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Animal Health

The best defense is prevention in calf health

Written by Gayle Smith
Denver, Colo. – A University of Nebraska veterinarian encouraged producers to look to the foundation of their herd to prevent health problems in the very cattle they produce.
    “If the cattle don’t get sick, you don’t have injection site wounds, drug residues and defects,” Dee Griffin explained. “That why it is in my capitalistic best interests to take care of my cattle Christmas Day, the day my daughter was born and the day my mother died. That is what God counted on us to do when he gave us cattle.”
    Griffin spoke about “Cattle Care – The Foundation and Impact on Beef Quality” during the Beef + Transparency = Trust Conference in Denver, Colo. recently. Griffin’s message was simple – take care of the cattle from the time they are born, and they will take care of you.
    Griffin has worked extensively with the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program to teach producers the proper ways to care for their livestock and how to administer injections.
    “The BQA program is several pages that outline what needs to be done to keep cattle healthy,” he said. “Cattle care is the very foundation of getting the most out of the cattle we work with. Every herd is different, and we have to build plans to address that.”
Prevention is key
    Defects cost money and begin when the animal is born, Griffin said. Prevention is the key – not treatment.
    “The real nuts and bolts of it is that having babies born to a healthy mother is the most important thing in keeping that baby healthy itself,” he continued. “When my calves are born to healthy mothers and nurtured during the first few hours of life, the chances of them getting sick in my feedlot decrease by a factor of 4.73.”
    Griffin said of 4,200 calves he weaned this year, only six of them died in the feedlot from disease.
    “All six were ones that were not properly mothered up during the first few hours of life,” he stated.
    A healthy calf comes from a mother that was born to a healthy mother herself, he said.
    “All the money you make on 10 healthy calves is lost on one unhealthy one. Cattle feeding is an equity business, and cattle health is vital,” he said.
    Griffin reminded the group that the key is prevention.
    “When I get to treatment, I have failed,” he said. “When I have to pick up a syringe, I have failed.”
    Giving cattle their vaccinations when they need them is vital to preserving cattle health, he continued.
    As a case in point, Griffin shared a story about his last trip to Africa. He went in to the doctor to get a vaccination required for traveling to the country. He asked the nurse how long the vaccination would last, and she replied six months. But, if he came in for the booster, it would offer him protection for the next 20 years.
    Comparatively, Griffin reminded producers how important it is to run the cattle back through the chute for that much needed booster.
    “It is important,” he said, “to give that calf longer resistance against any diseases out there it may be prone to.”
    When the calf reaches the feedlot, it has been weaned, it is in a larger group of cattle and with calves it hasn’t grown up with. The feedlot is a breeding ground for disease, and the calf can be highly susceptible if it hasn’t received all its vaccinations and boosters.
Finding the sick calf
    Pinpointing that sick calf can be really tough, Griffin continued. They don’t tend to want to stick out when humans check on them, so many times they will pretend to eat and perk up when a human is around.
    “My dad always told me that if I don’t let the cattle get to know me when they don’t need me, they won’t get to know me when they do,” he explained.
    He encourages producers to spend time in the pen with their cattle quietly observing them.
    His father also told him cattle have three ends – a front, a back and a middle, and to watch all three for signs of sickness. Subtle signs like placement of the head can indicate a sick calf from the front, the presence of diarrhea can indicate sickness from the back, and the belly moving up and down from a sore throat or not drinking water can indicate sickness from the middle, he shared.
Choose the right antibiotic
    Griffin reminded producers that there is only a small window of three to five days when a sick animal can be treated with antibiotics for those antibiotics be effective. Once that window has passed, the animal will no longer be able to absorb the antibiotics into its system.
    “Antibiotics, for them to work, have to be given at proper timing,” he said. “It is important to have a treatment protocol set up to treat sick cattle.”
    Griffin said the bugs that cause sickness learn how to fight.
    “A bug can be replicated at the rate of about one an hour,” he said. “In just 24 hours, one bacteria can multiply to 16 million.”
    Sharing that information, Griffin stated the importance of choosing the right antibiotics at the right dosage.
    “Don’t screw around,” he stated. “Give the most effective dose and the most effective drug right away, and be done with it. Choose the best antibiotic that is the most appropriate to treat the infection they have. At best, you probably only have two chances. If they aren’t showing improvement in 24 hours, try the second antibiotic on your treatment list. If that don’t help, it’s between them and God.”
    Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..