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Diseases And Their Impact On Calf Health

Dairy calves are prone to a variety of common diseases, some of which can be fatal or cause considerable suffering

Disease Prevention

Diseases And Their Impact On Calf Health

Dairy calves are prone to a variety of common diseases, some of which can be fatal or cause considerable suffering. But apart from the physical toll on the animal, these diseases can be costly to treat and can significantly reduce the productivity and profitability of dairy herds.

Fortunately, many of the diseases affecting calves can be prevented.

Learn more about how you can protect your calves from common diseases and help keep them healthy.

Calf scours

Calf scours is one of the most stressful and expensive diseases that farmers need to deal with. The costs in time, labour, veterinary treatment and loss of calves can be considerable, but there is also the emotional toll of having to tend to sick or dying calves during a busy time of the farming year.

A variety of infectious organisms can cause calf scours, including rotavirus, coronavirus, E. coli, cryptosporidia, coccidia and Salmonella species. Infection causes severe diarrhoea (scours) that causes calves to lose essential body fluids, nutrients and electrolytes.

Calf Scours

Find out about preventing Calf Scours

Learn more about how vaccinating dams during pregnancy with Ultravac Scourshield® can keep your calves healthy by helping protect them from this stressful and costly disease.


The presence of pestivirus in a herd can severely impact calf health in a number of ways. Calves born persistently infected (PI) with pestivirus will often succumb to a range of common calf diseases including pinkeye, pneumonia, calf scours and intestinal parasites. Their survivability is reduced and about half will die in their first year of life. Others will fail to grow well and will be culled. Some may be kept as replacement breeding stock but are often poor milkers and will always give birth to PI calves.

Infection of pregnant heifers and cows can also result in the birth of calves with deformities of the brain and eyes. These calves will be non-viable. The way to prevent the birth of PI and pestivirus damaged calves is to manage the disease in the breeding herd. Refer to the Heifer management section for more information about how to prevent the birth of PI calves in your herd. PI calves shed large quantities of virus and spread it to other cattle.

The other impact of pestivirus is on non-PI calves that come into contact with the virus shed by PI calves. When these calves first become infected with pestivirus after birth, they will undergo a transient infection. They develop a fever and show mild respiratory signs and occasionally, mild diarrhoea. They will clear the virus and develop antibodies after about 10 days but the infection with pestivirus can severely damage the calf’s immune system for up to a month, increasing the susceptibility of the calf to other common calf diseases such as pneumonia and calf scours. Therefore, herds with pestivirus present will often have an increase in calf health issues and elevated calf mortalities. Pestivirus should always be considered when issues with calf health are evident in a dairy herd.

Find out about preventing Pestivirus


Calves are particularly vulnerable to coccidiosis, which is caused by microorganisms called coccidia. Infection can result in watery faeces which can slow growth rates and lead to failure of calves to wean at their optimal age and weight.

Left untreated, coccidiosis can progress to blood-stained diarrhoea (scours) and even death.


Find out about preventing coccidiosis

Learn more about how adding Bovatec® to feed or milk can help give your calves a healthy head start by protecting them from coccidiosis.

Clostridial Diseases

Calves can be vaccinated against clostridial diseases from 5 weeks.

Clostridial Diseases

Find out about preventing clostridial diseases

Bovine Johne's Disease

Bovine Johne’s Disease (BJD) is a disease which that affects cows later in life. However the BJD vaccine is given to calves.

Bovine Johne’s Disease

Find out about preventing BJD


Leptospirosis is a serious bacterial disease in dairy calves that can cause jaundice (liver disease), blood-stained reddish-brown urine, anaemia, fever and even death. In cows, leptospirosis can significantly reduce milk production and cause abortions or the delivery of weak or stillborn calves, which will have a major impact on productivity.

Infection can spread through a herd via contact with body fluids from infected animals, or through contaminated water supplies, pasture and soil. The organism can even be spread by flooding after heavy rainfall.

But leptospirosis isn’t just a problem for dairy herds. Infected animals can pass the infection to farmers and their families, resulting in severe flu-like symptoms, headaches, chills, and muscle pains. These symptoms can persist for weeks to months.


Find out about preventing Leptospirosis

Learn more about how to keep your calves healthy by vaccinating with Ultravac® 7in1 to help protect them (and you and your family) from leptospirosis and common clostridial diseases, like Blackleg, Tetanus, Pulpy Kidney, Black Disease and Malignant Oedema.

Intestinal parasites

Calves infected with intestinal parasites spend less time grazing, have reduced feed intake, and have slower growth potentially even in later life.

Intestinal parasites

Find out about preventing intestinal parasites

Further Reading

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