Farm Ireland

Friday 23 March 2018

Dairy heifer calves: how to manage the first 60 days

As dairy farmers across the country gear up for the busy spring ahead the main focus is on how to best manage the next 120 days to make sure cows are fit and healthy after calving to be ready for service come April 24.

Irish farmers know that managing the transition cow period after calving is critical to getting cows back in calf in time.

But what of the calves that will land over the next couple of months and why is the first 60 days so important for their future production in the herd?

The First 60 Days: What the research says:

  • Increased weight gain during the first 60 days increases milk yield in the first lactation
  • 225kg increase expected in the 1 lactation for every additional 100g of daily weight gain in The First 60 days of life
  • Heifers that grow best in the first 60 days survive longer

Studies have shown that additional average daily live weight gain (ADLG) during the first 60 days will result in additional milk yield in the first lactation. For every additional 100g of ADLG during the first 60 days of life, about 225kg of additional milk yield in the first lactation can be expected.

Average daily liveweight  gain pre-weaning has been shown to account for a 22% variation in first lactation yield. In addition growth during the first 60 days is linked to survival, with studies showing that heifers that reached second lactation grew significantly more in the first two months compared with those that did not make it through to the second lactation.

Anything that has a negative effect on growth rates in the first 60 days will consequently have a negative effect on both a) ability to produce milk and b) survival through to mature cow.

Pneumonia in calves in the first 60 days will reduce growth rates and so will impact on future production. Studies from Northern Ireland have shown that one single case of pneumonia in the first 60 days reduces first lactation yield by 4% and second lactation by 8%.

Also Read

The reduction in weight gain due to pneumonia in the first 60 days will not be overcome by compensatory growth later in life, because good nutrition and growth rates pre-weaning have the greatest impact on the development of the udder tissue, particularly in these early day.

So a management trigger kicks off pneumonia, which allows a virus to infect a calf, which damages the lung tissue. This viral damage allows the bacteria, commonly present in the lungs, to take hold and cause further infection and damage.

Common things are common, and most herds in Ireland have RSV and Pi3 virus in circulation. So RSV and Pi3 are two of the most common viruses found in calf pneumonia. Recent analysis indicates that RSV was the most common cause of virus pneumonia in Irish calves in 2016.

Therefore, to prevent pneumonia in young calves pre weaning, make sure

  1. Good colostrum management following the 1-2-3 steps
  2. Clean, dry housing; good ventilation but no drafts
  3. Vaccinate to prevent the most common cause of virus pneumonia

Rispoval RS+Pi3 IntraNasal protects young calves against RSV and Pi3 viruses. Because it is a live vaccine it can be used intranasally from 9 days of age, and provides RSV protection from a single dose within five days. Therefore calves can be fully vaccinated against RSV, the most common cause of virus pneumonia in 2016, from 14 days of age.

Rispoval RS+Pi3 Intranasal is the only vaccine in Ireland to protect against RSV and Pi3 viruses in a single dose. It is effective and convenient, proven to provide the fastest and longest protection available against these viruses in young calves

The first 60 days are critical for future production. Protecting the future milkers is as important as looking after the freshly calved cows. Speak to your vet about preventing calf pneumonia this spring.

Online Editors