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Need for Calf Rearers to Focus on Boosting Colostrum Quality

06 February 2012

MSD Animal Health - NYSE:MRK

UK - Poor colostrum management and low vaccination rates are the two main reasons why so many UK dairy and beef units continue to struggle with costly and debilitating calf scour problems.

According to results from the latest independent national calf scour survey of 800 UK calf rearers (October 2011), far too many farmers are still struggling with the disease. But doing so unnecessarily, advisers claim.

“Calf scour is not something farmers have to accept as an occupational hazard,” says vet Paddy Gordon, from XL Vets’ practice the Shepton Veterinary Group, who advised on the survey project. “It is a disease you can get on top of provided you follow some sound management practices.

“This year’s survey results show that more than one in four farmers (27.5 per cent) have experienced a severe scour problem over the last 12 months – defined as more than 10% of their calves affected (see table 1). That’s far too high and these farmers really need to get their vet involved to help them overcome the problem.”

Actually, the survey does reveal that when faced with a scour outbreak, virtually all farmers would consult their vet (94.3 per cent) rather than any other adviser, but this tends to be only when faced with a severe problem. More than 80 per cent of those responding to the survey claim to only involve the vet when several calves are affected or when they find themselves dealing with a bad outbreak.

“It is vital that farmers seek advice when scour problems first start,” Paddy Gordon urges. “It is much easier to get on top of a mild or moderate problem, but when it becomes severe there is often too much challenge around to clear disease up quickly. And there are a core of farmers (32.5 per cent) who appear to be too reliant on antibiotics for disease treatment, particularly when you consider rotavirus and cryptosporidia are two of the biggest infectious disease causes – both of which won’t respond to antibiotic treatment.”

That rotavirus and cryptosporidia remain the two key infectious causes of calf scour is confirmed by the survey. On farms that have had a causative disease organism identified, rotavirus was detected in 45.7 per cent of cases and cryptosporidia in 32.7 per cent. E.coli K99 (24.7 per cent) and coronavirus (12.4 per cent) were also significant pathogens. Farms struggling with a scour problem where diagnostic work has not yet been carried out are advised to talk to their vet as soon as possible.

“The best way of protecting calves from scours caused by rotavirus, coronavirus and E.coli K99 is to vaccinate the dam with Rotavec™ Corona,” Paddy Gordon advises. “Calves then gain their disease protection from drinking the antibody-rich colostrum. It’s a very effective disease management strategy, but one that not enough farmers consider. According to the survey, only 22 per cent of farmers are using vaccination.”

If cryptosporidiosis has been diagnosed, farmers are advised to talk to their vet about the use of Halocur™ to try and break the infection chain.

On a positive note, Paddy Gordon says it is encouraging to see farmers appreciating the need to feed more colostrum to calves. “A few years ago you would not have found many producers feeding more than three litres to their calves, but the survey shows that over half the farmers responding to the survey questionnaire (51.8 per cent) now do this in early life. Feeding a healthy quantity of colostrum is good, but quality is vital and what farmers now need to focus on is making sure that the colostrum they do feed to their calves is of excellent quality. It is a concern that over 10 per cent of producers see the first two to four day’s milk as colostrum, which is not the case – it is only the first milk that is defined as colostrum.”

According to the results of the survey, over half the respondents (53.7 per cent) have never checked the quality of the colostrum they are feeding, and only about one in four (23.4 per cent) always test it (table 2). What’s more, over 80 per cent have never tested calf antibody status by asking their vet to take blood samples to check if their colostrum feeding regime is adequate.

“We have found calf blood testing to be a really useful tool in assessing whether colostrum feeding regimes are working on farm,” Paddy Gordon says. “And if you are vaccinating dams to help control the disease, calf blood tests will give you the confidence that your colostrum feeding system is delivering the scour disease protection the animal needs.”

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