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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care                                     April 2003

Hi Folks,

            Just a quick reminder that we are beginning Daylight Savings Time (fast-time), so please have your calls in by 8am fast-time so I can schedule the day. Emergency calls can be made anytime, of course.

            This month I’d like to discuss some early spring issues, especially pertaining to calves. The number one cardinal rule with calves to remember: clean and dry bedding with good ventilation. Actually that goes for all animals, but especially youngstock. Make sure they are getting a gallon of colostrum within the first 6-8 hours of life..

            The main calf problem I’ve seen lately is scours. February through March is a terrible time for calves to be born, in a sense. Although God intended herbivores (cows, horses, sheep, goats) to give birth in the spring, He meant it so coincide with abundant, nutritious feed in the form of pasture. Up until now, we’ve had none of that kind of conditions. Calves can too easily become damp and chilly -this weakens them immensely. April, although often pleasant during the day in our area, certainly can be rainy and cold as well, especially at night. At the first sign of a calf not finishing its bottle or not staying at the mob feeder, take its temperature, check its rear-end and back legs for typical scours/wetness, and pinch its eyebrow assess its hydration. Its hydration is OK if the eyebrow does not stay ‘tented up’ – the longer it stays ‘tented up’, the worse the dehydration. Also check the rate of breathing - if no obvious scours it’s probably pneumonia, but they can have both at the same time (not good). Make sure that the bottles and mob feeder are *clean*. The germs that can be found in dirty bottles and mob feeders would amaze you. Just because you’ve gotten away with not cleaning them for long stretches in the past does not hold up if there are problems occurring right here and right now. Action must be taken or you will simply keep adding to the germ load. It should not be viewed as a hassle to keep these items clean. Calves are very sensitive to their environment, lack a competent immune system and are totally dependent on our good care. They are your future herd.

            Calves can drop like flies from scours, if things get out of hand. The most common scours occur usually in the first 2 weeks of life. The usual culprits are coliform bacteria and/or rotacorona virus. They both can kill, but coliform more definitely so. Ways to prevent it include: ample amounts of colostrum in first day of life; First Defense bolus in first 12 hours of life (especially if from a 1st calf heifer); vaccinate springers with one of the coliform vaccines (Endovac Bovi or J-5) at 8 months and again at 8 ½ months pregnant to get enriched, hyperimmunized colostrum (as well as dramatically reduced symptoms of potential fresh cow coliform mastitis). Give each calf 1cc of Immunoboost sometime in the first 5 days of life - this is an immunostimulant that raises the calf’s own gamma interferon levels. Also give BoSe, the calf formulation of vitamin E/Selenium. At first sign of not drinking right, switch to an electrolyte such as ReSorb or make your own with this farmer recipe: 8 tbsp. honey, 2 tsp. baking soda, 2 tsp. salt into 1 gallon water. Feed calf not one bottle two times daily but  ½ - ¾ bottle 4 times daily. You can either feed only the electrolytes for 2 days in a row or alternate electrolytes and milk. If calf is too weak to suck the bottle, you must tube feed it or it will wither quickly. If standing over the calf so its head is in front of you and its tail behind you then your left is its left; then pass the tube into the mouth under its left nostril and remain to the left as you pass about 16-18 inches into the little critter. Then let the fluid run in.

            Fluid therapy is critical to any young calf with scours, no matter what the bacteria or virus causing it. You either do it orally or you’ll need the vet to give IV fluids which usually include dextrose, lactated ringers solution and sodium bicarb.

            Scours due to parasites include the protozoal coccidia, cryptosporidia, giardia types and the nematode/helminth stomach worms. Almost all will give a skinny but pot-bellied calf with rough hair coat with diarrhea and occasionally coughing. The scours is usually dark with red streaks in coccidia and the calf strains. Parasitic infestations are commonly seen just after the stress of weaning, but certainly can occur earlier. Again, pens of calves kept within the main barn or batches of calves continually using the same exact location invite parasite infections. In group pens, try to sanitize the area before new calves occupy it. In hutches, move them to new locations, use some gravel to help ground drainage and turn up idle ones to get the benefit of the sun’s ultraviolet rays to sanitize. Again, manure samples should be analyzed to diagnose the parasite (most dairy vets do this right at the office). Coccidiostats like amprolium work well for coccidia. These aren’t allowed on organic farms, so I try a product called Ferro, which is extremely high in tannins and iron as well as other colloidal minerals. This stops the diarrhea and also replenishes iron to the little calf’s system in a biologically friendly way. The Ferro has been beneficial in stomach worm problems since it is such a strong constrictor due to the tannins. Although it doesn’t necessarily kill worms, it makes the intestinal terrain inhospitable through spasm and it seems as though they release their “grip” on the gut. It also replenishes iron to the system which becomes severely anemic due to worm infestations. Of course regular wormers work as well, but there is some evidence of growing resistance to them. Organic farmers are allowed to only use ivermectin, if the condition is diagnosed by their veterinarian. For traditional farmers, I would suggest rotating wormers as you would with horses so the existing worm population on your farm does not become resistant to any one product. Worm animals right now before turning out, so they don’t load the pasture. Also clip pastures to splatter manure paddies to expose the worm eggs to the drying effects of the sun and wind. Clipping also allows uniform re-growth of your paddock stand. Do not graze youngstock on paddocks that the adult cows have grazed, this invites parasitism.

            One other thing I want to mention as early spring pastures get grazed. When grazing legume pastures for 5-6 days in a row, cows can bloat. Feed hay to your animals ½  hour before sending out to such pastures. Bloat is TOTALLY preventable. Giving 1 quart mineral oil (repeat in 15 minutes) will help if an animal bloats, as well as poloxalene (Bloat-Guard). Both also happen to be allowable for organic farmers in emergencies if needed. Pure stands of perennial ryegrass may lead to grass tetany, treatable by IV CMPK and preventable by using magnesium oxide in the feed.

            By the way, I am actively learning pasture-based nutrition from folks at Penn State as well as an Australian at the Veterinary School (who has done 20 years pasture nutrition research in Australia ). If you are interested, I’d be happy to begin working with some of you this season. I’d like to see cows keep better body condition, which means supplying enough dry matter and energy. I’d like to stress the importance of knowing how much quantity as well as quality is in the paddocks. I look forward to doing this testing so you can best feed your cows, make milk and get them bred back in time.

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

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