Maintaining Farm Animal Health on the Homestead

MOTHER's Country Vet shares tips on farm animal health, including questions on calving, sheep parasites, horse health and ammonia levels in barns.

| December 1995/January 1996

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    Internal parasites pose a greater problem in sheep than in most other species.

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Andrea Looney, DVM, offers her farm animal health experience in caring for cows, calves, horses and sheep. 

Farm Animal Health Topics

As the winter season is upon us, I hope that peace and joy of the holidays fill this season for you and your family. I thought I'd start off this issue with a note about dairy cows and calving since of late I have been receiving quite a few questions on the subject. Folks commonly ask where calf respiratory and gastrointestinal problems like cough and diarrhea come from. Although there are a variety of ways that farmers manage their farms and even more tricks of the trade for producing the best calves, techniques seem to boil down to a few critical conditions that are basic to getting a healthy calf.

Most of us realize that babies are only as healthy as moms are. That's why the heifer or cow has to be as fit as possible prior to breeding or insemination and what's more, has to be kept healthy throughout her gestation. First—milking colostrum from the cow provides vitamins, minerals, energy, and proteins for the calf. The most important of these proteins are antibodies, which protect the calf until its own immune system is fully working (at about two months of age). The colostrum has to be healthy, which is why proper care of the quarters is so important (and hence, why mastitis can pose such a lethal threat to the farmer's breeding operation) and why the cow's own immune system has to be up to par, via proper immunization, discriminate use of antibiotics, and clean environment.

Whenever possible use clean, well drained pasture for calving, except in extremely harsh weather conditions (frigid temps, severe wind chill). However, when pasture isn't available, you can use individual pens or box stalls provided they are dry and adequately ventilated. Use dry straw or shavings, preferably the former, as bedding on top of disinfectant-cleaned concrete. Clean the pens between each calving to minimize the possibility of contamination to both cow and calf during the birthing process. Allow the cow to remain part of the herd as long as possible, undergoing the same routine day to day until the farmer judges her ready to freshen. This is a crucial judgment call on the part of the farmer and hopefully, will allow him or her to place the cow in the calving stall no sooner than two to three days at the most prior to calving. Numerous studies have shown that healthier calves are born when farmers keep the cow out of the calving pen until three days prior to calving and clean the pens after every or every other calving. Use of free stalls, tie stalls or stanchions permits greater bacterial contamination and thus results in greater calving problems for both the calf and dam.

Disinfecting the navel cord with a strong tincture of iodine (not teat dip) directly after calving will inhibit microbial migration into the calf's body and help dry/shrink the cord. Feeding on colostrum within the first 24 hours of birth is very important for the newborn. After 24 hours, the intestine is no longer permeable to macromolecules, so colostrum fed as soon as possible (first two hours) is much more beneficial for the calf. Also, feeding large amounts of colostrum will not help if the calf's gastrointestinal tract has already been contaminated prior to feeding it. Therefore, once again, try to limit bacterial entrance into the mouth and nose of the newborn thorough farm hygiene.

Lastly, during the birth process the newborn and the calving stall become contaminated with bacteria and other organisms from the mother's reproductive tract. Simply remove the calf from the calving area shortly after birth to reduce any lengthy exposure to these pathogens in the calving area.

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