In this Disease? Not On My Farm! feature, we look at how good husbandry and attention to detail are key to calf health as winter approaches.
When older stock is housed for winter, make sure this does not compromise calf health.
Vet Kirsty Ranson, of Westmorland Veterinary Group, Kendal, says: “Ideally, calves should not be sharing air space with older cattle, as they may be shedding bacteria and viruses which calves will pick up.
“Overstocking is also a common problem, as space becomes a premium when more stock is brought inside. Sometimes farmers do not realise calves are overstocked. Each 60kg calf requires 6cu.metres of air space and a 90kg calf needs 10cu.m of air space.”
Ms Ranson stresses that good husbandry, and taking a prevention is better than cure approach, are key to calf health.
The lower critical temperature for calves less than three weeks old is 10-15degC, and anything below this means they will have to use more energy to keep warm.
Ms Ranson recommends that from October to April, young calves wear jackets for up to eight weeks and a minimum of two weeks.
She says: “This will benefit growth rates, as calves will not be using energy to keep warm, and will therefore have more energy to run their immune system.”
A young calf’s best form of defence against disease are antibodies transferred from its mother via colostrum.
Ms Ranson says: “I advise doing a serum total protein check on 10% of calves. This is a simple blood test, done between one and seven days of age, which is a good indicator of colostrum transfer and is more useful than just checking colostrum quality, as it is indicates how quickly and how much colostrum has been given.”
Many dairy farmers choose to vaccinate against scour or pneumonia, either as a precautionary measure or because they have had a problem in the past.
Ms Ranson says: “If you are going to vaccinate, you need to know which pathogens are an issue, as different vaccines cover different bacteria or viruses, or combinations of.
“Diagnostics to establish this might include serology blood tests in six-month-old calves, post-mortem in the case of pneumonia, or a tracheal lung wash.
“If you did have a problem with pneumonia last year, think about putting a vaccination programme in place now before the weather gets too bad. If you wait until winter and problems start to occur, vaccination will not be as effective.”
Last year for the first time in many years James Robinson experienced a problem with scour in young calves.
He says: “It was not every calf, but we had quite a few with digestive upsets which really knocked them back.
“We could not get to the bottom of what was causing it, so in conjunction with my vet, we tested some scour samples which were positive for rotavirus.
“This year we have vaccinated the cows against it. We do this as they are drying off about six-eight weeks before calving, making sure we do it in batches of five to utilise all the vaccine in a pack.
“We have also really refocused on hygiene and colostrum intakes and, so far, we seem to have scour under control.
“Vaccination is not a cheap exercise, but the cost of scour in a calf is far more, not only in terms of growth rates, but the hassle factor of looking after them. It is quite demoralising having sick calves and knocks your confidence in calf rearing.”
This article is part of a ‘Disease? Not On My Farm!’ series which showcases proactive beef and dairy farmers taking pride in their robust herd health and disease management approach.
This information was provided by MSD Animal Health, makers of Bovilis® BVD, Bovilis® IBR Marker Live, Bovilis® IBR Marker Inac, Leptavoid™ H, Rotavec® Corona, Halocur®, Bovilis® Bovipast RSP,
Bovilis® Huskvac and Bovilis® Ringvac. Always use medicines responsibly. More information is available from Intervet UK Ltd trading as MSD Animal Health. Registered office Walton Manor, Walton,
Milton Keynes MK7 7AJ, UK. Registered in England & Wales no. 946942.