Iron deficiency prevalence in dairy calves

This field lab aims to assess the occurence and impacts of iron deficiency in dairy calves

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Field Lab Timeline

    11/6/2017 12:00:00 AM
  • Idea formation

    Idea formation
  • 1/25/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Open meeting for farmers

    Open meeting for farmers
  • 2/19/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Aims and methods finalised

    Aims and methods finalised
  • 2/23/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Funding proposal submitted

    Funding proposal submitted
  • 2/28/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Funding accepted

    Funding accepted
  • 3/1/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Trial starts

    Trial starts
  • 5/1/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Progress meeting

    Progress meeting
  • 6/3/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • 6 week weight data

    6 week weight data
  • 7/5/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • 12 week weight data

    12 week weight data
  • 8/12/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Results and next steps discussion

    Results and next steps discussion
For further information hover over the above milestone marks
  • Discussion

    To see the latest activity please log-in (group members only).

  • Achievements

    July 2018

    Initial 12 week trial results

    The results are promising so far for 3 farms with complete data sets:

    All 3 of them had higher growth rates at 6-12 weeks and overall 1-12 weeks
    Average across all 3 for 6-12 week GR: 905g iron – 894g no iron (11g difference)
    Average across all 3 for 1-12 week GR: 750g iron, 707g no iron (43g difference)

    After 12 weeks a calf being injected is on average 3.6kgs heavier.

    The remaining farms and calves will have their growth rates established over the following months. The triallists will also submit their livestock health records for assessment, including monitoring medicine usage between injected and non-injected livestock.

    The group is also considering monitoring fertility ad yield in these cows following the injections.

    Please log in for free to download the attached presentations under the 'Field lab documents' section for more information.

    Milestone: 12 week weight data

    June 2018

    Haemoglobin levels

    Overall 135 calves Hb (haemoglobin) levels were lower at the 6 week bleed than the first week bleed (49%)
    Overall 82 calves dropped over 10g/l from their initial Hb level (30%)

    What does this mean?

    Reference ranges for Hb vary hugely
    We want to try to establish the Hb threshold for when iron supplementation makes a difference to growth rate.

    These results are a work in progress, please see continuing updates over the next few months.

    Milestone: 6 week weight data

    June 2018

    Complete 6 week trial results

    After all the 6 week trial results have been collected from each of the 8 trial farms, the new averages are as follows:

    DLWG - 52g increase

    Weight - 2.2 kg increase

    6/7 of the farms injected calves have higher growth rates than non-injected calves.

    Please see the attached presentations for more information.

    Milestone: 6 week weight data

    May 2018

    Initial 6 week trial results

    There are considerable differences in overall growth rates between the trial farms. All farms showed higher growth rates in the injected animals. Between the farms the average increase in DLWG was 70 grams/day. After 6 weeks a calf being injected is on average 2.944 kg heavier than when not.

    Potential implications of the iron injections are:

    Faster growing calves produce more mammary tissue/milk producing tissue and lung tissue.

    Potentially their resistance to pneumonia may be increased and their first lactation yields may be higher, both supported from the literature, but this is to be followed up in the trial.

    Please log in for free to download the initial results presentation in the documents section of the page.

    Milestone: 6 week weight data

    April 2018

    Trial begins

    The trials have begun with 207 calves enrolled into the field lab, with another slightly later spring calving herd starting in early April.

    The group have also had some initial results: a number of 6 week weights and bloods have been received and 4 of the farms have had a good growth rate difference between the supplemented groups and control groups.

    Average growth rates (just from 1 week - 6 weeks old) are:
    farm 1 - 1.0kg/d inj group, 0.9kg/d control
    farm 2 - 0.35kg/d inj group, 0.31kg/d control
    farm 3 - 0.71kg/d inj group, 0.68kg/d control
    farm 4 - 0.71 kg/d inj group, 0.58kg/d control

    A range of 30g-130g difference across these farms.

    The vets taking part are also hoping to trial some new kit which may speed up observations of sick anemic animals on farm without having to wait for test results to be sent off. The device measure hemoglobin and HCT (hematocrit - percentage of red blood cells), giving a reading within 10 seconds. The readings will be taken and compared to those from the laboratory results to verify the quality of the kit.

    Milestone: Trial starts

    January 2018

    Initial methods

    A group of dairy calves will be selected from farms that are feeding whole milk up to weaning. On all of these farms, the amount of milk fed and the amount of iron in the concentrate feed (pellets) will be noted. Calves will be selected at random to receive an iron supplement in the first week of life, resulting in a control group and treatment group on each farm visited. Calves with a haemoglobin amount below 4.5 mmol/l (normal range 5-9) will be treated with an (additional) iron injection to avoid welfare issues, and those will be removed from the study.
    Calves will be blood sampled and weighed at 1-7 days old, then at around 6 weeks old and weighed at 12 weeks old.

    Late in the trial, all calves will be weighed at 6 months and 12 months, and the age of conception as heifers will be recorded.

    Haemoglobin will used as a measurement for iron. The first blood samples will be analysed for haemoglobin and protein, and the second haemoglobin only.

    Growth rates and haemoglobin levels will then be compared between the control group and supplemented group.

    These results will be fed back to farmers who will then discuss management decisions based on them during the course of the study and for future years.

    Milestone: Idea formation

    January 2018

    Open meeting contents

    Farmers, members of the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo), vets Peter Plate and Jenny Allan from the Royal Veternairy College (RVC) and livestock welfare advisor Kate Still from the Soil Association met to discuss interest in this new field lab.

    The group talked about looking into why an iron deficiency might be occurring on farm in dairy calves. The questions posed included:
    Is it a soil mineral deficiency issue?
    Is there a breed effect?
    What is the effect of having calves out at grass very early?

    The main aim is for 250 calves to be trialled in total (ideally Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire)

    New farmers are welcome to join this group. Anyone interested will need to be able to do the following as part of the trial:
    Feed whole milk (quantity doesn’t matter as long as recorded)
    Raise own dairy replacements
    Are happy for us to inject half calves with iron (and have permission from certification body if organic – this is now approved by DEFRA)
    Are happy for us to visit regularly

    The next steps are for the group to decide how they could address any of these issues or correct the deficiency in both cows and calves using oral supplement, natural supplement, bolus etc.

    Peter and Jenny also gave a presentation on the background and research of the trial, which can be found as a pdf under the 'Field Lab Documents' section.

    Please get in touch if you are interested in being part of this trial.

    Milestone: Open meeting for farmers

    January 2018

    Aims of the trial

    A lack of iron in calf blood can lead to anaemia and potentially growth problems. We already know the standard iron requirements of calves, and that whole milk does not meet these requirements. We want to establish whether this lack of iron has an impact on calf health and growth rates. This information will mean that farmers can make good decisions on how to improve dairy calf health.

    Prior to the field lab, a small pilot study has been carried out by Peter Plate (Farm Animal Lecturer, Royal Veterinary College) with a group of 47 whole milk fed calves. This study highlighted the presence of iron deficiency anaemia in that group of calves and found a 97 g growth rate difference between supplemented calves and control calves. This project is the development from this pilot study.

    Assumptions that the trial will test:

    1. Calves fed on whole milk are at risk of developing iron deficient anaemia at 6 weeks old.
    2. Calves with an iron deficient anaemia will have reduced growth rates compared to calves without.
    3. Supplementing calves with an iron deficiency will increase haemoglobin levels and growth rates.

    Where reliable farm records are available we will also compare health and medicine use between groups. While haemoglobin levels and growth rates are easily obtained measurements, the main purpose is to improve the health of the animals and minimise medicine use. However, the variable quality of young stock records on farms may make this difficult, therefore we will look into health and medicine alternatives as a secondary goal.

    The individual animals injected with the iron supplement may benefit from the added supplementation, whilst the animals not supplemented will not suffer as they will have shown no signs of iron deficiency.

    Milestone: Idea formation

    January 2018

    Open meeting for farmers

    The next meeting (with buffet lunch provided) will be on 25 January 2018, 11 am to 2 pm at Coppleridge Inn, Elm Hill, Motcombe, Shaftesbury, Dorset SP7 9HW.

    The group will discuss and solidify the aims and methods of the trial this year.

    The meeting is open to new farmers who are interested in taking part in this field lab.

    To get involved, please RSVP (ideally before January 18th) to Jenny Allan, jallan@rvc.ac.uk, 07745 236126 or Peter Plate pplate@rvc.ac.uk, 07743 043731.

    Please feel free to contact us with any other questions you may have.

    Milestone: Open meeting for farmers

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