Whether your calving season is finished, underway or coming up, calves on the ground this spring po-tentially have more value than ever before. Even in a down market, ranchers go to great lengths to assure calf survival, health and well-being, but this year’s prices justify extra attention to care.
“Treat each calf like a Duesenberg car,” veterinarian Dan Miller says, not like a rusty old farm truck. Miller, with Cloud Peak Veterinary Clinic in Worland, Wyo., works with several large cow-calf producers in his area and says he’s seen first-hand which practices minimize health problems in calves.
Well-planned preventative measures coupled with vigilance, he says, will help assure that calves are well-tuned and ready to travel later this year.
Kansas State University food-animal veterinarian Shelie Laflin stresses that colostrum management is critical to calf health. Calves, she says, need to consume 10 to 15 percent of their bodyweight of colostrum within the first 24 hours after birth, with two-thirds of that ideally consumed within the first 12 hours. Tube-feed calves that won’t nurse, ideally with natural colostrum, although colostrum substitutes also help.
For scours, Laflin says prevention is the first, best step. Vaccines, she adds, support scours prevention but only if other management practices allow them to work. She encourages producers to minimize calves’ exposure to scours pathogens by separating cow-calf pairs from cows that have not yet calved.
Producers have had excellent success using the Sandhills calving system, or variations, to prevent sours. This system involves using a series of adjacent calving pastures. About every seven days, managers move cows that have not yet calved into the next pasture, away from cow-calf pairs. The process minimizes exposure to scours pathogens during those critical first weeks. Pairs can be commingled about four weeks after calving.
If cases of scours occur, Laflin says catching calves early and treating them with fluids can prevent severe problems. Dehydration is the biggest killer in scours outbreaks, and keeping calves nursing is key to their recovery. If a calf is not nursing, she recommends administering milk and electrolytes through a tube. She notes that if an electrolyte solution includes bicarbonate, you need to wait two hours before feeding cow’s milk. Milk replacer, on the other hand, does not require that waiting period.
When calves need treatment for scours, veterinarian Jessica Laurin, with the Animal Health Center of Marion County in Marion, Kan., advises producers to give them enough time to recover. “I would rather keep the calf an extra day to get energy back into the calf,” she says. When calves are put back in with their dams too soon, they can wear themselves down trying to keep up with the grazing cow, resulting in a relapse. “It is better to give that calf an extra night in the stall and get it rested up to keep up with the cow.”
Severe or widespread cases of scours require assistance from a veterinarian. Laurin says that if a ranch treats just a few calves for scours within the season, she doesn’t consider it a failure of the herd, just a failure of the cow-calf pairs. But if more than a couple of calves need treatment, it’s time to investigate the cause to prevent further losses this year and develop a long-term prevention plan to minimize scours outbreaks in future calf crops.
Miller generally recommends using a scours vaccine in pregnant cows and two doses for first-calf heifers, with a second dose close to calving.
Miller also notes that enterotoxemia, a form of colic or bloat, can cause problems with calves at around 10 to 12 days of age, particularly with big, heavy-milking cows. The condition comes on fast, with calves showing swelling and discomfort, often kicking at their bellies with their hind legs. In herds that experience the problem, he recommends vaccinating calves at birth. Producers often tag or band calves at this time and have the opportunity to administer the vaccine.
If calves receive adequate colostrum at birth, Miller says, the antibodies should protect them until branding time. At branding, he recommends administering a five-way viral vaccine, a separate injection for pasteurella, and a seven-way haemophilus vaccine.
Later, when gathering cows for pregnancy testing, he suggests processing calves for a second round of vaccines. Following that treatment, the calves can go back with their dams to graze and recover for three to four weeks before weaning.
Vaccinations at these times, he says, coupled with good overall management, will minimize summer pneumonia and other respiratory diseases in calves up to and through weaning.
Laflin says veterinarians formerly believed there was not much or any benefit to vaccinating calves at branding, as the calves retain some of the antibodies acquired from their dams’ colostrum. Recent research, however, shows calves do respond to respiratory vaccines at that time. The response is not as strong as it might be a few weeks later, but immunity is improved. Ideally, she says, producers should vaccinate calves two to three weeks before weaning, but if branding time is the only opportunity to do so, it is far better than not vaccinating at all.
In his area, Miller says one other health issue his clients watch for is brisket disease, or high-altitude disease, which can be confused with other health problems. This genetic heart condition typically turns up in growing calves as they move to higher grazing areas during the summer. It can look like pneumonia, he says, sometimes leading producers to think their vaccines and antibiotics are not working. When high-elevation producers identify the disease in calves, they need to trace it back and cull bulls responsible for contributing the trait.
With prices headed into record territory, the 2011 model of the American beef calf is destined to be a classic. So treat it accordingly with scheduled maintenance and everyday TLC to ensure full value on sale day.