Fall has fallen again, and once more it is that time of year when calves are weaned and transitioned to a new stage in life. Like all transitions for cattle (and people too!) this time can be stressful. In order to keep the calves content and healthy, farmers and ranchers focus on preventative medicine.
Central to beef preventative medicine are three tenets: vaccination, husbandry and parasite control. Vaccination is the first one that most people think of when talking about preventative medicine. Calves are vaccinated in the spring, before weaning and at the time they are weaned. Then they are vaccinated when they are purchased by a feedlot.
While the bacteria and viruses we vaccinate calves against are our primary enemies, parasites play a surprisingly large role in calf health. Parasites, in particular coccidia, sap resources from the calf and weaken the immune response. Because there are several different types of parasites, it takes more than one type of medicine to control them. Often these medicines are given through an injection, as a topical treatment, or in the feed.
Although critical, preventative health is more than just giving medicines. Appropriate husbandry techniques that reduce stress on the calves are also important. For example, in order to reduce the stress associated with weaning, farmers and ranchers will employ techniques such as fenceline weaning, where the calves are removed from the cow, but can maintain nose-to-nose contact with the cow. Another technique is low-stress cattle handling, where cattle are moved from one location to another in a quiet manner that takes advantage of their natural instincts.
All of these preventative health practices are done to put our best effort forward in keeping calves from getting sick. However, in spite of our best efforts at times calves will still fall ill. For the sake of the welfare of the calf, farmers and ranchers will treat sick calves with antibiotics. But through careful preventative health programs, we can minimize our antibiotic use and keep our calves healthy.