May 5, 2015
By Kevin Hill, D.V.M.
Preventive measures at branding/turnout can help increase the health and productivity of your cows and calves. With this post, we continue our two-part series by Kevin Hill, D.V.M., technical services manager with Merck Animal Health, that explores this important management period. This post focuses on the calves. See the previous post on protecting cows during the breeding and gestation periods.
As cow/calf producers prepare to turnout calves this spring on summer pastures, it’s important to remember that those spring health decisions will significantly affect fall profits. For years cattlemen have focused on minimizing extra labor and expenses, but today’s high-value calves call for new strategies. Marketing programs that emphasize healthy calves reward producers for strong vaccination programs.
Working with their veterinarian, producers can develop a health program for the cow and the calf that best fits their environment, management style and marketing targets. PrimeVAC™, the certified preconditioning program from Merck Animal Health, is a good resource to show producers how the company’s products can be used to meet the specifications of marketing programs.
Respiratory disease prevention is the highest priority for calf health. Producers should ask for vaccines that address all the important viral and bacterial causes of pneumonia. These include Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR), Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD), Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (BRSV), Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida.
In calves younger than 5 months of age it can be very beneficial to use intranasal vaccines. These vaccines in general will avoid interference from maternal antibodies, and therefore, give the calf better disease protection. Once PMH® IN, the only intranasal pasteurella vaccine on the market, also is less stressful on calves than injectable vaccines.
Pinkeye vaccination and fly control should be considered in the overall health strategy. Internal parasites are not typically a problem for very young calves, but a strategic deworming program that includes an oral fenbendazole product offered later in the spring/summer can be beneficial and add more pounds to weaning weights.
Growth implants in calves are an underutilized technology. Studies consistently show that growth implants applied to calves at turnout will add 20 to 25 pounds to the fall weaning weight. That’s an extra $40 for a $1.25-per-head investment in today’s market. More than 90 percent of cattle will be implanted going into the feedlot, so cow/calf owners who don’t implant are missing out on significant income. Unless a producer knows that his calves will be sold into a “natural” program and is guaranteed $40 or more in premium, implants should be part of the spring calf turnout program.
Finally, maintain detailed records on vaccinations, parasite control and other treatments, and send a certificate verifying your program with your calves when they go to market, as buyers will pay more for healthy calves.