Published on March 5, 2014
Calf Nutrition & Management From Birth to Weaning
Calf Nutrition & Management From Birth to Weaning Calves are born with a predetermined genetic potential that can be permanently affected by management decisions and environmental factors that occur throughout the rearing period. Improper management will lead to economic losses from increased veterinary intervention, death losses, reduced growth, sub-optimal reproductive performance and reduced lifetime productivity.
Calf Nutrition & Management From Birth to Weaning
Dry Cow Management & Calving Health and profitability of the calf begins prior to birth. The dam must be prepared properly for a strong, smooth parturition; this begins with a well-managed 2-group or short 1-group dry cow program. The dam’s feet, hindquarters, udder and perineum should be cleaned and clipped before parturition.
Dry Cow Management & Calving Maternity pens should be well bedded with clean bedding, ideally using the “all-in-allout” system. A hygienic calving environment is critical to both the calf and the dam. Calving on pasture is fine as long as there is good shade and water available; calves can die in a matter of hours if left in the hot summers sun.
Dry Cow Management & Calving
Dry Cow Management & Calving The most critical period in a calf’s life is the first 3 days after birth. Calves that experience a difficult birth are much more prone to stillbirth, neonatal mortality, and colostrum deprivation. Sires should be chosen with the calving ease index considered.
The New Calf Immediately after birth, and for the next 3 days, the calf’s naval should be disinfected with a 5% iodine solution in alcohol. If the umbilical cord breaks at the body wall, the wall should be sutured immediately. Many producers will also give vitamin A, D and E/Se injections at this time. ID should be put on at birth. In the summer time fly control implemented.
The New Calf The newborn calf should be stimulated and dried either by the dam or the producer. Often heifers will be confused as to what has just occurred and will neglect the calf. In extremely cold or damp conditions, the calf should be placed under a heat lamp.
Colostrum Management Colostrum management has the largest impact on calf health than any other management factor. When a calf is born the cells lining the digestive tract are capable of immunoglobulin absorption. As soon as anything goes into the digestive tract, for example colostrum, mucous, manure, dirt, straw, the cells begin to change into cells unable to absorb immunoglobulins.
Colostrum Management By 6 hours after birth only about 50% of the available immunoglobulins are absorbed. By 8 hours only 33% are absorbed and by 24 hours no immunoglobulins are absorbed. Quantity, quality and timing of colostrum feeding is critical!
Colostrum Management 3-4 litres of quality colostrum should be fed within 2 hours of birth. 3-4 litres more should be fed within the next 6 to 12 hours. Colostrum should be fed for 2 to 3 days; lower quality colostrum may be used. Calves should be fed from a nippled bottle or an esophageal feeder. THEY SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO SUCKLE THE DAM.
Colostrum Management Baby calves should be removed from the dam as soon as possible after birth. Colostrum should be tested with a clostrometer for quality. It should only come from animals 4 years or older, who have been on the farm for at least one year and who have not “leaked’ heavily prior to calving. Known carriers of leucosis, Johne’s, Mycoplasma, and Salmonella should have their colostrum discarded.
Colostrum Management Keeping stored colostrum on the farm at all times is smart. Fresh colostrum (refrigerated less than 1 week) is the ideal, however, frozen colostrum can be used when necessary. Colostrum should be thawed in a warm water “bath” to avoid killing immune cells (less than 50’C). Re-heating in microwave ovens is not recommended.
Colostrum Management REMEMBER: EVEN WITH THE BEST COLOSTRUM FEEDING, CALVES KEPT IN FILTHY, WET CONDITIONS WILL NOT THRIVE. REDUCE THE CHALLENGES!
Nutrition After Colostrum There are several sources of liquid feeds for calves from 3 days of age: 1. Whole milk. Whole milk feeding is discouraged if the herd is trying to control Johne’s or leucosis. 2. Milk replacers. Should be 100% milk protein with the appropriate fat % depending on housing (warm or cold). There is a wide range in milk replacers on the market.
Nutrition After Colostrum High quality milk replacers contain >20% CP, >20% fat and <0.5% crude fibre; protein source should be 100% milk source with 0% coming from vegetable or animal proteins. If you are using milk replacer be sure to mix and feed according to label directions.
Nutrition After Colostrum 3. Excess colostrum; may need to be diluted with water. 4. Waste milk from cows with mastitis or who have been treated with a drug requiring milk withdrawal. Many farms no longer use this milk to feed calves because of the inherent risks. Pasteurize? Liquid feeds should be fed twice a day at about 2 litres/feeding. Although feeding equipment is optional (nipple bottle, bucket or nipple bucket), EXCELLENT sanitation is essential.
Nutrition After Colostrum
Accelerated Calf Program The accelerated calf program involves: Higher DM of milk replacer (~25%) Higher DM of calf starter (~25%) Higher feeding levels: 2-2.5 litres in the 1st week 3-4 litres to weaning In my herds, many producers found the program required too much management and abandon it. However, all agreed that it did work in terms of accelerated calf growth.
Calf Starter Calf starter and water should be made available on day 3 of the calf’s life. It is important for rumen development to keep fresh water available to all calves 24 hours a day, particularly prior to weaning. High quality, palatable calf starter is essential to promote early rumen development and allow early weaning; it promotes the growth of rumen epithelium and ruminal motility.
Calf Rumen: Milk Only 6 Weeks Old
Calf Rumen: Milk & Grain 6 Weeks Old
Calf Rumen: Milk & Hay 6 Weeks Old
Calf Starter Starter should be kept fresh and clean, refused starter should be removed daily and the bucket or boxes cleaned daily.
Calves & Hay Researchers and producers alike now agree that hay should be part of the calves diet AFTER weaning. Calves weaned at 8 to 10 weeks should have limited hay (0.5 kg) from about 6 weeks of age; calves weaned before this time should have no hay until they are in group housing.
Calves & Hay Feeding hay early in the calf’s life has a double negative effect: 1. It limits the amount of calf starter a calf will consume. 2. The low energy content of hay will keep a calf small and “gutty”. Hay fed to calves should be of the highest quality, both chemically and physically. Fibres (ADF and NDF) should be low, protein high and the physically nature of the hay soft and not coarse.
Calves & Hay Hay fed to calves should be of the highest quality, both chemically and physically. Fibres (ADF and NDF) should be low, protein high and the physically nature of the hay soft and not coarse. Many feed companies in Canada have developed a “built –in roughage” program which utilizes oat/soy hulls, beet pulp or dehydrated alfalfa to replace hay until 6 months of age.The results are very good.
Weaning The decision to wean a calf should be made on 2 criteria: 1. Size 2. Consumption of calf starter: Large breed calves should be consuming a minimum of 700 grams of calf starter a day for 2 consecutive days. Common sense should prevail here!
Weaning Weaning can be accomplished using the abrupt or gradual method; both are acceptable. Weaning stress, which results from a reduction in energy intake as well as the loss of a pleasurable experience, can be reduced.
Weaning No dehorning or removing extra teats at this time. No vaccinating at this time. Keep the calf in the same housing for 10 days to 2 weeks after weaning. Make no other changes to the basic diet besides the removal of milk. Do nothing else to the calf that will create stress at this time.
Weaning Most dairy producers are weaning their calves between 6 to 8 weeks, although there is a trend to wean as young as 5 weeks. Again, common sense needs to prevail and the needs of individual animals taken into account.
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