Vet’s Voice: Preventing navel & joint ill in calves
January 12, 2012
The warm weather continues. I saw several farmers out disking corn stalks last week. We have had a few lambing calls (obstetrics and prolapses). Once lambing begins, calving isn’t far behind. Most years, early calving cows have an advantage over spring-calving cows in regard to calf navel problems because the ground is frozen. This year may not be the case.
The navel of the calf is how its circulatory system is attached to the uterus. This provides oxygenation and nutrition to the calf while it is maturing in the uterus. When the calf is delivered, most of these vessels regress and the calf’s own circulatory system takes over. While the navel stump is wet, it serves as a wick attracting pathogenic organisms. These organisms can migrate into the navel through the shrinking vessels. In severe cases, the infection may reach the liver, kidney and joints.
The bacteria normally isolated from posted calves with severe septicemia is Escherichia coli (E. coli). These organisms prove to be very resistant to common antibiotics. Once the internal organs are affected and the calf becomes comatose, there is usually little that can be done with electrolytes and antibiotics to cure the calf. Other organisms and Mycoplasma may also cause problems and show better response to treatment.
It is important that the calf consumes adequate colostrum in within six hours after birth. As mentioned in my last column (Dec. 31, 2011, A6) calves born unassisted stand more quickly, are more likely to bond with their dam and have a greater consumption of colostrum. Colostrum uptake is always the most important event in their lifetime.
Management of pathogen populations is also very important. Most of the E. coli we isolate causes navel infection rather than scours. Most cow vaccines contain organisms commonly found as a cause of scours. If there have been problems in the past and the organism has been isolated, a herd-specific vaccine can be manufactured. Other types of commercial vaccines may be given to the cow if there are problems with Streptococcus, Salmonella, Mycoplasma or other organisms. Many producers supplement initial colostral immunity in the calf with serums. These can be injected subcutaneously and sometimes orally if given shortly after birth.
In our area we calve in group lots. This subjects the calf to dust, mud, snow, manure and large populations of bacteria. We recommend dipping the navel after birth as soon as possible with an iodine solution. For us a 7 percent iodine solution works well. It not only kills most of the organisms, but also helps the navel wither and dry more rapidly. This is important because it prevents re-infection after dipping as can occur with other products. We prefer a spray bottle to avoid contamination of the iodine container. Thoroughly soak the navel from the belly to the tip. Some clients place an elastrator band in the hair just above the navel. This helps the navel dry more rapidly and prevents upward migration of bacteria.
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Calving pasture management can also minimize problems. Try to provide a spot to calve in a place away from feeding cows. Bedding is also used to minimize muddy conditions and help keep calves warm at birth. The larger the area of the calving pasture, the less the concentration of pathogenic organisms. Be sure the calving pen is clean and dry. Some producers have had scours and navel problems on every calf that passes through a particular barn or calving pen.
Early treatment should be administered for best results. Broad spectrum antibiotics with long duration of activity work well, but sometimes require a second treatment, providing therapeutic levels for at least 10 days. When the navel is severely infected, it may require local infiltration of antibiotics. If the calf becomes comatose, it may require intravenous electrolytes. Sometimes joints may become infected and swell causing lameness in the calf. This requires flushing of the joint cavity with fluids and antibiotics.
Navel and joint ill are a common problem during calving and lambing. Ensure adequate colostrum uptake. Dip navels if possible soon after birth. Prepare the calving area and have secondary and tertiary management plans should the weather dictate a change. If there are problems, visit with a veterinarian and select an appropriate antibiotic regime for aggressive treatment. The investment of time during the busy calving or lambing season will garner more pounds at weaning thereby increasing profitability.
Dave Barz is a veterinarian at Northwest Veterinary Supply in Parkston, SD.