Britt Whitt: Keep those babies clean
Regardless of what the ground hog says, cattle producers know that spring is right around the corner. This time of year means a lot of sleepless nights, cold hands, sore backs, and the occasional bovine kitchen companion for the average producer who is working tirelessly to get this year’s calf crop off to the very best start possible. What is the best start that we can give a calf though? The answer starts long before calving season. Maternal nutrition, as we discussed last time, has proven to be very important for the entire life of a calf. Another vital component of newborn calf health is maternal antibody transfer from the dam’s colostrum. Calves are absolutely dependent on receiving a sufficient volume of high quality colostrum, in a timely manner, to reduce the risk of disease. Prior to calving, we can insure that a cow produces quality colostrum, by using a sound vaccination program and keeping her in sufficient body condition for lactation. Vaccines stimulate an antibody response in the mother cow. These antibodies are included in the colostrum, literally helping build the new calf’s immune system from the ground up. Calves are born into a dirty world and we have to look at those first few hours of a calf’s life like a race. We know potential pathogens are entering the calf’s system upon birth. These bad guys come from dirt, manure, and even other herd mates curiously inspecting the new baby. The good guys in this race comes from momma’s milk, so the sooner we can get antibodies in a calf the better chance we have of winning the race.
As producers we can also try to limit the environmental contamination that a calf is exposed to, therefore reducing the number of bad guys in the race. The Sand Hills calving model proves that calving in clean pastures and leaving pairs behind in contaminated pastures reduces disease prevalence in calves. This model is considerably different than what many producers are implementing. Shed and corral calving means that by the end of calving season every nasty bug that calf 01 had or was exposed to has been multiplied, and calf 100 is getting a much larger dose of pathogenic exposure. Though the Sand Hills model is very effective at reducing sickness in calves it just isn’t practical for many producers. Every producer can implement minor changes to their current set up to help though. If possible, calving cows on pasture can greatly reduce the concentration of pathogens. Keeping corrals and calving sheds clean and dry also reduces risk. Tincture of iodine is cheap and effective for dipping newborn navels, it takes just a second and you’re already there tagging. Keeping a keen eye for calves that had a rough delivery or were slow to suck can help us watch for potential problems before they’re a disaster. Every producer has the tools in their arsenal to get this year’s calves off to the best start possible without any fancy new equipment, sparkly gadgets, or feed store miracle cures. Most of it comes down to time investment and caring about your cattle. Thank you for making those sacrifices, the future of our industry depends on it.