Spring is a sign of new beginnings. This is true everywhere, including the dairy farm. My favorite part of spring is not only the warmer temperatures, green grass, flowers blooming, seeing all the new baby animals being born. However, bright this new beginning is, there are times when it gets gloomy and those sweet babies get sick.
Sometimes, it seems like there is no rhyme or reason why a calf gets sick. Fighting that sickness is an uphill battle and means life-long problems. A sick calf will never reach its full potential for life on the farm.
The Life of a Cow that was Sick during its Calf-hood
Researchers have found that cows that were sick in the first eight weeks of life have decreased lifetime milk production. They have also found that sick calves that were treated with antibiotics produce less during their first lactation and have their first calf after 30 months of age, months later than a healthy calf. Calves that have been treated for pneumonia and/or scours are more likely to be culled or leave the herd at an earlier age. Meaning that they have not achieved their maximum potential. Fighting off pathogens in those crucial first eight weeks of life comes at a very high price. Failure to grow means decreased productivity.
Prevention and Early Detection is Key
The key to having calves reach their full potential is early sickness detection and making sure that you are taking all precautions to prevent sickness in your herd. Calf managers need to recognize the early signs of sickness in a calf and provide supportive therapy early to help minimize the lifelong effects. Supportive therapy is better than just pumping the calf full of potent antibiotics. While there may be some antibiotic use, early detection and supportive therapy need to take place. If you can catch the sickness early and provide the correct care, the calf may still reach its potential. However, any defects in your protocols may hinder this.
Another key factor in preventing a calf from getting sick and not reaching its full potential is your colostrum management program. Without a successful program, your calves will continue to get sick and never maximize their milk production. Feeding each calf born adequate, high-quality colostrum for at least 2 feedings: first feeding of 4L within the first half-hour of life and the second feeding of at least 2L 6-8 hours later, is one of the most critical steps.
Colostrum management alone is not enough, you also need to have proper hygiene and sanitization within the maternity and calving areas. Keeping pens clean, disinfecting a neonatal calf’s umbilical cord with a 7% iodine tincture, removing the calf from its dam quickly, recognizing a dam in distress during delivery, using clean and sanitized tools for delivery through feeding, and having proper air ventilation all contribute to the health and well being of a calf. Without these proper hygiene and sanitization protocols in place, no amount of good colostrum will prevent pathogens from infecting calves.
Finally, ensuring that a calf has an average daily gain that allows them to double their birth weight by 60 days. Studies have shown that calves who double their birth weight by 60 days have a greater yield when it comes to milk production than calves who have failed to gain that much weight.