Calf health: Stop Salmonella before it spreads


A calf may have the healthiest gastrointestinal tract and best immune system in the world at birth, but that doesn’t mean it’s not susceptible to Salmonella.

“There are two kinds of farms. Those that have Salmonella and those that don’t know they have it,” said Dr. Corale Dorn, DVM, Dell Veterinary Clinic, Dell Rapids, South Dakota.

A veterinarian since 2001, Dorn shared her up-close experiences with Salmonellosis in calves during the Central Plains Dairy Expo breakout session, “How Preventative Measures are Essential for Optimum Gut Health,” sponsored by Alltech.

So where does Salmonella come from? The main source of an infection is usually transmitted through fecal/oral. It can be difficult to tell which cows are shedding bacteria because asymptomatic and subclinically affected cows can shed as many organisms in their manure as the cows that are actually sick.

Dorn said while it’s a balancing act for keeping calves healthy, prevention is really the key. Here are several items Dorn suggests every producer implement on his or her farm:

  • Keep it clean. Standard procedures for cleaning are important. How well are you disinfecting your calf bottles?  Examine your multi-calf feeders as that is an area where Salmonella can spread. Look at the water tank and the area around that. The bedding pack may also be infected.
  • Keep it comfortable. The thermo-neutral zone for a calf is 50-68 degrees Fahrenheit. Pay attention to weather-related stress. For example, February and August can be particularly stressful times for calves in South Dakota.
  • Keep them well fed with a functioning immune system. Pay attention to metabolizable energy and protein intake and status relative to maintenance. Calves need one gallon of colostrum within the first six hours of life and it needs to be high in IgG, low in bacteria, and fed at the proper temperature. If you have extra to feed in milk, do it.
  • Use products that promote the right bugs in the GI system. Vaccinate the cow and calf. Give colostrum supplements to the calf. Consider adding prebiotics and probiotics. For example, Dorn suggests a natural supplement from Alltech called Bio-Mos, that support gastrinotestinal health and integrity.

Dorn said “long gone are the days where we can just give them a drug and kill the bug.” What scares her the most have been the infections that get past the intestines, such as into the liver or spleen, and the symptoms don’t look like scours.

“It’s easy to talk about the bugs, but it is easier to talk about preventing them before they get there,” Dorn said.

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