Dairy farmers are being urged to prepare for the 2022 calving season now, by getting housing systems and feeding plans in place to maximise opportunities to get calves off to the best possible start.

During a recent CalfChat event hosted by Bonanza Calf Nutrition, just 19% of the farmers polled said they were “very happy’’ with performance in the 2021 calving season; 50% said it had gone to plan, but 31% described it as a “disaster’’.

Christine Cummins, of Bonanza Calf Nutrition, said that when looking ahead to a calving season, it is important to reflect back on last season, consider what worked, what didn’t work, and why.

“It is common to have things we want to improve upon from last year, but it is also common that we can forget the things we want to change or improve, by the time it comes around to the next season,’’ she said.

Six-week calving rate

An increase in the six-week calving rate on many farms could have resulted in individual calves not always getting a high level of attention; space may also have been an issue.

For the CalfChat participants, the most common area they aim to focus on ahead of next year is calving, and the first days of life. This is a very sensitive time for calves and also very time consuming for the labourer.

Housing conditions were flagged up as an area of concern by 26% of participants.

Transition milk

The critical importance of colostrum management was discussed too; this is something all participants were very familiar with, but less so was an awareness of transition milk.

Like colostrum, transition milk contains many antibodies which work locally within the gut; it has an abundance of components – bioactive factors – which build the efficiency of the gut and calf immunity.

With calves being born in rapid succession, older animals may need to move from fresh milk to a milk replacer quickly, to make room for new calves.

If feeding transition milk for a week or more is not practical, a transition milk replacer may be an option, according to Dr. Cummins.

Bonanza Calf Nutrition’s Transformula contains the bioactive ingredients a calf needs to get the right start.

With more than 70% of CalfChat participants indicating that they will feed milk replacer in the spring, Dr. Cummins said it is important to incorporate this into preparations for calving.

“Consider your feeding system, the age calves will go onto milk replacer and the challenges your calves have faced in the past,’’ she advised.

Prepare for the calving season by checking your sheds and bedding (pictured)

Calving season

Ahead of spring 2022, price is a challenge, but 85% of CalfChat participants said this would not impact on their feeding choices.

“This is positive as the pre-weaning period is the time in which calves will be most efficient at converting their feed. A good milk feeding plan and digestible milk replacer type is fundamental,’’ Dr. Cummins said.

As well as considering feeding choices, farmers are also being advised to get other preparations done early.

Other simple tasks to consider around calving and the first days of life are to consider your housing/pens – are you using them as efficiently as possible?

Dr. Cummins asked: “When moving calves after birth, are you minimising the labour involved in that?”

Safe easy movement of calves can easily be sorted; using simple devices to minimise lifting is an important consideration to make things faster and easier on the body.

With colostrum management, consider installing a fridge, which can easily be purchased second-hand. Keeping stored colostrum cool will minimise bacterial growth and therefore help maximise the antibodies available to the newborn calf.

Timing of preparations

40% of CalfChat respondents waited until animals were housed or dried off before they prepared for calving, while 30% waited until Christmas.

That timing needs to be considered although it will not necessarily be the same every year, Dr. Cummins added.

“It all depends on the work that needs to be done but even the bare minimum can take quite some time,’’ she said.

For 58% of CalfChat respondents, cleaning and disinfection pre-calving was all that was needed.

“This is a great position to be in but be sure to have a look around to make sure everything is still working, including all the equipment that will be used,’’ Dr. Cummins recommends.

Assess equipment and repair or change as needed. Almost 20% of respondents still have building or installations to carry out ahead of calving.

“If you are waiting for builders or any installations to be carried out, you can still carry out all the other tasks to have some of that ready to go, things such as choosing feed and planning what needs to be purchased like bottles and teats,’’ Dr. Cummins added.

Watch out on CalfChat for the next event on Thursday, December 9, 2021, at 8:00p.m.

For more information on Bonanza calf nutrition, click here.