Keeping newborns and young calves on the right track

For many farmers, watching calves frolic in the fields with their tails flapping in the air is a glorious sight. Much time, effort and consideration go into keeping young livestock feeling healthy. Livestock extension specialists offer a few basics to remember to help protect the newborns as they grow. 

Prevention is Key

First and foremost, take steps to keep the newborns and young calves from getting sick in the first place. “Anytime you are talking about animal health the old saying, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ is absolutely right,” Andy McCorkill, University of Missouri Extension Field Specialist in Livestock, said.

Scours is one of the biggest health concerns in regard to young calves. Producers can reduce the chances of calves getting scours by implementing a few management strategies. Livestock field specialists recommend, if possible, producers implement the Sandhills Calving System, also known as the Sandhills Shuffle. 

The basic premise of the Sandhills Shuffle is utilizing several clean pastures during calving season. As cows calve the remaining pregnant cows are moved to clean pastures. This cycle is continued through calving season with the purpose of segregating older calves from younger calves. This system protects newborn calves from coming into contact with the pathogens that cause scours that are present in the fecal matter of older calves. 

 Another way to prevent scours is through pre-calving scour vaccinations given to cows. When given the right dose in the correct timeframe, the cow will pass the immunity to scours through her colostrum to her calf. Producers will want to consult with their herd veterinarian to determine which pre-calving scour vaccine will work best for their operation. 

Nutrition is Critical

Nutrition plays a big part in a cow’s immunity. “If your cows are in nutritionally good shape, then they are more likely to be able to pass on immunity to their calves,” McCorkill said. “Anytime an animal is nutritionally stressed it is going to be disadvantaged and if those cows have been nutritionally stressed, like a lot of cows have been the last few years across the country, then that calf is more apt to be born small and weak, and the cow is more likely to have less milk,” McCorkill added. 

 Try to keep cows in good nutritional shape. This will benefit their well-being but also the overall health of their calf. Additionally, nutritionally sound cows are more likely to produce ample colostrum for their calves. Colostrum is an essential building block to the long-term health of a calf. “We want that calf to get up and start sucking as soon as it possibly can. Ideally, the calf would nurse within the first four hours of its life, definitely within the first 12 hours, but certainly no more than 24 hours. The further from when that calf is born to when it gets that first dose of colostrum, the less concentrated the colostrum is and it will not have the same efficacy as it would if it was fresh,” McCorkill explained.

 If the calf only gets a little colostrum or none at all, then producers can step in and feed it colostrum supplement or replacement whichever fits the situation. When purchasing the product make sure to read the label and buy the correct product, either colostrum supplement or colostrum replacer. 

Signs of Trouble

When conducting field checks producers can spot signs of health troubles by looking to see if the calves are showing any signs that they are feeling lethargic, such as droopy ears and saggy eyelids. When it comes to scours, also look for signs of runny manure. It is also helpful to keep on hand supplies that might be needed such as antibiotics and electrolytes to treat calves that contract scours. 


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