ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BRENDA CONYERS
Mike Moore, a veterinarian with Florence Veterinary Clinic, summed up area veterinarians’ outlook on winter calves in two words.
With this year’s early winter, ranchers should expect an increase in weak calves, ill calves and calf scours.
Cattlemen should take extra precautions, said Jessica Laurin, veterinarian at Animal Health Center of Marion County.
“The cow’s demand for nutrients has increased up to 40 percent more over her increased demand to produce a calf,” Laurin said. “With this demand, we will see more calves that are born smaller, with weaker immune systems.”
She added, “The calf may be born bigger, but with a weaker immune system that can lead to increased sickness for the first two months.”
Veterinarian Norman Galle of Hillsboro Animal Clinic said, “Calves grow 70 percent in the last three months before birth. It is important to make sure the cows have sufficient hay and protein in their ration to meet their needs.”
Galle said cows are content at 41 degrees and will naturally increase their dietary intake as the weather gets colder.
Laurin recommends that cattle be scored according to a body condition scoring scale that is available at the extension office, located in the courthouse, or at the clinic.
The scoring system rates cattle on a scale from 1-9, with 1-4 being considered thin, 5-6 moderate and 7-9 good.
Thin cows would be in danger of poor milk production and have difficulty reproducing.
Cattle rated in the moderate zone might have just the minimum necessary health for rebreeding and good milk production.
Good cattle, rated 7-9, are described as “fleshy” cattle with “maximum condition needed for efficient reproduction,” according to a county extension office handout.
An important time to score cattle is in the last trimester of pregnancy, another handout stated.
If the score shows the cow to be inadequate, area vets agree the amounts of energy and protein should be increased.
“One easy way is to increase alfalfa by one to two pounds per head per day,” Laurin said. “I would stay away from feeding urea for a protein source in a year as this one. Urea is nitrogen for the body to build protein and requires an adequate energy source.”
In order to assure the chances of a healthy calf in the next several months, the veterinarians offer some helpful advice.
“If you have had trouble with scours in the past,” Galle said, “you will want to vaccinate prior to calving. That will increase the antibodies necessary in the calf colostrum.”
Colostrum is the liquid produced by the cow in the first hours after the birth of a calf. It is vital to the health of the calf. Galle said the colostrum carries antibodies from the mother to the calf for protection, as well as important nutrition.
“It is very important for the calf to have adequate colostrum,” Galle said. “The calf needs to be sucking within four hours of birth.”
Laurin said, “If you have to assist a cow with birthing, give the mother and calf two hours, then supply the calf with a colostrum source if you have not seen the calf latch on.”
Galle recommends several different ways and sources to make sure calves receive the necessary product
“If the calf isn’t sucking,” he said, “milk the cow of the colostrum and force feed the calf.
“Another good alternative is to milk a cow and freeze the colostrum in a plastic bottle, or even a sealed baggie until it is needed. Then thaw it out in warm water, and give it to the calf.”
But caution must be exercised.
“Don’t, however, use a microwave to thaw the colostrum,” Galle said. “Be sure to use warm water.”
He said it was especially good to use the frozen colostrum from within your own herd as it will carry the antibodies from vaccinations and local antibodies needed for the calf’s good health.
A third option is buying colostrum supplement that is available.
Laurin recommends giving the cow a Vitamin A/D injection prior to calving.
“In drought, the amount of vitamin A in hays available to cows is reduced,” she said.
Galle agreed on the importance of giving vitamin A prior to birth because calves are born with a natural vitamin A deficiency. The added boost would help the calf.
While winter weather is a concern to the health of cattle, so is the possibility of a wet spring.
“As long as the calf can have good nutrition and keep dry, they can handle the cold,” Galle said. “It’s the wet spring that could be a problem. Calves don’t stay dry, they chill and there are the bacterial infections as well.”