Coccidiosis in calves can be a tricky one as the need for the calf to develop its own immunity has to be coupled with treatment to minimise the impact of any challenge.
Vet Jenny Bellini gives her advice on managing this tenacious disease....
Many dairy farmers are finding that a blanket preventative treatment approach to coccidiosis is not working in the long-term.
So vet Jenny Bellini and the team at Friars Moor Vets in Dorset are working with farmers to develop bespoke management plans to get a grip on the disease cycle on-farm, as it is not a case of one-size-fits-all.
Miss Bellini explains that last summer was a case in point. Even though farmers had implemented preventative treatments, they were still seeing problems.
“When administering medication through feed, there’s always a chance that some calves won’t eat as much as others, meaning they don’t receive an adequate dosage, and every farm tends to have a slightly different approach when managing youngstock.
“Good coccidiosis control relies on calves developing their own immunity, as well as lowering the environmental challenge and appropriate medication being used.
“For this reason, it’s important to remember that no farm is the same, so taking a proactive, tailored approach to each individual holding is by far the most effective way to manage coccidiosis,” she says.
“The first step to creating a strong management plan is to get in touch with your vet. They’ll be able to work with you to advise on and develop the most appropriate protocols for the specific situation with detailed diagnostics.
“Identifying critical stress points that lead to calves being exposed to coccidiosis will help to establish how to pre-empt an outbreak. For example, any difference in routine, such as weaning, grouping calves, and big changes in diets or the weather, are all common precursors for the disease,” explains Miss Bellini.
Once these critical timings have been established, it is recommended to ask your vet to run faecal oocyst counts and speciation tests, one week before, during, and one week after the time of potential stress.
Miss Bellini explains that this proactive diagnostic approach will pin-point and confirm when the calves are first exposed to coccidiosis and therefore start shedding the disease back into the environment, but before the disease reaches clinical stages, which can include severe scouring, loss of appetite and dehydration.
“Understanding the disease cycle on-farm and identifying the stress points informs the most effective time to treat, and allows a metaphylactic treatment approach – treating after the calves have been exposed to the disease, but before clinical symptoms occur.”
Metaphylactic treatment with a product containing toltrazuril, such as Baycox, will ensure maximum benefit and stop the disease taking hold and leading to clinical problems.
“You want calves to overcome the coccidiosis challenge on-farm, recovering quickly, avoiding major negative impacts on production, at the same time as developing immunity,” she says.
To help minimise the spread of coccidiosis for future groups of calves, strict biosecurity controls should also form a vital part of any sound disease control plan. Miss Bellini recommends implementing an ‘all in - all out’ policy to prevent the build-up of infection in housing.
“First of all, I’d start with removing all organic matter, before washing down with a detergent, followed by a suitable disinfectant. But it’s essential to get the concentrations right and allow the area to fully dry for this to be effective.”
“It’s not just the housing you need to consider when working to prevent coccidiosis, it’s also the fields. While many farmers don’t have a lot of choice of fields for young calves, if possible, look to rotate those available between groups.
“If a field has had a known coccidiosis infection, leave it for as long as possible before turning out young calves that haven’t had previous exposure to the disease, as this minimises the disease threat for that batch.
“Older cattle can be turned out to graze areas with a higher coccidiosis risk, as they should have developed an immunity,” adds Miss Bellini.