BHC Newsletter Spring FINAL


ANIMAL HEALTH IRELAND Contributing to a profitable and sustainable farming and agri-food sector through improved animal health






Beef HealthCheck

Animal Health Ireland, 4-5 The Archways, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim, N41 WN27



Rebecca Carroll, Programme Manager

M inister Michael Creed launched the new phase of the Beef HealthCheck programme – Beef HealthCheck Online – at the Meat Industry Ireland (MII) offices in Dublin at the end of January. The launch was also attended by representatives fromorganisations including thosewhichhave supported and collaboratedon theBeef HealthCheck programme - MII, the FBD Trust, participating meat plants, the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM), Veterinary Ireland and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF). This new Beef HealthCheck Online dashboard for farmers and their veterinary practitioners can be accessed free of charge through the ICBF website. Beef HealthCheck Online builds on the paper reporting of health information from abattoirs and provides more tools to search and analyse Beef HealthCheck information at herd level. The informa tion accumulates over time and provides farmers with an overview of the health status of their herd. The AHI booklet to help farmers access, interpret and share the Beef HealthCheck Online information with their veterinary practitioner is available on the AHI website [Click here] Farmers and their vets can use Beef HealthCheck Online to implement and monitor herd health plans, including parasite control programmes, pneumonia control programmes and elements of nutritional management.

Launching the programme, the Minister observed “Beef HealthCheck Online is another example of industry working collaboratively for the benefit of Irish agriculture”.




Beef HealthCheck Online (continued)

Fiona Muldoon, CEO, FBD

Philip Carroll, Chairman, Meat Industry Ireland

Fiona Muldoon, CEO, FBD said “FBD is delighted to support this initiative which will contribute to the profitability and sustainability of Irish beef farms”. Philip Carroll, Chairman, Meat Industry Ireland welcomed the new online dashboard which will “enable farmers and their veterinary practitioners to further analyse results and tailor animal health plans accordingly”. “The Beef HealthCheck programme, supported by MII members, has positive benefits in terms of on-farm efficiency and improving overall farm enterprise performance. At processing level, it can also help to improve the harvest rate of certain beef co-products (such as livers). The programme is a great example of collaboration for the overall benefit of everyone in the beef sector”.

A new video outlining the Beef HealthCheck programme and Beef HealthCheck Online is now available on the AHI website. [click here] . The Beef HealthCheck programme now covers approximately 65% of cattle slaughtered in Irish abattoirs. The information is accumulating in the ICBF database and AHI is analysing the data as it gathers. Analysis of liver and lung lesions found in cattle slaughtered in early 2017 will be published in the next Beef HealthCheck newsletter.




Beef HealthCheck Online (continued)

Philip Carroll (MII), Mike Magan (AHI), Fiona Muldoon (FBD), Minister Michael Creed T.D. Rebecca Carroll, Beef HealthCheck Programme Manager (AHI), Joe O’Flaherty (AHI), Padraig O’ Sullivan (ICBF)

Philip Carroll (MII), Mike Magan (AHI), Joe Ryan (MII), Paul Matthews (ABP Food Group), Denis Brennan (Slaney Foods), Andrew Clarke (Foyle Food Group), David Graham (AHI), Joe O’ Flaherty (AHI), Kelly Stephenson (Dawn Meats), Maria Kilmartin (ABP Food Group), Rebecca Carroll, Beef HealthCheck Programme Manager (AHI), Aine Mulvihill (Kepak Group), Karina Cassidy (MII).




Prof. David A Kenny, Teagasc Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Co. Meath ACHIEVING A 365-DAY CALVING INTERVAL IN SUCKLER COW HERDS D espite its obvious importance to underpinning the financial sustainability of the enterprise, there is clear evidence of significant reproductive inefficiency calving and early spring calving suckler farms in Ireland with good success, where calves are restricted to once or twice daily access to suckle, once they reach about 1 month of age. Effective dilution of cow-calf bond can be achieved through locking calves out in a creep area, thereby preventing constant access to the cows, or where facilities and weather conditions allow, turning calves out to a nearby sheltered paddock during the day. Where this is successfully practiced, many cows will typically be seen in heat two to three weeks later.

within Irish suckler cow herds. For example, national statistics from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) tell us that, on average, only 8 calves are born to every 10 cows on Irish herds in a typical 12 month cycle with the interval between two successive calvings averaging in the region of 400 days, in recent years. This indicates that a large proportion of Irish cows fail to achieve the key target of producing a calf every 365 days. While the onset of puberty in the heifer has a major influence on the start of her productive life within the herd, undoubtedly, the single most important factor influencing the reproductive efficiency of a suckler cow herd is early onset of oestrous cyclicity (heat cycles) after calving. For example, unlike a dairy cow which typically will be cycling by one month after calving, a suckler cow, can take anything from 40 to 100 days to resume heat cycles. The bond between the cow and calf prevents the early onset of heat cycles after calving, so any strategy to advance the opportunity to breed the cow again after calving must consider this important factor. Indeed work conducted by Teagasc in the past has shown that short term restriction of suckling activity once the cow is calved about a month, can significantly advance the beginning of normal heat cycles. Indeed, this latter strategy is being used on many autumn

In addition to reducing the cow-calf bond, a number of studies have clearly established that energy intake of the cow in mid to late gestation, mediated through improved body condition score (BCS) has a positive effect on reducing the interval between calving and the onset of heat cycles. For example, the cow in moderate, as opposed to poor BCS, can advance the onset of cyclicity by 1-2 weeks. Overall, pre-calving nutrition has a much greater effect on the onset of heat cycles, through its effect on BCS and the general metabolic status of the cow, than level of feeding post calving. In other words, if a cow calves thin, then additional feeding after she calves will have limited impact on shortening the time to when she has her first heat after calving. The key is to calve cows in moderate to good condition but not overly fat. Target BCS for cows calving at different times of the year are outlined in Table 1.

Calving season


Mid Pregnancy



2.5 2.5

3.0 3.0



2.75 3.25




Table 1. Effect of Calving Season on target BCS for key reproductive events in beef cows (scale 1-5, where 1 is emaciated and 5 is obese)




In beef cows, unlike dairy cows, there is no substantial evidence of a decline in conception rate and typical conception rates of 60-70% are achievable to either AI or natural service, unless there are problems with semen quality, AI technique or bull fertility. Conception rates reach a normal level in cows bred at 60 or more days after calving. Maintaining cows and heifers on a steady plane of nutrition is important during the breeding season, asevenshort termsignificantfluctuations in feedsupply can impact upon the conception rates for cows bred during that time. In Ireland, currently, only ~20%of calves born to beef cows are sired by an AI bull. If using AI, heat detection efficiency is a critical component underlying its success. A number of approaches including heat detection aids, vasectomised bulls and oestrous synchronisation programmes can all be successfully used to increase the proportion of cows bred to AI. For the majority of herds which use natural service farmers need to avoid becoming complacent in relation to fertility of stock bulls, evenmature animals. While the reported incidence of sterility is generally low(<4%), subfertility, at a consistent level of 20-25%, is much more common in breeding bulls. On-going vigilance for mating ability and fertility is recommended for all bulls but in particular for young bulls recently joining the herd. Many veterinary practices now offer a Bull Breeding Soundness Evaluation (BBSE) based on an examination of a semen sample as well as a physical examination of the animal itself and this combinedwith early pregnancy scanning can facilitate the early identification of poor bull fertility and avoidance of significant losses.

Maintaining cows and heifers on a steady plane of nutrition is important during the breeding season, as even short term significant fluctuations in feed supply can impact upon the conception rates for cows bred during that time.





Ingrid Lorenz, Chairperson, CalfCare, Technical Working Group

Causes of suckler calf diarrhoea Calf Scour is a multifactorial disease, which means apart from infectious agents there are environmental and management factors responsible for the outbreak of disease. A variety and often a combination of infectious agents can cause diarrhoea in young calves. The most frequently found causes are Rotavirus virus and Cryptosporidia (parasite). We know that bacteria are less likely to be involved, but they can play a role on individual farms (Salmonella spp.) or in very young calves (E. coli). Non-infectious factors favouring the outbreak of calf scour are, for example, poor colostrum intake and high infectious pressure. What happens when a calf has scours? The parasites and viruses that mainly cause scour in calves lead to severe damage to the lining of the intestines. An intestine that is not functioning properly causes the calf to lose salts and water in the formof diarrhoea. Once the damage is done the calf will continue to scour until the intestine is repaired. There is no treatment available to speed up the repair time. The resulting loss of water and salts leads to dehydration and can cause the calves to become weak and recumbent if not treated properly. Treatment of calves with scours in the suckler herd The single most important treatment for the scouring calf is the replacement of the fluids and the salts it loses. For this purpose, good quality (if in doubt, ask your vet) oral electrolyte solutions should be given to the calf from the time diarrhoea is first observed until the faeces are back to normal consistency. Since it is unlikely that the suckler calf will drink from the nipple bucket, 2 litres of the electrolyte solution will have to be given by an stomach tube twice a day. The calf should be separated from the herd together with its mother. This prevents spreading of the infection to other calves, but also makes treatment of the calf easier. It is important that the calf is left with the cow so it can still get the necessary energy from the cow’s milk.

When do you need to call your vet? If calf scour is a problem in your herd, your vet can investigate which infectious agents are involved and give you advice on the best measures of prevention and treatment. For the individual sick calf, veterinary treatment is advised if it refuses to drink, or is down and very weak, if its eyes are sunken from dehydration, or if its temperature is above or below the normal range (38.5ºC- 39.5ºC). Are antibiotics of any benefit? Since most cases of neonatal calf diarrhoea are caused by parasites or viruses, antibiotics cannot be of immediate benefit. The indiscriminate use of antibiotics increases the risk of drug resistances, and therefore they should not be used in uncomplicated calf diarrhoea. If calves, however, are severely sick (dehydrated, inappetent and depressed, bloody faeces) or if they have fever (body temperature above 39.5°C) there is an increased risk of bacteria entering the bloodstream and causing septicaemia. In these cases, calves should be treated with injectable antimicrobials. For further information please refer to the AHI Leaflet: Management of the Scouring Calf [click here].




GETTING THE MOST OUT OF DISCUSSION GROUPS A t a recent beef event which was targeting discussion group members I got talking to a farmer and I asked him what he thought of the event. His first comment

Aidan Murray, Beef Specialist, Teagasc

• The meetings helped to refresh their technical knowledge and they gained good timely advice. Their regular discussions on the value and cost of inputs often result in savings. • They were able to bring up any problems they were having on the farm, to discuss them with the group members and to share experiences, helping them to develop possible solutions. • As a group they discovered that silage quality amongst the members was at best average and decided to tackle the issue. They examined all aspects including sward quality, fertiliser regime, cutting dates and preservation. They now regularly test silage quality and they can see the cost savings that they have achieved through the improvements they have made. • They also emphasised the strong social aspect of the group because as farmers they would often feel isolated. They have visited farms at home and abroad as a group and this further developed friendships and allowed them to pick up many new ideas. To finish up you should ask yourself am I getting the most out of being a discussion group member? Being in a discussion group should not be viewed as being part of a scheme. Actively engage in the discussion group process, challenge your facilitator, take more ownership of your group, and set targets for what you want to achieve together.

was ‘I was told I had to come’. This rang alarm bells with me straight away. Not only had the excellent technical content of the day been missed but he was in scheme mode and was merely ticking a box. Not the mindset needed if you want to make the most of being a discussion group member. Teagasc carried out an independent evaluation of discussion groups in 2013 as a means of getting further insight into this valuable knowledge exchange tool. The findings were interesting. Discussion group members tended to have higher output, higher costs and higher net margins than those not in groups. Group members had higher stocking rates and achieved higher prices/head for their stock. They were able to improve their profits, liveweight gains and days at grass on their farms. There was evidence to show that financial benefits emerge as practices change and groups that were well structured and run showed greater learning and benefits. The study also found that members provided good emotional support to each other which is a considerable social benefit than can often be overlooked. I recently took part in a group meeting with the Letterkenny Suckler group which has been facilitated by John Cannon since 1999. They are a very enthusiastic group and still continue to meet regularly and debate a range of technical issues. Towards the end of the meeting I asked them why they had remained in a discussion group for so long and what did they get out of group membership. They made a number of points: • They felt that being in the group kept them ahead of the posse. They got to find out early about new developments in the sector and they could debate and have a good open discussion on possible implications.



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