Farm Ireland

Sunday 21 January 2018

Mortality rates at 5pc last year

Joe Healy

FOR THE vast majority of weanlings the journey from birth to sale time is relatively uncomplicated and healthy.

Mortality, however, especially in the first month, is a huge economic loss to the Irish farmer and the industry every year. While there are always going to be some deaths, it is imperative that farmers make every effort to keep them to a minimum.

This requires the farmer to take all necessary precautionary steps, but it must also involve a more proactive approach from the veterinary surgeons and, indeed, the likes of Teagasc and the farming press to ensure that the necessary information is put out there to educate the farmer.

There were 40,000 calves recorded as having died on Irish farms last year before they reached six months of age. While this represents an improvement on the previous year, it remains quite a significant figure.

Added to this are the stillbirths, estimated to be around 10,000. Of the 1.018m calves registered to suckler cows in Ireland last year, those dead calves represented close to a 5pc mortality rate. If a weanling price of just €500/hd is applied, the total loss to the farmer is €25m.

Generally, as far as calf deaths are concerned, there are two critical periods; the first 48 hours and from day two to one month old.

With regard to the first 48 hours, it is important to remember that calves at birth are presented to an environment that challenges their health immediately. Their ability to stay healthy and thrive is influenced by multiple factors, some of which are onboard even before delivery.

Important factors include the health of the mother, trauma during birth, the environmental conditions of birth, ability to feed adequately and the quantity and quality of the colostrums (10pc of calf body weight in first 24 hours) they receive shortly after birth are all important considerations. Suitable calving facilities and adequate supervision can help greatly in cutting down on problems and stress to the farmer and animals associated with difficult calvings and injured, sick or dead calves or cows.

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Problems with young calves from here on are generally to do with scours (diarrhoea) and to a lesser degree with pneumonia.

Chanelle Group's regulatory vet, Marie Dodd, said that there were multiple causative agents for scour in young calves and infections from more than one agent were common. These agents are grouped into three main categories:

  • Viruses (Coronavirus and Rotavirus);
  • Bacteria (E coli and Salmonella spp);
  • Microscopic parasites or protozoa, (Cryptosporidium and Coccidia).

The timeline of onset of a scour may help with the identification of the type of scour. In the first week, E coli is likely to be the cause.

In the second and third week, the viruses (Rotavirus and Coronavirus) and one of the protozoa (Cryptosporidium) are the likely causes. Salmonella spp can occur at any age but is usually in animals over 10 days old.

From the third week onwards, Coccidia can be the main agent to cause scour (coccidiosis). As it has a 21-day lifecycle, you are unlikely to see it before the third week.

In order to be sure which pathogen is causing the scour, samples may be submitted to the Regional Veterinary Laboratories (RVL).

The RVL surveillance report for last year is soon to be published and it is expected to demonstrate a similar pattern for causes of death that were reported in 2008.

In 2008, it was shown that Rotavirus (34pc) and Cryptosporidium (24pc) were responsible for more than half of the scour cases in calves in Ireland. Coronavirus, E coli, Salmonella spp and Coccidia were isolated in 20pc of samples received at the RVL.

It is important to detect the scouring calf early and treat accordingly as well as replacing the lost body fluid with sufficient amounts of electrolytes.

Ms Dodd added that while it may be an old cliche, prevention is better than cure, and a proper vaccination programme with the cow herd in consultation with your vet is advisable.

With regard to the weanling, the provisions of the suckler welfare scheme have proved a strong advantage to the health status of the weanlings for export. Practising the correct weaning procedure reduces stress on the animal, and strategic meal feeding ensures that they readily adapt to the continental feeding programme. Farmers selling weanlings are advised to use an Ivermectin dose at grass to control parasites such as hoose and stomach worms. This will improve their performance before sale, along with assisting exporters to market healthy Irish weanlings to their customers abroad.

Irish Independent