Boost Those Babies


Your young calves may need some extra help…sometimes even before they’re born.

By: Gilda V. Bryant

Most of the time, calves are born without a hitch. But, when pregnant cows don’t regularly receive minerals, especially during the third trimester, their offspring may be weak, sick and unable to nurse. Supplementation with injectable minerals or vitamins as well as colostrum and electrolyte drenches may make a huge difference in that puny calf’s health and subsequent performance.

Kathy Whitman, D.V.M., clinical veterinarian at Nebraska’s Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center, reports that a poor, unthrifty calf can be the result of trace mineral deficiencies, especially selenium. Inadequate levels of vitamin A also cause complications in a newborn.

“If we have a problem, we want to address it as soon as possible,” Whitman advises. “Know what you’re dealing with, so you don’t inappropriately treat them. Get on top of it as soon as possible.”

For instance selenium deficiencies are common in Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, the Atlantic states and New England. Northern California, Oregon, Washington and parts of Idaho also lack this mineral. These areas produce low-selenium forages, and cattle tend to be low in this vital trace mineral. They often drop calves that have white muscle disease.

This serious affliction occurs in calves from one to three months of age, affecting muscles, ultimately causing lameness, progressive weakness and death. If the disease strikes calves that are one to four weeks of age, the heart muscle and respiratory muscles may also be affected.

“If you know you’re going to have an issue with white muscle disease when that calf is born, inject it with a selenium- vitamin E injectable right away,” recommends Whitman. “Not having the correct diagnosis is a big issue. If you give a selenium injection and you’re in an area that has plenty of selenium, you may inadvertently give the calf toxicosis. If it’s the inappropriate diagnosis, you’ve given him an injection and you’ve just wasted money.”

John Currin, D.V.M., clinical associate professor at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine reminds producers to check with local extension personnel, consultants or veterinarians to get proper supplementation recommendations.

“Overall, having the cow on the appropriate mineral supplement program is the most cost effective and the most important aspect of trying to maintain a calf’s adequate mineral level,” Currin reports.

Vitamin A maintains delicate tissues in the lining of the respiratory, digestive and reproductive tracts. Sick calves will have infections and the GI tract becomes hard and brittle, unable to absorb nutrients. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, rough hair coat and reduced feed efficiency. If the mama cow has a low vitamin A status, her calf will most likely be low in vitamin A. Whitman recommends injecting cows with vitamin A about five weeks before calving to build up this nutrient in the mother’s colostrum.

Injectables are an excellent treatment option because they are readily bioavailable when injected. They rapidly increase nutrients in theblood—often within eight to twelve hours. Nutrient-deficient animals immediately utilize the mineral or vitamin, and excess nutrients are stored in the liver for later use. Their improvement will be more significant than in an animal with just adequate mineral stores.

Currin says another benefit of injectables is that the producer knows his animals received the proper dosage. They are easy to obtain, although some require a veterinarian’s prescription. The downside of injectables includes rare cases of tissue reaction such as swelling, injection site lesions and in even more rare cases, anaphylactic shock. Since young calves aren’t heavily muscled, Whitman and Currin recommend giving injections subcutaneous – Sub Q – in the neck area in the triangle in front of the shoulder. Whitman uses a three-quarter-to-one inch, 18 gauge needle, entering under the skin at a 40 degree angle. (See product package insert for dosages and other key information). Occasionally, due to drought, harsh winter weather or stress, calves are born with limited trace minerals, such as copper, zinc, manganese and selenium.

These nutrients play a major role in the calf’s ability to grow and properly develop a healthy hair coat and feet. Carcass characteristics and feed efficiency depend on the trace minerals an animal receives as a young calf. Currin says trace minerals play an important role in the function of the calf’s immune system.

“If calves don’t have the appropriate nutrients, they don’t have these minerals present in a functional manner,” Whitman says. “Then they aren’t going to respond to any immunization you give them. You’re wasting your money and you have a sick calf. What’s probably even more important are the subclinical deficiencies that impact performance. We have enough to get by, but not enough to support good growth and health. These animals are always just chronic, poor doers. They get by and  survive, but they don’t do as well as their healthy counterparts.”

Good quality colostrum in adequate amounts is chockfull of vitamins and minerals, providing passive immunity to the calf. To receive antibodies from colostrum, calves must absorb immunoglobulin by a process called passive transfer. After 24 hours, a calf’s ability to take in antibodies decreases dramatically. If the calf has inadequate passive transfer, he will be sickly and probably will never reach peak performance.

Whitman provides a drench with the dam’s colostrum if a calf has had a difficult birth. She also provides commercial colostrum drenches for a weak, tired calf that won’t get up or if a calf’s mother dies.

Dehydration in these young animals can be serious because they lose electrolytes, the salts and minerals that conduct electrical impulses in the body. They are necessary for muscle contraction and energy generation.

“Drenching is a good way to give electrolytes to calves that have become dehydrated from scours,” Currin advises.

“For calves that have had their temperatures drop between 94 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit, a warm colostrum supplement drench doesn’t hurt,” Currin says. “Warm up calves that are in bad shape before you drench them, so you don’t stress them out. You can push them over the edge if they’re in bad shape.”

The biggest problem Whitman sees with these sick calves is that after injecting them with the vitamin or mineral it makes the calf better.

“But we really haven’t solved the problem,” she adds. “It started before this calf became deficient. There’s an underlying problem with our nutrition program or something else that needs to be addressed. We’ve got to go back and investigate why we had this issue to begin with.” Cattlemen should try to anticipate trouble, especially if they’ve experienced drought, stress or a hard winter and suspect their cows will have a mineral deficiency. Take care of cows before calves hit the ground.

“Adequate calf nutrition, vaccination program and mineral supplementation are key,” Whitman advises.

“Make sure you have adequate passive transfer that’s going to provide not only your immunoglobulin, but a good source of the vitamins and minerals that calf needs. Have a good relationship with your veterinarian for any diagnostics, questions or advice. If there is a need for supplementation, consult with your veterinarian to decide what the best course of action might be.”

Feeding for Breeding

feeding for breeding 1/15

by Gilda V. Bryant

What you do before calving counts

Planning for the successful conception of either a seasoned cow or first-calf heifer is similar to solving a puzzle. It requires the right pieces to make a complete picture—good quality forage or other feedstuffs, healthy body condition score, a good mineral supplementation program, proper amounts of energy given to
cattle at the right time and a healthy, active bull.

Jeff Hill, PhD, ruminant nutrition expert and Beef Business Manager with ADM, says that
it’s not what you feed prior to breeding, but what you do before calving that makes the
next calf crop possible.

“Make sure cows are in good condition,” Hill advises. “I’d say a body condition score (BCS) of five is the bare minimum. Pushing six would be preferable. It would give you a little more latitude.” He adds, “When calves are worth as much as they are right now and with cheaper feeds, the economics are probably in favor of pushing them to a six. If calves are worth less, that incremental gain that you get may not be economically justified.”

If the cow’s BCS has dropped below a five, feeding higher energy 60 to 90 days before calving helps her maintain body condition and allows her to cycle. Hill says, “The body condition score the cow has at calving is critical
because she’s probably going to lose some weight anyway. If you try to feed her to gain weight, she will just
produce more milk. If you don’t have a good BCS at calving, by the time she starts lactating, you can’t make it up.”
Hill gives this advice, “You’ve got to start thinking about it sixty to ninety days prior to calving.”

Steve Blezinger, PhD, PAS (Professional Animal Scientist), ruminant nutritionist and management
consultant, says that both cows and heifers need to be healthy and receiving good feed and minerals. He adds, “Since heifers are still growing, their level of nutrition should be properly matched to age and size. This somewhat higher nutritional plane should continue through pregnancy and postcalving to insure the heifer continues to grow and develop so she reaches a proper mature size.”

However, Blezinger cautions producers to make sure that heifers are not overly fat prior to and at calving. This can lead to increased calving problems including dystocia, a difficult birth that needs assistance.

Rancher Rodney Howell, owner of Lone Star Angus near Gainesville, Texas, likes for his cows and first-calf heifers to carry good flesh. Part of his cattle management strategy includes separating cows by age groups and calving dates so they can be fed for their ages and stages of pregnancy.

Jeff Hill reports that during the third trimester, the cow’s feed intake will drop between 15 to 20 percent due to the size of the fetus. Hill recommends concentrating nutrients to make up for her reduced intake.

Minerals play a vital role in the reproduction cycle. To support the cow post-calving and to prepare for breeding,
she needs calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, selenium and zinc. Blezinger advises, “These, along with all the other required minerals, should be accessible at all times, but for certain, at least 60 days prior to calving and through the breeding season.”

Because the microbes in the rumen tend to absorb trace minerals, especially copper, zinc and manganese,
the animal often doesn’t get the amounts needed for healthy body function. Fortunately, treated trace minerals known as chelates can be beneficial. Chelates pass unscathed through the rumen, eventually entering the small intestine where they are absorbed and utilized by the animal.

A new class of minerals now available to the beef industry shows promise for transporting copper, zinc and manganese for the animal’s use. Known as hydroxy forms, they act like chelates because they aren’t absorbed in the
rumen. They have low solubility until they reach a low acid environment, which just happens to occur in the small
intestine, where absorption occurs.


Another piece of the puzzle is the bull. The key to sperm production is a good mineral program, which can be the same one the rest of the herd receives. He needs at least 60 days on minerals before turnout to produce healthy, active sperm. Hill says, “The one trace mineral that relates to spermatogenesis is zinc. Paying attention to a good, available source of zinc would be prudent.”

Like the females, a bull should have a BCS of at least five. Hill reports the bull shouldn’t be overconditioned because
he needs to travel and to be able to breed. To avoid going lame, his feet and legs should be in good condition.

“Bulls should also have been given proper exercise or conditioning prior to joining the herd,” Blezinger advises. “For example, if the bulls are kept in their own pasture or trap prior to breeding season, the pasture should be laid out in such a way as to promote exercise. Providing feed and forage at one location and water at another allows for movement and exercise.”

In addition, a veterinarian should conduct a breeding soundness exam about 30 days prior to the start of the
breeding season to make sure the bull is ready to be turned out.

“I feel like the oversupplementation of trace minerals has the potential to be as negative as undersupplementation,”
Hill shares. “Find that optimal balance. Try to get those minerals in the best form, delivered to the right location [for absorption].”

Blezinger adds, “While we talk about specific minerals that have been shown to be particularly important for reproduction, all minerals are important to the cow and bull’s performance and health. The mineral should be matched to the forage base the herd is on. This means forage testing and matching to the mineral values
shown in the assay. Subsequently this should mean finding an “off the shelf” product that meets the requirements
as closely as possible or, if the herd size is adequate, having a custom mineral formulated. The mineral program
is the basis for a sound nutritional program.”

Top Tub Tips


How To Get The Most Out Of Low Moisture Molasses Tubs

By: Gilda V. Bryant

Low moisture molasses tubs are convenient to use and come in many formulations to suit changing seasons, classes of cattle and available forages. On the market since the mid-1970s, these popular supplements are in high demand.

Manufacturers combine molasses with oil or fat, then cook the mixture to remove most of the moisture. Dry ingredients such as protein meals, minerals and vitamins are blended and incorporated into the hot, thickened molasses mixture. Poured into plastic tubs, the mix forms a dense, hard candy-like consistency as it cools and cures. Common sizes for cooked tubs run 250 and 200 pounds, although smaller tubs in the 30 to 60 pound range are available for weaning calves or placement in feedyard sick pens.

Mark Robbins, Manager of Research and Nutrition Services with Ridley Block Operations/Crystalyx, says newly weaned calves will eat about a quarter pound per head per day. This kick starts the calf’s rumen and appetite. The licking action also creates more saliva, a natural buffer for the rumen. Studies indicate that when feedyard calves are exposed to these tubs fewer get sick. Plus, calves tend to have better mixed ration intake and
feed efficiency. For mature cows in pasture grazing situations, ranchers may initially place tubs in loafing areas near a water supply.

Once cattle are familiar with molasses products, producers may entice them to move to an underutilized area of the pasture by placing tubs in ungrazed forage, away from riparian areas. Robbins adds, “Research conducted with GPS tracking collars has shown cattle will visit them all hours of the day and night.”

Rain and snow don’t alter the palatability of the product—cattle simply drink the collected water, then lick the tub. Experts recommend placing containers in the shade during sustained 100 degree temperatures because they tend to soften in the heat. Intake consistency is a positive feature of tubs. Instead of chewing the hard surface, cattle must lick it. Randy Rosenboom, Beef Specialist with Kent Feeds, says if cattle are eating more than expected, producers may simply move the tubs away from the water supply. Animals will adjust their intake, consuming less.

Cattle should lick the container so the surface remains flat. Rosenboom says if wells appear, that’s an indication there are too many animals for the number of tubs. The solution is easy… add two or three additional tubs. Generally, experts recommend one container for every 25 head.

Jim Drouillard, PhD, professor of animal science at Kansas State University and consultant for SmartLic, reports that tubs control intake based on humidity. “The surface absorbs moisture from the atmosphere,” Drouillard explains. “It becomes a little liquid on top. Animals can lick that liquid away. When they get down to the dry portion, they stop. It’s a neat method of controlling intake because the animals have a desire to eat it, but because of the physical properties of the tub, they are restricted.”

Molasses tubs are manufactured for all seasons, classes of cattle and types of forages. For instance, during spring
when grass tetany can be an issue, tubs with magnesium are available. If corn stalks, dried grasses or hay bales are the main diet, protein tubs are just the ticket. These supplements have mineral formulas for breeding and weaning; some include chelated minerals for those regions of the country that struggle with antagonists in the water and soil.

Use caution when making your purchase to be sure the product is rated for beef cattle. The levels of copper which cattle require can be toxic for sheep, because they are sensitive to it. “If the species you want to feed is listed on that label, then you’re good,” explains Robbins. “I can’t emphasize this enough. If it does not list the species you’re going to feed it to, then don’t feed it to them. Look at the label. By law the label has to have a purpose statement. It says what species of animal you can feed it to.”

Kent Tjardes, Field Cattle Consultant with Land O’Lakes/Purina recommends that producers look for quality tubs that are properly dehydrated. He says, “Animals should only eat three fourths to a pound of protein tubs. On the mineral side it should be four to eight ounces.” Look for a reputable manufacturer that mixes quality ingredients. Tubs should consistently meet label guarantees.

Ask how long the company has been in operation and what quality assurance programs are in place. Most companies will have some indication of their quality assurance program on the label, usually in the form of logos.

“Knowing intake is critical for supplements,” Tjardes advises. “Try to understand the tags. Look at them to learn what the intake is supposed to be. Are the cattle eating according to what is on the tag?”

Robbins says, “If you put out 1000 pounds of supplement for 200 cows and it took them seven days to consume that, do the math. 1000 divided by 200 cows, divided by 7 days. That’s seven-tenths of a pound.” There are situations where tubs aren’t the answer. Robbins explains, “If you have cows at the end of January and you’re going to start calving the first of March, and they are too thin, it’s almost too late to put ‘one’ body condition score on them. If you want to put one body condition score on a cow in a month, you’re going to need to use a hand-fed supplement, feeding two to four pounds a day to increase their energy intake.”

In the next five years, cattlemen will see enhanced bioavailability of minerals in tubs as well as those that target reproductive and immune functions. “Producers need to get an understanding about the variety of products that are available, that target very specific needs, and take full advantage of that,” Drouillard explains. “It’s precision agriculture.

Most of the manufacturers have a good handle on what those needs are and are producing an array of products with the intent of fulfilling those needs. There are some cost-saving measures that have come about. Getting the biggest bang for the buck is the bottom line.”