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Change abnormal to normal

Change abnormal to normal

There’s always a risk of disease or other health problems when raising livestock. And risk of illness or even death can be a little worse when animals are sourced from various farms, not just a single origin.

Healthy calves are productive calves. There are a variety of things producers can watch for as indicators there might be a health problem in the herd.

  • The most obvious are actual symptoms of disease – for example labored breathing, coughing or nasal discharge can be signs of respiratory disease.
  • Changes in the color, quantity or consistency of manure can be a sign of diarrhea or other illness.
  • The onset of a wide range of diseases is often signaled by reduction in appetite, also known as calves going off-feed. Daily data records supplied by automatic calf feeders can be a great indicator of which animals might be sick.
  • Another important thing to watch for is a change in social behavior. Calves who suddenly stop playing or running around, and instead become lethargic, may well be developing illness.

In general it means a keen eye for observation is an important skill to have when working with calves. But sometimes producers become “barn blind.” A slight abnormality goes undetected and gradually becomes the new normal, leading to longer-lasting and more-complex health problems in the barn.

A good way to learn where problems might be happening is to evaluate each stage of calf growth for sickness and death rates to better pinpoint emerging issues. The longer problems remain under the radar, the costlier they become to treat and fix.

Along with that, do some research into what the industry norms or benchmarks are. Consulting online resources or even talking to other producers can help. But the best solution is to work with a veterinarian when it comes to troubleshooting increased mortality rates or other problems in the herd. A veterinary-client-patient relationship is one of the most important components of good animal care on-farm.

A producer’s veterinarian knows that herd. He or she is an excellent resource to help when things are out of control with the health of the livestock. Managing sick calves is difficult and takes a mental, physical and emotional toll on people. It can also sometimes be indicative of a larger overarching issue. So turning to a veterinarian for help can provide the support that’s needed to make necessary changes to improve calf welfare.

Once health problems are under control there are several key ongoing actions to take.

  • Look for preventative measures to implement so the issue won’t happen again.
  • Develop standard operating procedures.
  • Monitor colostrum management, growth performance and calf-health status.
  • Include calf-health management into regular herd-health visits.

Visit for more information.

The project was funded by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

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