Caring for newborn and young livestock is a difficult task. From the very first minute of life through the first year and beyond, all species of livestock require special care and close monitoring to ensure a long and healthy life.
Newborn livestock mortality statistics are alarming. Nearly 2.2 million calves were lost in 2015 alone. Almost 20% of lambs die before weaning, with 80% of those losses occurring during the first 10 days of life. More than half of all piglet deaths occur within the first two or three days of life. Of all foals born in 2017, nearly 6% died within 30 days.
These distressing statistics lead to one important conclusion: Producers must commit to livestock care from the very start.
Ensure a Safe Delivery
An animal’s entry into the world can impact the rest of its life. Ensuring a safe and smooth delivery makes your job easier in the long run. Bovine Veterinarian suggests allowing the birthing process to proceed as naturally as possible. Unless absolutely necessary, avoid grabbing or pulling to speed up the process. Many important biological events occur during birth, and intervention can disrupt crucial developments.
After birth, make sure the airways are clear and the newborn is bright and alert to its surroundings. Newborn calves should be able to sit upright and rest on their sternum within 15 minutes of birth, while foals should make attempts to rise within 30 minutes. Lambs and piglets should also rise soon after birth and begin nursing.
For newborn livestock, nursing may be the first step to ensure a healthy life. Nursing provides antibody-rich colostrum that helps protect livestock from disease. In the first weeks of life, the mother’s milk provides everything a rapidly growing newborn needs for sustenance and growth. The American Association of Equine Practitioners suggests that owners and ranchers should closely monitor nursing habits and provide the mother with ample food and water to aid in milk production.
Keep in mind that there is no “best” age to wean livestock. The process can be very stressful, as the young are now expected to fend for themselves nutritionally. Closely monitor young livestock during this process, keeping an eye out for unusual behavior and signs of disease.
Create a Safe Environment and Prevent the Spread of Disease
As your livestock grow, providing them with a safe environment only further ensures their health. Keep an eye out for predators, as they tend to prey on the smallest members of a herd. Avoid overcrowding to prevent accidental death due to trampling or adults laying on newborns. Provide young livestock with ample access to water and food as they grow.
The youngest members of your herd are the most susceptible to disease. Ensuring they receive as much colostrum as possible after birth sets them up for success, but be especially aware of signs of disease among your herd during the early months and act accordingly. To learn more about common signs of livestock illness, read my blog from July.
Birthing and raising animals exposes even the most experienced operations to the damaging effects of livestock mortality. Talk to your insurance provider to see what policies they offer that can cover you financially should death occur in your newborn livestock.