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Prevention rather than Cure Key to minimise Disease Outbreak in your Herd

01 March 2019
Type Media Article

Joanne Masterson, B&T Drystock Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare

Infectious diseases in herds which can be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites can have a negative impact on production and also profitability of the farm. These costs can include production losses such as deaths, reduction in daily live weight gains, veterinary treatment costs and also labour and time costs such as attending to sick animals. To avoid these costs there are a number of measures in which you can follow in order to prevent these outbreaks on your farm.

Firstly it is important to look at herd health on the farm. Is there a plan in place on the farm to prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases? It is important to look at the disease which is causing the problem, the animal – particularly younger animals and their immunity and also the farm environment.

Reducing Infection from the Environment:

We are at the time of year where most suckler farms will have started calving. Cows are most vulnerable to disease around this time of calving, therefore having clean hygienic calving pens is important to prevent infection of both cow and calf. Manure or contaminated bedding can act as sources of infection. Heavily soiled bedding should be removed and fresh bedding should be provided on a regular basis. You should be able to kneel on the bedding without getting your knees wet. If you are having problems with navel ill in calves the environment in which they are born into can be the main source of infection as it is spreading from the bedding/lying area into the calf through the navel cord. Putting thought into the layout of the calving and housing area is important to create a good environment to optimise calf and herd health.

Another area that contamination can occur is from feed and water troughs. Water troughs should be regularly checked to make sure they are clean. If there are any leaks from water troughs they can cause dampness in the housing unit which can boost survival of parasites and bacteria. Try to keep pipes, taps, and drinkers maintained regularly.

Equipment and machinery contamination can also be a source of outbreak. Equipment such as calving aids, and trailers should be cleaned and disinfected after each use, this should also be the case with animal handling equipment such as stomach tubes to feed calves, tubes should be cleaned and disinfected after each use.  When possible you should use disposable equipment such as syringes and gloves and dispose of them appropriately.

Improve Immunity of Young Stock:

The most susceptible animals in the herd to infectious diseases are younger animals in particular calves. At the outset they rely on immunity that they get from the cow via colostrum. Young animals have not fully developed an immune system and are more likely to pick up infection from older stock. This can be reduced by making sure that calves get adequate colostrum. If we look at disease outbreaks in new born calves such as bacteria causing E.coli, this can cause deaths in new born calves less than 5 days of age if they have not received enough colostrum. If they have low immunity they are more susceptible to picking up infection from their environment. Colostrum contains antibodies that will give new born calves increased protection. Colostrum should be fed within the first few hours as the ability to absorb antibodies decreases a few hours after birth and has gone by 24 hours. The recommendation when feeding the first feed to a new born calf with colostrum is to give them 1 litre of colostrum per 10kg birth weight.  It is important that calves get enough colostrum at this stage in order to get the best start at life.

Preventing Spread of Infection:

It is important to quarantine any bought in stock to the farm. Bought in stock may have diseases that were previously never introduced to the farm. If bought in animals come in close contact with stock without quarantining this will increase the likelihood of disease being transmitted through the rest of the herd. Cattle should be quarantined in a separate area for at least one month before you introduce them to the main herd, at this stage you should observe these animals daily for any signs of disease, if they show signs you should take immediate action to treat it. It would also be important to disinfect boots in foot baths after leaving the quarantine area. In general there should be disinfectant at the entrance to all farms as this will help to reduce the spread of infection onto the farm from visitors. Also if there is a disease outbreak on your farm; visitors should disinfect boots in order to stop the spread of disease out of the farm.                                                                                 

Sick animals in the main herd should also be isolated from the rest of the herd. This isolation area should be easily disinfected and waste disposal should be separate to where healthy animals are housed.

It is important to have a plan in place on the farm to prevent disease outbreaks. By following some of the measures mentioned above will help to prevent the spread of disease on your farm.

In Summary:

To help reduce infectious diseases on your farm you should:

  • Clean bedding regularly and check water troughs for contamination of manure and also leaks
  • Clean and disinfect equipment after use.
  • Improve immunity of young stock by making sure they get adequate colostrum at birth.
  • Reduce spread of disease by quarantining bought in stock, use of footbaths and isolating sick animals.