What is Shedding?
Animals shed their old coat in order to grow a new coat of hair. In cattle, shedding primarily occurs annually in the spring. Shedding is happening right now where I live and in most parts of the U.S.
Cows shed from front to back, top to bottom. At first, you may see thick tufts of hair balling up on along the spine or loss of hair around the delicate areas (such as nose, eyes, or vulva). Quite often, hair on the shoulder is the first to go as cows lick that area to relieve the itching sensations. The cow may completely shed out certain areas before even starting to shed in other areas. Essentially, the cow looks scraggly. This is 100% normal.
As soon as the coat is mostly or fully shed out, the cow should have a thin, sleek, shiny summer coat that will help keep her cool in summer months.
Come fall, she will grow in a thick downy winter coat to help keep her warm during the winter.
Exceptions to the seasons:
- A cow that calves out of season, say in fall or winter, may shed her coat early. I have seen late fall-calving cows shed their coat in December. The hormones override the natural spring shedding season.
- Young animals may not follow a normal shedding schedule. Often, they will not shed in season (young calves) or will shed much later than a milking cow (older calves and heifers).
What isn’t Shedding?
People often mistake simple shedding for more serious illnesses. In most cases, a decent brushing will clean up a cow and help her look presentable and allay fears of disease.
Incidental spots of baldness may be caused by excessive rubbing of an area (such as a cow that always likes to head-butt things or scratch her head in the same spot), a heat cow (areas of hair on top of hips and tail head may be rubbed off), or scab or scrape from injury.
Below are a few skin problems that can commonly mimic routine shedding:
Ringworm: Often shows up in spring as weather warms and barns are wet from heavy winter use.
This fungus is contagious to humans, so don’t go touching it with bare hands!
How to tell apart from normal shedding? Ringworm tends to be in circles, can happen any time of the year, and when scrubbed with a rag or brush (soaked in diluted iodine as a disinfectant) a scab formed on top of the circle will fall off and the exposed skin will be open, red, irritated/raised, and bare or sparse of hair.
Cattle lice and Cattle mites do not cross species, humans have no fear of catching these critters from your cows!
How to tell apart from normal shedding? Boing-Boing-Boing – you should be able to see tiny bugs jumping around. For further confirmation, a vet can inspect the animal and check under a microscope to confirm which type of pest is bothering your animal – and therefore, what treatment method to use. Minor infestations of lice may self-resolve in some climates where the air and land dry out and animals go out onto pasture. Major infestations may require chemical treatment (such as a pour-on insecticide [Eprinex or Cydectin] or injection) and natural remedies (exposing animal and/or bedding area to lots of sunshine, Diatomaceous Earth treatments – clean bedding and then sprinkle DE across the ground before reapplying fresh bedding, moving the animals – such as out to summer pasture.)
Scour butt: A term I just made up to describe the hair loss found around the rear end of a calf that has scoured recently. Milk scouring does not seem to cause hair loss, but chronic or severe scouring caused by pathogens, which produces very acidic manure, actually eats away at the hair causing small to large patches of hair loss. Expect to see hair loss anywhere the manure splatters on the body of the calf. This happens in young, sick calves on a milk or grain diet (usually pre-hay diet). The hair will grow back, and the regrowth can be accelerated by washing the area (if still dirty) and resolving the scour issue.
Other causes of hair loss or abnormal skin in cattle: Malnourishment, Internal parasites, Chronic disease, Mineral or Vitamin deficiency, Toxicity.
More Resources: Possible causes of problematic hair coats: Is hair coat an indicator of nutritional and/or health status of cattle?
Ultimate cures for shedding:
Brush your cow as often as necessary (whenever new clumps of hair show up that need to be brushed off).
Provide free choice minerals and salt to your animals at all times. We currently use Redmond loose mineral salt and New Country Organics Cattle Mineral with Kelp and give extra vitamins as needed.
Install a brush in the barn for cows to self-clean on. Homemade or store bought varieties both work well.
The process takes a couple months, but the end result is worth it:
A sleek, shiny, healthy animal!