Fortify The Health of the Newborn Calf.

Published on Fri, 01/11/2019 - 9:56am

 Fortify The Health of the Newborn Calf.

 By Bruce Derksen

 When the first pregnant cow displays signs of labor early in calving season, it is too late to match the proper sire with the cow herd or vaccinate with a scour prevention vaccine.   Hopefully these important management decisions including proper health and conditioning, a dedicated routine of cleanliness, hygiene, proper record keeping, and the first crucial feeding of a quality colostrum have been put in place helping to propel the good health of the calf through the first stage of its life.

Preventing disease is always the best way to disrupt its negative potential so along with these management practices, vaccinations and other preventative measures delivered shortly after birth should be considered.  There is no “one size fits all” plan.  Each program could contain numerous options of vaccinations, shots, pastes, and disinfectants but most importantly must be tailored to not only the herd’s specific needs but also fit the area of the country and the existing climate and conditions that come with it.  Standard fare could include a vitamin shot, a multi-mineral treatment usually including selenium for white muscle disease prevention, castration, dehorning, navel dip and a clostridial vaccine with or without tetanus depending on whether castration is also being completed.  Clostridial bacteria prevention products are necessary for use in newborns due to their presence in all conditions with routine interaction between calves and the environment causing these spores to enter the gut and bloodstream.
When considering vaccines, common thinking is fractured.  It is a fact that for over 200 years vaccines have benefitted both human and animal life and with each advancing year new technology and research make vaccination programs even better.  In today’s world that scrutinizes agricultural processes, we need to be committed to finding the best possible vaccine use practices and not just carry on decades old routines without inspecting their usefulness.
Very young calves have an immature set of immune cells and organs and conventional thinking is that those with proper maternal antibodies throughout their system derived from adequate doses of quality colostrum will likely not respond to vaccines and if they do, it will be a weaker, more short-term response.  Lately, some of the drug manufacturers have begun to market more intranasal vaccines for respiratory diseases that target the newborn calf.  These may be superior to injectable vaccines for young calves with maternal antibodies present, but more research is needed.
The choice of products to deliver to newborn calves is complicated and not only depends on where you live, but where you calve, what your cows are vaccinated with, what you feed, what types of supplements you use, and what is the prevalence of disease in your herd.  It is extremely important to work with a veterinarian to make a usable plan that will be effective and relevant to your calf crop.

No matter where you live an environmental based infection of the navel and umbilical cord can enter the calf’s body and bloodstream shortly after birth.  Excessive bleeding, odor and pus, pain and swelling can cause a devastating condition ending in death if left untreated.  The simple use of an inexpensive correctly rated iodine solution dip can help keep the newborn free of this infection.
In a perfect world, calves would be castrated and dehorned as soon as possible after consuming their fill of good quality colostrum.  Studies show that the impact to the calf is much less when these processes are completed within the first 24 hours of life and combined with the ease of handling a newborn in comparison to an older calf, this is the most efficient and humane time for this task.
The Agriculture and Food Development Authority states that the success of the finished animal is greatly determined by the quality and management of the newborn.  It has also been proven that 50% of calf mortality during the first year occurs within the first six weeks of life.  Since the main source of income for ranchers and farmers is generally their calf crop, working to establish a proper health plan with a credible veterinarian who knows their operation and the challenges they face, can greatly increase the chances of realizing the full potential of this important process.