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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care March 2012

Hi Folks,

Last month I talked about freshening problems, so this month I’d like to talk about preventing and treating calf problems.

Good prevention for a calf starts when it is still inside the cow by feeding the cow correctly to help her immune system put antibodies into the developing colostrum. The colostrum will normally contain antibodies to germs that are found right on the farm. That is why you should NOT move cattle to your farm to give birth less than 2 weeks before calving since that’s about the time they need to create antibodies to the environment they are in. If you’ve had serious problems with young calf scours, you can help to boost antibodies in the colostrum to things like rota/corona virus, E.coli and Clostridium perfringens by vaccinating the dry cow with ScourGuard4KC® (two doses if it’s the first time ever, then once yearly thereafter). This has helped a lot of farmers in my experience. If white muscle disease has been a problem (weak calves that die in a day or two of birth), consider giving a dose of MuSe® to deliver high levels of vitamin and selenium. This should be done at about 2-3 weeks prior to calving. This will help against retained placentas and early lactation elevated somatic cell count.

Once born, making sure the calf has gotten towards a gallon of colostrum within the first few hours is critical (the sooner the better, always). This is the only source of antibodies that the calf will receive until it starts making its own which takes many weeks, so it is the most critical factor in ensuring normal response to challenges the calf will encounter in its environment. If for some reason the calf didn’t get any colostrum, another cow’s will do (though its own mom’s is the best) or even something like First Defense® boluses with measured amounts of antibody. Any source of colostrum must be given within the first 12-24 hours at the very latest as the gut will rapidly close in order to not allow germs into circulation.

If a calf does get scours within the first 12 days of life, it is almost always due to rota/corona virus or E.coli bacteria. The first thing to do is to feed calves fluids more than twice a day since they will have bouts of diarrhea definitely more than just twice a day. Use about 2/3 the volume of a normal feeding,  but feed 4 times a day, alternating between milk and electrolytes each time. A quick and handy homemade electrolyte mix consists of 1 gallon of water, 2 tsp. baking soda, 2 tsp. salt, and 8 tbsp. honey. If calves typically get scours by a certain day, try vaccinating the dry cows as discussed above and/or give the proven immune stimulant, Immunoboost®, 1cc under the skin a day or two prior to “usual” outbreak time. If scours is still a problem, give a treatment dose of about 50-75 cc PolySerum® or BoviSera® or Plasma Gold – all sources of antibodies against typical scours and pneumonia causing bugs that cattle commonly encounter. You can repeat the next day – these antibodies will slowly decline over 7-10 days.

The best way to prevent baby calf problems is to run them at their mom’s side or other nurse cows, and preferably outside. If that’s not possible or desirable, keeping a calf with its mom for a week will at least allow for a healthy bonding to occur, yet not as strong and hard to break as keeping a calf with a cow until weaning.  Keeping a calf with its mom allows vigorous nursing many times a day – this is good for both calf and mom. Why? The calf will take in many small meals instead of two large slugs which may cause digestive upset. This will also satisfy the calf’s urge to suck and therefore not potentially suck on pen mates. The cow will release natural oxytocin each time the calf bumps up to the udder to suck. This natural oxytocin release will help a first calf heifer to enjoy milk let down - and oxytocin release will help the uterus shrink down to normal size more quickly. Therefore, if you have a first calf heifer that won’t let her milk down, put a calf on her and it should help. If this is not possible, vigorously stimulate the cow’s teats and udder, even bumping up against it with your fist, just as a calf does when it is searching for the teat (like those calves that bump up against you whenever they get a chance). That kind of physical interaction will give the brain a stronger signal to release oxytocin than just quickly washing the 4 teats and stripping out a few shots of milk. For the cow that hasn’t passed her placenta in the normal 6 hours, put her calf (or another calf) with her and let it suck as often as it wants. This will help the uterus to contract and push out the placenta instead of it sitting in their and putrefying like they tend to do. Dairy farmers that raise calves on cows often observe that there aren’t retained placenta problems anymore. I’m not certain how often beef cattle have retained placentas, but I doubt there is much due to beef calves running with their moms.  

By having calves with cows it’s allowing Mother Nature to take its course in a very positive way. Perhaps you’ll decide to try a small group of nurse cows and calves and see how it goes – I would guess that you will find that those calves will be pictures of health. If running calves with cows start with 3 calves per cow, but at about a month to a month and a half, drop back to 2 calves per cow as they do drink a lot. You still need to feed the cows well. Perhaps a good trial would be to keep a few calves with their moms for the first week and see how things go – again I will guess that the calves will get out of the starting gate wonderfully and retained placenta incidence will go to near zero.

One reminder: regardless of how you want to raise calves (hutches, indoor box stalls or on cows), never feed calves Johnes positive milk whether directly from a cow or in a bottle. 

Also, once calves are put outside (individual hutches, group hutches or with cows) do not bring them back inside until they’re ready to freshen. Why? Stale barn air is very difficult on an animal’s system, especially if they have internal parasites weakening them or their immune system is weakened simply due to the natural stress of calving. The intranasal vaccines (TSV-2®, Nasalgen®, and Inforce 3®) are all excellent at preventing respiratory disease/shipping fever and should be given about 3-4 days prior to mixing animals or in conditions without the freshest air.

It is with calves raised as Mother Nature would that it’s truly easiest to see robust health– put some calves on cows this coming season and observe this for yourself.

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

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