It was purely an economic decision when rancher, Stephen Hughes decided to try grazing his herd year-round in southwestern Alberta back in 1996. He had no idea the move would also significantly impact herd health and shift the need for antimicrobials.
“We chose to change our management strategy from winter feeding to grazing year-round, and the cow herd became adapted to our management,” says Hughes, who spoke at the recent Canadian Beef Industry Conference at Calgary, Alta. “When we calve later, now we’re working with nature, instead of against it. And anytime you work against nature you’re probably going to cause more stress for yourself or your cattle – (and) stress causes disease.”
As part of Chinook Ranch’s management strategy, calving occurs later in the year, on native range, and the cow-calf herd is rotationally grazed throughout the calving period.
“It’s clean, it’s hygienic, they’re constantly moving,” he adds. “There’s no build-up or areas where they get congested and disease can build-up.”
Hughes stresses the importance of a vaccination program as the first step in a herd health strategy that’s aimed at lowering the need for antimicrobials. “First off… a sound vaccination program, and first and foremost, a well-vaccinated cow is the best place to start to have a healthy calf going forward, at birth, through weaning and post-weaning.”
At his family run ranch, the herd is gathered about a month before weaning and calves are vaccinated, then reunited with the cows to heighten immunity at weaning. A couple days before weaning, the herd is kept on grass, in a field the calves will return to for the familiarity post-weaning.
These strategies, in addition to a constant focus on nutrition, says Hughes, help the herd through some of the most stressful events of their lives.
“We try to work more with the rhythms and nuances of nature, and that was to save money, that was to make my ranch more economical by cutting out farming, machinery and feeding in the winter,” he says.