Dr. Tony Hawkins and Dr. Ray Shultz Valley Vet Supply
Young calves dot fields across the country as we immerse in calving season. We want to help young calves get off to a healthy start.
“Umbilical infections are a real thing and so are scours,” said Dr. Tony Hawkins, veterinarian with Valley Vet Supply. “These are two of the more-immediate risks a newborn calf may have against. To best prevent navel infections, immediately tie off the umbilical cord with a suture line to prevent bacteria from traveling up and building into the bloodstream. Cut it 2 to 3 inches from the body, and then disinfect the stump with iodine or navel care solution.
“I would mention, though, that if you can’t do it immediately, clamping or tying off can actually do more harm than good. That is because if there is already contamination, you could be sealing in the bacteria. I recommend suturing or clamping off the navel within a six- to 12-hour window. “
Signs of umbilical-cord infection
• The umbilical stump feels larger than the size of your pinky finger
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• unwillingness to stand-and-nurse
• Scouring-diarrhea stress response
“Scours are one of the gravest challenges affecting young calves,” Hawkins said. “Symptoms include calf diarrhea and watery stools, weakness, reluctance to stand or nurse, and sunken eyes. If calves experience an early scours case, there are effective antibody products that can be given immediately following birth to help overcome them.
“We can also vaccinate them simultaneously to help stimulate their own protection. If they deal with Clostridium perfringens scours, then we can provide calves with antiserum at birth that provides three weeks of protection. Scours cause damage in the intestines and gut, and it can take up to 10 days for those calves to heal up and normalize stool consistency.
“Spreading cattle on the clean ground during calving will minimize exposure to those pathogens – an approach known as the Sandhills Calving System. If you have the space, then that ‘s your best prevention for scours.
“Have some prescription antibiotics on hand, in case you need to treat your calves for an umbilical infection or scours, but make sure antibiotic treatment is absolutely necessary. Talk with your veterinarian to learn more and be prepared, should you experience any trouble.
“Check right away for calf vitality. You really want that calf to be able to stand up and start nursing within 10 minutes. If the calf is sluggish to stand, either due to a difficult birth or environmental conditions, then we need to intervene – administering colostrum replacers, and helping him to stand and nurse on his own. To help prevent dehydration it’s a good idea to have electrolyte packets on hand, in case your calves start scouring or you don’t want to nurse. “
Dr. Ray Shultz, veterinarian with Valley Vet Supply, said, “During springtime, take steps to prevent summer pneumonia. I’ve always thought of summer pneumonia being related to the antibody levels from the colostrum dropping below the protective levels, usually when the calf is three months or so old. By ingesting quality colostrum, calves absorb maternal antibodies that initiate a strong immune system early in life. However this immunity deteriorates as the calf gets older, making vaccinations vital. Vaccines sensitize and train the calf’s immune system to recognize and fight these viruses and bacteria when exposed.
“Summer pneumonia often coincides with the farmer (stocker) being very busy with other crops, so they are not able to watch calves as closely. This can make summer pneumonia seem like a sudden disaster because the first thing they may see is a severely ill, or even a dead calf. “
Signs of summer pneumonia
To help prevent summer-pneumonia risk, vaccinate calves prior to sending to the pasture, he said. Use a modified-live-virus vaccine combined with Pasteurella pneumonia.
“Implement strategies to pin shield against the pinkeye,” Shultz said. “Warm weather spurs development and transmission of Moraxella bovis, the primary infectious agent of infectious bovine Keratoconjunctivitis – more commonly known as pinkeye. Signs of pinkeye can include mild eye irritation with tears, ulceration of the cornea, severe inflammation, vision loss and reduced time grazing – to name just a few.
“Face flies are known to transmit the bacteria from animal to animal, escalating especially during late spring and summer. An intensive fly-control program is essential among other best-management practices like vaccinating against pinkeye, clipping tall grass heads to avoid eye irritation in the pastures, and minimizing dust in the hay and feed bunks. As it relates to fly-control methods, consider what is the most practical to implement in your operation. If your herd interaction is infrequent due to time, distance or pasture size, your approach may be different from a producer whose cattle are nearby and easily accessible. “
Calving season is an exciting time for all of us as we gear up to welcome our newest calf crop into the world. Help make it the most successful season possible by having a sufficient colostrum, preventing cold stress and having a calving kit at the ready.
Tip 1 – Ensure adequate colostrum
Calves are born agammaglobulinemic, meaning they have almost no antibodies to protect them against disease. They’re not born with any immune memory that we develop during our lifetime. They receive those antibodies, an immediate source of immunity and a concentrated source of energy from their cow’s colostrum – the first milk produced following birth.
Colostrum delivers some 95 percent of the antibodies that a calf receives, plus a rich source of minerals, vitamins and energy. It provides protection for newborn calves against infectious agents during the first few months of life.
Colostrum absorbance has a 24-hour window. That short time effects a calf’s lifetime of health and productivity. Because antibodies are large molecules, the calf’s intestine is only capable of absorbing immediately following birth, with essentially no absorption possible after the first 24 hours. Within the first 12 hours of a calf’s life, ideally within the first four to six hours of life, calves should receive 3 to 4 quarts of colostrum.
Depending on if the calf nurses or not, we may need to tube them to put some colostrum replacers or colostrum supplements into them. Keep in mind there are colostrum supplements and colostrum replacers, and there is a difference.
• Colostrum replacers have about double the level of antibodies in them, compared with colostrum supplements. If a calf does not receive any colostrum, then we would recommend giving them a colostrum replacer.
• Colostrum supplements work well in situations where a calf may not have nursed enough, for calves born from heifers or if the cow’s colostrum quality may be lacking. Colostrum supplements can also offer a good source of energy, fat and protein to help jump-start sick calves.
Tip 2 – Keep chilled calves warm
The most severe result of cold stress is the death from hypothermia. If at all possible, bring cows indoors to a calving shed or burn to calves in a heavily bedded, clean pen for added warmth and reduced moisture. If calving outdoors, an area is free of mud and manure – with a wind break – is ideal. Cold stress and hypothermia can pose great risk to calves, especially if calves experience dystocia. That often results in delayed standing and nursing, both can quickly cool their body temperature.
A cold calf is going to be slow and a little lethargic; It might not want to stand up. If the nose or extremities like feet – or just above the feet – feel cold, then most likely they need warming.
Beware the signs of hypothermia.
• Body temperature less than 94 degrees Fahrenheit
• Increased pulse and breathing rate
• Confusion and uncoordinated gait
• Cold, pale nostrils and hooves
It’s critical to return calves to the normal core body temperature of 102 degrees. There are several ways to do this, such as placing them under a heat lamp, warm blankets, bringing them indoors, giving them a warm bath – warmed slowly – or putting the calf in a warming box.
“I personally find there to be more-practical ways than, let’s say, a warm-water bath,” Hawkins said. “Let’s face it, often there is a lot of moisture, snow and mud. So after a warm-water bath indoors, we need dry calves completely before returning them to the cows. The practice can be labor-intensive.
“There are calf warmers that can dry them as the unit warms the calf. Another benefit is when the warmer the calf inside is actually breathing in warm air – also helping to warm them internally. That ‘s my favorite way to warm a chilled calf.
“As far as we need them warm, I recommend warming if their body temperature cools to less than 100 degrees. Producers will also need to consider wind-break availability and what current environmental conditions are like. If it’s extreme enough, drying and warming every calf could be necessary. “
Tip 3 – Have a stocked calving kit
“It’s better to have it and not need it, than to have it and not to have it – and that is especially true during calving season,” Hawkins said. “I recommend having a calving kit on-hand; There are several items I’ve always valued in mine. “
• Chlorhexidine disinfectant solution
• Iodine or umbilical spray
• Colostrum replacers and supplements
Visit ValleyVet.com for more information.
Dr. Tony Hawkins is a Valley Vet Supply technical-service veterinarian. He attended Kansas State University-College of Veterinary Medicine where he focused on mixed-animal practice. Before joining the technical-service veterinarian team at Valley Vet Supply, Hawkins practiced veterinary medicine in Marysville, Kansas, where he was involved in cattle health – including processing, obstetrical work and servicing the local sale barn. He treasured the community for his care of horses and pets, through wellness appointments and surgery.
Valley Vet Supply was founded in 1985 by veterinarians to provide customers with animal-health solutions. Over half a century of experience in building veterinary medicine, Valley Vet Supply serves equine, pet and livestock owners with thousands of products and medications selected by Valley Vet Supply Technical Service veterinarians and team of industry professionals. With an in-house pharmacy that is licensed in all 50 states, and verified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, Valley Vet Supply is a source for horse, livestock and pet supplies. Visit ValleyVet.com for more information.