Cryptosporidiosis is likely to be present on every UK farm, according to research carried out in the north-east of Scotland.

As part of the CryptoBeef project, a total of 41 suckler beef farms in Aberdeenshire and Caithness were studied following reports from farmers that there had been an increase in calf deaths, which were thought to be linked to the cryptosporidium infection.

“The results of our research indicates it is highly likely that if calves are tested regularly, positive cases will be discovered on every farm,” said Nick Jonsson from the University of Glasgow, speaking at the recent Quality Meat Scotland research and development conference in Dundee.

“However, the extent to which the disease causes a problem varies widely giving a clear indication that steps can be taken to reduce the impact of the disease.”

Of the calves suffering from scour 67% tested positive for crypto, while 75% of all the animals tested were positive for the crypto strain which causes disease in humans, added Prof Jonsson.

“Some management procedures seem to be favourable for the disease and mixed infections of crypto with other bugs are common causes of diarrhoea. The best advice to farmers is to prioritise control of diarrhoea, rather than worrying specifically about crypto control,” said Prof Jonsson.

Producers needed to focus on management techniques to reduce diarrhoea, including: cleaning and disinfecting pens before calving; vaccinating against rotavirus, coronavirus and E coli; and adopting robust biosecurity measures, he added.

“Further research is needed but we have evidence to suggest diarrhoea problems are worse in herds where groups of calves are mixed soon after calving. It looks likely that careful management of groups of cows and calves is an important factor in calf health,” said Prof Jonsson.

He urged producers to look at the “bigger picture” and focus on management systems which prevented diarrhoea in calves, rather than simply looking at what drugs could be used to control a crypto problem.

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