Reducing calf losses this spring

This spring, somewhere between 3 -9% of dairy heifer calves will die within 48 hours of birth, and a further 5-11% will die before weaning.  With similar losses in overseas dairy systems, this is a major welfare and productivity issue for all of us involved in the dairy industry.

Vetlife vets, techs and farmers have been doing fantastic work over the last two years in improving colostrum management to boost the young calf’s immune response and to increase its chances of survival.  We have also set up an ongoing research programme looking at ways to improve animal immunity, decrease disease and death, and lower antibiotic use.

Three years ago, the first project1 in this programme demonstrated that, in the first 35 days of life, calf sickness and death were reduced by half if calves received a simple injection of a trace mineral supplement (Multimin, Virbac New Zealand Ltd) at birth.  This study involved more than 1,000 calves over 4 farms, and it was followed up with a second study2 investigating the mechanism behind these findings.

This study demonstrated that calves injected with Multimin at birth had a significantly improved immune response compared with control calves that were not injected with Multimin.  In particular, the white blood cells of Multimin-supplemented calves were better at eating up bacteria than the white blood cells from control calves.  Young calves are heavily dependent on these white blood cells, and supplemented calves had more bacteria-eating cells, each of which cell destroyed more bacteria than in control calves.

Improvements in colostrum management remain the most important factor driving down calf losses.  However, even in well-managed farms with good colostrum systems, our studies demonstrated a benefit from Multimin injection at birth.  Multimin at birth can make a simple and cost-effective contribution to improving calf welfare and health.  Please talk to your Vetlife vet about using Multimin on you farm this spring.

  1. Bates A, Wells M, Laven RA, Simpson M. Reduction in morbidity and mortality of dairy calves from an injectable trace mineral supplement. Vet Rec [Internet]. 2019 Apr 25;vetrec-2018-105082. Available from:
  2. Bates A, Wells M, Laven R, Ferriman L, Heiser A, Fitzpatrick C. Effect of an injectable trace mineral supplement on the immune response of dairy calves. Res Vet Sci [Internet]. 2020 Jan 1;130:1–10. Available from: