MSD host Sustainable Irish Food Production 2025 Conference

MSD were delighted to open the discussion on the following 5 key topics:
1. Human & Animal Antimicrobial Resistance.
2. The Impact of Potential New EU Legislation.
3. Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions – The Role of the Vet.
4. Sustainable Irish Food Production for Global Markets into 2025.
5. Brexit – Implications for our Industry.

Growing resistance
Professor Patrick Wall opened the discussion on antimicrobial resistance reminding the attendees that the more you use antibiotics, the faster you lose them through antibiotic resistance. This was followed by a key message given by Conor Geraghty of Veterinary Ireland. ‘If you stand still, you’re going backwards! there is an alternative to antibiotic use’. The session was chaired by Mike Magan of Animal Health Ireland.

The Impact of New EU Legislation

Geoff Dooley of Nuffield Ireland and XL Vets chaired this session which saw MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament reinstate the fact that ‘having a healthy livestock sector means having a healthy economic situation for our farmers. If one country goes that extra kilometer then we need to be up there with them. This industry is about a future where young people can prosper’. This was then followed by Fergal Morris of MSD highlighting the importance of grass based systems stating that Italy use 7 times more antibiotics than Ireland! He also empahised the importance of AMR stating that ‘oral medication is more likely to cause antibiotic resistance than injectable medications’.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions – The Role of the Vet
This session saw John Gilmore offer great insights into the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland. Some of those points include;
– Eliminating IBR in a dairy herd can reduce carbon footprint in the livestock production system.
– Introducing milk concentrates to milk production can increase greenhouse gas emissions, therefore we must strive to avoid this.
– Livestock production cause more greenhouse gases than industries such as transport. Vets must take a leading role in reducing this.

Reactions and Feedback

 

 

 


BVD outbreak resulted in loss of over three-quarters of calves

Of 53 cows put in calf, Wexford suckler producer Paul Barden was left with just 12 calves alive due to a BVD outbreak. And the devastation was caused by a bought-in heifer that turned out to be a PI.
Paul, who farms at Donooney, Adamstown, experienced the BVD nightmare in spring 2014. He calved 52 cows in 2013. All calves were tissuetagged and were negative for BVD. He was very conscious of disease prevention. Cows were vaccinated against leptospirosis and salmonellosis. They were also vaccinated pre-calving to protect against scour in calves and he also had an IBR vaccination strategy in place. He had previously operated a closed herd and therefore did not feel the need to vaccinate against BVD. In summer 2013, he bought in eight heifers. And that is when the BVD horror story began.

“I noticed one of the heifers was not thriving as well as the rest, but I had no reason to suspect there was anything seriously wrong with her,” said Paul.

BVD

Nightmare
In September 2013, 53 animals were scanned in-calf, including the bought-in heifer. But everything changed when the cows started to calve in 2014. Paul tells the gruesome story “It was an absolute nightmare. Thirteen cows lost their calves before calving, including the bought-in heifer who aborted after about four months in-calf. Of the 40 calves that were born, we finished up with 12 that lived. “Some were born dead or died immediately after birth.
Over 20 lived, but got pneumonia and scour and anything else you could think of. With a lot of help from my vet Tomás O’Shea of Moyne Veterinary Clinic, we tried to keep them alive, but they failed to respond to all treatments. They were in a shocking state. “In the end, I agreed with Tomás that the only option was to put them down. Every single
one of the 28 that died or were put down was a PI.”
When the first signs of the impending disaster began to appear, Tomás O’Shea bloodtested all breeding stock. One – the suspect bought-in heifer that had aborted – tested as a PI. She was immediately removed from the farm.

Veterinary practitioner worked with farmer to remove BVD threat

Vaccination
The cows that did not produce a calf were sold. All remaining breeding stock were given a primary and booster vaccination with Bovilis BVD in advance of the 2014 breeding season. Annual BVD vaccination is now a rigid part of Paul Barden’s animal health programme. The number of cows in the herd dropped to below 40 in 2015. Paul bought in weanlings in order to “keep up numbers”.
He has gradually increased the size of the suckler herd and will calve around 45 cows this year – a mixture of Salers and Limousin – with the progeny being reared to forward stores or beef.


MSD joins forces with That’s Farming and XL Vets to launch Snapchat campaign

Move over James Herriot & follow a day in the life of a typical farm vet on Snapchat – Thatsfarming.com teams up with XL Vets & MSD Animal Health! The Snapchat campaign will run from 20th to 24th March and will stretch the length of the country to portray a day in the life of a vet.

Thatsfarming

It’s late March, calving and lambing is in full swing, calf populations are peaking and disease threats are high. Farms are stretched to capacity and vets are at their busiest.

Did you ever wonder what a vet’s work day is like when its full steam ahead? Well move over James Herriot and follow a day in the life of a typical farm vet on Snapchat.

Whether you are interested in farming, veterinary or where your food comes from; you won’t want to miss this.

Over 5 consecutive days from Monday March 20th to Friday March 24th; MSD and Thats Farming is following a different vet each day. Call after call, snap by snap you will have full access to the real world of a busy farm vet through this Snapchat campaign.

MSD Snapchat campaign

Working south to north, the series will kick-off with Kevin O’Sullivan of Glasslyn Vets in Bandon. On Tuesday, it will be the turn of Kieran O’Mahony of Glen Vets in Tipperary town. On Wednesday 22nd we will follow Donal Flynn from the All Creatures clinic in Roscommon. Then on the Thursday, Conor Geraghty from Mountbellew will have the lead and the series will conclude on Friday with Nick Garvey of Old Church Veterinary Hospital in Ballyshannon acting as host.

This innovative broadcast promises to be both educational and revealing. You will not want to miss it.

Every snap will be carried on the Thats Farming Snapchat. Audience interaction is encouraged and your feedback will be appreciated.

A day in the life of a vet is brought to you by XLVets and MSD Animal Health.

 


Calf Health Meetings held around Ireland

A very successful and informative calf health meeting on farm of William and Mary Dennehy in conjunction with Vets Sean O’ Sullivan and John Quill (Castle Vet Clinic). Over 60 people attended as all aspect of calf rearing and how the important role of correct vaccination planning in place to maximise growth in first 12 weeks of life for a healthier more productive cow for future years was covered by Martin, Cara, Sean and John.

Getting management right in the first 60 days of a heifer calf’s life will have a long-term impact on her overall productivity within the herd. Keeping her free of disease such as scour and pneumonia, and maintaining steady, adequate growth rates will influence how long she remains in the herd as well as how much milk she produces.

The importance of colostrum

Immunity does not pass through the placenta from the cow to the calf. When calves are born they are vulnerable to infection immediately. This is why the cleanliness of the ground and the surrounding calving environment influences the number and level of disease pathogens to which the calf is exposed. The cleaner the environment, the less pathogens to which the calf is exposed to and the lower the likelihood of that calf picking up disease. Colostrum is critical in order to knock the balance of disease freedom back in favour of calf health. Colostrum must be given quickly, must be of good quality and be given in adequate quantity. It is recommended that 3 to 4 litres of colostrum be given within 2 hours of birth. Nipple feeding as opposed to stomach tubing has been shown to allow a greater proportion of immunoglobulins to be absorbed, however if calves are weak or will not suck an adequate volume within the time frame, stomach tubing is necessary. Colostrum collection and administration must be done in a hygienic manner. Otherwise disease pathogens such as rotavirus and Cryptosporidium parvum can be ingested with dirty colostrum, causing scour.

Vaccination Planning

Managing scour

Assuming a hygienic calf environment and appropriately timed colostrum administration, the next most important step in reducing the risk of scour on farm involves ensuring that the quality of the colostrum administered is adequate. The new-born calf should be fed between 150 to 200 grams of immunoglobulins within the first 24 hours. However, the immunoglobulin level and therefore the quality of colostrum can vary between cows from less than 20 to over 100 mg/ml. Clearly 3 litres of colostrum from a cow with a quality of 100mg/ml will contain significantly more immunoglobulins compared to a cow with a quality of 20 mg/ml. The only way to get more immunoglobulins into a calf being fed poor quality colostrum is to increase the volume. If in doubt about colostrum quality it can be simply measured on farm using a colostrometer or a refractometer. The immunoglobulin level can be improved and homogenised between cows by vaccinating the cows against some of the most common scour-causing pathogens, namely rotavirus, coronavirus and E. coli K99. A single shot vaccine Rotavec® Corona can be administered to cows 3 to 12 weeks prior to calving so this can be achieved.

Tackling pneumonia

Research in Northern Ireland has shown that in the first two months of life, calves that are successfully treated for a single case of Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) produce 4% less milk in their first lactation and 8% less in their second. Reducing the risk of calf pneumonia occurring in the first place therefore makes economic sense. The immunity or antibodies a calf receives from colostrum will wane at different rates for different diseases. For example antibodies that help to fight Mannheimia (formerly Pasteurella) haemolytic, one of the most common bacterial causes of neonatal deaths due to respiratory disease diagnosed by AFBI NI, will have fallen below protective levels by approximately 3 weeks, therefore prompting the calf`s own immune system to start developing protection against pneumonia at this stage is important. Calves from approximately 2 weeks old onwards should be vaccinated against BRD.  Bovipast® RSP for example, can be administered from 2 weeks of age with a second dose given four weeks later.  This vaccine provides broad protection against 2 common viruses, BRSV and PI-3, and Pasteurella or Mannheimia haemolytica. Another advantage to this regimen is that Bovilis® IBR marker live can be given at the same time if IBR control is required on farm.

Increased growth rates during the first few months of a calf`s life have been shown to be positively associated with future milk production and survivability to second lactation. A preventative plan should be put in place in order to reduce the likelihood of anything that will hinder growth e.g. an outbreak of scour or pneumonia.

Calf management

 


Cork farmer outlines his horrendous experience with Salmonella infection

Salmonella infection can have a devastating effect on Irish herds.

“It was a horrendous experience. I just dreaded going out to the yard every morning,” said Cork dairy farmer Kevin Gowen as he related the story of the outbreak of Salmonella infection in his herd in 2010/11. “At the time, I was milking 100 cows. I was vaccinating for everything else, but not for Salmonella. We operated a closed herd, so I felt there was no risk. “And then it hit. Sixteen cows aborted in the space of a few weeks. I never want to go through that again,” said Kevin, who farms at Cappagh, Ballyhooley.
His veterinary practitioner Paul Redmond from Duntahane Veterinary Clinic in Fermoy was involved from the day the first abortion took place. Salmonellosis was rapidly diagnosed as the cause. The cows that aborted were segregated and all cows and in-calf heifers were vaccinated with Bovivac S. “We had to run two herds for a considerable period, which really increased the labour and management load. We eventually got rid of all cows that aborted and bought in cows and heifers to replace them,” said Kevin.
He is now milking 115 cows and producing his own replacements, some of which are reared on contract. Vaccination with Bovivac S is a non-negotiable part of his animal health programme. Replacement heifer calves are given a full primary course of the vaccine in September. All cows and replacement heifers are then given their booster shot annually during the month of September.

Kevin Gowen salmonella infection outbreak

Paul Redmond stressed the importance of vaccinating with Bovivac S at least two weeks prior to the high risk period to reduce the chances of subsequent Salmonellosis developing. “The high risk period is from the fifth to the eighth month of pregnancy. In problem herds it is essential to time your booster shot a few weeks prior when disease normally arises on your farm,” said Paul.
Paul is one of six vets in the Duntahane Veterinary Clinic which provides cattle, sheep, equine and pet health services. He is also chair of Prime Health Vets, a group of almost 20 veterinary practices across the country which pools knowledge and expertise with the aim of enhancing the quality of service to its farmer clients. “As well as causing abortions, Salmonella infections also cause severe disease in calves. Clinical signs include diarrhoea, joint infections, septicaemia pneumonia and fever. Calves regularly die within a few days of picking up the infection. “A number of years ago, I came across cases of per-acute salmonellosis in calves where the best calves in the bunch just dropped dead as if you shot them with a bullet.
“The two strains that affect cattle, Salmonella dublin and Salmonella typhimurium, are highly infectious. Bacteria are shed in birth fluids and faeces from infected cattle and are spread through contaminated water, feed, milk, equipment and wildlife. The bacteria can be carried by apparently healthy carrier animals. Stress factors, such as parasite infections, particularly fluke, and poor nutrition, can trigger an outbreak,” said Paul.
“Heifers infected between the age of one year and first calving are at the highest risk of becoming carrier animals. This is why these animals should be vaccinated before the risk period,” he added. He sees a severe outbreak of the disease in a client’s herd every couple of years. It is always in a herd that is not vaccinated or where vaccination has been discontinued. “We still have a significant number of clients who are not vaccinating. Considering the devastation that an outbreak of Salmonella can cause, this is false economics.”

Vaccinate cows before drying off for salmonella infection
His advice to all his clients is to give a primary shot of Bovivac S to all replacement heifer calves in August/September followed by a booster shot three weeks later. Replacement heifers and cows should then get their annual booster shot during the month of September. Bovivac S is the only vaccine that protects against the two strains of Salmonella, most relevant to cattle in Ireland. “Vaccination, combined with good hygiene and care in buying in, is the only way to prevent this serious disease,” he stressed.

Cara Sheridan, technical adviser with MSD Animal Health, highlighted the results of a recent study by Teagasc at Moorepark on the economic cost of Salmonella exposure in non-vaccinated herds, even in the absence of obvious signs of disease.
“The survey showed that exposure to Salmonella reduced profit by €77/cow at a milk price of 24c/l and over €110/cow at a price of 34c/ litre. It further showed that herds vaccinated for Salmonella recorded superior profits to unvaccinated positive herds (€84/cow). Herds negative for exposure generated the best profits of all. However, the cost of maintaining a Salmonellafree herd is currently unknown,” said Cara.
According to Cara, “Salmonella dublin and Salmonella typhimurium are the two most relevant cattle strains”. In fact, a recent study, conducted in Cork Regional Veterinary Laboratory, revealed that Salmonella dublin accounted for 85% of Salmonella isolates and Salmonella typhimurium accounted for 11% of isolates.
She urged farmers to seek the advice of their veterinary practitioner before implementing a Salmonella control programme.

 

Salmonella infection costs €112 per annum

 

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT SALMONELLA INFECTIONS

 


IBR – A silent threat to your herd’s productivity

When an outbreak of Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) occurs in a herd the clinical signs in cows may be reasonably easy to identify. This is known as a clinical outbreak. However, a proportion of herds may have a subclinical infection. This is where clinical signs in cows are not obvious but the infection is having a negative impact on production. In the current climate of poor milk price, it is more important than ever to limit the impact of disease on the profitability of a herd. The signs observed in cows that may be seen during a clinical outbreak of IBR are listed in the table below:

Clinical IBR
Subclinical infection means that virus is present in the herd but the above signs are not obvious and the infection remains undetected. These “subclinical” herd infections are common in countries like Ireland where the virus is considered endemic. However the direct impact on herds is likely to vary and is also very difficult to assess.

Clinical IBR runny nose

If signs in a herd are not obvious then how can a subclinical infection be recognised?
The triggers for suspicion of subclinical IBR in a herd include less overt signs, such as subtle milk drop and infertility. Both cattle previously exposed to the virus that have become silent carriers, as well as naïve animals that become infected for the first time, may develop subclinical disease with insidious production losses rather than clearly obvious clinical signs.

What determines whether clinical or subclinical disease occurs within a herd?
It is usually only during a primary infection i.e. when a cow is infected for the very first time, that clinical signs are seen. After this, the cow can shed the virus, but does not usually show any signs of disease again herself during the shedding phase. Often it is down to individual cow health, as well as overall herd health, as to the pattern of disease that emerges within the
herd. This is influenced by:

  • the immune system of each individual cow and her ability to fight off infection
  • the presence or absence of other diseases e.g. BVC, endoparasites etc., within the herd
  • wether or not the cows have been vaccinated against IBR
  • the level of passive immunity via colostrum transferred to calves
  • the strain of the IBR virus – certain strains can cause ore obvious disease than others

Cost of subclinical infection

Studies looking at the cost of IBR in Irish herds are currently underway, with a view to performing a cost benefit analysis on the implementation of a national IBR eradication programme. It has been estimated that an animal infected with the IBR virus can have a milk production loss of 9.52 kg over the course of a 14 day infection period.
A more recent UK study, over an extended period of time, looked at the impact of subclinical IBR in a 129 pedigree Holstein cow herd with an approximate annual milk yield of 9000 kg per cow. The study found that cows that were positive for the IBR virus (these are known as latent carrier cows ) produced 2.6 kg/day less milk over the two year study period compared to cows that were found, on blood testing, to be negative for the virus.

Subclinical IBR

 

Further information on  IBR:

IBR

References:

Animal Health Ireland. (2013) Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis Technical Working Group. Chair: Michael Gunn. IBR in cattle. FAQs. IBR leaflet Series Vol. 3, Ver.1 July 2013.

Statham, J.M.E. et al. (2015) Reduction in daily milk yield associated with subclinical bovine herpesvirus 1 infection. Vet Record 177:339.

Hage, J.J. et al. (1998) Milk production and reproduction during a subclinical bovine herpevirus 1 infection on a dairy farm. Prev Vet Med 34, 97-106


WBC (World Buriatrics Congress) 2016 held in Dublin

WBC comes to Dublin

Over 2,800 vets, researchers and experts in cattle health, will convene in Ireland in early July for The World Buiatrics Congress. Hosted by Veterinary Ireland in Dublin’s Convention Centre from 3rd-8th July 2016, the Congress itself has attracted delegates from more than 65 countries and is expected to boost the Irish economy by approximately €5 million.

“Consumers and retailers are increasingly showing an interest in cattle health and welfare,” according to Irish vet Michael Sexton, who is Head of the Local Organising Committee for the World Congress. “Vets play a big role with their farmer clients in maintaining the health and welfare of cattle herds throughout the world,” said Mr. Sexton.

“In Ireland, the advisory, clinical and scientific expertise of vets is also at the heart of our superb track record in food safety and quality through the veterinary inspectorate services, supporting the positive reputation of our food and agricultural industry – a sector which is playing an important part in Ireland’s economic revival.”

The agri-food industry provides employment for about 163,000 people in Ireland and saw exports of Irish food and drink increase in the years between 2010-2014, against a backdrop of recession. The Government’s Food Wise 2025 strategy predicts that Irish agri-food exports have the potential to grow to €19 billion per annum in value by 2025.

“Cattle – both dairy and beef – are an important part of that, particularly given that our temperate climate favours grass-based livestock farming,” said Mr. Sexton.

WBC 2016

“The Irish dairy and beef sector is worth protecting in so many ways, not just economic, but also because it is a way of life for so many farm families in rural communities,” said Mr. Sexton. “This in turn reinforces the importance of the work done by Irish vets in the eradication of animal diseases and in measures to defend Ireland from the threat of new disease outbreaks.”

Presentations by Irish vets reflecting the success of disease eradication programmes are amongst the 32 keynote lectures and 300 oral presentations to be delivered at the global Congress in Dublin. The sharing of latest scientific updates and clinical techniques extends to 700 poster presentations, workshops, symposia and round table discussions.

Buiatrics is defined as the study of cattle and their diseases. The World Association of Buiatrics (WAB) held its preliminary meeting in Hannover (Germany) in October 1960 with the objective of organising meetings on diseases and production in cattle, with a view to reporting and discussing the results of research work and other practical experiences associated with cattle health.

MSD are proud to be one of the main sponsors at this event.


The importance of vaccinating for both strains of Leptospirosis

The first step in protecting against any animal disease is to know what causes the problem.  This is especially true with leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis is an infectious disease caused by Leptospira bacteria. Two different strains affect cattle in Ireland – L. interrogans and L. borgpetersenii.  Annual vaccination is a crucial part of the armoury in controlling this highly infectious disease but in order to give full protection to animals it is vital to vaccinate against both strains of bacteria that cause the disease.

Dairy and suckler farmers should therefore ensure that the vaccine they use is effective against the two strains that affect cattle in Ireland.   Leptavoid H is the only vaccine licensed to protect against both Leptospira hardjo strains.

A study on clinical leptospirosis carried out by the Veterinary Research Laboratories at Stormont showed that L. interrogans was responsible for three out of every four infections (see Figure 1).  Leptavoid H is the only vaccine that protects against this strain.  It also protects against the second strain, L. borgpetersenii. 

Figure 1.  Survey of Clinical Leptospirosis

Lepto in Northern Ireland

 

The Northern Ireland survey showed that the strain L. interrogans was responsible for 76% of leptospirosis infections.  Leptavoid H is the only vaccine that protects against this strain. (Ref: Ellis, Rec. Vet. Sci. 1988 p375-379)

Vaccination increases conception rates 

Vaccination with Leptavoid H is also proven to increase conception rates where leptospirosis is diagnosed as a cause of infertility.  In split herd trials, cows vaccinated with Leptavoid H had a conception rate to first service of 51% compared to a conception rate of 31% in the unvaccinated group.  The cows were examined for BVD, IBR and trace element deficiencies and leptospirosis was found to be the only cause of infertility.

Rampant in dairy and suckler herds

Research has shown that the vast majority of dairy and suckler herds are exposed to leptospirosis infection.

A study by Eoin Ryan of the UCD Veterinary College showed that over 95% of suckler herds were exposed to infection with leptospirosis.  A separate study showed that 79% of dairy herds were exposed to leptospirosis infection.

Analyses by veterinary laboratories both here and in Northern Ireland in 2010 showed that, after Salmonella dublin, evidence of leptospirosis was one of the most common findings in aborted foetuses.  Without the widespread vaccination undertaken by dairy farmers during the past decade, this figure would be much higher.  The level of vaccination in suckler herds is still low.

Vaccination and control strategy

Vaccination, ideally before animals are exposed to the bacteria, is key to controlling leptospirosis.

“The primary vaccination course consists of two injections, four to six weeks apart. An annual booster vaccination every spring is usually sufficient to maintain immunity,” said animal health specialist Catherine O’Leary.

“Heifers, unvaccinated cows and bulls should get the first shot of Leptavoid H six to eight weeks before turnout and the second shot two weeks before turnout.  The annual booster shot of Leptavoid H should be given two weeks before turnout,” said Catherine, who is veterinary adviser with MSD Animal Health.

She advised that Leptavoid H can be used at the same time as Bovilis BVD, the vaccine used to prevent BVD, another common cause of abortion in cattle.

Highlighting the need for good bio-security, she said that buying in cattle, access to water courses, using a stock bull and co-grazing with sheep can increase the risk of leptospirosis.

“In addition to vaccination, operating a closed herd policy, cutting off access to communal water courses and wet areas surrounding streams, keeping contact between sheep and cattle to a minimum and making sure all bulls are free of leptospirosis are all very important in the control of this deadly disease,” she said.

lepto vaccine

Know the symptoms

Symptoms of leptospirosis include abortions, the birth of weak, dying or dead calves and returns to service and infertility.  Other clinical signs include a sudden drop in milk yield, fever and loss of appetite.  The disease is often unnoticed by farmers because they identify the problems as poor fertility, repeat breeding and returns to service.

The bacteria settle in the reproductive tract and the kidneys.  Infection is passed through contact with urine, placental material or the aborted foetus of infected animals as well as through contaminated water.

A serious risk to farmer health

Leptospirosis is a serious risk to farmers, vets and others in contact with infected animals, said veterinary specialist Fergal Morris.

“It is spread through contamination of the eyes, mouth, nose or cuts on the skin, usually from the urine of infected cows.  It causes flu-like symptoms, with chronic headaches.  Joint and muscle pain, with depression and listlessness are often present. In some cases, it can be life threatening,” he said.

He referred to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre’s 2011 annual report which showed that Ireland had the third highest level of reported leptospirosis incidence in humans in the EU.  Over 40% of the cases in 2011 involved infections acquired by farmers or others in contact with farm animals.

“One in nine dairy farmers and one in 25 beef farmers has been found to be positive when tested for leptospirosis exposure. This further emphasises the need for a rigid annual herd vaccination programme and for using Leptavoid H, the only vaccine that protects against both Leptospira hardjo strains,” said Fergal Morris, who is director of MSD Animal Health’s ruminant business unit in Ireland.


Farm Walk to be held 12th April 2016

Farm Walk

MSD Animal Health are proud to be one of the main sponsors of the Teagasc Green Acres programme. A farm walk will be held on 12th April 2016 at 11am. Everyone interested in attending the event should meet at the church car park in Ballyfin.

Topics focused on include:

  • Production Systems
  • Financial Performance
  • Reseeding
  • Farm Plan

Farm walk

Teagasc Green Acres – Demonstrating Best Practice

Food Harvest 2020 outlines a target of increasing the value of beef output by 20%. The expansion of the national dairy herd due to the abolition of milk quotas in 2015 and the application of sexed semen technology on a proportion of dairy farms will drive an increase in production of dairy bred calves. The result is an increasing supply of dairy bred calves that will be finished as beef. Significant component research information has been generated on dairy beef finishing at Teagasc Grange and Johnstown Castle. However, there is limited data on whole farm dairy calf to beef systems, demonstrating best practice at farm level. This programme is demonstrating profitable dairy calf to beef systems on a whole farm basis through a network of ten demonstration farms. The primary aim of the project is to demonstrate that, where a high level of technical efficiency is achieved on beef farms, it is possible to attain a net margin per hectare (excluding premia) in excess of €500 per hectare.

Gordon Peppard, is the dedicated programme adviser delivering the new Dairy Calf to Beef Programme supported by Liffey Mills, Drummonds Ltd., Volac Ireland, MSD Animal Health, Grassland Agro on a full time basis for three years.

The Objectives of the Programme are:

  • To advise and demonstrate best practice at farm level on the rearing, growing and finishing of purchased dairy bred calves through to beef (steers/heifers/bulls) on a whole farm basis on 10 demonstration farms and to demonstrate the associated economic benefits.
  • To provide technical support and targeted training to the technical staff of the contributing stakeholders to the programme.
  • To disseminate physical and financial progress / results from the programme through a wide range of communication strategies including monthly coverage in the Farming Independent, farm walks and other channels of communication.

Focus on calf health

Focus on calf rearing

Spring 2016 will see an increased number of calves born on a significant number of dairy farms in Ireland due to the end of the milk quota system. Calf management is a major influencing factor on the efficiency of a dairy farm.   Calf health and productivity have a direct effect on growth rates which largely determine whether a calf rearing enterprise is profitable.  It is also broadly accepted that more intensive management systems have a higher risk of a disease outbreak than smaller scale systems.

Calf management

Calf health and survival rates

Sickness and death levels in calves are critical elements to monitor on farm.  In 2013 according Animal Identification and Movement (AIM) System data, 60369 calves were reported to have died within the first 6 weeks of life.  This equates to 2.88% of calf births but accounts for 45.6% of the total calf deaths up to 1 year old.  The same data indicated that almost 80% of the total deaths in calves up to 1 year old occurred in the first 6 months of life.

The All-island animal disease surveillance report 2013 identified gastro-enteric disease as the most common cause of death in neonatal calves (<1 month of age) submitted for post mortem examination, accounting for 38% of cases in Northern Ireland and 27.6% in Ireland.

However a different trend emerges in calves aged 1 to 5 months submitted for post mortem. The report indicated that respiratory disease was responsible for 38% and 29.5% of cases in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland respectively.

The animals most at risk of dying are those in the first six weeks of life.  Special attention has to be given to this category of animal in order to prevent such wastage.  However, from 6 weeks to six months of age calves also need added protection against disease as they remain a risky category for this time period. Utilising these data, farmers and veterinary professionals can tailor disease control programmes and institute management decisions appropriately to the relevant age group.

Learn from previous experience

There is a wealth of knowledge available on farms to assist in the reduction of disease in calves in future seasons.  Preparation for the impending calving season should involve assessment the level of disease experienced in previous seasons, assessment of the identified causes of disease and implementation of a suitable, tailored disease prevention programme.

Target:  <5% of calves dead up to 56 days of age.

 <10% of calves sick/treated up to 56 days of age.

Monitoring colostrum management on farm

Your veterinary practitioner can routinely blood sample a number of calves, within the first few days of life, throughout the season to assess calf immunoglobulin levels. This acts as an indicator of how well colostrum feeding practices are being carried out.  Calves should be approximately 2 days old, healthy and adequately hydrated. Sick dehydrated calves can give erroneous results.  Zinc Sulphate Turbidity test (ZST) or Total Protein (TP) assessment are common test methods.  In 2013, 56% of samples submitted to the laboratories in Ireland for analysis were found to have inadequate levels indicating poor colostrum feeding practices.   Target: 90% of calves tested achieving results greater than 30 units (ZST) or 5.5 g/l (TP).

Vaccination has been successfully utilised to increase colostral antibodies to rotavirus, coronavirus and Escherichia coli. This approach helps to reduce losses due to scour within the first weeks of life prior to the calves’ own immune systems being able to respond to infection adequately.  The dam can be vaccinated from 3 weeks to 12 weeks prior to calving and this is commonly carried out at time of drying off.  Protection from this vaccination programme is achieved by feeding colostrum from vaccinated cows to their calves as detailed already in this article.  When calves are fed milk from vaccinated cows for two to four weeks after birth these antibodies in the vaccinated dam’s milk have been shown to reduce the incidence and severity of scours and reduce the shedding of virus from calves infected with rotavirus and coronavirus

colostrum

Fact

Calves which do not receive enough colostrum have:

·         Delayed time to first calving

·         Decreased average daily weight gain

·         Decreased milk and fat production at first lactation

Calf accommodation

Once calves are moved from the calving pens they require a heat source to ensure they dry rapidly.  An infrared heat lamp is a simple and effective source of heat for young or sick calves.  Straw bedding is proven to be a very effective insulator reducing heat loss from calves.  In order to be effective, bedding should be clean, dry and deep enough for the calf to make a nest in.  Unfortunately, far too many calves lie on very shallow bedding rather than being provided enough bedding to lie in.  Calves in their first weeks of life will use energy to maintain their body temperature if the environmental temperature falls below 15 degrees Celsius.  During spring average daily temperature are commonly less than this which means that, unless action is taken, calves will reduce their growth rate in order to keep warm.  Methods of dealing with low air temperatures in calf accommodation include infrared heat lamps, deeper straw bedding, calf coats and increased feed amount or feed concentration.  A simple addition to any calf house is a maximum/minimum thermometer which clearly indicates the extremes of temperature during a 24 hour period allowing an informed decision to be made regarding adjustments to the calves’ environment.

Cryptosporidiosis

One of the main causes of scour in calves less than 2 weeks of age is a parasite called Cryptosporidium parvum; resulting in acute scour and abdominal pain.  There is a licensed product which can prevent diarrhoea associated with cryptosporidiosis and must be administered orally for 7 days from 1-2 days of age.  This should be used on all calves subsequently born after a diagnosis of cryptosporidiosis has been made.  Other supportive therapies including adequate nutrition, warmth and exclusion of draughts all help to maintain calf health.

calf scour

Feeding

Drinking water should be freely available from the outset for baby calves.  Milk feeding should allow for calves to grow at a rate of at least 800 grams per day with the aim to weigh at least double their birth weight by 56 days old.  Nutrition during the first six to seven weeks of life significantly affects milk yield in the first lactation and can boost lifetime milk production much more so than the effect of genetics.  Calf concentrate feed should be offered from the first days of life in order to allow the calf to gradually become accustomed to the feedstuff and to ensure intakes well in excess of 1 kg of adequate quality concentrates per day by weaning are achieved.

  • Target: Calves should weigh double their birth weight by eight weeks of age e.g. 40Kg at birth, 80 Kg at 56 days.
  • Heifers should be 60% of their mature bodyweight at mating (aim to commence breeding by 13 months).
  • Heifers should be 85-90% of mature bodyweight at first calving (by 24 months of age)

The risk of pneumonia

Calves will receive varying levels of protection against many of the common causes of pneumonia for the first months of life from the dam via colostral antibodies.  In 2013, over 60% of all cases of pneumonia diagnosed at post mortem at the regional laboratories were in calves less than 6 months old.  The most frequent cause of pneumonia in all animals submitted to the laboratory for investigation was bacterial pneumonia. Causes of pneumonia in calves commonly include the bacteria Pasteurella or Mannheimia haemolytica and viruses Bovine Respiratory Syncytial virus (BRSV) and Parainfluenza virus 3 (PI-3).  The source of infection can be other animals on farm which emphasises the importance of segregating calves of different ages to minimise spread of disease. Stressed calves are more susceptible to disease such as pneumonia.  Stressors such as cold housing, damp bedding, overstocking and underfeeding can often be overlooked.  Ventilation plays a key role in preventing pneumonia and is often compromised.  Minimising draughts whilst maximising ventilation can be challenging.  Assess this with your veterinary practitioner.  Smoke bombs can be used in destocked houses as part of a ventilation assessment.  As a rule of thumb, if you can smell ammonia in calf housing then ventilation is not adequate.  Always assess air quality from within the calf pen at calf level.  Air quality at the feed passage or above calf level is not representative of that which calves are inhaling.  It is clear that early protection is required on many units when we assess the level of mortality in the first 6 weeks of life. Also, the significant number of deaths which occur from 6 weeks to 6 months of age illustrate the importance of utilising a vaccination protocol which provides sustained protection for this period of risk.  Consideration should be given to incorporating M. haemolytica control into a broadly protective, sustained calf respiratory vaccination protocol.

Vaccination from two weeks of age with Bovipast RSP provides protection against BRSV and PI-3 and also protects against the bacteria M.  haemolytica,.  A second injection given four weeks later provides protection throughout this early risk period.  A further booster dose of Bovipast RSP can be administered prior to winter housing for spring-born calves to minimise pneumonia risk during the housing period.  Conveniently, Bovipast RSP can be administered on the same day as Bovilis IBR marker live.

 

Best Practice

Decisions must be made by veterinary practitioners and farmers regarding disease control programmes which promote improved productivity, decreased antimicrobial usage and decreased mortality.  This will have the added benefit of improving animal welfare on Irish farms.