Willis and flank spaying methods are gradually losing traction in the business of breeding herd management with cow webbing gaining notoriety.
Webbing involves removing a section of the fallopian tube from the ovaries after entering through the back passage to inhibit complete ovulation and prevent the delivery of an egg into the uterus.
A small cut is made two inches back from the cervix through which the spayer passes their fingers to pick up the fallopian tubes.
With more than 40 years experience in cattle spaying, Bryan Hall, Rockhampton, said the webbing method represented the best outcome for cows and producers.
“With webbing, you can take the fallopian tubes out of a pregnant cow and she will carry that calf to term but not go in calf again,” he said.
“Plus, as cows get older their internal attachments get thicker and when you cut them with the super tool for the Willis method, mortality rates are much higher,” he said.
“With webbing you only take a small bit of membrane and there’s very little blood supply to it. Anaesthetics aren’t needed and cows never look back.”
Mr Hall said webbing caused very little disturbance to a cow and therefore involved far greater human risk.
“I’ve actually done a milker cow and the owner didn’t have a head bail so he put some grain in a bin. I webbed her while she was eating and she just lifted her head and then started eating again- it’s quite incredible.”
“Animals Australia had me as their pin-up boy and asked me to write animal welfare standards for spaying in Australia.
“I suggested abolishing the Willis super tool being used on mature aged cows and banning flank spaying- webbing is second to none in terms of positive outcomes.”
Mr Hall has taken his spaying service deep into Queensland’s gulf country, the Northern Territory and to some of the largest cattle stations in Western Australia including Rio Tinto, BHP and AA Company owned properties.
Set to eventually succeed Mr Hall, Robert Johnstone, Banana, has trained and worked with Bryan over the past few years picking up the fine art of web spaying.
Mr Johnstone said the trend to learn webbing was growing as owners and managers enjoyed the certainty of having a number of dry, finished cows in a paddock without the hassle of separating them from the main breeding herd.
One such manager, Ben Wratten of Minderoo Station in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, said he had used webbing as a management tool for the last 10 years.
“I’ve found webbing to be an effective way of creating cash flow with aged cows where in northern Australia it’s often hard to keep cows dry when they get enough condition to sell as a fat cow,” Mr Wratten said.
“These cows are so fertile and hardy they’ll always come out of the yards with a young calf or weaner at foot or be heavy in calf again and light in condition and end up dying in the paddock.”
Mr Wratten said he spayed 10-year-old cows to ensure these “high risk” cows were fattened and sold by the age of 12.
“Pregnancies are all valuable- we work so hard to get as many weaners as we can so it doesn’t make sense to waste them with other spaying methods,” he said.
“With webbing you’ll basically have a very similar weaning rate as the fertile breeding herd so I’ve realised a weaning percentage of between 60 and 70 per cent on my webbed cows.
“Compared to selling the cow in calf or terminating a pregnancy, that’s 70 per cent more weaners you’re pulling off.”
Katherine Vet Care Centre owner Peter Trembath said while webbing was theoretically a surgical act of veterinary science, Bryan Hall was the best in the business in Australia.
“Just like any of those repetitive tasks, some people get good at it and aren’t necessarily vets. Not many can web cows and it’s technically difficult to get to a commercial number per day,” Mr Trembath said.
“It’s great to have that facility available and it makes old cull for age cows a valuable and productive entity.
“Anyone who cares for the welfare of their animals, which is probably most people, would take the webbing option.”
Mr Hall alluded to the option of using webbing for recipient cows in embryo transfer programs.
“The cows can’t get in calf but they do continue to cycle and they can carry an egg,” Mr Hall said.
“Often when producers do embryo programs they put 100 cows in a paddock, give them the hormones and the day they decide to bring them in they find the neighbour’s bull with the cows- with webbing that doesn’t matter.”
Mr Wratten echoed the many benefits of webbing and said the method acted as a valuable trading tool.
“We can buy cheap, old cracker cows that are in calf, web them and the following year sell their weaner and at the end of the year sell the fat cow.”
Web spaying 30,000 cows per year and set on removing any secrecy around spaying, Mr Hall said he offered certain words of wisdom.
“A webbed cow is more reliable than any four barb fence.”