A crowd of over 100 farmers gathered on Gerard McNally’s dairy farm in Cavan to hear the importance of colostrum and hygiene when it came to preventing scour in calves.

The event was one of the final ones in a series organised by Animal Health Ireland (AHI) and Teagasc ahead of the spring-calving season.

With an extra 30,000 dairy calves due this spring, the events have been aiming to highlight the importance of calf health and welfare.

UCD veterinary lecturer Catherine McAloon spoke about how to manage the age-old problem of calf scours.

Along with pneumonia, scours are one of the leading causes of calf death on Irish farms.

When it came to preventing scours, McAloon said hygiene and colostrum were the two most important factors.

Hygiene and colostrum

“There is always extra performance to be had on farms around the area of hygiene,” she said.

Hygiene works to reduce the infection pressure on calves. By implementing strict standards throughout calf rearing, calves exposure to bacteria and parasites can be minimised.

These included simple practises such as using a separate stomach tube for sick and healthy calves and feeding younger calves prior to older ones.

In order to maximise the protection provided to calves by colostrum, three high-quality litres should be fed within the first two hours of life

McAloon told the crowd that research conducted by UCD on Irish farms two years ago revealed 40% of colostrum was of poor quality and that 56% of samples taken had bacterial loads greater than 100,000 cells.

The manner in which colostrum was collected was a key factor. The longer between calving and colostrum collection, the poorer the quality.

In order to maximise the protection provided to calves by colostrum, three high-quality litres should be fed within the first two hours of life.

McAloon recommended that farms invest in a Brix refractometer which could be used to test colostrum quality.

The acceptable level to feed to a calf is greater than 22%.

She also said having a local vet blood test a group of calves under seven days old to measure the level of immunity acquired by calves could be beneficial. This helps identify any problems with colostrum management.

Fluids and electrolytes

When it came to treating cases of scour, McAloon said the main cure was replacing fluids and electrolytes lost.

While a bacterial infection such as E coli or salmonella or a parasitic cause such as crypto or coccidiosis was the cause of the scour, calves usually died as a result of dehydration.

Testing calves to determine the cause of the scour was recommended along with feeding two litres of water mixed with electrolytes twice daily. She also recommended keeping milk into calves that were able to drink.

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