Preventing disease in young calves is the key to ensuring their future growth, health and longevity. While a calf will have gained some immunity from its mother, ensuring it is able to remain healthy in the face of disease challenge is important.

Colostrum management is the foundation of successful calf rearing. Colostrum contains high concentrations of protective antibodies to support a calf’s immunity, as well as a range of other constituents which are crucial to calf growth and development. A calf should receive three to four litres (approximately 10% of its bodyweight) of good quality colostrum as soon as possible after birth; ideally within the first two hours of life, but no later than six hours after birth. This equates to around 20 minutes of suckling its mother. A second feed, of a similar volume, should be consumed within 12 hours of birth. Checking colostrum quality with a refractometer can be helpful to ensure good quality colostrum is being given.

Neonatal diarrhoea, or calf scour, is the most common disease of young calves, accounting for around 50% of all losses during the first few weeks of life1. Scour can result from infectious causes or from digestive or dietary issues. Scour prevention can help lead to significantly improved growth rates, reduced mortality at six months of age and stronger, more robust calves1.

Calf pneumonia, or bovine respiratory disease (BRD), is the major health challenge facing calves over a month of age. Typically it is caused by a mismatch between immunity and the disease challenge in the calf’s environment. Calves in housing which exposes them to drafts, wet bedding, over-stocking or poor ventilation will be more susceptible to disease. Equally, those which may not have had enough good quality colostrum or receive inadequate nutrition are also more at risk. Prevention of BRD has been shown to result in better weights at eight months of age2. What is more, dairy calves that have had BRD typically have reduced first lactation volumes and a delay in days to first service2.

  1. 1 Morrison (2013) Veterinary Ireland Journal 3:264-268.
  2. 2 Improving the Welsh Dairy Supply Chain Dairy Youngstock Project, Wales