On suckler farms that start calving in February, stocking density will be increasing in sheds as more and more calves are born.

As stocking density increases, so too will the level of disease pathogens. Scour is the leading cause of calf mortality during the first month of life.

Hygiene in sheds will have an impact on scour levels. Outlined are some tips to keep on top of shed hygiene.

1. Get plenty of colostrum into calves

Colostrum will boost the calf’s immune system. The more colostrum a calf gets in the first six hours of life, the better.

If vaccinating against scour, it is crucial calves receive plenty of colostrum in that time period, as this is how antibodies are passed from the cow to her newborn.

As a rule of thumb, for every 10 minutes of continuous sucking, the calf should be getting around one litre of milk.

Target 20 to 30 minutes of sucking during the first few hours of life or two litres if manually feeding colostrum.

2. Clean bedding

The availability and price of straw will see some farmers cut back on bedding this spring. But such actions are a false economy and a recipe for a major scour outbreak.

Wet and soiled bedding allows scour pathogens to multiply. It will also lower a calf’s core body temperature, making newborn animals more susceptible to scour.

Calves should have access to a well-bedded creep area, separate from cows, as it is mature animals that shed scour pathogens in their dung.

Keep areas around water troughs and feed gates clean. If calves are lying in such areas, get them on their feet and herd them towards creep areas.

3. Good ventilation

Sheds with a steady flow of fresh air improve calf health. Good air flow prevents stale, humid air accumulating, which keeps bedding damp and provides an ideal environment for disease.

4. Clean out sheds midway through calving

As scour pathogens build over time, calves born in the second half of the calving period will face a greater disease challenge than the first few animals born this spring.

Given the workload during calving time, it is unrealistic to clean out calving pens after every use.

However, aim to clean out pens and creep pens at least once, ideally midway through calving to lower the risk for late-born calves.

5. Minimising stress on calves

If jobs such as dehorning or castrating are planned, make sure calves are properly sedated to minimise stress levels.

Stress will suppress the calf’s immunity, increasing the risk of animals developing scour. Complete these tasks in small groups, so calves are returned to the cow as soon as possible for comfort.

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