The calving yard and the newborn calf

It’s that time of year again for many farmers; the steady winter period has passed and calves are appearing more frequently on the ground – especially true for the block calving herds. With spring just around the corner, there is no better time to give your calving yard a spring clean!

Cow and calf in the calving yard

A clean calving area will not only benefit the cows’ health by minimising the risk of mastitis and whites, but also benefit the new-born calves.

Hygiene in the calving yard is vital. That is true for all different systems, whether you have single cow boxes, or a pen, group calving areas or rubber matting. One thing that should remain a constant is hygiene.

I am not just talking here about the obvious clean bedding; the general calving area should be as clean as physically possible. Have a look and not only the bedding, but the walls, gates, equipment, cow and yes, the farmer (no wellies, waterproofs or overalls plastered in muck please!).

An average sized herd could have anything from 10-35 cows calving in that area before it is cleaned out, leading to a huge increase in disease challenge to the newborn calf.

Calving yard key tips

If spring calving is your system, this is condensed to a much shorter window, as you may have anything from 5-35 cows calving per day!

So, what can we do?

  • Focus on removing the calf as soon as possible and put into a warm, clean, well bedded, draught free pen area.
  • Control exactly what goes into your calves’ mouths. Calves are born with a strong urge to suckle and they will try to latch onto anything they can! This includes gates, walls, tails, briskets, flanks, so the first thing to pass into the calf’s open gut is bacteria.
  • The calf is born with virtually no immunity and a gut that is open and ready to accept immunoglobulins, (and unfortunately bacteria and pathogens too) into the blood stream. Minimising this transfer by practising good hygiene is vital. This includes clean cow teats when harvesting colostrum, clean equipment (stomach tube or teat), clean, well stored colostrum and a clean farmer.
  • The calf should receive 10 per cent of bodyweight of good quality, clean colostrum within six hours of life (ideally within two hours) through clean equipment.
  • Keep the calving area clean, dry and disinfected to minimise the build-up of disease. Rotavirus is carried by the cow and if a calf is scouring within the first few days of life it is likely to have picked up rotavirus in the calving yard.
  • Could you consider rubber matting? It is non-slip, easy to disinfect and provides a clean environment for both cow and calf.
  • Consider stocking density in the calving area, try if possible to limit the number of cows consistently calving in one area.
  • Store colostrum hygienically. Bacteria in colostrum double every 20 minutes. Do not leave it sitting at room temperature, chill it as quickly as possible. If you have a consistent supply of colostrum (spring calvers) consider chilling it down using frozen bottles of water in the buckets of colostrum to bring the temperature down, or an acidifier such as MilkMate.
  • When teaching a calf to suckle the temptation is to get it suckling on fingers to lead it to the teat. This is fine providing hands are very clean or if gloves are worn.

Hygiene really is key when it comes to the calving cow and neonatal calf. It is usually the finer details that make all of the difference in both the health and productivity of the cow and calf.

Using a good quality disinfectant and having protocols can very much be the key to having a successful calving period.

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