Calves' early days critical for later production

Calves' early days critical for later production


Dairy
START RIGHT: US-based dairy consultant Bob James says taking the right step with the "babies" of the herd pays off in reduced sickness and increased productivity.

START RIGHT: US-based dairy consultant Bob James says taking the right step with the "babies" of the herd pays off in reduced sickness and increased productivity.

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MAKING the right decisions when raising calves can have a big impact on the lifetime productivity of the cow, according to United States-based consultant Bob James.

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MAKING the right decisions when raising calves can have a big impact on the lifetime productivity of the cow, according to United States-based consultant Bob James.

Dr James, Down Home Heifer Solutions and Virginia Tech Department of Dairy Science, was speaking at the DairySA Central Conference earlier this month about setting a calf up for a lifetime of production by getting the basics right.

He said raising a calf could be a big investment, costing as much as $US2000 to get it to "springer" age.

"We want to make sure those raised are able to reach their genetic potential," he said.

Dr James said this started as early as the colostrum feed.

"You want it to be quick and clean," he said. "Every 20 minutes the bacteria count can double."

He said higher bacteria levels in the colostrum would lower the absorption of important antibodies.

Dr James said calving should occur in a clean environment with the fresh cow milked and calf fed colostrum as soon as possible after calving.

He said there also needed to be more awareness of the benefits of 'transition' milk.

"(The calves) are never going to perform as well as when they get first feeding and second and third feeding as well," he said.

Dr James agreed this could be labour intensive but not putting in the time could mean dealing with a sick calf.

"Screw this up and you're fighting the rest of the way in raising that calf, but get it right and life is good," he said.

Dr James said the next step was ensuring calves were being fed at a frequency and amount to allow for growth as well as some extra body condition.

He said calves needed to be fed at least twice a day.

"Feeding a baby once a day - talk about a welfare issue," he said.

He said the quality of this liquid also needed to be considered - was it waste milk or milk replacements?

You need to come up with a system that you are able to do, day after day. - BOB JAMES

Dr James said feeding rations should consider environmental influences.

A calf in a 22 degrees Celsius environment had the lowest maintenance needs but if the temperature got lower or higher, their energy requirements would increase.

In a 10C environment, a calf would need 3.3 litres of milk just to meet maintenance, before allowing for growth.

Dr James said despite the high detail needed, the system to feed calves needed to be simple.

"It sounds contrary to everything I'm saying, but you need to come up with a system that you are able to do, day after day," he said.

He said one option was an autofeeder, which would allow frequent access to smaller meals, but he acknowledged there was a cost issue with this technology.

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