Editor's Note: This Tip of the Week has been brought to you by the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association (DCHA).
The first few weeks of a calf's life are pivotal to its productivity. With proper management, you can minimize stressors and pitfalls that jeopardize the health and productivity of your calves.
Here are some steps you can take:
- Inspect the calving area. Remedy any physical hazards such as sharp objects, loose wires, uneven surfaces, chemicals and places where moisture may collect.
- Clean up your act. Clean calving areas and remove manure regularly to reduce the risk of pathogen exposure. Separate calves from dams at birth to reduce the risk of disease transmission.
- Give them some breathing room. Assure calving areas provide adequate space and ventilation to reduce exposure to pathogens.
- Shield them from the cold. Calves start feeling cold when the mercury drops below 60 degrees. You can minimize energy drain during cold weather by following these suggestions:
- Dry calves immediately at birth using clean dry towels. Towels should be cleaned after each use to avoid any contamination between animals.
- Use calf blankets if needed, or place heat lamps in hutches.
- Create an area that shields calves from wind, cold and rain; provide a draft-free environment, but with adequate ventilation.
- Provide adequate bedding (at least three inches) that insulates them from cold and allows "nesting." Bedding, floors and hutches should be kept clean and dry.
- Warm their milk and water to help warm calves from the inside and avoid lowering calf body temperature further.
- Jumpstart their natural defenses. The first line of defense is feeding sufficient amounts of high quality colostrum immediately after birth. After 24 hours, a calf is no longer able to absorb the antibodies from colostrum. If colostrum is not available, use a suitable colostrum replacer and supplement calves with essential bioactives that are necessary to jumpstart their innate defenses.