Early intervention is key to solving any calf health issues
It has been unusually busy in our clinic over the past week or so. Normally, calls to sick animals in July are few and far between, and our days are filled mostly with TB testing, scanning and herd health visits.
However, one particular group of animals are causing trouble at the moment: calves.
“It been a hard year to rear calves” an exasperated farmer said to me as we looked over a pen of scruffy-looking calves.
Lots of farmers have found that certain groups of calves have given them lots of trouble.
So, what problems are we seeing and how are we combating them?
The most apparent issue in calves this year is a brown, rusty coat — particularly obvious in Angus calves. We’ve had a lot of calls from farmers concerned about their calves’ appearance.
We are also seeing a ‘spectacle’ look, where the whole coat is brown except for black hair around the eyes.
This all points to a common condition: secondary copper deficiency, where copper is ‘bound up’ in the digestive system by other elements in the animals’ diet — usually molybdenum.
Copper is required for proper growth, thrive, good immunity and in older animals, fertility. If there is any concern that calves are deficient in copper, it needs to be addressed immediately.
Blood samples will usually reveal the problem, but it is vital to take 8-10 samples to get a proper idea of what’s going on.
There are any number of copper supplements on the market, either injectable or oral products.
For oral products, it is important to take into account the levels of molybdenum in particular in the diet, as it can counteract the copper supplemented.
Injectable supplements bypass the digestive system but, like many animal health solutions, every farm has different requirements. Call your vet, who will advise you on the product that best suits your farm.
Another call we are receiving of late concerns coughing calves, often from farmers who have put huge effort into providing good grass, lots of meal and even more TLC to their calves.
A huge problem for us vets is that, by the time we are contacted, a lot of things have been tried.
A common scenario is, a group of calves begin to cough. They have been at pasture for a month and the farmer presumes it’s time for a worm dose. A dose is given, usually a white drench, but the coughing persists.
The farmer now presumes that the dose may have open since last year or out of date or no good as it was bought on special offer or not as ‘strong’ as required.
So another wormer is administered but the coughing persists. Often, mineral licks are introduced and the odd home remedy is used too.
By now, we are three weeks in and some calves begin to get properly sick.
When the vet arrives, it is very hard to decipher what the original cause of the coughing was and what is now causing the calves to get sick.
Calves’ coughing is usually caused by either a virus, a bacteria or lungworm. But things are often complicated. Calves may begin to cough due to lungworm and, even if treatment is successful, may continue to cough and get sick due to a virus such as RSV.
Equally, the coughing may start due to a virus or bacteria but two weeks later, lungworm may have reared its head in the group.
So it is crucial to contact your vet early when coughing starts and remaining in contact as a treatment protocol is implemented.
As with any disease outbreak, taking samples is the first step.
Faecal samples will help determine if lung worm is an issue. And I can’t stress enough how important it is to pool faeces from 8-10 calves.
The last thing you want is to get a negative lungworm result all because you picked the sample from the first piece of calf dung you saw in the paddock.
Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
The general statement “they’re just not thriving” is one we are faced with most often.
Along with what we have already discussed, gut worms and coccidiosis are prime suspects. Again, faecal samples from 8-10 calves will point us in the right direction for treatment options.
We are still coming across cases where calves were treated with products but at the wrong time.
For example, treating calves at turnout for wither worms or coccidiosis is of no benefit whatsoever. Not only is it a waste of money, it is also just teeing your calves up to run into problems in three or four weeks’ time.
A single calf in a group suffering from bloat is another condition we are seeing a lot of.
Lush clover-filled grass will cause bloat, but the bloat in individual calves is commonly caused by pneumonia. The nerve that is responsible for rumen motility passes by the lungs, so if a calf had pneumonia or has abscesses due to chronic pneumonia, bloat can occur as a secondary condition.
Early intervention is key to solving any calf health issues, so get your vet involved quickly.
Eamon O’Connell is a vet with Summerhill Vet Clinic, Nenagh, Co Tipperary