This month’s tails come from Emily who is a bit of a calf whizz…

I quite often get asked whilst out on-farm what can be done to help maintain growth throughout the cold winter period. So I thought I’d put together a bit of a calf quiz. This may give you some ideas on how you can help your calves throughout the winter period. See how many points you can gain…

1. Calf Jackets – How often do you use calf jackets?

  • I never use calf jackets (0 points)
  • I only put jackets on smaller or sick calves (1 point)
  • I put jackets on all my calves (2 points)

Jackets can be used to help keep calves warm, dry and healthy when temperatures fall below 15ºC. You must ensure that calves are dry before using calf jackets.

2. Nesting – How much straw do you use?

  • You can’t see my calves legs when they nest in their bedding (2 points)
  • My calves are given straw but the legs are partially visible (1 point)
  • I use other bedding for my calves (0 points)
Calf Quiz - Nesting

Straw is the ideal bedding material in the winter months, as not only does it provide thermal protection and reduce heat loss over the colder spells, it also helps keep the calves relatively clean and dry. Use the diagram above for guidance;

3. Ventilation – What ventilation methods do you use? Do you need ventilation?

  • I have never tested the ventilation in my calf shed/housing using a smoke bomb (0 points)
  • I have tested the ventilation in my calf shed/housing using a smoke bomb but not altered the building to help airflow (1 points)
  • I have tested the ventilation in my calf shed/housing using a smoke bomb and I have altered my existing building to maximise airflow (wind tunnel/fan/opened windows) (2 points)
  • I have a purpose-built calf shed or environment (hutches) which focus on maximising airflow (2 points)

A good ventilation system is a key attribute in minimising moisture in the calf’s environment. The best air inlets have an area that is twice the size or even better, four times the size, of the outlet which needs to be situated in the roof to release warm, moist, foul air.

4. Vaccination – Do you vaccinate your calves for BRD/pneumonia?

  • I don’t vaccinate my calves at all (0 points)
  • I only vaccinate over the winter period (1 point)
  • I vaccinate only my breeding stock in the shed (2 points)
  • I vaccinate all calves in the shed (3 points)
  • BONUS POINT – I get the VetTechs to vaccinate my calves (1 point)

Vaccination against key viruses can dramatically reduce calf pneumonia outbreaks and can often be an essential part of heard health planning. For vaccines to be effective they need to be; stored and handled correctly (vaccines are particularly vulnerable to temperature damage). Used at the correct time (it goes without saying that most farms rarely have enough time to vaccinate calves at the correct age. Best way to solve this… get the VetTechs to do it!) And finally, injected correctly (I bet most of you vaccinating the calves yourselves struggle to find enough clean needles and syringes at vaccination times!)

In an ideal world all calves on your holding should be vaccinated, but for a number of reasons you may choose to only vaccinate the stock you are keeping for breeding. If this is the case, try your best to keep vaccinated and unvaccinated stock separate, if you are unable to keep them in different sheds then try to put them at opposite ends of the shed.

5. Feeding regime – Do you change the quantity or concentration of milk during the colder months?

  • I feed the same all year round (1 point)
  • I decrease the quantity or concentration (0 points)
  • I increase the quantity or concentration (2 points)

It goes without saying that calves are bound to use more energy to keep warm in the colder months. Where does this energy come from? Their nutritional intake! To ensure that calves maintain their DLWG throughout the colder months you need to increase their nutritional input (remember this will need to be done slowly – speak to your vet for the best method)

Monitoring Growths – Do you monitor the growths of your calves?

  • I don’t take or record any weights (0 points)
  • I weigh my calves (1 point)
  • The VetTechs weigh my calves (2 points)
  • I get the VetTechs to weigh my calves and implement changes to increase the average DLWG (3 points)

The best way to monitor your calves DLWG is through routine weighing, this can also help you to identify certain periods where your calves either thrive or don’t do as well. Weighing the calves also allows you to monitor the impact of changes you have made, giving you justification of alterations. Additionally it allows you to see when individuals have doubled their birth weight, which will highlight when individuals need weaning.

Score 0-5
(Improvements could be made)
Score 6-10
(Could you pick up any
quick simple tips?)
Score 11-15
(Keep it up)
Have a chat with your vet to see how
changes can help
improve your calves
health and
environment over the colder months. Not all changes need to be
costly, but can reap big rewards!
Great work so far, just a few tweaks could
improve your calves’
environment even
further, helping you to gain and maintain a
DLWG of at least 0.8kg. Could you pick up any hints and tips to alter your rearing system?
Looks like you’re
already on top of your calf rearing system
over the winter
months. If you lost a
few points could you make simple changes to give you a perfect

Could you improve your calf quiz score? Remember to speak to your vet when making any changes regarding calf housing and rearing. The VetTechs are also really useful as they see a lot of different calf systems; they may be able to discuss their ideas with you and your vet over a brew!

Hope this calf quiz is of use to you, looking forward to hearing your scores! Emily

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