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RESEARCH for beef health

Agriculture.com Staff 02/14/2007 @ 1:24pm

One of the most common problems in young beef calves is scours or diarrhea. Scours in calves is caused by infectious microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoan parasites. The most common causes of diarrhea in calves less than 4 weeks old are intestinal infections by the bacteria E. coli and salmonella, the corona and rota viruses, and the protozoan cryptosporidium.

A scouring calf loses large amounts of fluids and electrolytes, like sodium and chlorine. Usually, the cause of death in scouring calves is dehydration and acidosis.

According to veterinarian Nolan R. Hartwig at Iowa State University, calf scours, by and large, is a management disease. He says there are steps producers can take to minimize the incidence of scours.

Control the environment. It's important to do everything you can to keep a cow and its calf as clean and dry as possible before and after birth. Don't worry too much about the calf being cold. Hartwig believes keeping cattle clean and dry are the key elements to preventing scours.

"We get epidemics of calf scours in the spring very closely associated with wet, messy weather. If you're going to calve in muddy, sloppy lots, animals are stressed and resistance is lower. They absorb colostrum less efficiently when they are stressed," says Hartwig.

If you're calving in a barn or shed, he suggests putting a creep bar up so nursing cows can't get in or only have access to part of the building. "Calves will go in because it's dry. Keep windows and doors open. Fresh air is important. People worry too much about drafts on calves. Calves can take a lot if they're dry," he says.

A cow carries a tremendous amount of moisture into a building, so Hartwig says the more you do to keep the area dry, the better off you'll be in the long run.

If you must calve in lots, he suggests building mounds and placing bedding on top, like you do in feedlots. This gets animals up out of the mud.

Vaccinate before calving. Pregnant cows should be vaccinated as close to three weeks before giving birth as possible. There are vaccines for rota virus, corona virus, and E. coli. Vaccines stimulate the cow to make antibodies that are then transferred to the colostrum. If the cow is nutritionally deprived, the immune system cannot function efficiently. Make sure heifers and cows are in optimal condition prior to calving.

Balance the nutrition. Don't overfeed animals. Body condition scores of 5 or 6 are ideal for breeding back and nursing health.

A cow's feed needs to be balanced. Producers have a tendency to feed more protein if a cow is thin, he says, when it's really an energy issue in most cases.

"Free-choice minerals should be available all of the time. I like loose minerals, not blocks. I just don't think we get the intake off blocks that we want," Hartwig says.

Close the herd. Keep the herd closed at least a minimum of two months prior to calving.

Keep colostrum natural. Hartwig says calves definitely need natural colostrum. "Calves need 8% to 10% of their body weight in 12 hours and half of that within two hours of birth if at all possible," he says. He cautions against getting colostrum from an outside source, like a neighbor, because of Johne's disease.

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