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Dirty, crowded pastures: Are they putting your newborns at risk?

Stacey Smart for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 March 2017
New calves join the herd

It’s been an exhausting couple of months welcoming new calves to your herd. But you’re on the homestretch. As hundreds of baby calves frolic alongside their mothers on a well-worn pasture, you’re about to welcome yet another new life.

After many weeks of heavy use, these tired pastures have accumulated afterbirths, urine and feces. It’s a harsh environment for a newborn calf to begin its life. How will you protect this calf from pathogens that could stand in the way of its future well-being?

Newborn calves are immediately exposed to many environmental challenges. In no case is this truer than in the final weeks of the calving season.

“Calves born during the first several weeks are fortunate to begin life in a relatively clean space,” says Scott Sturgeon, DVM, of Sturgeon Veterinary Services in Hydro, Oklahoma. “However, calves born late in the season typically enter the world under less sanitary conditions.

They face more contamination issues, which will only continue to worsen the longer the calving area is occupied.”

As a result, a higher percentage of calves born in the last quarter of the calving season suffer from scours due to pathogen buildup compared to calves born earlier in the season.

“You have two main goals during this exciting and stressful time of year,” says Sturgeon. “The first is to get a live calf on the ground, and the second is to prevent it from getting scours. Calves born at end of season have a higher risk of contracting the main causes of scours – E. coli and coronavirus.”

Preventative scours solutions

There are various steps you can take to optimize newborn calf health for calves arriving at the season’s back end. Using a USDA-approved antibody source is an excellent way to give calves – especially latecomers – immediate immunity against specific pathogens.

“I have clients who faced scours issues for years and had great success after incorporating a targeted antibody solution into their calving regimen,” shares Sturgeon, whose work takes him throughout Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Arkansas. “They abandoned scours vaccination in lieu of this new approach.

In doing so, these producers have seen a major decrease in scours and an increase in overall herd health as calves grow up, boosting the farm’s bottom line.”

Vaccination of the pregnant cow during her third trimester is one way some farms attempt to protect newborns from scours. But there are limitations to this labor-intensive approach.

“This two-dose vaccine requires running a cow through a chute on two different occasions,” says Sturgeon. “In addition, the vaccine provides the greatest immunity when given as close to calving as possible. This poses a problem for calves born at season’s end as they’ll receive less immunity in the colostrum compared to calves born earlier.”

In contrast, a natural colostrum antibody solution can provide every calf, regardless of birth date, with equal immunity. The ability to provide a solution compatible with colostrum is another important benefit, as some products require a waiting period between administration and feeding colostrum.

“Anytime there is a delay in colostrum intake, the calf is put at greater risk for failure of passive immunity,” points out Bobbi Brockmann, vice president of sales and marketing with ImmuCell Corporation. “Concentrated antibodies can be fed to calves simultaneously to colostrum so there is no interference with maternal antibodies and no waiting for a response from the calf’s immune system.

It also means less stress because the calf does not have to divert its precious energy reserves from maintenance and growth to mounting an immune response.”

While immunizing is certainly advantageous, Sturgeon confides that “Nothing beats good management practices.” Rather than introducing an entire crop of calves to the same pasture or pen, some farms with the land and resources to do so are choosing to give animals a fresh start on clean pasture or in clean facilities at various intervals throughout the calving season.

“Switching pastures halfway through the season is becoming a popular practice,” says Sturgeon. “In some cases, intensive managers may even move cows as often as every week to 10 days to ensure calf health isn’t compromised.”

Prevention is the goal

When it comes to scours, it’s more economical to prevent this repressive and costly disease than it is to treat and endure its never-ending ramifications.

“You need to consider the long-term value of a calf,” says Sturgeon. “A calf that gets scours is set back for life. It’s more likely to acquire respiratory diseases and not gain as well throughout its entire life cycle. If you prevent a calf from getting scours, you set it up for a healthier life.

It’ll gain more and be more efficient on its dam’s milk as well as grass and other feed sources. The cost to immunize is minimal compared to the lifelong toll of scours.”

Help ensure newborn calves joining your herd at the end of the calving season get the best start to life and are positioned to reach their full genetic potential. Along with astute management, you can provide immediate immunity by incorporating a USDA-approved antibody solution – proven to be a life-saving component of newborn calf protocols.  end mark

PHOTO: Newborn calves are immediately exposed to many environmental challenges, and in no case is this truer than in the final weeks of the calving season. A higher percentage of calves born during this time frame suffer from scours due to pathogen buildup than calves born earlier in the season. Photo by David Cooper.

Visit First Defense calf health for more information.

Stacey Smart is a freelance journalist from Waukesha, Wisconsin. Email Stacey Smart.

 

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