Vet weighs in on herd health topic

CLOVIS, NM –  Stevie Smith, a veterinarian well known in the Texas Panhandle and Eastern New Mexico, took time recently to shed light on some regional herd health issues.

Smith, originally from New Hampshire, grew up on her parent’s dairy raising and showing cattle. She received both her undergraduate degree and DVM at Cornell University. She arrived in the Southwest after investigating dairy industry opportunities in Idaho and elsewhere.

Smith currently runs her own veterinary practice, which serves customers in Clovis, Portales areas, and in West Texas.

Common trends

As she services dairies in the area she recognizes some common trends. One common problem she finds is hemorrhagic bowel syndrome, which she says is due to the climate in the Southwest.

“I don’t think we find things here that are not prevalent in the rest of the United States Once you are dairying with a large herd population, there are certain diseases that cows get that they can get anywhere,” said Smith.

Feed management

Other possibilities that can contribute to hemorrhagic bowel are feed management practices, the veterinarian said.

“Some feed management practices might not be in place that should be,” commented Smith, “There are many feed additives, vaccines and other things out there. But really all I think it comes down to is common sense. If the temperature is high, make sure you are feeding twice a day and maintain your silage piles well.

“If you pull your silage, don’t pull it for the next three days,” Smith declared, “I think as with hemorrhagic bowel, most of the diseases are manageable but will always be there on some level or another.”

Most of these diseases can be contained through good management practices.

Common trends Stevie Smith finds in the Southwest there are holes in dairy herd health programs because of how quickly the area has developed.

“Being proactive with diagnostics is a first step, but there is still a lot of growth that needs to take place,” suggested Smith. “No one really wants to talk about the economic impact of Johne’s disease because not many dairymen test for it. But in the future, such testing programs might be extremely important.”

Still much more to be done

Smith said there is still much more that can be done with diagnostics and preventative medicine to keep cows healthy.

Southwest dairies also need to be concerned about heat stress. Even though the region tends to have weather that is somewhat typical, we need to be concerned about the days that are extremely hot and uncomfortable. “After all, if we feel uncomfortable and are looking for relief from the heat, shouldn’t we except the cattle to feel the same way?” Smith questions. “People underestimate the importance of dealing with heat stress here because we usually have a breeze. We have to remember a cow’s comfort zone is a lot lower than ours. It doesn’t take that much for dairy cows to be heat stressed.

“There are very simple and cheap ways that we can help keep cows cool,” she said. “It will benefit your cows to use something like exit lane soakers.”

Although water usage is a concern in the region, having some of these things cow cooling tools at work can certainly impact cows to prevent heat stress.

“Another thing to think about is how long your cows are locked up in the stanchions. Dairymen should ask themselves if their cows really need to be locked up that long,” exclaimed Smith. “It is very important to think about these things as temperatures rise.”

Due to the economics of the industry many people are looking to cut out some items that could be important to keep. Dr. Smith finds that many producers are looking to revamp their vaccine protocols and that may not be a wise decision.

“I think it’s always a good idea every year to go through and look at your vaccine protocols just because as diseases happen we tend to get vaccine heavy,” said Smith.  She suggests that if you, had an outbreak of a particular disease and you decided to add an additional vaccine to be preventative that may actually be something to cut out of your program.

“Many people have tried to trim down their vaccine protocols, and  I believe if you do that every year, your vaccine protocols will be where they should be,”  advised Smith. “I’m not sure that further cutbacks may be the answer that dairyman need to look at.

“We can always look at what we need to cut out but, we need to be sure that major cuts – whether in vaccines or feed – are  not putting our cows in harms way. Really it’s back-to-basics now. It will be interesting to see what producers can learn from this time and then implement the basics when the prices come back,” said Smith. “If all these reductions and adjustments work now, then the same program should also work when we have higher milk prices, which will make your margins even bigger.”


To contact Stevie Smith, DVM, at or call 575-309-8578.