Animal Health Notebook
big calf on fescue Alan Newport
Calving at the wrong time of year to get a big calf has been one of the greatest causes of low vigor in newborn calves.

Advice to create a no-calf-disease year

We have created most of our calf problems with unnatural production methods.

When it comes to calf problems and disease the idea and goal should be zero, and a few ounces of prevention is worth buckets of wonderful cures.

I have never really enjoyed long-term nursing care. With age I’ve also lost most of my doctoring fantasy. Someone with more love of sickness and more energy can do that stuff. I’m trying to learn the natural model.

Animal health is a reflection of their environment, and nutritional and immune status. Cattle are supposed to start doing real good when the forage gets significant strength in April and early May. Notice that the sunlight hours and intensity are dramatically better than in January and February or March. Sunlight is nature’s No. 1 cleansing agent and energizer. Nature provides some wind breaks and a little shade for ruminant animals but there aren’t any barns.

Nature calves cows in late June in most of North America. The easiest day to get a cow bred is around September 22. Count back three months and up 10 days and you end up calving at July 2. We can cheat a little but will pay dearly for getting very far away from the Natural Model.

Nature calves in sanitized tall grass and requires the baby to be up and nursing in less than 30 minutes. The wild buffalo calf was expected to be capable of substantial movement in less than one hour after birth.

I realize that much of the US has been transformed to a non-diverse cool-season forage culture. The cool-season grasses move everything back about six weeks but the forage energy is much lower, making it more difficult for both cow and calf. Forage energy is the major limiting factor.

Newborn calves lacking vigor have been blamed on genetics and nutrition and viruses, but the truth is weak calves are the result of moving too far away from normal. Many producers and lots of consultants are so far from reality that they don’t have a clue of what defines normal. Stop and think for a minute or two and remember that the fetus has its greatest pull from the cow during the last trimester and is most vulnerable to its new environment in the first hour following birth. Nature tweaks both to near perfection. Nature places the right animal at the time for successful reproduction, birth and startup.

It should be noted cows that are on a natural high phase of nutrition for six to eight weeks before calving are most likely to deliver a robust calf quickly and have plenty of quality, concentrated colostrum readily and easily available. I am hard put to describe the wonder and beauty of a cow or heifer that quickly delivers a calf in clean tall grass in warm weather and the calf is up in 15-30 minutes nursing four teats. Two quarts of high quality, high-fat colostrum is liquid gold.

I’ll have more on the ideas of a no-calf-disease shortly. Hope you’ll think about what I am saying.

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