Add weight loss to the cost of calf pneumonia

10 September 1999




Add weight loss to the cost of calf pneumonia

Producers know that calf

pneumonia is a costly

disease. But just how

costly is revealed by the

results of a new study.

Marianne Curtis reports

CALF pneumonia costs £82.10 a head for suckler calves and £43.26 a head for dairy calves, according to a recent study.

But the expense is not all accounted for by vets, medicines and mortality. Reduced weight gain forms the largest proportion of pneumonia-related costs.

Commissioned by Pfizer and co-ordinated by Tony Andrews, a vet with the National Animal Disease Information Service, the independent study is believed to be the first to look at the cost of a calf pneumonia outbreak on several commercial units.

Calves in eight dairy herds and four suckler herds were monitored by vets from the start of a pneumonia outbreak. All except one of the herds were unvaccinated, and calves received conventional vet treatment throughout the study. Ill and healthy animals were weighed to compare daily liveweight gain, says Dr Andrews.

"Calves were weighed on weekly vet visits throughout the outbreak and one month after the last vet visit to calculate weight gains.

"Gains in pneumonia infected suckler calves were about 0.4kg a day less than in healthy animals. Dairy calves, expected to gain about 0.7kg a day up to six-months- old, were gaining only half this amount on some units. Even where gain only dropped by 0.1kg a day, this amounts to 3kg a month, and can last for many months," he adds.

In dairy herds, the average cost of pneumonia for each ill calf was £43.26. Of this cost, reduced weight gain cost £11.49; medicines £9.69; vet fees £8.17; extra labour £4.88; mortality £3.07; extra materials £3.02 and other costs £2.94.

Dr Andrews explains how the additional labour, materials and other costs arise. "In some outbreaks, too many calves were housed in the same airspace, making pneumonia worse.

"Separate airspaces can only be created by erecting floor-to-ceiling partitions. Partitions were built on some units, which accounts for extra labour and material costs."

Correcting inadequate feeding, a problem discovered on many of the dairy units, accounted for some of the other costs. "On some dairy units, grouped calves were only receiving half the required level of concentrates. This can adversely affect immunity to disease.

"At six-weeks-old, calves should be receiving at least 1kg of good quality concentrate a day. Older calves should receive 2-4kg a day. Underfeeding was not deliberate, but often producers gave grouped calves the same number of scoops they had always given them, even though calf numbers may have increased over the years," he says.

Despite feeding being better in suckler herds, costs were much higher for ill suckler calves, than in dairy herds. The total for each ill calf was £82.10, with the cost of reductions in weight gain averaging £32.42 a head.

Suckler herds suffered a greater number of more severe outbreaks of pneumonia occurring at about six months old when calves were weaned and housed. More severe disease meant greater quantities of medicine were required for treatment, amounting to £25.53 a head.

"Pneumonia in suckler calves was mainly stress-related and more severe. Passive immunity from the mother has declined by six months. Also, because suckler calves usually fall into a tighter age range than dairy calves, most animals are susceptible at the same time, often leading to greater numbers being affected," says Dr Andrews.

PNEUMONIA OUTBREAKS

&#8226 Lower weight gains.

&#8226 Observe carefully.

&#8226 Feed adequately.

&#8226 Decrease stocking density.

Weight loss or reduced liveweight gains due to pneumonia cost producers dearly, according to a new study.


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