Few farmers have experienced the full blown effects of cryptosporidiosis in young calves or indeed lambs, but those who have certainly know about it.

New research reveals that this parasitic disease which spreads like 'wild fire' via oocysts, causing severe scours and death if untreated in the early stages, is not only costly to control, but also difficult to contain.

Speaking at the British Cattle Breeders Conference in Telford, Hannah Shaw, a phD student from the Moredun Research Institute, told delegates the parasite can cause weight losses of up to 38kg per calf and cost producers £200 per case. Those that do survive she said, never fully recover taking longer to finish.

The study, based on a beef suckler unit with average annual losses of up to 30% from cryptosporidiosis outside Aberfeldy, revealed that calves were most commonly affected between 0-16days old. Those worse affected with extremely watery scours, sunken eyes, droopy ears, and unable to rise were, on average 38kg lighter than those unaffected at six months of age.

At £2.70 per kg liveweight – the average price the farmer was receiving at the time of the study – this equated to £102.60 less than a calf with no clinical signs.

With no vaccine, Ms Shaw said the only way to control the disease is through better hygiene and Halocur – the only licensed product which is a coccidiostat and works by reducing the rate of application. However, this product has to be used daily for seven days and cannot be given to calves that are really sick or dehydrated. It is also toxic at twice the recommended dose, so care has to be taken when administering it.

"Once a calf is dehydrated, it's difficult to save it," she said.

She also advised quarantining any calves with the disease, as the parasite is so easily spread via the scour and on the feet of farmers and vets. Hence, steam cleaning pens and calving areas at 60degrees C plus is paramount, followed by disinfectant, with hydrogen peroxide being the most effective followed by Kenocox and Neopredisan.

"You need to clean out the pens first before you use the disinfectant and you also have to make sure you properly dispose of the dung too and, it has to reach a certain temperature before it can be spread on the land," said Ms Shaw.

She also advised ensuring all new born calves receive sufficient colostrum as as early as possible