This spring’s snow, rain and floods have severely hampered the ability of calves to survive.
“These weather conditions have been a real setback for our 2009 calf crop,” says North Dakota State University Extension Service veterinarian Charlie Stoltenow. “We can expect to see an increase in scours (diarrhea) and pneumonia in young calves and dystocia (difficult births) in cows and heifers.”
Feed supplies are limited, so the pregnant dam may not be receiving adequate nutrition, which causes a decrease in colostrum quantity and quality, and also leads to dystocia because the female doesn’t have enough energy to go through parturition. Also, the calving areas are muddy and crowded and become easily contaminated with pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and parasites.
To compound this situation, producers’ attention is diverted from managing the cattle to just surviving another day of trying to find feed, getting the feed to their cattle, removing snow and mud, and taking care of family needs, according to Stoltenow.
“The weather conditions are beyond our control, but we have to try to control the environment as much as possible to give calves the best possible chance for survival,” he says.
Pregnant females require a ration balanced for energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. Producers should make a special effort to ensure these cattle get enough energy. Producers may need to consider other feedstuffs, such as grain, to augment or replace hay supplies. Poor-quality feedstuffs are also low in vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency increases the number of weak or stillborn calves and the number of scours cases. Producers should contact their veterinarian or nutritionist if they need some assistance in evaluating their feeding program.
The newborn calf needs a place that is as dry and clean as possible to reduce the incidence and severity of scours. Snow should be moved off frozen ground to provide a place for cattle to lie down. Clean bedding should be provided to help keep calves dry and warm.
Once scours starts and a calving area has become contaminated, nothing can be done to clean the environment or stop transmission of the pathogens. If this happens, producers need to consider moving the pregnant females that have not calved to another site to continue with calving.
In addition, producers should be vigilant for rapidly rising water in drainage areas, Stoltenow says. Overland flooding and more flooding of creeks, streams and rivers can be expected.
The calf also must receive sufficient colostrum from its dam. At a minimum, the calf should receive one quart by 30 minutes of age and two quarts by 12 hours of age. The No. 1 cause of calves becoming ill is directly related to not receiving enough colostrum in the first 12 hours of life. Also, because of the poor quality of forages this year, providing each calf with 500,000 international units of vitamin A might be a good idea. Producers should consult with their veterinarian about providing vitamin A.
Vaccination of the dam can be beneficial, but may be too late for this calving season. Pregnant females should be vaccinated about 30 days prior to calving so the colostrum the female produces will have the correct and sufficient immunoglobulins available for the calf when it first nurses. Vaccines also are available for the calves. Producers are encouraged to consult with their veterinarian to see if these vaccines might be appropriate for their operation.
Treatment of scours should be directed toward alleviating dehydration, acidosis and electrolyte loss. Oral fluids used early in the scouring process have been quite successful. Most dehydrated calves also suffer from hypothermia. Providing an external source of heat during fluid/electrolyte treatment often is necessary.
Antibiotics can be very beneficial when used in conjunction with fluid therapy. The most effective antibiotics for treating scours are prescription medications. Producers need to consult their veterinarian about using the most appropriate antibiotic for their operation.
“Calf scours is a preventable and treatable condition,” Stoltenow says. “However, if the non-infectious causes of calf scours are ignored or receive inadequate attention, the subsequent infectious causes of calf scours can and will cause serious hardship for the calf and subsequently the producer.”