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parasite control in grassfed cattle

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Greetings, and thank you for offering to answer questions. I am engaged in rotational grazing of Galloway beef steers. I offer free choice kelp and mineral salt, but have not been doing anything else for parasite control. Do you have any recommendations other than frequent moving, to keep parasites within acceptable bounds?
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I have been using Diatomaceous earth as a parasite control. The amount to be fed varies by size/weight but it is less than 2% of total amount fed. You should check into using it.
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Bentonite clay has many has many health benefits including parasite control

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Hi Lynn

I am engaged in rotational grazing of Galloway beef steers. I offer free choice kelp and mineral salt, but have not been doing anything else for parasite control. Do you have any recommendations other than frequent moving, to keep parasites within acceptable bounds?

I've been hoping the topic of parasite control comes up!

Parasite control is all about recognizing what conditions are causing the parasites to become a problem. Yes, a daily pasture rotation and how you set up your electric fence grid are both very important part of that process because the flies hatching out of the manure will always be left far behind.

But there are so many other issues that can cause huge parasite loads - as a farmer you always need to be ready to step into the Sherlock Holmes detective role to figure out what the root cause of the problem could be. This detective process is one of the most fun parts of raising cattle!

For example, livestock water sites are great breeding grounds for parasites - especially because of the manure that builds up around them. If the cattle spend all day lounging around the water trough, then the trough could be filling too slow, causing the cattle to wait around and to try to hog what has become a limited resource. Change the trough refill rates and suddenly the cattle behavior changes too, so they switch to going to drink individually as needed and then head right back out onto pasture - no lounging around the flies, no filling up the cattle watering area with manure for the flies to breed.

Or, perhaps grazing a pasture too soon after harrowing is exposing the cattle to intestinal parasites because the harrowing has spread manure everywhere and the cattle can't graze around the manure pads anymore. Rethink the harrowing practices and you may well be reducing the intestinal parasites without having to do anything else.

Even something like excess dust, or too many sharp prickly overly mature grass stalks can cause eyes to weep, which in turn attracts flies. Fix the source of the eye irritation and the parasite pressure reduces on the cattle.

So, as you can see from these short examples, parasite control is not just about finding a parasite control product - ear tag, Ivomec, diatomaceous earth, etc. It is also about systematically narrowing down what is the cause of the excess parasite pressure and what conditions are giving the parasites an advantage - and then restructuring the cattle farming strategy accordingly. Bandaids are easy to use, but get very expensive over time. Prevention takes some hard detective work, but is cheap and saves both you and your cattle a lot of headaches in the long-run. If a problem is already underway, find whatever bandaid is necessary to put an end to your cattle's suffering for the short term and then focus all your energy on finding a way to eliminate the parasite program at its source. In the Pests, Parasites, and Diseases chapter of my book, I go through this detective process as it applies equally to parasites, diseases, and all sorts of health issues.

In regards to the products themselves - beware of relying overly on the advice you find on the internet about what products work and which don't. What will work for one person will not work for another because pests and parasites do develop resistance to things and because very different parasites may be responsible for very similar looking symptoms in different regions. So, to take diatomaceous earth as an example, it may work well for one farmer that has applied it at a specific time in a very specific parasite's life-cycle. Another producer may not see any results because they apply at a different point in the parasite life-cycle or are dealing with a different parasite. Experiment and see what works for you (and remember that it may well change from year to year), and talk to vets and other farmers to find out what is working (and what isn't) this year in your region.

Another word of caution as you deal with parasite problems is this - you can spend all your time (and a great deal of money) searching for the holy grail natural parasite control product - and meanwhile your time and money is unavailable to figure out how to restructure your farming program to eliminate the need for the product at its source. In most cases, if you are dealing with a parasite problem that has already spiraled out of control, do yourself the favor and put a band-aid over it by whatever veterinary product your vet recommends so you can put an immediate STOP to your cattle's suffering, and then put all your energy into figuring out what is giving the parasites such an advantage (i.e. water system, manure build up, etc, etc) so you can start working on restructuring your grazing program to eliminate the need for that particular parasite control method in the next year. Sometimes the lesser evil and the best use of your time is simply to put on a fly-tag to stop an overwhelming fly problem or use a veterinary solution to clear up a herd infected with worms so you can put a stop to your cattle's suffering while you gain the time and resources to work out the kinks in your management strategy.

It is important to realize that most natural agricultural problems are not potent chemicals that can fix a serious problem that has spiraled out of control. Rather, they are gentle nudges to keep a system on track if the management program is mostly working already. They are best used in a preventative capacity - to keep the car on the road - not for cleaning up when there's already been a collision, because that is not the time to begin experimenting with what works and what doesn't while your cattle continue to suffer during the time it takes to find a solution. You are after all responsible for living breathing animals and they have to suffer until we find a solution - it is our management strategies that are exposing them to the parasite issue in the first place - if we bungle that and they are twitching and half-mad with biting flies or suffering painful stomachs and loose bowels caking their behinds because of a worm infestation, you owe it to them to put a stop to it as fast as you can through whatever means you can, ASAP. But if the bandaid clears up the problem, remember that it's cause has not been resolved - use the peace and quiet of the band-aid solution to figure out how to restructure your management program.

Having said all that, there are some situations that cannot be solved through management alone - and you will have to find some product - natural or conventional - to manage it. For example, the alpine bogs where my parent's farm had their grazing lease when I was a child are essentially a giant mosquito and biting fly breeding ground. The cattle love it there - cool summer weather, thousands of acres to spread out and graze at will, and lots and lots of flowers to eat - spread out over thousands of acres where they don't see a human for months on end. The only problem is the bugs. There is no adjustment that can be made to the management program in this case - anything - deer, moose, cow, human - is simply eaten alive. The only way to conscientiously send cattle into these regions is with a fly tag in their ear - something that lasts for 6 months until you see them again. But these are the exceptions, not the rule - 90% of the parasite problems can be controlled through adjustments to your management strategy.
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