An important concept that veterinarians need to work with their clients on is knowing “when to say when” on treating calves.
Speaking at the Dr. Jack Walther 85th Annual Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas this week, Terry Engelken, DVM, Mississippi State University, said calves with BRD that have undergone a metaphylactic treatment and then two to three additional treatments will probably not be salvaged by yet another round of antibiotic therapy.
"These calves have extensive consolidation and fibrosis of the lung fields and most will have some degree of adhesions to the thoracic wall," Engelken explained. "These calves should be removed from the hospital area and placed into a small grass trap that has easy access to feed and water."
The grass traps are ideal for chronic, stressed calves as there is no competition at the feed bunk, they don't have to walk very far to eat or drink, pen density is low, there is low stress and a grass diet. "We are really trying to maximize comfort for these calves during convalescence," Engelken said.
"I had a client refer to this as 'God's pasture' since the good Lord took the ones he wanted first and we got the rest of them."
Engelken believes calves sent to grass traps will have a better chance at rebounding. "Basically we are letting them be a pasture ruminant again. I think the other thing that this practice does is that it keeps the owner from continually looking at the calves and wanting to do 'something else' as far as treatment goes. It really helps the potential recovery of the calves and the attitude of the people that have to care for them."
Some producers will place a self-feeder containing a high fiber ration in this paddock so that feed is always available. "What has worked very well for me in the past is to make sure they have good grass in the pen for these stocker calves along with a self-feeder," Engelken explained. "The ration in the self-feeder has to be 'bulky' enough to prevent overeating but still flow well into the bottom of the feeder. The ration should be something along the lines of a creep feed that you would allow suckling calves to eat free choice."
He says the other thing that will help is if the energy comes from soluble fiber (wheat midds, soybean hull pellets, etc.) rather than corn. "We also had clients that would put a bale of hay out there for free choice if the grass got a little short."
Nature is allowed to take its course until the calf can be salvaged or humanely euthanized. "It is very clear that we as veterinarians and producers are under increased scrutiny when it come to animal welfare," stated Engelken.
"It is also very clear that we can't shrink away from the responsibility of doing what is best for the calf. However, I think sometimes clients are unsure as to what their next step should be and are looking for some advice on when to say enough is enough. It is incumbent on our profession to work with stocker operators in this area. A lot of times all it entails is that we just let them know that a certain calf should be euthanized since it won't recover."
Moving these calves to grass traps prevents the hospital area from becoming a holding pen for chronic calves that shed high numbers of BRD pathogens and places them in an area that maximizes calf comfort. "In many cases, due to overcrowding, dirty waterers, manure buildup, etc., the hospital pen becomes the perfect incubator. Now add chronic calves that are immunologically worn out due to the progression of the disease and you get even more shedding and contamination in the hospital. You will see your treatment results slowly degrade over time in this situation."
Getting the chronics out of the hospital area helps prevent this buildup and Engelken believes sends a message to the crew that they have done all that they can. "It is time to give the calf a chance to recover in a comfortable environment. It also gives the crew a break in terms of looking at those calves everyday and it gives us a chance to empty the hospital and clean it up. Overcrowding in this area can be a huge issue."