Cattle farmers should be extra vigilant in preventing Johne’s disease at calving time.

Johne’s disease is a contagious infection caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis) affecting cattle, and other animals with rumens.

There is no known cure for the disease, which affects around one in five dairy herds in Ireland according to 2013 figures from Animal Health Ireland.

It gradually damages the gut wall, meaning feed isn’t converted as efficiently. This leads to weight loss, scour and if left unattended, emaciation and death. It also leaves the animal more prone to other infections.

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While it isn’t a hereditary disease, it can be passed on if a newborn calf swallows the bacteria in their infected mother’s colostrum. It can also be transmitted if they ingest a small amount of manure from an infected animal.

Calves are occasionally infected at birth when the mother is in advanced stage of the disease. If a newborn becomes infected, signs of this aren’t likely to surface until two or more years later.

However, if you apply best practice you can minimise the spread of the infection on your farm at calving time.

  • Remove the calf as soon as possible from the calving pen, and into a clean, dry and uncontaminated environment.
  • Collect the colostrum yourself. This way you can maximise the quality of what the calf is taking on board. When you do this, make sure your hands, the cow’s udders and the containers for the colostrum are clean before you collect. Additionally, wash the container between uses.
  • Feed the colostrum from test negative cows.

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The Moocall calving sensor can help manage the risk of Johne’s disease at calving time. The notification from the sensor is designed to come two hours, and one hour before the calf hits the ground.

This gives you time to be on the scene to stop the calf from taking colostrum from a potentially infected udder, and you can be there to move the calf into a safe clean environment as soon as possible.

If you know the dam is infected, you can feed the calf colostrum from another animal if you freeze it ahead of time.

While colostrum is vital to a calves early development, it is just as important to be vigilant for Johne’s disease.