Vet’s Voice by Dr. Dave Barz: Think ahead to prevent scours, prepare colostrum

I hope all of you had a Merry Christmas. Mine was sensational. My entire family was able to spend a day together on Christmas weekend. All of my wishes came true, my family had a great day together, we had a ‘White Christmas,” the mud finally froze and the cow and calf prices have shown some improvement. My hope for 2016 would be for a continued increases in the fat cattle and feeder calf markets. The cold winter winds remind us we must work hard now to prepare our mama cows for calving.

Several of my clients with purebred operations have already started calving. This seems early for most of us, but it gives them a larger, more mature bull for their sales next spring. Now is a good time to vaccinate your cows and heifers for prevention of calf scours. When we injectably vaccinate the cow, it causes her circulating antibodies for these pathogens to increase. As the cow forms colostrum, these antibodies are added. The amount of antibody in colostrum is directly proportional to the amount in the dam’s circulatory system. This simply means the higher the circulatory antibody levels, the higher the quality of the colostrum. The calf must then suckle soon after birth. This is the most important event of the calf’s life. All of the calf’s performance for the rest of its life is impacted by the uptake of quality colostrum.

Now that it has turned cold, we need to watch our cows’ nutrition. If the cow is losing weight during late gestation, the quality of colostrum will be decreased. Watch those body condition scores (BCS) and make sure you stay above 5. This will result in an excellent formation of antibody as a result of your timely vaccination, and also ensure adequate development of the gestating calf. Care and preparation will result in a healthier, stronger calf.

It is sometimes necessary to administrator additional colostrum to the calf. It may have been chilled, had a difficult birth, or the cow may not have produced adequate colostrum. When we purchase colostrum supplements and replacers we usually get what we pay for; better products cost more money. Older products were from bovine serum. The blood products were collected at slaughter plants and purified. These products were OK, but are not as well absorbed as milk products. Now we have a new product made from colostrum collected from dairies. The product is tested and purified. Through a specialized pasteurization process unwanted pathogens are removed from the milk while not breaking down the antibodies. The product is packaged as a powder, but most of them mix more easily at lower temperatures than previous products. Once mixed, the product can be stored for a day or so. Colostrum replacers contain high levels of antibody and can be used to totally replace colostrum. Colostrum supplements are formulated to merely supplement the dam’s colostrum. This is usually given to the calf of a heifer or an older cow. The calf is allowed to suckle and then supplemented with a bag to assure adequate colostrum is available for the calf. Some producers are giving a bag of supplement to every heifer’s calf. The serendipitous result of milk products is although they are rated for E. coli antibody, they also contain antibodies for other pathogens of young calves.

The first half of 2015 was great for the cow-calf and feedlot producers. The fall proved to be a real drain on equity. Hopefully 2016 will bring us a rebound in prices, but we don’t expect them to return to record levels. We must improve our efficiency to assure profitability of our operations. Careful preparation of our cows for calving will help us be as efficient as possible this spring.