MHBA ANIMAL HEALTH SERIES
Calf Health Part 2
By Peggy Joseph-Potter RN, BSN, MHA
Raising healthy calves is the mainstay of our industry. Early intervention from birth through weaning makes all the difference in outcomes. Keeping your calf healthy and disease-free takes planning, early intervention and consistency. Calves are born without immunity therefore protection from opportunistic organisms and conditions requires daily observation and diligence to what Sheila McGuirk DMV, PhD calls the 5 C’s: Colostrum, Calories, Cleanliness, Comfort and Consistency.
Newborn Calf Protocol: Clean hands, arms and equipment (see calving supply list) if assisting the calving. Remove mucus from the calf’s mouth and nose. (We drain calves with large amounts of mucous by gently turning them upside down for a few seconds.) Rub the calf vigorously if stimulation is necessary. (Use warmed towels or blankets in cold weather.) Examine the navel and place a tie if it continues to bleed. Apply disinfectant to a clean navel. Iodine solutions (1, 2 and 7%) or chlorhexidine (0.5%) may be effective. Dipping is more effective than a spray as it also acts as an astringent that aids in drying out the cord. Feed 1 quart of prepared or thawed, warm colostrum if unable to nurse within the first two hours. (Some breeders supplement immediately after birth even if the calf is able to nurse.) Use either a bottle or esophageal feeder for those calves too weak to suck.
Colostrom: Good quality colostrom is essential to the survival of a newborn calf. A newborn should be up and nursing soon after birth or at least within the first couple of hours without assistance. After two hours, the calf may need additional support to stand and find the teat. First calf-heifers may need to be tied or even milked to ensure adequate and timely immunity for the newborn. As time progresses without nursing, so does the loss of immunity. A supplemental feeding maybe required to ensure the calf receives vital antibodies against disease and adequate nutrition, energy and calories to keep them warm. Good quality colostrum is thick and creamy in appearance. It is rich in calories and a concentrated source of nutrients for the calf. Healthy cows in good condition that have been vaccinated against rotavirus, coronavirus and bacteria are more likely to produce good-quality colostrum that contains antibodies required in the first few months of life. Inferior colostrum can result when cows are not in good body condition, from illness or inadequate nutrition, or when animals are first-calf heifers. Thin or watery colostrum should not be fed if there is a source of good quality colostrum available, either frozen or fresh. A lamb’s nipple and soda bottle make an ideal substitute for a calf unable or unwilling to nurse its mother. Colostrom comes either dried or frozen and should be kept on hand during calving season or whenever a birth is likely to occur.
Calories: Cattle require five main groups of nutrients for life and growth: energy, protein, vitamins, minerals and water. Mother’s milk and colostrum are the main source of calories and energy for the newborn calf. Calves need about 5-10 percent of their body weight or 1 quart for a 40-pound calf at birth and again in another 6 hours. Beef cattle should be allowed to nurse at-will as cows usually only produce enough milk to fulfill the needs of their calves; therefore over-feeding should not be a concern.
At 1 week of age, calves will begin to eat a little hay and grain. Consumption will be insignificant at first but it will gradually increase to become a major part of the diet by the end of a month. Calf developer products are specifically made to meet the nutritional needs of calves and medicated products assist with the development of good quality rumen and digestion. Providing the growing calf with adequate calories and nutrition leads to less weight loss and illness during the stress of weaning. Good nutrition is maximized by ensuring an adequate intake of minerals including salt and plenty of good clean water. (The injectable source of vitamin supplement we use is Multimin 90 by Nova Tech, other products are also available.)
Cleanliness: Calves should be born in a clean, dry place. Keeping the calving environment clean is important as newborns are exposed to large amounts of pathogens after birth. Maternity areas must be kept very clean and as free of manure as possible. A cow should never give birth in a dirty pen. Use lots of clean bedding to reduce the risk of illness or infection. Fresh bedding reduces exposure even before the dam has a chance to lick off the calf. Newborn calves should never nurse a cow with a dirty or mature-laden udder, as passage of E coli is too great for their immune defenses.
If weather is severely cold, you can get by without cleaning stalls if you put clean bedding on top for each new cow. The build-up of bedding can keep barns warmer in sub-zero temperatures. Using good sanitation principles and basic hygiene aids in the prevention of sickness and possible mortality due to organisms such as E coli, Mycobacterium or Salmonella.
Comfort: Newborn calves need to be kept comfortable and provided with plenty of dry bedding and shelter from drafts and wind in cold weather. This factor is especially important during severe weather as it stresses the body by requiring energy for heat production. Below 20 degrees F, ears and tails may freeze and the calf’s mouth may become too cold to nurse. The increased demand for energy can keep a calf from gaining weight during these months unless they are protected. Simple windbreaks can be adequate for calves that are not yet ready to venture into the pasture. Calf coats can help maintain a calf’s body heat by providing protection from the wind and cold. Weaned calves do not need additional care however breeders must ensure the presence of adequate feed and an ice-free water supply.
Consistency: Consistency of newborn protocols and daily calf management is important. Calves should be provided with regular supplemental feedings in the form of grain and hay. (Hay should be dry and not first cutting or pure alfalfa to prevent digestive upset.) The same person who performs routine feedings and care should observe calves at the same times every day. Changes in the routine will stress calves, and animals that are stressed are more likely to get sick. Healthy calves correspond to happy breeders. More importantly, a quality product is worthy of economic value and a source of pride for a job well done. Happy Calving!
Bibliography: Haynes, N. B. (1978). Keeping Livestock Healthly. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, L.L.C. Thomas, H. S. (1998). Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle. Storey Publishing. Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, Sheila McGuirk, DMV,PhD. (2009). 5C’s of Health Calving. Retrieved December 2010, from Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. Biography Peggy and her husband, Bob Potter, own and operate PJ Ranch LLC in Winton, California where they raise Miniature and Polled Herefords. They have been active participants in the MHBA since 2002. She is employed as a critical care nurse for a local medical center.Thomas, H. S. (1998). Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle. Storey Publishing. Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, Sheila McGuirk, DMV,PhD. (2009). 5C’s of Health Calving. Retrieved December 2010, from Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. Biography Peggy and her husband, Bob Potter, own and operate PJ Ranch LLC in Winton, California where they raise Miniature and Polled Herefords. They have been active participants