Ten calves in Northern Ireland have been confirmed as having died from a killer illness that has emerged in a matter of months.
The animals, from 10 different farms, were lost to bovine neonatal pancytopaenia or bleeding calf syndrome, which causes severe internal bleeding in apparently healthy calves.
The syndrome first began showing up in dairy herds in the UK and Germany in autumn, when dairy cows tend to give birth. Calves found to be bleeding from the nose, eyes and other orifices died and examination revealed severe internal bleeding.
With the arrival of spring, a new wave of casualties has emerged as beef suckler herds |entered their traditional calving period.
This time, the illness showed no external symptoms.
Many cases may have been overlooked as a result and its prevalence under-estimated, according to the National Beef Association.
NBA director Kim Haywood said the group was surprised at the number of calls it has taken from beef farmers who had lost an unusual number of calves.
“At first these unexplained fatalities were put down to the mother lying on the calf, or some unforeseen ailment,” she said.
“However, after suspicions were aroused by the abnormal number of calf deaths, farmers took dead calves in for a post-mortem and the cause of death was found to be Bleeding Calf Syndrome.
“Calves were found to have severe internal bleeding, although there was no signs of external bleeding from the mouth, nostrils, anus, eyes or other openings.”
Ms Haywood said the cause |remains a mystery but poisoning, genetic abnormality, colostrum feeding (the first, enriched milk produced by the cow after giving birth), a new pathogen and drug reactions are being considered.
She urged farmers who experience unusual death patterns among their livestock to report them. “It’s quite alarming — we don’t know what is causing this or what’s going on,” she said.
“It was first discovered back in autumn by the dairy boys — they found dairy calves were getting bleeding from the nose and eyes and everything else. The calves are found to be full of blood — it’s horrible. It’s very, very important that we find out what on earth is causing the problem.”
Defra is carrying out investigations but it could be the end of the summer before any answers emerge, the NBA said.