The world can be fraught with danger for a newborn calf, and that’s also a threat to your bottom line. There are a number of steps you can take in hopes of reducing death loss.
Number one, University of Missouri regional Livestock Specialist Eldon Cole told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor, is to get colostrum into the calf as soon as he’ll stand up and start nursing – usually, within 30 to 45 minutes after birth.
“That’s probably their first line of defense for reducing death losses in baby calves,” Cole said. “This involves sanitation on the part of keeping the cow’s udder clean, and not having cows that have udder problems. Some of them may only have three-quarters, and may not produce enough milk for the baby calf.”
Peril also awaits the young calf around bale rings that are not well managed.
“Some of those bale rings get to be a muddy, messy hole,” Cole said, adding that the calves see the hay pulled out, and think that’s a good place to lie down. “Once in a while they get in the wrong place, and the cow will step on them.”
He urged producers to keep their hay spread, and to move bales or rings periodically so the surrounding ground does not become a muddy danger to the calves.
Scours, of course, is a major threat to young calves. There are vaccination programs for the cow that will give her more immunity to pass on to her calf as it develops. That’s another good way to reduce death loss, especially if you’ve had a calf diarrhea problem in the past.
“We had a bad outbreak of calf scours this past calving season in September and October,” Cole said. “We have to work with a veterinarian to find out what organism is the culprit in your neighborhood in any given year, or even month.”
There’s been some debate over when the best time is to follow up with vaccinations so they won’t interfere with the antibodies the calf has received from the colostrum. Cole said they used to think the antibodies would last until 3 or 4 months of age.
“We’re not quite as concerned about the colostrum interfering with natural immunity through the vaccine,” he said. “I think that it is something to be a little bit concerned about, but 3 months of age is probably a satisfactory time to vaccinate.”
When you’re looking at protecting the calf, don’t neglect the cow.
“Cows need to be in a body condition score of 5 to 6, and heifers need to be in a BCS of 6, at calving,” Dr. Deke Alkire, planned consultation manager for the Samuel R. Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Okla., told OFN. “That’s really going to affect the quality of their colostrum; we want to make sure they’re getting adequate protein, energy and minerals.”
While hesitant to put a number on when producers should be concerned, Alkire said 10 percent death loss is “a pretty big red flag” and could be the result of a number of factors. “It’s going to come down to proper nutrition of the dam, proper vaccination of the dam, environmental conditions, and how you manage around those to prevent that calf from getting sick. It could be an environmental factor like mud or temperature, but then it’s also going to be things like disease.”
Mud is a particularly big contributor to death loss or sickness in young calves, so mud should be decreased where cows are going to be calving as much as possible. You can’t sterilize an outdoor facility, but if you’ve had sick animals in the pen you should remove old bedding, and make sure the pen drains well so there isn’t mud in those areas.
Also, don’t calve cows in a confined pen – it concentrates the disease.
“I think it’s a great idea to calve cows and heifers on fresh pasture that’s got some forage residual so it’s got a good ground cover,” Alkire said. “As they calve out, move the pairs to a clean pasture.


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