Heifer calves are the future of the herd and a good calf-rearing system is critical to getting these off to a good start. Research summarised by Animal Health Ireland (AHI) encourages farmers to remove the dairy calf immediately after birth to a clean, freshly-bedded area where it is fed colostrum to reduce the risk of infection.
Research also calls on farmers to use a suitable navel care routine, such as dipping the cord in an antiseptic solution, and give calves at least three litres of good quality colostrum (from first milking, and directly after calving) within two hours of the calf's birth.
Calves should be fed a daily amount of 13-15pc of their birth weight in whole milk or milk replacer (for a 40kg calf, this equates to 5-6 litres/day), and fed twice a day until they are at least three weeks old, before switching over to once-a-day feeding.
Milk from cows treated with antibiotics should not be fed to calves, and when dealing with a scouring calf, remove the calf from the group, rehydrate it with one or two extra two-litre feeds of a good quality oral electrolyte solution and continue to offer the scouring calf normal amounts of milk or milk replacer.
Offer calf starter concentrates from early on to promote development of the rumen and provide free access to clean water.
It can also be very useful to make daily health checks. Check that:
- Calves are alert with responsive ears and there's no infection around the ear tag.
- Noses are clear of discharge, and are moist and cool.
- Navels are clear from infection (free from pain, abnormal swelling, odour or pus).
- Mouths are clear of ulcers.
- Calves have shiny and supple coats -- if pinched skin is slow to return it indicates dehydration.
I have certainly found that increasing the amount of milk fed to 15pc of birth weight results in a noticeable increase in growth rates.
This will be very beneficial as it will aid in weaning calves at a target weight rather than at a given age. For example, the weaning weight for a Friesian Holstein heifer should be 100kg and 85kg for Jersey crosses.
When weaning calves or when turning out to pasture continue to provide concentrate to avoid a check in growth.