Weaned Calves and Animal Health Needs


Source: Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives

It is expected that cow calf producers will have to deal with increased numbers of weaned calves this fall. Market opportunities for the fall calf run are uncertain. Drought in many parts of the region will necessitate early weaning as producers run out of pasture. The stress of weaning is usually compounded with vaccination and treatment for internal and external parasites. These should be done prior to weaning. Calves under stress from weaning need high levels of energy, minerals and vitamins from feed to remain strong and healthy. They will usually start eating good quality grass hay quicker then silage, chopped hay or pellets. A source of clean, fresh water is also important.

Usual processing procedures include the following:

  • Check rectal temperature of animals suspected of being sick. Treat those with temperatures higher than 40°C with a broad spectrum antibiotic.
  • Identify each calf with a permanent ear tag.
  • Vaccinate with modified live respiratory viral vaccine (IBR,PI3, BVD,BRSV).
  • Vaccinate with 7 or 8 way clostridial vaccine, plus Hemophilus somnus.
  • Treat with a systemic insecticide/parasiticide.
  • Implanting

Keep in mind that these are suggested guidelines for fall processing. Producers should consult their local veterinarian for specific regional recommendations. Other vaccinations that may be required include Pasteurella vaccine.

Because of uncertainty about prices and markets for fall calves, some producers may want to spend as little money as possible, and do only the minimum amount of fall processing at weaning. In that situation, calves should at least be vaccinated with 7 or 8 way clostridial vaccine, and treated with an external lice control product.

Even with all the market uncertainty, humane treatment and care of animals is a necessity. The last thing the industry needs is a tainted press article about the carelessness of cattlemen. The processing procedure described earlier has been the accepted norm. Economic returns to these procedures are positive. Systemic insecticides can improve average daily gain and feed efficiency by up to 5% each. Growth implants can increase weight gain by 5 to 23% and can improve feed efficiency 3 to 11%. Anything that can be done to maintain the health of the animal (recommended vaccinations) will result in reduced costs. Cutting corners and trying to reduce total cost by reducing initial expenses will likely cost more in the end because of reduced animal performance.

Once calves are weaned and moved to their home pen, it is important to get them adjusted to their feed ration as quickly as possible. Ag Reps and regional beef specialists can assist with preparing balanced rations to target specific rates of gain.

The calves should be checked at least twice daily for signs of illness and be certain they are eating and drinking. Calves slow to come to feed may be showing early signs of shipping fever or pneumonia.

Sick calves can be handled as follows:

  • Treat any calf with rectal temperature higher than 40°C.
  • Treat with long acting antibiotic ie, Oxytetracycline LA (5 ml/100 lbs SQ) Tilmicosin (1.5 ml/100lbs SQ).
  • Treat and return sick calves to their home pen immediately.
  • Calves that get sick again should go to hospital pen and be treated daily for 3-4 days. ie, Sulbactam/Ampicillin (5ml/200 lbs IM) Trimathaprim/sulfadiazine (3 ml/100 lbs IM).
  • Return treated animals to their home pen after last treatment


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