Roadshow to examine calf losses

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While beef cattle prices are at levels farmers haven’t seen in years, rising production costs still make it difficult for many to make a profit without the subsidy from their single farm payment. It makes addressing costs all the more important, in particular the losses due to calf death and disease, which can be as high as £80 a cow mated in a 100-cow herd.

A roadshow addressing calf losses has been organised jointly by SAC, NFU Scotland and the Moredun Research Institute. There will be a free daytime meeting at 11.30 in the Urr Valley Hotel, Castle Douglas, on Wednesday, February 29. It will be chaired by local NFUS Regional Chairman Alistair Martin.

Experts from SAC, Moredun and NFUS will discuss problems commonly encountered on the farm, explore the causes of the calf losses and outline what can be controlled to produce healthy young calves in the beef herd. “It stands to reason,” said Brian Hosie, Group Manager, SAC Consulting Veterinary Services. “If beef suckler herds are to be profitable calves must be born healthy and vigorous and with the diseases of calf-hood prevented or controlled. Where calves get a good start in life with no checks caused by disease they grow fast. It is a welfare issue for the industry as much as an economic issue. Farmers are urged to speak to their vet if they encounter unexpected calf losses and arrange for a thorough and detailed post mortem examination in the local SAC Disease Surveillance Centre.”

Data from marketing body Quality Meat Scotland shows that on average only 85 calves are reared per 100 cows bulled in lowland and upland suckler herds. Official Government figures show that 7% of the calves sired by a beef bull and registered at birth, die prematurely.

According to Nigel Miller, President of NFUS, that level of mortality is unacceptable but rectifiable. “Calf health underpins the performance levels which are crucial if we are to keep ahead of the explosion in the cost of production. Farmers who know calves are being lost or getting off to a bad start need to devise a plan. Poor calf viability is bad for their stock, bad for their business and bad for industry. This series of SAC Meetings, in partnership with Moredun, is an opportunity to understand the new and developing cattle health risks on Scottish farms and the latest strategies for optimising herd health. They highlight what the best farmers are already doing and how all beef calf producers can improve herd performance”.

Health specialists from the Moredun and SAC will address the cause of wastage in beef cows and outline what the data shows about the reasons for calf deaths. They will consider issues such as ensuring the quality and provision of colostrum and explain some key diseases such as cryptosporidiosis, a major cause of scour in young calves .

Professor Elisabeth Innes from the Moredun Research Institute is fully aware that diseases like crypto have a serious affect on productivity and calf growth.

“Crypto has a major impact on the health and welfare of cattle and can result in significant production losses. Cryptosporidium can also persist in water courses and pose a serious human health risk.” She added, “There are things that farmers can do to protect their livestock from this infection and control the parasite load into the environment.”

The meeting in Castle Douglas follows an earlier event at Inverurie, Aberdeenshire. It will be followed by another event outside Stirling, at the UA Agricultural Centre, on Thursday 1st March at 11.30 am.

Refreshments will be served at all the events. To book a place or find out more, contact SAC’s Thainstone office on 01467 625385.