Raising Healthy Calves

Jun 06, 2022


Raising healthy calves is a challenging job as dairies try to minimize death and disease losses and raise quality replacements for the herd. A successful calf raising program usually includes the following components: an adequate dry cow program; a source of high-quality colostrum milk; calf diets properly balanced for protein, energy, vitamins and minerals; fresh water at all times; a clean, dry and comfortable environment; housing with proper ventilation that is draft-free; housing with plenty of sunlight and fresh air; and housing that separates calves from adult cattle.
Dry cow management is the first step in raising healthy calves. Make sure you have a vaccination program for your dry cows. These vaccinations will boost antibodies and will be passed to calves through colostrum milk. Also, dry cows need adequate nutrition with the correct levels of vitamin E and selenium to increase immunity. Talk to your Co-op feed and animal specialist to make sure you are on the right dry cow ration.
Colostrum feeding is crucial to ensure the survival and health of young calves. Much of the calf morbidity and mortality can be attributed to poor colostrum management. A new-born calf has no protective antibodies to protect against disease challenges and these can only be absorbed via colostrum. Testing colostrum is an excellent way to evaluate antibody level. This can be done with a colostrometer. The colostrometer measures immunoglobulins (Ig) concentration. Colostrum containing greater than 50 g Ig/L is considered to be high quality. Remember the 4x4 rule, get 4 quarts of high-quality colostrum into the newborn calf within the first four hours of birth and you will start out with a healthy calf.
Calf nutrition is often a topic that never gets discussed and carries so much importance for the future of that calf. The most important nutritional ingredient in calf raising is also the most overlooked and that’s water. Offer water to calves starting at four days of age. Calves should be offered free-choice grain, and preferably a calf starter grain at three days of age. Please refer back to past articles in the Diary Directions news letter for more detail on calf nutrition.
 
Calves should be removed from their mothers as soon as possible to prevent the spread of disease. Keep the calving pen as clean and dry as possible. Make sure you dip the navel of the newborn calf with a vet-approved solution. Ideally, calves should be housed in individual calf hutches or individually calf pens. Calf facilities need to be comfortable and provide plenty of sunlight and fresh air with no drafts. It is important to house calves separately and away from adult cattle in order to prevent the exposure of adult manure to calves, and limit the spread of disease. Young calves are the most susceptible to disease.
 
In closing, a successful calf raising program will be the foundation for your replacement animals in your herd. Heifer calves need to be managed to insure they come into the milking herd as soon as possible and become strong, healthy high producing cows for the future profitability of the dairy operation. A solid calf raising program will also show returns in the performance of your first and second lactation animals.
 
For more content like this, check out the latest issue of the Cooperator.

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