There is an element of the calm before the storm as most of our spring calving herds are now dried off and feeding is centred on the dry cow; so we’ve compiled some expert calf rearing tips to ensure you have healthy calves.
Optimum nutrition and body condition score to deal with the impending calving season is the most immediate task. For these herds, good management practice in the early days is crucial to long-term animal performance.
The fundamental goal at calving time is to keep mortality rates as low as possible and produce a healthy calf at weaning. This can be achieved by keeping calves free from disease and enhancing their immune systems, thus setting a base for continued high performance.
Milk Replacer for Calves
Due to the antibodies present in colostrum, I cannot stress enough the importance of ensuring the newborn calf receives colostrum as soon as possible from birth and following on from this there are many reasons that it makes sense to then move calves onto a high-quality milk replacer. In my opinion, the best milk replacers are those that are not only palatable but are easily digested to encourage the development of favourable gut flora and minimise digestive disturbances. It is worth noting that feeding whole milk, which has a high-fat content is shown to delay rumen development; leading to post-weaning growth depression.
Furthermore, quality milk replacers are consistent in their composition reducing the risk of nutritional scour compared to whole milk, which can vary greatly with time of milking, lactation stage, diet and health status. Diseases which can be transmitted via whole milk include, Johnes, Salmonella, Mycoplasma, E-coli, Staphylococci and BVD.
While milk replacers hold a strong argument for their inclusion in calf rearing, it is important to note that some poor quality products do exist and farmers should be aware of what to look out for. Poor quality milk replacers are often a dusty pale off white colour, low in Vitamin E, contain no added amino acids and very often need mixing with hot water.
Once calves are established on a routine feeding schedule, it is important to offer high-quality hay, fresh water and access to a high-quality coarse ration. The type of coarse ration is extremely important for maximum absorption of starch for good rumen development. I would recommend our 18% No 1 Calf Cooked Starter Mix which can be offered from their first week. From recent seminars I have attended, it has shown that offering chopped straw can be very beneficial for rumen development. My personal opinion is to offer a combination of the following; whole milk or milk replacer, water, chopped straw, hay and a palatable coarse ration.
One final point I wish to make is to pay attention to the housing conditions of calves to avoid the spread of disease and other such illnesses as pneumonia. The ideal conditions should have good circulation of fresh air but draught free. It should have clean bedding and clean fresh water in constant supply. I would advise that good hygienic practices leads to a lower build-up of disease, reducing the likelihood of an infection to young calves.
For any assistance with calf health and nutrition, please do not hesitate to contact any member of the Connolly’s RED MILLS nutrition team.
- 18 Calf Cooked Mix
- milk replacer