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Kindergartners and calves: an unlikely association

Anyone who has been around a group of kindergarteners knows that sniffles and coughing are commonplace. While there may not be a way to prevent this, for weaned calves facing the same “kindergarten effect,” preconditioning can help reduce morbidity.

Dr. Travis Van Anne, a Professional Services Veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., says that developing healthy calves begins the day they are born, not just in the preconditioning phase.

Do your part from day 1: colostrum

All calves should receive colostrum within 6 hours of birth. After 6 hours of life, the calf’s ability to absorb antibodies from colostrum diminishes. Once a calf is born, colostrum production is replaced by milk production, so there is a narrow window in which a calf has opportunity to consume necessary colostrum.

Feedyard cattle are 300 percent more likely to get sick when adequate colostrum is not consumed.1 On the ranch, these calves are five to nine times more likely to be treated. Monitor new cow calf pairs and, if colostrum quantity consumption is in question, administer additional colostrum.

Timing is everything

A first vaccination between 60 to 90 days of age creates immunological memory cells within the calf’s immune system. When the vaccination is given at weaning, memory cells will increase the chances of a good response and better protection for the calf.

What is your weaning window?

Because maternal immune protection has waned by the time calves are weaned at four to seven months, they may be very susceptible to disease. There is an opportunity to build immunity with a well-designed pre-weaning vaccination program and/or a good post-weaning on-farm preconditioning program.

Deworm your calves

Utilize proper internal and external parasite control to assure that the parasitism does not interfere with the calf’s ability to optimally respond to their vaccinations.

Handle with care

Pleasant and not-so-pleasant handling experiences are remembered. Use calm and quiet movements. Also, avoid processing cattle in hot weather.

Introduction to feed, water, and people

Acclimating calves prior to sale reduces stress on calves and buyers Dr. Van Anne recommends introducing calves to feed, water, and people to reduce stress during handling. This can start early-on too, before weaning. For example, calves may quickly learn from cows what a feed truck is.

Dr. Van Anne says calves that have gone through a good preconditioning program get off to a better start in the feedlot. These calves experience less mortality, morbidity, and less treatment costs. “A good goal at the feedlot is to have a less than 15 percent pull rate for sickness,” Dr. Van Anne says. “Removing individuals from pens for special attention costs significant dollars for treatment and lost growth.”

Dr. Van Anne encourages producers to work with their veterinarian to develop a preconditioning program that works for their operation.

1 Waldner, C.L., et al. Can Vet J. 2009 Mar; 50(3):275-81