Some 6,000 calves born on farms in Mayo die before they reach six weeks of age, according to official figures from the Department of Agriculture.
The Department’s animal identification and movement (AIM ) system report for 2008 reveals that, nationally, 70,000 calves died between birth and six weeks. Based on these national figures, a total of 6,300 calves died on the 7,900 suckler and dairy farms in Mayo. A further 3,800 calves were stillborn.
According to veterinary specialist,Maureen Prendergast scour accounts for well over half of all calf deaths on Mayo farms. Extreme cases of the disease can result in the death of up to 30 per cent of calves in a herd.
“However on the majority of farms calf deaths represent only a small proportion of the costs of a scour outbreak. The biggest costs are treatment, additional labour, and reduced animal performance,” she said.
Ms Prendergast, who is veterinary adviser with Intervet Schering-Plough, explained that scour is the symptom of a disease caused by bacteria and viruses. Bacterial infection can hit the calf within a couple of hours after birth. The high risk period for viral infection is five to 10 days after birth.
She stressed that vaccination of cows prior to calving, combined with rigid hygiene and management, is the only effective method to prevent calf scour.
“Vaccinating the cow any time between three and 12 weeks prior to calving is proven to provide the antibodies in the cow’s colostrum, which will protect the new-born calf. Farmers should consult their vet to discuss the best vaccination strategy for their herds,” said Ms Prendergast.