I have a 3-week-old heifer calf born 2 to 4 weeks premature. She did not weigh more than 30 pounds at birth. She has been unable to get any milk from her mom, although we do think she received some colostrum. We have been bottle feeding her twice a day — 4 pints at each feeding at this point. She finally seems to be putting on some weight. What advice do you have going forward?
The biggest problems you may face going forward would most likely be respiratory disease or scours. Both are tied to a compromised immune system. If she was premature, her immune system just may not be ready for prime time yet.
You mentioned you believe she received colostrum from her dam. That does not mean she got enough, and without it, her passive immunity (this protects her until her immune system is fully functional) may well be below optimal levels. The passive immunity function is something your veterinarian can check with a simple blood test. If it is inadequate, and you want to give her the best start possible, a blood or plasma transfusion from her dam or another mature cow could benefit her greatly.
That said, this may all amount to more than you want to invest in her. It may not even be needed if she does not get sick. But if she does get sick, call your veterinarian immediately. It will be important to treat her early and correctly.
Also, be sure your sanitation is very good. Clean everything well–including her environment. If she is inside, make sure you have adequate airflow. Restrict access from visitors who might bring diseases from other animals or farms. Always be sure to use the best milk replacer, and mix and feed it correctly. Provide high-quality hay and/or grazing, and a good calf-starter grain ration. And don’t forget that sunlight is very good for these animals.
The American Veterinary Association is happy about the re-introduction in Congress of the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act.
It’s an important bill to the industry because if it’s passed, it will play a critical role in addressing shortages of food animal and public health veterinarians in rural and agricultural communities. “Veterinary shortages are one of the many significant challenges facing farmers and ranchers today,” says AVMA President Dr. John De Jong. “If we don’t take steps to address these shortages, we’ll likely see an increase in animal disease incidents that impact our economy and even public health.” De Jong says they’re very grateful to all lawmakers who’ve been supportive of the legislation.
The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture designated 190 regions in 44 states as suffering from shortages of food animal or public health veterinarians, the most in the program’s history. Student debt is a key cause of the shortage. Students typically graduate with $180,000 in debt. Careers as a food animal vet typically pay less than a career as a companion animal vet.
We had a very bad cold, wet snap with lots of snow, ice and rain right in the middle of calving season. Several calves started scouring, and we treated them with scour boluses and penicillin. We lost four of them. We have not had any more cases since, but we’d like to know what we can do to prevent this in the future.
There are so many potential causes when it comes to scours, you really need to get your veterinarian involved. A good history of what happened leading up to this is going to be very important. Some key information would include age of the calves, age of the dams, body conditions, available feed, available minerals and whether cows had been vaccinated and dewormed.
You note this started when bad weather moved in. The cold, wet conditions you describe can sometimes keep calves from getting up and nursing quickly. That can mean they don’t get enough colostrum those first few critical hours of life. Also, muddy, nasty conditions increase the chances disease will spread. They also make maintaining a normal body temperature difficult at best.
If cows are thin, or lacking in balanced nutrition including minerals, colostrum quality may suffer. All of these things can work together to increase the potential for sick calves.
An accurate diagnosis is the first step in knowing how to treat calves and prevent future outbreaks. Calf scours can be caused by several different viruses, bacteria and parasites. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses or parasites; they only help if the bacteria involved is susceptible. Just as importantly, antibiotics may kill good bacteria and make the situation worse. The decision on whether, when and what antibiotics to use must be made in consultation with your herd veterinarian. As you discuss this, ask for a review of your overall herd-health program. If the situation recurs, act fast to get a diagnosis and a treatment plan under way.