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A How-To Guide to Basic Herdsmanship

(Published Fall 2013)

 

Frequently Asked Questi􀆟ons

 

Visitors to my ou􀆞tfit often ask ques􀆟tions or seek advice about various management issues that occur in a grassfed beef herd. I like it best when the questi􀆟ons come from beginners rather than seasoned ca􀆩ttle-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 ques􀆟tions 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 ti􀆟me. I have gone for 8-10 years on this farm without a single case, and I have also had years batt􀆩ling pinkeye con􀆟ntinuously from June 1 through September. A􀅌fter 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 contenti􀆟ons of some well-known grazing-gurus, it appears to me that the more you confine catt􀆩le in small paddocks the more likely you will be to have pinkeye. Compe􀆟􀆟on for grass could be a stress factor. The larger the paddock, the less pinkeye. Some people recommend feeding kelp as a preventita􀆟ve but the results on this farm would not support that. At all.

 

Regarding treatment, tetracycline is very effec􀆟ve. Someti􀆟mes. Eye patches work very well, in some cases, if they don’t get rubbed off. (My friend Dr. David Roffey has developed The Thri􀅌y 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—some􀆟times. My vet is a freakishly smart guy and very experienced treati􀆟ng pinkeye, and he maintains that no treatment is just as effecti􀆟ve as any other treatment protocol you may choose. The results will be the same. He says the only procedure that is more effec􀆟tive 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-effecti􀆟ve when feasible.

 

2. What should we do to control flies? Can you really control them?

 

You can absolutely control flies on ca􀆩ttle. It’s simply a matt􀆩er of how much insec􀆟ticide you’re willing to use and how much 􀆟me and money you’re willing to spend. Methods of control are backrubs, dustbags, insecti􀆟cide ear tags, apple cider vinegar, garlic, voodoo, sprays, pour-ons, po􀆟ons and prayer, to men􀆟on a few. Some experts recommend using all methods simultaneously but they probably work for a chemical company. I’ve found the insecti􀆟cide ear tags to be the most cost-effecti􀆟ve 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 ca􀆩ttle 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 catt􀆩le 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 ca􀆩ttle aren’t sick because they have flies on them; they have flies on them because they are sick.” Prett􀆩y shrewd.

 

3. At what age should a grassfed steer be slaughtered?

 

He’s gott􀆩a be fat. If he’s not fat, age doesn’t matt􀆩er. If he is fat, age doesn’t ma􀆩tter; 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 geneti􀆟c 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 harves􀆟ting steers around 24 months at 1100-1200 lbs. The very high cost of processing makes slaughtering 9-weights very expensive, and the producti􀆟on 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 go􀆩tta be fat.

 

NEXT ISSUE FAQs: Castratio􀆟on, Dehorning, Vaccinati􀆟ons

 

                                                                 - Guille Yearwood -