Calf Health Series: A farmer’s one-stop shop for a successful calf-rearing period

AgriLand has teamed up with Volac – a leading-edge company in young animal husbandry and research – to bring you an innovative and informative series, which will follow a calf’s life from birth to weaning and all the stages in between.

With the main calving season approaching, the target on any farm should be to implement strict animal husbandry and hygiene practices – therefore keeping calves healthy and thriving.

The series – titled ‘Calf Health Series’ – will be brought to you on all AgriLand platforms over an eight-week period – showcasing everything farmers need to know to ensure they are equipped with both the knowledge and skills for a successful calf-rearing period.

Over the duration of the eight weeks, we will discuss everything from colostrum to milk replacer, while touching on correct feeding levels and different feeding systems which best suit your farm; the correct amount of concentrate – which is important for rumen development – will also be highlighted.

We will also look at providing the correct housing environment – which plays a central role in ensuring that all calves reach their full potential. Finally, as we follow the life of the calf, we will discuss all factors which need to be considered when it comes completing a successful weaning period.

The series will combine both written and video content on a weekly basis, ensuring you are up to the task during this busy period on Irish dairy farms.

Part 1: Colostrum – fuel for life

Unlike human and equine anatomy, the bovine placenta is completely separate to the mother and foetal blood system.

As a result, the new-born calf is born without any protective immunity (i.e. antibodies). Therefore, it is essential that the new-born calf receives an adequate amount of colostrum – in the early hours of life – for robust immunity.

Part 2: Nutrition for optimum calf health

Calf nutrition starts with the management of the pregnant cow during the dry period – six weeks prior to cow’s ‘due date’.

Good-quality dry cow minerals prior to calving will help to avoid health and immunity issues in the new-born or unborn calf.

The starting point with calf nutrition for optimum health is colostrum management (covered in Part 1). What to feed your calves – whether it be whole milk or milk replacer – will be discussed in this article.

Part 3: Milk feeding systems

While all recommended calf-rearing systems can provide calves with the right start, once well managed, the system chosen on a given farm will depend on many factors. These include: labour; and existing facilities.

Part 3 will cover all available feeding systems, including: restricted feeding systems; twice-a-day (TAD) or once-a-day (OAD), adlib concentrate feeding; and computerised feeding.

Part 4: Mixing milk replacer – hygiene for the milk-fed calf

The calf-rearing industry could learn a lot from the cleaning and disinfection procedures adopted by the pig and poultry sectors – where cleaning and disinfection is crucial. Thus, this article will cover all recommended procedures and best practice.

Temperature concentrations and mixing levels all play a pivotal role. You’re spending good money on top-quality milk replacer in order to give your calves the best possible start in life; make the most of this investment.

Part 5: Housing – building essentials for good calf husbandry

All too often, young calves are housed somewhere that is either convenient for feeding or unsuitable for larger cattle, rather than in a facility designed for their specific needs.

However, wind speed, fresh air and moisture levels should all be taken into consideration; how to control these factors will be highlighted in Part 5.

Part 6: Feed Conversion Efficiency (FCE)

The milk feeding period is a golden opportunity to maximise growth. Feed conversion efficiency (FCE) – the animal’s relative ability to turn nutrients into growth – peaks during this period at around 50% compared with less than 10% from 11 months to calving.

The calf’s ability to use feed efficiently declines with age and, because liquid milk is more nutritious and digestible than concentrate, feed efficiency is highest during the milk feeding period.

Part 7: How much to feed the pre-weaned calf, monitoring growth and weaning

Doubling the birth weight of the calf by the time they are weaned is very important and calves should weigh a minimum of 80kg at weaning.

It is important to set growth targets for your farm and regular weighing should complement your system; all important target weights will be detailed in this article, while also focusing on the important weaning period.

Part 8: Scours and treatments to rehydrate

The final article will cover the area of disease and the important measures that can be taken to prevent it.

Scour is the most common disease of dairy-bred calves, which is most typically caused by a combination of viruses, bacteria and parasites (rotavirus, E Coli Coccidia and crypto) – which can spread from animal to animal.

Una Hickey, Volac Ireland national sales manager, said: “We are delighted to be working with AgriLand to introduce a series of eight articles/videos on calf health and management over the coming weeks.

“Volac hopes the ‘Calf Health Series’ will provide the farmer with timely assistance for calf disease and prevention, therefore reducing excessive labour and treatment costs.”

Una also highlighted that the adoption of good practice is not only essential in minimising calf mortality each year, but more importantly it reduces the long-term costs associated with disease and ill-thrift on the adult herd.

When and where?

Part 1 of the series will go live on all AgriLand platforms on Monday, January 20, while the remaining seven articles will be available on a weekly basis from this date onwards.