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Best Calf Management Practices From Birth To Weaning

Farming can be really amazing because there are a lot of things associated with it that we are not totally aware of. There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages when it comes to dairy farming, particularly for dairy cow farming, which if taken care of makes this farming thing really an awesome journey. However, there are a lot of concepts which you need to be familiar with and we have it all for you. This lesson highlights the importance of calf rearing.

Management before birth

Just like it is in most cases, management of calves starts before they are born. A pregnant cow is taken to the maternity meadow a few days before giving birth. A maternity spot requires being around the homestead; this makes for close surveillance. The homestead should be free from physical objects and kept well-watered. Signs of forthcoming birthing can be noticed from the swelling up of the udder which gets filled with milk, swollen vulva and a string of mucus that hangs from the vagina. If you maintain records of insemination, you can estimate the anticipated date of calving.

Management at calving

The first thing you are going to do at calf-birth is to make sure that it is breathing. If there are no signs of respiration, the calf needs immediate attention. Firstly, check for and wipe off mucus from the nostrils. If breathing does not commence, hold the baby by its hind legs upside down, and dangle it a few times. Disinfect the umbilical cord using copper sulphate solution, iodine, or such other disinfectant. Sometimes, calves are not able to suckle; in that case, they need to be helped to suckle colostrums at will, from the dam. This should be carried out for the first week. If there are extra colostrums, it should be milked and saved to feed the other calves. Later, when a week has passed, separate the calf from the dam and feed it by hand.

Feeding of the Calf

The main and first objective in bringing up a calf is to make sure it stays in proper health. The management responsible for feeding the calves should be instructed to take necessary steps to keep the nutrient supply good, thus advancing rumen development. When a calf feeding program is designed, the objective should be at lessening the mortality rate of the animals while retaining a 400-500 g/day growth rate. The rate of growth may, however, vary according to breeds. If it is a bigger breed calf, it needs to be weaned at 3 months, when it weighs an approximate of 80kg.

Calf feeding programs

A number of factors need to be considered when a feeding program is being developed: Colostrums should be given to the calves as their immunity is not developed at birth. Colostrum contains antibodies which can shield calves from diseases their mothers might be exposed to. Their ability to absorb is best within 12 hours post birth and lowest after 24 hours. This is why colostrums should be administered immediately post birth. If need be, you can use a nipple bottle. The calves rely on colostrum antibodies for about two weeks before developing own immunity. When new animals are brought into a herd before birthing, it might be required to get the vaccines to protect them from common diseases which, in turn, will help them develop antibodies. These antibodies will then be passed on to the newborn. Newborn calves rely on milk to obtain growth and nutrition, for the rumen is not ready then. A channel is formed from the suckling reflex, which comes to use as a pipe for transferring milk from the oesophagus to the abomasums. For this reason, the liquid diet should be maintained for young calves because the pipe won’t let solid feed to pass. A calf produces a large amount of lactase enzyme. This enzyme breaks lactose in milk down to galactose and glucose in order to provide energy. But enzymes which can digest carbohydrates are less and that is the reason milk needs to be given to the calves. At the formulation phase of milk replacement, milk lactose should be the source of energy. Remember, a calf does not have any sucrase enzyme, so ordinary sugar should be avoided. A calf is unable to synthesize B vitamins because the rumen does not work; so the vitamins are required to `be provided in their diet. A newborn calf’s diet needs to have milk proteins in it as enzymes capable of breaking down complex proteins develop after 7 to 10 months of birth. Slowly, calves are given solid feed. With the introduction of solid feed, development of the rumen begins. This means, when a calf is able to consume dry feed of about 1.5% of body weight, it is ready to be weaned. Remember to introduce dry feed in due time because it is required for the development of rumen. Diets that are mainly based on grain advances the rumen growth.

Calf rearing practices
photo: courtesy

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