Key Calf Rearing Guidelines

Colostrum is the first milk your cows produce after they calve.  Your new-born calves are born without immunity to disease, and colostrum contains high levels of antibodies which build immunity in your calves as well as being a very nutritious feed. 

Later milkings contain much lower levels of these antibodies and your calves’ ability to absorb antibodies decreases dramatically within hours of birth and is virtually zero after 24 hours. 

Fresh colostrum from the dam is the preferred option in the majority of cases and pooling of colostrum is not recommended due to the risk of spreading disease on your farm e.g. Johne’s disease. 

Ideally your calves should suckle their mothers to receive this colostrum.  However, it is recommended that dairy calves are separated from their mothers and either bottle fed or stomach tubed colostrum.  While stomach tubing has drawbacks (slightly less absorption of antibodies, care needed to ensure it is done properly), it is probably the best option as it is the easiest and quickest method to guarantee adequate colostrum intake. It is important to remember however, that stomach tubing is only recommended for the first colostrum feed, as repeated stomach tubing can cause digestive upsets.


Key point: It is recommended you use a stomach tube for the first feed to ensure the quantity of colostrum is consumed by the calf.

Colostrum storage
• You can store colostrum intended for use within 24 hours in the fridge. If you wish to keep colostrum for longer periods, it is recommended you freeze it as bacteria levels can rise quickly in unfrozen colostrum.
• You can store colostrum in the freezer for up to 12 months. It is important you thaw colostrum slowly in a water bath below 50oC.  DO NOT thaw or heat colostrum using strong direct heat e.g. microwave as this damages the vital antibodies (required to give your calves immunity to disease) in the colostrum.


Animal Calving facilities
Poor calf housing and facilities will mean more calf deaths on your farm.  Remember to:
• Match your cow numbers to your calving area-Your calving area should be big enough to hold 20% of your herd during the calving season allowing at least 6m2 per cow e.g. if you have 100 cows this means your calving area should be at least 120 m2 i.e. 10m X 12m (32.5 foot X 39 foot).
• Match your calf numbers to your calf housing area-Allow at least 1.5m2 per calf you intend to rear on your farm. If you plan to rear 50 calves this means your calf housing should be at least 75 m2 i.e. 10m X 7.5m (32.5 foot X 24.5 foot).
• Keep your calf housing clean and comfortable-Aim for good ventilation without draughts. Are you being generous enough with straw for bedding? You should be happy to kneel down in the calf housing yourself.


Early Nutrition
Successful rearing of your calves requires proper colostrum management (see above) and unrestricted access to:
• Clean water (in addition to milk/milk replacer fed)
• Fresh, palatable starter concentrate (preferably coarse)

It is also advisable to have fresh, good quality straw available.  Hay is not ideal as it can reduce starter concentrate intake.  Water and starter concentrate intake are vital for development of the rumen.  A well-developed rumen (left below-calf fed milk and starter concentrate) will aid earlier weaning and less growth setbacks after weaning (right below-calf fed milk and hay)


To avoid growth checks after weaning, calves should not be weaned until they are consistently consuming 1Kg of starter ration per head per day.  In restricted systems this will usually occur when calves are about eight weeks of age.  In ad-lib systems it is not recommended to initiate weaning until calves are 12 weeks of age.  Weaning should be a gradual process completed over 7-10 days. 

Whole Milk vs Milk Replacer
While there are a number of arguments for feeding a good quality milk replacer over whole milk, you may choose to feed whole milk particularly if you are over quota.  However, it should be remembered:
• DO NOT feed milk with antibiotic residues to your calves-this milk can be tainted which can reduce intakes and performance and more importantly it can lead to the development of organisms that are resistant to antibiotics.
• High SCC, TBC or transition milk should only be fed if it is PASTUERISED to avoid transmission of disease and compromising your calves’ health.  

Prime Elite 23
 Fixed formulations (based on meeting quality standards, not least-cost) to produce consistent results on farm
 High quality protein-80% from high quality milk protein (superior to vegetable)
 23% Protein to promote lean growth.
 20% Oil to promote growth (high energy). 
 Balanced vitamins & trace elements
 7% ash (levels above 7.5% increase the risk of scour).
 Easy to mix
 Flexible-suitable for ad-lib, computerised and once-a-day feeding systems


Scour treatment
Damage to the intestines or gut of calves from infectious agents results in watery/custardy faeces more commonly known as scour.  The calf continues to loose salts and water in scour until the intestine is repaired.

AHI recommend a three point action plan in response to calves scouring:
1. Remove the calf from the group-this prevents the infection spreading.
2. Rehydrate with a good quality oral rehydration solution (up to 4 litres per day by stomach tube if necessary).
3. Continue to feed milk/milk replacer in normal amounts.  DO NOT dilute the milk/milk replacer or feed by stomach tube.

Antibiotics should only be given if the calf becomes very sick.

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