Plan for healthy calves

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Healthy calves don’t just happen. They require planning and continuous management. The Dairy Animal Care and Quality Assurance (formerly Dairy Beef Quality Assurance) program manual offers the following tips for calf health:

  • Calves should be born in clean, dry calving pens and then housed in clean, sanitized, dry housing facilities that are well-ventilated but draft free, and observed closely after birth.
  • Colostrum feeding at birth is critical because calves are born without natural immunity.
  • Provide a sufficient quantity of high quality colostrum to ensure that each calf develops an effective immune system. Current best management practice is 2 to 4 quarts colostrum or equivalent within 2 hours of birth and at least 3 times within the first 18 hours of life.
  • Dip navels in iodine as soon as possible after birth and continue daily until navel is dry (7 percent tincture of iodine is best).
  • Minimum milk replacer standards: 18- to 20- percent protein/20 percent fat for large breed calves, composed of dairy ingredients, not soy protein. Jersey milk replacer standards: 28 percent protein/25 percent fat.
  • Limit exposure to older animals to prevent transfer of pathogens and parasites.
  • Clean, fresh water should be available to young animals, even for calves receiving liquid milk or milk replacer diets.
  • Handle calves carefully to reduce stress and prevent injury.
  • Weaning to dry feed can be less stressful when other changes, like moving calves to new housing, are performed 2 weeks after weaning.
  • Vaccinate calves according to the herd health plan developed with the herd veterinarian.
  • To prevent diseases like Johne’s, eliminate exposure of calves and young stock to manure and any water runoff from adult animal housing.
  • Calves should be given adequate space for animal care, comfort and safety, provided bedding that is clean and dry, and protected from seasonal weather extremes. If you can smell ammonia in the bedding at the level of the calf’s nose, the bedding needs changing.
  • The thermoneutral point for newborn dairy calves is 48 degrees Fahrenheit. At or below that temperature calves need abundant clean, dry bedding for nesting and/or provision of calf jackets.

View complete guide to calf care



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