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Veterinarian View | February 2024

Details Make the Difference

contributed article by Dr. Vince Collison, Collison Embryo and Veterinary Services,

Rockwell City, Iowa



As we start the calving season as well as the subsequent breeding season, there are a few points that can make a real difference in results. Many of these things have been mentioned in previous articles and are worth pointing out again.


Colostrum is Critical

Make sure calves are nursing within the first two hours of birth. The first two hours are when the calf has the highest absorption of colostrum. If the calf is not getting up to nurse, we recommend that the cow is milked out and then tube feed colostrum to the calf.


We also like to use commercially available colostrum products to tube the calf with if time is limited or it is too difficult to work with the cow. The commercial products we like to use are actual powdered colostrum that have all of the immunoglobulins, fats, proteins, and sugars present. In our experience, these products have worked quite well.


If using powdered colostrum, please give the whole bag to the calf. We will see producers give only a partial bag thinking they will suppress the nursing reflex if they make the calf too full. This can actually backfire if the calf never does get up to nurse in a timely manner, resulting in the calf not getting enough immunity from passive transfer from colostrum.


Calf immunity is dependent on quantity of colostrum consumed as well as quality. I have routinely given 2 quarts of colostrum to a new calf and am amazed at how quickly they will go back to nurse the cow on their own in a short amount of time. By giving the full amount of colostrum, you can get a large portion of the required immunoglobulin needed into the calf and it will also improve the calf’s cognition, improving the calf’s ability to nurse.


Problems with Septicemia

If the calf is acting slow within the first couple days of birth, there is a good probability it is septic. Septicemia is basically a blood infection and can be very depressing on the calf, resulting in poor nursing frequency. Often the mother of this type of a calf will have a fuller bag due to the reduced nursing frequency.


Septicemia likely is coming in from the wet navel at birth and does not always result in a hard infected navel. It’s very important to be aggressive with treatment on this type of calf. The response to treatment is usually pretty good if started early. When left too long, this will often lead to arthritis or scours.


Vitamin A Deficiency

If you are having a lot of problems with new calves wanting to nurse at birth, there may be a vitamin A deficiency in the cows. Often this is the main symptom you will see in a deficient cow herd. It is easy to diagnose with a blood serum test and can be run on a small percentage of the cows to get an idea of the status.


Many of the winter diets in the Midwest are based on a silage, distillers, and a corn stover mix and are often the type of diet that is being fed when we find deficiencies. There is vitamin A in the mineral, but there is a large amount of degradation that occurs to vitamin A when it is in contact with mineral. Vitamin A can easily be supplemented in the ration with a vitamin A premix added to the TMR or using an injectable form of vitamin A in the cow.


Handling Semen and Embryos

Attention to detail when handling semen and embryos is also an important management tool. Keep the tanks fairly full of liquid nitrogen when storing your own embryos and don’t pull embryos and semen too far out of the tank to look at them. Minimal amounts of thawing can be devastating on frozen embryos and if you are needing to look at a cane of embryos or split embryos up between canes, it is recommended to do this in a dewar of liquid nitrogen, so all of the work can be done while the straws are still submerged in nitrogen.


When looking for cane codes on the cane tops, we like to use a flashlight so we can see the tabs clearly without having to pull the canister up into the neck of the tank. The neck of the tank is only at -80 degrees C and thaw damage can start to occur at temperatures over -130 degrees C.


Embryo Shipping

Many embryos are being purchased at this time of year. Don’t wait until the last minute to make arrangements to have them shipped. As the spring transfer season gets closer, the shipping tanks can often have wait times of several weeks before they are available due to the long list of shipments ahead of a late request.


Also, document everything with an email to the place where they are being shipped from, so everyone is clear on where they are going to and who the buyer and seller are. We receive many tanks with a set of embryos that have no paperwork as to who they are for and where they are coming from. This can result in delays in transfers etc. because they don’t end up in the right inventory.


Live Vaccine Protocols

Another question we get asked a lot by producers is if they can still use a partial of mixed modified live vaccine the next day. It is recommended to use modified live vaccine within an hour after mixing for best results. We will only mix 50 doses at a time when processing cattle and if you are doing procedures where there is a lot of time-consuming activity such as freeze branding or tattooing you may only want to mix 10 doses at a time.


There are only small amounts of live virus particles in MLV vaccine and once you go beyond an hour after mixing, you are probably losing potency as the live antigens lose their viability. When the virus particles are injected in the calf within the first hour of being mixed, they will start to replicate in the body and induce immunity.


While there are other things worth mentioning that can help to make a difference in results, we feel these are some of the more common things that can make a big impact on results. Don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian if you have questions about how to proceed if there is a problem. A small amount of advice can go a long way to making things go smoothly.



Dr. Vince Collison is co-owner of Collison Embryo and Veterinary Services PAC

in Rockwell City, Iowa.

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