Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Dairy: Focus on the 'three Cs' to combat the scourge of scour

Farmers count the cost of losing calves to scour.
Farmers count the cost of losing calves to scour.
Niall McDonald

Niall McDonald

I've spent many a cold February morning giving intravenous fluid drips to scouring calves.

Farmers count the costs of losing heifer calves to scour, yet in terms of overall losses it is only the tip of the iceberg.

Research has shown heifers who experience a serious episode of diarrhoea tend to be older at first calving and have a reduced milk yield. So the costs of scour continue to be felt at farm level.

Irish farmers and vets have been fighting scour for years and with good effect in many instances.

The rota/corona/ecoli scours have all been effectively controlled by vaccination. While salmonella has been tackled by both vaccination and judicial use of antibiotics and coccidiosis by therapeutic and prophylactic use of coccidiostats.

Then comes the awkward one - crypto. It is a protozoan parasite and not only is it present on nearly all farms, it is shed without any symptoms in the faeces of healthy cattle young and old.

To make matters worse there is no vaccine and there is unlikely to be one in near future. Also it is resistant to most disinfectants.

We have the three Cs to combat this

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Cleanliness -sanitation

Chemoprophylaxis ( ie halofuginone)

Colostrum is crucial, and without the early delivery of colostrum of sufficient quality and quantity your calves are immediately at much higher risk of not only crypto but pretty much all calf ailments including pneumonia. In 2012, some 70pc of blood samples submitted to department labs for zinc turbidity testing showed less than adequate levels of antibodies in calves which shows colostrum management was poor.

Specifically here the maternal antibodies to rota/corona are delivered to the newborn via colostrum.

You can spend all the money you want vaccinating cows for rota but with poor colostrum management it is money down the drain.

It has been shown that rota and crypto have a nasty synergistic effect on calves - when your calf has both of them you are in big trouble. Thus by controlling rota corona ecoli with vaccination and/ colostrum management calves suffering with crypto have a much better chance of survival and speedy recovery.

Unfortunately good animal husbandry doesn't come in a bottle. And it is just as important as all the bottles in the back of my jeep.

Calves are infected by contaminated environment, water, bedding and handlers' feeding equipment so housing calves individually or in small groups is a good start.

A few of my clients have invested in calf hutches , and have had greatly reduced scour - it is not practical or affordable for everyone but is well worth considering.

Regular bedding changes and raising feed and water troughs off the ground are other obvious and effective strategies for all scours.

With the greatly increasing herd sizes, I wonder sometimes are we also looking at increasing investment in extra calf housing and accommodation with good ventilation, or is much of the monies being concentrated on the likes of milking parlours?

If not, we will have more pressure on all calf disease particularly calf scour.

In the absence of a vaccine, dairy farms with histories of crypto problems , should routinely dose calves with halofuginone from day one to day seven.

Blanket treatments like this have come in for criticism in many circles but with crypto it really is the only way to go.

Reducing environmental contamination and limiting the severity of cases occurring can effectively halt the disease.

Being a zoonotic disease farmers and vets must also beware that they may become infected with cryptosporidium and in immuno-compromised people it can be very serious.

A vet I worked with in New Zealand got crypto from handling affected calves. It wasn't a pretty week off work for him and unless you have a comfortable padded toilet seat and a lot of reading to catch up on it is not to be recommended!

Niall McDonald is a vet based in Co Meath

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