Feeding and Management of Dairy Calves for Higher Growth and Improved Health

Feeding and Management of Dairy Calves for Higher Growth and Improved Health

"Today’s calf is tomorrow’s cow".  The future of the dairy herd is dependent on the pro­duction of superior heifers to replace culled lactating animals. Dairy farmers are responsible for the dairy herd's future – the next generation of milk cows. Minimizing death and disease losses in the calf herd can save a lot per replacement animal raised. Therefore, it is imperative that the health sta­tus of the replacement animal is optimized to present a healthy first calf heifer to the lactating herd. Studies have consistently demonstrated the detrimental effects of diseases like - calf scour, pneumonia in calves on age at first calving and on milk production once these animals enter lactation.

Successful rearing of young calves is the key to the success of dairy farming enterprise. Calves are the future replacement stocks for the cows and bulls. It is therefore important that they are reared economically and in a sound manner to ensure early maturity. Calf mortality, especially from 0 to 3 months age accounts significantly to the total mortality in cattle. It is a general practice among the farmers to neglect the calf, especially the male calves. Poor health of the calves is largely associated with the unhygienic management as growth and productivity rely heavily on nutrition and management practices. Every heifer calf born on a dairy farm represents an opportunity to maintain or increase herd size, to improve the herd genetically, or to better the economic returns to the farm. Thus, the calf has to be given due attention after its birth onwards.

Raising healthy calves is not an easy but a challenging and rewarding job. To produce healthier calves, care should be started when the calf is in foetus stage itself through proper management feeding of the dam.

Goals for a Successful Calf Management System

  • Building the immune system of the calf as soon as possible after birth.
  • Reduce stress and microbial challenges to the calf.
  • Provide adequate nutrition
  • Provide proper treatments for sick calves.

Immediate care of the calf after birth

  • Clean away mucous from the nose and the mouth.
  • Make sure that breathing is initiated, especially after difficult birth. This can be done by tickling the nose or by pouring cold water on the calf's head, which causes the grasping reflex in the calf.
  • Examine the calf for injuries and birth defects.
  • Dry the calf if the cow is not allowed to do so (e.g. in case of Johne's disease).
  • Feed ample amounts of colostrum as soon as possible within the first hour after birth. Use a nipple bottle if necessary. Provide a second feeding within 12 hours of birth.
  • Separate the calf from the cow within the first 12 hours of birth after the cow has dried the calf and the calf has nursed. Separate the calf immediately after birth if there is any concern of infectious diseases such as Johne's disease.
  • Dip or coat the navel with 7% tincture of iodine.
  • Make sure the calf in properly identified.

Other feeding and management topics aregiven below: