Farm animals

Colostrum and Calf Scours

The #ColostrumIsGold campaign, created by the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) aims to highlight the responsible use of antibiotics in new born animals by providing the right amount of colostrum within a couple of hours of birth- something all farmers have the potential to achieve.

Antibiotic resistance is a very real problem. Just last year in the practice we faced catastrophic problems with cases of resistant E.Coli that could not be treated. It is our responsibility to ensure that antibiotics are available in the future and for when we need them most. The best ways to do this is to avoid over use of antibiotics in healthy animals (prophylactic use) by improving colostrum quality and being stringent with hygiene.

Receiving adequate colostrum, quickly enough, could virtually eliminate Watery Mouth (E. Coli infection) in lambs without need for antibiotic treatments.

Best practice is based around getting the 3Q’s- ‘Quality, Quantity and Quickness’- of colostrum delivery right. Colostrum is vital to new born animals as it contains antibodies to provide immunity and it is rich in essential nutrients and energy for growth.
Rule of thumb is 210–290 ml of colostrum per kg body weight, so a 5kg lamb at birth needs 1 litre of colostrum in its first 24 hours of life to give it essential levels of natural immunity. Importantly, the first feed of colostrum (50ml/kg) should be within 2 hours of birth. Artificial colostrum powders for lambs are poor and Mums colostrum is best. Failing that– pinch some from a milkier ewe or use cows colostrum.

Hygiene reduces infectious challenge. We can achieve this by concentrating on the basics– wear gloves when lambing sheep, keep pens clean and well bedded and pay attention to navel care by applying straight iodine liberally.

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Remember that vaccination of the cow against the common infectious causes of the disease (Rotavirus, Coronavirus and E.coli K99) and then feeding the antibody-enriched colostrum to your calves should play a vital role in your control programme. Calf scours cost you money.  ADAS estimates the cost of a scour outbreak in a 100-cow suckler herd (assuming 90 calves born) to be £57941. The potential cost saving of preventing a scour outbreak by vaccinating cows pre-calving with Rotavec® Corona is therefore more than £4000. That’s a pretty healthy financial benefit.

Calves are most at risk from infectious scour in the first 3-4 weeks of life and need passive transfer of antibodies in the colostrum to keep them healthy. Vaccination of the calf’s mother with Rotavec® Corona between 12 and 3 weeks before calving boosts colostrum quality, allowing you to feed high levels of antibodies against Rotavirus,  Coronavirus and E.coli K99 in early life. Make sure calves receive at least three litres of this high quality colostrum within the first six hours after birth.  Rotavirus remains one of the most prevalent infectious scour-causing pathogens on UK calf units and it is very difficult to treat calves against this type of viral scour. The only effective disease management strategy is to vaccinate the dam to help boost calf disease immunity through plentiful, high quality colostrum feeding, as well as implementing sound hygiene practices.