With the colder, wetter months of “pneumonia season” just around the corner this seems like the opportune time to discuss calf health and the economics of calf disease.
It’s easy to dismiss the odd pneumonia or scour case amongst the rest of the week’s events, but do we know the amount of disease occurring on our own farms? Keeping a tally of the number of calves treated for scour or pneumonia can open our eyes to how much of an issue these diseases are on farm. This can be simple enough to do using a tally chart or a whiteboard in the calf shed.
The average scour case costs over £65 and the average pneumonia case several hundred pounds, so it is well worth keeping an eye on the incidence of these diseases (otherwise known as the disease ‘morbidity’). It also gives the opportunity to discuss disease prevention with your vet or ways and means to identify cases quicker.
Ideally we want to see disease incidence kept as low as possible. However, if we DO have incidence of disease then we need to act quickly with our treatments. A calf’s lungs are very small in proportion to its size and so ensuring that we look after all of the functioning tissue is vitally important. This is why just looking at number of cases treated may not be a fair assessment of the affect disease is having on a unit. For example, a herd may appear to have a high incidence of pneumonia morbidity, just because they are good at spotting cases quickly and treating them. This means that they are reducing the amount of lung damage and as a result may find their heifers have improved productivity and longevity within the herd.
A contrasting example could be a herd that appear to treat very few cases of pneumonia, but in actual fact are not spotting cases as quickly. This leads to too many calves suffering severe lung damage before they are identified as sick and treated. When entering the milking herd these animals have less lung reserve and so may suffer with chronic lung disease, poor performance and reduced longevity. The key here is striking the balance between prompt detection and treatment, without treating unnecessarily.
So how can we reduce the incidence of scour and pneumonia in calves?
The first step is to work out what diseases you are dealing with. It may be that we need to carry out some sampling before we advise on a prevention or treatment protocol. Fortunately, we have in house scour kits that can give you a same day turnaround to identify the most common calf scour pathogens.
We have many ‘weapons’ in the fight against scour and pneumonia from vaccinations to building assessment and improvement.
With all pathogens however it is essential to get the basics right…
Colostrum – Four litres of clean, good quality colostrum, delivered in a stress free manner within six hours of birth.
Cleanliness – Keep pens stocked appropriately with adequate fresh straw and disinfect between groups.
Care – Keep sick calves separate from the group to minimise the spread of pathogens and make it easy to provide treatment and TLC.
Climate – Minimise draughts but ensure buildings remain ventilated. Use calf jackets and increase volumes of milk or replacer in cold weather.
If you want more information, please speak to your vet, or alternatively we will be discussing more about calf disease in our new calf disease course.