The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 6, 2013

Spring time for calf health programs

By Rick Nelson, Extended Forecast
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Spring is the time cattle producers concern themselves with the health programs of a new calf crop or newly purchased stocker cattle to be put on spring and summer grass.

Health programs are an important part of any cattle operation. They impact animal productivity and well-being, producer profitability and consumer acceptance of beef products.

Quality health programs have several different facets including proper nutrition, general management, and of course, the use of vaccinations and antibiotics to prevent and treat diseases.

Calves still nursing their mother initially are protected by the cows’ colostrum, antibody enriched milk letdown by the cow immediately after calving. But ultimately, calves should receive initial vaccinations to protect them and their herd mates from diseases common to cattle. Other vaccinations should follow at varying times of the production cycle.

Newly purchased calves typically come with uncertain health histories so producers must be aware that unless otherwise known, it is best to assume all calves need high levels of nutrition and vaccinations as initial preparation for the challenges of disease and the stress of a new home.

Adequate feedstuffs that appropriately match the animals’ requirements for maintenance and growth are prerequisite, and sick animals whose dietary intake is usually less than that of a healthy animal must have special attention given their feed.

Regardless of their health status, all animals require minimum levels of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals. A concern for producers with recently purchased cattle is whether the calves recognize feed for what it is, so rations must be palatable to attract cattle to eat.

Vaccines and antibiotic treatments for sick cattle are administered through injections. Very infrequently, but unfortunately, injection lesions result causing blemishes in the carcass and sometimes visible knots on the live animal.

Twenty years ago beef quality audits assessed the incidence of these lesions at approximately 20 percent. Today that incidence is closer to two percent. That reduction is the direct result of producer education programs that brought attention to the prevalence of the problem and a solution for it.

Nelson says it was once common for necessary injections to be administered in muscles of the top or bottom rump areas of the animal. They were convenient and relatively safe sites for producers, and the animals.

What producers did not know until beef quality assurance programs began to audit such things, was that millions of dollars were annually lost to the beef industry due to negative effects on beef carcasses, lost product that had to be trimmed, and the labor costs to do it.

Injections now are recommended to be given in the neck area subcutaneously or intramuscular as directed by the product label and veterinary advice. Of course, proper hygiene, equipment and technique are required.

Sill, occasional knots will be visible in the neck following injection of some vaccines, knots that have always resulted, but were hidden deep in the muscles of the rump. Cattlemen realize today, though, that such knots are not defects in the cattle, but only evidence that the animal has been vaccinated. These knots do not affect carcass quality.

The health of animals also is affected by the general management of producers. That management includes how gently the animals are handled at processing or during feeding. Inappropriate handling increases the stress experienced by the cattle leading to reductions in feed intake, immune function and the ability of the animal to resist disease.

Producers who want more information on animal health programs should contact their Oklahoma State University Extension office or their local veterinarian.  

Nelson is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service ag educator for Garfield County.