Looking after Reindeer Calves

Perhaps the most troublesome time for the reindeer farmer occurs during calving time. Every effort must be made to ensure that calves obtain the first milk or colostrums which is rich in antibodies.

If a calf is orphaned and unable to receive colostrums within the first few hours of life, then antibodies should be administered intravenously. This is done by collecting one pint of blood from a donor reindeer (preferably from the same farm), then separating and administering 50 to 100ml of plasma by the intravenous route. This is a common procedure in equine medicine and most veterinarians are familiar with the procedure. Plasma may be harvested and stored frozen for immediate availability in the future.

The immune system of young reindeer is not fully functional until approximately three months of age. Vaccines administered before that time do little good. Antisera and anti-toxins providing passive immunity are effective at any time.

Both infectious and non-infectious diseases must be dealt with and many are specific to individual farms. One of the most common infectious diseases encountered by reindeer calves is caused by pathogenic Escherichia coli bacteria (colibacillosis). The most common symptom in calves one to five days of age is weakness rapidly progressing to death. It is also seen in slightly older calves. Prevention includes the use of a killed K99 E Colivaccine in pregnant females administered in late fall.

There are also oral antisera available for newborn calves of mothers that were not vaccinated in the fall. Reindeer calves may also be infected by several other disease agents including bovine respiratory viruses. Vaccination programs should be tailored to specific farms and diseases known to be present in the general area. Immediate veterinary care should be obtained for any calf that appears to be ill.

Clean calving areas are very important. In most cases a minimum of intrusion is best to prevent calf rejections by the mother. Use of iodine on the navel, administration of oral antibodies, etc. to healthy calves may cause more harm than good if bonding of the mother to the newborn has not occurred. This is not as much of a problem for farm raised reindeer as it is for animals off the tundra.

Use common sense and good judgment, and you will have a successful reindeer calving season.