Help clients devise plans for calving surges, including where to house extra calves when they start coming fast. A sudden influx of calves on the dairy without the labor or facilities to handle them can lead to calf health problems.
Planning ahead for these times is something the veterinarian can assist his/her client with. Sam Leadley, PhD, Attica Veterinary Associates, P.C., Attica, N.Y., says if a herd has DairyComp 305 the veterinarian can enter ECON on the command line and click on project herd inventory. This gives by month based on confirmed pregnancies the animals due to calve by lactation status (>1,=1), he explains. “Armed with these facts I ask the herdsman/owner how they are going to manage to provide quality care during the peak months.”
“Slack” and “surge” times
The variation Leadley sees on-farm between “slack” times and “surge” times is great. “Calving packs that are fine when calving rates are low turn into swamps loaded with bacteria slop when surges hit. When your knees soak right through to the skin immediately when you kneel in a calving pen or on a pack, you know the calf program is in big trouble.”
Leadley’s personal experience with this situation is during what he calls “the spring-work blues.” “For me about 10 months of the year were low pathogen-exposure times. Calving packs were well bedded and dry. As soon as corn planting and haylage harvest started, the crew that took care of the bedding got pulled off to help outside and the inside crew was overloaded. Calving conditions went to Hell in a handbasket.”
Leadley says calves did not get moved out promptly, colostrum got fed late and his scours treatment rate shot up to close to 100%. “I had blood serum protein values on all the calves. Most of the year, 5.0-5.2 seemed to predict good health pretty well. During the spring-work blues time the threshold seemed creep up to 5.5-5.7.” Much higher pathogen exposure overwhelmed “average” immunity.
It may be necessary to cross-train another employee on the dairy to help with proper newborn calf management including colostrum feeding. The result was scours cases that were more intense and longer in duration. “Of course, at the same time my passive transfer failure rate would go up due to slippage in colostrum management,” Leadley adds. “So I had the double whammy – lower immunity and higher pathogen exposure.” Leadley lost very few calves but spent a lot more time giving medication, feeding electrolytes and even giving subQ and IV fluids. “Then, corn planting and first cutting would get done. Presto, passive transfer failure rate dropped and the frequency of severe scours cases went down as well.”