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Calves are much less able to deal with variation in temperature than older animals. The highly variable temperatures, such as those we experience through our autumn and winter months, leads a young calf to expend more energy dealing with it than an older animal, when in fact it should be using this energy for growth and fighting disease.

It is unsurprising then that statistically calves are more likely to die in the winter months than the summer. What this article aims to do is look at the contributing factors and how we can reduce the risks.

1. Colostrum

While it is beyond the scope of this article to go into much detail about colostrum management, it would be wrong to leave it out. When calves are likely to face more adverse conditions in their first few weeks of life, giving them the right start with good colostrum management is of upmost importance (3-4 litres of 22% or higher on a Brix Refractometer within 6 hours of birth).

2. Temperature

Newborn calves require temperatures of 15C. As a very rough guide, but easy to remember rule, this temperature decreases by about 0.5C every day, meaning that by a month old calves can tolerate temperatures of zero degrees Celsius. It also means that in its first two weeks of life a calf will be cold stressed between 15C and 7C, so we need to ameliorate this to allow colosturm to do what it needs to do. The average UK temperature doesn’t reach 15C until June! The temperature inside and outside calf housing is likely to be the same because, unlike cows, calves don’t produce enough energy to change it. So, what can we do? The two easiest options are calf jackets and/or increasing a calf’s ability to nest by providing a deep straw bed. With the cost of straw at the moment the latter may be less appealing but consider using cheaper material to lift the calf off the cold ground such as sand or woodchip, before providing a top layer of straw for nesting, The benefit of nesting is that it gives the calf the ability to manage its own environment. A simple max/min thermometer is a great way to track temperatures within calf sheds.

3. Moisture

A calf in a damp environment at 5C is physiologically colder and therefore requires more energy to maintain its body temperature than a calf in a dry environment at 5C. Moist conditions also encourage the survival and spread of harmful bacteria and viruses. How well does your calf housing drain? Signs that moisture levels are too high include wet floors, sweat and dirt on coats and condensation on the underside of the roof. If you are seeing some of these things is it due to poor drainage or moisture entering the building? Are there hot spots where drains can be dug in? Along the same lines it is essential that calves are dried thoroughly before having a calf jacket put on or being moved to an individual pen.

It also goes without saying that a dirty, wet environment will lead to cold sick calves. A recent AHDB study carried out by Dr Robert Hyde at the University of Nottingham looking at calf rearing on 60 farms throughout the UK found that there was a correlation between cleaning out calf pens and DLWG, with cleaning out at least once a month being associated with higher growth rates.

4. Fresh air

Fresh air is a fantastic biocide, and a lack of fresh air will increase viral survival times. However, a draught will do the most damage the quickest, so we need to remember that we want fresh air – not wind. When thinking about this it’s really important to get down to calf level to experience what they’re experiencing – the target is fresh air delivery to all parts of the floor at calf height. Do calves huddle together on windy days? Is there a smell of ammonia? Does your calf housing have/need the ability to be adaptable with the changing weather conditions? If it can’t, it may be worth considering positive pressure tube ventilation. Another option would be to provide protected areas for young calves, again so they have some ability to manage their environment.

5. Nutrition

We generally don’t feed calves enough for most of the year and this is even more true during the winter months. Calves will eat 10l-12l from their dam each day and we should be aiming to feed at least 6-8l of a good quality powder at 150g/l, or whole milk, to provide somewhere near the same level of nutrition. For every degree drop in temperature below 10C we should feed an extra 2% in VOLUME, not concentration. If this becomes too much to feed at 2 feeds, then this should be split over 3 feeds. Generally this is an unpopular suggestion, but it really is best practice. If you are getting poor growth rates despite a high level of nutrition, then it would suggest the calf’s environment is not optimal.

6. Vaccination

There are various vaccinations available to help prevent pneumonia in young animals. Vaccinations can be given from as young as 9 days of age and working with your vet to find out what pathogens are present on your farm so vaccination programmes can be targeted and effective is essential.

7. Join the Club!

Join the Torch youngstock club so our team can help you optimise your calf rearing and minimise losses, especially during these challenging months. Speak to your vet to find out more.


Parlour service and maintenance are really important parts of mastitis and cell count control with an estimate of 20% of mastitis issues arising from the parlour.

Static parlour testing is the easiest and most common type of testing but this doesn’t allow a look at what is happening when the parlour is on and the cows are in which is the most important time to be checking!! Milking time testing (dynamic testing) will look at the interaction between the cow, operator and milking machine during the milking. Red Tractor recommend this type of test is performed once a year.

Milking time testing can be performed in different ways. Traditionally a flow meter with a needle was introduced into tubing at different points and times in the parlour to show vacuum for that particular area at that set time. We now have two VaDia units which each monitor vacuum at four different points throughout milking giving us a more complete picture of what is going on with different cows at different clusters. It also allows us to test pulsators and other vacuum reserve tests.

Alongside this we score teat ends for each cow and monitor parlour routine as well as checking pre and post chemicals are appropriate.

The most common findings so far have been:

• ACR settings (vadias show overmilking) • Pulsator settings wrong (ratios rather

than rates so not enough massage)

• Biphasic milking (caused by attachment too early or too late post teat preparation)

• Universal dip being used (different requirements for a pre and post dip so the same shouldn’t be used for both!)

• Teat end damage • Teat wedging

• Discolouration of teats (purple or red when clusters come off due to vacuum or pulsator issues)

• Poor liner fit

Here are some photos of common findings.

Have you seen any of these in your cows?

To ensure your cows are calving at the correct body score, now is the time to address thin and fat animals and feed accordingly.

Allowing plenty of time to do this will help to ensure viable calfs and produce good quality colostrum.

For further information on how best to manage and assess the appropriateness of your ration please contact the Torch beef team on 01769 610000.

Purple teats demonstrating poor massage

Wedged teats

Are you using the right pre or post dip? Do you want to review your parlour routine?
Why are you using the liner size or type that you are?

Have you ever looked at liner fit?

Milking time testing is comparable pricewise to a case of mastitis, so preventing one case of mastitis alone will cover the cost, but there should be additional benefits in terms of udder health for the rest of the cows also. We would advise an annual dynamic/ milking time parlour test as a normal service in the same way you would service a tractor, car or combine!


To ensure your cows are calving at the correct body score, now is the time to address thin and fat animals and feed accordingly.

Allowing plenty of time to do this will help to ensure viable calfs and produce good quality colostrum.

For further information on how best to manage and assess the appropriateness of your ration please contact the Torch beef team on 01769 610000.


During December, APHA is offering subsequent testing will be free of charge. free Post Mortem Exams for groups of Free collection is also included for our

three thin cull ewes.

This is part of a project looking at the Iceberg Diseases: OPA, Johnes, Maedi Visna and Border disease, in addition to other potential causes of ill thrift. They will ask the farmer to complete a short questionnaire, and provide a report at the end. The postmortem examination and all

catchment area.

Numbers are limited, and service will be offered on a first come first served basis. Blood samples need to be taken prior to euthanasia, so fallen stock are not eligible.

For further information, see our Facebook page, or speak to your Torch branch.

A quick reminder that the TB Advisory Service visits are coming to a close this month. Telephone advice will still be available for another 6 months.

“In 2019 feedback was received from over 800 farmers, with 98% reporting that they were either satisfied or very satisfied overall with the TB Advisory Service. Over 50% of all of the total recommendations given had been implemented by the farmer at the 6 month follow up.”

Torch Vets has performed over 100 Advice Visits for our clients, helping to:

• Safeguard their livestock against future TB breakdowns

• Contingency plan for TB breakdowns and increase business resilience

• Apply for TB accreditation with CHeCS to stay on annual TB testing and add value to homebred stock for sale

• Set up TB Isolation Units
• Decide if becoming an Approved Finishing

Unit is the right fit for their business

There is still time to book in an Advice Visit. These visits are fully funded by Defra.

Please contact your usual branch and ask to speak to one of our TBAS advisors: Adam Reid, Ann Simons, Jennifer Burnett or Jenny Schmidt.

Wishing all of our clients a safe, happy, healthy Christmas and a prosperous New Year


After taking up running earlier in the year with coach (and vet) Rachel Turner, Team Torch’s Jen Burnett and Miriam Rigby were inspired to put their new-found fitness to good use!

The trio raised £550 for Cancer Research UK  by running 180 miles collectively throughout September. Here they are pictured on their last pre-work, early morning run on 30th September that completed the challenge.

A huge well done!


We just wanted to say thank you for your understanding through these unprecedented times.

We remain committed to providing our veterinary services. In line with government guidance, we have in place strict social distancing measures to keep you and our teams safe, secure the best care for your animals and help reduce the transmission of the coronavirus.

We appreciate your continued patience at this busy and challenging time.