Farm Ireland

Tuesday 22 January 2019

How this calf went from deformed to perfectly normal in just three days

Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

Every calving season brings with it both positives and negatives, some of which are rare and unusual like in this case, congenital joint laxity.

Congenital means the condition is present at birth and this Limousin calf was born with the rate condition.

The first three photos were taken 24 hours after the birth of the calf, the last photo was taken 2 days after the initial photos, by which time the calf was rising and standing normally, albeit with some degree of joint laxity.

“Congenital joint laxity is sometimes seen with an associated dwarfism. Although the cause of congenital joint laxity is unknown, some researchers have suggested manganese and selenium deficiency as a possible cause," said Gerard McGovern, a Scottish large animal vet, has worked with similar cases over his many years practicing and who worked with this case.

“Lateral bowing of the forelimbs and laxity of the fetlock joints are commonly seen, as in this case,” said Gerard. It is characterised by having a lot of movement in the joints of the lower leg, hence the difficulty in getting up and in remaining in the standing position.

“This particular calf was standing and sucking the cow without help in three days. However, this calf will always have a degree of joint laxity but should continue to thrive,” he said.

“The best cure is prevention as there is really not much you can do if there is a calf born with it” said Gerard. He said, “the only help we can give the calf is to lift and support it when standing and try keep them steady on their feet.”

According the large animal vet the problem is almost always associated with the feeding of a silage-only diet between months four and seven of pregnancy according to the Scottish vet.

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Cases seem to be more common in areas where silage has to be fed for a longer period, over the winter. It is also most common where silage is the only feed.

Gerard says he has only ever treated Charolais and Limousin calves with for congenital joint laxity, which seem to be more prone to the condition, but he cannot be sure if this is because these beef breeds are more susceptible than dairy breeds or if it is solely based on the different diets between the two.

According to Gerard, this condition is not heritable but there is a syndrome called fawn calf syndrome, which is an inherited genetic defect, that can manifest similar symptoms as congenital joint laxity.   

In the 1980s, John Mee at Teagasc reported on animals with this condition known as CJLD (congenital joint laxity and dwarfism), or dwarfism. It was also reported in Scotland and Canada around the same time.

The worst affected calves must be put to sleep. Others are so stunted it is impossible to sell them on the open market according to the journal.

John Mee recommended a number of steps to be taken. Firstly, you should get your vet to confirm that CJLD is what you have on your farm.

Secondly, the farmer must accept their losses for the present crop of calves and plan to prevent it happening next year.

Next, farmers need to replace up to 20pc of the dry matter provided by grass silage by supplementing it with hay, straw, maize silage, or concentrates. John Mee also suggests supplementing with a range of trace minerals.

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