Living and working on a farm or cattle ranch offers many obstacles and opportunities to grow, change, and develop. Many farmers and producers, however, live under constant stress and anxiety of how and when decisions need to be made and the lasting effect it will have on their operation and family. Nothing could be truer than when mother nature sends powerful storms across our areas and you must bear the results of nature’s wrath. If you’ve recently traveled across Interstate 10, in the Panhandle of Florida, for roughly 100 miles between Tallahassee and Bonifay, it’s easy to see that mother nature has changed the landscape in that area forever. Hurricane Michael made landfall on October 10th and continued across the northwest section of Florida as one of the most powerful storms to ever make landfall in our country’s history. This storm affected areas known for beautiful beaches, golf resorts, and summer vacationers, but it also hit one of the more rural, agricultural sections of our state.
Jackson County hay barn destroyed by Hurricane Michael. Credit; Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS
Extension agents and volunteers help producers repair fence damaged by Hurricane Michael. Credit Nick Simmons, UF/IFAS
I’ve seen first hand the destruction Hurricane Michael has caused to the agricultural communities in the affected counties. Miles of fence lines have 100-year-old live oaks draped across them with other sections of land having only the bottom half of once dense pine trees. Areas where cattle were once grazing are now laden with branches, power lines, sheet metal and small pieces of equipment. As water tanks emptied due to the lack of electricity, animals began to desperately find places to seek shelter and water usually running down county roads and highways. Some animals were tragically killed from structures or trees falling, or they were severely injured, and were forced to be euthanized. Producers were faced with these challenges all the while trying to find help to remove the 70 ft. pecan tree that lays across their home.
But the determination and spirit of many cattle producers, Extension faculty, local communities and towns were not taken down by Hurricane Michael. In fact, within a day or two, neighbors, agents, and fellow cattlemen showed up with chainsaws, tractors, barbwire, fence posts and much more to help affected producers. Trailer loads of hay, feed, water tanks, fence materials, and human supplies started arriving once roads were safe to pass. Extension agents from all program areas pitched in to help tarp roofs, stretch wire, cut away trees from homes, barns and fences. Water was brought in to disperse for both animals and people. Local cattlemen’s groups banded together to bring much needed supplies to help repair boundary fences and patch barns for safe use. Amid all this, one could see that a producer, who had lost everything and really did not know where to start, begin to take a deep breath of relief. I looked on as fellow producers put an arm around their friend and said, “We will get through this together.”
Extension Agents and volunteers help deliver needed supplies to livestock producers after Hurricane Michael
This was a natural disaster that will be remembered for years to come. The stress level can be overwhelming at times but remember there is help available to aid you through this difficult time. There are resources available to assist your recovery efforts.
Please reach out to these groups to help you through this difficult time.
Recovery from Hurricane Michael will take months and years to replace what has been destroyed. Producers face many tough decisions ahead, but with the help of so many Florida cattle ranchers, Extension Agents, friends and neighbors, the Panhandle of Florida will rebuild.
Recent reports of salmonella sickness by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has caused an increased focus on animal-human interaction. According to these reports, over 100 people in multiple states have been ill with salmonella. The CDC states that the most likely cause is their interaction with live poultry in backyard flocks. More recently, there have been at least 18 outbreaks of Virulent Newcastle Disease in Southern California. This disease is a highly contagious and often fatal virus that affects the respiratory, nervous, and digestive system of birds and poultry. It is important to note that no human cases of Newcastle have been reported from the consumption of poultry products (proper handling and cooking is always important.)
These reports are a good reminder that proper biosecurity by both small poultry flock owners and visitors should be exercised. It should come as no surprise that there are associated risks with livestock production, even in the smallest backyard flocks. Poultry are in constant contact with the outside world and their desire to scratch and peck the ground exposes them to numerous biological pathogens. Standard biosecurity practices within a home flock should become normal practice for poultry owners and can be easily implemented. Some steps you can take to best secure your flock include:
- Washing, rinsing and disinfecting feeders and waterers every week to 10 days. More often if heavily used
- Quarantine any birds that appear to have even slight to moderate symptoms of abnormalities
- Implement a pest control program, this should include rodents, insects, and snakes.
- Secure your poultry from natural predators, this may include a family pet like a dog or cat
- Limit the number of people who encounter your poultry, especially family or friends who own flocks
- Ensure you are acquiring birds from reputable sources. Most commercial hatcheries have stringent biosecurity measures at their facilities.
- Quarantine any new birds for at least 14-21 days before introducing them to your flock .
- Wash your hands before and after handling birds. A disinfectant by the coop can be handy as well.
Enjoying your backyard flock should be one of the delights of raising poultry on your own. They provide hours of entertainment and usually a few eggs each day! Ensuring that you and your animals are safe should be a top priority. As always, reach out to professionals, hatcheries, Extension agents, or other seasoned poultry owners for information.
These University of Florida publications are also great resources for additional information.
The temperature has risen across the Southeastern United States, and so has the water in rain gauges in many areas. For cattle producers this brings on much needed summer forages, hay production, and time to evaluate their cattle after a mild spring. This time of year also brings on one of the most common nuisance for cattle, biting flies. Pest flies are attracted to cattle as a food source, primarily in the form of blood.
Biting flies on cattle at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Marianna, Florida. Credit: UF/IFAS Tyler Jones.
In general, there are three types of flies that affect cattle:
Musca autumnalis, are robust flies that resembles the common house fly. They are non-biting flies that feed on the mucus and secretions around an animal’s eye. An abundant number of flies can usually generate excess mucus secretions from the eyes compounding the problem. One primary concern with the face fly is that it can spread the bacterium Moraxella bovis that causes pinkeye in cattle.
Haematobia iritans, are slightly smaller than the face fly or stable fly. These are blood-sucking pests with both sexes having piercing mouthparts they use to penetrate the cows skin to feed on blood. Horn flies will usually remain on the cow only relocating when disturbed or to lay eggs on fresh manure. Common locations for these flies to land are on the sides of the cow behind the shoulders or directly on the back, depending on length of hair.
Tabanus spp, are painfull, blood sucking pests that cause extreme irritation to cattle. Interestingly, only the adult female bites. They are generally daytime feeders that use piercing/chewing mouth parts to feed on the blood of the animal. Horse flies will sometimes move from animal to animal until they can locate an area where they will be least disturbed. This makes horse flies the most difficult to control of the three. Due to their intermittent feeding activity, they are prone to spread disease, most notably anaplasmosis, a blood-disease that can cause abortions and death in cattle.
Adult flies can take up 20-30 bloodmeals a day. This can result in the animal losing up to a pint of blood a day. Flies interrupt grazing and can reduce weight gain by 17-33% over an 80-day period. This is especially true for growing calves with more than 200 flies, reducing weaning weights by up to 15 pounds. Flies in these large populations can lead to a devastating loss of profit. Up to $68/head can be lost due to overpopulation of flies, and a total industry loss of $1 billion for the entire United States. No producer wants to lose money, especially when there is a solution to the problem.
Research has shown that the economic threshold for treatment of flies is 100 flies per side (200 total) for a cow, and 50 flies per side for a calf. Once this threshold is reached, biting flies will have negative impacts on cattle performance, so some sort of fly control program is important.
Knowing how and where flies prefer to reproduce can be helpful to prevent fly populations from growing. Horn flies, for example, lay their eggs in fresh manure, and the larvae hatch within one week. The larvae will then develop in the manure and then pupate into the drier ground underneath. They complete their development from egg to adult stage between 10 and 20 days depending upon weather. Adult flies can live up to three weeks with normal feeding.
Horn flies can be controlled using a variety of methods including insecticide sprays, back rubbing devices, dust bags, insecticide-impregnated ear tags, and feed-through insecticides. Credit: UF/IFAS Nick Simmons.
Face flies and horn flies can be controlled using a variety of methods including insecticide sprays, back rubbing devices, dust bags, insecticide-impregnated ear tags, and feed-through insecticides. Insecticide ear tags have been used with success for many years. They are most effective when using two tags per animal and applied early in the season, and removed at the end of summer to prevent resistance from weak insecticide. There are two main types of active ingredients that should be rotated each year to prevent resistance as well. Oil-based applicators, pour-on, and direct sprays are also effective methods, but are more labor and cost intensive. In the end, the producer must decide what is best for their herd. Considerations should be made for facilities and pressure load from pests.
For more information on this topic, contact your local Extension Office, or use the following publication links:
Routine evaluation of the health status of cattle is important to ensure that your animals are comfortable and productive. Visual appraisal of body condition scores (BCS), fly stress, and signs & symptoms of sickness are easily observed as you walk through pastures or move cattle through your working facilities on a regular basis. There is one area that can sometimes go overlooked as you evaluate the general condition of your cattle, and that’s the feet & legs. A cow’s mobility is crucial for its health, productivity, and longevity in the herd. Cattle have to be able to travel on their own as they move across a pasture to graze, to find water, to breed, and calve without assistance.
Photo credit: Merek Animal Health
Let’s start at the bottom with the hooves. The hooves are one of the most important parts of the cow’s body, because without these, the animal cannot travel, exercise, graze, or reproduce. Hooves grow very similar to the human nail, and the integrity and frequency of growth has several factors such as diet, reproductive state, living conditions and general wear and tear. Evidence of growth can be evaluated by the growth rings on the wall of the hoof, as shown in the photo below. The hoof wall and sole are the most exposed areas of the foot that are at risk for injury and issues, and should be evaluated regularly for problems. A couple of the most common foot/hoof related issues that we see are foot rot and hoof cracks.
Proper foot trimming performed by a veterinarian
Normal healthy skin between the hooves provides protection from bacteria entering under the skin and causing inflammation. Foot rot is caused by the continual exposure to wet, muddy conditions that irritate and cause puncture points for bacteria to enter. Rough surfaces such as freshly cut grass stubble, rocks and stones, uneven concrete, or hardened sand can also increase the incidence of foot rot. In areas of high humidity and temperatures, skin is prone to chap and crack open, creating the opportunity for bacteria to enter. Symptoms and signs include lameness in one or more feet, swelling and redness around the foot structure, lesions, fever and a loss of appetite. Treatment is not always successful and takes extra time and attention to be effective. Animals should be moved to a clean dry pen, where excessive movement to feed and water is not required. Cleaning of the foot and examination can provide insight into the severity. In certain mild cases, a topical antibiotic therapy can be used, however in more severe cases, a systemic antibiotic therapy protocol may be required.
Another visible issue that can arise in cattle are hoof cracks. These can form both vertically up the hoof wall towards the hair line, or move horizontally along growth rings. Often times, vertical cracks occur in cattle that have excessive growth to the hoof, and have a breakdown in the integrity of the hoof wall. Continual pressure from the weight of the animal can compound the severity of the crack, if left untreated. Hoof cracks are the ideal place for manure and dirt to fill in, which can lead to further problems with infection. Horizontal rings are the result of a physiological change that causes a disruption in the hoof wall formation. Growth of the hoof wall occurs at different rates throughout the year, increasing the tendency for cracks to form. Some horizontal cracks are association with a time period of disease, reproduction changes, nutritional level, etc. In severe cases, if a crack is deep enough to cause a thickness defect, lameness can occur. Separation of the hoof wall can also occur in severe cases where mud and manure enduce a “rotting” effect behind the wall. Treatment for cracks can be as simple as a quality hoof trimming with some limited mobility for the animal. Maintaining good nutritional levels can also help resolve problems that arise from cracking of the hooves.
Moving up the leg you should look closely at the moving joints that are susceptible to issues in the pastern and the hock (knee). These joints bear much of the weight of the animal and should be observed for any issues. Signs of issues to look for can include hair loss on the lateral or outside skin, swelling of the joint, lesions, popping of the joint, excessive extension of flexing of the joint, and difficulty walking due to lameness. Environment plays a big role in health of joints of cattle and can depend on distance to water sources, feeding areas, number of animals in a paddock and even season; colder temperatures tend to cause joints to lock up more . It is also important to consider breeding seasons for bulls. Generally bulls are turned in with cows for a set number of days during a breeding period, and are constantly seeking female showing signs of estrus. This can be a heavy demand on bulls considering the age and number of females he is trying to cover. This is why it’s so important to examine bull’s feet and legs prior to purchase, and each breeding season, and throughout the breeding season.
Although leg and joint issues can often times be corrected with proper therapy, prevention is the key to limiting more serious injury. High protein diets can sometimes lead to acid build up in the joints, leading to mild to moderate laminitis. Balanced rations that provide the proper level of proteins, fats and carbohydrates will also ensure even hoof growth and maintenance of fluids around the joints. The main point is to continuously observe the feet and legs of cattle in your herd. Work with your local veterinarian so they can assist with a proper protocol if any treatment or therapy is needed.
For more information on this topic, use the following link to this fact sheet:
Producers from all aspects of beef production should set annual goals to make improvements to their operation. Often times, these goals relate to increased efficiency, productivity, improved genetics, increased weight gains or higher grading feeder calves at harvest. Although these goals are essential to efficient and profitable production, there is one goal you should never forget – you, the producer, are creating a product that will ultimately land on someone’s plate to provide a nutritious and enjoyable eating experience.
An economic recession, decreased cattle numbers, and increased commodity prices are variables which have caused volatility in the cattle market over the past several years. Another variable that the beef industry must never lose focus on are consumer preferences and demand. As the beef industry places greater emphasis on the end-user’s needs and desires, it has become increasingly important to recognize these consumer trends both at the food service and retail level. The beef industry has responded to the growing desire for high-quality beef through genetic improvement and breeding changes designed to increase the percentage of cattle grading USDA Choice and Prime. This is very important as it relates to increasing consumer confidence and interest in your product. You, the cattle producer, can be an effective connection between the farm and the consumer by telling your story of growing wholesome food in a humane and sustainable manner.
The Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program was developed to educate producers through a uniform certification program. The BQA program is a best management practice program developed to educate producers on effective and ethical ways to make efficient management decisions for their herd. Topics include effective culling measures, bull selection, and proper animal husbandry. The information provided by the BQA program can help the producer become a better advocate of the efforts made to safely and ethically raise beef cattle for food. Many hot button topics are covered to educate you on how to explain your management decisions in a professional way. Obtaining the certification shows that your farm, your family members, and each employee has an interest in doing things the right way. Today’s consumers not only care about the safety and quality of the food they eat, but also how it was raised. More and more restaurant chains and food wholesalers are searching for suppliers who can assure them of the humane treatment of animals. With BQA certification, you have a national standard and certification.
Consumers also want to know that the farmers and ranchers are producing their food in an environmentally friendly manner. Because 98% of the population has lost connection to the farm, they have more concerns than ever that farm land is being cared for the right way. The Florida Agricultural Best Management Practices (BMP) program is another example of a voluntary program that farms can enroll in to show they are farming using the best practices to protect ground and surface water quality. Once enrolled the Florida Department of Agriculture verifies good farming practices are being followed. Florida Farm Bureau has created a program to showcase farms that have enrolled in the BMP program called the County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship (CARES) award program. By highlighting individual farms and sharing their stories consumers are more aware that not only do Florida farmers raise good food but are also good stewards of their land.
Make an effort to keep up with current current consumer trends. Consumers are more concerned than ever that their food is wholesome, nutritious, safe, and locally sourced. For producers, this creates a perfect opportunity to educate consumers about your best management practices, and the difficult decisions that are often made by cattle producers. Consider opening your farm operation to visits by local citizens. Agri-tourism is growing in popularity and many schools, civic groups, and consumers are increasingly taking advantage of opportunities to learn exactly where their food comes from. Agri-tourism provides a platform for them to hear the facts about how their food is grown, processed, and distributed from the source to their plate.
Take time to learn more about the business and science of beef production. Now, more than ever, the tools to be successful and profitable in the beef cattle industry are within reach of every producer. New skills can be learned or enhanced through involvement with local, state, and national educational initiatives. Visit other producers to discuss best management practices, trials and errors, and share ideas to help each other. You can take advantage of local and regional field days hosted by UF/IFAS Extension or other Land-Grant Institutions to learn more about the latest technologies and practices being researched. State and national cattle producer associations provide great platforms for cattlemen to come together and discuss the issues that affect them the most and how to be proactive. It’s important to note that your involvement in any event or association can help you become a more effective advocate for the beef cattle industry.
Recommendations for strengthening your connection to consumers include:
- Make an effort to keep up with current current consumer trends
- Get certified through the Beef Quality Assurance Program
- Enroll in the Florida BMP program to have FDACS verify that you are a good steward
- Take time to learn more about the science of modern beef production
- Join and become active in farm and ranch organizations such as the Cattlemen’s Association and Farm Bureau who will work with you to tell the positive story of modern agriculture.
- Be willing to host consumer groups through organized tours. Seeing first hand is believing. But when they come, be ready to share your good story and be willing to listen to their questions and concerns. If they make the effort to come and learn, you also have to be willing to try to address their concerns.
For more information check out the list of available publications from the University of Florida, and the National BQA website, BMP Program, and contact your local County Agriculture Extension Agent for specific learning opportunities planned for your area.