Why detecting disease in your cattle herd is an art

A southern Alberta veterinarian says they are seeing an increase in the number of farmers they have to train on how to diagnose and treat sick calves.

Dr. Steve Hendrick, from Coaldale, says this is a result of changing demographics with fewer people growing up in livestock agriculture.

“More and more we are training people that have no previous livestock exposure and suddenly they are in a new position where they have to identify these, so we work and train, to help mentor and guide them through that process to do their jobs,” Hendrick said.

Experience counts

Hendrick believes the ability to pick out which calves are sick early on is an art, which seasoned livestock handlers can do easily.

“Lameness is something that is a little more obvious, but there are some other disease conditions that are tougher to pick up external signs, a lot of it takes a lot of training and mentorship to know what to look for and a lot of it is knowing what abnormal behaviour in cattle is.”

A point that's not lost on Soderglen Ranches cattle manager Jared Sherman.

Sherman says while they ensure everyone working on their ranch has a solid understanding of the science, it's the amount of experience and time spent with the cattle day in and day out that truly allows them to understand their herd, including how they normally behave and their habits when they start to become sick.

Good and bad days

“Just seeing those cattle when they are healthy, some of those subtleties they won’t pick up on until symptoms become very severe and that is when damage has been done and you start to run into death-loss problems," said Sherman. "It really takes some time, some coaching and experience to be able to identify symptoms of cattle early on.”

Bottom line

While time and experience are valued for early disease detection in cattle, new entrants in the industry recognize they need education and are taking steps to learn more about their livestock from professionals.

Article by: Craig Lester