Prolonged housing of cows and calves in sheds due to excessively wet weather can have significant impacts on their health, welfare, and productivity. Additionally, transitioning to an indoor environment for the bulling season can introduce additional challenges and potential consequences for both cows and calves.

Some of the impacts experienced by farmers include:

Reduced Exercise and Movement:

Lack of access to outdoor grazing areas limits cows’ and calves’ ability to engage in natural behaviours such as grazing and walking, leading to reduced exercise levels.

Hoof Health Issues:

Extended periods spent on concrete or hard flooring in sheds can increase the risk of hoof problems such as bruising, lameness, and hoof rot.

Respiratory Health Concerns:

Crowded and poorly ventilated shed environments can lead to respiratory issues, particularly in calves, due to exposure to ammonia and airborne pathogens.

Social Stress and Aggression:

Confinement in close quarters can exacerbate social stress and aggression among cows and calves, leading to increased incidences of bullying and injuries.

Nutritional Challenges:

Limited access to fresh pasture may result in deficiencies or imbalances in the diet, impacting overall health and milk production in lactating cows and growth in calves.

Increased Risk of Disease:

Higher stocking densities and reduced ventilation in sheds can create favourable conditions for the spread of infectious diseases such as mastitis and pneumonia.

How an Extended Housing Season can Impact on the Bulling Season

Limited Behavioural Expression:

Indoor environments during the bulling season restrict cows’ natural mating behaviours, potentially leading to frustration and stress.

Social Dynamics:

Introducing bulls into the indoor environment can disrupt established social hierarchies among cows, leading to aggression and injuries.

Heat Stress:

Crowded indoor environments with limited ventilation can exacerbate heat stress during the bulling season, particularly for cows in oestrus.

Reproductive Performance:

Extended periods of housing and limited access to natural breeding behaviours may negatively impact cows’ reproductive performance and conception rates during the bulling season.

Risk of Injury:

Close confinement and increased activity during mating can elevate the risk of injuries to both cows and bulls, particularly in facilities with inadequate space or infrastructure.

To mitigate these impacts, farmers should prioritize the following measures:

Provide adequate space, ventilation, and comfortable bedding in sheds to promote animal welfare and minimise the risk of health issues.

Implement regular hoof trimming and monitoring protocols to address hoof health concerns in housed cows and calves.

Ensure access to a balanced diet with appropriate nutrition for all animals, supplemented as necessary to meet their requirements.

Implement disease prevention measures such as vaccination, bio security protocols, and regular health monitoring to minimize the risk of infectious diseases.

Design mating facilities with sufficient space and features to facilitate natural breeding behaviours while minimising stress and injury risk.

By implementing these strategies, farmers can mitigate the negative impacts of prolonged housing and indoor mating on cows and calves, ensuring their health, welfare, and productivity during challenging weather conditions and the bulling season.