Sound Ag Advice

As calving season approaches, beef producers should be paying special attention to the nutrition requirements of their cows. Carl Dahlen, NDSU Department of Animal Sciences associate professor, joins us to explain the effects of inadequate nutrition on pregnant cows.

What is Sound Ag Advice?

“Sound Ag Advice” presented by the NDSU Extension Service features NDSU Extension specialists and staff talking about current crop and livestock issues. “Sound Ag Advice” is free and can be used in any way you see fit.

Speaker 1: Kelli Anderson, NDSU Ag Communication Specialist
Speaker 2: Carl Dahlen, NDSU Department of Animal Sciences Associate Professor

Kelli: This is Sound Ag Advice, a weekly feature provided by NDSU Extension. I'm Kelli Anderson, and I'm joined this week by Carl Dahlen NDSU associate professor of Animal Sciences. No time is more important to beef producers than calving season, so ensuring that a live calf is born into a healthy environment is critical to calving success. Carl, what should producers do prior to calves being born to provide that healthy environment?

Carl: The first thing that comes to mind when I get asked that question is preparation, preparation preparation...we've got to be ready for these calves. Sometimes that calving season just sneaks up on us. So, we need to look at the calving area, make sure we're prepared with that. Really critical to have that calving area be a nice dry place, if we have manure, and we have mud, any of those things, we have had some warm spells this winter, and that has softened up some of the ground. So, if we can have that area be clean, dry, that is imperative to stop some illness in the future.

You know, the other thing that we need to do is make sure that that area is out of the wind and protected. Our newborn calves are really susceptible to hypothermia, so we need to do everything we can to be ready for those first calves that hit the ground. If we have calves that are born during inclement weather, which inevitably happens, we need to have some type of heating area. Some people use a little hot box, some people use the bathtub in their house, whatever that area is. In the case where we have calves with hypothermia, we need to warm them on the outside, we also need to warm them on the inside through feeling of colostrum or things like that. You know, the other thing that we can consider in terms of a calving area, is there some type of rotational system we can have, inevitably, the youngest calves are the calves that get sick, as opposed to the old ones. And a lot of that has to do with young calves being born in dirty areas where pathogens have had a chance to build up.

So, there's a couple systems available where we can take the cows that haven't calved and actually move those away from cows with older calves and calve on fresh, clean ground. So those are ways to prep that calving area. Now scours vaccines, essentially, we give a vaccination, so the body of a cow will start to create antibodies. And those antibodies are placed in the milk, and that first milk called colostrum, that is really vital for those calves as they come out and hit the ground. So pre-calving vaccines, though should be given once yearly as a booster. And if the cattle haven't been given the shots before, they should have one shot followed by a booster again to prep that colostrum not too far in advance of calving season. Because if we go too early, those vaccines don't have a chance to activate and give colostrum immunity.

Kelli: Even calves born into the healthy, ideal environment can become sick. So, what are the first steps a producer should do to treat sick calves?

Carl: First things first, just really become an expert in identifying what is normal, healthy calf behavior. And look for anything outside of that...the sooner we can identify and treat those sick calves, the much better treatment response, we're going to have, much more likely for that calf to live a happy, healthy life. And typically, when we get into the case of scours or calf diarrhea, those calves really need fluids, they need electrolytes, we need to give them fluids right away. Now if there are other things if we think there's infections of some sort that are going on in our calves, we really need to work with the veterinarian and have an action plan put in place so we can treat those calves appropriately.

Kelli: Thanks, Carl. This has been Sound Ag Advice, a weekly feature provided by NDSU Extension.