Life and death on the farm

By: Cory Berlekamp
Twitter: @cberlekamp

The Western Farm at the University of Findlay has lost three calves this season due to illness says Professor Farabee McCarthy. However, the Animal Science department assure students that this is common in farm life. Although the sickness that the calves died from is unknown, the program is taking all measures necessary to make sure that no more deaths occur.

The fall calving season produces around 30 calves, three of which have died during their first two weeks of life. But these types of occurrences are not unfamiliar to calving and livestock according to McCarthy.

“Calves do not have a fully functional immune system when they are born and the antibodies do not transport across the placenta while they are in their mother’s uterus,” said McCarthy. “Clearly the most vulnerable time for these calves is in the first two weeks.”

Although losing calves can be common, McCarthy is making sure that no other calves get sick. As the calves that were lost were born towards the end of the calving season, it is unlikely that the other calves born earlier are vulnerable to the sickness as well.

“Losing three is not a good thing. When you lose one you don’t really see a pattern, but when you lose two or three there is clearly a patter,” McCarthy said. “What we try to do is be detectives on trying to gather as much information as we can and try to then make a decision to treat and prevent.”

McCarthy has been a professor at the University of Findlay since 2002 and is the Chairman of the Animal Science Department. He teaches mostly junior and senior level classes dealing with production and oversees all of the livestock out at the Dr. C. Richard Beckett Animal Science building.

According to the Director of the Pre-Vet Program, Brandon Forshey, although newborn calves have weak immune systems, they suffer from respiratory illnesses and scours also known as diarrhea.

“Bovine respiratory disease and bovine viral diarrhea virus are usually ones that we see but one nice thing is that we have vaccines for it and they work very well,” said Forshey. “Luckily here we have very good barn managers so respiratory disease is limited.”
Preventative measures are the best way to fight off illness but if that does not work they will administer antibiotics.

“We try to vaccinate for some of the organisms that would most likely be present and for some organisms that might be brought in by other animals like birds,” said McCarthy. “If we do have a sick calf we hope that it is not viral so we can treat them with antibiotics.”

The deceased claves were sent to the Ohio Department of Agriculture to identify what made them sick and what the department would need to do to treat future sickness, but the results were inconclusive. Both McCarthy and Forshey attributed the sickness among the calves to the weather as the heat this fall might have caused extra stress on the them.

“They don’t have developed immune systems to overcome some of those challenges and stress so it is even more of an issue for the calves to get through those environmental issues without getting sick,” said McCarthy. “We are probably going to add another vaccine or two in the pre calving regime to try to increase the passive immunity protection for these calves for the first couple of weeks.”

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