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New life on the Ranch Newborn calf health is a priority for producer’s bottom line

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

When it comes to calving, producers face multiple challenges that affect calf health. The main concerns when looking at calf health include exposure to the elements and nutrition, according to Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan, but diseases and bacteria are also important to consider.

“Exposure to the elements can lead to issues due to stress, pneumonia and possibly scours. Nutrition is just as important, and calves need to get the first milk, or colostrum, within the first 12 hours at least,” says Logan. “Calves need colostrum to have the energy to survive, and they also receive antibodies to ward off diseases.”


According to Logan, pneumonia and scours are the two main concerns for newborn calf health in terms of diseases.

He says the symptoms of pneumonia in newborn calves are difficult breathing, coughing and nasal discharge.

“Early on, the main symptoms of pneumonia will be difficulty breathing and a hard time getting air,” he adds.

For scours, calves will have loose and discolored fecal discharge, along with anorexia and weakness.

“Calves with scours won’t want to eat and will be very weak. Those are the main symptoms,” Logan notes.

There are also bacterial concerns, like E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter, which commonly affect newborn calves, states Logan.

He notes bacterial issues will be the most problematic for newborn calves at birth.


To prevent diseases and bacterial complications in newborn calves, Logan says good husbandry and sanitation in the calving area are very important.

“Producers should watch for scours that don’t respond to treatment and babies that are dehydrated and weak from fluid loss,” he notes. “Weak and dehydrated babies will be more prone to other issues like pneumonia.”

Logan states it is important to ensure newborn calf health because the bottom line is, if a producer doesn’t have a healthy calf, they won’t have a product to sell.

“It is more productive to have babies that stay healthy at birth because, if they get sick, it can take weeks or months for them to rebound, if they ever do,” he states.

According to Logan, good husbandry practices entail properly nourished mother cows, good vaccination programs for the mothers and proper sanitation of the calving area.

“Vaccination programs help put protective antibodies into the colostrum for the calf,” he adds, noting proper sanitation includes clean and well-bedded areas for cows during calving time.

Logan says producers should contact a veterinarian as soon as possible if they notice any disease or bacterial symptoms in newborn calves.

“Most producers have knowledge of what needs to be done on a routine basis for calves. Depending on the condition of a calf, a good producer will know their limits and abilities and call a veterinarian when appropriate,” he mentions.


Going into calving season producers need be prepared for the arrival of newborn calves, and Logan points out a few ways to be prepared.

“Producers need to have the barn ready if they are shed calving.  The facility needs to be ready with plenty of straw and bedding on hand,” he explains. “Even before calving, the cows should be vaccinated for complications calves need to be protected against.”

A few complications to protect against are enterotoxemia and Clostridium perfringens, types C and D, which can cause enterotoxemia in calves.

“Enterotoxemia is primarily a gastrointestinal issue that can lead to sudden death, scours and can also lead to pneumonia,” he explains. 

For those calving out in the open, producers should check on cows vigilantly, he adds.

“Producers need to check on cows to see if they are having calving issues and check on cows after the calves are born to make sure the calves get up, suckle early and don’t lay in the snow and freeze to death,” according to Logan.

He also recommends producers visit with their local veterinarian to make sure the correct vaccinations are given to cows prior to calving season.

“I think its also helpful the make sure cows have a dose of vitamins A and D before calving, which helps better clear the placenta and, in most cases, can lead to an easier delivery,” says Logan.

Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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