The Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA) has added to its Gold Standards of calf care with guidelines on animal welfare from birth to freshening. Gold Standards I covers production and performance standards for calves from birth to 6 months and Gold Standards II covers production and performance standards for heifers from 6 months to freshening.
The Gold Standards III encourage more veterinary involvement in dairy heifer management. The Standards emphasize that a veterinarian should physically visit the operation and observe animals at least monthly, which is the basis of a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship and helps to ensure that animals are provided humane housing, nutrition and medical care. What's more, according to the DCHA, the veterinarian offers a set of eyes that are a step removed from the operation and can provide advice based on both in-depth education and observations of practices that are working well for other operations.
One section in these new guidelines that will be discussed in this article outlines the transportation of dairy calves.
Greg Goodell, DVM, The Dairy Authority, LLC, Greeley, Colo., says loading and unloading calves can be difficult especially when using large trucks with calves less than a week of age. “Calves almost have to be handled one at a time,” he says. “They cannot stand well. Sides of truck have to have the wind blocked leaving only the top portions open for air exchange. No direct wind or rain should hit animals of this age.”
The cleanliness of these trailers – and the bedding – is also paramount for young calves with an underdeveloped immune system. “Sanitation is 100-fold more important in this age group than older calves,” Goodell stresses. “Salmonella and E. coli are huge players, but all pathogens can be an increased risk in this age. Colostrum is a must before transport.”
The new guidelines suggest delaying scheduled procedures until at least a week after transport. “Vaccination, dehorning, etc. all adds to the stress load of the calf and needs to be reduced to the largest extent possible,” Goodell adds. He suggests that if calves are 1 week of age or less, to feed two gallons colostrum when they are born and do no other handling or processing until at least one week post-transport.
The transportation guidelines have various recommendations for length of travel, and this will depend on different factors. Goodell has seen 1-week-old calves transported for 600-1000 miles with very little death loss. “I almost think it's easier on the calf to haul 1-week-old calves than it is to haul 1 to 2-month-old calves,” he says. “I don’t have any recorded data to support that claim, but my observations are that younger calves haven't developed a fear of anything yet and this may help keep stress levels down during transport.” Likewise, he says, calves that are 4-5 months-of-age that are well-vaccinated and carefully transported rarely suffer any losses.”