Jan 07, 2020

Battling sickness is the last thing any cattle producer wants to deal with in the winter weather. Keeping calves healthy and knowing the signs and symptoms can help alleviate this stress during the snowy months.

Preventative Measures
This winter, several steps can be taken to prepare for calving and prevent the future risk of disease and illness in calves. Prior to calving, cows can be fed Rumensin® and Diamond V yeast to reduce cocci shedding and improve colostrum quality. Feeding a mineral with Availa-4 can also improve calf immune status and vigor at birth.

In addition, keeping calving areas clean and dry is also important to animal health. Roxanne Knock, PhD Staff Nutritionist for Dakotaland Feeds, notes the importance of taking care of calf shelters to prevent disease from spreading: “Calf shelters can be a saving grace or a death trap depending on the season and conditions. In inclement weather, calf shelters will need to be cleaned and bedded repeatedly in order to keep them dry. If the weather then improves, it may become necessary to lock the calves out of the calf shelters to prevent the sharing of disease. Ventilation in calf shelters or barns is important because if there is poor ventilation, you can enhance the risk of respiratory disease in young calves.”

Having a conversation with your herd veterinarian about pre-calving programs will help determine what will be best for your herd, such as a scours vaccine program or a pre-calving protocol of Clostridial type A if clostridial issues have been a problem in the past.

Knock also suggests utilizing a Sandhills calving system even when a dry lot or small pasture are present: “Calve for the first 30 days in one area and then move everything else to the other lot or part of the pasture for the next 30 days. This physical separation can help prevent older calves from giving disease to the newborns, which is often why we have challenges 30-60 days after calving season has started.”

Letting cows calve in an area that may be contaminated from the earlier-born calves increases chances of sickness in later-born calves.

Signs & Symptoms
While some sicknesses are harder to detect, the following serves as a list of some of the physical symptoms of sickness and what those signs may indicate. If such signs begin occurring, calves need to be carefully watched and further diagnosed if treatment is needed.
  • General signs: Slow, lethargic, snotty nose, hanging head, drooping ears
  • Breathing heavy: increased respiratory rate
  • Uninterested in feed or water: Anorexia
  • Depressed, sunken eyes, skin tenting (pinch skin on neck; time how fast it takes skin to return to original position): if skin takes longer than 2 seconds to return, the calf is dehydrated
  • Elevated rectal temperature: (Normal temperature is 101-102 degrees Fahrenheit.) Anything above 104 requires immediate treatment.  (You can use a quick read infant thermometer to check.)
  • Diarrhea: Calves exhibiting signs should be isolated. Cleaning contaminated areas and frequent bedding can help prevent disease from spreading to other calves.
Indicators of a few common calf sicknesses are as follows:
  • Depression and dehydration typically occur simultaneously; dehydration is a common indicator of scours
  • Anorexia (uninterested in eating or drinking): If calves don’t consume adequate nutrients, they will likely become weak and unable to tolerate cold stress or disease
  • Elevated rectal temperature (>102): bacterial infection or disease challenge likely present, in which antibiotics will be needed
  • Increased respiratory rate: Either 1) the calf has respiratory disease (antibiotics needed) or 2) is severely dehydrated and has metabolic acidosis. If the calf has been scouring, continued and repeated treatment with electrolytes is essential as well.
Treatment Options
Calves are showing symptoms of sickness. Now what?

Drenching with electrolytes can be used for most any symptoms. Continuing electrolytes every 4-6 hours and following label directions until calf turns around is important, as one use of electrolytes is not typically enough to get a calf over some of the more challenging symptoms. For a respiratory disease, antibiotics are needed. For calves appearing “puffy” or somewhat bloated at less than 1 month of age, C & D antitoxin will not hurt a calf that does not have clostridial disease but must be given at time of sickness in order to prevent the progression of disease and death; it will not prevent if the disease is not present at the time you treat the calf. If coccidiosis is present, electrolytes and CORID® drench will aid in prevention and treatment.

Oftentimes, calves should be isolated when exhibiting signs of sickness. However, many times calves may be treated and left with the herd, especially with respiratory disease.  Sometimes closing calf shelters to keep calves from congregating and passing sickness around may become necessary.

Prior to calving, going over a plan with your vet regarding potential necessities for preventing sickness in newborn calves can help in having needed supplies and treatment options on hand when needed. Following this plan will ensure the decreased need to take calves to the vet during calving. However, when calves do not respond to treatment options, obtaining a vet’s opinion is appropriate.

Take action before your calves get sick this calving season; diagnosing early can mean a successful calving season for all.

Rumensin® is a registered trademark of Elanco or its affiliates. Land O Lakes and Insure are registered trademarks of Land O’Lakes Inc. Corid® is a registered trademark of Huvepharma EOOD

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