Far too often calf rearers get caught up blaming “uncontrollable factors”, mainly the weather, for poor growth rates or poor health in their calves. But arguably, doing a better job of things that are within our control would produce a stronger calf able to deal with additional challenges.
Calf rearing will always be a balancing act because of the varying factors involved and facilities we are working with. However, if simplified into four key categories; colostrum, nutrition, housing and hygiene, you can evaluate your own system to determine how much control you have and to what extent you exploit it.
Colostrum is arguably the most important step to allowing any calf to get the start it needs for a good future. Measuring and monitoring the quality of colostrum from each cow allows for an informed decision to be made as to whether it is good enough for a newborn calf. Every bucket and piece of equipment the colostrum is put through before getting to the calf should be thoroughly cleaned. This is an area we have full control to get right every time, if we have the correct tools and protocols in place. For successful colostrum management timing and attention to detail is imperative.
Feeding the calf appropriately contributes to both external and internal development; it allows the organs and immune system to develop; it also gives the calf energy and warmth to help deal with environmental conditions.
This is a unique area where there is full control; control in terms of the product chosen to feed, quantity fed, number of feeds, time of feeds, method of feeding, temperature fed at, etc. It is an area that should be taken full advantage of with best practice protocols in place to give the calf more strength and vigour to deal with the uncontrollable factors. Spending time designing specific feeding regimes and protocols for different age groups can extremely valuable to getting the nutrition right.
This area is where the “control” aspect is limited due to most calf sheds not being built for purpose along with our great British weather challenge. There is a fine line between fresh air reaching calves for air exchange and causing a draught. The temperature in calf sheds is generally the same as the outdoor temperature, as baby calves are not generating heat so keeping them warm through the winter can require additional management steps.
Although many farms do muck out pens between calves, are we really doing enough? Hygiene is often focussed on the area where calves are housed, but within this category calving pens and feeding equipment must also be considered. Back to the idea of the balancing act – calves’ susceptibility to disease is the direct relationship between the health of the animal and the disease pressure they are put under.
Some materials are simply not possible to clean, e.g. wooden hurdles, stone walls and cracked concrete flooring. Other materials can be cleaned, but unless the correct detergents and disinfectants are used, some bacteria and protozoa can survive in the biofilm (greasy layer on equipment).
In an ideal world we would have full control over these four factors, but in reality, a practical compromise must be met. Investing time into improvements in colostrum management, nutrition and hygiene may allow you to overcome the more difficult environmental challenges such as poor housing or cold temperatures. Although time and labour are precious on many farms, attention to detail can quickly pay back in reducing the time spent treating sick animals – not to mention the frustration and upset on staff moral that a run of sick calves can cause.
Having farm specific protocols for each job can instil consistency which calves thrive on; for help and advice putting together such protocols, please speak to your local Wynnstay Calf & Youngstock Specialist.
Calf & Youngstock Specialist
m: 07810 444948