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Calf Raising


Newborn livestock require colostrum, the first milk of a cow in order to be healthy.  This colostrum contains antibodies that fight infection. The calf only absorbs the antibodies within the first 12-18 hours of life. A newborn animal’s immune system is not capable of fighting infections for 4-6 weeks and colostrum is the main infection defense for a newborn calf.  This is why we do not normally recommend any vaccinations for most newborn animals until they are 6?8 weeks old. Before this time the calf is not capable of responding very well to the vaccine.  In a newborn animal the vaccine might tie up the colostrum antibodies leaving the calf defenseless.  After 24-48 hours of being born the antibodies are not absorbed and instead are digested for food by the calf’s intestinal system.  A vitamin A & D injection, a source of good bacteria orally, and a tamed iodine or chlorahexadine applied to the navel is also advised for a newborn calf.  An antibiotic injection may be indicated in some patients. It is very important to record the date of birth of all food animals.  We have a simple system for individual record if you do not have any such system.

It is important to ensure that the newborn calf gets at least 1?2 quarts of colostrum, either naturally or from a frozen source.  We also have dry powdered colostrum if you think that the calf has not received any colostrum and you have no source of colostrum.  Its own mother’s colostrum is best for the calf, which is why we recommend leaving any calf with its mother for 24?72 hours.  We also have injectable antiserums for giving under the skin; these are like and “injectable colostrum” and these products we recommend if in doubt or if the total protein/IgG suggests no colostrum has been absorbed.  If you have twins, and one of them is a female and the other a male, the female will be sterile (a freemartin); she needs to be identified to not be used for breeding.

We do not recommend purchasing newborn feedlot calves unless (1) you realize that raising them requires a lot of time and (2) you can expect a higher than average death loss. In feedlots it is not economical to separate the pregnant mothers from the other cows.  Sometimes they don’t even know that the cow was expecting.  For all such calves we recommend the injectable antiserums upon arrival.

After colostrum has been given, you may start with giving milk or milk replacer.  Milk is superior to a replacer, yet with orphaned calves we realize that a source of milk may not be practical.  If at all possible the conversion from milk to a replacer should be gradual.  When purchasing a replacer make sure that the protein is from a milk source.  Plant sources (e.g. soybean) are of a low quality and the calves do not develop as well.  A fiber content of .65% usually indicates a plant protein source while a milk protein replacer has .15% fiber content.

            Vaccination of the calf starts at 8-12 weeks of age, earlier if there is a disease outbreak.  IBR, BVD, PI3, Lepto 5, & 7-way clostridium make up the usual vaccination program.  We also advise purchasing the BRSV (syncytial virus) vaccine so that we may officially tag the cattle for the CCA preconditioning program.  Histophilus (Haemophilus), Campylobacter (Vibrio), E. Coli, pink eye, Staph., anthrax, Mannheimia (Pasteurella) and others may also be needed.  We can help you with your individual herd’s requirements. Vaccine boosters are recommended when the calf is 4?6 month of age, at which time deworming is also advised.  If you are purchasing young cattle from a sale barn it may be wise to give them an intranasal vaccine for IBR/PI3.  The $.50/head cost of the vaccine will pay for itself in controlling shipping fever.  All calves need to be vaccinated more than once for the 15+ vaccines we recommend as the minimum protocol.  If you have a purebred herd and/or raising calves for the feedlot we recommend ear notch testing for persistently infected BVD carrier animals.  The testing status for Bovine Virus Diarrhea-Persistently Infected calves (BVD-PI) can be done as early as 2 months of age if/when you are working a group of calves.  We also recommend that female cattle be vaccinated for brucellosis at 4 to 10 months of age, preferably 4?8 months. We will vaccinate the heifer and check for extra teats.  If you plan to export the heifers to Canada, we then advise a 4 month vaccination age for brucellosis. Some states do not accept female cattle that are not vaccinated for brucellosis. Without the vaccination you will limit your sales to buyers that feed out the cattle within the state. Brucellosis vaccinated heifers and Preconditioned tagged animals bring more at the sale barns. For the permanent herd we advise yearly vaccinations, excluding the brucellosis vaccine.  Killed vaccines should be given to pregnant animals, while modified live vaccines can be used if she is open.  Deworming and external parasite control is also needed 1-6x a year, depending upon the herd and environment.  If you have cattle with any Bos indicus blood, or droopy ears, contact us about systemic parasite control toxicities.  Indian type cattle cannot tolerate some organophosphate products.  Between June and November you can have reactions from the migrating grub parasite to products labeled for cattle grubs.  Calves can be castrated or banded anytime the testicles are able to be felt, which can be as early as a couple weeks of age.  For humane reasons we recommend dehorning calves by 2 months of age.  The typical castration age is 3-6 months; castration and/or dehorning over 4 months of age we recommend pain reliever injections and/or local anesthesia.  After 6-8 months of age the male calves can start breeding the female calves, which is another reason for weaning at around this age period.  If one keeps intact male bulls, and they visit the neighbors herd due to a lack of quality fencing, it is the yearling bull owner who may be paying for the “upcoming damages”, dystocia, etc.  Any bull over 1-2 years of age sold is required to undergo a tritrichomoniasis venereal disease test.  All livestock sold in Colorado are required to have a bill of sale and a brand inspection.  If you purchase a calf keep the bill of sale in your herd health record file; if this calf is later sold and/or you plan to slaughter you will need such documentation in Colorado.  All premises where livestock are kept are to be registered with the USDA;

            In order to keep accurate records we advise identifying the calves soon after birth.  Many record systems are available for recording the calf’s parents, its birth date, weights, treatments, etc.  Numbered ear tags, for visible identities are recommended for commercial operations.  Different colors can be used if there is a need to separate the calves later and if different owners are using the same pasture.  It is a good idea to tag, dehorn, and castrate calves at a young age, such as 1 month.  It is also a good idea to tag the left ear of female cattle, and the right ear of male cattle.  Since 2012 the use of brands and tattoos for official identification is no longer recognized for official identification such as a health certificate, some blood tests, etc.  When we work cattle we attempt to place one of the veterinary USDA tags in all animals or you can obtain the USDA RFID microchip ear tag yourself; we recommend the large flap tag so you can use it as a farm tag.  We recommend that you consider the official 840 RFID tag as your farm tag.  The cost can be $2-3 and it will also work as your farm tag.  The location of the RFID livestock tags are to be in the left ear.  A tattoo and official ear tag are placed in the heifer’s right ear, if she is vaccinated for brucellosis (Bangs) while bulls and steers are not vaccinated for brucellosis.  We advise giving magnets at around 10 months of age to all cattle to be used for breeding.  Implanting cattle will return more dollars in meat than the cost of implanting the animal.  Most cattle to be used for breeding should not be routinely given hormonal implants although there are some implants that can be safely used.  Feed additives and growth promotants also have an economic return of more than the cost of the product and labor.

The average calf should gain 2?2.5# per day until weaning.  A 7 month calf normally weighs approximately 550#; with bulls weighing a little more and heifers less.  When feeding calves their diet should be approximately a 13% crude protein diet.  By limiting your breeding period you can make more money by having to work the cattle less. You won’t have calves at various sizes and an extended calving period.  We can help you in this area of management decisions.  If your calves aren’t within the normal range for weight gain, a consultation for the problem is indicated.

Economics is a very important consideration in any business.  We ask you to consider factors such as ADG (average daily gaining weight of growing cattle), behavior, feed efficiency, records of birthing problems, etc. in considering animals to be part of the permanent herd. We can help you in this area if you desire.  Just because a bull produces baby calves that are born easier doesn’t mean that it is a wise decision to use that bull.  Try to feed/catch up your cattle every 1-4 weeks to get them used to being handled; it will make it easier for all when you need to treat them.

Feeding your heifers and steers depends upon what type of feeds that you have grown, or that are available to you.  Each area may have 3?5 different programs that are all economically advisable.  Some feeding management programs may recommend self-feeding adult cattle; but this may not always be the best method.  If you observe an individual animal not eating during feeding you will catch a lot of sick cattle early that normally would be found dead.  We have handouts on feeding out cattle, care of yearling calves, dairy heifers, etc.


Deworming Livestock


Strategic Deworming is a concept where you adapt the deworming schedule for each geographical area, each herd and sometimes each individual.  There are some animals which seem to be the “carriers and shedders” in the herd or flock and then there are a few others who seem to have a better immunity system for some of the species of parasites.  In livestock the individual fecal tests to look for those shedding animals is not as practical as that for a horse herd, unless there is a problem.  Individual fecal tests are indicated for diarrhea, weight loss, etc.  A group fecal of any animal species is recommended at least every 1-<2 years to look for what species of parasites are on the premises, the estimated amount in the patient(s) and/or if there is a resistance to some of the dewormers being utilized.  We recommend this fecal exam a couple weeks before you plan to deworm the herd, flock or individual; all we need is 4-5 tablespoons of feces, and for a group fecal this is 1/2-1 tablespoon from 4-8x different looking feces/different patients mixed all into one zip lock bag.  In a different year a fecal exam can be collected a couple weeks after the deworming.  It is okay to keep the stool sample at room temperature if you are dropping it by within a couple hours, or you can refrigerate it.  (Do not intentionally freeze the fecal sample.  If we are looking for lungworms on coughing animals this sample should be left at room temperature and dropped by within a couple hours; same protocol for a diarrhea patient).  Please notify us if the herd or flock has coughing animals before we perform the fecal flotation/spin-down test.  Do not let any fecal sample get “cooked” by leaving it in a hot car for a couple hours, etc.

It is thought that if you live north of us and/or in the mountains, the best time to deworm is during the summer, while if you live south of us the best time is in the winter.  Some feel that since the larvae of most parasites die after 85 degrees F, there is no need to deworm in the summer in areas which achieve this temperature.  To an extent this is true, but “neither all of the animals nor all of the species read the same book”.  Some parasites instead pass eggs, such as coccidia.  The deworming of cattle, goats or sheep with ivermectin 3-4x a year is an outdated theory from the 1980-90’s.  Parasite resistance to deworming products is now a concern, and it does occur in our area.  With some large groups of animals we may recommend that if the pre-deworming group fecal test has a high egg count, then we may consider a 1-2 week post deworming group fecal test.  If there are 10+ head of cows or 20+ head of goats, sheep, llamas, etc this test will be cost effective if we find resistance to one of the dewormers.

We recommend a group fecal test each fall on the newly weaned animals in the herd or flock; some of the parasites we can deworm in the water (such as coccidia which is a main problem in young poultry, lambs, goats, calves, camelids, etc).  A fecal test also picks up the whipworms, which are not removed with ivermectin; it takes 3+ days of another dewormer.  Fecal floats also may pick up the flukes, which need a special dewormer.  Tapeworms are usually found on the routine fecal floats for adults, and they also do not respond to the avermectin products.  Routinely for adult herds and flocks in our area, we recommend treating at least once a year with an avermectin product and once a year with a bendazoles product.  Lice and/or a problem with an earlier fecal exam may indicate altering this minimum schedule