5 key steps to ensure thriving calves
Good nurture, cleanliness and disease prevention in the early months of life will determine if heifer calves will achieve full potential
'Your calves are shining!" Surely this is one of the highest compliments that can be paid to any farmer's calves, but it is a description reserved for calves thriving to their maximum capacity.
Everyone knows that a healthy thriving calf is a profitable calf. This is very much the case when it comes to replacement heifer calves for the dairy herd.
Studies have shown that a heifer calf that thrives well in early life can yield up to 30pc more milk in her first lactation than a poorly thriving counterpart. She has an 80pc higher chance of still being in the herd after five years than her poorly thriving counterpart. So, how can we make sure a calf gains as much weight as possible in the first few months?
It may seem that every farming related article you read this month will talk about colostrum. This is for good reason. Ensuring that a calf receives an adequate amount of good-quality colostrum will set it up for the rest of its life. Remember the colostrum 1,2,3 rule - first milk only, within the first two hours and feed three litres of it.
This must be:
Clean: Housing should be power-washed and disinfected (consult your vet for advice on best disinfectants).
Dry: A deep bed of fresh straw. If you kneel down and your knees get wet, then a full clean out is needed. A young calf will spend more than 20 hours every day lying down. Where it lies must be dry and comfortable.
Warm: Heat is vital for young calves. A calf needs to be warm to thrive. If the temperature drops below 10°C, then a calf will start to burn energy to keep warm. Consider a red lamp over the pens of very young calves during spells of cold weather.