10 Steps for Healthier Calves

By Lambert Vet Supply | 1/1/2017 | Posted to Cattle


  1. Calving Watch: Calf health starts before birth. Be sure that you've provided a clean, safe, secure area for calving. A holding area to restrain animals with calving difficulty is important. Watch for animals that separate themselves from the herd for more than 8 hours without delivering or that are in active labor for more than 1-2 hours should be assisted.
  2. Navel Cord: Dip navel cord at birth. Prevent infection by using an iodine tincture to kill bacteria and dry up the navel cord. Naval cord infections can escalate into life threatening sepsis.
  3. Vitamin/Mineral Injection: Veterinarians recommend that calves should be injected at birth with Calf-Guard or First Defense. Your veterinarian can recommend which other supplements may be needed. These vary by overall heard health and even weather conditions. Typical supplements could include Vitamin E/Selenium preparation, Vitamin A and D and some multivitamins.
  4. Colostrum: Colostrum is the thick, yellow fluid that precedes true milk production in the cow. It contains all the antibodies a newborn calf will have until it has time to make its own. Be sure calves get plenty of colostrum (10-12% of body weight in the first 24 hours, half of this in the first 6 hours; 3-6 quarts depending on calf size).
  5. Infectious Diseases: Prevention of infectious disease is critical to the herd health. A two fold approach to building immunity to disease is the most effective with calves. First, ensure that the dam has been correctly vaccinated and that the calf ingests her colostrum (first milk) during the first 6 hours of its life. The maternal antibodies to resist the diseases for which she has immunity (from exposure or vaccination) will be present in her "first" milk for approximately 24 hours after calving and will help protect the calf during the first 6-8 weeks of life. Secondly, vaccinate the calf to continue it's immunities to infectious diseases.

  6. Related Article: Cow Trivia >>

  7. Respiratory Disease: Respiratory diseases are a major cause of calf mortality. Protect your calves with a multistep plan to prevent respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, IBR, etc. First, the calf is born with antibodies passed to it by its dam before birth and immediately after via the colostrum. Second, it will produce general antibodies in response to the vaccines it receives during pre-weaning conditioning. At the time of the vaccination the passive immunity the calf received from the cow will be replaced by the calf's own immunity. Third, the calf will be handled in such a way that stress is minimized. Stress and the changes that occur in the calves' immune and metabolic systems as they adjust to new environments are nearly always part of a respiratory disease outbreak. Lastly, use common sense in determining when to isolate sick or questionable animals from the herd to minimize exposure to other calves, particularly those that are already ill or may be incubating disease.
  8. Clostridial Diseases: At mid-nursing and again at pre-weaning, calves should be vaccinated with a 7 way vaccine such as Alpha-7.
  9. Scours Diseases: Sanitation at calving and in all holding pens is the most effective approach to prevention of scours. Separating all calves that do have scours from the group decreases exposure of healthy calves to scours-causing organisms. Vaccines are key to preventing an outbreak of scours. Vaccines such for scours typically are given twice before replacement heifers' first calving, then just once before they calve (usually at pregnancy check) in subsequent years.
  10. Dehorning: Generally, dehorning of calves is recommended at an earlier age than later. Dehorning causes fewer medical complications when preformed on younger animals. From a health standpoint, it is better to dehorn calves with electric burners or various other dehorners than with pastes. Pastes are prone to several complications, may cause irritation to the cow's udder and to the calves' eyes, especially during wet weather. Any dehorning procedure performed incorrectly may result in scar formation.
  11. Castration: Early castration, between birth and 30 days of age, is recommended for commercial producers. There are several effective methods of castration or cutting. Surgical castration has been favored over banding or clamping, because it assures that the procedure has been completely accomplished in a sanitary fashion. All instruments used for castration should be washed and soaked in alcohol or some other effective antiseptic between calves. If castration is preformed during warm weather, apply fly spray around the scrotum to prevent fly borne infection.

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The information contained in The Well Pet Post articles is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a veterinarian and is not intended as medical advice. If you have a health con­cern about your pets, please consult with an appropriately-licensed veterinarian. Never dis­re­gard pro­fes­sional veterinary advice or delay in seek­ing it for your pets because of some­thing you have read on this blog or in any linked materials.
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