Strategies to minimise post-weaning stress

Agriculture is the back bone in the economy of Pakistan. It contributes about 21% in the national GDP with the major share of livestock about 55.1% in the agriculture value added and 11.6% in the national GDP. Annual growth rate of livestock has been recorded 4%. Demand for milk and meat based protein is ever increasing in human population.

Calves are major source of replacement for any farm and every new born calf shows prospect and is supposed to enhance or sustain the flock volume. Calf health and efficiency depend closely on nutrition and other managerial practices whereas improper management practices including traditional style of feeding, shortage of feed, lack of knowledge about modern dairy practices and lack of capital for investment are among the key factors that result early calf mortality. High calf mortality is one of the most crucial factors which discourage the animal production and reproduction, disturbing the supply and demand trends and compelling towards huge economic losses.

Decrease in calf mortality will act as corner stone in flourishing of the livestock and dairy sector, and this reduction can be achieved by overcoming the causal factors involved in early calf mortality. To achieve this goal, calf should be reared according to modern methods and improved management procedures.

Weaning is one of the factors responsible for calf death where calves are gradually introduced to their adult diets and mothers milk is withdrawn. On farm weaned calves are subjected to the nutritional stress, environmental stress, separation from dam, transportation stress, traumas and mixing with old/other animals etc.

Such stressors results in the depression of immune system because glucocorticoids and neuropepptidases are released from cells. This depression hosts many diseases and deficiencies and the condition is exacerbated by anorexia leading calves to death.

Like other stress factors, heat stress in weaning period is one which makes animals vulnerable to show a condition called post weaning stress. In case of post weaning stress calf may experience heavy diarrhea which predispose the calf industry to heavy economic losses. Other common calf hood diseases include scours, pneumonia, septicemia, parasites and some others like ringworm, warts, umbilical hernia, pinkeye, sudden death, bloat, colic etc.

In addition to the compromised digestive and absorptive capacity of gastrointestinal tract, post weaning stress also affect the intestinal barrier function and results in increased intestinal permeability that allows toxins, bacteria or feed-associated antigens to cross the intestinal epithelium resulting in inflammation, mal-absorption, diarrhea and reduced growth and production.

To avoid post-weaning stress certain strategies should be considered.

Post weaning strategies:

Calves are weaned to make their rumen fully functional otherwise nutrients are not absorbed completely. Below are given some useful points which can help the farming community to avoid post weaning stress.

Wean only health calvesas it will help to reduce pathogen attack.

Pre-weaning/adaption period should be given to calves.

Dont change house/transport/move the calves during weaning period. It could be done one week post weaning byforming the group of 4-6 animals. This grouping will help out to determine any deleterious effects of weaning, to make them adaptable to new housing and to decrease feed competition as well.

Provide recommended resting space to each animal to move and sit easily in the house. Avoid plastic housing.

Provide adequate ventilation (according to the age of calves) in the house to avoid respiratory problems.

Nutrition plays vital role in health management so provide the scheduled diet at proper time to all grouped calves. Clean water should be provided all the time with adequate temperature.

Provide mineral supplements with adequate sodium (salt) and avoid excessive potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Bedding material must be dry, clean and mold free,6-10 inches long straw in cold climates, to limit fecal pathogenesis. If weaned calves caught coccidiosis, depression in immune system is abrupt so addition of coccidiostats in the diets is helpful.

Avoid parasitic burden by using integrated parasitic control measures. Control ecto-parasites by biological control. Rotational grazing on pasture is preferred method. Dont completely remove them but let the immunity develop.

Avoid multiple (greater than 2 injections) vaccinations when possible, especially when Gram-negative bacterins are being administered. Store, process and administer vaccines according to manufacturers label and best management practices.

Provide proper vaccine storage conditions (correct storage temperature, protection from sunlight and microwave radiation, free of disinfectants).

Observe label recommendations for proper route of administration, needle size and dosage to animal.

Never inject a needle back into a bottle of vaccine after it has been used to inject an animal.

Avoid vaccinating during times of stress on animals.

Keep epinephrine and flunixin (for vaccines containing siderophore receptors and porins [SRP]) in vaccine toolkit for ready availability while vaccinating (to treat adverse reactions).

Weather also accounts a lot so avoid weaning the calves during extreme weather condition (i.e. 85°F).

Humane handling is recommended to avoid handling stress and animal abuse. Use animals handling aids and highly trained staff. Avoid noise and striking/beating animals.

Sick/immune-compromised calves should be paid special attention, quickly isolate them and observe keenly. Consult veterinarian to treat them, avoid stress by treatment pain.

Transportation should be stress free, if travelling to long distance, make possible the availability of clean water. Avoid any unnecessary stops during transportation. Try to transport during good weather conditions otherwise facilitate the transportation. Carriage should be airy with more than one gate. Avoid overcrowding.

Wash and disinfect transport vehicles between hauls with a recommended disinfectant for animal facilities. Prepare floors of transport units to promote secure footing and absorption of urine and manure, using sawdust, wood shavings, straw or sand.

Avoid scheduled procedures such as vaccinating or dehorning for at least 1 week prior to transport (except for intranasal vaccines, which can be administered to boost interferon levels and help in preventing respiratory disease at the time of shipping).

Veterinarians should consider the number of animals that may be presenting with abdominal pain in the calfs herd to help identify the cause of the colic, as well as abdominal distension. They should also look for such signs of abdominal pain as kicking, getting up and down, rolling on the ground and lying in odd positions.

From all the above discussion the five Cs provide an effective formula for managing the dairy calf.

Cleanliness is the key factor to maintain calf heath and performance.

Colostrum is also most important to boost up the immune status against pathogens.

Good calories diet is very necessary.

Animal comfort and welfare should be considered as it accounts a lot towards health maintenance.

There should be consistency in every deed on farm management.

The writer is associated with the Department of Parasitology, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan.

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