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Keeping Calves Healthy Part 1: Biosecurity Practices

As we shop for supplies and prepare for the 2017 calving season one thing on the forefront of our minds is maintaining calf health and preventing disease. To best do this, it helps to understand that the occurrence of disease depends on three factors:

It is nearly impossible to eliminate the pathogens that cause disease in calves, but by managing at the other two corners through simple changes to our practices during calving season, we can help prevent calf-hood disease.

Colostrum intake is critical for calf immunity- and we will be following this article with one on colostrum management!

Biosecurity

Biosecurity is defined as the measures that are taken to stop the spread or introduction of harmful organisms, and these can be applied to minimize the exposure of calves to the bugs in their environment.

Segregation of Calves by Age

The risk for disease in calves is greatly increased any time we have calves of many different ages mixing together in the same environment. Younger calves are particularly susceptible to the bugs that the older calves carry, and as calving season progresses most calving environments suffer from animal crowding and a build-up of these pathogens!

The stress around calving also causes mature cows to have a suppressed immune system, meaning that although they do not show signs of disease or parasite infection, they are often shedding a higher amount of pathogens into the environment at this time, which is bad news for susceptible calves.

Although it can be logistically challenging, segregation of calves by age is a practice that can make a big difference to minimize disease risk during calving season. The SANDHILLS CALVING SYSTEM is a system where pregnant cows are moved to a clean calving area every 7 to 10 days, leaving pairs behind. By doing this, calves are born into a clean environment, naturally segregated by age, and managed in smaller groups, thus reducing their risk for disease.

Managing in smaller groups during the high-risk calving time can also be beneficial in the case of an outbreak, as it limits the disease sweeping through the entire calf crop. Even if moving pregnant cows every 7 days is not feasible in your operation, the principle behind the system still stands, and even a few movements throughout the calving season will still be beneficial to reduce the incidence of scours and other calf diseases in your herd this year!

As always, if you are interested in learning more please talk to one of our vets, or check out some of the links below:

http://beef.unl.edu/beefreports/symp-2007-17-xx.shtml

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/crook/sites/default/files/ag/documents/SandhillsCalvingSystem.pdf

http://producer.com/2013/04/sandhills-calving-system-helps-prevent-calf-scours/

Written by: Dr. Brittany Wiese

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