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Preventative Management for Calf Health
The foundations of calf health are colostrum, nutrition and environment. The timeframe which impacts whole-of-life productivity is the first week, and these two are intimately connected – health and productivity. Investment in genetics can be futile and obliterated in this first week; colostrum being the key ingredient for not just immunity, but activation of genes responsible for lifetime productivity.
Colostrum, we’ve dealt with in previous articles. Nutrition likewise, in our article on refractometers and ensuring calves receive sufficient nutrient via milk. Water consumption drives grain intake and rapidly increases the plane of nutrition and growth. Again, dealt with in recent articles.
Environment now becomes our focus, and planning pre-calving with disease prevention in mind is paramount.
1) The initial risk our calf faces is being born. Long or assisted births increase the risk of infection due to stress, pain and injury, and may reduce both intake and absorption of colostrum and its inherent immunoglobulin and other ‘gene activators’ contained in colostrum.
2) Exposure to pathogens at the birthing site such as salmonella, E. coli, and other infectious organisms of manure origin are common sources of infection, including micro-organisms on the dam’s flank and teats. Calving pads are a wonderful management tool, but sanitation is essential for both calf and dam at calving; both are highly vulnerable at this time. We recommend a spray called Vibrex (Roy 0428 526 581) to sanitize calving areas.
3) Sanitation of feeding equipment goes without saying, but infrequently done. Even colostrum can be a carrier of infectious organisms. Pasteurization of colostrum is a growing practice in the USA. Feeding of powdered milk replacer can minimise pathogens. This can be cheaper than milk.
4) Sub-optimal nutrition will expose our calf to immune deficiency or dysfunction. Immunity is an energy hungry process. The most common feeding error is underfeeding. As highlighted in our article on scours, overfeeding is rarely a cause of scours, but infectious organisms are the most common. Our earlier article on refractometers and milk solids intake referenced nutritional requirements for health and growth, consistency being a major.
Screening as a daily process for signs of illness or ill-thrift with protocols set out on daily sheets will minimise calf failure. It will also highlight weak links in the system. This is imperative if calf rearers are employed staff. It will give them, the satisfaction of a job well done and enable the farm owner to monitor progress and stumbling blocks.
In the words of Dr Sheila McGuirk DVM University Wisconsin-Madison:
“Don’t think that detection of disease is just good ‘calf sense’, a poor appetite or a computer printout. It is scheduled time with calves by someone that has the time and training to recognise calf illness”.
We have invested significantly in achieving a pregnancy, in genetics and the future productivity of our dairy business. Calf rearing is an equal to cow nutrition/productivity and should be under supervision of qualified and observant people.