Calf Health and Disease Management

The Newborn (1 to 10 days of age):

  • Clean hands, arms and equipment if assisting the calving.
  • Remove mucus from the calf's mouth and nose.
  • Rub the calf vigorously if stimulation is necessary.
  • Examine the navel and place a tie around the stalk if it is still bleeding or more than 2" in diameter. Apply disinfectant to a clean navel. Iodine solutions (1, 2 & 7%) or chlorhexidine (0.5%) may be effective.
  • Feed 2.5-3.5 liters of clean colostrum to the calf as soon possible; use either a bottle or esophageal tube feeder. Do not let the calf nurse.
  • Inject with 3 cc Vitamin E and Selenium at birth (white muscle disease)
  • Inject with 2 cc Vit A and D (calves are born with small reserves)
  • Identification of calf by tattooing or other methods.

One Month Calf:

  • Dehorn with electric dehorners

2 to 5 Months:

  • Monitor weight, height, body condition scores
  • Continue coccidia control
  • Strategic deworming

5 to 6 Months:

  • Vaccinate for brucellosis
  • Vaccinate with 7-way clostridium (repeat in 3 weeks)
  • Vaccinate for IBR, PI3, BVD,
  • Deworm
  • Check for extra teats
  • Measure weight, height, and body condition score

6 to 13 Months:

  • Monitor weight, height, and body condition score
  • Vaccinate for leptospirosis
  • Vaccinate for Vibrio if natural service is used
  • Deworm

Pregnant Heifers:

  • Monitor weight, height, and body condition score
  • Maintain sound nutritional management for ade­quate growth
  • Maintain coccidia control and strategic deworm­ing program
  • Vaccinate against Leptospirosis at 18 to 20 months
  • Vit E and selenium 45 to 60 days prior to freshening
  • Vaccinate with E.Coli, Rota and Corona begin­ning 60 days prior to freshening

Disease Management:

Scours (Diarrhea)

Scours or neonatal diarrhea is the primary cause of death in unweaned calves (50 to 60%).

Primary Cause

  • Infectious agents; bacteria, viruses, and protozoa (microbial diarrhea)
  • Improper nutrition (Nutritional diarrhea).

Predisposing factors

  • Inadequate intake of colostrum
  • Using milk with high bacterial count
  • Feeding milk or milk products at irregular time or irregular amounts.
  • Feeding poor quality milk replacers, especially calves less than 3 weeks of age.
  • Poor sanitation of feeding equipment.
  • Keeping calves in dirty pens or exposed to scouring calves.

Types of Neonatal Diarrhea

Diarrhea in newborn calves can be classified into two groups:

  • Nutritional diarrhea: Results from ingesting too much milk or milk that is not properly digested (i.e. bad quality milk replacer) and overfeeding milk to hungry calves. The main cause of nutritional diarrhea is lactic acid bacteria. Excessive fermentation of sugars (e.g. lactose) in the large intestine results in the production of large quantities of lactic acid. Osmotic pressure increases and pH is lowered in the intestine. As a result, water will be drawn from the body into the intestine causing diarrhea
  • Infectious diarrhea: Caused by infectious agents mainly E. coli. Infectious diarrhea is the most common health problem in young calves when predisposing factors are not well-controlled. The incidence of fatal E. coli infections is high during the first two weeks of life. Affected calves that survive this period, usually recover.

Two types of E. coli infections can be identified:

  • Septicemia: E. coli may cross the intestinal wall and enter the blood stream causing septicemia. The highest mortality occurs during the second and third day after birth.
  • Enterotoxemia: E. coli produces toxins that cause localized intestinal inflammation. Peak mortality occurs at about 6-7 days of age.


The key to successful treatment of calf diarrhea is early detection and early administration of a well-balanced oral rehydration product (electrolytes). Oral electrolyte treatment should start at the first sign of diarrhea (excretion of large volume of loose watery feces). In severe cases of dehydration (10% or more), intravenous feeding may be necessary. Scouring calves treated with an electrolyte solution should continue to receive their normal feeding of milk or milk replacer. This is because the electrolyte solutions do not contain enough nutrients to meet the energy requirements of the calf. Electrolytes solution can be classified based on the pH of the solution into alkaline and acidic electrolytes. Acidic electrolyte solution may be fed immediately after a meal of milk as they may help protein coagulation and digestion. However, alkaline electrolyte solutions are more effective when they are fed 3-4 hours after a meal, as they may interfere with milk coagulation.

Pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs):

Respiratory diseases occur between 4-6 weeks of age. Calves with chronic pneumonia seldom recover and should not be used for replacement. Pneumonia may vary from subclinical to acute and fatal. Rate of morbidity (incidence of disease) is high but mortality rate is quite variable. Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria (e.g. Pasteurella multocida), virus (e.g. Parainfluenza Type 3) and mycoplasma (e.g. Mycoplasma dispar).

Pneumonia usually follows other infectious diseases. The organisms associated with the disease often cannot cause clinical signs without the presence of predisposing factors.

Clinical signs of pneumonia

Clinical signs are variable and are generally observed in various combinations:

  1. Nasal discharges
  2. Dry cough, especially noticeable after exercise.
  3. Rectal temperature > 41°C (normal temperature 39°C).
  4. Difficult breathing
  5. Lesions of the lungs.

Predisposing factors:

  1. Reduced immunity and/or continuous challenge from microbes (contaminated environment).
  2. Poor ventilation and high relative humidity.
  3. Poor feeding management (overfeeding of colostrum or milk replacers)
  4. Poor housing management (too early weaning, too early grouping, stress due to transportation)

Treatment of pneumonia:

Calves with pneumonia should be placed in a dry well ventilated environment. Antibiotics are usually given to reduce the effects of secondary bacterial infections.

Prevention of pneumonia:

Reduction or elimination of predisposing factors will significantly reduce the occurrence of pneumonia. Adequate intake of colostrum, avoidance of nutritional stress, proper housing and good natural ventilation are effective ways of reducing the incidence on pneumonia. Vaccination program relevant to agents prevalent in an area may be planned under veterinarian supervision.