Dairy advice: Keeping calves healthy; first milk recording; and reaching target weights

We are coming close to the finish line on many spring-calving dairy farms, as calving season begins to wind down and tail off.

However, between now and the start of breeding can be a hectic time of the year on farms, particularly if there is a scour outbreak, somatic cell count (SCC) issues or if heifers are below target weight coming up to breeding.

To avoid these issues, there are a number of things farmers can do now.

Keeping calves healthy

March and into early April is commonly the time when any calf health issues occur on farms.

This is usually because the number of calves on the farm has increased, housing facilities have come under pressure and the bacteria load in the environment is usually at its highest.

Therefore, it is critical that farmers take extra precautions to try and prevent any scour outbreak or other issues occurring during this period.

Also Read: 4 simple steps to avoid a scour outbreak as calf numbers grow

The first place to start is with the calf housing facilities. Ensure calves have enough space (1.7m² floor space and 10m³ air space) and pens are not over-crowded.

Some farmers will clean out and thoroughly disinfect calving pens and use them for housing calves – when the calving eases off – to take the pressure off the calf housing facilities.

Also Read: The key aspects of a good calf shed

Moreover, current calf pens should be kept clean and cleaned out and disinfected regularly. They should also be bedded with a deep dry bed of straw, to provide a nesting effect for the calf.

Additionally, good colostrum management should be practiced for the entire season. Make sure late born calves continue to get an adequate amount of good-quality colostrum as soon as possible after birth.

Finally, not only has bacteria built up in the environment, it can build up on the feeding equipment too; so these should also get a thorough clean and disinfect.

First milk recording

The best time to carry out the first milk recording is within 60 days of the first cow calving; so many farmers will be approaching this mark.

Early milk recording is important for a number of reasons:
  • To identify new infections early before they start infecting other animals;
  • To find out the effectiveness of your dry-off routine;
  • To identify cows which were not cured over the dry period which would be obvious candidates for culling.

Reaching target weights

Once the calving season ends, there is not long until the breeding season begins to kick off. With farmers busy calving cows, the matter of replacements heifers reaching target weight is usually put to the back of their minds.

However, the clock is ticking and having replacement heifers at their target weight by breeding is key to achieving maximum conception rates.

To ensure all heifers reach the target of 60% of mature weight by breeding, Teagasc has advised farmers to take the following steps:
  • Weight all heifers;
  • Add on 0.7kg/day over 60 days (42kg) to their current weight;
  • Determine if they will be at their target weight – 60% of mature cow size – on May 1;
  • Prioritise getting heifers, or at least the lightest, out to grass now;
  • Good quality grass, plus 2kg of concentrates, will deliver greater than 0.7kg/day.