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Getting Calves Off to a Great Start

By: Brett Kroeze, DVM

Calving time can be the most fun and stressful time of the year. It is fun to see new life coming into the world and seeing what our breeding programs have produced. It can also be stressful as there are a lot of things that can go wrong. Long working hours caring for all the new moms and calves.

Dry and Clean Environment
The two most important things to do when a calf is born is to make sure it gets dried off and gets a belly full of food. Often times the mother will take care of both of these items for us, but if she doesn’t we need to act quickly. A newborn calf is born with only 3-4% body fat. Therefore, they do not have much insulation or energy reserves. They need the energy from colostrum to keep warm and get off to a good start. The other important part about getting colostrum into them early is that the intestines lose their ability to absorb the globulins from the colostrum as the hours go by and they completely lose the ability to absorb globulins after 24 hours.

Making sure that the calf is in a dry, clean environment is very important. A calf born in a dirty and wet environment is going to be exposed to many more pathogens than a dry, clean environment. Because the intestines have a high ability to absorb globulins in the first 24 hours they also have a high ability to absorb pathogens giving them direct access to the blood supply. Being in a dry environment will also help the calf dry off quicker preventing frozen ears and limbs. The thermoneutral zone of a calf at birth is 50-75 degrees meaning that if it is colder than 50 degrees the calf needs extra energy to stay warm. Having deep, dry bedding, that the calves can burrow down into, allows them to make a warm little microenvironment and will help them maintain body heat in the cold. Using calf jackets is another way to help young calves maintain body temperature. Once that calf hits one month of age the thermos-neutral zone is 32-75 degrees and can handle colder weather better.

Colostrum
Colostrum quality and quantity is important for newborns. The best colostrum is from the calf’s mother as she will have antibodies for the diseases that are present on your farm. The goal is to get 200 IgG’s into the newborn calf. There are several colostrum supplements and replacers that can be used if the calf does not drink on its own or the cow is lacking on colostrum to reach the goal of 200 IgG’s. There are also a few different products that come as pastes or pills that can be given in the first 24 hrs that are high in antibodies for specific diseases that can help you target diseases that you have struggled with in the past.

Vaccines
Vaccines can also help prevent diseases in the early weeks of life and beyond. There are a few vaccines that I would recommend giving right away at birth. Inforce 3 is a good vaccine that young calves will respond to and help prevent respiratory disease especially if calves are going to be in a highly populated area. Clostridium C & D or overeating disease is one I recommend vaccinating for right away at birth. Calves that drink too much milk, drink inconsistently, or are sucking on muddy udders are more prone to Clostridium disease.

As you start your calving season this year just remember to keep them warm and dry and drinking early. If you have questions with different products or ideas talk to one of our veterinarians, we would love to help you this calving season.

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