When cattle are handled gently and patiently, stressful situations, such as getting an ear tag, don’t take as much of a toll on them.
Stress contributes to higher incidence or severity of disease. Stressed cattle do not eat well, so stress interferes with proper weight gain, reproduction, and disease resistance. If susceptible animals are highly stressed at the same time they are exposed to disease, they generally become rapidly and severely sick.
Inadequate nutrition, as mentioned, can physically stress animals, as can bad weather. Provide shelters to minimize heat or cold stress. In a hot climate, use pastures with shade or create shade roofs tall enough to allow good air movement above the cattle. Winter pastures need windbreaks — either a grove of trees or man-made structures.
Psychological stress occurs when cattle are overcrowded, weaned, disrupted in normal social interactions, or suffer fear and anxiety during improper handling.
Stressed animals produce more cortisol, a hormone that helps them cope with short-term stress by changing body metabolism to help it function better.
But over a longer period of time, the extra cortisol hinders the immune system. Lungs are especially vulnerable, since some pathogens are always present in the respiratory tract, waiting for an opportunity to invade the tissues.
A common stress is human handling — moving, sorting, vaccinating, branding, dehorning, tagging, castrating, weaning, transporting, etc. Avoid doubling up on stresses.
Don't dehorn, castrate, and brand calves at the same time you wean them. It's best to perform some of these procedures when they are small, when it's a lot easier on them.
Develop a quiet and conscientious way of handling cattle. When they are handled gently and with patience, rather than enduring chasing dogs, cattle prods, and manhandling, they learn that coming into the corral is not frightening.
Next time, they will come in more willingly — with less stress.
Heather Smith Thomas, of Salmon, Idaho, is the author of several books on raising cattle.
Signs of Illness
By paying close attention to your cattle, you'll better be able to tell when behavior changes may be signaling illness. Noticing illness early will allow you to start treatment immediately.
- Slowed mobility — stands up and moves slowly
- Posture — Stance may indicate lameness or pain
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Runny nose
- Body condition — too thin or too fat
- Coat — Thinning, dull, rough
- Separated from the herd
- Not chewing its cud — signals pain, digestive problem, fever
- Lack of interest in its surroundings
- Manure — amount, consistency, frequency
- Urination — amount, frequency