Sick calves lose money

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Manage scouring calves with electrolytes

When calves get scours, they may get dehydrated and experience electrolyte loss. As a result, the calf’s risk of death increases, which would be a major loss in this market environment. Because of this, oral electrolyte solutions designed to counter these effects are an important way to keep calves going.

A good electrolyte solution will replace lost fluids and restore the calf’s acid/base balance. It will also supply nutrients and energy to the animal. When considering if a particular electrolyte solution is right for your calves, there are a number of things to keep in mind.

First, oral electrolyte solutions must have an alkalinizing agent to reverses the acidosis caused by the acid/base imbalance that comes from scours. For years, bicarbonate has been effectively used to achieve this goal.

New research has shown however, that using acetate or propionate as the alkalinizing agents in electrolyte solution may provide improvements over bicarbonate. Acetate and propionate produce energy when they are digested, they also promote water and sodium absorption in the calf’s intestine—bicarbonate does not do these things.

Additionally, oral electrolyte solutions containing bicarbonate can potentially raise the pH level in the calf’s abomasum. This higher pH level can promote the growth of salmonella and other bacteria and may sometimes result in worse scouring. Using acetate- or propionate-based electrolyte solutions helps prevent increases of abomasal pH. That seems to be its edge to bicarbonate as an alkalinizing agent in electrolyte solutions.

In order to replace lost electrolytes, oral solutions should contain sodium and potassium. Moreover, look for a product that provides glucose and glycine. In addition to providing energy, these ingredients will help promote absorption of water and sodium from the intestine.

Some oral electrolytes contain dietary fiber, usually psyllium. This is the same stuff as in Metamucil.  These products will thicken the calf’s manure and make it look like the diarrhea is improving. However, this addition of fiber will cause less glucose absorption and can lead to reduced energy levels for calf. This range of fiber may even cause prolonged scouring. For scouring calves, I don’t recommend using oral electrolytes containing dietary fiber.

While using electrolyte solution, you should provide the nutrients and fluids found in the calf’s normal diet. This means you should continue to feed milk or milk replacer. If you starve a calf, it will quit scouring because it has nothing left in its digestive tract. However, there is no proven benefit to removing milk or milk replacer from a calf’s diet. My reading of the research indicates that pulling the milk or milk replacer will worsen the calf’s negative energy balance. Its prognosis will be worse off for it. If you pull milk replacer when your calves are scouring, you are making a mistake. While milk or replacer should continue to be fed, electrolytes and milk or milk replacer should not be fed at the same time. It is best to add the oral electrolyte solution as a separate meal between regular milk or milk replacer feedings. For example, if you feed milk in the morning and evening, you could administer an oral electrolyte during the middle of the day and again late at night.

Beyond providing milk and electrolyte, be sure to have free-choice water available to the calves at all times.

While oral feeding solutions are very useful, it is important to know when other interventions are called for. Calves that cannot lift their heads or stand may need intravenous fluids. Work with your veterinarian, ASM or calf specialist to choose the product most suited to the particular situation you are dealing with.

Aside from scouring calves, it is sometimes necessary to deliver electrolytes for other reasons. Electrolytes can alleviate the effects of hot weather on calves and can be used to combat dehydration that may occur during stressful times (weaning, pen moves, de-horning/castration and transport). In these situations, offer the electrolyte solution free-choice along with water, or feed it during every other water feeding. If calves are not scouring but you want to offer them electrolytes to help combat stress or reduce shrink, use a diluted solution of electrolytes. A good starting point is about a third to half the amount of powder you would use on scouring calves.

Dr. Jim White is the Director of Nutrition at MFA Incorporated. Questions? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A newborn lamb nutrition and management plan provides optimal care

Written by Tom Earlywine on .

Plan for lambing and kidding success

Lambing and kidding season can drive a flock or herd’s long-term success. The health, growth and early performance of a newborn determines the number of feeders for marketing and the quality of future replacements. With so much riding on this season, be sure to plan in advance to provide optimal care to your next crop of lambs or kids.

Set goals
Before the first newborn hits the ground, analyze past flock or herd performance and set goals. Setting tangible goals and determining a path for achieving these objectives can help you build on past performance.
Consider the following goals:
200 percent lamb or kid crop: Mature and well-conditioned ewes and does should be able to care for at least two lambs or kids. To achieve this goal, extra lambs and kids (triples and quads) and those from younger or under-conditioned ewes or does may be better cared for separately.

Less than 5 percent pre-weaning mortality: The industry target for pre-weaning mortality is less than 5 percent. However, it’s estimated that nearly 20 percent of lambs die before weaning, with 80 percent of those losses occurring during the first 10 days. Similar estimates are in place for kid goats.

Create a colostrum feeding strategy
Colostrum, or the first milk of the ewe or doe, is the first protection newborns receive against environmental pathogens and bacteria; however, not all ewes and does are able to produce the quality or quantity of colostrum required for early protection.

Test quality of colostrum with a colostrometer and monitor the amount of colostrum consumed. Provide colostrum at a rate of at least 10 percent of a newborn’s body weight by 18 hours of age. Serum immunoglobulin levels should be above 10 mg/ml.

Keep a colostrum replacer on hand during lambing and kidding season in case ewes and does are unable to produce the necessary colostrum. Colostrum replacers are one way to reduce variation in quality and provide proven protection to newborns. If feeding a colostrum replacer, select one that is formulated and USDA-approved (to prevent failure of passive transfer) specifically for lambs and kid goats.

Determine which newborns should be fed milk replacer
Feeding a milk replacer can help provide consistent nutrition to the entire crop, especially those that the ewe or doe is unable to care for. The option also allows dairy producers to market ewe’s and doe’s milk.

Determine which lambs and kids should be fed milk replacer as soon as possible, considering the following newborns which require additional care:
•    Lambs and kids on dairy operations
•    Orphan lambs and kids
•    Weak lambs and kids unable to nurse
•    Unclaimed newborns
•    Third and fourth newborns in sets of triplets or quadruplets
•    Weaker or smaller lamb or kid of twins
•    One of the twins from a ewe or doe lambing at less than 1 year of age

Select a species-specific milk replacer
Research milk replacer options and select a milk replacer formulated specifically for sheep or goats. Lambs and goats require different nutrient levels than other livestock, so milk replacers created for other species may not provide adequate nutrition.

For example, the fat content of sheep and goat milk is much higher than cow’s and the lactose content is lower. Selecting a milk replacer that provides these higher nutrient levels can better help newborns meet their full potential.

In fact, research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Spooner Agricultural Research Station has shown that successfully raising lambs on milk replacer can increase the net return per ewe for the flock due to increased growth rates compared to sheep milk and non-sheep milk replacers.

In research trials, kids raised on Doe’s Match Premium Blend kid milk replacer gained quicker and cost about $0.16 less per pound of gain than those raised on goat’s milk. Kids also experienced similar growth rates and less scours that those raised on goat’s milk.

To best match the nutrients in ewe’s milk, select a lamb milk replacer with an enhanced fatty acid profile and a balance of 25 percent protein and 30 percent fat. The ingredient Digestarom has also been shown to positively support gut health.

For kid goats, select a milk replacer with 25 percent protein and 28 percent fat along with the Architect Formulation System.

Assist and monitor lambs and kids from birth through weaning
Create a schedule for newborn management. Consider the following steps and tips when raising young lambs:
•    Provide an adequate quantity of colostrum to newborns as soon after birth as possible.
•    Remove newborns from sight or hearing distance of ewe as soon as possible after birth.
•    Provide a warm, dry, draft-free place to start nursing lambs and kids.
•    Assist newborns in nursing for the first few feedings as needed.
•    Avoid placing younger lambs and kids with older livestock. Older lambs and kids tend to push smaller lambs and kids away from feeding.
•    Hang a light over the milk replacer self-feeding devices for added visibility and warmth.
•    Start lambs and kids on high-quality starter feed at 2 weeks of age and provide ample high quality clean, fresh water supply at all times.
•    Wean at 30 days or 25 pounds of weight when lambs and kids have begun to eat starter feed routinely. At weaning time, each lamb or kid should have consumed at least 20-25 pounds of species-specific milk replacer powder.

Tom Earleywine is director of nutritional services, Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For more information on lamb and kid goat nutrition and management, visit

It pays to know your hay

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

A forage test is necessary to determine supplement needs

Unless you are my spouse, spending money isn’t always fun. But sometimes, spending some money now can help you save more in the future. This is true when it comes to the cost of testing stored forages such as hay and silage. A good forage test will cost around $40 to $160 but is worth it in the long run.

Why should you bother having a hay test done? Because if you don’t know what you are feeding, you are guessing, and it is very likely that you will guess wrong.

It is valuable to know the quality of your forage. Of course you should visually inspect the hay for mold, foreign objects and weeds, but in order to really determine hay’s quality, send a sample to the lab. Hay quality really can’t be determined just from looking at it. Often, hay that doesn’t look so good may actually test rather well, while hay that looks outstanding can test low.

One possible result of feeding low quality of hay is that you watch cows munch away and lose body condition until it’s time to rescue them with supplements. I’ve seen it often: if you don’t know the quality of your hay, it is very easy to make costly/money wasting feeding and supplementation decisions.

On the other side, knowing forage quality can help you prevent over-supplementing. It is expensive to supplement more than necessary. In certain instances, especially in dry cows, hay may be enough to meet protein and energy requirements. In other instances, it may be sufficient to supplement by feeding 2 pounds of a 20-percent cube per day. For example, let’s say the hay looks questionable, but is good enough quality to allow supplementing with MFA Breeder cubes that come in at about $0.45 per head per day. That could keep the cow in the same condition as feeding 3 or 4 pounds a day of MFA Super Cattle Cubes costing about $0.64 to $0.85 pounds per day. The savings achieved from reducing supplement needed per day can quickly add up and can be substantial. But you can’t be sure without the hay test, and it’s your herd’s fertility on the line.

Indeed, knowing forage quality can help you prevent reductions in performance. If the hay is of lower quality than anticipated, and not enough supplement is fed, problems may arise. If feed quality is not good enough to achieve or maintain desired body condition scores, pregnancy rates will decrease. A forage test will give you the information you need to know to prevent this. While it will cost more to supplement the appropriate amount if hay quality is found to be lower than expected, the extra cost in supplement is economically much better than having dramatically fewer calves next year.

People sometimes dismiss the need to test forage quality because they are planning on feeding it all anyway. Even if you’re planning on feeding all your hay, it is still beneficial to know the quality of it. If the quality of hay is unknown, you may end up feeding your best hay to dry cows. If you do, it can cost you. And, it may be difficult to supplement the lactating cows enough to make up for the remaining lower-quality hay. Matching hay quality to animal requirements will reduce the cost of supplementing.

To aid in making cost-efficient decisions, hay should be sampled and analyzed properly. Each load or cutting of hay should be tested. To sample, use a forage probe and collect samples from at least a 10th of the bales in the load. These samples can then be combined and sent to the lab.

A common mistake is only being interested in the protein content of sampled hay. However, protein content is only slightly correlated with energy content. For example, hay that is rained on when it is in the windrow will often have higher protein concentrations than non-rained on hay, because some highly digestible soluble carbohydrates are washed out of it. Protein is not the only measure you should look for. At the very least, forages should be tested to determine crude protein, and to get a good estimate of energy, TDN. Crude protein is straightforward to measure and results typically are consistent between labs. In contrast, TDN is not directly measurable and the equations used to calculate it and the methods for fiber used to get the fiber values will differ by labs. The energy values are calculated from principally the fiber values: acid detergent, neutral detergent—but the fat, non-fiber carbohydrates and protein contents also influence energy values.

Calving season starts with bull maintenance

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Bulls are worth a lot of money. Yet, it is easy for cow-calf producers to semi-neglect bulls due to other concerns during the winter. This can lead to soundness issues the following breeding season, and that can hurt your bottom line.

Cows and bulls each provide half of the genetics in a calf crop. However, when you consider the 25 to 40 cows a bull should breed with in a season, it is easy to see that bull fertility outweighs cow fertility. One infertile or poorly performing bull can cause lots of open or late-bred cows in your operation.

Getting cows to conceive early in the breeding season is important to the financial success of an operation. It is particularly important for younger, smaller cows—they are more at risk of not getting bred. Having an increase in open and late-bred cows this year will result in fewer calves and a longer calving season next year, as well as calves that are younger, lighter weight and less valuable.

It is common for bulls to have lost 10 to 20 percent of their bodyweight during a single breeding season. As a result, bulls should be given a period of time to recuperate during the post-breeding season. Each of your bulls should be evaluated annually for its health and ability to breed. After the culls are removed, the remaining bulls should be divided into two groups, one with older bulls that have decent body condition, and the other with younger and thinner bulls. It is important to separate bulls into these groups because each group will have different nutritional needs.

The goal of proper winter nutrition for young bulls is to turn out young bulls at the start of breeding season with a BCS of 5.5 to 6.5. After the breeding season, young bulls will often have lost significant weight. They also are still growing and usually need to gain upward of 1 to 2 pounds per day during the off season to be in proper body condition by the start of the next breeding season. In practice, this means that young, or thin or high-risk bulls will typically need a forage diet that is about 2 percent of their bodyweight as dry matter. They should also get enough supplement to bring their total diet to about 11 percent protein and 60 percent TDN. This can usually be accomplished by feeding 5 pounds of

MFA Trendsetter per day. Most mature bulls in good body condition will be fine on a nearly all-forage diet. The exception is if they need to gain weight. But do make sure mineral and vitamin needs are covered.

A daily feed intake between 1.75 and 2 percent of bodyweight as dry matter is a common maintenance feeding level for mature bulls in good flesh.

Beyond feeding, the design and layout of a winter bull pen is important for offseason bull management. Make an effort to promote activity in bulls. You can do this by putting substantial distance between feeders, waterers and loafing areas. Protection from wind chill and severe weather is particularly important for bull wintering facilities. Extreme cold weather can cause tissue damage to the scrotum—this appears as discoloration, scabbing, and/or sloughing of the lower part of the scrotum. Frostbite to the scrotum can lead to permanent damage and a dramatic reduction in bull fertility. Frostbite can be prevented by adequate protection from extreme weather. Just use common sense: provide heavy bedding to keep them warm and dry; provide shelter and a windbreak.

At springtime it is important to spend time getting your bulls ready for the breeding season. Four variables generally affect bull fertility, these are:
• Testicle size/scrotal circumference,
• Semen quality,
• Libido
• Structural soundness

One of the best things to do to get your bulls ready is to evaluate every bull one to two months before breeding season with a breeding soundness exam. Your vet will measure scrotal circumference, a collect and analyze semen and perform a soundness evaluation. Libido is more elusive to measure. An annual exam on all potential bulls is a very good practice.

It might sound as if I don’t think you are already busy enough. So I’ll just add that there are other tasks you should do for proper bull performance. Before the breeding season, it is important to plan ahead sufficiently so that bulls expected to share a breeding pasture can be grouped together beforehand. Additionally, bulls should be tested for trichomoniasis, vaccinated, treated for insects and have their feet and legs checked prior to being turned out with cows.

Turning out on turnips

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Brassicas require thoughtful grazing management

Interest in grazing brassicas is on the rise. In effort to extend the grazing season, producers are planting more turnips and radishes. And, as sod-seeding techniques are further fine-tuned, I expect to see even more livestock grazing brassicas.

Brassicas such as turnips or radishes produce high yields of nutrient-rich leaves and roots. They make good grazing. These crops have been helpful at two critical time periods in the year, midsummer and late fall to early winter. Summer-planted turnips may be the best grazing option for late fall and winter. But, like everything else, they can cause problems. Problems that might arise from feeding turnips include hemolytic anemia, polioencephalomalacia, pulmonary emphysema, nitrate toxicity, infertility, bloat and goiter. That’s a nice list of scary stuff, but you can avoid most problems with proper management.

Basic strategies for managing brassica grazing are similar to how you handle alfalfa or lush spring pasture.

Don’t start feeding turnips suddenly and extensively. Instead, let cattle adapt to a richer diet by feeding high quality forage for a couple weeks before grazing turnips.

When you do introduce the herd to brassicas, allow access for just a few hours a day. While grazing turnips, continue to provide a dry forage source like grass hay or corn stalks.

You can restrict grazing area to limit access as well as encourage full plant consumption.

Use an electric wire or tape to stripgraze. This will encourage animals to eat the leaves and bulbs.

Provide a mineral supplement. Providing a supplement with monensin (Rumensin) improves the energy value of the diet. Feeding monensin is helpful in reducing the incidence of pulmonary emphysema (ABPE). ABPE is most likely to occur when mature cows quickly move from a coarse forage base to a lush, high-quality forage base. It’s technically caused by the metabolism of tryptophan, an essential amino acid. In the rumen, lactobacillus bacteria convert tryptophan to 3-methylindole, a toxic compound that causes lung damage, edema and emphysema.

You may hear about choking risks from brassicas like turnips, but the only case I have ever verified was on drought-stricken turnips that had bulbs the size of carrots, and the animals had limited feed availability. Cows do chew.

Turnips can be very productive, they grow fast and can be grazed as early as 70 days after planting. They reach near maximum dry matter yields at 80 to 90 days. The protein content will be high in the leaves-often in the mid 20s on a dry matter basis. Leaves are 10 to 18 percent of the total plant mass. Bulbs make 82 to 90 percent of the mass.

If you plan to grow turnips or other brassicas, your fertility program is best determined by soil test and MFA agronomist recommendations. My experience is that phosphorous and potash recommendations are similar to a small grain crop, and 70 to 80 pounds per acre of nitrogen is needed.

For a source of turnip seed, MFA offers the purple top white bulb forage turnip, product #2612540 and the Barkant turnip, product #2612585.


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