The calves you raise today represents the future of your herd. Young calves have very fragile immune system, hence it is important to give them special attention to ensure healthy calves. Target for your calf health (0-60 days) are mortality rates of less than 5%, treatment rates less than 15% and accelerated growth where birth weight doubles in 60 days. Here are 7 important areas to focus on for good calf management:
1. Transition Cow Health
Healthy calves start with healthy cows.
Dry cows need to be in a stress-free environment so that the animal can focus on growing the calf in the womb and producing high quality colostrum.
Calving area needs to be kept clean and well ventilated.
Main goal is to ensure each calf arrives alive.
Train your team to ensure they know when to assist or not and when to call for help during difficult calving situations.
Studies show that calves that have sufficient colostrum will have higher average daily gains, improved health and higher milk production in their first lactation as compared to calves that did not receive enough colostrum.
Farm should be equipped to measure colostrum quality (colostrometer or a Brix refractometer can be used).
First feeding of colostrum needs to be fed as soon as possible, ideally 10 - 20% of body weight within first 8 hours of life.
Quality of colostrum must be high and disease free. It is possible to freeze colostrum from adult cows free of disease.
Measure the effectiveness of your colostrum management by quantifying the passive transfer of antibodies.
4. Calf Processing
Establish basic handling protocols after the birth of a calf.
These protocols may include naval dipping, drying, or warming the calf, tagging, vaccinating, genomic testing and so on.,
5. Feeding Milk
After colostrum, the focus should be on feeding milk or milk replacer to achieve ideal breeding weight and size.
Ideal target is for the calves to double their birth weight within 60 days.
Feed more milk, ideally 20% of the calf's body weight in milk.
Housing in the first 60 days is crucial as the calves are very susceptible to disease,
Ensure the housing is kept clean and dry at all times.
Ventilation is also important to prevent respiratory disease.
Provide free-choice water and grain to ensure rapid growth.
7. Record Health Data
In order to monitor the health of your calves, data must be record and evaluated on a consistent basis.
Record diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia as well as treatments is vital to understanding the epidemiology of disease on the farm.
The above are just the basic steps to achieve optimal health and performance for your calves. It is important to establish protocols and training as well as monitoring the details of daily tasks to ensure proper calf management. Consult your veterinarian or other dairy advisers to identify any aspects that needs to be optimise in order to reach the full potential of your calves.