Effective management of youngstock requires sound husbandry skills, good colostrum management practices, an appreciation of the key disease threats and how to prevent them, and the implementation of a monitoring system to measure how well you are doing.
Scours and pneumonia particularly are responsible for a high proportion of calves lost to disease, but vaccination regimes can help stop these losses.
Calves are born with no antibodies against the common infectious scour organisms, so they rely on receiving a supply from the dam through drinking the enriched colostrum. And it is the antibodies they suck from the udder during the first 12 hours of life that do them the most good.
Rotavec® Corona is the UK’s leading vaccine for the control of calf scour. Dam vaccination with Rotavec® Corona before calving helps to ensure high levels of antibodies against rotavirus, coronavirus and E. coli K99 in the colostrum. These antibodies confer immunity to the calf and act as a protective barrier to infection in the gut.
In addition to vaccination and effective colostrum management, good hygiene and a clean calving environment can also help prevent scour taking hold. Most scour bugs come from the faeces of the dam and other mothers, so minimising exposure of the calf to cow dung significantly reduces risk of disease. It is also extremely important that milk and milk replacers are prepared cleanly and accurately. For dairy calves, provide plenty of clean bedding, disinfect calving boxes and pens between calves and minimise contact with other calves’ faeces. For beef calves, if indoors, provide plenty of clean bedding and consider calving outside.
Vaccines are available against the common viral causes of pneumonia and the bacterium Mannheimia haemolytica (previously Pasteurella haemolytica). As many cases of pneumonia are due to mixed infections, vaccination has an important part to play in the control of respiratory disease, but should be seen as an adjunct to good husbandry, not an alternative. Vaccination is not a magic bullet, but it will raise calf immunity to a level that will tip the balance in the animal’s favour when it’s faced with a disease challenge
Ultimately, pneumonia results from bacteria and viruses infecting calf lungs. Bovilis® Bovipast RSP is the only combined vaccine to help protect against the key bacterial and viral causes of pneumonia in calves.
Alongside vaccination, good husbandry is vital. Not overstocking, keeping house humidity down, maintaining adequate ventilation, avoiding extremes of temperature, ensuring age groups are not mixed and practising sound hygiene are all integral elements of any pneumonia management plan. Good nutrition too, is an important part of helping to reduce the impact of disease.
MonitoringWhen trying to improve the health of youngstock it’s important to set targets and measure performance against these goals.
It is important to periodically weigh calves to assess growth rates against pre-set targets. Calf growth rates vary hugely at a young age; from losing weight over the first three weeks of life to piling on up to 1kg per day.
Weigh tapes are an excellent and cost effective way of monitoring calf performance, or ideally scales, if these are available. Recording weights at birth and weaning is a good start because this allows a calculation of daily liveweight gain over the period. Food conversion is at its optimum in early life, but variation amongst a group of calves can indicate disease problems.
In heifers, recording weights or wither heights at 6m, 12m and 18m helps keep track of performance towards service weight and age of conception targets. Meeting or exceeding targets often means less money is spent on youngstock, allowing a dairy farm to breakeven sooner.
Wisconsin scoring is a useful and objective way of monitoring calf health. It helps farm staff spot any disease problems quickly and understand their potential causes. It also helps the user to follow rearing protocols and become more engaged with the calves.
Calf Respiratory Scoring Chart
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