Farm Ireland

Sunday 19 November 2017

Labs confirm a dozen dwarf calf outbreaks

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Up to a dozen outbreaks of congenital dwarfism, causing dwarf calves, have been observed for the second year in a row in Ireland, the Regional Veterinary Laboratories in the Department of Agriculture has confirmed.

The syndrome has been observed worldwide for the past 30 years, with high numbers recorded in Australia this year.

The laboratories also confirmed six cases of bleeding calf syndrome, more properly called Bovine Neonatal Pancytopaenia, a condition that first emerged in Europe three years ago.

Dwarf or chondrodystrophic calves were identified by Department of Agriculture veterinary labs in Sligo, Athlone and Kilkenny this year. In some cases, up to 25pc of the calves in the herd were affected.

The condition affects long bone development in the calf but is not always fatal. Some dwarf calves survive to be reared commercially, although they remain short-limbed.


Most of the dwarf calves were born to Continental bulls in beef suckler herds, although the Kilkenny laboratory recorded six dwarf calves from one 250-cow Friesian dairy herd and cases born to Brown Swiss-cross heifers crossed with a Friesian bull in another herd.

The occurrence of dwarf calves is believed to be associated with the exclusive feeding of pit silage indoors, coinciding with the first trimester of pregnancy, and many of the cases are only apparent late in the calving period.

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According to the Regional Veterinary Laboratory, the introduction of 30pc of the dry matter in the diet from non-silage sources during housing has been effective in controlling the occurrence of new cases in problem herds.

Meanwhile, confirmed cases of bleeding calf syndrome (Bovine Neonatal Pancytopaenia) were identified in Cork (three), Kilkenny (one) and Sligo (two).

The clinical signs in calves included excessive bleeding from small abrasions of the skin, tagging or even from injection sites and the passing of large clots of blood in the dung.

Affected calves normally have a high temperature, become rapidly depressed and die within 24-48 hours. The condition has a mortality rate of about 90pc.

Post-mortem examinations reveal significant damage to the bone marrow, which affects blood clotting and results in the animal bleeding to death.

The Department of Agriculture will provide free post-mortem examination of any case that fits the description: a calf of less than one month of age which bleeds excessively from the mucous membranes, into the sclera or from the tiniest of cuts.

Irish Independent