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Managing a dairy calf


managing dairy calf

Calves face various challenges during the first days of life. For example, the calving process is a major risk factor, acquiring adequate immunity from Colostrum during the first hours of life, avoiding infectious diseases while the immune system is still developing, the stress of weaning and isolation into individual pens, dehorning and vaccination all have an impact in the health of the calf.

Calf management objectives

Reducing mortality: It is of vital importance to archive the lowest mortalities within your farm. This increases your productive stock by having adequate replacement heifers to select from.

Improving management: The best returns in a dairy enterprise are a reflection of good management. Ensure on the best management to maximize production.

Achieving high producing heifers: The best raised female dairy calf with good genetics will become the best replacement heifer. A timely and through selection of calves will result in the best producing heifers.

Decreasing post-partum diseases: Conditions such as diarrhoea and pneumonia can negatively affect the growth rate of the calves therefore it is of vital importance to maintain good hygiene and habitable condition within the farm.

Calving times: The calving process is a major risk factor. It is best to separate a pregnant cow 2 days prior to calving into a calving pen. This will enable close monitoring of the calving progress and provide assistance when need arise or during dystocia. The pen should be clean and disinfected, provided with bedding of dry straw. There should be sufficient lighting and room for working and movement.

The following should be done;

  • Colostrum feeding: The first secreted milk after calving, highly nutritive, contains antibodies and immunoglobulin. The quality, quantity and time of feeding affect the amount of immunoglobulin absorption. Colostrum should be fed at a rate of 8-10% body weight. It should be done immediately after calving when the calf has enzymes that digest the antibodies.

The absorptive ability will decrease with increase in time to 1/3 within the first 6 hours of parturition. Feed at 1.5-2 litres at calving and 1.5-2 litres within 6 hours from calving. Excess colostrum should be stored either by refrigerating (maximum 7 days) or freezing (5 months). Never boil colostrum but warm up to 50 degree Celsius before feeding.

  • Housing after parturition: Provide adequate housing for the calf. Best accommodate in an individual pan that is well ventilated, shaded and warm. Provide dry hay bedding for comfort.
  • Dehorning: Dehorning should be performed when the horn button stakes shape (2 weeks). Dehorning prevents injury and minimizes social interference. Ensure on clipping the hair around the horn for visibility. Use either a dehorning iron or ointments (available commercially).
  • Umbilical dipping: It is best done immediately after birth to prevent inflammation and secondary infection from the environment. Check and re-dip several times.
  • Removing of extra teats: Should be done a few hours after calving using a scissors to prevent an unbalanced udder. Extra teats often leak, interfere with milking machine and are prone to Mastitis.
  • Culling: Involves the removal of unwanted calves from the stock. It is easier done immediately at birth (especially on male calves) or later but remains a constant practice in dairy farms. It is done to reduce operational costs.
  • Weaning: It is best done between 55-60 days. This is the most economical time when the calf should be eating at least 700 grams/day of calf starter meal.
  • Milk feeding: Calves constantly require milk for growth up to 55 days post-partum. To reduce cost of feeding milk, milk replacer formulas can be used. Always have fresh clean water in drinking bucket for the calves. MoAFS/Dept. of Animal Health and Production
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