Sometimes finding ways to offer new services to your dairy clients can be difficult. Dale Moore, DVM, MPVM, PhD, Washington State University suggests that veterinarians take a comprehensive look into a current problem on a farm, i.e. calf/heifer morbidity, mortality and growth, to find opportunities that will provide more services, improve calf health and be economically beneficial to the client.

“Although many clients do an excellent job with their calf-raising programs, there are still opportunities for veterinarians to make a difference in the health and welfare of young heifers and improve the bottom line of the heifer enterprise,” Moore says.

Moore offers suggestions for veterinarians on how to segregate calf problems into separate components, then look at them from prevention and monitoring points-of-view (see below). “The different management areas for calves will have different prevention and monitoring strategies,” Moore explains. “Some farms might have few problems in one area, such as dystocias or stillbirths, but need help with their liquid feeding program. Having defined areas to monitor will help with subsequent investigations of problems.”

Approaching clients
It’s not always easy to approach clients to offer new or more in-depth services in some areas. “Each client is motivated by different things,” Moore says. “Some don’t want to see any mortality. Some want to reduce costs of treatment. Some want to have a small labor force. The veterinarian needs to understand the motivation of their client and calf manager to help them manage the health and welfare of the calves.

“Usually we get called in when there is a problem, but sometimes we can initiate the conversation if we take a look at calves on a regular basis and talk to those who are feeding and treating,” Moore adds. “If your client is motivated by economics, there are a number of Extension spreadsheets out there to help them realize costs of morbidity and mortality. There is also compelling data on long-term effects on heifers – production and reproduction -- that do not get colostrum or that are sick as a calf.”

Moore spent last year understanding and summarizing the literature on calf housing – focusing on hutches and their impact on health and welfare of pre-weaned calves – as part of a USDA-funded project. “We developed eight factsheets as well as courses for veterinarians, producers and calf caretakers. I think that veterinarians might be most interested in the Assess Tool to evaluate the calf environment. Our primary message is that to address infectious disease in calves we need to look at the infection cycle of exposure to, amplification of, and loading of pathogens in the calves’ environment to reduce morbidity.”

Calf Management Veterinary Services – Practice Builders

Dale A. Moore, DVM PhD, Director, Veterinary Medicine Extension, WSU

Total cost of heifer rearing = 18‐24% of dairy operation costs. Heifers do not begin to pay this back until somewhere into their second lactation. Cost breakdown for heifer rearing (in order from highest to lowest costs): feed, labor, initial value of the heifer, other variable costs, veterinary and medicine costs, death loss, interest on investment, and fixed costs.

If these are the operational costs – where can we have an influence?

Dystocia ‐‐ Incidence should be <15% in heifers and <8% in cows, dependent on bull choice, BCS of cow, position of the calf. Dystocia increases stillbirths, neonatal mortality, colostrum deprivation, interferes with IgG absorption, and increases chance for neonatal acidosis. Dystocia has been associated with calf mortality because of the possibility of uterine fluid inhalation.
- Prevention ‐‐ Calving schools/training
- Monitoring ‐‐ Stillbirths and calving assistance scores

Inadequate Transfer of Passive Immunity – Associated with morbidity and mortality.
- Prevention ‐‐ Colostrum management training
- Monitoring – IgGs or, TP’s & Colostrum culturing

Inadequate Nutrition – Associated with morbidity, mortality and poor growth
- Prevention ‐‐ Assessment of liquid feeding program, “ration” analysis & waste milk quality, pasteurizer HACCP program
- Monitoring ‐‐ Body condition and growth monitoring

Morbidity and Mortality – Numerous causes

  • Assessing hutch calf health – Health assessment scoring systems
  • Necropsy service for deads
  • Animal welfare – Assessment of housing, Euthanasia training
  • Treatment protocols
  • Vaccination protocols

 Resources for Calf Management Veterinary Services: