Thursday, May 2, 2013

Fewer DOA Calves
 
I had the opportunity to sit in on one of Dr. Sheila McGuirk's seminars while attending the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association meetings in Lancanster, PA last month. She divided her talk into these parts:
  • Reducing mortality in the first 24-hours of life
  • Navel care of calves
  • Put colostrum testing into action
  • Train calf care providers to use the esophageal feeder
  • Nutrition
  • Health screening
  • Be safe, smart and strategic with calf vaccinations
  •  
On the very first topic she started by saying that , "... most calves that die within the first 24 hours are alive at birth and simple strategies  that do not rely on drugs or oxygen delivery may prevent death. Of foremost importance to improved survival in the first 24 hours is unassisted vaginal delivery of calves."
 
One of the critical elements of successful normal vaginal deliveries is timing. Give the dam adequate time to dilate and prepare to deliver the calf. With many farms moving to the "just in time" use of calving pens she suggests giving time for dams moved into calving pens (usually with feet showing) of 10 to 20 minutes for 2 and greater lactation dams and 30 to 40 minutes for 1st lactation dams.   
 
Dr. McGuirk pointed out that on larger farms many DOA deliveries can be traced back to shift changes. The departing shift in their desire not to leave a dam in mid-delivery will assist in a delivery that could have been a normal unassisted birth.  Or, the departing and arriving staff do not effectively communicate facts about a dam that is in labor. 
 
She reminded us that protocol drift is a reality of life. Training and re-training on obstetric techniques should be scheduled with the herd veterinarian on some regular interval (6 months, yearly). She emphasized that the training be for all shifts including workers that fill in on weekends, holidays and vacations. 
 
"Remember to do the training in the first language of the workers," she said. Pictures, diagrams and flow charts will make the training more effective.                                                                                                                                                                         

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