21 November 1997

Beat scours and help mortality rate

CALF mortality may be at its highest in mid-winter because cows fail to get the vitamins they need from winter diets to produce strong calves.

According to ADAS consultant Elwyn Rees, about 170,000 of calves born alive, or 4.5%, die before reaching a month old. Calf mortality and disease are estimated to cost cattle producers £55m a year.

"To produce strong, healthy calves, cows must be fed correctly in the last three months of pregnancy when the foetus is growing most rapidly. She must be fit but not fat at calving, with a condition score of three," explains Dr Rees.

Low vitamin levels in cows can reduce calf health and vigour, increasing the risk of scouring – one of the biggest causes of mortality, he says. Vitamins A, D and B12 are important for dry cows. Vitamin E deficiencies could also be a concern when cows are fed rations of straw, hay or roots.

To reduce risk of calf scours it is essential that adequate colostrum is fed, with eight litres needed in the first 24 hours and at least two litres within four hours, he adds.

Andy Starbuck, herdsman at Sparsholt College, Hants – where one of 20 MAFF calf survival meetings will be held by ADAS advisers – ensures the milk substitute temperature is the same each day. The calf house has a dedicated hot water boiler that is set at the feeding temperature, and which is checked twice a week. He also weighs milk powder so that the mix is consistent, whoever feeds the calves.n

&#8226 If you have not yet received your invite to the MAFF/ADAS Improving Calf Survival meetings, starting today, call (01902-693255).

Herdsman Andy Starbuck (left)and Elwyn Rees: Improving calf welfare.