Hygiene and ventilation have a major role to play in the control of Coccidiosis

Kyle Henry shows Zoetis Animal Health Vet, Aurelie Moralis the latest batch of calves on his farm at Crankey, Jerrettspass. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Kyle Henry shows Zoetis Animal Health Vet, Aurelie Moralis the latest batch of calves on his farm at Crankey, Jerrettspass. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Coccidiosis plays a major role in the youngstock health complex.

While the acute cost of disease has been estimated at £25-£60 per calf affected, the cost of subclinical disease, which is more prevalent, poses a greater cost to the industry.

In order to achieve targets of 55-60% of adult bodyweight at service for maiden heifers and 90% at calving, it is crucial to make the most of the greatest feed conversion efficiency, which is achieved early on in life. Dairy heifers achieving growth targets and calving at 22-23 months performed best in terms of total milk yield and survival rates over the first five years of life. Calves exposed to high burdens of coccidia are likely to suffer reduced growth rates which in the dairy sector may manifest later in life and in the beef sector can have a direct effect on farm profitability through increased time to weaning, finishing and increased feed costs.

Coccidiosis is commonly a disease of young cattle from one-two months of age up to one year old and is responsible for 11% of calf scours.

Calves get infected through environmental challenge and adults act as a reservoir of disease. In dairy heifer rearing units with a history of disease, hygiene and cleansing of accommodation in between batches is crucial for reducing incidence of disease. Suckler calves are at risk of infection through soiled drinking troughs and poaching of land surrounding creep feeders and troughs. While most infections remain subclinical, clinical outbreaks may occur as a result of high environmental challenge in conjunction with a period of stress such as concurrent disease (e.g. BVD), poor colostrum intake, mixing groups of calves, weaning, dietary changes, etc.

Clinical signs in acutely infected calves include bloody, mucus tinged scour, lethargy, dehydration, inappetence, severe straining and sometimes death. Chronic forms of coccidiosis can be associated with ill thrift and under performance, pasty scour, reduced appetite and straining.

Diagnosis can be made in conjunction with your vet through faecal samples and submitting deceased calves for post mortem. Multiple faecal samples may be required.

Coccidiosis can be difficult to control. Survival of most gastrointestinal pathogens and maturation of coccidial oocysts is best under moist conditions. Therefore overcrowding of animals should be avoided and calving pens and calf accommodation should be well drained and kept as dry as possible. Prevention measures should include minimising faecal contamination of hair coats. Feed and water troughs should be high enough to avoid faecal contamination and milk buckets should be cleaned routinely.

Deccox®6%, added to feed as a prescribed premix, can be used to prevent coccidiosis in calves at risk. Deccox®6% should be fed continuously for 28 days when coccidiosis is expected to be a hazard. The major benefits of coccidiostats are through improved feed efficiency and weight gain.

Control of infection should include changes in management factors that contribute to the development of clinical disease. Inadequate housing and ventilation should be corrected, feeding practices adopted that avoid faecal contamination of feed, calves grouped by size, and an “all-in/all-out” method of calf movement from pen to pen adopted.