As fall approaches, monitor the thermometer (The Vet’s Voice)
(Editor’s note: Matthew Weeman is the owner of Bayside Bovine Veterinary Services.)
As the seasons change and sweat on your brow gives way to crisp air or perhaps a soft cap, it’s critical to remember the basic needs of our animals remain the same. As the seasons change and cooler temperatures arrive calves can become stressed. Warmer day temperatures followed by cooler evening declines can make it difficult to keep temperatures in the hutches and barns regulated.
Keeping calves healthy, growing and free of scours and pneumonia can always be a tall order to fill but there are some basic steps to take to ensure your operation and the calves stay on track. First and foremost, just because it’s not as hot doesn’t mean water is less important. Water is still the most important nutrient and neglecting to provide a fresh, clean plentiful source is an inexcusable mistake. While many people recognize the importance of uninterrupted water during the heat of summer there are some other reasons that should be highlighted to ensure we keep the water flowing.
It’s really important that calves on milk replacer have access to free water at all times because mistakes happen. When milk replacer mixing errors occur healthy calves will drink more water to off-set the imbalance. If there is no water available in addition to developing bloat, scours and other ailments calves can become depressed, obtunded and even develop seizures. One of the most important reasons calves need access to fresh, clean water at all times is that dehydration is a leading killer of calves. When calves develop scours it’s generally not the pathogen that kills them it is the dehydration that follows and it is critical that calves are well-hydrated to recover from scours quickly. While not all calves will have the ability to rehydrate when they become ill, it’s a guarantee that they won’t if the water is frozen or otherwise unavailable. For calves that fall behind; regardless of the reason, supplementing their intakes with extra feedings of electrolytes will do more to save them than just about anything else.
In addition to providing adequate water, maintaining overall intake is important. Rapidly fluctuating temperatures can pack a one-two punch so we should do all we can to help calves stay regulated. We may overlook 20-degree temperature swings this time of year in the cows but it’s a mistake to assume calves can handle it.
The ability to regulate body temperature is developed over time. Young calves, especially those younger than four months, are not good at it. Switching from shavings, sand and other bedding substrate to straw this time of year can help. Slatted floor housing structures require additional inputs to keep them comfortable; curtains can be used to reduce direct sunlight and also to maintain barn temperatures at night. Producers should work with their veterinarian to ensure calves are appropriately vaccinated. The solutions required for each operation will be unique but it’s critical that someone is considering calf comfort this time of year.
Ultimately, every season brings unique challenges to young-stock management but it’s important regardless of the season to stay true to the basics. Keep the water flowing, keep the feed coming, mix the replacer correctly and feed on time to help keep the calves healthy. Maintain the facilities to keep them comfortable and hopefully, with few exceptions we can avoid costly, time consuming treatments required to control pneumonia and scours.
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