Results from a recent survey suggest that calf rearers could make big gains in health and performance by vaccinating and monitoring growth rates.

In the survey carried out by Mole Valley Farmers, 79 per cent of respondents said that boosting calf health was a priority for their business, with pneumonia identified as one of the biggest health challenges amongst livestock.

More than three quarters (81 per cent) said they’d had to treat calves with antibiotics for respiratory disease in the last six months.

However only 44 per cent were vaccinating for respiratory infection.

Vet Andy Adler of Molecare Farm Vets says there’s huge scope for farmers to protect their calves better by designing a farm specific vaccination plan in conjunction with a vet.

He believes this is one of several ways to reduce antibiotic use in calves - something three quarters of farmers surveyed indicated they wanted to do.

“Farmers need to understand which respiratory pathogens they have on farm and have a preventative health strategy in place, such that they manage the environment the animals are living in, the food they’re getting and the immunity they get through colostrum and vaccination,” he said.

“The current situation with long-Covid shows how difficult it is for people to get over respiratory infection and it’s the same with calves.

"We know that calves that get respiratory disease don’t grow as well.”

In fact, pneumonia was identified as one of the main reasons producers thought calves weren’t hitting target growth rates.

That said, with 47 per cent not monitoring calf growth rates, the survey highlights the potential for livestock farmers to better embrace precision farming.

Andy adds: “It’s interesting that 53 per cent aren’t achieving the 24 month target age at first calving when we know calving at this age is a substantial part of sustainable dairy production, helping to lower rearing costs and carbon footprint and optimise milk yields.

"Those that measured colostrum and tracked growth rates were also more likely to hit this target which highlights the value of measuring.”

He recommends that calves are weighed at weaning and then as regularly as possible through to service.

By measuring, farmers can then understand whether animals are on track.

If they’re not, they can then intervene to establish why.

Possible reasons include the diet not being correctly balanced, calves perhaps being exposed to a worm challenge or being deficient in trace elements.