Calf raisers are busy people. They perform daily tasks that include feeding calves and tending to their health, while juggling a variety of other issues. This juggling act is not easy and can often lead to performing tasks quickly, without thought to see if the task could be done differently with less time or with better results, says Steve Hayes, veterinarian with Day 1 Technology in Winona, Minn.
Hayes offers the following tips on things that can be done at birth that can have a big impact on calf health and performance.
Evaluate the maternity pen
Is the maternity pen clean, is it overcrowded?, asks Hayes. Upon standing a calf is very wobbly and will likely fall down. If the maternity pen is not clean and overcrowded, often the calf’s first meal will be a mouthful of manure. Be sure to keep the maternity pen clean, and remove the calf within one hour of birth from its mother and the maternity pen.
Train employees to deal with difficult births
Many calves get off to a slow start because of a difficult birthing process. Dystocia can lead to injuries to the cow and/or the calf. When was the last time your staff was trained on the birthing process and how to best handle cows and first calf heifers?, asks Hayes. Schedule a training session for your employees on the birthing process. This will make the process less traumatic on the cow and the calf.
Measure colostrum quality
The density of antibodies in colostrum can be reduced within hours of birth. It is important to collect colostrum right after birth to obtain the best possible colostrum. In addition, cows that leak before calving will most likely have lower levels of antibodies in their colostrum at birth. Monitor early leaking of colostrum from cows before calving.
Feed the right quantity
Feed 4 quarts of colostrum shortly after birth. In most situations, a full gallon will provide enough colostral antibodies to allow passive transfer to occur.
Make sure the colostrum is clean
Colostrum is the first item being given to a calf at birth and the last thing we want to do is to feed the calf a pathogen filled meal, says Hayes. Make sure the whole system is checked for cleanliness by pulling samples of colostrum from the tube feeder or nipple bottle just before feeding to a newborn calf. Have these samples submitted to a laboratory for standard plate count and coliform count. The goal is to have a standard plate count less than 100,000 colony forming units per milliliter and a coliform count less than 10,000 colony forming units per milliliter in colostrum.