Early identification of sick calves is key to getting them treatment and preventing the spread to other calves in the pen or shed.

The number of calves arriving onto farms is growing, which means that the risk of infection within the shed is higher.

As farmers and their staff get busier, it is around this time when signs of illness can easily go unnoticed.

It is also important to note that not everyone is an expert when it comes to rearing calves, and guidance when it comes to identifying and treating sick animals may be needed.

It is going to be almost impossible to get through the calving season without having a sick calf, but early identification can reduce treatment/recovery time.

Calf health

A key area that farmers must focus on to maintain and improve calf health, is colostrum management during the early stages of life.

Calves are born with no immunity and obtain immunity from material antibodies passed through colostrum.

The effectiveness of colostrum is reduced greatly as the calves ages, and after 24 hours, calves are unable to obtain antibodies from colostrum.

The advice is to follow the ‘1,2,3’ method, which is to give calves their first feed within the first two hours of life, and at least 3L or 8.5% of birth weight.

Colostrum testing is also advised, as this ensures that calves are getting high quality colostrum and that they are obtaining the maximum level of immunity.

Only colostrum that is over 22% using a brix refractometer should be fed to calves. Doing so ensures that it contains 50mg/ml of immunoglobulins.

Sick calves

There are a number of indictors which could help to identify calves that are sick or in ill health.

It is critical for the survival of the calf that, when it is acting poorly, the problem is detected as early as possible to avoid disease escalation or, in the worst case, death.

Signs to look out for:

  • Slow to get up to feed or failure to get up at all;
  • Sunken eyes into eye sockets;
  • Breathing heavily or elevated heart rate;
  • Isolated from other calves;
  • Swollen or inflamed naval;
  • Nasal discharge;
  • Faecal consistency (should be a pudding consistency).

Calves that are showing signs of illness need to be assessed and isolated from other calves.

This helps to prevent the spread within the shed, and also ensures that treatment is easy to carry out on the sick animal.