition management.
Common Types of Cattle Parasites
As a herd owner, you must understand the most common types of parasites and how they affect the overall well-being of your cattle.
One of the most prevalent cattle parasites is the gastrointestinal roundworm known as Ostertagia ostertagi. This parasite can cause severe damage to the intestinal lining, leading to diarrhea, weight loss, and reduced feed efficiency in infected cattle.
Another common parasite is the cattle tick, which attaches to the skin and feeds on the specimen’s blood. These parasites can cause anemia, skin irritation, and the transmission of other diseases carried by the ticks.
Additionally, liver flukes, such as Fasciola hepatica, can affect cattle by causing liver damage and impairing their overall health and productivity.
You might not think of these as parasites, but flies and lice are also common nuisances that can lead to skin irritation, hair loss, and slower weight gain.
The overall point is that parasites will reduce the efficacy of your herd. However, parasites don’t have to lead to a high-end solution.
The Impact of Parasites on Cattle Health and Productivity
Parasites can have a significant and detrimental impact on the health and productivity of cattle.
Nutrient loss is one of the main health concerns with parasites. When these creatures infest a cow’s digestive tract, they can disrupt the absorption and utilization of nutrients. This can lead to poor growth rates, weight loss, and decreased milk production. Additionally, parasites can cause anemia in cattle, as they feed on the animal’s blood supply, leading to weakness and fatigue.
Parasites also weaken the immune system of cattle, making them more susceptible to other diseases. Cattle burdened with parasites may have a reduced ability to fight off infections and may require more veterinary interventions to maintain their health.
Despite these challenges, you can help control parasites before they become a major problem. The first key is to watch for signs of fatigue and malnourishment in cattle, like if they feel lethargic, lose their appetite, or have diarrhea.
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Grazing Management Techniques to Reduce Parasite Exposure
Proper grazing management can help reduce exposure to cattle parasites. Here are some techniques to consider:
1. Rotational Grazing
This technique involves moving cattle between different pastures regularly to prevent overgrazing and parasite buildup. It also gives fields time to recover and reduces exposure to parasite larvae, often found in manure. It takes as little as six days for parasites to go from the egg stage to infect your cattle. Consider rotating areas of pastures for feeding every four to five days. This rapid growth of parasites is why you need to monitor your herd regularly.
2. Resting Pastures
Giving pastures a break from grazing can help break the parasite life cycle. Resting pastures for at least 60 days between grazing cycles can significantly reduce parasite loads. This timeframe allows parasites to complete their lifecycle and reduce their numbers while giving your grass time to develop natural defenses against diseases and parasites.
3. Fencing Off Wet Areas
Parasites thrive in damp areas, so keeping cattle away from ponds, creeks, and other wet areas can reduce their exposure to parasites. This will also help keep bacteria away.
4. Mowing & Harrowing
Regular mowing and harrowing can break up manure piles and expose parasite larvae to sunlight, drying them out and reducing their viability. But mow with caution because you don’t want to stunt the growth of what your herd eats.
5. Multi-Species Grazing
Consider having a small herd of sheep or goats on your property, either full-time or by renting a herd for a month or two. The same parasites that infect cattle rarely thrive in smaller ruminants. After grazing with cattle, send goats and sheep into the area to feed. They would ingest the cattle parasites that won’t thrive, while the cattle would ingest the parasites that affect sheep or goats. Again, use these cautiously because you don’t want to overgraze your pastures.
Nutritional Strategies to Support Cattle Immunity Against Parasites
In addition to proper grazing management, providing a balanced and nutrient-dense diet can also help support cattle immunity against parasites.
Incorporate natural supplements and forages with anti-parasitic properties into the cattle’s diet. Some examples include garlic, diatomaceous earth, certain herbs like chicory, and tannin-rich plants like alfalfa and several species of lotus flowers. These plants and substances have been found to help prevent and control parasitic infections in cattle naturally.
It’s also essential to ensure that the cattle receive adequate macronutrients, protein, vitamins, and minerals. A deficiency in these essential nutrients can weaken the immune system, making the cattle more susceptible to parasites.
You’ll also need to maintain good herd health practices, such as deworming at the appropriate times and monitoring for signs of illness, which can help prevent and manage parasitic infections.
If you need nutritional supplements for your cattle, SoMo Farm & Ranch Supply has what you need. We keep plenty of Crystalyx® supplements on hand to help your cattle fight off parasites through nutritional boosts, and we also have a wide array of feed and minerals to help maintain your herd’s vitality.