Colostrum is key to calf health


CALF rearing is a most important job on a dairy farm, whether the calf is being kept on the farm or sold. Calves that are not cared for in the first three weeks of life will not gain good liveweight in their lifetime and will be prone to more disease.

Attention to detail is required. Once the calf is born, make sure it is breathing properly. Treat the navel with iodine to prevent joint ill.

Ensure the calf gets colostrum as quickly as possible after birth. Feeding colostrum (biestings) within four hours of birth provides the calf with a highly nutritious feed containing 34% dry matter and 5% protein as well as high levels of antibodies that provide the calf with great protection against disease.

However the effectiveness of colostrum is governed by the timing and amount of the first feed. The first feed should be in the first four hours after birth, as the quality of colostrum gets poorer after 24 hours, and they should drink 2-3 litres.

Calves should get the colostrum from their own mother if possible but stored first milking colostrum can be used as well, especially when dealing with nervous cows or heifers. Frozen colostrum can also be used if none is available at the time to feed a new born calf but care should be taken when heating this up.

Colostrum suckled by the new born calf is best but might not be practical in many dairy herds. It can also be fed in buckets with or without nipples, bottles with a nipple or via a stomach tube. Calves from the suckler herds nearly always get the colostrum from their own dam .

Whether new born calves are in the dairy or the suckler herd, extreme care should be taken when handling or feeding the new born calf in the presence of its mother. Dogs or children should not be in close proximity as these could cause the cow to get very excited.

Calf housing can be indoors or outdoors but it must have a clean, dry lie and draught free environment. Young calves should be separate from older animals and should be housed in a convenient location for the farmer. The house should also allow for easy cleaning out.