Keeping calves healthy and alive is a critically important factor contributing to a beef cow-calf operation’s success and profitability. To help ensure that calves remain healthy, beef producers should minimize the introduction of new diseases to the farm by developing and enforcing a strict biosecurity plan.
Michigan State University Extension recommends developing biosecurity plans with the consultation and advice of a veterinarian. The veterinarian will provide expertise and independent observation. A well-designed biosecurity plan should include an understanding of the greatest risks associated with a given farm, isolation of potentially infectious animals, traffic control and sanitation.
Understanding and identifying disease risks on a farm is the first step to developing a biosecurity plan. Newborn calves are the most vulnerable animals on the farm because they are born with virtually no immunity. Calves require adequate quantities of high quality colostrum in order to achieve passive immunoglobulin transfer from dam to calf. Calves are most vulnerable to disease invasion following birth until they have consumed colostrum and received passive immunity.
Animals on the farm that become sick have potential to be infectious to other animals and should be isolated from the herd. One sick animal can shed infectious microorganisms that can quickly spread throughout the entire herd. New animals entering the farm should be isolated and not allowed in close proximity to other animals, especially the most vulnerable – such as newborns and cattle under stress from weaning. A rule of thumb is to isolate new cattle from resident cattle for 30 days by at least 30 feet.
Purchasing calves to foster onto a cow that lost her own calf is frequently a poor decision. An example of this occurred recently when a beef producer bought a dairy calf from the local auction barn to graft onto a cow that had lost her calf at birth. The calf broke with diarrhea soon after arrival and within a week many other calves sharing the same environment developed diarrhea as well. This a great example of how animals coming from a different environment frequently introduce new disease challenges onto the farm. Lost profit due to morbidity and mortality seldom offsets the benefits of keeping a cow productive in this scenario.
Traffic control is an important aspect of stopping the introduction of new disease onto the farm. Preventing the introduction of new disease and the spread of existing infectious organisms on the farm will aid to minimize sick animals. In order to control traffic, producers need to be aware of oncoming vehicles, animals and people. Any of these can potentially carry infectious organisms onto the farm. Producers also need to be aware of their movements on the farm. Farmers should avoid movement through the sick pens before entering into the healthy herd lots. Always move from healthiest and youngest animals first to sick animals last.
Sanitation is the last critical piece of the biosecurity plan. Visitors should wear clean clothes and sanitized footwear before entering the premises. Producers themselves should sanitize footwear after visiting other livestock operations or sick pens. Keeping the environment clean by removal of manure and providing fresh bedding in the barns, will aid in keeping animals disease free. Cleaning and disinfecting equipment (feeders, waters, etc.), livestock trailers and barn environments (barns and lots) on a regular basis helps to reduce pathogen build up. These practices are especially important in calving areas to ensure the herd’s newest members stay disease free.