Ask the Expert: Preventing Infections

Posted on November 13, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Dr. Owen Mickley, DVM, works as a dairy specialist in eastern Ohio. Prior to joining Vita Plus, Mickley served as a practicing veterinarian in New York and Ohio for three years.
Q: Lately I have noticed an increase of navel infections, ear tag infections and joint swelling on our farm and this seems to happen more often in late summer and fall. I have been able to treat the problems and they easily clear up. Is there something I can be doing to be more proactive versus reactive for these challenges?
A: 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.  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.
Don’t overlook environmental factors such as cleanliness of the calving pens and equipment, unnecessary time the newborn is exposed to the dam, calving pressure on the facilitates, and dipping the navels with 7-percent tincture of iodine. Keeping a handle on the little details will allow for success.
A couple tools can help you monitor the success of your calf program and detect opportunities before the situation becomes sub-optimal or dire. Monitoring serum total protein from calves is a relatively easy way to monitor if calves are getting enough colostrum in a timely manner.  Diagnostic labs can be employed to monitor bacterial contamination of colostrum and samples can be collected 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, evaluate if this is a heifer issue, dry cow management opportunity, or simply an excessive delay in collecting the colostrum from the dam after calving. Whichever monitoring tools are used, it is important they 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 in your program.
Every operation has unique challenges, so you can’t count on a single formula for success. Ensuring proper neonatal calf health is critical to success, but continued attention to detail in all subsequent stages of calves’ lives 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.

Category: Animal health
Colostrum management
Starting Strong - Calf Care