It sounds like a fairly simple objective, but as we all know it can much more difficult than it appears. Producing strong and healthy stock is not only an ongoing process, but one that requires detailed knowledge and care.
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The major causes of calf losses in the UK are neonatal scour and pneumonia. The impact of these on your calves can be minimized by adopting basic management protocols to both reduce exposure to the causative organisms and increase the calves immunity.
Calf Scour Causes
There are many different pathogens which can cause scour, the most common are listed below:
- Low colostrum intake
- Unhygenic environment
- Mixing age groups
- No cleaning protocol
- Spreading of infection from feeders
With so many possible causes it is important to test faecal samples enabling us to determine which organisms you are dealing with, allowing us to create a specific control strategy.
Calf Scour Treatment
Dependant on the severity of the scour treatment it maybe decided to include:
- Oral electrolytes (if calf is alert and able to suck)
- Antibiotic injection (after veterinary advice)
- Intravenous drips (if calf is unable to swallow/stand up)
- Isolate affected calves (to reduce spread of disease)
Calf Scour Control
- Colostrum management (10% calfs bodyweight within the first 6 hours – check colostrum levels)
- Hygiene (dip navel at birth, clean calving pens, feeding equipment etc.)
- Vaccination (vaccines exist for Rota/coronavirus, Ecoli and salmonella) (consult your vet)
- Clean environment – No build up of bacteria (regular clean, disinfect & rest)
- If allowing suckling on dam, consider cleaning the udder to prevent any bacteria that may have built up over the dry period
Key Points For Calf Scour
- Early detection
- Oral electrolytes
- Specific diagnosis
Respiratory disease is the most common cause of disease in weaned calves. There are many viruses and bacteria which can cause pneumonia including:
Respiratory disease can have a rapid onset and spreads very quickly, causing a variety of clinical signs, including:
- Dull, off feed
- Nasal discharge
- Coughing, mouth breathing
- High temperature (>39.5C)
- Ears (sagging, flicking of their ears is a sign they have mycoplasma which causes fluid on the ear)
Treatment For Calf Pneumonia
- Isolate sick animals
- Anti-inflammatory injection (reduces long term drug damage)
- Treat with broad spectrum antibiotic (after veterinary advice)
- Treatment of in-contact calves (to prevent spread)
Control Of Calf Pneumonia
- Avoid overcrowding
- Adequate ventilation and air movement
- Avoid mixing of ages in one airspace
- Thorough cleansing of housing between batches
- Well kept clean dry bedding
Vaccines are available to give added protection against the major causes of pneumonia (consult your vet for further advice).
Bloat is most seen early in the calf’s life when the calf isn’t fully developed & going through a transitional period.
It’s an over expansion of the abomasum or rumen due to the gas produced by feed building up and not being able to escape.
Calves with bloat may refuse feed, kick at the stomach, look generally unhappy, grind their teeth.
Calf Bloat Causes & How to Reduce
|Risk||How can I Reduse the Risk?|
Teats that are worn can be seen as spraying. Calves will digest this too quickly – flood the oesophageal groove causing milk to enter the rumen.
Regular changing of teats. Change all teats on feeder together minimising the risk of different flow levels.
Remember what’s natural for a calf.
Feeding large quantities in a single feed at an early age will flood the abomasum & start filling the rumen.
A calf wouldn’t be taking huge amounts of milk of their damns in a single feed but in various amounts throughout the day (little & often) – if we can mimic this process this would be perfect (automatic feeders) will allow this process. However, this is not possible on all farming systems. Start your calves on the recommended feeding volume according to the milk powder and slowly build up over a large period of time e.g. 0.5L over a week. Feed a maximum of 3L per meal
Irregular Feeding Concentration
A build of dried powder on automatic feeders/ scoops will alter percentage levels.
Clean scoops regularly so no build of dried powder on surfaces. Use scales to measure powder levels. Calibrate Automatic Feeders fortnightly.
Build of milk solids on equipment allow pathogens to grow.
Clean equipment after every use to ensure no bacterial build up. (Please see Essential Hygiene Page for more information)
Ensure oesophageal groove is in the correct position.
Check height of teats regularly (60cm), adjust with bedding.
Poorly Mixed Milk
Lumps in mixed milk will have different levels of quantities & block up teats.
Ensure Milk is mixed thoroughly before feeding.
Irregular feed temperatures will not stimulate the oesophageal groove causing potential of milk entering the wrong stomach.
Ensure Milk is fed at the right temperature when being provided to the calves (38C). Consider distance to calf shed from mixing room & current weather conditions aswell as old equipment.
Irregular feeding times
Prevents stimulation of oesophageal groove. Can cause calves to overeat.
Calves are clever & have their own body clock, keep feeding times the same every day. If late on feeding, calves will start gauging concentrate – this can be a problem if the calf is at a very young age.
Inadequate levels of good quality colostrum. Incorrect technique of inserting tube causing potential damage to oesophageal grove
Test colostrum, Feed 10% calf’s bodyweight within first 6 hours. Try to use a teat if possible