Should I vaccinate my suckler cows against calf scour?

Spring calving on suckler farms is only a few weeks away and now is the time for farmers to start gearing up for this busy period.

There are many infectious diseases that the newborn calf will face in early life. However, scouring is one common health problem affecting young calves.

It is mainly as a result of an altered gut function, which increases the amount of faeces and fluids the calf eliminates.

Scours can be classified into two types – nutritional and infectious. A nutritional scour is usually caused by stress, due to a breakdown in management routine. It often progresses to become an infectious scour, which is caused by a high population of pathogens.

Farms which have experienced severe cases of scour in the past – or where there is a history of scour – should consider vaccinating the pregnant cow or heifer in a bid to tackle the problem.

A one-shot vaccine can be administered between three and 12 weeks before calving. Vaccinating the cow/heifer within this period will allow her to produce antibodies against the main scour-causing bacteria and viruses.

However, the antibodies produced by the cow or heifer will not pass to the calf before birth. Therefore, it is essential that the calf receives adequate amounts of colostrum.

According to Teagasc, a calf should receive 8.5% of its total body weight in colostrum in the first two hours of life; after that immunoglobulin absorption reduces dramatically.

This will ensure that cow or heifer’s colostrum contains antibodies that protect against three of the main causes of scour; however, there is no vaccine available for cryptosporidium.

This allows the calf to receive the antibodies from its mother and, thus, ensures the vaccine becomes effective. In addition, good hygiene practices are essential in calving and mothering pens to help prevent the spread of disease.

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