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For Brian Marshall, the clock starts the minute a new calf hits the ground. Within the first four or five hours, this Missouri producer makes sure newborns are given an immunity-building bolus to head off scours and pneumonia, and lessen stress.
Marshall manages the cattle side of Marshall and Fenner Farms, a family operation at Malta Bend. Today, this operation, which started around 1950, is home to four generations. Marshall and six family members run the farm, which includes 2,700 acres of row crops (soybeans, corn and wheat) and a cattle operation.
Most of the cows here are black Angus, with about 400 head making up the registered and commercial herd. The farm has developed a reputation for high-quality replacement females, as well as bulls. That means every calf represents a serious investment in both time and genetics.
This is both a spring- and a fall-calving operation. Artificial insemination (AI) is used on almost 90% of cows, with a majority of the herd employed to carry embryo transplants from the best quality cows.
"We have 12 donor cows, and we've been doing embryo transfers for about 10 years," Marshall said. "Over the past three years, we've also started doing some in vitro fertilization. It's pretty wild. But the turnover on the herd, the improvement in genetics, is so fast. It's 10 times faster than developing a herd traditionally."
The in vitro work is being done with one nearly 10-year-old cow, SAV Elba 4436, a high-valued investment whose calves are highly sought after in the Angus breed. Marshall said thanks to the in-vitro work, she has already produced 160 calves. Compared to a 12-year-old cow that carried 10 calves naturally in her lifetime, it's easy to see how much more productivity can be gained with the technology.
"With superior animals, this allows you to sort of push the button and try to get more of the better ones," Marshall says. "We use the commercial cows to carry those embryos, and our genetics just get stronger and better. Everything pushes forward faster."
PROTECTING THE INVESTMENT
Given the lengths this operation goes to for quality calves, it's easy to see why Marshall doesn't like to lose one. Unfortunately, like many other cattlemen, he's had to deal with scours in his spring calf crop.
"We lose some calves to scours every year, I think everybody does. But it can add up quick, you can lose 15 or 20, and that's what we want to avoid," he said.
Once scours hits an operation, it usually will be hardest on calves around 2 weeks of age. Dams and their calves have to be gathered up, treated with an antibiotic and often given oral fluid treatments to replace electrolytes and rehydrate affected calves. In some cases, a laboratory diagnosis may be needed to identify which pathogen is at the root of the outbreak.
Rotavirus and Bovine coronavirus are commonly associated with scours in calves. Parasites that cause problems include Cryptosporidium (crypto) and coccidia, and bacteria that can lead to scours include Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens. Scours agents stay in the ground and can transfer to calves, especially under wet conditions.
MULTIPLE LINES OF PREVENTION
Marshall said in his experience, wet, damp and muddy conditions can be a trigger for the onset of scours. It's not a problem when the sun is shining and the ground is dry and warm. But in any spring-calving operation, those conditions aren't something you can order up.