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Calf Illnesses: Prevention vs Treatment

Photo credit: Barry Yaremcio

There are many medications available to treat sick newborn calves. These products are used with the guidance of a veterinarian. A good practice to follow. Supplements or specialty products are also available for on farm use. Some products have been around for a long time and others are relatively new.

A new vitamin and selenium supplement came onto the market in November of 2022, and is registered with the CFIA. This treatment must be used under the direction of a veterinarian. The product provides Vitamins A, D, E, B12, D3, and selenium. Recommended for calves that are not thriving shortly after birth. Scientifically proven to be an effective treatment. Helpful to resolve the immediate problem.

Instead of treating an illness or problem, it is less stressful on both the animal and owner for calves to be born healthy and vigorous. The health status of a newborn calf is directly related to the nutrition program of the dam. For example, a cow or heifer develops colostrum 4 to 8 weeks prior to calving. It is the first milk that provides passive immunity and nutrients to the calf. A thin cow develops only half of short term immunoglobulins (IgM) compared to a cow in good condition. Without adequate colostrum, more calf health problems usually occur within 4 to 6 weeks of birth.

It can take sixty to ninety days of supplementation to improve the nutritional status of an animal from being deficient to good or optimal levels. Usually, if one mineral or trace mineral is deficient, others can also be deficient. A balanced nutrition program is needed.

Feeding a mineral program one or two months prior to calving does not provide optimum nutrition to both the cow and unborn calf. A program should be developed and in place prior to the middle of the second trimester. This alleviates many of the problems associated with calving, calf health, and rebreeding.

Treating an illness or problem with a medication or supplement is solving one problem. The calf that is not thriving at birth can face many other illnesses within the first few months of life. Good nutrition is not a guarantee for healthy calves but it is a strong preventative measure.

For additional information on developing a sound nutrition plan for your herd, contact Barry at 403-741-6032 or


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