It’s time to prepare for the breeding season. Here are some key tips:

  • Pre-breeding heat detection helps improve submission rates by early identification of cows that aren’t cycling and need veterinary intervention.
  • Fertility and general health checks (including lameness examinations) for bulls are key.
  • Complete body condition scoring (BCS) on the herd to identify any cow that may need extra attention. Aim for an average pre-breeding BCS of 3.
  • Maximise genetic potential with sire selection using the health and economic breeding indices on ICBF, including the new commercial breeding value that will influence decisions by calf purchasers.
  • Animal health

  • An early diagnosis is important for any scour or pneumonia problems, as there could be a number of causes, such as worms, bacteria and viruses, needing different treatments. Take multiple samples and isolate any sick calves from the main group.
  • Start monitoring autumn-born calves for gut and stomach worms with faecal egg counts and listen for coughing, which could be a sign of lungworm.
  • Sheep farmers should check the Department of Agriculture nematodirus forecast for the best time to treat lambs for these worms. White drenches are usually advised, roughly two weeks after the peak of egg hatching.

    Mineral deficiencies can crop up at this time of year, particularly grass tetany (magnesium deficiency) or phosphorus deficiency – watch for signs or supplement animals if needed.

    Parasite control at grass

    With the grazing season upon us, it’s time to consider what the farm parasite control plan will be for the year. Unlike vaccination schedules, there are no set protocols for parasite treatments and the worm burden will depend on multiple factors, such as pasture management, weather conditions and immunity of the animals.

    Each farm should have a tailored parasite plan, which may need adjustment as the season progresses.

    Some general principles apply to all farms, including monitoring, treating when needed with the most appropriate wormer, ensuring the animals get the correct dose and making sure the products you use are still working effectively against the parasites on the farm.

    Grazing management can also have an important impact in reducing the worm burden.

    Veterinary input

    Veterinary input is important in developing a parasite control plan, and to support this, a new Targeted Advisory Service in Animal Health (TASAH) has been launched for this year.

    This Parasite Control TASAH is a voluntary programme for all cattle and sheep farmers in Ireland, who can avail of a free parasite control consultation from their vet, including two faecal egg counts.

    Farmers need to register for the programme on the AHI website and choose their trained participating vet when registering.

    More information and the registration form are available here:

    Monitoring for parasites includes regular faecal egg counts, recording average daily gains, milk yield, bulk milk tank testing and liver fluke slaughter reports. Speak to your vet about interpreting the results of any testing, as this is not always straightforward.

    Veterinary input is important in developing a parasite control plan

    Animals should also be regularly checked for any signs of coughing or scour. Calves and lambs are particularly susceptible to parasites and animals will usually develop an immunity to many parasites as they get older.

    When giving wormers, it’s important to make sure animals are getting the correct dose of a product that is targeting the problem parasites.

    Check that any oral drenching equipment is releasing the correct amount by spraying a dose into a syringe to measure the amount dispensed.

    Dosing guns should be placed over the back of the tongue, so that animals swallow all the product. Pour-on products should be used on dry, clean animals so that the product gets to the skin and doesn’t wash off. If using injectable products, hygiene is important and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how and where to inject.

    Only use wormers when they are needed and reduce dosing if few worms are expected on the pastures

    Resistance to wormers is becoming an increasing problem – one way to combat this is to only use wormers when they are needed and reduce dosing if few worms are expected on the pastures, such as early in the season or during very dry periods.

    It is also important to check periodically that the products that you are using are still effective.

    A drench test is the most straightforward way to do this – speak with your vet about the best protocol and it could be done as part of the Parasite Control TASAH.

    A drench test involves taking dung samples before and seven to 14 days after dosing, depending on the wormer you have used.

    Grazing management can have a significant effect on the parasite burden on farm. Certain pastures will be higher risk, for instance if they were grazed by calves in the previous season, and are best avoided by calves in this season.

    A Limousin bull running with dairy cows in Carrigeen, Co Laois. \ Philip Doyle

    Alternating pastures with older animals, which usually have a higher immunity to worms and contaminate the pastures with fewer eggs, or alternating cattle with sheep or horses, can also help reduce the pasture worm burden.

    Farmers are also reminded that after 1 June 2022, a veterinary prescription will be required for all antiparasitic products in livestock.