Newborn calf procedures provide long-term payoff

If producers can prevent or significantly reduce diseases in newborn calves, they can decrease mortality and improve overall herd production.

When producers are pairing up or moving the newborn and its mother, they will often get a chance to look after some necessary management.

For most operations, that involves newborn calves three days old or younger.

Many producers provide an RFID tag and a dangle tag at this time. Some reference can be given to the cow’s number on the calf’s tag to facilitate pairing up.

Other producers tag the calf with the same number as the cow and give them their unique number when they enter the herd.

Injectable vitamins are seldom give to calves anymore. Whether to supplement with added nutrition depends on feed quality and with drought conditions in many parts of the country, so the need for nutritional supplements will likely vary region by region.

A retained placenta incidence is often a good sign of nutrition status. If you are seeing retained placentas after the births of regular, single calves, you should check the herd’s nutrition.

Intranasal vaccines have taken the place of many parenteral vaccines in very young calves. They are easy to give, painless and promote protection against respiratory pathogens.

Vaccines given in the first few months of age can be especially helpful in cases of pneumonia. To treat calves with bacterial pneumonia the vaccine called Once PMH IN is available. The vaccine Inforce can treat the main viral causes of pneumonia.

A few straight IBR PI3 intranasal vaccines are also available. Talk to a veterinarian if your herd has respiratory issues. A proper vaccine program could lead to fewer sick calves and less antibiotic use. As well, a sick calf earlier in life is much lighter at weaning time.

Polled bulls have almost eliminated the use of paste at birth to dehorn but if dehorning is necessary, it can be a real stress on young calves.

Some producers are using NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to help alleviate pain during procedures such as paste dehorning, castration and sometimes ear tagging. Pain products are available for injection, to be given orally or in new pour-on formulations.

Tagging in most herds involves the two tags with the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency allowing for age verification. Tag retention of the CCIA tags has improved. There is no better time than in the first couple days of a calf’s life to tag it. Break-away taggers are now available so ears are not ripped when tagging. Place the tag between the ridges in the middle of the ear.

Most producers no longer use navel preparations on the calf after birth. Good hygiene practices in the calving area and good colostrum consumption go a long way to preventing navel infections. Calves born backward or via caesarian where navels are broken off short may need treatments such as flushing and antibiotics. Some producers that cycle calf births through a warm barn are more prone to navel infections. These producers can use metaphylactic antibiotics at birth. In problem herds, this can cut down the infection rates. These antibiotics will all require prescriptions that will need to be purchased from a veterinarian after December 2018. That may be a good time to discuss whether you need antibiotics or whether hygiene be improved in the calving area.

Calves may also be prescribed an oral treatment for coccidiosis or cryptosporidiosis.

With young calves being subjected to many procedures, including ringing castration, it pays to have a kit to organize everything to take with you. I have seen some that hang on fences and others that are carried around like tool kits. These kits help keep you organized so procedures are not missed.

It helps to establish a routine. Only rehydrate the amount of vaccine you plan to administer in the next hour. Have a close look at other things the calf may need while you are handling it. A little intervention early may avert a major problem down the road.

Above all else, try to monitor the calf for sucking to make sure it gets adequate colostrum. If in any doubt, or with twins or calves born to poor uddered cows, give a good quality colostrum replacer like Head Start.

Roy Lewis works as a technical services veterinarian part time with Merck Animal Health in Alberta.

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