Hello, I have an organic farm in southeast Washington and among other things, I raise Scottish Highland cattle. My problem is this: The Highlands are great browsers and rugged critters, but my problems occur when they are pregnant. I live in the mountains (foothills really) and logically don't have the option of corraling them for the duration of their gestations......sorry, my point is, they browse pine needles and though not REALLY frequently; they do abort more often then I would of course prefer. Any suggestions to try to avoid this aborting problem? Thank you. PS I'm new to the forum and really enjoy the posts I've seen so far.
Bovine abortion: Vit A deficiency of long duration, deficiencies of iodine and selenium
Pine needles are a high source of Vitamin A. They are also collectors of environmental contaminants and are so good at random absorption that they are used to identify unknown point sources of iodine and bromine in environmental contaminant samples. (This is why pines are so valuable in the canopy)
Ponderosa pine needles contain an anti-estrogenic compound; cattle develop an addiction in favor of pine needles over good feed. A high protein diet also increases the risk of abortion. (intnt)
Iodine is a cattle abortive
And bromine: [["It has occurred in the past that organic bromines ended up in the food of cattle. Thousands of cows and pigs had to be killed in order to prevent contagion of humans. The cattle suffered from symptoms such as liver damage, loss of sight and depletion of growth, decrease of immunity, decreasing milk production and sterility and malformed children." -lanntech.com
The addiction to pine needles may indicate a need for Vit A increase especially during pregnancy (a need exhibited by most pregnant and breastfeeding mothers). An inability to get enough Vit A during pregnancy and lactation result in abortion in females across species, including human.
So, it may be that a complex combination of environmental factors is making it difficult for your cows to carry to term. An increased need for Vit A causes an increased consumption of pine needles liberally laced with Ponderosa Pine needles (an abortive) and laden with iodine (an abortive) and bromine (a systemic poison). The other major source of your herd's Vit A could possibly be your protein feed which your pregnant cows reduce their consumption of during pregnancy due to the physiological increase of estrogen production. The reduction of protein consumption initiates the increased need for another Vit A source. Hence the interest - or "addiction" - to pine needles. But all your cattle may be Vit A deficient if you use a protein-replacement formula (non-animal protein source) for feed.
Increase their Vit A consumption and you may find a decrease in your abortions. Be sure to match your Vit A increase with complementary Vit supplementation to support the efficient physiological upload of additional Vit A supplement. If you already provide a Vit A supplement it might be ineffective in content, dosage or marketing.
Also, you might check out the website scottishhighlandcattle.com under diseases or type Scottish highland cattle abortion rate into google for about 5 alternate abortion inducing viruses you may well have among your cattle.
Postscript:Ironically, "discovery of vitamin A stemmed from research dating back to 1906, indicating that factors other than carbohydrates, proteins, and fats were necessary to keep cattle healthy" - Wikipedia
Do they have a quality loose mineral available to them with adequate amounts of Vit. A ? I think the first thing to do is actually determie whether the pine is responsible for the abortions. Try separating them into two groups for a gestation. Electric fence is cheap. Allow one group to browse the pine the other not. Compare abortion rates. Pine very well could be the problem but its easy to make assumptions about causation based on correlation and miss another issue altogether.
I have Scottish Highland cattle as well. Based on my experience, I think that thy will eat the pine needles unless you either fence them out (and lose the shade) or rotate them off of the paddock very quickly so they don't get interested in the needles. However, my cattle head for the shade as soon as the temperature hits anything close to 80 with the sun out, sometimes even less. So, even if they have a field full of their favorite stuff, they will browse on the needles while they stand in the shade waiting for the "yellow face" to go away.
They have pruned my pines up high enough now so that there is not much left for them to eat. You could prune them up yourself, too.
The heat intolerance of the breed is leading me to phase them out, as mush as I love everything else about them.
What do your pastures look like, other than the pine? What's your pastures history? Has it ever been cropped? I've dealt with mineral issues before, and they can be tough. If you aren't providing salt and mineral, I would suggest you start. I like redmond, it's really good stuff (especially their salt). Your extension office can help determine if you're in a selenium deficient area, if so consider redmond selenium salt 30.