Calf morbidity and mortality

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Calf suckleGeni Wren Beef calf morbidity and mortality is a multifactorial issue, Kansas State University’s Mike Sanderson, DVM, Dipl. ACT, Dipl. ACVPM, told more than 100 veterinarians, producers and students at last week’s 2013 Cow-Calf at Kansas State University.

Sanderson said 40-50% of calf morbidity occurs within 21 days of birth, 50-60% of calf mortality occurs within 24 hours of birth, and 75-80% of calf mortality occurs within 21 days of birth.

A host of factors can influence the health of the newborn beef calf including colostrum, failure of passive transfer, environment, pathogen load, infection pressure, dystocia, inadequate nutrition of the calf and dam, weather, weak calves, mastitis/udder conformation and more.

There is not a one-size-fits-all calving management system for beef producers, Sanderson noted. “You can apply good management principles to a specific operation to design calving management plan,” he said.

To control infection pressure, he says you must look at population density, environmental contamination levels and consider risk-group segregation to decrease contact between sick and well calves.

Low-population density calving situations

A low-population density calving situation has positives and negatives. “There is a decrease in environmental contamination and pathogen levels, but it is harder to monitor dystocia,” Sanderson said. To make this system work better, help clients try to minimize their risks for dystocia so they can avoid the need for confined calving.

High-population density calving situation

Likewise a high-population density calving situation has positives and negatives as far as calf health is concerned, Sanderson explained. “A more dense population has increased environmental contamination, increased interaction with precipitation from rain/snow/urine, and increased pathogen levels. However, because it’s generally in a smaller area, there is improved dystocia monitoring, but you can pay a high price for that.”

If your clients have to calve in a more densely populated area, Sanderson says advise them to manage the environment carefully by providing adequate space, good drainage, pen-surface cleaning, and keeping it clean and dry. “Moist, cool environments increase pathogen survival and infection pressure,” Sanderson said. “A dirty environment leads to dirty calves, dirty udders and a higher chance of ingesting pathogens.”



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Rob Stuart    
Bedford, TX  |  February, 01, 2013 at 12:01 PM

We have found that spring-born calves are more prone to be fat-soluble deficient compared to calves born when dams have access to lush-green pasture. The reason is that cows gestating during winter months do not consume enough fat-soluble vitamins, especially vitamin E. This results in deficient levels in colostrum and milk. Calves exhibiting weak-calf syndrome have been shown to be vitamin E and vitamin A deficient. Cows that calf in early springtime typically are not supplemented with adequate fat-soluble vitamins during gestation. We recommend injecting newborn calves with vitamins E, A and D to assure that the newborn has adequate levels of these critically important vitamins.


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