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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care February 2010

Hi Folks,

Got anything for coughing calves? This question is starting up again as it does every year around this time – or anytime we have freezing nights and above freezing days. Those germs seem to be waiting on the walls in the barn to jump off and into the calves when the temperatures get above freezing. And when there is not much air movement. And when the bedding might be a tad bit soggy or damp. Though it doesn’t take all slightly warm temperatures, damp bedding and poor ventilation to make for coughing calves, all three acting together almost certainly will make for problems. And when problems come up, which they will occasionally, you need to address the situation. In a sense, if you need to reach for treatments, you’ve already lost the battle to some extent but hopefully not having a full blown train wreck.

OK – ideal conditions would be calves with excellent immune systems that can withstand the severest assaults. This may be the case with calves on nurse cows (one of my favorite management practices) that are out of any areas shared with the adult herd.      These calves will be the absolute strongest against any challenge really. This is as close to mother nature as can be found. You do have to still manage these calves, checking on them and still making sure there is no cross sucking – which is very rare when there is a real udder to be had.

The next best prevention of coughing calves are calves raised in a super hutch as a social group but you need to watch out for any cross sucking.  Individual hutches that allow them to be outside in an enclosed, fenced area that allow the calf to decide whether to be inside or outside are excellent for respiratory health. I am pleased to see more and more calves with calf jackets, which will conserve body heat and calories. If no calf jackets, calves need increased calories to remain warm, that is a basic fact of biology. If they use many calories just to stay warm their immune system will not be at peak performance.  Some folks in the animal science community are now raising questions about individual hutches since calves are very social creatures and like to be in groups. I say that temporarily having calves in separate hutches to prevent respiratory disease trumps grouping calves just to enable social interaction, especially if respiratory disease has been a problem. They will be grouped fairly soon anyway. The multi-calf kennels are OK if calves have the room to go outside, like the outdoor areas for hutches. Multi-calf kennels that do not allow the animals to pop in and out can cause problems usually. I do find the wooden multi-calf kennels to usually harbor bugs that cause digestive problems (scours) associated with coccidia at some point. Calves in barns, and especially in the main barn where the cows are or calves in a cinder block building tend to develop coughing at some point during the late autumn through late winter season. In all cases, dry bedding will ensure better health than damp bedding – but especially if the calves have no other choice than to be raised in a building where ventilation may be inadequate.

The key to preventing coughing animals, especially calves, are to raise them outside and not bring them back indoors until they freshen as a first calf heifer.

OK, so let’s say you’ve done everything right to prevent pneumonia at the basic level – meaning fresh air & dry bedding – but you hear some coughing. Then what? Well, one early option that I would not be without on an organic farm (or conventional farm for that matter) is an intranasal vaccine (Nasalgen®, TSV-2®). These two vaccines are the only ones that can be given to animals that are showing signs of illness. This will quickly stimulate immunity along the respiratory tract and increase the interferon levels as well. Calves that have a slight cough and eating well could be candidates for this “treatment” (more of a prevention though they are already coughing). Mix the dry and liquid parts together, hold the calf’s head up slightly, and put 1cc into each nostril. This can be done for cows if needed, even pregnant cows. This vaccine was actually designed for protecting against shipping fever and should be given about 4-5 days prior to moving cattle onto or off the farm. Pneumonia must be prevented as it can lead to chronic poor doers and/or death.

OK, so let’s say that you have a bunch of calves inside that are obviously coughing and you decide to check their temperatures – which I would do for any animal that is not normal. If they are bright and alert, eating fairly well, only cough when rustled up and have a fever, I would act then and there with some natural type products. Probably the quickest and most effective would be one dose shot of antibodies that will neutralize the germs and their toxins that are causing the symptoms. My original success in treating pneumonia without antibiotics was in a rip roaring shipping fever outbreak on an organic farm that had recently been assembled. The commercial product called Bovi-Sera™ (also known as PolySerum™) worked well. It can be given under the skin or in the muscle. This antitoxin will remain effective for about 10-12 days, giving needed time for the animal’s immune system to clear the germs causing the infection. My product, Plasma Gold, is highly purified and is what I have been using for a number of years now. Many farmers like it, especially for hot coliform mastitis and calf scours, as it can be given IV for quick action if desired (BoviSera™ and PolySerum™ are not labeled for IV use). Immunoboost™ stimulates interferon production which helps the calf from a slightly different angle. Giving one shot of each of these kinds of products one time is all that is needed.

If you prefer to use tinctures, the Phyto-Biotic is used by an increasing amount of farmers across the country now, as it is a very strong combination of antibacterial herbal components, namely garlic, goldenseal, barberry, and ginseng. Dosing is 5cc twice daily in the mouth for calves. You need to catch up each calf twice daily for 4-5 days to administer this. Many people don’t mind doing this and find positive results. Other folks prefer homeopathic remedies, which is what I got my start with as a herdsman. Homeopathy holds a special place in my heart but it does take determination to figure out which ones to use. However, there are some which seem to be indicated for coughing calves. Antimonium tart 30C for wet coughs, Bryonia 30C for dry coughs, Aconite 30C for the earliest signs (but not if they’ve broken a sweat) and a combination of Bryonia/Urtica/Belladonna 200C is still commonly asked for. For calves, 5 pellets 2-4 times daily is the usual dose until symptoms change, hopefully with the calf getting better!

These are just some of the treatments I recommend based on my clinical experience. But, without doubt, and especially in pneumonia – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Remember – fresh air and dry bedding are basics that make for healthy calves regardless of changes in the weather.

NOTE: The Southeast Grazers Meeting will be held at the Hoffman Center on the Quarryville Fair Grounds (PA Rt. 472) once again this year. The dates are Monday February 15th and Tuesday February 16th. This conference is a must for those interested in grazing. For more information, call Roman Stoltzfoos at 610-593-2415. Who knows, but maybe the new pasture rule will be released by then. That would make for a whole lot of discussion!

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

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