Calf health and management has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, with the benefits of optimising calf performance well known to be key to future productivity and profitability of the herd. The increased investment in calves both in resources and time, makes it even more frustrating when things go wrong. Calves are highly sensitive to change and inconsistency, and performance can easily be derailed!
Calf health back to basics top tips:
With increasing use of auto calf feeders and ad lib feeding (e.g. 40 FIT programmes), as with any robotic technology, they are only as good as what goes in. Ensuring the milk replacer being fed is suitable for high levels of feeding is important. Also checking settings of machines, whether old or new, as the calves are often not getting what you may think, e.g. is milk too dilute, 1L of water is added on to powder rather than being made up to 1L. Optimising health is only possible when calves are fed well.
Vaccine protocols. Vaccines are often key to success on many units, both in the dry cows to boost passive transfer success and in young calves to prevent pneumonia. Whether using in cows or calves, ensuring vaccines are stored and given correctly is key. A recent study (MSD, 2020) found 89% of fridges on farms were outside of 2-80C temperature range for vaccine storage some of the time. With the maximum temperature reached being 120ºC and the minimum -11.50ºC. Most vaccines should be used up with hours of opening the bottle and should not be broached multiple times. These factors can reduce vaccine effectiveness but are often taken for granted.
Hygiene and calf environment. Cleaning and disinfection regimes in calf sheds are often thorough but consider how the calf is transported to the calf shed. The wheelbarrow/loader bucket etc, can easily be forgotten and not as clean as it should be but can be the first place the calves open navel comes in to contact. When assessing the calf environment, get in the shed at calf level, sheds can often feel airy and fresh in the feeding passage but very different at the back of pens.