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4 key steps to successful care for newborn calves

December, 2018

Many of the great leaders have been quoted saying something along the lines of “children are our future” and that what they are shown and taught now will change the way our world is in years to come. Similarly, your calves are the future of your herd. Much like parents take care of their children, dairy farmers must take care of their calves, starting the first day of life. What we do for our calves now will impact their future performance in the herd.

 Calf blog post for newborn calves

Care of the newborn calf is crucial to a healthy, well-performing calf. From the moment the calf is born, the calf is exposed to an environment that is full of harmful bacteria that can negatively impact the newborn. A neonatal calf’s stomach is a completely sterile environment and susceptible to all types of bacteria, good and bad. Let’s ask ourselves, what can we do to help these fresh, little calves thrive? You’re in luck because we’ve got 4 simple steps to follow in newborn calf care that will help lessen the incidence of disease.

 

Step 1: Remove calf from cow immediately after calving (30-60 minutes). Keeping the calf with the cow and allowing the calf to nurse leads to the incidence of disease increasing and higher mortality. The chart below shows that higher mortality was observed when calves were allowed to remain with cow after birth.

 

Time Calves Remain with Cows After Birth and Heifer Calf Mortality1

Time (hours)

Number of Herds

Avg Mortality (1 wk – 6 mo.)

2-6

13

5.2%

7-12

35

9.3%

13-24

32

10.7%

25-48

24

20.5%

48+

35

14.4%

1Clemson University

 

Step 2: Disinfect navel with 7% solution of iodine or a product designed for navel dipping as soon as possible after birth. Studies show that the incidence of umbilical infections range anywhere from 1-4%. To help prevent umbilical infections clean the maternity and calf pens and dip navel shortly after birth.

 

Step 3: Keep calves dry and warm. As we know, wet, cold calves use more energy to try and stay warm. Burning this energy reduces their immune response making them more prone to sickness. In the winter especially, dry newborn calves in warming box for one hour if needed. Be sure to sanitize the warming box frequently. An additional option that is very typical is to use calf jackets in winter months.

 

Step 4: Collect colostrum in a sanitary manner and test for quality. A few tips for colostrum management are:

  • Feed first feeding of colostrum as soon as possible ideally within one hour after birth
  • Feed AT LEAST 3 quarts of colostrum in the first feeding and repeat 12 hours later
  • Use a clean and sanitized esophageal feeder if calf will not consume a sufficient amount of colostrum
  • Use fresh colostrum from the dam if good quality
  • Do not pool colostrum. Traditionally, colostrum is typically higher in IgGs for 2nd lactation and higher cows. Older cows will often produce better quality colostrum than younger cows

 

That’s it, 4 simple steps. Remove calf from cow quickly, disinfect the navel, keep calves warm and dry, clean and stimulate cow udder, collect colostrum in a sanitary manner. By following the outlined steps, your calf will be well taken care of and have an advantage in life. They will be a key player in your future herd.

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