A How-To Guide to Basic Herdsmanship
(Published Fall 2013)
Frequently Asked Questions
Visitors to my outfit often ask questions or seek advice about various management issues that occur in a grassfed beef herd. I like it best when the questions come from beginners rather than seasoned cattle-persons, because the beginners are very eager to learn and seem to think I know what I’m talking about, which is unusual and refreshing. Here are a few recurring questions and some of the answers I’ve fabricated together.
1. What causes pinkeye? Can it be prevented, and how do you treat it?
Flies don’t cause pinkeye, nor does tall grass with seedheads. At least that’s true most of the time. I have gone for 8-10 years on this farm without a single case, and I have also had years battling pinkeye conntinuously from June 1 through September. After many years of careful study I realize I don’t understand the disease. At all.
However, recently I have concluded that the main cause of pinkeye is stress. If you research each case carefully enough you’ll probably find a stress factor that triggered the outbreak. Despite the contentions of some well-known grazing-gurus, it appears to me that the more you confine cattle in small paddocks the more likely you will be to have pinkeye. Compeon for grass could be a stress factor. The larger the paddock, the less pinkeye. Some people recommend feeding kelp as a preventitave but the results on this farm would not support that. At all.
Regarding treatment, tetracycline is very effecve. Sometimes. Eye patches work very well, in some cases, if they don’t get rubbed off. (My friend Dr. David Roffey has developed The Thriy Patch that I market for him, and it works great--you should order a case or two.) Sprays and ointments and powders abound that will cure pinkeye—sometimes. My vet is a freakishly smart guy and very experienced treating pinkeye, and he maintains that no treatment is just as effective as any other treatment protocol you may choose. The results will be the same. He says the only procedure that is more effective is sewing the eye shut.
I think the best treatment is to put the afflicted beast in the barn for a couple days. It’s super-effective when feasible.
2. What should we do to control flies? Can you really control them?
You can absolutely control flies on cattle. It’s simply a matter of how much insecticide you’re willing to use and how much me and money you’re willing to spend. Methods of control are backrubs, dustbags, insecticide ear tags, apple cider vinegar, garlic, voodoo, sprays, pour-ons, poons and prayer, to menon a few. Some experts recommend using all methods simultaneously but they probably work for a chemical company. I’ve found the insecticide ear tags to be the most cost-effective method, if you choose the right one for that year, the one that flies happen not to be resistant to at the time.
The absolute best method of fly control is…check your cattle very early in the morning or very late in the evening. They’ll be content and have dang few flies on them, and you’ll spend a lot less me and money.
If you check your cows in the heat of the day, use that time to notice the cows that have very few flies on them. Retain heifers out of those cows. Discard the cows that are covered with flies; they likely have hair-coat and fescue toxicity issues, and they’re probably standing next to an underweight fuzzball calf. If you’re running stockers or finishing cattle you must control the flies to keep performance at acceptable levels during the hot months.
A couple years ago at a grazing conference I had the pleasure of talking briefly with a grazing guru from South Africa. We were discussing pinkeye and flies when the gentleman said: “The cattle aren’t sick because they have flies on them; they have flies on them because they are sick.” Pretty shrewd.
3. At what age should a grassfed steer be slaughtered?
He’s gotta be fat. If he’s not fat, age doesn’t matter. If he is fat, age doesn’t matter; he’ll be great at 16-36 months. The average for Devon grassfeds is probably 24 months or so, but finish has more to do with frame size, grass availability, forage quality, weather and genetic fleshing-ability than age. In many cases customer demand for grassfed beef seems to determine slaughter date much more than age or degree of finish.
Profitability seems to increase with harvesting steers around 24 months at 1100-1200 lbs. The very high cost of processing makes slaughtering 9-weights very expensive, and the production costs are excessive if you keep them much past 24 months.
Currently my sidekicks and I are stone-cold addicted to ribeyes from cows 8-10 years old. But they’ve gotta be fat.
NEXT ISSUE FAQs: Castratioon, Dehorning, Vaccinations
- Guille Yearwood -