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The Kuhn Family Farm & Old Country Store

Having a dependable supply of high quality replacement cattle is a crucial part of your herd management!

FEBRUARY 19th, 2009

New research on feeding colostrum to calves documents that feeding colostrum to calves pays dividends by keeping calves healthy throughout adulthood. "Several studies document the effect of sickness in the feedlot. By adding up additional veterinary bills, reduced performance, lighter finish weights, and poor quality, feedlot sickness results in an average 'cost' of $88/head," says Steve Paisley, University of Wisconsin extension beef cattle specialist.

He says that new research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat Animal Center near Clay Center, Neb., shows that calves receiving little or no colostrum were six times more likely to get sick in the first month of life (i.e., scours). They were also five times more likely to die before weaning and three times more likely to get sick in the feedlot. "Recent studies stress the lifelong impacts of inadequate colostrum," he says.

Paisley says that several things can maximize the changes of a calf getting adequate colostrum intake. The first is making sure the cow is in good condition prior to calving and feeding a ration that supplies adequate energy and protein at calving. "Good nutrition also improves calf vigor, which means the calf will stand sooner (the timing of colostrum is important) and be more aggressive in chasing down the mother to nurse."

If getting colostrum into the calf the "natural" way fails, there are several options, Paisley says. Avoid feeding milk or electrolytes first. They will reduce the absorption of antibodies if colostrum is fed later. Frozen colostrum from another cow in the same herd is the best possible replacement for the calf. Thawing at room temperature or in a warm water bath is important.

He says that researchers continue to see relationships between early nutrition and management and subsequent production. Research at the University of Wyoming's Department of Animal Science is focusing on the importance of the dam to fetal development and whether or not this affects future health and performance of the offspring. "Does colostrum intake affect cow longevity? Current studies are getting closer to answering these questions."

Paisley continues that "we have measured immunoglobulin type G levels in calves at UW finding that, even though we closely manage cows during calving, we still have approximately 40% of our calves with low (below 8.0 mg/ml) IgG levels." IgG levels is one of the immune antibodies that calves received passively (via colostrum) from their mother.

Paisley also says to consider wind direction during feeding, placing bunk lines and shelters, adjusting feed during cold and windy spells to match requirements, and providing and moving bedding areas. "All are considerations that will positively affect the herd."


Good management starts on DAY 1!
The key words to managing this crucial time both begin with the letter "C".
The extra effort you take in having the calf born into a clean environment and recieve adequate colostrum (first milk), will pay BIG dividends with future growth and health.
Colostrum provides antibodies that are absorbed through the wall of the calf's stomach and into the bloodstream within the first hour following birth.   After 12 hours of life, very few antibodies can be absorbed.  So it is imperative that a new calf recieves colostrum A.S.A.P.!!!
How to freeze and Thaw Colostrum
Freeze colostrum in quart containers that can be thawed by placing them in hot water.
Frozen colostrum keeps for several years; it doesn't lose quality if kept well frozen and thawed properly.  NEVER overheat it or antibodies will be destroyed.
If you need to warm-up stored/frozen colostrum NEVER microwave it!  ALWAYS re-warm the colostrum in hot water, NOT BOILING!
Immerse it in a pan of water no hotter than 110 degrees.
NEVER heat colostrum itself to more than104 degrees.
If it feels pleasantly warm (just above your own body temperature), and not hot, it is about right.  Have it warm when giving it to the calf.  If it's colder than his own body temperature, he won't like it.
Help the calf to nurse if need be.
The less antibody absorption, the lower the immunity of the calf for the next several weeks.  You can encourage a stubborn calf to nurse by squirting milk from the mothers teat into his mouth to give him a taste.
If that doesn't work, try rubbing the calf's buttocks (like the mother does when licking him off, she pushes him toward the utter as she licks his hind end).
This will stimulate him to nurse and WATCH OUT! It may stimulate him to pass his first bowel movement.
You can't say I didn't warn you!
When a calf is born, it has no immunity.  There is no resistance to whatever germs enter it's body.   If during the birthing proccess, the calf's mouth is forced into damp manure (or whatever is under the birthing mother), that material will be forced into the calf's throat, respiratory tract, and digestive system.
The first few weeks of the calf's life require relatively intense management to minimize disease and get some growth established.   Another good idea is to provide isolation from other animals in a clean, dry, well ventilated environment.

Calf Health
Be Aware Of Nitrates In First Hay Feeding

Ranchers who have harvested and stored potentially high nitrate forages such as forage sorghums, millets, sudangrass hybrids, and/or johnsongrass, need to be aware of the increased possibility of nitrate toxicity. That's the advice of Glenn Selk, extension cattle specialist at Oklahoma State University. This is especially important when the cows are fed this hay for the first time after a severe winter storm.

"Cattle can adapt, to a limited amount, to nitrate intake over time," says Selk. However, cattlemen will often feed the higher quality forage sorghum type hays during a stressful cold wet winter storm.

"Cows may be especially hungry, because they have not gone out in the pasture grazing during the storm," explains Selk. "They may be stressed and slightly weakened by the cold, wet conditions. This combination of events makes them even more vulnerable to nitrate toxicity."

Ranchers are correct in trying to make available a higher quality forage during severe winter weather in an effort to lessen the loss of body weight and body condition caused by wind chill. But if the forage provided to the cows is potentially toxic, his or her intentions can backfire.

The best approach would be to know the concentration of nitrate in the hay prior to feeding. If the producer is confident that the hay is very low in nitrate content, then use of the hay should be safe. If the nitrate content is unknown, precautions should be taken.

"Feeding small amounts of the hay along with other grass hays during the fall and early winter days can help to 'adapt' the cattle to the potential of nitrate," says Selk. "This is not a fool-proof concept. If the hay is quite high in nitrate, it can still be quite dangerous."

Diluting the high nitrate feed with other feeds can reduce the likelihood of problems. If the rancher has no choice but to feed unknown sorghum-type hays during a snow storm, he or she should plan to watch the cattle carefully for 8-12 hours after feeding for signs of asphyxiation and be ready to call a veterinarian for the antidote.

Deficiencies of these two trace minerals can hurt reproduction and immune function in cows and bulls.  A MONTANA State University survey showed that both were dificient in forages sampled, especially in grasses.
   Molybdenum, which interferes with copper utilization, was high in some of the samples.  And high sulfates in water also cut copper use by cattle.
   A third of cattle sampled in 8 Great Plains states were severely deficient in copper.  In 5 states (Montana, North & South Dakota, Nebraska & Colorado), 41% of cattle were severely deficient.  MONTANA State scientists say it's important to suppliment with these trace minerals for best reproduction & immune function.

Have you tried "Fenceline Weaning"?
   A University of California study shows that providing fenceline contact between cows and their calves at weaning cuts stress and boosts weight gain!
   Calves seperated from their moms only by a fence for the first 7 day's spent more time eating, less time pacing and more time lying down than totally seperated calves.  The fenceline calves also bawled less.
   Consequently, calves seperated from their moms only by a fence gained an average of 47 pounds in their first two weeks after weaning, compared with 24 pounds for those seperated by more distance.   Even after 10 weeks, the totally seperated calves didn't make up the early losses in weight gain.

Slow 'em down little Joe!
New research shows that you'll lose money with calves that speed out of the chute.
A recent study of cattle temperment showed that in the 28 days after weaning, bad-tempered calves lost 11 pounds per head while good-natured animals averaged gains of 30 pounds per head.  That's a difference in value of $40.00 per head!
If you have "wild cows" you may have good weaning weights but you will lose money backgrounding their calves.
Reaserchers base their temperment ratings on exit speeds out of the handling chutes.   They use photoelectronic eyes to record travel speed in a 6-foot distance as cattle leave the chutes.
Differences in exit speeds were dramatic.   Calves that gained weight had an average exit speed of 5 feet per second.  Animals that lost weight averaged exit speeds of 9 feet per second.
Everyone should have a standard for temperment in their herd.  Everyone needs to breed away from high-strung animals.  Good observers can identify high-strung cattle without sophisticated equipment.

Breeding & Selection
Early-Weaned Heifers Showed Improved Reproduction
University of Illinois researchers used 64 Simmental x Angus heifer calves to evaluate the effects of weaning age and creep-feed protein levels on performance, reproduction and milk production of replacement heifers.

Weaning ages were either 89 or 232 days of age. Creep diets were either 12% or 17% crude protein (CP). All calves were provided free access to the 12% CP diet until their dietary treatments started, which was 57 days after early weaning (146 days). Calves remained on their respective diets until one month after normal weaning (262 days).

Early-weaned (EW) heifers fed the 17% diet gained faster (2.78 vs. 2.60 lbs./day) and weighed more at normal weaning (NW) age than those receiving the 12% diet. Feeding the 17% diet to NW heifers decreased their performance from 3.02 to 2.69 lbs./day.

The EW heifers were lighter than NW heifers from puberty through breeding. Nevertheless, more EW heifers than NW heifers were pubertal at 8 months of age (81.3% vs. 59.4%), but there was no difference at either 10 or 12 months of age, and pregnancy rates were higher for EW than NW heifers (90.0% vs. 74.2%).

There were no significant differences between the 12% and 17% diets in body weight at puberty, percent of heifers pubertal by 8, 10 or 12 months of age, or reproductive rate. Neither weaning age nor creep protein level influenced heifer milk production or performance of their calves.

These results indicate early weaning improved heifer reproduction without affecting milk production. Also, it appears that providing additional protein in the diet of EW heifers can improve post-weaning weight gain.

In a companion paper, the Illinois workers reported results of another study in which 136 NW heifers were fed creep diets of either 12 or 17% CP. The results differed from the previous study in that milk production was depressed in heifers fed the 17% diet (10.8 vs. 12.3 lbs./day). It would appear that nothing is to be gained, and milk production could be reduced, by feeding a 17% CP creep diet to NW heifer calves destined to become herd replacements (Sexten et al. Midwestern ASAS, Abstracts 283 and 284).
-- Michigan State University Beef Cattle Research Update, Summer issue

Weaning time is harvest time in cow-calf country. This can be a stressful time for the cow, the calf and the rancher. Probably the most critical weaning decisions a rancher needs to make are gauging when and where to wean.

USDA's National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) reports that the average weaning age of beef calves in the U.S. is a little over seven months of age. Over three-quarters of these producers reported weaning calves between 5 - 8 months of age.

The interesting part of the NAHMS survey is that producers reported a lack of flexibility in selection of weaning time. Relatively few ranchers indicated that cow condition, forage availability or market price drove the decision of when to wean calves.

The objective of a weaning program is to get the calves separated from their mothers and on their own as efficiently as possible. This should be when lactation declines and calf gain begins to decrease.

Diets for weaned calves can be purchased or ranch-developed. The advantage to purchased feeds is they're more likely to be balanced for energy, protein, fiber and minerals. In addition, many of them can contain medications or ionophores recommended by a veterinarian or nutritionist.

Some important considerations in weaning management include:

         Dust - Dust causes severe irritation to the respiratory tract. Sprinkle pens to keep dust down.

         Heat - Cattle tend to hold their body heat through the day, so if it's hot, try to work them in the morning as opposed to the afternoon or evening.

         Bawling - This is another irritant to the upper respiratory tract. To minimize bawling - unless “fenceline weaning” - separate the calves from the cows so they can't hear each other.

         Dehydration - Some calves are not acquainted with water troughs and are so busy bawling they don't take time to find the water and drink. Use of a water source similar to one they may have been around may help.

         Feed change - A change in diet requires the growth of different organisms in the rumen to digest the feed. This change can take up to two weeks.

Why is stress the most important challenge to overcome when weaning calves? The University of Minnesota's Bethany (Lovaas) Funnell, DVM, explains that stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol - a catabolic steroid that has negative effects on the immune system.

This not only makes a calf more susceptible to respiratory disease, but decreases the calf's ability to respond to a vaccine. Because of this, it's important to get the first dose of vaccine into the calves while they're still nursing, when stress levels are low.

There are two major groups of vaccines that should be considered to assist weaning - those for clostridial diseases and those for respiratory diseases. If you're unsure which vaccines to use, contact your herd-health veterinarian.

Weaning strategies

There are about as many weaning strategies as there are ranchers. Over the past 10-15 years, the beef industry has become more aware of the value of pre- and post-weaning calf health management and marketing management. It's worthwhile to explore the various “cookbook” weaning programs and regimes available.

         One concept that's been getting a lot of attention is fenceline weaning, which allows cows and calves to have several days of fenceline contact, but calves are unable to nurse through the fence. This requires adequate facilities to allow for feeding and watering the calves, and the fence must be tight enough to prevent the calf from getting back in with the cow.

         Early weaning is a management practice sometimes used during drought conditions, or when forage quantity is less than desirable. Early weaning is often used to improve cow condition for rebreeding, particularly when forage is limiting. Research shows mixed results on the economics of early weaning.

         Extended weaning may make sense in times when feed costs are high and when grazing forages aren't a limiting factor. A Florida study shows that fall-calving cows can nurse calves for up to two months beyond a standard weaning age of 7-8 months and significantly increase calf weaning weight without affecting cow reproduction.

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