When it comes to raising healthy heifers in a humane fashion, preventing infectious disease is only part of the battle. Internal and external parasites also can take a toll on heifer well-being and limit their production potential. 

Parasite control comprises a significant portion of the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association's Gold Standards III, which address animal welfare.

"Heifers are more susceptible to damage from parasite infections than adult cattle, negatively affecting their growth potential and ability to reach breeding size," says Kevin Tobey, DVM, professional services veterinarian for Novartis Animal Health. "Research shows that deworming heifers three times between birth and breeding provides a significant advantage in pregnancy rates."

The Gold Standards III emphasizes that effective parasite control will vary considerably between operations. Consider the following when you are setting up your parasite control program: 

  • Develop parasite control strategies, incorporating integrated pest management practices, with the herd veterinarian and pest management specialists.
  • Follow label directions on all products.
  • Avoid using products off-label.
  • Train new employees on pest control protocols; review quarterly.
  • Inspect cattle weekly for adequacy of parasite control programs.
  • Discard expired or contaminated products, paying close attention to proper disposal of insecticides.
  • Keep handwritten and/or computerized records of all treatments.

On Novartis' "Healthy Heifer" website, recommended procedures, like the ones in Gold Standards III, note that specific environmental challenges; herd size; geographic location; pasture and housing dynamics; and prevalence of certain parasite species all play roles in the specific control measures that an individual operation will need to take.

The most common internal parasites affecting dairy cattle are roundworms, flukes, tapeworms and coccidia; and that external parasites of concern include grubs, lice and mites. 

When planning a herd parasite control program, give thought to the following: 

  1. Deworming schedule and frequency
  2. Pasture management practices; and
  3. Parasite diagnostic tests

Source: Dairy Calf & Heifer Association