Calf Health

Calf sitting Web(copy)Ensuring a healthy start to your calves’ life is a crucial factor in determining their future worth and performance in your dairy herd.  

Calf health naturally starts with the cow. Calves which will be more at-risk of future health related issues will be the calves born to a sick or underweight cow as well as those born from an assisted calving. Special attention should be given to them.

The navels should be sprayed with iodine immediately upon collection of the calf, this is to reduce the chance of navel ill.

Colostrum intake is critical in the first 24 hours of life, and is the most important thing you can do to minimise health issues in calves. Colostrum is a bountiful source of antibodies that will assist the calf in fighting off disease early in life. A calf should receive a feed of first milking colostrum within six hours of being born, then have been fed a total of 10% of its bodyweight in colostrum within the first 24 hours
of its life. This colostrum should be of good quality and well stored. Ideally it should be kept in a closed container in a cool area. Ensure it isn’t mixed with any mastitis or bloody milk and that the colostrum vat is stirred twice daily.

A well designed calf shed is a must to ensure optimum health for the growing calves

An appropriate calf shed should be:
• An adequate size
- minimum floor area is 1.5m2 per calf
• Properly ventilated, this ensures removal of ammonia gas built up from soiled bedding which can lead to respiratory disease
• Comfy and warm - preferably getting sun for at-least some of the day and not open to prevailing winds.
• Well drained
• Utilising an appropriate bedding material - e.g. wood chips, bark chips, shavings, sawdust, straw or river stones. A thin fresh layer should be added as required, usually daily if large numbers are reared. Don’t use mouldy hay for bedding.

Calf Scours and Electrolytes

Greta with a nice calf(copy)Scouring calves can be a time consuming and expensive problem.
Getting adequate colostrum into a calf in the first 12-24 hours of life will dramatically reduce the risk of contracting bugs that may cause scours.  Prevention may be achieved through vaccinating the herd pre-calving against Rotavirus, E. coli and Coronavirus – these viruses are some of the most common causes of calf scours in the first couple of weeks of life.
Other common causes include infections with Cryptosporidium or Salmonella and nutritional scours.  The latter is from overfeeding or feeding calves irregular volumes of milk.  Diagnosing the cause of scouring is useful in implementing specific treatment and prevention management plans.
What is vital in all scour treatment regimes is the use of electrolytes to maintain hydration. If you can keep the calves hydrated successfully, then their chance of survival is greatly increased.  A good quality electrolyte (e.g. Revive or Diarrest) should be given in 2L quantities at least twice a day for 3 days.  These products will help correct dehydration, provide energy and hasten recovery.  Milk feeds should not be cut out entirely, it is important that the calf still receives nutrients and energy from the milk.
Below is an example of a milk/electrolyte protocol:
Calf scours Electrolyte regime   Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Morning Electrolyte Electrolyte Milk
  2L 2L 2L
Lunch Electrolyte Milk Electrolyte
  2L 2L 2L
Evening Milk Electrolyte Milk
    2L 2L 2L
Continue this regime for three days or more if still scouring. Hygiene must be strict (use Vetsan to clean sheds, equipment, etc) and separating sick calves from healthy ones is vital to prevent the spread of bugs between your calves.
Please contact us if you cannot get scouring under control or if you believe more calves are developing the same problem.