Youngstock event tackles disease control

Drawing up battle plans to reduce the risk of attack from disease was the focus of a recent Mole Valley Farmers Youngstock Matters event.

Vet Phil Dawber of Cornwall Dairy Vets, said calf management was a lot like preparing calves for war, while ensuring the odds were tipped in the calf’s favour.

“That calf is a soldier and you’re putting it out in a war zone and you’re trying to make it safe,” he told farmers who attended the event in Bodmin in Cornwall, hosted by the Kellow family at Treveglos Farm.

He advised this meant reducing disease pressure and bolstering a calf’s immunity to fight any infections fired its way. Top level immunity with a combination of colostrum management and vaccination (see box), whilst limiting stress, would also help the calf’s immune response.

This included avoiding high stocking rates, ensuring calves weren’t exposed to extreme temperature changes and supplying the right nutrition.

Other topics included:

1. Colostrum management

Mr Dawber said colostrum management was “the number one” for calf immunity as it provided calves with the dam’s antibodies to fight disease.

Mole Valley Farmers’ Nutritionist Chris Lavis agreed, adding: “If you get that colostrum management right, you will look after that calf to the Nth degree. It’s liquid gold.”

He advised testing colostrum using a refractometer. Only supplies analysing at over 22% should be fed as this would deliver the target 50g/litre of disease fighting immunoglobulins.

2. Water

Providing fresh, clean water from day one would help drive feed intakes which would support health and growth said Mr Lavis, adding: “You can get a 31% increase in starter concentrate intakes by providing clean water and you could increase daily liveweight gains by 38%.” For maximum intake Mr Dawber said water buckets needed to be kept full and off the floor so calves could see around them whilst drinking.

3. Space

He also stressed each calf should be provided with 3m2 of space. “Unsurprisingly Covid cases go up when kids are in close proximity at school and it’s the same in sheds,” he said. “It’s good to think about how much space you’ve got and how many calves you could fit in there, rather than fit as many calves as we’ve got in the space we’ve got.’

4. Temperature

Avoiding shifts in temperature was also important as this would help lower stress and optimise immunity. Cold temperatures meant calves expended energy keeping warm, rather than growing. Keeping surfaces dry was one way to limit temperature stress and Mr Dawber advised putting jackets on calves to keep them warm. A farm trial showed jackets raised growth rates from 0.5kg/day to 0.9kg/day. Mr Lavis said if the temperature dropped by 5˚C and calves were not supplied with bales to shelter against, calf jackets or heat lamps, they should be fed an extra 50g of calf milk replacer (CMR) per day.

5. Hitting targets

Ultimately, getting all these things right would help achieve a target age at first calving (AFC) of 24 months, with an extension above this period costing £3 per day. “If you calve at 26 months old, that’s costing you £200 per heifer more in rearing costs,” Mr Dawber added.

Host farmers, Sally, Andrew, Abby and Dan Kellow, were hitting an average AFC of 24 months in their 519 cow herd.

Andrew Kellow said this was achieved by paying “attention to detail.” This included feeding Omnismart milk powder, which contained Omnigen-AF, a complementary feed supplement designed to help maintain a healthy immune system and help the animal cope with expected and unexpected stress events.

He said: “We use Omnigen in all the cow feed, so it was a natural progression to use it in the calves. We’ve noticed less health problems, like pneumonia.”

How to get the most from vaccines

Vaccinations can boost calf immunity against various pathogens, increase the threshold of disease an animal can tolerate and help lower antibiotic use on farm.

Kelly Hammond from MSD Animal Health UK ran through four key areas to think about to get the most from vaccines:

1. Take a cool bag with you when you collect your vaccines as temperature fluctuations can cause vaccines to be ineffective

2. Check your vaccine fridge is working correctly and seals are tight. Use a temperature data logger or thermometer

3. Read and follow the data sheet

4. Try to inject cleanly and consider using a sterimatic needle, which disinfects after each use

For more advice on calf rearing, call the Feed & Nutritionists Line on 01278 444829.