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The Moo News

Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care                                                      April 2002

Hi Folks,

            For many of you this is a heavier calving season than other times of the year. Perhaps some tips are in order. If you have a history of very young calves getting scours (diarrhea) and dying then you need to pay particular attention to management and housing. Remember a calf needs 1 gallon of colostrum within the 1st 6-12 hours of life – colostrum provides the antibodies the calf needs to protect itself against diseases in the first 2-3 months of life. If you are not sure that the calf got colostrum, don’t hesitate to give it a bottle or tube feed it. When tube feeding a calf remember that when straddling the calf with the head in front of you, your ‘left’ is its ‘left’ and pass the tube left of center into the mouth and into its throat. There is NO substitute for the required amount of colostrum. In general, the oldest cows will have the richest colostrum.

            The calf’s gut is very receptive to the large antibody molecules in colostrum and is porous enough to allow them to be absorbed intact into the bloodstream from the intestine in the first 24-36 hours after birth. Unfortunately, disease-causing bacteria and viruses also can cling to and pass through the calf’s intestinal wall at this time (E. coli, Rota/Corona virus, Salmonella, Johnes, etc). Therefore it is absolutely critical that you have cows calve in clean and dry surroundings. In general, if the weather is good then birth out on pasture is great (as long as it is not a mudhole). If it is nasty weather, by all means bring the cow and calf inside; warm up and dry off the calf and tend to the cow. With prices of calves and cows as they are, promptly doing this should be a “no-brainer”. Next best place is a clean boxstall – one which does not have built up manure (fresh or aged) and has ample and deep dry bedding – straw or fodder is best. I am a bit hesitant about sawdust, at least for the fresh cow dripping milk – it is a terrible source of coliform bacteria. When cleaning out the boxstall between calvings, lay down a thick coating of lime (Barn-Dri or Barn-Grip) to alter the ground pH and ruin the bacterial habitat.

            If you are still experiencing problems with scouring calves, review and consider the following suggestions:

Q: Who is feeding the calf? A: You are, not the kids, especially when there are problems.

Q: When is the calf being fed? A: At the same times, always – do not vary.

Q: What is the calf being fed? A: Whole milk or top quality replacer. Also offer hay from Day 1. I will repeat myself here from another newsletter – the calf’s immature rumen absolutely must have fibrous stems and roughage for it to develop and become functional. Calves with a functional rumen can withstand many more of life’s stresses than those only getting milk replacer and grain. I will stick my neck out here and say that those ‘nutritionists’ who advocate withholding hay from calves until they are a month old have no clue as to the developmental biology of calves. Ever see calves nibbling their bedding? They seek out fiber for obvious reasons. They know they need it. Case closed. (Of course you may feed sweet grain, too – but never, ever withhold hay from a ruminant, no matter what age!)

Q: What is the temperature of the the milk? A: Body temp (102 F), not cold.

Q:What height are they being fed milk? A: About nose height – never ground level.


            If you are still experiencing problems, do not wait until the calf is flat out and severely dehydrated. Act at the first sign of them not vigorously drinking. Calves have little to no reserves. Prompt attention and action on your part is required. Waiting 12-24 hours to see if they “come around” is not a bright idea. If you see white scours and they are 1-14 days old, it is usually E.coli bacteria or Rota/Corona virus (RCv). They both can kill, but E.coli does it more quickly due to the bacteremia (blood poisoning). You can get a calf over RCv with paying strict attention to the hydration of the calf; learning to tube feed a calf is an essential part of calf husbandry. Sorry, there’s no other option.

Q: Which calves are getting sick? The ones from 1st calf heifers? A: Yes – then consider vaccinating the springing heifers 3 weeks before calving with Calf Guard or a J-5 or the Endovac bovi product to boost the antibody content of the colostrum.

Q: Don’t feel like dealing with springing heifers? A: That’s a shame, you’ll need to.

Q: The cow died during calving (or has no milk) and the calf didn’t get colostrum, what can I do? A: Use colostrum from another cow (preferably an older one) or use a First Defense bolus (commercial source of antibodies) within the 1st 6-12 hours of life.

Q: What should I feed a calf with scours? A: Electrolytes only – no milk for 24-36 hours, then slowly add back in real, whole milk. Feed electrolytes, ½ bottle 4 times a day, then the same amount and frequency when adding back in whole milk. The electrolytes can either be commercial ones like ReSorb or, to refresh your memories of a recipe a farmer gave me last year: 8 tbsp honey, 2 tsp baking soda, 2 tsp salt in 1 gallon of water as a stock solution to divide up thru the day. Repeat as needed.


By the way – I would like to do some general research on the 100+/- herds I serve and would like to ask your permission to access your DHIA records thru my computer at home. All I need is your DHIA herd number; everything will be kept confidential and anonymous (no names). As a reward, I will point out some key performance indicators for your herd that I learned at the Penn State and Lancaster DHIA courses I attended recently. I’ll talk with you personally when I see you next.


***I will be away Thurs afternoon April 11th  thru Sunday afternoon April 14th to give 2 workshops to farmers in New York and Vermont. Reminder postcards will be sent.***


Moo News Classified:

The “30-Free” Johnes test program is winding down. If you have been considering doing this test, do it before June 1st. Ask me more about it when you see me.


Amos B. Miller needs someone to organically feed and keep a group of his bred yearlings for over the summer.  Phone 717-656-7089.


Levi King, 523 Valley Rd, Quarryville, has 2 Holsteins and a Dutch Belt-Holstein due in May/June for sale (they are organic and he is going seasonal). He would like to buy organic Jersey-Holstein cross calves born in Jan-March.


Jeff Smith in Vermont: 1-802-754-2466, has an organic herd for sale.

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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