The dairy industry has made significant progress since 2007 in the implementation and improvement of dairy-calf respiratory-management practices, according to a new survey released by Merck Animal Health. The study reveals advances in diagnostic testing, colostrum management and calf nutrition.
The survey represents the management of more than 775,000 dairy calves and heifers across 23 states. The last survey to include dairy-calf care and management was conducted in 2007 by the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS). Of the 174 dairy producers surveyed by Merck Animal Health, 83 raise fewer than 1,000 calves, 70 raise 1,000-9,999 calves and 21 raise more than 10,000 calves each year.
“Respiratory disease is costly in both the short- and long-term of the life of dairy animals,” said Tom Shelton, D.V.M., senior technical services manager for Merck Animal Health. “By measuring current respiratory health practices, we can identify ways to improve the health of dairy calves, which plays a big role in overall herd productivity and profitability.”
One of the most notable findings of the survey is the increased use of diagnostic testing on calves both before and after weaning. Twenty-two percent of operations surveyed use tissue sample testing on at least one calf that died of respiratory disease each year, and 72 percent have at least one necropsy performed. The 2007 NAHMS study, by comparison, reports that eight percent of herds have had necropsies performed on calves before weaning and
7.1 percent on calves after weaning, for all causes of death, including respiratory disease.
“Producers are recognizing the value of diagnostic testing of calves,” said
Donald Sockett, D.V.M., Ph.D., epidemiologist/microbiologist at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. “This is crucial, because the two percent death loss due to respiratory disease currently reported by producers is probably 1.5-2 times larger in reality.”
Colostrum management and calf nutrition
Producers now do a much better job monitoring their calves for failure of passive transfer (FPT) of immunoglobulins than they did four years ago. According to the survey, the number of calf raisers who routinely check for FPT grew to 45 percent from just two percent in 2007.
The survey also shows that producers have responded to the message that calves need to be fed at a higher plane of nutrition and more frequently. Nutrition programs where calves are fed at least 1.5 pounds of milk replacer or five quarts of non-saleable milk or a combination of non-saleable milk and milk replacer are used in two-thirds of small- and medium-sized herds and one-fourth in large herds.