Regional Calf Report: Rebekah LaBerge, Ag Partners

Posted on August 27, 2015 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Rebekah LaBerge, Ag Partners calf specialist
With harvest right around the corner, many of us that focus on calves will have a hard time catching folks for calf walkthroughs and evaluations. We might get the occasional phone call or run over for a quick talk about calves in the tractor cab.

During harvest (and planting), when I ask producers about the calves, the most common answer I get is “they’re doing fine.” But ask again a few weeks after harvest, and I’ll hear, “I’ve got X challenge. I’m treating so many calves!”

This, my fellow calf lovers, is what I call “harvest illness.”

The issue
Harvest illness usually rears its ugly head when farms can’t dedicate an employee to calves full-time.  It’s also challenging for farms that do their own harvesting. Harvest illness isn’t caused by a strain of bug that shows up at a certain time of the year, but is due to the producer needing to direct their attention elsewhere on the farm. With all of your other responsibilities, you aren’t as able to concentrate on these animals when you must deal with something much more pressing – trying to put up the best forages for the following year.

The triple hit
Besides being unable to catch sick calves as early, and treat in a prompt matter, the real issue with harvest illness is the total stress these calves experience. Neonatal calves born during the harvest have gone through “the triple hit:”

  • The calf’s dam likely experienced heat stress. Heat-stressed dry cows have recently been shown to impact the calf’s birth weight, growth and future lactation production.
  • After birth, the calf likely experienced some amount of heat stress.
  • The calf may also now suffer from a reduced amount of attention as the farm team members have to focus on other areas of the farm. The calf might go unnoticed longer with an illness and not be treated as promptly, or perhaps was not placed in as clean as an environment as we would like.

Preventing harvest illness
As with any other issue on the farm, our goal is to prevent, not treat.  Recognize the challenges facing calves born this time of year associated with heat stress on the dry cows and calves. Set up a plan and stock the necessary tools in the calf barn so you won’t need to make extra trips, including electrolytes, navel dipping equipment, and cleaning and sanitizing agents.  Also make sure you have enough starter grain so you don’t have to place an order during harvest.

Work with your consultant to walk calves and identify any that may be ill or “look off.” Your consultant can be an extra set of eyes when you’re concerned with many other priorities on the farm.

Category: Animal health
Starting Strong - Calf Care