Seminars highlight the vital role of calf health across the province

The effects of calf housing, disease and nutrition on profit margins and the future performance of the dairy herd were outlined at a series of calf health seminars throughout Northern Ireland, organised by Zoetis and Trouw Nutrition with support from United Feeds.

Wednesday, 23rd October 2019, 8:58 am
Speakers at the calf health seminar were Mark Little, Trow; Jan Van Dijk, Zoetis; and Aaron Brown AFBI/QUB
Speakers at the calf health seminar were Mark Little, Trow; Jan Van Dijk, Zoetis; and Aaron Brown AFBI/QUB

Calf Housing

Aaron Brown, a first year PhD student with AFBI/QUB is currently researching calf housing practices which optimise calf performance and health.

The Optihouse project is a DAERA and AgriSearch funded project to investigate the relationships between calf housing and management, rearing environment and pre-weaned calf health and performance.

From left David Stevenson, Sarah Baxter, Mark McFarland and Lorna McFarland who attended one of the calf health seminars

During the spring of 2019, 66 Northern Ireland dairy farms were assessed with regard to calf rearing practices and housing/ environmental conditions.

Calf house measurements, building materials, hygiene levels and ventilation ability were all assessed.

Initial results indicate a wide variation in housing design, management practices and hygiene levels.

Many houses had sub-optimal ventilation and room for improvement in general hygiene.

Declan McMullan, Rasharkin, Josie Devlin, Glenshane Vets, and Bryce Gilmore, Rasharkin take a break at one of the calf health seminars

With an immature and developing immune system, high levels of hygiene are critical in young calves to reduce the risk of many diseases.

As the project continues, the impact of suggested changes in housing design/hygiene management will be assessed, and blueprints for calf house design will be produced by the end of the project.

New Tools in the Battle Against Pneumonia

Dr Jan Van Dijk, veterinary consultant, Zoetis, informed the audience that on dairy farms, death rates in calves between one and six months may run as high as 29%.

Enjoying refreshments at one of the calf health seminars are Steven Arthur, Noleen Jamieson, Neil Johnston, Riada Vet Clinic and Cherie Arthur

Animals surviving pneumonia can suffer stunted growth rates and therefore fail to calve down at 24 months of age.

In terms of pneumonia prevention, the importance of colostrum, ‘passively immunising’ the calf, has been stressed for many years.

Vaccination also has a crucial role to play.

Zoetis has a wide respiratory disease vaccine portfolio – which makes it possible to tailor the vaccine protocol to individual farms.

In particular, the introduction of Rispoval IntraNasal® has been a game changer as it facilitates vaccination of calves as young as nine days of age.

Launched earlier this year, Clarifide Plus® is a simple genomic test predicting how an animal will perform in the herd.

With reliabilities of up to 70%, it predicts not only what production levels can be expected but also how likely an animal is to suffer from common diseases, such as calf respiratory disease

This exciting new test can be used to select animals with a greater resilience to calf respiratory disease and breed these to be the future of the herd.

Once the potential of a newborn animal is known, it becomes possible to choose which animals to keep at an early age.

Clarifide Plus is the only test on the market giving a prediction on the likelihood of specific diseases occurring.

Critical Window of Opportunity to Unlock the Full Potential of Calves

Dr Mark Little, technical manager, Trouw Nutrition explained that LifeStart research has demonstrated that feeding calves elevated planes of nutrition has a significant impact on gene expression and positively influences an animal’s metabolism, with the effects visible later in life.

LifeStart resets the quantity of milk a calf needs.

Mark also explained that Milkivit Energizer has been specifically formulated to ensure that the calf receives a balanced nutrient supply for optimal development whilst supporting the health of the calf.

The formula is closer to that of natural milk with 10% more metabolisable energy, with the difference in calf performance and health demonstrated on farms.

Milkivit Energizer, which is available from United Feeds, resets the quality of milk a calf needs.