Fine-tune your calf barn cleaning procedures

What sets farms with great calf health apart from those that struggle to get calves started? Sanitation. It is a bigger investment of time than money and is certainly near the top of the list of important criteria for getting calves off to a good start. The fewer disease-causing organisms the calf is exposed to, the lower the risk she will get sick. Manure is the enemy; scours organisms spread by manure of an infected calf getting in the mouth of a healthy calf. The more exposure, the more likely the calf will get sick. Exposure starts in the calving area with manure from adult cows getting in the calf’s mouth, or from it touching the walls, bedding, the cow’s flank – and even from the calf licking itself. Hands are another common source of infection. Make sure employees caring for newborns have disposable gloves to put on when handling the calf. The hands that helped move the cow into the calving pen probably carry manure from the hair coat of the cow. Using those same hands to get the nipple in the calf’s mouth is an easy way for bacteria to spread. Make sure gloves are readily available in the maternity area and employees use them when handling the newborn calf. In addition to exposure in the calving environment, sometimes there is a piece of equipment not getting cleaned thoroughly and transferring bacteria to calves. It may be the colostrum collection bucket, the bottle or nipple colostrum is fed with, the walls of the newborn calf pen, the warming box floor, etc. The feeding equipment used every day...

Calf hutch walk-throughs: What you need to look for

This article is part two in a two-part series on what to look for during a calf pen walk-through. Indoor calf pen walk-throughs: What you need to look for. In the previous article, the focus was on looking at calves with some simple ways to identify a potential problem. This time, we’ll talk about specific things to look at when walking calves in hutches. Well-managed hutches can be a great environment for calves. Looking at hutches can be similar to looking at calves. Focus on the needs of the calf and manage the hutch to meet its needs. Shelter is the calf’s most basic need. The hutch provides shelter from weather – rain, snow, wind, sun. Look at each hutch as you walk by and ask yourself, “Does this hutch provide adequate shelter for this calf? Will it be protected in all types of weather?” Positioning Are hutches positioned to take advantage of the local environment? In cold-weather climates, positioning hutches so the doors face to the south allows the calf to lie inside where it is protected from the wind but still has the benefit of warmth from the sun. In the summer, positioning the doors to the north will provide shade and help keep the calf cool. While it is not feasible to turn hutches once they are in use, many producers will start facing the hutches in the desired direction as the seasons change. As summer approaches, new calves will go into hutches that face north, while calves in south-facing hutches will be weaned and move out of the hutches before the weather gets hot. Air...

Indoor calf pen walk-throughs: What you need to look for

Many times when I’m walking calves on a farm, an employee will ask, “So, what are you looking at anyway?” I’m looking for sick calves using a simple method to quickly assess the health status of each calf. Start small Always start with the youngest calves and work your way to the oldest calves to prevent spread of disease from older calves to the newborns. Slowly walk past each pen and quickly assess the items below. When the calves are in group pens, go through the same basic approach. Take the time to look at each calf. If anything catches your eye, stop and watch the calf to get a more thorough evaluation. Make a note of the calf’s number and share any concerns with the owner or manager. While most of the calves noted are already being treated on the best-managed herds, occasionally you will come up with one that was doing well at last check and looks “off” when you walk through. On some herds, the managers or employees struggle to identify sick calves, and it’s a great opportunity to talk about early symptoms. Attitude is everything The first glance tells a lot about the calf. A healthy calf interacts with her environment. She should show interest in you when you approach. She should look at you and follow your movement with her eyes as you walk by. A sick calf will be slow to notice you, probably not show interest in your movement and generally look depressed. In a group pen, healthy calves will be with the herd and show interest in each other and you...

Give calves a fighting chance!

From the moment the calf is born, there’s a fight going on between the calf’s immune function (the good guys) and the pathogens in the environment (the bad guys).  I like to think of it like a fight between rival gangs – the good guys and the bad guys.  The outcome is determined by which side is better prepared and brings more people.  The good guys are like the immune system.  We need the good guys to be in top shape and prepared to fight.  We can build up the strength of the good guys by having a good dry cow program, vaccinating to address the risks on the farm, getting colostrum into the calf, keeping her warm and dry, and putting her on a good nutrition program. Unfortunately, the bad guys also want a fight and will do everything they can to win the battle.  The bad guys are pathogens in the environment.  We can reduce the strength of the bad guys by keeping the calving pen clean, cleaning and sanitizing feeding equipment, dipping the navel and making sure everything the calf touches is clean.  Set that calf up for success by giving the immune system a stronger gang than the pathogens bring. If we have a full term calf, delivered normally in a clean, dry, calving pen, the sides are fairly evenly matched.  Getting that calf dried off, fed colostrum  or colostrum replacer such as Calf Armor 150, and moved promptly into a clean pen gives her immune system the advantage.  This calf will be exposed to pathogens in the environment, but her immune system can overpower...