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The Moo News

Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care                                                   January 2002

Hi Folks,

            Coughing calves are definitely the topic to discuss. I have seen many groups of calves effected during the last month and a half. Part of the reason for all the coughing calves this year has been the mild autumn we’ve had. The air is only now fresh and brisk. This is the healthy kind of air calves (and adult cows) need. Traditionally it is well known that calves born in the winter are more hardy than those born in the summer. Factors that impact a calf’s ability to withstand infection also include dry bedding, robust nutrition and whether or not they received their required 1 gallon of colostrum in the first 6-12 hours of life. The most likely effected calves are usually about 4-8 months of age in pens in the barns where the cows are. The least likely calves to develop pneumonia are those housed in individual hutches outside. Calves raised in kennels (with access to outside the kennel), superhutches and outdoor group pens (Virginia style) tend not to get pneumonia, either. Have calves facing south or southwest if possible.

            I believe another factor is now at play, perhaps more to do with the youngest calves’ ability to withstand infections. It is the practice of withholding hay to calves in the first month of life – only being fed replacer and grain. The plain truth is that feeding hay is the best way to develop a calf’s rumen – this is a biological fact. The walls of the immature, non-functional rumen best responds to forage being consumed and quickly becomes functional. And, a ruminating calf will, without doubt, be better able to fend off challenges it encounters.

            If a calf comes down with the coughs, take its’ temperature!! If it is normal (100.5-102.5) and is eating, great. Simply keep a close eye on it and its’ neighbor calves. If a pen of calves coughs when rustled up and moving around, but they are eating, then try using high doses of garlic and echinacea in the feed. It will make whatever you’re feeding tastier to them and are excellent immune enhancers. Garlic has mild antibiotic effects also. If you’re really wanting to try herbs, try this old time recipe: Powdered aloe (6drams), powdered ipecac (3drams), powdered lobelia (2 drams), honey (4 oz) and 1 qt. boiling water. When cool, give in one dose to one animal. For more chronic coughing, try this: powdered pleurisy root (2oz), powdered liquorice (2oz), powdered ipecac (2oz) and powdered slippery elm (4oz) mixed together then divide into 8 doses to be fed equally at the next 8 feedings to the calf morning and evening.  If they have a slight fever (102.6-103.2), and they are eating, try the above herbal mixes or try homeopathic aconite, antimonium, bryonia or phosphorus. For individual calves needing an extra boost, use an injectible colostrum-whey product. These are a source of passive antibodies that can help a calf get over a mild respiratory infection on its own without using antibiotics. If a calf has a wet cough and is running a high fever (103.6-105.4) - and there’s usually one within any coughing group – chances are she will need an antibiotic. Do not delay. Otherwise she may get permanent damage that will come back to cause problems on a hot summer day when she is heavily pregnant or just fresh. LA-200 is not very effective. Penicillin is a waste of time and energy – it will do nothing to get at the root cause of a pneumonia of bacterial infection. I find excellent results with Micotil.

            Of course preventing ‘the coughs’ is best, yet often difficult to do. Certainly dry bedding, fresh air, clean water and top-notch nutrition are critical.

            If you must keep calves near cows in the stable, keep the youngest ones inside (pre-weaned). If they are on whole milk, they will probably do fine. Keep the weaned ones outside. Also, effectively reducing parasite burdens will help – parasitism drains important strength and immune capabilities away from youngstock. The pour-on wormers are effective in the winter time against worm larva hibernating in the stomach and gut lining and also works against lice and mange. Herbally, try powdered white hellebore root and rub it on the areas of lice or mange. Or make a liquid mix of 4 quarts boiling water and 4 oz. white hellebore and wash the animal’s effected parts when the mix has cooled down.

            If coughing calves are common every year on your farm, consider vaccinating with a 4 way viral vaccine, if done in a timely way before your usual outbreak. The intranasal vaccine can be used during an outbreak due to its ability to stimulate IgA antibodies on the mucosal lining of the respiratory tract as well as increase interferon concentrations. If pre-weaned calves are usually the ones effected, use a viral vaccine at 1 week of age and again at 5 weeks of age (but not in between). Also a shot of vitamin E and Selenium (calf-strength) will boost their immune capabilities.

            But do remember that nothing is better than dry bedding, fresh air, clean water and excellent nutrition in maintaining healthy lungs as well as healthy digestion. The healthiest, strongest calves are those that are either on nurse cows or fed real milk out in hutches. 

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

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