Vet Viewpoint: Fertility, mycoplasma and calf management

What weather the UK has seen recently – it has been wet, wet or wet and pretty cold on and off. Two of the vets reporting this month are thinking about youngstock management and how to look after calves in this weather and avoid infection.

Bruce Richards from Paragon Veterinary Group in Cumbria is looking back to the summer weather and the impact that had on his clients’ forage quality.

And Tim O’Sullivan from Shropshire reminds farmers how important post-calving checks are and how maximize submission and conception rates.

See also: How to improve old calf sheds on a budget

Harriet Spittle

ProStock Vets, Glynhebog, Camarthenshire

Harriet Spittle

Harriet Spittle

Cold wet weather can be tough on all of us, but young calves are often the hardest hit. Use these methods to help them beat the winter blues:

  • Calf jackets In temperatures below 10C calves use much of their energy keeping warm, leaving less for growth and immune defences. Jackets keep calves warm and are suitable for any system.
  • Milk powder Calves need extra calories as they burn energy keeping warm. Increasing the volume, frequency or concentration of milk powder can counteract this. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions or consult your vet before altering diets, though.
  • Environment Ensure drafts are above head height and bedding is clean and dry. Damp, cold bedding rapidly drains body heat and can harbour bugs which will spread disease. If your knees are wet from kneeling on the bed then it’s too wet.

And lastly, have you considered vaccinating?

Tim O’Sullivan

Shropshire Farm Vets, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Tim O'Sullivan

Tim O’Sullivan

Our autumn block-calving units are in the full throes of their service period. At this stage, all post-calving checks should be completed and focus should be on maximising submission and conception rates.

Use every tool available, such as tail paint or stickers, activity monitors and spend plenty of time on observations. The tighter your block now, the fewer nights you will be getting up in nine months’ time.

It is also vital not to rest on your laurels if the first three-week submission rate is good. Even with excellent conception rates, the chances are you will still have a lot of cows to serve each day in the following three-week block.

Intervene on problem cows now or it may be too late and if you are going to run bulls, make sure they’ve been vaccinated and semen tested.

Bruce Richards

Paragon Veterinary Group, Carlisle, Cumbria

Bruce Richards

Bruce Richards

A mediocre summer in Cumbria has produced some feeding challenges this winter.

Many silages analysed reasonably well, “on paper”, but in reality, are not feeding out well, with many 2-3 litres below expectation, although with good constituents.

Forages have just not been very rumen efficient. First cuts have been dry, often low in sugars with energy supply to rumen microbes inadequate. Higher dry matters have challenged intakes too.

Second cuts were generally wetter, some not collected until very late, causing some impressive clamp slips. Supplementing or varying the sugar/starch (energy) supply to the rumen, such as the introduction of maize or whole crop, has helped.

Of course, the consequent fertility concerns have followed.

The wet summer has also seen a high mycotoxin challenge, particularly in cereals, maize and wholecrop – consider using binders if applicable.

Lucie Kay

Calweton Veterinary Group, Callington, Cornwall

Lucie Kay

Lucie Kay

Many clients are becoming aware of the big problems caused by Mycoplasma bovis. This unusual organism has far-reaching effects in the dairy herd.

Infected calves go on to have mycoplasma mastitis, swollen legs and possibly blind teats as heifers.

Have you seen coughing calves, the odd droopy ear or joint ill? If so, you could have mycoplasma on your farm.

Causing approximately 25% of cases of calf pneumonia, mycoplasma can result in untreatable mastitis, but is not detected in basic tests. It is intermittently shed in the milk and can infect calves this way – don’t feed mastitic milk to calves.

Infected calves will spread infection to other calves especially by dirty teats/buckets and stomach tubes alongside poor ventilation; good hygiene and housing are paramount.

Cold calves are more susceptible so use jackets and warm dry beds. And test bought-in stock.