ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Calves play a vital role in the future of your dairy farm. Let’s brush up on our ABC’s for healthy calves!
A is for attention to detail. When it comes to raising dairy calves, close attention needs to be paid to all calf management practices. And, it takes a truly concerned attitude and a “caring eye” to see that a dairy calf’s everyday needs are being met.
B is for bedding. Bedding plays an important role in the calf’s comfort, cleanliness, and stress level. Some points to keep in mind for calf bedding are replacing between calves, selecting the right bedding, and removing soiled bedding often.
C is for cleanliness. Dirty calves become sick calves. Maintaining a clean environment decreases the number of bacteria and other pathogens which the calf’s immune system must fight. Energy used fighting muddy conditions, excessively hot conditions, or high numbers of bacteria is energy which is no longer available for growth and maturing. An ideal calf environment needs to be easy to clean.
D is for dry. Calves are more comfortable when dry and viruses and bacteria don’t grow as well in a dry environment. Calves can stand lower temperatures provided they are protected from the elements and their pens are kept dry.
E is for environment. The calf’s environment includes the type of housing, space available, the quality of the air, and the surfaces with which the animal comes into contact. Calves are surrounded by disease-producing organisms in their environment and if present in large enough numbers they will cause illness.
F is for feeding utensils. Time must be allowed during the calf chore routine for washing and sanitizing the calf feeding equipment. Milk, feed, and water buckets are breeding grounds for organisms that cause calf diseases. Any utensil used for feeding calves must be cleaned after each feeding to prevent problems.
G is for growth success. Dairy producers need to judge the success of their calf raising not only by the percent survival to weaning and beyond, but also by the growth rates of the calves. This is because the growth rate of dairy replacements ultimately affects the timing of puberty, which affects the age of first freshening, and even first lactation milk production.
Calves need to be managed to ensure they come into the milking herd as soon as possible and become strong, healthy high producing cows for the future profitability of the dairy operation. Remember your ABC’s when caring for your calves!
— Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension
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