Calf management: A lesson in stress reduction
One of the many goals in raising calves is to provide a stress-free environment, which takes proactive management of the calves’ basic needs. These basic needs include: food and water, shelter, comfort, routines and health.
“Changes in any of these basic areas, even seemingly small changes, can make large differences in the overall health and wellbeing of the calves,” says Bethany Fisher, a calf and heifer specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition in Texas.
To evaluate how your operation is doing, Fisher suggests taking a step back and considering the following areas.
Food and Water
Offer feed that meets the calves’ nutritional needs all year-long. During periods of heat or cold stress, calves need added energy to maintain efficient growth and to allow proper body function. This is important at every stage of life and includes colostrum, milk or seasonal milk replacer and calf starter, formulated for the season.
Milk or seasonal milk replacer needs to be fed at a sufficient quantity to allow the calf to maintain body temperature, double its birth weight, grow 4 to 5 inches in height by weaning and maintain proper immunity.
By day three, water and calf starter needs to be in plentiful supply. Especially in a growing heifer, feed should never be in short supply. Running out of feed or water for any length of time can result in slug feeding and even bloating when feed is finally offered. Neither condition is ideal for efficient gains or optimal health.
Fresh clean water is equally as important as feed. Even if the water freezes overnight, it is important that it is available for calves to drink. It is common for calves to consume more feed in the evening hours between milk feedings, but this will be reduced if sufficient water is not available.
Shelter and comfort
The type of shelter calves’ have access to, does not have to be fancy or purchased from a catalog or special company. It just needs to provide the animal a place to get out of the elements and should be easy to clean. Use your best judgment to determine what type of shelter is needed for the age group.
Outside of the type of shelter offered other considerations that need to be made to ensure calf comfort include ventilation, bedding and weather.
- Ventilation ‒ depending on the type of shelter provided, it is always important to understand the air quality at the calf level. Even something as simple as propping up a corner of the hutch to allow air movement can decrease the heat stress seen by the calves.
- Bedding ‒ sand is a good option in the summer heat. Bedding allows for added comfort to the calf and provides a barrier between the calf and the ground underneath, which can contain pathogens. It is important to make sure that bedding is always clean and dry, as moist bedding can harbor pathogens and attract flies, especially in warmer weather.
- Calf hutch location - Watch the sunlight throughout the day to determine how to best position housing to reduce heat stress. Also, take advantage of prevailing winds as much as possible.