One day of diarrhoea means four days of growth loss

Diarrhoea is the most common condition in calves. “It hinders growth and development and leads to inconvenience, extra work and loss,” explained Agrifirm’s youngstock ­specialist Ger van Wersch, listing all the reasons why diarrhoea should be prevented and cured as much as possible. “One day of diarrhoea means four days of lost growth.” Diarrhoea can be divided into nutrition-related diarrhoea and infectious diarrhoea.

This article focuses mainly on nutrition-related diarrhoea, in calves without signs of fever. The young animal ­specialist identified six factors that are essential in preventing diarrhoea: milk preparation, milk level, method of administration, proper milk powder, quality of roughage and concentrate and finally the sixth factor: quality of drinking water. “Hygiene is essential for all these six factors,” Ger added. “It starts at birth, through the first colostrum and housing. A calf is born healthy.”

The same thing every day

Ger discusses a whole range of things that in practice still sometimes go wrong in the feeding process and can cause nutritional diarrhoea. ‘When preparing the milk, make sure it is at the right temperature: no more than 55 degrees, otherwise you will burn the proteins.’ The best drinking temperature for calf milk is between 40 and 41 degrees. ‘Make sure it stays the same every day.’ The same applies to the concentration of milk powder: 150 grams of powder per litre of milk. ‘That ensures that the esophageal groove reflex works properly. If the milk is too thin and has the consistency of water, for example, it will enter the rumen,’ Ger explains.

Natural drinking position

Milk drinking height must also be accurate. The bottom of the bowl or bucket is 25 centimetres higher than the surface the calf is standing on. With a teat, the ideal height is equal to the calf’s withers. ‘This way you achieve the calf’s natural drinking position, which encourages them to produce a lot of saliva, which helps the calf improve digestion.’

Always fresh water and feed

From day one, it is important to make enough water and roughage/concentrate available to the calf in addition to milk powder. “Start with water, the rest will follow later,” continued Ger. “Water stimulates feed absorption.” He also highlights that feed should be kept separate from milk. “Otherwise, the milk will also end up in the rumen when the calves take in roughage and concentrate, leading to gas production.” As for concentrate, Ger recommends real calf pellets or muesli. “If you feed cow pellets to calves, you are shortchanging them. They need more protein and more vitamins and minerals.”

Share this article