Dairy Calves – After feed, the second largest annual expense of a dairy business’s production costs is raising heifer calves. Well raised calves will repay their investment in best management practices through higher milk production and a longer productive life.
Dairy farmers make decisions every day that can affect the health and welfare of their calves. According to research at the Royal Veterinary College, mortality rates of liveborn dairy heifers in their first month of life on British farms ranged from 0-12%.
Farmers should aim to maintain growth rates at a target 750-800g/day to calve at the most economic age of 24 months, and dairy calves jackets have an important role to play in maintaining growth rates when the temperature drops, keeping them warm so that they can then partition energy towards growth.
Sensitive to Dropping Temperatures
Calves below 3 weeks of age are the most vulnerable to decreased temperatures, and it is recommended that calf jackets are used if the temperature falls below 15°C. Dairy calves older than this may not require jackets unless the temperature decreases to below 5°C.
Wash Jackets to Reduce Scouring in Dairy Calves
As winter continues, dairy farmers are being reminded by UK levy board AHDB Dairy to disinfect calf jackets and put them through a hot wash between calves, to prevent the spread of diseases such as cryptosporidiosis.
Speaking at a recent AHDB Dairy Calves to Calving (CTC) event in Dorset, AHDB Dairy’s Technical Manager, Andy Dodd reiterated advice to farmers that cleaning dairy calves jackets should form part of any disease prevention strategy.
“Calf jackets can potentially harbor cryptosporidium eggs. These can only be destroyed if the dairy calves jackets are disinfected with a licensed cryptosporidium disinfectant and then washed at 60°C,” he said. Farmers should check that the disinfectants that they use and the calf jackets that they purchase are suitable for this.
It is also important to properly clean calf sheds and calving pens when clearing between calving and calves, removing muck, steam cleaning and disinfecting, before allowing to dry out to ensure that any unhatched eggs are killed.
Research has discovered that 50% of calves experience some sort of scours, with vets reporting that the vast majority of cases are due to cryptosporidiosis.
Cryptosporidiosis is caused by parasites and can lead to watery, yellow scours. Good hygiene practices are essential, considering it can be spread in the environment via other dairy calves and from dams.
Andy Dodd also stressed the need to increase milk volume fed to dairy calves as temperatures drop, explaining that for calves up to three weeks of age, for every 5-degree drop below 15 degrees, milk volume fed per head per day should increase by 0.33 litres. When increasing feed levels as a one-off to account for temperature changes it is also preferable to increase volume rather than concentration to help avoid nutritional scouring occurring.
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