Cattle Care of Louisiana
Biology and Management
Physiology of Cattle
On the average, adult male cattle (“bulls” if not castrated; “steers” if castrated) of breeds such as Angus, Jersey, and Hereford weigh between 1,200 and 1,800 pounds, and adult females (“cows”) of the same breeds weigh between 1,100 and 1,500 pounds. Males and females of larger breeds, such as Brahman, Brangus, Charolaise, and Holstein, can weigh 2000 to 2800 pounds and around 2000 pounds, respectively. The normal body temperature for cattle is between 101 °F and 102 °F.
Nutritional Needs of Cattle
Clean, fresh water must always be available to your cattle. Generally, a mature
animal consumes between 10 and 20 gallons of water a day, so be sure to use a container
large enough to hold that quantity. Consumption is based on weather, so more water
should be available in hot weather. We recommend investing in an automatic watering
system (available through farm supply stores or the catalogs below) because it will
greatly reduce water waste. If you have animals that have difficulty walking, you must
create an area to allow them to get to water easily. Dehydration in cattle can be fatal.
Salt and mineral licks should always be available to your cattle. Salt
blocks and specially designed holders for them can be purchased at most feed stores. If
you are in an area that has selenium-deficient soil, a salt block with selenium is
recommended. Year around minerals are extremely important for your cattle.
Feed. As ruminants (animals with stomachs that have four chambers), cattle rely mainly
on hay or pasture (fiber) to fulfill their dietary needs. Grain is very high in energy and fat, and therefore we do not recommend free choice in cattle. It should be used as an added source of nutrients specifically as recommended according to each individual farm.
Pasture. Pasture should be of a good quality and plentiful because it provides the bulk of
the cattle’s dietary needs in the seasons it is available. Before giving your cattle access to
a pasture, be sure to remove all plants that are poisonous to them. Contact your County
Agricultural Extension agent for a complete listing of poisonous plants in your area. If
adequate pasture is not available, you will need to supplement with hay and grain.
Adult cattle need 2 to 4 pounds of grass type hay per 100 pounds of body weight daily;
use the higher number in severe winter weather. To avoid hay waste, we suggest the
use of a hay feeder. If you are feeding your cattle outdoors, place hay under cover to
prevent feed from getting wet, a problem that can be expensive and hazardous to your
cattle’s health. To locate a source of hay in your area, check with your County
Agricultural Extension agent for a listing of hay/straw auctions or look in the farming
section of your local paper. Because hay is less expensive per bale when purchased in
large quantities, building some type of hay storage structure or loft is well worth the
investment. If you have multiple cattle, it is also more cost-effective to use large-bale hay (400 to 800 pounds per bale) rather than the smaller bales, which weigh between 40 and 50 pounds, although using larger bales does necessitate the use of a tractor for feeding.
Cattle may feel threatened when confined, and some do kick or throw their heads. Do not ever allow yourself to be cornered without an easy way out. A frightened animal or one who feels threatened will often run you into a wall or gate, so always be very aware of your location when you are around cattle. Also, know the cattle you are working with and approach them slowly until you determine whether or not the animal is going to react in a manner that could cause injury.
Shelter Requirements for Cattle
Building. Cattle shelters need not be elaborate, but they must be waterproof and draft-
free. Depending on the climate in your location, you may need only a three-sided
structure with the open side facing away from the prevailing winds.
If you have a totally enclosed barn, be sure it is well ventilated. This is extremely
important for both hot and cold weather. If the barn is much warmer than 50 °F during
cold weather, humidity from urine, manure, and body moisture may rise and can cause
Allow at least 35 to 40 square feet for each animal. Always provide your cattle with
plenty of clean, dry straw for bedding. Remove damp and soiled straw daily, replacing it
with fresh straw. Spreading lime (be sure to use hydrated lime, not feed lime) or other
deodorizer/moisture-absorbing product on wet areas before laying down fresh straw will help absorb moisture and prevent the spread of bacteria. Other products are also
available, including Sweet PDZ or Stall Dry, which work equally well but are much more
expensive than lime. If your barn has a cement floor rather than dirt, provide extra
bedding during the winter months. Cement is very hard on cattle, so we do not
recommend the use of concrete flooring unless it is covered with a think rubber matting
or thick sand.
Fencing. Sturdy fencing and secure gates are a must for cattle. There are many types of
cattle fences, including woven wire, wood, electric, and barbed wire. Prices vary greatly,
so shop around. Typically, electrical (high tensile) or woven wire (or a combination of
the two) is the most practical type to use. Barbed wire provides adequate containment but can lead to injuries if your cattle attempt to break through the fence. Fencing should be approximately 4 feet high, stretched taut, and secured to posts at every 8 to 10 feet. For more high-strung breeds, including Angus or other breeds raised for meat, high-tensile electric fencing is the best choice or a very high-woven wire fence with wooden corral boards. We have found that many of these cattle will jump on fencing and smash it down, but they will not do this with the high-tensile fencing.
Pasture. We recommend 5 acres of land per cow or steer. The amount of acreage
necessary depends on pasture quality, weather, and seasonal factors, as well as the
amount of hay you are feeding them. If you have a large number of cattle, you should
have multiple pastures so that you can rotate the cattle between them, allowing unused
pastures to regenerate.
Health Care of Cattle
Basic Maintenance. Cattle are relatively easy to take care of, and sanitary housing, good
quality pasture, nutritious food, and plenty of sunshine will greatly reduce health
Keeping your cattle’s feet properly trimmed and checking for cracks and other problems
is imperative to their overall well-being. One of the main causes for euthanasia in cattle is the inability to walk as they get older. Your veterinarian should examine your cattle’s
hooves to determine if they need trimming or any other care every six months. Hoof
trimming should always be done by a professional to avoid injury to the cattle and
yourself, but also so that the hooves are trimmed properly. Hoof trimming should be done annually, or bi-annually if your cattle are prone to hoof problems. Maintenance trimming may be needed in between these scheduled times. If you intend to do maintenance trimming yourself, get advice and instruction from a professional beforehand.
Making everyday life easy for cattle is important. Keep them on as flat a surface as
possible and locate water troughs and feed stations in close, easily accessible areas.
Thick, clean, dry bedding is a must for arthritic and older animals, who are down more
often and therefore prone to developing sores. We use straw with a short fiber so that
cattle who drag a leg or have other mobility problems do not get caught up in the
bedding. It may also be helpful to provide a sand-covered surface for elderly cattle. Your
Agricultural Extension office can help you set up a sand pen for them.
Cattle need to be vaccinated yearly for many virus and bacterial diseases that can lead to severe production loss and death loss. Consult your veterinarian for advice on vaccinating your cattle because different regions require different vaccines.
During your daily contact with your cattle, always be on the lookout for any physical or
behavioral changes. Symptoms indicating illness include listlessness, pale coloring,
limping, loss of appetite, teeth grinding, coughing, and abnormal temperature. If any of
these symptoms occur, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Common Health Problems of Cattle
Bloat/Grain Poisoning. This is a serious condition commonly caused by overeating
grain or particularly lush pasture. Make sure feed barrels and feedbags are completely
inaccessible to cattle. When introducing cattle to new pasture, acclimate them slowly by
bringing them some of the pasture for a few days. Then, turn them out for only a few
hours at a time for the first week. The first obvious symptoms of bloat are distension of the rumen (the area beside the hip
bone on the left side), labored breathing, and signs of discomfort such as kicking,
grinding teeth, groaning, bawling, and profuse salivation. Any evidence of bloat should
be deemed an emergency, and your vet should be contacted immediately.
Foot Rot. Foot rot is a bacterial infection of the hoof. One or more hooves can be
infected at any time. Typically, the first symptom of foot rot is lameness. Check the hoof
for signs of swelling, odor, or pus/discharge, and consult your veterinarian for treatment.
The risk of foot rot is greatly minimized by proper hoof care and maintenance of living
areas. Keep cattle off excessively muddy pasture and rough walking surfaces, which can
cause injury to the hoof. Also watch out for unclean feed areas and cement surfaces prone to build-up of feces and urine (“slurry”), which greatly increase the incidence of hoof infections and foot rot.
Respiratory Problems. Coughing, nasal discharge, watery eyes, sneezing, lethargy, and
loss of appetite are all symptoms of respiratory infection. Consult your veterinarian if you notice any of these symptoms.
Johne’s Disease. Johne’s disease is a chronic bacterial infection that primarily affects the
lower small intestine of ruminants (e.g., cattle, goats, sheep, llamas, deer, and bison).
Clinical signs include weight loss and diarrhea with a normal appetite. Johne’s disease
typically does not present until two to six years after initial infection, which usually
occurs at birth. Keep in mind that even cattle coping
well with Johne’s disease may still be shedding bacteria, which can persist in the
environment for months.
Among cattle, Johne’s is most prevalent in the dairy breeds (Holstein, Jersey, and
Guernsey) and is rampant at industrial facilities. Because calves less than two years of
age are most susceptible to the disease, we discourage housing calves with adult cattle
who have Johne’s disease or allowing calves in areas where infected cattle have lived.
Consult your veterinarian immediately if you suspect Johne’s disease.
Cattle, especially the lighter-skinned breeds such as Hereford, are very
prone to eye cancers. If detected early, these can be treated. Left untreated, however,
these cancers spread rapidly, becoming quite costly to treat, or even fatal. Therefore, it is
important to monitor your cattle’s eyes constantly.
Check your cattle daily for signs of eye infections. Symptoms include discolored or cloudy eyes, unusual discharge, and swelling. Pinkeye is a very serious condition in cattle and can lead to blindness if not discovered and treated early. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you find signs of an eye infection. Pinkeye vaccines are also available and should be used if pinkeye is common in the area where you live.
Although good sanitation will greatly reduce parasite problems, you should
still have your cattle checked regularly. Fecal tests should be carried out on your herd to get an idea of the parasite burden every six months and cattle treated according to the results.
Mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary glands caused by bacteria. Acute
mastitis symptoms include an elevated temperature and a hot, hard, swollen udder that is very sore. Mastitis most often affects cows who have been lactating, but even cows who are not lactating are susceptible. Seek veterinary advice if you notice any of the above symptoms because treatment with antibiotics is crucial.
Introducing New Cattle into your herd
When you purchase new cattle you may often take in animals who are very sick.
When cattle arrive they must be isolated in a strict quarantine area, and
caretakers should wear coveralls or Tyvek suits over their clothing and boot
covers, and foot baths should be used. If animals are in really bad shape, do
not spread their bedding on pastures. Pile in a separate area on the farm until
all tests below are conclusive.
Have all fecal tests done on each individual adult animal for Johnes’ if suspected
(emaciated, poor coat condition, loose stool) and do not expose to calves (with
exception of mother and baby, if nursing) until the tests come back negative.
Check for hoof rot, hoof cracks, hairy wart, or other hoof issues. You do not have
to lift legs to check, but look for signs such as lameness or redness or swelling at
the back of the foot and hoof line.
Consult our veterinarians to give you our vaccine recommendation so they are vaccinated within a week of their arrival, with the exception of calves less than two months of age; booster again before placing the animals in homes or adding them to the
existing farm herd.
If a calf is nursing or still with her mother, do no separate him unless it’s
absolutely necessary for the health of either the mother or baby. If they must be
separated, keep them close enough that they can touch.
Check all animals’ eyes for watering or discharge. If pinkeye is suspected, have
your vet check to confirm because it is highly contagious. Wear gloves when
touching eyes, nasal area, tails, etc.
Treat for any parasites discovered in fecal sample and recheck fecal within 10
days of treatment.
If there is a chance that a cow is pregnant, have your vet check her status