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Give Newborn Calves a Leg Up from Day One

Calving season can be one of the most exhausting, stressful, labor-intensive times of year, but it’s also rewarding. Create and implement a herd health plan (HHP) appropriate for the operation to minimize stress for yourself, your workers, and the cattle. A strong HHP ensures that all cattle are raised in the best conditions and health, in turn improving the efficiency and economics for the cattle operation.

So how do you get off on the right foot? By giving the newborns a leg-up from the moment they are born.

The University of Nebraska – Lincoln Extension and Nebraska Beef Quality Assurance provides some guidelines to keep your herd healthy this calving season.

Vaccinations

Young calves – birth to three months of age – need vaccinations to stay healthy and productive. The Nebraska BQA and Nebraska Extension recommend that the core vaccination program includes:

- 4-way IBR

- BVD

- PI3

- BRSV

- 2-way Pasteurella

- 4/7-way Clostridial

However, that may not be the best protocol for your area. Be sure to talk with your veterinarian for the best plan for your herd based on your part of the country.

Castration

The benefits of castration reach far beyond unwanted reproduction. Castrating cattle reduces aggression and injuries to other animals as well as handlers.

In a perfect world, calves would be castrated as soon as possible after ingesting a bellyful of colostrum. Castrating them at as young as 24 hours reduces stress and chances of getting sick. If that isn’t practical, castration should be performed at the first handling opportunity after that time. Calves castrated at or after weaning suffer increased stress, sickness, and even increased death rates, which puts a damper on a producer’s finances.

Implants

Another option that seems to be universally underutilized is implanting cattle. While calves that are castrated have a slower rate of gain than their noncastrated counterparts, implanting early-castrated calves helps them keep up with bull calves. 

In a study comparing early-castrated/implanted calves, early-castrated/no-implant calves, and bull calves castrated at weaning conducted by Kansas State University, researchers found that the implanted calves kept up with the weights of the bull calves through castration/weaning, but surpassed the weight of bull calves/castrated at weaning and early castrated/no implant calves by 20 pounds.

Again, speak with a veterinarian about which option is best for your cattle and operation.

Be sure castrated or implanted calves are allowed to heal prior to transport of any kind.

Dehorning

Dehorning naturally horned cattle is another procedure done to reduce injuries to both animals and handlers alike. Keep stress to a minimum by dehorning calves while horns are still at the bud stage, when there’s less tissue trauma.

Methods of dehorning thermal cautery of horn buds, applying a chemical paste to cauterize buds, or removing buds with a knife or dehorning spoon. Producers should always seek veterinary guidance when deciding on a method to include in their HHP. 

Branding

While branding isn’t a practice of all cattle producers, it’s an annual event for some ranchers across the country to permanently identify animals. Whether using a hot iron or freeze brand, branding should be accomplished quickly and by those who are familiar with the most humane practices and proper equipment. BQA guidelines state that branding identification should be made on the hip.

Preconditioning plan

To ensure further success, producers should implement a preconditioning plan to make the weaning process less stressful for calves.

Why is this even important? The calves get over it eventually, right? Not before incurring losses. The psychological and physical stress that calves go through during weaning can lead to less food consumption and walking frequently along the fence line to find their dams, equaling weight loss.

An effective preconditioning plan will reduce stress and losses and make the process easier for handlers as the years progress.

Other Things To Consider

As with all cattle, provide newborns with sufficient wind breaks to protect from vicious winter conditions as well as shade and fly control once the warmer temperatures arrive.

For more information: See Nebraska BQA: Starting Newborn Calves Off Right 

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