As many beef farmers approach the autumn-calving season, a vet ambassador for an animal health project is encouraging farmers to be aware of metabolic diseases that can be caused as a result of a change in diets and incorrect food rationing.

Alun Evans of Market Hall Vets in St Clears is a Vet Ambassador for Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC)’s Stoc+ project and is advising beef farmers to carry out metabolic profiles to monitor the herd. HCC’s Stoc+ project aims to support farmers in Wales to work closely with their vets on pro-active animal health planning.

Alun is advising beef farmers to be vigilant of milk fever which is caused by the onset of milk production around calving when there is a requirement for calcium.

“Cattle are most at risk after calving when there is a sudden increase in calcium demand with the start of milk production.

Spotting milk fever can be tricky as early signs are subtle. Clinical signs usually start within 24 hours of calving, with muscle tremors, stiff gait, teeth grinding and slight wobbliness. As things progress, the cow weakens and becomes recumbent with a classic ‘S bend’ shaped neck.

“At this stage, it’s important to treat the cow as quickly as possible before further deterioration, and the development of other complications such as bloat.”

Milk fever

Evans continued:

“Milk fever is usually associated with dairy cows but can be seen in suckler cows, especially older cows and dairy crosses. Cases are commonly seen in autumn, especially where suckler cows are grazing lush grass in wet, cool autumnal weather.

To reduce the risk of milk fever, ensure that mineral balance is correct as calving approaches, and avoid grazing lush grass as the cattle approach calving.

“Sub-clinical milk fever could also be present within the herd, and could have a knock-on effect on cow fertility. Low calcium blood levels can reduce muscle tone and lead to slow-calving cows.

“Any farm experiencing slow-calving cattle are advised to contact their vet for blood sampling.”

HCC’s Stoc+ project is one of three five-year projects in the Red Meat Development Programme which is funded by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh government.