Keep calf stress levels to a minimum to maintain disease immunity in stock
Published 30/11/2011 | 06:00
The ground is very wet after all the rain and the suckler herds are beginning to move indoors. Virus pneumonia always springs to my mind when anyone talks of young stock going into the sheds. Stress is the biggest trigger of a pneumonia outbreak and housing time is a stressful time in a weanling's life.
If we picture the suckler calves out in the fields still on their mothers, we see healthy, thriving animals completely comfortable in their environment. If we then make a giant leap forward and picture a pen of yearling cattle on a comfortable straw bed all lying and chewing the cud on a winter's evening, again we see cattle comfortable in their environment.
Our problem is to get from scenario one to scenario two without incurring losses. The losses are inevitable if we don't plan the weaning process correctly. They are also inevitable if the moving indoors is not planned correctly. And to cap it all off, we try to wean and house the young stock all in one go -- and we're really asking for trouble.
The first step is to wean this year's calves while everything is nice and settled outdoors. We're not reinventing the wheel here. This weaning programme has been well perfected and spoken of over many years. The basics always remain the same.
We should get the young calves eating some supplementary feed outdoors. Then slowly increase their reliance on that food as they are eased away from the mothers. The separation can be done in several ways, involving steps where some mothers are removed while others remain until only one or two late calvers are left in the batch.
There's no hard and fast rule except at every step of the way the aim should be to keep stress levels to a minimum. When the calves are weaned, moving indoors is next. Again, focus on stress and how to avoid it at all costs. These weanlings will be carrying worms and fluke, so a suitable dose is required.
At this time of year, consider using a worm and fluke combination aimed at stomach worms and adult fluke. This will work as long as you remember to repeat the adult fluke dose several weeks after housing. The trouble is that this dosing activity involves putting the calves up the crush, which is also quite stressful.