Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Treat new weanlings the right way and keep stress and sickness to a minimum

Pearse Kelly

October and November are the two big months for weanling sales from one farm to another. Keeping these valuable animals in tip-top shape during this transition period is the responsibility of both the seller and the buyer.

Most of them will be sold through livestock marts, which means travelling to and from the mart and mixing in the same air space as other stock for the day while waiting to be sold.

Stressing the animal is hard to avoid and this combination of influences can lead to respiratory diseases such as pneumonia in the weeks following sale.

So what can the buyer do to limit this risk?

•Calf choice: Buying the right type of calf to begin with goes a long way to reducing the risks. Where it is suspected that weanlings are not weaned, they should be avoided in the sales ring. Also avoid calves that are overly excited or nervous as their stress levels will be dangerously high. Talking to the sellers can give a lot of information on the cattle being sold. This should include what vaccinations/treatments if any they have been given and the diet they have been on.

•Limit stress: Take them out of the mart as soon as possible after purchase. The less time they spent there, the less stressed they will be and the lower their exposure to new disease organisms. They will not have eaten or have had access to water for a number of hours so any further delays should be avoided. Transport them directly to their new farm.

•Arrival on farm: On arrival, they should be given water and a source of feed. Most weanlings should be used to eating meals (due to the requirements of the Suckler Welfare Scheme) and so it should be easier to feed them a small amount. One buyer of weanlings I know never buys them late in the day as they will inevitably arrive late in the evening on his farm, which he feels leaves them more exposed to chills.

•Fresh air: If at all possible do not house them. They will remain much healthier if they can be kept in the fresh air for a number of weeks. A well-fenced, sheltered paddock is ideal. However, it should also have adequate levels of grass to keep up their level of nutrition. Weanlings already trained at eating meals should be fed 1.5-2kg of a high energy ration. Untrained weanlings should be separated and slowly started on meals, building up to what the others are eating.

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•Be vigilant: Watch out for sick animals. Many of the respiratory diseases show very few symptoms in the early stages of infection and can be hard to detect.

Calves that are slow to come for meals or are keeping to themselves should be closely watched. In any case, in the early days after purchase they should be herded at least three times a day and twice a day after that. Rapid breathing or nasal discharges are the classic signs of the disease and veterinary assistance may then be needed. Where a case is suspected, take the temperature of the calf. The normal body temperature in cattle is 38°C, but it can fluctuate 1°C up or down from this.

•Vaccination: This is now the route of choice among many weanling buyers. Most programmes involve a two-shot programme before there is full immunity cover built up and ideally this full cover should be in place before the weanling is stressed in any way.

As the buyer has, for the most part, no control over this until the day they buy the weanling, the sooner a vaccination programme is started after purchase the better.

All weanlings should also be dosed for lungworms at purchase as a weakened lung due to hoose is much more susceptible to pneumonia than a healthy lung.

Indo Farming