The early October blizzard brought on several new challenges for Western producers, but one of the biggest may be altering weaning programs and management practices to ensure care of already-stressed calves, say two South Dakota State University Extension specialists.
Cow/calf field specialist Adele Harty and Dr. Ken Olson explain that extra attention to storm-weaned animals' health and nutrition in the next few weeks will be particularly valuable.
In the area of health, the specialists say orphaned calves are going to be more susceptible to disease due to stress. Therefore, the need to vaccinate becomes greater. If calves received one or fewer doses of their vaccinations prior to the blizzard, producers should administer the first dose as soon as possible. This is because levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, increased during the storm. Cortisol reduces response to vaccines.
However, cortisol levels have decreased in calves' systems since the storm, leading to the opportunity for a better immune response to the vaccine, the specialists say. If the first vaccine dose was given before the storm, but a second booster dose has not been administered, do so as soon as possible, they suggest.
"If pre-weaning vaccinations are something that have not been common practice for your ranch, this is a year that they should be given to provide the best opportunity for calves to remain healthy, especially from the viral diseases, such as IBR, BVD, BRSV, and PI3," Harty and Olson note.
Weaning strategies following the blizzard are going to be similar to strategies in a normal year, however, extra attention will need to be given to the calves and close observation for signs of illness, specialists explain.
"If there are orphans in the herd, it would be a good idea to wean all calves so that the animals are all on the same system and being started on feed at the same time. It helps with the management of the calves if they are all handled together and treated the same," Harty and Olson say.
5 Weaning Tips >
They point to other weaning strategies and tips, including:
Provide a clean, dry environment. If dry ground is a challenge at this time, provide bedding for the calves to lie in. The pen should also have a windbreak, so they have some protection from the elements.
Feed fresh, clean, high quality hay. Once they are eating well, provide a small amount (two pounds or less) of concentrate. This is not intended necessarily to promote higher gain, but more to provide a greater level of bunk breaking, which leads to a more valuable calf for the feeder who buys them down the road.
Clean, good quality water needs to be readily accessible, even by the smallest calves. You may need to consider using sheep tanks to ensure that all calves have adequate access to water.
Be prepared and expect sickness. Monitor calves closely for symptoms including snotty noses, droopy ears, shrunk and off feed, secluded and off in a corner from the rest of the calves, or bloody stools. Have a conversation with your veterinarian to be prepared to provide proper treatment of calves if you start to see symptoms. This is an important time to develop a strong Veterinarian-client-patient relationship.
Bunk break and vaccinate. Weaning calves can add value, so by bunk breaking them and vaccinating they can be represented as weaned calves and provide an additional profit potential.
"In order to capitalize on this, all calves need to be eating well for a minimum of two weeks prior to marketing. A longer period is better, but is dependent on feed resources, especially when this may not have been a planned event," Harty and Olson say.