Keep calves, heifers healthy during winter

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Calves and heifers experience more disease during the winter than at any other time. It’s important to take precautions to keep animals healthy and growing, says a dairy scientist in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

“Changeable weather, cold temperatures and dampness all conspire to make winters tough for calves,” said Jud Heinrichs, professor of dairy science extension. “In addition, barns are closed up and animals confined, with calves often in close contact with older animals.”

Facilities such as maternity pens, calf stalls and heifer pens get used heavily in winter, and clean-out may be neglected, Heinrichs adds. With marginal ventilation, dampness, toxic gases and disease organisms build up.

“All respiratory infections are reported more frequently during the winter,” he said. “This includes viral infections such as IBR, BVD, P13 and BRSV, as well as bacterial infections like pasteurella and hemophilus. Diarrheal diseases also are more frequent and more severe.”

Heinrichs offers tips for keeping animals healthy.

* Use maternity pens for calving cows only, not dry or sick cows.

“Don’t keep cows in these pens any longer than necessary to minimize excess manure build-up,” he said. “Keep the pens clean and well-bedded with long-stem bedding.”

* Provide adequate ventilation in maternity and young stock facilities to reduce moisture and buildup of toxic gas. Avoid drafts.

* Ensure early, high-quality colostrum intake.

“Feed three quarts of colostrum as soon as possible after birth, then feed a minimum of four quarts within the first eight hours of life,” Heinrichs said. “The only way to determine if the colostrum is high-quality is to measure it with a colostrometer.”

* Plan and implement a herd vaccination program with your veterinarian.

“This program should protect the calf both by passive immunity from colostrum and, later on, her own active immunity,” Heinrichs said.

* Check young stock twice daily for early signs of illness.

* Seek veterinary help for early diagnosis and prompt treatment of sick calves.

“Herd replacements are too valuable to get anything but first-rate care,” Heinrichs said.

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