NADIS disease forecast – cattle (January)

The NADIS disease forecast is based on detailed Met Office data, and regional veterinary reports from 37 farm animal practices and the large animal units at six UK veterinary colleges.

NADIS data can highlight potential livestock disease and parasite incidences before they peak, providing a valuable early warning for the month ahead.

NADIS disease forecasts are written specifically for farmers, to increase awareness of prevalent conditions and promote disease prevention and control, in order to benefit animal health and welfare. The forecasts are based on national trends and farmers are advised to discuss their individual farm circumstances with their veterinary surgeon.

January 2004

Richard Laven BVetMed MRCVS


NADIS Cattle Disease Forecast

Adult cattle

Fertility so far this winter has been about average. In some cases it has not been helped by the dry weather as the lack of good quality forage meant that fertility improved once the cows were indoors on their full winter ration.

The primary problems seen have been animals not cycling, not showing oestrus, and becoming cystic. NADIS vets reported 25% more cows than average as having not been seen bulling in November.

All these problems suggest that feed intake on problem farms is not matching milk production, with cows adapting to the situation and not getting pregnant. Such problems aren’t likely to improve over the winter so now is the time to check feed quality and intake is correct in order to prevent the problem getting worse.

It‘s also valuable to condition score you‘re your cows at calving and again in early and mid-lactation as this gives a good indication of how much nutritional stress your cows are under – too much condition loss will lead to reduced yields and reduced fertility. Measuring condition is the fastest and cheapest way of identifying energy problems.

Pregnancy rates in beef and dairy cows have been very different recently. Dairy cow pregnancy rates have been lower than average 72.2%, but despite an increase in numbers seen suckler cows have had a very acceptable pregnancy rate of 90.9%.

With the loss of the suckler cow premium, pregnancy diagnosis in early winter is now even more beneficial as it‘s the best way of identifying barren cows which will be bring in in no money but eating costly winter rations.

Similar to last year, the number of hoof hoof horn diseases, such as sole ulcer and white line disease seen by NADIS vets has been relatively low throughout most of the year, although increases towards average have been seen in the last two to three months, probably in association with the wet weather.


The best method of control of these diseases is a good comfortable environment, and the best test for that is to look at your cows. At a quiet time, away from milking or feeding, look at the cows in cubicles. Count how many are standing not drinking or eating. This should be less than 25%. If this is higher you need to look at your cubicles.

Sometimes simple things such as bit more bedding, removing an obstructive head rail or reducing the exposure to the wind in cubicles at the end of the row can have a significant impact on how comfortable the cows find the cubicles.

The level of environmental mastitis has been above average for most of this year, and Novembers in November increased dramatically to levels usually seen in January. This is probably associated with the wet weather and increased use of wet straw for dry cows. Over 50% of toxic mastitis cases get infected in the dry period, so we need to keep dry cows in as clean and dry an environment as possible, particularly around calving.


Metabolic disease
Watch out for acidosis and acetonaemia this month. Both of these diseases are linked to problems with the diet cows are being fed. In most cases acidosis develops as a result of a too rapid changeover in diet. Remember if you are changing the diet over the winter period, the rumen takes about ten to 14 days to adapt to any major change in diet.

Acidosis isn‘t just gut upset, in many cases, even though cows aren’t obviously unwell, acidosis can result in significantly less milk production and other diseases such as lameness and metritis. Acetonaemia occurs when the feed intake doesn‘t match the milk output and the cow uses too much body tissue to carry on producing milk.

It can occur after acidosis as that significantly reduces appetite and thus food intake. NADIS vets have already reported a significant rise in acidosis cases in November, so problems are occurring early this winter.


Left displaced abomasum cases were at a low for the year in November, however the past three years data suggest that numbers are likely to go up in the next month, so now is the time to reassess your dry-cow ration to ensure that you maximise ruminal development and get the late dry cows adapted as much as possible to the milking ration.

Other Disease Problems
Liver fluke infestations have been reported in both adults and growing animals.  Data from the veterinary laboratories show that unlike in sheep where the levels are lower than last year, there have been more cases reported in cattle.

If you haven‘t given a November/housing dose and you‘re in a fluke are, now would be a good time to give a flukicide that kills all stages of the parasite and then to use an adulticide in May.

Growing Cattle
Overall fertility was poor in November, with low pregnancy rates for both beef and dairy heifers (63 and 75%, respectively). Now is the time that heifers are in calf and growing well because as the winter progresses keeping up fertility levels will become increasingly difficult. Identifying problems now will prevent significant costs later.

Lameness has been a common problem so far this winter accounting for about a third of all problems. Many animals had overgrown feet. It‘s essential to get a heifers foot right so that when it calves down the extra stress of calving and lactating don‘t impact on a foot that’s already misshapen and soft. Don‘t expect heifers to go from straw yards to concrete cubicles and if possible check and trim the feet of all your heifers before they calve down.

Respiratory problems rose last month but are still less than average. This means that many outbreaks will be at their start, which is the ideal time to get your vet involved to identify potential problems.  Vaccination may also be useful at this stage, but it is important to remember that no vaccine protects against all causes of pneumonia.

In order to ensure that you get the best vaccine for your farm you need to know what has happened in the past (send samples to the lab when you get outbreaks) and based on this knowledge discuss with your vet which vaccine to use.


Calf scours increased last month with coccidiosis accounting for 16% of diagnosed cases. If the weather continues warm and wet, cases of scour will continue at a high level and hygiene is likely to be put under severe pressure.

This is especially important for coccidiosis as the parasites eggs are very difficult to clean, so if you are having problems go for an all-in-all-out batch policy, use temporary accommodation and disinfect the building thoroughly with a disinfectant that is effective against coccidial oocysts.

While every effort is made to ensure that the content of this forecast is accurate at the time of publication, NADIS cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions. All information is general and will need to be adapted in the light of individual farm circumstances in consultation with your veterinary surgeon

Copyright © NADIS 2002

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