Airway infections are costly

Every dairy farmer recognises the symptoms in calves: coughing, fever, shortness of breath, listlessness, reduced appetite, dirty noses, rough coat and wet, red eyes. All are indicators of airway ­problems. According to figures from the Health Service, airway ­problems cost the average dairy farm between 45 and 55 euros per calf per year. The costs relate to morbidity, high medicine costs, reduced growth levels and lower milk production later in life. Moreover, calves with airway infections mean a great deal more work for the dairy farmer. Major causes of airway infections include bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV), pasteurella, BVD, lung worm and salmonella.

Colostrum as the basis

The prevention of airway infections starts with good-quality colostrum. Make sure that your calves take on at least two to four litres of good-quality colostrum within an hour following birth (rule of thumb for the volume: ten percent of the calf’s birth weight); a further two litres within eight hours, and two more within 24 hours. In other words, a total of seven to eight litres during the first 24 hours during which colostrum is only fed from the first milking. This guarantees your calf sufficient essential nutrients to establish sufficient resistance immediately following birth.

“Major causes: absence of good colostrum and poor shed climate.”

Other tips for good airway health among calves:

  • Try to avoid diarrhoea because diarrhoea is often the gateway to airway infections. Good colostrum management is a vital step. Also ensure a clean calving shed, and place new-born calves in a calf pen;
  • Isolate new-born calves from older animals. Older animals have already built up resistance to pathogens, but can still be a source of pathogens for others;
  • Remember the climate in the cattle shed. Low temperature combined with high air speed negatively influence the animals’ resistance.