Calf Health: A little investment equals a big payback

Is your best employee responsible for calf management?  Do you place as much or more emphasis on day-one calf protocols when compared to your mastitis control programs?  Do you track and analyze your calf treatment data with the same tenacity as you do your DHIA reports? If your answers to those questions are a half-hearted “well maybe” or an outright honest “no”, you definitely will want to read on.  There are thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars lost on calf enterprises each year.  Death loss and excessive treatments are easy cost centers to see. However, the opportunity costs of a poor calf program can be staggering as well when you consider genetic loss, replacement costs and impaired future performance.

Calves with inadequate immunity on dairy operations…

·       Have 54% greater risk of being sick and needing treatment for scours and/or respiratory diseases

·       Make up 10.8% of pre-weaning deaths due to avoidable diseases (50-75% of these diseases are scours related)

·       Make up 2.4% of post-weaning deaths due to avoidable diseases

·       Require 30 days longer to get to first breeding

·       Produce on average 187 pounds less milk in first 180 days of lactation

Provide Immediate Immunity

Many producers believe in preventing disease through a quality colostrum program and products that provide specific antibodies within the first 12 hours of birth.  Antibody products on the market provide protection against K99+ E. coli, a combination of K99+ E. coliand coronavirus, or a combination of K99+ E. coliand clostridium. It’s important to use antibody products for calves that are colostrum derived as those antibodies will be better utilized by the calf, compared to antibodies derived from equine blood or eggs.  Also, choosing a product with USDA approval adds credibility that the product will provide consistent results.  When a calf’s immune system isn’t depleted by early scours, it’s better able to fight off secondary diseases such as Cryptosporidiumand respiratory issues.

Industry statistics show many opportunities to increase profitability through more effective calf health protocols.  The goal is to get to the point where you have excess quality replacements and can implement an aggressive culling program to maximize the efficiency of your herd.  A solid colostrum program supplemented with specific antibodies can help you get there.

Example of providing immediate immunity with specific antibodies

“First Defense® helped us shave pre-weaned calf mortality

down to 1-3%.  We’ve been able to grow from within for the past five years.  Because we have a lot of high-quality heifers coming in, we’ve been able to cull the older cows more heavily.  It has improved our overall fertility, herd health, and milk production.”    

– Arie Roeloffs • Southfield Dairy • 5,000 head dairy • Wendell, Idaho