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Dairy farmer’s advice on controlling calf coccidiosis

Third-generation farmer Darren Coombes has been successfully feeding a coccidiostat to dairy calves to help control coccidiosis.

Mr Coombes, who farms with his son Tim at Manor Farm in Shapwick, Bridgwater, had a recent outbreak of coccidiosis, which affected 20% of his calves.

The clinical signs include loss of appetite, diarrhoea, dehydration, straining, abdominal pain, wasting and eventually death if not treated and the damage to the gut can lead to secondary bacterial infections.

Mr Coombes said: “We didn’t lose any calves, but we lost a lot of growth and it took the calves a long time to recover.” His vet recommended they start feeding the coccidiostat Deccox and, alongside improved cleanliness, it has helped the Manor Farm team to get on top of the outbreaks.

Coccidiosis is caused by protozoan parasites called Eimeria. They line the intestine and cause diarrhoea. It can be a difficult disease to control because it spreads rapidly through faecal to oral contamination.

At Manor Farm, more emphasis has also been placed on protocols to ensure calves get the best start possible. Newborn calves receive colostrum for their first three days.

“Calves are kept in pens for the first week and at day four they transition onto Mole Valley Farmer’s CalfStart Hi Performer milk replacer. Three litres are fed in a bottle twice a day,” explained Mr Coombes. From birth, calves are given clean water and free access to fresh straw and Mole Valley Farmers’ NSP NPP* Calf Rearer 18 + Deccox, which is an 18% protein rearer nut with an added coccidiostat to help treat and manage coccidiosis.

“It is a very consistent, palatable product and calves love it,” added Mr Coombes. After seven days, calves move onto one of two Förster-Technik automatic milk feeders where they are kept in groups of 30. Mr Coombes explained: “Calves get four feeds a day and can have a maximum of eight litres in 24 hours. At day 49, the milk is gradually reduced and calves are weaned at day 56. “Intakes are monitored closely with the Förster-Technik app checked at least twice a day for calves that are not drinking at least six litres.”

Calves stay in the same group until they are six months old. After five months, calves are introduced to 1kg of homegrown rolled barley and ad-lib grass silage with the rearer nut cut back to 1kg. Deccox is removed at 9 to 10 months. “It has completely kept coccidiosis at bay. We tried different things and we could never really get to the bottom of it until we introduced the Deccox,” said Mr Coombes.

Hygiene is key too. Calf sheds and pens are disinfected and steam-cleaned in between batches. Straw bedding is also replenished liberally to keep calves dry. Mr Coombes concluded: “I look at a calf now as a little baby. They need wrapping up in cotton wool. The first 14 days of life are critical for the rest of their life.”

Andy Adler, of Molecare Farm Vets, said preventing faecal contamination of water and feed troughs was crucial in controlling coccidiosis. He added: “Raising feed and water troughs alongside regular cleaning is very important to prevent faecal to oral transmission. Straw bedding should also be replenished often so calves are only eating fresh, clean straw.” Disinfectants used for cleaning must be effective against coccidiosis, like Coxicur, which is available in-store or online at Mole Valley Farmers. Coccidiosis infections can occur from three weeks of age up until one year, but Mr Adler said it was commonly seen two to three weeks after weaning, when calves become stressed and succumb to disease.

He added: “Managing weaning effectively is also part of how you manage coccidiosis. Every farm is slightly different and farmers should speak with their vet for advice on the best weaning techniques and how to implement the most effective treatment and prevention plans.”

Farm Facts:

•           Milking 425 cows

•           All-year-round calving of Holsteins

•           Supplying Muller and Sainsbury’s

•           Milking twice daily

•           Producing 10,500 litres at 4.30% butterfat and 3.25% protein

•           Milking through a 40/40 DeLaval herringbone parlour

•           Employs four full-time staff

•           Farming 890 acres, growing grass, maize, wheat and barley

For more on calf health speak to one of our in-store Registered Animal Medicines Advisors.

*NSP = No Soy products, NPP = No Palm Products

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