World class speakers announced for Heifer Rearing Conference

Calf Conference_v1-03

Volac will be hosting the ‘Heifer Rearing Conference’ on Thursday 10th December 2015 at Charleville Park Hotel, Charleville, Co. Cork, Ireland.

The conference will focus on the critical components of rearing high-performing heifers from birth to first calving and outlines our Feed For Growth programme, which provides resources and tools to allow you to achieve better results than ever before.

Running from 8.30am – 4.00pm, the programme for the day includes:

8.30-9.15am Coffee and Registration
Setting the scene: Pat Cahill, Commercial Director, Volac International
9.15-10.00am Volac International Feed For Growth Program – The road map to helping farmers optimise opportunities in heifer rearing
Niall Jaggan, Global Products Manager, Volac International
10.00-10.30am Optimising Response To The First Feed – Cow & Calf
Speaker: Dr. Emer Kennedy, Teagasc Researcher, Moorepark
Chairperson: Matt O’Keeffe, Editor – Irish Farmers Monthly
10.30-11.15am Coffee Break
11.15am-12.15pm The Effect Of Nutrient Intake and Growth Rate Pre-Weaning on Long Term Herd Performance
Presenter: Professor Mike Van Amburgh, Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, USA
12.15-12.45pm Putting Theory Into Practice: Getting all of the steps right along the Calf Rearing Route
Presenter: Maggie Gould, Nutritionist, Volac International
Chairperson: Mike Magan, Chairman, Animal Health Ireland
12.45-2.00pm Lunch
2.00-2.25pm Neonatal Nutrition & Getting The Economics Right Impact of biologically appropriate feeding of heifer calves on growth, pubertal age, calving age and milk yield.
Presenter: John Maher, Regional Dairy Specialist, Teagasc
2.25-3.00pm Impact of Calf Housing and Environment on Calf Performance
Presenter: Jamie Robertson, Livestock Management Systems Ltd.
Chairperson: Jack Kennedy, Dairy Editor, Irish Farmers Journal
3.00-3.10pm Emerging Role of Contract Rearing
Presenter: George Ramsbottom, Teagasc Dairy Specialist
3.10-3.20pm Best Practise In Heifer Rearing At Farm Level
Presenter: Shane Fitzgerald, Cork, National Heifer Rearer of the year 2015
3.20-3.30pm Presenter: Torben Kragh, High Performing Dairy Farmer, Denmark
3.30-4.00pm Questions and Answers
Chairperson: Dr. Doreen Corridan MVB MRCVS PhD, Munster AI
4.00pm Close of Conference: Pat Cahill

As detailed above, the conference will hear from a number of leading international scientists, advisers and farmers:

 Mike Van Amburgh Professor, Dept. of Animal Science, Cornell University

Professor Mike Van Amburgh is a world leading expert on calf rearing and has conducted ground-breaking research on the impact of performance in the critical first 12 weeks of the dairy heifer calf’s life.

Maggie Gould Group Technical Manager, Volac International

Maggie Gould leads the Animal Nutrition Technical team at Volac, and has been working with customers in the International dairy sector for over 30 years,

Torben Kragh High Performing Dairy Farmer, Denmark

Torben Kragh is a Danish dairy farmer with a 550 cow herd, heifers calving at under 21 months is one of the outstanding measures of his high-performing herd.

Niall Jaggan Global Products Manager, Volac International

Niall Jaggan is the Global Product Manager responsible for Volac’s Young Animal Nutrition portfolio, concentrating on driving the strategic direction of the area of the business where Volac’s agricultural business began – milk replacers.

Jamie Robertson Research Consultant, Livestock Management Systems Ltd

Jamie Robertson is a leading expert on calf health and housing and has vast experience in working with farmers and UK agencies on animal health programmes.

Shane Fitzgerald Cork National Heifer Rearer of the Year 2015

Ballynoe Co Cork farmer Shane Fitzgerald won the 2015 Volac heifer rearing competition and will outline his programme for rearing high performing heifers from birth to calving at 24 months.

Dr. Emer Kennedy Teagasc Researcher, Moorepark Emer Kennedy

Emer Kennedys work focuses on rearing the new born calf right up to the pre-calving stage, in particular on colostrum management and ensuring calves get the best start possible.

John Maher Regional Dairy Specialist, Teagasc

John Maher is a Dairy Specialist, with a primary role to bring research to all members of the dairy industry.

George Ramsbottom Teagasc Dairy Specialist

George Ramsbottom is a dairy specialist with a focus on three main areas: improving the reproductive performance of the national dairy herd; improving facilitation skills of both advisers and consultants; further development of collaborative farming initiatives including contract rearing of replacement heifers.

To book your place contact Volac at 049 433 4755 or email
Admission to this event is free.

Download brochure

‘Ask the vet’ service for dairy farmers


Feed for growth is all about helping dairy farmers ‘grow better cows’, by improving animal health and performance on your farm.

Michael-Head-Sept-20081-300x200We have lots of expert advice, resources and tools for dairy farmers right here on our website, but if you need further help, cattle Vet, Mike Head of Shepton Vets is on hand to answer your questions.

As part of the Feed for Growth programme, Volac has teamed up with Shepton Vets to offer you further help and support.

Want to know more about common calf diseases?
This month we have been focusing on common calf diseases, how they affect your herd, their causes and how to prevent. But if you have further questions you’d like answering, then we want to hear from you!

Ask your question online for free!
It’s really simple and won’t take a minute. Post a brief question on our Facebook page, tweet @feedforgrowth using #askthevet or email us at, and Mike will answer your question.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Any advice given is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your animal. Never disregard professional advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Disease – how is it affecting your calves?

Calf scour

Scours are among the most common calf diseases. This week’s blog investigates their causes and how to prevent.

Scour is caused by a combination of viruses, bacteria and parasites that can spread from calf to calf. The most common scours are caused by rotavirus and coronavirus, along with coccidia, cryptosporidia and E. coli. An effective scour prevention program can be simplified into two areas – maximising calf immune function and minimising their exposure to disease.

  • A dirty calving environment can expose new born calves to scour causing pathogens
  • Low colostrum intake
  • Underfeeding increases susceptibility to disease
  • An unhygienic environment due to overcrowding, mixing of age groups, using pens for young calves without regular cleaning and disinfection and spreading infection from older to younger calves on the calf rearer’s clothing
  • Discuss the cause with your vet – is it infection or nutritional, and then preventative strategies, for example vaccination
  • Make sure your calves are receiving enough quality colostrum – a minimum three litres within the first six hours, tested with a colostrometer
  • Keep the calving area clean and hygienic
  • Clean up the udder if the calf is to suckle colostrum from dam
  • Maintain a clean environment for young calves – clean and disinfect pens between batches and prevent contact between animals of different ages
  • Make sure each calf receives adequate calories to promote immune status
  • Finally, if you have yet to introduce a herd health plan, then discuss with your vet. Prevention is better than cure

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 10.48.32For more information, download our Farmers Guide to Calf Scour.


Rotavirus is present in the majority of herds and is among the most common to cause diarrhoea in calves between eight to 14 days of age. Infection can spread very rapidly within the group.

Infected calves suffer an acute onset of diarrhoea – very watery yellow/green faeces. Calves are dull and reluctant to stand and drink, they rapidly become dehydrated, eyes are sunk, skin becomes tight and abomasum and intestines are often distended with fluid and gas. They are also vulnerable to picking up secondary infections.

Oral electrolytes are the most important line of treatment offered four to eight times a day by teat – active sucking is the best indicator a calf is on the mend. Feed an alternate milk and electrolyte solution every two to four hours. Ask your vet for advice on which oral fluid to use. Oral antibiotics are generally not necessary.


Once a herd has experienced problems with rotavirus infection, annual vaccination of the cows should be considered, one to three months before their calving date. Hygiene is vital to prevent the spread of desease.

Coronavirus diarrhoea

Coronavirus diarrhoea outbreaks are similar to, or more severe than, those observed for rotavirus infection. Fortunately, coronavirus infection is much less common than rotavirus.

Treatment and prevention of coronavirus infection is as outlined above for rotavirus.


Coccidiosis occurs anywhere from 12 to 21 days after ingestion of the Coccidia parasite. It causes significant gut damage, leading to scouring sometimes with blood, the calf will be seen straining and weight loss can be significant. Infected cattle go on to suffer impaired lifetime performance – reduced weight gain, higher treatment costs and increased time to either finishing or first calving. Severe outbreaks can result in death or chronic poor-doers which have an increased likelihood of suffering from pneumonia.


Coccidia is a common parasite present on most units. The disease occurs when young calves are exposed to high numbers.

Infection is passed from animal to animal through contact with infected faeces due to

  • Poor disinfection of pens between batches of calves
  • Pen overcrowding
  • Insufficient or poor quality bedding
  • Using pens on a continuous basis
  • Allowing animals to contaminate feed or water with faeces, for example forage fed on the floor or concentrates being fed from low level troughs

If you think Coccidiosis is affecting your cattle – discuss control with your vet. Note, once you have identified an incident, damage to the gut has already been done.

  • Introduce a good hygiene protocol between batches of calves
  • Preventing faecal contamination of forage and concentrate
  • Isolating animals with severe clinical signs otherwise they will contaminate the environment

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 10.54.02For more information, download our Farmers Guide to Coccidiosis.


Cryptosporidiosis is a protozoan parasite. Infection leads to severe damage to the intestinal lining and decreases its ability to absorb nutrients, water and salts. Once infected, it takes approximately four days for profuse yellow/green scour to develop which usually lasts for 15 days. Affected calves suffer dehydration, lose weight and become dull. Some will die.

Scour is the evidence of millions of oocysts being shed; they contaminate the environment and infect other calves by entering through contaminated feed and water and can lay dormant in manure for up to 12 months.

Removing Cryptosporidia from contaminated housing is extremely difficult since the protozoa are resistant to many common disinfectants, and as adult cattle show no signs but can shed millions of oocysts, it can be virtually impossible to clear a herd.


Cryptosporidium cannot be cured with antibiotics, consequently prevention through good hygiene, pest control and minimising stress


Pneumonia is the biggest killer of calves from the dairy herd, the highest risk period being during the first 12 weeks of life. Lung damage in affected calves will also reduce productivity through reduced growth rates and treatment costs – medicines, labour, vet costs. Even after the animals have apparently recovered losses can occur in dairy heifers through reduced performance in first lactation and in beef calves, long term impact on weight gain and carcass grading.


Pneumonia is caused by a mixture of viruses and bacteria. In most cases there are management factors that make the calf more vulnerable to disease.

  • Poor ventilation – the bacteria and viruses which cause pneumonia survive better in moist, stale air
  • Wind speed – young calves exposed to moderate draughts will use too much energy to keep warm and are more prone to disease
  • Cold stress – young calves will get cold in standard UK winter temperatures
  • Underfeeding – especially in cold weather. Calves will cope with low temperatures if extra calories are provided
  • Weaning management – calves need to be gradually weaned so that calorie intake from hard feed is sufficient prior to stopping milk feeding
  • Mixing age groups – allows disease to spread from older to younger calves
  1. Pneumonia control should be discussed with your vet
  2. Reduce the risks by
  • Improving air quality in cattle sheds
  • Preventing cold stress in young calves
  • Ensuring sufficient calorie intake in cold weather, step up milk replacer rate

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 10.55.57For more information, download our Farmers Guide to Calf Pnuemonia.

Hygiene: combating common calf diseases

We could all learn a lot from the pig and poultry sectors where routine cleaning and disinfection is crucial. Bacteria and viruses are present in large numbers on all farms, and the diseases they and other germs cause are common and costly.

This week’s blog looks at pens, their design together with cleaning and disinfection. Next week combating scours will come under the microscope.

Pens and buildings

  • Try to design calf pens so that, as a minimum, they can be emptied and cleaned prior to the new arrivals.
  • Germs such as bacteria and viruses will accumulate in calf pens.
  • Very few units have the facilities to allow all in, all out systems.

Pen design

  1. Choose materials for calf pens which are easily cleaned and disinfected, for example metal or plastic.
  2. The flooring surface should have no cracks or pits that are hard to clean.
  3. Make sure you will be able to both empty and clean the drinkers and feeders between batches.

Cleaning and disinfection

  1. Remove all organic matter prior to cleaning and disinfection; after cleaning out the straw bedding, use a pressure washer or steam cleaner to remove the remainder.
  2. Don’t forget, using a pressure washer in an occupied building can increase the disease risk for remaining calves. Try to remove the pen fixtures for cleaning in a separate airspace to the other calves.
  3. Use a recommended disinfectant at the correct concentration on all surfaces that calves can touch. Where surfaces are cracked or damaged or porous and difficult to clean, apply a greater concentration of disinfectant to these areas.
  4. Allow the pens to dry out prior to new arrivals.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 13.38.04For more information, download our Farmers Guide to hygiene in the milk-fed calf.