Rough, faded Coats in Cattle

Phil Rogers MRCVS <>
Grange Research Centre, Dunsany, Co. Meath, Ireland

Cattle in full health usually have shiny, well groomed haircoats of normal colour. With widespread use of continental sires and cross-bred dams, it can be difficult to decide what is a "normal" coat colour.  Also, cattle may retain their winter coats for several weeks after turnout to pasture in spring; healthy cattle may have coats that seem patchy or abnormal in the transition period from winter to summer.

However, dry depigmented coats, with rough staring patches, sometimes with alopecia along the back and thighs, can be an early sign of chronic ill-health. This lesion is non-specific. It arises in many conditions: undernutrition (low intake or quality of winter feed, over-stocking at grass); parasitism (internal or external); chronic disease (viral/bacterial infection; chronic toxicity; internal lesions etc); mineral deficiency (Cu, Co, P, I, Se, Zn) or toxicity (Se, I, plants, chemicals).

Alopecia of the lower limbs in calves is often associated with enteric diseases, such as salmonellosis.



Poor coats in cattle that are OTHERWISE THRIVING: Delayed shedding of the winter coat, or slight depigmentation in otherwise sleek coats (well oiled, no rough patches or alopecia) is of no health significance. Dr. John Mee (Moorepark) found that slight depigmentation (reddish tinge) in black hair occurred in June/July in 20-25% of healthy thriving Friesian cows and calves. The condition was unrelated to mineral status in blood and the prevalence reduced spontaneously to 1-5% between September and housing. In such cases, no remedial action is needed.

However, in animals being prepared for sale or shows, grooming and oiling the coat immediately before the event greatly improves the appearance. It may be worthwhile feeding a good mineral mix for about 6 weeks before the event.

Poor coats in cattle which are NOT THRIVING: The possible causal factors (undernutrition, parasitism, chronic disease, mineral deficiency, toxicity etc) must be investigated and corrected.

Mineral deficiency?: A quick way to check if mineral deficiency is involved is to give a good mineral supplement, high in trace-elements. The best way to supplement minerals is by FIXED RATE dosing at the correct dose rate (in feed, on feed, in the water supply, or by reputable veterinary supplements (boluses, bullets, injections, drenches etc).

If the animals do not show a good response within 3-6 weeks, the cause is unlikely to be mineral deficiency.