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Tips For Managing Newborn Calves

The foremost and most immediate health concern after a newborn calf is integrated into the herd is to check its dam’s udder to see that each quarter is being sucked on a continuing basis.

If the calf is small and hasn’t breached a teat initially, all is well, that quarter will be safely preserved by its colostrum. If however the quarter has been sucked and now suddenly remains filled, there is high potential for crippling mastitis. This can foreshadow a difficult, protracted recovery process with potentially dreadful consequences if left untended. Anyone who has seen a quarter or half an udder atrophy and simply fall away would be unlikely to want to see this ever again. It must be an extremely painful process for the animal.

Signs of beginning mastitis can be spotted by a cow kicking at her calf when it is trying to nurse or she may continually circle away denying the calf even the opportunity to try. Casual observation of udder movement while the cow is walking will offer an indication of this disease or its absence. The suspect quarter will become increasingly hard progressively losing its normally fluid motion.

The further the malady has progressed the less “give” there will be in the udder. If there is any question draw a cup of milk and if it looks “stringy,” you’re in trouble. Even early stages show strands of lumpy, curdled milk almost impossible to extract but it is imperative all the quarter’s contents be removed no matter how few drops may be extracted with each squeeze. It will take a lot of massaging but eventually some flow however diminished will begin, the first tiny step to resolution and recovery.

Mastitis antibiotic ointment in tube form must be inserted directly into the teat canal. Milk should be withdrawn regularly over whatever days may be needed until flow is once again open and unobstructed. In our experience long acting penicillin injected into muscle seemed to be highly beneficial in combating fever and general melancholy.

We had been professionally advised to separate cow and calf in these circumstances but have never done so. We found stress avoidance to be a hugely positive factor in health management and the concept of generating stress as part of an illness recovery program never appealed to us. Not separating mother and offspring invariably worked well as a standing principle in all cases of calf sickness.

A calf will likely begin by sucking two teats, move to three and then take the last one as appetite and capacity increase. If only three teats are consistently flaccid and the last is left untouched there is a possibility the teat opening may have sealed over winter. Remedy is to gently scrape the obstructing skin until milk can be freely squeezed from the quarter. It won’t likely “heal” over again in that nursing season though once frozen the likelihood of a repeat at next calving is relatively high.

Part of calf management is to be alert for any indication of fever or general unthriftiness. If the calf is getting sufficient milk chances are health loss will be caused by one of two things other than bacterial or viral infections — a shortage of vitamin B12 or an infestation of lice. B12 is inexpensive and readily injected; while lice can be controlled with systemic pour on insecticide.

Newborn calves seem fragile in appearance but are remarkably durable and resilient readily adapting to an astonishingly wide range of temperatures and management conditions. My patience is severely tried however when ranchers boast of owning “tough” cattle, meaning they haven’t yet starved to death while making no moves to avoid that eventuality bordering on certainty.

There are few pictures that delight the eye of ranchers more than the sight of a batch of healthy calves circling the herd in full gallop at sunset. Calves can be very adaptable to a variety of circumstances, but what each has in common is a requirement for sound herd health management practices by their owners starting on day one.

StanHarderisamostlyretiredAngusbreeder livingatSt.Brides,Alta.Youcanemailhimat [email protected]

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