Coccidiosis warning this spring

Spring-born calves and lambs are at risk of coccidiosis again this year once any passive immunity wears off.

MSD Animal Health Veterinary Adviser, Dr Kat Baxter-Smith, warned the antibodies from ingesting colostrum when born do not last long.

She said: “Thanks to antibodies gained through ingesting colostrum early in life, calves and lambs initially acquire some passive immunity to the parasite.

“But this protection is short-lived, leaving young animals particularly susceptible to infection as they grow and develop and the weather warms up.”

In spring-born calves, disease can occur at any age from three to six weeks old and in lambs maternal immunity wanes at four to eight weeks. Clinical coccidiosis is caused by a build-up in the rearing environment of oocysts produced by the Eimeria parasite.

Dr Baxter-Smith said: “Susceptible growing calves and lambs become infected by ingesting these oocytes when they lick contaminated objects in their rearing environment or ingest feed or water contaminated by faeces.

 “Once taken into the body in sufficient numbers, the oocysts hatch and the parasites invade and destroy cells in the intestine. Infection often leads to diarrhoea, weight loss and poor growth rates.”

Alongside good hygiene practices, anticoccidial treatments are often used strategically to manage the disease threat on many cattle and sheep units.

 “This allows youngstock some level of exposure to the parasite so that they gain longer-term immunity, but also removes it before it can impact on productivity and further contaminate the environment,” said Dr Baxter-Smith.

“Oral drenches such as Vecoxan® are generally the most convenient way of ensuring each calf or lamb receives the correct dose at the right time.”

Easy to administer as a single oral dose, Vecoxan® is a flexible coccidiosis management solution that can be used in calves and lambs of any weight, in any management system and without any environmental restrictions or meat withdrawal period.

Dr Baxter-Smith concluded: “Strategic use with all young animals in a group allows natural immunity to develop in your youngstock and there’s no need to dilute manure from treated animals before spreading.”

Coccidiosis is only one of several causes of diarrhoea in calves and lambs. Farmers unsure about a particular disease management situation should contact their vet or Registered Animal Medicines Advisor (RAMA) for advice.

For more advice on youngstock health and disease management, speak to one of our Registered Animal Medicines Advisors.