Edwin Murphy of Adare Veterinary Clinic on managing scouring grass calves

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    Geoff Dooley's picture

    The wet and cold weather during May and early June has made a big contribution to the number of scouring grass calves. 

    The combination of low dry matter in the grass due to the rain, and the chill factor of the wind often leave calves in a poor state, with many scouring and empty. Their energy intake begins to suffer, often leading to chills and pneumonias. It often only takes a few days for a fine bunch of calves to become very ragged looking with often 10 to 20% of them needing veterinary treatment.  

    I think in this type of episode, it is best to get these calves back indoors without delay. The scouring often responds well to a simple change of diet back to hay while the warmer conditions indoors will lessen the incidence of pneumonias.  

    The possibility of other causes of scour at this time of year must also be considered; for example, coccidia or stomach worms. Moisture and heat are the conditions best liked by coccidia so in a warm, moist spring this problem should be high up on any list of suspects.

    Many people are putting young calves to grass in early April, especially if the weather is favourable. It appears to me that many farmers start the calves off outdoors on the same ground every year.   This is usually a matter of convenience: close to the yard, a sheltered paddock or next to the calf shed.   However, this practice that can lead to problems with stomach worms. Calves are great multipliers of worms in that they pass out onto the pasture many more worm eggs than they ingest. 

    A mild winter allows this pasture worm burden to be passed from year to year with the result that the young calves go out onto a high worm challenge from day one.   We had two cases in the first week of May where scouring calves turned out to have a very high worm burden and responded well to a simple worm drench.  

    Varying where calves start grazing each year, I know is not easy but having a few options available might be worth considering.