By Andy Adler, BVM&S, MBA, PGCert Vet Ed, MRCVS Molecare Farm Vets
Having recently read ‘For the Love of Soil’ by Nicole Masters, I was surprised to find so many transferable lessons for livestock management, particularly around monitoring and managing.
In the book – which is focused on regenerative agriculture and soil management – Nicole talks about the importance of the following when assessing soils:
Know where you are starting from. Are your management objectives taking you forwards or backwards? Identify early warnings.
Take action in response to indicators. Guide management of livestock and apply nutritional sprays or bio-controls.
Record environmental and resource conditions, events and management practices.
Provide information to inform management and grazing choices.
Provide early warning for practices, which are declining soil health.
Track changes over time.
Have you got proof it’s working? Use this as your ‘smug’ test to put your money where your mouth is.
All of these areas are relevant when talking about livestock health. For example, monitoring the daily live weight gain (DLWG) of calves from birth is important as it can identify growth checks or general suboptimal performance.
Calves’ growth rates are affected by wide range of factors including poor colostrum management and nutrition, and diseases such as pneumonia and scours. Housing, hygiene and stocking density also play an important role in the health status of the calf.
Not achieving target growth rates can lead to poor performance during lactation. Lung damage caused by pneumonia can also mean that individuals leave the herd early.
Johanna Marsden, one of our vets at Molecare Farm Vets, has been working with one of our clients to monitor calf weights (see box). It’s highlighted the importance of benchmarking, managing, evaluating, recording and warning. The pandemic has meant we have not managed to get to the ‘warning’ stage yet. However once restrictions ease, we will get on farm to weigh the calves and see what effect vaccination has had on the next cohort.
Monitoring in practice
- 300 cow, all-year-round calving, Holstein Friesian herd
- Calf weights were measure using a weigh tape and the cases of disease were recorded on calf tracker
- Calves were weighed between 1 day to 10 weeks old. Birth weights ranged from 35-55kg
- To evaluate passive transfer from colostrum, total proteins were assessed between 1-5 days old on the day we were on farm.
- For the first week of life the calves were housed in individual hutches, with nose-to-nose contact with another calf. They were then moved into a pen of eight calves in an open fronted barn, with a solid wall between the pens, calf canopy and deep, clean straw bedding.
The farm had good colostrum management
The total proteins measured between 6.8-7.2 g/dl, showing good levels of passive transfer (<5.5 g/dl suggests failure or passive transfer).
Average DLWG of calves over two months
Growth rates were on target
The data showed that the average DLWG was 0.86kg/day and this was consistent across both weigh ins. It ranged from 0.7-1kg/day which is consistent with the 10 week age range.
Disease impacted on growth rates
The purple dots on graph 1. indicate calves which had pneumonia and the yellow dots are the calves which had scours.
Calves which had been treated for pneumonia (purple dots on graph) all had DLWGs just below the farms’ average.
The two cases of scours had been mild and the calves’ DLWG had not been affected (yellow dots on graph). Interestingly, on the second recording it was noted that the four calves which had been treated were in the same pen and two of the other calves in that group also had DLWG below farm average.
Bloods were then taken from five calves over five months old to look for exposure to the pneumonia pathogens, Bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV), Parainfluenza-3 virus (Pi3) and Mycoplasma bovis. The serology of three calves came back positive for BRSV, indicating previous exposure to the virus.
Following the results from the weigh-ins and serology we decided to vaccinate calves with an intranasal pre-weaning to ensure they were covered during this stressful period.
Did you know?
The target DLWG for a Holstein Friesian calf is:
- >0.7kg/day pre-weaning
- >0.8kg/day post-weaning
For more information on how Molecare Farm Vets can help you measure and monitor calf health and performance, contact the practice on 01392 872934 or email [email protected]