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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care January 2005

Hi Folks,

It seems like a lot of people read last month's newsletter as many people asked follow-up questions when I was out on the farm. One point made was that I didn't mention any treatments, so I will this month -- but after a brief summary of last month's newsletter. Generally speaking, lack of dry bedding and fresh air were the main points I made regarding causes of calf pneumonia. I also touched on parasitism. Basically calves that are parasitized will be more susceptible to other infections like pneumonia and not have the vitality to effectively battle the pneumonia germs they encounter. It is therefore important to check for obvious parasitism in pneumonia calves, especially on the organic farms where ivermectin is allowed on a diagnosed parasite problem. By getting rid of the parasitic worms, the animal will be stronger and other treatments will be more effective.

By the way, calf jackets are an excellent item to have for any sick calf in the winter time. In actuality, regular healthy calves that are outside in the wintertime need as much as 1/3 more energy in their ration to maintain body heat. Studies in the upper Midwest have shown that using calf jackets can reduce the need for that extra feed. When a calf is sick in the winter, it is almost a basic requirement to use a jacket or blanket to keep their body heat from escaping. This is true also for a down cow in the field in the wintertime, especially over night or when the winds are sharp.

As far as the pneumonia goes -- it all depends on the severity of symptoms. Calves that are bright and alert having a slight, dry hacking cough are probably OK, but they should be closely monitored to make sure things don't deteriorate. Often times, rustling up a bunch of animals will cause them to hack a little when they stop moving about. If there is no obvious nasal discharge (look closely) or ocular discharge, and they are eating like usual, don't worry too much. Some folks like to use a homeopathic remedy at this point to nip things in the bud. Often times antimonium tart 30C, bryonia 30C or a combination of bryonia-urtica-belladonna 200C is used. Give 5-10 pellets 3-4 times daily for individual animals or mix up 50 pellets in clean spring water, shake, let stand 1 hour, shake again and then add into the water trough. Do this daily for 7 days. Giving an injection of 10-20cc vitamin C would definitely be good as well. Dry bedding and fresh air are to be provided.

The next stage of pneumonia would be animals that show increased respiratory rate while resting, with more movement of the belly than the ribs. They will also occasionally cough while lying down. The cough may be a dry hack or perhaps a bit of a wet type cough. There may or may not be much nasal discharge showing. These animals need to have their temperature taken. There may be a fever of 103-104. They will often be a bit slower to come up to the feed trough. The lungs will usually sound harsh in various areas. These need treatment -- do not take the "let's wait and see" approach. They're bound to get worse in my experience.

On conventional farms, these critters will usually be put onto oxytetracycline (200mg/ml) by the farmer. Oxytetracycline may work, but often times it only puts a damper on the pneumonia and doesn't clear the infection. I would not use penicillin for contagious calf pneumonia. Tilmicosin is very effective for calf pneumonia as can be florfenicol, but the tilmicosin seems more effective in my experience. Ceftiofur usually works, but it needs daily injecting. Alarmingly, although ceftiofur was originally designed to treat shipping fever (pneumonia), it doesn't seem to be as effective as it once was. There seems to be resistance mounting against it in barns where it is used frequently. However, if a farmer only rarely uses an antibiotic on his/her farm, it can still work very well.

On organic farms, we need to assess if there is mild, moderate or severe lung disease. If there is only mild or moderate disease, the general idea is to stimulate and aid the immune system to support the animal so it can recover. If the lungs sound dry but raspy or harsh (basically functional) and moving air when listening by stethoscope, the non-antibiotic approach can work well. If there is massive congestion and wet sounds (meaning that abscesses are developing), these animals do not respond well to the natural treatments in my experience and an antibiotic should be considered.

The treatment combination I like to use are injections of passive antibodies, immune stimulants, vitamin C, vitamin E & selenium along with oral garlic-goldenseal tincture or homeopathic antimonium or belladonna-urtica-bryonia follow-up. For calves, I'll use 75-100 cc passive antibodies under the skin, 1-3cc Immunoboost® in the muscle, 6cc/100 lbs. vitamin C in the muscle and 3cc/100 lbs. vitamin E & selenium in the muscle. I usually do not reach for an anti-pyretic like flunixin in these cases, but if some calves remain lethargic and have a really high persistent fever (105-106), it can be of help. If desired, vitamin C can be repeated every 24- 48 hours, the passive antibodies in 48-72 hours and the Immunoboost® and vitamin E & selenium in a week. Usually the duration of convalescence is about 7 days with slow but steady improvement  especially with dry bedding and fresh air. In my experience, 85-90% of correctly selected animals will respond to this treatment with only a few not responding and needing an antibiotic.

Oftentimes there will be one sick calf in the group that tips the farmer off to the problem. Unfortunately, the sickest animal may be too far into the disease process to rely only on natural treatments and that one animal would truly benefit from life-saving antibiotic therapy. Remember that the USDA National Organic Program requires animals to be given appropriate treatments for their diagnosed condition in order to restore them to health. Withholding appropriate treatment just to keep the animal organic is illegal and grounds for de-certification. Unfortunately, when an animal has been given a prohibited material like an antibiotic, it must be removed from the herd. But most rational farmers would rather see an animal saved by an antibiotic than have a dead organic animal, especially when considering the good prices for replacement animals on the open market.

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

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