Knowing The Risks


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.

More On Transition


Transition appears to be a subject we preach to ad nauseam. However, in the wise words of Dr Tom Overton (Cornell University), we need to shift our view of transition from a time of disease threat to one of production/reproduction opportunity.

The assumption that all is well, based on no, or little clinical milk fever or ketosis, is far from the truth. Any clinical disease at calving is a flag that we have significant sub-clinical issues, and research has verified the financial magnitude of sub-clinical metabolic disease as far more costly. When metabolism is dysfunctional around calving it may not manifest into clinical disease, but sub-clinical disease will reduce production and fertility. Improvements in milk production and fertility are economically significant.

There are large datasets from commercial herds highlighting both the prevalence of sub-clinical disease and its impact on milk and reproductive performance. Research focus on blood calcium status post-calving show cows with sub-optimal blood calcium one week after calving had twice the displaced abomasum rate, produced 2 to 5 litres less milk and 30% decreased conception rates at first service.

Research by Ospina et al, 2010 studied high NETA and BHBA (ketosis indicators) levels in transition cows found that 15% of herds with elevated levels was alarm level and could reduce heifer production by 500 lts and mature cows by 300 lts. Over 71 herds involved in this research, 50% were in excess of 15% affected cows.

Sub-clinical milk fever and ketosis, they usually go together, along with most other transition problems, can be prevented. Anionic lead feeds are a simple answer to sub-clinical milk fever, and managing energy from dry-off to calving will minimise sub-clinical ketosis. Most other transition problems are secondary disease as a result of these two. Both these diseases carry long-term financial consequences.

We all look for the Silver Bullet that will lift our farms profitability. Reality is, transition can well be that silver bullet, but it requires attention to less obvious details. Simple things like a change in forage of the springer cow ration can throw the ration DCAD out significantly, and suddenly we have cows down at worst, but also unknown sub-clinical disease from an equally unknown change in forage potassium level.

Profits won or lost around transition are major due to lactation-long impacts. No other activity on a dairy farm will yield a higher return on time invested. Checking urine pH of springer cows at least weekly and adjusting the anionic lead feed grain fed to restore the correct pH will virtually eliminate sub-clinical milk fever. Checking fresh cow’s milk with a milk keto test strip at day three post-calving and drenching anything in excess of a reading of 100 with propylene glycol will likewise virtually eliminate sub-clinical ketosis. Without these two most common calving related diseases, you will not just lift the bar on potential milk production, but also have given fertility a boost.

The two drivers of farm profit are feed, because it translates to litres and milk dollars, and fertility, because fresh cows convert feed dollars to milk dollars far more efficiently. Carry-over cows and underfeeding are the two greatest legacies of the Australian dairy industry.


CALFMAX is a soluble combination of an ultra-concentrated blend of Hydrolysed yeast, yeast extract, yeast culture for addition to calf milk

Contains MOS, Glucans, Galactosamine, Vitamins, Minerals & BOVATEC Plus a natural plant extract to enhance nutrient absorption

CALFMAX is available directly from Dairytech Nutrition or at the following Rural Stores

South West Vic             Gippsland                                     Northern Vic

Allansford                      Leongatha                                    Cohuna

Acme Rural Supplies    Browns Stockfeeds                       J & R Cooke Trading P/L

Colac                             Lang Lang                                    Echuca

The Co-op Colac           Larmax Agribarn                           Kober Ag Intellegence

Noorat                           Poowong                                       Kyabram

Mt Noorat Farm Supplies Poowong Dairy & Hardware      Dunstall Rural Supplies

Simpson                        Drouin                                           Girgarre

E & RA Parlour & Co     Evison Grain & Produce               Dunstall Rural Supplies

Terang                          Yarragon                                       Leitchville

Scanlons Dairy Centre  Yarragon Rural Supplies               Lipps Leitchville

Terang Coop                 Tongala

GTS Farm Supplies

Central Highlands


Davies & Rose

If there is no rural store stockist near you, call Dairytech Nutrition 0400 991 814

Or visit our online store at

For information and supply of CALFMAX call Dairytech Nutrition 0400 991 814