Optimizing calf survival at birth

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To improve your odds of raising healthy, productive herd replacements, your best bets are preventing and managing difficult births, and ensuring newborn calves get adequate immunity from colostrum. This strategy will improve your herd's milk production, reproductive performance and overall bottom line, according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

Stillbirths, which often statistically encompass calves that die before 24 hours of age, usually are due to difficult calvings, or dystocia. 

Calving management and procedures can greatly minimize losses due to dystocia and stillbirths. They include:

  • Keeping good records of breedings and expected calving dates;
  • Having a clean, dry calving facility not used as a sick bay as well;
  • Knowing calving signs;
  • Knowing when to intervene to provide assistance;
  • Knowing calving assistance procedures;
  • Ensuring newborn calves get adequate colostrum as soon as possible after birth to achieve passive transfer of immunity.

Breeding strategies that include consideration of calving ability (calving ease plus calf survival), and breeding heifers to female sexed semen, can help prevent dystocia caused by large calves.

Passive transfer of immunity through efficient colostrum delivery is essential for calf survival.  Remember the “3 Qs” of colostrum delivery -- quality, quantity and quickness.

Developing protocols for pre-calving, recognizing the signs of birth, following calving procedures and caring for calves immediately after birth can help you achieve successful calvings with low death losses and maximum calf survival and vigor.

 Read a more detailed article on optimizing calf survival at birth at http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/dairy/facts/optbirth.htm



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