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Preventing ‘weak calf’ syndrome

By Staff | Feb 11, 2011

Dr. Grant Dewell, an ISU veterinarian, was one of two presenters at a late-January cow-calf issues workshop in Spirit Lake. He said weak calf syndrome is a nutrition issue, not a disease.

SPIRIT LAKE – Area producers are thinking spring and preparing their heifers for the 2011 calving season.

ISU Extension Beef Specialist Beth Doran and Dr. Grant Dewell, ISU Extension veterinarian, met with Dickinson County area cattle farmers on Jan. 19 to help them prevent losses from common cow/calf issues.

Dewell said that “weak calf syndrome” became a condition area producers found prevalent in 2010.

“Weak calf syndrome,” said Dr. Dewell, “is not a disease.” He explained that it’s a condition caused by several factors. The number one factor being the dam’s nutrition, followed by mineral deficiencies, infectious diseases and weather conditions at the time of birth.”

Dewell explained that 80 percent of fetal growth in calves takes place during the last 50 days of the pregnancy. Therefore nutrition is something producers need to plan for ahead of time.

To track potential nutrition problems in cow-calf herds, Beth Doran, an ISU beef specialist, urged producers to have their forage tested.

Winter hay supplies should be tested to find the nutritional value. If the hay is found to be of poor value, cows may need more of in order to get their proper nutrition levels. More hay may also be needed during times of severe cold.

Keeping one’s cows at a body condition score at 5 (or a 6 for heifers) is a good management practice.

It was also noted that late-gestation cows need at least an additional 2 pounds of protein a day and that energy intake also needs to be increased in extreme cold.

“No cow should be losing weight in late-gestation,” he warned.

On the minerals issue, a selenium and iodine deficiency can also be an issue with weak calf syndrome and it can take up to six weeks for selenium levels to build up in a cow’s liver. Again plan in advance, he urged.

Dewell also explained that ISU is currently conducting research on weak calf and is looking for 50 normal calves lost to the disease. Producers wanting to take part in this program should contact Dewell at gdewell@iastate.edu.

With planning for the nutritional needs of their cattle fresh in the attendees’ minds, ISU’s Doran spoke on the importance of forage testing.

She encouraged producers to take advantage of Extension’s forage testing service and offered how to read the test results.

She produced a cow winter cost assessment guide showing producers that their goal should be to control winter feeding costs to increase profit potential. “There are no cheap rations.” she stated “but there are things that you can do that are cost effective.”

Doran stressed the importance of considering one’s inventory resources including forage, both quantity and quality; feedstuffs, both quantity and quality; available labor; equipment and facilities and animal requirements – cattle types, weight, age, stage of production and calving season.

Dewell concluded the day’s informative meeting with a heads up for producers informing them of an increased number of anaplasmosis in the state, especially in southern Iowa.

Anaplasmosis is an infectious disease of cattle that causes destruction of red blood cells.

The disease is caused by a minute parasite, Anaplasma marginale, found in the red blood cells of infected cattle.

It can be transmitted from infected animals to healthy animals by insects or by surgical instruments.

Anemia is the main sign of this disease. It is usually seen in cows and mature bulls, but it can also be a real problem in fall calves as it’s most often a summer/fall disease due to the presence of insects, such as mosquitoes and ticks.

Dewell also spoke to the group about the proper way to euthanize cattle on the farm.

For more information on cattle production check out The Iowa Beef Center at www.iowabeefcenter.org.

Contact Robyn Kruger at rangerob@hickorytech.net.

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