The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has collaborated with leading dairy nutrition specialist Volac to create a new traffic light poster on dairy calf health.

The poster – which aims to help dairy farmers to identify the early signs of scours and respiratory disease – is suitable to pin up in the calf shed and covers the three areas (or “lights”) with accompanying images. These are:

  • green – calves in good health should be bright, playful, curious and lively with clear eyes and nose, clean hindquarters and be keen to drink milk
  • amber – act as early warning signs of problems and know that going off milk is actually a late sign of sickness. Here, contact a vet or implement a treatment plan; and
  • red – late signs of disease indicating calves at risk of death.

Volac’s youngstock specialist Jessica Cooke said identifying mild cases of disease among calves – particularly group-housed – can be easy to miss, especially when compared with spotting and treating very sick calves.

“Milk rejection, for example, is often used as a sign of disease; however, it is far from accurate,” she said. “If calves are fed less than eight litres of milk per day, it will only be at the final stages of disease that a calf will stop drinking. At this point, the calf may be so sick the damage caused will be irreversible.

“Both scours and respiratory disease impact not only on husbandry demands and vet costs, but for those animals that survive, it also influences their subsequent performance. Even a relatively mild case of respiratory disease takes energy away from growth, with up to 1kg lost per week.”

Dr Cooke said she hoped the poster would help calf rearers quickly and simply identify early signs of scours and respiratory disease, helping to implement treatment protocols developed with vets.

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