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SAC Seeks Farmers Help Over Mystery Calf Disease


SAC vets are seeking help with their investigations into an unexplained upsurge of a little known, but fatal disease of young calves. The scientists at SAC, together with colleagues at the Royal (Dick) Veterinary School and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency are currently trying to discover what lies behind Bleeding Calf Syndrome, which affects calves aged less than one month old. In order to learn more they are offering a free of charge post mortem service to farmers and their vets who have suspected cases.

Up to the end of August there were more than 25 confirmed cases from 18 farms in Scotland, with nearly 90% of these being seen in traditional beef suckler herds. Cases have been seen in the south-east and south-west of the country as well as in Fife, Perthshire and around Inverness and Aberdeen. In England and Wales a similar number of cases have been identified but these have been almost exclusively in dairy herds. Again there has been a wide geographical spread.

Affected calves can have a persistent fever with bleeding from the nose, gums, ear-tag holes and injection sites. There may even be intestinal bleeding with calves passing dark, tarry dung. What causes this bleeding syndrome is unknown but poisoning, genetic abnormality and even drug reactions are being considered.

Most calves were growing well before showing clinical signs, with no history of previous problems. However the limited studies carried out so far suggest that they were abnormal from birth. While some calves involved can recover many succumb and some die suddenly, before bleeding is seen..

In order to help their investigations SAC are carrying out free-of-charge post mortem examinations of calves under one month of age that show unexplained bleeding SAC is also keen to receive blood samples from suspected live clinical cases and again the analysis would be carried out free-of-charge.

The advice to all stock-keepers is to be vigilant during the approaching autumn and spring calving periods and to investigate any cases of unexplained bleeding or sudden deaths in calves aged less than one month old. They can contact their vet or their local Disease Surveillance Centre for more information.

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