Thursday, June 27, 2019

When to separate cow and newborn calf?

This is a continuing question for the dairy industry. On one hand, there appears to be increasing concern in the general public that early separation of cow and calf is an animal welfare issue. On the other hand, do we have documented evidence that early separation has benefits for either cow or calf or both?

Two recent reviews of published research appeared in the July issue of the Journal of Dairy Science. One review evaluated the impact of suckling for some time after birth on subsequent milk production and found on effect of length of contact time between dam and calf.  Regarding calf growth, holding amount of milk consumed constant, length of contact with the dam had no effect on growth rates. (Meagher)

The other review emphasized the need for consistent calf care to insure consumption of clean, high quality colostrum early in life in adequate volume. In my reading the presence or absence of the dam when this took place had no effect - some fed manually, some provided assistance for nursing to be sure calves suckled an adequate volume soon after birth - either way, adequate levels of passive immunity was achieved. Authors comment, "Various types of farmer intervention, including careful observation and supplementary feeding [of colostrum], may be beneficial regardless of whether the calf is separated from the cow." 

Pathogen transfer was another question addressed. It might be possible that extended cow/calf contact might favor transfer of certain parasites and viruses while having no effect on the transfer of others. More research is needed to pin down the specifics. In the meantime we are called on to use common sense precautions. 

Commenting on Johnes transmission, authors note that "in some herds, cow-calf separation has supplanted control strategies for which concrete evidence exists to tie the respective strategy to a reduction in MAP prevalence."(5793) WOW! I Agree! Don't let the practice of limited cow-calf contact blind you to other risky management practices that may have crept silently into your calf operation!

Further, the authors observe, "There is evidence for a synergism of infection risk in the calving area, based upon the level of environmental cleanliness, udder hygiene, and presence of other lactating animals. Given the evidence that we have, this review indicates that "prompt calf removal should not be viewed as a substitute for proper hygiene and management in the maternity area." [emphasis added by me]

In general, if the calf enterprise provides good colostrum management and a clean environment for calves the presence of the cow has no negative effects on calf health (scours, pneumonia). Thus, independent of these best management practices there seem to be few if any benefits for early cow/calf separation.

Where do I come down on cow/calf separation? 
  • Whatever maternity area management rules we have on our dairy, they need to be practical so they can be followed consistently by everyone.
  • No matter how the colostrum gets into the calf, she always needs at least the minimum of 200gm of IgG's ASAP to insure effective passive transfer of immunity - suckle, manual feeding, and always clean.
  • No manure meals - the first thing in the calf's mouth should be clean colostrum regardless of how we do this. No manure in the colostrum, no manure from the pen, no manure from licking any adult animal's hair coat, no manure from dirty teats, no manure period!
  • Cow-calf contact in the period immediately after birth can improve the adaptation of the calf to the new world outside of mom. Dam contact with the calf (especially in unassisted deliveries) can do a world of good in stimulating normal breathing and achieving a vigorous response to the new environment.

Meagher, R. K. and Others, " Invited Review: A systematic review of the effects of prolonged cow-calf contact on behavior, welfare, and productivity." Journal of Dairy Science 102: 5765-5783 July 2019
Beaver, A. and Others, "Invited Revies: A systematic review of the effects of early separation on dairy cow and calf health." Journal of Dairy Science 102: 5784-5810 July 2019

Thursday, June 20, 2019

How Much Does BRD Reduce Growth 
among Preweaned Calves?

A research team examined a population of calves that after an initial period of being raised in individual pens were moved to an automatic calf feeder barn. In this barn they used thoracic ultrasonongraphy (TUS) for diagnosis with a positive case defined as the presence of consolidated lung tissue greater than or equal to 1 square centimeter.

Average daily gain data were also collected for calves at 50 days of age. Positive BRD calves averaged 730gm/day compared to negative BRD calves at 840gm/day [1.6#/day vs. 1.85#/day]. In other words, health calves gain at a rate 12 percent higher than BRD positive calves. 

Note that even the calves growing at the lower rate still doubled their weight in  the first two months of life.

Reference: Cramer, M.C. and T.L. Olivett, " Growth of preweaned, group-housed dairy calves diagnosed with respiratory disease using clinical respiratory scoring and thoracic ultrasound - A cohort study." Journal of Dairy Science 102:4322-4331 July 2019 

Monday, June 17, 2019

Separation of Dam and Calf after Birth

In a recent review of published research on the health consequences of the time a newborn calf spends with the dam
[Annabelle Beaver, Rebecca K. Meagher, Marina A. G. von Keyserlingk, and Daniel M. Weary "Invited review: A systematic review of the effects of early separation on dairy cow and calf health" J. Dairy Sci. 102:5784–5810 July 2019] the authors show that there are very mixed results of cow/calf separation compared to continued contact.

In  some cases rates of scours, cryptosporidiosis, Johnes infection and respiratory illness were the same regardless of the management of cow/calf separation. In other research reports immediate separation seemed to improve calf health conditions while other reports showed better calf health when calves were allowed to remain with their dams.

The authors make this observation:

"The evidence we have reviewed indicates that prompt calf removal should not be viewed as a substitute for proper hygiene and management in the maternity area."

Thus, I conclude that my current recommendation for getting the calf out of the calving area as soon as she is able to stand is best for long-term calf health. Our goal is to prevent "manure meals" regardless of the source (bedding, dam, other adult cows).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Salmonella Dublin: Clinical Challenges and Control

Dr. Simon Peek, University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, made a presentation with title at a seminar in December, 2018. A summary was prepared by Progressive Dairyman editor Peggy Coffeen and published in the June 12, 2019 issue of that magazine (page 71).

Dr. Peek's major control points for controlling this pathogen among calves are:
  • Remove newborn calves promptly after birth.
  • Only feed pasteurized colostrum and waste milk.
  • Dedicate personnel to maintaining strick hygiene with calves. 
  • Recognize the weaning period is a high-risk time for disease transmission.
  • Discuss protocols and testing with calf and heifer raisers.
  • Discuss the pros and cons of using a specific S. Dublin vaccine with the herd veterinarian.
  • Do not power wash enclosed calf facilities.
  • Follow these protocols for disinfecting and cleaning - click below
Sanitation Link Univ. Wisc. Diag. Lab.

or paste this url in your browser

Friday, June 7, 2019

Improving Treatment Success for Sick Calves

The June 2019 issue of the calf management newsletter is now posted at, At the Resources drop-down menu click on Calf Management Newsletter.

The primary points:
·        Three tasks critical to treatment success for sick calves.
·         Preparing new employees for sick calf diagnosis and care.
·        Bring in the herd veterinarian on a regular schedule to train and retrain the calf care person(s) on diagnosis, treatment and monitoring skills.