Joint-ill is a perennial problem at calving time, with a variety of opportunistic bacterial pathogens capable of causing sporadic outbreaks.
As treatment for this condition is often unsuccessful, or only partly successful, prevention is key to avoiding losses on your farm.
In most cases the first thing you will notice is that the calf is lame or reluctant to move. Closer inspection may show heat and swelling of joints, and if you try to bend the affected joints the calf will show signs of pain.
Treatment is most likely to be successful if cases are identified early and treatment started immediately.
Several days’ treatment with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories is required. Suitable drugs should be discussed with your vet to make sure you have access to these drugs quickly when they are needed. Unfortunately, some calves will not respond and euthanasia may be necessary.
Infection generally enters the calf through the mouth or the navel. It is therefore important that navels are dipped in tincture of iodine as soon as possible after birth to reduce the possibility of infection through that route. Spraying of navels is much less effective than dipping so avoid the temptation to use sprays.
When calving indoors make sure the calving pen is as clean as possible and cleaned out regularly to ensure cows do not dig down into dirty straw when calving.
Take a look at the cows’ udders and teats, if these are visibly dirty at calving the first thing the calf is likely to consume is a mouthful of infection. Try to keep cows as clean as possible as calving approaches.
Colostrum intake is vital to reduce the risk of infection. Most of the calves with joint-ill which end up in our post-mortem rooms have not absorbed enough colostrum.
If you suspect a calf has not sucked within the first three hours after birth then you should intervene as soon as possible. Don’t wait until 24 hours after the calf is born as by that time colostrum will not be absorbed even if the calf receives it.
Marion McMillan is a veterinary inspection officer at SAC Consulting in Ayr