Farmers must focus their attention on appropriate colostrum management as colostrum is the calf's only defence against disease. Getting this wrong will cost you dearly, but simple and small changes to a system of management can make a big difference.
Management priorities should include:
Sell surplus bull and heifer calves early to increase care, time and attention given to replacement heifer calves
Improve hygiene of housing (calf pens) and feeding equipment
Identify the causes of scour/diarrhoea outbreaks
Feeding calves six litres per day compared to four litres - this reduces the numbers of days taken to reach target weaning weight, with no difference in the incidence of scour
Waste milk (containing antibiotics) should not be used to feed calves
OAD feeding can be used from four weeks of age with no detrimental effect on calf performance of health, to reduce workload but must be checked twice a day
Treatment of scour should rehydrate, replace electrolytes and correct acidosis so buy products which are appropriate. Stomach tube full dose to assist rehydration
Continue to offer fresh milk throughout diarrhoeic episode.
Provide adequate housing for calf rearing with good ventilation, with a deep straw bed and prevent down drafts.
Calves reared outside during the milk feeding period can assist in reduce pneumonia but require some form of overhead shelter from the wind and rain. Calves showing any sign of ill thrift must be brought back inside
Calves should be weaned at 18pc (100kg for 550kg cow) of their mature body weight rather than less than 15pc (<82kg for 550kg cow)
Good biosecurity assists in the prevention of pneumonia. Vaccines can also prevent and control the calf pneumonia complex.
Calves with pneumonia should be given pain-relief (eg anti-inflammatory) alongside antibiotic treatment.
Colostrum is the milk produced from the first milking post calving
Irish dairy heifers generally produce high quality colostrum although it does improve with lactation number.
Colostrum quality decreases as the time between calving and milking increases, so collect colostrum as soon as possible and ideally within the first six hours post calving.
Late calvers tend to produce lower colostrum quality as they become excessively fat.
New born calves should be fed within the first two hours of birth
Feed 8.5pc of the calf's birthweight to maximise absorption of immunoglobulins which is 3litres for 35kg calf and 3.5litres for 40kg calf.
Do not rely of the calf's ability to suckle this amount. Bottle or stomach tube the calf.
Colostrum must be stored immediately after collection in clean containers at less than 4C in a fridge, or frozen for more long term storage. Clean plastic milk bottles are very useful for this.
Mary Kinston is a discussion group facilitator and consultant, and farms with her husband in Co Kerry