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Griffin: Cow health is critical for ensuring healthy, productive calves throughout beef chain

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Cattle management research at the University of Nebraska has continually shown that keeping the cow healthy is key to her producing a healthy calf.

“Healthy cows produce healthy calves,” according to Dee Griffin, University of Nebraska veterinarian.

“Colostrum, nutrition and vaccinations are all an important part of that,” Griffin continued. “Prevention is critical. The key to immunity is using an effective vaccine and following up with a booster. A healthy calf is obtained by having a healthy mother.”

Colostrum influence

Research has concluded when and how much colostrum a calf receives at birth impacts the animal for the remainder of its life.

“We used to say that if a calf didn’t get colostrum within six to 12 hours of birth, it needed help mothering up,” he said. “New studies show that the majority of that colostrum is absorbed within the first 30 minutes of life. Getting that calf to mother up immediately is crucial.”

The amount of colostrum a calf absorbs also can impact its lifetime performance.

In another study, calves were monitored for colostrum intake, and their progress was followed all the way through the packing plant. The calves that absorbed 3,200 deciliters of colostrum, which is actually twice the 1,600 deciliters recommended, not only stayed healthy in the feedyard but also outperformed and outgained the other calves.

“This study was statistically significant,” he explained. “What this means is our cows need to be good colostrum providers. To do that, they need to be fed right and vaccinated correctly.”

Griffin added, “We even saw calves that had received adequate colostrum suffer from fewer footrot and pinkeye problems in the feedlot when they were seven to eight months of age.”

Building a program

Griffin told producers it is important to build an effective prevention program based on the data they collect and to seek out advice from their veterinarian.

“Vaccines should be given to the cows and calves 60 to 90 days before turning them out with the bulls so they have time to become effective,” he said.

Heifers that will be retained in the herd should also be vaccinated for bovine viral diarrhea (BVD).

“We want every heifer that enters our herd to receive a complete series of three vaccinations against BVD,” he said. “They should receive one as a young calf, one at weaning and the last one as a yearling.”

“We do not want BVD carriers in our herds,” he said.

Biosecurity program

Griffin said producers also need to use their management skills to protect their cattle from diseases like trichomoniasis and brucellosis.

“Vaccines may not be worth nearly as much as just protecting our cattle,” he explained. “One bull infected with trich can be devastating to a cowherd.”

“Biosecurity – and keeping fences well maintained – is very important and ultimately can be the cheapest vaccine you have,” he stated.

“Biosecurity can be difficult to maintain because of the very complex interrelationships between management, biologic organisms and biosecurity,” Griffin stated. “While developing and maintaining biosecurity is difficult, it is the cheapest, most effective means of disease control available. No disease prevention program will work without it.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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