With persistent wet weather and the nights drawing, now is the time to think about planning for housing, says vet Dr Jack Sheldrake, of Black Sheep Farm Health, Northumberland.
He says from the perspective of the calf, housing is a stressful experience.
“We wean them, change their diet, environment and ventilation all at the same time. This results in a period when they are much more likely to succumb to disease.”
However, he says there are a number of ways to moderate these changes. For example, he says it may be possible to introduce the calf to creep feed before housing to help prepare their rumens.
He also says it is not uncommon to house cows and calves together for a few weeks then wean after.
He says: “This method can be very beneficial, as it allows calves to acclimatise to indoor life before the stress of weaning. However, it does depend somewhat on building design.”
Dr Sheldrake says these ideas should help make the move to housing as stress-free as possible, with the aim being to have robust animals which are well prepared for any potential disease challenge.
However, he adds there are a number of specific treatments to consider at this important time.
He says: “The first thing to consider when dealing with calves is pneumonia. There is a vast selection of effective vaccines available to prevent pneumonia. While they do not guarantee you will not get an issue, they do greatly raise the threshold above which you get disease. Hence, disease is much less likely.
“Firstly, you need to know the pathogens on your farm which your animals need protection against.”
Dr Sheldrake says the most common viruses in calves less than one-year-old are parainfluenza three and respiratory syncytial virus.
He says: “In slightly older calves, IBR can become more of an issue. There are also several types of bacteria that cause this issue. In fact, it is often the bacteria which has entered the airway following viral damage that we end up treating.
“What will commonly happen is the vet will advise a vaccine which will cover the pathogens that are most likely to cause an issue.
“If you still get problems, they can test to see if there are any additional vaccines which would be beneficial.”
Dr Sheldrake adds that BVD can be a ‘rumbling issue’. He says: “Finding out your status and testing 10 nine- to 18-month-old home-bred cattle is highly recommended.
“There is currently some free testing available, so I would advise speaking to your own vet for more information about this.”
He also says worms and fluke need to be considered in both cows and calves.
He says: “In general, adult cattle should be immune to worms, so should not need treating. But this is not a hard and fast rule. Young cows and heifers might not have the immunity a mature cow, so may benefit from being wormed at housing.
“Any thin cows may also benefit from a worm dose, particularly when heifers had their first calf at two years old.”
Dr Sheldrake says adverse conditions, such as limited grass, bad weather or low trace elements, can make a worm burden more likely, and generally calves will want worming at housing.
He says fluke is a lot more farmspecific and there are several ways to diagnose it.
Dr Sheldrake says: “In some areas, there will be farms that just do not have an issue so can avoid treatment.
“Broadly speaking, there are two main treatment options: a triclabendazole drench two weeks after housing; or an injection that only kills late immature/adult fluke. Therefore, they cannot be given until six to nine weeks after housing, depending on the product.
“With increasing resistance to triclabendazole, my preference is to use the injection most years. Then save the drench for situations when the cows are housed really late, such as after Christmas.”