Vet viewpoint: Winter challenges with housing and bedding

The weather has definitely changed now and vets across the UK are reporting a rise in health issues related to winter housing and feeding.

This year’s maize crop is now being fed and brings with it the challenges of diet balance, while a shortage of bedding might be increasing disease challenge on some farms.

With winter’s arrival also seeing an increase in pneumonia and scour cases, it is an important time to be vigilant on the health front. 

James Marsden

Shropshire Farm Vets, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

James Marsden

While 2018 maize crops are largely down after the scorching summer, quality is good to excellent.

Several farmers have reported falling milk yields, but excellent quality. Indeed, butter fats are good and protein yields are through the roof. Nearly 70% of our milk recording herds are >4.0% butterfat, but 94% are >3.2% protein.

High milk protein suggests positive energy balance, which is confirmed by good submission and pregnancy rates we are seeing. However, it is important to watch for signs of acidosis such as variable muck, milk drop and discarded cud balls.

It appears that 2018’s maize is feeding even better than anticipated, so balancing it with enough rumen degradable protein and sufficient fibre is important to avoid acidosis and excess body condition gain.

Both can be monitored by your vet and nutritionist to avoid associated health challenges now and next spring. 

Stephen Davies

Prostock Vets, Glynhebog, Carmarthen

Stephen Davies

As the weather in west Wales returns to normal – mild and wet, pneumonia incidence is starting to rise.

The first signs are usually the youngest calves showing those classic signs, including coughing, runny eyes and noses, and high temperatures.

As we all know, early detection of these signs and prompt treatment gives the best results. However, preventing disease will always be a better solution for life long performance.

With pressure on farm finances at an all-time peak and responsible prescribing high on the agenda we are seeing increased uptake of our VetTech (“ProTech”) service.

The aim is for a holistic approach to calf health; cost effective management of vaccination and disbudding, monitoring performance through growth rates and the all-important assessment and discussion about how, as a team, we can improve health and performance.

Rory McMillan

Calweton Veterinary Group, Callington, Cornwall

Rory McMillan

Trying to make bedding go further this year is one of the unfortunate consequences of a great BBQ summer.

However, problems from poorly bedded dry cows are expensive and long lasting.

Udders resting on dirty feet and bedding are likely to acquire mastitis which appears in early lactation and often recurs as the lactation goes on giving reduced yield, increased treatments, wasted time in the parlour, high cell counts and even culled cows.

Controlling mastitis acquired in the dry period is often the key to controlling herd mastitis.

Also, calves licking dirty mother’s coats, udders and dirty bedding when born allows bacteria to attack the calf and leads to the risk of Johnés disease, Cryptosporidia, Rotavirus and other interesting bugs.  

Therefore, money saved by scrimping on bedding may actually result in a huge dent in the future finances of any farm.

Dan Griffiths

Paragon Veterinary Group, Carlisle, Cumbria

Dan Griffiths

The arrival of winter sees increasing cases of calf scour.  

Housing, higher environmental humidity and often increased numbers of cattle calving at the same time facilitates the spread of infectious causes of scour.  

It is estimated that each case costs £200 and that half of all calf deaths are due to calf scour. 

Below are practical tips to reduce the risk and spread of calf scour on your farm:

  • Provide a clean and comfortable calving and calf-rearing environment
  • Ensure effective levels of colostrum transfer are achieved – for example, feed 4 litres of high quality clean colostrum within two hours of birth
  • Consider vaccinating against infectious causes (Rotavirus, Coronavirus and E.coli K99)
  • Treat clinical cases aggressively with supplementary electrolyte solutions alongside continued milk feeding
  • Seek veterinary intervention for severe cases