Why keeping it clean creates healthier calves and cows

A tried-and-true strategy for giving newborn calves a good, healthy start in life, is creating a clean space for momma cows to calve. Livestock specialists state one the best ways to prevent illness is to keep calving areas clean. “The biggest benefit to clean pastures is the improvement on the health of the calves, preventing scours and different things that can have an impact on calf loss,” David Hoffman, Field Specialist in Livestock, with the University of Missouri Extension, said. 

There are numerous benefits to providing fresh pastures for newborn calves and their mommas. “Calves get off to a better start when they are in a healthier, cleaner environment and they don’t have exposure to disease and other things that can impact them early on in their life,” Hoffman explained.

Lots, fields and pens with excess manure have an exponential risk of spreading disease to calves and cows. The risk of a calf getting scours or other illnesses also increases in confined or dirty areas. “If they are in close confinement, if one animal gets a disease it can be transmitted much quicker,” Hoffman said.

Livestock producers can achieve suitable environments for calving in a number of different ways. If producers choose to keep pregnant cows close to their barn or house for ease of monitoring prior to and during calving, then they can move the pair shortly after calving. “If they calve them up close, once they know the calf is doing well, it has nursed well, and the cow has a good maternal bond, then I would say within 24 to 48 hours they can definitely move that calf and cow to cleaner pasture,” Hoffman said. 

Rotating the cow/calf pair to fresh pasture provides more space for the cows that haven’t calved. It also keeps the environment a little more sterile for those that are yet to calve. Livestock specialists recommend moving the newborn calves and their mommas to a pasture that hasn’t had animals on it for a while, if possible. 

Ideally, heifers or cows that are close to calving are in pastures with a solid stand of grass.  A field with well-established grass will be less muddy after heavy rain. Keeping animals out of a moist, muddy environment reduces exposure to some bacteria and viruses. Infectious agents in the environment prefer moist conditions. Dedicating fields with good drainage as calving pastures can also be beneficial.  A field full of grass also provides a comfortable environment for cows and calves to thrive. 

Other environmental attributes that have a positive impact on the comfort of the cow and the calf include; ample shade, convenient access to water and fly control. “If we can improve how that cow feels and acts, it makes it easier on her to go through that birthing process and the calf gets up quick and early, and nurses and gets colostrum early on,” Hoffman stated. Creating a comfortable environment for the momma and calf helps them grow well and be healthy. 

The more space the animals have to spread out the better opportunity they have to reduce their exposure to disease. Experts also suggest immediately relocating any calves that develop diarrhea in the new calving pasture. The calves can quickly spread the pathogens that cause scours. Removing the calves along with their mommas, as quickly as possible, saves the clean calving pasture from contamination.

Livestock specialists also recommend farmers rotate feeding areas within the clean pasture. By regularly moving the feeding areas, producers reduce the chance of creating a spot where manure and bacteria accumulate. If cows and calves are congregating in the same area, day in and day out, they may create a muddy, pathogen conducive environment.


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