Successful Farming - - CONTENTS - By Gene John­ston

Early beats late. That’s true in most things on a farm or ranch, in­clud­ing calf health. If you wait un­til wean­ing or later to ini­ti­ate a calf health pro­gram, you’re too late, says Mark Hil­ton, a cat­tle vet­eri­nar­ian and se­nior tech­ni­cal con­sul­tant for Elanco An­i­mal Health.

“Nearly ev­ery dis­ease en­coun­tered in calves is an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of er­rors that may have started be­fore they were even born,” he says. “As one ex­am­ple, we’ve tracked enough calves to know that if a calf doesn’t get ad­e­quate colostrum at birth, it’s three times as likely to get bovine res­pi­ra­tory dis­ease (BRD) in the feed­lot.”

4 tips for a health­ier calf

Here are some of Hil­ton’s tips on early in­ter­ven­tion that lead to a life­time of bet­ter calf health.

1. Start with the cow. Pro­vide a good nu­tri­tional pro­gram for her through­out preg­nancy so she’s able to prop­erly nour­ish the fe­tal calf. “Then, sit down with your own vet­eri­nar­ian and talk through ev­ery as­pect of your calv­ing pro­gram, in­clud­ing cow vac­ci­na­tions,” says Hil­ton.

“I firmly be­lieve in a vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram for the cow that will bol­ster the im­mu­nity that she passes along to the calf,” he says. “Com­mon causes of scours in young calves are E. coli, ro­tavirus, coro­n­avirus, and Clostrid­ium. I would vac­ci­nate the cowherd for those pathogens.”

There are sev­eral vac­cines for this, in­clud­ing Elanco’s Scour Bos.

2. En­sure the en­vi­ron­ment.

Calf dis­ease is of­ten tied to the weather, par­tic­u­larly cold and wet weather. While many cat­tle pro­duc­ers may have good rea­sons for push­ing calv­ing ear­lier, Hil­ton is a fan of calv­ing out­side when the weather is con­ducive.

“Cows are sup­posed to be low-main­te­nance an­i­mals,” he says. “To me, that means they should calve out­side. The more you talk to peo­ple who calve later in the sea­son, the more you hear them talk about the lack of is­sues they have with calf dis­eases.”

In some en­vi­ron­ments, fall is the ideal time to calve due to weather con­di­tions. In other en­vi­ron­ments, it’s not as con­ducive to calf health.

Hil­ton also touts the Sand­hills Calv­ing Sys­tem, pop­u­lar­ized a few years ago in Ne­braska. It in­volves mov­ing un­calved cows weekly to new pas­tures or calv­ing pad­docks. New­borns don’t have con­tact with older calves, thereby, lim­it­ing trans­mis­sion of dis­ease. “One thing I know is that nearly ev­ery­one who tries it sticks with it. It works that well,” he says.

3. Be ready for wean­ing.

The big­gest wean­ing is­sue is of­ten BRD. “If this is your prob­lem, I be­lieve in giv­ing a mod­i­fied-live res­pi­ra­tory vac­cine to calves at two to three months of age. Maybe you can do that in con­junc­tion with brand­ing time or turn-out to pas­ture time. Then, I like to give a booster at wean­ing,” Hil­ton says.

If your vet­eri­nar­ian says it’s war­ranted, you can also give them a Pas­teurella vac­cine, he adds.

“Look at ev­ery sin­gle thing you do at wean­ing and see if it is con­tribut­ing to stress on the calf,” says Hil­ton. “For in­stance, I like to see calves get weaned a lit­tle ear­lier, like in Septem­ber or early Oc­to­ber if they are born in March or April. The weather is usu­ally dry with mod­er­ate tem­per­a­tures in early fall. You avoid the sum­mer heat, as well as the cold and wet that comes later. Weaned calves don’t

need any ex­tra stress.”

Two other stress-re­liev­ers he likes: Wean onto fresh grass and wean in fence-line con­tact with their moth­ers for a few days.

4. Keep them around a while. “It’s re­ally good for calves to stay on the farm where they were raised for at least 45 days af­ter wean­ing,” Hil­ton says. “It usu­ally makes you money. One farm we tracked for 11 years net­ted an ex­tra $80 per head for that back­ground­ing pe­riod.”

Mark Hil­ton says start­ing a dis­ease preven­tion pro­gram early will pay off later.

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