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Protocols make difference in calf health

Protocols make difference in calf health

Managing calf health is a team effort. Depending on the size of the farm, that could mean a variety of people have responsibility for calf health, husbandry, biosecurity, cleaning, feeding and even euthanasia.

The key to the best possible outcomes in all aspects of raising and managing calves is consistency. And one of the best ways to achieve that is by developing a strong and detailed set of protocols, or standard operating procedures.

In a step-by-step way protocols detail routine on-farm procedures involved in everything from managing and treating certain diseases or conditions, and implementing biosecurity, to managing vaccination regimens or handling euthanasia. The goal is that any new farm employee could read them and understand how the tasks should be performed, resulting in a consistent approach regardless of who is completing the job.

Ultimately, following standard processes will result in healthier calves while also reducing the cost of production by ensuring a producer is compliant with drug-withdrawal periods, making it easier to train new employees, and maximizing treatment success by reducing the number of errors or missed treatments.

A treatment protocol for Bovine Respiratory Disease and pneumonia, for example, will describe early symptoms of the condition to help one detect which animals might be sick. A scoring chart of the severity of clinical signs helps determine whether or not an antimicrobial treatment is required, followed by a list of acceptable treatment options, the dose and frequency, and necessary withdrawal times.

The calf-vaccination protocol indicates at what age calves should be vaccinated against which diseases and with which vaccine. A biosecurity and cleaning protocol describes daily tasks to clean feeding equipment, automatic calf feeders, hutches and pens, as well as tips on how to best minimize possible disease transmission.

A veterinarian is the best partner in helping to develop and implement protocols appropriate for a specific farm. That’s because she or he has a broad range of knowledge about production practices, health and welfare, and can help put solutions in place that will work best for a specific herd and operation.

The website features a series of downloadable protocol templates that can be completed and customized with the help of a herd veterinarian.

Bovine Respiratory Disease

Calf vaccination

Cleaning and biosecurity

Dry cow vaccination


Navel infection treatment

Diarrhea treatment

A producer may already be following most or even all the best practices and procedures from memory, but it’s always best to have a written plan in place that considers all aspects of animal welfare and human safety. Proper documentation will also help benchmark performance and encourage continuous improvement.

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

Lilian Schaer is an agricultural writer. Her article was published on, the website of the Veal Farmers of Ontario.

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