Vet Viewpoint: Metabolic profiling, abomasal bloat and grass staggers

Conditions have been challenging across the board for the past month. Tough weather conditions have contributed to disease and nutrition pressures.

The vets in our round-up this month have seen a variety of issues on clients’ farms. In Ayrshire, metabolic profiling has been employed to manage rations for spring calvers.

And youngstock feed is a topic two of the vets are talking about this month, with a focus on colostrum monitoring and management and avoiding abomasal bloat.

While grass growth hasn’t quite taken off, Will Davey from Oxfordshire is reminding farmers of the importance of preventing grass staggers when it finally does.

Alan Walker BVMS MRCVS, Armour Veterinary Group, Mauchline, Ayreshire

Vet Alan WalkerAyrshire in the West of Scotland experienced the wettest second half of the year in living memory. Forage stocks are very low and some of what is available is of poor quality.

This, combined with record liver fluke levels, has led to a challenging winter on many beef suckler units. The issues highlighted above mean that pre-calving metabolic profiles have become a vital management tool as spring calving approaches.

Groups of five cows are blood sampled three weeks before calving. We are effectively asking the cows what they think of the ration before it’s too late.

Many of the results highlight that the protein content of the diet is insufficient – this is critical as it’s linked to milk production and colostrum quality. In addition to energy and protein levels, the mineral status is also checked along with inflammatory markers.

Oliver Tilling BVSc BSc MRCVS, Shepton Veterinary Group, Shepton Mallet, Somerset

Vet Oliver TillingAbomasal bloat is a syndrome that occurs in calves one to two weeks old. They usually die anywhere from six hours to a couple of days after this happens.

We are seeing more cases and “outbreaks“ and, anecdotally, so is the local veterinary laboratory where post-mortem findings are a very distended abomasum with a black rotten lining.

The exact cause is unknown, but Clostridia bacteria are frequently identified as playing a role. These opportunists take advantage of an underlying upset that is thought to be nutritional.

Consistent feeding times, correct temperatures and mixing of milk are vital to prevent the condition, as well as meticulous cleanliness of all feed, equipment and people. Avoiding large volumes of milk per feed also helps, but don’t reduce the overall volumes fed.

Ensure clean fresh water is available at all times.

See also: Q&A – A complete guide to controlling worms in your herd

Sam Bowker MA VetMB MRCVS, Willows Farm Vets, Northwich, Cheshire

Vet Sam Bowker#ColostrumisGold With lambing and spring calving well under way, we have seen plenty of examples of the importance of colostrum management: done well, and countless problems can be avoided.

Done poorly, and farmers can be fighting a losing battle to keep newborns thriving.

Calves and lambs are born with effectively no functioning immune system, so it is essential to ensure they receive sufficient quantity of quality colostrum, fed quietly in a clean way to fight pathogens.

Many clients have seen the benefits of monitoring, using refractometers to measure colostrum quality and blood sampling to assess the effectiveness of the colostrum protocols in place – as always, the use of data enables informed decision-making.

So as you get towards the end of lambing and calving blocks, keep your attention to detail with colostrum – it will save you time and money.

Will Davey MRCVS, Hook Norton Veterinary Group, Banbury, Oxfordshire

Vet Will DaveyTurning out cows with calves at foot on to lush spring grass provides a good source of energy. However, with this comes an increased risk of grass staggers (hypomagnesaemia).

This pasture is naturally low in magnesium and absorption is further decreased by the presence of NPK-based fertiliser.

Severe weather can also precipitate outbreaks of staggers.

Initially, affected cattle become separated from the group and exhibit nervous signs such as teeth grinding and muscle twitches.

Left untreated, these animals will become recumbent, seizure and die.

Early treatment with magnesium under the skin may be successful. However, in advanced cases a vet should be called to administer intravenous magnesium and sedatives.

To prevent this condition, supplementation can be provided using boluses, in-water magnesium chloride or in-feed minerals. A large amount of supplement can be bought for the value of a dead cow.