Provide the Best Perinatal Care for Newborn and Pregnant Farm Animals

Learn how to properly prepare your pregnant farm animals for a spring birth with vaccines, enhanced colostrum production, crutching and more.

| February/March 1998

As an ambulatory veterinarian, each day brings new challenges and unexpected cases for me. With spring just around the bend, I think it is timely to discuss one of the classic rituals of the season — birth of the new crop of young livestock. One of my greatest joys is sitting back and watching a damp calf take its first wobbly steps towards the warm bulk of mom that has been its existence for the past 10 months. But, the productive life of the neonate begins before its birth. I hope to help explain how a little forethought and planning before the birth of this spring's young stock can ensure that the animals are born strong while also preventing the occurrence of some neonatal diseases. There are three major factors to consider before the arrival of the young: maternal care and nutrition during both gestation and lactation, neonatal care, and the environment into which the animal is born. By controlling these three, you can practice sound animal husbandry, reaping the rewards of stronger healthier young stock.

At birth the neonate is born immunologically naive — essentially unable to mount any sort of response to infection. Upon entering the world, young animals are faced with a massive immune challenge, due to environmental contaminants. It is important to ensure a well bolstered immune system in a newborn foal, lamb, or calf, that will aid in preventing the occurrence of production limiting and potentially fatal diseases.

Food animals do not benefit from inutero transfer of protective antibodies through the placenta, therefore any immunity is acquired after birth. The colostrum, or first milk, is a specialized milk that the mother produces containing a large amount of immunoglobulins — proteins that provide specific immunity against infection.

Colostrum Production

Many factors are associated with the quantity and quality of colostrum production in a pregnant female. However, there are two factors that can be influenced through careful management of the pregnant female: nutrition and vaccination status of the dam.

The first factor in colostrum production is nutrition for the pregnant female. An energy-deficient diet will decrease the mother's ability to produce optimum quantities of colostrum. It is imperative to feed a pregnant female according to her nutritional requirements. The diet of pregnant females has to be sufficient in order for mom to maintain a good nutritional plane, provide energy for the growing fetus (one or more), and allow for the beginning of milk and colostrum production. Actual rations (diets) vary from farm to farm so it is best to consult your veterinarian for advice on feeding your pregnant or lactating animal.

In farm animals, fetal growth remains at a relatively constant rate until the last third of gestation (pregnancy). During this time, the fetus will double in size, placing huge energy demands on the dam — this demand can be supplemented through proper nutrition. It is important, if possible, to identify which animals are carrying multiple young and to supplement their feed to accommodate the multiple fetuses. Veterinarians are able to diagnose twins by palpation in the early pregnant cow and horse, or with ultrasound in sheep and goats. Proper nutrition will prevent nutritional deficiencies in the dam and allow complete fetal development.

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