How to Care for Sick Calves
Calves are baby cows or bulls that need special care and nutrition to ensure they grow up to be productive members of a cattle herd. Many calves need to be hand-raised depending on the circumstances and the health conditions that exist on the farm already.
The prevention of disease and the spread of disease within a herd is the reason why so many cattle farmers and livestock farmers raising any type of barn yard animal put into place a biosecurity plan.
What is a Biosecurity Plan?
Even if you are not a commercial livestock farmer, having a biosecurity plan is important for the health of your herd and the health of other livestock living around your farm. Work with your local ag extension agency to develop a plan that is scaled to the size of your farm or livestock operation to protect animals from the spread of contagious disease among livestock.
Common Calf Health Issues
Many calves are able to grow up without much intervention from their human owners, however knowing how to care for a sick baby calf is vital to not only protecting the individual calf but is also important to protecting the entire herd. Here are two of the most common health issues that arise in calves: Scours and Respiratory Disease.
Scours is one of the most common health problems among calves less than one month old. Scours can be caused by an infection or by improper nutrition and causes severe dehydration and death. Early identification of scours is important to successful treatment of scours.
Nutritional scours can be caused by any one or combination of the following:
- Inconsistent feeding habits such as changes in feeding time of day or the amount of food that is being provided to the calf.
- Changing the type of milk replacer the calf is being fed.
- Poor-quality milk replacer which may not be as digestible for calves, causing nutritional deficiencies.
- Over-consumption by the calf of milk replacer or electrolytes.
Before turning to antibiotics to treat calf scours, look at the calf's possible nutritional deficiencies and other nutritional factors that could be causing the scours. Using antibiotics can kill harmful bacteria, but antibiotics also kills some beneficial bacteria in calves, so the use of antibiotics should be limited to those times when you have eliminated all other possible causes. Contact a veterinarian to get more information about how to treat your calves if scours develops.
Nutritional scours is easily prevented by maintaining a consistent and well-balanced feeding plan for your calves. Here are some tips for preventing nutritional scours in your calves:
- Maintain a consistent feeding schedule. Feed calves at the same times every day.
- Do not make sudden changes in the quality or quantity of food you feed calves. If increasing feeding quantity, do so by gradually increasing the quantity over several days. Similarly, if you want to change the type of milk replacer you are feeding your calves, start by mixing in a little bit of the new formula with the formula your calf is used to, then gradually increase the ratio of new-to-old milk replacer type over a few days until the calf's body has adapted to the new formula. If you aren't sure about how to do this, consult with your veterinarian to determine the best way to make the transition.