The British are supposed to be obsessed by the weather and for British farmers it’s a constant concern.
This year has led to challenging conditions for most of my farming clients. It has also led to some unusual veterinary conditions.
I have seen a farmer feeding straw to his cows before calving this autumn. There is nothing unusual in this. It helps to slow movement of food through the gut and reduce the risk of hypomagnesaemia, an often fatal condition. In this particular case heavily pregnant cows ate too much straw and not enough grass and their rumens became impacted.
The rumen normally acts as a high mixer, which allows the bugs that live there to break down whatever the cow eats so it can then utilise the resultant nutrients.
If there is too little energy or protein to feed the bugs, they can’t break down the straw. So even if the cow is full, it is starving, and then starts mobilising body reserves.
In this case the cows then became ketotic and very sick. Some of the cows have responded to fluids rumen stimulants and a change in feed.
Another condition that is proving difficult to predict is infection with liver fluke. In theory the risk this year should be very low as part of the fluke life cycle involves infecting and multiplying in mud snails, which you would think were in very short supply with the extended period of dry weather.
However, as grass was hard to come by whatever wet areas there were, were very heavily grazed. The result seems to be that some animals have picked up a serious fluke infection.
We have been lucky with the autumn so far allowing stock to stay out as the fields have been unusually dry.
This is helping to conserve bedding and feed which is in short supply.
If this continues and we get an early spring everyone will forget how worried we were a month ago. So let us hope for an easy winter and an early turnout.