Farm Ireland

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Take steps to limit infection in cows and newborn calves

Precautions will help to minimise challenges and therefore eliminate hefty veterinary bills

Calving is a key time in a cow's life. Any problems here and her year's milk production potential can be affected
Calving is a key time in a cow's life. Any problems here and her year's milk production potential can be affected

John Donworth

Current Teagasc advice is to calve all cows as close together as possible and with today's efficient reproduction management, at least 80pc of the cows should calve in six weeks.

This kind of success rate heaps pressure on the stockperson and facilities, and, unless he/she is well organised with good work routines, the whole calving process, moving calves and feeding them can easily get on top of the best stockperson.

This can easily lead to its own problems with both cow and calf health, and with a subsequent increased pressure on the labour resources available on the farm.

Veterinary bills will be an unwanted knock-on effect of any herd health problems. Any dairy farmer will tell you it's not the numbers that are the problem. The real concern is the sick cow, the sick calf or the bunch of calves with calf scour. These issues can make for long days and, indeed, nights on the dairy farm.


There are a range of infectious agents -- ie, bacteria, viruses, parasites -- that do battle with our stock. In reply, the animal has two major defence mechanisms: physical defences -- the skin is the best example; and cellular defences -- included here would be the white blood cells that come out to attack an infection. If the infection manages to penetrate the physical defences, the animal's cellular defences come into play.

So, how does one eliminate or minimise the challenges faced by dairy cows and their newborn calves this spring? Calving is the most critical time of a cow's life. Any problems here and her whole year's milk production potential can be compromised. Cows must be allowed to calve down in a clean, stress-free environment.

Virtually every pathogen that can cause trouble for the dairy cow or her newborn calf is present in the environment around calving time. These pathogens include those that cause salmonella, brucella, rota and corona virus, cryptosporidium, as well as a host of other bugs that cause scour. Managing these pathogens gets more difficult as the calving season progresses, purely because of a build-up of disease through the spring.

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However, several factors are well within your control, such as housing, cow management, calf management and colostrum feeding.

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