Recognizing sick calves

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Employees can head off calf health problems by looking for early signals, according to Gary Geisler, calf and heifer specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition.  Geisler provided the audience at the recent Dairy Calf and Heifer Association annual conference with tips on sick-calf identification.  They included:

(1)   Watch for calves that are drinking slower or not finishing their milk/milk replacer.  

(2)   Watch for calves spending more time lying/resting or eating less calf starter.  

(3)   Rapid breathing (>50 breaths per minute), fever, watery eyes, diarrhea, signs of dehydration, nasal discharge or coughing are signs a health challenge has already developed. 

(4)   Look for calves doing something all the other calves in the pen aren't doing. Healthy calves should be bright and alert, active and energetic, eating, chewing and playing. 

When it comes to identifying sick calves early, Geisler said new robotic feeders are becoming a valuable information resource, because they can identify calves drinking slower than normal, or those that quit drinking before depleting their allocated feed supply.

Some basic strategies employees can take to support calf health include:

• Keeping milk temperature at or slightly above normal body temperature

• Providing warm water after each milk feeding

• Providing fluids and electrolytes

• Being watchful, able to identify problems early

• Keeping the environment dry, well ventilated and draft-free

• Providing an adequate plane of nutrition

Communication between all members of the calf-raising team – calf care co-workers, maternity pen staff, owners/managers of the dairy, veterinarians and supplier representatives – are vital.

“If something doesn't seem right, have a plan, with protocols,” he said. “There are lots of great resources available.”

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