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Make sure your calving barn doesn't carry a host of infections and diseases

Shannon Williams for Progressive Cattleman Published on 14 January 2019
suckling calf

Calving season is the beginning of our 2019 cash flow. Healthy calves on the ground lead to more cash in your pocket, while disease problems in the calving barn lead to increased expenses and less cash in your pocket.

Implementing some biosecurity measures decreases the chances of your calving barn becoming a disease laboratory.

Here are a few tips:

Prevent against infections

You should work with your local veterinarian to develop a vaccination program. Examine your latest feed analysis to make sure you are meeting the nutritional needs of the cow or heifer. Vaccinating and meeting nutritional needs means the colostrum the calf receives will be high quality. Cows and heifers had the time to develop an immunity; it’s the newborn calf you’re trying to protect.

Control exposure to disease

Disease can enter the calving barn through various vectors. They can include people, insects, rodents, manure, feed equipment and treatment equipment. Know where people in the calving barn have been. If they have been helping the neighbor who is having a scours problem, ask them to change clothes and change or wash off their boots before coming into your barn. If you go help the neighbor, take a second to change before returning to your own barn. Coveralls, chaps and boots are great at keeping you warm, but they are also good at holding on to manure, snot and bacteria. Also, control rodents and insects in the barn. If borrowing equipment, clean it before you take it into the barn.

Reduce exposure to infected animals

When adding new animals to the herd, isolate them for 30 days. If you add “graft” calves, isolate the calf and cow away from the rest of the herd. Also, only purchase “graft” calves from sources you know and trust.

Quarantine sick animals

Isolate sick animals away from the healthy herd. Handle and feed healthy cattle first. Feed and treat sick animals second. Then clean boots, gloves, pants, jacket and all equipment.

Disinfect pens and equipment

Talk with your veterinarian about what to use for a disinfectant on equipment. A combination of bleach and water works well on smooth surfaces, except in a warming box. If the box is not rinsed well, the bleach fumes could suffocate the next calf you put in it. After cleaning the pens and stalls, apply lime or lye, and work it into the soil. If possible, let pens stay empty for a length of time. After bedding stalls, kneel down on the bedding. When you stand back up, if the knees of your pants are damp, you need to add more bedding.

Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize

Make sanitizing equipment the number one priority. This would include calving equipment, chains and pullers, warming box, calf bottles and nipples, and esophageal tubes. Wash your hands and boots, and try to have a clean pair of gloves.

When it comes to disease prevention in your calving barn, use common sense. Make an effort to prevent disease and reduce exposure to healthy animals when you do have sick animals. Your cash flow will be much happier.  end mark

Shannon Williams
  • Shannon Williams

  • Extension Specialist
  • University of Idaho – Lemhi County

PHOTO: Calving barns can carry a host of infections and diseases. It's important you implement biosecurity protocols to keep both momma and baby healthy. Staff photo.