Cattle Healthline: "Change the Oil" in Your Herd This Spring

March 15, 2013 04:18 AM

By Tony Moravec, DVM, Merial

I recently saw an advertisement on the television detailing the benefi ts of changing the oil in my car: "Frees up nasty buildup and residues…provides a smoother, cleaner-running engine with less wear and tear...higher efficiency and better gas mileage…Keeps your car running like a song!"

As a veterinarian, I quipped to my wife, "Kind of sounds like spring deworming in cattle!" It was met with an eye-roll. In all seriousness, there are some similarities to be drawn, but some obvious differences, too. Getting the most out of your car and cattle has a lot to do with preventive care—like changing the oil in your car and spring deworming the herd.

While the shortterm benefits may not be apparent, long-term benefi ts through the grazing and breeding season result in greater profits. A cleaner running engine. It is estimated that more than 90% of parasite biomass resides in pastures, with the remaining 10% building up in cows and calves. According to a strategic deworming study, timing is critical to the success of any deworming program. It is important not only to treat when cattle are worked, but also to time treatments to kill parasites before they develop into an adult parasite and produce eggs within the animal, which could lead to reinfection. To achieve an optimal return on investment, producers need to take several factors into consideration, including how long a product works, which parasites it treats, pasture management to avoid recontamination and parasite buildup of the grazing land.

Economically, one of the best things you can do for your cattle herd this spring is to deworm. In fact, of all the animal health practices used for increasing production, treating beef cows for parasites gives the greatest economic return of up to $201 per head. The results of this practice may not be very apparent to your eyes, but they are very apparent to your bottom line. Over time, parasites take a toll on reproduction, weight gain and body condition in your herd. In cows, this translates into better milk production and earlier conception rates. In calves, this translates into better nutrition and heavier weaning weights. In an industry measured by pounds that translate into dollars, deworming is a must. Despite this,
nearly 40% of cow-calf operations only treat their cows once a year.

Longer lasting. Now we run into some major differences. Like different types of oil for your car, there are many types of dewormers available in the marketplace today. A common misconception is that parasite control products protect cattle against parasites for the entire season. Most products work, on average, 14 to 28 days, depending on the product and parasite.

Deworming cows—and curbing pasture recontamination—can greatly impact parasite populations and result in cleaner pastures. Based on my experience, 100 to 150 days of continuous control will reduce parasite burdens on the pasture. Thus, one spring deworming simply will not provide yearlong protection.

Because every producer’s situation is unique, consult your veterinarian to develop a deworming strategy for your farm. But don’t wait past this spring—you risk the "check oil" light coming on.

TONY MORAVEC, DVM, is a large animal technical veterinarian for Merial. E-mail him questions and comments at

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