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Avoiding Disease in Dairy Calves


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Dr. Geof Smith presented this information for a DAIReXNET webinar on April 5th, 2016. To see the full webinar, go to

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Avoiding Disease in Dairy Calves

  1. 1. Avoiding Disease in Dairy Calves Geof Smith, DVM, MS, PhD Diplomate, ACVIM, ECBHM Dept. Population Health & Pathobiology North Carolina State University
  2. 2. Neonatal Calves  Overall focus should be on management – NOT products or interventions  The vast majority of disease and/or calf health problems stem from improper calf management  There is no magic bullet to overcome a poor colostrum program or bad housing/hygiene
  3. 3. Calf Mortality  We still have a preweaned heifer calf mortality rate of 7.8% (USDA dairy 2007 study)  Only 40% of farms can supply their own replacement heifers  The major diseases remain diarrhea (60%), pneumonia (24%), and septicemia  Many farms still doing a poor job of colostrum management
  4. 4. Disease Incidence – Dairy Calves 1991 1996 2002 2007 2014* Pre-weaned calf mortality 8.4% 10.8% 10.5% 7.8% 6.4% % of deaths caused by diarrhea 52.2% 60.5% 62.1% 56.5% 56.4% % of deaths caused by pneumonia 21.3% 24.5% 21.3% 22.5% 24.0% Weaned calf mortality 2.2% 2.4% 2.8% 1.8% 1.9% NAHMS Survey data *2014 estimates are preliminary – Dr. Jason Lombard, USDA/APHIS Veterinary Services)
  5. 5. Goals  Mortality rates in pre-weaned calves should be less than 4%  Morbidity or treatment rates in preweaned calves should be less than 25%  Use calf records to identify problems when possible  Vital for troubleshooting colostrum and disease problems
  6. 6. Disease Control Key Principles of Disease Control 1) Removing the source of infection from the calf’s environment 2) Remove the calf from a contaminated environment 3) Increase immunity of the calf 4) Reduce stress
  7. 7. Colostrum Management A good colostrum management program – ensuring that all calves get an adequate volume of quality colostrum within the first 2-4 hours - is the single most important aspect of neonatal calf management
  8. 8. Colostrum Keys to Success 1) Time of feeding – the sooner the better 2) Volume – 3-4 liters to every calf 3) Clean colostrum (harvest & storage important) 4) Don’t pool colostrum 5) Test calves periodically 6) Have colostrum storage (CR available) 7) Make this a priority on your farm!
  9. 9. Control Points 1) Calving area  Calves are frequently exposed to disease from the dam at birth  Must minimize contamination of calving area – provide good bedding material and remove calf promptly after birth
  10. 10. Control Points 2) Colostrum  Colostrum has been identified contaminated colostrum as a source of infection (especially with S. dublin)  Pooling increases risk of transmission  Make sure colostrum is harvested cleanly and rapidly cooled  Consider using a colostrum replacer or pasteurizing colostrum
  11. 11. Control Points 3) Housing  House calves in a clean, dry environment with good drainage  Make sure calves are not exposed to manure or runoff from adult cows  Move hutches to clean ground between calves  In group housing systems – keep groups small and make sure calves are of similar ages  Minimize temperature stress
  12. 12. Housing Calf Density  Calf to calf contact increases the risk of pathogen exposure (fecal-oral)  Distancing calves is important  Also consider creating barriers to avoid licking, sucking, and manure contact
  13. 13. Housing Density
  14. 14. Housing Density
  15. 15. Ventilation  Studies have linked respiratory disease in dairy calves to poorly ventilated housing  Important to realize that microenvironments exists within calf barns as well  Need to examine air quality at the calf’s level  Key factors include: – Sufficient bedding for calves to “nest” – Solid panel between calves – Low airborne bacteria count in calf pens
  16. 16. Ventilation
  17. 17. Ventilation
  18. 18. Ventilation
  19. 19. Ventilation
  20. 20. Ventilation Julian, NC dairy
  21. 21. Ventilation - Winter
  22. 22. Ventilation Statesville, NC dairy
  23. 23. Ventilation
  24. 24. Control Points 4) Nutrition  Good nutrition is necessary to maximize host immunity  Starving calves are more likely to die  Must factor in seasonal conditions (heat/cold stress)  Minimize the manure contamination of feed and/or water  If feeding whole milk consider a pasteurizer
  25. 25. Control Points  Minimize use of calf warmers, temporary holding pens, and trailers used for transporting calves (or disinfect frequently)  Turn hutches upside down after use  Remove manure frequently (pens)  Clean bedding material and feed/water buckets
  26. 26. Control Points 5) Stress  Dietary changes, transportation, movement, weather, anorexia, weaning, overcrowding, and parturition have been shown to ↑ diarrhea  Poultry and swine also ↑ fecal pathogen shedding during stress (transport, molting)  Some evidence that bacteria can detect “stress” in the host and multiply (quorom sensing)
  27. 27. Control Point Summary 1) Make sure colostrum management is good 2) Clean maternity area 3) Good nutrition 4) Appropriate housing – all types will work but cleanliness & disinfection is key 5) Minimize manure contact between calves and older cattle at all stages 6) Sanitation of feeding equipment 7) Avoid stress as much as possible
  28. 28. Other Risk Factors  Humidity  Climate  Water availability  Bacterial contamination of milk/MR  Feed and feeding schedules
  29. 29. Keys to Treatment 1) Learn to identify “sick” calves early  Most calves will response well when treatments are started early in the course of disease 2) Work with your veterinarian to have treatment protocols in place 3) Monitor response to treatment regularly (records) – don’t change drugs on a daily basis
  30. 30. Neonatal Calves  Overall focus should be on management – NOT products or interventions  The vast majority of disease and/or calf health problems stem from improper calf management  There is no magic bullet to overcome a poor colostrum program or bad housing/hygiene