Get a calf rearing checklist in place
When it comes to calf rearing, there’s an abundance of advice and information available for farmers, but sometimes it’s simply just a case of getting the basics right.
Ensuring there are good operating procedures which can be followed by the whole team is important. Calves really benefit from a routine and get stressed with change, so inconsistent management can have detrimental effects on health and performance.
Everyone who works with the calves should know the exact procedure for managing them, beginning immediately after birth, right through to weaning, to achieve consistent rearing.
Specific protocols should be outlined and visible in the farm office, detailing areas such as navel treatment, calf movement post-birth, colostrum management, hygiene and daily feeding.
For colostrum management, details should include plans for feeding fresh or frozen colostrum, how it should be given to the calf and what colostrum replacer should be used should it be required. All fresh colostrum should be tested with a refractometer, with the whole team understanding the procedure and the IGG (immunoglobulin) levels, which should be no less than 50 mg/ml.
Feeding policy should also be outlined, including details on many times calves should be fed, and what milk powder should be used, along with the concentration and temperature of the feed. Consistency in feeding helps calves achieve the target bodyweights pre-weaning, getting them off to the best possible start to progress in the herd.
Hygiene of the environment also plays a key role in calf development, and procedures for cleaning pens, washing milk buckets and calf movement should be implemented.
Pens need to be cleaned with disinfectant and allowed to dry if possible in between batches. Using Kilco cyclex disinfectant on the floor and gates of pens kills parasites such as cryptosporidiosis to reduce contamination and ensure they’re clean for the new calves. Poor hygiene results in increased risk of disease outbreaks, which prove very costly.
However, even with all these protocols or policies in place, it’s vital the team understand why, to ensure proactive implementation.
With the increasing research showing the lasting impact early-life management can have, it’s well worth investing in simple procedures that won’t cost you, but can have long-term benefits to the calf’s future performance.
Jess Charlton, Wynnstay calf specialist