Over summer 2020, 444 farmers from throughout Ireland and the UK took time to share information on many aspects of calf management in the fourth annual #Calfmatters survey.
This response rate was up on previous years, showing an increased interest and awareness of the impact calf health has on lifetime performance.
Across the entire survey, 54% were dairy farms, 33% beef, 7% dairy and beef and 6% calf rearers with a good proportion of Irish herds represented.
Calf health and wellbeing are increasingly at the forefront of producer’s decision-making. For routine tasks when local anaesthetic is used, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) therapy is also administered for longer-term pain relief when local anaesthetic has worn off.
Leon Duffy, veterinary adviser at Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, who conducted the survey, explains:
“Year-on-year, more farmers are giving NSAIDs when carrying out routine tasks such as disbudding, dehorning and castration.”
“Animal Health Ireland recommends that pain relief is given when carrying out these procedures. Despite the increase in use reported in the #Calfmatters survey, still, nearly 50% of farms are not using an NSAID to complement local anaesthetic for disbudding.”
Studies show that calves given an NSAID injection at disbudding/dehorning have a greater feed intake, resulting in extra weight gain in the 10 days following the procedure as well as reduced stress and pain indicators.
Painful procedures where NSAID pain relief is provided
Calf scour is one of the most common illnesses affecting young calves. If not promptly dealt with, can set-back growth and performance.
“It was great to see that the majority of farms (87%) report that less than 10% of calves have suffered with scour,” says Mr Duffy.
“When treating scour, it is encouraging to see that oral rehydration therapy (ORT) plus continued milk feeding seems to be favoured by most, as opposed to restricting milk feeding,” he adds.
Historically, it was common to restrict milk to scouring calves, but now it is standard recommendation to continue to feed milk or milk replacer along with oral rehydration fluids.
“ORT aims to address dehydration and electrolyte loss to support the calf while its immune system deals with the cause. 99% of farmers who responded to the survey routinely use ORT,” Mr Duffy remarks.
“The most common causes of scour are unlikely to be bacterial, and this reflects treatment. Regardless of cause, keeping the calf hydrated is crucial,” he adds.
“However, it was concerning to see that fewer farmers are opting to use NSAID therapy as well. NSAIDs provide pain relief as well as reducing inflammation.”
“Scour is a painful inflammatory condition, so it’s no surprise that affected calves benefit from the use of an NSAID. Studies have shown that calves treated with NSAID alongside rehydration therapy have a faster and more pronounced recovery,” says Mr Duffy.
“We also included a couple of questions around the impact of COVID-19,” says Mr Duffy.
“Although when asked how farm policy will change post-COVID, most said nothing will change. 40% responded by saying they are generally more aware of biosecurity, 20% plan to invest in disease prevention and around 10% confirmed that they have a better understanding of the role vaccinating stock can play.”