With the UK set to face the coldest winter in decades, farmers are being encouraged to get on top of their herd health now, before the weather sets in.

Winter housing can be a very stressful time for cattle, which can result in a reduction of their immune system efficiency and an increase in the spread of diseases, especially as the cattle may be in a confined space.

To mitigate this risk, Paul Williams, technical manager for ruminants at MSD Animal Health, recommends you keep up to date with any booster vaccinations and consider preventive disease methods.

“With such bad weather expected, pneumonia is likely to peak. Pneumonia is the most common cause of death in all cattle above one month old and can result in poor performing calves. There are a number of steps farmers can take to prevent pneumonia which include, ensuring adequate ventilation in sheds, separating age groups, good hygiene and vaccinating calves,” explains Paul.

Cows and heifers from eight months of age can also be vaccinated against bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD). Cattle can be more susceptible to disease during severe cold weather and BVD is easily transmitted, so vaccinating the herd can help to prevent disease spread.

“Lameness can also severely impact a cow’s performance and productivity, and with the added strain of the cold weather it’s important to treat cows as soon as possible. Using AHDB’s mobility score sheet will indicate whether your herd is fit for the winter months ahead,” adds Paul.

“Assessing body condition is also vital at this time of the year as it will help to determine your winter feed rations.

"This is particularly important in extreme cold as good nutrition is essential for cattle to maintain their core body temperature. AHDB’s body condition scoring sheet will give a detailed description and accurate illustrations to help with scoring and is a useful way of measuring body fat reserves.”

Due to the prediction of an exceptionally cold winter, all aspects of cow management should be focused towards maintaining a healthy herd to optimise performance. These tips can help you to assess your cattle and any preventative treatments which may be required. For further information speak to your vet.