Regional Calf Report: Central Wisconsin – Cassie Stillman, Vita Plus

Posted on June 20, 2017 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Cassie Stillman, Vita Plus Loyal dairy specialist
Summer has finally arrived in central Wisconsin, but we had to first go through some unpleasant weather in May.  Heavy rainfall and cool temperatures made it difficult on calves.  Discussions with our team and on-farm observations point to respiratory problems as one of producers’ main concerns.  In addition, keeping calves hydrated and stress-free with the recent warm weather has become a priority.  Adjusting from one season to another can be very stressful on youngstock if the transition period is not smooth.

Keeping calves dry is key when heavy amounts of precipitation occur.  Make sure calves can nest in the straw; you don’t want to be able to see their legs when they’re lying down.  Wet bedding decreases calf comfort and air quality, which could lead to calf respiratory problems.  Calves of all ages need dry bedding.

Making sure newborn calves have a great start is the main objective.  Ideally, a calf’s first feeding should be 4 quarts of colostrum within 12 hours of birth; the sooner the better.  A BRIX refractometer can be used to test colostrum quality and a reading of 22 or above is an acceptable target.  If you have poor colostrum, feeding a colostrum replacer is a good alternative.

Another good practice is testing for total serum proteins.  This test measures the total amount of protein in the blood and can be used to gauge whether successful passive transfer was achieved.  A reading of 5.5 mg/dL or higher indicates success.  When testing for total serum proteins, pull blood on a calf that is between two and five days of age.

Using 7-percent tincture iodine to dip a newborn calf’s navel is the best way to prevent navel infections.  Try to dip a calf’s navel as soon as it is born and then again 12 to 24 hours later.  Do not clip or cut the navel; this will reintroduce possible infection if the navel was already starting to dry.  Vaccinating calves against respiratory disease at birth is also helpful in minimizing the risk of problems.

Most recently, we have experienced heat stress in both calves and dry cows.  Calves are heat-stressed at 78 degrees F and dry cows are heat-stressed at 68 degrees.  A cow that is heat-stressed is susceptible to more calving difficulties.  Thus, cooling dry cows can improve calf health at birth.  Keep calves hydrated to decrease heat stress and increase starter intake.  Clean and warm water will increase water consumption.  If a calf becomes dehydrated, do not skip a milk feeding.  Rather, offer an electrolyte a few hours after its milk feeding.

The first 12 hours of a calf’s life are critical to reducing problems later.  Doing these things will help a calf thrive through times of stress.  When dealing with seasonal changes, we need to make sure we pay extra attention to calves.


Category: Colostrum management
Cow comfort
Heat stress
Starting Strong - Calf Care