Livestock production: Cattle recovering slowly after drought

Question: Many of my cattle died during the drought and those that survived are recovering very slowly– despite all the rain and the availability of green grass. What can I do?

  • The drought caused your cattle to lose weight due to the lack of fodder and grass.
  • Their weak condition makes it easier for internal- and even external parasites to attack their immune systems.
  • If you do not dip or dose cattle or small stock regularly against these parasites, the animals could still die or recover slowly even with the availability of green grass.
  • If conditions are very bad, I would suggest you use a product that will kill most of the internal and external parasites.
  • For immediate effect, use a product that contains 1% ivermectin.
  • As soon as the parasites are dead, the cattle will start to recover.
  • Bear in mind, though, that the green grass could be too short and that cattle in particular can expend more energy trying to graze on it than they can get from it.

Continue supplementing your livestock’s feed daily for the first month after the rain until the grass has recovered.
Remember cattle and small stock must always have access to quality licks to perform well. Licks restore the supplements that are not available in the veld and which are necessary for the animals.

Also read:
Cattle production: Salt licks and osteoarthritis
Basic advice on licks for your goats and sheep

A cattle or small stock farmer must look after his livestock – then the livestock will deliver to him. It is better to sell your stock if you cannot afford to feed them. It’s better to have money in your pocket from stock sold than dead animals rotting in the veld. The money will allow you to make a new start when conditions have improved.


This is a very important question. No farmer can afford to rear cattle that don’t calve each year. This is the same as being a person who works for no money.

If your cattle are not producing annually, sell them.

But remember, on the other hand, that cattle will not get pregnant if they’re not properly cared for and the farmer allows their condition to deteriorate. A pregnant animal may lose the unborn foetus if it doesn’t get enough fodder or grass to graze.

Also read: How to record and manage a calving cycle

So make sure your cattle get enough grass and access to supplements such as licks to meet their needs. Also ensure that they are free of internal and external parasites that will cause them to lose condition.

Vaccinate them annually against diseases such as botulism, blackquarter, anthrax, lumpy skin and pasteurella. It is also important to vaccinate your cattle with a multi-antigen vaccine that stimulates the immune system of healthy cattle, including pregnant cows. It helps in the prevention of infections by:
• Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) virus
• Bovine diarrhoea (BVD) virus
• Para-influenza (PI) virus
• Bovine respiratory virus (BRSV)

Vaccinate heifers and cows 6 to 8 weeks before the breeding season with rift valley fever (inactivated vaccine) and 3 to 4 weeks before the breeding season with vibriosis. Always read the enclosed pamphlets before you start vaccinating cattle and stick to the rules.


According to the Onderstepoort Biological Products Manual, vibriosis in cattle is a typical venereal disease passed from one animal to another during mating.

It is caused by a comma-shaped bacterium known as campylobacter fetus of which there are a number of subspecies.

Bulls usually become infected when they serve infected cows.

When infected bulls serve susceptible heifers or cows the infection gets transmitted and results in an inflammatory reaction in the female genital organs.

Conception usually does not take place or the embryo is resorbed or aborted at a very early age.

The result is that cows come on heat repeatedly and this eventually manifests as a low calving percentage in the herd.

There are many other causes of infertility in which feeding, management and other infectious diseases such as trichomoniasis may play a prominent role.

All cases of infertility should therefore not be ascribed to vibriosis.

Heifers should be immunised 8 weeks before they are served and again 4 weeks later.

A single booster injection should then be given 4 weeks before each ensuing breeding season. The dosage of 2 ml for heifers and cows not pregnant and 5 ml for bulls gets injected subcutaneously (i.e. under the skin).

Also read: Livestock production during drought – guidelines

  • This article was written by Cois Harman and first appeared in Farming SA.

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