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Some Different Thoughts On Calf Treatments In The Spring

With the reduction of calving problems in many herds today the treatments given to calves during this busy season have changed considerably over the years. Newer longer-acting products as well as anti-inflammatory drugs help get calves on their feet quicker and minimize relapses. Although daily treatments may still have their place the need for intensive care has been reduced signifi- cantly within our practice.

We all know sick calves are easy to catch off guard the first time. It is the second, third and fourth treatments which become the issue. As their health improves the stress often increases in these calves each time they are caught.

A lot of the treatments I will be suggesting for calves are prescription products and so you need a valid client- patient relationship with your herd veterinarian in order to obtain them. Always seek your veterinarian’s advice on products and how they are to be administered, and have them investigate the tough cases. “Pr” on the side of the bottle means it is a prescription product and these days most, if not all, new products on the market must be prescribed.

Veterinarians are also called on to deal with some of the complications in choosing a product. For instance, these young calves are pre-ruminants which means because they are on milk like a single-stomached animal the withdrawal times on the products they are given may be different than they would be for a ruminant. My argument as a practising veterinarian has always been that slaughter is a long time off (many months to greater than a year) so withdrawal times become a bit irrelevant. At best, the withdrawals for mature cattle give us a guideline to work with.

New products are sometimes not recommended for very young calves because they may take out the normal bacteria in the gut.

The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that vets refer to as NSAIDs are being used with greater frequency on most calfhood diseases. They make the calves feel better and get them back on feed quicker so they recover faster. The newest of these products, Metacam, is effective for two days with a single shot. In severe scours cases calves given this drug showed improved appetite and better weight gains. Subtle symptoms like gas pains were also reduced. The Metacam was always given along with the standard electrolytes and antibiotics usually prescribed for scours treatments.

These ancillary treatments have become an integral part of the treatment protocol for scours or most systemic illnesses in calves. On advice from their veterinarians most producers will carry one form of an NSAID with them in their treatment kit. Response times and recovery rates are greatly improved. The beauty of this treatment with young calves is the reduced cost because of their small body size.

Be sure you know how each of these drugs is to be administered. Some are injected subcutaneous, others intramuscular and still others are given intravenous.

Unless a calf is older or very big, I find there is not much muscle on the neck so any intramuscular shots I give are in the back leg muscles. I come in directly from behind into the semimembranous and semitendinous (back thigh) muscles. They are not prime cuts and there is no risk of damaging the sciatic nerve, which can affect walking. This is the only time I give intramuscular shots in a location other than the neck.

Make sure you have the product ready and the correct size and length of needle available. To inject most products in calves intramuscular I use an 18-or 20-gauge needle one inch in length.

With producers calving later these days cattle are spread out over a greater acreage so it makes a lot more sense to either treat with longer-acting products or in severe cases bringing the cow-calf pair in and treat daily. Calf catchers or good ropers work for this but it is beneficial if the calf doesn’t have to be caught more than once.

If you really must treat daily and don’t want to round up the pair I have a neat trick for you. This producer I know simply left a light lariat on the calf after he caught it for the first treatment. When he came out the next day all he had to do was drive over the end of the lariat with his quad, quietly get off and inject the calf with a minimum of stress.

There are long-acting products specifically for pneumonia and one broad-spectrum product, Excede, for both pneumonia and bacterial scours organisms. Excede will last seven to 10 days in the calf’s system even at the low dose of 1.5 cc per 45 kg. It is the drug that is injected into the middle back of the ear like an implant. It has been approved for injection at the base of the ear in the United States, which is more convenient, and hopefully the time is coming where it will be approved that way in Canada.

A lot of the previously effective scour products have been removed from the market and because scour tablets end up in the rumen most veterinarians lean towards injectable products for quicker absorption.

To treat coccidiosis the older-generation sulfa drugs are still fairly effective. Coccidiosis will hit calves at several weeks of age when the rumen is becoming developed so the sulfa tablets (either daily or long acting) work fairly well against this calfhood disease.

Consult your veterinarian every spring to see what is the latest product for the treatment of scours and other neonatal diseases you might encounter on your farm. Death losses can be reduced with prompt treatment and it is always gratifying to see a calf you pulled through in the spring and go on to be a well-doing weaned calf. It’s one of the gratifying fringe benefits of ranching.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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