Calving season brings a list of worries for cattlemen, and David Smith, Ph.D., provides a few things to keep in mind to optimize herd health. Cattle producers can anticipate the most likely and most costly hazards to their cows and calves at calving time, and can use this knowledge to plan for their prevention. Minimizing the risk of these hazards requires long- and near-term planning. Calving problems may occur because of factors of the calf or the dam. Planning ahead for calving problems and close monitoring of the herd during calving can minimize the likelihood and/or cost of dystocia. Environmental conditions such as weather or physical hazards in the calving area are also important sources of injury to cows and calves. Planning to calve during favorable weather seasons and monitoring the environment for dangerous conditions minimizes the risk of these hazards.

A common cause of sickness or death of baby calves is diarrhea. Understanding the complex interactions that cause calf diarrhea is the basis for developing strategies for disease control and prevention. The common pathogens of calf diarrhea are common to most cattle herds, and it is unlikely that cattle could be made biosecure from these agents. Managers of extensive beef cattle systems have few opportunities to improve rates of colostrum uptake and absorption, and vaccines are not always protective. Colostral immunity wanes, making calves age-susceptible and age-infective. Each calf serves as growth media for pathogen production; amplifying the dose-load of pathogen it received and resulting in high calf-infectivity and widespread environmental contamination over time in a calving season. For these reasons it is logical to apply biocontainment strategies to prevent effective transmission of the pathogens causing diarrhea. Cattle management systems based on an understanding of infectious disease dynamics have successfully reduced sickness and death due to calf diarrhea.

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