12 April 2002

Healthy early life gives later profits

GOOD stockmanship has a key role in securing the best, yet modest margins available for rearing and finishing calves, producers at the MVF meeting were told.

Intervet vet, James Allcock said quite small checks in early life became magnified with age. "John Bell of Meatgold tells me he can tell when he is drawing cattle for slaughter which ones had their full requirement of good quality colostrum as calves. They can reach target weight up to a month ahead of the others."

Good ventilation in calf housing was also essential, he said. "It needs half a square foot of air outlet a calf and slightly more than that for inlet area. Insufficient outlet area is the commonest fault we find. It is also important to have enough calves in the building to keep the airflow moving."

One survey suggested calf pneumonia cost £43 a calf infected and £30 a head overall. Vaccines were available, but beware of any claiming they would prevent pneumonia altogether, warned Mr Allcock. Much of the £43 a calf cost of pneumonia went in vets fees and drugs, but there was also a serious effect on growth rate and hence a risk of failing to meet target weights.

Major causes of scours – rotavirus and cryptosporidium and to a lesser extent E coli -could be controlled by good hygiene and vaccination of cow or calf as appropriate.

Salmonella scours in calves were increasing again after a reduction last year when all markets were closed and any movements were strictly regulated.

Other serious conditions, such as meningitis and septicaemia, followed navel infections and/or poor quality or quantity of colostrum.

Care was needed to prevent trouble, said Mr Allcock. Above all, attitudes had to be governed by feeling calves were an opportunity. "If you have a by-product attitude to calves you wont rear them successfully." Overall, it was wise to plan ahead by preparing a written health plan and reviewing it at intervals. &#42

It is vital to ensure that young calves remain healthy, says James Allcock.