The Covid-19 pandemic has been ongoing for almost two years and many of the lessons learned from it can be applied to calf rearing.

The pandemic has highlighted just how quickly and easily bacteria or disease can be spread within a population.

The same can happen in a calf shed, which is why hygiene is so important during the rearing process.

Sickness which starts in one pen can easily be spread to another and so forth, so preventing this from happening is key.

The heifer calf born on your farm this year will be a part of your milking herd in two years’ time, so keeping her healthy should be a priority.

Calf shed

Access to the calf shed should be controlled and there should be a disinfection point at the entrance.

You should avoid wearing soiled clothing into the shed as this may be a vessel for bacteria to enter.

Within the shed, calves should be grouped by age and sharing of feeding equipment should be avoided.

Your aim is to get as many calves weaned with as little sickness or mortality as possible.

Although you will never completely eliminate it, the fewer instances the better.

Calf rearing

The pre-weaning period of calf rearing is the stage where cattle are the most efficient at converting feed. As they get older, this feed conversion rate is reduced.

During this period, anything that may hinder this weight gain should be avoided.

The aim of the pre-weaning period is to double the calves birth weight and this is hard to achieve if the calf becomes sick.

Oftentimes, sick calves end up being the smallest in the herd or develop problems later on.

Lessons learned

The lesson we have learned from the pandemic is that disease/ sickness can be easily spread and hygiene is of the upmost importance.

Another lesson we have learned is that although you may not be, or feel sick, you could still be spreading something around. This is also very relatable to a calf-rearing scenario.

By entering a pen with dirty clothing or wellies, you could be potentially exposing the calves in that pen to a sickness/disease-causing bacteria.

It is important that sick calves are isolated and fed using equipment that is not used to feed healthy calves.

Other calves within that pen should also be closely monitored and any signs of illness should be investigated.