Overcoming the threat of coccidiosis

Elanco's Bill Ferris (left) out on farm with Eric Smart
Elanco's Bill Ferris (left) out on farm with Eric Smart

Retired dairy farmer Eric Smart, from Poyntzpass in Co Down, has succeeded in putting all of the livestock and husbandry skills – amassed over many years – to good use courtesy of a calf to forward store rearing system with a unique focus.

He explains: “When we decided to sell the cows, our plan was to introduce a drystock production system that made best use of the facilities on the farm.

“But from the outset I pretty much knew what that option would be: rearing British Blue dropped calves through to beef or selling them as advanced stores. We had reared Blue calves of our own and knew them to be of exceptional quality and very easy to manage. They have a tremendous temperament.”

For the past number of years it has been tradition for Eric to buy in 45 to 50 Blue calves and rear them on accordingly.

“We have the sheds to allow us to rear the calves pre-weaning and we maintained the paddock system on the farm, which makes grazing management so much easier. I buy all the calves myself, which gives me total control over the system.

“The calves are reared on milk replacer over the autumn period and then weaned when they are eating around one kilo per head of concentrate. Bull calves are squeezed prior to going out the following Spring for their first season at grass.”

In the past Eric had found that turnout coincided with a significant increase in the threat of Coccidiosis. It first became apparent with the calves taking a dark coloured scour.

“Our vet confirmed that the problem was coccidiosis and recommended the drenching of all the weanlings with Vecoxan. This had a very quick and beneficial effect. We were also informed that the threat of coccidiosis would, invariably, become a ongoing challenge for calves reared on the farm. As a consequence, we routinely drench all the first-season calves with Vecoxan around turnout. It is a strategy that has worked well as the problem no longer rears its head. As the old saying goes, ‘prevention is always better than cure!’”

Once the initial risks of nutritional scour and viral diseases have passed, a common scour threat in calves is coccidiosis. This one-celled parasite can have a devastating impact on growth of youngstock and consequently on profits. Fortunately, the animals raise immunity to this organism but unless the systems are in place to allow this to happen, coccidia can overgrow and cause serious damage to the gut lining.

Timing of treatment and management of the environment are essential to combat this disease. The parasite has a three week lifecycle and during this time can replicate from one organism to 16 million. The organism is ingested by eating oocysts from faeces. Therefore reducing contamination of feeding and drinking troughs can reduce the burden of disease considerably.

Treatment must coincide with exposure to the disease to be effective long term, as the animal’s own immunity needs to recognise the organism and be able to raise its own immune response when it is challenged again. Colostrum antibodies provide protection for up to 3-4 weeks and then wane. It is only after this that the animal’s own immune system can react.

If the organism is allowed to go untreated, it may result in damage to the gut lining.

Vecoxan is a highly effective treatment against the threat of coccidiosis in both calves and lambs. Its use has delivered powerful results for dairy and livestock farmers here in Northern Ireland.