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Best Practice in Calf Rearing

06 May 2015

Calf rearing, Australians have been told, is like a jigsaw, with many vital elements all fitting together in balance.

Youngstock benefit from attention to detail, with a deficit in one area resulting in a system that is out of balance. 

Australian Veterinary Association spokesperson, Dr Gemma Chuck, from the University of Melbourne, said that rearing calves starts before birth. 

"Accurate pregnancy testing is essential so that all cows have an adequate dry period prior to calving," explained Dr Chuck.

"Shorter dry periods can compromise colostrum quality - the first nutrient-rich milk produced in the udder at calving."

She recommended strategic vaccination to boost antibodies in colostrum if expected calving dates have been calculated.

"If vaccines are given too early, the peak antibody response will decline before the calf is born and if given too late, the antibody response won’t occur in time.

“It’s very important that a newborn calf is given an appropriate volume of good quality colostrum within 24 hours to ensure it can absorb enough protective immunoglobulins to fight infection.

"This volume may need to be split into two feeds. The quality of colostrum can be easily tested using a Brix refractometer. This is simple and easy to use on farm and is robust and inexpensive,” she said.

Dr Chuck also said that new calves should be collected from the calving area at least twice daily and fed colostrum immediately. This will help ensure that all calves receive adequate colostrum within 24 hours to reduce the risk of disease.

“A recording system should be set up to ensure all calves receive their two feeds of colostrum. This can be as simple as records on a whiteboard or stock markers on the calves themselves.

“The calf trailer, used to transport calves from the calving area to the calf shed, should also be washed daily and have appropriate non-slip flooring such as rubber or straw.

"On some farms, a dirty calf trailer can be the source of infection for newborn calves.”

Dr Chuck also recommended the following for optimal care and development of calves:

  • Solid partitions of a non-porous material, such as corrugated iron or tin, between pens
  • Suitable bedding such as woodchips with adequate drainage to prevent accumulation of wet, soiled bedding
  • A passive ventilation system to allow fresh air to circulate at the calf level without direct draught
  • Fresh water at the front of each pen
  • An individual milk-feeding system for each calf to avoid competition from other calves
  • Raised grain troughs to help prevent contamination with manure
  • Thorough cleaning of calf pens between groups of calves.

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