Diarrhoea in calves – how can it be addressed?
In addition to respiratory disease, diarrhoea is a major cause of death of calves in the early rearing period. There are many factors responsible for incidence of diarrhoea, however the most important are: incorrect feeding with colostrum, milk or milk replacers, improper micro-climate conditions and infections caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites.
Diarrhoea – definition and causes
Diarrhoea is a symptom of dysfunction of the digestive system. It is an extremely hazardous disorder, because in the absence of continuous monitoring over the affected animal, within a few hours it loses valuable electrolytes, which in turn increases the risk of death because of severe dehydration. Effective treatment and recovery depend mainly on the time of diagnosis, the condition of the affected calf, and the factor or group of factors causing the disorder. What is important is that even after successful treatment, subsequent development and growth of the young organism can be severely inhibited. According to many experts, the main cause of diarrhoea is the bacteria – Escherichia coli and Salmonella, protozoa of the Eimeria genus and rotaviruses and coronaviruses, which have a high affinity for the intestinal epithelium. It is worth to note that the higher susceptibility of sucklings to infections with the above-mentioned pathogens is the result of weakening of the body’s immune barrier. Therefore, one should look for the reasons underlying this issue in incorrect feeding with colostrum. As we know, calves are born with hypogammaglobulinaemia, which means they are devoid of immunity. Only providing the first portion of colostrum, which is rich in antibodies, contributes to transfer of passive immunity, which conditions their health and further production results. Apart from the immunological value, organoleptic characteristics of colostrum are an important criterion of its quality. Per the definition, it should be thick with a yellowish hue. Colostrum of cows that went through the dry period incorrectly may contain an admixture of blood, which indicates inflammation of the mammary gland, and use of such colostrum in feeding of sucklings may increase the chance of diarrhoea. The method of administration and volume is also significant. Due to the limited capacity of the rumen and the need to develop the reticular groove, a calf in the first hours of life should receive no more than 2 litres of colostrum administered from a bottle or a bucket with a teat. Older calves fed with milk or milk replacers should be provided with no more than 3 litres of drink mixture. Otherwise, acidosis may develop. Younger calves should be fed more frequently, four or three times a day, and the administered volume should be adjusted depending on the frequency. An important factor influencing the use of ingredients of the drink mixture administered to calves (especially the colostrum) is its proper temperature, which should be at least 35oC. Another important aspect are the correct environmental conditions. Accumulation and spread of pathogens is more likely in facilities which were not subject to disinfection, rooms with high humidity and with many animals.
Diagnosis and treatment of an affected calf
Calves in the early stages of diarrhoea have runny faeces and are lethargic. In more advanced stages, the body temperature increases and calves do not want to feed, which manifests in loss of the sucking reflex. Often, with an early diagnosis of the disorder, breeders decide to completely stop feeding calves with colostrum, milk or milk replacers, as they believe it worsens the condition of a young suckling. Nothing could be further from the truth. Liquid feed does not only provide the nutrients necessary to maintain the vital functions, but it also contains biologically active substances, which support the regeneration of damaged intestinal epithelium. However, the arbitrary factor is the amount of the drink mixture. In case of diarrhoea it is recommended to limit the volume by 1/3, to prevent developing acidosis. Proper feed is not all. Due to the intense loss of minerals from the body and the risk of possible dehydration, administering hydrating agents yields good results. Such agents include Diablock and Calfix, which contain pectin in addition to trace elements. According to the definition, they belong to the group of polysaccharides, which form the integral structure of cell walls of plants. What is important, pectin is one of the fractions of soluble fibre, which forms gels in acidic environment. In diarrhoea, this property thickens the gastric content and stabilizes its flow. What is more, gel texture has a protective effect on the intestinal mucosa against pathogens. The above-mentioned preparations are a good source of vitamins to support the immune system. High concentration and absorption of ingredients helps maintaining the proper condition of calves. Please note that hydrating preparations should be administered in an alternating manner with milk in certain time intervals. According to many experts, administering these preparations directly after or just before feeding promotes increasing the pH level in the abomasum, which results in lower effectiveness of use of protein – casein. According to this information, a hydrating preparation should be administered to a calf not later than 3 hours before feeding it with a liquid feed.