How to prevent Coccidiosis in calves

Coccidiosis is caused by an invasion and destruction of the cells lining within the intestine by the protozoan parasite; Eimeria spp. There are approximately a dozen strains but only 3 are thought to cause disease, these being E. bovis, E. zuernii and E. alabamensis. The oocyst can lay dormant in buildings or within soil for long periods of time due the protozoa being resistant, having a hardened shell-like appearance.

Disease is seen in youngstock from 4 weeks of age up to 2-year-old animals.  The young animal ingests infective oocyst which harbours within soil or buildings.  Cattle can develop immunity to the disease over time, but young calves with a weakened immune system are at greater risk.

Signs of Infection

Indicators of CoccidiosisCoccidiosis causes diarrhoea within the animal which contains specks of blood, mucus and epithelium (gut lining). Calves can also appear anaemic due to the parasite living off the young animal. In due course, this causes a reduced appetite and poor growth rates; potentially resulting in death if left untreated.

Coccidiosis can be managed by improving hygiene practices on farm. Power washing with an anti coccidial disinfectant is a good preventative measure. Pig and poultry industries are known to have the best hygiene and management practices in place.  With their all-in all-out system, disinfecting between each batch and a ‘rest period’, their sheds will be so clean that you could literally eat your dinner off the floor!  So why can’t the rest of the industry adopt this protocol?  Some farms do have such protocols in place and it works well, but the turnaround time between each batch can be tight and needs planning. However, it’s worth the effort to have a healthy herd, and pays financially.

Once Coccidiosis is established on farm, unfortunately it is ‘here to stay’.  Therefore, trying to prevent it before it establishes itself or to control it, should be at the forefront of our minds along with any other potential diseases.

A few points to note to prevent and control CoccidiosisWashing feed troughs regularly can prevent Coccidiosis

  • Good Management: – As mentioned above, power washing buildings, feed troughs & water bowls in between batches is key. Using a suitable biocide such as Kilco ‘Cyclex’. Block calvers – you have the power!
  • Strong immune system: – Make sure that all calves have had sufficient, good quality colostrum within the first 6 hours of life. This is not going to prevent cocci, but setting the calf up for the rest of their life will give them a fighting chance!  Make sure that calves get sufficient feed i.e. milk powder and starter feed, not forgetting adequate provision of clean fresh water!
  • Clean bedding: – Just like us, youngstock require a clean bed. After all, if you wouldn’t sleep in a dirty bed, why should they?
  • Clean feed troughs and water bowls: – Allowing youngstock to eat from dirty feed troughs is one way where cattle can ingest coccidia.  Allowing cattle to eat their bedding simply because there isn’t sufficient feed available is a big no no!  Again, if you wouldn’t eat from a dirty plate, or drink from a dirty glass, then why should they eat and drink from their own dirty facilities?
  • Prevention is the cheapest form of treatment.

A rigid treatment strategy should be part of an effective management policy – something simple that can be managed.

Treatment options

Diagnosis of Coccidiosis is highly recommended by your farm vet.  This will enable you to target the disease specifically instead of another disease showing similar symptoms.  Calves should be removed from infected pastures or buildings, treated accordingly and a management plan should be in place.

Decoquinate (Deccox) can be added to dry feed at either 0.833kgs/Tonne or 1.67kgs/Tonne, this can only be added by prescription and recommendation from your vet.

Free access medicated feed buckets are an alternative option, but again would require a prescription from your vet.

Drenching calves with Vecoxan is again another option but can only be prescribed by an SQP (suitably qualified person) or your vet. If the problem is intractable, vets may need to identify the particular species of coccidia in order to recommend a suitable drug.

Sandy Wilson
Calf Specialist
You can follow Sandy on Twitter @petticoatcalves or contact the Wynnstay Calf Team here.

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