Calving is upon us! We hope you find the enclosed calf rearing guide useful. Although it is basic, it’s doing the basics right that makes the difference.
If you have any new staff or staff you would like to up-skill, please feel free to contact us to organise training tailored to your farm, such as covering how to do a calf health check, tube feeding, treating scours and more.
Rearing healthy calves
Calves are not just small versions of adult cows and it is worth remembering that they are as delicate and vulnerable as any baby animal.
Healthy calves are the result of a combination of an active immune system, a warm dry environment and low exposure to viruses and bacteria.
A clean, dry pen is absolutely critical, with no more than 20 calves per pen and a minimum of 1.5 square meters per calf. Spending time before calving getting the pens well set up will save hours later in the season.
Before calving starts calf sheds should be completely cleaned out, with old bedding removed and replaced with enough new bedding to create a 30cm bed. We recommend using Vetsan spray over the entire shed before calving and then weekly throughout the season. Ensure there is good drainage, as pooling water in pens is a recipe for disaster, as calves will drink from stagnant water and pick up all sorts of infections. Plan to use an all-in-all-out system – calves stay in the same group in the same pen until they leave the shed.
Pay special attention to the set up and location of the bobby calf pens. These too need to be clean, dry and comfortable, and importantly separate from keeper-calf pens to reduce the chance of infection spreading.
Colostrum is liquid goodness!! Calves need 2-3.5 litres of fresh first milking colostrum (10% of bodyweight) within the first 6 hours of life and then another 2 litres in the next 6 hours (min. 4L total in the first 12 hours), while the gut can still take up the all-important antibodies. After 12 hours of life the gut “closes” and can’t absorb any antibodies from the colostrum. They then need 2-3 litres of stored colostrum daily for a minimum of three weeks.
Treating sick calves
Now is the time to have a plan in place for treating sick calves. Have on-hand good quality electrolytes and make sure that all the staff involved are familiar with how to identify sick calves and the treatment plan.
When treating scouring calves, getting enough fluids and energy in is the key. Calves do not die as a direct result of infectious bugs, but they will die from dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and a lack of energy.
Electrolytes are not all created equal! We recommend using Enerlect as this is a very high energy and cost effective option.
Other important points
We recommend that you use an iodine tincture for spraying navels. Tincture is alcohol based which dries out the navels far faster than plain PVP iodine. The faster the navels are dried out, the less chance there is of navel ill developing. The navel is effectively a cord which travels into the abdomen and up to the liver, so an infection is highly likely to cause a life threatening septicaemia (blood poisoning). You need to use the 10% iodine spray for it to be effective. Spray the navels when you first collect the calves (i.e. putting them on the trailer) and then again when they get into the shed.
Getting colostrum into calves is very important. In an ideal world they would drink this from a bottle or feeder, but if they are too weak tube feeding is a quick and effective way of getting life-saving colostrum into them. Tube feeding is safe so long as you know how. Double check that your tube feeders are not cracked or loose, as this causes milk to pour out.
A reminder that we are able to disbud from about two weeks of age. It works well to do small batches of calves while they are in the pens, hence it would be great if you plan on doing this nice and early. Disbudding is also a great time to vaccinate calves for clostridial diseases with Ultravac 5in1 or Covexin 10in1.
Enerlect is our electrolyte of choice.
This is one of the most cost effective electrolyte options around. And at 321kCal per 100gram feeds it is also one of the highest in energy. The energy content is really important in keeping sick calves alive, as is volume of electrolytes; no electrolyte is a one-shot wonder.
Each electrolyte feed costs only $2.10 (excl. GST), which is the cheapest price you will find for a high energy electrolyte.
Euthanasia of calves
Do you know that it is illegal to kill a calf any way other than a firearm or captive bolt? This includes all cattle on the farm, regardless of age.
It is illegal to use blunt force trauma i.e. a hammer, sledgehammer, axe etc. If calf euthanasia is not carried out appropriately you could face fines or imprisonment under the Animal Welfare Act. It is not just the farm owner who can be held responsible, all farm employees are subject to the same rules and can be prosecuted individually. Protect yourself and any fellow farm workers and make sure everyone knows the rules.
Remember – if you are using a firearm you must have a firearms licence. You do not need a firearms licence to use a captive bolt.
If you have any further questions or require any on-farm training, please contact us.