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A Critical Season

By Dawn Singleton-Olson
March, 2018

A successful calving season with healthy cows and their offspring sets the stage for a profitable year for cattle producers

For cattle producers, the issues they face during spring calving season – and how they react to them – affect their success for the rest of the year. A survey conducted last fall by Colorado State University and BEEF magazine asked producers what they considered to be the industry’s top five challenges. 

Three of the top five involved keeping animals healthy, with cow-calf health at 57 percent, reproductive health at 49 percent, and biosecurity and disease prevention chosen fifth at 36 percent, with animal welfare issues close behind. Your knowledge of the products and procedures to keep livestock healthy during this critical season can have a positive impact on the success of your veterinary customers and producers through calving season, into weaning, and right up to seeing increased profits at sale time.

Healthy births
Ensuring the birth of a healthy calf starts with a well-nourished cow in optimal health. We’re in the waning days for lice infestations this time of year, but they can still be a problem in many parts of the country through the end of March. Ranchers who treated in the fall may see a buildup of lice in late winter. The majority of parasite control products are safe for use in pregnant cattle, so they may want to treat the entire herd again prior to calving. Take a few moments to review those products and their labels to discuss late-season orders with your customers.

Both veterinarians and producers need to be prepared to assist with difficult births, so make sure your customers are well-stocked with the necessary equipment: OB chains, calf pullers, OB gloves and lube, and disinfectant scrub, like chlorhexidine.

The best disease protection for newborn calves is making sure they get an adequate amount of good-quality colostrum as soon as possible after birth that contains antibodies against most of the pathogens they might encounter. Colostrum ingestion is critical for calves since they are born without the protective immunity of antibodies, and it has a profound effect on the future performance of the calf.

Pregnant females begin to form colostrum by pulling antibodies from the blood and storing them in the mammary tissue three to six weeks before calving. Vaccinating cows before calving helps build peak antibody levels to make sure the colostrum contains the maximum amount of protective antibodies at birth against pathogens such as rotavirus, coronavirus, Clostridium perfringens Type C and D and E. coli. Timing is key and varies depending on the vaccine, so reviewing the products you carry and knowing their label instructions will be valuable when discussing vaccination protocols with your customers.

Immunoglobulins from colostrum are absorbed very efficiently in the small intestine of a newborn calf, but it doesn’t take long for the cells lining the intestine to “close”. Within 12 hours after birth, the calf’s ability to absorb antibodies is greatly diminished and is completely gone by 24 hours. The optimum time to absorb the maximum amount of antibodies is within two to four hours after birth. Calves that experience failure of passive transfer (FTP) are far more likely to die in the first two months than calves that receive adequate immunity, so for cases where a calf is unable to nurse within that critical time frame, it may be necessary to tube feed the calf. For times when it may not be possible to use maternal colostrum, producers should have a high-quality colostrum replacer or supplement on hand, along with an esophageal feeder. First-calf heifers typically produce lower-quality colostrum than mature cows, so this is another instance where a colostrum supplement may be needed.

Protecting immune systems
Cold weather can stress the immune systems of calves born early in the season. Producers may want to vaccinate with a respiratory vaccine at birth to prevent BRD. Stressed calves may also develop scours from protozoal infections from cryptosporidiosis or coccidiosis. Unlike E. coli or clostridia, there are no vaccines for these infections. Several products are effective in treating coccidiosis, such as amprolium, sulfas, or decoquinate. Calves with cryptosporidiosis often need fluid therapy and electrolytes to counteract dehydration. Your customers will want to be well-stocked with these products along with scour boluses and calf balling guns.

Producers will want to be able to identify their calves as soon as possible, so check your client’s purchase history for their preferred brand of ear tags, and make sure they don’t forget taggers, marking pens, tag removal knives and livestock markers.
 

Reducing stress, and pain
Many veterinarians recommend castrating calves as early as possible, to reduce stress and for the overall health of the calf. A variety of products may be used, depending on the age of the calf and the preference of the vet or producer. These might include: scalpel handles with castrating (#10) blades; elastrator bands and banding tools; emasculators; Newberry knives; Burdizzo clamps; disinfectant solution, such as chlorhexidine.

Alleviating pain and stress during procedures such as castration and dehorning is an important issue in the livestock industry and one that deserves more attention, according to Dr. Randall Raymond, director of research and veterinary services for Simplot Livestock in Idaho. Just 10.5 percent of respondents to the Colorado State University/BEEF Survey reported using pain relief methods when castrating or dehorning, and only 13.5 percent said they’ve had a veterinarian offer to administer a drug for pain management during those procedures. Consider having a conversation with your practitioners regarding pain management techniques and the value this may bring to their producers, since animal welfare is a topic that will continue to get more attention in the industry. As Raymond says “As stewards of these animals and their well-being, this is something we must consider … The calf deserves the best we have.”

A successful calving season with healthy cows and their offspring sets the stage for a profitable year for cattle producers and your veterinary clients who serve them. Knowing the variety of products your customers and their clients need to keep their animals healthy, and making sure they’re well-stocked during this hectic season will make you a valued partner in that success.

Topics: Inside Sales, Sales, Livestock

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