Following my previous article (in the February issue), I learned that I could do a better job of reinforcing common-sense practices.
After reading my article, one producer told me I had never shared some of those things with him. I was reminded that even though things seem so common, they aren’t always put into practice. It is easy for us to forget the significant investment raising a heifer can be. Not unlike any other monetary investment, the more you put into your investment, and the more you care for it, the greater the return.
This brings to mind more common-sense management practices as the heifer calf moves from the maternity pen through the next stage of life.
Previously, I shared about the management of the newborn calf. The care the newborn calf receives in its first few hours of life is crucial for its survival. The care the young calf receives in its first two months of its life is crucial for its survival in the future milking herd.
It is a good management practice to give this task to a dedicated person who knows their calves and recognizes minor changes in the calf. I am often asked, as a veterinarian, how we diagnose problems when animals cannot tell us what is wrong. My answer is that animals do tell us, just not by speaking to us. By having a person dedicated to being around the calf and understanding their temperament, slight changes can be detected before they become a problem.
Keeping the calf clean and dry in a well-ventilated hutch or pen will prevent many health problems. If you are unwilling to kneel down on your knees in the area the calf is sleeping, then it is not clean and dry. While down at the calf’s level, check out the air the calf is breathing. There should be enough air exchanges at that level that no unpleasant odors are detected.
The calf should double its weight in the first 60 days of life. Weight tapes can be used to give a ballpark figure of a calf’s weight. The most common reasons I see for a calf not gaining enough weight is both a lack of feeding enough milk or milk replacer and not providing fresh water to encourage more calf starter consumption. Over the past several years, with the new recommendations of feeding higher-protein milk replacers and feeding more volume, calf health has increased tremendously. Increasing the amount fed to the calf, feeding the calf three times a day, or utilizing a self feeder has made the biggest positive change in the health of the calf.
Fresh water availability is necessary for grain consumption. Grain consumption is necessary for continued growth after weaning. Continued growth after weaning is necessary for increased first lactation milk production. A common misconception is that the calf gets enough water in its milk replacer alone. The only way the calf will double its weight and continue growth through weaning is by eating 5 pounds of grain/day by the time of weaning. Fresh water is crucial for this to happen.