Heifer calves are an investment area on our farms. Proper calf management will later determine the future direction of your herd, so it is critical to pay attention to key aspects such as day one calf care, nutrition, and minimization of stress around weaning time, said Geof Smith, D.V.M., who spoke at the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association annual meeting in April.

Diarrhea, pneumonia, and septicemia have all been recorded as major causes of mortality in dairy calves, said Smith, who spent two decades as a professor at North Carolina State University before joining Zoetis as a dairy technical services veterinarian. Utilizing quality practices will help lessen the effects of these diseases if protocols are followed properly. Factors such as unsanitary feeding equipment, poorly designed housing, inadequate bedding, dirty maternity areas, and poor-quality colostrum are all contributors.

Day one calf care focuses primarily on colostrum management and maternity pen cleanliness. If both are neglected, the risk of fecal-oral transmission runs high, increasing the probability of calf diarrhea incidents. Although it is possible to contract disease from the dam at birth, limit the possibilities through maintaining a clean maternity area and removing the calf from the dam shortly after birth to prevent transmission. Significant pathogen exposure can occur within the first few hours of life, so minimize contamination by limiting the risk of exposure, Smith encouraged.

Salmonella Dublin can run wild in colostrum, creating a higher risk for infection. “Pooling colostrum increases the risk of salmonella infections by disseminating the organism in a larger colostral volume and subsequently infecting a larger number of calves,” cited the veterinarian. To mitigate the risk of disease caused by poor colostrum, consider cooling techniques, equipment cleanliness, record collection, and avoid pooling.

Unlike conventional feeding programs, recent data has shown that feeding calves a higher plane of nutrition boasts many benefits and results in a calf that is more disease resistant. A recent study showed that calves fed a higher plain of nutrition maintained hydration, had faster resolution of diarrhea, increased body weight gain, and saw better feed conversion after experimental challenges with Cryptosporidium parvum compared to calves fed conventional milk replacer, Smith noted.

If not managed properly, issues with nutrition and maternity area cleanliness can exhibit stress on the calf. Calves are very reactive animals, and they will respond accordingly to the environments and management systems they are placed in. It has been proven that stress directly correlates with the immune system and raises disease incidence. Some stress is inevitable while raising dairy heifer calves, but we can take steps to keep its effects at a minimum.

Consider how all these factors play a part in your management system. In what areas could your team improve in? What areas are working well? “The overall focus should be on management, not on products and interventions,” voiced the veterinarian.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2024
April 29, 2024
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