Shots are seen as expensive but €600 is a small price to pay if it keeps 100 cows worth over €2,000 each in your herd for another few years
You need to get a good return on your investment — this was something I learned at a very young age. I remember my father telling me: “If you clean the cubicle shed and the calf pens, Ill give you a calf.”
As a youngster, this was like telling me I was going to win the lotto, so I power-washed every shed in the place and the following spring, I was rewarded with a Friesian heifer calf. I can see her in my mind as clear as day — ear-tag number 11N.
A few days of hard work had yielded my very own heifer calf — a serious return on my investment as far as I was concerned.
At this stage of the year, scanning has begun and so far, results are quite good. The investment in time, feed, AI straws and heat detection has returned some excellent conception rates on some farms. However, having gotten such a good return, we need to protect it.
The cows are in calf, but we need to keep them that way. There’s no point in putting in all the work during the spring and getting an exceptional number of cows in calf, but then to drop the ball.
Abortion from this time of year on is a disaster. Not only is there the loss of the calf to contend with (Murphy’s Law says it’s a high EBI heifer), but the cow is effectively gone too. It’s too late to try to get her back in calf and so she will be culled. The loss to the herd is huge, both from the loss of genetics and future milk production.
Salmonella is one of the main causes of abortion in spring calving herds. It’s a nasty condition that can present in a number of ways.
Scour springs to mind first when we think of salmonella. The scour is usually quite severe — faeces will resemble green/brown water. A sick cow will be very dull, have a high temperature and become dehydrated very quickly. Antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and lots of fluids are needed to keep the cow alive.
Salmonella scour is very contagious, so its quite common for a number of cows in a herd to get sick. Keep in mind that people can pick up the disease from an infected cow so great care needs to be taken.
Calves too can suffer greatly during an outbreak of salmonella. Terminal dry gangrene occurs when salmonella affects blood supply to the extremities of calves, usually the ears and feet. I have seen calves’ ears and feet literally fall off after the blood supply is cut off by salmonella infection.
Even if we see this condition in the early stages, it is often too late and euthanasia is the most humane and only option. Calves can also get osteomyelitis — a condition where the bacteria seed out into the spine, causing severe lameness or hind limb paralysis. Again, euthanasia is the only option.
Abortion is the one that worries us most at this time of year. Salmonella usually causes abortion in the last trimester, which is from September onwards in spring calving herds.
Affected cows will be quite sick. The aborted foetus will be smelly and often falling apart. It really is a very nasty condition.
Vaccination is the key to preventing this nasty disease and now is the time to do it to prevent abortion in spring calving herds.
Heifers need two shots of the vaccine, 14-21 days apart. Cows get a single yearly booster at this time of year, just before the high risk period for abortion.
Some farmers are vaccinating replacement heifer calves in their first year. These calves go through the same protocol as described for heifers, but the dose rate is smaller — 2ml in calves versus 5ml in heifers.
The salmonella vaccine is synonymous with being quite expensive, retailing at up to €6 a shot.
However, consider the alternative — a salmonella outbreak consisting of abortions, lots of sick or even dead cows and a huge vet bill.
Less than €600 to vaccinate 100 cows is a very small investment if it serves to keep a number of cows worth north of €2,000 each in your herd for another few years.
The vaccine will pay for itself tenfold.
Eamon O’Connell is a vet with Summerhill Vet Clinic, Nenagh, Co Tipperary.