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HomeBeef‘Stress will drive down calf immunity’ – vet ahead of calving 2023
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Stress will drive down calf immunity’ – vet ahead of calving 2023

“Stress has a massive impact and will drive down calf immunity” – was one of the key messages Tommy Heffernan (best known as Tommy the Vet) highlighted during a recent winter calf health webinar on his YouTube channel.

The veterinary consultant, who has been involved in the field for over two decades, discussed the reduction of general infection pressure and the ‘see-saw principle’ of infection disease.

The latter is, he explained, that farmers, in conjunction with their farm vets, are trying to drive down infection pressure, which is the level of bacteria (pathogens) that animals are exposed to and attempting to increase immunity.

During his Being Brilliant at the Basics Winter Calf Health webinar 2023, Heffernan said:

“If we think about buying in calves, with nasal discharge and dirty scours, they are a source of infection, so we think about infection pressure at housing.”

“We are always trying to reduce that. We know there is infection on farms as that is a normal part of farms, so we need to look at what we can do to drive up immunity.”

“Colostrum is the obvious one, but there are lots of other things. Precision microbes are in that space of working in the maintenance of good gut health.”

“Actually, if you think about good bacteria and their competitive nature, that drives down infection pressure too,” he remarked.

The vet highlighted that a healthy immune system fights infection against pathogens.

Stressors for calves

On the back of this, he said farmers must understand that stressors for calves are multi-factorial and include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Poor dry cow management – impacts colostrum quality;
  • Hard calving;
  • Feeding (inconsistencies);
  • Environment, weather;
  • Disease (scour and pneumonia. He said that if calves that suffer from scour are six times more likely to get pneumonia);
  • Bad handling;
  • Animal husbandry tasks such as dehorning;
  • Transport.

He commented: “When we get stress, we get a reduction in immunity, and that is the same as ourselves, as pathogens’ take hold, propagate and cause problems.”

“That is what precision microbes are doing; they are supporting the immune system and the gut, particuarly the post-biotics. We must understand all the different stressors in calf health that can impact stress.”

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