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Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme


As part of the Green Acres program, Agriland have constructed a Calf Health and Management series. As part of that series, Suzanne Naughton from MSD Animal Health discussed some of the key challenges when purchasing calves and the role of vaccination throughout the rearing period.

While calf purchase price and the genetics of the calf are foremost in terms of making a profit on calf-to-beef systems, calf health is also a pillar which deserves significant consideration. Focusing on hygiene and vaccination is the best policy to ensuring this happens. Pneumonia and scour are the two major illnesses that compromise calf health and reduce lifetime performance.

Prevention is always better and cheaper than the cure and a health plan should be implemented on-farm. It should be noted that no amount of vaccination can overcome a lack of quality colostrum administered to the calf at birth and the bacterial and viral challenges calves face when the environment they are reared in is not up to scratch.

Check out the full video below for more information. Also, you can find out more about the vaccines mentioned in this video by clicking on them below
Bovilis INtranasal RSP Live
Bovipast RSP
Bovilis IBR Marker Live

Vaccine Management

Remember that correctly administering and storing vaccines is important to improve the success of a vaccination programme.

“Once you get your vaccines, they should be kept in the fridge until you are ready to go with your batch of animals.

“Vaccines should be made up according to the recommendations on the data sheet in the box – all the information on how much to administer and where is on the data sheet provided.

“Start with a clean needle and a clean syringe. If you are using an old dirty needle, you are increasing the likelihood of an abscess or lump developing.”


Animal Health remains a priority on farm – Leptospirosis in cattle

As calving comes to an end, focus turns to breeding management. Selecting the correct genetics is vital to the performance of the herd and in order to fully achieve the genetic potential of the herd, correct decisions with regard management, nutrition and animal health must occur. Leptospirosis is a disease that cattle are exposed to while at pasture and can effect their reproductive performance.

In the pre-recorded video below, Cara Sheridan (Technical Advisor – MSD Animal Health) outlines the effect of Leptospirosis disease on cattle performance and mechanisms by which Leptospirosis can be controlled.

Leptospirosis is one of the most common causes of abortion in cattle in Ireland. It is an endemic disease, meaning that the majority of herds test positive for it.

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease meaning it can cause disease in humans. Leptospirosis can be acquired from contact with urine, afterbirth or aborted foetus of an infected animal. Esentially, all those working with stock are potentially at risk. Clinical signs of the disease in humans are flu-like, with headaches and fever, occasionally progressing to meningitis.

  • There are two serovars of Leptospirosis commonly found in cattle in Ireland;

Leptospira interrogans hardjo and Leptospira borgpetersenii hardjo

Leptospirosis circulates in a herd by direct transmission from infected animals (new infections or carrier animals) or by indirect transmission through urine, birth fluids, milk, contaminated water or other species e.g. sheep. Leptospirosis is very difficult to eradicate as some cows can become carriers. Leptospires can also survive for up to six weeks in wet soil and stagnant water or slow moving streams.Clinical Signs of Leptospirosis

Early signs are usually mild and transient and therefore may go unnoticed.

The most common clinical signs include;

  • Milk drop – A sudden decrease in milk yield
  • Abortions – Usually occur 6-12 weeks after the initial infection.

Abortion rates may be up to 30% in a herd infected for the first time.

  • Infertility – Low pregnancy rates and therefore increased culling due to low fertility
  • Weak calves – Infection in late pregnancy can result in the birth of weak calves that die within a few hours of birth

Diagnosis of Leptospirosis

Based on;

  • Blood sampling and looking for high antibodies level in affected animals (which can prove difficult as often the infection were present 6-12 weeks before clinical signs become apparent e.g. low pregnancy rates picked up at scanning)
  • Culture of urine samples
  • Leptospiral abortion diagnosis is best based on finding bacteria in the foetus

Speak to your vet about investigating Leptospirosis in your herd.

Control of Leptospirosis

  • Isolation of the sick cow and aborting cow
  • Biosecurity  – Avoid the introduction of infected animals
  • Quarantine until test negative
  • Double fencing at perimeters
  • Vaccination – The only practical way of controlling Leptospirosis

Timing of Vaccination

It is essential to vaccinate heifers before their first pregnancy. The primary vaccination course consists of 2 injections 4-6 weeks apart and thereafter an annual booster before turnout and at least 2 weeks before breeding.  It is a 2ml dose, given under the skin to all cattle >1 month of age. The correct use and timing of vaccination are vital to their success, always read the manufacturers recommendations.

Why vaccinate with Bovilis Leptavoid-H?

  • Bovilis Leptavoid-H is the only vaccine licensed to protect against both strains of Leptospira hardjo
  • Bovilis Leptavoid-H is the only vaccine that is licensed to improve conception rates where Leptospirosis has been diagnosed as a cause of infertility
  • Bovilis Leptavoid-H can be used on the same day as Bovilis BVD (to cattle >8 months of age)

Vaccinating Against Pneumonia a Must for Co. Tyrone Farmer



Co. Tyrone dairy and beef farmer Norman Watt has found a marked improvement in animal health and performance since he started vaccinating against pneumonia three years ago.

Vaccinating against pneumonia
Dairy farmer, Norman Watt in a pen amongst his calves

Norman farms with his brother Dennis at a 400 acre farm located between Dungannon and Cookstown, milking 270 dairy cattle twice daily and also finishing 120 young stock to beef. The pair made the decision to include Bovipast® RSP as part of their vaccination regime following problems with pneumonia in the past, particularly in their older stock.

“We lost a few animals a few years ago to pneumonia and had to treat others with antibiotics,” explained Norman. “This was both stressful and costly, so after discussing the issue with our vet, we decided to start a Bovipast vaccination programme in order to reduce the risk of future outbreaks. We’ve had no issues since and I would say that we really couldn’t do without it now.”

The Watts operate a closed herd, minimising the risk of disease being introduced by bought-in animals, and generally calve year-round. Calves are reared in individual pens until they are two to three weeks of age, with good ventilation in place.

Advice from the vet on vaccinating against pneumonia

They have worked closely with Parklands Veterinary Practice in Cookstown for many years, adopting a preventative, progressive approach to animal health. Calves receive a primary shot of Bovipast RSP to protect against pasteurella pneumonia (caused by M. haemolytica) and the two main pneumonia-causing viruses, RSV and PI3.  Bovilis IBR Marker Live, the vaccine that protects against IBR, is given at the same time as the primary shot of Bovipast RSP at 3 weeks of age.  A booster shot of Bovipast RSP is given four weeks later.   All cows are vaccinated against IBR twice a year, and they also include Bovivac® S against Salmonellosis and Leptavoid® H against leptospirosis as part of their vaccination regime.

Thriving Animals

“We’ve had great results with Bovipast since we started using it,” continued Norman. “Dealing with sick animals in the past has been very demoralising and we are keen to do anything we can to avoid it. There is also a clear financial benefit, as the cost of treating disease is much more than the cost of vaccination. It’s much better to take control of the situation rather than leaving it to chance – it’s simply not worth the risk.  In our view, a solid vaccination programme is a must if you want thriving, healthy animals.”

Vaccinating against pneumonia
Thriving Animals: A pen of healthy calves that are all on the same vaccination protocol

Boosting calf immunity through vaccinating against pneumonia

Most recently, the Watts have added the new Bovilis® INtranasal RSP Live vaccine to their vaccination regime, to provide an early boost to new-born calf immunity.

 “We were previously having some issues with calves starting to cough and then having to treat them with antibiotics before we were able to give them the Bovipast shot at three weeks.  Whenever our vet told us about the new intranasal vaccine which reduces clinical signs of Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) from one week of age, we were very keen to try it.  The fact that it’s intranasal is a bonus as it is very easy to administer and highly effective.  Helping to avoid illness at this early stage of the calf’s life is really important to us, as we know how much an early encounter with respiratory illness can affect their ability to thrive,” said Norman.

Communication and continuous improvement

Koen Debel of Parklands Veterinary Practice commented: “The Watts are a very progressive team dedicated to making continual improvements across the farm. From nutrition, to vaccination to hygiene – they really are on top of everything.  Excellent communication between the two brothers, combined with using expert advice where appropriate, means they are a very robust team. In terms of vaccinations, they make sure they are well-informed and are fully comfortable with the choices they are making.  Animal health is at the heart of what they are doing and a strong focus on that has impacted positively on productivity, profitability and overall job satisfaction.

Vaccinating against pneumonia
(l-r): Koen Debel, Parkleands Vet, TJ Duffy, MSD Animal Health and Normal Watt, Dungannon Dairy farmer

“They are very strong advocates for a comprehensive vaccination programme, recognising the benefits of a preventative approach. Minimising antibiotic use is important for many reasons and they should only ever be used as a last resort. Some farmers may be reluctant to invest time and money into establishing a vaccination protocol, but in reality the cost of losing one calf can far outweigh the investment in preventative options. A robust vaccination programme enables farmers to reduce treatment costs and gives them peace of mind that they are doing everything possible to maximise animal health and performance.”  

For more information on either vaccine, click below or talk to your vet:

Bovilis INtranasal RSP Live
– Bovipast RSP


It’s back – Pr€vention for Profit competition

Now we’re looking for the best dairy calf rearer in the country #MyCalfOurFuture


Register here

This year, the Pr€vention for Profit competition is focused on calves. The #MyCalfOurFuture concept highlights the importance of the newborn calf to the sustainability of the farm, the farmer, their family and the rural economy.

The competition is aimed at dairy farmers who are maximising their on-farm profitability by focusing on the four key pillars of production – Nutrition, Genetics, Management and Animal Health. We aim to showcase the management of Irish dairy calves by identifying farmers who implement best practice when it comes to calf rearing.

There will be one dairy farmer selected from each of the four provinces. The four finalists will be assessed based on the four pillars of production. A panel of judges will conduct a single half day farm visit to assess their calves’ level of productivity and profitability.


Win an all-expenses paid European dairy farm study tour. To enter, CLICK HERE



“I don’t have time for scouring calves” says Wicklow dairy farmer

Dairy farmer, Darren Healy explains how he combines scour vaccination and strict management practices to reduce the risk of calf scour emerging on his farm this spring

With another spring calving season about to begin, farmers are well into their preparations for the busy season ahead. For many, vaccination and applying key preventative practices will be priority in order to reduce the incidences of disease across their herds.    

Ready for Spring: Eamon, Kalinda, Darren Healy along with local vet Mark Drought from Avondale vet practice

Although calves are susceptible to many diseases from early life, calf scour is the most common illness in calves less than one month old. Rotavirus, Coronavirus and E.coli are some of the most common causes of calf scour which can lead to significant economic losses due to calf mortality, treatment costs, labour and reduced growth rates.

According to Co. Wicklow farmer, Darren Healy, prevention is always better than cure when it comes animal health. Located in Redcross Co. Wicklow, Darren is farming in partnership with his wife, Kalinda, and father, Eamon. The Healy’s are milking a 280 predominately Holstein Friesian herd. The farm is run on a grass based, spring calving system, with his herd calving from the beginning of February to the end of April.   

In order to maximise their milking platform and reduce labour costs, calves are sent to a contract rearer at two weeks of age. They undergo AI breeding and the various vaccination regimes whilst on the contract rearers farm before going back to the Healy’s 18 months later, approximately six weeks prior to the calving season.   

According to Darren, the control of calf scour is based on equally important preventative practices.  Vaccination is not used as a substitute for good quality colostrum, good hygiene practices or good housing management; they all go hand in hand in order to reduce the risk of calf illness and enhance thrive.  

Preventative Practices  

Colostrum Management

Colostrum is the single most important nutrient for the newborn calf as it contains high levels of energy, growth promoters, vitamins and immunoglobulins. Failure to provide enough good quality colostrum to calves immediately after birth will affect the calves long term health and performance.

According to Suzanne Naughton, Veterinary advisor with MSD Animal Health, “Feeding three litres of good quality colostrum as soon as possible after birth, and ideally within the first two hours, is critical in order to obtain the necessary antibodies which will kick start the calves immune system and help protect against disease. The ability to absorb antibodies drops substantially after six hours and is effectively non-existent after 24 hours. Vaccinating pregnant cattle with the MSD Animal Health scour vaccine 12 – 3 weeks prior to calving will boost the levels of Rotavirus, Coronavirus and E.coli antibodies in their colostrum. This will be passed to the new-born calf in the first colostrum feeding”.

Darren states that colostrum feeding is one of the most important factors on his farm. “When calves are born, they are fed colostrum as soon as possible. They are left suck the cow straight after calving and irrespective if the calf has sucked the cow or not, it will also receive three litres of colostrum. 

“Each year we try and up our game in some way. This year we purchased a Brix refractometer which allows us to determine if the colostrum is of a good quality.

“Over the last two years, we have really seen the benefits of managing our colostrum correctly. Weight gain and feed conversion has improved substantially, and we no longer experience incidences of scour,” says Darren.  

Calves receive colostrum up to day three, before transitioning to whole milk which is fed up to the time they leave the farm at 2 weeks of age.

Housing & Hygiene

Good hygiene is central to Darren’s calf rearing programme and is applied to all areas including housing, feeding and bedding. “We are very particular about calf hygiene. We have two calf rearing sheds which allows us to clean, disinfect and air out one shed and temperately hold the calves in the other shed”, says Darren. Calves are bedded twice a day with clean fresh straw and the calf feeders are scrubbed with soapy hot water after each feeding. The feeders are washed with a disinfectant

once a week. Darren has also invested in a number of large disinfectant mats which are located at the entrance of the calf sheds to reduce the risk of contamination from farm boots. Calves are housed in a well-ventilated calf shed where they have access to a dry deep straw bed and fresh clean water. Calf jackets are used on some calves under three weeks of age to prevent cold stress and maintain body heat.

Vaccination

Despite adopting these strict management practices, Darren stresses that calf scour is always going to be a threat if you don’t have a preventative health and management plan in place.

In calf cows that received the MSD Animal Health scour vaccine at least 3 weeks prior to calving

With the help of his vet, Mark Drought from Avondale Veterinary Hospital, a health plan is developed for each of Darren’s group of animals. Based on Mark’s recommendations, Darren uses a number of MSD Animal Health vaccines to reduce the risk of Scour caused by Rotavirus, Coronavirus and E. coli, Salmonella, Leptospirosis, IBR and pneumonia.

 “As per Mark’s health plan, we vaccinate cows 3 weeks prior to calving to protect the newborn calf from the main scour-causing bacteria. This is why we ensure that the calf receives colostrum as soon as possible after birth as the colostrum will contain these antibodies to protect the calf against scour.  

Calves are vaccinated with Bovipast RSP at 2 weeks of age to reduce the risk of pneumonia before they leave to go to the contract rearer. The booster shot is given on the contract rearers farm along with the other vaccines on the animal health plan.”, says Darren.    

Apart from prioritising animal health, Darren maintains that vaccination also makes more financial sense in the long run.

 “Animal health is priority on this farm and we also don’t have the time or labour to be able to treat sick animals. It makes more sense for me to vaccinate for calf scour every year as it means that I can budget and manage the cash flow for the year. I cannot account for the costs associated with a breakout of scour or even worse, losses of calves.”

The investment is clearly paying off for Darren as the work that the vet carries out on farm is 90% advisory compared to just 10% emergency.

“We rarely have any issues with sick calves and I believe this is a result of undertaking the appropriate preventative practices throughout the season”, concludes Darren.       

Hygiene critical to reduce incidence of calf scour

Mark Drought, vet partner with Avondale Veterinary Hospital in Wicklow said that creating a calf health plan with your vet now can save you time and money during the calving season “More and more calves are being born on farms during the Spring which increases the disease pressure on farm. With this expansion, space is sometimes at a premium. Vaccinating pregnant cattle against calf scour will reduce the risk of an outbreak amongst the calves during the calving season”. Vaccination alone won’t make calf scour disappear Mark warns.

Local vet practitioner Mark Drought of Avondale Vets on the farm of Darren Healy at Redcross, Co. Wicklow

“Colostrum feeding and hygiene go hand-in-hand with vaccination. Farmers are aware of the importance of feeding colostrum to the calf as soon as possible and ensuring that the calf has a deep, dry straw bed. However, hygiene isn’t always adhered to especially when storing colostrum and this can sometimes be the cause of scour in calves. Cleaning utensils thoroughly after each feeding will reduce the build-up of scour causing bacteria. If storing colostrum, use clean containers each time.

Farmers in my area that have vaccinated against calf scour have had very good results with it and are continuing to vaccinate against the disease in order to reduce the risk of calf scour emerging.

For more information, check out the scour page in the link below

Calf Scour