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Extension > Small Farms News > February 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Calving Season Preparations

By: Mike Boersma, Extension Educator & 4-H Program Director, Murray & Pipestone Counties

Calving season may be a couple months off for some beef producers, but it is already underway for many others. In either case, as the 2013 calf crop arrives, many producers will be searching for ways to keep newborn calves warm and dry.

A healthy start for newborn calves is crucial. And, the first step to having healthy calves is finding a place where they can be warm, dry, and comfortable. At times, finding a warm, dry place at calving time may seem like a daunting task. In addition, no matter how much advanced planning and preparation go into calving season, there will inevitably be those couple of calves that find themselves in less than ideal conditions at a young age.

Two of the most important things for calves born in these conditions are proper naval care and adequate colostrum intake. Proper naval care involves treating the naval by dipping or spraying it with iodine or another disinfectant solution to prevent infection. This should be done to all calves soon after birth but becomes more critical to calves that may be born in wet conditions because the risk of infection is much greater.

Undoubtedly, the most important factor in newborn calf survival is colostrum intake as soon as possible after birth. Colostrum contains important nutrients and antibodies to give calves energy and to fight off disease and infection.

There is no specific recommendation for how soon the calf needs to receive colostrum, because sooner is always better in this case. A calf's digestive system has specific receptors that aid in digestion and absorption of the antibodies in colostrum and these receptors begin to shut down soon after birth. In fact, just 12-18 hours after birth, many of these receptors have already shut down and it becomes increasingly difficult for antibodies in colostrum to be utilized by the calf.

There are a few practices that will help to ensure all calves receive colostrum. First, calves with a difficult birth will generally be slower to recover and may need to be bottle-fed stored colostrum. While it is best to use the mother's colostrum or frozen colostrum from a cow in your own herd to ensure the "right" antibodies for your farm, this is not always possible. If this is the case, colostrum from your neighbor or from the dairy farm down the road or a commercially available supplement is definitely better than nothing at all. Also, calves with no apparent health problems may not nurse a cow with a dirty udder. So cows should be kept as clean as possible prior to calving and as they calve, be sure to monitor the cleanliness of the udder to give the calf the best chance of nursing.

While there may not be any magical cure for calves in cold or wet conditions, paying attention to the details is beneficial. Remember the basics of newborn calf care and realize that these basic practices are even more important in challenging environments. Now is the time to plan ahead. Check your calving supplies to make sure you have everything on-hand, including either frozen colostrum or a suitable commercial supplement. A little preparation now could help reduce sickness, infection, death loss, and stress in the coming months.

Keeping New Lambs and Kids Warm in Winter Weather

By: Laura T. Kieser, Extension Educator, Carver & Scott Counties

January, February and March are typical months for sheep and goat farms to be welcoming new additions to the herd. The benefits of lambing or kidding in the early months of the year include higher rates of gain, lower disease incidents, and increased profits from spring and Easter markets. In order to take advantage of these benefits, producers have to make sure to keep these new babies clean, dry warm, and draft free. Common methods for assisting in keeping young small ruminants warm include: heat lamps, blankets or coats, extra bedding, and barn winterization.

Heat lamps are perhaps the first option that comes to mind when thinking about keeping new lambs or kids warm. Heat lamps provide heat similar to radiant heat, much like the sun's rays. Many supply companies offer options for safe heat lamps in barns. It is important to consider the risks of heat lamps in your situation. Lamps should be protected from hay and straw. Cords from lamps need to be protected from the animals as well. One popular method to use a heat lamp is to mount the lamp in the top of an empty 55-gallon drum. Then a hole is cut in the side of the barrel to allow lambs or kids to go in and out. In effect, this makes a small warming house for the young animals. When using a heat lamp it is important to use the proper sized bulb (usually 175 watts) and to keep the bulb at least six inches higher than the lamb or kid can reach.

Blankets or coats for small ruminants are available for purchase from various supply companies. Coats can also be made at home as part of a 4-H project. Some people use dog or puppy coats for kids. Others use fleece or water resistant material. It is important to make sure to size a coat correctly for a lamb or kid. Straps or material can become a hazard if the young lamb or kid can get tangled in it. It's helpful if coats can be made of washable materials. This makes the coats re-usable throughout the current year and into future years.

If producers are not comfortable with using heat lamps or coats, the remaining options are management decisions. To decrease drafts around young lambs and kids, be sure to provide and refresh bedding often. By refreshing straw, you are keeping the animals dry, and also increasing a layer of insulation. Consider evaluating the barn that lambs or kids are housed in. Make sure that the structure is draft free at the animal level, but at the same time has proper ventilation to allow air exchange and decrease humidity. If barns are closed up too tightly, lambs and kids can be susceptible to respiratory diseases.

In general young lambs and kids will thrive when born in January, February and March when their environment is kept dry, clean and draft free. These conditions will allow producers to have lambs and kids that grow rapidly, are healthy and meet marketing goals.

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