Farm Ireland

Wednesday 22 November 2017

'We were feeding the calves four times a day to keep them alive'

Dermot Heaney
Dermot Heaney

Dermot Heaney started out on his own with 160 cows in 2010, and expects to calve 250 this year, but it was in the first year of his big move that he faced his biggest obstacle.

"In our first spring we faced a big challenge from a salmonella outbreak," he recalled.

"I can't remember exactly, but we could have lost over 10pc of our heifer calves. We probably lost more of the bull calves, but because we're operating a crossbred herd, the bull calves aren't worth a lot anyway, so we were less concerned about them.

"It was really tough going, because we were feeding them four times a day to keep them alive, which meant that we were working from 6.30am-11pm.

"It was a serious crash course for me in managing calves with scour.

"The way we used to do it on the home farm was take them off milk until they dried up.

"That's all changed. I gave them milk replacer every second feed, with a electrolyte in between," said Mr Heaney.


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"That means that they still get the nutrition of the milk, along with the energy and rehydration of the electrolyte.

"But I started making my own electrolytes because with the volumes that we were using, it worked out at about 20pc of the cost. It was basically a mix of salt, glucose and bread soda.

"I still needed to administer antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, but I also learned that they didn't have to be administered to every calf.

"If their temperature was over 39.3C, we put them on a course of antibiotics.

"After the first few got sick, we got the vet in to analyse what was wrong.

"Even though we established that it was Salmonella Dublin, and we started to vaccinate for it straight away, it was another six weeks before any of the calves being born were immune to the disease.

"That was really only the last couple of weeks of our calving season.

"In the meantime, you could see almost every calf succumbing to it about 10-15 days after they were born.

"It was very demoralising, but we got through it. I don't know anybody in my discussion group that is not vaccinating for salmonella now.

"In fact, we vaccinate for BVD, IBR, leptospirosis, salmonella and rota/corona, which comes to at least €7,500 annually on vaccines, but I reckon it's still a good investment," Mr Heaney said.

Indo Farming