Research has identified new approaches to reducing losses due to diarrhoea in calves.
Georgina Thomas, young animal feed manager with Trouw Nutrition, advises changing the way calves with diarrhoea are fed, which has commonly been to stop milk feeding until diarrhoea has stopped.
“Research now suggests withdrawing milk is counter-productive, leading to greater weight loss, prolonging the time taken for the calf to recover and actually exacerbates potential dehydration.
“A better approach is to keep the total amount fed the same but reducing the meal size and increasing the feeding frequency to compensate for the reduced absorptive capacity in the gut. For example, a farm feeding three litres twice a day should switch to feeding two litres, three times a day if possible.”
Ms Thomas also says rehydration strategies based on oral rehydration solutions remain an essential weapon in the battle against diarrhoea, but believes the new research suggests their effectiveness can be improved.
“Many solutions include high amounts of glucose as they are fed at a time when milk has been removed and so were thought to provide sick calves with an energy source. At the same time, they commonly have a high sodium concentration. This combination can actually reduce the effectiveness of the product due to relative concentration of the product compared to the blood, which is measured as osmolality.”
Blood and bodily fluids have an osmolality of about 300mOsm/kg. Anything higher is called hypertonic and has the effect of pulling more water from the body. A liquid lower than 300mOsm/kg is called hypotonic and has the reverse effect, supporting absorption from the gut into the body.
“Many oral rehydration solutions are hypertonic and can reduce absorption and are therefore be less effective in controlling dehydration. Our research shows that the combination of a hypotonic rehydration supplement fed alongside highly digestible milk maximises the recovery from diarrhoea.”