Although calves are susceptible to many diseases from early life, calf scour is the most common illness in calves less than one-month-old.
Rotavirus, Coronavirus and E.coli are some of the most common causes of calf scour which can lead to significant economic losses due to calf mortality, treatment costs, labour and reduced growth rates.
According to Co. Wicklow farmer, Darren Healy, prevention is always better than cure when it comes animal health. Located at Redcross Co. Wicklow, he is farming in partnership with his wife, Kalinda, and father, Eamon.
The Healys are milking a 280-predominately Holstein Friesian herd. The farm is run on a grass-based, spring-calving system, with his herd calving from the beginning of February to the end of April.
According to Darren, the control of calf scour is based on equally important preventative practices. Vaccination is not used as a substitute for good quality colostrum, good hygiene practices or good housing management; they all go hand-in-hand in order to reduce the risk of calf illness and enhance thrive.
With the help of his vet, Mark Drought from Avondale Veterinary Hospital, a health plan is developed for each of Darren’s group of animals.
Based on Mark’s recommendations, Darren uses a number of MSD Animal Health vaccines to reduce the risk of scour caused by Rotavirus, Coronavirus and E. coli, Salmonella, Leptospirosis, IBR and pneumonia.
“As per Mark’s health plan, we vaccinate cows at least 3 weeks prior to calving to protect the new-born calf from the main scour-causing bacteria.”
“This is why we ensure that the calf receives colostrum as soon as possible after birth as the colostrum will contain these antibodies to protect the calf against scour.”
Calves are vaccinated with Bovipast RSP at 2 weeks of age to reduce the risk of pneumonia before they leave to go to the contract rearer (leave at 18-20-days-old).
“The booster shot is given on the contract rearers farm along with the other vaccines on the animal health plan,” says Darren.
Apart from prioritising animal health, Darren maintains that vaccination also makes more financial sense in the long run.
“Animal health is a priority on this farm as we don’t have the time or labour to treat sick animals. It makes more sense for me to vaccinate for calf scour every year as it means that I can budget and manage the cash flow for the year.”
“I cannot account for the costs associated with a breakout of scour or even worse, losses of calves,” he added.
According to Suzanne Naughton, veterinary advisor with MSD Animal Health, “Feeding three litres of good quality colostrum as soon as possible after birth, and ideally within the first two hours, is critical in order to obtain the necessary antibodies which will kick start the calves immune system and help protect against disease.”
“The ability to absorb antibodies drops substantially after six hours and is effectively non-existent after 24 hours.”
“Vaccinating pregnant cattle with the MSD Animal Health scour vaccine 12 – 3 weeks prior to calving will boost the levels of Rotavirus, Coronavirus and E.coli antibodies in their colostrum. This will be passed to the new-born calf in the first colostrum feeding,” she explained.
Pregnant cattle can be vaccinated with the MSD Animal Health scour vaccine, 12 – 3 weeks prior to calving in order to reduce the risk of scour in calves caused by Rotavirus, Coronavirus and E.coli.
Darren states that colostrum feeding is one of the most important factors on his farm. “Each the year we try and up our game in some way. This year, we purchased a Brix refractometer which allows us to determine if the colostrum is of a good quality.
“Over the last two years, we have really seen the benefits of managing our colostrum correctly. Weight gain and feed conversion has improved substantially, and we no longer experience incidences of scour,” says Darren.
Calves receive colostrum up to day three, before transitioning to whole milk which is fed up to the time they leave the farm at 2-3 weeks of age.
Housing & Hygiene
Good hygiene is central to Darren’s calf rearing programme and is applied to all areas including housing, feeding and bedding. “We are very particular about calf hygiene. We have two calf rearing sheds which allows us to clean, disinfect and air out one shed and temperately hold all the calves in the other shed”, says Darren.
Calves are bedded twice-a-day with clean fresh straw and the calf feeders are scrubbed with soapy hot water after each feeding. The feeders are washed with a disinfectant once-a-week.
Darren has also invested in a number of large disinfectant mats which are located at the entrance of the calf sheds to reduce the risk of contamination from farm boots.
Calves are housed in a well-ventilated calf shed where they have access to a dry deep straw bed and fresh clean water. Calf jackets are used on some calves under three weeks of age to prevent cold stress and maintain body heat.
The investment in vaccination, along with strict preventative management practices, is clearly paying off for Darren as the work that the vet carries out on-farm is 90% advisory compared to just 10% emergency.
“We rarely have any issues with sick calves, and I believe this is a result of undertaking the appropriate preventative practices throughout the season,” concludes Darren.