Salt to prevent DA’s
After cows calve, there is a lot of space left in the abdomen and the rumen is small because of all the space that the calf took. This, along with the fact that cows may be tired after calving and may not feel like eating for some time after calving, increases the chance for a displaced abomasums, explains Aurora Villarroel, DVM, MPVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVPM, Oregon State University.
To prevent this, it has been long suggested to drench cows with several gallons of water with a variety of supplements. “In most farms, when there is no underlying deficiency, it seems that the cows benefit mostly from the sheer amount of fluid that fills the abdomen, as opposed to the different supplements,” Villarroel says.
Instead of drenching every cow with a stomach tube or even a pump, it is much easier if the cows drink all that water on their own. To encourage this, Villarroel uses a trick she learned from her grandfather in Spain. “Sprinkle the newborn calf with salt and let the cow lick it dry,” she suggests. “She will get really thirsty after that! Make sure there is plenty of fresh and clean water in the calving pen for her.”
Calf cradle: an investment that works
The cow-calf clients of Overton Veterinary Services in Lexington, Neb. come in all shapes and sizes, with varying amounts of manpower available to work calves. “Our clients are very receptive to our recommendations which include a fairly aggressive vaccination program for calves at branding,” says Jared Walahoski, DVM, of the practice. “It takes a good crew to perform what can be a somewhat labor intensive process, and good facilities make the process much less stressful for both the calves and the crew.”
The practice invested in a hydraulic, portable chute called a Calf Cradle built specifically for working calves. Prior to the purchase, Walahoski says working baby calves was a relatively stressful ordeal for their staff of BQA-certified veterinarians.
“Our old manual calf cradle provided minimal restraint, resulting longer chute times for the calves,” he says. “It also required a great deal of manual strength to roll the calves, and had a number of areas where staff routinely were getting hands pinched or kicked while processing.” While the old cradle was portable, moving it was a chore and it moved around on the ground, requiring constant repositioning.
With the large number of baby calves the practice processes each year (nearly 6,000 head in 2012), they looked at several custom made units with similar concepts, and eventually decided on our current system. “Not only does it increase our productivity by 40-60%, we see far less stress to the individual animals and on our staff. It might not be a perfect fit for everyone, but it has been a good investment for us.”
The unit the practice chose is custom-designed and completely mobile. “With our portable generator, we can set up and work cattle nearly anywhere,” Walahoski notes. The chute features a hydraulic tailgate, headgate, and squeeze mechanism with controls on a waist-high stationary pedestal located on the left side of the chute. The tilt is chain driven off a hydraulic motor, and will rotate to the right or left depending upon the location of the brand. Connected directly behind the chute is a 10-ft. alley and half-circle tub that is designed to allow small groups of calves to be held behind the chute. All of this is raised and lowered by hydraulic cylinders to become portable.
The wheels fold up and down and do not need to be removed for processing, the tub folds in and the deck folds up. Walahoski says it takes 10- 15 minutes to set up or take down. “Because in many years we work a fair number of calves on days when it is too wet too farm, we added to the decking area around the chute so that our staff would be able to set up and work on a solid surface.”
Walahoski says the tub and alley have solid sides, so calves will generally stand in the alley without a lot of commotion. The cradle itself simply provides better restraint. “Calves generally are held with far less mobility than in our manual chute, and calves that are adequately restrained tolerate vaccinations and other processing procedures with far less kicking and moving, meaning vaccinations and implants are performed correctly and with minimal stress. Because everything is connected, there are no loose wires or chains, and very few places for calves to injure feet and legs. Less fighting means faster, more efficient processing, reduced time in the chute and less stress on calves.”
Aside from increasing productivity, Walahoski says, “It allows us follow BQA guidelines for injections with minimal risk to our employees, and allows us to make sure that our clients are getting the maximum benefit from the products we recommend.”
Teaching students the business side
Overton Veterinary Services in Lexington, Neb., has had dozens and dozens of veterinary students pass through its doors over the years. And while learning how to preg check a cow, perform a Csection or treat a calf is invaluable, Overton’s veterinarians also want students to learn about the business of veterinary medicine.
Bob Coffey, DVM, Loveland, Colo., has been a business management consultant and nutritionist for the Overton practice for over 10 years. He says when students come through, the practice not only focuses on veterinary medical skills, but also basic nutrition, understanding how and why a body condition score is a 4 or an 8 for example, what the economic impacts of different management will have and the importance of cattle practice to the clients’ operations.
“We teach them how we get into the customer’s business,” Coffey explains. “Things like reading a balance sheet, amortizing a customer’s business, the costs to write an invoice.”
Coffey gives the example of processing cattle for $12.10. “We break it down into costs of goods sold, labor cost, secretarial cost and depreciation cost, and gross margin (gross profit). We know what that is and how many minutes it should take in those 199,000 chute events that we have per year.”
Coffey says it’s important to teach students to manage money, business and people in an efficient way. “It’s good to sit down and talk about it. Students haven’t thought about it. They are inundated with knowledge and don’t have time for this kind of information.”
Aside from the business principles, Coffey says students also need to learn real skills in animal husbandry. “It’s different from animal production. The art of husbandry needs to be brought back into production.
“That has been a joy in this business,” he continues. “When you have that opportunity to study pathogenesis, epidemiology, economic and social impact, that fires you up.”
Feeding post-drought calves
The drought has had huge nutritional impacts on cow-calf production. In many places because grass wasn’t available, there were increased costs of production when producers had to feed some type of supplement.
“Calf performance and cow health deteriorated in later stages prior to weaning,” explains Jennifer Saueressig, PhD, beef nutritionist at Overton Veterinary Services in Lexington, Neb. “We had to wean calves early to stretch grass for cows and have had to feed a ration to these smaller calves.”
Saueressig says a lot of these rations would include silage which is a challenge for 350-400-lb. calves because they are not really a functioning ruminant quite yet. “You also have to look at the amount of distillers grains you can add because of phosphorous and sulfur.” Cost is also challenge. Distillers had been more expensive compared to corn so it has been backed out of some diets.
“Calves come off little-to-no grass and are nutrient deficient, so we have to get them up on feed a little slower” she says. “If they were not on a good mineral program and have been deficient in trace minerals, we may also be looking at decreased immunity and we’ve had some health issues earlier on.” Saueressig notes that other drought-related health issues from the dry and dusty conditions have included pneumonia and pinkeye.
Feeding post-drought cows
In many parts of the country there have been some open beef cows this fall if they weren’t managed correctly during this summer’s drought and beyond, but for those that are pregnant, they should do just fine with proper nutrition. Jennifer Saueressig, beef nutritionist at Overton Veterinary Services, Lexington, Neb., has been recommending that if cows are in good body condition score, have had calves weaned off early and have had time to recover, they are probably all right if they’ve been turned out on corn stalks.
In that case I’m not recommending supplementation quite yet,” she says. “I want to look at nutrition 60-90 days prior to calving and let their BCS tell us whether we need to supplement protein or energy. They probably do need some more nutrition, but we have to think about the carrying cost of cows and how much it will cost us to feed them when they are probably doing all right.”
For heifers, Saueressig says the majority have weaned calves early so secondcalf heifers will have time to recuperate. “We always seem to have a lower conception rates with those second calvers because they are still growing and we’ve kind of forgotten them,” she says. “If they are lacking in body condition it’s not too late to start supplementing them while they are on stalks.”
She adds that if they are supplemented with some wet distiller’s cake or some other supplement, to look at them 90 days prior to calving and 60 days for sure. “The later in gestation you get the less likely you are going to be able to improve body condition score because they have more requirements and they physically can’t eat enough dry matter to do that,” she says. “See what you need BCS-wise now and go from there.”