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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter

Issue # 720

January 26, 2011

Calf Scours Management - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator Athens County, Buckeye Hills EERA

Calf scours. Two words that even the most experienced cattleman dreads to hear during the calving season. I've read articles that name calf scours as the single most important cause of early calf sickness and death. It is unlikely that any single factor brings about calf scours. Likewise there is no single "silver bullet" medication or vaccination that will stop or prevent calf scours. Prevention of calf scours or minimizing the occurrence of calf scours depends upon management. Proper management depends upon understanding the complexity of calf scours and how various factors interconnect.

In plant pathology, we talk about the disease triangle; 3 conditions that are necessary for a disease to develop and manifest symptoms. We can use the same concept to help explain how calf scours develop and the severity of calf scours. The three sides of this disease triangle are: a susceptible animal, the disease organism, and environmental conditions conducive to the disease. When all three sides of the triangle are present, calf scours is going to appear and is likely to be severe unless quick action is taken. Let's examine each of the triangle sides in a little more detail.

There are factors that will pre-dispose a calf to scours. Some of those factors include: a difficult birth, poor nutrition of the mother cow, poor health of the mother cow, and slow and/or low intake of colostrum by the calf. When a cow is in a state of poor nutrition or poor health colostrum quality and milking ability are affected. This has a negative impact on calf health. Remember that a calf is born without a functioning immune system. Immunity and resistance to disease is passed on through the colostrum of the mother. The calf must ingest colostrum shortly after birth and in sufficient quantity to gain this passive resistance.

There are a variety of infectious agents or disease organisms that can cause calf scours. They may be classified as bacteria, viruses, or protozoa. The most common bacteria associated with calf scours is E. coli (Escherichia coli). These bacteria produce toxins in the intestines that damage the cells to the extent that fluids are lost, leading to the symptoms of diarrhea. E. coli related calf scours generally appears with very young calves, developing as soon as 16 to 24 hours after birth. The most common viruses responsible for calf scours are coronavirus and rotavirus. Both of these viruses will infect cells that line the digestive tract and damage those cells so that milk can not be digested or absorbed. Again the symptom is diarrhea. Generally when these viral agents are the cause of calf scours it appears when the calves are near a week of age or older. Another causal agent is protozoa, possibly cryptosporidium or coccidia. Once again, the cells lining the digestive tract are affected, leading to decreased digestion and absorption of milk along with diarrhea. Calves infected with cryptosporidium are generally in the one to three week age range. While coccidiosis is more often seen in weaned calves it can be associated with calf scours in calves at three to four weeks of age, particularly if those calves are under some kind of stress. It should be noted that it is possible that an outbreak of calf scours could be the result of mixed infections involving a combination of infectious agents.

Environmental factors can play a big role in the development of calf scours. Mud, heavy snow, cold temperatures and rain can all be stressful to a newborn calf. Each one alone, or especially in combination, can decrease a calf's resistance to disease. Other environmental factors that can set up an outbreak of calf scours include overcrowding, contaminated lots, calving heifers and cows together, wintering and calving in the same area. These are all conditions that increase the calf's exposure to infectious agents that cause scours.

While knowing the cause of the scours outbreak and the disease organism responsible for the outbreak may be helpful for future management intervention, the treatment is similar regardless of the cause. The most important treatment for calf scours/diarrhea is to replace the fluids and electrolytes that the body is losing. There are numerous commercial products available that can rehydrate the calf, correct pH imbalances and replace lost electrolytes. You may want to consult with your veterinarian as to a specific product and recommended volume/mixture to use in treatment of sick calves. A key point is to start fluid replacement early on while calves are still standing and have a nursing reflex. If the calf will nurse from a bottle, electrolytes can be provided in this manner. If the calf refuses to nurse from a bottle, replacement fluids and electrolytes will have to be given by using an esophageal feeder probe/tube. Again, you may want to consult with your veterinarian about the proper use and placement of an esophageal tube. Keeping calves hydrated will help the calf to maintain vigor, enable the calf to continue to nurse, and help the calf to maintain its body temperature. Once a calf loses the ability to stand and suckle, the only recourse is intravenous (IV) treatment.

Antibiotics and sulfa drugs are commonly given as an oral treatment to calf scours, but it has been found that this is not effective treatment and may even be detrimental. According to an article on calf scours by Don Hansen, Extension Veterinarian at Oregon State University, ". . . antibiotics and sulfa drugs given orally alter the normal population of organisms in the gut and sometimes predispose to super infections or fungal infections. Some antibiotics, when given orally, actually inhibit glucose absorption and alter the cells that line the gut wall. In these cases, continued oral use actually prolongs diarrhea."

Prevention or minimization of scours on the farm depends upon management. Here are some key management practices to keep in mind:

* Provide good nutrition to pregnant cows. The last trimester is especially crucial. Remember that heifers that have not reached their full adult size have an additional nutritional requirement for growth. Cold and/or wet weather can increase the energy requirements. Failure to meet nutritional requirements will result in a weak calf at birth, predisposed to early calf hood disease.

* Calving Management. If at all possible, heifers should calf in advance of the cow herd and preferably in a separate location. Cows should be managed to minimize the transmission of scours causing organisms. The "Sandhills Calving System" serves as an example. In this system calves are segregated by age so that older calves don't pass germs to younger calves and pregnant cows are regularly moved to uncontaminated calving pastures. When the first calf is born, all cows are moved to the first calving pasture. Calving continues in this pasture for two weeks and then the remainder of the pregnant cows are moved to the second calving pasture while the cow/calf pairs remain in this first calving pasture. Thereafter, in each subsequent week the pregnant cows continue to move to a new calving pasture while cow/calf pairs remain in the pastures where they have birthed.

* Minimize environmental stress. Strive to provide a dry, clean environment for the calf to be born into. Provide protection from the wind in the form of windbreaks during severe cold weather. Minimize calf exposure to mud and manure.

* Care of the newborn calf. The single most important factor is that the calf ingests colostrum soon after it is born. All other prevention management becomes much less effective if this is not accomplished. The calf should ingest 5-6% of its body weight in colostrum within 6hours after birth. As a secondary factor, most newborn calves may benefit from a Vitamin A injection early in life to boost resistance to scours.

* Vaccination. While there is no universal vaccination program, there are some effective scour vaccines that are available. Vaccines are not a replacement for other good management practices, particularly colostrum ingestion. They can be another piece in a scours management package.

Scours outbreaks can be devastating. Understanding the factors that come together to bring about an outbreak is a step in developing a management plan to minimize the occurrence and severity of calf scours during the calving season.

Calf Scours: Causes and Treatment. Hanson, D. Beef Cattle Handbook, BCH-3056
Calf Scours: Causes, Prevention, Treatment. Stoltenow, C., Vincent, L. North Dakota State University Extension publication AS-776
Calf Scours Simplified. Bagley, C. Utah State University Extension Animal Health Fact Sheet AH/Beef/25
Sandhills Calving System Prevents Diarrhea. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Veterinary Extension Timely Topics

EDITOR's NOTE: Many of the concepts discussed above, primarily those relating to the long term benefits of good cow and calf nutrition, will be a focus of the 5 part Ohio Beef School being hosted in 17 Ohio Counties on consecutive Thursday's beginning February 3. Find details, and a current listing of the host sites in the December 8, issue # 714, of the Ohio Beef Cattle letter.

Cold Weather Cow Care - Dave Sparks DVM, Oklahoma State University Area Extension Food Animal Quality and Health Specialist

Winter brings a special set of challenges for cattle producers. The need for labor and management increase just as forage quality, feed availability, and hours of daylight available to get things done decrease. Just in case this doesn't offer enough of a challenge, this is also calving season when we are bringing into the operation the product we will have to turn into profits in order to be here next winter.

The first consideration each day in winter time livestock care should be water. Water is the first limiting nutrient and although daily intake goes down in cold weather, adequate consumption every day is still vital. Cows can't utilize frozen water. They may be able to meet part of their water requirement on a temporary basis by eating snow, but they also expend calories melting the snow and warming it to body temperature. If you water your cows in ponds be sure to cut ice at least once daily. Feed the cows in the area where you have provided access to the pond water, so they can find it before it freezes again. When cattle are thirsty they walk out on the ice, especially if it has snow on it, and can follow through in a bunch when they encounter thinner ice near the center of the pond. If you water your cattle in tanks, be aware that extended cold weather may result in a tank full of ice with no room for water. One producer painted the south sides of his tanks black to absorb more solar energy. While it didn't completely solve ice problems, it worked well in marginal conditions and helped slow the ice buildup in extreme cold weather. Another idea that has been used successfully is to secure a large, black inflated inner tube in the tank where the cattle can drink out of the hole in the center. The water in the center of the tube will remain open except in the most extreme conditions. If you use automatic waterers , check them daily to avoid catastrophe. They can only meet the water requirements of the cattle if they keep working normally. If a heater quits or a lid doesn't close properly they can freeze up fast. With electric waterers or tank heaters be careful for shorts or bare wire. Stray voltage of only a few volts can cause cattle not to drink.

While warm, bedded, barns would be above the aspirations of most beef cows, some shelter should be provided, at least from the wind. Solid or semi-solid fences, trees, or brush areas are usually adequate. Three sided sheds are better, but must be cleaned out occasionally to avoid other problems.

Cattle are warm blooded creatures and must maintain a constant core temperature. Everyone knows that nutritional requirements increase in cold weather, but few stockmen know how much the energy requirement changes. Critical temperature is defined as the lower end of the cow's comfort zone and is the temperature at which you need to increase feed provided. Hair and fat both serve as insulators. The critical temperature for cows with good winter coats and good body condition is 20° F. As the temperature drops below this you need to feed these cows about 1% more for each degree drop below the critical temperature. For thin or short haired cows the critical temperature is about 30°F and you will need to feed an extra 2% for each degree below this. When cows are wet the critical temperature is about 50 degree F.

Some health concerns, such as bovine respiratory disease, may not be as prevalent in cold weather as they are when there is a large difference between high and low daily temperatures. Other health problems, however, can take up the slack. Cold weather usually increases feet problems. Frozen rough ground causes abrasions on the feet. When the ground thaws, especially if it remains wet and muddy, conditions are ideal for the entry of infection at these abraded sites. Maintaining a graveled area around water sources and feeders can help a lot. Cattle tend to congregate more around feed grounds, which can become a high risk factor for calf pneumonia and calf diarrhea. Moving the feeding area around the pasture is a good idea, especially after the calves start to arrive. Internal and external parasites can also be a concern. While winter is not a high risk time for the spread of roundworms, those adult worms living in your cow's digestive system can be cheating you out of a lot of nutrition that your cows need. If you didn't worm your cows in the fall, worming in cold weather might stop this loss and help your cows get off to a better start on green grass in the spring. Lice can be a serious winter problem as well. Watch closely for dark discoloration around the head and face or excess scratching and rubbing. Control lice by spraying if you can find a warm sunny day. Powders work well if applied evenly when temperatures remain cold and wetting is not advisable.

For me (and for many of you) the biggest cold weather challenge is dealing with the desire to get it done and go to the fire. The days when it is hardest to work outside are the days when your cattle need you the most. A little extra time making sure your herd is comfortable, healthy and well fed now can make a lot of difference when you are looking at that sale barn check next fall.

Feeding The World, Doomsayers Miss The Point - Nevil C. Speer, PHD, MBA, Western Kentucky University

Food prices have sparked a media feeding frenzy of late (pun intended). The Interest stemming from the U.N.'s food price index report: December marked the sixth consecutive month of higher prices and 2010 ended by establishing a new index record. Daniel Gustafson, UN FAO Director, noted, "Things could become explosive again in 2011, and that's what people are concerned about." And thus we've witnessed a flurry of coverage and commentary.

Much of the reaction has been relatively gloomy. Foremost being Lester Brown's (President, Earth Policy Institute) recent publication, "The Great Food Crisis of 2011." The paper highlights several key indicators of impending global adversity:

* Population growth: ". . . we are still adding 80 million people each year."

* Economic growth: ". . . some 3 billion people moving up the food chain, eating great quantities of grain-intensive livestock and poultry products."

* Ethanol: ". . . U.S. investment in ethanol distilleries sets the stage for direct competition between cars and people for the world grain harvest."

* Soil erosion: ". . one-third of the world's cropland is losing topsoil faster than new soil is forming through natural processes . . ."

* Water: ". . . aquifer depletion is fast shrinking the amount of irrigated area in many parts of the world…"

* Agricultural productivity: ". . . shrinking backlog of untapped technologies…"

* Global warming: ". . . making it more difficult to expand the world grain harvest fast enough to keep up with the record pace of demand."

* Mountain glaciers: ". . . ice melt from glaciers helps sustain not only the major rivers of Asia during the dry season . . . but also the irrigation systems dependent on these rivers. Without this ice melt, the grain harvest would drop precipitously and prices would rise accordingly."

* Ice sheets: ". . . melting ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica, combined with thermal expansion of the oceans, threaten to raise the sea level by up to six feet.

Brown's conclusion being, "The current surge in world grain prices and soybean prices, and in food prices more broadly, is not a temporary phenomenon. We can no longer expect that things will soon return to normal, because in a world with a rapidly changing climate system there is no norm to return to," and hence governments must act quickly to, "redefine security and shift expenditures." Hunger is inevitable.

But is humanity really on the cusp of disaster? Perhaps….but let's back up and view this from the broader perspective. Claims of catastrophe and doom are NOT a new phenomenon. Mark Ridley explains in his recent book, The Rational Optimist (c. 2010):

The fashionable reason for pessimism changed, but the pessimism was constant. In the 1960s the population explosion and global famine were top of the charts, in the 1970s the exhaustion of resources, in the 1980s acid rain, in the 1990s pandemics, in the 2000s global warming. One by one these scares came and (all but the last) went. Were we just lucky?...Or was it the pessimism that was unrealistic? Let me make a square concession at the start: the pessimists are right when they say that, if the world continues as it is, it will end in disaster for all humanity. If all transport depends on oil, and oil runs out, then transport will cease. If agriculture continues to depend on irrigation and aquifers are depleted, then starvation will ensue. But notice the conditional: if. The world will not continue as it is. That is the whole point of human progress, the whole message of cultural evolution, the whole import of dynamic change - the whole thrust of this book. The real danger comes from slowing down change. It is my proposition that the human race has become a collective problem-solving machine and it solves problems by changing its ways. It does so through invention driven often by the market: scarcity drives up price; that encourages the development of alternatives and of efficiencies. It has happened often in history…The pessimists' mistake is extrapolationism: assuming that the future is just a bigger version of the past.

Perhaps higher food prices and hunger aren't inevitable - there's hope out there.

Does that suggest we should take future solutions for granted? To the contrary; agriculture takes its mission of feeding the world seriously and is responding accordingly. Case in point, the National Institute for Animal Agriculture 2011 Annual Meeting; the meeting theme defined by the following statement: "It is estimated that by 2050 nearly twice as much food will need to be produced to feed the world's growing population! With limited resources, it will be even more important that animal agriculture continue to produce food, milk and fiber in responsible and sustainable ways that meet consumers' expectations." And while some may fret that short-term price spikes portend certain disaster going forward, the perspective overlooks the ingenuity and innovation capacity of agriculture and dismisses historic advances that have been made in the previous 50-100 years.

Ridley is also on target when he explains that, "scarcity drives up price; that encourages the development of alternatives and of efficiencies." Over the long run shortages won't be a function of supply - they'll result from errant policies. As such, the worst response is to hamper the market because it inherently manages scarcity. When allowed to work, higher prices discourage consumption on one side and encourage production on the other side. The recent Russian embargo on grain exports is a perfect example of what NOT to do. The policy disallowed producers to access the world market. Consequently, it sends exactly the wrong signal to producers - don't plant more wheat because there's no opportunity for reward on the other side. Policy exacerbates the problem - not production shortfalls.

In the end, the enduring concern shouldn't be about price spikes or lack of production. Rather, the focus needs to be upon agriculture's business framework. Commodities, food products and technology must flow freely throughout the globe to feed its people. However, excessive regulation, corrupt or errant government policy, and absence of open markets will almost certainly guarantee failure. Solutions are possible if we don't impede progress with needless stumbling blocks. After all, agriculture is THE success story of mankind, capable of responding to world needs when allowed to do so.

Weekly Roberts Agricultural Commodity Market Report - Mike Roberts, Commodity Marketing Agent, Virginia Tech

LIVE CATTLE futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) closed down on Monday. The FEB'11LC contract closed down $1.175/cwt at $106.775/cwt. The APR'11LC contract closed at $111.675/cwt, off $1.000/cwt. AUG'11LC futures closed at $112.375; down $0.600/cwt. Last Friday higher-than-expected placements triggered selling. USDA increased placements for December over last year at this time by 16%. Prices for feeders weighing over 800 lbs increased by 29% over last year. This is bearish for the near-term since these will come to market sooner rather than later. Exports were strong amid talk that South Korea may buy more in light of foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks in cattle and hogs there. USDA last Friday put beef exports at 153% over this time last year. USDA put the 5-area average cash cattle price at $105.85/cwt with reports over $106/cwt in some places. USDA put the choice beef cutout at $173.62/cwt; up $0.81/cwt. Even though seasonality is pressuring prices underlying fundamentals are supported by strong domestic and export demand. This, coupled with expectations for tightening supplies, will continue to drive a bullish market. According to HedgersEdge.com, the average packer margin was a positive $27.70/head based on the average buy of $107.8821/cwt vs. the average breakeven of $109.29/cwt.

FEEDER CATTLE at the CME closed mixed on Monday. The JAN'11FC and MAR'11FC contracts finished even with Friday's close at $126.350/cwt and $125.550/cwt respectively. APR'11FC futures finished at $126.300/cwt; off $0.050/cwt. The AUG'11FC contract settled at $127.300/cwt, down $0.200/cwt. Feeders were pressured by lower live cattle prices while supported by lower corn prices. Talk there will be fewer feeders later this year was supportive. According to three floor sources there are expectations in the pit that January placements will be off 4%-5% from a year ago because of smaller supplies. Receipts in Oklahoma City were estimated at 9,500 head vs. 10,505 last week and 11,563 a year ago. Demand is considered moderate with quality not as good as show lists were two weeks ago. This may be due to harsher weather conditions. The Nation Feeder & Stocker Cattle summary for the week ending 1/21/2011 show sales of 506,600 head, sales of 354,500 head a week ago, and 556,300 head a year ago. Demand for calves was considered good with yearlings selling $2-$6/cwt higher. Buyer demand, trading activity, and price levels were unprecedented amid all-time record highs posted on most weights and classes across the country. Reports from all over the place show that this is uncharted territory. These high prices have triggered producer selling while discouraging herd expansion.

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