As we go into winter now is the time to do some proper planning and review your 2019 calf rearing performance. Here are our top six factors to consider.
Calf rearing facilities
It is important to provide calves with a clean and comfortable facility to reduce the risk of disease and promote growth. Ensure it is suitable for 2020 intake numbers and that it provides adequate protection from wind and rain, while maintaining good air circulation. Absorbent, fresh and comfortable bedding that insulates the calf from the cold should be provided. Facilities must be kept clean. This can be achieved by topping up bedding material, disinfecting rails, partitions, walls and gates in calf pens, and cleaning feeding equipment after every feed. Also, remember to implement a process to ensure diseases don’t spread amongst calves. This can be done by planning pen layouts and procedures that minimise the need to enter calf pens.
Identification and traceability
You must keep accurate and complete records of all your calves including the sex, dam ID number and birth date for every calf born on-farm. Record any calving complications and health issues during rearing. Any calves that receive treatment should be clearly marked.
Feed the highest quality colostrum available as soon as possible after birth. Timing is important as Immunoglobulins (IgG) can only be absorbed by the small intestine of the calf for the first 24 hours. Every hour after birth affects the calf’s ability to absorb IgG. You can measure colostrum quality by using a Brix refractometer. You may also want to consider contamination risks during collection and storage. How are you going to store your colostrum? Set a target of 10 percent of body weight of colostrum within 12 hours of birth (for example, a 40 kg calf needs 4 L of colostrum).
Make sure you feed appropriate amounts of milk or Calf Milk Replacer (CMR) and a good quality starter meal. Only use a good quality CMR, consider nutrient density and source, additives, quality control measures and service. Ensure your feeding programme is consistent, look at feeding volumes, times and concentration and temperature of the milk. You should introduce small quantities of grain-based concentrates from day one. Fibre should comprise no more than 10 percent of the pre-weaning diet.
Develop a preventative disease treatment programme and share this with your staff to minimise the calves’ exposure to infection. You also need to reduce exposure to faeces and pathogens. Monitor calf health regularly and act quickly. If a calf does become sick, handle it carefully to minimise infection of healthy calves.
This is a challenging time for the calf. It is important to monitor the growth rates and concentrate intake of calves before weaning to make sure they are reaching their targets. Remember, weaning should be a gradual process.
If you would like assistance planning your calf rearing programme get in touch with your local PGG Wrightson Technical Field Representative or visit your local store.