Calf 911 – How to Spot Dehydration in Young or Scouring Calves *New Video*

It’s a great feeling when a calf arrives on the ground safe and sound. Ideally, things go well, and cows and newborn calves thrive. However, it’s important for producers to take the time to look for signs of early illness in neonatal calves. Being able to recognize the symptoms of disease and dehydration in baby calves is a simple and effective practice that can make a big mark on your bottom line.

Calves with scours are at a high risk for dehydration and hypothermia. When calves infected with neonatal scours die, it is ultimately because of dehydration, not the pathogens that cause the disease. Having practices in place on your operation to identify, manage and rehydrate calves suffering from scours or other causes of dehydration can increase the chance of recovery and optimize the health and wellbeing of young calves.

Here are some steps producers can use to evaluate the dehydration and health status of young calves: Continue reading

Calf 911 – How to Manage Colostrum to Allow Newborn Calves to Thrive *New Video*

Ensuring newborn calves consume colostrum is one of the most important management strategies cow-calf operations can implement to promote healthy calves. Colostrum provides essential antibodies (like Immunoglobulin G or IgG) to a calf with virtually no immune system. Colostrum also contains fats, vitamins, proteins and other immune cells essential to provide the calf energy, warmth and the local immunity it requires to thrive in the first few days of life. This initial immunity will protect against calfhood diseases such as scours, navel abscesses, septic arthritis and pneumonia.

Calves that are born unassisted and uncompromised will typically stand and nurse from their mothers within one to two hours after birth. However, calves that experience a difficult or prolonged birth, have a swollen tongue, experience hypothermia or are a twin may be less vigorous and unable to stand and nurse during that critical period. A cow with a large udder, poor udder suspension and/or large teats may also limit a calf’s ability to receive adequate colostrum.

It is crucial for producers to observe newborn calves to make sure they have received colostrum and to intervene if necessary. Look closely to see if any of the cow’s teats have been suckled, feel if the calf’s belly is full and check the hooves to see if the rubbery capsule has been worn off to indicate standing. Checking a calf’s suckle reflex by sticking your fingers in the calf’s mouth is also a simple indicator to demonstrate whether the suckle reflex is weak and the calf needs to be supplemented with colostrum. Continue reading

Protect Your Investments

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

beef cow cleaning newborn calf in winter snow
Producer surveys suggest that 5 to 8% of calves typically die before weaning. High winter feed costs mean you’ve already invested a lot in the 2022 calf crop. That investment is lost when calves die before weaning. Scours and respiratory disease are two leading causes of preventable disease and death in young calves.

Calves rely on antibodies from the cow’s colostrum to fight off common pathogens. If the cow herd is well-vaccinated and well-fed, and if calves consume adequate amounts of high-quality colostrum within the first few hours of life, maternal antibody levels can remain high for several months.

The downside is that maternal antibodies can interfere with injectable vaccines. Vaccines help the immune system practice, like a fire drill. The first attempt may be awkward, slow and uncoordinated, but repeated practice improves performance next time. Similarly, the immune system responds better each time it’s exposed to a pathogen. The second (booster) vaccination produces a stronger and longer-lasting response than the initial (priming) vaccination. If the calf is given a vaccine injection while high levels of maternal antibody are circulating in the calf’s blood, those antibodies will block the vaccine before the calf’s own immune system gets a chance to practice. That defeats the purpose.

“Mucosal” vaccines given in the nose (intranasal) or mouth (oral) avoid this problem. These vaccines work differently than injectable vaccines so maternal antibodies do not interfere with them. Nathan Erickson and colleagues at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine demonstrated this in a recent study funded by your Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off (Evaluation of bovine respiratory syncital virus (BRSV) and bovine herpesvirus (BHV) specific antibody responses between heterologous and homologous prime-boost vaccinated western Canadian beef calves; PMID: 33390597). Continue reading

Calf 911 – The Ins and Outs of Esophageal Feeding *New Video*

While the goal is to always have vigorous calves that nurse right away, and maternal cows that bring them up right, illness and suckling issues can be a reality. Esophageal feeding, also known as “tube feeding” or “stomach feeding,” is essential when a calf requires colostrum or if you are treating dehydration in a sick calf. Knowing how to properly tube feed a calf is critical to help support calves when they are at their most vulnerable. Here are a few tips to consider while tube feeding calves:  

Continue reading

A Guide to Keeping Records That Help Make Profitable Decisions

The start of a new season and year is the perfect time for beef producers to look back on what went well and think ahead to what can be improved.

Do you feel like you have a good understanding of your farm’s profit and production? Do you have goals for the upcoming season?

You can learn a lot about your farm when you make the effort to collect and take a look at your financial and production data. Perhaps you assumed an area of your operation was performing better than it truly was and records demonstrate improvement is needed. On the other hand, analysing data may point to improvements that you didn’t realize occurred.

Good farm records are useful to provide the data needed to understand your farm performance and will help take the guesswork out of management decisions. Research shows that when producers set goals and keep records, they can achieve up to 60 more pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed. Benchmarking also helps producers be prepared for challenging times such as drought and other environmental disasters, and will maximize the benefits of your annual VCPR (Veterinary Client Patient Relationship) visit with your herd veterinarian. Continue reading

Rebuild & Recover – Two Producers Share their Experiences with Fire and Drought

For many beef producers across Canada, the past year was challenging because of environmental conditions. Many producers experienced and continue to withstand extreme weather, which is testing their production and profit potentials, but also their mental resolve and financial resilience.

When things aren’t going well, farmers may feel like everything is out of their control. However, thinking strategically, reaching out and building a community of peers and professionals can help producers navigate through tough times and come out stronger in the end.

Finding silver linings in the ashes

For Andrea Haywood-Farmer and her husband Ted, last summer they were running from one fire to another — literally. “Our whole ranch burnt except our homeplace,” Andrea says, yet she remains optimistic. “It was really scary. But we’re going to be okay.”

Wildfire is a primary risk for their multi-generational ranch, located near Savona, BC. The Haywood-Farmers run about 1,200 cow-calf pairs (collectively with a cousin) on fire-prone timber mountain range. “Fire can start anywhere and it can go anywhere, depending on the wind and conditions,” explains Andrea. “Not knowing where it might start or where it’s going is a significant vulnerability for us.”

Beef producers moving cattle to safety away from wildfires


The Haywood-Farmer family spent much of the summer moving their herd out of the path of wildfires in British Columbia. Photo courtesy of the Haywood-Farmer family.

Where practical, they implement prevention practices. “There are things like your homeplace – you think about fire exposure and mitigating fire risk,” she says, and adds that they have hay fields strategically located around their yard for protection. When it comes to their range however, the uncertain nature of fire limits pre-planning. “You go and start opening gates and, to the best of your ability, if there are cattle in the pasture, you move them out of harm’s way,” explains Andrea. “And you keep doing it until you don’t have to do it anymore.” Continue reading

Feeding Decisions Are Important Breeding Decisions

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

When life gets really stressful it can be hard to remember what you already know. This column probably won’t tell you anything new, but it might remind you of some important principles that can get overlooked in the scramble to buy feed and make important financial decisions.
Black Angus cattle eating hay as winter feed
Winter feed costs are a key financial make-or-break factor for cow-calf producers, especially this winter. Weaned calf sales bear most of the responsibility for offsetting those winter feed costs, so reproductive performance is another financial make-or-break factor. The most profitable cows are those that wean a calf every year for the greatest number of years.

The big challenge is that feed costs and reproductive performance are inseparable. Drastic measures to minimize per head feed costs usually have a negative impact on reproductive performance. Maximizing reproductive performance can increase feed costs significantly. But there can be some room to move in the middle. Maintaining or even improving reproductive performance can often be achieved by carefully managing the feed you have to maintain optimal body condition scores. This may mean spending money differently, not necessarily more of it, and will help maintain or improve reproductive performance. Continue reading

What a Year — Top 10 Articles from the BCRC Blog in 2021


top 10 blog posts of 2021

This past year presented Canadian beef producers with a lot of different circumstances. Some challenges, such as a widespread drought, required responsive decision-making at times. Yet production cycles continue, and breeding, weaning and feeding activities need to be planned and prepared for. 

Throughout the year, the BCRC published blog posts once or twice a week. Articles provide science-based insight into issues impacting Canada’s beef sector. Some articles from the past year featured producers’ perspectives and tips on topics such as animal-handling or how to improve forages. Other articles featured calculators and tools designed to help beef producers make strategic decisions. Some featured new research, while others focus on a timely response to on-the-ground challenges. 

The BCRC strives to provide relevant science and economic-based information to producers throughout the year and we value the feedback of our audience. Which posts stood out for you? What are some topics you would like to see as we flip the calendar to a new year?

Below are the BCRC’s Top 10 blog posts of 2021.   
Canadian beef cattle during drought in pasture with dwindling water supply
10. Decision Making During Drought

Dealing with drought is hard, but there are some strategies producers can use to help them make the best of a tough situation. Marketing cull cows earlier than normal, drylotting cows or weaning calves earlier can reduce pressure on feed and pastures.  Continue reading

Be Mindful of Minerals

What mineral supplementation do I need and when do I need it?

Beef producers might know they should supplement their herds with mineral, but trying to wade through all the choices at the livestock supply store can be overwhelming. Commercial suppliers seem to make claims and offer something different, but with tubs and bags of every colour and price available, how to you know which one is right for your herd? What minerals do your cattle actually need and how is it best delivered?

total mixed feed ration for beef cattle


In general, beef cattle producers should be supplementing mineral to their herds whether they are grazing or being fed a winter ration.

Megan Van Schaik, a Beef Cattle Specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) says there are some key things producers want to look at. In general, producers should be supplementing mineral to their herds whether they are grazing or being fed a winter ration.

Van Schaik says there are a host of variables that impact mineral nutrition and deficiencies in beef herds. “They present in many different ways and alarm bells usually go off when we see reproductive issues,” she says, but adds that mineral status can be linked to general health problems and even calf abnormalities. Mineral deficiencies can also cause less obvious production losses that can be easily avoided with proper supplementation. Continue reading