September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Saving the lives of calves

Calf clinic provides tips to lower death loss, introduce new proteins
Dr. Robert Max Thornsberry, D.V.M, conducted an autopsy on a calf for dairy producers as part of a calf raising clinic on April 17 in Holdingford, Minn. Thornsberry focused on lowering death loss and introducing alternative proteins in milk replacer. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MISSY MUSSMAN
Dr. Robert Max Thornsberry, D.V.M, conducted an autopsy on a calf for dairy producers as part of a calf raising clinic on April 17 in Holdingford, Minn. Thornsberry focused on lowering death loss and introducing alternative proteins in milk replacer. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MISSY MUSSMAN

HOLDINGFORD, Minn. - Little things can make a world of difference in a calf's life. Dr. Robert Max Thornsberry, D.V.M, M.B.A. and dairy technical specialist of Milk Specialties Global, brought his calf raising expertise to a calf clinic at Holdingford Mill in Holdingford, Minn on April 17.
"I want to provide practical techniques to improve their herd and lower their death loss," Thornsberry said.
One key way to achieve this is providing the calf with high quality colostrum. There are 300 to 400 components in colostrum, besides antibodies, that aid in the development, growth and potential production in the lactating herd of the calf.
"This is very significant to the calf," Thornsberry said.
With butter and cheese prices increasing 20 percent in the last 30 days, the demand for dairy proteins, such as whey, have skyrocketed. It is a high quality and easily digestible protein that is going into numerous human foods.
"The challenge we have is it is robbing the available whey protein we have in milk replacers," Thornsberry said.
There are alternative proteins available to replace 50 percent of the whey-based proteins in milk replacers while keeping the cost economical for farmers.
Spray-dried bovine plasma is one of these alternative proteins. The plasma, the liquid portion of blood, is collected at harvest and is dried down to add to milk replacer.
By weight, 16 to 17 percent of the plasma is pure antibodies. The cow is vaccinated about five times prior to harvest and contains exactly what is needed to prevent BVD, IBR and many more.
"Feeding this in the milk replacer can decrease death loss and sick days by 50 percent," Thornsberry said. "It has a positive impact on the calf's health."
Hydrolyzed wheat protein is another alternative protein, which is the same one found in breads.
Calves do not handle plant protein early in life, so it cannot be fed straight. The protein is pre-digested. With the protein in the milk replacer, it stimulates the secretion of enzymes in the pancreas to break down the proteins in starter
"If it is in the milk replacer early, we can get 10 to 15 pounds more feed in them by seven weeks," Thornsberry said. "We are stimulating the intestinal track to digest plant proteins. The more starter they eat, the more weight they gain."
Thornsberry took the time to demonstrate how to use a refractometer, a tool used to test colostrum for adequate antibody content, how to use a debudder, discussed a proper vaccination program and presented a short video on how to use an esophageal feeder safely and properly.
"When feeding the calf keep the bottle and nipple lower. Don't stick it high in the air," Thornsberry said. "Their epiglottis opens up the wind pipe if their head is held up causing it to get into the lungs and difficulty drinking."
But the most anticipated portion of the clinic was an autopsy of a calf. The group of producers gathered outside as Dr. Thornsberry began. The autopsy calf had gotten colostrum late and had some diarrhea, a potential sign of scours.
"Most calves that die of scours die because of dehydration," Thornsberry said. "If we can correct the dehydration with electrolytes, we can save their life, and they can fight off the infection on their own."
Thornsberry usually does the skin elasticity test to determine if they are dehydrated and then looks at the eyes.
As Thornsberry continues with the autopsy, he observes the ears, fat along the backbone, between the toes and the navel.
The navel is important to take care of immediately after birth. Thornsberry suggests dipping the navel in the strong tincture of iodine - seven percent iodine in alcohol. The alcohol dries and the iodine sterilizes. This allows the numerous tubes running from the navel to the liver, bladder and aorta to close and prevent infections. When applying the iodine, only dip the navel not the belly. This can cause irritation of the skin.
Farmers can tell if there is a navel infection if there is also a joint infection, because the bacteria get in the blood, which travels to the joints.
Thornsberry found some hay in the calf's digestive tract.
"Calves can get what's called overeating disease," Thornsberry said. "All calves eat some bedding."
Thornsberry emphasized that bedding should be wheat or barley straw instead of oat straw, hay or cornstalks. When wheat and barley straw is baled, it is up off the ground six to eight inches keeping the dirt out of the straw.
"Many clostridia issues can be attributed to dirt in the bedding," Thornsberry said. "Try not to bed with cornstalks or hay. You can get by, but there can be an increase in clostridia."
Hay also decreases the amount of projections developed in the rumen, therefore decreasing the overall surface area.
"We are trying to make the calf a ruminant at six to seven weeks old," Thornsberry said. "Just feed milk and calf starter, not hay."
After the autopsy, Thornsberry summed up the purpose of the clinic.
"I teach farmers how to raise their calves and bring their death loss from 10 or 15 percent down to 2.5 percent," Thornsberry said. "We can save the lives of a lot of calves with this program."
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