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Calving in mud will affect mortality

Thousands of newborn calves face a more perilous spring and summer because calving season hit its stride as snowmelt pooled atop soil solidified by a frigid February.

Young calves stay close to their mother cow shortly after being born. Due to this year's snowmelt, mud and wind, the disease and mortality risk for calves is higher than the previous years between now and their September weaning. Forum News Service file photo
Young calves stay close to their mother cow shortly after being born. Due to this year's snowmelt, mud and wind the disease and mortality risk for calves is higher than the previous years between now and their September weaning. (Republic file photo)

Thousands of newborn calves face a more perilous spring and summer because calving season hit its stride as snowmelt pooled atop soil solidified by a frigid February.

That mud, cold and wind raise the disease and mortality risk for calves between now and their September weaning, said Taylor Grussing, SDSU Extension cow/calf field specialist in Mitchell.

March to April is the popular calving time for commercial cattlemen, she said Monday, so a lot of ranchers are dealing with the problem.

"This year is much muddier than the past couple of years," said Grussing, who has fielded calls from producers wondering whether they should build a barn before next spring. They're also weighing the costs of buying bedding and sacrificing a pasture, she said.

Cold, wet and wind can diminish a newborn calf's ability to suckle colostrum-mother's milk rich with antibodies and immunoglobulins only produced immediately after birth.

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"A calf needs that milk in the first 24 hours," Grussing said, because the mother's antibodies do not get transmitted before birth.

Weak, wet and cold calves may not stand in time to take sufficient colostrum, depriving them of immunity over the coming months. Mud on teets, meanwhile, can introduce bacteria to calves.

The soil in eastern South Dakota is much colder than it was at this point last year, said Laura Edwards, extension state climatologist. On Monday, local soil temps at 4 inches deep were 35 degrees, compared with 50 degrees at this time last year.

Frozen soil doesn't absorb water well, so snowmelt runs off or turns to mud.

"February was quite cold, and frost depths are the deepest we've seen since 2014," Edwards said. Precipitation around Mitchell, meanwhile, has been slightly above average for the last two months. The extended forecast calls for the cold to remain here in to the second week of April.

Grussing laid out these guidelines for producers:

• Beef calves should receive 2 to 3 quarts of colostrum within the first 24 hours of life.

• Nature's colostrum is best, but there are options if nature fails. If colostrum can be sourced from a well-vaccinated, disease-free herd, it can be frozen in quart size freezer bags for future use.

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• Producers should carefully thaw bags of frozen colostrum in water of about 110 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring every five minutes until it is 104 to 110 degrees. Typically, this will take about 40 minutes.

• Do not microwave colostrum, because it harms its ability to deliver immunity to a newborn calf.

• Commercial colostrum replacements can be purchased, delivering greater than 100 grams of beneficial Immunoglobulin G per dose. Colostrum supplements, meanwhile, provide 50 grams per dose.

• If maternal colostrum is absent, producers should use a replacement. Supplements can make up the difference when the full 2 to 3 quarts of maternal colostrum is unavailable.

• Other options include an oral calf paste/gel, which comes in 30 mm tubes. These products vary in capability, providing all or some energy, vitamins, minerals, E.coli prevention, probiotics and lactic acid, to name a few. Pastes are not colostrum replacements or supplements. Therefore, it is important to not substitute one for the other. "If a calf needs a small burst of energy on a cold day or appetite stimulation, these pastes may be a convenient option for producers. Yet, long-term benefits are not the goal of these products," Grussing said.

• Electrolyte solutions should be used to provide fluid to calves that have scours. Livestock producers should purchase electrolytes that also contain vitamins and minerals, especially sodium, potassium, chloride and bicarbonate. When a calf has scours, livestock producers should give the calf a 2-quart dose of electrolyte fluid every two to six hours as needed. "Electrolytes are not a complete nutrient replacer. Some energy and protein supplements may be necessary if the calf is not nursing consistently," Grussing said. "As long as the calf is not in severe dehydration, nursing does not prolong or worsen diarrhea." Keep in mind that the gut healing process still takes place after scours have stopped; therefore, continued treatment is important for full recovery.

If you have questions or for assistance in preparing a calving barn health kit, producers should visit with their veterinarian or an SDSU Extension team member. A list of staff can be found at iGrow.org under the Field Staff icon.

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Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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