Vet Viewpoint: Youngstock health and eliminating BVD

April was a strange month, starting out really cold and then experiencing a sudden and brief heatwave.

With lambing and calving in full flow, it has been a busy time, with many animals affected by the bad weather and lack of grass.

This month’s Vet Viewpoint contributors are talking about:

Kirsty Ranson

Westmorland Veterinary Group, Kendal, Cumbria

Scouring calves is a year-round problem, but the causative agents vary widely.

If your calves are affected, consider the following:

  • Identify the causative agent by investigating with your vet – is this a nutritional scour caused by the management practices in place, or is there a pathogen present causing the scour? Get muck samples tested to help provide answers.
  • Cleanliness is vital – get buildings mucked out and disinfected regularly and where possible, give them a break before restocking. Think about foot dips outside young calf buildings as well as the cleanliness of milk buckets, for example.
  • Vaccination will be of benefit if the pathogens isolated are salmonella, rotavirus or coronavirus. Ensure you get the full benefit of vaccination by storing vaccines correctly, vaccinating cows at the correct times and ensuring calves get their mother’s milk for at least three days after birth. 

Bridget Taylor

Wright and Morten Veterinary Surgeons, Macclesfield, Cheshire

Count your dead lambs. Not a very cheery topic for a Vet Viewpoint, but as I watch the sleet falling in early spring… 2018 may prove to be one of the worst lambing seasons in recent memory.

Ewe and lambs in a lambing shed

© FLPA/REX/Shutterstock

See also: How to prevent and treat coccidiosis in lambs

You can’t do much about the weather, but there are always factors you can influence when seeking to improve flock productivity.

In order to improve, you need to know how you are performing at present – how many ewes were scanned, how many were barren, how many lambs you were expecting, how many were born alive and how many were lost at lambing or later. Also look at the problems you see in lambs born alive.

Then there are the losses once the ewes and lambs are “safely” turned out – there is still time to plan to prevent these.

Ask your vet for details of blood tests to retrospectively diagnose causes of abortion.

James Patrick Crilly

Larkmead Veterinary Group, Cholsey, Oxfordshire

It’s been cold, even here in south Oxfordshire. The consequent lack of grass has resulted in poor body condition issues in grazing flocks.

We have also had outbreaks of watery mouth disease in housed flocks, related to poor energy and/or protein intakes in ewes, leading to poor colostrum quality.

Dorset ewes, flock standing in pasture

© FLPA / Wayne Hutchinson/REX/Shutterstock

If you are unsure whether your ewes’ needs are being met, you could ask your vet to perform a metabolic profile.

There seemed to be more difficult calvings and caesareans than this time last year. Ideally, prepare for potential caesarean sections: two clean buckets of warm water, a table and a clean, well-lit, well-bedded pen with a suitable way of restraining the cow.

This will speed up the process, reduce the likelihood of post-operative infection, and decrease the chance of injury to vet, farmer or cow.

Alice Wilkinson

Friars Moor Livestock Health, Sturminster Newton, Dorset

Buying a persistently infected (PI) BVD calf from market is still a very real risk. A Dorset farmer rearing store cattle bought in 30, apparently healthy, five- to nine-month-old continental calves. They were weighed on arrival and a month later, but the results rang alarm bells.

Their average daily liveweight gain (DLWG) was only 0.24kg, compared with calves the same age, being fed on the same wholecrop diet last year, who were achieving 1.29kg/day.

Also, several were treated for pneumonia. A PI was identified and removed. Three weeks later the average DLWG was up to 0.94kg and the following month it was 1.04kg, with pneumonia rates falling too.

The cost of this early discovery was still significant; with no compensation for the PI, veterinary fees and the lost weight gain. I urge farmers to work with their vets to help combat this easily preventable disease. See the BVDFree website.