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Maximizing beef calf health


It's important to remember that FPT is not a death sentence. On any one farm, there are going to be a few calves that have FPT, even if these farms are well managed. Disease outbreaks in the calf herd start to arise when the numbers of FPT calves increases, usually due to poor nutrition. The more FPT calves on a farm, the more likely a calf will become ill with a contagious disease, such as infectious calf diarrhea. Calves are amplifiers of disease because they shed more organisms than the adults, even if not clinically ill. So one ill calf can be the start of a vicious cycle of disease transmission that spreads throughout the herd.

If a specific infectious organism is identified in a calf-disease outbreak, vaccination of the cow a month prepartum to passively protect the calf can be considered. But because outbreaks are more common at the end of the calving season, vaccinations rarely help prevent disease in the current year, but it could help prevent cases the following year.

Sanitation It's also important to remember that the adequate passive-transfer status of the herd can be overwhelmed by a dirty, contaminated environment. Feed troughs and hay racks should be moved periodically and placed away from water and shelter to discourage congregation of cattle in one area, and subsequently dissuade the concentration of pathogens. If a disease outbreak occurs in the calves, move pregnant animals to a clean pen, and leave sick animals in the already contaminated pen. Healthy calves should not move with pregnant cows because they could be incubating the disease and risk contaminating another pen. If possible, move healthy calves to a third pen. Cattle should be segregated in groups according to calf age so young calves are not exposed to older calves.

Other preventive strategies Umbilical infections can be a problem in some herds, especially during wet years. Dipping navels with 7-percent tincture of iodine at birth, as well as controlling cattle movement and congregation as discussed earlier will help decrease the number of umbilical infections in a herd. I prefer 7-percent tincture of iodine.

Proper heifer development and selection, and bull selection are beyond the scope of this article but are extremely important in decreasing dystocia, weak calves and FPT.

Heifers should be bred to calve early in the calving season so they can be observed more closely for dystocia. In some years, early weaning of calves born to heifers—and cows if necessary—might make maintaining proper body condition in these heifers easier as they continue to grow.

If embryo transfer is employed, selection of good embryo recipients is crucial. Heifers should be avoided, as should cull dairy cattle, such as mastitis, Johne's disease, poor udder conformation, etc. Producers should be encouraged to select proven dams from their own herds as recipients. An alternative is to lease good, proven cows from other producers. Cows should be leased from farms with BVD and Johne's control programs in place, as well as other biosecurity measures. Embryo recipients are more likely to have large, overdue calves, so close observation during calving is very important.

Feeding at night or even in the afternoon increases the likelihood of daytime calving. On-farm lay help and veterinary services are more likely to be available during the day, so dystocia problems and weak calves are more easily handled and treated more promptly.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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