Clint Peck offers ten tips to keep weaned calves healthy |

Clint Peck offers ten tips to keep weaned calves healthy

Clint Peck, the director of the Montana State University Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program, has provided some timely suggestion to keep weaned calves from getting sick.

“A large part of BQA is prevention of disease so the animals under our care do not have to be treated after weaning, shipping or in the feedlot,” Peck said. Peck, a former county extension agent and BEEF magazine editor, has provided a ten-point list of “weak links” in the chain of protecting cattle from disease at weaning.

1. Dust. Dust, he said, causes severe irritation to the upper respiratory tract and lungs and is a common problem in handling large numbers of cattle. “In most cases, it’s not impossible to sprinkle the holding areas and corral pens to reduce dust,” he said.

2. Heat. Peck suggested that producers process cattle in the early morning, when possible. “Cattle tend to hold their body heat, so even if you work them in the early evening, when it may seem to be cooling down for you, they will still be retaining body heat,” he noted. “Any activity, or even just standing in the direct sun, will elevate their temperature and endanger their health.”

3. Bawling. According to Peck, bawling is another irritant to the upper respiratory tract. “To minimize this effect, separate the calves away from the cows so they can’t hear each other,” he said. “Or use a fenceline weaning method – a practice that’s becoming more popular.”

4. Dehydration. Peck said dehydration is a problem because some calves are not acquainted with water troughs and are afraid of them. Other calves are so busy bawling that they don’t take time to find the water and drink. “Use of a trough similar to one they may have been around may help,” he suggested. “Allowing the water to run a small stream into the trough may help to get their attention and draw the calves to it. However, allowing water to overflow the trough may result in puddles that will increase the opportunity to spread coccidiosis.”

5. Feed change. It’s best to avoid drastic feed changes according to Peck. “A change in diet requires the growth of different organisms in the rumen to digest feed,” he said. Depending on the type of feed it takes from a few days to up to two weeks for the organisms to adapt. “Calves which have eaten some hay, even early in their life, will adjust more rapidly to drylot rations.”

He said the use of grass or oat hay is often more palatable to calves than alfalfa or rations high in grain. “If the basic ration is chopped, then scattering some long-stemmed hay over the top of the feed may help attract them to it and help them start eating. To prevent rumen acidosis, the suggested the amount of concentrate should be carefully controlled.

6. Immunity level. Peck said vaccination against common diseases is an important part of disease prevention. “For vaccination and the animal’s immune response to work appropriately, a number of steps (links in the chain) need to all work together. The first step is to present an appropriate antigen (vaccine) to the animal via injection or intra-nasal inoculation,” he said.

To be effective, Peck reminded producers that the vaccine antigen has to have been properly stored and mixed before administering. In addition, the animal’s immune response has to respond to the vaccine to produce protective immunity. According to Peck, a number of factors affect the calves’ ability to respond to vaccines or disease challenges. They include the presence of the BVD virus in the herd, stress, previous vaccination history, the products used, parasites, nutrition and vaccine handling.

7. Parasites. He said cattle carrying parasite loads do not respond normally to vaccines.” Most parasites depend on evading the host’s immune system, so there is not a large reaction against the parasites,” he said. “Having a good comprehensive parasite control program for the entire herd is the first step. Deworming the cow herd before they enter a clean pasture will help keep the parasite load low in the herd and keep the number of parasite eggs on the pastures to a minimum.” He recommended asking the ranch vet for advice about the best dewormer. In most cases, brand name products are a safe bet.

8. Trace minerals. Peck noted that many trace minerals and vitamins are now referred to as antioxidants. “As part of their antioxidant function, they are very important in the immune system. He said a few blood samples taken from calves at or near weaning time can tell producers a lot about their herd’s trace mineral needs.

9. Stress. “Herd health is affected by virtually all aspects of management, especially the degree to which stress is minimized in the animal’s environment,” he suggested. “Stress impairs an animal’s natural disease resistance as well as its ability to respond to whatever immunization regime that is imposed.

In reality, nutrition, water, facilities, labor, handling technique and preparation all significantly impact herd health; positively when adequate and negatively when inadequate. He said that minimizing stress throughout the year should be one of the primary goals of management.

10. Bypassing the vet. Peck said the “nuts and bolts” of an immunization and parasite control program and treatment regimes should be worked out through a direct and ongoing relationship with a trusted ranch veterinarian.

“A producer-veterinarian relationship is the first step in making sure that all cattle health products are used appropriately. Formally, this is known as a veterinary client patient relationship (VCPR),” he said.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers a valid VCPR to exist when: The licensed veterinarian has assumed clinical responsibility for the animals and when the owner of the animals has agreed to follow the vet’s instructions. In addition, the veterinarian needs to have sufficient direct knowledge of the animals’ condition and their care along with the opportunity for follow-up evaluations.


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