The inaugural LLM Calf Conference – a recap on the day by Jenny Bellini

Last week saw us hold our first-ever ‘LLM Calf Conference’, with over 100 farmers, feed industry representatives, vets and vet techs joining us for a focused day on all things calves. The aim of the day was to ‘turn research into reality’ and facilitate some proactive discussions on calf management, leaving attendees armed with the tools to help lead meaningful change back on their farms. Hannah Batty kicked us off with an overview of the tools you can use to achieve your goals on farm. She recommended starting by thinking about your current performance together with your ideal performance and creating a written action plan to achieve it. We are 42% more likely to achieve a goal if we write it down.
Next, we looked at the latest industry research on colostrum cleanliness, and how this may be compromising the effectiveness of your colostrum protocols. I reminded everyone that 26% of UK calves have failure of passive transfer meaning they are more susceptible to preweaning disease and death, delayed 1st service, increased age at first calving, and reduced future milk production. The first GB study done on this in 2020 found over 30% of colostrum samples were heavily contaminated with bacteria at the point of feeding to calves, something which has been mirrored in a smaller study on LLM farms. 41% of farms in the GB study achieved coliform counts of 0 cfu/ml, showing brilliant results are possible. Coliform count was directly correlated with blood serum IgG (antibodies) in calves. High bacterial counts in colostrum will reduce the efficiency of absorption of antibodies as well as transmitting pathogenic organisms to the neonatal calf. Most bacterial contamination of colostrum happens during harvest and collection of colostrum, as well as during storage. Attention should be paid to these areas on farm to achieve low total bacterial counts and coliform counts, ensuring you get the most from your most valuable resource for exceptional calf health.

Calves are a data gold mine and recording as much quantifiable data as you can ensures you know which areas of calf management to focus improvements on your farm. Kate Irving and Holly Dodd told us to put the data to use by comparing to targets, identifying problem areas and monitoring responses to improvements and changes. Sharing that data helps improve staff focus, with a team approach to calf health helping to deliver results and drive motivation. Before lunch we discussed different housing options, and Sarah Hampson gave us a run through of the key points to consider when housing pre-weaned calves:

  1. Plan and consider your options first: visit other farms, ask people what has worked for them.
  2. Drainage, ventilation and space are KEY to good calf housing. Creating a dry environment is crucial to good calf health, and drainage is often over-looked.
  3. 3m² per pre-weaned calf is recommended.
  4. Active ventilation is a must for most group housing.
  5. Costs- housing is a long-term investment and if you are going to do it you may as well get it right! Don’t forget grant money.
  6. Good housing is no cure for poor management!

Laura Chesters took us down to the post mortem room after lunch, where she demonstrated what we look for when doing calf PMs and the differences between pre-weaned and post-weaned calf anatomy. Laura’s key message was post mortems are always worth doing to see what might be causing issues on your farm. As well as the cause of death, looking at rumen development and historic lung damage can be useful tools to assess overall youngstock management.

The day finished with Andy Henderson giving us a whistle stop tour of basics of pre-weaning nutrition, and the differences in feeding a calf which is a monogastric animal as well as how to ensure a successful transition to the ruminant we want the calf to become. Andy recommended using tools in the Nottingham calf health toolkit to ensure you are feeding calves enough energy and protein to meet their requirements all year round. Water should never be over looked, with 4L of clean water drunk for each 1kg of calf starter eaten and calf starters should be critiqued to ensure you are getting what you pay for.

Hannah rounded the day off by reminding us that change doesn’t happen overnight, creating a vision of what successful calf rearing looks like to you and your team is key to success and stressed the importance of enjoying the process. All in all, we came away feeling inspired and the calf conference buzz hasn’t quite worn off yet. It was fantastic to see so many people keen to get together and improve calf management on their farms, and brilliant for us as a team at LLM to get to share our passion with so many people. Thanks to everyone for making the day such a success, here’s to next year!