Calf Rearing Basics

August 1, 2017

Calf Rearing Basics

Giving your calves a great start in life has its rewards – healthy animals mean better returns. This Nutritech calving guide provides some coaching on how to create the optimum environment and conditions to enable your calves to flourish.

  • Calves should be sheltered indoors for at least three to four weeks after birth.
  • A barn with separate pens is required. Maximum of 10 calves per pen is ideal.
  • Separate older calves from new calves.
  • Each pen should be twice as long as it is wide, allowing 1.5 m² to 2 m² per calf.
  • Pens should be constructed with 3 solid walls, made from sheet metal or non-treated ply.
  • One end should be open for good ventilation. Ventilation is essential to remove ammonia and other gases from urine. The open end should face leeward and north for sunshine.
  • Pens must be dry, draught free and have good daylight.
  • Ideally the floor should be of coarse gravel or sand, and have good drainage. Spread a 200 mm layer of straw, untreated bark or sawdust over the entire floor for bedding. Do not rake or disturb the bedding — just add to it when it gets messy.
  • Sterilise the barn,pens and bedding with a fungal, bacterial and viricidal spray before the calves arrive and every seven to ten days thereafter. Check safety precautions on label.
  • Keep birds from roosting in the barn as droppings cause disease.
Equipping the Barn
  • Install milk feeders with dividers so all calves get a fair share.
  • Position the feeders so calves have to reach up with their head tilted back as this helps line up the oesophageal groove, which guides the milk to the correct stomach.
  • One teat per calf. Fit teats that will encourage a good sucking action as this will help produce saliva for good digestion.
  • Provide robust troughs for water and feed meal.
Ear Tags (Check the latest requirements and amend if necessary).
  • By law, all calves aged one month and over must have Animal Health Board (AHB) ear tags, as part of New Zealand’s TB control programme.
  • All calves must have two ear tags — a primary and a secondary tag.
  • The primary tag must show a herd number obtained from the Animal Health Board, a barcode and an animal number.
  • The secondary tag must show the herd number.
  • These tags are available from your retailer, who will order both the primary and secondary tags for you.
  • Keep your own record of ear tag numbers.
The First 24 Hours
  • Each calf should have at least 4 litres of colostrum within the first 12 hours after birth (i.e. 2 litres twice a day).
  • Each calf’s navel should be sprayed with iodine within 12 hours of birth. This should be checked at three days. If the cord is bigger than your little finger, it is infected and requires a vet’s attention.
  • Administer a probiotic paste to provide a source of beneficial lactic acid producing bacteria.
Selecting Calves
  • Buy only good quality stock from a reputable farmer.
  • Calves should be four to five days old and Friesian calves should be at least 40 kg in weight.
  • Choose calves that appear strong, bright and healthy.
  • Do not take twins, sick or induced calves. Check for sore joints.
Transporting Calves
  • Protect stock from stress and wind chill, and there should be room for each animal to sit while being transported.
Arrival at your Farm
  • Place in pens according to size with the smallest and weakest stock placed in the warmest pen.
  • Allow time for the calves to de-stress after their journey.
  • Feed only electrolytes for the first 12 – 24 hours. Do not feed or mix milk with electrolytes or milk replacer.
  • Administer a probiotic paste to provide a source of beneficial lactic acid producing bacteria.
  • Provide straw (not hay) to the pens from day one.
  • You can provide meal from day one, but you must supply lots of clean, fresh water. The meal should contain a coccidiostat. However, a calf will not eat enough meal to get an effective dose of the coccidiostat until it is approximately five weeks old. Feed coccidiostat and milk replacer through the milk until they can eat a full dose of the meal.
  • Feed milk or a good quality calf milk replacer at the rate of at least 1 L per 10 kg of calf bodyweight (10%). Over feeding of milk can lead to scouring (diarrhoea), in which case, reduce the amount of milk fed and feed electrolyte separately, until scouring has stopped. Administer a probiotic paste to provide a source of beneficial lactic acid producing bacteria. Consult a vet if scouring persists.
  • Milk should be served at approx 40°C for the first 14 days.
  • Milk can be fortified with vitamins and trace minerals plus a coccidiostat*.
  • Manage feeding to ensure all calves are getting their share. Make sure feed is palatable and kept fresh at all times. Remove feed residues before adding more feed.
  • Make changes in volume and strength gradually.
  • Follow the instructions on the milk replacer (if fed) and feed labels.
  • Calves can be weaned from milk when they consume at least 1 kg of meal a day on at least two consecutive days, which often occurs around five weeks of age.
From Pen to Pasture
  • Calves can be moved to outdoor pens at approximately four weeks.
  • If it gets cold, return calves to the indoors. Avoid shiver factor. With Friesians this occurs at about 3°C dry and 13°C in wet conditions.
  • Introduce calves to good quality grass at approximately six weeks.
  • Let the calves move into the field slowly to avoid frenzy.
  • All grass feeding begins at approximately 13 weeks when calves should weigh about 100 kg.
  • Worm every three to four weeks from weaning through to winter.
  • A good vitamin and mineral supplement should be available for the calves once they are on grass to ensure the calves’ requirements are met. This could be supplied through water or free access licks.

*Caution may be required if milk replacer already contains coccidiostat, vitamins and minerals. Bovatec® is registered pursuant to the ACVM Act 1997, A4395.

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