During the first two weeks of a calf’s life, producers will experience an increased incidence of scours or other disease-generating organisms in their calves. Many times, calf survival goes back to the first day of birth and is dependent on getting colostrum or the cows’ first milk consumed quickly and efficiently during the first 12 hours of life. Failure to nurse quickly will increase the incidence of calf disease susceptibility in early life. The result is more work and more dead calves.

If calving book records start indicating dehydration and scours, you need to be looking at immediate management changes. Calves in close contact with each other (cross-exposure) certainly enhance the spreading of health issues. Space, dry bedding and sunshine become essential for a return to normal calving operations. Remember, those calves are not as tolerant to adverse weather conditions. Once wet and cold, calves can go downhill fast without quick management changes.

All producers should have a strong relationship with their veterinarian and Extension educator. Be prepared to have veterinary evaluation done on sick or dead calves to get a definitive diagnosis of the problem. Keep in mind that many times a specific diagnosis is elusive because many symptoms may come from multiple sources, so using a good herd health protocol is essential.

If warning flags are flying high, look closely to see if there is a fundamental flaw in management. Is the problem too many cows? Not enough space? Not enough help? Not enough bedding? Adequate feed? These are all symptoms that can be corrected by better management. If the warning flag is flying, some self-assessment is critical.

Now is the time to evaluate your system and determine if you have specific problems and identify solutions for the current calving season and future years.