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Early Calf Health Leads to Later Calf Health

If a calf does well early – even before he’s born – he tends to do well later. 

Mark Hilton, beef cattle technical services veterinarian for Elanco, says that if a calf doesn’t get adequate colostrum in the first day of life, he’s three times as likely to get BRD (bovine respiratory disease) in the feedlot a year later. 

“Nearly every disease in cattle is the result of an accumulation of previous errors in management,” says Hilton. 

He’s a big supporter of the Sandhills Calving System, whereby in calving season cows that haven’t calved are separated to new, clean pens or paddocks on a weekly basis from those that have calved.

It helps break the cycle of disease spread from older to younger calves. “In an ideal world, you’d have eight calving pens or paddocks,” says Hilton. “In practicality, not every farm has eight paddocks. But most can get to four or five, and with the help of your veterinarian, you can make that work. It’s sure better than one calving pen.”

Hilton says he doesn’t know of a single farm or ranch that has adopted the Sandhills System that has stopped using it. “It works,” he says.

Calf weaning is the other critical time for health, he continues. “You should look at every single thing you do at weaning time to see if it is contributing to calf stress. He doesn’t need more stress then.” 

Hilton likes to wean calves in September or October, when the weather is often dry and moderate. “Wean them onto nice grass. And I like to give them fence line contact with their mamas for a few days as they are adjusting,” he says.

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