Limit infections in challenging environments
Posted on November 28, 2012 in Dairy Performance
By Dr. Owen Mickley This season’s temperature swings aren’t easy for calves. We’ve been hearing about an increase in navel infections, ear tag infections and joint swelling. Remember, any increase in infection or treatment rate is cause for concern. These problems may seem minor, but could indicate an opportunity to enhance the current system. If we don’t give calves a good start, they are at a much higher risk for immediate and long-term health consequences. The best starting point is the colostrum program since this is the biggest key to neonatal calf health success. Colostrum quality can range greatly due to age of the dam, length of the dry period, time delay between milking and calving, bacterial contamination, and vaccination program. It is absolutely critical to ensure adequate timing of the delivery of clean, quality colostrum. Colostrum replacers are a valuable alternative which should be considered when a traditional colostrum program isn’t achieving the desired goals. Don’t overlook environmental factors, such as cleanliness of the calving pens and equipment, time the newborn is exposed to the dam, calving pressure on the facilities, and dipping the navels with 7-percent iodine solution. Keeping a handle on the little details will allow for success. A couple of tools can help you monitor the success of your calf program and detect opportunities before the situation worsens. Monitoring serum total protein from calves is a relatively easy way to monitor whether calves are getting enough colostrum in a timely manner. Diagnostic labs can be used to detect bacterial contamination of colostrum and you can collect samples from equipment such as an esophageal feeder tube to gauge cleanliness from the calf’s perspective. Brix refractometers can be used to assess the quality of colostrum collected. If these values are too low, determine whether this is a heifer issue, dry cow management opportunity, or simply an excessive delay in collecting the colostrum from the dam after calving. Whatever tool you use, just remember it should be used consistently, not just when you see problems. The underlying problem with newborn calves is they are born virtually without a functioning immune system. At birth, they are immediately exposed to and challenged by pathogens. The beginning of their immune system is contained within the colostrum. The time between birth and ingestion of adequate colostrum is pure risk to the calf, which has lifelong consequences to her future productivity. If you can’t count on consistently harvesting quality colostrum every time, colostrum replacers might be an excellent tool for your program. Every farm has unique challenges, so you can’t count on a single formula for success. Ensuring proper neonatal calf health is critical, but continued attention to detail in all subsequent stages of the calf’s life is important as well. Take this opportunity to quickly evaluate your entire system, from standard operating procedures to facility designs to monitoring programs. Keeping all the little necessities on track consistently and managing all the tools available will allow for future success. This article was originally included in the October edition Vita Plus Starting Strong, a bi-monthly calf care e-newsletter. Click here to subscribe to Starting Strong. About the author: Dr. Owen Mickley is a dairy specialist based in eastern Ohio. He earned his bachelor’s degree in animal sciences and his doctor of veterinary medicine degree from The Ohio State University. Prior to joining Vita Plus, Mickley served as a practicing veterinarian in New York and Ohio for three years. He worked closely with clients to achieve production objectives, monitor progress and construct a sustainable operational model. Today, he works closely with dairy producers and his fellow Vita Plus technical staff teammates to bring a comprehensive team approach to the farms in his area.